Bob Tisdale’s Ideological ArmourBy Collin Maessen on comment
One of the things that completely baffle me is how climate science deniers can reject evidence.
Of course I’m not referring to not taking something at face value or wanting to verify something before you accept it. What I’m talking about is that they reject evidence even when it’s very obvious that it shows that they are wrong. It also often doesn’t matter how small the mistake it, they will still reject it.
One of these examples is a quote from a recommendations document written by the KNMI IPCC delegation that contained advice for the IPCC on how it can improve its procedures. This included recommendations for improving their reports and how results are communicated. Something that the IPCC asked for and the resulting recommendations from the KNMI aren’t shocking.
However, one passage was a bit confusing as to what they meant by it:
The IPCC needs to adjust its principles. We believe that limiting the scope of the IPCC to human induced climate change is undesirable, especially because natural climate change is a crucial part of the total understanding of the climate system, including human-induced climate change.
This sounds like the KNMI document is stating that the IPCC doesn’t pay any attention to natural causes for climate change. But this doesn’t make any sense as the IPCC does include the natural components of climate change. Without it you can’t figure out how much humanity is contributing to global warming.
So of course the usual suspects jumped on this to argue that it did say that. What they didn’t bother to do was to check with the KNMI if that was indeed what they meant; but I did. The response I received from Rob van Dorland of the KNMI made it very clear that the usual suspects should have checked their interpretation (translated from Dutch, emphasis and link mine):
In response to your question, I must inform you that the mandate of the IPCC (Principles Governing IPCC Work) states the following:
“2. The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of *risk of human-induced climate change*, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.”
So here they only (explicitly) mention the anthropogenic component. We (the Dutch IPCC delegation) believe it is important that the scope of this statement should be widened, namely that natural variability should be explicitly mentioned in the mandate of the IPCC.
In practice, the IPCC reports (WG1 and 2) on climate change mention natural and anthropogenic factors, simply because of the fact that the human factor only gains credence when compared to natural changes.
The proposed change from the Netherlands is that the mandate of the IPCC should be much more in line with what they’ve been doing for years. This also makes clear that the response in the media is not true, namely that the Netherlands find that natural variability is more important than the human influence. As this isn’t the intent of the Dutch submission.
End of story, right? Wrong.
One of the people I pointed to this response was Marcel Crok. He rejected this explanation from one of the members of the Dutch IPCC delegation that wrote the document as just an “interpretation.” I still don’t understand how he could reject this explanation as such.
Which now brings me to Bob Tisdale, he also interpreted the passage in a similar way. Which I pointed out to him that it wasn’t correct. The response I got from Tisdale was even stranger, he asked me to correct my blog post. Again I was baffled by this kind of response.
All this played out months ago, and during that time Tisdale kept using the quote to argue that the IPCC doesn’t spend (enough) attention to the natural causes of climate change. With no indication that he went to the KNMI to check if his interpretation was correct.
So when he again used that quote in his post ‘Open Letter to Jon Stewart – The Daily Show‘ (archived here) I couldn’t resist to give him a little prod:
In October of last year I pointed out to you that you’re (unintentionally) misrepresenting what the KNMI meant with the passage you quoted. I used an explanation from Rob van Dorland who is part of the group that wrote that document, yet you dismissed this explanation. When you did that I mentioned that you could verify this explanation from the KNMI, I’m even willing to give you any details you need to contact them.
Considering you’re still making the same claim based on the quote from the KNMI document I can safely conclude you haven’t checked with the KNMI if your interpretation is correct? And thus also haven’t checked that I’m [correctly] representing what they said to me?
If I would get a comment like the above it would certainly give me pause. This is the type of comment someone leaves when they are sure they have the facts on their side. Especially when you offer to help verify that what you said is correct.
However, that’s not what happened:
Collin Maessen: We’ve been through this before. You claim an individual (one person) at KNMI disagrees with the official KNMI statement.
I have not misrepresented what KNMI wrote. I quoted KNMI’s statement. And I provided a link to their website so that my readers could see that I was NOT quoting KNMI out of context.
Good-bye, Collin. End of conversation. I’m not going to argue this with you AGAIN.
The “individual” was Rob van Dorland who said identified himself as speaking for the Dutch IPCC delegation. When he says you misinterpreted something they wrote then you should listen. Rejecting it isn’t a valid response.
Which I told him in my response to him. I also asked him why my type of response doesn’t make him wonder why I’m so secure in my position. Or why he doesn’t want to verify the explanation with the Dutch IPCC delegation. His response to that was to delete my comment and tell me that any subsequent comments will be removed as spam.
Of course this type of response didn’t surprise me at all. But I was still curious if I could somehow get him to accept this explanation from Rob van Dorland. These situations are helpful in trying to understand what does and doesn’t work for communicating facts. I think I got the way in how I approached Tisdale and my responses to him correct. Any reasonably person should pick up that Tisdale is rejecting something that contradicts him.
But I still can’t wrap my head around the mental ideological armour Tisdale must have to be able to reject such obvious evidence that he’s wrong. Especially when it’s something as simple as a misinterpreted quote. Which makes me wonder what it would take to break through his mental armour to accept this evidence. And would it even be possible for him to accept anything that shows he’s wrong, no matter how minor it is?
One thing is very obvious though: Tisdale doesn’t care about accuracy, he only cares about confirming his current position.
Collin, the denier’s ‘mental armour’ originates in the age-old issue that humans have: that being, it is fundamentally impossible for some to admit they’re wrong, despite mountains of evidence to prove they are. Hence, I’ve quickly learned to disengage from these types. It is a good thing that folks like you take the time to *document* how wrong they are, and at the same time document how aggressively they deny reality.
Indeed, that’s indeed the underlying issue. When you become personally attached to a certain stance (ideology) it really undermines your ability to acknowledge anything that shows that it is wrong (even if it is just a small inconsequential part of it).
I also tend to disengage reasonably fast when I encounter someone like that. However, I do use the exchanges as inspiration for blog posts. And when I do engage it is because it enables me to explain something about the science. Or because it is an opportunity for me to explore a subject in more depth.
It can serve it’s purpose. Although you have to be able to not take these type of responses in stride so that you can still write about what does or doesn’t have merit.
This is the reason I have always strongly disliked the term “skeptics” for these people, it gives a completely false sense of legitimacy to their position (and hence the misuse of the “balanced view” argument). The best relatively neutral term i found was “pseudoskeptic”, see the excellent wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoskepticism#Truzzi and read the lists that characterizes pseudoskepticism. Spot on!
As has been pointed out many times elsewhere, true skepticism is healthy and even a necessary ingredient for good science. However, a true skeptic is willing to be convinced by facts, while the deniers start form a preconceived (prejudged) position which will be defended at any cost, disregarding any uncomfortable facts and arguments.
I find the term “climate bigot” fairly accurate (look up the definition of bigot), however, since that is emotionally loaded it will cause discussions of name calling, etc.
What we really need is a neutral but accurate term that can be consistently used so the deniers do not gain any false legitimacy, so perhaps consistent use of “pseudoskeptic” is appropriate?
I tends to avoid using the word pseudosceptic, as its origins are pejorative. It’s why I personally use so-called sceptic as I find it a bit more neutral to start with. However, pseudosceptic can be a label someone earns if they show no signs of changing their behaviour. Although that will quickly put them in the science denier category.
My terminology page has the definitions for how I use these words. I basically state the same thing you just did in your comment about true scepticism and what the type of behaviour is that so-called sceptics and (climate) science deniers display.
I also wouldn’t recommend using anything like “bigot” as this is an emotionally charged word. You can easily undermine the tone of the discussion you’re participating in and undermine how willing your audience is to accept what you say (this often results in people getting more entrenched). My post ‘Language Matters‘ explains a lot of the reasons for this.
I read the links and agree with your point about not using loaded words. However, my problem with “so-called sceptic” is that even if used consistently, people usually do not quote completely (at least not verbally), and only quote what they remember, so “so-called sceptic” easily becomes “sceptic” and once again appears to legitimize their arguments.
The term pseudoskeptic has the benefit of being one word, thus harder to misquote, and I do find it relatively neutral, on par with “so-called sceptic”.
However, the term should be used with care, only for people that have proven that they are unwilling to change their position despite supporting facts, and not to everybody that disagrees with the established (climate) science.
The only thing you can do in such cases is call them out on the misquote. If they don’t correct it you can switch to a harsher label, as that indicates you’re dealing with someone who isn’t interested in correcting mistakes.
So yes, use the terminology with care and only use it when it’s earned through behaviour. And if you’re dealing with someone who just doesn’t care: disengage.
Hmm. The fundamental problem is that the point of the discussion is not really to convince doubters or “sceptics” (which is pretty hopeless), but to present arguments to the silent “audience” that are reading the blogs (or watching TV) who are perhaps not yet well informed but keep an open mind. This is where I find the misquotes particular dangerous, because to the uncommitted listeners will perceive a false legitimacy in “sceptic” (with the “so-called” dropped).
I also believe that this is the reason that erroneous, misleading or fraudulent arguments must be addressed, not primarily to convince the author but to present honest arguments to all readers/listeners.
I’m well aware of that, calling them out on that behaviour is mostly done to set the record straight. So that onlookers can see what happened. That’s the main goal when you’re communicating science or your own position.
What I was explaining was what this meant in the context of the exchange you’re having with the person that misquoted you. It is at the same time a very useful tool to figure out of someone actually cares about getting his facts right.
I believe we were in agreement all along, I guess I spent a lot of words establishing an obvious fact. However, words can be reused, they are one of the few resources that are not finite…
Imagine a TV show introducing the program as “In order to present ‘both sides’ we have invited climate scientist Michael Mann and pseudoskeptic Andrew Watts”… Accurate and hilarious.
False legitimacy and false balance is one of the biggest issues that plagues our media outlets. It’s why I’m a supporter of not giving those views a stage unless it is to explain why they are wrong.
I talked about that a lot in my blog post “The Ideological Armour Of ‘Climate Sceptics’“, where this is the relevant part:
So putting someone as Anthony Watts (I assume you mean him when you said Andrew) next to Michael Mann gives Watts and his arguments a legitimacy he doesn’t have. It gives the impression of a scientific debate that’s going on for a subject when this isn’t the case. The scientific literature makes this very obvious.
Completely agree, they should never be presented as “two sides” or “balanced”. Just a misguided attempt at some humor 🙂