Roy Spencer, In Denial About What Science Denial MeansBy Collin Maessen on comment
Climate science deniers tend to be quite touchy when you call them a climate science denier, or denier for short. In my case this has even led to someone threatening to sue me for libel because I used the term climate science denier in a private email. Which wasn’t even aimed at them, I just used the term to describe the type of arguments that were being used.
The term also is quite simple in its origin, it means that you deny something. I use the term to state that climate science deniers dismiss or even flat-out deny the evidence climate scientists have found. You have similar versions of the term denier for those that reject the science behind vaccinations, AIDS, Evolution, etc.
I expect climate science deniers to not respond well when you use the term, that’s why I only use it when it’s truly earned. What I didn’t expect was that the usage of this term would lead to Dr. Roy Spencer writing the blog post ‘Time to push back against the global warming Nazis‘ (archived here):
Yeah, somebody pushed my button.
When politicians and scientists started calling people like me “deniers”, they crossed the line. They are still doing it.
They indirectly equate (1) the skeptics’ view that global warming is not necessarily all manmade nor a serious problem, with (2) the denial that the Nazi’s extermination of millions of Jews ever happened.
Too many of us for too long have ignored the repulsive, extremist nature of the comparison. It’s time to push back.
I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again: these “climate sceptics” aren’t sceptics. They are pseudosceptics who actively portray themselves as promoting science based sceptical thinking. But this isn’t what they’re doing, they approach climate science with their minds already made up. To them it doesn’t matter what you show them, the chance is extremely small that they’ll ever change their minds. Spencer gives a few very good examples of this type of behaviour a bit further into what he wrote, I’ll return to this point when he does.
Also the word “denier” has been in use far longer than there have been holocaust deniers. According to the Oxford English dictionary it has been in use since 1475 (used towards deniers of Jesus Christ) and according to Google since at least since 1800. The term has nothing to do with holocaust denial except that both positions deny something. Holocaust deniers deny simple historical facts, and climate science deniers deny valid climate science. Denying something is the root for the usage of this word, not holocaust denial.
Some actually like to be labelled “deniers.” Richard Linden said that “I actually like ‘denier.’ That’s closer than skeptic.” Lindzen is just one of the more famous people claiming this label, there are others that also like the term. To me it is just plain odd that someone wants to be named a denier as it labels them as a pseudosceptic.
However, here’s where Spencer crossed a line you shouldn’t cross:
I’m now going to start calling these people “global warming Nazis”.
When you complain about someone who according to isn’t being polite towards you then you shouldn’t accuse them of being Nazis. Invoking Godwin’s law is not the right response as it doesn’t help your argument. Especially when the perceived slight has no basis in reality.
It’s also incredible offensive to label your opponent a Nazi. Nazism is linked to some of the darkest chapters in our history books and shouldn’t be used to attack someone who isn’t a Nazi. Use it towards those that deserve it; those that are Nazis.
The next part also is where Spencer shows his unscientific stance, what I referred to earlier as pseudoscepticism:
The pseudo-scientific ramblings by their leaders have falsely warned of mass starvation, ecological collapse, agricultural collapse, overpopulation…all so that the masses would support their radical policies. Policies that would not voluntarily be supported by a majority of freedom-loving people.
They are just as guilty as the person who cries “fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire exists. Except they threaten the lives of millions of people in the process.
What Spencer labels as “pseudo-scientific ramblings” is well established science. We know from past climate changes that if we continue on our current emissions scenarios we’re possibly looking at a temperature increase of around 4°C . That doesn’t sound much but when that happens we’re looking at a vastly different world than we’re living in now, which will have severe consequences for future generations:
If we allow this to happen it will impact human society, and it will hit the poorest the hardest. Developing countries just don’t have the resources to deal with these kind of severe consequences. These changes could easily undo any progress they have made.
That’s what will happen when you increase the greenhouse effect by adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Trying to prevent these consequences by enacting policies to reduce CO2 emissions aren’t “radical” and won’t undermine freedom. You’re still free to use energy, you just don’t have the ‘freedom’ to harm future generations with your CO2 emissions.
But he doesn’t stop there:
Like the Nazis, they advocate the supreme authority of the state (fascism), which in turn supports their scientific research to support their cause (in the 1930s, it was superiority of the white race).
For one this is again an incredibly offensive thing to say about your opponents. Secondly I find this quite hypocritical coming from Spencer as he has described his job as a climate scientist as follows:
I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.
He has clearly stated that his goal as a climate scientist is to “minimize the role of government.” Which means he’s not committed to progressing science, no matter what you find; a core value for any good scientists. It’s shocking that Spencer as a scientist admits that his commitment is to politics and not science.
It’s this very same behaviour that also makes him reject another well established scientific theory, the theory of evolution. He has publicly defended his support of creationism and has wondered why “so many people defend it [evolution] so fervently.” He wants creationism to be taught in schools under the name of Intelligent Design. Which is just an attempt to disguise creationism as something scientific. Creationism is a faith and has nothing to do with science, and Spencer wants to force the teaching of this unscientific subject. Which then makes it rather odd that he says this:
I’m […] talking about the extremists. They are the ones who are sure they are right, and who are bent on forcing their views upon everyone else. Unfortunately, the extremists are usually the only ones you hear from in the media, because they scream the loudest and make the most outrageous claims.
They invoke “consensus”, which results from only like-minded scientists who band together to support a common cause.
The reason we’re so sure that global warming is real and we’re the cause of it is because all the evidence points to it. Just like all the evidence points to the fact that it won’t be pretty if we continue on our current path. We can prevent the worst of it, but we do need to act.
Spencer also invokes a conspiracy theory with this remark. Spencer is part of the 2 to 4 percent minority that rejects this evidence and the scientific consensus that’s based on that evidence. You would need a massive conspiracy to get thousands of scientists to fake all this research and not spill the beans. Quite a feat as scientists become famous for finding flaws in scientific theories. This is behaviour that goes against the very nature of the scientific process and what scientist do.
Spencer being part of a 2 to 4 percent minority is the reason these scientists and experts are so “loud”:
It’s because of this that it is so amazing that people like Spencer aren’t drowned out. In my opinion this is because a large group of media outlets failing to hold themselves to good journalistic standards on science reporting. A sad consequence of a considerable number of media outlets caring more for catering to the ideology of their audience than for accuracy. Which people like Spencer then can abuse to sow doubt about valid scientific findings.
In the end I’m not quite sure why Spencer wrote what he did. But it does look to me like he doesn’t care any more to hide what he truly thinks. The note he added to his blog post seems to confirm this suspicion that I have:
A couple people in comments have questioned my use of “Nazi”, which might be considered over the top. Considering the fact that these people are supporting policies that will kill far more people than the Nazis ever did — all in the name of what they consider to be a righteous cause — I think it is very appropriate. Again, I didn’t start the name-calling.
I find it sad that a scientist like Spencer lets uncivil behaviour and pseudoscience undermine his credibility.
Denial of the fact that “denier” doesn’t refer to holocaust denial is just another form of denial. So I guess it fits their MO.
Your article assumes you hold the moral high ground, that there must only be one ‘true’ way to understand climate change. If you were a good scientist you’d be explaining the nature of the assumptioms your critics hold differently to you and your colleagues.
Ah … but then others would understand how your locked into a future world assumed from […]predictions from your choice of modelling processes.
The weather data just doesn’t fit your modelling and hasn’t for quite some time. Perhaps its time to question your own assumptions and stop playing with words.
There’s only one way to understand any scientific subject, and that’s through the scientific process. Like I highlighted with Spencer is that he’s coming at two scientific subjects with his mind already made up. Which means he a has a problem with looking at the evidence and accepting what the evidence tells him. What You’re doing with you opening paragraph is just provide rhetoric. You’re ignoring that Spencer is rejecting valid science to be able to make his claims. Besides, the above blog post contains links for a reason. Those explain in detail where Spencer is claiming things that are demonstrably wrong.
You also attack the models we have that have given us the projections that tells us it’s bad. Again, those models are based on the evidence we have. These models that project a problematic future are also the models that can replicate the past. No model that doesn’t project future problems can replicate past climates and climate changes. In short, what you’re claiming is wrong:
You also claim that “weather data just doesn’t fit your modelling”, with what you say further it looks to me that you’re referring to the so-called hiatus. But the hiatus doesn’t exist, you only see it in the surface temperature data (and that still shows a warming). It ignores that there’s still an energy imbalance and that our planet is still absorbing heat at the rate of 4 Hiroshima sized bombs per second. You can find more details here:
“Your article assumes you hold the moral high ground, that there must only be one ‘true’ way to understand climate change.”
That’s…. that’s…. okay, I cannot even think of a polite word (and I’m a writer).
The “moral high ground” belongs to people who are honest, obviously: that means scientists hold the moral high ground when it comes to science in general, and climatology in particular. The moral low ground belongs to people like Dr. Spencer, Mr. Ball, Dr. Lindzen, etc.: they have chosen the low ground[…]: go castigate them.
As for the “one true way” in science, there is only one: the scientific method. Spencer has chosen to abandon science, instead choosing to further […] his political ideologies. […]
Dr. Spencer still has not applied the fix for the NASA9 data series: have you ever asked him why he has refused? […]
What are you referencing with the “Dr. Spencer still has not applied the fix for the NASA9 data series”?
Dr. Spencer’s outrage presumes that the first stage of grief is “Holocaust denial” and not “denial”. However, some accusations of denial are more explicit:
“While most environmentalists continue to insist that there is no connection between international bans on DDT and human deaths, such protestations really are like denying that the Holocaust ever happened.” [Dr. Roy Spencer, 2008]
Because I deny Dr. Spencer’s DDT conspiracy theory, Dr. Spencer referred to me using a more explicit version of the “repulsive, extremist” comparison that pushed his buttons. But I won’t call Dr. Spencer names, because that seems unproductive and incredibly unprofessional.
(h/t to Kilby at Hot Whopper and Tim Lambert.)
That surprised me that Spencer used that comparison. That’s at the same level as what Watts did with him using the Hiroshima bomb comparison but he attacked the SkS widget for using that comparison…
This article is excellent: thank you.
I am not sure if it wise to use the term denier at all because everyone is a denier. I agree with you that denier is not a bad word. One always agrees with its ones own viewpoint and automatically denies the others.
In the case of global warming one could argue that the scientist who dont agree with the theory you support are deniers but I think thats too easy. It is forcing the discussion into a yes or no issue and I think the whole debate is much more complex.
I don’t use the term denier, what I use is the term climate science denier; which is a form of science denial. As defined on my terminology page this has a very specific meaning:
My definition of climate science denier is even more specific and is also defined on my terminology page.
Which means I don’t use the term “denier” as you say I’m using it. Dissent on scientific matters doesn’t make you a science denier. And I don’t use that term when there’s actual debate.
While it might suit you to define climate science denier, as you do, it doesn’t make it any less offensive. You seem to be blurring theory and fact within this definition, and that clearly detracts from your argument.
The reason I’ve put up a terminology page is because word usage has been so mangled, it’s something I hint at on that page:
The words themselves aren’t offensive, some do take offense in being called a science denier or climate science denier. If it’s unjustly applied they have a point. But calling someone who is a creationist a science denier on the subject of evolution is a correct assessment if they aren’t willing to learn or correct their stance. Same goes for those that do the same on the subject of climate change or global warming.
I’m also not blurring what fact or theory is, I’m very well aware of how they are used in science or in a more colloquial setting.
Collin, I’d be interested to know if you disagree with Richard Dawkins when he says that evolution is a fact, and therefore no longer a theory subject to conjecture?
I agree with that
I fail to see how climate science has moved from the status of theory to the realm of fact.
I am not a denier because I choose to attribute causality to other factors beyond CO2, I’m just someone who holds a different scientific viewpoint than you. I don’t refer to folks like yourself who hold different views to me as deniers and you shouldn’t do so either, as you clearly understand the inferences that are being drawn from that world.
If climate science was comparable to the process of evolution vis-a-vis its status as a fact, you’d have a valid point. Given that it’s not, your just being offensive and very unscientific in continuing to use the word, from my personal perspective.
To me it looks like you’re playing word games.
Let me define a few words as they are used in science, just so that those that not might know this will understand my points. Here’s a good explanation from the NCSE:
This is how these words are used. The important detail is that a scientific theory, like evolution, is the highest scientific achievement level any ‘idea’ in science can be. Something as well established as evolution could also be considered a fact, just because of how well it describes what we observe and because of all the evidence supporting it. That’s what Dawkins is referring to and something I agree with.
However, you say “[evolution is] no longer a theory subject to conjecture,” which is more akin to the colloquial usage of the word theory. As a scientific theory isn’t a guess or guesswork (that’s more the terrain of an hypothesis, but that’s not exactly how hypothesis is used in science).
When we apply the scientific terminology to anthropogenic global warming it’s a fact. That can be easily said based on the mountains of evidence we have pointing to this. Dismissing that amount of evidence can easily be called climate science denial. As it not only dismisses that evidence but also rejects what the vast majority of scientists and experts say.
So please do not accuse me of being unscientific, or that I’m using words incorrectly, when I am using the words as a scientist would use them. And when my position is based on what’s in the scientific literature and what scientists/experts say.
I leave you to save the world, we will not agree on how and why our views differ and there is little point in continuing to discuss such matters with you.
If this is how you respond to a thorough explanation of definitions and me pointing you to evidence: then no, we’re not going to agree.
“Collin, I’d be interested to know if you disagree with Richard Dawkins when he says that evolution is a fact, and therefore no longer a theory subject to conjecture?”
That does not make any sense. Evolution has never been a theory, and never will be: evolution has always been an observed fact. I suspect you mean evolutionary theory, not evolution. Evolutionary theory is not a fact: it is the sum total of all of the facts about evolution.
“I agree with that I fail to see how climate science has moved from the status of theory to the realm of fact.”
Climatology is not a theory and never has been. I assume you mean “physics.” Physics is the theory that explains the fact of human-caused climate change.
Why are you trying to redefine “theory?”
“The words themselves aren’t offensive, some do take offense in being called a science denier or climate science denier. If it’s unjustly applied they have a point.”
Regarding Dr. Spencer, the word is accurate only if he believes his false claims. There is enough evidence to suggest Dr. Spencer does not believe his own claims when it comes to the evidence for human-caused climate change (based on his activities in support of “free market” fundamentalism ideologies): if he does not, then he is not a denier: he is a disavower of observed reality— and I can give several examples.
Stating that human-cased climate change did not happen; stating human-caused climate change is not happening; stating human-caused climate change has not been disastrous; stating human-caused climate change is a good thing: this does not make anyone a denier. Knowing these statements are false (which a massive, ponderous weight of evidence shows they are), and making these statements and believing them, makes a person a denier. Knowing these statements are false, and making these statements and knowing the statements are false, makes a person a disavower— not a denier.
@Desertphile: There’s a reason why I include point 2C in my definition for climate science denial. Science denial can still happen even if the person knows that they are wrong. It’s often also impossible to tell if someone actually believes what they say, we can’t see what they are thinking after all.
“It’s often also impossible to tell if someone actually believes what they say, we can’t see what they are thinking after all.”
Indeed, but for the previous three years I have had a US$1,000 wager that supports the proposition that a new record high global average temperature will be set by the end of year 2016. I have told, literally, many hundreds of deniers about my wager— a great many who have insisted Earth is cooling. *NONE* of them will accept the wager. This suggests they know Earth is warming, contrary to their public statements to the contrary. A denier will at least consider the wager to be fair; a disavower knows the wager is heavily in my favor, even as they insist publicly otherwise.
The user pmanisc in the comment section of my video ‘No, Global Warming Hasn’t Stopped‘ has stated he was willing to take your bet. That was said 9 months ago and he made several comments about you not accepting his bet.
“The user pmanisc in the comment section of my video ‘No, Global Warming Hasn’t Stopped‘ has stated he was willing to take your bet. That was said 9 months ago and he made several comments about you not accepting his bet.”
Oh crap. I wonder why he did not contact me about the wager. Odd that he would complain, and keep his acceptance of the wager a secret from me. My email in box is always open, on warmwagers.org and on YouTube. I will go see if I can find him.
“I leave you to save the world, we will not agree on how and why our views differ and there is little point in continuing to discuss such matters with you.”
“Col,” you either could not or you would not understand the difference between the fact of evolution, and the theory of evolution: to distinct things entirely. When scientists state that evolution is a fact, they are not stating *ANYTHING* at all about evolutionary theory. Even though evolution is an observed phenomena in nature, evolutionary theory could be utterly wrong.
There is no such thing as a “theory of climate.” There is no such thing as a theory of human-caused climate change. There is atomic theory, which explains the fact of human-caused climate change.
Ah. There he is. He did in fact write to me, stating he would accept a proposition but he did not state what proposition: I have a “Water Car Challenge” US$1,000 prize and I thought that was what he wrote about— not the US$1,000 wager on setting a record high global average temperature. When I asked him what he was writing about, he did not reply.
I have two escrow accounts at Goldman-Sachs, each with US$1,000 deposited. One is a prize for the “water car challenge,” and the other is for the global temperature wager. I told him the US$1,000 was not a wager, but a prize—- I thought he was writing about the “water car challenge.”
You might want to get back in touch with him then and see if he still wants to take you up on that bet.
Thx Arnout, I agree with your take on this issue
I do not see what point “arnout” is trying to make. If I am male, it is not offensive for someone to call me “male.” The word “denier” for people who deny reality is not offensive: it’s stating a fact, using a perfectly fine and accurate word. If deniers dislike the word “denier,” they can either stop denying reality (which the literature on the subject states is very unlikely), or they can provide what they think is a better word.
When the mental health care profession talks about the rejection of the evidence for human-caused climate change, it uses the word “denier” among others. It is a word used in the mental health care profession to describe a specific human behavior. If “arnout” dislikes the word, “arnout” can complain to the mental health care professionals.
Coming upon your excellent blog has been a happy by-product of the otherwise dismal experience of reading Dr. Roy Spencer, PhD’s rant. The “courteous Christian Gentleman” mask” is certainly off now. What a few years ago was merely a Global Warming Blunder is now revealed as a [snip] conspiracy
What particularly struck me was his failure to name anyone as a Nazi under his definition. I rather doubt he has the courage ever to carry out his threat and actually brand anyone as a nazi, so, rather like the stuff one reads on Climate Audit, this will just remain at the level of insinuation – impugning in a vague sort of way the reputation of climate scientists as a class and environmentalists as a class.