Using The Tactics Of The Merchants Of Doubt To Combat Science Denial

Scientists are sceptical and questioning by their very nature. They love to poke and prod everything to see if it withstands scrutiny. So when scientists agree this is a sign that a question was investigated thoroughly and based on the evidence scientists then have an answer they can agree on.

This makes a scientific consensus the biggest threat to the denial of any scientific fact. Hence you see the “there’s no consensus” mantra on subjects like evolution, GMO safety, and of course global warming and climate change. That’s why studies like Oreskes 2004Doran 2009Anderegg 2010, Cook 2013, and Verheggen 2014 are targets for climate science deniers:

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Climate Science Is Based On Evidence, But Science Denial Is Based On Faith

Webcomic xkcd - Wikipedian protester

Wikipedian Protester” by XKCD

Anyone who wants to debate a science denier often needs a thick skin, especially concerning topics like global warming. They often hurl words like leftist, socialist, communist, fascist, sheeple, useful idiot, and worse at you. Though why a political ideology is used as an insult still is something that I don’t understand. At most you’ll get a slightly annoyed roll of the eyes from me when you label me as something that I’m not.

But the one that truly puzzles me is when I’m accused of having a religious like faith in science. Science isn’t a religion, certainly not when you accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). To me it’s climate science denial that looks more like a faith position.

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Watts Up With Global Warming And Atomic Bombs

sks-widgetAnyone familiar with Watts Up With That will have noticed that anything published on it that mentions Skeptical Science often displays a rather obvious dislike for Skeptical Science. Both for the Skeptical Science website and the people who are involved with it.

It shows with the language used and all the attacks on the materials created or used by Skeptical Science. Often it doesn’t really matter if it’s valid criticism as long as it in some way critiques or undermines what was released. Especially when it’s something that is easy to understand and helps with communicating the science behind global warming. Which showed with the attacks towards the Cook et al. paper that measured the scientific consensus on global warming in the scientific literature.

This time Watts isn’t happy because of a widget Skeptical Science released that puts into context how much heat our planet is absorbing:

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Watts Up With Conspiracy Ideation

Anthony WattsThe website Watts Up With That run by Anthony Watts always was a website that uses conspiracy theories to support their argument that global warming isn’t a cause for concern. They try to keep what they publish on the website somewhat scientific, but that’s just a thin layer. That they are a conspiracy theory website sometimes becomes very obvious.

Their take on the loss of Cuccinelli in the Virginia elections is a good example of this. The title of their blog post ‘The big green machine: McAuliffe, Mann, and Megadollars‘ (archived here) alone hints at what is to come:

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What Is The Heartland Institute?

The_Heartland_Institute_logoAccording to their about page their “mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” And they’ve had their fair share of successes in politics and the media on these matters.

Recently they uploaded their 25 year anniversary video – called What Is The Heartland Institute? – to YouTube (they are now 29 years old) and in it they get congratulated for their excellent work:

What is The Heartland Institute?

However, anyone familiar with me will know I do not think they have done excellent work. Far from it, a lot of their work has actually harmed people.

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Scientists And Public Discourse

As I’m a software developer I follow several big names of the trade, one of them being Robert Martin.

Yesterday one of his tweets caught my attention:

@badastronomer @absolutspacegrl @rationalists Snide political innuendo is unworthy of scientists. Honor your profession by speaking plainly

Which was a response to the following tweet by Phil Plait:

Via @absolutspacegrl: MT @rationalists: Santorum won 11 states. Remember that when you wonder why America ranks 27th in math and science.

Essentially a slap down of Santorum, his supporters, and the social/political environment it creates. I have no problem with a scientist commenting on politicians and issues that impact what they do. Which I tweeted to Robert Martin:

.@unclebobmartin Strange how scientists aren’t allowed a shot at a science denier. But Santorum is allowed to smear their professions/work.

This led to a small exchange of ideas on the subject between Martin and me. He even wrote an article which gives a good insight in his position and why he has a problem with scientists responding in such a way.

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