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July 2009

How to Argue With a
Global Warming Denier

1. Don’t expect them to change their mind.
If someone really wanted to know if global warming is a reality they would just go to a legitimate source like the National Academy of Sciences’ website and look it up.

2. Limit your arguments to written debates.
Don’t get involved in a formal debate with a global warming denier, don’t get into it around the dinner table and, whatever you do, don’t call in the local AM radio show. Understand that your opponent will have no evidence on his side so he will have to lie. If it’s a lie you haven’t prepared for you’ll get burned. In a written debate you can check out any bogus claims.

3. Familiarize yourself with the standard denier talking points.
One great thing about the global warming denial movement is they keep rehashing the same old arguments. The 31,000 scientists that signed a petition, global cooling in the ‘70s. Memorize the rebuttals to these and you’ll be off to a good start.

4. Don’t get trapped into defending Al Gore.
A lot of deniers hate Al Gore with a passion and will accuse you of worshiping him. Al Gore won the friggin’ Nobel Peace Prize, he doesn’t need defending.

5. Realize the denier’s dubious motives.
Obviously the denier isn’t interested in real science. Most of them are right-wing religious fanatics who associate environmentalism with the political left and thus Satan. Some deniers are worried about the economic costs of some of the proposed solutions and are willing to entertain anything, no matter how unfounded, that safeguards their wallet.

6. Keep the subject about science.
The question is whether or not humans are contributing significantly to global warming. Not the size of Al Gore's house or China not having to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.

7. Be warned your opponent will try to redefine science.
Many global warming deniers are also creationists and are familiar with how to argue for something that’s not true. Because science is open ended and always being modified, the denier will try to equate scientific consensus with any crackpot hypothesis he can imagine. Remember, just because something might possibly be wrong it’s not equivalent to something that is almost certainly wrong.

8, The denier will challenge your sources.
Because he has no credible sources and all you have to do is quote NASA, the EPA, the IPCC or pretty much any university program or scientific body your opponent will have to find reasons to discredit anyone in a position to know what they are talking about. Be prepared to explain why a university press is more legitimate than a right-wing blog. Then be prepared to be accused of being closed-minded.

9. Be sure to check his sources.
Remember, global warming deniers have no facts on their side. They also assume other people don’t check footnotes and references and will easily be exposed as either uninformed or dishonest with the least bit of fact checking.

10. Have fun!
Arguing with global warming deniers is easy and satisfying. It makes you feel smart even if you’re a bit below average. Feel free to jump in with both feet because all the science is on your side and they are trying to defend some sinister conspiracy involving the entire science community, the media and all the world’s governments.

Below is a back and forth I had with some guy named Robert Symon. He has a blog called Simon Sez and was fun to argue with because he’s so full of himself, yet at the same time woefully misinformed.

It started when I left a note on his blog asking why he only referenced biased right-wing sources and a TV personality who wasn't a scientist. I mean it was just like two sentences. Here’s what he wrote back. Enjoy:

Mr. Smith,
 
I don't know if you read the "about" section of my blog, but I'll refresh your memory in case you did not.  My academic background includes a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, a degree in Meteorology with a physics minor from The Florida State University and an MA from the University of Louisville.  I am also a published historian.  In the process of being published in an academic journal, one must go through a lengthy peer review process so I know what it is like.  Not only have I worked in TV, but I also worked for the Institute for Storm Research (which has since changed names) in Houston and also as a Financial Consultant at Merrill Lynch where I not only was a member of the NYSE and NASDAQ, but also the Texas Board of Realtors and the Texas Board of Insurance.    Perhaps your tv personalities have their academic background through some correspondences courses (Mr. Tracy is a noted exception, he's a Penn State grad and they don't graduate knuckleheads) but I assure you I do not fit into your assessment.
 
As to the choice of sites and references, I chose items not based on ideology but on content.  These are important facts that are not revealed to the public, not through the networks, the Birmingham News or the Birmingham Free Press or anyone else.  I pointed out that the AP trumpeted the possibility that the Arctic ice cap might melt last summer.  When you actually read the article, buried many paragraphs down you find that the one guy who offered the possibility made it 1 in 4....which means it was 4-1 againt, but that wasn't the headline.  Further, when the ice actually increased over the previous year, the AP did not follow up, leaving readers to assume that the ice was still receding.  In the past 18 months it has increased.  Had the arctic been warmer this spring, we probably would have heard about it on the wires. But since it is the coldest its been this late in 50 years, we don't hear from a thing.  The undersea volcano issue.  That is an important item to look into....not proof but significant. Yet, the documentary was silent on the findings because it might have raised doubt to what it was trying to achieve, which means that since it was trying to drive a political point, it was not a true documentary, but instead propaganda, especially when one considers they used computer generated visual graphics to demonstrate what they were saying and allowing people think that they were using honest, true video.
 
In a true academic discussion, all items of note that are used to support a position are generally previously scrutinized through peer review. Much of what has been held up as fact in the IPCC report was not published work, let alone reviewed by anyone in general academia.  That should raise an eyebrow.  Academic science debate is done through published work and when a call is made to end all discussion because one side has decided that its been decided, that should raise a giant red flag.  That doesn't happen in academia, which is all about a free exchange of ideas, not a squashing or opinion.  That happens in totalitarian regimes.  For a journalist like yourself to even think that was as great idea is appalling.  YOu didn't say it but you didn't like my sources....its not the facts you didn't like....its the sources!  Content matters.
 
Has the earth been warming? Yes.  Is it man's fault? I dunno.  Can we do something about it? I dont' know. Should we do something about it if we can? I dunno.  Is this a natural thing much like the big warm up from around 900 to 1300  that caused the Vikings to colonize part of North America and call it Greenland only to abandon it as it turned to frozen tundra? I dunno?  Will there be a sharp cool down like we saw in the mini ice age of around 1450 to 1850 which was partly responsible for the emmgration to North America from Europe? I dunno.  Where the medeval warm up or mini ice age shown on the hockey stick graph originally in the IPCC report? No.  That should raise a flag.  The IPCC has since revised that graph but it is more indication of a failure of any peer review.
 
These questions have not been answered.  But the solution put forth is filled with problems because it involves great amounts of wealth and the transfer of political power.  That is another red flag when someone is advocating something that necessarily alters the fiscal and political landscape so drastically so quickly with uncertain consequences toward the stated purpose nor in the realm of unstated but not necessarily unintended consequences.  My biggest deal with all of this is that we know for certain that our waterways and oceans are dying and we do nothing and some of the solutions put forth for climate change have done nothing but further erode global marine ecosystems. 
 
Perhaps my background does not measure up to your standards to the point that you wish to call me into question. I can turn that around on you as well, questioning where you get off challenging me or simply attacking sources rather than content. But, I shant do that. Instead, I'd offer you my opinion that it is important to consider all sides of all issues respectfully and completely before one draws a conclusion.

Then he followed with this:

I apologize if I was too condescending.  But you really pissed me off with your tv personality line. I almost asked if you had ever derived Einstein's theory of relativity or if you could tell me how one arrives at the derivation for one of Newton's basic laws (F=MA) and if you could not produce, then I'd tell you to pipe down.  But, that would be totally inappropriate since all opinions are worth hearing but not all are newsworthy. I loved Brad Pitt's answer when someone asked him about the war in Iraq.  He said "who care's what I think...I'm an actor."  And he was correct.  Somehow the media seems to think that Sean Penn's opinions are more valuable than my neighbor Paul, since no one ever asks Paul. But, Paul is retired, served in the army in Europe and has an entire lifetime of real world experience that probably makes his opinion more interesting and probably more learned than Mr. Penn's. 
 
My thing is that the press needs to be putting out all information and not trying to be the arbitor of which side its from or what political spectrum.  They are called facts and facts don't include opinion.  Sometime over the past 30 years, opinion has made its way into the news...the days of the biline are long gone and we get a blurring of fact with opinion, with much of the opinion coming from journalists who really are not qualified to be making their opinions any more relevant than my neighbor Pauls.
 
Anyway, you probably didn't look at a post from a few days ago that might explain a little more about where I'm coming from with the water.  Mankind and especially Americans have lost humility and think we know everything when we later find we know nothing.  When I first started fooling around in Meteorology in 1980, El Nino happened every 7 years.  By 1988, I think it had happened 3 times and so that page of the text book had to be torn out.  The first hurricane to be tracked with satellite was Camille in 1969.  That reallly wasn't that long ago and is why the study continues...every year new findings come out that make publishers tear out pages of the old book because what was true a year ago may not be true today.
 
Anyway, again...sorry for the tone.  Here's the post to which I refer. It produced somewhat of a dustup on Reddit.

I decide to egg him on:

The TV personality thing was about your referencing Anthony Watts.

I looked through your site a bit and saw you also question evolution. This is typical among global warming deniers but foolish if you don't want to be dismissed out of hand.

Also the conspiracy theory that the media is somehow suppressing global warming deniers is not reality. Whenever a real climatologist is on the news talking about climate change there is always one of the few celebrity deniers there to give the counter argument. The deniers are given a ridiculous amount of airtime, If anything this has given an unfair advantage to anti-science.

Can I assume you are a fundamentalist Christian and and believe that that religion is best represented by the Republican Party in America?

-Stephen

He takes the bait:

From your notes I have determined that you are but a part of the public, which is fine.  You seem to only call part of the data "credible."  You dismiss Dr. Gray as a celebrity.  You read a handful of journals and have no idea what else is out there.  You have never attended a symposium such as the one I mentioned, The American Institute for Economic Research.  I doubt if you would understand a thing about the physics involved or the academic process.  Therefore, you would not understand the significance of non-reviewed material in the IPCC report and the corresponding fraudulent material put forth by Mr. Gore and the IPCC report itself.  You don't seem to care.  You have a one track mind that is molded by the persuasion of others.  You don't have any clue as to whether or not this issue is indeed man related or if it is natural and have no internally generated ideas on the subject. You have no answer to the great global warm up from 900 to 1300.  You have no clue about the mini ice age.  Both that were ignored by the IPCC.  Nope....but you read some stuff on the internet and let one point of view lead you like a sheep.  The world may be getting warmer. It may be man's fault.  But, there is nothing that absolutely proves it.  Those who point that out, you call "celebrities" when in fact, the proponents who want to make all of these political and fiscal changes that will necessarily line people's pockets with money (Al Gore) are the ones who get the publicity.  You want to call those who question names and say that only one side is credible. 
 
Assumptions and speculation you consider fact.  Very dangerous to think that way.  It might be a good idea to develop critical thinking abilities.
 
I bet you are totally clueless about the numerous instances of data corruption.  I bet you are totally clueless about the flawed methodology in many parts of the world involving data collection. 
 
This discussion cannot go any further.  I can't speak to a closed minded turnip.  I suspect that you really are a part of the press.

I reply:

I've looked into the issue enough to know that all the credible evidence is on the side of the global warming believers. William Gray is one of the handful of celebrity deniers whose name comes up all the time. He's kind if the Michael Behe of global warming deniers. Why even bring up a guy who's considered by all his coworkers to be a bit of a quack? Why not go to the guy in the next office at the University of Colorado and ask his opinion about global warming?

The answer is obvious. Global warming deniers and economic interests are cherry-picking their scientists to create a false image of a real debate in the scientific community.

What particular academic journals are you referring to that question climate change?

-Stephen

He starts backing away:

Sorry kid.  I'm into real stuff, not things on the internet with links and things.  The net is an awful place to do research as anything can be posted without anything.  I just happen  to have the symposium stuff right here by the computer.  But, I'll try to do some work for you. 

I hit him with some credible facts backed up by links to reliable sources:

So far your argument is that there was an economic symposium that featured one of the handful of famous global warming deniers that are constantly being paraded across right-wing media as a speaker. The agenda of people that feel that environmental legislation will hurt their bottom line is pretty obvious. But it has nothing to do with science.

Can you send me a link to one of those academic publications that believes global warming is a hoax? All the examples I've seen are so nakedly fraudulent that it's embarrassing. Maybe you know of one that's associated with a university or scientific organization that does credible work in other fields.

Calling the IPCC report not peer-reviewed doesn't even make sense. It is, by nature, the result of peers reviewing.

I'll admit my ignorance in that I am unaware of any credible scientific body that doesn't believe in global warming.

It's funny that when I do a google search on the term "great global warm up from 900 to 1300" I get a bunch of creationist sites like answersingenesis and creation.com. Also a bunch of right-wing propaganda sites like worldnet daily, newsbusters and even jihadwatch.

It seems the denier crowd, speaking directly to the public, likes to bring this up as though all those dumb climate scientists in the IPCC with all their silly Ph.Ds and book learnin' are unaware of the Medieval Climate Anomaly.

Here's a Science Daily story:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
2003/10/031020055353.htm

The EPA:
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/
science/pastcc.html

Read this one from New Scientist. They are a little more respectable than jihadwatch:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg
20227034.600-medieval-warming-study-
is-blow-to-climate-change-deniers.html

He responds with insults and starts with the conspiracy theory:

First off, thank you for revealing yourself.  When you use the term "dude" that indicates to me someone of overly youthful age, inexperience and also one that is difficult to take seriously.  I would suggest you not use that term when applying to a job or to anyone whom you wish to think you are worth their time.  I would say somewhat juvenile.
 
Now..thank you again for making my point.  I said the "AP did not follow up..." and so you gave me NASA and NOAA.  The first with NASA is true but not accurate and is exactly what I was pointing out but  you obviously chose to miss or it went over your head.  Two years ago was the point of lowest amount of ice on record.  Since then it has increased.  Try this set of statements instead. 
 
After reaching an all time recorded low, the ice coverage at the Arctic has been increasing which contradicted the forecasts of many experts and computer modeling.  So far this year, data suggests that the trend of growing ice fields is continuing.  While experts say that the monitoring of sea-ice behaviour only dates back less than 3 decades and long term trends cannot be accurately assumed, the trend over the past decade has been downward.
 
That is true, accurate and tells the whole story.  Much different from the limited statement put out by NASA.
 
Lets see..the second part...oh yes...They don't know.  It's a guess. Just like before when the headline screamed that it would be ice free two summers ago and then when one looked at the full report and found that one guy guessed a 1 in 4 chance that would be the case.  These little PR announcements offer no detail.  They really say nothing...a lot of could bes and maybes.  Nothing definitive.  Besides, its speculation.  I recall in the early 1970's, there was speculation, even a magazine cover that said we were heading toward another ice age.  In 1980 it was a "fact" that El Nino happened every 7 years.  By 1988, there had been 3 El Nino year.  The "fact" was now proven false.  Truth is El Nino had been known by the natives of Peru for centuries but only has been studied since the 1970's. 
 
You keep missing the points because you allow yourself to cloud all possibilities.  Is it possible that the Arctic could be ice free in 30 years, yes.  Is is possible that man has nothing to do with it? Yes.  Could both of those statements be wrong? Yes.  You want to take speculation as fact when it fits your ideals or even hopes.  You reject as celebritie deniers those who merely pose questions, bring up data not being considered or take a different view.  Instead, all data needs to be correct, gathered correctly and allowed for complete discussion with all discussion open for peer review.  Then the debate should be continued to be encouraged, just as all break throughs in science have occured.  Scientific advancement happens when a process of openess and respect is maintained, not stifling of thought.

I call him out on a factual error:

Actually the internet is pretty handy when it comes to exposing phonies.

"You have no answer to the great global warm up from 900 to 1300.  You have no clue about the mini ice age.  Both that were ignored by the IPCC."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MWP
_and_LIA_in_IPCC_reports

Caught in a lie he starts getting defensive:

First off, you again made my point.  The internet is awful  Anyone can post stuff on Wikipedia.  If you tried using that as a source in my class on a research paper you would get an F.  None of my academic colleagues and friends would accept it as credible.  Try using that on a paper at a symposium and you'd be laughed out of the room.  BTW...using short press releases also doesn't work too well either.  Remember, there's politics involved and government agencies want you to hear and report their version of the report, knowing that lazy reporters will use their version as gospel instead of reading the actual report where the meat lies.  I recently read a summary of a company's annual report. It said that they took a one time $689 million impairment charge.  But, if you actually take time to read the report, you find that buried deep, they say that there may be another impairment charge in 2009.  So much for a "one time" impairment charge in 2008.  They didn't lie in their summary, they just left out the facts that they dont want shareholders to read.
 
Anyway, even though it is Wikipedia, if you read the summaries, it shows that they never got around to even including the MWP and mini-ice age until the 2007!  Seventeen years until they try to address  it and then they admit there was a significant warm period and but theres not enough evidence regarding the mini ice age which seems pretty implausible to me but that's their story for now...until they change it again following more scrutinization.  The opening statement doesnt really match the verbiage.  Ever consider that scrutiny has forced them to revise the reports more and more away from their original assessment and more toward the truth?  Or perhaps, its simply the process playing out. One person puts out a report. Then it gets scrutinized and so it gets revised, then more scrutinization and revision.  That is the process.  But the initial report was taken as gospel when its really only the first inning.  The second scnario is a bet less cynical and probably closer to reality, in general,though there are certainly geopolitics going on within the UN.

I egg him on some more:

I cite the EPA and popular science journals. You cite one known quack and a conspiracy theory. Are you afraid to read the article from New Scientist published this April that exposes that you are not on top of the science?

You might want to read it to avoid embarrassing yourself in the future.

You're not really a scientist are you? I mean you are a little quick to brag about your credentials but you don't seem to know what you're talking about.

He counters with the conspiracy theory:

Again, read for content. I only read the NewScientist blurb..and thats all it was. The headline does not match the story.  You talk about looking at biased information? the first line "global warming deniers" indicates a biased reporter from the get go and one who has an agenda.  That's why I didn't bother with the crap. They  are full long reports.  Further, as you read down it says the person confirms that there was a significant warming period and suggests that it was from oceanic oscilation.  But, they can't figure out why it lasted for 350 years.  It suggested that they don;'t know but are speculating on outside forces such as solar activity. That's pretty natural and not man induced.  The sun affects the climate and weather all the time.  There are those who suggest that the reason we had warming was because of increased solar activity over the past couple of decades and now we are going into a quieting of activity, which is why there is the beginning of a cooling trend.  A few years does not a trend make so I'm not so sure of the veracity of the last statement at  this point.  But, again...what they say is not what you say it says nor what the writer used as a headline or opening statement.  Its not a blow to anything. 
 
Im really getting tired of this...not sure why I'm taking your bait except to hope that I can convince you that its an open issue and worthy of study but is not settled one way or another.  The only fact is that we are killing our rivers and oceans and we do nothing yet, we want to change entire economies and political systems over something that may or may not be accurate and, if so, may or may not be pragmatically possible to change.  Yet, you would label me a denier...just like in the 1630's Galileo was probably called a denier when he was forced to stop telling people that the earth revolved around the sun.  He was told to shut up because it challenged the power structure that developed.  I'm telling you...when one side wants to shut down the dicussion....that's a red flag.  I have an idea where this will end up, but the actions of the UN and others only make me question more.

I point out another falsehood he stated:

Dude, you shouldn't be so pompous if you're going to be so wrong about stuff that's so easy to look up.

"Further, when the (arctic) ice actually increased over the previous year, the AP did not follow up, leaving readers to assume that the ice was still receding.  In the past 18 months it has increased."

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/
features/seaice_status09.html

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/
stories2009/20090402_seaice.html

He’s got nothing left but condescension:

I'm done with you. You base opinions on news stories and press releases. Critical thinking is a part of being an adult.

I respond in kind:

Dude,

It's easy to claim that all the stories AP doesn't run are part of some kind of conspiracy. I constantly hear through various news sources that global warming is a hoax.

So we can agree that NASA is correct on global warming? I'm sure you are familiar with their opinion.

The arctic ice is melting, That's a fact. That it's not going at a perfectly steady pace is obvious. To point at that and say that science is all a big conspiracy is silly. You sound just like a creationist.

I find it funny that you bring up the Newsweek story about global cooling in the 1970s. How about the 31,000 scientists that signed a petition against global warming? You must just assume that average folk like me are as gullible and uninformed as the typical global warming denier. It's laughable. For god sakes man, I'm sitting at a computer and know how to use google.

Teach the controversy, right?

Please familiarize yourself with the philosophy of Karl Popper. It's so silly to keep having debates about what science is.

Now he starts denying reality:

Of course...I'm done.  Either I don't communicate effectively or you simply don't read for content.  Wikipedia did not say what you said it did when you evaluate what is written beyond the first statement.  I outlined that, you ignored it.  You use terms such as "right wing media" "celebrity deniers" and invent charges of conspiracy when nothing was so charged.  A meaningful discussion is not possible.

I expect him to challenge any sources. But note how he tries to pretend that he didn’t claim the IPCC ignored the Little Ice Age and MWP. It’s easy to pwn the deniers when they actually state some “fact.”

Of course anyone can post on wikipedia. But it only took two seconds to show you didn't know what you were talking about and are now trying to lie about it.

Of course wikipedia could be part of that huge conspiracy that includes the non right-wing media, all the colleges and universities and science organizations around the world.

He stops replying. This is me again.

Try to lay off the insults and provide credible, verifiable information.

It might be impossible for you to accept, but you might not have outsmarted all the scientists that have the credibility of being associated with legitimate science institutions and universities.

Please forward me links to any academic peer-reviewed publications that support your view.

Me again:

You should just admit you lied specifically and admit to yourself that you believe the scientists of the IPCC are either ignorant or dishonest, which is silly.

Dude, if you need this sort of conspiracy to support your theories it's probably time to rethink your theories.

Also, the Associated Press isn't conspiring to lie to us about science. Once again, silly. Besides, if they are, it doesn't matter because there are plenty of news sources that tell us constantly that global warming is a hoax. Why don't you just celebrate them? Possibly because they obviously can't be trusted?

I finish by going after his alternative explaination for global warming:

I looked up the underwater volcano thing. It doesn't take long to see why that's a bogus hypothesis. What's interesting is that, just like the creationists, the global warming deniers create just enough smoke and mirrors to fool people who are incapable of doing even the most preliminary research.

Also, here's a news article with a misleading headline and the truth hidden way down at the bottom.

http://www.foxnews.com/story
/0,2933,268800,00.html

 

 

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