Friday, January 23, 2009

Global warming: dumb arguments

I try not to get into pointless arguments online, but this one started in the forums at, a website I like. Strangely enough, a contingent of that site's members think the theory of man-made climate change is a hoax. So when one of the site's moderators linked to an article about a survey of scientists who agree that anthropogenic climate change is real and a danger, some people in the forum started making bad arguments.

I jumped in to respond, with the help of Coby Beck's "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic" series. Some of the responses asked the right questions: what about the planet's longer-term climate, what about recent cold weather. These are all, of course, questions scientists have answered, with broad consensus. But even when I've provided answers and links to detailed explanations, I've changed no minds at all. (At least not among the vocal posters.)

The worst part about it, though, is that a couple of the respondants clearly have no idea what they're talking about. They dispute the current scientific consensus by pointing to unverifiable online petitions and cite people who aren't authorities or researchers. They then claim that, in the 1970s, there was scientific consensus that we were headed for an ice age, but they evidence they provide for that claim doesn't present anything even remotely resembling a consensus. Even in the face of evidence that they're wrong, they keep on swinging.

This problem extends well beyond that forum, a place I would expect people to be better aware of climate-change science. Google the words "global warming," and you get a mix of links to science and utter bunk (the latter of which has often been debunked). A google search for "climate change" fares much better, but clearly we need to speak more loudly and directly about the myths and realities around global climate change. Cory Beck's series, linked to above, does a lot of the hard work of debunking frequently cited (and wrong) objections, but I want to emphasize a few based on the experience I'm having in that forum:
  • Make clear the difference between weather and climate. "It's cold today" doesn't refute evidence about global warming.
  • Make clear the difference between media depictions of science and peer-reviewed articles and research. I've been amazed that the people who call The New York Times a left-wing newspaper cite a single article from the 70s as proof of a "global cooling" consensus. (Especially when the first paragraph of the article says there is a major dispute about whether the planet is cooling or warming.)
  • Explain what a consensus is. Just because the founder of the Weather Channel disputes global warming doesn't mean there's a lack of consensus. It means that a meteorologist who founded a cable network, did no scientific research on climate change, and holds a B.A., doesn't understand climate science.
  • Cite the most recent research you can. If you show a graph of global temperatures that ends in 2004 or 2005, the response will be along the lines of "but what about the last year?"
  • Always remain civil. If you can.
That's a start. (And in a great coincidence, I chose the image above the same day as KSK. It isn't planned synergy.)


coby said...

"But even when I've provided answers and links to detailed explanations, I've changed no minds at all. (At least not among the vocal posters.)"

Do it for the lurkers! The non-vocal are the open-minded ones, they will see the difference between logic and hot air.

Good luck, and I'm very glad my series was useful for you! : )

Anonymous said...

So one is either an expert, a lurker or a "dumb argument presenting" skeptic ?
For a discussion of a scientific nature, there sure seems to be a lot of emotional statements.
Maybe instead of berating, using the repeat, reassure and resume method would allow some "lurkers" or "skeptics" to examine the logic instead of hot air.

Charlie Green said...


The tone of my blog post is different from the tone of my forum posts. My posts in the forum are (mostly) reasonable, especially compared to the most vocal anti-global warming posters there. (I'll have a blog post about this later today.)

And Coby--thanks for coming by. Thanks again for your great series.

What causes global warming? said...

Hilarious. Even though deep down I believe that Global warming is no reason for joking. We could all be mistaking by taking it for granted, and it'll be too late by then. But great post. Gave me a few relaxing moments :)