Who would like to enrol in a course in ‘the science of climate science denial’?

Two recent papers that I have read provide an appropriate introduction to this piece. Judith Curry’s ‘Climate etc’ recently ran an essay, ‘Contradiction on emotional bias in the climate domain’, by Andy West, a British science fiction writer with an interest in ‘climate change’. It’s a good essay, and well worth one’s dipping into. West has done a lot of reading in the literature about emotional bias, and he argues that the strong push in so much AGW advocacy to worry ordinary people about the hot, dry, wet, cold future ahead of us, should we not ‘combat climate change’ through curbing greenhouse gas emissions, is now affecting climate scientists themselves. Some of them are reporting being depressed because we aren’t taking much notice of them. Some of them are Australians, too.

He maintains that all the literature he is citing comes from researchers who plainly believe in the ‘Consensus’, and makes the following point, which stuck in my mind: such intense emotive targeting and psychological shepherding may not so much be communicating the case for certainty, as manufacturing it. 

The second essay, ‘Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice’, by Aristotelis Orginos of New York University, took me into a world that is increasingly familiar, that of young people who want social justice NOW, and who regard as racist, sexist or otherwise deluded and reprehensible anyone who disagrees with them. His take-home message runs like this: in attempting to solve pressing and important social issues, millennial social justice advocates are violently sabotaging genuine opportunities for progress by infecting a liberal political narrative with, ironically, hate.

Prof Don Aitkin on climate change It all sounds rather like the war over ‘climate change’, doesn’t it, with the orthodox attacking ‘deniers’, a term which always carried with it a religious flavour. And that takes me to an online university course under the aegis of the University of Queensland. Its title is ‘Making Sense of Climate Denial’, and you can read about it, and even enrol, here. You can read more about it in a summary by its originator, John Cook, here. He has a cast of about a dozen to help him deliver the course, and I know of most of the names there. They are fervent supporters of the AGW orthodoxy.

Cook makes clear that the course is a collaboration between the people who run the Skeptical Science website (who include Cook himself) and UQ. He goes on: The course examines the science of climate science denial. Why do a small but vocal minority reject the scientific evidence for climate change? What techniques do they use to cast doubt on the science? And we examine the all-important question – based on scientific research, how should we respond to science denial?

Someone old-fashioned like me would wonder about all of this. For me the all-important question, accepting that an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely, all other things being equal, to lead to a small increase in temperature, is whether or not that is a problem. If it is, how much of a problem is it? At the moment, what I have read of the science suggests that it may not be a problem at all.

If you go to the course website you will learn that In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming. The old-fashioned person would be alert to such a claim, if only because it is so extreme. I mean, you hardly ever get 97% agreeing on anything, let alone on something thought to be controversial. And it was of course Cook himself who helped to develop this claim.

As it happens, there has been quite a lot of criticism of the claim, the most recent and most thorough being by David Legates and others, an abstract of which you can read here. I’ve written about the claim of a 97% consensus before. Three different ‘studies’ of published papers produced almost identical figures at that level. The last, that of Cook, was based on an inspection of 11,944 published papers. Lots of people, myself included, criticised the Cook paper for its methodological weaknesses. David Legates and a team looked at every paper he listed, and came up with a very different summary: of the 11,944 papers only 4,014 expressed any sort of opinion about the causes of global warming. Of those, only 41 of them, or 0.3%, attributed the warming directly to human activity. For those interested, you can work backwards from the last Legates paper to read three others, in which Cook defends what seems to me the indefensible. Perhaps I am biased, as an old-fashioned data person, but the methodology of the Cook paper was really dreadful.

So here we are back at the new course. Why would anyone want to enrol in it? Cook says he has developed it To further the work of educating the public, and empowering people to communicate the realities of climate change.  I can think of many different and better ways of achieving such aims. It is hard to escape the feeling that by communicate the realities of climate change Cook means ‘tell the orthodox AGW story as Al Gore presented it in his film’. Gore himself sought to train presenters to do what he had done, and occasionally you come across references to one of them spreading the message in Australia. This effort by Cook seems to be an imitation.

It saddens me that the University of Queensland, perhaps without knowing it, has become associated with what can only be described as an offence to good education. Science it is not. I put a mild comment on the course at ‘RealClimate’, on the assumption that a serious criticism would simply be put in the Trash bin. Mine was published, but so was that of an American statistician whose comments I have valued on other websites. His take on the course was short and pithy: Right. More about “How people who disagree with me have cognitive defects; people who agree with me do not.”

And it is hard not to agree. One common defence of any position, by anyone, including me if I don’t think first, is to argue that the opponent hasn’t got it right, misunderstands, has trouble of some kind. The assumption that Cook and his fellow teachers know it all is bizarre in any university setting. And a distinguished graduate of UQ has written to the present Vice-Chancellor deploring the University’s association with John Cook, and asking for a meeting to discuss the issue. I wish him every success.

Back to the West essay with which I began my own. It seems to me that Cook is about manufacturing a consensus, not showing its reality. The supposed consensus is not something that we should take for granted, and fails on inspection. By continuing to use the terms ‘denial’ and ‘denier’ he is displaying what Orginos was complaining about — bullying behaviour that brushes debate and discussion aside as unimportant — indeed impertinent, for Cook has the TRUTH. Why does he do it? What has happened to UQ?

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    “Why does he do it?” I’ve frequently posed that question silently, when encountering vigorous and at times hostile affirmation of the threat of human-caused global warming. I try to put myself in the shoes of the other person, and then it makes sense. Especially if you have a public profile as a strident warmist, and watch helplessly as all those predictions of climate catastrophe fail, what can you do? Simply, there are three options:
    1. Admit you have been wrong – I note that Judith Curry once accepted the AGW meme;
    2. Quietly crawl under a rock, and hope that no-one notices.
    3. Assert even more stridently the perils to come if humanity (and especially those dreadful denialists, but also including those wimps authoring 99.65% of the 11.944 papers as identified by Legates et al), will not listen. Yes, beat the drum more loudly, and go on beating till its eardrums are sore.

  • dlb says:

    I suppose the next step is that Cook’s graduates will be knocking on your door of a Saturday morning offering you literature and asking you to sign up to the consensus.

    • aert driessen says:

      Quite so, and they will all be carrying an Executive Summary of the latest IPCC Report. But how will they be dressed? I doubt that it will be in white shirts and black trousers.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    If the course asks why some people become sceptics and looks at the facts it might actually do some good. In my case I looked for dangerous and unprecedented change and, unable to find any in the very mild, erratic and largely beneficial change since the 19th century, I delved further into the facts. This reinforced my view that we are dealing with a false alarm based on a tiny part of Earth’s long history and refuted by the longer view and the decreasing affect of CO2 as concentrations rise.

    Early on I asked why, if temperatures since about 1880 had increased by less than 1C with a CO2 increase from 280ppm to 400ppm, and with the reduced potency of extra CO2 (if, indeed, it is the main driver of change), why would anyone expect a greater rate of change in the future?

    Since then I have learned that, despite rising CO2 levels, land readings show no increase for 18 years and satellite readings (which cover the entire earth not just 30% of it) for 25 years – and (no surprise) a number of reliable people like Judith Curry have now questioned the extent of ‘climate sensitivity’.

    This, along with the glaring failure of various climate models has led me to conclude that the complex and chaotic nature of weather and climate makes accurate, long-term predictions impossible. No-one knows what the weather will be like in a month’s time or the climate in a year or a decade from now. All we can say for sure is that it probably surprise us.

    There is much more to my scepticism that these simple facts and thoughts, but they got me going.

  • Alan Gould says:

    Yes, the point made in your second para, Don, that AGW attracts a fervour and focus that crosses from communicating a case to manufacturing one is a vital part of the pathos of this thing. And ‘pathos’ does seem to be disconcertingly at the heart of things, used as an instrument of put-down by the likes of Mr Cook. There is something very Soviet about taking your dissident and disarming his message by holding him up as a ‘case’ and saying that he behaves as he does because he is driven by forces beyond his control and we, who have all our controls intact, should watch him and observe, as we do the white mice in their cages. Insidious. One finds oneself not just opposing such types, but detesting them.

  • Mike says:

    Well for the record the reason I became a denier was a movie produced by the advocates of climate change. This was a movie about Tuvalu which is an atoll somewhere to the north of New Zealand. It was a movie about how Tuvalu would be inundated by sea level rise brought on by us wicked developed countries. Two things in particular struck me about the movie one they certainly had a population problem and it was always filmed at high tide. I know that tides in tropical regions are fairly large yet they never showed it when the tide was out. As for local comment there was only one sentence by a young lady at the very end of the movie. The alarm presented would make one think there would have been a lot of people wanting to comment.

    I hadn’t paid much attention to global warming before that, the movie was plainly a scam and spoke much about how the climate was going to change. My reaction was to find and read about the past in regards to climate. There was a large amount by a man called Lamb who is of some note in this area in the UK. He showed clearly what the past has been by various methods. My conclusion was that the climate of the past if anything was much worse than now. It is centred around England mainly but certainly looked at a full proportion of the planet.

    Instances of weather of the past that sticks in my mind is the fact losing a coastal village to a storm was not unusual. There is even one instance of a wind burying a town in 2 to 3 days, that town is still buried today. My belief is that climate and weather is a bitch and has always been so. All we can do is adapt only the barking mad could think otherwise.

    To change me to warmist you are going to have too change history!

  • Martin says:

    The whole 97% consensus number smacks of being manufactured in another manner too. 3% sounds like a big enough number of ‘deniers’ to explain why everyone has encountered some or heard their arguments but small enough to be dismissed as a whacko minority.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    Judith Curry has a good piece on the Cook course, with 400 comments so far:


  • David says:


    “It all sounds rather like the war over ‘climate change’, does not it, with the orthodox attacking ‘deniers’, a term which always carried with it a religious flavour.”

    And of course the reverse is also true, isn’t it? You refer to people who accept AGW as “orthodox” The term “orthodox” also has religious baggage, also. If you don’t believe me feed it into Google and see what turns up.

    • David says:

      Your not very self reflective. 🙂

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes, I’m conscious of that reading. I don’t use
      ‘warmist’, which is common enough. There is an orthodox view, which is that promulgated by the IPCC, endorsed by many of the scientific academies, and accepted by the EU, the UK, President Obama, and other governments. It is the ‘authoritative version’. It is hard to escape the religious overtones in any of these words. I chose ‘orthodox’ because it seemed the most straightforward and factual. ‘Sceptic’ seems OK to me, but ‘agnostic’, which I use about my own view of the AGW issue, also has religious overtones.

      I’m open to suggestions!

  • dlb says:

    I see the AMA are singing the praises of a new encyclical, I mean statement released by the Australian Academy of Science on the health risks of climate change. Interested to know what the average AMA member thinks?


    Those tom toms are getting louder in the lead up to Paris

  • 70s Playboy says:

    The course is free? Overpriced.

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