Existential battles with denialists

witch burningby mullica

Carter Confusion #1: Anthropogenic Warming
[Via Skeptical Science]

Bob Carter is an Australian marine geologist who in recent years has forayed into the field of climate science, for example co-authoring the extremely flawed study McLean et al. 2009 which attempted to blame global warming on the El Niño Southern Oscillation.  Recently, Carter penned a media article in which he argued against Australia’s proposed carbon tax.  The article is a fairly typical Gish Gallop in which Carter seems to attempt to jam as many climate myths into as few words as possible, interspersed with a lot of empty political rhetoric and the usual misunderstanding of climate economics.  The article contains too many myths to refute in a single post, so we will address it in a Carter Confusion series in the same vein as Monckton Myths, Christy Crocks, and Lindzen Illusions.

In this first installment, we will examine Carter’s claims that there is no evidence that the observed global warming is man-made, and that it is instead caused by the natural internal variability of the climate system.

Anthropogenic Fingerprints

Carter leaps quickly out of the gate, launching a whopper in the second paragraph of his article (emphasis added):

“Since [the 1980s], with the formation of the IPCC, and a parallel huge expansion of research and consultancy money into climate studies, energy studies and climate policy, an intensive effort has been made to identify and measure the human signature in the global temperature record at a cost that probably exceeds $100 billion. And, as Kevin Rudd might put it, “You know what? No such signature has been able to be isolated and measured.”

First of all, it’s difficult to determine where Carter is getting this $100 billion figure from.  The article focuses specifically on Australia, and the country has not spent $100 billion on climate research in its entire history, period.  Even on a global scale, nowhere near $100 billion has been spent on studies to identify anthropogenic signatures of global warming.  Carter appears to be playing fast and loose with the facts in order to appeal to his readers’ emotions during difficult economic times, which is a highly unscientific approach.  Not a promising start to the article.

Furthermore, as Skeptical Science readers know, the claim that no human warming signatures have been identified is entirely false, and reveals that Carter is either ignorant of the field of climate science, or is not being honest in his article.  We have previously addressed the anthropogenic “fingerprints” or “signatures” of global warming in the rebuttal to “it’s not us“.  Below is a brief summary of those fingerprints:

  • the upper atmosphere is cooling
  • the tropopause height is rising
  • nights are warming more than days
  • sea level pressure is rising
  • precipitation is changing as expected from anthropogenic forcing
  • ocean heat content is changing as expected from anthropogenic forcing
  • downward longwave radiation is increasing
  • upward longwave radiation is decreasing

Additionally, the warming trend is accurately projected by climate models – another fact which Carter denies later in the article.


Spewing made up facts and outright falsehoods is the hallmark of any type of denialist. Strawmen and false claims. Cherry picking and false logic. They all get used so often.

HIs level of reasoning is not based on a real search for truth but on supporting an already decided upon conclusion. And as we are seeing, while this sort of reasoning might have worked in times past, it is simply wrong when working with complex problems.

The peer review process of science introduces a strong social setting to respond to arguments and to clear away much confirmation bias. When Carter enters this arena, he has to drop all these sorts of rhetorical flourishes and stick to what can be proved.

And when he does that, his work is criticized heavily. That is what happens to work that can not withstand the reasoning arguments used in science. When this happens, scientists pick themselevs up and move forward with the new data and reasoning, looking to expand our knowlegde. They want to get to the bottom of it all and find what is really going on. They want the truth.

When this happens, deniaists resort to the sorts of reasoning that use arguments not often found in science –  logical fallacies, legalistic framing, cherry picking, quote mining, big lies, etc. In fact, these arguments are often used to hide the truth not find it. A purely scientific approach would not be likely to get a guilty person off. A lawyerly approach often does.

These lawyerly approaches may be successful in altering the course of human society. That is apparently what most argumentative reasoning has been geared for. When good choices are made, the society benefits. But when the arguments are twisted to hide the truth, society will be harmed.

Denialist arguments are often made up of rhetoric which might win an argument but are not geared for finding out what is going on around us. They let the guilty go free instead of finding out what really is happening. They represent a retrograde approach to the march of history. They wish a return to irrational arguments in place of the Enlightenment-derived rhetoric of science.

If this return to former modes of argumentative reasoning are allowed to win, we will have been witness to a decline in humanity’s historical course. Instead of continuing the upward progress we have sustained since the beginning of the Enlightenment, we will truly begin the march backwards so eloquently discussed by Clarence Darrow:

After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

That is why this is an existential battle and one the denialists must not be allowed to win.