Too Hot Not To Handle
November 17, 2009 10:39 AM   Subscribe

A friend, who leans Ron Paul libertarian, was recently trying to convince me that anthropogenic global warming is largely a myth. A central part of his argument was his claiming that there was recently a petition signed by 40,000 independent climate scientists saying that, in his words, "so-called global warming is bullshit." More inside.

I'm no climate scientist, but I feel like I have a fairly good layman's grasp on the basics of climate change, and have heard of a few such "petitions" that generally end up being filled with non-scientists, or those on the fringe, or those who are corporate-sponsored - but I'd never heard of this petition.

I asked him to cite what exactly he was referring to, and he said he couldn't remember the sourcing at the moment (it was a loud bar night), but rest assured that the whole idea of a consensus about climate change is part of the push for one-world government.

The one-world-paranoia aside, does anyone know what he might have been referring to? I couldn't find anything googling for the number 40,000, but 30,000 yielded this. Might that be it?

I think he absorbs a fair amount of fringe-right media - can anyone give me the straight dope on the sort of things that are being circulated as "proof against climate change" that this may have been a part of, and what the common refutations are against this specific petition (if you know it), or such petitions generally? Or just a way to use this as an excuse to learn more? I'd like to continue these conversations with him, but I feel like he keeps on citing research that he reads in newsletters and the like.

(Also, while I'm here, he claimed that carbon taxation, especially in its current legislative form in Congress, is a secret tool to constrict all industry, and that Al Gore is just trying to profiteer for his private business. What're the arguments against these specific claims?)
posted by Ash3000 to Science & Nature (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I imagine he was referring to something referenced on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or [insert generic angry right-wing show here]
posted by jefficator at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing there's nowhere near 30,000 "climate scientists", let alone 40,000. Beware large, round numbers. Which isn't to say there aren't "climate scientists" who believe this, of course.
posted by tommasz at 10:51 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Al Gore is just trying to profiteer for his private business.

I'll suggest a libertarian response to this claim: "What's wrong with that?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:52 AM on November 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Lemme elaborate on that.

Your search terms might be off. It is like that Rush Limbaugh was saying something like "climate change lies, climate change lies, blah blah blah." Then he started talking about climate change scientists. Then, in a bait-and-switch, he starts talking about a petition signed by 40,000 scientists that refutes climate change. Now if we had the petition, it was most likely signed by 40,000 vaguely-tangentially-related-to-something-scientific-at-all scientists.

This has been my experience with El Rushbo, etc.
posted by jefficator at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a study put out by a Senate committee which aggregates the opinions of about 1,000 scientists who claim that global warming has not been caused by humans, but rather is part of a natural cycle that occurs over the millenia.

I leave it to others to judge the veracity or relevance of these claims.
posted by dfriedman at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2009


Perhaps you should ask your friend to send you the reference and take it from there.
posted by alms at 10:54 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's some humorous stuff: http://myrightwingdad.blogspot.com/2008/12/fwd-pre-industrial-co2-levels-were.html

But I would just let it go.. there is no way to "win" this argument.
posted by pwally at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is crap.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Petition

The 30,000 people included people with any kind a B.S. degree who wanted to self identify as "scientists or engineers." The guy behind it is a really interesting fellow, Arthur B Robinson. His "institute" which is mostly his family, got its seed money from a legal settlement with Linus Pauling. There is a good front page post here for someone who cares to make it.
posted by pseudonick at 10:57 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


A friend's wife, a geologist, was named as a signatory to that petition, despite never actually having signed it. That petition is an out and out fraud.
posted by electroboy at 10:59 AM on November 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


I have a younger brother with similar views. He often cites these supposed tens of thousands of scientists who support his views, but, as you've already picked up, it's a bogus claim that relies on counting weathermen, dentists and other non-climate specialists. My brother also got very excited about an Apollo 17 astronaut named Harrison Schmitt who believes similar things, so watch out for that too.

The truth is, this friend of yours, if he's like my brother, has a very different understanding of what is reliable expertise. To this point of view, the fact that every scientific academy in every nation, every university science department, and every international scientific body accepts global warming can be easily refuted by a petition signed by a bunch of veterinarians and architects. Similarly, my brother said that I ought to accept Schmitt's position because he was trained as a geologist -- in 1950! Nevermind that active geologists play a critical role in global warming science and disagree.

Of course, those who hold your friend's position are likely to be extremely distrustful of mainstream science, while at the same time holding unusual ideas about how science is performed in the modern age. For instance, my brother, who graduated from UC Berkeley and has lots of exposure to academia, nevertheless believes that the scientists who believe in global warming are only saying that so they can get rich off grant money. He was quite surprised when I explained that grants are not given in cash to professors to just do what they please etc.

All this is to say that trying to argue with your friend is going to be extremely frustrating because he will accept the scientific consensus when he is mistaken about what it is -- i.e. the supposed 40,000 climate scientists -- but completely reject it when it doesn't conform to what he prefers to believes. He has taken a political or almost religious position, and it is likely to be impregnable to to logic.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 10:59 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


central part of his argument was his claiming that there was recently a petition signed by 40,000 independent climate scientists saying that, in his words, "so-called global warming is bullshit."

The problem with this argument is that the scientific method works by experimentation, observation of data, and testing. It is not decided based on PETITIONS.

I mean, if I tried hard enough I could probably get 40,000 people to sign a petition claiming that "Ted Koppel is a waffle." But that wouldn't make it actually true that Ted Koppel IS a waffle. You have no way of knowing that the 40,000 people who signed are trustworthy other than my own say-so; and for all you know I could have been bribing people.

That's why petitions aren't used as scientific proof.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on November 17, 2009 [16 favorites]


Sounds like you found what he was referring to. Really there's no point playing the numbers game. It doesn't work for either side of the argument.

For example, if you believe - as the blogger you liked to does - that the 152 climatologists and atmospheric scientists who signed the petition are not a high enough number to worry about (meteorologists, geologists, astrophysicists and statisticians not being permitted to express an opinion), then you might wonder about chapter 9 of the IPCC report - the one that contains the scientific claims about global warming - which had a total of 53 authors and 4 positive reviewers.

Here's the thing though; if your friend's intention was to persuade you that there are non-trivial numbers of qualified, credible scientists who disagree with some or all of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, then he was correct, and it's hard to rebut someone who is correct.
posted by standbythree at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2009


There is a study put out by a Senate committee which aggregates the opinions of about 1,000 scientists

Where do you get "1,000 scientists"? It's 650 scientists, which includes the 450 scientists whose comments were previously compiled--the two lists are mutually inclusive, not mutually exclusive.

who claim that global warming has not been caused by humans, but rather is part of a natural cycle that occurs over the millenia.

That's a somewhat inaccurate assessment of the viewpoints of the scientists involved: some are skeptical about the processes used for assessment of current climate changes in the IPCC reports, some are skeptical about the possibility of assigning any cause to current climate changes. Some suggest that there isn't a long enough tail to predict whether we are currently in a global warming trend, or a global cooling trend.

Of the scientists who do hold the opinion that "global warming isn't caused by humans, but we are currently in a natural warming cycle," most are chemists, astronomers, geographers, and geologists, not atmospheric scientists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2009


Here's a wiki list of 'opposing' scientists you could point a whether vane at. Not quite 40,000 though.
posted by artdrectr at 11:02 AM on November 17, 2009


I'll suggest a libertarian response to this claim: "What's wrong with that?"

Well, the claim is that Al Gore is enriching himself via regulation and rent-seeking: decidedly un-libertarian methods. As far as I've read, Al Gore does stand to profit from changes in the economy, but whether that's "profiteering" is questionable. You might ask your friend whether Al Gore is interested in his own bottom line or actually believes what he claims to and is merely investing in advance in order to attract interest and other investors. You might also compare Al Gore to other politically active businesspeople and ask how different their methods are: other types of companies profit (I think unreasonably) from various tariffs and regulations that are problematic from a horizontal equity perspective.

Also, you might put to him the following: Is his belief that there is in fact no anthropogenic global warming, or is he really using irrelevant evidence to argue that we shouldn't do anything about it for fear of infringing people's rights/ruining the economy/etc.?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:03 AM on November 17, 2009


if your friend's intention was to persuade you that there are non-trivial numbers of qualified, credible scientists who disagree with some or all of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, then he was correct, and it's hard to rebut someone who is correct.

But that wasn't his intention, was it? Saying "there are 40,000 scientists who say global warming is hooey" is very different from "There is a small but statistically significant minority of climatologists and atmospheric scientists who say global warming is hooey."

The latter is a discussion point; the former is demagoguery.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:03 AM on November 17, 2009


I don't know what sort of things are getting circulated, but regarding those shoddy, mass petitions, I think it'd be good to ask him which scientists on them made him believe it was a good representation of a strong minority of beliefs in the scientific community. If he doesn't know any of the scientists on the lists, it speaks poorly either of the list or of his research skills (or his lack of desire to research further than to find something in support of his ideas). If he does mention a specific scientist, you need to research them and make sure they actually signed a petition, because it's been known to happen that some of these petitions just include people, without their knowing.

But really, you also just need to remind him that a petition is not a good reason to refute (or support) the idea of global warming. It is somewhat akin to saying, "I support the war in Iraq, because [insert some group here] got a petition with [insert number here] signatures in support of it." The point is that it's beside the point. It's not an argument. It could possibly be a premise to an argument for/against an idea, but it's not a full argument all by itself.

I'm not sure about all the premises that the majority of scientists put out at various times, and I personally do not believe "the situation" is dire, but I do attempt to read a lot to understand what thoughts are out there, what the consensus is, what technology is being used, etc., so I can process what I do believe at the end of the day. I worry that many people who believe climate change is a myth do so out of political and moral reasoning, not any critical scientific thought. They look less at the science, more at the scientists. This often means that they argue from that standpoint, which is unfortunate.

P.S. - I think Al Gore is full of shit, too. He's always put politics first and changed his mind on matters to make the most of his career (see his positions on abortion in his early political career, versus the Clinton years, for example). I think of him as a politician, not a scientist, so I'm not sure he's ever going to be a good conversation starter between you and your friend. If I believe that, your friend undoubtedly believes that and much, much more that would be fueled by the fringe media he listens to.
posted by metalheart at 11:04 AM on November 17, 2009


First, there's probably almost no arguing with him, so be aware that this may lead to a falling out. That said, here's how I would respond to someone with his mindset:

he claimed that carbon taxation, especially in its current legislative form in Congress, is a secret tool to constrict all industry

Introduce him to the concept of an externality, particular a negative externality. Cap and trade, carbon taxation, and other such schemes are methods of putting the true cost of pollution on the polluter. Not taxing pollution gives polluting individuals and corporations a free ride, also known as corporate welfare.

Moreover, it will not constrict industry significantly. Instead, it will give businesses an incentive to be more efficient and pollute less, and the development and implementation of those more efficient methods of production will produce jobs and drive growth. Remind him that relying on externality-driven, artificially cheap means of production (e.g., strip mining, oil production, etc) constrict growth by deriving wealth not from the labor of workers or scientists but rather from the lazy development of pre-existing natural resources that spreads the true cost onto society in the form of pollution. See the resource curse for more.

To the extent that pollution is unavoidable, it is true that companies will raise prices to compensate. But prices will rise across the board, so no individual company will suffer. Implemented gradually, the result will be compensatory wage increases rather than price shocks.

Al Gore is just trying to profiteer for his private business

Then he should prefer direct carbon taxation to cap and trade. Most cap and trade schemes require a kind of stock exchange for pollution credits, complete with brokers. That is the putative source of Gore's profit. Under a direct taxation scheme there is no middleman: the government handles the whole thing.

But even if Gore stands to make millions, how is that different from oil companies lobbying against carbon taxation or cap and trade? After all, they stand to continue making billions under the status quo. The right or wrongness of a position should not be decided by whether someone will profit; generally speaking someone will always make money. The decision should be based on sound science.

If there is a concern about parasitic profiteering or excessive profit, then perhaps he should consider whether oil companies that got their start from imperialism, colonialism, and antitrust violations (i.e., the 'force or fraud' that libertarians generally claim government should prevent) should derive massive profits from the extraction of resources from countries in which most of the citizens realize little or nothing of the value of the resources.
posted by jedicus at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


He is mostly likely talking about the ~31,000 person Oregon Petition which has been exposed as a complete fraud. The RealClimate archive is generally considered one of the best resources for debunking climate change claims. It is run by *gasp* real climate scientists.
posted by Procloeon at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2009


Also, while I'm here, he claimed that carbon taxation, especially in its current legislative form in Congress, is a secret tool to constrict all industry

Who with the power to push something like that through Congress could possibly benefit from constricting all industry? Pretty much every politician has major corporate interests as a major source of campaign contributions, and letting the economy go south is a great way to knocked out of office in the next election.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:13 AM on November 17, 2009


Conspiracy theories have no counter arguments. Example: "Do nothing wrong or God will smite you, and by the way thinking about stopping is wrong". There's no counterargument to that. At some point the person who believes that has to make a leap of faith, see they haven't been zapped by a lightening bolt, realize when something finally does go wrong that it's a statistical eventuality, and go on with their lives. The only thing any of us can do is lead them in that direction, else we become "an agent of the conspiracy". Which sucks.

Try: "There have been petitions populated by meteorologists during a time when the president's administration was against global warming and since most meteorologists work for the media and primarily get their information from the President's government (NOAA) it'd be hard to pin the whole argument on such a list."

Be specific, truthful, and kind. Asking them to further conjecture their theory just amplifies it *in their head*. How Al Gore will benefit is a mystery to all of us but once they explain it to you and you pronounce them wrong, you're right back at being "an agent of the conspiracy" or "one of the clueless". There's more than a few folks on MeFi who make that last one an art.

Instead try: "Gore's activities are monitored closely and are of great interest to at least 48% of the public and many would notice if he were somehow deriving profits from one particular government program which he created. Rather than doing what everyone does and running for President year after year he is fighting for what HE believes is a major problem. You and I may or may not agree with that, but claiming he's doing it primarily to make money is just incorrect."

It's always helpful to avoid casting judgment in your responses and talking about your debatee directly. Make it impersonal and universal. Rather than trying to win the argument I tend to focus on keeping people grounded. Social animals can be smart individually but dead stupid as a group. Often they just need a reality check.
posted by jwells at 11:14 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


There aren't 40,000 "climate scientists" in the whole galaxy, and what is an "independent" scientist?

Statistically Speaking: What Do Scientists Think About Climate Change? says that 97.4% of real, employed climate scientists (not geologists and mining engineers) think anthropogenic climate change is real. And on the other side: Scientific opinion on climate change - Dissenting opinions
posted by psyche7 at 11:15 AM on November 17, 2009


Saying "there are 40,000 scientists who say global warming is hooey" is very different from "There is a small but statistically significant minority of climatologists and atmospheric scientists who say global warming is hooey."


This is also a good point. Saying you have 40,000 "scientists" means nothing, because technically, a doctor is a scientist, an electrical engineer is a scientist, my sophmore year chem teacher is a scientist, Dr. Ruth is a scientist, Kent Hovind is a scientist...and I don't think any of them would know enough about climatology to make any significant claims.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2009


"Your carefully researched paper is nothing. I have a petition!"
posted by chairface at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2009


He is certainly referring to this. A couple things to note off the bat: first, this is arguably a "push" petition because it is primarily framed as opposition to the Kyoto agreement; its specific claims against global warming are much more weaselly. Furthermore, these are individuals self-reporting as scientists, and, qualifications allowed for signers are very broad, there is no indication of independent verification of the signers, and even allowing the very generous assumption that all these self-reports are accurate, by the project's own statistics less than 30% of the respondents have PhDs (and the largest group at over 40% are Bachelors degrees, gee, I bet hardly any of those are students who are confidently, ahem, anticipating receiving their degree in science real soon. You know, before they bomb out of O-chem and switch to a Business major). Note that your friend has inflated the total number of claimed signers of the petition - 31,486 (yeah, he really did his homework on this) by over 8,500 - almost as many as the actual number of PhDs who signed it - 9,029.

Of the signers, the only group with a particularly reasonable claim on having any particular knowledge of the subject is "atmospheric, environmental, and Earth sciences" at 3,804 signers or a little over 12% - the actual statistics on their specializations - kindly provided at that qualifications link above - are substantially less impressive. The biggest group by far are "engineering and general science" at 10,103 or a little over 32%.

So basically overwhelmingly your biggest groups are the least qualified to answer the question.

Plenty of debunking available if you look it up.
posted by nanojath at 11:21 AM on November 17, 2009


P.S. arguing this with your friend is an incredible waste of your time.
posted by nanojath at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2009


What EmpressCallipygos said.

Also, I am a waffle expert and I would sign the Koppel petition.
posted by rokusan at 11:33 AM on November 17, 2009


a doctor is a scientist, an electrical engineer is a scientist

Not that it's a big point, but: one can be a physician or an engineer without a science degree.
posted by rokusan at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2009


Not that it's a big point, but: one can be a physician or an engineer without a science degree.

I'm in the arts -- I was having a hard time thinking of "sciencey people who wouldn't know climatology".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:36 AM on November 17, 2009


An episode of PBS's NOVA from a few years back explores the phenomenon of the natural process by which the magnetic field around the Earth reverses polarity. During this time the magnetic field, which protects the Earth from solar radiation, looses much of it's capacity to do so as it realigns itself. Geologically, this process takes several hundred years. Scientists speculate that this process is beginning it's next cycle even now. It is this process which is warming our climate. (One beautiful aspect of this is that the Aurora Borealis effect is expected to be visible throughout the globe as the solar radiation affects the shifting magnetic fields). This is the most widely accepted and most legitimate scientific explanation for global warming.
Yet another episode of NOVA shows data collected from the days after September 11, 2001, during which time all jet aircraft were grounded from American airspace. The recorded temperatures across The United States was two to three degrees cooler than the days prior to and after the grounding.
Draw your own conclusions about what fossil fuels contribute to the situation and you might decide that while the planet is doing it's own thing, we sure aren't helping at all.
UV radiation from the sun is expected to increase dramatically during the magnetic field's realignment, becoming a significant health risk. Bring these items up with your pal and tell him it's nature's conspiracy against us to reduce our numbers.
posted by Oireachtac at 11:43 AM on November 17, 2009


Yet another episode of NOVA shows data collected from the days after September 11, 2001, during which time all jet aircraft were grounded from American airspace. The recorded temperatures across The United States was two to three degrees cooler than the days prior to and after the grounding.

No, the claim was that during the grounding the weather was actually warmer than usual, not cooler. Several scientists, working independently, have found that it was a coincidental, typical change in the weather for that time of year and the contrails or their absence have only a minor effect on temperatures.

During this time the magnetic field, which protects the Earth from solar radiation, looses much of it's capacity to do so as it realigns itself. Geologically, this process takes several hundred years. Scientists speculate that this process is beginning it's next cycle even now. It is this process which is warming our climate.

This is plainly wrong. The vast majority of radiation from the sun is in the near-infrared, visible, and ultraviolet part of the spectrum, none of which are stopped by the Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field protects us from the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that, if not stopped, would be bad for life on Earth but not cause substantial warming.

This is the most widely accepted and most legitimate scientific explanation for global warming.

No, the most widely accepted and legitimate scientific explanation for global warming is anthropogenic climate change.
posted by jedicus at 12:01 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is not directly the same thing, but it's related, and you might want to mention it to your friend:

There's a similar behavior among creationists, where they get weathermen, dentists, and insurance agents who say that they doubt evolution, and then issue a press release saying they've got a whole bunch of "scientists" who doubt evolution.

In parodistic response, the National Center for Science Education launched Project Steve, collecting statements of belief in evolution from scientists -- actualscientists -- named Steve (or Stephen, Stephanie, et cetera). There are currently 1120 signatories on the Steve-O-Meter.

And, in contrast to the list of doubters, look at the professions/educations of the Steves: in alphabetical order by name, they've got Stephen the microbiologist, Steve the chemical engineer, Steven the oceanographer, Stephen the biochemist, Steve the astrophysicist, Steven the zoologist, Stephen the physicist, another Stephen the physicist, Steve the zoologist, Steven the chemist, Stephen the biologist, Stephen the chemist, and on and on.
posted by Flunkie at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2009



No, the most widely accepted and legitimate scientific explanation for global warming is anthropogenic climate change.


There must be a good list somewhere of every widely accepted and legitimate scientific theory that turned out to be bullshit. "We must do X because scientists are convinced of Y" isn't an argument. Politicians have twisted science for too long for people to buy that. Besides, anthropogenic climate change is the best theory, that could change tomorrow.

IMO, you can't argue about the science with people. No one, even dedicated amateur experts, can understand the whole thing. You need to get beyond one scientifically illiterate dude and one non-expert dude arguing about fucking albedo values of ice vs. water:

There are a lot of theories. Scientists will be arguing about them for years after you and I are dead. The most widely accepted theory is that we're causing global warming. A few scientists dispute this. The might be right. You and I are not qualified to really evaluate the evidence, though.

People are panicking about this right now, and they're irritating to us skeptical folks. But take a step back and think about it: doing what the Al Gores want us to do will cost us many billions of dollars in the short run, but will kick start a whole new energy industry and reward us with future energy savings and energy independence. WORST CASE we tip the economy into a recession. Doing what Rush Limbaugh wants us to do might lead to the end of civilization. We could spend all day talking out our assess about science that neither of us understands, but if there's even a 1 in 100 chance Al Gore is right, it makes sense to address greenhouse gas emissions. Don't you think there's at least a _small_ chance that we should pay attention when most of the world's climate experts start speaking in unison?
posted by paanta at 1:09 PM on November 17, 2009


A broader point being lost in this stream of good particular points is that when you wrestle with a pig, all that happens is that you get covered in shit and the pig enjoys is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:26 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not that it's a big point, but: one can be a physician or an engineer without a science degree.

Conversation I had working at an engineering firm I've long since departed. I'm a civil/environmental engineer, so is my coworker in this story.

Me: Yeah, so we went to the prehistoric mammals exhibit at Natural History. That's gotta be one of my favorite exhibits. Just imagining those gigantic sloths in real life, and it's not like they've been gone that long, not 6 million years, like the dinosaurs....

Coworker: Thousand years.

Me: Do what now?

Coworker: The dinosaurs are only six thousand years old.

Me: Umm....

Coworker: Yeah, they've found human footprints next to dinosaur footprints. It confirms what's in the Bible.

Me: Huh. How about that.


The moral of the story is that you can get an undergrad degree in a reasonably difficult technical subject and still be a fucking idiot.
posted by electroboy at 3:42 PM on November 17, 2009


I would suggest that you don't try to engage your frend in a detailed argument, as it will be very difficult to win. However telling him that his opinion is delusional and not based on the available evidence might achieve something.
posted by singingfish at 3:45 PM on November 17, 2009


I think the petition he is thinking of (or at least a similar one) is mentioned in the film The Great Global Warming Swindle. I highly recommend watching it back to back with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Even better, watch them with your friend and discuss it afterward.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2009


FWIW, this claim was talked about on Daily Kos today, with the rumor being that 30,000 scientists are suing Al Gore for fraud.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:20 PM on November 20, 2009


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