Climate Denialism for Dummies

Take a tour around the climate denial-o-sphere and you will come across proof absolute that many people involved in discussing the issue of climate change and global warming just don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

Like Rick Perry, for example:

“I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

Luckily, he’s out, but srsly, he was the top runner for a while.

“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. …And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

This is most distressing to those of us who acknowledge the reality of climate change / global warming because one of these folks could ultimately lead the US next year and to the man and woman, they are all in denial.

So what is denial? As the saying goes, “It ain’t a river in Egypt”…


denial [dɪˈnaɪəl]


1. a refusal to agree or comply with a statement; contradiction
2. (Philosophy) the rejection of the truth of a proposition, doctrine.
3. a negative reply; rejection of a request
4. a refusal to acknowledge; renunciation; disavowal
5. (Psychology) a psychological process by which painful truths are not admitted into an individual’s consciousness

In our case, number 1, 2, 4 and 5 apply. But primarily, its number 5 that motivates the average denialist, who refuses to accept the reality of climate change and humanity’s role in it because it threatens their beliefs and ideologies or their livelihood.

Climate Change / Global Warming Denialism is the movement that arose to fight the whole notion of global warming.

Denialism (From
Denialism: the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.

We believe there are five simple guidelines for identifying denialist arguments. Most denialist arguments will incorporate more than one of the following tactics: Conspiracy, Selectivity, False Experts, Impossible Expectations/Moving Goalposts, and Argument from Metaphor/violations of informal logic.

I really like this approach and so:

The Five Signs of Denialism:

1. Conspiracy
Climate scientists are involved in a hoax, a fraud, are covering up the truth, and would lose their funding if they were to reveal the truth. What they really want is a totalitarian government takeover of your freedoms. Hitler. Fascism.

The End of Freedom Itself!
“Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization…And you must silence all dissenting voices. That’s what Hitler did. That’s what Al Gore, the U.N., and everybody on the global warming bandwagon [are doing].” –”The Glenn Beck Program,” May 1, 2007
Here’s Limbaugh:
“Follow the money and understand what’s really going on. This is a hoax. It’s junk science. It’s being portrayed as something to make you scared to death we’re all going to die. You’re supposed to vote liberal for this; supposed to make some sacrifices; pay higher taxes; drive a car you don’t want to drive; live in a house you don’t want to live; live where you don’t want to live … I don’t know who’s in the crosshairs on this, the US government, but it’s going to be various industries who are said to be polluting and Big Oil will probably be the big target here, Big Oil, Big Natural Gas, electricity, utilities, this sort of thing, it’s coming, you have been warned.”  Rush Limbaugh
Don’t forget Marc Morano:
“The billion-dollar hoax: global warming rapidly falls from the ‘great moral challenge to our generation’ to ‘the great con that’s falling to bits’.”
Marc Morano

Or Dr. Spencer:

“Climate scientists need there to be a problem, in order to get funding.”

Roy Spencer

And let’s not forget Inhofe:
“much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” a statement that, to put it mildly, was not viewed kindly by environmental extremists and their elitist organizations. I also pointed out, in a lengthy committee report, that those same environmental extremists exploit the issue for fundraising purposes, raking in millions of dollars, even using federal taxpayer dollars to finance their campaigns.” Inhofe

And Ken Cuccinelli:

“We cannot allow unelected bureaucrats with political agendas to use falsified data to regulate American industry and drive our economy into the ground”.

Response: (From
    The papers published in Nature and Science aren’t just essays saying “everything is fine.” They are often revolutionary (and sometimes incorrect) papers describing unusual findings, powerful new findings, or things that represent a major coup of scientific diligence and work. Funding, while often rewarded to projects that don’t take huge risks, is also heavily based on novelty, not maintaining some kind of party line. Further, the idea that scientists would ever work together in uniform to supress some piece of information is laughable. Scientists are in competition with eachother, and if something were being suppressed by a group it is usually only because they want to publish it first, and their competitors would love to beat them to it. Science is quite incompatible with keeping secrets or maintaining conspiracies, and to any actual scientists this is laughable.
2. Selectivity

Denialists cite papers that run contrary to the consensus view. They push papers critical of the consensus view of climate scientists and quote-mine to find bits of text to distort the meaning out of context.

The entire website Watts Up With That is a model of this aspect of denialism.

“Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant “global warming” in the 20th century. “
Response: (From

    The biggest problem here is that science doesn’t “purge” the literature when these things are proven false and they stay there forever. It is up to the researcher to read more than the papers that support their foregone conclusion, they have to develop a theory that incorporates all the data, not just the data they like.
3. False Experts
Denialists use fake experts to give their front organizations the veneer of respectability. Only the credulous are fooled.

The Heartland Institute is a case in point.
“While it is true that global temperatures have risen somewhat during the past 100-plus years since the Little Ice Age ended, there was little room for temperatures to go at the time but up. The Little Ice Age, lasting from approximately 1300-1900 A.D., brought the planet’s coldest extended temperatures during the last 10,000 years. Saying that temperatures have risen by 1 degree or so since the end of the Little Ice Age tells us essentially nothing in the long-term temperature context because the arbitrary baseline of the Little Ice Age was an exceptionally cold climate anomaly.” Heartland Institute
Response: (From
    The global warming denialists have the greatest amount of money invested in the fake-expert strategy but they all pretty much use this tactic to some degree. Note that creationists and other anti-science types particularly will line up behind MDs to support their crap, because a lot of doctors are graduated in this country, and even though they technically have a degree in science, they’ve never actually done it themselves and it’s never to hard to find some quack with an MD to back up your line of bullshit.

4. Impossible Expectations/Moving Goalposts
This strategy relies on arguing that the science is not perfect, the scientists are not perfect, and because the knowledge is not perfect, nothing can be known or done or trusted.

“Yes, the decline had been disclosed in the “peer reviewed literature”. Indeed, that was how I became aware of the trick – long before Climategate and why, as an AR4 peer reviewer, I asked that IPCC not use the trick once again in AR4.

IPCC presentations are how the climate science community speaks to the world. Climate scientists, including CRU scientists, have a far greater obligation of full, true and plain disclosure in IPCC reports than even the specialist literature. Oxburgh pretends that (partial) disclosure of adverse results by CRU in specialist literature is sufficient. It isn’t. There was a continuing obligation to disclose adverse results in IPCC graphics.”

Response: (From

      This is a big one with global warming deniers. To state the problem metaphorically, it’s like saying until you’ve figured out the exact momentum, moment of inertia, time dilation, length contraction, and relativistic position of a car in several reference frames that is speeding at you, you shouldn’t jump out of the way. Since global warming is very complicated, they use this mixed appeal to ignorance and inaction to suggest until we understand climate 100%, we should do nothing. Never mind that this is impossible, but that is the expectation. A reasonable person would instead suggest that once you have enough data that suggest a change of behavior, or change of policy is warranted, it would be prudent to take that data under consideration and change things before we’re all under water. You don’t need to know the position of every molecule in the galaxy before deciding you need to jump out of the way of a speeding train. Just like we don’t need to have a perfect model of the earth’s climate to understand that all the current data and simulations suggest decreasing carbon output is of critical importance right now, and not when humans have obtained some imaginary scientific nirvana.
5. Argument from Metaphor / Violation of Informal Logic

Piltdown Mann

“Glad to see folks picking up the Piltdown Mann Meme. First Posted by yours truly: piltdown mann carves a hockey stick

When I did this it came with a picture:

Response: (From

     Science is not about who has the best metaphor that makes the most sense to good ol’ common folk. Data trumps metaphors every time.
So there’s a bit of a guide to denialism for the dummies amongst us. There’s far more to post, but it’s Sunday and I have to go into work for a few hours and then do laundry and cook Sunday roast so I’ll leave it at that. Post more in the comments if you find good examples.

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

12 Responses to “Climate Denialism for Dummies”

  1. Hi PL,

    The view of the GOP field truly frightens me …. Determining the function of denial is vital.

    I would expand on the idea of “painful truths” from the psychological umbrella of denials. Often, we suppose that it is too “painful” to consider the costs, implications, and moral obligations of facing climate change as the psychologically motivating factor of a person’s denial. I suspect it can be a more personal “truth” that is being vehemently avoided….

    I have always gotten the vibe that folks ala Curry and McI identify in some weird version of a disenfranchised group …. I suppose they posture as the leaders of such groups. They seem to see themselves as having something terribly important to contribute. They blather on about uncertainty and Yamal, as if these are some ideas no one else has thought to consider as “carefully” as they have.

    Curry and McI bloggily demand to be acknowledged and respected for the vital contributions they delude to have, feigning tone trolling and honor (GASP!). The rejection of their inclusion into the fray of consensus, or perhaps more aptly – that they are not being honored for the whiz-bangs they perceive themselves to be, by the authority of IPCC …. seems personally impossible for them to conceptualize. So, they must justify this dismissal somehow ….. a painful truth might be avoided. What is the truth they are really avoiding? I suspect it’s not about harm to the planet, but more the protected view of themselves they hold so dearly.

    Sometimes it’s tough to look in the mirror and actually see what others see.

    It seems a more selfish inception of denial, not that all of it isn’t some form of idealized sociopathic selfishness ….

    Just sayin’


  2. you have an image of Inhofe where the text says Cuccinelli.

    Cuccinelli’s comment is typical of so many by skeptics. (I use that word loosely) They conflate ‘environmental extremists’ with scientists.

  3. “And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”

    Luke 22:34

  4. Hi Policy,
    Maybe a little off topic, however, Hi! I am a young man who never really excelled at much whilst at school.

    Since I’m now a bit older, however, I’ve taken a real interest in science. I’d love to try out some simple and straight-forward physics and chemistry experiments in my own home, using domestic equipment (or cheap and easily-obtainable science equipment).

    What can you suggest, and why? Thanks!

  5. thanks, took a while to get why this was ‘for dummies’, then realised i don’t understand denialism at all. i always thought it was something about the way they relate to the injuries acquired in sports.


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