The ‘othering’ of the ‘climate changer denier’

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From Sam

I want to look at how it is some people use the term, “climate change denier”.

I look on it as a kind of “othering”, viewing a person as intrinsically different and alien. The use of the term arose, I think, when a small group of climate scientists began to find their work being challenged. Instead of confronting the challenge, this group became defensive. They refused to provide data and computer code to enable others to check their work. They failed to respond to, or rejected, Freedom of Information requests relating to data and codes. They sought to put pressure on scientific journals to exclude the work of those who wished to explore and question their work. 
There were doubts within the group about the uncertainties within their work. Also, there seem to have been problems with data retention and the quality of what data were retained. Deciphering some of the computer code seems to have been a major difficulty. These considerations might have affected their behaviours. 

None of this is acceptable science. Most Scottish universities at this time would regard such behaviour as unethical and subject to disciplinary procedures.

One of the scientists involved was a Lead Author within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. The IPCC does not do scientific research. It provides periodic reviews, called Assessment Reviews, of the scientific literature on climate science. Lead Authors perform that role for various aspects of climate science. 

“Hiding the decline” refers to an attempt by a group of scientists to reconstruct past temperatures using proxies for temperature such as tree rings. Not all trees or types of tree are suitable for this. Three reconstructions were to be used to support a claim of unprecedented warming in the 20th century, warmer than that in the Medieval Warm Period in an article to be published. It had already been decided that the published research would be a favourite for the IPCC Third Assessment Review.  More here.

One of the reconstructions was problematic. Presented graphically, the reconstruction showed declining temperatures after 1960s. In fact, the observed temperatures were rising over this period. This posed a problem. If the reconstruction was inaccurate in the modern section, why should it be regarded as accurate in the earlier period, when there were no measured temperatures?

The Climategate emails show the group of scientists discussing the problem. Leaving the reconstruction as it was would dilute the message. It would give “fodder” to the sceptics. In the end, the data that had produced the decline was deleted and the reconstruction altered by merging it with the measured temperatures over part of the modern period. None of this was disclosed in the methods section or anywhere else. The certainty of the science was not quite what it seemed to be.

There is an account of some of the IPCC process generally and in this  particular case here.

Judith Curry and John Christy whose accounts of Climategate issues are found at the link above were once mainstream climate scientists.  They were “in”. They are now outsiders and have been branded as “deniers”.
Here is what some of the Climategate emails say.

“So if we show Keith’s line in this plot, we have to comment that “something else” is responsible for the discrepancies in this case.”

That wasn’t done. Instead, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temperatures to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

While the intention was to show unprecedented warming (higher temperatures now than in the Medieval warm Period) there were doubts – kept back from policy makers. “I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.” This from another scientist, “I have growing doubts about the validity and use of error estimates that are being applied to reconstructions.”

When asked for data used in their work, some of the scientists were reluctant to provide it. This email was sent to another scientist. Not one opposed to the science and who had no wish to question the validity of the work. “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you when your wish is to try and find something wrong with it..”

When faced with the first published paper to question their science one said this. “Who knows what trickery has been pulled or selective use of data made… – only a shill for industry would have republished the original Soon and Baliunas paper as submitted to “Climate Research” without even editing it….”

Another took a different line. “I have just read the M&M stuff criticising MBH [Mann, Bradley, Hughes]. A lot of it seems valid to me. at the very least MBH is a very sloppy piece of work — an opinion I have held for some time. Presumably what you have done with Keith is better?– or is it? I get asked about this a lot…” 

The response was, “The attached is a complete distortion of the facts. M&M are completely wrong in virtually everything they say or do……
..Bottom line there is no way the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] (whenever it was) was as warm globally as the last 20 years.There is also no way a whole decade in the LIA [Little Ice Age] period was more than 1 deg C on a global basis cooler than the 1961-90 mean. This is all gut feeling, no science, but years of experience dealing with global scales and variability.”

Other emails show discussions about putting pressure on academic journals and getting evidence on editorial behaviour. “…basically this is just a heads up that people might be up to something here.What a shame that would be. It’s one thing to lose “Climate Research”. We can’t afford to lose GRL [Geophysical Research Letters]. I think it would be useful if people began to record their experiences w/ both Saiers and potentially Mackwell (I don’t know him – he would seem to be complicit with w is going on here). If there is a clear body of evidence that something is amiss, it could be taken through the proper channels…” Faint or nor so faint echoes of Nixon?
Other emails show a scientist prepared to delete data rather than release it to others. There is discussion of how to evade or obstruct requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

One interpretation (mine) of the behaviour of these scientists is this.These emails show scientists with huge dollops of confirmation bias in their work. Aware of the scientific uncertainties in their small field, they do not confront the uncertainties openly but wish to conceal them. The objective is to make the science seem more certain than it is. They wish to protect their positions and to do so are willing to contemplate, and perform, the doing of unscrupulous, unscientific actions. The IPCC system permits this group of scientists to act as gate-keepers, seeking to prevent the consideration of opposing views.

If that is true, then such attitudes are likely to have existed before the scientific challenge posed by McIntyre and McKitrick (M&M) came along to deepen them. Climategate opened up that behaviour to wider scrutiny and laid the basis for the insults that are traded back and forth. “Climate science alarmist” and “climate science denier”. Climategate saw people, including scientists with opposing views, either set up blogs or use existing blogs to put their opinions. Abuse became rife. It exists still. People with no knowledge of science can and do abuse scientists going about their work. To what useful end?

The scientists involved in the Climategate emails are/were  employed in British and American universities. After Climategate, the opportunity existed for the American and British governments to seek to change the IPPC process for the better: prevent gate-keeping, make the system operate more openly and transparently. That does not seem to have happened though I hope to be wrong. Given the membership of IPCC is 195 countries that might have been a difficult task.

It is, in my opinion, undeniable that the IPCC system does or did not work well. It permits or permitted gate-keeping. While transparent and open up to the Review stage, there are or were no checks and balances after that and Lead Authors may simply ignore reviews of their science and re-write reports. The system allows or allowed gate-keeping, confirmation bias and has/had no guard against conflict of interest.

The Summary for Policymakers is not produced only by scientists. The draft is subject, line by line, to political scrutiny until any amendments thought necessary are negotiated through.

Here are some comments by past contributors, Lead Authors, made to  a panel assessing the work of the IPCC.

“The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection  of authors and Bureau Members.Some experts are included or excluded because of their political allegiances rather than their academic quality. Sometimes the “right” authors are put in key positions with generous government grants to support their IPPC work, while the “wrong” authors are sidelined to draft irrelevant chapters and sections without any support.”
“…I have experienced the addition of lead authors  or authors [contributing] during the process who often seem to have come with a political mandate – generally from developed countries and as such they can be very disruptive – let alone the dubious nature of the science they contribute!”

“The team members from the developing countries (including myself) were made to feel welcome and accepted as part of the team. In reality we were out of our intellectual depth as meaningful contributors to the process.”
These remarks were made after Climategate so may be less appropriate now.

Climategate helped to set the way in which large groups of people see climate science. Scientists and others, undeserving of abuse, receive it. Judy Curry has written about the rhetoric surrounding climate science as well as the major uncertainties still existing. Here’s the link.

The evidence that the climate is warming is all around. Few people are likely to think now (not the case at Climategate) that the climate is not warming and that some or all warming taking place is due to the activities of mankind. What then does it mean to be a “climate change denier” or a “climate alarmist”? What is being denied and what is alarmism? What is your evidence to support your use of these epithets as appropriate and apposite remarks? 

20 thoughts on “The ‘othering’ of the ‘climate changer denier’”

    1. ArtyHetty

      Don’t be insulting to someone that makes the effort to write an article – if you haven’t read it especially.


      1. The lucrative business of climate denial changes depending on the time of the day.
        Climate Change is not happening
        Climate Change happens but it is natural
        Climate Change has happened worse in the past
        Climate Change is not man made
        Climate Change is happening but is beneficial
        Climate Change is man made but not a problem
        Climate Change is a man made problem but not a big one
        Climate change is man made but can be fixed by man.
        Denial moves between whichever one they feel like in a given day.
        Climate change denying scientists are usually geologists and often affiliated with the fossil fuel lobby. I would love to know if Judith Curry is supported by Republican Lobbyists and/or the fossil fuel industry.
        Judith Curry from Wikipedia
        ‘had suggested to newspapers that most of the recent global warming was not human-caused,’
        She says ‘She consistently presents her view that climate science has much larger uncertainties than those shown by mainstream studies.’
        I am no expert but that isn’t the impression i am getting.


    2. Hetty,

      The Climatgate emails show a small group of scientists adopting a very hostile stance to those who wished to examine their work. I doubt if this is typical of the many climate scientists now engaged in their work.

      The release of the Climategate emails allowed that hostility to grow into name calling and for people all around the world to take sides and themselves engage in name calling. There was, at that time, rather more people than today who did not accept that the climate was warming and that man played a part in that. That has changed, I think.

      The internet permits the name calling to continue when much of it has no relevance to either side of the argument.


  1. Denying climate change is to be a dinosaur , sensible people over fifty have experienced climate change they know it is happening.
    Climate change deniers usually have financial backers if you look deep enough you always find the financial reason for their idiotic stance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would you like to explain what you mean when you say, “denying climate change”? What is being denied and by whom? How do you identify it in climate science if it exists? If it doesn’t exist in climate science why do you think it important?


  2. The real problem the planet faces with climate change is not the climate deniers they are just a product of capitalism it’s capitalism that needs to change its direction and that is virtually impossible because it’s programmed to always take the profitable route.
    Banning all the things that cause climate change and the corresponding destruction will never be volunteered by capitalism politics so the question is

    Who will force capitalism to change


  3. Any scientist worth their salt WANTS to be peer reviewed and all their data examined.

    I agree that name-calling isn’t useful. But it seems that poor scientific research was given credence through wishful thinking – we are talking about very powerful influencers in oil companies etc – through the media. It’s been a dacades long process – and way back the initial results indicated ‘something wrong’ and at that stage no big panic should have been deployed – but by now it’s certain from many different studies on many different things that there is man-made climate change and the scientific community is in agreement. There will always be outliers, but those should not be the ones that inform policy.

    It isn’t really about warming in the atmosphere – it’s about the CAUSE of change – is it our unnatural influence, and will it spiral out of control – very likely. Can the world bounce back – at what point are we looking at extinction events? Well, we are already getting extinction events – of mostly small animals or plants – and once they are gone, they are gone, they aren’t coming back. Imbalances in the ecosystem, they are predicted to have knock on effects that at one stage we cannot stop. That point in time is predicted to be about now – but I don’t know if this is actual or hyperbole (to get people moving).

    It will be catastrophic, it is already, and the drive is to make sure it doesn’t get worse. The unusual extreme weather events in Australia and us losing species diversity in Scotland are linked. The actual final outcome – well, that’s down to predictions and modelling and we don’t really know. But it’s unlikely to be pretty.

    I’m sure you have been watching the committee evidence Sam, and just like our supposedly top law officer said, the politicians take final responsibility for WHICH advice they base policy on. If they listen to the wrong advice, it could be disaster, or things might be fine – I just don’t like it being left to chance and moron politicians deciding things based on who gives them the most money.

    I repeat, he scientific community is IN AGREEMENT that climate change, man-made climate change, is indeed happening. There will always be those that disagree with anything – some people actually believe the earth is flat to give an extreme example – and that’s right and proper, everything should be questioned – but poorly executed research should never inform policy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Contrary. I am glad you said there is no scientific disagreement that the climate is warming and man plays a part in that.

      Climate science is evolving and quite quickly. The projections of temperature rise at the end of this century are between 1.5C and 6C. These projections are based on computer models.

      Given that the temperature rise recently has been at the rate of 0.18C each year one might infer from these projections that the computer models have wide differences.

      Given such a range it may be impossible for the financial costs of policies to mitigate warming (reduce carbon dioxide emissions) to be judged. It may be impossible for the costs of implementation of adaptation policies to be judged.

      Let us be optimistic that the effects will be more benign than catastrophic.


    1. There was some discussion last week about Tony Abbott who was described as a “climate change denier”. I don’t like such expressions, regarding them usually as devoid of substance. People just attach it as a label which I see as a kind of “othering”.

      We have had in Scotland’s history enough “othering to last a lifetime, we do not need such stupidity here.

      I said my piece in those comments and might well have left it there. However, I sent to John two articles on the modelling of herd immunity. His response was brief. Two words naming the author and then, “climate change denier”.

      I am sure John knows nothing about this man at all to support his epithet, except what he found on the internet. So I wrote this piece.

      I am disappointed that John left it to me to field the comments on the grounds that he was not competent to do so. My piece is not really about science though I think the scientific context that was, I believe, the origin of the labelling as deniers or alarmists had to be stated. Rather, my piece should be read as more about why such language has little relevance, is meaningless and futile.

      I hoped some might see a connection to some of the name calling and labelling in Scottish current affairs

      I see I have not done such a good job. Just ignore it. It’ll go away.


      1. ‘In October 2017, Abbott spoke in London at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate-skeptic lobby group, where he described climate change as “probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm.” He argued that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide act as “plant food” and “are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields.”‘
        I won’t comment any more.


  4. It is not that to which I was drawing attention. It was that the reason you gave was lack of competence. That suggests to me either that you did not pay enough attention to what I was writing or my writing lacked clarity.

    I was, after all, talking about the use of words.

    Your headline might have been better without the (extraneous “r” to “changer” and might well have included the word “alarmism” since that epithet was also what I was talking about.


    1. ‘There was some discussion last week about Tony Abbott who was described as a “climate change denier”. I don’t like such expressions, regarding them usually as devoid of substance. People just attach it as a label which I see as a kind of “othering”.’


  5. OK, he is peripheral to the point I was trying to make which is about the use of language.

    The link you provided says this.

    “[J]ust to make it clear… I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution. It’s important to take strong and effective action against it, and that is what our direct action policy does. … The important thing is to take strong and effective action to tackle climate change, action that doesn’t damage our economy. And that is why the incentive-based system that we’ve got, the direct action policies, which are quite similar to those that president Obama has put into practice, is – that’s the smart way to deal with this, a big tax is a dumb way to deal with it.”

    I don’t think those remarks suggest a “climate change denier”, whatever is meant by that epithet. What do you mean by it?

    The remarks you quote suggest that Abbott might be a “lukewarmer” who thinks the benefits might outweigh the harm. They do not necessarily suggest that he has departed from a belief that the climate is warming and that man plays a part in that. Nor does what he says later, though those later remarks do smack of scepticism.

    I ask again. When people here label others, where is the accompanying proof and what is the meaning implicit in the label apart from abuse?

    I think this matters beyond the boundaries of climate science.


  6. To Anandprasad

    “Climate Change is not happening”

    That would be “climate change denial”. It would also be stupid.

    “Climate Change happens but it is natural”

    Natural variability of the climate does take place. The main driver is carbon dioxide says the science. IPCC reviews suggest the natural variability is minimal in effect. Some climate scientists, such as Judy Curry, disagree with how minimal the effect is judged to be. Such disagreement has been in the nature of science for centuries.

    “Climate Change has happened worse in the past”

    That is true, or may not be. We can’t know. Thermometers were not around always. The Medieval Warm Period may have been warmer. i’m not sure of the importance of any debate about this.

    “Climate Change is not man made”

    The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is not man made and is a climate cycle that affects sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean. Climate scientists have to take account of these long term effects and a limitation is the shortness of the measured sea surface temperatures and perhaps the reliability of measured sea surface temperatures.

    The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is a climate cycle having global effects on the climate.

    Emissions from volcanos can bring cooling for months or years.the overall effect is not likely to be large.

    Other things than man’s activities do affect the climate. Plenty for scientists to debate.They do.

    “Climate Change is happening but is beneficial”

    Different geographical areas are likely to be differently affected. Different areas of the world are becoming better at absorbing carbon dioxide while the tropics are becoming sources of carbon dioxide.

    Some areas may have longer growing seasons, fewer deaths from cold weather. The next Ice Age may not happen

    “Climate Change is man made but not a problem”

    Who do you know that has said that?

    “Climate Change is a man made problem but not a big one”

    Who do you know has said that? Ditto below.
    “Climate change is man made but can be fixed by man.”

    You get that stuff from the internet? You think scientists are that dumb?

    You put up two links. The first is to an article concerning glacier and ice sheet melt. Is it your intention to suggest that Ms Curry denies some or all of this is happening. That would be foolish. Her position (I have not checked) may well differ from the science of the IPCC. It does not make her opinion necessarily an outlier. It does not make her a denier.

    The second link says nothing at all about Ms Curry.


  7. For those interested. Here is a link to the WG1 summary to the 5th IPCC Assessment Report.

    Click to access WG1AR5_Chapter12_FINAL.pdf

    The good news is that the worst case scenario, which was never very likely is now “exceedingly unlikely”.

    “This is more about scientific assumptions added to a communications cock-up.

    Very few scientists realised that RCP8.5 was originally a 90th percentile outcome, not a most likely or business-as-usual outcome. They assumed too much, when they should perhaps have checked, say the authors of the review.

    “At the end of the day, scientists have to take responsibility for what they choose as input data, and there should be a degree of due diligence,” said Glen Peters, from the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway.

    “How many of your average climate scientists know the nuances of RCP8.5? It would certainly be interesting to know.”

    The media, taking their steer from scientists, have tended to use the highest impacts when reporting on projections based on emissions scenarios.”

    “That’s not to say that these highest-end impacts are impossible to happen, but it is not business-as-usual. And that’s the point we’re really trying to make in this piece.”


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