Jun 172012

(This post by Geoff Chambers may be a harbinger of better things to come. I certainly hope so. TonyN)

This dialogue was a result of contact I made with Adam Corner following an article by Ben Pile at http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html about some research into scepticism which Corner had conducted at Cardiff University, and his article discussing the research at Guardian Environment. (There was a similar thread later at http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2012/5/28/the-logic-at-yale.html concerning the Kahan research which Corner refers to below)

Comments were pretty brutal, and Adam suggested that he would be willing to continue the conversation if the tone was moderated. We exchanged a few emails discussing my views on this kind of research, and Adam suggested writing a Q&A session for his blog http://talkingclimate.org/

This article is being published simultaneously on both blogs – a world first, I believe.

There is a growing body of academic literature that seeks to understand, explain – and even overcome – climate change scepticism. But is it getting to grips with scepticism, or missing the point? In this exchange between Adam Corner (Talking Climate and co-author of the UK paper) and Geoff Chambers – (a regular commenter at several climate sceptic blogs), they discuss research on the psychology of scepticism.


In the last few months, two academic papers that make similar arguments about the nature and origins of climate change scepticism have been published. If there is one simple message to take from these two studies, it is that simply providing more information – or turning up the volume on the science – is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change. This is because scepticism about climate change is not primarily caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ of the science but by motivated reasoning processes – rooted in ideological differences – that mean that the ‘same’ evidence is not evaluated in the same way. Would you agree that scepticism about climate change has more to do with political views than an assessment of the science?


Of course not. That would be to admit that my politics was overriding my reasoning capacities! The misunderstanding comes I think from confounding the tiny number of active sceptics, who’ve come to a reasoned conclusion, with the Jeremy Clarkson fans who show up in polls. You’re just not going to catch many of us in a survey of the general population. The “old white conservative male” label is no doubt true for the population at large, and can be easily explained, but it tells you nothing about the nature of reasoned scepticism.

I agree with you that turning up the volume on the science is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change, but not for the reason you give. The more people learn about the science, the more they see how dodgy is the climate science responsible for rising energy prices. One of the results of the Kahan study you refer to was that the more scientifically literate tend to be more sceptical.


What Kahan found was that being scientifically literate increased polarisation – that is, it amplified views on either side – but your instant equation of ‘the science’ with ‘rising energy prices’ illustrates an important point: climate science and climate policy get horribly confused. Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science.

But things like rising energy prices, taxes, regulations, and restrictions on people’s behaviour have become synonymous with ‘climate change’. I believe – based on the available research – that this is why many people are sceptical. The answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions, and so the problem itself is downplayed or rejected.


I think we agree about the interpretation of Kahan. Belief / scepticism about climate change is strongly correlated with political views, but scepticism is also correlated with scientific literacy, though less strongly. This is what you’d expect. Conservatives are naturally suspicious of schemes which raise taxes, while environmentalism, sympathy for the third world, and Al Gore have got concern about climate change firmly identified as a left-wing cause.

I agree that “the answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions” – that is to say they look extremely expensive, and are therefore opposed most fervently by those who pay most taxes.

You say: “Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science”. Renewables like wind and solar are more expensive than fossil fuels. If they ever account for a significant proportion of energy supply, they will cause prices to rise. The only reason for renewables is fear of the supposed danger of CO2, which is the central tenet of the climate science consensus.


I share your concerns about things like rising energy prices – although I don’t agree that renewables are to blame. However, your line of reasoning seems to conform what studies of scepticism are showing: your concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving you to question the ‘supposed danger’ of CO2. That suggests to me that if there were other policy options on the table – that didn’t involve rising energy prices – your doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying science would not be as strong. Would you agree?

There is some evidence that when people who are more sceptical about climate change are presented with other policy options – for example ‘geoengineering’ – their perception of the risks that climate change poses increases. Do you think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’?


No I don’t think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’

I disagree most strongly that my concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving my climate scepticism. My scepticism is based on the same scientific grounds as that of other commenters on sceptic blogs, many of whom hold political opinions radically different from mine. We don’t deny that global temperatures have been rising irregularly for centuries, and that anthropogenic CO2 may be responsible for some of the recent rise.

Where we disagree with the consensus is on the higher estimates of climate sensitivity endorsed by the IPCC and the catastrophic effects which are supposed inevitably to follow.

However, I would agree that our political and cultural backgrounds strongly affect the way we express our scepticism. There are Tea Party types who think global warming is a commie plot to install global government; nimbys who don’t like windfarms; engineers scornful of the mathematical models used to generate temperature projections; scientists and academics fearful for the reputation of their professions; and Tories who don’t like hippy treehuggers. It takes all sorts.

Here are a couple of examples of culturally determined inputs to my own scepticism:

1) I was very impressed by reports by the institute of Forecasting suggesting that ordinary members of the public are often better at long-term forecasting that experts, since, in their ignorance, they tend to assume that things will go on much as before, whereas experts get carried away with every leap and bound on their graphs into predicting extreme outcomes. This appeals to my left-wing egalitarian instincts – an Orwell-type faith in the common sense of the common man, if you like.

2) My earliest research into the question of climate change was conducted in the pages of the Guardian, and I was shocked to see this once liberal broad-minded paper adopting a Pravda-like policy of news filtering and censorship, with George Monbiot, a journalist I’d admired, conducting petty vindictive campaigns against fellow-journalists and, after being the first journalist to acknowledge the seriousness of Climategate, making a Maoist-style confession of his error. I’m not personally the least interested in the science of climate change. I’m very interested in the existence of a rational left-of-centre press.

Unlike most sceptics, I think your project of exploring the socio-cultural roots of scepticism is a valid and interesting one. But I don’t think you’ll do it by getting members of the public to tick boxes on your batteries of yes/no questions.


So the biggest reasons for your scepticism are that you are disillusioned with the media and have, in your own words, an ‘instinct’ that the common man is often more trustworthy and reliable than the so-called ‘experts’? I share these concerns, although I don’t necessarily see how they detract from the seriousness of the underlying problem of climate change and what – on even conservative estimates – the negative effects are likely to be. But your explanation of your scepticism suggests that if proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by sceptics, it will be by addressing social concerns like these, not by shouting the science louder.

So how would you say social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism? Do you think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers?


We’re arguing at cross-purposes here. My observations about the common man and forecasting and the Guardian are NOT the reasons I don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. I’ve offered them as possible contributory factors to my coming to these conclusions – a bit of auto-sociological analysis, if you like – as an antidote to the more common observations about conservative white males not wanting to pay taxes.

If proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by informed sceptics, it will not be by addressing any particular socio-political concerns, but by persuading us that their science is right. In this I’m sure I speak for all sceptical bloggers, but, as I pointed out, we’re a tiny minority among the sceptic population at large, and possibly atypical.

You ask how social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism. Ask the sceptics is the short answer. We reveal an awful lot about ourselves in comments on blogs. Bishop Hill had a self-completion survey once of our demographics (age, sex, educational qualifications and geographical spread). However, I feel such a survey would only be enlightening if it covered activists or engaged participants on both sides of the divide.

Finally, do I think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers? Certainly. Clearing up the misunderstandings as to the meaning of climate scepticism and the motivation of sceptics is the first necessary step in any dialogue.

(I’m very grateful to Geoff Chambers for this post. He seems to have spotted something that others haven’t: TonyN)


You’re a group of top scientists, showered with funding and honours – even a small share in the Nobel Peace Prize – and engaged in a “Cause” (that’s how you describe it) which you are convinced is of vital importance for the future of the planet.

But there are people opposed to your Cause – other scientists who disagree with your findings. They are to be the subject of a major TV documentary film. The film-makers ask you to reply, defending your Cause. What do you do?

Now read on:

Continue reading »


As if deconstructing the Codebatemmittee on Climate Change (CCC) singlehanded wasn’t enough to keep us busy, Alex Cull and I have just completed the transcription of the 98-minute Guardian Climategate Debate held on July 14th last year. It can be found here.

There were many detailed and interesting accounts of the debate on the net, including those by Alex and Robin Guenier here, Maurizio Morabito here, and Atomic Hairdryer here.

In addition to the audio recording of the debate, the Guardian put up a five minute video extract, and an report by  Damian Carrington here, in which he said:

Something remarkable happened last night in the polarised world of "warmists" versus "sceptics": a candid but not rancorous public debate… to my knowledge, never before have all sides of this frequently poisonous debate shared a stage. The outcome was illuminating.

and asked:

Will the friendliness that broke out at the Guardian debate prove a mere holiday romance? Or will it be the start of a new way of conducting and communicating the science, especially online, that will shape how the world lives for centuries, as demanded by many? I’m cautiously optimistic.

A year on, it’s safe to say that the cautious optimism of the Guardian’s environment editor was misplaced. While a small number of scientists, led by Judith Curry, have accepted discussion with sceptics, the mainstream media haven’t budged an inch, while the government moves to ever more extreme positions, egged on by the Greenpeace/IPCC complex of government-financed non-governmental organisations, paid to lobby governments to persuade them to do what governments want to do anyway.

I don’t intend to analyse the debate. The point of our transcription is to enable everyone to make up their own mind. The main impression I took away from the transcription was that no true debate took place, which makes me wonder whether a debate is even possible, or could ever have the desired result of opening up discussion of the numerous weaknesses in the warmist case – weaknesses which are currently known only to a tiny number of sceptics, and to a slightly larger number of warmist activists who monitor sceptic activity.

I do invite anyone who is interested in the question of how to “win” the argument to read the transcript, looking at the structure of the debate, as well as the content, and ask themselves, how could the debate have been “won”? How could anyone make a well-constructed case, given the constraints of time and circumstance?

To show what I mean, here is just one example of the way the argument was never engaged:

Continue reading »



In the post HEL P! Huhne and £1 per week cost of decarbonisation TonyN mentions an important 360-page document from the Committee on Climate Change: “The Fourth Carbon Budget: Reducing emissions through the 2020s.” After a well-publicised internal struggle between the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change - which even the BBC could not ignore, see here - the government accepted the CCC report and agreed to tighten up carbon emissions policy until 2027, with unknown, and probably unknowable effects on the economy for decades to come.

TonyN reports with amazement that the official estimate of the cost of their new targets is nowhere to be found in the document upon which the decision was based. Alex Cull found the probable source of the government’s vague estimates of cost in another document from the same body: “The Renewable Energy Review“. See here.

Both these documents, and much else, can be found on the Committee’s website at http://www.theccc.org.uk . It is also worth looking at the DECC press release dealing with Chris Huhne’s announcement of the new carbon budget in parliament. Continue reading »


The career of George Monbiot has been meteoric – coming down to earth in a shower of sparks, and leaving a charred hole where the Guardian’s top investigative journalist used to be. From Paul Foot to William Boot in a few carbon-shedding steps.

(For non-Brits: Foot was a campaigning journalist at Private Eye and the Guardian. William Boot is the journalist hero of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”, who, after a disastrous episode in which he is sent to Africa to cover a revolution, ends up back in the office writing Nature Notes).

In February 2009 Monbiot initiated a new format blog at Guardian Environment with an attack on Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker. In the article, entitled « Booker’s work of clanger-dropping fiction » he accused his colleague of writing “complete trash, and provided a list of seven claims in an article by Booker which Monbiot attempted to refute.

A second article, two days later, entitled “Pure rubbish: Christopher Booker prize” featured  a photo captioned “Christopher Booker prize 2009 offered for producing clap-trap about climate change”. Readers were invited to nominate articles, and George explained:

“The award will go to whoever in my opinion and assisted by climate scientists and specialists manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change”.

(Note that Monbiot hadn’t managed to finish his sentence coherently. As many as what?)

There is a note at the bottom of the first article saying “this blog has been amended”. What has been altered is the word “Bullshit” which featured in the original article, and is still visible in the photo of the “award” in the second article.

Of the supposed errors by Booker: Continue reading »

On 20th May, 2009,  Monbiot had an article  at  Guardian Environment entitled Price of doing nothing costs the earth with the sub heading

MIT scientists forecast a global temperature rise of 5.2o C by 2100 – but climate change deniers reject models devised by the world’s finest minds. So what do they suggest instead… seaweed?

Here are comments number 11 -15

Hamlet4 (20 May 2009 2:10PM


Thats not science – its a computer model trying and failing to describe a immensely complicated chaotic system. Please read up on the butterfly theory to find out HOW wrong such models can be over time. The 90 % confidence levels for forecasts over 90 years is simply absurd. Rubbish in – Rubbish out.
Hamlet4 (20 May 2009 2:18PM)


OK, all those of you who reject modelling, answer the question: what would you use instead?

nr 1 – How about using your brain, not your political belief system.

nr 2 – Try and build models that explain the present stagnation in temperature, sea-level rise and increase in ice-extent, instead of just pretending its not happening.

nr 3 – Emphasize the limitations of such models, instead of using them trying to create fear and thereby grants.


scunnered52 (20 May 2009 2:29PM)

George the only person you are scaring is your self. All climate model projections are currently in serious error because they over-estimate “climate sensitivity”; and that’s due in main to what the modellers don’t know. I would recommend you undertake to create your own climate model. Here is DIY course on how to do so…


geoffchambers (20 May 2009 2:38PM)

At the end of the article … is this:

“This work was supported in part by grants from … foundation sponsors of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change”.

And who are these industrial sponsors? Why, Exxon, BP, Shell, Total, among others. This is research funded by Big Oil money. Can this be right?

Monbiot (20 May 2009 2:44PM)

Hamelt4: [sic]

You appear to be suggesting that the MIT team is guided by political beliefs and is using this model to create fear and harvest grants. Perhaps you would care to provide some evidence?

Monbiot denied the accusation that the models were used to “create fear and thereby grants” but deflected Hamlet4′s demand to Monbiot to  “us[e] your brain, not your political belief system” onto the MIT group, which Hamlet4 hadn’t mentioned (though I had). Clearly, Monbiot was rattled, because 11 minutes later,  he was back with this comment:

Monbiot (20 May 2009 2:55PM)


Of all the posters on these threads, you are the one who looks to me most like an astroturfer: in other words someone posing as an independent citizen while being paid by organisations which have an interest in the outcome. Is my suspicion correct? How about providing a verifiable identity to lay this concern to rest?


Now look at scunnered52′s intelligent comment above and try to spot why Monbiot should accuse him of being an astroturfer. Odd, isn’t it?


Half an hour later, a puzzled Hamlet4 replied to Monbiot’s non sequitur of a question, with a comment that finished:

Try and THINK Monbiot – do you really believe that these models are producing accurate descriptions of our climate 90 years from now ???.

scunnered52 and Hamlet4 then disappeared, and I went off on another tack:

geoffchambers (20 May 2009 3:35PM)

George asks whether we should use computer models or seaweed for predicting future climate change. Research conducted by the International Institute of Forecasters on the accuracy of forecasting suggests that predictions made by the general public are usually more accurate than those made by experts. This is because the man in the street tends to believe things will probably continue much as they have in the past, while your expert tends to follow the spaghetti off the edge of his graphs into the wide blue yonder. So the correct answer is: seaweed.

I then came back to the subject of research financed by Big Oil: Continue reading »

As I’ve said on other threads far too often, I was extremely peeved to be banned for life from Comment is Free, the Guardian’s interactive website, since I think commenting there is one of the most useful things a simple footblogger in the Climate Wars can do.

The Guardian is read by Greens and the pro-green centre-left, so it’s possible to have a real debate, and perhaps influence opinion on the opposing side. Guardian readers are clearly far more numerous than those of any sceptical blog, they are more likely to be believers in global warming than readers of Delingpole or Booker, and they are therefore more in need of enlightenment. I also felt that if Guardian editors realised that a majority of readers did not accept the warmist argument, they might put pressure on the Environment Editors to be more even-handed in their treatment.

On the last point I was clearly totally wrong, as evidenced by a recent interview given by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in “the Hindu” newspaper, in which he said:

“A year ago we decided the environment was the biggest story of our lives. So we have six reporters doing the environment … And then we built a network of … about 20 or 30 sites. A huge amount of editing and resources goes into the environment.” and by the comment by Environment Editor James Randerson that climate change is “editorial policy”.

Commenters here and elsewhere have objected that commenting on CiF is a waste of time, because of the distracting tactics of warmist trolls, and because of the apparent bias of moderators. Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) was recently prevented from commenting on the thread to his own article when he was subjected to “pre-moderation”. I’ve never been convinced that the moderators are biased, since warmist comments frequently disappear, even comments by Guardian contributors,  like Blucloud and GPWayne.

I’ve just conducted an experiment at CiF, and I’m fairly sure I know how the “censorship” works. I can state with certainty (well, let’s say, with IPCC-style 90% confidence) that: Continue reading »

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