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Defining “denier”. Is it English or Newspeak?

Posted By Joanne Nova On June 21, 2012 @ 12:15 am In Big-Government,Global Warming | Comments Disabled

This week Nature Climate Change published the Bain et al letter about “climate change deniers”.  How does Nature define this group? They imply that deniers deny science, but can the researchers, editors or reviewers name any peer reviewed paper with empirical evidence that the deniers deny? Surely this whole paper is not based on a name-calling assumption, a confusion about an illusory sub-species, Homo sapiens denier? Could Nature now be the Journal of UnScience? We shall see…

I have written to ask the lead researcher Dr Paul Bain:


Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Right now, it’s almost my life’s work to communicate the empirical evidence on anthropogenic climate change.

I can help you with your research on deniers. I have studied the mental condition of denial most carefully. There is a simple key to converting the convictions of people in this debate, and I have seen it work hundreds of times. Indeed, my own convictions that lasted 17 years were turned around in a few days. I can help you. It would be much simpler than you think.

Firstly, to save time and money we must analyze the leaders of the denial movement. I have emailed or spoken to virtually all of them.

They are happy to accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and causes warming, that humans produce CO2, that CO2 levels are rising, and that the earth has warmed in the last century. According to Hansen et al 19841, Bony et al 20062, and the IPCC AR4 report3, the direct effect of doubling the level of CO2 amounts to 1.2°C (i.e. before feedbacks).

All they need is the paper with the evidence showing that the 1.2°C direct warming is amplified to 3 or 4 degrees as projected by the models.  Key leaders in the denial movement have been asking for this data for years. Unfortunately the IPCC assessment reports do not contain any direct observations of the amplification, either by water vapor (the key positive feedback4) or the totality of feedbacks. The IPCC only quotes results from climate simulations.

Since science is based on observations and measurements of the real world, it follows that a denier of science (rather than a denier of propaganda) must be denying real world data. I’d be most grateful if you could explain what “deniers” deny. Deniers repeatedly ask for empirical evidence, yet must be failing badly at communicating that this is the crucial point because none of the esteemed lead authors of IPCC working Group I seem to have realized that this paltry point is all that is needed. All this mess could be cleared up with an email.

The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming, so the observations they deny must be written up many times in the peer review literature, right? After five years of study I am still not sure which instrument has made these key observations. Do deniers deny weather balloon results, or satellite data, or ice cores?

When  you find this paper and the measurements,  it will convince many of the key denier leaders. (But being the exacting personality type that they are, deniers will also expect to see the raw data. So you’ll need to also make sure that the authors of said paper have made all the records and methods available, but of course, all good scientists do that already don’t they?)

As a diligent researcher, I’m sure you would not have described a group with such a unequivocally strong label unless you were certain it applied. It would be disastrous for an esteemed publication like Nature to mistakenly insult Nobel prize winning physicists, NASA astronauts, and thousands of scientists who have asked for empirical evidence, only to find that the Nature authors themselves were unable to name papers (or instruments) with empirical evidence that their subject group called “deniers” denied.

If those papers (God forbid) do not exist, then the true deniers would turn out to be the researchers who denied that empirical evidence is key to scientific confidence in a theory. The true deniers would not be the skeptics who asked for evidence, but the name-calling researchers who did not test their own assumptions.

The fate of the planet rests on your shoulders. If you can find the observations that the IPCC can’t, you could change the path of international action. Should you find the evidence, I will be delighted to redouble my efforts to communicate the empirical evidence related to climate change.

Awaiting your reply keenly,

Joanne Nova



1 Hansen J., A. Lacis, D. Rind, G. Russell, P. Stone, I. Fung, R. Ruedy and J. Lerner, (1984) Climate sensitivity: Analysis of feedback mechanisms. In Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity, AGU Geophysical Monograph 29, Maurice Ewing Vol. 5. J.E. Hansen and T. Takahashi, Eds. American Geophysical Union, pp. 130-163 [Abstract]

2 Bony, S., et al., 2006: How well do we understand and evaluate climate change feedback processes? J. Clim., 19, 3445–3482.

3 IPCC, Assessment Report 4, 2007, Working Group 1, The Physical Science Basis, Chapter  p630 [PDF].

4 IPCC, Assessment Report 4, 2007, Working Group 1, The Physical Science Basis, Chapter 8. Fig 8.14, p631 [PDF] see also Page 632.


NOTE to commenters: This post refers to the term “deniers” so I expect the word to be used in comments as appropriate. But the point of discussion here is to define exactly what it is that “deniers” deny, not to toss insults.


UPDATE: A reply from Paul Bain

Credit to him for replying promptly. It is a start, at least, to the conversation. — Jo

Comments about the use of the “denier” label are a fair criticism. We were focused on the main readership of this journal – climate scientists who read Nature journals, most of whom hold the view that anthropogenic climate change is real. There was no intention to make comparisons with Holocaust denial, as some skeptics have claimed was our deliberate intention. Rather it should be noted that describing skepticism as denial is a term increasingly used in the social science literature on climate change (e.g. in Global Environmental Change, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society), and is used informally by some within the climate science community. So we were using a term that is used and understood in the target audience, but which we thought  involved a stronger negative stereotype (e.g. being anti-environmental, contrarian) than skeptic. My thought was this would highlight the contrast  with the data, which suggests that you need not believe in AGW to support pro-environmental action, especially when it had certain types of (non-climate) outcomes (demonstrating a non-contrarian position). So in my mind we were ultimately challenging such “denier” stereotypes. But because we were focused on our target audience, it is true that I naively didn’t pay enough attention to the effect the label would have on other audiences, notably skeptics, especially because I don’t have the “denier=Holocaust denier” association that some of your co-travellers do – these people all pointed to the same single quote that I wasn’t aware of, and now that I am aware of it I can say I personally disagree with it. Although I hope this helps explain our rationale for using the term, I regret the negative effect it has had on the debate and I intend to use alternative labels in the future.

Beyond the negative reaction to “denier”, what has been interesting in many skeptics’ responses (in emails and on blogs) is that our research is propaganda designed to change (or “re-educate”) their mind about whether AGW is real, and I’ve received many long emails about the state of climate science and how AGW has been disproven (or about the lack of findings to prove it, as you highlighted in your  email).  Actually, the paper is not about changing anyone’s mind on whether anthropogenic climate change is real. There are also skeptics insisting that the issue is ONLY about the state of the science – whether AGW is real – but on this point I disagree. I am approaching this as a social/societal problem rather than as an “AGW reality” problem. That is, two sizeable groups have different views on a social issue with major policy implications – how do you find a workable solution that at least partly satisfies the most people?

Some climate scientists who endorse AGW seem to have assumed that the way to promote action is to convince skeptics that in fact AGW is occurring, and this has not been effective. Similarly, I don’t think skeptics will convince those who endorse AGW that they are wrong anytime soon. But the social/policy issue remains, whether you believe in AGW or not. So if policies are going to be put in place (as many governments are proposing), what kinds of outcomes would make it at least barely acceptable for the most people? For our skeptic samples, actions that promoted warmth and economic/technological development were the outcomes of taking action that mattered to them (even if they thought taking action would have no effect on the climate). So our studies showed that these dimensions mattered for skeptics to support action taken in the name of addressing anthropogenic climate change. The might also be other positive outcomes of taking action we didn’t study where some common ground might be found, such as reducing pollution or reliance on foreign oil. Overall, the findings suggest that if there was closer attention to the social consequences of policies, rather than continuing with seemingly intractable debates on the reality of AGW, then we might get to a point where there could be agreement on some action – some might think the action is pointless with regard to the climate (but many other people think it will), but if it produces some other good outcomes it might be ok. Hence, if governments were able to design policies that plausibly achieved these “non-climate” goals, then this might achieve an acceptable overall outcome that satisfies the most people (although admittedly not everybody will agree).

This is the message of our paper, and I hope readers of your blog will be able to accept my regret about the label and focus on the main message. Some have described this message as naïve, but a real-world example (noted by one of our reviewers) illustrates the general point: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/science/earth/19fossil.html?pagewanted=all

Kind regards


My reply is here: “On rational deniers and gullible believers .”

Erratum: “Phil” Bain corrected to Paul Bain with apologies.

UPDATE: The headline has been shortened from “Nature — and that problem of defining Homo-sapiens-denier. Is it English or Newspeak?” It was too long.

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