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“The Illusion Of Debate”: A History of the Climate Issue—Part 1

John Cook, history buff

History buff: Cook, who believes in learning from the great men of the past, dresses up as a beloved figure from the golden age of Consensus Science.

This timeline, like the climate debate, is best taken with whiskey. Strictly for climate-tragics, it’s layered deep, well aged, and may not make any sense at all. It’s art. It’s been a looong time coming (the second longest draft post ever under development on this blog).  Thanks to Brad Keyes. Smile :- ). — Jo

Introduction by J. Cook

The great Hoofnagle Brothers define climate Menshevism as a trick to ‘create the illusion of debate.’

Opponents of the climate don’t even need to win the debate—though they usually do—they just need the audience to think we’re debating. (Which is why we must never, ever do so.)

Please enjoy as Brad Keyes, my boss at Climate Nuremberg, looks back on some of the most colorful, least edifying moments in a decades-long debate that never happened.

— J. Cook
Twisted Tree Heartrot Hill


c. 1850 AD











Climate English

Stephen Schneider’s 1989 interview in Discover was seen as a kind of manifesto for a new school of science communication. But this would mean a whole new language: a clearer, punchier and more effective dialect of English designed to anticipate and correct for misunderstandings further down the intellectual slope.

What emerged, say linguists, was a nograj called Climate English [CE].

Historically, the problem with scientific jargon is that it only makes sense if you understand science. CE, by contrast, only makes sense if you don’t.

It speaks, not to the exclusive few, but to the excluded many—exclusively. We Are The 97 Percent Who Never Got Further Than A BSc.

Science—as a body of knowledge—is sensitive only to new evidence, and new evidence can only make it better. To a scientist, this is all too obvious for words; which is why, to a scientist, the CE idiom ‘attacking science‘ would be gibberish. But in the mental model of the mere muggle, it’s a perfect description of the sort of activity skeptics are engaged in.

Technically it’s called ‘doing science,’ but that sounds too much like what scientists do, and would only confuse the illiterati.

Thanks to a panoply of further linguistic innovations (‘carbon pollution,’ ‘the weight of scientific opinion,’ ‘more and more evidence‘ for no particular hypothesis, ‘drastically‘, ‘ocean acidification‘ and many more), scientists can finally talk down to us in a crowded theatre without giving the impression it isn’t on fire.

Climate English has been described as the fulfillment of Schneider’s dream:

Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Yes, We Can.



That’s how the Age of the Citizen Scientist ended: not with a bang but a flaccid, wobbly shaft. As scientists, we’d always left skepticism to the skeptics. Now that they’d found out the hard way that the Hockey Stick wouldn’t appear to just anyone, would the skeptics finally agree to leave science to the scientists?



pure scientific 2

Dr Mann keeping it classy. Skeptics often distort the meaning of this email by cherry-picking the word ‘fraud,’ refusing to focus on all the words preceding it.


talk to these auditors

Dr Santer refuses to give up on interfaith communication. He still dreams one day of explaining to skeptics “how science is actually done”: not on blogs, but at conferences, where legitimate scientists meet to beat the crap out of their critics.


When we continue in Part II: Climategate changes nothing.

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