Denial 101

Many thanks to Barry Woods for sending me this:

https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-climate-science-denial-uqx-denial101x

It’s a free 7-week on-line course on “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” run by the University of Queensland. Among the instructors are Fellow for the Global Change Institute John Cook, University of Queensland Environmental Scientist Dana Nuccitelli, and Professor Scott Mandia.

Courses started yesterday. There’s an optional questionnaire to fill in. I’m just about to do the questionnaire and attack the first week’s lesson,. The course apparently demands an effort of 1-2 hours per week. I’ll report back if I’m not too tired.

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24 Responses to Denial 101

  1. vuurklip says:

    It involves all the usual suspects: Cook, Lewandowsky, Oreskes, Santer and many more! They come up with jewels like “Science is not a democracy” but make much of the Holy 97% Consensus!

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    I’m not sure I would risk my laptop to the amount of abuse it would get.

  3. artwest says:

    I was reading a book by Prof. Richard Wiseman recently and usually he does some good low-hanging debunking (as far as it goes – homeopathy is bollocks, who’d have thought it!) in the Randi vein but a passing comment he made was particularly annoying.
    It was to the effect that people can remain wedded to an erroneous point of view even if they were subjected to a lecture by an expert laying out all the facts. One example he gave was of “climate change deniers”.
    I suspect that, like most scientists on other fields who angrily decry “deniers, he hasn’t got a ****ing clue as to what the issues actually are and can’t be arsed to find out. However, what struck me was the arrogance of assuming that we don’t know the facts and/or “facts” which this notional expert would present. Probably unlike Wiseman, we actually do know the facts, have heard every tortuous argument and have heard them all questioned and debunked over and over.

  4. Barry Woods says:

    you do know the questionnaire is y#to be used by Lew and Cook in their ‘research’!!!

  5. Barry Woods says:

    One goal of this course is to develop more effective ways to debunk myths, that is, to reduce the influence of misinformation. We will achieve this by varying the format of a small number of lectures, as well as asking questions about the lecture content.

    As an enrolled student in this course, you are invited to participate in research being conducted by the University of Queensland that will measure understanding of lecture content while varying a small number of lectures within the course. Specifically, this means that different students will receive different formats of four lectures. Importantly, the content presented will be identical in all versions of all lectures; formats will only differ in the order in which some of the content is presented. Also, some students will receive two additional questions after the four lectures. These questions are identical to questions asked at the beginning and end of the MOOC, so all students receive all questions at least twice. You will thus receive the exact same content in all conditions of the experiment, and hence you will not be disadvantaged by participating. The research will span the duration of the 7-week course. Participation in this research is entirely voluntary.

    The research, titled Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, is being conducted by John Cook at The University of Queensland in collaboration with edX, Ullrich Ecker at the University of Western Australia, Kevin Cowtan at the University of York, Stephan Lewandowsky at the University of Bristol and Daniel Bedford at Weber State University.

    This study adheres to the Guidelines of the ethical review process of The University of Queensland. Whilst you are free to discuss your participation in this study with project staff (), if you would like to speak to an officer of the University not involved in the study, you may contact the Ethics Officer on

  6. alexjc38 says:

    Here’s the Denial101x YouTube channel:
    https://www.youtube.com/user/denial101x

    Week 1 features 10 interviews; these are on the “Denial101x – Week 1 Full Interviews” playlist and are with Ben Santer, Naomi Oreskes, Peter Doran, Stephan Lewandowsky (43 minutes!), Larry Hamilton, Katharine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, Eugenie Scott, Ritayan Mitra and Josh Rosenau.

    If Big Oil sent me a big enough cheque, I’d sit down and transcribe the lot, one after the other.

  7. Alex
    No need to transcribe them, the text is downloadable. I’ve been through the lectures by Cook and Mandia, (but not the supplementary material Barry mentions) and now I’m wondering what to do about the quiz. They ask me questions like: “What are the five characteristics of science denial?” (Answer: Fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking and conspiracy theories)
    Barry
    I’ve signed on for the psychological experiment and am resolved to answer the questions honestly, without considering how they might be interpreted. Already in their introductory survey, for question 6. “On a scale from 0 to 100%, estimate how many climate scientists agree that human activity is causing global warming.” I answered “97%”. Why not? I agree, Scott Mandia agrees…
    I strongly disagreed that “A record cold winter is indication that global warming is not happening” and I “neither agreed nor disagreed” that “Averaged over the planet, temperatures were cooler during medieval times compared to the last few decades” because I don’t know.
    I know that high levels of agreement with their favoured responses will be interpreted as providing ammunition for their cause, but that’s not my problem.
    For example, I “strongly disagreed” that “Most species can evolve to adapt to climate change now” because of the word “now”. The words “evolution” and “now” should never be uttered in the same sentence. I know they put in the “now” to demonstrate that their sample is worried about biodiversity and species loss, and I’ve let myself be counted among the eco-worriers who believe, with E.O. Wilson, that extinction is proceeding at a thousand times the “natural” rate. And I know that 97% of the poor dears have never heard of E.O. Wilson, and wouldn’t know a formula of the type d(n)/dt if it jumped out of the primaeval swamp and bit them on the bum – But What Me Worry? I want to pass. I’ve no problem agreeing that science denialists employ logical fallacies. Cook and I just disagree as to who are the denialists.

  8. Gosh, I admire the masochists who are taking part in this.

    Just in case anyone’s not aware, there’s a great blog post on this from Judith Curry,
    http://judithcurry.com/2015/04/28/making-nonsense-of-climate-denial/
    following a tip-off in the form of “a lengthy email from someone who did sign up for the course” (no prizes for guessing).

    She says
    “I’m wondering how we can inoculate ourselves and broader public from the latest nonsense from John Cook: an online MOOC Making Sense of Climate Denial.”
    “Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me.”
    “can you guys please look in the mirror?”

  9. TinyCO2 says:

    I’m just hoping Dr Lew repeats the bit from his Bristol talk where he said that TinyCO2 was guilty of conspiracy ideation for writing something like ‘Dr Lew’s works is so bad he must be paid by big oil to make warmists look stupid.’

  10. Steve says:

    Thanks for the link. I see the course includes ‘The psychology of misinformation’. As it happens that is an interest of mine. I think the course would provide a valuable insight. There can be few who know more about misinformation than Cook and Nucc.

  11. catweazle666 says:

    My wife won’t let me anywhere near it.

    She says it will be bad for my blood pressure.

  12. Barry Woods says:

    I’ve been quoting George Marshall and Adam Corner, as to why consensus messaging is not good comms, and why ‘denier’ is a bit problematic… which is not going down that well, which is very odd really, because nobody could call them ‘climate change deniers’ !

    Cook interviewed.

    http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/climate-change-deniers-sign-up-to-uq-course-tackling-climate-change-deniers-20150430-1mwt52.html

    “……..Mr Cook said organisers were not surprised that a few dozen climate change deniers had enrolled and were trying to discredit the course from the inside.

    “It is ironic and somewhat precursive, because we’re explaining the techniques of denial, and then when our course is being attacked or I’m being questioned, all those same techniques are on display,” he said.

    “It’s happening in the forums of the course right now, we’re seeing a small minority of the students who reject the science posting their arguments against it.”

  13. Barry’s thread on the Denial101 forum has elicited far more comments than any other. It’s well worth reading
    https://courses.edx.org/courses/UQx/Denial101x/1T2015/discussion/forum/i4x-UQx-Denial101x-course-2015_S1/threads/55436a94e2acfe1e33000476

  14. TinyCO2 says:

    It won’t let you see anything without setting up an account.

    I don’t know how you can stand anything put together by the largest collection of people who have done most to pollute climate science and the non existant debate. It’s like making Pol Pot the head of University recruitment and Bernie Madoff in charge of student money.

  15. manicbeancounter says:

    It will be interesting to see if they properly define the concepts involved.
    For instance is the term “climate science” clearly defined like in Wikipedia, with no mention of policy or political beliefs?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatology
    Does the course make a clear distinction between strongly supported scientific statements and opinions based on models?
    Does the course distinguish between positive and normative statements?
    Does it make any allowance for error in the climate community, or for valid opinions by the deniers?
    Does the course make a clear distinction between misinformation and difference of opinion or interpretation?

    Maybe later in the course you will given other, historical examples, where science has progressed through consensus?

  16. catweazle666 says:

    Heh!

    In your dreams!

    We’re talking Post-Normal science here!

    Here are some excerpts of Mike Hulme’s** views on the subject:

    The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow…exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences.

    ‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking…scientists – and politicians – must trade truth for influence. What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy.

    Climate change is telling the story of an idea and how that idea is changing the way in which our societies think, feel, interpret and act. And therefore climate change is extending itself well beyond simply the description of change in physical properties in our world…

    The largest academic conference that has yet been devoted to the subject of climate change finished yesterday [March 12, 2009] in Copenhagen…I attended the Conference, chaired a session…[The] statement drafted by the conference’s Scientific Writing Team…contained…a set of messages drafted largely before the conference started by the organizing committee…interpreting it for a political audience…And the conference chair herself, Professor Katherine Richardson, has described the messages as politically-motivated. All well and good.

    The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow…exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences.

    …‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking…scientists – and politicians – must trade truth for influence. What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy.

    Climate change is telling the story of an idea and how that idea is changing the way in which our societies think, feel, interpret and act. And therefore climate change is extending itself well beyond simply the description of change in physical properties in our world…

    The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.

    There is something about this idea that makes it very powerful for lots of different interest groups to latch on to, whether for political reasons, for commercial interests, social interests in the case of NGOs, and a whole lot of new social movements looking for counter culture trends.

    Climate change has moved from being a predominantly physical phenomenon to being a social one…It is circulating anxiously in the worlds of domestic politics and international diplomacy, and with mobilising force in business, law, academia, development, welfare, religion, ethics, art and celebrity.

    Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition

    The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.

    …climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences…climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes…climate change has become “the mother of all issues”, the key narrative within which all environmental politics – from global to local – is now framed…Rather than asking “how do we solve climate change?” we need to turn the question around and ask: “how does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations…?”

    We need to reveal the creative psychological, spiritual and ethical work that climate change can do and is doing for us…we open up a way of resituating culture and the human spirit…As a resource of the imagination, the idea of climate change can be deployed around our geographical, social and virtual worlds in creative ways…it can inspire new artistic creations in visual, written and dramatised media. The idea of climate change can provoke new ethical and theological thinking about our relationship with the future….We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilise these stories in support of our projects. Whereas a modernist reading of climate may once have regarded it as merely a physical condition for human action, we must now come to terms with climate change operating simultaneously as an overlying, but more fluid, imaginative condition of human existence.

    https://buythetruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/climate-change-and-the-death-of-science/

    ** http://www.mikehulme.org/category/bio-and-cv/

    Here is the original article from which the above excerpts are taken, in the Guardian, unsurprisingly.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2007/mar/14/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange

  17. This morning I was alerted to part 2 at 8am European time. At 9am I followed the introductory lecture and added my word to the cloud, as instructed. I was visitor number 39. It’s now 13 hours since the course went on line, and there are have been 311 responses on the cloud. That’s just 3% of the more than10,000 folk who have signed up to the course.

    97% of students are skipping classes. That’s a huge consensus.

  18. TinyCO2 says:

    To be fair, all they need to do to pass is agree that deniers are 97% nuts.

  19. Hugh says:

    Probably unlike Wiseman, we actually do know the facts, have heard every tortuous argument and have heard them all questioned and debunked over and over.

    Indeed. But the trouble is both optimists and pessimists on future climate development do spread debunked or rather, plain braindead stuff, like, optimists let not very educated people rant on how laws of thermodynamics prevent a radiative greenhouse effect, and pessimists go on explaining each other how some glacier is melting unprecedentedly when it clearly has been melting already before humans raised CO2 significantly and thus is lacking all the attribution power.

    In my opinion, everything is about two questions:

    1) what is the TCR?
    2) what really happens when CO2 increases?

    I think the normal answers (heat waves, extreme weather, floods, droughts, storms, pests, famine, war, and death) won’t do, nor the opposite (plant food or warmth saving us). I find it increasingly probable, that the consequences are the dullest, but partly unexpected.

    Climate science has been very bad at forecasting (or projecting) what happens; and scientists have been very bad at washing their dirty laundry; they rather tend to first say that the forecast is ‘very plausible’, and when it won’t come true, they just ignore it.

    The most tortuous arguments are not easily debunkable; let’s take an example from dying cocoa and coffee trees or drowning polar bears; in order to debunk them, you just need to wait and see, because there is no way to provide proof beforehand.

  20. catweazle’s May 5th commet has just got through moderation. It’s well worth reading.

  21. alexjc38 says:

    Agreed – the quote that stood out, for me, is one that catweazle has highlighted: “We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilise these stories in support of our projects.”

    As in some other texts I’ve read recently, Mike Hulme is spot-on. I confess to not being able to figure him out, completely. Does he personally believe that the end (furthering “our” various projects) justifies the means (spinning a narrative that is only loosely connected with the physical science)?

  22. Alex, I have a copy of Mike Hulme’s book “Why we disagree about climate change”. He is quite open in the Preface about political views being a motivating factor:

    “I came to view global climate change caused by GHGs as a manifestation of a free market, consumption driven, capitalist economy – an ideology to which I was opposed I recollect now that his opposition was an explicit ideological frame I used when teaching my course… This…was a formative influence on (or reflection of) my political thinking during the decade of Thatcherite conservatism in the UK. I subsequently joined the Labour Party in 1990”.

    And a few pages later:
    “In my attempt attempts to understand why people around the world disagree about climate change I am limited by my own position – as an Englishman trained as a Geographer, employed as a university professor, holding orthodox Christian beliefs, exercising democratic socialist political preferences and living in a European country…. I cannot escape the biases of my position.

    So I think that rather than saying that the end justifies the means he is just being very (uniquely?) honest about his own political bias influencing the way he does his research and teaching.
    He is giving a talk here in Nottingham next Tuesday, which should be interesting.

  23. alexjc38 says:

    I’m sure you’re right, Paul, it’s maybe the fact I find such candour somewhat disconcerting! The talk does look interesting (as do the others – noticed quite a few familiar names there), and I’ll see if I can get hold of his book at some point.

  24. Further to catweazle’s comment re Mike Hulme … From the extended quote from Hulme’s 2010 book, what stood out for me was his echo of JFK:

    We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs.

    I first read this while I was still very much in learning mode. But Richard Lindzen had drawn this to the attention of those who watched his videos (which I did) – and I learned a lot [See: https://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/propping-up-very-tarnished-gold-standard-of-ipccs-plastic-climate-change/ ]

    Hulme always struck me as being a teflon-man. For example, I’ve never understood why (it appears that) Muir-Russell et al decided not to interview him. Here’s the full text of Hulme’s written submission to M-R: [See https://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/muir-russell-climategate-review-evidence-of-missing-evidence/ for link to source]:

    I would like to draw the attention of the Review Team to the following article, which I hereby attach:

    Ungar,S. and Bray,D. (2005) Silencing science: partisanship and the career of a publication
    disputing the dangers of secondhand smoke Public Understanding of Science 14,
    5-23 [24 Feb 10]

    It is the report of a careful investigation into the dynamics between scientific evidence, the
    ethics of science, peer-review publishing and policy advocacy for the case of a paper
    published in 2003 which challenged the orthodoxy that passive smoking is injurious to
    health. Although not directly related to the present issues under investigation, the wider context it illuminates is highly relevant to your terms of reference and I believe the review Team would be well-informed were they to read it. [my bold -hro]

    And that was the total of Hulme’s “submission”!

    Now, if I had a suspicious mind (which of course I don’t!) perhaps I might be inclined to suspect that (particularly considering his long history with UEA), Hulme may have originally submitted material that was, well, somewhat more “directly related”. which, probably for reasons best known to himself (and perhaps a few select others?!) M-R didn’t want to deal with. YMMV, but I, for one, have never seen Hulme as taciturn as he was above.

    And for those who might have missed it … After the release of CG2 – in which I found far more stuff from Hulme and his good buddies Joe Alcamo and Rob Swart … You might be interested in:perusing:

    The climate consensus coordinators’ cookbook

    Although, I must say that it is to Hulme’s credit that he quite vociferously called out Cook et al for their nonsense … sometime within the last year (or two … I don’t know where the time flies to!)

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