This is a reflection on a recent instance of online trolling by an anti-AGW protagonist I shall refer to as “Mr X”, to protect the guilty.
I think it’s instructive, because it illustrates a large number of anti-AGW trolling features in a fairly compact space. AGW is a frequently used abbreviation for Anthropogenic Global Warming.
Here are the opening salvoes:
Excerpts from an online discussion ----------------------
From Mr X:
This post has a quick look at the UAH satellite temperature data and the relationships between average global temperature and the atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The correlation is shaky at best. CO2 rises steadily (with a small seasonal variation), the global temperature, not so much. There is obviously more going on than just the simple, unscientific Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) Narrative. Even on this short time scale, the temperatures fluctuate significantly (almost as much as that scary 1.07 °C the IPCC has estimated the Modern Temperature Record (MTR, 1850 to the Present) Warming to be). For a thought exercise, let us assume that CO2 was responsible for all the warming over this period (December 1978 to October 2021). The overall trend over the satellite period is just 1.35 °C/century. As the CO2 concentration rises, that trend will only get smaller. Even if the trend stayed at 1.35 °C/century, that would be a beneficial, not a dangerous warming.
An initial response from me to Mr X:
You claim "Even if the trend stayed at 1.35 °C/century, that would be a beneficial, not a dangerous warming".
That is a well-worn anti-AGW trope, debunked here:
And BTW, climate scientists do not assume that all recent warming is due to CO2. Why do you make that assumption in your "thought experiment"?
Excerpts from an online discussion end ----------------------
Note the following about the initial post from Mr X:
His approach is in some ways subtle, because it mixes together truth and hyperbole in what is essentially a straw man argument, and then tries to shoot the straw man down by claiming it will be a beneficial outcome rather than a damaging one. It also implies (because of the frequent references to scientific matters) that climate scientists are part of constructing what Mr X calls “unscientific Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) Narrative”.
Let’s unpick this a little, since there a several things bundled up into this short opening text by Mr X.
It is true that there is “more going on” than human-driven warming. That is not in dispute, scientifically. It’s not necessarily obvious to everyone, but it is certainly true when it comes to climate scientists, and it is not disputed by them. The IPCC analyses and reports many drivers of warming, and compares and contrasts human drivers (“forcings") and natural drivers/forcings. In the past, and especially before the industrial revolution, natural drivers were dominant. What has changed since the industrial revolution is that human drivers have become dominant. However, scientists are well aware that the relative proportions of human and natural drivers varies over time, and the proportions of the forcings from various greenhouse gases (“GHG”s) including but not exclusively CO2, vary over time, and they do not assume that CO2 will be the only driver of warming over time.
Mr X has used some truths up to that point, but by throwing in his claim of “simple, unscientific Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) Narrative”, he has leapt an enormous chasm to making four as yet unsubstantiated claims, which could be paraphrased as:
Again, he has mixed some partial truth in there. It is true that there are some catastrophist narratives around AGW. But in his use of words, Mr X has tried to tar the climate science community (the whole of it) with generating that narrative.
It is not true that scientists assume that “CO2 was responsible for all the warming over … December 1978 to October 2021.”
However, Mr X uses this assumption, without telling us why he does that, to imply that “The overall trend over the satellite period is just 1.35 degrees C per century” has been posited by climate scientists as being exclusively from CO2 forcing and that “as the CO2 concentration rises, that trend will only get smaller”.
It is true that “The overall trend over the satellite period is … 1.35 degrees C per century”.
It is also true that the warming effect from rising GHG concentrations is not linear, so as concentrations rise the rate of warming reduces slightly. However, that effect is expected to be insignificant over the timescale of the next few decades, so referring to it is a red herring, and an example of introducing a half-truth into the argument.
But Mr X has subtly woven into these truths some incorrect implications that:
Then he makes another unsubstantiated claim that “1.35 °C/century, … would be a beneficial, not a dangerous warming”. Watch out for this one – Mr X slipped that new point in right at the end, perhaps hoping that people would run up against character limits on that particular online channel before including a response to it. It’s useful to make it clear to people that if you don’t respond to every point someone has made, that doesn’t mean you agree with the points you haven’t specifically responded to. In fact, that point might have been the main one Mr X was making. Fortunately, it’s a point that is easily debunked, as you’ll have noticed from my initial response.
After a few hours, Mr X responded as follows, in three separate posts, to my initial challenge and counterarguments:
Excerpts from an online discussion ----------------------
From Mr X to me:
"Good to see you and the rest of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) alarmist crowd decided to show up. You don’t take flak unless you’re over the target. Some day it would be nice to see one of you come up with a response that is new, original and/or actually contains some empirical CO2/Temperature data that shows CO2 driving the climate on any statistically significant historical time scale. If you are worried about misinformation, you should probably take the IPCC to task on their August 2021 AR6 Report. The report is highly dependent on their Computer Models. Those same models that they admit are running way too hot. No chance of misinformation in that scenario is there? The net warming after all their other radiative forcing assumptions cancel out is essentially due to CO2. (as per the previous thread which you ignored). The IPCC AR5 report broke the GreenHouse Gases out better (CSS-22 - Computer Models - Real Simple)."
And in another post, Mr X continues:
"I plot the data, give my opinion on the data and suggest that the reader review the data and make up their own mind. I’m not looking to change your mind (or anyone that has bought into the whole CAGW alarmist narrative/ideology). My posts are directed to people that are capable of thinking for themselves. The data in this post comes from the University of Alabama, Huntsville’s satellite temperature measurement program. I am happy to stop using the data when the program has had its funding pulled and is no longer available. I personally do not care what Dr. Spencer’s opinions are, any more than I care about what Michael Mann’s opinions are. The truth is in the data (despite the over-homogenization of the surface data sets), not in a CAGW alarmist propaganda site like Skeptical Science (“founded by cartoonist and web developer, John Cook, who received a PhD degree in cognitive science”). He used all his cognitive PhD abilities to convert the 41 papers supporting his CAGW narrative (out of 11,944 papers (0.3%)) into a 97% consensus (no bias there)."
And in a third post, Mr X continues:
"The Scientific Method requires empirical data (the CAGW alarmist narrative does not have an empirical CO2/Temperature dataset that shows CO2 driving the climate on any statistically significant historical time scale)."
Excerpts from an online discussion end ----------------------
Firstly, Mr X accuses me of being part of what he calls a “ Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) alarmist crowd”.
That is an example of:
Note that this is right at the start of his long response. The positioning is not random. It is almost certainly deliberately placed at the start, in order to have the best chance of achieving his objectives for point 2) above.
He said “You don’t take flak unless you’re over the target”.
You’ll often see this being said by anti-AGW trolls. It’s clearly an attempt to:
His next sentence is clearly a combination of ignoring known climate science (which he must be aware of) and the number one most popular anti-AGW trope, which can be paraphrased as “climate has always changed, and CO2 levels have always varied, therefore it’s not CO2, let alone humanity, who are causing current climate change”. Here are his actual words:
“Some day it would be nice to see one of you come up with a response that is new, original and/or actually contains some empirical CO2/Temperature data that shows CO2 driving the climate on any statistically significant historical time scale.”
His argument is easily debunked here:
Notice that it has taken a long time, and a lot of words from Mr X, in his second-tier response, before he has actually made a claim that is scientifically refutable. Up to this point, he has been trying to raise people’s hackles. He might have been hoping that people would leap on the claim when it eventually came and over-react to it with more than just the science.
One point worth making here is that it’s not up to the scientific community (or anyone else) to “come up with something new”. The science of AGW is well established now, with an enormous amount of evidence behind it, probably more than any other matter scientists have looked at in the entire history of humanity. So much so that the latest IPCC report (AR6, 2021) says:
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.
Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere
Next, Mr X says:
“If you are worried about misinformation, you should probably take the IPCC to task on their August 2021 AR6 Report. The report is highly dependent on their Computer Models. Those same models that they admit are running way too hot. No chance of misinformation in that scenario is there?”
The IPCC is aware of, and reports on, uncertainties in things like climate models. They reflect those in ranges of projected outcomes for warming etc. They also use multiple scenarios, which reflects the fact that the future is unknowable and everyone is considering a variety of futures that might occur, depending on matters such as how quickly and aggressively the world reduces GHG emissions.
Mr X tries to turn a strength of the IPCC’s approach into a weakness, by trying to turn approaches to handling uncertainties into “misinformation”.
Again, he uses a half-truth, and uses the language of “risk” to try to sow some seeds of doubt. It is true that some climate models “run hot”, but there are some that “run cold”. The main rebuttal is that the IPCC looks at many models, and draws up its findings accordingly, using sophisticated statistical methods, not relying overly on any one individual model or a small number of them.
Mr X’s argument is easily debunked here:
Next, Mr X modifies his earlier claim/inference from:
“let us assume that CO2 was responsible for all the warming … [over] December 1978 to October 2021.”
(which, remember, was a straw man argument)
“The net warming after all their other radiative forcing assumptions cancel out is essentially due to CO2”
This is now a true statement, although there is still a little barbed inference in there by using the phrase "forcing assumptions" rather than "measured forcing factors", for example.
He then repeats his attempted stereotyping and goading, by saying:
“I’m not looking to change your mind (or anyone that has bought into the whole CAGW alarmist narrative/ideology).”
And he also says:
“My posts are directed to people that are capable of thinking for themselves.”
The obvious implication is that he doesn’t think I, or many others who might be reading the exchange, are capable of thinking for ourselves. That is a personal insult as well as reinforcing his attempted stereotyping.
His next ‘contribution’ to the discussion is a series of deflections about cited sources, both sources he has referenced in support of his arguments (curiously), and some cited by respondents.
“I personally do not care what Dr. Spencer’s opinions are, any more than I care about what Michael Mann’s opinions are. The truth is in the data (despite the over-homogenization of the surface data sets), not in a CAGW alarmist propaganda site like Skeptical Science (“founded by cartoonist and web developer, John Cook, who received a PhD degree in cognitive science”). He used all his cognitive PhD abilities to convert the 41 papers supporting his CAGW narrative (out of 11,944 papers (0.3%)) into a 97% consensus (no bias there).”
He makes specific claims:
Let’s look at each of these claims in turn:
1) Homogenization of data
Homogenization of data is an important part of climate modelling. This is explained clearly, together with the benefits, here:
Homogenization is a legitimate area for examination, re-examination and review.
If Mr X has any evidence that might shed light on how to improve the accuracy and usefulness of the results of those processes, then he should provide it (or cite relevant references). If he does not do so, all he is doing is trying to create unwarranted doubt.
2) Mr X claims skepticalscience is a “CAGW alarmist propaganda site”.
The easiest rebuttal of this is that skepticalscience is a well-recognised source of good, clear, accurate information on the science of climate change. According to Media Bias Fact Check:
3) “Skeptical Science, founded by cartoonist and web developer … ”
This is a partial truth, but misleading in the current context and an obvious attempt to discredit John Cook and his work. I’ll leave it to readers to make their own minds up on this. As an aside, the reference to “cartoonist” can be put in context by looking at the excellent book “Cranky Uncle” which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who has an ideologically blinkered anti-AGW person in their lives who trots out many of the well-known anti-AGW tropes at every available opportunity.
4) Mr X’s claim that “John Cook … convert[ed] the 41 papers supporting his CAGW narrative (out of 11,944 papers (0.3%)) into a 97% consensus (no bias there)”
That is a misinterpretation of the nature of the statistical methods used in the study Cook and others undertook in 2013 that supported the fact that the scientific consensus on AGW was 97% or more.
In fact, that work has been built on and brought up to date by Lynas et al (2021) “Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature”
which tells us that the consensus is now greater than 99% (possible greater than 99.9%), and from which:
“According to the IPCC AR6 summary and many other previous studies, mitigating future warming requires urgent efforts to eliminate fossil fuels combustion and other major sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Our study helps confirm that there is no remaining scientific uncertainty about the urgency and gravity of this task.”
Finally, Mr X repeats and extends an earlier claim:
“The Scientific Method requires empirical data (the CAGW alarmist narrative does not have an empirical CO2/Temperature dataset that shows CO2 driving the climate on any statistically significant historical time scale).”
When such repetition occurs, it’s one sign that a troll wants to cycle back to an earlier part of the discussion, and go through a new cycle, without having addressed the challenges to their previous claims.
In this example, what Mr X was doing was, in fact, undertaking a “gish gallop”. According to Wikipedia:
“The Gish gallop is a rhetorical technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments.
In Mr X’s posts I’ve analysed here, most of which he posted without waiting for a reply, he published 22 substantive or strongly implied points, accusations or attempts at stereotyping, the last of which was essentially a repeat of one of the first ones, bringing the discussion back to close to the start.
It has taken me the length of this blog post to rebut and/or challenge the points he has made.
In my mind, there are only one or two of his points that could be considered genuine topics for review and debate. The rest of his ‘contribution’ is just a tirade of unsubstantiated anti-AGW FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) woven into a veritable gish gallop, with an attempt to make it sound reasonable by sprinkling it with scientific language and some truths or half-truths in misleading ways.
Occasionally, it’s worth deep-diving into an exchange like this and decomposing it. There is a lot that can be learned from it. The most important lesson is to spot it for what it is, and to decide one’s own response to it (if any) when one sees it, for example by calling it out for what it is, responding with counterarguments and facts, or simply ignoring it to reduce the ‘oxygen’ the trolls feed on.
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