Climate change confusion – a conspiracy of sorts

The current “climategate” attacks on science must bewilder many scientists. Why the hysteria? Why the wild claims? The facts don’t warrant that sort of reaction!

One is tempted to see a conspiracy – and no doubt there are all sorts of links between organisations and campaigns are easily plotted. But I think what we have is something a bit more uncoordinated. More an accident of history.

A conspiracy of sorts

I think what we are seeing a coming together of three things:

  1. The climate deniersphere – blogs, conservative newspapers, denier and sceptic organisations – international and well linked to New Zealand;
  2. The ultra conservative US Republicans (pro-Palin) “teaparty” “revolution” against President Obama, climate change, science and anything liberal;
  3. A growing effectiveness of social media like Twitter in communicating propaganda.

Do I sound paranoid to you? Have a look at twitter searches for “climategate.” Most of these are in the hysterical denier mould. Many are disseminating links to very recently published articles. And most distort the content of the articles.

Finally – check out the hashtags used (these help identify communities involved in propagating the messages). Here is a list with their description (from tagdef) – in decreasing order of use:

  • #tcot – Top Conservatives on Twitter is a coalition of conservatives on the Internet. This hashtag has over 1 million followers.
  • #teaparty- Tax protests held nation-wide against the spending for TARP, stimulus, and big-budget government.
  • #ocra – Organized Conservative Resistance Alliance
  • #cot – United Conservatives On Twitter
  • #sgp – Smart Girl Politics – A Conservative Women’s Movement.

Hatchet job on Phil Jones

The “climategate” treatment of a recent BBC interview of Phil Jones by conservative social media entries, blogs and newspapers provides an example of this in action.  See Q&A: Professor Phil Jones & ‘Climategate’ expert Jones says data not well organised for the original articles.

One could question Jones’ decision to be interviewed, particularly as the questions were largely selected by climate change sceptics and Jones got little chance to put his answers in context. However, his responses were balanced and open. He expressed some regret at language used in the emails and his treatment of freedom of information requests. However, in no way did he back away from the science of climate change.

But the resultingconservative headlines were complete dishonest. For example American Thinker – Climategate’s Phil Jones Confesses to Climate Fraud; Daily Mail – Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995; Gateway Pundit – It Was All a Lie: Climategate Scientist Admits There Is No Global Warming; News Busters – ClimateGate’s Phil ‘Hide the Decline’ Jones Admits Manipulating Data. And, of course the twitters with #tcot and similar tags were just as misleading and hysterical – fo not worse.

Along the chain the conservative bloggers took up the “message,” with varying degrees of deception in their post titles. And in New Zealand we get local conspiracy theorist Ian  declaring BREAKING NEWS: CRU’s Jones admits climate data problems, and Medieval Warm Period and ADMISSION: No statistically significant warming since 1995. Poor old Ian – he does tend to overuse words like “breaking news” and “admission”, doesn’t he. The New Zealand Conservative asked sarcastically No kidding Professor; and the Climate Conversation Group declared Phil Jones: “No global warming since 1995″.

“In an interview with the BBC, Phil Jones, the embattled director of the British Climatic Research Unit, said that an observed warming trend of 0.12 degrees C per decade between 1995 to 2009 was “not significant at the 95% significance level.” On the other hand, he said, it was quite close to being statistically significant.

Predictably, the deniosphere jumped all over this. For example, here was Marc Morano’s headline at Climate Depot:

The Jig is Up! Climategate U-turn as Phil Jones admits: There has been no warming since 1995.

Either Marc knows nothing about statistics, or he is deliberately twisting the facts — or both. Phil Jones simply did not say that there has been no warming since 1995.

A 95 percent significance level simply means there is actually a 5 percent chance of a particular finding occurring purely by chance. So here’s what Jones is saying, in essence: There is a very slightly greater than 5 percent chance that the measured warming of 0.12 degrees C per decade between 1995 and 2009 was a statistical fluke — in other words, not real.

Or flop it around: There is a slightly less than 95 percent chance that the observed warming actually happened.

By convention, 95 percent significance often is considered “good enough to be believed.” But this is purely arbitrary, and it does not mean that something with a 94 percent significance level is categorically untrue. If a doctor told you that there was a 94 percent chance that you would die of cancer unless you underwent a particular treatment, what would do? Would you say, “Well doc, if there was a 95 percent chance, I’d accept the treatment, but since it’s just a 94 percent chance, I’ll decline”?

Somehow, I doubt it. I think you’d probably take the treatment.

The problem with the temperature record between 1995 and 2009 probably is not that there has been no warming during that period. The problem, as Jones told the BBC, is this: “Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

You probably won’t hear that important statement from skeptics like Marc Morano, or from the news media for that matter. But it’s important, because it emphasizes a crucial fact: Climate change is best documented over the course of decades, not years. And over the course of decades, Jones told the BBC, the trend is very clear: The global climate has warmed at a rate of approximately 0.163 degrees C per decade since 1860.”


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19 responses to “Climate change confusion – a conspiracy of sorts

  1. The global climate has warmed at a rate of approximately 0.163 degrees C…

    So Ken, what do you think about such a damning admission!!!!

    “There’s only been a 0.163 degree increase in temperature.”

    0.163 degrees??

    Hoax, hoax HOAX!!!!!!!!

    Al Gore is fat.


  2. I agree that the Jones interview is being WILDLY distorted by the media… with a breathless “top climate change scientist admits he’s wrong!” banner headline. That’s NOT what he said–or anything like it.

    The way I read the Jones interview, the BBC asked him some tough questions, and he gave very credible answers. The “shocker,” in my opinion, was that BBC was asking him such pointed questions.

    If the reputable media had been doing a little better job of asking nuanced questions all along, Jones’ answers wouldn’t be headlines today.


  3. Hi Ken,

    Interesting analysis, which I would extend slightly by saying that the footprints of US think tanks with roots in tobacco denial are all over the snow on the deniers front lawn. The PR techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry and lobby groups such as Heartland, CEI, CFACT and others have been applied to the climate debate, and updated to take full advantage of modern technology. Mark Morano’s Climate Depot, for instance, is a major hub for getting the “correct” message out to the faithful. Morano has a long history in this stuff, but his site is funded by Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, a libertarian lobby group on environment issues which is heavily funded by Scaife money (more on that in my dissection of some of Wishart’s sources here). CFACT funded the sceptic side conference at Copenhagen, for instance.

    I’d recommend James Hoggan’s Climate Cover Up for more detail on how those groups have very carefully oiled the wheels of denial.


  4. Come off it Scott. It doesn’t matter what questions were asked the conservative media would have produced headlines like Jones admits to fraud, they don’t worry about facts.

    Sent from my iPod


  5. Thanks Gareth. I have been trying to get a review copy of Hoggan’s book. So far without success. Are you reviewing it on Hot Topic?

    It would be interesting to look at the links in New Zealand, and the links between local organisations and overseas lobby groups. Pity we aren’t able to make FOI requests on their emails!

    The CSC and conversation group seem to have easy communication with the ACT party. And with the NZ Centre for Political Research ( ) – a right wing lobby group exposed by Nicky Hager. This of course will have strong overseas links.

    Vincent Gray has a current article on the website. Other members of the coalition contribute from time to time. For a bit of amusement have a look at their forum discussions of climate change/NIWA. For example New Zealand’s “CLIMATEGATE”! which includes also contributions of 9/11 inside job conspiracy. They seem to have a few even more extreme nuts they treat with respect.

    And of course they promote the New World order conspiracy.

    I have also noticed that some of the local conservative religious apologist sites who are active in climate change denial often have links on their blogs to groups like the Heartland Institute.


  6. Ken, you may be right. No matter what Jones says, there will be some “deniers” who instantly pounce on it.

    That’s why I’m looking for CREDIBLE voices in all this climate confusion. I’ve been very pleased with Andy Revkin, a New York Times reporter who has been writing on environmental issues for 30 years. His “DotEarth” blog is one of the few places where I can reliably find intelligent people on both sides of the climate question.


  7. Scott – I am currently listening to a podcast of a conference with Revkin speaking. He is making much the point I have about the role of conservative social media in mobilising against climate change science.


  8. Well, he would know. Andy’s on the front lines–he worked for the New York Times, which might as well be the “Hegelian thesis” which led to the conservative social media “antithesis.” Andy has been swimming in those piranha-infested waters for a while now!

    Do you have a link to the podcast?


  9. Bryan reviewed Climate Cover Up a while ago. I also have a copy: happy to let you borrow it. Let me know and I’ll pop it in the post.

    It’s a matter of public record that Heartland funded Leyland, McShane and others to their first sceptic conference in New York in 2008, and may have contributed to Leyland, Gray etc going to Bali in 2007. Muriel Newman (former ACT MP) is the prime mover behind NZCPR, and was a public “sponsor” of the second Heartland conference (though sponsorship didn’t involve money changing hands,as far as I can tell). And there’s more…


  10. Hi Ken,

    good article – I agree with the confluence of the three things you highlighted at the start. As well as Gareth’s point that the template being laid down in prior pre-Twitter examples of the right wing noise machine. The ‘Swift-boat’ during the US election example has often been cited as an earlier example taht set the scene.

    Incidently, the ever- sardonic Media Watch on the Australian ABC did a good expose on the origins of the hyper-used fake quote of Sir John Houghton and its origins at:


  11. Ken, thanks for that link. I read the article with delight and can’t wait to listen to the audio.


  12. gallopingcamel

    Greetings to Ken and Cedric!

    I really hope you are enjoying yourselves. I am still trying to get Alarmists and Deniers to work together so I would appreciate your comments on:;contentBody


  13. I am still trying to get Alarmists and Deniers…

    Good luck with that.
    Maybe you could also get NASA and moon-landing deniers to “work together”.


  14. Richard Christie

    Jim Hopkins in NZ Herald. 19 2 2010

    Confirming that that particular commentator just loves his own wit, is all wind and incapable of research.


  15. Cedric, NASA and the “moon landing deniers” could easily work together on issues where there is common ground–like launching satellites for DirectTV or GPS devices.

    From what I know of “deniers” in the States, most of them would be DELIGHTED to invest in energy independence at the earliest opportunity. Natural gas produces more energy per CO2 molecule than coal or oil, and the US has vast reserves of natural gas. “Deniers” would be happy to build more natural gas pipelines and gas-driven generators.

    Of course, what the “deniers” really want is nuclear power. Obama has made waves in the US by taking the first steps in a generation toward new nuclear power plants–and I, for one, am thrilled.

    Here’s to more energy and less emissions–and the sooner the better!


  16. Cedric, NASA and the “moon landing deniers” could easily work together on issues where there is common ground…

    What common ground?
    They are diametrically opposed forces.
    One group of people send people to the moon.
    The other group say “Nah, it’s all a hoax”.
    Talking about satellites and GPS is neither here nor there.

    From what I know of “deniers” in the States…

    No, no, NO!
    There are no scare quotes around the word…deniers.
    They deny.
    As in “Nu huh! It’s all a hoax. Al Gore is fat. There’s ice in my fridge so what happened to global warming? Huh? Well? Loser!1!!1!”

    These morons deny that global warming is happening.
    They are deniers.
    How can you not understand this?

    It’s great that you want to reduce emmissions.
    Yet pretending like some Pollyanna that deniers are not really deniers is screwy.
    These are people who are denying science.
    They are denying reality.


  17. Scott, perhaps you feel confident in representing deniers in the US. But from what I have noticed hardly any, if any, talk about nuclear power, or any other energy source exceptt coal and oil. Certainly NZ deniers don’t.

    But campaigning for nuclear or any other technology such as wind, geothermal, etc. is surely irrelevant here. It’s completely a diversion.

    The key thing about deniers now is their attack on science. Our deniers are busy attacking our NIWA scientists. They are not interested in solutions.

    And that is why they have to be exposed. Whatever our problems humanity’s solution lie in honesty and science, not lies and anti- science.

    Sent from my iPod


  18. Global warming is a real problem when people do not take account. The day you realize that’s not a joke, it may be too late.


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