In a recent article I criticised Catriona McKinnon of Reading University, who wants climate deniers to be banned from expressing their opinions or being employed in universities. That’s a pretty strong position for a Professor of Political Theory to take. The last time certain people were banned by law from working in universities was… never mind.
However, she seems unclear what climate denial is, since she revises her definition half way through the article. She starts off defining it thus:
By “climate denial,” I mean the deliberate and deceptive misrepresentation of the scientific realities of climate change, such as the fact that climate change is happening, its anthropogenic causes, and its damaging impacts
and she gives as a reference (Dunlap 2013).
which seems clear enough, except that (Dunlap 2013) contains no real analysis of climate denial, but is simply the introduction to a special edition of the American Behavioral Scientist on Climate Denialism, offering a rather discursive survey of the forms and sources of denialism.
To understand what McKinnon is saying, let’s follow up what her source (Dunlap 2013) says, and what his sources are. It’s a little boring, but enlightening in the end.
Here is what Dunlap says about denialism in the article cited by McKinnon (I’ve omitted one sentence on denialism’s effects, and the corresponding references, since it doesn’t affect the definition):
From the outset, there has been an organized “disinformation” campaign that has used the complexities of AGW and the inevitable uncertainties involved in scientific research to generate skepticism and denial concerning AGW. The primary strategy employed by this campaign has been to “manufacture uncertainty” over AGW (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), especially by attacking climate science and scientists (Powell, 2011). […]
The campaign has been waged by a loose coalition of industrial (especially fossil fuels) interests and conservative foundations and think tanks that utilize a range of front groups and Astroturf operations, often assisted by a small number of “contrarian scientists.” These actors are greatly aided by conservative media and politicians (Oreskes & Conway, 2010; Powell, 2011), and more recently by a bevy of skeptical bloggers. This “denial machine” has played a crucial role in generating skepticism toward AGW among laypeople and policy makers (Begley, 2007; Dunlap & McCright, 2011).
For years the denial machine and its campaign attracted little attention, as its operatives succeeded in masking their efforts as legitimate scientific debate while the interests and motives behind their attacks on climate science and individual scientists such as Benjamin Santer were largely shrouded from scrutiny (Oreskes & Conway, 2010). Investigative journalists, most notably Ross Gelbspan (1997), took the lead in analyzing the denial machine, and then a few social scientists joined in the effort (Beder, 1999; Lahsen, 1999; McCright & Dunlap, 2000, 2003). Journalists have continued to make crucial contributions to understanding the denial machine (Begley, 2007; Gelbspan, 2004; Klein, 2011; Mooney, 2005; Pearce, 2010; Pooley, 2010), but particularly in the past 5 years a growing number of social scientists and other analysts—ranging from historians (Weart, 2011) to ex-government officials (Piltz, 2008) to citizens committed to defending climate science (Kintisch, 2011)—also have provided analyses of the denial machine. Additional insights into the campaign against climate science have been provided by climate scientists, especially those who have been subjected to attack (Bradley, 2011; Hansen, 2009; Mann, 2012; Schneider, 2009).
Here is the totality of Dunlap’s sources:
(Oreskes & Conway, 2010) Merchants of doubt.
(Powell, 2011) The inquisition of climate science
(Begley, 2007) The truth about denial. Newsweek
(Dunlap & McCright, 2011) Organized climate change denial. In The Oxford handbook of climate change
(Gelbspan (1997) The heat is on
(Beder, 1999) Corporate hijacking of the greenhouse debate. Ecologist,
(Lahsen, 1999) The detection and attribution of conspiracies: The controversy over chapter 8. Paranoia within reason: A casebook on conspiracy as explanation
(McCright & Dunlap, 2000) Challenging global warming as a social problem: An analysis of the conservative movement’s counter-claims. Social Problems
(McCright & Dunlap, 2003) Defeating Kyoto: The conservative movement’s impact on U.S. climate change policy. Social Problems
(Gelbspan, 2004) Boiling point.
(Klein, 2011) Capitalism vs. the climate. The Nation
(Mooney, 2005) Some like it hot. Mother Jones
(Pearce, 2010) The climate files
(Pooley, 2010) The climate war: True believers, power brokers, and the fight to save the earth.
(Weart, 2011) Global warming: How skepticism became denial. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
(Piltz, 2008) The denial machine. Index on Censorship
(Kintisch, 2011) Computer scientist goes on offensive to defend climate scientists. Science
(Bradley, 2011) Global warming and political intimidation.
(Hansen, 2009) Storms of my grandchildren
(Mann, 2012) The hockey stick and the climate wars.
(Schneider, 2009) Science as a contact sport
I make that twelve books, (four of them by scientists who have been “attacked”) or chapters in books; four press articles, and five articles in peer reviewed journals, two of which are written by Dunlap, who is also the author of one of the book chapters cited.
The three articles in the peer reviewed literature not by Dunlap are all paywalled. (Kintisch, 2011) is an interview with Kintisch by John Mashey who “is spending his retirement years compiling voluminous critiques of what he calls the ‘real conspiracy’ to produce ‘climate antiscience.’” (Piltz 2008) and (Weart 2011) are also also apparently opinion pieces. Of 21 references in (Weart 2011) eight are common to (Dunlap 2013.)
And that’s it.
To summarise: Professor McKinnon proposes to ban certain people from being employed in universities and from expressing themselves publicly. Her sole source of information on who they are and what they do is a paper by Professor Dunlap, and his source consists of just two peer reviewed papers written by himself, and a variety of books and newspaper articles, all of them savagely critical of the “denialist machine” (with the possible exception of Pearce, whose book is an examination of the behaviour of the scientists in the Climategate affair, which makes it difficult to see why Dunlap is citing him as making “crucial contributions to understanding the denial machine.”)
Dunlap, in the extract quoted above, describes denialism as a loose coalition of:
– industrial (especially fossil fuels) interests
– conservative foundations and think tanks
– front groups and Astroturf operations
– a small number of “contrarian scientists”
greatly aided by:
– conservative media and politicians
– a bevy of skeptical bloggers.
Conway & Oreskes and Powell are the sole references cited for the first five groups, and no source at all is cited for the “bevy of skeptical bloggers.” In fact I’ve found no references at all to blogs in the papers by Dunlap I have been able to access. In fact, there are very few references at all to the work of bloggers in any of the social science papers on climate denialism that I’ve seen, and when they are the subject of research, it tends to be the kind of automatic data mining operations that leaves out all reference to the people involved and their arguments, as examined in this article.
Social scientists are free to research whatever they like, and if Dunlap wants to research the “fossil-fuel-financed denial machine” and McKinnon wants to quote him, that’s their affair. But, given the large and growing literature on climate denialism, and the speed with which events move, the ice melts, and the seas rise, it seems astonishing that McKinnon should be citing a paper which singles out a book written by Ross Gelbspan twenty years ago for special mention as a useful source for understanding denialism. Some things have happened since then, including the invention of blogging.
The most cursory glance at the contemporary denialist machine reveals that blogs are far and away the main vehicle for discussion. Mann’s “hockeystick” graph; the Climategate emails; errors in the IPCC reports; statistically questionable papers by Steig, Marcott and others; flaws in the temperature record; the theft and forgery of documents by Gleick; all the major stories (or “scandals”) surrounding climate science were broken and discussed primarily on blogs. The major sceptical books in Britain (I don’t know about the USA) are by bloggers like Montford and Delingpole. The few journalists in Britain who take a sceptical position (Booker, Delingpole, Rose) get their material from blogs. The Heartland Institute and other conservative organisations do little but arrange and finance events at which the bloggers and scientists can present their case.
McKinnon cites a blogger at great length (John Cook) so she presumably know of the existence of blogs. Does she know of the existence of the sceptical blogs which John Cook’s skepticalScience and RealClimate were set up to counter? Perhaps not. Certainly not, if her sources are Dunlap, Powell, and Oreskes. She certainly won’t be aware that our own Paul Matthews works at a university. What he does doesn’t matter. Whether he mows the lawn or lectures in mathematics, he’ll be rounded up and expelled just the same under the New Environmental Régime envisaged by McKinnon.
But beyond the rather particular political theory espoused by McKinnon, and the million pound grant from the Leverhulme Foundation for her Climate Justice Programme, (remember that when you buy your soap) is the kind of social science practiced by Riley Dunlap.
For the first part of his forty year career, he analysed the growing environmental movement. As an activist, it is true, but he analysed it, and you can learn from his papers a lot about what environmentalists thought they were up to. Then along came (Gelbspan 1997) and Dunlap turned to the fossil-fuel-financed denialist machine. But there’s no peer-reviewed literature on that, so he quotes articles in Newsweek, and books by crazed activists. And suddenly any old politically motivated rubbish is part of the peer reviewed literature.
So tomorrow, when some crazed Green MP proposes a law banning the likes of Paul Matthews from teaching in a university, she’ll be able to cite McKinnon, who cites Mill “On Liberty” and Dunlap, who cites Gelbspan, who cites what some Exxon executive said in the 1980s. And who will gainsay her? Because it’s all science, (and the science is settled) since it’s all in the peer-reviewed literature.
Except for John Stuart Mill “On Liberty.” And who cares about him?