Now that I have entered the Cranky Uncle years, I find that there are many things in life that vex me. Amongst them are people who say ‘pre-planned’ and ‘pre-prepared’; people who are forever womoaning about mansplaining; people who can give a restaurant a one star review on TripAdvisor just because they turned up on the day it was shut; anybody on the road in a Lycra outfit; people who don’t pick up their dog’s poo; and, most of all, people who are people.

Yes, come to think of it, my Room 101 would have everyone inside it, with me left outside to wonder what to do with the key. But of all my pet hates, I have to say the one that is giving my gallbladder most of its morning exercise nowadays is people who smugly remark that climate change sceptics have sheepishly moved on from challenging the science in order to concentrate more upon trying to delay the implementation of the solution.

The reality, of course, is really rather different. We sceptics are supposed to be well known for not moving on, and so where these people get their ideas from is a mystery. It isn’t, after all, the climate change sceptic that decided that the science was settled and no further debate was needed. At no stage did we admit defeat; it’s just that the other party cleared the line. From the outset we have said that the way the science is being handled is dodgy and that the proposed solutions are unworkable. We are still saying both of these things but it is only the latter assertion that has any traction nowadays. That’s not shifting our ground; that’s not changing one’s tune. That’s just how the endgame was always going to play out. And if we are getting ever more shrill in our protests it is because the gap between what is happening and what is needed to avert transition disaster is getting ever wider. We are just exercising our democratic right to be unhappy.

I’d like to think that legitimate concerns surrounding the proposed transition would lead to a more sensible debate but I’m afraid it hasn’t. It has instead just lead to the development of yet another of those limp-witted taxonomies of thinking, produced this time by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). The document that introduces this taxonomy glorifies in the title: ‘Deny, Deceive, Delay: Documenting and Responding to Climate Disinformation at COP26 and Beyond’, but its main themes are definitely of deception and delay.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue

Before I reveal some of the delights to be had in the ISD’s designed-to-impress tome, we should tarry a wee while to look into just what the ISD is and where it is getting its money from.

According to its website, the ISD is:

“…an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to safeguarding human rights and reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide.”

So you can see why it would have its beady, strategic eyes on that most extreme and dangerous  of the many enemies of democracy – the climate sceptic. In fact, so dangerous and anti-democratic is the sceptic, that the ISD has gathered a crack team of disinformation specialists to monitor sceptical activity on the internet. You can see for yourselves that they are armed to the teeth with degrees in Arabic and Spanish, sociology, political science and political psychology, and so there is no one better equipped to adjudicate on heady matters such as the technical challenge posed by renewables intermittency or the uncertainty behind equilibrium climate sensitivity. You’re not going to get away with saying anything remotely anti-scientific in front of these guys, particularly when they boast that their primary sources of information regarding prominent sceptics are DeSmog and Greenpeace UnEarthed. Impartiality must be their middle name. Certainly, that is how the ISD sees itself when it says:

“We do not undertake work, pursue external partnerships or work with funders that could undermine ISD’s credibility, reputation and impartiality, or compromise the integrity or quality of our work.”

As for their financing, one can only gaze in wonder upon their list of partners and funding organisations. No less than 16 foundations and 37 ‘Governments and Multilateral Organisations’ have seen fit to dig into their pockets since 2018. That’s not to mention the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Jigsaw and Spotify. Silicon Valley has some mighty big chequebooks and let it never be said that it is loath to keep the anti-oil industry dollars flowing. But what am I thinking? Safeguarding democracy is an expensive business and one cannot be so churlish as to turn one’s nose up at the beneficence provided by a handful of West Coast IT oligarchs. Isn’t having one’s policies depend critically upon the financial support of such a small and self-interested cabal what democracy is all about?

The Taxonomy

You can read the ISD effort for yourselves if you want to but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you fancy ploughing through 116 glossy pages, each detailing what we unspeakably wicked sceptics have been getting up to. The ISD was paid a lot of money to perform their study and it is apparent that they were determined not to disappoint. Nevertheless, the whole thing can be reduced to the following essential points.

Firstly, there is that storyline of how we sceptics have now started a culture war in an effort to delay the implementation of what is necessary. In its opening paragraph the document states:

“In recent years we have witnessed a clear evolution in rhetoric opposing the idea of climate change and related action. While outright denial of climate change is still present and espoused by many pundits, or found in their former outputs, it has largely been confined to the margins of public debate…Denying the reality and impacts of climate change, or the need for corresponding action, is therefore unlikely to hold sway as it might have done in previous decades. In its place, narratives have trended towards discrediting any proposal for mitigation, adaptation and transition – arguments sometimes referred to as ‘discourses of delay’.”

Having set up its strawman, the document introduces the taxonomy by which it may be knocked down. According to the ISD, the ‘discourse of delay’ boils down to the following tactics:

  • Redirect responsibility
  • Push non-transformative solutions
  • Emphasize the downsides of proposals
  • Surrender to climate change

The remainder of the document is essentially devoted to providing illustrative examples and proposing what to do about stopping such a discourse. It’s a long and tedious diatribe, to my mind, amounting to no more than a plea to stop any discussion that may thwart the democratic will of the people – by which I mean Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the 16 foundations stumping up the money. In fact, there is some irony that at one point the document sees fit to quote Supran and Oreskes:

“The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions.”

To which the ISD responds:

“Challenging ad tech business models that enable the production and monetisation of mis- and disinformation is among the most powerful tools at our disposal.”

Thus speaks an organisation swimming in Green Blob money laundered through a panoply of politicised institutions and foundations. Besides which, they lie when they say cutting off their opponents’ funding is their most powerful tool. It seems that their most powerful tool is, in fact, our old friend, John Cook’s FLICC taxonomy, which is proudly revealed on page 96, complete with all of its glaring technical errors.

Priorities

Well I think that’s quite enough mansplaining for one day. However, it would be wrong of me to leave you with the impression that the ISD was set up specifically to annoy climate sceptics – it has a much wider brief than that and few are beyond its power to annoy. Just remember that there is a “rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide” to be dealt with, and if it were not for organisations with the ISD’s guiding principles (‘Integrity, Collaboration, Agility, Courage’) we might all become engulfed. So wherever there is hate, the ISD fact-checkers will be there. Wherever there is polarisation, more ISD fact-checkers will pile on. And wherever there is extremism, the ISD fact-checkers will be there in their droves. And yet whenever people say ‘pre-planned’ or ‘pre-prepared’ they are nowhere to be seen. For that there is only me, and I don’t get paid a dime.

18 Comments

  1. A helpful post at different levels but I want to ignore the ISD part in favour of this near the start:

    But of all my pet hates, I have to say the one that is giving my gallbladder most of its morning exercise nowadays is people who smugly remark that climate change sceptics have sheepishly moved on from challenging the science in order to concentrate more upon trying to delay the implementation of the solution.

    The reality, of course, is really rather different. … It isn’t, after all, the climate change sceptic that decided that the science was settled and no further debate was needed. At no stage did we admit defeat; it’s just that the other party cleared the line. From the outset we have said that the way the science is being handled is dodgy and that the proposed solutions are unworkable. We are still saying both of these things but it is only the latter assertion that has any traction nowadays. That’s not shifting our ground; that’s not changing one’s tune. That’s just how the endgame was always going to play out. And if we are getting ever more shrill in our protests it is because the gap between what is happening and what is needed to avert transition disaster is getting ever wider. We are just exercising our democratic right to be unhappy.

    Yep, very well said. But there is something that doesn’t I think fit within your taxonomy – and, more crucially, theirs. What is not a dispute about ‘the science’ and is not anything to do with delaying implementation of so-called solutions?

    Yes, you guessed it, I’m thinking again of the very simple time-series of deaths from extreme climate events over the last hundred years.

    Is that part of the science? I’ve never seen it raised by a single consensus-approved climate scientist. So it can’t be. (The irony present in the last sentence is meant to make us all think, from whichever side of the spectrum we come. And with that last phrase I’m doing it again.)

    Is the time-series of deaths from extreme events to do with ‘delaying the implementation of the solution’? Nope.

    The problem with it is, at least partly, I think, that it is far more simple than the physical (/chemical/biological) science or the even more speculative study of future climate impacts. Even a child can understand it. And once they do … it’s not looking good for the ‘climate crisis’ as an idea. At all.

    So the scientists won’t touch it with a bargepole, nor the scholars or activists that insist we are full of malice towards the human race because we wish to delay utterly ruinous policy proposals.

    But because it is never mentioned, is it unimportant? I think of Feynman and his injunction that the scientist with a theory must disclose all adverse data. Here ‘climate crisis’ is the theory and you know what I’m saying is the adverse data. But they’re not saying anything about it. So it can’t be, right?

    This is a massive ‘taking responsibility’ point. And I happen to like the fact even a child can understand it. It reminds me of this from Edward Teller of his fellow-Hungarian and super-genius:

    “Von Neumann would carry on a conversation with my 3-year-old son, and the two of them would talk as equals, and I sometimes wondered if he used the same principle when he talked to the rest of us.“

    Tributes don’t come more powerful or humble than that. From Scott Alexander a couple of weeks ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Richard,

    Well, of course, the time series of deaths doesn’t form part of the ‘discourse of delay’ that is now supposed to have taken centre stage. It is instead part of the argument that no longer ‘holds sway’. In fact, it never held sway because, as you say, it was always simply ignored. The same ignoring technique has now been extended to apply to the whole of the ‘what crisis?’ challenge. The likes of the ISD ignore by ‘moving on’. The annoying thing is that this strategy of moving on is being applied by the ISD and yet it is they who accuse the sceptics.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. John,

    Thank you for shining a light once more on ISD and their activities. I have looked at them before, en passant, in “Making The News”:

    Making The News

    I then wrote about them:

    “ISD seem to be a “go-to” organisation for handy studies and quotes at the moment, so far as the BBC is concerned. Others may disagree with my self-assessment, but I think I am more to the left than to the right of politics, yet it seems fairly clear to me following my visit to the ISD website that it is an organisation which concerns itself far, far more with calling out what it regards as far-right disinformation than any other type of disinformation. For instance, they have publications with titles like “The Business of Hate: Bankrolling Bigotry in Germany and the Online Funding of Hate Groups” with following text saying “ISD and GDI analyse 17 known German far-right groups and actors alleged use of popular online funding services such as Paypal to fund their activities.” Or “Gaming and Extremism: The Extreme Right on Twitch”; or again, “The Far-Right and Alt-Right Find Common Ground with the Taliban”; or again, “Far-right gamers on Steam and Discord, an uncensored community”. A search of their website produced just two articles referring to the far left alone, and two referring to far-left and far-right together. A similar search for articles with “far-right” in the heading produced dozens of results. I think it’s fair to say, therefore, that ISD is not an unbiased and disinterested organisation. It is no surprise, though, that the BBC is keen on producing articles based on ISD reports, and also that the BBC simply describes ISD as “a think tank that researches global disinformation trends”.”

    I suppose much depends on where one stands, but I find ISD’s self-description to be almost risible:

    “…an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to safeguarding human rights and reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide.”

    Independent? Maybe, maybe not. My Concise OED describes “independent” as:

    “1. free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority…2. not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence…3. not connected with another; separate…”. Given their sources of funding, I would argue that they struggle to make the case for independence (while we at Cliscep, paid and funded by nobody, dependent on nobody, connected to nobody, would definitely pass the test of independence 😉 ).

    Reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation? A bit difficult when you focus mostly on right-wing extremism and largely ignore left-wing extremism (does that behaviour not INCREASE polarisation?) and happily push a particular narrative, ignoring disinformation associated with others who also push the same narrative.

    Looking back, I see as I was closing in on some conclusions, I wrote:

    “The mainstream media and many others in positions of power and influence are now going to extraordinary lengths to clamp down on discussion or dissent with regard to the prevailing climate change narrative; to label any dissenters as “far-right”, “climate deniers”, etc.; and even to write “Reality Check” articles which turn reality on its head. Strange though it may seem, I regard this as grounds for hope. To go to such lengths suggests worry – a great deal of worry – on the part of the establishment. The reason for such levels of worry is a failure on the part of the public to show much concern or interest in the Apocalyptic narrative. People aren’t rushing to drive electric cars, to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps, and the moment foreign travel restrictions were lifted in connection with the covid pandemic they jetted off on holiday in their droves. The wall-to-wall media coverage of COP 26 has been a huge turn-off. People will say they care about climate change if confronted directly, but if it involves taking active steps, they don’t want to know. They realise that it’s going to cost them a great deal of money and change their lives for the worse. Those in power know that they know, and feel that they need to do something about it. They are very worried indeed. And so they should be. Still, Jit’s article and this one reveal a very shabby, undemocratic, and worrying set of developments. We should be worried, too.”

    Jit’s article to which I referred was:

    The BBC’s Latest “Unreality” Check

    It seems a few of us have been focussed for some time on the way in which climate alarmists are attacking democracy, and seeking to discredit dissenting views. Thanks again for continuing the useful analysis.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Regarding Richard’s point, there’s also a related follow-up point. We in the developed world can achieve nothing with regard to reducing climate change by reducing our GHG emissions while the rest of the world increases their emissions. When Greta, XR protestors and the rest of them are challenged as to why they aren’t protesting in China, the answer seems to be tumbleweed. Calls for “climate justice” are a deflection technique, designed to demand that the west commits suicide, while the developing world uses fossil fuels to continue developing.

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  5. Mark,

    Yes, I think it has been obvious to us all for a long time that loss of democracy is likely to be one of the more significant outcomes of climate change. The reason I wrote this article was to highlight that those on both sides of the debate have similar fears but for very different reasons.

    I’m sorry, but I appear to have overlooked your previous article on the ISD. I imagine I must have been otherwise engaged at the time. Our views on the topic are entirely the same. The ISD is not the impartial organisation it pretends to be.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. It is perhaps useful to elaborate upon the subject of the ISD’s impartiality. In their ‘Independence and ethics’ statement, they say:

    “We pursue funding from governments, trusts, foundations, companies and individuals and the diversity of our funding sources helps to maintain and protect ISD’s independence. Adherence to this policy is one of the ways in which we ensure that neither the opportunities we pursue, nor our funders’ requirements, have a negative impact on our independence nor distort our objectives.”

    I find this a rather empty statement. All they appear to be saying is that they only receive funds from benefactors who share their objectives. I don’t doubt that for a second but partisan funding in no way ensures that their objectives are impartial. And the acid test for independence would be if they decided to exercise it by changing their objectives. Are they suggesting that this couldn’t possibly result in the loss of any of their funding?

    Also, first amongst its six ‘core ethical principles’ is ‘Respect for Persons’. So why do I not feel respected by their breezy dismissal of my concerns regarding the practicality of renewables? And why do I not sense any respect when they speak of there only being the ‘veneer of fiscal pragmatism, free market logic and concerns about individual liberty’ in the sceptics’ arguments?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. And whilst I’m at it, I may as well add that despite ISD’s avowed intent to call out extremism wherever they see it, they fail to mention XR or Insulate Britain once in 116 pages. What was that they said about impartiality?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. And another thing…

    Can someone explain to me why a report on ‘delayism’ in the wake of COP26 needs to include a definition for ‘Anti-vaxxer’ in its glossary? The definition starts with ‘For the purposes of this report…’. There cannot possibly be any legitimate purpose for such a definition in such a report!

    So far I have failed to find an example of the term being used in the report. What’s going on?

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  9. I’m on a roll so don’t stop me now. I forgot to mention that one of my pet hates is people who use ‘ask’ as a noun. The report repeatedly refers to ‘policy asks’. That is reason enough to condemn it to Room 101.

    Another good reason would be its reference to ‘the playbook used by bad actors’, which is straight from the book of clichés used by bad authors.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The anti-vaxxer entry in the glossary is the next stage of the guilt-by-association epistemology first brought to our attention by Mark with the assistance of DeSmog. (“How we know the bad guys” is an informal form of the advanced philosophy being employed.) Nowadays, unless you mention an evil tendency as evil you are taken to hold fast to that evil – and this of course disqualifies you from having an opinion about anything else. Finally I wish to make clear that I have rejected, root and branch, a belief in chemtrails and that the Covid pandemic arose because of a lab-leak. (Except what’s that I’m hearing in my earpiece: the jury’s now considered to be out on the latter, according to the thoroughly good people at the New York Times. Well, we know almost all the bad guys almost all of the time. Thank you, all the good people still making notes.)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Richard,

    “The anti-vaxxer entry in the glossary is the next stage of the guilt-by-association epistemology…”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I found the whole glossary to be odd, since definition seems to have been the least of its objectives. Take, for example, its ‘definition’ of ‘Climate Scepticism’, which I repeat below in full:

    “While this term is often used interchangeably with denialism, academics have carved out a more distinct understanding of climate sceptic content. The common denominator is an emphasis on doubt and uncertainty around both climate science and climate action. The former includes public misperceptions about the nature of scientific ‘proof’, as well as the credibility of scientific institutions or researchers themselves, both of which can be reinforced by media portrayal. Scepticism can also weaponise a lack of understanding around how scientific work is conducted and the nature of peer-reviewed research or multi-stakeholder processes. This is perhaps most evident in the alleged scandal involving the private correspondence of researchers at the University of East Anglia in 2009, commonly referred to as ‘Climategate’; an event widely misconstrued as manipulation of evidence to suit a political agenda. Sceptic narratives reinforce the false beliefs that a) evidence around climate change is inherently unreliable, fraught with ‘conflicting data’ or lacks broad consensus (‘epistemic scepticism’); and b) that action on climate change is unnecessary or nothing can be done to mitigate its impacts (‘response scepticism’).”

    Do I really need to list all that is wrong with this as a definition?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Gosh, first steps in the sanctification of Phil the data manipulator? Part of a definition of climate scepticism, no less, if not by name.

    Like

  13. It’s not just Phil Jones who isn’t mentioned by name.

    It’s Richard Lindzen. It’s Ross McKitrick. It’s Nic Lewis. It’s Michael Kelly. It’s Alex Epstein. It’s Bjorn Lomborg. It’s Steve McIntyre.

    Where do each of these fit?

    Now that would really explain something in the glossary. If by any chance they wish to explain anything.

    Like

  14. I’ve been looking at how the ISD goes about analysing social media for examples of disinformation. It is covered in their publication, ‘The 101 of Disinformation Detection’:

    https://www.isdglobal.org/isd-publications/the-101-of-disinformation-detection/

    As I suspected, the method of analysis is very shallow and amounts to little more than capturing instances of statements that they have pre-judged to be incorrect or misleading. For this they search for key words, and the ‘101’ guide just discusses how ‘recall’ can be improved (i.e. reduction of false negatives) and how ‘precision’ can be improved (i.e. reduction of false positives). Adding or removing keywords respectively from the search list seems to be the advice given. What they don’t seem to have understood is that the best way of reducing false positives is to refine one’s pre-judgements so that one stops flagging statements that are actually true. It looks like their 101 is going into my Room 101.

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  15. John – in your “The Taxonomy” quote, I notice after a reread they say this –

    “While outright denial of climate change is still present and espoused by many pundits, or found in their former outputs, it has largely been confined to the margins of public debate”

    “or found in their former outputs” – so what you may have said/believed in the past is still relevant to smear you now, even if you might have different/modified views now.

    ps – as Richard notes above – It’s Richard Lindzen. It’s Ross McKitrick. It’s Nic Lewis. It’s Michael Kelly. It’s Alex Epstein. It’s Bjorn Lomborg. It’s Steve McIntyre.

    you make any post/comment & these people will trawl thru until they can use one against you (well funded pathetic tossers)

    Like

  16. ps – and somebody called Richard from this blog as well, good to reread Mac’s old posts & comments.

    wonder why he stopped the blog, Bender was the best at cutting out the crap, but he bowed out as well.

    you guys/girls? have taken over the blog mantle for me & doing a great job.

    Like

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