Home > Right-Wing Lies, Science > Unanswered Talking Points

Unanswered Talking Points

March 14th, 2010

Last night, Amy Holmes, a conservative commentator, appeared on Bill Maher’s show, and did something I see a lot of conservative talking heads do. She came out with a number of “facts” that were dead wrong, but–and this is the key point–were obscure enough that no one on the panel knew about them in detail and so could not rebut. This seems to be a favorite technique with such guests, as you can come across as sounding factual and winning the argument, despite being full of crap.

The topic where she was worst on this was climate change. She started with a really weird attack which Maher and liberal guest Hill Harper should have jumped on but didn’t (italics in quotes reflects her spoken emphasis):

RFK Jr., he said, and you know he supports this global warming theory, he said that he would never see snowfalls like he did in his childhood because of global warming. And what do we get, we got three blizzards in a row this last Christmas. So, I don’t think that weather patterns tell us whether or not global warming is happening, but people who advocated for global warming, they told us weather patterns can tell you if it’s happening.

Really? A celebrity was wrong about snowfall, so that disproves climate change theory? I still can’t believe that no one took that on. If RFK were a climatologist, even that would be a single instance, but just because a famous person screws up the facts–if RFK Jr. did indeed even say that–it’s not even related to the science. At all. But then she got to the slip-in-the-bogus-fact part:

I don’t think the science is settled, and the scientists who are involved in it themselves… Phil Jones, who is the head of research in England, you know that Phil Jones also said … he also said that the Middle Ages may have been hotter than it is now. … One of the top climate researchers, he admitted now, that the Middle Ages may have been hotter than it is now, before there were cars, or CO2 emitting factories.

This is something that few people would be able to respond to without research. I hadn’t heard it, but after a few minutes online I was able to find out that it was a lie. Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (the place where the emails were hacked), had an interview with the BBC in which they tossed at him the junk-science assertion that because there was a warming trend in the middle ages, that means that what we are experiencing now is just part of a normal cycle caused by things like sunspots and ocean currents. Jones answered that we don’t have global data on what is called the “Medieval Warm Period” (MWP), and so we can’t know if it has any significance; all he allowed was that if we had the global data, and if that data showed warming in excess of what we have now, then “late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented.” But he pointed out that we don’t have that data, and therefore we have no reason to believe that the MWP means anything.

In an article in the Daily Mail, Jones’ statements were wholly misrepresented. The article claimed that Jones “conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.” This is an incredibly misleading-trending-to-outright false statement. “Conceding” a possibility does not give it an ounce of credence–any scientist would have to “concede” that it’s possible that aliens are living on Pluto right now; that does not make it in the least bit true. To then jump to the statement that Jones’ “concession” suggested that global warming is not man-made is the “outright lie” part. He suggested the opposite, pointing out that we lack the data to make such a point.

But now that a news agency had said that a top climatologist had conceded that global warming is disproved, it was picked up by the right-wing blogosphere and, of course, Fox News, in this case, Sean Hannity:

Now keep in mind that Jones’ findings have been used for years to bolster the U.N.’s findings on climate change. Now, in an interview with the BBC over the weekend Jones admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, that the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together. And that warming in recent times mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods.

The part that Hannity adds about “statistically significant warming” is just as much a lie; more on that here.

The point is, nobody on the panel had followed this story closely and so when Holmes brought it up, no one was able to shoot it down. There are now probably a lot of people who came away from that thinking that there was something to the statement, as few people actually check these things out. Such lies get released into the public consciousness all the time, are believed, and add to the general, unspecific idea that climate change is more and more “in question.”

Apart from the value of showing such claims about climate change to be false, what one should take from this is that when you hear such “facts” from talking heads on discussion panels–or anywhere else–check them out before you swallow them whole.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Science Tags: by
  1. Tim Kane
    March 14th, 2010 at 20:17 | #1

    I would counter their anecdotal evidence with the photos of ice-less Kilamanjero or that Shipping between Europe and the Far East is going by way of Siberia’s north shore. That’s never happened before.

    On top of that, there’s tons of CO2 in the air, that wasn’t there before the industrial revolution. What are we supposed to do? Pore even more CO2 into the air? Up to now, its been only about 1 billion people driving cars around, in the next few decades it will be 3 billion. We’ll be putting more C02 into the atmosphere in a few decades than we did in the last century. On top of that, with all that melting ice, not all of it ends up in the ocean some of it ends up in the air, creating more thunderstormes, but as we all know, water vapor is a green house gas as well as CO2, so the more global warming we get, the more global warming we get.

    Sure there’s always a chance that there’s no consequence to any of this. But the chance is quite small. But that’s not the critical driving point. The driving point(s) are: the down side is that we begin a cycle that ends up like Venus, which is hotter than Mercury because of CO2 and should we be using up all of our carbon based fuels anyway. Given there’s a finite amount on the planet, the low hanging fruit has already been plucked and the demand is growing exponentially.

    Are we to make ourselves vulnerable to all of this, just so a few entrenched corporate interest can make a few extra bucks? And what kind of corporate whore whores themselves out for this type of thing?

  2. Luis
    March 14th, 2010 at 20:27 | #2

    The other conservative on the show also made an illogical complaint, saying that so far he hasn’t noticed as many bad effects of global warming as were prognosticated. He of course seemed oblivious to the fact that the worst is yet to come, and not for decades–no one I heard predicted encroaching shorelines or any other drastic effects before 2010. Even so, I guess he didn’t notice the increase in hurricanes and still, like Holmes, is unaware that the massive snowfall is actually a direct result of warming. These are not usually dumb people–the other conservative was a former Senator. Not that they can’t be stupid, but they should not be that stupid.

  3. March 15th, 2010 at 04:56 | #3

    I am pretty firmly in the skeptic camp myself.

    My reason is pretty simple. The steadfast refusal to publish sufficient data and methodology to reproduce results independently is simply unforgivable. Any group of ‘scientists’ who accept this as an acceptable practice cannot be trusted. If they want to silence the skeptics, they can do this by proving their work is accurate. This idiot babble about ‘consensus’ is pure crap.

    On the other hand, it is common sense that releasing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere will of necessity have some effect. Actions have consequences, and anyone who thinks humans cannot have enough effect to change the climate should look back to when we thought there was no way we could impact the number of fish in the sea.

    As far as the glaciers go, I will simply point out that receding glaciers only indicate that the temperature is above the threshold for expansion. To put it in micro terms, the snowpack in the mountains shrinks well after the peak yearly temperatures has passed.

  4. Troy
    March 15th, 2010 at 05:24 | #4


    I’m agnostic but not a skeptic. I think a conspiracy theory here is unfounded, but the global climate is not an easy thing to model and understand.

    Stuff like this:


    makes me think the attacks are partisan idiocy and not legit.

  5. March 15th, 2010 at 06:24 | #5

    Suggest you visit ClimateAudit.com to see the grown up version. Easy to lose track of the real issues when the sane people are talking quietly and the crazies are shouting.

    I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I do believe in confirmation bias and self interest.

  6. March 15th, 2010 at 06:33 | #6

    ooops, climateaudit.org

  7. Troy
    March 15th, 2010 at 08:42 | #7

    I agree confirmation bias is not an unfair card to play, self-interest, not so much.

    If we’re talking self-interest I’m going to side away from http://www.google.com/finance?catid=us-60884163&sort=MARKET_CAP#link_Market%20Cap TYVM.

  8. March 15th, 2010 at 12:43 | #8

    A number of people have built careers and gotten famous on this issue. An even larger number of people have staked reputation and pride on it. Admitting now that they were wrong in any substantial way would damage or destroy that. That is what I mean by self interest.

    As for money, a very brief search found that in 2005 5.1 billion dollars was spent on climate change in the US alone. The millions that people holler about the oil companies spending on counter-claims is so much smaller as to be negligible. (three, four orders of magnitude?) Any discussion of how money affects the issue must consider all the money and all the effects.

  9. Troy
    March 15th, 2010 at 13:47 | #9

    The problem is that “money and fame” doesn’t really entitle you to skepticism. That’s fallacious, either “poisoned well” or something else.

    The science will stand or fall. In my agnosticism I admit the overall issue doesn’t interest me enough to waste time and effort digging through the bullshit to figure out who’s right and wrong.

    I do know that science is a human enterprise and can be wrong for a very long time (the continental drift drama comes to mind). As a political matter I don’t support radical alteration of the status quo just to “save the world” while the science is under attack.

    If it is indeed the case, as I semi-suspect, that the denier argument is paid-for astroturfing and propaganda, hopefully my agnosticism here won’t make the fix harder to accomplish should it indeed prove necessary to reverse our industrial pollution.

    But the science itself does seem to me to go beyond any one weak researcher or the monetary investment as reported by the OMB. The GAO report you linked to above goes on & on about the manipulation of the OMB’s numbers about climate change, which is kinda important since OMB was run out of the previous White House, an outfit rather given to lying when & where the occasion suited.

    $5B divided by $300K per job is 16,000 fulltime positions. That’s a pretty big footprint in our national science establishment. Laughable, almost, but I am 20 years out of school and do not have any actual visibility into the current state of academia.

  10. March 15th, 2010 at 16:28 | #10

    Note that skepticism has become associated with denial, but they are of course two entirely different things. I would say that if someone obviously stands to gain by saying something, skepticism is entirely warranted. Denial, acceptance or some middle ground depends on what one finds out when exercising that skepticism to learn more.

    The dollar amount listed is for much more than just research. Believe it includes a bunch of other stuff, including putting satellites up.

  11. Luis
    March 15th, 2010 at 19:51 | #11


    Another thing to keep in mind is that scientists do not work in a vacuum; there is a lot of peer review done, and more than enough scientists who are competing for your grant money to challenge your theses with more than adequate vigor. Not to mention the determined, almost zealous challenges from those motivated for political or economic reasons, though their attacks are usually far easier to rebut as they commonly are based on flawed science or flimsy accusations. But the more controversial the theory, the more it is challenged, and climate change has been seriously challenged for quite some time now and yet has held up very well.

    I can accept the idea of some scientists fudging the data for profit, but what you are suggesting is massive fraud by virtually all of the scientists working on this, and an absence of serious challenge from those not profiting from it, or even those who could profit by challenging it. That just doesn’t click.

    The example you give about the Chinese weather stations is actually a pretty poor example for the argument that the major thesis of climate change being wrong; the story you linked to (the Guardian story, the origin) pointed out specifically that this issue does not undermine the science as a whole, but simply the rather obvious contention that any research can have problems. Saying that it gives cause to doubt the whole field goes way too far; it would be like believing that Bush was behind 9/11 because he dragged his heels on allowing the commission to investigate. But when one *wants* to believe the whole shebang is a setup, this is the kind of aberration which people who disagree pick up and cling to as evidence.

    Furthermore, the money amount you mention is more than a tad inflated. $5.1 billion is for all spending, including technology research (well-spent in any case); the Science portion is just under $2 billion. Of that, most is the NASA budget, which includes costs for platforms and facilities which are not necessarily committed solely to climate change research, and has many other applications and benefits. Not to mention that most of this funding does not get granted just for finding climate change to be *real*. More than enough people could get a great deal of funding from *disproving* climate change.

    Not to mention that the people whose data you believe are even more motivated by money; most climate change deniers from whom your challenges come are funded by industries which have tens or even hundreds of billions at stake over how this comes out–why are you not questioning them at least as much? Surely I could point to far more bad science and covering up on their part, so shouldn’t that make you doubt them even more? If monetary gain is a reason to doubt, then you are far safer believing the scientists than you are believing those who are challenging them at present.

  12. matthew
    March 15th, 2010 at 22:01 | #12

    Interesting discussion. Just a quick glance at wiki shows the top 61 cities in population make up about 3.7 billion people, yet the land they (the cities proper) occupy is about the size of Minnesota. A surface area in the neighborhood of 90,000 square km.

    Total global surface area is (again wiki) 510,072,000 square kilometers. (90,000km is 0.0176% of total surface area)

    I am in total agreement that the earths climate is changing–but it has always been in a constant state change–no surprise there–but to posit that human activity is driving this —well—color me skeptical.

  13. Troy
    March 16th, 2010 at 03:56 | #13

    I am in total agreement that the earths climate is changing–but it has always been in a constant state change–no surprise there–but to posit that human activity is driving this —well—color me skeptical.

    Science has numbers and stuff to support their models. To address your observation, you are looking at a stock — land area of cities, when you need to be looking at the flow of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases from industry and transportation systems over the decades.

    Here’s an image showing the total amount of atmosphere relative to the earth (the pink sphere is the volume of atmosphere).

    The sky may look large but the end of the troposphere is just a 15 minute drive, if our cars could drive vertically.

    Anyhoo, as a non-scientist you don’t have the right to be skeptical of their scientific findings — unfounded skepticism is fallacious.

    And watching and waiting as human industry irretrievably despoils the only known human ecosphere would be a great moral crime perpetrated against our progeny and the other intelligent entities on this planet.

    Balanced against that is a lot of oil money encouraging skepticism.

    I informally believe the ecosystem is pretty robust, but I also respect arguments that positive feedback interactions can bring about some rather unpleasant and perhaps irreversible new ecological realities in a very short time.

    Skepticism against this is perverse.

  14. matthew
    March 16th, 2010 at 08:23 | #14


    I dont have the right to be skeptical? Nice talking with you. I am out of here.

  15. Troy
    March 16th, 2010 at 09:12 | #15

    matthew :
    I dont have the right to be skeptical? Nice talking with you. I am out of here.

    Not without any basis in logic or scientific fact, no.

    You attempted one with comparing total built up area to total land area.

    That was only pseudoscientific.

    As I said, I’m agnostic on this question — if pressed I’d have to say the scientists are correct, but there’s a possibility what they’re measuring is either not anthropogenic or whatever.

    But to just outright claim skepticism puts you in the same loony bin that believes the earth is 6000 years old. It is immature wish-fulfullment and/or an emotional defense mechanism and is not rational.

  16. Luis
    March 16th, 2010 at 09:42 | #16

    Troy: I think the word “right” was the one that got his gander up–and I agree with him in that limited sense. He has the right to be skeptical, even if he doesn’t have the basis to be skeptical, just as Scientologists have the right to believe that stuff about Xenu, even if they don’t have any logical or rational basis to believe it’s true.

  17. Troy
    March 16th, 2010 at 13:36 | #17

    I was more in this vein:

    “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts” — Bernard M. Baruch

  18. Troy
    March 16th, 2010 at 13:40 | #18

    Also, a scientific fact was defined by Gould:

    In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

    We’re not quite there wrt global warming and what if anything we can do to reverse it.

    Even if it’s not anthropogenic, if bad stuff starts happening to our ecosystem we may have to artificially intervene. Not that that’s necessarily a good idea either.

  19. March 16th, 2010 at 14:58 | #19

    I think again that our definitions of skepticism (and rights) are different enough that we are not even discussing the same thing when we use those words.

    Luis : the Chinese example was not mine. As to being skeptical of the opponents claims, I was and am still. But when I follow up on them for confirmation, I find that their claims are generally true. (at least the grown ups)

    To present you with a simple example I suggest a thought experiment : If you were going to use a single temperature monitoring station as a means of measuring change in temperature over a long period of time, what data and controls would you consider necessary?

  20. Troy
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:57 | #20

    I’m talking about your meta-skepticism of the entire field. I trust the field to find the right answer, you seem skeptical of that.

    Skepticism betrays an inherent bias against scientific facts. A person who is skeptical about the claims of evolutionists or paleogeologists is a blithering moron, I hope you would agree.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to be withhold judgement on any particular claim, but “ooh I’m a skeptic” categorical denial isn’t scientific, it’s just sloppy thinking.

    Now, if the hard scientific fields were rife with fraudulent and manipulative BS examples bubbling out of it, then this would be different.

Comments are closed.