How to argue with a global warming "skeptic"

Please note: the purpose of this article is not "How to persuade an AGW “skeptic”. If you want to do that, first watch THIS. Basically, you need to connect with her, find some common ground, get her to see you as a person, take off her intellectual armor. Show the “skeptic” that it’s ok to argue about the policy implications of global warming without appealing to fringe science, tired canards or conspiracy theory. And whatever you do, don’t mention the words “denialism”, “motivated reasoning” or…God forbid… Al Gore!

(Edit: and don’t put “skeptic” or “skepticism” in quotes, like I’ve quite correctly done here!)

But this isn’t my purpose here. My goal is to WIN THE ARGUMENT. Rest assured, this won’t do anything to change the mind of the guy who loses it. Honestly, who really cares? To paraphrase Sagan, the believer’s belief isn’t rooted in arguments and facts - it’s rooted in her need to believe. But convincing the “skeptic” isn’t my intent in such a debate… my goal is to influence the people reading the argument. Which means, of course, that it needs to be public! So if the fella wants to hash something out in PM’s, don’t waste your time.

Now on to the gist:

Having a debate with a typical AGW “skeptic” is difficult for the same reason that arguing with a 9/11 Truther or a Creationist is: it’s like fighting the Viet Cong – they come at you from every angle, seemingly everywhere at once, but yet never present you with a solid target to strike back against. The AGW science defender ends up constantly on the defensive against a never-ending stream of “Well what about THIS?”, playing a mentally-exhausting and emotionally-frustrating game of wack-a-mole that may make it appear to fence-sitting observers that she is losing.

Now, if as the AGW defender you just want to learn your arguments better and have the energy and time to play this game, it can in fact be very instructive. If this is the case, though, you must at least learn to use the following question:

“So you’re conceding the last point (about X), then?”

This should be used ~every~ time a “skeptic” tries to switch topics, which he will definitely do, often. When he gets cagey, press him on it. Refuse to debate further until he either concedes or grudgingly veers back to the original point.

Playing this game is really pointless, though, because what is seemingly the AGW “skeptic’s” greatest strength (and the Truther’s, and the Creationist’s) is in fact his biggest weakness. The reason he is able to attack from so many angles without presenting a target is that, in fact, he has no position of his own. (In Kung Fu, we’ d say he has no Structure.) He is, in fact, merely playing a game of what has been called “anomaly hunting”: nit-picking a position for apparent discrepancies without offering a position of his own.

So as early on as possible, the AGW defender needs to force the issue. She needs to flush the VC out into the open, so she can bring the full firepower of a well-tested and long-standing scientific capital-t Theory to bear.

To do this, start of by simply asking the “skeptic”:

  1. “Do you agree that the climate is warming?”

Now, if he says no (usually with a claim about ‘temperatures being flat since 1998’), he is a genuine, full-on AGW denialist. (It is my opinion that~all~ AGW skeptics are at heart AGW denialists, because given half a chance,they’ll nearly always try to get back to the original goalpost of “Globalwarming is a hoax!” But definitely don’t bring this up in the debate, or you’ll get a lot of tiresome whining about “the inevitable Ad Hominem” and maybe even get side-tracked into a discussion about semantics). In any case, if the“skeptic” is fully honest about his denialism, your job is now easy. Point him to the following information:

[quote=“Wikipedia”]The list of warmest years on record is dominated byyears from this millennium; EACH OF THE LAST 12 YEARS (2001–2012) FEATURES AS ONE OF THE 14 WARMEST ON RECORD.

Global temperatures are affected by the ElNiño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with the extremes of El Niño and La Niñaleading respectively to unusually warm and cool years. 2010 as an El Niño topped the previous record set in the El Niño year of 1998. While 2012 as an La Niña year was cooler, it was still the 10th warmest year since records began in 1880. Over the more recent record, 2006 and 2009 are tied for the warmest “La Niña year” in the period from 1971 to 2012.[64]

Although the NCDC temperature record begins in1880, less certain reconstructions of earlier temperatures suggest these years may be the warmest for several centuries to millennia.

10 warmest years on record (°C anomaly from 1901–2000 mean)

Year Global[65] Land[66] Ocean[67]
2010 0.6590 1.0748 0.5027
2005 0.6523 1.0505 0.5007
1998 0.6325 0.9351 0.5160
2003 0.6219 0.8859 0.5207
2002 0.6130 0.9351 0.4902
2006 0.5978 0.9091 0.4792
2009 0.5957 0.8621 0.4953
2007 0.5914 1.0886 0.3900
2004 0.5779 0.8132 0.4885
2012 0.5728 0.8968 0.4509[/quote]

If he complains that Wikipedia isn’t a credible source, direct him to the footnotes, which show that the above data came straight from

  1. Now if the “skeptic”claims to agree that there is a warming trend, you simply need to ask him:

“So how do you explain this?”

Whatever he says, he’s going to need to supply an alternative hypothesis to the theory of global warming. And then you simply blow the shit out of it. Why should that be so easy? Because no viable one exists. Therefore, if he actually has an alternative hypothesis, a quick Google search – preferably with the words “Skeptical Science” tacked on at the end – will give you all the arsenal you could need, as against your naval armada, he’s just trotted out a leaky ol’ rowboat.

Now, if after watching his rotting tub get sent to Davey Jones, the guy has the nerve to claim that “The weakness of my argument doesn’t imply the strength of yours”, it’s time to show him what he’s up against. Bring up your big guns:

  1. This, in a nutshell, is what we know about global warming:
  1. Increasing the level of a greenhouse gas in a planet’s atmosphere, all else being equal, will raise that planet’s surface temperature.

  2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas (Tyndall 1859).

  3. CO2 is rising (Keeling et al. 1958, 1960,etc.).

  4. Therefore (given 1-3 above) the Earth should be warming.

  5. From multiple converging lines of evidence, we know the Earth is warming (NASA GISS, Hadley Centre CRU, UAH MSU, RSS TLT, borehole results, melting glaciers and ice caps, etc.).

  6. The warming is moving in close correlation with the carbon dioxide (r = 0.874 for ln CO2 and dT 1880-2008).

  7. The new CO2 (as shown by its isotopic signature) is mainly from burning fossil fuels (Suess 1955, Revelle and Suess, 1958).

  8. (And this to me is the kicker) Satellite data shows less warming is escaping to space, and more warming is being reflected back to Earth. In both cases, the heat bears the radiation signature of C02 (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007 / Philipona 2004, Evans 2006, Wang 2009).

  9. Therefore the global warming currently occurring is anthropogenic (caused by mankind).

  10. In order for man-made global warming to be falsified, a physics-based alternative would have to exist (and survive scientific scrutiny) that explains the multiple lines of converging evidence we see that also explains why the physics of greenhouse gases works in every instance except for those GHG’s produced through the activity of man.

  11. Decades later, no such theory is forthcoming.

(This beauty is courtesy of a poster in the comments section of Skeptical Science, with a little editing from yours truly!)

Ask your reeling “skeptic” to refute this. Then take out your brandy snifter, light up a cigar and lean back in your chair with your feet up on the desk. If he tries another, “Er…but what about…” tell him to talk to the hand until he can fulfill his impossible task.

Prologue: about the website “Skeptical Science”:

SS is by far the most useful source of information for refuting “skeptical” arguments. However, “skeptics” have recognized it as such, and now call it an “alarmist propaganda mill” (oh, the irony!) or something to that effect. They will therefore use this meme as an excuse to refuse to even look at anything you post from it.

This is easy to get around, however. Simply look up deni…er, skeptical arguments on SS (use Google with the tag, “Skeptical Science”; don’t use the website’s search engine, as in my experience it tends to suck), then paraphrase the response from SS and link to the actual research referred to in the article.

Wait - isn’t that plagiarism? Sure it is, but you aren’t defending a thesis - you’re arguing on the internet. Screw it!

That sir was brilliant. :notworthy:

Thanks man. It’s mostly re-hash from my “a few things to show AGW skeptics” thread, but that was successfully torpedoed by ongoing trolling efforts.

Here’s another hi-light I think is worth having as a quick reference:

A history of climate science going back to the early 19th century:

• 1822-1824: French physicist Joseph Fourier proposes Earth’s atmosphere could act as an insulator increasing global temperature

• 1859: English physicist John Tyndall’s experiments prove H2O & CO2 are ‘greenhouse gases’ capable of raising global temperature

• 1896: Swedish physicist & chemist Svante Arrhenius calculates that a 50% reduction of atmospheric CO2 would reduce European temperatures to Ice Age levels

• 1896: Swedish physicist Arvid Högbom proves human activities are increasing atmospheric CO2; Arrhenius predicts doubling atmospheric CO2 would raise global temperatures by 5-6° C, but calculates at current industry levels this would take several thousand years, and that the ocean would act as a CO2 sink

• 1908: Arrhenius notes large increase in coal burning, calculates atmospheric CO levels could rise significantly in centuries rather than thousands of years

  • 1930s: US engineer Guy Callendar observes that US & North Atlantic temperatures have risen, identifying this as the start of Anthropogentic Global Warming; he is unconcerned, concluding the effect would be positive

  • 1930s-1950: Although H20 & CO2 were accepted as ‘greenhouse gases’ & it was recognized human activity could lead to global warming, it was doubted that industry could produce climate changing levels of CO, or that AGW could be modelled successfully (due to the huge number of variables involved)

  • 1950s: Massive advances in science & computing provide more accurate modelling, & it is realised that the ocean will be unable to absorb sufficient CO to prevent global warming; scientists such as Gilbert Plass, Roger Revelle, & Bert Bolin warn that AGW is a genuine scientific concern

  • Three predictions Plass made at this time were fulfilled just over 50 years later ( 1/the-carbon-dioxide-theory-of-gilbert-plass )

  • 1960s-70s: Research by a range of independent groups in different scientific fields confirms the science of AGW; a 1965 prediction states that effects of AGW will be discernible by 2000

  • 1980s-1990s: Computer model predictions are validated ( ); ice core samples ‘turned the tide in the greenhouse gas controversy’, Mayewski & White. ‘The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change’, p. 77 (2002)

  • 1980s: US physicist William Nierenberg chairs a 1980 committee called to assess the scientific case for AGW; although broadly agreeing with the established science, its recommendations playing down of scientists’ warnings resulted in it being appealed to by later AGW denialists

  • 1989-present: The established science of AGW is attacked by political conservatives (Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Republican Party), & industry funded groups (Koch Industries, Mercatus Center, National Center for Public Policy Research, National Center for Policy Analysis, Weidenbaum Center, etc), using the same tactics as tobacco industry defenders; manufactured controversy, misleading scientific claims, suppression of evidence. //

…and in graphic form:

Here’s another one:
the human “fingerprints” of AGW

Invite the AGW “skeptic” to offer an alternative hypothesis to the AGW theory that explains the following findings:
(…and this is only a portion of the observations from which scientists infer AGW, but I don’t want to make their job TOO tough hehe)

* Satellites measure less heat escaping out to space, at the particular wavelengths that CO2 absorbs heat:
Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997

* Surface measurements confirm more downward radiation returning to Earth:
Radiative forcing - measured at Earth’s surface - corroborate the increasing greenhouse effect

* Examination of the downward radiation finds more heat returning at CO2 wavelengths:
Measurements of the Radiative Surface Forcing of Climate

* A predicted distinctive pattern of greenhouse warming is cooling in the stratosphere. This is exactly what’s happening:
Causes of atmospheric temperature change 1960–2000: A combined attribution analysis

* With the troposphere warming and the stratosphere cooling, another consequence is the tropopause should rise as a consequence of greenhouse warming. This has been observed:
Contributions of Anthropogenic and Natural Forcing to Recent Tropopause Height Changes

* The ionosphere is expected to cool and contract in response to greenhouse warming. This has been observed by satellites:
Global Change in the Upper Atmosphere

* Global warming theory predicts more warming at night than during the day. This has also been clearly observed:
Global observed changes in daily climate extremes of temperature and precipitation

If the AGW “skeptic” can’t provide you with a hypothesis that predicts all these observations as well or better than AGW theory, he should probably just STHU, because without an alternative hypothesis, pot-shot criticisms make him in no way different from an Intelligent Design advocate trying to take down the entire theory of evolution by asking, “Oh yeah… what about THIS? No…er…well what about THAT?” This is not genuine skepticism; the correct term is “anomaly hunting”. [color=#0000BF]To criticize a scientific theory, one must not only have “questions” (with no genuine desire for answers), but actually possess an alternative hypothesis which explains more of the observations than does the existing theory.[/color]

I started this thread as another resource for genuine skeptics on the topic of AGW since the last resource thread got torpedoed. With that in mind, I thought it’d be the appropriate place to let people know that there is a pretty good podcast called “The Climate Show”. Skeptical Science’s John Cook does a regular spot, debunking the pseudo-skeptics’ talking points, and they have a lot of interesting guests like Naomi Oreskes and James Hansen. You can search for and subscribe to it in the Itunes store, or listen to individual episodes from here:

I really love podcasts as a medium because they make time spent on the MRT, buses or driving so much more productive!

I love your selective graph of history. I would love to see you provide the same selective selection… only use it for the success of the communist model… THAT would be funny…

Winning arguments directly with a skeptic on any issue is nearly impossible because as you said, they cannot be reasoned out of what they were not reasoned into. So the only possibility of victory is in the realm of public opinion. In the spirit of that, I agree 100% that arguments should take place publically and openly.

You Tube is proving to be the single most powerful tool we currently have in our world in changing the generally accepted and logically backward opinions of our past. You Tube is where bad ideas go to die. If you want to win an argument with a skeptic, open a You Tube channel and start the debate. Always make sure comments are activated because of course dissent is the most powerful tool we have for forward progress. Then just do your thing. The person you are debating will likely never concede, but public opinion will be the judge that declares your victory.

In the US, an increasing number of people do not believe that global warming SORRY!!! Climate change!!! is a serious issue. Now that I have won the public opinion debate… I guess I will just have to wait patiently for Vay to go away or eventually acknowledge how right I am and have been. Tks!

You see how powerful publically stated opinions are? And people wonder why they don’t get taken seriously… :ponder:

Fred, please don’t just make bald assertions. In an argument, one needs to actually prove one’s points. If you think the information contained in the graph is cherry-picked, please show us information pertinent to the history of the theory of global warming that has been left out.

Reminds me of this great quote from the president of the Heartland Institute and AGW denier, Joseph Bast:

[quote]We’ve won the public opinion debate, and we’ve won the political debate as well.
But the scientific debate is a source of enormous frustration.

Now THAT is funny!

Thanks for your comments, BG, and fully agree. Looks like I’ve met myself a fellow skeptic! Denialism is a nasty brain-bug, but more and more I’m seeing people who know how to deal with their tactics.

According to Vay, THIS in regard to the very graphs that he himself has provided:

[quote]the information contained in the graph is cherry-picked[/quote]

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander… wanna take the representative from the Heatland out of context, then expect the same treatment yourself. :whistle: :whistle: :whistle:


[quote=“fred smith”]According to Vay, THIS in regard to the very graphs that he himself has provided:

[quote]the information contained in the graph is cherry-picked[/quote]

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander… wanna take the representative from the Heatland out of context, then expect the same treatment yourself. :whistle: :whistle: :whistle:[/quote]

Um, Fred, how do you know I took him out of context, if you don’t even know what the context was? Have you read the article? Or are you just making yet another bald assertion?

And CFImages, what’s up with the blank post there? Is that a Zen koan-esque protest against Fred’s last post?

The blank post is the result of too many tabs open at once and relying to the other thread in here by mistake.

Bummer. I thought you were emulating the koan “Nansen kills the cat”.

What is your take on Global warming?
See the informal, community manifesto poll here:

[quote=“augustin”]What is your take on Global warming?
See the informal, community manifesto poll here:[/quote]

Here’s the “community poll” I care about:

Science votes for human-caused global warming in a landslide

As for the rest of humanity, I’ll quote Bertrand Russell:

[quote=“Vay”][quote=“augustin”]What is your take on Global warming?
See the informal, community manifesto poll here:[/quote]

Here’s the “community poll” I care about:

Science votes for human-caused global warming in a landslide

As for the rest of humanity, I’ll quote Bertrand Russell:

Oh no, Cook and authors who researched that 97% of the literature is pro-AGW, you know your landslide of the scientific community? Oh no, their methodology is suspect. I can’t believe it. It sounds so reasonable too – 97%. Remember, I asked you or someone how sure that someone with my views wouldn’t be included in that bunch? It looks like that can’t be vouchsafed after all.

Methodology is extremely important for keeping science aboveboard honest and unbiased. Otherwise, science can be used to lie, cheat, deceive, and prey upon the intellectually challenged, the simple-minded, and Vay.

Here’s open letter by Richard Tol who wanted to analyze the methodoly and results, but…oh no, the author isn’t really releasing too much. These climate guys really don’t like it when people start snooping around and figuring out their little deceptive tricks.

[ul][color=#000080]Dear Professor Høj,

I was struck by a recent paper published in Environmental Research Letters with John Cook, a University of Queensland employee, as the lead author. The paper purports to estimate the degree of agreement in the literature on climate change. Consensus is not an argument, of course, but my attention was drawn to the fact that the headline conclusion had no confidence interval, that the main validity test was informal, and that the sample contained a very large number of irrelevant papers while simultaneously omitting many relevant papers.

My interest piqued, I wrote to Mr Cook asking for the underlying data and received 13% of the data by return email. I immediately requested the remainder, but to no avail.

I found that the consensus rate in the data differs from that reported in the paper. Further research showed that, contrary to what is said in the paper, the main validity test in fact invalidates the data.
And the sample of papers does not represent the literature. That is, the main finding of the paper is incorrect, invalid and unrepresentative

Furthermore, the data showed patterns that cannot be explained by either the data gathering process as described in the paper or by chance. This is documented at

I asked Mr Cook again for the data so as to find a coherent explanation of what is wrong with the paper. As that was unsuccessful, also after a plea to Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of Mr Cook’s work place, I contacted Professor Max Lu, deputy vice-chancellor for research, and Professor Daniel Kammen, journal editor. Professors Lu and Kammen succeeded in convincing Mr Cook to release first another 2% and later another 28% of the data.

I also asked for the survey protocol but, violating all codes of practice, none seems to exist. The paper and data do hint at what was really done. There is no trace of a pre-test. Rating training was done during the first part of the survey, rather than prior to the survey. The survey instrument was altered during the survey, and abstracts were added. Scales were modified after the survey was completed. All this introduced inhomogeneities into the data that cannot be controlled for as they are undocumented.

The later data release reveals that what the paper describes as measurement error (in either direction) is in fact measurement bias (in one particular direction). Furthermore, there is drift in measurement over time. This makes a greater nonsense of the paper.

This is documented here and

I went back to Professor Lu once again, asking for the remaining 57% of the data. Particularly, I asked for rater IDs and time stamps. Both may help to understand what went wrong.

Only 24 people took the survey. Of those, 12 quickly dropped out, so that the survey essentially relied on just 12 people. The results would be substantially different if only one of the 12 were biased in one way or the other. The paper does not report any test for rater bias, an astonishing oversight by authors and referees. If rater IDs are released, these tests can be done.

Because so few took the survey, these few answered on average more than 4,000 questions. The paper is silent on the average time taken to answer these questions and, more importantly, on the minimum time. Experience has that interviewees find it difficult to stay focused if a questionnaire is overly long. The questionnaire used in this paper may have set a record for length, yet neither the authors nor the referees thought it worthwhile to test for rater fatigue. If time stamps are released, these tests can be done.

Mr Cook, backed by Professor Hoegh-Guldberg and Lu, has blankly refused to release these data, arguing that a data release would violate confidentiality. This reasoning is bogus.

I don’t think confidentiality is relevant. The paper presents the survey as a survey of published abstracts, rather than as a survey of the raters. If these raters are indeed neutral and competent, as claimed by the paper, then tying ratings to raters would not reflect on the raters in any way.

If, on the other hand, this was a survey of the raters’ beliefs and skills, rather than a survey of the abstracts they rated, then Mr Cook is correct that their identity should remain confidential. But this undermines the entire paper:
It is no longer a survey of the literature, but rather a survey of Mr Cook and his friends

If need be, the association of ratings to raters can readily be kept secret by means of a standard confidentiality agreement. I have repeatedly stated that I am willing to sign an agreement that I would not reveal the identity of the raters and that I would not pass on the confidential data to a third party either on purpose or by negligence.

I first contacted Mr Cook on 31 May 2013, requesting data that should have been ready when the paper was submitted for peer review on 18 January 2013. His foot-dragging, condoned by senior university officials, does not reflect well on the University of Queensland’s attitude towards replication and openness. His refusal to release all data may indicate that more could be wrong with the paper.

Therefore, I hereby request, once again, that you release rater IDs and time stamps.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Tol … or-of.html[/color][/ul]

Don’t you agree with me, we should see everything? So that we can figure out if that 97% is really accurate, so that my questions can be answered about me being included in that 97%? That’s fair, isn’t it?

Now you’re just trollin’.

Hi Jotham and thanks for noticing this thread! In addition to posting the above, I hope you’ll find some time to address the list of human fingerprints on global warming on the first page.

In any case, I emailed John Cook (he’s in my Google+ friends) and asked him to address Tol’s criticism directly. Regarding your specific worry, here’s a response to a poster in the comments section of the actual SkS article announcing the publication of the study:

[quote=“Kevin C”]A ‘we don’t know’ paper would be counted as taking a position but uncertain (category 4b). A ‘less than 50%’ paper would be counted as an explicit rejection of the consensus (category 7)…

…We were cautious here, tending towards ‘no position’ in our ratings. This is confirmed by the scientists’ responses compared with ours: more than half of our ‘no position’ abstracts were rated as ‘endorsement’ by the scientists who actually wrote the papers!
A few ‘no positions’ were rated as ‘rejection’ by the authors too, but on average the scientists rated 0.6 classifications closer to endorsement than we did, on the 7-point classification scale.[/quote] … -2013.html

Gosh, so they actually have categories. Wow - they’re not total idiots after all. Makes one wonder if other studies, such as:

Doran 2009

Anderegg 2010

The Vision Prize

…maybe also had similarly nuanced categories we’re unaware of?

“What you see is all there is” is the bias I’m thinking of, again.