It seems to me that SE is potentially an ideal format to challenge some of the climate change denial blogs and journalism (names withheld to protect the innocent). Should we have a tag under which such questions should be placed? Personally I'm somewhat wary of taking on some of the points made by these sources as I don't want to end up having this SE become embroiled in perpetual argument, yet I do think some of the blogs do present some ideas which could be addressed here (for instance the heat island and Stevenson screen paint arguments). Personally I refuse to use these sources in other formats such as wikipedia, so long as they continue ad hominem attacks on prominent scientists. I wonder what others think on the matter?

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    $\begingroup$ Beware that some aspects may already be covered by Skeptics. $\endgroup$ – plannapus May 20 '14 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ @plannapus That doesn't really matter for the policy decisions on this site. Sites can have overlapping scopes, you don't have to limit your scope just because another site already covers it. $\endgroup$ – user632 Jun 29 '14 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ Can I suggest that the term "denier" is avoided, it tends to antagonize and get in the way of communicating the science (whether technically accurate or not). ES.SE would be a good place to discuss much of the science of climate change skepticism, but I have found at the skeptics SE that the limited comments facility really gets in the way of the discussion which is often needed. $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 21 '14 at 18:41

I think the best way to approach this would be to establish Q&A's about some of the data oft cited by the anti-AGW crowd, particularly if data is mis-cited to "prove" a point. If this is noticed, a well crafted and sourced question could be asked about that data and what it is really telling us in context. It would be very important for both the Q and A's for these to be well thought out and cited with reputable sources (plural!).

I think this is more important than what tag you decide to file them under (whoever asks the first such Q can decide what tag they want and the community can figure it out).

The nice thing about SE is that once we have some of these questions asked, they'll filter up to the top of google search results and have visibility among the very pages making the the claims discussed in the Q. It will be a nice resource, and it will drive some traffic our way (for better or worse).


A bit of advice for you guys - take it or leave it.

As you probably already know, there is a very popular Q&A on the Skeptics Stack Exchange:

One of the salient points being made in almost all of the highly-upvoted answers is that it is not a black-or-white, right-or-wrong issue. The question "do human activities affect the climate" is fundamentally flawed, because everything affects the climate, and application of some of the most basic scientific principles will demonstrate that specific human activities (i.e. production of GHGs) are likely to have a significant impact. Thus, the question has little value because it's not what scientists are actually researching and discussing. Scientists aren't interested in the if, they're interested in the how, the why, and the how much.

Much like the issues themselves, people don't simply fall into two "pro-AGW" and "anti-AGW" camps. Some people have extreme views, and those are undoubtedly the people who are going to scream the most and the loudest. But most people simply have a degree of skepticism, and apply it to different aspects of the whole equation.

A common enough position, which I happen to share, is that the data supports AGW with high confidence but the models themselves are not nearly up to snuff, and probably won't be for many years. I find it hard to countenance that a position claiming, essentially, "we need more time to gather data and improve our models" can be considered a "denial". In most other branches of sciences, a model isn't generally accepted until it can be used to consistently predict occurrences with both high accuracy and high precision.

I'm not saying this to establish an argument, I'm saying it to establish one point among a continuum of positions. There are some on the skeptical side who still believe that the data is flawed, or that the theory is flawed, or that the data and theory are sound but their importance is exaggerated. And there are many others on the credible side who opine that the models are good enough but don't agree on the mitigation vs. adaptation question, or disagree on the effectiveness of specific strategies.

One thing you'll notice about the Skeptics question is that none of the answers, anywhere, use words like "denial", "denier", or even "climate change skeptic". All are epithets, the first two being particularly nasty (originally intended as an analogy to holocaust denial) but even the third is clearly ad hominem, intended to imply that "climate change skepticism" is somehow different from any other kind of skepticism.

I discovered this site via the "hot questions" links and specifically the question, What is the 'natural variation' in global temperature that many climate sceptics mention? I was almost immediately put off - not by the arguments themselves, but by the furtive, defensive tone of the question itself and the obnoxious disclaimers and rebuttals in the answer.

Apparently this is developing into a site where people are afraid to ask or answer legitimate questions without metaphorically looking over their shoulder every few seconds and proactively taking steps to ensure that they don't get branded as some kind of heretic. An inauspicious beginning for a fledgling Stack Exchange. The title of this very meta question isn't helping, either, nor is the answer referring to the "anti-AGW crowd", as if there's some coalition of people who have nothing better to do than stir up drama.

I'm not saying that these issues shouldn't be discussed. I am not even necessarily saying that the community should not have a collective opinion on the subject. What I am saying is that you are representing yourselves as scientists, aspiring scientists, or people interested in science, and the scientific community has a responsibility to enforce a higher standard of behaviour.

Like it or not, if you're interested in maintaining a Q&A on climate change issues, then the people in my situation are precisely the ones you want to reach. You're never going to get through to the people who are truly "anti-AGW", nor should you be trying to; it's neurotic and a waste of time. The people who might be interested are the people like me, who are open to reading up on additional facts and interpretations and essentially keeping tabs on an ongoing inquiry, but not really interested in picking a "side".

Some questions were done better. For example, How good were climate models of the 1990s at predicting the global temperature trends of the 2000s/2010s? is asked and answered objectively, although the answer mostly just parrots an external source without offering much in the way of explanation. It's not hopeless, but the community needs to maintain that discipline in order to become a valuable resource on the subject.

Ironically, the religion sites have a pretty good track record for this. There are highly-voted questions on both the Judaism and Christianity sites covering hot-button issues that have calm, rational (within their context) and well-composed answers. I'm sure that both of those questions attracted some less-than-professional answers (hence the former being protected) but the community did its due diligence in cleaning them up and ensuring that answers stayed factual and on topic.

It's fine - great, even - that you're interested in using SE as a resource for AGW and climate change topics. There's an endless barrage of new studies and news articles coming out every week and I can't think of a better place for people to ask about what it all means. But you'll have to do a lot better than you've been doing so far. Stick to the facts, encourage open debate (within Q&A format of course), and don't try to make the skeptics feel unwelcome. Go into this with the right attitude - to create a great Q&A resource on the topic - not to specifically refute the "anti-AGW" arguments or to promote a particular cause. The latter may attract more people, but I promise you it will be the wrong kind of people.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with you. I didn't realize that the question you linked was... well, really strongly worded. I'm editing it now, if you have any more edits you want to suggest feel free. Welcome to Earth Science, by the way. :) $\endgroup$ – hichris123 Jun 28 '14 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, one more thing - being a 'skeptic' doesn't seem to be too badly worded. Maybe it is? If so, what other word would you suggest using to describe people who don't think climate change is occuring? (I've been trying to think, but I can't come up with any) $\endgroup$ – hichris123 Jun 28 '14 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @hichris123: I don't think that "skeptic" is an ugly word - after all, we have a site called "skeptics". But I think it becomes derogatory when phrased as "climate change skeptic" - it implies to me that they need to be distinguished from "regular" skeptics, that it's not a valid form of skepticism, regardless of what the skepticism is directed at. Why not just call these people "skeptics", period? $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Jun 28 '14 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ Because they're not skeptical in general. Global warming denial is an entirely appropriate moniker for a large majority of self-proclaimed "climate skeptics" - they present some or all of the behaviours associated with denial. There is plenty of scope for being actually sceptical of vast swathes of climate science. But you don't do that by attacking scientists and ignoring arguments and data, as is extremely common on many internet forums (blogs, news site comments, etc.). That is simply not skepticism. $\endgroup$ – naught101 Jul 3 '14 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ @naught101: That is precisely the kind of attitude that will drive away any anybody who's merely curious and ensure that this site remains little more than an echo chamber and occasional haven for trolls. You categorically deny that there could be reasonable people who display skepticism in this area; yet how many of these people have you actually met, and/or tried to have a level-headed discussion with, vs. shouting them down anonymously on internet forums? If an argument is wrong (and many certainly are) then it should be no problem to create a simple Q&A without resorting to ad hominem. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Jul 3 '14 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ "You categorically deny..." - No I didn't. I said a "large majority", implying that there is a minority who practice actual skepticism. And yes, I have had face-to-face discussions with climate deniers. But that is irrelevant, considering that we are discussing what happens on an internet forum - this site. $\endgroup$ – naught101 Jul 3 '14 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ Whatev. You don't hear phrases like "evolution denier" or "heliocentrism denier", no matter how ridiculous their arguments, because, presumably, status quo supporters feel secure enough that they don't need to shout it from the rooftops and hurl epithets at unbelievers. You can either (a) clearly and objectively attempt to answer people's questions on climate change and AGW (i.e. follow the SE model) or (b) try to turn it into a personal soapbox and shout down opposition with insults. The latter, however, will only attract like-minded people, so it's ultimately a waste of everyone's time. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Jul 5 '14 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ "originally intended as an analogy to holocaust denial", I don't think this has ever been true, if it can't be used in the context of someone who denies the mainstream view of some branch of science without it evoking holocaust denial, then I think the word has lost its meaning. Undoubtedly there are those who cannot accept that their actions are having negative consequences, and as a result cannot accept what mainstream science says, which would seem to me an example of classical phsycological denial. I would make a point of not using the work though as it is likely to make the debate $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 21 '14 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ more partisan and less productive. You are not going to find a term that is universally acceptable, but "skeptics" seems to be reasonable to me, even though not all skeptics are skeptics (as naught101 points out). If you disagree, try going to a popular climate skeptic blog and try arguing that the rise in CO2 is anthropogenic. However, quitely sticking to the science is a good approach whether the person you are talking to is genuinely interested in the answer, or is a "skeptic" or a [word I am not going to use]. $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 21 '14 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't mean that you shouldn't point out rhetoric and evasiveness when you see it, and the mods will need to do a good job of making sure that the discussion sticks solidly to the science. (+1 on balance, even though I don't agree completely) $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 21 '14 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the difference in the conspicuousness of climate change "skepticism" over evolution "skepticism" is due to the fact that acceptance of evolution has no impact on taxation or the way in which we live our daily lives, climate change does. If there were no negative consequences of climate change, it would be just another topic where everybody was happy to accept the mainstream scientific view. Denial (in the psychological sense) is a natural response to conflict between a laudable desire not to do harm to others (perhaps distant, c.f. discounting) and immediate personal cost. $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 23 '14 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DikranMarsupial: Perhaps you're right; if so, then that further reinforces the importance of keeping an objective tone and sticking to the scientific discussion. If it strays into the political realm - or even if it's perceived that way - then it will lead to a reputation of being biased and won't be taken seriously by the people whom you hope to convince. The bio folks are doing well with evolution topics and it probably wouldn't be a bad model to follow. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Jul 23 '14 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, this is why I avoid using the word "denier", but at the same time it is a mistake to think that climate change denial (in the psychological sense) does not exist, because it undoubtedly does (naught101 is entirely correct on that point). Sticking resolutely to the science is the appropriate approach for ES.SE. $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 24 '14 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ @aaronaught I would suggest that it stems from being in denial that their lifestyle (and fossil fuel usage) has negative consequences for others and for future generations (concern about which, as I said is wholly laudable). This can manifest itself in many different ways, and I don't really see the point in dissecting it further. The important thing is to keep to the science and communicate in a way that doesn't give opportunities to avoid discussing the science (e.g. labelling). $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 24 '14 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ It is irrelevant whether someone doesn't accept one link, or accepts none of them, that is not what makes it being in denial. What makes it denial is the attitude towards discussing the science and responding positively to the arguments against their position. Whether someone is just misinformed, skeptic or in denial, the correct approach IMHO is to stick to the science and be as patient and polite as you can. $\endgroup$ – Dikran Marsupial Jul 24 '14 at 15:23

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