Déjà vu: fabricating a “skeptic” claim

Almost a week ago, I got a comment on my post about the framing of the Greenland melt as worse than it is. It contained two videos and two links. One of those links went to the skepticalscience website and the commenter encouraged me to read it in order to get more information on the reason why “the IPCC is too conservative with models”.

It was with mixed expectations that I followed the link to the climate myth “IPCC is alarmist” page. What started as a puzzling experience, culminated into something very funny.

Let’s start with the things that puzzled me. I was presented this link so I could find some information about the “inherent conservatism of climate models”, yet I didn’t even see the word “model”, nor in the title, nor in the post. Also, the url suggested that the article was about the “IPCC scientific consensus” and the title sounded as if it was about the “IPCC underestimating climate response”.

skepticalscience: climate myth: ipcc is alarmist

Initially I had the impression that I was presented the wrong url.

The most puzzling thing however was that the subject of the webpage (the “climate myth” that the “IPCC is alarmist”) was unrelated to the skeptical statement from Roy Spencer that was given as an example:

“Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change.” (Roy Spencer)

I didn’t find the claim that “the IPCC is alarmist” in this statement. So I followed the link to Spencer’s post and also found exactly 0 (zero) instances of “alarmist” or even “alarm” in that post. The subject of the post was in fact about the IPCC ignoring natural variability by focusing completely on external forcing (anthropogenic greenhouse gases), a focus Spencer considers unscientific. That is not the same as “the IPCC is alarmist”.

But, if that claim was not in the summary and also not in the Spencer’s post, then where does that “IPCC is alarmist” claim comes from?!?!

Luckily, this was explained in the first paragraph. I will quote that paragraph, sentence by sentence, so you could see the pea moving (not once, but twice). This is the first sentence:

Climate scientist Roy Spencer made this statement.

That is true. Spencer indeed wrote that the IPCC is focused on the human cause of climate change and is neglecting alternative hypotheses that way. The summary they presented on their page was in fact the first paragraph in Spencer’s post.

So far, so good. Let’s continue with the second sentence (my emphasis):

He starts by suggesting something highly questionable isn’t open to being questioned.

That is strange. I didn’t recollect Spencer claiming anything close to “something highly questionable wasn’t open to being questioned”. Spencer did write that the IPCC had a “lack of interest” and that the IPCC is “totally obsessed with external forcing”. But “having a lack of interest” or “being obsessed with” is not the same as “something highly questionable isn’t open to being questioned”.

That is an interpretation by someone from the skepticalscience team, not something Spencer actually wrote.

This is pea move number one. They made their own interpretation of what Spencer actually wrote.

They continue (my emphasis):

What he seeks to do is suggest, by inference, that the IPCC has an agenda, and this distorts the reports they produce.

Spencer did not say that the “IPCC has an agenda” or that they “distort the reports they produce”. It is again an interpretation of someone from the skepticalscience team. At best, Spencer said that the IPCC is not interested in natural variability, is focused on external forcing and overestimates climate sensitivity. That is not the same as “having an agenda” and “distorting their reports”, let alone that “the IPCC is alarmist”.

I could somehow understand that “not being interested in natural variability”, “focusing on external forcing” and “overestimating climate sensitivity” will create bias in reports, but calling that evidence of the claim that “the IPCC is alarmist” is an interpretation of what is being said, especially based on the article they linked to.

Let me make that clear: someone from the skepticalscience team rephrased something that was based on their own interpretation of something Spencer said.

That was pea move number two. They rephrased their own interpretation.

Now the pièce de résistance (my emphasis):

In other words, Spencer (and others) suggest that the IPCC exaggerates what the science says in favour of anthropogenic global warming.

Here we have it. Basically, we started with an interpretation of Spencer’s claim by (a member from) the skepticalscience team. Then this interpretation is rephrased and then, from these two interpretations,…

– wait for it –

… they came to the conclusion that Spencer claimed that the “IPCC exaggerates what the science says”. Which indeed comes very close to “the IPCC is alarmist” claim that they then debunked.

The pea turned up in a completely different shell than was expected.

At this point, I wondered why they didn’t just link to someone who actually said that the “IPCC is alarmist”? That would be much, much easier and no need for writing a paragraph to justify that example and even then they couldn’t get to the actual claim they wanted to debunk. Couldn’t they really find a better example? They only needed to find one!

It kept on giving:

It is perfectly legitimate to question this assertion, since Spencer and others offer no evidence to support it.

That is really funny since this claim was not made by Spencer, but is a rephrase of an interpretation of something that Spencer wrote. Of course, Spencer will not offer evidence for a claim that the skepticalscience team made up all by themselves.

The skepticalscience team seems to make a habit of interpreting the arguments of skeptics, in order to fit them into what they want to use it for. I have seen them doing that for example in table 1 of the Alice-in-Wonderland paper. That table had entries from a skepticalscience webpage, in which they took individual (coherent) arguments of skeptics, generalized them, connected them with another generalized argument and then …

– wait for it –

… came to the conclusion that the arguments of skeptics were mutually incoherent, which the authors of the paper said is a known attribute of conspiracy ideation. Apparently not realizing that the incoherence they found came not from the arguments of those skeptics, but was an artifact from the methodology they used to compile those arguments.

They did a similar thing here. They took an actual statement from Roy Spencer, made their own interpretation of it, rephrased that a bit differently, then from those two interpretations came to an own conclusion and subsequently debunked that strawman…

What Spencer said in his post was that the IPCC isn’t interested in natural variability, because it is so focused on the human-induced side of the issue. Is that so controversial? Just look at the role of the IPCC (my emphasis):

Today the IPCC’s role is as defined in Principles Governing IPCC Work, “…to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.”

If I understand that correctly and follow the reasoning of the skepticalscience team, just by confirming the role of the IPCC, one is already guilty of “suggesting” that the IPCC is exaggerating the science…

I need to visit the skepticalscience site a bit more often. 😉


7 thoughts on “Déjà vu: fabricating a “skeptic” claim

  1. poitsplace

    I find that such issues are common in arguments but ubiquitous from the alarmists. The alarmist part is the key component of course since it really does give away the whole mindset. Reason has been largely abandoned with individuals like this (Like John Cook, who runs SkS), no matter their level of scientific training. It is the default to emotional “thinking” that causes the problem…well, in my opinion anyway.

    So as soon as you start talking about a topic in general, they fall back on their spoon-fed propaganda…or at least the closest piece of propaganda to it, which is why they never quite answer real critiques. Then their brain turns off even more than it already was turned off. Everything just slides through unquestioned. It’s like that “what if global warming is a hoax” cartoon….


    They never question the fact that many of the points listed not only have nothing to do with global warming but that many have indeed already been addressed, often rather ironically because of our improved use of fossil fuels. They do not question that some are just buzzwords thrown in…in the same way a second rate employee might try to make a report sound better by peppering it with business speak like “synergy” and “teambuilding”.

    They simply quote and then frequently poke fun at how anyone could be so stupid as to not be with them…never taking the minimal amount of time necessary to see that they are 100% wrong.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I see the same thing happening at the other side of the fence. They also claim that reason is not on our side, that we fall back to propaganda, and so on. Both sides use the same words, but in a different meaning.

      I don’t know who is right or wrong in this issue. We are talking about a complex, coupled, chaotic system with very little reliable data until a couple decades ago and increasingly sparse data the longer one goes back in time. Additionally, climate science being an observational and multi-disciplinary science, I think nobody will know with any certainty who is right or wrong.

      What I am trying to do with this blog is look at how the issue is communicated, hence the tagline of this blog. Is the communication pure or vague, rational or emotional, complete or one-sided, realistic or overconfident, factually or biased,… This gives me some information.

      It is my impression that the alarmist beliefs from my past were the result of the one-sided information that I got spooned in via the media. When I later found that there was a whole array of things that were not communicated and that those things made the issue less alarming, the feeling of alarm slowly diminished over time.

      From my current position, I have the impression, looking back to that past, that the alarmist side is wrong because they only look at one side of the issue and ignoring the other. But that is not a guarantee though. Logically, even if an issue is communicated poorly/one-sided/framed, it still could be true, although I think it is less likely. So, I try to keep in mind that I could be wrong.


  2. Climate Otter

    I’ve been thinking for some time of putting together a compilation of the propaganda coming out of skepticalscience, as well as highlighting the questionable backgrounds of the sites’ founder and assistants (such as lewandowski). If I may (and if I do finally get to it), I would like to quote a portion of this article, with links back to your site (as I do for everyone I ask).


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Interesting idea. There is a lot of material on skepticalscience. I have been visiting their website in the last week and everywhere I looked, there were some curious claims.

      No problem quoting/linking to this post.


      1. Climate Otter

        There is indeed quite a bit of material on SkS, on a number of sites. I hope to bring it all together (and somehow still keep the article short enough that people don’t lose interest). Thanks for your permission!


  3. manicbeancounter

    It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.

    {My Emphasis}

    The Debunking Handbook 2011 – John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky

    John Cook believes that this misinformation is detrimental to democracy, yet still has it published on his website.



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