Best Of: I Am So Damn Sick of Climate "Skeptic" Radio Callers

By The Intersection | August 26, 2008 11:08 am

originally published August 16, 2007 by Chris C. Mooney

on%20air.jpg So: Whenever I have a new book out–or an old one out in paperback–I tend to do a lot of radio shows. And as a result, I’ve noticed a particular phenomenon that has started to get on my nerves a bit: Some hosts like to throw open the telephone lines, and whenever they do, you suddenly get a huge flood of callers who doubt human induced global warming and spout wild contrarian claims like the following (all of which I heard on the Jim Bohannon Show last night):

1. It’s warming on other planets too, so isn’t it something about the sun?

2. Sea level has been rising for 6,000/8,000 years.

3. Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption put more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than anything human activities can do.

4. Carbon dioxide is just a small fraction of the total greenhouse effect; other gases like water vapor are far more important.

5. NASA just revised its data and it turns out the 1930s were warmer than now.

6. We’ll wreck our economy, and who’s to say that a few degrees of warming isn’t a planetary optimum amount?

The ratio of “skeptic” to non-skeptic callers is usually something like 10:1. And these people aren’t well-informed skeptics, like, say, Bill Gray. They aren’t scientists by any stretch. But they’ve heard something, somewhere–I suspect rightwing blogs or talk radio–and have taken it up and run with it as if it’s some kind of new truth that no one else ever discovered until now.

They don’t provide references or sources for the claims. They don’t seem to understand that talk show and blog hearsay aren’t the same as published scientific research–and moreover, that huge bodies of scientific knowledge are rarely upended by sudden new revelations proving that everybody was totally and utterly wrong all this time.

Sigh…I really don’t know what to do with these kinds of callers. I try to patiently explain things to them as best I can, even though some of their claims I’ve never even heard of and don’t know how to address (especially as I doubt their factual accuracy). But I try to talk about the scientific method, the powerful consensus that has developed in this area. Honest to God, though…it’s depressing. The gap between the scientific community and much of the public on this subject is huge, and there’s no way I can bridge it through my necessarily brief sound-bite answers.

If I can just be brutally honest–and more than a tad pessimistic–for a minute: I increasingly fear that no matter how much temperatures rise, a lot of the non-scientist global warming “skeptics” that have been bred up by our politically polarized and misinformation-rich culture may wind up impossible to convince on this subject for many years to come.


Comments (14)

  1. Dunc

    Heck, even if they do eventually accept that the Earth is warming and it’s our fault, they’ll still figure out a way to blame it on hippies. Suddenly it will all be our fault for not being convincing enough or something…

  2. Brandon P.

    Why do American conservatives often show so much hostility towards scientific evidence? Of course there are anti-science liberals, but the constituency of the conservative population that denies scientific facts (evolution, global warming, the inferior effectiveness of abstinence-only education, etc.) seems much larger and more influential. It’s almost mainstream in the conservative movement.

    No wonder liberals dominate academia.

  3. Jimbo

    Ever since global warming due to CO2 became an issue, it was rapidly perceived that it would have an economic/business impact. So vested interests invested in casting doubt on the causes and effects, conveniently coinciding with first the rise of right-wing talk radio (the “volcanoes put out more greenhouse gases” egregious error is straight from the horse’s, er, Limbaugh’s, mouth) and then Usenet, and then the WWW. Usenet and WWW allowed the maintenance and propagation of pseudoscience of numerous flavors and varieties. The insidious nature of the global warming pseudoscience is that sometimes its being practiced by legitimate scientists (albeit those who can frequently be shown to have a vested interest of some kind). And unfortunately it has been cast, I believe due to the relationship between general environmentalism and liberalism, as a left-wing versus right-wing issue. Therefore, the farther to the right of someone’s politics, the more they are set in their belief that global warming is a conspiracy to overthrow the Western economy and replace it with socialism. Those with that mindset will grasp upon any bulwark for their beliefs, and cement it so strongly that very little effect can be had from reasoned argument.

    The same general effect — and Chris will be familiar with this — is seen in the following and belief in Scientific Creationism. Those who see the issue as being “evolution is an assault on Christian doctrine” will rarely (if ever) accept any reasonable scientific discourse on the subject. And something like “Darwin’s Black Box”, with a veneer of scientific legitimacy, will support their foundational mindset.

    So while nothing can really be done about those who will not see or hear scientific reason, the potential way to get them on board is to address the brittleness of a global economy powered by fossil fuels, much of which comes from nations with either a stated or unspoken hostility toward the Western world.

  4. Iain George

    On the Pinatubo issue, heard it before too apparently it originates with Reagan, can’t remember where I read that. – that gives a CO2 figure for the 1991 eruption as somewhere between 42 and 234 Mt.

    Anyway, it’s this gap that caused my interest in AGW and in science in the public perception in general. I was discussing fluoridation with someone earlier who told me that the never go with the consensus because the consensus once was that the earth was flat. The gap is massive.

  5. Bob B

    There is no “Proof” for human induced AGW–only computer models that rely on positive feedbacks which recent “peer” reviewed literature shows not to be the case. The IPCC reports and models produces results which show the Earth is suppose to warm with increasing CO2. Results from the last number of years show the Earth has cooled:

    Even the “right wing” radio NPR show the Oceans cooling as well:

    Every open debate between the warmers and skeptics has been lost by the warmers:

  6. Bob B

    Climate models predict a “Hot Spot” which has been absent from actual measurements–so where is it?

    Confessions from a former global warmer who has become a skeptic because the real world data does not match computer fantasies:,25197,24036736-7583,00.html

  7. Papertiger

    ” The gap between the scientific community and much of the public on this subject is huge, and there’s no way I can bridge it through my necessarily brief sound-bite answers.”

    The climate guys would like to kid everyone that they are super geniuses (or is that genii?) but the fact is you don’t have to be super smart to read a chart.
    Most anybody can.
    BTW just as you admit that you can’t express your full throated alarmism in a breif radio show sound-bite, likewise skeptics can’t provide you with the sources to their arguments on the spur of the minute while calling into said radio show.
    If you wonder where all the skeptics are coming from – you can blaim me personally. I do my level best to convert as many people to AGW skepticism as is humanly possible.


  8. John Mashey


    SO, answering every question, again and again, is not particularly productive, especially because it’s quicker to ask confusing questions than gerneate clear answers.


    I’d have a numbered list of standard arguments on a website, and at the start of a show, tell people where it is, and tell anyone who wants to ask a question that if they ask one that’s already well-answered there, you’ll just give them the standard number, so they can get a better answer, with charts and references.

    Then they ask you questions, and you simply give the number of the argument, perhaps a few words of discussion, and then go to the next question. As it happens, Skeptical Science has a pretty good list of such, each with a page describing the arguments, why they are wrong, at an accessible level, but with references to peer-reviewed science literature.

    This not only answers the questions, but makes it clear to sensible listeners that the same old wrong arguments get repeated again and again. This list is invaluable when writing for word-limit-constrained places like letters-to-editor or some blogs.

    When you get 200 words, and someone has managed to spray 10-15 wrong arguments in one article, this is the only way I know to answer it.

    By happy chance, Bob B has shown up to illustrate this.

    So, from Skeptical Science:

    “no proof”:
    #32 [empirical]
    #5 [cooling], #11 [1998], and maybe #31 [oceans are cooling],

    The David Evans Austalian tale is too new to be recorded in Skeptical Science, or maybe not important enough.

    He is an Australian software engineer who:
    a) Claims to be a “rocket scientist”. He isn’t, but that ought to be a hint.

    b) Repeatedly shows that he knows rather little about climate science, and even when people explain it correctly, he still gets it wrong.

    c) This was all well-covered at Deltoid and DeSMogBlog.

  9. Chris writes: The gap between the scientific community and much of the public on this subject is huge, and there’s no way I can bridge it through my necessarily brief sound-bite answers.

    Er, Chris, if you feel like this, a professional communicator, how do you think scientists feel about it? And how do you think scientists feel when you turn around and say that we’re bad communicators but it’s up to us to cure the problem? Response will be better-sited over in the ‘science communication crisis’ thread, where I’ve responded to your response (to my first comment). Time and travel permitting, as to timing.

    w.r.t. Bob B.: Folks interested in his comments are invited to take a look at some of my recent blogging. In particular the cherry-picking note, and the two ‘testing ideas’ notes.

  10. Bob B

    John Mashey, Detoid won’t even show up on Lucia’s blog to debate her. Gavin Schmidt won’t even argue the analysis she has done–because they can’t!—-didn’t desmog just get humiliated in a debate with Mockington–come on guys you have to do better then jut ad hom

  11. Bob B

    Where’s the Hot spot?

    Don’t anyone dare tell me you can use the wind as a proxy for temp–when the radiosonde data is quite accurate LOL

  12. Bob B

    So Robert and John–could you please enlighten me as give me a link to your “proof” that the very very recent 20 yrs of warming is man made? What is your definitive objective proof?

  13. Bob B

    So global warmers–why is it every time one of your heros gets into a global warming debate outside of their echo chambers (like real climate) they lose hands down?

  14. Bob B

    Oh and John, here is Skeptical science’s rebuttal –rebutted–LOL:


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