False equivalence and the climate “debate”

One of the more bumptious of NZ’s tame sceptics is University of Canterbury philosopher and “eminent scientist” Associate Professor Denis Dutton. A key member of the NZ C”S”C, he is perhaps best known for creating the rather good Arts & Letters Daily web site – and selling it for a considerable sum. He has now embarked on a new site – currently in beta – called Climate Debate Daily, with another UC philosopher, Doug Campbell. You might expect me to welcome a new and “neutral” climate site, but I believe it completely misrepresents the reality of any “debate” that might exist, and is in effect a new tactic to give credence to sceptic effluvia. Here’s how they describe their aims:

Climate Debate Daily is intended to deepen our understanding of disputes over climate change and the human contribution to it. The site links to scientific articles, news stories, economic studies, polemics, historical articles, PR releases, editorials, feature commentaries, and blog entries. The main column on the left includes arguments and evidence generally in support of the IPCC position on the reality of signficant anthropogenic global warming. The right-hand column includes material skeptical of the IPCC position and the notion that anthropogenic global warming represents a genuine threat to humanity.

Many sites on the Internet, including some of those listed at the far left of the page, take firm views for or against the threat of anthropogenic global warming. As a matter of editorial policy, Climate Debate Daily maintains a studied neutrality, allowing each side to present its most powerful and persuasive case. Our object is to allow readers to form their own judgments based on the best available information.

At the time of writing, the top story on the pro-IPCC side is a new and lengthy report by Scientific American on a plan to convert the US energy infrastructure to 70 percent solar power by 2050, at the not inconsiderable cost of $420 billion in subsidies. On the sceptic side, we have a Russian academician offering an opinion (and I’m not putting too fine a point on this) that consists of a load of irredeemable nonsense: “The temperature of the troposphere, the lowest and densest portion of the atmosphere, does not depend on the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions — a point proved theoretically and empirically.” Whatever…
While it’s always useful to have a regularly updated compendium of climate links, the framing of this site as a “debate” is completely misleading. There is no equivalence between the two “sides”. On the one hand we have the IPCC position, based on decades of sound science and careful observation, and on the other we have… right wing op-eds and wingnut PR, pseudo science and an occasional real study with its results being misrepresented. [Update 5/1/07: RealClimate comment here]. A casual reader approaching the site will see the claim of “studied neutrality”, see two columns of equal length, and believe that if they compare and contrast the two “views” they can arrive at some version of the truth. Thus, CDD serves to prolong the illusion of a debate that in reality is long dead outside the realms of the rabid right. It’s the equivalent of the creationist tactic: “teach the debate”. Global warming is happening, we did it, and it’s going to get worse. Now lets argue about what to do about it. That’s where the real debate lies, and CDD is not contributing to that.
Dutton is trying to play with the Overton Window. By providing a platform for the sceptic rump, and appearing to give it equivalence to the real world, he shifts the apparent middle ground. It moves towards the sceptics, and makes it easier for those who want little done about global warming to make their policy case. It’s a way of disguising that on one end of the seesaw there’s a 400lb gorilla, and on the other a poodle with Denis holding its leash.

2 thoughts on “False equivalence and the climate “debate””

  1. > “we have a Russian academician offering an opinion … that consists of a load of irredeemable nonsense”

    Yeah, I notice he builds the whole article off the back off Abdusamatov 2005 – a paper of stunning banality – which offers no support for any other contention in the whole article.

    All Abdusamatov suggests is that the decline to something “close to a Maunder Minimum” might begin about 2040-50. Not a lot of joy there.

  2. what a beauty that cranio profile of homer is.. and so apt. Well done!

    Took a very brief look at “dutton’s double” as it was described to me by a PA reader. Double in more ways than one.. as you point out.

    left me wondering idly re whatever happened to the dosh from the prior build-up and sale of ALD.. could it have gurgled down a sink hole in recent fin house collapses..?

    just asking you understand..

    best wishes..

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