Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Understanding Climate Change Denial

A recent post, Doctored Goddard, where I theorised why Steven Goddard would misrepresent a piece of research and doctor a chart from it to support that misrepresentation, has created quite a stir with him and amongst his posse. It concluded with him admitting an error, and even giving a plausible reason for it, though that reason highlighted exactly why amateur pseudo-science skeptics should not be taken credibly when  doing their ‘analysis’ of the science. It also gave a insight into the way Goddard thinks.

But first a blow by blow that led to that admission

Within about 10 minutes of Goddard being aware of my post he replied;
 "Hey Lazarus. You are scum. The chart accurately shows regions of increasing and decreasing temperatures from the NOAA map. If you disagree find a region where my map is incorrect. Otherwise, just admit that you are liar".
 I also receive the dubious honour of a post on his blog dedicated solely to me, Enough is Enough ;
 “Reader Lazarus has written thousands and thousands of lines all over the Internet accusing me of producing a bogus map below. As usual, Lazarus is hysterical and completely FOS.”
Somehow I don’t think FOS = Factual and Obviously Scientific. But ‘thousands and thousands of lines all over the Internet’? I’ve told him a million times not to exaggerate!

I also started getting personal emails directly from Goddard himself;

Steve Goddard
25 Jan
to lazarus

Stop spreading misinformation. My maps are quite accurate.”

Oh the irony! This was a different definition of misinformation and accurate than I understood. 

Goddard explained his actions some more;
“Lazarus, you are an idiot. Flattened means that that all regions of increasing temperature are shown in a single shade of red, and all regions of decreasing temperature are shown in a uniform shade of blue.”
This admission of digitally doctoring the chart seemed justified to Goddard. Why it didn’t occur to him that if he had to do that the point he was trying to make might not actually exist, can only be due to the narrowed mind of the science denier.

I replied;
“If that is the case then you will have no objection to replacing your digitally flattened map with the real one, except that the real one and the paper it is from undermines your claim about it.”

Which started an email exchange in which Goddard said;
“Print a retraction.”
 I stuck to my guns. In his comments section he included such eloquence as;
“Lazarus, you are an idiot.”
“You are scientifically incompetent.”
“Print a retraction.”
“Lazarus, you are scum.”
“Admit you are wrong and print a retraction.”

And of course his usual commenter’s started as well;
Mike Davis said; Trolls will be Trolls!”
Stark Dickflüssig said I’ll be(t) this “Lazarus” dimwit thinks that translating Mein Kampf into English is “lying” as well.”
 Isn’t that an example of Godwin’s Law?

All this is quite nasty, but ultimately childish behaviour.

Then the unexpected happened

Someone called ‘mt’ made the comment;
“The gray regions in the original images correspond to trends of -0.05 to +0.05C, your flattened graph uses blue for those regions. You cannot say that “all regions of increasing temperature are shown in a single shade of red”
I have no idea if ‘mt’ is a regular commentator there, or what his position on climate change is but apparently having an epiphany,  Goddard took on board what he was saying. It was like he had a revelation that a chart would have a neutral zone with no significant warming or cooling. He claims that he thought the grey, no change region, was a shade of light blue so that when he digitally altered the image it turned bright blue.

I see no reason to not believe this was a genuine error because then the Enough is Enough post appeared with a correction restating what ‘mt’ said, though still calling grey blue;

“Correction : reader MT points out that in the USHCN map they used various shades of blue for -0.50 all the way up to +0.05. This means that some of the blue area may actually be a slightly positive trend. Given that there is a large area of just barely blue (-0.05 to +0.05) on their map, there is no way to distinguish whether most of the country was warming or cooling.”

And the portion of the post aimed directly at me, including calling me hysterical and FOS, was retracted! To give Goddard credit, he did not simply remove it but added a strike through so it remains for all to see.

Science isn’t done this way

This incident shows exactly why people without credible knowledge should not be taken seriously on scientific matters. I include myself in that group but I try to reflect the published science not re-analyse or reinterpret it.

That last point is where Goddard and his ilk come undone. He has already decided what he believes about climate change. He just needs to know science can back up and justify his beliefs. So he looks only for the evidence to support the answer that he already reverently believes. Science and rational inquiry is not done this way.

This I am certain is what drives science deniers to misrepresent and distort data. They may not even realise they are doing this intentionally, so convinced in the delusion that they are right and the evidence should support that.

I can say this because I am fairly sure Steve Goddard isn’t an unintelligent person, but anyone with a basic comprehension and the intention to understand who looked at the paper he used as evidence would not have made such a silly error. The full chart has a clear legend showing grey in the middle and spanning zero. No one seeking to understand an issue would simply look at a chart and draw a conclusion. They would read the accompanying text and that text contradicts what Goddard assumed the chart was saying;
“Geographically, maximum temperature (Fig. 13a) has increased in most areas except in parts of the east central and southern regions. Minimum temperature (Fig. 13c) exhibits the same pattern of change, though the pockets of decreasing temperature are displaced slightly to the south and west relative to maximum temperature.”
Which implies the opposite of what Goddard was claiming.

Normal service is resumed

Things change but people seldom do. Being wrong for all to see Goddard and his cronies reacted fairly typically. The commentator ‘suyts’ of ‘it’s only some light shading’ fame decided that I could not have known why the chart was wrong;
“Laz, it would be better to know what you’re talking about when you attempt to gloat.”
"And, while you correctly called Steve’s map in error, you have no idea why or how this is shown".
Me gloat? Well maybe a little in this case after all the flaming. And just to add to the comedy value that ‘suyts’ is fast gaining he suggests the researchers were deliberately trying to mislead poor Steve;
“your lack of understanding of what Steve did is just as much the cause as is NCDC’s intentional deception.”
How did my alleged lack of understanding contribute to the cause of Goddard error? Does this joker truly believe that the NCDC tried to intentionally deceive people so that they would think the country is cooling? Not much of a conspiracy tactic when trying to make people believe in Global Warming!

‘suyts’ continues with his paranoid logic in another comment;
“Here's the kicker, you still can't show that Steve's rendering is incorrect.  Given that each pale blue spot has a 50/50 chance of being cooling or warming and that they smooth each spot.  You don't know that what he was trying to show is incorrect.  Odds are at least 50% that each smoothed area shown from the pale blue to the bright blue in Steve's map to be blue would remain blue.

Ain't that a bitch?  You haven't shown jack.  You questioned a map, but you didn't know why it could be wrong.  But, now that you know it could be, you can't show that it is.”

Hilarious! Apparently I’m wrong because all the neutral stuff that Goddard had coloured bright blue had a 50% chance of being blue so he could be right and me wrong! FAIL! The intent was to show that Goddard’s ‘evidence’ for a cooling US was flawed; That the doctored graph misrepresented the data and could not be used to support Goddard’s claims of US cooling. Clearly this Muppet understands that much. I don’t need the research to show the opposite, even though it clearly suggests it, and I don’t need to show anything other that the chart is inappropriate to support Goddard’s claims. So I don’t have to show jack.

Goddard also returned to form with his own comments;
“Do you enjoy behaving like a flaming ahole?”
And he too thought I just had a lucky guess, in a personal email he said;
“Your comments were and are idiotic. MT pointed out something simple in plain English, which you didn't see either.”
I replied by quoting my original post from about a fortnight previous; I said that he "doctored it (or got it from someone else without checking) by colouring everything not showing a temperature increase bright blue"?

It is crystal clear from the legend and I didn't realise he needed it spelling out. But Goddard was in no mood to retire gracefully;
“Maybe you should learn how to communicate in English?”
I have never claimed to be a literary great but what I posted seemed plain enough to me. However being inarticulate is hardly a crime. Nor I would say does it deserve being called an idiot, liar, scum etc. - not the greatest expression of meaningful dialogue in the English language.
But there is the real problem with Goddard expressed here again. The Paper was quite clear that grey was neutral and that cooling hadn't occurred. If he had read the paper with understanding rather than searching for ‘evidence’ to support his beliefs and biases he would not have made the error he did. He would not have tried to 'enhance' it. If he had taken time to look at my posts and links instead of resorting to nasty yet ultimately childish name calling he would have seen exactly why I had an issue with doctoring charts.
But as ‘syts’ puts it, here’s the kicker – Goddard says he has admitted he was wrong and corrected his error, but all he had done is admit that the doctored chart was in error. He has not managed to admit that his claim it was used to support, that the US has cooled since 1895’, is wrong. Nor has he corrected his admitted error where it appears. It still exists in the original Global Warming Report Card post without any reference to the error. There’s no note or correction to let visitors know that it is erroneous.

But worse, this ‘report card’ is now being made widely available through that great scientific bastion of truth the ‘Science & Public Policy Institute’, (SPPI),  in downloadable PDF form claiming;
“The massive bulk of evidence indicates that nothing is wrong, and that Hansen, Mann and the rest of the hockey team are not being honest with us.”
Again without this misinformation and error corrected. I have emailed ‘bferguson’ from the 'Contact' information at SPPI, and asked if it will be. So who is ‘not being honest with us’?

Visitors to either of these sites, and no doubt others where this information is available from, are still going to be misled by it, but that does seem Goddard’s intention by his fervent promoting of his ideological beliefs.


  1. Nice work. Did you change minds? If not, why?
    I think such sites have two goals. They inoculate readers against legit science (and explanations) and act as lie incubators. The forums try out the latest wrong explanations to find the preferred themes. Contrary comments & corrections add more fodder & refine the ruse. They nudge the process toward the next stage of deceptive explanations. As pseudo-science lacks any unifying frame, they can say whatever they feel like. Their stories need not fit any alternative model, only activate familiar sets of skeptical ideas. When readers reencounter these - ah ha! - they shortcut right to the conclusion and forego critical thinking.

  2. That's for that. Did I change minds? I don't know but probably not. I doubt much will change entrenched views but I like to think this will influence sceptical thinkers and normal rational people who may come across it.

    While I like to have some fun with my posts, and they can be heavy with sarcasm, not resorting to immature name calling (as oft happens with climate denial), will help readers see which is the more rational view.

    I think you have nailed it with your description on how such denial sites work but I do think you give many of them too much credit. While it works the way you say a lot of it happens unconsciously - because they really believe AGW is a conspiracy so don't mind distorting the facts to show their 'truth'.

    However there is a level, funded think tanks and the like, where there is a very conscious effort to 'inoculate readers against legit science'.