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Dealing with Denialism. Climate Change Denial One possible management approach. When Victory is Doubt. Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. Internal memo from tobacco company Brown and Williamson.

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Dealing with Denialism

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dealing with denialism

Dealing with Denialism

Climate Change Denial

One possible management approach...

when victory is doubt

When Victory is Doubt

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public.

Internal memo from tobacco company Brown and Williamson.

who is doing the denying
Who is doing the denying?
  • Save your energy. Pick your fights. Fight them right
  • You are never talking to the denier, you are always talking to those who are listening

Professionals. Will never change

Highly committed, but may drift down

Your constant and only target market

Annoying people who take your energy, but may drift up

it s not a fight about science
It’s not a fight about science...
  • They know that. It’s a street fight. That’s why they attack the man

If engaging and Architect or an Acolyte

  • Don’t sink to that. But pinpoint and attack and the behaviour and the techniques
  • Actively resist explaining the science until you know you actually have the audience’s attention
  • Keep it big until the audience is ready to go small

Do not anticipate an honest exploration of knowledge

specific issues and techniques
Specific Issues and Techniques
  • Internal inconsistency
  • Gish Gallop
  • Conspiracy theory
  • Know your stuff
  • Simple language
  • Be likeable, and be like them (this matters more than you may realise right now)
2 dealing gish gallop don t directly
2. Dealing Gish-Gallop- don’t (directly...)
  • Buy in, they win.
  • You have started wasting time that could be better spent.
  • So don’t. Cut it short.

“Hi Ben,  was going to look at the background to some of the “facts” purported in the attached document.  Perhaps you have the facts at your fingertips.”

“Hi Jeremy,

This is using a technique known as “gish-gallop”. Almost always it involves a list of some kind. It works because it looks and sounds convincing, and every one of these lies/distortions/ half truths takes someone like me an awfully long time to convincingly put to rest. The great adage “It takes 20 seconds to lie, and 20 minutes to prove it wrong”.

That being the case, I prefer to keep these things simple. I have been sent this before, with the point of origin apparently being the risk manager of a major consulting firm. My communication with him is shown below.

2 dealing with gish gallop don t directly
2. Dealing with Gish-Gallop- don’t (directly...)
  • “Dear X,
  • I note that you are a Director- Risk Services. Does this questionnaire reflect the approach of Y with regard to managing risk for its clients, specifically regulatory, financial, infrastructure and ecological risks associated with climate change?
  • Is it customary for Y’s Directors of Risk Services to propagate scientific positions that are contrary to those held by organisations such as the CSIRO, The Bureau of Meteorology, The World Meteorological Organisation, The National Academy of Science (USA), and the Royal Society (UK)?
2 dealing with gish gallop don t directly1
2. Dealing with Gish-Gallop- don’t (directly...)

“Dear X,

The author of the questionnaire is listed as one Gregg D Thompson. I cannot locate any climate research undertaken by Mr Thompson, nor any formal scientific qualifications whatsoever. It would appear that he is an amateur astronomer, with a keen interest in stargazing and the creation of special effects.

In undertaking risk management work for Y, is Mr Thompson typical of the quality of source that you would rely upon when advising your clients?

I look forward to your prompt response.”

2 dealing with gish gallop don t directly2
2. Dealing with Gish-Gallop- don’t (directly...)
  • In person, keep your cool... Answer 20 questions with one... Keep rephrasing and press the issue....

“If your work and ideas contradicts the IPCC, what has prevented you from publishing these findings in peer reviewed scientific literature? This is incredible, it will win you a Nobel Prize.”

“How is it that you know all this, but the IPCC, CSIRO, NAS, Royal Society and every other major scientific institution in the world thinks differently?”

  • Press hard enough and there is only one answer...
3 the conspiracy theory
3. The Conspiracy Theory
  • The scientific consensus is so great, none of their stuff works without a conspiracy theory. They are all sitting on one. Make them say it. Make them explain it. Ask for details.

“When did this begin?”

“Who started it?”

“When were the scientists coopted?”

“How did has it spread through every scientific institution in the world?”

“How did they get the walruses, glaciers, polar ice cap, migratory birds and wood mites on side?”

4 know your stuff every now and then it makes the difference
4. Know your stuff... Every now and then it makes the difference
  • Sometimes, you will have the opportunity to hit the sweet spot... Person or people genuinely trying to learn... Knowing your stuff is critical at this point
  • “Ben... I always wanted to know the answer to this question ... If they're finding ocean creature fossils in the middle of the Australian outback the assumption is there was once ocean... there right? Why is it all gone surely not global warming due to the population of earth and the dinosaurs died during an ice age in theory.The other question if earth moved 5m closer to the sun would Anyone be able to measure it and would this affect our temperature?


5 simple language and examples where appropriate
5. Simple language and examples where appropriate
  • Dumbing down a necessarily complex subject is a slippery slope
  • But when you can do it safely, it can be powerful
  • Find some safe statements that communicate powerfully
  • “The temperature record in Victoria was beaten by about 0.8 degrees - that's a century-long record, beaten by 0.8 degrees. That's like Bradman's batting average being beaten by 50.”
  • Professor Andy Pittman commenting on the new temperature record for Melbourne of 46.4 degrees, up from a previous record of 45.6 degrees
  • Titration is a nice example for explaining:
  • Why small quantities can matter
  • Tipping points
6 be likeable and be like them
6. Be likeable, and be like them

That's not to suggest that we aren't also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It's just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one's sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

It helps a lot if deniers can look to the people occupying the other space and like what they see, and sense other shared values

It helps to work from common ground where you can find it: dislike of other pollution, preference for nuclear power... and go from there

case study
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

  • Conspiracy theory: “the gravy train was too big, with too many jobs, industries, trading profits, political careers, and the possibility of world government and total control riding on the outcome. So rather than admit they were wrong, the governments, and their tame climate scientists, now cheat and lie outrageously to maintain the fiction that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant”.

Lead conspirator Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927),

“if the quantity of carbonic acid increases in geometric progression,

the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in

arithmetic progression.”

case study1
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

2. Carbon dioxide does warm the planet... but the planet adjusts: “Let’s be perfectly clear. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and other things being equal, the more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer the planet. Every bit of carbon dioxide that we emit warms the planet.”

“There are now several independent pieces of evidence showing that the earth responds to the warming due to extra carbon dioxide by dampening the warming.”

Your Nobel Prize, Dr Evans

case study2
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

3. But they are measuring it wrong. Let the Gish Gallop begin: “The official thermometers are often located in the warm exhaust of air conditioning outlets, over hot tarmac at airports where they get blasts of hot air from jet engines, at wastewater plants where they get warmth from decomposing sewage, or in hot cities choked with cars and buildings...” those hot cities in Siberia, the Bering Strait, and the North Pole

case study3
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

4. But the satellites are right, and it’s actually getting cooler: “Global temperature is also measured by satellites, which measure nearly the whole planet 24/7without bias. The satellites say the hottest recent year was 1998, and that since 2001 the global temperature has levelled off”

Ah, 1998... The only one of 160 years that lets you draw a down arrow to 2010

case study4
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

5. But actually, the warming has been natural all along: “The earth has been in a warming trend since the depth of the Little Ice Age around 1680... We have just finished a warming phase, so expect mild global cooling for the next two decades”.

Expect mild global cooling for the next two decades, with a possibility of bullsh!t later in this speech

case study5
Case Study

Dr David Evans: Address to the anti-carbon tax rally, 23 March 2011

6. Did I mention conspiracy?: “Governments gleefully accept their advice, because the only way to curb emissions are to impose taxes and extend government control over all energy use. And to curb emissions on a world scale might even lead to world government — how exciting for the political class!”

...and the new head of the IPCC is...

the next speaker
The next speaker...

Confused a little?

  • Remember your audience
  • Attack the techniques. Only go to the science when they are dying to hear it
  • Keep your powder dry. Wasting your time is a victory for denialism
  • Learn your stuff
  • Learn some simple and effective communication
  • Remember you are asking someone to change identity. Give them a good reason