How to Spot a Denier

Yesterday’s primer on Robert Brulle’s new paper was amusing, but it doesn’t discuss why the paper is deceptive. This post will.

Brulle defines a denier as anyone who opposes cap and trade. As I pointed out in the last post, that’s silly. Plenty of advocates for combating global warming oppose cap and trade. Why then does Brulle not discuss any who do? It’s simple. Brulle is playing fast and loose with definitions. Brulle’s Supplementary Material describes how he collected his list of organizations:

a consolidated list of all of the organizations identified in prior studies was created.

With an attached footnote that says:

Criteria and Studies utilized to compile this comprehensive listing of potential CCCM organizations are:
1. Organization represented by a speaker/sponsorship at any of the ICC/Heartland Conference
2. Organization participated in the Global Climate Coalition
3. Organization participated in Alliance for Climate Strategies
4. Organization participated in the Cooler Heads Coalition
5. Organization listed as a climate skeptic organization in Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes and Conway 2010)
6. Organization listed in the Greenpeace study of climate change counter-movement (Greenpeace 2010)
7. Organization listed in the Union of Concerned Scientists study of climate change counter-movement (Union of Concerned Scientists 2007)
8. Organization listed in NCRP study of Conservative Organizations (NCRP 1997: 46-53)

An obvious question is why do the first five bullets not describe “organizations identified in prior studies” as claimed? I don’t know. What I do know is all eight bullets deal with groups on the skeptical side. Brulle argues anyone who opposes cap and trade is a denier by simply pretending people like James Hansen don’t exist.

The problem goes beyond that. Brulle doesn’t exclude all people like James Hansen. He doesn’t exclude all people who oppose cap and trade but support other options. What Brulle does is far worse. He includes some people who want to take action to combat global warming but not others, and he does so arbitrarily. For example, the Global Climate Coalition declared:

the development of new technologies to reduce greenhouse emissions [is] a concept strongly supported by the GCC.

That is a course for combating global warming. People can disagree about how good a course it is, but there is no stated distinction between it and the course James Hansen endorses. Both oppose cap and trade, both endorse alternative approaches, but only one gets called a denier. Why?

Because Brulle didn’t make a list of deniers. He made a list of people he dislikes. Being a “denier” isn’t a matter of fitting his definition of the views of a “denier.” It’s just a matter of being disliked by Brulle and his sources.

In other words, “denier” is defined as, “Anyone I dislike.”

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4 comments

  1. To be fair, the coders were also told to visit the organizations’ web sites. That would reduce the issue of bias a bit.

    Speaking of which, it’s hard to tell if the coders’ results were biased since Robert Brulle didn’t publish the list the coders worked through. They went from 538 unspecified organizations to the 118 Brulle listed. It’s an annoying practice I’ve noticed while following climate science (most recently with Cook et al). People publish the data they “used” not the unfiltered data set. I don’t get that.

  2. Also note, ironically, that unlike most scientific papers, there is no acknowledgment in this paper indicating the funding source!

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