The link between the climate denial and anti-vaccine crowds

Rarely does a blogging day pass that I don't stumble upon some post or comment or email that champions the value of skepticism of anthropogenic global warming and the need for scientists to answer their critics. So it's refreshing to read a concise and cogent reminder of why such attacks are misguided. From UBC's Simon Donner we get this rejoinder, made in reference to demands that real-climatologist Michael "hockey stick" Mann answer the criticism of non-climatologist Steve McIntyre

Think of it this way: wouldn't you rather that doctors spend their time actually developing treatments for autism, rather than refuting the crazy theory that MMR vaccinations cause autism?

The idea that climatologists aren't willing to take a little criticism is bizarre. Almost as bizarre as the idea that they're in it for the money. Like all scientists, they spend a good deal of time defending their hypotheses, conjectures, speculations and even well-developed theories from other scientists who are familiar with the subject. Simple lunch breaks shared with colleagues can turn into Spanish Inquisitions. Professional reputations, not to mention appetites, can be lost if you don't have your facts straight. Given the abuse typically heaped on young graduate students by their tenured superiors, it's a wonder anyone hangs around long enough to get a PhD.

It's also a wonder that, after learning how to live with what is often a brutal peer review process, there are still some scientists with the stomach and energy to respond to lay criticism. I'm thinking of the Real Climate gang, but there are others. They deserve our undying gratitude.

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McIntyre isn't a climatologist, but he's clearly a competent statistician -- and apparently more careful about matters statistical than Mann.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink

"They deserve our undying gratitude"


bob koepp:

apparently more careful about matters statistical than Mann

Appearance is (by definition) in the eye of the beholder.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink

When it comes to putting well-developed theories to good use-- that is, influencing behavioral change to improve the human condition, it's vital to respond to lay criticism. Lay criticism is all the vast majority of people understand, so if as a result people decide to skip vaccines or vote against pro-environment initiatives, how much good is science really doing? The masses aren't reading peer reviews, they're reading crackpot editorials in the Post, because that's what they can understand. If the only people who have a clue of what's really going on stop responding, we're in trouble. Scientists with the stomach to respond to lay criticsm deserve our undying gratitude, indeed.

Chris O'Neill -
Does that mean apparent errors in handling statistics are only apparent, or that they are apparent only to those with competence in matters statistical?

By bob koepp (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink

Niki's absolutely correct. The masses are conditioned to sound-bites, and have a hard time (and a lack of inclination) to sit down and reaview/read/verify peer reviewed work. Ultimately, they have to TRUST somebody. The assumption is that the somebody is an expert, but the spin doctors who promote denier agendas are better at the art of deception than the scientists are of making their case.

Sadly, in this age where just about anybody can post a dose of BS on the internet (or make their own web site full of BS) ferreting out the junk from the science is not easy for the average Joe.

Scientists need to call out the liars, and they need to present their findings in an easy-to-digest form.

By Rob Girard (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink

or that they are apparent only to those with competence in matters statistical

You don't need to be competent for "errors" to be apparent". It's just a matter of appearances, not necessarily reality.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink

Dead horse, horseburger. This is posted for anyone who wasn't born back then coming to the conversation new and curious. You can look this stuff up for yourself. Don't rely on people who blog their opinions without citing current sources.

"Von Storch got it absolutely right â it would make no practical difference at all. This is what MBH would have looked like using centered PC analysis:"

Dead horse long since beaten to hamburger.

If you want to see an excellent overview of the situation from a well respected Canadian think tank, Homer-Dixon ( ), have a look at this must see video â¦

The Climate Energy Challenge: How will it change our economy and society
Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of âThe Upside of Downâ

A consensus is emerging among climate scientists that the world needs to move to as quickly as possible to zero carbon emissions. The rate of ramp down to zero will depend, in large part, on the perceived urgency of the climate crisis. Steeper rates of decline will require more unconventional (and perhaps innovative) technologies and institutions and likely more state intervention in economies to mobilize human and financial capital.

OK, now that sea level rise figures are firming up.

How come no ones talking about what we are going to do with the nuclear power plants on the coasts?

This is a huge problem that has been ignored.

What is the cost going to be? Will it even be possible to move the radioactive material out of the way in time. And that's if we still have stable societies.

Seems like conjecture to me. Vaccines HAVE been linked to debilitating diseases, including autism. Trying to connect this to the climate denialsphere seems quite bizarre to me. In other words, there is "no link" of any sort.

But yeah -- I agree that doctors should do more to treat autism, then engage in refuting the "theory" (which it isn't, it's been adequately proven already).

Climate denialists on the other hand, simply won't read any real science, and neither will those that attest the "safety" of vaccines. Just go look at what they're putting into the swine flue H1N1 vaccine - and the number of people it's seriously affected (including deaths).

By Survival Acres (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink


By all means, read the science. This link is hardly "proven".


The problem is, climate scientists have responded to McIntyre. Never the response he wants, but responses nonetheless; besides Hank's link, you can check here for responses, many from Mann himself. The response goes beyond that, of course, Mann changed his statistical methods (didn't affect the result), and in his most recent paper he did his reconstruction with and without tree rings to verify that they were not changing the result (in response to another of McIntyre's criticism). And this is a dead horse, there have been plenty of other reconstructions, and what exactly is stopping McIntyre from doing the work of developing his own global climate reconstruction if he is so sure everyone else doesn't know how to?

Rob and Niki,

What exactly does it mean to respond to lay criticism, when the same criticisms keep popping up long after they've been debunked? Responding is primarily re-responding. Are you aware of lay-criticisms that have gone unanswered? The issue is finding ways to get answers to lay people. Personally, my favorite sites for this are The Global Warming Debate, Skeptical Science, and Climate Crock of the Week, but of course awareness could be higher.

@Survival Acres: care to tell us about the horrible things they put in the H1N1 vaccine? And about those people who have provingly died from the vaccine itself?

Of course, you're already entrenched in the "vaccines cause autism = proven" deniosphere, so we should not expect a sound scientific comment coming from your side.