Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Conspiracy of the Stonecutters: is Climate Science Denial going through a Seneca Cliff?

In a recent article on WUWT, Tim Ball describes climate science as the result of a "cabal" devised by the Club of Rome as a way to promote world socialism. He is confusing the Club of Rome with the sect of the "Stonecutters" of "The Simpsons". They really seem to be running out of serious arguments. 

Sometimes I think about how difficult it must be to be a climate science denier. I have been studying climate science for years and I can tell you that it is tough stuff and that climate scientists are smart people who have been building their competency over decades of work. Climate science deniers can have a good time telling each other their beliefs in their sites frequented only by like-minded people. But only those of them suffering from a near terminal Dunning-Kruger syndrome can think they can debate a true climate scientist on climate science. No way.

So, I can almost sympathize with climate science deniers: they face a nearly impossible task. And one good example of their plight is a recent article by Tim Ball on WUWT. Worth reading because it is, in a way, honest. Ball writes (emphasis mine):

I know from experience that after you explain to an audience what and how the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) deception was achieved the next question is inevitable. What was the motive? Unless you answer that question, people become a little more skeptical but remain, at best, undecided. They can’t and don’t want to believe that scientists would be involved in anything nefarious or even misleading. They can’t believe that so many of them were misled, which is why the 97% consensus claim was so effective.

Truly pathetic, isn't it? Put yourself in the shoes of poor Tim Ball. Imagine that you are trying to explain to a group of adult people that, say, the Tooth Fairy really exists and that she has been kidnapped by Santa Claus who keeps her hidden in a secret igloo near the North Pole. Something like that. Wouldn't that be difficult?

Ball doesn't seem to be touched by the idea that he is dealing with normal people who may well be right in their skepticism. So, he proceeds with a desperate attempt to demonstrate the undemonstrable. He says that, clearly, people are skeptical about the idea that tens of thousands of scientists are all conspiring against the American people but, hey, this is not a "conspiracy", it is a "cabal", defined as "A small group of intriguers, especially one formed for political purposes."

What is the difference between a conspiracy and a cabal? Basically, none, except in the mind of Ball who seems to think that by using the term "cabal" he has dodged the objection that a conspiracy on climate would have to be too large to be kept hidden. He doesn't seem to realize that the problem remains unchanged: how is it possible that so many scientists in the world are involved in the, cabal, and nobody ever talked about it?

Never mind that, Ball tries to substantiate his idea by digging into the corpus of legends that arose in the 1970s after the publication of "The Limits to Growth", the much maligned 1972 report to the Club of Rome. At that time, the Club was accused of the worst possible things, including to be initiating a conspiracy to take over the world. None of these accusations could ever be substantiated and, clearly, if the Club had really been planning to take over the world, they haven't been very successful in almost 50 years of attempts.

But Ball is undeterred; according to him, the Club of Rome is the culprit of everything. He is confusing the Club with the "Stonecutters" of "The Simpsons". But why would the Club be pushing their cabal? Obvious: they wanted (and they still want) to promote world socialism. Again, if that was the plan, they don't seem to have been very successful. Don't you think it would be easier to convince people that the Tooth Fairy really exists?

If you followed me up to here, I guess that, like me, you don't know whether you should laugh or get angry. Surely, it is such a pathetic story that one is tempted to laugh. But, then, if you think of the kind of disaster we are facing (and the Hurricane Harvey is only one of them), you see that people are suffering and dying because of climate change. And you may well get angry at people like Tim Ball are arguing that nothing should be done because they attribute everything to an obscure cabal devised by a group of white-haired people who collected in a smoke-filled room nearly 50 years ago in order to promote socialism.

Hopefully, a Seneca Cliff in the public opinion on climate will take care of this group of conspiracy theorists.

The most recent (March 2017) Gallup poll results on climate change. This can be seen as a "Seneca Cliff" in reverse. A hard core of unbelievers maintain their position, but the overall opinion is clearly tilting in the direction of thinking that climate change is real and it is a serious problem. 

For a detailed rebuttal of Tim Ball's post, see "The Hot Whopper"


  1. Next on WUWT: Club of Rome makes Steve Guttenberg a star.

  2. Dear Sir,

    This is a devil-advocate comment, but not one to defend a somewhat clueless person - Mr. Ball - but to do some critique on "scientism":
    It is slightly annoying to see scientists mimicking political pundits in their ignorance on some of the factors underlying the rising "populism", namely that people are fed up with lies, and are ready to accept the least complex lie. And the trouble here is that scientists lie, a lot - one just need to have an average memory to recall the worrysome fact that every time a team of scientists comes about to say that a previous scientific fact is now proved wrong, instead of leaving a safe margin of doubt regarding the new "truth", more often than not their claim is that now "we know for sure" (until some way down along the timeline some other scientist props up the new truth). And also, scientists do despicable things (this is just a case that seems relevant to me at various levels).
    Even if science is not yet fully embraced as the new religion, scientists are already acting as the new priests: "it is so because we said so" (the example here is my home country, Portugal, where medical doctors are revered, despite the growing malpractice complaints). It doesn't help having a dumb, er, misinformed populace, with little to no critical reasoning, being treated as a child (treating a child "like a child" don't help either) as it was clearly stated in your previous post, when Mr. Heinberg wrote "... New York Magazine released a controversial article titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. [...] Wells’s article drew rebukes from — of all people — climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. «Importantly, fear does not motivate,» responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, «and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.»" Do any reasonable person thinks that it is still possible to disengage any further an already disengaged population by telling them the whole facts?

    To summarize: scientists are behaving like establishment politicians - arrogantly, condescendingly, picking up "clique wars" and lacking in courage. Why are you surprised that Mr. Ball have people's hears and worst, hearts? (He is and you are, otherwise you wouldn't be bothering posting your thoughts on this.)
    Please do note that my view on the "cabal" vs "conspiracy" thing is one of mild amusement - my personal belief is that it is now too late for scientific leadership on anything, because scientists have indulged for far too long in low level politics (i.e., personal or small group interests, no ethics) and search for riches, and the power void will be filled up by fearless tyrants (unless some conspiracy proves me wrong.)

    Thank you for reading.

    1. You are correct on many things, Armenio. Many scientists are acting in despicable ways. Overall, they are a bunch of despicable elitists. Yet, the fact that scientists are not nice guys doesn't mean that we are not in trouble and it doesn't mean that climate change is not real. We need to keep cool and go on, otherwise we are doomed. And in Portugal you know very well what I mean

    2. Thank you for your reply - sad but true: i) we are in trouble; ii) the "keep cool" factor will not affect the outcome; iii) Portugal is literally "toast".
      Kind regards.

  3. Replies
    1. They have been replaced with invisible drones.

  4. It does not help having every new discovery delivered by a "journalist". So many breakthroughs. So much hot air. Why is my car not fueled by biodiesel generated from algae? I was on an msnbc, NBC science web page full of space travel and wonderful fluff, but zero mention of climate.

  5. I would agree that 'scientism' in service to the Religion of Progress will likely result in 'Science' taking much of the blame for failed promises of our civilisation. I suggest, however, that climate science has, by and large, been exemplary in building a 'testable' scientific knowledge base. (I agree with Ugo on this.) And that knowledge base is being tested!

    Again, in my view, by and large, climate science as a discipline has been so careful not to exaggerate the future dangers, it has in consequence failed to provide a sufficient case for critically examining where the Religion of Progress is heading. We might exempt James Hansen and Ugo Bardi from such a charge.

    To make a general case, which I gather you might be making, the next time Portugal, for example, gets promised anything that sounds 'too good to be true', by anybody, it could be worth remembering that it probably isn't! Perhaps people are not so dumb as you imply?

    1. The problem is, I believe, that the task of telling people about the dangers of climate change has fallen on people, climate scientists, who have no training in communication and, worse, believe themselves smart enough that they don't need it. Many climate scientists suffer of this form of Dunning-Kruger syndrome. They don't understand their shortcomings when it is question of communicating science to the public. No wonder that people are not happy. The letter from Armenio is a clear example of the frustration that many people feel. They feel they are being lied at by both sides. And they are.

    2. Thank you for your insights.
      If my previous comment conveyed the idea that I am trying to blame everyone left and right, it was my mistake and also due to not so good English skills. One of the reasons for me being here spilling my grievances is Mr. Bardi's down to earth approach that resonates deeply with this unhappy layman.
      As for Portugal, how can I give an honest, thoughtful assessement of what is going on without falling flat on the "holier-than-thou" stance of which I am accusing others? I cannot - I am too angry and too frustrated to be unbiased. The best that I can offer as a factual assessement is this: during the last forty years, Portugal was subject to three international monetary interventions - that gives roughly a thirteen year average between them, meaning every thirteen years, Portuguese politicians, bankers, officials, CEOs, managers, union leaders, in brief, the Portuguese elites needs that some grey suited foreign gentlemen land at the Lisbon airport and come teach those elites how to run the shop (throwing in sundry punishments and admonishments). Bearing in mind that Portugal is a democracy, with regular elections, it seems fairly clear that the Portuguese people are not exactly grasping what is going on (recent domestic economic news points out car selling as one of the major signs of recovery - the country has no oil and is a car net importer. Peak oil, resource deplection, climate change aren't tabu issues, fantasies or even non-issues - they're non-existent issues.)

      @Ugo Bardi (regarding the "worst than Ball/Mark Levin" comment below)
      Should we laugh or cry? And still, Mr. Levin has a job, and is listened to - I'd never suspected that Americans were so into surrealism (or are we living in surreal times?)
      Thank you.

    3. Armenio & Ugo
      You have both modified my thinking. Thank you.

      Just now I googled a string: Portugal gdp ppp per capita
      I got a lot of information even if I cannot sort out ‘PPP’ and ‘GDP’ numbers to my satisfaction.

      Firstly, Portugal is not alone in its predicament or its recent trajectory.
      Secondly, the more general trajectory of the post-war ‘petroleum/hydrocarbon era’ is obvious.
      Thirdly, Portugal, though they were delayed by dictatorship like Spain and Greece, joined the modern ‘petroleum party’ (… as in ‘party like there is no tomorrow’) early enough to see large apparent advantage from ‘modernisation’. Lots of stuff changed (e.g. check out fertility rates) but ‘modernisation’ has included of course ‘the motor car’.
      Finally, the ‘growth process’ looks as though it has stalled/faltered. Modernisation is not what it was and the business model may no longer work. (Take a look at the late-comers to the business model for example, Eastern Europe, ex Yugoslavia, Bulgaria. I worked in ‘candidate countries’ for EU until 2006. This EU expansion is simply not now going to happen.)

      It begins to look like failed promises of a civilisation. My guess is that we have reached the ‘Blame Phase’. Again, Portugal need not blame itself – we are all in it. Try the Good Ship Brexit for confusion at the helm.

      Specifically, lies from ‘our side’? Can we nail them? I fear ‘Science’ – people started calling it ‘Big Science’ toward the end of my first career 20 years ago. Climate Science seemed relatively clean? I saw some Biotech up close and nasty more than 20 years ago, briefly, especially in the States; pretty ideological as well as profit oriented. But is the current serious move to promote carbon capture from burning biomass the kind of dangerous development you have in mind? It surely must involve disinformation?


    4. Well, of course it is a personal opinion of mine. But I think that Sturgeon's law (99% of everything is crud) holds also for science. Perhaps 99% of everything that's done in science is useless and not a small fraction of it is presented to the public in terms that I can only define as "lies" ("this great discovery just made will help solve - say - the energy problem, cure cancer, make people live longer, etc.).

      One problem is the extremely competitive and elitist environment in which science works, that makes scientists self-referential and oblivious to the fact that most of them are public servants; that word should mean something, but often it doesn't to them.

      About climate science, yes, I think it is relatively clean; cleaner than most scientific fields. It is because it is alive and growing; one of the edges of scientific progress. But it suffers from the same elitism and self-referentiality of other fields.

  6. I just found that it is possible to do even worse than Ball!

    National talk radio host Mark Levin has come out with some awesome new proof that man-made climate change does not exist.

    On his August 30th broadcast, first he gravely listed scientists from history: “Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo, Tesla, Faraday, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein and Edison,” while managing to mispronounce “Archimedes” as if his first name were “Archie,” which is pretty funny in itself.

    Then Levin popped his serious question: “What do they all have in common?”

    If that sounds more like the wind up to a joke (nine scientists walk into a bar, and the bartender says...), well, yeah. Because here’s Levin’s actual answer:

    “Not a single one of them ever wrote about man-made climate change.” Levin repeats this several times, as if he’s fathoming a major revelation.

    Then: ”Because ladies and gentlemen, man-made climate change is not about science. It’s not about evidence. It’s not about knowledge. It’s not about facts. It’s about an ideology, imported in the United States from Europe, like Marxism itself.”

    So remember that logic, that evidence, that fact. If these nine scientists did not mention it, it does not exist. That really could come in handy in a lot of situations. “Hey Archie Meedeez never wrote about TV, so I don’t have to pay my cable bill.”

    As if he couldn’t stand the inanity of his own argument for long, Levin bailed out in less than three minutes with this:
    ”Do we believe the fifth-sixth level weather people--or Aristotle, Archimedes, Faraday, Galileo, Tesla, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein and Edison? It’s so obvious, ladies and gentlemen, it’s man-made climate change, not one of these men ever mentioned it!”

    1. It's a really funny anecdote, but, I'm afraid that the core of the whole story is all in: "Levin repeats this several times, as if he's fathoming a major revelation". I mean, propaganda, in some ways, is always a bit ridiculous and very obsessive, but it's propaganda ... and, you know, it works. It works very well.

      Unfortunately ridiculous and absurd are not a serious impediment to propaganda. Indeed one may also say that they are the sign of its success. In fact, the proppaganda has nothing to do with confrontation, dialogue, truth or logic. Propaganda has to do with lies, deceit, psychic disorders, and above all with biases of all kinds and types.



  7. Don't fret about the deniers they now have Presidential support;

    "The Trump administration wants to bail out failed contrarian climate scientists"

    Posted on 31 August 2017 by John Abraham

  8. Unfortunately "manus manum lavat", where one hand are politicians and the other are many scientists serving their interests. From what I see some scientists operate in many respects like some kind of Mafia. I agree that most climate scientists are exception to this rule.

  9. Armenio's comment set me thinking.

    Basically, we are all football fans, watching a match on an old, black and white TV set, trying to decide which is our team and which is the enemy even when we can't make out the colours of the shirts the teams are wearing.

    This means we try to transform a discussion like climate change into a question of "left vs right", which it has nothing to do with.

    For example, just as a joke... let's say a Mad Rightist decides that all women must be forcibly married to men, to ensure they are heterosexual.

    Then a Mad Leftist decides to impose obligatory atheist homosexual marriages on children...

    In both cases, a lot to get angry about, but does either proposal have anything to do with climate change?

    In either case, global warming would probably proceed the same.

    Climate change is not a "left or right" issue, it is an issue of physical survival of both leftists and rightists, but this is a concept which is nearly impossible for us to understand.

    1. Dear Sir,

      I'll piggyback your metaphor and try to extend it into everyday's life: how to make people, struggling with such harsh realities as living paycheck to paycheck and facing precarity, give a damn about climate change?

      Best regards.

    2. ... sorry, forgot this:
      - Wonderful post!

      Thank you.
      (And also many thanks to Mr. Bardi - I didn't comment at Kelebek's because I don't speak neither Italian nor Spanish (I try to read, though.))

    3. Arménio, it is me who have to thank you. We (scientists) need to hear from people like you. There are reasons that cause the widespread lack of trust in science and that make possible for people like Tim Ball and Mark Levin to find an audience. Unfortunately, very often what happens if you try to criticize scientists is that you are rebuked as a "denier". And there are reasons for this, too. If you are on "this side" (the side of the scientists), you see how many awful trolls try to con you with some stupid trick. And, because of this, scientists are wary of engaging in a serious discussion on the shortcomings of science. Understandable, but there ARE shortcomings in the way science is done today. And we need to understand and improve.

      Anyway, Miguel Martinez's blog is absolutely wonderful: always cultured, witty, intelligent, wise, and more. Too bad it is in Italian!

  10. People obsessed with the old nonsense of Left and Right are 'lost in the field of their own delusions'.

    The tsunami wave of Reality will wash them away all the same. :)



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)