Why Don’t the Masses “get it”?: A Review of Peter Jacques’ ‘A General Theory of Climate Denial’.

In his paper ‘A General Theory of Climate Denial’ published in the May 2012 edition of Global Environmental Politics Peter Jacques seeks to argue that “denier” is an appropriate label for those who question the theory of catastrophic global warming, and further, that comparisons with holocaust denial are indeed valid. In the course of making his argument, Jacques makes a number of rather tenuous and dubious assumptions and statements, which should not go unremarked.

Jacques begins by asking why there is no generally agreed upon label for those who question the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). He notes that “skeptic” is widely used, but rejects that label because:

the skepticism in environmental skepticism is asymmetrical. As skeptics cast doubt on ecological science, they have an abiding faith in industrial
science and technology, free enterprise, and those great institutions of Western Enlightenment (9).

This really is a quite extraordinary argument to try and make. What Jacques is saying here is that faith in one field of inquiry or endeavour precludes legitimate skepticism in another! It’s like saying that because someone has faith in biological science, their skepticism regarding genetically modified crops is not  valid. Of course, people are generally skeptical of that which seems unlikely, and which there is insufficient evidence for. The very fact that so many people are skeptical of the theory of CAGW speaks to the yawning gap between claim and evidence.

This is disappointing enough. But Jacques’ central premise is itself fatally flawed. Like his argument over the “skeptic” label, it is quite simply invalid. Jacques makes a structural argument regarding skepticism. Although he admits that holocaust denial and skepticism over CAGW are not equivalent, he asserts that the denier label is appropriate because “climate denial is not an atrocity in the strict sense, but the framework fits” (10). In other words, the schemata of climate skepticism is comparable to holocaust denial.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to see that this is simply not a sustainable position to take. The holocaust is an historical fact. When Earth Day Co-founder Pete McCloskey gave a speech about “the so-called holocaust” it aroused such anger because he was seen as having questioned a verifiable historical fact. You can still go to Auschwitz and other camps and see the machinery of death there. You can watch film of the camps and the wretched inmates. It did happen. But CAGW is very, very different than that because it has not yet happened (otherwise, what is the point of Jacques’ paper? To what end if catastrophe is already upon us?). Thus the argument that “climate denial is not an atrocity in the strict sense [like holocaust denial], but the framework fits” is palpably absurd. Being skeptical of claims that there will be a Third World War in the next few years is not comparable to denying that the Second World War took place.  This is self-evident, and one wonders why Jacques and others appear almost unwilling to acknowledge the distinction.

Sadly, this lack of rigor is characteristic of Jacques’ paper throughout. For example, he talks of “the email hacking of climate science computers at the University of East Anglia” (12). There is simply no evidence for the claim that computers at the University of East Anglia were hacked. The more likely explanation by far is that the files were leaked by a disgruntled employee or ex-employee at the university. Given that not only has no one been arrested for the supposed hack (police have not even named any suspects in relation to this case despite hundreds of hours of investigation), the copious circumstantial evidence, and the fact that over 80% of computer security breaches are internal,     there is simply no justification for making this statement.

In short, Jacques’ paper seems to lack rigor and makes a series of arguments which do not stand up to closer examination. This can perhaps be explained at least in part by an obviously ideologically-driven belief that “climate science” shows that the “world political economic structure” is “irreparably unsustainable” (15). Once again, we seem to end a paper on “climate  science” with the finding that capitalism and the political system of the world today have to go. Well well.


9 responses to “Why Don’t the Masses “get it”?: A Review of Peter Jacques’ ‘A General Theory of Climate Denial’.

  1. I’m sure their were quite a few Holocaust deniers in 1843. 🙂 You see Jacques’ mistake is that one can’t be a denier of catastrophic AGW outcomes until the outcomes actually occur. Their are an inexhaustible amount of people who predict disaster all the time. Are we all deniers if we don’t accept their predictions? Sensible people take the reasoned approach in looking at past predictions by climate scientists to learn that their predictions are not panning out. It isn’t the people that show the errors that lead to a mistrust of the climate science that need psychological help, it is the people who completely ignore the errors and false predictions of the past and cling to their ideology that need help.

  2. Peter Jacques teaches environmental politics at the University of Florida. He knows nothing of science. He does not understand any of the climate science and global warming issues. He’s not a scientist himself. But he knows how to stigmatize people. That’s what he is a specialist in. He learned the trick from the Nazis, from Communista, from the Inquisition. Oh yes, he studied diligently. Now he’s applying his hard earned skills and showing his environmental politics students how to do this. Yet, if we are to accept his outrageous label he so flippantly slaps onto conscientious scientists for whom scientific endeavor and scientifi truth mean more than temporary political expedience, perhaps we should slap a label on him in return: a holocaust maker, because holocaust is what he and the likes of him have in mind for the rest of us.

  3. Science 101 – from a third of a century science teacher.

    To those who believe in human caused global warming by the release of CO2: Try to understand what science is and how it properly works. Don’t confuse it with politics. Science is the business of generating hypotheses about things we do not understand. It is also about the testing of these hypotheses and/or the waiting for nature to show us whether a given hypothesis is accurate.

    Chemists go to the lab and experiment. Astronomers wait for observable things to happen on their own. Each is a science. No matter what result confirms or denies the accuracy of any hypothesis, independent scientists may be skeptical of the previous analysis. Making hypotheses, testing or observing results and being skeptical of the other guy’s science ARE what science is about. The skepticism is especially important and a historical analysis often shows it is the old professors who are intrenched in their ideas and the younger skeptics who think in new directions and steer science to greater knowledge. Thus skepticism is a most valuable trait for a scientist to have.

    Climate is rather like Astronomy; we just have to wait and see. The hypotheses generated by computers are not data, just educated guesses. The “Warmers” have decided to use computers to create hypotheses. In the first decade since then, virtually all of them have been unsupported by confirming data. Therefore skepticism about the hypotheses increases.

    Any opinions of what we should do politically about the set of ideas is just that – politics! It is not science. No scientific evidence exists to support global warming, as of yet. It might easily happen that instead of fighting climate warming, we will be trying to offset a new ice age.

    Denying is a political action. Skepticism is a scientific reaction. Please don’t confuse them! And especially don’t confuse hypotheses with data.

  4. snorbertzangox

    I am, like Richard Lindzen, a denier. I deny that the carbon dioxide hypothesis ever was sufficiently credible to warrant scientific skepticism.

  5. Pingback: Why Don’t the Masses “get it”?: A Review of Peter Jacques’ ‘A General Theory of Climate Denial’. | JunkScience.com

  6. alex the skeptic

    If asking questions, being skeptical, about the science behind some theory that up to now has failed to prove itself correct means that one is a denier, then, YES, I am a denier , a denier of a big lie. I deny lies, big lies and false statistics.
    I do not deny the law of gravity, the laws of motion, the laws thermodynamics. Neither do I deny that 1+1=2. I leave such denialism to those who want to make us taxpayers spend trillions of dollars and euros to stop the planet from changing its climate, those who want to deny climate change to our children and grandchildren, the real and true climate change deniers.

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