Tag Archives: CEI

Making an honest hack out of Fred Pearce in five easy steps

Image courtesy of Flickr user “bLOGOS/HA HA”, used under Creative Commons

Attempting to convince those in the grip of denialism is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Take the case of the DDT-holocaust lie. No sooner has one false claim been thrown out (e.g. DDT ban in Malaysia in 1999 resulted in an increase in malaria) and shown to be nonsense than a new claim bearing no particular relation to its predecessor is deployed. Rather than chase down every single mutually contradictory claim made by those perpetuating the lie, I invite them to put themselves on record in a manner that makes their claims easily assessable.

In order to claim, as rubbish journalist Fred Pearce has, that anti-science environmentalism is responsible for “blanket opposition” to DDT use in fighting malaria resulting in a “virtual ban” for “more than three decades” and “millions of deaths”, one only has to satisfy a handful of conditions:

  1. Quantify how many, from where, and over what time interval the “millions of deaths” are supposed to have occurred.
  2. Demonstrate that there was a ban (actual or “virtual”), restriction, or other meaningful impediment to using DDT for malaria control (vs. for example agricultural spraying) in place for all deaths claimed in the above.
  3. Demonstrate that had DDT been implemented, all deaths claimed in the above would have been prevented (taking into consideration obvious confounding factors like the increase in resistance to DDT).
  4. Demonstrate that had DDT been implemented, the overall net result including health, economic, and environmental problems would have been positive- in other words, that using DDT would have resulted in more good than harm.
  5. Demonstrate that the cause of DDT not being implemented in all of the above cases was specifically attributable to “blanket” anti-science environmentalist opposition, rather than science-, economics-, efficacy-, and logistics-based reasons from professional science and health organizations like the World Health Organization, or implementation problems that had nothing to do with Silent Spring (such as replastering and bedbug concerns raised in places like South Africa).

Pretty simple. If you can’t satisfy the conditions, you don’t get to toss corpses at the feet of supposed anti-science environmentalist opposition arising from Silent Spring. Just how serious a case do people like Fred Pearce and Roy Spencer really believe they have?

My guess? Most won’t even  get past the first question or two.

Tom Fuller and Malaria – A Case Study of Denialism and the Backfire Effect

[I'm going to assume that most people who visit this blog are familiar with denialism and its hallmarks. If not, check out a good rundown from Denialism blog.]

Longtime readers are already familiar with Tom Fuller’s denialism on climate, e.g. here and here. Lately, Fuller has decided to throw his lot in with the DDT-holocaust lie.

The meme that anti-science environmentalist hysteria resulted in a ban on DDT use, resulting in millions of deaths from malaria, is fairly prevalent among the fringe American right wing but few places elsewhere. It’s championed by anti-regulatory front groups (e.g. CEI), climate denialists (e.g. Roy Spencer), and more recently rubbish journalist Fred Pearce.

It is of course demonstrably false. Make no mistake, there was indeed a resurgence of malaria after some decades of relative success in suppressing it. This resurgence had nothing to do with anti-science environmentalist hysteria. The reasons for it are not shrouded in mystery, but are rather mundane and (unfortunately for those looking to smear environmentalists) pretty much what a sane person would expect: financial problems, complacency, political instability, growing resistance, cost-benefit tradeoffs with alternatives due to scientific, economic, and practical concerns, and the like (Nájera et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2012).

This was pointed out to Fuller. But Fuller tends to think with his gut, so he was not about to let pesky little things like reality stand in the way of a good blood libel. So he attempts to marshal some “evidence” in support of Pearce’s use of the lie. His first attempt is to blame the 1972 domestic ban on DDT use in the US- that had explicit exemptions for public health needs such as disease vector control- for a decline in DDT use in Sri Lanka that began in 1964. This is, to put it mildly, rank idiocy. Its nonsensical nature is pointed out.

Unsteadied, Fuller spends the next few comments telling people like myself that we “suck”, we’re on acid, and that environmentalists are like skinheads.

You might think this invective is the dawning of a realization of defeat. But the human psyche is a funny thing. When someone is shown that their position is stupidly, laughably wrong, if the position is tied to their ideological beliefs, it will have some interesting effects. Rather than accept their wrongness, they will actually discount the the refuting evidence and reaffirm their position even more strongly (Nyhan and Reifler, 2010). So after the brief period of insults free of any actual arguments, Fuller goes casting about for something else that will justify the DDT-holocaust lie. And look what happens along the way:

Fuller starts out just trying to justify Pearce’s use of the word “arguably”, and says that, well “[t]here are a substantial number of people who sincerely believe” in the DDT-holocaust lie, so Pearce is okay [October 23rd, 2012 at 12:16 pm]. His attempts to defend Pearce are shown to be wrong and he goes looking for other ones. As he does, he becomes more and more invested in the idea not just that Pearce was okay to spread the lie because he said it was “arguably” true, but that it is in fact absolutely true [October 24th, 2012 at 4:45 pm; October 24th, 2012 at 4:52 pm], and then goes still further and claims Pearce was really understating (!) the case [October 24th, 2012 at 9:28 pm]:

If Pearce is guilty of anything, it appears to be understatement.

This is the backfire effect on full, magnificent display.

And of course, denialism is nothing if not predictable, so Fuller’s evidence included the following: citing a four year hiatus of DDT use in South Africa that actually had nothing to do with anti-science environmentalist hysteria related to Silent Spring and was, it should go without saying, not responsible for “millions of deaths” (Mnzava, 2001; Cliff et al., 2010). Claiming that a 1999 ban on DDT caused an increase in malaria infections in Malaysia- this is what the trend in malaria infection actually is:

Citing the science, economic, and logistics-based decisions of the World Health Organization as anti-science environmentalist hysteria. Copypasta’ing walls of text from Senate testimony-fudger and all-around innumerate DDT evangelist Donald Roberts. And claiming that DDT was “stopped several decades [before the year 2000 in Mozambique], because 80% of the country’s health budget came from donor funds, and donors refused to allow the use of DDT” , despite DDT being the main method of malarial control until 1993. Claiming this, I should add, hours after it was pointed out as a falsehood in response to another commenter.

There is no admission of being wrong about any of things Fuller tossed out that were demonstrably false. There is no attempt made to maintain coherence of evidence or narrative (science and logistics are conflated with anti-science hysteria; the World Bank and WHO are conflated with hippies; the “millions of deaths” are supposed to have taken place in Africa in the 60s, then the 90s, then in the Americas; etc.). Causality is, several times, thrown completely out the window. And the sillier and more contradictory the claims grow, the more convinced Fuller becomes that the DDT-holocast lie is true.

All of this behavior will seem irrational and bizarre to many onlookers. And it is bizarre, if we were really talking about a person who was legitimately interested in looking at the reality of the situation. But of course, that’s not at all what’s taking place. What’s taking place is very classic behavior associated with motivated reasoning. It’s certainly not rational, but it is all too familiar. Though the topic is different, the dynamics are the same with respect to the denial of the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change. Some people are just not going to be reachable by reality-based arguments. Taking a fact-based approach will actually cause some of them to be even more committed to their incorrect beliefs. Fortunately, though, the same social science that has illuminated this irrational behavior offers us some ways to bypass it. Hopefully I will have more to say on that later.

Note: In comments, Fuller says he was not defending Pearce’s use of “arguably”.


  • Cliff, J., S. Lewin, G. Woelk, B. Fernandes, A. Mariano, E. Sevene, K. Daniels, S. Matinhure, A. Oxman, and J. Lavis (2010), Policy development in malaria vector management in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Health Policy Plan, 25(5), 372–383, doi:10.1093/heapol/czq008.
  • Cohen, J., D. Smith, C. Cotter, A. Ward, G. Yamey, O. Sabot, and B. Moonen (2012), Malaria resurgence: a systematic review and assessment of its causes, Malaria Journal, 11(1), 122, doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-122.
  • Mnzava, A. E., B. L. Sharp, D. J. Mthembu, D. le Sueur, S. S. Dlamini, J. K. Gumede, and I. Kleinschmidt (2001), Malaria control–two years’ use of insecticide-treated bednets compared with insecticide house spraying in KwaZulu-Natal, S. Afr. Med. J., 91(11), 978–983.
  • Nájera, J. A., M. González-Silva, and P. L. Alonso (2011), Some Lessons for the Future from the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (1955–1969), PLoS Med, 8(1), e1000412, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000412.
  • Nyhan, B., and J. Reifler (2010), When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions, Political Behavior, 32(2), 303–330, doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2.

New study lays out 11 indicators of a warming world, media focuses on contrarian views

From time to time, journalists like Andy Revkin and Keith Kloor protest that the mainstream media doesn’t do an awful job covering the issue of climate change. They believe that the well-documented, systematic bias of undermining scientific conclusions by “balancing” them with contrarianism is behind us. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably false.

The above image is from the self-proclaimed “Most Trusted Name in News” CNN’s coverage of NOAA’s just-released 2009 State of the Climate Report, copy from The Financial Times. The State of the Climate report details how the planet is warming as captured by 11 different indices, from land surface temperature to glacial mass balance.

In the Financial Times article republished by CNN, equal if not more time is devoted to discussing the manufactured scandal over the stolen CRU emails and getting reactions from cranks like Steve Goddard and industry shills like Pat Michaels and Myron Ebell vs. covering the actual contents of the report itself.

The release of this report represented a huge opportunity for CNN and The Financial Times to explore the signs of a warming world in detail- perhaps to discuss with credible experts the causes and expected effects, to explain why specific humidity would be expected to increase in a warming world, or why Antarctic sea ice is not a representative indicator of enhanced greenhouse warming while Arctic sea ice is, etc. And who knows- perhaps they eventually will. For now, however, “most trusted name in news” is continuing to grossly mislead its audience because it simply can’t give up the outmoded narrative crutch of “balance”.

Exoneration fails to appease conspiracy theorists, cont’d, cont’d

Michael Mann has been unanimously cleared of the final accusation of wrongdoing by Penn State. Its full report is here.

In keeping with the tenets of Conspiracy Theory 101 (previous examples here and here), the panel’s findings were immediately dismissed as a “whitewash” by climate denialists, like CEI‘s Myron Ebell:

“It has been designed as a whitewash,” Ebell wrote in an e-mail. “To admit that Dr. Mann is a conman now would be extremely embarrassing for Penn State. But the scandal will not be contained no matter how many whitewash reports are issued. The evidence of manipulation of data is too obvious and too strong.”

Because as any good tinfoil hatter will tell you, when the investigation fails to confirm your pathological rejection of reality it can only mean that investigation is illegitimate.

[h/t John Mashey and Aaron Huertas]

UPDATE: Brian Angliss of Scholars and Rogues covered the “whitewash” nonsense back in February.

Lomborg and Playing the Long Game

[This is a guest post by John Mashey. Any formatting/link errors are mine. I also added Hoover, Manhattan, Reason to Lomborg's think tank affiliations  - TB]

Following started at ThingsBreak, as part of a long discussion on Bjorn Lomborg.


Suppose one’s goal is to avoid restrictions on CO2 production, for any of a variety of reasons, a partial list of which can be found at Deltoid.

One can use any of the following types of arguments, among others:

1) AGW science is wrong [GHGs aren't that important, the data is wrong, etc]. i.e., doubt.
2) AGW-mitigation will cost too much money, or people will be much richer, or we need to wait for technology breakthroughs, etc.
3) AGW maybe real, but there are higher priorities.

These roughly correspond to:
1) direct anti-science,
2) direct economic, and
3) political arguments (typically masking economic or ideological underpinnings).

Of these, 3), if done well, is the most sophisticated, and can be made to appeal to many people who might not be convinced by the other arguments. Hence:

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Single realizations vs. means of ensemble projections

[h/t Quark Soup via AFTIC]

Marlo Lewis of CEI (yes, again) writing over at Planet Gore has a post purporting that not only has there been “no warming in the 21st century” (all ~8 years of it? Gosh!), but that “no climate model predicted it”. His evidence is an abysmal graphic allegedly provided to him by John Christy (who along with Roy Spencer produces UAH’s MSU troposphere temperature record):

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The Dismal ‘Science’

Read this Op-Ed from the senior economics writer* for the WSJ, complete with requisite nod to well-documented front group and propaganda outlet CEI. Keep in mind that the Wall Street Journal is (along with FT) the financial paper of record for the American business world, the same paper that published this offal.

Ponder along with Michael Tobis whether or not “the mainstream of economics is not a science; that we attend to their advice, especially on long-term decisions, at great peril.”

Enjoy your weekend.

*Stephen Moore is not simply a reporter for the WSJ- he is a die-hard supply side, limitless-growth economist who sits on their editorial board. While this is nominally an op-ed, it is reflective of the beliefs of an economist who is not only respected by the WSJ, but instrumental in shaping its positions.

[UPDATE: Solve Climate isn't exactly bowled over by Mr. Moore's "rant" either.]