Denialists’ Deck of Cards: The 3 of Spades, “Dolittle and DeLay”


At this point, the denalist engages in delay. The problem that doesn’t exist, and the harms that do not occur will continue not occur in the future, if we just wait.

A great “wait and see” tactic is to “shift the goal posts.” The denialist does by stating, “we don’t know that there is a problem until X is demonstrated.” The denialist will set unrealistic expectations for X, and if X is shown, it can easily be changed to Y. In the climate change debate, denialists claimed that we did not have enough historical information to make determinations about global temperatures. In 1998, Michael Mann’s research allowed scientists to view 1,000 years of temperature data. That wasn’t enough for the denialists. New advances enable a far deeper knowledge of global temperature, but with each new advance, denialists say it does not go far enough.

Another is to delay by calling for a study of the non-existent problem. I call this the Mustapha Mond option. In the California RFID debate, industry lobbyists argued against setting security and privacy standards, and instead suggested that a “study committee” be formed. This committee would produce a non-binding report with recommendations, some time in the future. The buys the industry time, and then allows a completely new debate over whether the study was proper.


10 responses to “Denialists’ Deck of Cards: The 3 of Spades, “Dolittle and DeLay””

  1. There is the flip side of this.

    The problem for the proponents of GW is that they refuse to be drawn on the question of attribution.

    The reason is probably that they don’t want to admit that the anthropogenic part of GW is small. Far better to claim the whole lot and more. I’ve even had mor than one person claim the Tsunami was caused by AGW.

    One of the scientific approaches is this.

    Take the historical record and build a statistical climate model. You can test to see if any of the inputs (volcanic activity, solar activity, etc) have statistical significance and by what percentage they affect the climate.

    Then you run the same model for the industrial era. Does the model still have a random residual? If so, there is no proof for C02 even affecting climate.

    If the residual is not random, you then add in C02 and see if you get a smaller, random residual. If so you have some strong evidence that C02 is involved.

    Repeatedly on sites like realclimate, there is a very strong denial streak from the pro GW to any form of statistical test.

    You see this repeatedly when it comes to solar effects. There is an admission prior to 1950 the solar effect is there. Then post 1950, it gets switched off, and AGW takes over. Hmmm.

    Instead, the known solar effect needs to be factored out, and then you look at the residual.

    It is all down to standard scientific method. What’s the null hypothesis and what is a statistically significant test of the hypothesis of GW.

    Sadly, very lacking.


  2. Hmm, is there a card suited for Nick’s comment? There’s a definite conspiratorial tone (a veiled suggestion that an entire field of scientists is either engaging in fraud, or is incompetent). But there’s also a large chunk of “I know better than people who’ve made this field their life’s work” arrogance.

  3. I’m having trouble with it from a mere grammatical stance. I’m not a climate expert, but I suspect we’re being jargonized.

    Anyway, I think he gives himself away when he says after 1950 the solar effect is “switched off”. That is not the case.

  4. Can we all join in? Surely there’s a card for ‘completely irrelevant distraction’?

    It took me about a minute’s searching on realclimate to find posts addressing Nick’s issues. I’m feeling strangely liberated about the use of the word ‘idiot’, for some reason.

  5. Tryptamine

    I like the card device and the way the various denialist arguments are being built up – but at the moment they all seem to apply only to arguments used by denialists to support the status quo (ie. doing nothing). This makes sense for tobacco/lung cancer or global warming denialism – but they aren’t really used for the conspiracy-style denialist (eg. 9/11 or HIV/AIDS). This may well be intentional: just interested in where you’re going with it…

  6. @David, yes, there is a “red herring” card later, and even a “duh” one. They’ll be coming soon.

    @Tryptamine, The first cards are all about doing nothing, as things progress, they get more sophisticated. Your observation is accurate…To some extent, they really don’t fit with the 9/11 style denialist. It’s more at the rabid anti-FDA, anti-consumer protection folks.

  7. Michael LoPrete


    It builds up. It makes much more sense if you visualize the presentation process as one smooth flipping of one card after another. From 2’s to 3’s, etc, etc. It’s why “no problem” pops up so often.

    I’d love to get my hands on an actual set of playing cards with all these sayings for demonstration purposes.

  8. Tryptamine

    Ah, good good. I guess by the time we get to Aces we’ll have a nice synthesis of the different sorts of arguments. As I say, I do like the use of cards (and to have a real deck would be cool) and I think having separate sections for individual cases and arguments is a good idea. While it’s good to confront faulty arguments by the denialists on the issues themselves, I personally find the psychology of denialism more interesting (particularly the conspiracy sort – often the status-quo type is motivated by more mundane things like inertia or unwillingness to spend money/lose profits) – why and how it happens, and why it is sometimes successful. The cards are a nice way to systematically go through denialist arguments used across the board and get a useful synthesis of denialist thinking.

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the Mustapha Mond option

    Heh. There is a frequent commentator who goes by the name or tag “Mustafa Mond”.

    I can’t read dystopian litterature, one of the few gaps in my media consumption. (I either get bored by the impossibility or, in rare cases, freaked out by the possibility. Rather like splatter movies. 🙂

    So I had no idea of the connection to “Brave New World”.

  10. Have to post my opinion on the whole “moving goalposts” thing… I think you’re right – it does happen – but I think there’s a very simple explaination that doesn’t require the goalpost-movers to be deliberately obfuscating…

    Most scientific advances are small. Most evidence comes in very tiny chunks. Can you imagine having your whole world view turned upside-down by the addition of a tiny chunk of data?

    What makes matters worse is that *because* most new evidence comes in small chunks, on the rare occasions when it rears its head in huge boatloads all at once, it looks like a fake… You get the impression that that’s not the way the world is supposed to work…

    I like to think I’m open-minded, and will take all evidence as it is. But I *know* that if I had stated a 100% firm position on something (which I never do, but that’s beside the point), I would be incredibly reluctant to backtrack on my word for the mere addition of a tiny little fact…

    The last straw may often break the camel’s back – but when it comes to human ego, those straws can end up being the size of mountains before the camel drops dead of old age…

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