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Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change: a tool to fight disinformation

by a siegel Thu Mar 5th, 2020 at 05:25:55 PM EST

In the United States, since November 2016, election after election has made clear that Democratic voters will crawl over broken glass to get to the polls to defeat Trump and #Cult45-enabling Republicans. Massive turnout and voters waiting up to seven hours to vote in many Super Tuesday primary states is the latest tangible sign of that.

One of the reasons for this is that Donald Trump is the epitome, a real-life version of the stereotype of the rather lunatic, self-centered, loud, and arrogantly ignorant Cranky Uncle to be put in a corner by himself at family events in hopes that his rantings and rudeness don't blow the event.

George Mason University's Center for Climate Communication research Assistant Professor John Cook has just published a book that should be useful in putting that Cranky Uncle into the corner -- at least when it comes to the issue of climate science denialism (which is one of the (perhaps too numerous to mention) spaces of Trump's worst Cranky Uncle ravings).

Now, for some quick background ...

Frontpaged with minor edit - Frank Schnittger


When it comes to climate and GMU, many are well aware of the Koch Brothers uber-funding of George Mason and the fostering of climate-science denialism and confusion within portions of the University. (A tip of the hat to UnKoch My Campus and Transparent GMU (T-GMU twitter) for their efforts to expose and fight this.)  At the same time that there is part of GMU that is a center for climate confusion fostering, the GMU Center for Climate Communication is a font of wisdom about key climate communication challenges and has done truly stellar work in some domains to foster improvements in how climate issues are communicated to the broad public. For example, this group has been central to and had some real success in a decade-long effort to engage and educate TV meteorologists about climate.


Cook is an Australian academic brought to GMU a few years ago. Perhaps without realizing it, you know of his work. He did (okay, was a key player in) the analytical work to show that at least (and, more recent work shows more than) 97% of the relevant world's scientists agree with the consensus that (a) climate change is happening and (b) human actions are the primary cause of the global warming.

Less visible to most, Cook also is a key player in the website Skeptical Science, which seeks to identify, dissect, and provide the actual science to refute climate science denialism talking points. (For some of us, that work has provided a "Science Denialism by the Numbers" shorthand for summarizing inane comments from scientific luminaries like Cranky Uncle Donald.)  John is also the author of the Debunking Handbook. While focused on climate science issues, this short and thoughtful piece is extremely useful for dealing with 'myth' and falsehood busting. (I highly recommend it.) Unknowingly to me, until recently, Cook is also a cartoonist. He has now combined his specialization in tackling climate science denialism with that skill set.


With  Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change, Cook has provided an extremely digestible illustrated guide to the climate science denier tactics and arguments, how one can think about them, and how to engage with (or against) them.  (Or, well, how to engage them to influence and educate onlookers because that Cranky Uncle is unlikely to be convinced they are wrong and best kept in the corner.)


Now, rather than provide a full book review, I'd recommend Greg Laden's excellent discussion.

This book gives us the whole ball of wax that is the science of climate science denial in a very funny, really well produced, and compelling wrapping. It will amuse you, and it will advise you. Your cranky uncle is done for.

Last evening, Cook held a book-release event at GMU's Arlington Campus.  Cook's talk and the following question and answer session provided some richness as to how John became a foremost expert about dealing with (climate science) denial, the purpose and potential impact of the book, and the forthcoming Cranky Uncle app.

  • A "Cranky Uncle" actually sparked John's focus on refuting climate-science denialism.  John got a BS in physics and then, quite naturally, became a cartoonist.  This cartoonist's father-in-law regularly spouted climate science talking points and, as per "what any nerdy, competitive son-in-law" would do, John pushed backed. And, to prove the "nerdy", Cook put together a spreadsheet with the denialist truthiness-laden arguments and the debunking, with sourcing, of them. The father-in-law eventually gave John a book by a US Senator to 'prove' that global warming was a made up hoax.   This led Cook to realize that he wasn't alone and that others might benefit from his debunking spreadsheet. That realization led to creating the valuable Skeptical Science site (which is, to be clear, far from just Dr. Cook but involves numerous climate scientists).
  • Inoculation is the point.  Cognitive science research has shown that, like with a biological disease, the mind can be inoculated against illogical disinformation viruses.  An exposure to mild versions of the disinformation -- along with making clear, in humorous ways the absurdity -- can improve 'resistance' to the disinformation.  Amid a major cold snap, denialists will spout off jokes about 'where's global warming when you need it?' The analogy to show it's absurdity: nighttime proves that daylight doesn't exist.

  • Deniers FLICC us off.  Cook's shorthand support of science deniers' illogical is FLICC. They promote Fake experts; use Logical fallacies; create Impossible expectations; incessantly Cherry pick; and are tin-foil hat wearing Conspiracy theorists.  John hopes to educate about and inoculate against FLICC methods.  And, recognize that this is far from just climate science denial at play -- these are all among gaslighting techniques. Cranky Uncle Trump and his co-conspiracists use FLICC about coronavirus, industrial pollution, (Trump campaign collusion with) Russian interference in U.S. elections, and so much more in their efforts to gaslight America.
  • The developing Cranky Uncle app (should be available in June) will take this to a new level. A book and a lecture like last night's are 'passive' inoculation paths.  Studies of gaming experiences show that they are active. Cook and collaborators are developing (with testing going on in university and high school classrooms) a Cranky Uncle app that rewards players for being a Cranky Uncle while educating them about the illogic of their argumentation. Testing, to date, indicates that this is providing some degree of inoculation against FLICC techniques that perhaps will extend well past an ability to fend off climate science denialism but to Cranky Uncle rantings and ravings across so many other issues.
  • A key takeaway is the necessity to speak about climate change. A large majority of Americans recognize and are concerned about climate change. Due to the noise that Cranky Uncle climate denialists make and 'climate silence' (in the media, by political elite, by 'us'), too many don't recognize this and, in many cases, even those who are deeply concerned about climate change are too often silent (whether in social circles, work, or engaging with politicians).  Ending that climate silence is, in itself, a virtuous cycle path to fostering greater public understanding of climate issues and support for action to address the climate crisis.

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Some of the 97% have objected, as you know:
https:/www.forbes.com/sites/alexepstein/2015/01/06/97-of-climate-scientists-agree-is-100-wrong#4dd 8443e3f9f
(No, Epstein is obviously not impartial, but he's quoting a few people directly.)

https:/climatechangedispatch.com/debunking-97-percent-nonsense

Also 'consensus' isn't 'science'. Not even close. There was a consensus before Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

Seriously: you cannot win this with facts! Most people don't have the time or inclination to understand them. Therefore your side needs to continue to

  • brand as "deniers" and socially sanction anyone who disagrees or questions the narrative
  • keep controlling grants
  • indoctrination into the true faith as mentioned.

Now tell me I'm worse than Hitler, and we can get on with our lives.

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sapere aude
by Number 6 on Fri Mar 6th, 2020 at 11:37:22 AM EST
"There was a consensus before Galileo."

What was that consensus? And what happened to that consensus? And what replaced that consensus?

Consider The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact by Ludwik Fleck

What would YOU propose as an alternative?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 08:27:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To recognize that the only weapon climate credulists have is fear! Most people will not spend any time on understanding the underlying issues, and certainly not on the political manouvering behind the "science".

Speaking for myself, I get more sceptical - you would say "denier" - the more I read about the science. A few years ago I was completely on board with "it's going to hell and it's our fault." (We have both heard all the talking points, so we know it's pointless to discuss them.)

You will never convince anyone by using facts. How did your "facts" help with Trump and Brexit? :)

You want people to kowtow and accept your continued hegemony. OK. Double down on fear mongering and social exclusion. Keep a tight hold on the purse strings. Ruin the lives of anyone important enough that disagrees.

It works until it doesn't - at some point a Trump comes along and breaks the rule book - but you have the pleasure of completely destroying a few evil people along the way. And isn't that what progressivism is all about? :)

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sapere aude

by Number 6 on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 09:48:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is frankly utter drivel and borderline paranoid. Who do you think runs the world? As you may have noticed if you had actually looked, the climate science consensus has not resulted in any real world policy. So who is holding hegemony over what?
by generic on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 10:32:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Taxes on plastic carrier bags, indoctrination programs in schools, constant middle class protests, subsidies to unsustainable technologies.
That's not policy?

As Scott Adams says: Two movies on the same screen.

"utter drivel", "borderline paranoid" - are these your persuation tools? That's why Trump is in the White Wouse.


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sapere aude

by Number 6 on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 11:38:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
5 cent on a plastic bag is the height of this conspiracy? What unsustainable technologies are subsidiesed because of GW? You mean the ill named "biofuels"?
I'm not trying to persuade you of anything, why would I? I'm just interested in what your argument is, because if it is as incoherent as it reads in your comment above I'll stop wasting my time.
by generic on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 11:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are setting up more straw men here than I can count. It is not ET bloggers who rule the world or subsidise unsustainable technologies. Taxes on plastic bags or well funded public education (where it exists) didn't put Trump in the white house. Climate science denialism is very well funded too and if you want to understand climate change (IF) then study the actual science and not the propagandists on any side. If you have a problem with the scientific consensus write papers on the countervailing evidence. You won't find much from reputable sources, but then perhaps you share the Trumpian and Brexiteer distrust of education and experts. Easier to just go with your prejudices...

And why turn up here at all if you hate everything we say? Is it that you just enjoy trolling people?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 11:52:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you think a small disincentive fee on plastic bag use is a brutal assault on personal freedom and proof of a Great Climate Hoax Conspiracy, perhaps ET isn't the right site for you.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 02:09:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is pretty clear that it is the interests that are harmed by climate change mitigation, particularly fossil fuel interests, are closely aligned with the 3% of alleged or bought 'scientists' who bolster denial. When a new denier emerges it is only a matter of time before their lints to fossil fuel sponsorship emerges.

Clear pattern.

The alternative is to espouse that 'we know nothing'. I am not willing to become a 21st century Know Nothing.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2020 at 10:42:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You, sir, are no Hitler. But you're one hell of a cranky uncle.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Mar 9th, 2020 at 01:42:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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