Dealing in Doubt

Part 2: Denier Tricks and Tactics

Page - September 10, 2013
Dealing in Doubt --> Part 2: Denier Tricks and Tactics --> Faking It






One of the key tests of modern science is the ability for a paper to pass “peer review” where experts review the work of other experts in their area. This is what rigorous scientific “debate” looks like. It is through these peer to peer checks and balances that science moves forward and traditionally happens through peer-reviewed journals rather than in the media, where deniers like to debate.

A conspiracy theory regularly put forward by climate deniers is that climate scientists get their “pals” to do the peer review so that they can get published. Of course scientists will know many of the other scientists working in the same field – they are all experts. But they’re also the biggest critics of their own work and strive to improve or strengthen the work of others. The editors of such journals also rarely tell the authors just who the reviewers are.

In 2012, researcher and blogger John Mashey undertook a detailed investigation turning this particular denier spotlight back on themselves.

Mashey looked at a run of climate denier papers published in one journal, “Climate Research” by one editor, New Zealander Chris de Freitas, from 1996 to 2003. De Freitas published the Soon/Baliunas paper that tried to take down Dr Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” paper, leading to the resignation of a number of editors in protest at what they saw as a flawed peer review process.

Mashey selected a group of 14 climate deniers, none of whom had had papers published in Climate Research prior to De Freitas’ editorship. From 1996-2003, 17 papers from this group of deniers were published in Climate Research, with 14, all but three of them edited by de Freitas.  

For example, Patrick Michaels was an author of seven of the papers, accounting for half of his total peer-reviewed publications during this timeframe. Skeptical science has the full story.



The Koch-funded Cato Institute and Patrick Michaels went to new lengths in 2012 when they faked a US Government climate report.

In 2009, the White House released a report on the impacts of climate change on the US, entitled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” that set out the predicted impacts of climate change across the US.

In October 2012, Patrick Michaels, with the Cato Institute, released a report with an identical front page, with one word added: Addendum. “Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”. The report was deliberately designed to confuse policymakers and was used in a Congressional presentation by denier John Christy the following month.

Patrick Michaels Cato Institute Koch Addendum Global Climate Change Impacts United States Denial

  • Media matters has a great summary of how Patrick Michaels has consistently gotten the science wrong.



At a meeting of ExxonMobil shareholders in May 2000, then ExxonMobil Chairman and Chief Executive Lee Raymond aggressively questioned the scientific consensus by citing a petition signed by ‘17,000 scientists’ that dismissed warnings of human-induced global warming.

Doubts about the petition’s credibility were quick to surface when it turned out that the signatures included those of the Spice Girls. The petition effort was also rebuffed by the National Academy of Sciences: 

 “The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences,” said the NAS statement, which also noted that,

“The petition was mailed with an op-ed article from The Wall Street Journal and a manuscript in a format that is nearly identical to that of scientific articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

In reality the petition was prepared by the so-called Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a tiny outfit in Texas, with the ExxonMobil-backed George C Marshall Institute.  Three climate scientists roundly rebutted the accompanying paper.

This tactic was recycled in June 2007, the Heartland Institute and Hudson Institute published an article by Denis Avery, entitled “500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares” as part of a campaign to publicise a book written by Fred Singer and Avery. The appendix included a long list of scientists’ research they claimed supported Singer and Avery’s allegation that global warming wasn’t happening – or wasn’t a crisis. When blogger Kevin Grandia and others at DeSmogBlog contacted a number of the scientists listed, and outraged climate scientists wrote back arguing their work did NOT support the contention. 

“I am very shocked to see my name in the list of "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares". Because none of my research publications has ever indicated that the global warming is not as a consequence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, I view that the inclusion of my name in such list without my permission or consensus has damaged my professional reputation as an atmospheric scientist." - Dr. Ming Cai, Associate Professor, Department of Meteorology, Florida State University.
“They have taken our ice core research in Wyoming and twisted it to meet their own agenda. This is not science." – Dr. Paul F. Schuster, Hydrologist, US Geological Survey.

Of those scientists who contacted DeSmogBlog, none could see how their research contributing to the IPCC effort could have supported Singer and Avery’s claims.


In March 2007, the journal “Ecological Complexity” published a “Viewpoint” article entitled “Polar bears of western Hudson Bay and climate change: Are warming spring air temperatures the “ultimate” survival control factor?” positing that polar bears were not under threat from global warming and that Arctic sea ice decline was less severe than stated in recent peer-reviewed literature. [1]

Ecological Complexity publishes peer-reviewed research, but “viewpoints” aren’t subject to such review. Because the peer-reviewed and non peer-review reports look almost identical in format it would be almost impossible for a lay reader to tell the difference. 

The authors included several scientists well connected with the denial industry: Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, David Legates and Tim Ball

They argued that scientific modelling showing polar bear populations were threatened by climate change could not be trusted. They went on to question not only the climate science showing that the Arctic was warming and sea ice was decreasing, but also tried to show that things like tourism were a much bigger threat to polar bears than the disappearance of their habitat.[2]

The article landed around the time that the US Government was making decisions on whether to list the polar bear as an endangered species, a decision which could have had large knock-on effects in terms of American climate legislation and the oil industry’s exploration of the Arctic for oil. It was widely quoted in submissions by Sarah Palin, then Governor of Alaska’s office in her (unsuccessful) submission challenging the listing of the polar bear under the ESA.

Willie Soon acknowledges in the article that the research was partly sponsored (for Willie Soon’s work) by ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (the Koch Brothers have the largest privately-owned oil trading, refining and pipeline company in the US and regularly fund climate denial organizations).[3] Nor has he or his funders stated on the record the remit for this research project.

In 2011, a Greenpeace investigation found that Soon has received more than $1m over the past decade or so from fossil fuel companies – and, from 2002-2011, none of his research was funded from sources other than fossil fuel companies. In 2011 he received $64,000 from Donors Trust. 

One scientist noted when the Ecological Complexity article was published that the references cited in the ‘viewpoint’ paper stopped in 2002, after which the Arctic experienced four very warm years. Months after the piece was published, leading polar bear experts, Stirling and Derocher, published a critical response:

“[the authors] …suggest that factors other than climate warming are responsible for a decline in the polar bear population of Western Hudson Bay… In our examination of their alternative explanations, and the data available to evaluate each, we found little support for any,” they said.[4]

The denier authors then of course got the chance to respond to Stirling and Derocher in the journal, giving them additional undeserved credibility. But that’s how science is debated. 

Unlike Soon and Baliunas’s article which was conveniently published just ahead of the US Government’s decision on whether to list polar bears as endangered because of global warming, Stirling and Derocher’s paper couldn’t be taken into account by the decision makers. 

The Viewpoint article prompted a letter to ExxonMobil from Brad Miller, Chair of the US House Sub Committee on Investigations and Oversight, which raised a key question about Exxon’s funding:

“To people outside the scientific community, one PhD may seem like another. Certainly Exxon knows better, however. Yet according to Dr Soon, an astrophysicist by profession, ExxonMobil funded the development of his “opinions” on global warming and its potential impact on polar bear populations. …. The Congress and the Public have a right to know why ExxonMobil is funding a scientist whose writing is outside his area of expertise to create the impression that expert scientists have conducted vigorous, peer reviewed work that says the problems with polar bears [and climate change] are unproven or unserious.”



“[Books] are clearly a vital weapon in the conservative movement's war on climate science, and one of the key means by which it diffuses climate change denial throughout American society and into other nations.”

– Dr Riley Dunlap, Oklahoma State University

In the absence of their ability to publish real science in peer reviewed scientific journals, (not least because so many of the climate denial scientists are not actual climate scientists and the lobbyists are not experts) one common tactic over the years has been to write a book. These books are often self-published and printed up by the think tanks and front groups themselves, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute.

If one goes online to Amazon and looks up UK blogger James Delingpole’s book, “Watermelons: The Green Movement's True Colors” and look at the “Customers who bought this book also bought..” section and it’s filled with the latest books on the global warming “hoax.”

As outlined on DesmogBlog, two behavioural scientists, Dr Riley Dunlap, of Oklahoma State University, and Peter Jacques, of the University of Central Florida, researched the publication of books by deniers and published their study in the journal American Behavioural Scientist. They concluded:

The general lack of peer-review allows authors or editors of denial books to make inaccurate assertions that misrepresent the current state of climate science. Like the vast range of other non-peer-reviewed material produced by the denial community, book authors can make whatever claims they wish, no matter how scientifically unfounded.”




There’s a growing list of claims made by deniers to make their qualifications look more than what they actually are, or to claim expertise in an area they’ve never trained for. Here’s a snapshot. 

Willie Soon

  • Claim: “Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues.” (Wall Street Journal, May 25 2011)
  • Fact: Dr Wei Hock (Willie) Soon is an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian School of Astrophics, which is not Harvard University per se. He is trained in neither public health nor a qualified expert on mercury.


  • Claim: Dr. Soon is a sea level rise expert
  • Fact: no evidence of qualifications in this area, confirmed by his own biography. 

Tim Ball (Canada)

  • Claim: Professor of Climatology (of 28 years, or 32 years), Winnipeg University
  • Fact: Tim Ball was Professor of Geography at Winnipeg University for 8 years, with various associate professorships and lecturing postitions before that. Winnipeg University didn’t have a Department of Climatology. 
  • Claim: “One of the first Climatology PhD’s in the world”
  • Fact: Actual qualifications: PhD in Geographical History, not climatology. When he gained his “entry level” PhD, there were already qualified PhD’s in climatology.

Lord Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley

  • ClaimsGeneral expertise in climate science, including publishing a peer reviewed paper in American Physical Society Newsletters.
  • Fact: The paper published was a “letter” in a journal that didn’t undertake the peer review process. At the top of Monckton’s article, the editors posted this statement: “The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review, since that is not normal procedure for American Physical Society newsletters.” 


  • Claim: Member of the UK House of Lords
  • Fact: While Monckton is entitled to use the title “Lord”, he inherited the title after 1999 when UK legislation removed the right for inherited Lords to automatically take up a seat in the House of Lords. In 2010, the Clerk of the House wrote to Monckton asking him to desist from claiming membership.


  • Claim: Qualifications in Mathematics
  • Fact: He did a course in Mathematics at university.


  • Claim: An IPCC “expert reviewer”
  • Facts: Anyone can register themselves to be an “expert reviewer” for the IPCC – it is a self-designated title. Monckton’s criticisms of the reports were rejected by the actual experts.

Bob Carter

  • Claim: Adjunct Professor of Geology at James Cook University in Australia,
  • Fact: He lost this title in January 2013. At the time of writing he is still listed as such on a number of denier websites, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The Heartland Institute did so in July 2013, but after publicity on the issue, changed the citation. 


  • Claim: Research Professor at the University of Adelaide
  • Fact:  While he was a visiting professor at the University of Adelaide only until 2005, many sites still describe him as a “Research Professor at the University of Adelaide.”


S. Fred Singer

Retired, 1994. Former space scientist (a rocket scientist) and government administrator.

Expertise claimed:




[1] Ecological Complexity, Vol 4, issue 3, pp. 73-84

[2] Ibid – page 82: conclusions

[3] Ibid:  page 83 - acknowledgements

[4] Ecological Complexity Vol 5, issue 3, September, 2008 pp. 193-201