International Journal of Inactivism (now supplanted by Decoding SwiftHack)


Falsifiability, falsification, and conspiracy theories

cite as: F. Bi. 2008. Falsifiability, falsification, and conspiracy theories. Intl. J. Inact., 1:34–36

Via Eli Rabett and James Annan, I hear that climate crank Roger Pielke Jr. kept asking the question,

What observations would be inconsistent with climate model predictions?

Annan says that Pielke Jr. repeatedly ignored the answers provided, though that’s not quite true — sometimes Pielke Jr. did acknowledge a prediction in the form of a betting game, but he’d immediately whine that the bet’s unfair, and then flip back to ignorage. Go figure.

Falsifiability vs. falsification

Despite this, inactivists have been reciting the “global warming’s unfalsifiable” line as if it’s some super-duper refutation of the global warming theory. Over at Crooked Timber, Brett Bellmore asked the same dumb question:

What global temperature behavior over the next 10–20 years would convince you that global warming wasn’t in the cards, and that maybe you should buy stock in thermal underwear, and move closer to the equator?

I could’ve mentioned all the stuff about climate sensitivity, solar activity’s correlation with temperatures, etc. but that’ll probably just fly over his head. So instead I asked in reply,

[…] How many times must the climate inactivists’ various statements be outright falsified before they’ll admit that they full of crap and just leave things to the real experts?

I’m not talking about falsifiability, I’m talking about falsification which has already happened.

First it was “Hansen predicted global cooling” — false. Then it was “‘scientists’ in general predicted global cooling” — false (as shown by Connolley). Then it was “global temperature drop from Jan 2007 to Jan 2008 cancels out 100 years of warming” — and guess what, in March the temperature shoots right back up. So, inactivists, how many more of your statements must be proven to be completely false before you’ll shut up and find something else to do?

Here’s the complete list of inactivists’ responses:

newshutz: My trigger is when greens start holding demonstrations calling for more nuclear power plants. Till then I won’t take AGW seriously, because they are not.

Brett Bellmore: I guess when a child starts babbling, there’s nothing to do but smile and nod.

Well, that’s “scientific” “skepticism” for ya.

Falsifiability vs. conspiracy theories

Well, the above rejoinder doesn’t really work with Pielke Jr., since he’s not really an inactivist — he’s perfectly willing to act to mitigate global warming, as long as the time to act isn’t now. It turns out, however, that Pielke Jr. is a proponent of the idea that the global warming theory is a conspiracy — or something like a conspiracy. And if there’s one thing we know about conspiracy theories, it’s that they tend to be unfalsifiable. Let’s look at Pielke Jr.’s theory:

Today’s scientists could oppose research whose funding is predicated on the claim that action depends on further reduction of uncertainties. The effect in both cases would be to remove science as a cause of gridlock and to make viable new lines of research that would better support the needs of society.

Such a quixotic response is of course unlikely, not simply because it would require scientists to argue against their own professional self-interest, but also because it would reveal the amazing incoherence of our current approach to connecting climate policy and science.

Given that climate scientists aren’t actually claiming that “action depends on further reduction of uncertainties” — indeed, James Hansen argued the opposite — I wonder what potential observations will convince Pielke Jr. that scientists aren’t engaged in a conspiracy to secure funding! Care to tell us, Pielke?

(There’s a lot more to say about conspiracy theories related to global warming, but that’ll probably have to wait…)


The “Party Lines” ASCII art came from

Update 2008-05-14: I’ve just written a bit more about climate conspiracy theories…



  1. well written. nice.

    Comment by sod — 2008/05/12 @ 18:19 | Reply

  2. sod: Thanks!

    (jabailo: Your “point” isn’t even relevant to Pielke’s question. If you want to spam unrelated inactivist talking points, please go play elsewhere.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/13 @ 03:20 | Reply

  3. What observations would be inconsistent with climate model predictions?

    Well, those observations that failed to be made from about 1980 onwards.

    What global temperature behavior over the next 10–20 years would convince you that global warming wasn’t in the cards, …

    Wrong question. Why exclude the past?


    Comment by Gavin's Pussycat — 2008/05/13 @ 14:51 | Reply

  4. Gavin’s Pussycat:

    Great point. Inactivists are always trying to make everyone focus only on what’s unknown, and ignore what’s known… an excuse to continually disregard facts.

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/13 @ 17:57 | Reply

  5. (Paulidan, please troll more creatively.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/05/20 @ 03:23 | Reply

  6. […] regarding climate conspiracy theories, on 95bFM! Towards the end there’s a refreshing take on Pielke Jr.’s conspiracy theory; anyway, listen to the whole thing. […]

    Pingback by On kangaroos and dodgers « International Journal of Inactivism — 2008/06/29 @ 20:16 | Reply

  7. (JoeDuck: You obviously didn’t read this blog entry “twice” as you claim, because you got everything wrong. Now stop trolling.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2009/01/28 @ 06:24 | Reply

  8. (Chris Lane: You don’t prove talking points by simply repeating them. Stop trolling.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2009/05/21 @ 01:47 | Reply

  9. (Neil Craig: no dumping of talking points.)

    Comment by frankbi — 2010/02/03 @ 22:37 | Reply

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