Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics

A fascinating new study commissioned by Oxfam and produced by digital mapping agency Profero has shed new insights into the way climate sceptics’ networks operate. The study’s conclusions, as yet unpublished but seen by Left Foot Forward, were presented to a closed meeting of campaigners on Wednesday night.

Profero’s study analysed online coverage of the “Climategate” debacle that broke last November, tracking its progress from fringe blogs to mainstream media outlets over the ensuing weeks and months.


Tracing the online paper trail back to its source, the researchers concluded that:

• The ‘Climategate’ story was first aired on climate denier blog The Air Vent, before wending its way onto more popular sceptic sites Climate Audit and Watts Up With That, and then featured by James Delingpole in his Daily Telegraph blog – whose followers propagated it further;

• From thereon in, the story was picked up by a wide range of media outlets, and went global –the culmination of a concerted effort to push it into the mainstream;

The timing of the CRU email leak was calculated to have maximum impact on the Copenhagen negotiations, with the second wave of sceptic attacks after Christmas deliberately timed for when the environmental movement was at its weakest, exhausted from the UN talks; and

• The speed of information flow within the sceptic community, with its rapid publication of sceptical “research”, is far quicker than any scientist or NGO could hope to match – and handily unencumbered by peer review or sign-off processes.

This meant that because almost no-one from the climate movement responded to or rebutted the sceptics’ arguments, they ended up owning the story.

This allowed them to shift what political theorists call the “Overton Window”: the acceptable parameters within which a debate can be conducted. Suddenly after Climategate, it became acceptable for the mainstream media to question the fundamentals of climate science.

As cognitive linguist George Lakoff has written, if you don’t contol the way an issue is framed, you don’t control the debate. Climate progressives allowed this episode to be written on the sceptics’ terms. The result? A sizeable drop in the public’s belief in climate change (although the freezing winter may also have played a part in this).

Profero’s study then looked at the character of the online climate sceptic networks that permitted this information flow. It discovered that the sceptic community is extraordinarily well-networked and interwoven, with sites like Climate Audit and Climate Depot acting as hubs for a wide range of other individual pundits and bloggers. (And no, I’m not going to give these sites free publicity by linking to them.) Of the top five most linked-to climate commentators, four are climate sceptics.

The one exception was Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who was also the only significant voice countering the sceptics during the whole Climategate debacle. “I have seldom felt so alone,” he wrote early on in the scandal, with justification – Oxfam’s study shows that almost no-one bothered to back him up in defending the integrity of the science.

In many ways, the tactics revealed by Profero are not new. They were first tried and tested by American neo-cons in the 1970s long before the internet became a tool for campaigning. What is new is that the patterns of activity are now traceable, which means that the progressive response to climate scepticism can be more strategic – that is, if we listen to the findings.

Indeed, the reports’ insights should give pause for thought to progressives contemplating the strength of their own networks. Stuart Conway, the study’s co-author, declared simply that “there are no progressive networks” – just hubs of activity here and there, lacking interconnection. Whilst a number of blogs buck this trend – honourable mentions include Treehugger and, yes, Left Foot Forward – the pro-environmental community as a whole lacks brio and responsiveness.

It’s not that there we don’t have the numbers: it’s more than we’re not using our numbers effectively. NGOs, notably, were nowhere to be seen during the debate. Whilst there were some good reasons for this – NGOs feared they would be simply seen as “the usual suspects” in rebutting deniers – this clearly left a vacuum that needed filling by an activist community.

After presentation of the study, discussion moved onto filling that vacuum: how we can better combat sceptic networks and strengthen our own. The discussions ranged far and wide, and I’d love to tell you some of the creative ideas discussed, but you’ll have to watch this space…

For now, though, let me close with a challenge for progressive readers: one of the study’s more obvious conclusions was how effective climate sceptics are at commenting on forums, posting stock arguments, and linking back to sceptic sites. This is unsurprising for anyone who has ever trawled through comments left behind after any climate change article. By the time you read this, there will doubtless be sceptical comments posted beneath this blog, too.

So here’s what I’d like you to do:

• Read the comments, and if you notice any that cast doubt on the validity of climate science, post a response, be polite and use facts;

• You might like to make use of the handy checklist of arguments to counter deniers over at Skeptical Science;

• Link to some of the dirt dug up on sceptics’ funding by SourceWatch; or

• Refer to the discussions at RealClimate and Climate Safety.

Oh, and remember to check out James Delingpole’s column at the Telegraph. If any of it makes you angry, you might like to let him know. Did I say be polite? Scratch that.

UPDATE 23/3:

Profero, the digital mapping agency behind the Oxfam report have posted a message on their website. They say:

“We’re really excited that people are taking an interest in what we do and hats off to LeftFootForward for getting the scoop on this piece of work but we’d like to clarify what’s being discussed (most of the conversations focus upon a visual representation of some of the key conversations in the form of a landscape map) as it should be understood in the context of an entire report (120 pages or so) which hasn’t been made public.

“The report as a whole applies our own bespoke models and frameworks to both quantitative and qualitative data in order to bring to the surface complex dynamics and issues which would otherwise pass un-noticed if an automated technological monitoring solution had been used in isolation.”

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  • Brad Ross

    RT @Organicaluminum: #climategate religion fights back w/underhanded tactics

  • Andrew Merrie

    RT @benmetz: th truth behind climategate – #cop15 #cop16 #climate clear evidence of underhand tactics – spread the word

  • Flic

    RT @TheGreenMerrie RT @benmetz: Truth behind climategate – Clear evidence of underhand tactics – spread the word

  • Victor Galaz

    Intriguing network (hyperlink?) analysis of information diffusion during "Climategate": (via TheGreenMerrie)

  • Michael Lewkowitz

    RT @benmetz: the truth behind climategate – clear evidence of underhand tactics – spread the word #socent

  • Graeme Codrington

    New report shows how #Climategate scandal spread through media & why it wasn't countered effectively:

  • Robin Houston

    RT @jamescrabtree: Like this, even if a bit worrying — LFF puts out a climate skeptics network schematic —

  • walterslaw

    By not engaging with climate change skeptics, they were allowed to shift paradigm based on pseudoscience rhetoric

  • ken_homer

    Interesting look at Climategate & the dynamics of how fast opinions spread vs peer-reviewed science via @thegreenmerrie

  • Paul Malouf

    The truth behind climategate: @leftfootfwd #cop15 #cop16 #climate via @dcarli MUST READ

  • iris ruth kaeseberg

    RT @paulmalouf: The truth behind climategate: @leftfootfwd #cop15 #cop16 #climate via @dcarli MUST READ

  • Christel Loll

    wow. RT @PaulMalouf The truth behind climategate: @leftfootfwd #cop15 #cop16 #climate #GCDM via @dcarli MUST READ

  • Mark Appleby

    fascinating attempt at mapping climate change skeptic/believer networks, first reported background

  • Eric Hanson
  • ken_homer

    How bad media practices undermined good science in climategate…

  • ken_homer

    Do you agree? "There are no progressive networks, just hubs… here & there lacking connection." ~ Stuart Conway |

  • Morel Fourman


    @ Ken_homer Re "There are no progressive networks, just hubs…lacking connection." ~ . #4YG poss impact

  • Sarah Shaw Tatoun

    Fascinating networking study showing how a small number of climate skeptics managed to dominate the debate:

  • Joachim Moncoq

    RT @eclectopedic: Fascinating networking study showing how a small number of climate skeptics managed to dominate the debate:

  • Pingback: …..Aaron's EnvironMental Corner….. » Blog Archive » The well funded, well organized, global skeptic network laid bare

  • boatsie

    RT @MorelFourman: ken_homer

    @ Ken_homer Re "There are no progressive networks, just hubs…lacking connection." ~ . #4YG poss impact

  • Elrik Merlin

    Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics

  • Pingback: Ink blot test for climate controversy « Between Scientists & Citizens

  • Pradeep K.Verma MBBS

    @Milieunet @leftfootfwd: Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics

  • twawki

    Maybe its not the skeptics numbers but their facts backed up by the environment that is winning the debate. The left treats most people as stupid when in fact most people do have a brain and can use it. That’s why an argument is rarely won on lies.

  • Verum Peto

    “You might like to make use of the handy checklist of arguments to counter deniers over at Skeptical Science”

    I like the one about the sun – “the sun is showing a cooling trend over the last 30 years”. Whilst true, the article fails to mention that the sun is still hotter than average, over 300 years. For example, sunspots activity has declined over 30 years, but is still higher than the 300 year average of 52 per year. In fact since the 40s, the average has been 72 per year (around 28% higher than average) and despite the 30 year decline, we are still seeing a sun that is 9.7% more active than the 300 year average. My data is from NASA so you are free to check this for yourself.

    If you are going to ‘deny’ what skeptics are saying, make sure you are armed with facts first.

  • The Katoomba Group

    the truth behind #climategate – clear evidence of underhand tactics – #climate #globalwarming

  • David Quinn

    Pardon me for interrupting your “combat”, but scientific inquiry in pursuit of truth, (whatever that may be) stands alone and needs no defense.

    Agendas may need defense. Lies always need support. A true thing stands on its own despite being trampled on, stomped, ignored etc.

    What exactly do you believe you are combating?

    Take a moment to examine your motives.

  • http:/// The End

    The leaked emails & documents from top scientists at the Hadley Climate Research Unit SHOW that the scientific method is NOT being respected by “climate-change” scientists.

    There is clear political pressure to produce “desired results”–i.e., data that shows warming.

    Phil Jones himself admitted that there has been NO warming since 1995, thus showing their “hockey stick” graph to be complete BS. Al Gore lied with his famous graph (the centerpiece of _An Inconvenient Truth_), trying to trick society into thinking that rises in CO2 levels CAUSE rises in temperature, but the graph actually shows that rises in TEMPERATURE *precede* rises in CO2 levels! So warmer weather puts more CO2 in the air, NOT the other way around!

    These guys are frauds & liars, and they stand to gain MEGA-BUCKS from proposed legislations that would benefit their companies. That is CONFLICT OF INTEREST, and it’s not science.

    It’s political fraud, and the word is out—-I only hope that the rich scam-artists funding this non-sense keep throwing away more of their money trying to trick the population; it won’t work, but it’d be nice to see them squander their fortunes on unsuccessful propaganda campaigns!

  • m

    the myth is that the climategate emails were released to time with copenhagen and mainly proliferated amongst sceptic websites. the fact is that the bbc was give this file a month earlier, did nothing with it, and then it was released more broadly. the entire liberal media buried this story and the right wing picked it up, thereby politicizing the whole thing further. as you analyze this story talking about not owning the story, you’re trying now to own the story by rewriting the history, but i’m sorry, the internet doesn’t work that way. the internet is a pandora’s box- no one side owns it, no one controls it. it takes down former vp’s along with current popes.

  • Karmakaze


    No, we treat people like YOU as stupid, because you constantly prove it! You seriously wouldn’t know a fact if it hit you in the face – and it likely will thanks to stupid people like you.

    @Verum Peto

    “If you are going to ‘deny’ what skeptics are saying, make sure you are armed with facts first.”

    OK, I will…

    It turns out you don’t know what you’re talking about. Why am I not surprised?

    Have a look at those last two graphs, and notice something? As Verum said, the period between around 1950 and 1980 has the highest annual average susnpot number. Verum implies this means that susnpots are causing the warming. Have a look at the temperature graph and notice that this period actually cooincides with a halt to the warming, and possibly a slight cooling.

    How is THAT possible? How can more sunspots both cause warming AND not-warming? Simple – sunspots aren’t causing the warming, because the change in actual energy emitted by the sun is TOO SMALL to make a difference. The sunspot numbers jump a lot, but it represents less than 0.1 percent swing in solar output from solar minimum with practically NO sunspots, to maximum with hundreds. If the difference between “none” and “lots” of sunspots only equates to 0.1% output difference, how can the very small inter-cycle difference account for MORE?

    eg 0 to 250 represents a swing of 0.1% – so if the average this year is 72, then the actual difference from the trend of 75 is three sunspots, making a change of 0.0012% in solar output from the average – essentially unnoticable. (this is probably not very accurate maths-wise, but it illustrates the concept – the difference between solar min and max is too small to change climate, and the difference between current levels and long-term trend is MUCH smaller.)

    @David Quinn

    “Pardon me for interrupting your “combat”, but scientific inquiry in pursuit of truth, (whatever that may be) stands alone and needs no defense.”

    Good try, but you fail. The whole point of science is that EVERY belief/assertion/theory must be CONSTANTLY defended. In fact that is the whole point of science – to make sure what we think we know is actually true.

    “What exactly do you believe you are combating?”

    Idiots like you, who probably haven’t seen a scientific paper in your entire life, but think you can lecture scientists on the scientific method…

    “Take a moment to examine your motives.”

    Right back at you.

    Why are you SO determined to ignore the science that you will cling to ANY BULLSHIT that some retard on the internet (like Rivero over at WRH) says?

    Could it be because you’re afraid to admit that YOU and YOUR BELIEFS are responsible?

  • Karmakaze

    I notice something reading through the older comments. Many of the same people who would swear black and blue that they are just trying to get to the truth and see the science done well, immediately register their intention to punish Oxfam for having anything to do with this issue, regardless of anything else they may do.

    Apparently, to these people daring to believe the scientists on this issue invalidates all the good work Oxfam does, and as such they need to be punished by the withholding of donations.

    Screw the poor starving kids… these guys are threatening my SUV!!!!

  • Sarah Benson

    RT @BeThatChange: Really interesting piece on climate deniers and how their networks spread nonsense so effectively PLS RT

  • Jim

    NGOs fighting global poverty are even worse about solidarity || Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics

  • Verum Peto


    You might say that 0.1% is a small amount. However that 0.1% means an additional 174 trillion watts of energy, 24/7 (to try an imagine this, hurricane katrina equated to about 200 trillion). Since the Maunder Minimum, the watts per square meter has increased by 2.5 – more than enough to switch to a warming trend globally. A “normal” level of watts per square meter (for normal climate) is thought to be around 1365 + or – 1.5 watts. When you deviate from this range, you see the climate shift more notably. It has exceeded this range numerous times over the last 50 years or so, and we have seen a warming trend. When it was below this level for some time, we had the ‘cold’ period coinciding with the Maunder Minimum (1363.4 watts per meter squared). See

    If you want to further educate yourself, read a book called “The Chilling Stars”. I’ll think you’ll change your tune somewhat.

    So like I said, stick to facts. Saying the sun has cooled for 30 years will only mislead. It is still active above the ‘comfort’ level – and that is significant.

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  • David MB

    RT @skepticscience: Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics – study into how networking enabled skeptics to reframe the debate

  • Anne OB

    RT @skepticscience: Combating the growing influence of climate sceptics – study into how networking enabled skeptics to reframe the debate

  • Dan

    AGW is a scientific, intellectual, political, financial and moral scam. The climate has been changing for millions upon millions of years.

    The IPCC is the biggest perpetrator of scientific fraud that the world has ever seen.

    Individuals and organizations involved in this fraud should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    Civil suits should be filed to recover grant money and subsidies given to individuals and organizations participating in the fraud.

    Now is not the time to let up !

  • jwallen

    Funny how when the climate alarmists were asked to explain themselves they did not know what to say. They have had the trust of the rest of us so long they got to a point where they did not have to actually back anything up with evidence. It’s like it was not proper etiquette to ask someone who was saving the world to explain themselves. Well surprise…. enquiring minds want to know what the hell are they talking about. They just made the stuff up as they went along and have all hurt feelings that a lot of us would like an explanation of why they who were in a position of almost absolute trust would lie boldfaced to us. Now the rest of us have to save the world…from you. …..jwallen…

  • Steve

    You people talk of science and facts yet you have none, only assertions that you have them. Yours is an article of faith in certain selected scientists who themselves do not release their “facts” so it is hilarious every time you speak about the facts you have which are so incontrovertible. How would you know?

    Anyone can figure out with a bit of research if common sense doesn’t do it, that the Icelandic volcano currently giving a moderate display of natures power, is spewing out more CO2 in its little hiccup than we puny humans with our cows and cars do in a year.

  • http://NA Ben

    Please stop using the word “denier”. It undermines your argument and belittles the events of the holocaust.

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