Scientists pick apart list of nonsense has a great piece by Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia which is going to be incredibly useful for one of the classes I teach (Global Issues in the Arts and Sciences), and to be honest, I totally think it's also worth a look by anyone interested in climate change affairs. By focusing on a recent opinion piece published by Larry Bell at Forbes, it nicely broaches two areas: 1) it illustrates a few of the tactics that climate denialists use when they debate their case, and (2) it picks apart many of the most recent and most common "scientific" arguments used against the case for immediate policy action to mitigate climate change.

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the "Gish gallop", named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

To me, the picking apart of the various assertions that Bell presents is the best part. Not only does it show how easy it is to form such careless arguments, but it also provides a highly readable science primer on some of the more recent research in climatology, all in an effort to inform on the current trends in cyclonic activity, ocean cooling, sea levels, polar snow fall, ice melting, etc. The net effect is that it becomes clear that the Forbes article is largely nonsense from a scientific point of view (since Tobis and Mandia do point out the one assertion where Bell may have a valid argument), full of polemic where language is spun accordingly, and really a disheartening example of poor press.

Anyway, great fodder for a class where discussing these sorts of things (including an opportunity to also critique Tobis and Mandia's piece) is key. Now, all I need is to find an article with an opposing view that is both responsibly written and uses the same lens of robust research data – something tells me that might be a little trickier…

Forbes' rich list of nonsense