Monday 24 August 2015

Karl Rove strategy #3: Accuse your opponent of your own weakness

Quite often a mitigation skeptic will present an "argument" that would make sense if the science side would make it, but makes no sense from their side. Classics would be dead African babies or being in it for the money.

A more person example would be Anthony Watts, the host of mitigation skeptical blog WUWT, claiming that I have a WUWT fixation. Fixation champion Anthony Watts who incites hatred of Michael E. Mann on a weekly if not daily basis. That I write about his cesspit occasionally makes sense given that Watts claims to doubt the temperature trend from station measurements; that is my topic. WUWT is also hard to avoid given that PR professional Watts calls his blog "The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate changes" to improve its standing with journalists and his blog is at least a larger one thus the immoral behavior of WUWT represents the mainstream of the political movement against mitigation.

You can naturally see this behavior as the psychological problem called [[projection]]:
Psychological projection is the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in oneself, while attributing them to others.

Political strategy

It is also a political strategy. One that works. It is strategy #3 on the list of USA Republican political strategist Karl Rove. If you see two groups basically making the same claim, it is hard to decide who is right. That requires going into the details, investing time and most people will not do that. They will simply select the version they like most and go on with their lives.

I must admit that I did not see a good way to respond the #3 nonsense and typically simply ignored it rationalizing that these people were anyway too radical, that communication with them is useless. However, that makes no sense, because communicating with the political extremists at WUWT & Co. never makes sense; it is futile to hope to convince them. You communicate with these people for the lurkers (if there are normal people around). For the lurkers it may be less clear who is wrong and for the lurkers it may be less clear that this is a pattern, a strategy.

Thus I was happy to finally have found a suggestion how to reply. Art Silverblatt—professor of Communication and Journalism—and colleagues have developed strategies to neutralize the strategies of Karl Rove. Their response strategy is to make clear to the pubic how strategy #3 works and deflect it with humor.

For example when Ronni Earle was attacked by Tom DeLay using strategy #3, his response strategy was:
Earle put the into perspective for the public, saying, "I find they often accuse others of doing what they themselves do.”

[Earle] chose to discuss the tactic in terms of how it denigrated the political process and, ultimately, the voters. "This is about protecting the integrity of our electoral system and I couldn't just ignore it."

Earle took a humorous approach, so that he wasn't thrown off-stride by the attacks.

"Being called vindictive and partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog."
In the climate "debate" it is probably also a good idea to bring the discussion back to the facts. Our strong point is that we have science on our side. Try to make mitigations skeptics to stick to one point and debate this in detail, that exposes their weakest side. Point the lurkers to all their factual and thinking errors, debating tricks and attempts to change the topic.

Poor African babies

So how to respond next time someone claims that scientists doing their job to understand the climate system and how the climate is changing are killing African babies that need coal to survive? Explain that it is a typical strategy for political extremists to claim that other people do what they themselves do, that they do this to confuse the audience. That this endangers our open democratic societies and in the end our freedom and prosperity.

That the opposition to mitigation is delaying solving the problem and that this will kill many vulnerable people. Unfortunately, we do not only have nice people on this world, for some the impacts of climate change may the reason to want to delay solving the problem. Thus it is likely good to also note that the largest economic damages will be in the industrialized countries. That the reason we are wealthy and powerful is our investment in capital. That these investments have been made for the climate of the past. That the high input of capital means that industrialized societies are highly optimized and more easily disrupted.

I would also explain that in the current phase the industrialized world needs to build up renewable energy systems to drive the costs down. That no one expects poor countries to do this. Because many African countries have a very low population density, centralized power plants would need expensive distribution systems and ever cheaper renewable energy is often a good choice, especially in combination with cell phones. Building up a renewable energy system in the industrialized world would also reduce demand of fossil fuels on the world market and lower the prices for the global poor.

Any ideas to put more humor in this response? I have been living in Germany for too long.

Related reading

Denying reality may be nice on the short-term, but is not a viable long-term strategy, as Donald Trump's nomination shows: Believe me, the GOP needs to open itself to rational debate

Be aware that not everyone shares your values: Do dissenters like climate change?

How to talk with mitigation skeptics online: My immature and neurotic fixation on WUWT.

How to talk with someone you know in person about climate change: How to talk to uncle Bob, the climate ostrich.

* Solar power world wide figure by SolarGIS © 2011 GeoModel Solar s.r.o. This figure is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


  1. In answer to the claim that, "scientists doing their job to understand the climate system and how the climate is changing are killing African babies that need coal to survive", I'd probably say something like...

    It's highly cynical to suggest selling Africans coal as their only solution to problems. China went down that route to pull their population out of poverty and now their pollution from coal burning is killing 4,000 people every day. Is that what they wish on Africans? [And it's vital to link to credible evidence: ]

  2. Yes, it is important to link to further credible information, such as the Guardian on the enormous death toll of coal due to air pollution. That may be why mitigation skeptics put so much effort in destroying the reputation of reputable sources, so that they can claim that it is not credible information.

  3. I realize this is tangential to your post, but it's worth pointing out that the charges against Tom DeLay were ultimately thrown out and that Ronnie Earle had a history of bringing legally dubious indictments against candidates shortly before elections. So using humor to deflect accusations doesn't necessarily mean those accusations aren't accurate.

  4. Yes, I did not check this. This being politics, I guess every side has its own view of what happened, especially in the USA where there is no common public debate anymore.

  5. Each and every time I see a figure like the second of VV's post I wonder what the Australians were thinking.

  6. Magma, good question. I guess they did not foresee the time that they would become a renewable energy power house and producer of high-energy density products for the world market.


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