Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Mapping the evolution of climate change ‘scepticism’ in British newspapers since 1990

with 23 comments

This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…


If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.

DenialOfScienceMy research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…

The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.

what ifWhat’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Why does this interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment.

In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

globalwarming_theoriesWhere is the conspiracy?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value).

However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).

Therefore, whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

sust devt iconWhat does this matter?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

Written by Martin Lack

1 June 2014 at 00:02

23 Responses

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  1. “Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed…” You do realize how ridiculous that sounds?


    1 June 2014 at 00:37

    • Take it up with James Hoggan

      Martin Lack

      1 June 2014 at 13:36

    • OK, maybe I’m missing something here but why is that statement so ridiculous? Especially if one reads the statement slightly amended, as “dependent upon an electorate that is truthfully informed ..”

      Paul Handover

      1 June 2014 at 17:11

      • I will be delighted to be proven wrong, Paul, but I suspect Kip is a climate change ‘sceptic’ who is convinced that the majority of relevant scientists and governments are not providing us with accurate information…

        Sadly, there is a great deal of evidence to show that a deficiency in the provision of information is not the problem… The problem is the motivated rejection of science that goes by a variety of names, including: cognitive dissonance, ideological blindness, optimism bias, selective deafness, or wishful thinking. However, whatever name you prefer to use, it looks like it is going to be deadly.

        Martin Lack

        1 June 2014 at 17:34

        • Martin, thanks for the link! I do hope Kip will be along in due course to reply. His views are of interest. Especially from someone who states, “I’m a liberal who thinks all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, although we’re far from realizing that dream.” Taken from here:

          Paul Handover

          1 June 2014 at 18:00

        • Well, not for the first time, it seems I was indeed jumping to conclusions! I too would therefore like to know why he thinks the Hoggan quote sounds ridiculous.

          Martin Lack

          2 June 2014 at 09:29

      • This is just my tuppence but the statement “Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed…” does not sound ridiculous at all. The following statement, on the other hand, would be utterly ludicrous: “Democracy can function perfectly well when the electorate is clueless.”

        Perhaps Kip made a simple mistake (perhaps of the kind I all too often make)?


        4 June 2014 at 10:56

        • Indeed. As such, we are all still waiting to be enlightened (and/or hoping that Kip was not terminally offended by my initial, hot-headed, dismissive remark).

          Martin Lack

          4 June 2014 at 14:22

        • D’oh. I think you’re being too sensitive. If his was a genuine mistake, the least he could do would be to accept that you’re capable of making them too. That’s assuming that what you said can be considered a mistake in the first place, and I think I should stop digging this hole before it’s too deep to climb out of.


          4 June 2014 at 17:35

        • Thanks Pendantry, but, really, what Paul did (i.e. check the About page of Kip’s blog) would only have taken a second or two. My problem is that I have become too accustomed to pseudoskeptics doing drive-by attacks on this blog – or carpet bombing it – both of which are very frustrating.

          Martin Lack

          5 June 2014 at 10:11

        • ‘Just check the about page’ sounds suspiciously like ‘just hit delete’ (the knee-jerk response one used to hear all the time when trying to explain to blinkered folk that one person’s ‘legitimate marketing message’ is another’s drop in a soul-destroying flood of spam.


          6 June 2014 at 17:37

        • Now you have lost me. Are you saying you think it would have been reasonable to assume Kip was a pseudosceptic/denier (and therefore treat his nonsensical comment as spam)?

          Martin Lack

          7 June 2014 at 10:06

    • Dear Kip. It seems I was indeed making unwarranted assumptions as to the meaning/purpose of your comment. I hope you will hereby accept my apologies and explain what on Earth you meant?

      Martin Lack

      2 June 2014 at 09:30

  2. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… I wish you every success with your PhD Martin. Your quote from James Hoggan is brilliant. ‘In promoting climate change denial… industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.’


    1 June 2014 at 07:17

    • Thank you. My favourite part of the quote is the last bit: “Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.”

      Martin Lack

      1 June 2014 at 17:36

  3. I don’t know if you have come across another Daily Mail so called Environmental Reporter by the name of Ben Spencer, could be a nom-de-plume (aka sock) for David Rose but what do I know.

    Spencer was brought to my attention by a commenter at Climate Progress who, under the post ‘Oil Lobby Overpowers Voters To Kill Statewide Fracking Ban In California’ cited this article:

    Fracking can help to slow global warming admit UN scientists… and so can nuclear power.

    Clearly Spencer is cheer-leading for the Cameron-Osborne-Fallon axis of evil.


    2 June 2014 at 16:14

    • You may well be right, Lionel. However, just at the moment, I am somewhat wary about jumping to conclusions (i.e. see comments above).

      Martin Lack

      2 June 2014 at 16:29

    • @anotheralionel (hi!) re the Daily Mail link you offer: why am I not surprised that (a) the linked Daily Mail (snort) article refers to a report without providing any clear information about how to find it (oddly, I expected to find a link to it, but that would be expecting too much from Old Media’s anal retentive attitude to eyeball trapping) and (b) in a report that cites many things that may be of help only one is highlighted (not so subtle implication: by someone with a vested interest in pushing the agenda of that one item above the others).

      WRT first post above, an accurately informed electorate is clearly not top of the bill in the minds of some…


      4 June 2014 at 11:33

      • ‘…(a) the linked Daily Mail (snort) article refers to a report without providing any clear information about how to find it…’

        Exactly a point I made in reply to Jakob Cronberg’s myth repetition at Climate Progress.

        As you will see there I did get to the bottom of where a specific quote mention in the Mail article came from.


        8 June 2014 at 15:11

  4. In the context of “Mapping the evolution of climate change ‘scepticism’ in British newspapers since 1990”, I would suggest the following as being relevant (if perhaps only tangentially, because of the narrow ‘British’ and ‘since 1990’ restrictions):

    The Corporation [IMDB info]
    Shadows of Liberty [IMDB info]
    Blind Spot [IMDB info]


    4 June 2014 at 11:20

  5. […] for the long gap between posts… Herewith an updated version of my previous post.  This, then, is the final version of my attempt to describe my research to fellow first-year PhD […]

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