Telegraph Columnist Christopher Booker’s Groupthink Report for Climate Science Denial Group GWPF Debunks Itself

Group silouette

Originally published at The Daily Kos.

There’s a new .pdf out from the UK’s GWPF that attacks the climate consensus as being a product of groupthink. Deniers are promoting this “paper” like it’s very importantcartoons and all. The report’s author and UK Times columnist Christopher Booker has in the past also expressed skepticism of asbestos dangers and second hand smoking risks, so it’s no surprise he’s also “skeptical” of climate change.

Clocking in at over 100 pages, the “case study in groupthink” is basically a denier’s history of climate change, running through some classic denier attacks on climate science and esteemed scientists like Ben Santer and Michael Mann. (Funnily enough, Booker claims Mann’s hockey stick has been “widely discredited” when in fact it’s held up remarkably well in the nearly 20 years since its publication.)

Groupthink, of course, is a perfectly respectable pyscho-social theory about how (small) groups of decision-makers may overlook dissent and seek harmony to reach policy conclusions. Before launching into denial-land, Booker accurately describes groupthink as when people share a particular conclusion without actually examining the evidence, leading them to think everyone shares that consensus position, and then becoming hostile towards those who oppose it.

The idea that a groupthink belief is accepted “without a proper appraisal of evidence” is key to Booker’s claim that climate change consensus is groupthink. After all, if there is a proper appraisal of evidence, and everyone agrees, it’s just recognition of a fact, but agreement without first examining the evidence is simply belief.

Curiously, the report notes how “countless billions of dollars” have been spent testing the theory of climate change, including $2.8 billion appropriated for federal research by George H. W. Bush over four years. Billions of dollars of research sure sounds like an appraisal of evidence, but that’s just the first of many self-contradictions Booker makes throughout the report that undercut his contention that climate science is groupthink.

For example, in Chapter 10 Booker recounts how the BBC decided in 2006 to break the law to enforce the groupthink consensus on its programming and shut out skeptics. Yet two chapters later, Booker describes how the BBC aired an entire movie featuring skeptics in 2007. Maybe Booker’s editing group thinks 2007 comes before 2006?

Clearly the man has a problem with timelines: Booker’s description of the history of climate science is all over the place. And that is key to his undoing. Booker’s argument rests on the claim that the consensus was not reached after a period of lengthy scientific debate, but rather on a rapid change in the political landscape when it went from a non-issue to one of vital importance. This supposedly instant evolution is what differentiates climate groupthink from the normal scientific process of uncovering truth. At least, that’s the narrative Booker tries to advance.

But upon reading the report, one need not even know Tyndall first discovered the greenhouse effect over 150 years ago to know that scientists spent lots of time appraising the evidence. Booker himself provides ample indication that there was a decades-long scientific undertaking that went on before the issue became politically salient.

At one point, Booker claims that “we have now been living with the debate on global warming for 30 years,” which would suggest “the debate” started in ‘87. But Booker also writes that “the story began in obscurity in the late 1970s,” which was 40 years ago, pushing “the debate” back by a decade. He then pushes it back another 20 years when he points out that Richard Revelle started measuring CO2 “in the 1950s” which was what “more than anything else that helped to set the great alarm over global warming on its way.” This means that, even according to Booker, an appraisal of evidence for climate change began over 60 years ago.

Yet Booker claims that “in just four short years” between 1988 and 1992 the issue rose to “the top of the world’s political agenda” before he turns around an claims that “that it was never really a debate at all.”

So the debate, that’s apparently been happening “for 30 years”, started “in obscurity” some 40 years ago, but was actually “set… on its way” 60+ years ago when data was collected in the 1950s. Yet somehow in only “four short years” (‘88-’92) it became an important debate, but actually “it was never really a debate at all.” 

Weird that no one in the group of almost all-male GWPF team seems to have edited this report on groupthink with a skeptical eye. If they did, they missed all the times Booker acknowledges that decades of study undergird the climate consensus, which disproves the accusation of groupthink. Almost like the group responsible for the report shared this particular belief without having properly appraised the evidence…

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