Top 5 Climate "Skeptic" Red Herrings

Read time: 4 mins
red herring
  1. A smoked herring having a reddish color.
  2. Something that draws attention away from the central issue.

Whether it's in on a right-wing blog, an online forum or at a family dinner, we've all heard an array of lame arguments against the realities of human-induced climate change.

Here's the top 5 red herrings:

1. A group of “experts” signed a letter stating that there is no consensus on climate change

Science is a process of proposing an hypothesis, testing it and then publishing those results in a peer-reviewed research journal. A letter signed by a bunch of people stating that the theory of human-caused global warming is wrong does not prove anything scientifically.

In any major scientific issue there is always a group of outliers and contrarians who challenge the scientific consensus. However, the normal means for such outliers to “debate” issues of science is not to sign letters and go on Fox News, but to do real research and prove the consensus to be wrong.

Published research is the only way contrarians can refute the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to human-caused global warming. Anything other than research is a red-herring.

2. The climate is always changing - it's natural

The fact that there has been historical variation in temperature and greenhouse gas levels is well known in science. But natural variation is not what has been observed since the industrial revolution. Check out this graph.

Scientists are observing an unprecedented upswing of greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere and it is not only the never-before-seen concentrations that are concerning, it is also the rate of change. Gradual changes over thousands of years allow species to adapt, but the rapidity of the changes we are seeing today does not allow for such adaptation. Here's what that looks like in terms of temperature rise.

In other words, the climate change we are seeing today is not “natural,” and to compare it to past fluctuations is like comparing apples to, well, red herrings.

3. Scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970's

And in the 1950's scientists were using LSD to treat alcoholism. The body of knowledge gained by science is always evolving, and we use our best knowledge at any given time to make decisions. In 1971 scientists did indeed claim that the earth could possibly cool due the massive increase in the use of aerosol pollution.

However, the claim was very short lived and further research found that any cooling effects of aerosol in the atmosphere would be overwhelmed by the warming effects of human-produced greenhouse gases.

Comparing the massive amounts of scientific research and multiple lines of evidence pointing to human-caused climate change, to the 37 year old short-lived theory of global cooling is nothing but a smelly, old red herring.

4. Al Gore flies around the world in carbon-emitting jets

Al Gore has done an amazing job communicating the science of climate change, and his Oscar-wining film and Nobel Prize prove that. Gore travels around the world raising awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and his efforts have greatly advanced the issue. Any excessive greenhouse gas emissions Gore uses in these have been outstripped by the amazing work he has done.

What would you have Gore do? Walk to China?

Whether you agree with me or not, Al Gore is only one individual and to hold him up as a reason to not do anything personally to reduce your carbon footprint it a lame excuse for inaction.

5. The Mann “hockey stick” graph

A climate reconstruction published in 1998(pdf) by Dr. Micheal Mann showed a major and unprecedented upswing in temperatures compared to previous 2,000 years. The graph showed relatively flat temperature recordings with a dramatic upturn in the last half century making the graph look like a hockey stick. Here's the graph.

The Mann Hockey Stick graph featured prominently in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has been the focus of attacks by so-called “climate skeptics” ever since. Most of the attack focused on a minor statistical flaw that was uncovered in Mann's original reconstruction graph. This minor flaw was flogged as somehow proving that the entire theory of human-caused climate change was in question.

The Mann “hockey stick” was one study done 9 years ago that has since been replicated by numerous other studies through multiple lines of evidence. Look at this graph for other comparable reconstructions. In fact, a 2006 report issued(pdf) by the US National Academy of Science stated this of the Mann “hockey stick:”

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world.”

In other words, the Hockey Stick is just another red herring propped up by those who insist on keeping their heads firmly planted in the nice warm (and getting warmer) sand.

Like what you read on DeSmogBlog? Subscribe to our RSS feed here.

Get DeSmog News and Alerts


Hey, Kevin, I think your processor hiccuped. You’ve got Gore in there twice, and two #3’s.

But good points, also known as “that old chestnut” x5

Some people over-state the threat. Some media stories do hype worst case scenarios.

Some people are trying to take advantage of efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Al Gore is fat and his kid may have smoked pot.

It got warm and cold in the past without people; surely that means humans aren’t affecting anything now.

The ‘I’ in IPCC stands for Intergovernmental (clearly a sign of Communist motives since it’s inception) – it’s all a plot to take our money and give it to other countries. It’s simultaneously somehow also a plot to keep the third world poor (see Lomborg).

Warmer climates have some benefits in some cases.

Someone who thinks AGW is concerning was also worried about Y2K.

The AGW hypothesis hasn’t been ‘proved’ (never mind that you can’t prove an hypothesis).

They call it “climate change” now instead of “global warming” – watch them retreat (and ignore the last two consonants in IPCC). …

Um, I think that’s it. How can you deny us equal time to argue.

Oh, but there’s that word “deny” – clearly the science is wrong because some people who call us “deniers” think it’s right, and they’re clearly trying to associate us with holocaust deniers.

“Al Gore is fat”

True. This is largely due to his steady diet of endangered sea bass.

“and his kid may have smoked pot.

True.may have smoked pot”? He confessed to it.

“On July 4, 2007, Gore was arrested in Laguna Hills in Orange County, California for speeding over 100 MPH in a Toyota Prius. Gore admitted to recently smoking marijuana and was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana along with prescription drugs. Police reported that Gore had not been prescribed the drugs.[8][9][10] On July 20, 2007 Gore was charged with two felony counts of possession of a controlled substance, two misdemeanor counts of possessing a controlled substance without a prescription, one misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana, and a traffic infraction for driving at a speed greater than 100 miles per hour.[11][12] On July 30, 2007, Gore pleaded guilty to two felony counts of drug possession, two misdemeanor counts of drug possession without a prescription and one misdemeanor count of marijuana possession, according to the district attorney’s office.[13]”

“it’s all a plot to take our money and give it to other countries. It’s simultaneously somehow also a plot to keep the third world poor (see Lomborg).”

Without ascribing motives, are you saying the end result won’t be the same?

“Warmer climates have some benefits in some cases.”

Are you claiming this isn’t True?

“The AGW hypothesis hasn’t been ‘proved’ (never mind that you can’t prove an hypothesis).”

LOL! I don’t know what post-modernist school you went to, but in the case of AGW, you are (unwittingly) probably correct.

“They call it “climate change” now instead of “global warming” – watch them retreat (and ignore the last two consonants in IPCC). … “

It wasn’t so long ago that the prevailing fear was another ice age, so it’s understandable that people take this latest prognostication with a huge pound of salt.

Well, some of us, at any rate.

Sea bass is not on the endangered species list. Not even if you are pretending to be Canadian. Do you mean Chilean sea bass. Not that, either.

It’s great to see a post from you that isn’t 90% insults. And also I’m happy to see evidence of reading (I learned something! – but I never would have cared to look it up because it’s irrelevant, which was my point). I just wish that you would have taken my advice (provided on another thread) and looked up philosophy of science and Karl Popper. Really, it would help. Compare falsification, validation, and mathematical proof on wikipedia.

Rob…if you wiggled your ears, would you fly?

Are you a Ted Nugent psycho-Republican kill-kill-kill neoFascist that hates the Constitution?

You “shure” sound like one.

Please learn basic American English. When you’re finished, try arguing your point. Until then, your point is nothing but gibberish that makes no sense to anyone.

Dear R.F. I thought my post was funny. Kevin could tell it was a joke, I think, at least judging from his response. I was repeating stupid things that AGW deniers say in an attempt to garner support for their assertions. In some cases I had to put stuff in parentheses (like the part about hypotheses not being proved in the scientific method) because some people active on this blog have misunderstandings basic enough that they wouldn’t get it.

Can anyone explaine how the SUV’s on earth can be responsible for the ice melting on Saturns Moons and the other planets, further than earth from the sun, experiencing similar melting?

Can someone also explain to me why 400 credited scientist dissenting Gors ideals are being laughed at and ignored?

Can someone explain why the polar bear stranded on an ice patch is used as a mascot when the polar bear can swin up to 200 miles?

The witch doctors from ancient times knew the sun cycles and appropriately used this secret knowledge as a mean to munipulate societies, much the same way as how climate change is a catalyst for the carbon tax, used to fund the UN.

Is it just me or could the suns radients be responsible for climate change?

Hw can we bring stability to an unstable planet. Earth has never been stable, infact, no planet in our solar system has been stable?

Something smeels fishy!

“Science is a process of proposing an hypothesis, testing it”

End of story.

Now for your mendacity:

“… and then publishing those results in a peer-reviewed research journal.”

Nope. Has nothing to do with the scientific process. Whether or not something is published has no bearing on it’s scientific validity. Does the fact that much of nuclear research, which is never published for reasons of national security, make it just so much crazy pseudo-science? And in what scientific journal did Galileo publish his work? By your standards, then, the Earth is the centre of the solar system and nuclear energy is a big hoax.

” A letter signed by a bunch of people stating that the theory of human-caused global warming is wrong does not prove anything scientifically.”

I can’t even count the times you’ve repeated this logical error. The burden of proof is on those who champion a particular hypothesis – it is not on anyone else to disprove it.

And this brings us to your very own red herring:

The hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming has never yet been conclusively proven.

So how do you expect anyone to disprove what has never been proven in the first place?

Yet another error you continually make is that there is a “consensus”. This is demonstrably untrue. Your attempt to dismiss those disputing your claim as “a bunch of people” (all bonafide experts in the field, no less – and including members of the IPCC panel!) is prima facie evidence.

And if you hadn’t already tried to squeeze in enough of your own red herrings, the biggest one is that science does not require or depend on any “consensus”. Science is not a democracy.

No matter how many times you repeat your fallacies, it won’t make them true. Not that it will stop you. You are employed in PR, and not science, after all, and you do have an axe to grind.

“Published research is the only way contrarians can refute the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to human-caused global warming. Anything other than research is a red-herring.”

If the evidence is so “overwhelming”, then why do so many people dispute it? Apparently it’s not that overwhelming. Otherwise, why would it need a PR company to shill for it? In reality, the evidence, such as it is, even though you are eager to view it as “overwhelming”, is very far from conclusive. That’s the part you seem to consistently overlook.

if our fridges and aerosols can make a hole in the ozone layer, then i suspect that billions and billions of tonnes of co2 accumulating year after year will also have an effect on the atmosphere and climate.

Seeing that human co2 emissions and global temperature increases seem to be moving in concert is glaring enough already….

You forgot my favorite:

“When was the last time the weather girl had the right prediction for tomorrow’s weather. How could they possible predict what will happen 50 years from now?”

With Straw Men of course!

“1. A group of “experts” signed a letter stating that there is no consensus on climate change”
Never mind the research that does exist, and never mind that Global Warming hasn’t been proven… the important thing is that these people sent a letter to Fox news….
they must be wrong!

2. The climate is always changing - it’s natural

Woah this is a red-straw-herring-man. we go from greenhouse gases directly to tempurature. Lets never-mind that the consensus on the ICE AGE is that it happened rapidly. So yes, a long long time before factories existed, tempuratures changed wildly and quickly. We have proof! But the important thing here isn’t the facts… its that I can make a funny comment like “comparing apples to, well, red herrings”

“3. Scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970’s
Another red-straw-herring-man: Hey who cares what scientists said, lets talk about LSD and alcohol! See old scientists are stupid, our new scientists are cool! What? you want to mention that scientific consensus can change really fast? but OLD SCIENTISTS ARE STUPID!

“4. Al Gore flies around the world in carbon-emitting jets”
red herring: No one ever said that global warming doesn’t exist because Al Gore is bad at PR. Many people do say that he is silly!

5. The Mann “hockey stick” graph
Straw man: Look everyone… there was once this study, and it was botched… but it doesn’t matter… ergo people who don’t beleive in global warming must be wrong!

Now, I know that the red herrings used to dispute the red herrings in this article are easy to see. But the Straw man attacks aren’t so easy . The article as a whole is a strawman attack. Basically we take 5 barely relevant facts, make weak arguments that somehow by disproving (or at least trying to disprove) them, we will prove Global Warming Exists. This doesn’t compute.

Why dont we talk about real facts! Like holes in the ozone are nowhere near any producers or polution. Last time I checked, Antarctica and Greenland don’t produce much polution. And don’t blame the trade winds, because trade winds always come in pairs. If one is going north, another is going south (or east and west).

Lets talk about how today we can measure tempurature really accurately, but to look into the past we have to use cruder measurements (that may miss rapid variations in temp).

Lets talk about how in the 1990’s a volcano erupted (sorry don’t remember the year), releasing more greenhouse gases in the air than what was produced by the whole industrialized world that year… and even though there was a major localized change in temp. and weather, there was no temperature change on a global level that could be attributed to this eruption.

Lets talk about how alot of greenhouse gas is heavier than air, so it doesn’t stay high in the atmosphere long.

QUOTE “Why dont we talk about real facts! Like holes in the ozone are nowhere near any producers or polution. Last time I checked, Antarctica and Greenland don’t produce much polution.” END QUOTE

Are you for real? (you sound like a environmentalist trying to make the “deniers” sound stupid.)
Personally I’ll be taking my advice on pollution from someone that can spell it.

You should.
A lot of garbage was just spewed out.
1.If someone has to depend on Fox News to make some sort
of scientific point….there can’t be much substance
to their point of view.
2.When you read something, try to comprehend what’s
printed. What part of ‘not “natural” ’ did you not
3.Didn’t pick up on this one either, did you?
4.Silly? To whom? Your immediate family circle?
5.Go back and read it again. This time see if you can get
past the word “flaw”. Read the whole thing!

Also, when you start ranting about ozone and CO2,and their interaction with the atmosphere….it really would be helpful if you knew what you were talking about!
By the way…get a dictionary, your spelling sucks…

Very much agree with everything you’ve said, but one minor point: “never-before-seen concentrations” [of GHG]. That’s not really true in the literal sense, at least for CO2. In the Eocene period CO2 concentrations ranged 1000-4000+ ppm, far higher than today; although that was 50 odd million years ago and the planet was just a lil bit warmer…

[ref: Pearson, Paul N and Martin R Palmer. 2000. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 60 million years. Nature.]

Except that the Eocene was not a period. Are you clear on the geological time scale? No worries. You are way ahead of the deniers.

Yes of course - epoch, not period. (Right?) But that wasn’t really my point ;)

John McAllen: Everybody with access to the internet can answer this. You could go to a science site and find entire posts on exactly this topic. Search, or Coby Beck’s guide (, or go to the Scientific American guide to climate change for the perplexed (helpfully linked on the first page of You’ll find plenty of help there for a bunch of the other bad arguments that folks post.

New Scientist (linked from the front page), not Scientific American. Happy reading! []

I didnt look it up, but if required I can. My first impulse is to say both, and in complicated dynamics. One can trigger the other and vice versa. Changes in orbit, tilt axis, solar intensity, earth surface cover can modify amount of energy hitting and absorbed by the earth and thus temperature can be effected. CO2 levels will flux with temperature generally CO2 levels rise with temp, and lower with falling temp. As CO2 is a greenhouse gas, if you raise its concentration it will modify temperature and facilitate further warming and lowering it will of course cause cooling… “feeding on each other” is a good way of looking at it.

You didn’t really expand enough on the two main arguments of climate denial intellectuals:

a) Gore is fat

b) Gore has an big house

If these are true, then it follows that CO2 cannot absorb energy, and CO2 is not generated from human burning of fossil fuels.

Is done by John Cook at:

he’s got a top-level list of ~50 arguments, each pointing to a well-explained web-page, with charts, references, and pointers to posting that use this argument. I’m working with him to make the list a little easier to use, because it makes little sense to keep posting short lists again and again.

You know it would be even cooler if websites like this one had software that would scan comments for the most frequently repeated silly contrarian arguments and insert helpful links to the full explanation so that others don’t have to continually post (inferior) corrections.

Somehow I missed the site…
I suspect The Skepticalscience title made me suspicious.

It uses the term “skeptical” in the classic old form of having an open mind, weighing evidence carefully, and changing your mind when the evidence does. I.e., it’s like “The Skeptical Inquirer” or “Skeptic” magazines, or the idea that scientists are generally trained to think skeptically.

Now, had I pointed you at a website called, you might have real cause to worry … but nobody would use that name :-), and it is certainly the case that the claims of some people to be skeptics are misleading.

I visited John Cook’s site, too, and read his “about us” page. It’s curious that he got into this issue more or less the way I did. He says he keeps hoping to be convinced by one of the skeptic’s arguments – don’t we ALL wish it were all a mistake? It’s amazing to me that there is so much information available these days, and so few people make the effort to dig into it, rather than trolling the headlines and soundbites, skimming across the surface. Inhofe said it? Must be true – he’s important. Tim Ball was the first Cdn PhD in climatology? Must be true – he wouldn’t stand there & lie to our faces. Whatever happened to critical thinking?

The title “skeptical science” is a reference to the kind of “science” you read on skeptic websites which are often dubious in nature (aka skeptical). I can see how the title might be taken the wrong way - hopefully the content of the site clarifies things.

Femack, I probably should update the About Us page - I’ve moved on from ‘hoping to be convinced by a skeptic argument’. When I started my list of skeptic arguments, it was like a ‘whodunnit’, working out which was the most likely cause of global warming. Since then, the empirical evidence for the warming effect of CO2 is so clear, the more pertinent question for skeptics isn’t “if not CO2, what do you think is causing global warming?” but “with all the extra co2 in the atmosphere, why isn’t it causing warming?”

Have you had the argument that CO2 is heavier than air so it sinks to the ground or to the ocean instead of rising up and causing the greenhouse effect?

Thankfully no, but really, the “volcanos emit more CO2 that people do”, types would be the only ones to say such a thing.

What a coincidence, I believe some of them have made that argument, too. And the one about Mars having global warming.

Hi Guys,
This may be seen as a highjack of the post, but it is done with the intention of looking at the problem from a different angle.
It is clear that the evidence or lack there of, and the question of whether or not it is conclusive evidence are all CONTENTIOUS issues… Thats what all the posts so far seem to be discussing.

But I wanted to ‘step back’ from the problem and put it into context. Lets imagine that we are looking from Mars.
Clearly the issue here is one of suffering, both the immediate and possible long-term potential for suffering as a result of climate change, global warming etc.

I think that there is an emerging (albeit) slowly emerging recognition of scientific instrumentalism, whereby people are realising that no matter what the issue, the advancement of science depends upon ‘holding lightly’ onto your scientific conclusions.

All science is contentious because it is based on perception. When an issue is looked at from the same perspective, it is possible to gain some consensus and have a dialogue about it.

I’m not sure if people will get what I’m trying to say. But if you have a vested interest in proving climate change ‘wrong’, you will be able to gather the ‘evidence’ to support the THEORY that the earth will not get significantly warmer.
Similarly if you have an interest in proving climate change ‘right’, you will be able to gather the ‘evidence’ to support the THEORY that the earth WILL get significantly warmer.

The point is to use the consensus of both views to guide ACTION. There is NO conclusive proof either way. But logically speaking, is it appropriate to gamble with the future of the earth just because you are so self-righteous to think that you have scientific proof.

I think a number of people have illustrated that science is the testing of theories. In the same way that I would not be willing to use my family to test a hypothetical experimental nuclear powered engine in a car (that was still only ‘proven’ to be safe on paper).

I am not willing to, arrogant enough, or sadistic enough to consciously GAMBLE the future of the earth on a bunch of scientific speculation. If and when there is evidence that man made climate change is a myth, I will get back in an SUV and live like a king!
Until then, what fucking arrogance it would be to use a questionable theory to justify causing suffering for future generations.

Siddhartha Guatama (aka the buddha), made the analogy that if you were “shot by a poison arrow, would you spend the time asking who shot you, what kind of bow they used, whether they were a king, a brahamin or a beggar…” No! Because by the time you had the answer to all of your speculation, you would be dead!

Simply put, and directed at the idiots who are attempting to disprove climate change so that they don’t have to make the effort to change their lifestyle… AND, the hypocrits who will argue the point of climate change and then just do nothing…
Don’t Gamble with my future…
Noah Akira-Snow Coghlan
(my son aged 2 yrs)

Reply to my own Post!
I think it is great to argue the point by the way, I am just trying to illustrate that;
1) The Onus is on the Climate Change ‘nay sayers’, to prove why we shouldn’t change our lives, MORE SO, than the onus is on Climate Change ‘believers’ to prove why we should change our lives.

Until we either, “start cooking”, or have a “Y2K type Anticlimax in 50 years time” we will not conclusively know how the THEORIES translate into fact.
If there is even a semblance of consensus amongst any type of scientific community, that there will be DISASTOROUS consequences, we should ACT on it.

IF and I emphasize IF it is necessary to critique this scientific theory publically, than it should be done with the utmost humility and clarity…
People who speak out against climate change (as well as those who support it) should say IF my theory is correct, this is what the consequences are… and allow people to make up their minds by comparing;

There is so much finger pointing at Al Gore, while he may be a hypocrit (to varying degrees), it must be argued that his efforts are at least in some way connected to a motivation that has some logical integrity.

Yes it is a theory, but I think it is the height of arrogance to paint a picture of Al Gore and a huge number of the scientific community whose theories are in line with his, as ignorant ‘doomsday’ people on the street corners shouting “the end of the world is nigh”, they seem to me to be quite rational people who are analysing the effects of man on the ecosystem which he is a part of, and putting to people the NECESSITY of doing the same. I think there is enough evidence to consider their theories seriously and change our actions accordingly.



Ha ha!!!I hate when I try to say something emphatic and stuff it up. Anyway, please think about it people. There is a big whole in this debate so far, and where I come from big holes (such as the one in the ozone layer over Australia) have actually palpable effects that can be seen.

2 weeks ago I cut a skin cancer out of a guys ear. At least that was my perception. How many of you would care to RISK arguing the validity of my perception in 50 years time when I am treating the negative effects of a failure to recognize mans contribution to global warming?!?

Dr Patrick Coghlan

Just in case someone pedantic tries to evade the point…
“Whole” in the context of the last post should be spelt H O L E . My humblest Apologies!
Anyway, get the point people, have some integrity, don’t be intellectual pedants, and arm chair theorists. Science is just one step in the process of acting with wisdom… Part of genuine wisdom is having the integrity to follow the theories that you propose and the humility to understand the context of alternative theories, and follow them AT LEAST until you have CONFIDENCE that the theory is wrong.

Keep up the dialogue and debate, but ACT too.