Global Warming Skeptic Challenge presents the results of my $30,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge.
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In 2007 I came across a challenge on the Internet made to climate change advocates – The Ultimate Global Warming Challenge (http://ultimateglobalwarmingchallenge.com/). The challenge promised to pay $500,000 to anyone that could prove global warming was real and the damage was greater than the benefits. It was made on the JunkScience.com website. I have always thought this is a most appropriately named website because it specializes in anti-science and is truly junk science. Here is the challenge as presented:
$500,000 will be awarded to the first person to prove, in a scientific manner, that humans are causing harmful global warming. The winning entry will specifically reject both of the following two hypotheses:
UGWC Hypothesis 1
Manmade emissions of greenhouse gases do not discernibly, significantly and predictably cause increases in global surface and tropospheric temperatures along with associated stratospheric cooling.
UGWC Hypothesis 2
The benefits equal or exceed the costs of any increases in global temperature caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions between the present time and the year 2100, when all global social, economic and environmental effects are considered.
By submitting an entry to the contest, entrants agree to the following terms and conditions:
1. Entrants agreed to be bound by the UGWC Rules.
2. Entrants acknowledge that the concepts and terms mentioned and referred to in the UGWC hypotheses are inherently and necessarily vague, and involve subjective judgment. JunkScience.com reserves the exclusive right to determine the meaning and application of such concepts and terms in order to facilitate the purpose of the contest.
3. JunkScience.com, in its sole discretion, will determine the winner, if any, from UGWC entries. All determinations made by JunkScience.com are final.
4. The winner, if any, will receive $500,000 in a single, lump sum payment. JunkScience.com does not promise or guarantee that the UGWC will have any winner.
5. All entries must represent the original work of an entrant that has been produced specifically for the UGWC.
6. All data used in an entry must be publicly available and readily accessible to the public.
7. Entries will be accepted starting August 7, 2007.
8. A fee of $15 is required for each entry submitted. There will be no refunds of entry fees.
9. No entries will be accepted after December 1, 2008.
10. The results of the UGWC will be announced on February 1, 2009.
11. All entries must be submitted in MS Word or PDF format.
12. Entries must include a summary or abstract of no more than 700 words for each hypothesis.
13. Entrants consent to their entries being posted on the contest web site for public review and comment.
14. Entrants waive all rights and claims against JunkScience.com related to, or arising from the UGWC.
I believed from the outset that he did not have the $500,000 to award and that he had no intention of doing so, even if he did. I thought then, and I think now, the only reason he did this was so he could hold it up and claim, “See! No one could prove global warming is real, even for $500,000!” Notice the key rule number 3. There is only one judge and the reason for his decision was not going to be provided. In other words, he didn’t even have to read the submissions. All he had to do is state there were no winners and then make the claim no one could prove global warming was real.
This didn’t really irk me much, but it did irk me just enough to pay my $15 and make a submission, simply to prove him a fraud. I have included my submission, without changes, as chapter 2 in the book.
But, this set some things into motion for me. The first was that I initiated my own challenge, the $1000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. I was writing a blog in those days, Tales From the Travels, which was free-form and allowed me to post on whatever struck my fancy. I posted my challenge on that blog and I honestly expected few, if any, submissions. In fact, I received a few submissions and the comments were pretty lively.
The premise of the challenge was that global warming skeptics deny global warming exists (hence, the nickname ‘deniers’) and I have heard or read many of them say they can prove it. I said, ‘Fine. You say you can prove global warming isn’t real, I’ll pay you $1000 to do just that.’ The rules were very simple, even simpler than the JunkScience rules. I made it open to anyone over the age of 18, but there were two major differences between my challenge and JunkScience – I had no entry fee, it was free; and I would respond to all submissions and show my rationale for why the submission was, or was not, valid. The submissions did not even have to be original, it could be copied from somewhere else.
Very simple. And, with all of the people going around claiming they could do it you would think my $1000 was as good as gone. That is why I limited it to $1000. Unlike JunkScience, I had the money and was prepared to pay it to anyone that could assure me global warming was not real.
This was a real eye-opening experience for me. As a scientist, I look at the data and go where the science leads me. It is a real statement of just how naïve I can be that I thought other people would act the same way – put our cards on the table and let’s go where the science says we have to. I now know better. What I have found is that people who deny global warming and climate change have fallen into a religious-like delusion and there is simply no amount of science or evidence that will change their minds. They reject any and all science and evidence that does not conform to their world view. It was a rough lesson to learn and was completely counter to the way I think. I mean, it would never occur to me to watch an experiment and then flat-out deny the results. But, that is what deniers do. I now understand just how readily some people will reject science.
To give deniers some credit, it isn’t entirely their fault because there is a large group funded by the fossil-fuel industry with the express purpose to deceive people. The people involved with this deception campaign are very skilled and battle-tested. Many of the people involved are the same people involved with the tobacco campaign to deny research linking smoking and lung-disease. In fact, the Heartland Institute, one of the most notorious denier organizations, awards the Frederick Seitz Memorial Award. In case you don’t know, Frederick Seitz was one of the principle architects behind the tobacco campaign to confuse the science linking smoking and lung disease.
So, people trying to figure out the science are deluged with all of this misinformation by people that are very skilled at deception. It is no surprise so many are fooled. Still, it is their responsibility to do their homework and find out the truth and this they have failed to do. I can forgive them somewhat, but only some.
Eventually, I stopped doing that blog and moved on. Then, in 2012 I started a new blog – Dialogs on Global Warming (http://dialoguesonglobalwarming.blogspot.com/). This blog is devoted entirely to discussing the issues surrounding global warming and climate change. On April 10, 2012, I reissued my $1000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge with the same rules:
1. I will award $1000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that man-made global climate change is not occurring;
2. There is no entry fee;
3. You must be 18 years old or older to enter;
4. Entries do not have to be original, they only need to be first;
5. I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.
Very simple. Again, I did not really expect it to get very much attention, it was just something I wanted to do. When I didn’t get any submissions I raised the ante and made it the $10,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. I had been involved with climate science, at some level, for 30 years by this point and had pretty much heard every claim that was supposed to prove manmade global warming wasn’t real, so I was confident my money was safe.
At the same time I started that blog I decided to take my original submission (discussed above and shown below in chapter two) and turn it into a full-length book. I had written a book debunking the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world myth and had really enjoyed it. The format of the book followed the format of Galileo’s work, Dialogues on Two World Systems, where he had three people debating the evidence. One person was a believer in one world theory, a second person supported a counter theory and a third person was a fence-sitter, going back and forth between the two. Galileo’s books were the first scientific books written for the average person and were written in Italian, versus Latin. They are actually quite readable, even today, and I recommend his works to anyone with an interest in science. In honor of Galileo, I named my book after his books and called it Dialogues on 2012: Why the World Will Not End. The book consisted of three friends debating the calendar myth via emails. One friend believed in the myth, one denied it and a third played the middle.
I wrote that book in response to all of the people that were asking me about the myth that the world would end on December 21, 2012 because the Mayan calendar came to an end. I was getting questions in the classroom, at parties, via emails and even just going out for a walk. I never thought the book would sell and didn’t write it for that reason. You can write a book that says the world will end and you’ll sell a million copies. But, if you write a book that says the world will not end, no one will be interested. I guess it’s a statement of our culture. In any event, the book actually sold much better than expected and I had a lot of fun doing interviews and talks.
After that experience, I decided to write a book on global warming. Mid-way through the writing I abandoned the project and let it sit for over a year. Then, I decided it was something I wanted to do. I resurrected the project and used the format of my first book. Using the same three friends and the email format, I took my original JunkScience submission and expanded it to prove global warming was real. My nickname for the book was The Book Nobody Will Read. It was very heavy on the science, despite my best efforts to trim it down, and books on science don’t sell well. I also figured anyone that supports the science wouldn’t need to read it and anyone denying the science wouldn’t read it. But, that isn’t why I wrote it. I wrote it because it was something I wanted to do. I published Undeniable! Dialogues on Global Warming in the spring of 2014.
Contrary to many claims, I did not write the book to make money. If your name isn’t Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson, it isn’t likely you’ll make money off a science book. Again, contrary to many claims, I did not make the challenge to promote my book. As you can tell by the blog name, I was already thinking about the book when I started the blog, but the challenge came many years before any of that. The irony is, as I explained above, the book originated as a result of the challenge, not the other way around.
Along with the publication was a press release and the press release mentioned my challenge. All of sudden, my challenge got a lot of attention and I started getting interview requests. The online TV show, The Young Turks, did a very nice piece on the challenge and two of the announcers, Cenk Uygar and Jimmy Dore, each pledged $10,000 of their own money to the challenge and it became the $30,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. The challenge had gone viral and I was unprepared for what happened.
Submissions to the challenge started coming in, slowly at first but it built very quickly to the point that the only thing I was doing was addressing comments and submissions. I was getting hundreds of comments every day and I received hundreds of submissions (including many repeat claims) in a matter of a few weeks. At the worst part of the challenge I went to work addressing submissions at 6 AM one morning and was still sitting there 2 AM the next morning. I had even eaten my two meals while sitting at the computer. I was exhausting myself trying to keep everything under control.
At this point I realized I had to make some changes. One of the changes I made, thanks to a suggestion made by a reader, was to stop moderating all comments. I was receiving hundreds of comments every day at the height of the challenge and I didn’t want to post offensive comments. But, I was so overwhelmed that I finally allowed the comments to go straight to publication and would review them later to see if any needed to be removed (many did). This allowed commenters to talk to each other without my having to act as the moderator and it freed up a bunch of my time.
Also, submissions were coming in so fast I was having a hard time keeping track of them all. I made a page showing the submissions and this helped me keep everything organized. This provided submitters with a means of keeping track of my responses and to see where their submission was in the pecking order. That freed me up from having to continuously respond to people angrily claiming I was ignoring their submission.
Another major change I made was to put a deadline on the challenge – July 31st, 2014. As much as I enjoyed the challenge, it was, quite literally, the only thing I was doing and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but challenge responses. I gave myself until September 30th to respond to all submissions because I was expecting a surge of submissions right before the deadline. As it turned out, I did indeed get a surge, but it was manageable and I finished all submission by mid-August.
Still, I got plenty of comments from people that didn’t bother doing their homework and just wanted to lash out:
I’m thinking of offering my own challenge, that the Earth is at the centre of the solar system. I will offer £100,000 to anyone who can prove to my satisfaction that it isnt. I will be the sole judge in this matter. Thought Id ask your permission first though Chris seen has you have invented this type of contest
The experience was a good one and I had a great time doing it, despite the level of commitment required of my time. I am including all original submissions with my responses below, along with a guide to them all. I have left the submissions as I received them. I made some minor format changes, but the submissions themselves are as I received them.
But, in addition to the challenge, I observed several interesting things and I address these in addition to the submissions. Also, there is an index at the end of the book, if you are looking for a particular topic.