Climate change denial is a professional’s pursuit, so we generally don’t pay much attention to its audience, the rank and file Republicans that make up a minority of the country yet somehow (entrenched white supremacy) hold the majority of the political power needed to move us off fossil fuels.
But it can be important to distinguish between what organized denial is pushing and what its audience finds interesting, and a great bellwether for that has been a former blogger-turned-tweeter, Tom Nelson. If you’ve ever tweeted anything about climate change, there’s a decent chance @tan123 has shown up in your mentions asking for proof of climate change, and then ignored your response providing such evidence.
Once a reliable source for daily updates on what climate denial’s popping, over the past year he’s gotten increasingly into COVID-19 conspiracies, and anti-mask and anti-vaxx content. (True to bellwether form, that transition is reflected across the climate denial network.) And unfortunately, that’s gotten him in trouble with Twitter, resulting in a 12-hour suspension last week for peddling some corona-cure pseudoscience posted about by Donna Laframboise, another climate denier turned covid (non-)expert.
He recovered his account after that, and went on another standard tweet spree. But then something odd happened. After literally years of daily tweeting, his feed fell silent on June 3rd, the day after his return from suspension. Odd! But not totally earth-shattering, people take breaks, after all!
So we went on, only to see others in the denial world retweeting an account “Nelson” @brd333, a user with an Albert Einstein avatar image who sure sounded a lot like Tom trying to evade a Twitter lock on his account. Sure enough, this account restarted and picked up posting at the same time @tan123 stopped, which made it a fairly quick scroll down to find that this is, in fact, the account Nelson started using when his other one was briefly banned back in 2015.
Now, had Twitter just permanently banned him back then, he wouldn’t have been able to troll climate scientists and activists until eventually getting a harsher punishment for trolling vaccine scientists and doctors. But they didn’t, and so he did. And he’s hardly alone.
Scrolling through Nelson’s old feed, we found a tweet that was exactly four years old as of yesterday, from denier and conspiracy theorist Tony Heller: “I predict a very rapid end to the global warming scam over the next few years.” Hmm, well it’s been a few years, and temperatures and sea levels are still rising, so the supposed “global warming scam” is unfortunately still going pretty strong!
Heller provides another example of how banning one type of disinformation and removing serial disinformation agents has co-benefits for other types of online discourse. After years of climate conspiracies about the temperature record being faked, he’s recently gotten a YouTube ban for peddling COVID-19 disinformation, yet again illustrating that contrarians are often just habitually wrong and jumping from one fashionable issue to the next in their quest to make themselves feel smarter than someone.
Case in point, today’s third expert on how to make a pseudo-brand out of contrarian pseudo-science is Steve McIntyre. These days he’s all about “auditing” Syrian chemical weapon use to inform Russian war crime apologia, and parsing Strzok emails to relive his climategate glory days. Recently, he's also been complaining about cancel culture after Indigenous people took down a statue of a man responsible for Canada’s boarding-school genocide of its First Nations people, spurred by the recent discovery of the remains of over 200 Indigenous children buried in an unmarked grave at a former British Columbia residential school.
But once upon a time the man behind Climate Audit blog fancied himself the only truly worthy judge of climate data (thus the name). His climate obsession was Dr. Michael Mann’s hockey stick, and the proxy science underpinning the iconic claim that recent warming is rapid and unprecedented for a thousand years of human history. For example, the most recent post on his “Climate Audit” blog is a piece about tree ring proxies posted March 2, but was actually written in 2015 and never published. “Seems just as valid today as when it was written,” he noted.
For years McIntyre’s conspiracy theory has been that Mann (and others) were rigging the studies by carefully selecting only those proxy records that support alarmism and discarding others. A new study published in Nature Communications on Monday that sought to double-check best practices actually serves as a great test for exactly this conspiracy theory.
To ensure there wasn’t any bias in selecting which records to use, the scientists set up a double-blind system to assemble 15 different Northern Hemisphere summer temperature records. These randomly selected records were then fed into the computer models to calculate what that meant for temperatures at the time. They took that output and compared it to what the thermometer record showed, and sure enough, they’re accurate!
In a way, McIntyre’s introduction to his post is true. It is just as valid now as it was 6 years ago. His claim wasn’t valid then, and it’s still not valid now!