Silly squawks, damn lies, and silly damn squawkish lies


It seems to me that we should stop ignoring the climate deniers for a while.

After all, they stop at nothing to ridicule what they paint as a massive, global climate change conspiracy to, um, something something but it’s bad and global and a conspiracy and you can make big bucks at it. Yet they seem immune to ridicule themselves, even though they make ridiculous damned claims.

A bit over a week ago I stumbled on a whole vein of particularly clueless tweets about climate.

A few silly tweets one day last week.

It struck me that this level of confusion was pretty much going unanswered, even as people with more or less a decent grasp of our predicament (some more than others) were being uniformly mocked as part of a conspiracy or even a dogma or a “religion”. Wouldn’t it make sense to find the most absurd of these and highlight them?

I asked for suggestions for names for the tweetstream, and a few suggestions were forthcoming, but I was immediately taken by the first suggestion, Gavin Schmidt’s idea, the “Ministry of Silly Squawks”. And so @sillysquawks was born.

Admittedly, this is a mean sport. There’s the “they go low, we go high” approach, and reproach, to this sort of thing. Admittedly, the trolls embarrass and mock reasonable people. If we return the favour, are we not sinking to their level? One could see it that way.

On the other hand, this is the rare case in which the playing field, once we get over our scruples, is tilted in our favour. You see, if you actually look at what these people are willing to say to each other, it is very, very silly.

What do I want to achieve with it? Twitter has achieved something very like what I had in mind — focused on a particularly silly squawk and woefully embarrassed the person behind it. This is coincidental with the first week’s launch of @sillysquawks but otherwise unconnected to it. Famed science denier Stephen Milloy actually came out with this:


The reactions were marvelous. Let me note a few of the more notable ones here:




and (also AstroKatie)




They can try ridiculing us all they want. The thing is, nothing we could do or say is quite this ridiculous. It’s important to document the utter absurdity of the trolls’ position, in this domain and others.

The trouble I am having so far with sustaining the Ministry is that it has to stay light, and in following the main Twitter streams of dumf’ery, I find myself getting angry.

Consider today’s feature:

“Deniers. Deniers. I guess I should have seen. Mafia thugs ain’t half as dumb and nowhere near as mean.” — (paraphrasing an obscure Steve Goodman song)

So, see, this is just mean and nasty even if it were true. Which of us, if we lived as public a life as Mr Gore, would never have made a mistaken prediction? But that so thoroughly misses how mean and nasty it is. Because Mr. Gore never made any such a prediction!

Here’s what he actually said:

“Some of the models suggest to Dr Maslwoski that there is a 75% chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months could be completely ice free within the next 5 to 7 years. Bob used a figure of 2030.The volumetric analysis leads Dr Maslowski to make that projection. We will find out.”

That’s pointing to a discrepancy between different groups, not to a consensus. Gore is not staking out a position. That’s quite explicitly NOT a prediction.

Now we can be sure that the circles who have convinced themselves, (despite the fact that he is obviously a serious, honourable, decent, and intelligent man) hate President-Elect Gore will add this failed prediction to their daisy chain of utter lies about the man.

It’s a lie. This rankles. It makes me angry.

That there’s never a moment’s attention to the failed “imminent global cooling” predictions of the denial squad, issued year after year for decades now, makes me angrier.

Calling attention to this sort of utter calumny makes it hard to maintain the lighthearted attitude that we need to really return the favour of the decades of baseless mockery that has been shoveled in our direction.

In defense of the Ministry, there is a bit of utter silliness here too. How do I know exactly what Mr.Gore said? Because Watts linked to it! It’s utterly silly to lie and link to the very evidence that will refute your lie.

But even this is infuriating. They know very few people will check. They know that in their audience, those who will check will hear what they want to hear. They know that there are so many lies about Mr. Gore out there that he can’t be expected to respond to them all. He might not even notice. They believe their lie will live on.

They scored an own-goal but nobody is paying enough attention to call them on it!

The trouble is that calling attention to this makes the Ministry less of a lark and more of a participant in the propaganda lobbing. It’s silly, but it’s not transparently funny. The Ministry being less than entertaining makes the goal of getting a following large enough to justify the misery of watching those people harder to achieve. But on the other hand, they shouldn’t get away with this crap.

Calling Watts out.

So what to do? Should the Ministry limit itself to the easily mockable squawks? Or should it also take on the ones which, while silly, are more infuriating than silly? Advice welcome.

— -

Meanwhile, nominations for silly squawk of the day are happily accepted. Please mention @sillysquawks or use hashtag #sillysquawk on Twitter. And retweets are especially welcome. The stream has not yet hit a critical mass of followers— your retweets help.


Written by


Michael Tobis PhD, actual climate scientist, writes on climate and sustainability issues for the informed nonspecialist, and codes in Python and Javascript.

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