2010-08-13 22:24:01Basic rebuttal No. 13: Al Gore got it wrong - REVISED
Graham Wayne

The Strange Case of Albert Gore, Inconvenient Truths and a Man in a Powdered Wig

Argument No. 13: Al Gore got it wrong

Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

 The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement - indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22.  I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:
"Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

Footnote: The vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract - like science - the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics - being a rich politician, for example - it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.

2010-08-14 05:15:37Nice summary and a suggestion (as usual)


That's a useful summation, gp.

If I were writing this I might try to point out how referring to Al Gore is a facile trick to distract attention from literally millions of words of research findings all pointing in the same general direction. "Al Gore is fat" is a cognitive short-circuit offered as an attempt to evade facts.

So a basic rebuttal might include a quick treatment of "Why are we talking about Al Gore, anyway?"

2010-08-14 18:59:23About Big Al...
Graham Wayne
Hi Doug - and thanks. I'm happy to accomodate that suggestion - revealing the mechanisms of denialist arguments is, I believe, a useful exercise. I'll add something appropriate.
2010-08-14 19:52:30Text is revised
Graham Wayne
OK folks - Doug's suggestion is added as a footnote. (Can't tell you how tempted I was to vote for myself).
2010-08-15 04:26:21You get yer vote

And no hanging chads, either!
2010-08-17 03:50:58
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Great post
2010-08-17 18:18:33
Ari Jokimäki

2010-08-18 01:11:53done
Robert Way

good to go
2010-08-18 13:06:42Thumbs up
James Wight

Good post.
2010-08-19 16:36:46Published
John Cook

Graham, you're the king of catchy headlines :-)