2010-12-29 17:17:24How to debunk a skeptic in a debate
John Cook


Here's some advice from a climate scientist on an approach they took in a debate with a climate skeptic - thought it was an interesting approach to keep in mind if you ever get in a debate, whether face-to-face or online, with others watching:

  • I once debated Pat Michaels at a small college in Virginia--it was before I realized that it was wrong to even get on the same stage w/ a charlatan ¬†(because the audience is given a Bayesian prior of 50/50, and only in the best of scenarios are you even ¬†able to move them back to the true weight of evidence, i.e. 99/1). But the tack I took was to take one egregiously false thing he had told the audience, and explain carefully to them the sleight of hand he'd used--once they saw that, they knew he wasn't to be trusted. As I recall, he even admitted afterward that I'd cleaned his clock--though I'm not sure he'd actually come to terms w/ just how or why I had done so
Take-home point for me - when they Gish gallop (trot out many points), don't try to answer all of them. Just pick out one big lie and use it as a teachable moment to show how climate skeptics mislead and warp the truth.
2010-12-29 20:27:48


Likewise, a common skeptic tactic is to reference a skeptic write-up that has 10 anti-AGW bullet items, and demand, "How do you explain all THAT?!"

I take the same approach: I ask the skeptic to pick JUST ONE specific point that s/he stands behind, so we can discuss it. I offer to go to a second point when the first has been resolved, one way or the other.

Usually, even tabling this approach ends the debate right there!