John Cook of SkepticalScience.com joins the pod to discuss how he developed his framework for debating climate change deniers, how to expose their arguments, how you can use humor as a tool for science communication and how all of this comes together in his new book and mobile app - 'Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change'.
Today's episode of You've Been Warmed features John Cook - the founder of the very well-known website skepticalscience.com - an amazing resource that debunks the various myths that climate change deniers proliferate online.
John founded Skeptical Science because he had amassed an encyclopedia's worth of climate change myths which he actively sought to debunk by using peer-reviewed scientific papers. He later studied a PhD in the cognitive psychology of misinformation in order to better understand the levers behind denial - not just in the climate space but also in areas such as vaccines or tobacco - and come up with frameworks that successfully educate people on the science of climate change.
John is currently publishing a book called "Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change" where he uses cartoons, humor and all his accumulated knowledge to create a valuable resource that anybody can turn to when debating climate change deniers. He also crowdfunded the development of a Cranky Uncle mobile app which uses gamification in conjunction with all the content to educate as many people as possible.
In this episode we spoke about his background, we approached various techniques that deniers use, explored the role that humor plays and looked at how each of us can develop critical thinking to the point where we can manage these debates successfully.
I really admire John's work and I hope you find this episode as educational as I have. Let's tune in!
CRANKY UNCLE & JOHN'S LINKS
'Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change' Book - https://www.amazon.com/Cranky-Uncle-vs-Climate-Change/dp/0806540273
Cranky Uncle Website - https://crankyuncle.com/
Cranky Uncle Twitter - https://twitter.com/crankyuncles
John's Twitter - https://twitter.com/johnfocook
Skeptical Science Website - https://skepticalscience.com/
3:27 - His Background & Interest In Climate Change
6:19 - The Story Behind SkepticalScience.com
10:42 - Public Debates With Climate Change Deniers
15:11 - How He Adapted His Content Based On Feedback & Empirical Research
17:42 - What Cranky Uncle Is All About
21:29 - The Slippery Slope Fallacy & Examples In Practice
26:44 - What Role Does Humor Play As A Tool For Science Communicators?
31:44 - FLICC - The Common Elements Of Climate Change Denial
36:06 - How To Use Critical Thinking In A Debate
42:20 - Science Vs Society Vs Politics Vs Business
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
'The Debunking Handbook' by Stephan Lewandowsky - https://skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html
Refutation by parallel arguments - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10503-008-9109-8
Slippery slope fallacy - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope
'If Trump were a climate communicator' cartoon - https://twitter.com/johnfocook/status/1224797841534550017
'Making Sense Of Climate Science Denial' Online Course - https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-of-climate-science-denial
'Merchants of Doubt' Book - https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942
John Cook: (00:00)
I often get invited to do public debates with climate denies by the climate and I like the, Oh say, Hey, you know, you, you're very outspoken about climate change. Well, I don't believe climate change is happening. Let's have a public debate. And I will always say no because the very act of having a public debate about settled mainstream climate science is misinforming like my own PhD research found that when people are presented with a, a debate about an issue where the science is settled, they come away thinking that there's a 50, 50 debate rather than a scientific consensus.
YBW Intro: (00:46)
Ladies and gentlemen, you've been more, it's time to figure out the climate crisis with the top scientists, activists and entrepreneurs helping us get out of this mess. Now let's welcome your host. Did I? Gosh, in three, two, one
Today's episode of you've been warmed features John Cook, the founder of the very well known website, skeptical science.com an amazing resource that debunks the various myths that climate change deniers proliferate online. John founded skeptical science because he had a mask and in sickle PDs worth of climate change myths, which he actively sought to debunk by using peer reviewed science papers. He later studied a PhD in the cognitive psychology of misinformation in order to better understand the leavers behind the Nile, not just in the climate space but also in areas such as vaccines or tobacco and come up with frameworks that successfully educate people on the science of climate change. John is currently publishing a book called cranky uncle versus climate change where he uses cartoons, humor, and all his accumulated knowledge to create a valuable resource that anybody can turn to when debating climate change deniers.
He also crowdfunded the development of a cranky uncle mobile app, which uses gimme vacation in conjunction with all the content to educate as many people as possible. In this episode, we spoke about his background. We approached various techniques that deniers use. We explore the role that humor plays and looked at how each of us can develop critical thinking to the point where we can manage these debates successfully. I really admire John's work and I hope you find this episode as educational as I have. Let's tune it. I'm now joined by John Cook on the line. John, welcome to the show
John Cook: (02:42)
Hydro gas. Thanks for having me.
Likewise, it's a, it's a pleasure. Thanks for being here. And I've been really looking forward to this episode. I told you before we actually started recording that bumping into your, your website skeptical science was a big, big help for me in debating climate deniers online. Which was a very interesting exercise in itself. But before we actually go into all the detail of skeptical science and cranky uncle and what you're doing right now, for those of you, for those who are listening who don't know you, can we go up with your background in, in science and graphic design, which is really interesting. And then your whole journey fighting climate change denial through skeptical science.com.
John Cook: (03:27)
Okay, I'll give you a brief, a history as possible. So a Boyer, listen this too much. But I actually began by studying physics at the university of Queensland. And once I graduated and got my physics degree, I took this very sharp career turn into cartooning. So I went from physics to cartooning and I did some graphic design as well. Yeah. But while I was at cat tuning, I, it's like that saying, you can take the boy out of science, but you can't take science out of the boy. Like I was, continue, continue to be interested in science and started to get into arguments with family members about climate change. And particularly my father in law. He was, he was a very strong climate tonight. And like any son-in-law who it's very keen to beat his father in law in the next family argument, I started researching the possible different arguments that I might encounter from my father in law at the next get together. And being a nerd, I started building a database of different myths and what the peer reviewed science said about each of the different climates. And eventually I realized that other people had Mmm. Relatives who are climate deniers, cranky uncles or father's in well and so aye took this database that I was building and basically published it online as a resource for anyone who wanted the latest scientific research relevant to all the different climate mix. And that was skeptical science.
Yeah, I mean it was, it was, it was a bit more than that. I mean it evolves into quite the beast. I mean from my perspective, if you engage in, usually at the beginning, and correct me if I'm wrong, when you, when you get into a debate with a climate change denier, sometimes it feels like they're pulling all these arguments and you don't know how to contract them or you don't know where they came from. But when you actually do that over and over again with a few of them, you realize the same recycled arguments over and over again. And basically what skeptical science does really well, what I like about it is that you have all the myths lined up, but then you also have simple explanation. So stuff that anyone understand. But then you also have intermediate explanations and advanced explanations for those who actually want to go into a ton of detail. But as you mentioned, you always link to the peer reviewed science and you always expose kind of the, the psychological tricks that they use in their in the, the myths that you try to, that you actually debunked to the website.
John Cook: (06:19)
When I started the website, my intent was to make this encyclopedic resource like a, a thorough debunking of H climate man. And originally the rebuttals that I wrote were all pretty much like intermediate level rebuttals. They were, they were fairly detailed. I was trying to provide all the content that you would need, all the relevant research, all the links to the peer review papers. And then somebody emailed me and said, it's great that you've written these long rebuttals, but could you put a little summary at the top, like a paragraph just summarizing the whole thing so that I don't have to read the whole row battle. And I replied no I can't. Because if I were to all the trouble to write this rebuttal, you can at least go to the trouble to read, read the whole thing. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that was actually a really good suggestion because I mean that's how scientific papers are structured.
John Cook: (07:19)
They always start with an abstract just summarizing research and well I would love for people to read all the content and ideally that's what would happen. You have to recognize it. You know, people don't always have the time to [inaudible] absorb all the information. And sometimes all I can do is the paragraph. So I went through all the rebuttals and skeptical science and write a paragraph summary of each and published it and was feeling pretty good about myself that I had got that done. And then somebody emailed me and said, that's great that you wrote those paragraph summaries, but could you also provide a one line summary of each rebuttal? And at this point I emailed back and said, [inaudible], we cannot do that. The science is too complicated to boil it down to a single sentence. So my response to this suggestion of doing one line is, was that's impossible.
John Cook: (08:15)
You can't possibly, well, all the complicated science to handle a single line. And I kind of sarcastically said to the, the person who suggested that, who if I recall correctly, is a physicist based in Canada. And I said, so him, and you're welcome to have a try if you want, but I don't think it's possible. And a few weeks later he sent me a a word document and he basically had taken every rebuttal and skeptical science and written a one line rebuttal. And I read through them all and thought, wow, I wish I'd thought to say it like that. That's really good. And so I ended up adding that to the website as, and I think that it's, it's been a really useful resource.
Yeah, it has. And one other thing, it's not only about time, it's also about the level of understanding that people have. Myself, I'm not really, I'm not a geek when it comes to climate science. I can understand that at a broad level, but I don't want to go into all the specifics. So the simple and intermediate arguments are enough for me. But I would assume for some people who are more knowledgeable it's good to have the, the expanded ones as well. I wanted to ask you, so you, you can basically debunk the myths through science. But one thing that I've discovered is that people don't really listen to arguments and it's not only in, in the climate, I mean, I guess the climate debate quote unquote, it's not really a debate, but that's what it's sick second its own format. It's kind of representative of the times that we live in and in a lot of political debates and other stuff, fake like misinformation, fake news and all of that. People don't really listen to arguments. Now you actually went and studied you did a PhD in cognitive, the cognitive psychology of misinformation. Why did you decide to pursue that and how did you integrate everything that you learned there in this basically art of debating climate deniers?
John Cook: (10:24)
It's an interesting phrase. The art of
It is an art. And it's super important because I'll tell you why, because whenever you do these debates in a public forum, I don't think it's actually, and you might agree or disagree with me, I don't think it's actually about the person that you're actually debating, but the people that are watching your debate.
John Cook: (10:42)
Yeah. And, and as small degression, and I'll get back to answering your question in a moment, but I often get invited to do public debates with climate denies by the climate. And I like the, Oh say, Hey, you know, you, you're very outspoken about climate change. Well, I don't believe climate change is happening. Let's have a public debate. And I will always say no because the very act of having a public debate about settled mainstream climate science is misinforming like my own PhD research found that when people are presented with a, a debate about an issue where the science is settled, they come away thinking that there's a 50, 50 debate rather than a scientific consensus. And their acceptance of climate change and their support for climate action goes down. So having debates, Mmm. All right. Okay. W which is entirely appropriate when it's an issue, like a political issue or an issue of opinion. But when it's an issue of scientific fact, then that's actually a misinforming format. That's a, it's a misleading way to present information, but yeah. But to the grass, I'm digressing from your question, which was refresh my memory.
It was about your, your PhD and what you found, what you already touched on. But yeah, if you can elaborate a bit.
John Cook: (12:13)
So as I said earlier, white guys, I did a physics degree and then I started skeptical science. And so I was approaching science communication as someone who really knew nothing about science communication. And I had a quite naive view that just presenting the facts should be sufficient to get the job down and get people first convinced about climate change. And then second supportive of climate action. And several years into ramming skeptical science, I received an email from a cognitive scientist from the university of Western Australia. He's name was definitely in the asking and he basically emailed me some research into debunking misinformation. And what his research found was, if you debunk mate in the wrong way, you can actually reinforce the myth and people can read your debunking and come away believing the myth even more. And before they read your the backing. And I looked at the, the bad type of debunking in that research and I looked at skeptical science type of the backing and they were the same.
John Cook: (13:27)
I was debunking misinformation in the wrong way and it was quite a horrifying moment for me. I realized, am I actually making things worse? And it turned out to be a life changing email from Stephanie [inaudible]. And it really opened my eyes to the fact that there's a science to science communication. Yes, it's also an app as he said, but also there was a lot of scientific research into how to effectively communicate science and also how to effectively debunk misinformation. And I began diving into that research, try to learn as much as possible about how to debunk myths in an evidence based effective way. And that inevitably led me to doing a PhD and furthering that research myself.
I find that absolutely fascinating and I hadn't, I didn't know there was so much evidence to prove the fact that you can actually make things worse or, I mean, I assume it's mostly centered around people who are climate change deniers that they would become more convinced of their own position after they walk away from a debate. So I really resonate with that end with the fact that you mentioned before that you refuse to actually engage in debate of these people because I guess in a sense you're also legitimate legitimizing their, their position which as you said, if it's a political debate or a matter of opinion, sure he can, you can step into the arena. But with things like, like these, there, I mean the science is quite clear for anyone who actually has an open mind and a once investigated. So did you, did you adapt your content on skeptical science.com after you learned all this new stuff?
John Cook: (15:11)
Oh yes, definitely. The very first thing I did. And based on that research, which found that like as you say, when people receive information that threatens, they will view, that can backfire. That's one type of backfire effect. But the human brain is complicated and there are actually a number of different ways that the backings can backfire. And another way that this initial research suggested was when you put too much emphasis on the myth rather than the facts, then people can come away just remembering the myth. And you know, I have a time detailed spade insight. If you, you, I reemphasize the myth that can be the only thing that I remember later on. And so what this research fan was, particularly people who were older this familiarity backfire effects was strongest amongst the older people in the experiment. And so what I was doing wrong and skeptical science was my headlines repeated the myth.
John Cook: (16:18)
And then basically my debunking started with a headline of the myth and then a red box that repeated the myth. And then along the banking underneath it. What I did to change this was firstly I changed the headline from the mayor to [inaudible] the key fact that I wanted to communicate on that page. Then I repeated the fact with that has one liners or that bets, that summary paragraph before I introduced the myth. And then I repeated the debarking after that. So it was like fact, fact, myth back basically. Effect sandwich wrapping the myth around back.
Wow. That's, I find this stuff super fascinating because it's a really good tool into how to approach people who are still doing this online. So everything that you did with skeptical science and with your PhD, I guess led into your, your next initiative, which I would love for us to discuss now. You were kind enough to send me a digital copy of your upcoming book. It's called cranky uncle. I know you're also developing an app for it. Tell us a bit about who this is for. How do you hope it will help them and how do you think it will achieve this?
John Cook: (17:42)
So it's actually it's actually been a long road. I'm from when I first started skeptical science to where I am now, I'm working on the cranky uncle book and the cranky uncle game. Because I've, I've done a lot of psychological research I have in my PhD. And what that found was explaining the techniques of denial and explaining how people might get misled is the key to neutralizing misinformation. But after I finished my PhD, then my next question was, what, how do you do that in practice? How do you inoculate people and explain the techniques at dinner? And I started working with some critical thinking philosophers. You introduced me to some really useful critical thinking techniques in order to identify the techniques of dinner. Mmm. And they also have suggested this technique for explaining denial techniques. And the technique is called parallel argumentation, which involves take the Lord logic in some misinformation and transplanted into an absurd, extreme situation in order to expose just how Lord and ridiculous the logic is.
John Cook: (19:01)
An example would be one popular climate mayor is whenever the weather is cold, they'll say, ah, where there's cold, what happened, the global warming. And that's basically the same logic as arguing. I've just eaten a big meal and I feel full whatever happened to global hunger. It's the same logic, but it's obviously a ridiculous argument. And I realized that parallel arguments, Mmm. Not only with a, and a very powerful way of explaining misinformation and inoculating people against science denial cartoons were the perfect delivery mechanism for parallel arguments. And having spent a decade as a cartoonist, I started to explore Mmm. Taking climate myths, identifying the fallacies in each myth and then identifying useful parallel arguments and drawing them as cartoons. And either a couple of years I started building up this library of canteens. Mmm. Basically the backing, all the different most common myths about climate change and then collecting it into this book. Ah, and so the book, which is called cranky uncles or cranky uncle versus climate change is basically a cartoon. The banking of the most common myths about climate change. But it's while it's, it's designed to be funny and engaging and entertaining. There's also a lot of cognitive science and critical thinking underneath it that informs, well the content even in the costumes.
John Cook: (20:46)
Yeah I can that it's a really
Good resource because it's very structured. It has a nice introduction. You then go into all the different myths and debunk them in a refund your way and then you end by I mean I don't want to give away too much, but you add by basically giving people a framework as to how they can, they can fight the climate change deniers themselves. I wanna maybe to cause, cause I think the, the parallel argument they gave was super interesting. Maybe we can go through some of the fallacies or like at least one of the fallacies that you discuss. I found the, the slippery slope fallacy. Quite interesting if you want to get a bit into that.
John Cook: (21:29)
Sure. so the slippery slope fallacy is the fallacy of arguing that taking a small action will lead to other actions or other consequences and a series of consequences eventually ending in some big disastrous consequence. And when I was writing that part of the book and trying to give a cartoon parallel example of, of slippery slope, I was just writing down in my sketchbook all these different potential ideas of slippery slope fallacy. And then I remembered back when I was, I just finished my physics degree. I've got, I've got a, an honors degree in physics and the next step was doing a PhD in physics. And I told my dad, actually I think I want to become a cartoonist instead. And my, my dad said, if you are, don't do a PhD, if you go down this cartooning road instead you're going to end up living on the streets in torn jeans.
John Cook: (22:36)
These are actually pretty cool for someone at my age at that time. But anyway and it was just a perfect example of slippery slope fallacy. And so I drew that, I included in the book and after I, after I drew that, Mmm. It actually felt really good black it like kind of therapeutic the banking my dad. So I thought, what else has my dad said over the years that I could draw a cartoon and debunking in the book? Then I thought maybe I shouldn't be using this book as personal therapy. And I decided not to go down that road. But getting back to the topic at hand, the reason why slippery slope fallacy is relevant to climate change is because it's actually a foundational fallacy that drives almost all of climate science denial. Because the main reason why people deny why some people deny climate change.
John Cook: (23:38)
It's not because of the science, it's because of the consequences of the science. Mmm. It's, it's based on a political belief system, some called free market under mentalism, which believes that markets should be free from government regulation. And, and it's this belief that governments should be small and, and markets should be as unregulated and free as possible. And so that, that whole line of reasoning leads to this argument that if we did the smallest action to address climate change, I put a small tax on pollution or anything along those lines that will inevitably lead to more actions and more actions and more actions. And eventually the government will take away all our freedom and we'll be living like communists and you know, there'll be no Liberty in society at all. And so it's, it's very much the slippery slope, a fallacy [inaudible] it leads people to not lacking any of the solutions to climate change rather than come up with their own solutions to climate change. Instead they deny that there's a problem at all that needs solving.
Yeah. And on the flip side, so I guess the word is also neo-liberalism, right? Which has kind of come under, under attack globally recently. Because of other factors like inequality. At the same time, these people believe that markets will solve everything, but at the same time the negative externalities produced by these companies and by GDP growth is not recaptured by markets at this point in time. It's only the only thing that matters is the bottom line, the profit. So these people tend to think that markets are going to solve everything. Yet the most recent projections that we have as far as I I'm aware, put us at about three degrees warming by 2000, 100 plus minus one degree. Depending on climate sensitivity and, and feedback climate feedbacks that we might get. So we're actually with the situation that we're in now, which is pretty deregulated.
We're not really ending in, in a nice spot. I wanted to shift a bit towards humor because you do all these cartoons and you use all your knowledge in, in cognitive psychology, but it's also a really funny book. I saw you actually tweeted one of my favorite, one of my favorite parts of it. If Donald Trump were a climate communicator, which is hilarious. I'll put the link to from the tweet in the, in the show notes. But there are a lot of other funny parts you know, with the global conspiracy of scientists who are trying to get all the research grants and become rich. So I kind of wanted to ask you, why did you choose to approach this from a humorous
John Cook: (26:44)
Standpoint as well? Yeah, so I use a lot of different styles of KeyMath throughout the book and most of the time it's, it's for educational purposes and in different ways. Although I have to confess that Trump, Catherine was just there for fun. I don't think there's really much of an educational Mmm message behind it. I just, it just seemed like a funny idea, so I had to include it. But the reason I, I used humor was a number of reasons. And, and the game, there's a lot of research into humor as a tool for science communication. And basically what Hema does is it provides a lot of benefits for science communicators. Mmm.
John Cook: (27:36)
But also there are potential drawbacks as well. And being aware of both is really important if you want to kind of straddle the line and be as effective as possible with, with humorous science messages. So let me give you some examples. Research has shown that humor, humor, eScience messages, I'm more effective then serious science messages at engaging people who are disengaged with an issue. So with climate change was a big chunk of the population who they're not denies and they're not concerned about climate change. They just, that really I think about it much at all. And humor has the potential to grab the attention of [inaudible] [inaudible] part of the population. And so that's one of, one of the big aims of this book is to use humor. [inaudible] Engage the disengaged. Yeah. Another thing that humor does is it it makes big serious intimidating topics more accessible.
John Cook: (28:42)
So they found that climate change is, is so big, it's so seemingly I'm fixable like from a, the point of view that it's this huge global problem there. Often people feel kind of helpless and therefore don't want to engage with the issue as well. But using humor can make it, it basically provides, well I can access ramp or a gateway drug and I'm struggling to find the right analogy, but it it provides a, an entry point into the issue for people by making it more humorous and accessible. The flip side of that by is that there's also been research that found that when you use humor to communicate about a serious topic, there is the danger that it can make people less concerned about it. And one study found that when I compare the humorous message about climate change with serious message about climate change, the same content but different styles, people were less concerned about the issue from the human message than from the serious message, which makes sense because they're reading this, reading these jokes, this comedy, and they're thinking, well, the caveat serious if people are joking about it.
John Cook: (30:03)
So that was one of the the tensions I had to struggle with throughout this book. I'm trying to create all these jokes about climate change and entertain people, but also communicate the magnitude of the severity of the problem as well. And so there's this constant tension in the book where, Mmm. Communicating serious information but also all right. Surrounding all the serious texts is, is these cartoons as well that hopefully engage them, engage people but without Mmm. Causing them to take the issue less seriously.
Yeah. I got that feeling when reading the book because you're right, you have, you explain things. I always almost expecting it to be more humorous, but then I saw this really neat balance of [inaudible] explanations combined with cartoons that were really funny and kind of maybe a bit more relaxed. It's kind of like a nice dance between Hey, this is serious and Hey, here's the humorous take on it, which actually works quite well, but I can, I can definitely understand that you, you wanted to strike a balance and not make it too humorous so that it loses part of the, you know, it's serious message that it transmits to readers. Can we go bit through, maybe just briefly, but even just naming these categories I think is super interesting. The characteristics of climate denial and the acronym that you use. Cause I think that's something that even if people are just aware of those different actors in those different techniques even if they just hear them once, they'll become more aware whenever they hear climate deniers. Argue on public forums.
John Cook: (31:44)
Yeah. I mean you're completely right. That is true. And that's a lot of my work writing this book and separate to this, all the other work I've been doing has been to make people more aware. I'm the techniques of dinner and there's been different frameworks that have been designed to try to sum up the techniques of dinner. And I've found that the most useful one was originally proposed by Mac Hufnagel who ran a blog about science dinner. And in it he listed the five most common techniques of science dinner. And he, he pointed out that you see these techniques in all different topics, whether it's denying climate change or denying evolution or denying vaccination and the five techniques fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking
John Cook: (32:39)
And conspiracy theories.
John Cook: (32:41)
And well Mark came up with these lists of these five techniques in using different words. I kind of jumbled the Miranda a little bit. Well came up with different even words to say the same thing in order to summarize it with the acronym flick, F, L, I, C, C, which is just a very sticky, easy to remember way. I've just summarizing these five techniques. So so yes, I, I often talk about flick, we designed a massive open online course about science dinner and flake is the framework that we use throughout the course. And it, and flick was the main thing that students resonated with and responded to and remembered and took, took from the course. So it's been a really useful framework for helping people understand the techniques and denial.
Yeah, it's restructured. It's easy to remember and it really makes you aware because even if you look at fake experts, for example, you always contrast, I did an episode with a Benjamin Franklin, he's a PhD at Stanford and he has these awesome Twitter threads on climate change denial in the fossil fuel industry. And it's interesting to see that the fossil fuel industry uses the same fake experts that the tobacco industry used to 20, 30 years before them. So, you know, they're not recreative even when they go to experts that come in the media and they try to support those, those false claims. So that was
John Cook: (34:18)
Some of those people in the book as well. There's a section on, on the merchants of death, I'm referring to Miami Rez care's book, and I think it was Niamey first identified that the same scientist who Mmm. We're denying Mmm. Right. Tobacco, like the health impacts of tobacco and the effects of industry on acid rain. We're also the same scientists who were denying the effects of fossil fuel burning on climate change. And Mmm. The reason why they denied it was, was that idea of free market fundamentalism and the slippery slope fallacy. And so I, I draw the, the four regional merchants of doubt, including a cartoon of Fred singer sitting on a slippery slide articulating the slippery slope fallacy using a direct quote of his,
Yeah, I was about to say that you had the S the same parallel to the tobacco industry. Really interesting and yeah, I hope it's terse people's curiosity to, to go through the book. Lastly, one of the last things that I wanted to ask you with regards to the book is, okay, we went through all the stuff, went through some of the techniques much more in the book. There's many more myths that you debunk how, how should we actually engage with deniers? What are your conclusions? Listen now, if there were, if there was a framework that you would encourage people to use when, when they go into a debate with climate change deniers, if they so choose to, how can they use critical thinking and how can they cultivate the skill to be able to debate them successfully?
John Cook: (36:06)
The first thing to remember is who is your target audience? And therefore what is your goal? Because the Gol Mmm. The 99 times out of a hundred, he's probably not going to be changing the mind of your cranky uncle. Right? It's, there's a lot of research showing that it's very difficult. It's like banging your head against a brick wall, trying to change the mind of someone who is dismissive about climate science and doesn't believe in scientific evidence. And so given that it follows that your target audience is not the cranky uncle. It's not the dismissive. It's everyone else who is watching that conversation. And I've often given public talks about climate change and there'll be a cognitive deny in the audience. He stands up during Q and may and throws a pirate meet that me and I respond to it and I respond directly to him. But the mindset I take, the approach that I take when I'm responding to him, wow.
John Cook: (37:07)
I am talking to him directly and it usually is a him. I'm actually speaking for the benefit of everyone else in the room and Diane, my target audience, and that, that has several effects. One that has quite a calming effect because when you're trying to change someone's mind, it can be really frustrating and you can get quite emotional or angry. And so it kind of allows you to be calm. And when you talk to a person, when you know that your goal is not changing your mind. Secondly, that also has the effect of, Mmm. When you speak to them, you can speak in a much calmer way and really just address the issue in a more strategic way. And that that matters too because how you say something matters just as much as what you say, particularly for onlookers. And so I guess the third thing I would say then is what is that strategic way?
John Cook: (38:12)
What is the most effective way to answer, Mmm. A climate denier. He's, who's surprising climate deny MIPS at you. And the answer is explain the techniques used to distort the facts. Learn, flick, learn as five techniques at dinner and Mmm. Learn what, what H climate may, what technique of denial it uses. We provide resources on skeptical science that summarize all the different techniques of denial using climate myths. The cranky uncle book also not only explains them throughout the book, but at the back of the book, I, I summarize it all in like a bat, six or eight pages, like every myth in the book. I provide the, the fallacy in H myth sites. It's right there at your fingertips. And so the problem when people expose the misinformation is when they received conflicting pieces of information that here's the facts.
John Cook: (39:19)
He's the mayor. If people don't know how to resolve the conflict between the two, then there's the danger that they disengage and they don't believe in either. And so what you need to do is help people resolve the conflict. And the way you do that is by explaining the technique that the myth uses to distort the facts. So let me give an example. Someone says global warming is not happening, not in 98 is the hottest year on record. It isn't. But they use that argument, especially before 2014 when things got super hot. But but that will often take a time period, usually a short time periods. I look at this data, there's not a trend there. Global warming isn't happening. Mmm. So you have the facts. Scientists are saying global warming is happening. You have the mirror deny the saying, look at this data. It's not showing a trend. So I'm not seeing any warming there. What is the technique? How do you resolve the conflict between the two? The technique they are using is cherry picking. They're taking a short period of time and ignoring the larger picture and that basically presents a distorted picture of a reality. And it's only when you take a step back and look at the full set of data that you get, the clear picture that we're experiencing a long term warming trend.
That's so interesting. I'm still going to use that technique every time I get it. I hope to not get involved in too many debates of that kind. But sometimes it's a, you know, with the content that I produce, if I posted on my personal Facebook page or something like that, inevitably there will be someone who jumps and has an objection to science. Lastly I, this is a question that I ask of every guest on the show and it, I, I'll be the first one to admit that it's, it's a question designed more so to see how, how you perceive the world. And the answers usually vary depending on the guest's worldview, but basically if you were to ask if you were to order the following sectors in their importance to tackling climate change one through four and you had politics and policy society. So everything that's a size does through activism, civil disobedience, lifestyle changes, et cetera. The third one would be businesses. So businesses causing less submissions, funding the fossil fuel industry less creating and implementing alternative transport methods. And then the fourth one being scientific research and innovation. So anything that can be breakthroughs in energy, efficiency in battery power and costs and nuclear technology. If you were to rank them one through four, which one do you think is the most important and why? And how do you think they'll interact with each other?
John Cook: (42:20)
That's a really good question. Yeah.
John Cook: (42:24)
Mmm. All right. So firstly, let me give you the order of importance and then I'll try to justify how I order it. Mmm. Most important I think is society then politics, then business than science. And you might think, hang on a sec. Why is a scientist putting science last? But let me explain. Mmm. I think that the most important thing we need the climate action is social momentum. We need the public demanding climate action and Mmm. Let me just sort of dwell on that point for a moment because that can often be misunderstood. I'm not just saying that we need to change people's minds and get more people accepting climate change because we already do have a majority of the public, ah, Mmm. On board with the science in the U S which is actually one of the more skeptical countries about climate change in the global community.
John Cook: (43:29)
Nevertheless, 58% of Americans are either concerned or alarmed about climate change and even more cautious about climate change as well. So you have a majority who are concerned or alarms that's, that's onboard with the issue of climate change. But the big problem is they don't, most of those people don't talk about climate change with their friends and family. And when you have people being silent about climate change, it has a reinforcing effect because they're not talking about it and they're not hearing other people talk about it. And then I assume that other people aren't concerned about the issue either. And you get these reinforcing spiral of silence. And in order to get that second thing, which is political will and political movement and policy on climate change, you need the public demanding from their public figures action on climate change. We need citizens telling their elected officials that they care about the issue of climate change and they vote accordingly.
John Cook: (44:44)
And when politicians, I'm hear from enough of their constituents about climate change, you'll find that politicians will suddenly get more active in and proactive a bat climate policy. So, so while I think that Mmm, political leadership is, is important and it would be wonderful to have courageous political views. Who do you lead the country and take? Yeah, the first step, I'm more realistically, I think we need grassroots public, Mmm. Momentum. And that's just not belief, but people talking and being active about climate change in order to stimulate the the, the politicians and, and getting more political momentum and policy about climate action. Thirdly I think that businesses and corporations also reflect a public world. And so [inaudible] kind of a bellwether, you'll find that when businesses that firstly greenwashing and talking the talk about climate change, they're usually doing that because it's a reflection that the public care about the issue.
John Cook: (45:58)
And then the next step from that is businesses actually genuinely doing, doing a, you know, changing the way they do business in order to be more environmentally friendly. But I will only do that if, if the public had demanding and from Mmm, when it actually threatens their business model. And so so I think that that's why businesses follow society in terms of level of importance, both Lee, I mean, science is important, is crucially important. Of course, both the science of climate change and scientific breakthroughs to come up with solutions, but we already have more than enough scientific breakthroughs both on understanding climate change and on solutions in order to address this problem. We know that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it. And we've known that for decades. We have the solutions two solve climate change. We have all the technology we need. We just need the political will to deploy those, those technologies at scale. So we don't have to sit on our hands and wait for some magical technological breakthrough. In order to solve climate change, we already have those solutions. We just have to generate enough societal momentum to leverage the existing technologies that exist and deploy them at a large enough scale that we can make that transition from polluting energy. Two clean energy. Yeah.
I love it when people actually take me on and give a ranking. That's really cool. So congrats to you. Okay. Finally, I, I know you, you had a crowdfunding campaign for your book, which has finished tell us where people, Oh, for the game, sorry. Sorry. My bad. Tell us where people can find an order, the book, when will the app be online, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And obviously where can people find you and how can they support you?
John Cook: (48:09)
You can find everything you need to know about both the book and the game at cranky, uncle.com. Mmm. And so the book, which comes out on February the 25th, but he's available for preorder from, from there. You can, you can, Oh, I think the link is, well, we just got a cranky uncle.com.
I'll put it in the show notes anyway.
John Cook: (48:33)
Yeah. secondly yeah. So we just finished a crowd funding campaign to develop a game. And the idea of this game is basically using all the cartoons from the book and more and also using the tools of gamification to help teach people thinking because reading the book is, is powerful. It's really informative. And I hope that as many people as possible read the book and learn all that content and about climate change and critical thinking. But games have something else extra that he's even w I wouldn't, it's different two books but arguably more powerful. And it's that it allows you to practice critical thinking interactively. Practice it over and over again and [inaudible] by interacting [inaudible] you're engaging your brain in the critical thinking in a way that's more it's deeper than passively reading a book. And so we've, I developed a pride, a top of this game. [inaudible]
John Cook: (49:42)
Explains the techniques of denial and then has players practice spotting the techniques. [inaudible] And we tested it in our classrooms across the U S in different college classes and one hospital class. And we found that playing the game for just 30 minutes significantly increased the student's ability to spot the techniques. It's an ah, across a whole range of issues, even though the game is a bad climate denial it actually inoculated people against the techniques of denial, even other issues like vaccination or creationism or, or just general fallacies in bad arguments. And so well I have developed a prototype, but to actually develop the game as a native app in iPhones and Android phones we needed to raise funding in order to get the development done. So we did that over the last two months. We met our first goal, which was to develop an iPhone game.
John Cook: (50:47)
Mmm. That took about a week, I think then by Rams new year. So after one month we made our second goal, which was to develop an Android game. And then in the second half of the crap running campaign. Mmm. Our third goal was to develop a multilingual version of the game. In other words create the ability to translate the game into different languages and, and then hopefully make the game as accessible to as many people as possible across the world. And we met that goal I think on the last day of the campaign. So we met all three goals and I'm really happy that we met three goals because it basically, and I was asked to make the game Mmm. Accessible as widely as possible to Android and iPhone users and also too potentially to people in other languages depending on how we go with translators and getting enough volunteers helping us to do translations. So we just finished the crowdfunding on January the 31st and our goal is to have the iPhone version of the game app sometime in June.
That's super cool. I cannot wait obviously to use the app. I cannot wait to read the book in physical form. And thank you so much John. First niches you, because as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, eh, your worker's skeptical size, the column is really, really helpful. And even this, this past, this past 50 minutes on this podcast have been super educational. For me and I'm sure for everyone who's listening. So thanks a lot for everything that you do and best of luck with cranky uncle moving forward.
John Cook: (52:38)
Thanks so much for having me and I appreciate especially appreciate your comment that while you found the book educational, you also found it super funny, which was very gratifying.
Can I go share again, thank you so much for listening to this. You've been wormed episode. I really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now you can find all the episodes on our website and it's www dot you've been warmed.com both in audio and written form so you can find the transcriptions on there. I'd love for you to reach out to me on Twitter and tell me what your favorite episode has been thus far or if you have any feedback on the episode they just listened to. My Twitter handle is at D R G Stephanie school. So coming from Drago ish, my first name and then Stephanie school, which is my last name. And finally, if you want to get notified when new episodes are out, subscribe to this podcast and consider dropping a review for us if you enjoy the content that's all for now. See you soon.