Published on May 28th, 2013 | by Simi

Talking Skeptical Science and MPE Australia with John Cook

John Cook works with the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.  He has written several books about climate change and its denial and runs the website

John will be speaking on the first day of MPE: The Conference about ‘The challenge of communicating the reality of climate change.’

We had a Google hangout with John on May 24 to learn a little more about him and his research.

John said that there are three major aspects of denial:

  • Literal denial – rejecting the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming
  • Implicatory denial – accepting the science but not taking the practical steps that the science dictates
  • Interpretive denial – the facts aren’t denied but they’re given a different interpretation (e.g., spin)

The inception of his website was rather tongue-in-cheek; quite simply John wanted to have the upper hand in dinner table family arguments. He began collecting peer reviewed research based papers to out-do his family members in the next climate debate.  He soon realised that his mini database would be useful to others and so he put it all online.

Stephan Lewandowsky from the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia contacted John. He was worried that the work John was doing to rid the skeptics could actually be strengthening their skepticism.  Stephan gave John a lesson in how to debunk myths and the two of them wrote a fantastic little guide the debunking handbook’, which is available on

One of the things we found rather interesting was when John spoke about the need to ‘replace myths’.  If you remove a myth that somebody holds this leaves a gap in his or her knowledge or understanding of a certain thing.  If this gap isn’t filled with an alternative narrative then the old myth will quite easily fall back into its old resting ground.

So it isn’t as easy as convincing someone of your view, the other must take ownership of this view too.

Another fascinating thing that John mentioned was how people’s views on climate change are stronger on hotter days than on cold. However, it is our political ideologies that most strongly influence are belief systems.

John said that he is ‘looking forward to talking with and listening to some brilliant minds and great speakers about how we can make the Mathematics of Planet Earth more clear and compelling to people’.

And we are cannot wait for John’s talk on the opening day of MPE: The Conference.


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One Response to Talking Skeptical Science and MPE Australia with John Cook

  1. Joanne says:

    I am from Victoria, Canada, where Andrew Weaver, a Nobel prize winner, and climate change scientist at the University of Victoria, has recently been voted into our provincial government. This event is in unprecedented development in Canadian history, has the potential to take us towards new policy development that reflects the realities of climate science. Your website and work around climate change/global warming have been hugely helpful to me in understanding both the climate science, and the mental barriers that prevent change. Thank-you John Cook, good luck with you talk!

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