Some little time ago I wrote about The Conversation, a website that is apparently supported by many Australian universities. I feel that too many of the pieces that are published there are just opinions, or self-promotion, or advertisements for coming events. And its editors seem to have the same world-view possessed by those who run news and current affairs on the ABC: anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is serious and potentially catastrophic. Many of its readers also share that view, as is true of the ABC, and they wait to scarify anyone who dares to ask questions of the orthodoxy.
A couple of days ago the Conversation ran a piece by John Cook, identified as ‘Climate Communication Fellow at University of Queensland’. Further, ‘John Cook does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.’ Hmm. I may be wrong, but I think that he’s the same John Cook who created and runs the website ‘Skeptical Science’, which is sceptical not about science, as its name might suggest, but about those sceptical about global warming. Wikipedia, which is not always to be relied on, says that Cook pays for the cost of the site himself, with reader donations, and that he is an evangelical Christian. I think that The Conversation might just have mentioned that connection.
Cook’s post itself, an extract from a book of his (and therefore a piece of self-promotion), is certainly evangelical. He disposes of a straw man, that there is no such thing as climate change denial (because no one denies that climate changes) and then hits us with the denial of ‘the scientific consensus that humans are disrupting the climate … consensus denial’. He says that this consensus has two parts, a consensus of evidence that then leads to a consensus of scientists.
Now almost anyone who is interested in science will want to respond that evidence, observations that accord with a prediction, is indeed crucial. Those who are interested in ‘climate change’ will wait for the discussion of the consensus of evidence, because this is the great weakness in the orthodoxy: the evidence is so often rubbery.
But they wait in vain. Cook tells of the well-known survey of the climate science ‘community’ that found 97 per cent agreement that human activity had some role in global warming. As it happens, the questions were loosely framed and I could have answered them ‘positively’ had I been asked. Of 3,000 earth scientists surveyed, 97 per cent of those who published in climate science agreed. That percentage actually applies to 77 of the 79 who published in that field. Cook gives the number, and rushes on. Another survey got the same level of agreement. That one too is well known, and sloppy.
We must get to the ‘consensus of evidence’ soon, you think. But no: we move on to the disjunction between what scientists apparently think and what the American public thinks about what scientists think, and that’s a problem because those who think scientists disagree are less likely to support ‘climate policy’. OK. Now for the evidence?
No, now we move into some denunciations of people who dare to ask questions of the orthodoxy, or criticise it, like a group of NASA seniors who wrote an open letter after their retirement urging NASA to stick to science and get out of advocacy. Then there is ‘fake expert’ Professor Ian Plimer, who had the temerity to write a book attacking the consensus.
Surely we’ll get to the evidence now! But alas, no. Cook warns us about the evil practice of ‘cherry-picking’ — when ‘a conclusion from a small selection of data differs from the conclusion from the full body of evidence’. And here’s an example: concentrating on the lack of warming over the last 16 years. You shouldn’t focus on that because ‘it ignores the long-term warming trend’. OK. Let’s see the ‘consensus of evidence’ about the human cause of the long-term warming trend.
Oh dear, Cook doesn’t provide it, but goes on to tell us about how sceptics use logical fallacies and conspiracy theories, and concludes that we need to close the ‘consensus gap’, which is apparently the fact that people think there is more disagreement within the scientific community about the nature and extent of the human contribution to global warming than Cook does.
I didn’t think that The Conversation could publish a more intellectually threadbare piece than the one of Professor Lewandowsky that I criticised last year. But this one is its equal, and it has the added vice of being an example of the worst kind of evangelism: the prophet rushes on, avoiding questions and ignoring what he has said before, in the belief that if he speaks loudly enough and long enough, you will believe.
I don’t know whether or not quality control is part of the tasks of the editors of The Conversation. But it ought to be. If Australia’s universities are behind this venture, they need to ensure that what is published would pass muster in an undergraduate tutorial. This piece doesn’t get near it.