The ABC ran a radio news piece yesterday about how scientists really do have a consensus about global warming, and it even mentioned the author of the paper, John Cook, of the University of Queensland (but didn’t mention that he is the founder and active presence of the oddly named Skeptical Science, a website that is sceptical only about sceptics). Now I wrote about consensus only a week or so ago, and about John Cook’s work rather earlier, and then not admiringly. His latest work has not raised my admiration threshold.
He and others at the Skeptical Science website have gone to a great deal of trouble to inspect 12,000 or so articles in journals to decide whether or not the authors agree that humans are responsible for global warming. Guess what, most of them seem to agree. And depending on how the question is phrased, I would agree too. In fact, I don’t know of any sceptics who don’t agree that the earth has warmed over the last century or so, and that human activity must be responsible for some of it. That’s pretty straightforward stuff.
John Cook is concerned about what he calls the ‘consensus gap’, which he sees as the gap between what we the people think that scientists think, and what scientists really think. The gap apparently causes people not to want to support carbon taxes and measures like that. We the people seem to think that scientists disagree. Not so! says Cook sternly. There is the familiar 97 per cent agreement that humans are responsible, but this time it’s Cook’s 97 per cent. I’d better let him tell you himself, athough he is a rather turgid exponent of his ideas. What follows comes from the summary of his paper on the SkS website.
‘We performed a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications (in the ISI Web of Science) for the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ between the years 1991 and 2011, which returned over 12,000 papers… We agreed upon definitions of possible categories: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no position, and implicit or explicit rejection (or minimization of the human influence).’
Now what does ‘endorsement of human-caused global warming’ mean. For example, does it mean that humans and their activity have caused all the warming, or some of it or a little of it? Does it mean some of the warming all the time, all of the warming at some time, or something else again? I don’t know, and John Cook doesn’t tell us. The paper itself recognises these possibilities, but doesn’t do much with them. As I understand it, we still don’t know either the amount, or the causes, of natural variability (what is happening when factors other than greenhouse gases operate on climate). And if that is the case, then we can’t work out the contribution that greenhouse gases make to all this. So these questions are the really important ones.
Then there’s a second set of questions. If we are warming, and the warming is likely to continue (though it has paused for the last decade or so), is this by and large a good or a bad thing? On the face of it, more warming will enlarge the agricultural areas, which ought to lead to more food, and less expenditure on heating. On the face of it, again, the warming so far has been accompanied by a massive increase in food production. Why are we worried about this? Subtleties like these ones don’t seem to be in the Cook paper,and the respondents don’t seem to have been asked about them..
So far as I can see the Cook assumptions are that (i) warming is real, (ii warming is bad, and (iii) warming is caused by humans. He seems to see them as yes/no issues, and there are no shades of grey, let alone fifty. Well, what did he discover, after all this work? ‘Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers expressed a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming… We found that about two-thirds of papers didn’t express a position on the subject in the abstract, which confirms that we were conservative in our initial abstract ratings. This result isn’t surprising for two reasons: 1) most journals have strict word limits for their abstracts, and 2) frankly, every scientist doing climate research knows humans are causing global warming.’ Yes, but how much of it, when, for how long?
I have read quite a few papers whose authors take for granted that AGW has taken place, and proceed to show what will happen to the nutless gnat, or the flying snake, in consequence. As Cook himself says: ‘Most studies simply accept this fact and go on to examine the consequences of this human-caused global warming and associated climate change.’ They presumably have implicitly or explicitly endorsed the human cause of global warming. What does that say about their knowledge? The possibility that there may be a number of reasons for the consensus does’t seem to have entered Cook’s head.
I’m not making this up! You can read it for yourself by going either to the paper or to the summary. As research it is about as sensible as that of Professor Lewandowsky, who just happens to be a co-author with Cook on another bizarre and worthless piece of stuff (search for it yourself).
Look, I know there are obsessives and the deeply religious out there in the blogosphere, and they ought to be allowed to say whatever they like. But why does the ABC have to treat guff like this as real research? Isn’t there someone in the ABC who is in charge of quality control? Why does this piece of irrelevant puff suddenly become live news on ABC radio? A day or so earlier our own Government backs off from the notion that ‘climate change’ is important. That wasn’t news, apparently. But this is.
I don’t write in to complain anymore. I just despair.