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.
Join the discussion 6 Comments
I don’t understand just who is driving the ABC’s intense bias. It irritates me every time they give prominence to a ridiculous AGW ‘nerws item’ which is clearly not science but religion.
Thanks. Well put, as always. Yes, I noticed the emphasis the ABC gave to this strange paper. I sense a certain worry on the part of the AGW proponents that their idea has come and has now gone. Certainly, this is true of the ‘carbon tax’ theory. Well, the people of Australia will soon pass judgement.
It’s not only the ABC that treats guff like that as real research. On the back of his efforts with SkepticalScience, Cook has been awarded a Eureka Prize for Science Communication and been cloaked with academic respectability.
Lewandowsky has recently been awarded a Wolfson Research Merit Award by the Royal Society.
“Professor Lewandowsky receives the award for his project entitled ‘The (mis)information revolution: information seeking and knowledge transmission’, which addresses how people navigate the blizzard of information with which we are faced on a daily basis, not all of which is accurate or truthful”.
It’s a worry.
Over the years I have personally encountered many, many people who not only rejected the idea that the world was warming but also that humans had anything to do with it. It would be very interesting if what you say is true and those people don’t exist anymore, because until recently, it was not straight forward stuff for them at all.
If all those people have changed their minds recently (the inability of the skeptics to denounce monckton for his lies killed following this issue for me) it would only be because they were dragged to that position kicking and screaming by the proponents and their air-tight arguments and research. I am confident in that assertion because the skeptical side isn’t particularly concerned with producing their own research and testable arguments and I spoke to people who would say things like “there is absolutely no proof that CO2 can have any impact on temperatures” and unless every single piece of footing had been knocked out from under them they would still be clinging there.
When I think back to all the arguments that AGW skeptics used to roll out as proof of their position that turned into being nothing when actually examined it makes me glad to hear that the battle lines have shifted towards the proponent side because it shows that facts really do eventually seep in.
It would also be interesting to examine the impact of the ~3% skeptical papers to find out if they change the game at all or drift into irrelevance except in incrementing a counter.
Finally, I don’t think it’s really useful to ask questions like
-why is AGW bad? (which is basically asking what are the impacts of predicted AGW to x part of the world to x industry to x culture at x time-frame compared to the same just assuming natural variability compared to NULL, which is an enormous ask)
-how much is attributable to humans? (which is pretty close to ‘have natural sources of variability been taken into account and how?’ which collectively should have enough answers available already)
to discredit a paper titled “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scienti?c literature”.
As for the “some of the warming all the time, all of the warming at some time, or something else again” parts, that is more relevant to a greater understanding of quantifying the consensus but considering the methodology of what it means to say explicitly endorse (with quanti?cation) AGW being described as Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming…
Sorry but I’ve run out of time.
For ‘ideas not entities’:
You raise a series of questions, most of which I’ve answered before in one way or another. I’ll deal with two of them here, one afresh. That one is about Christopher Monckton, whom I’ve not heard speak, though I’ve read some of what he has written. I’m unaware of any ‘lies’. He is a meticulous debater, always ready with sources, data and references. What lies are you referring to?
The other is the general issue of the debate over global warming (for which see my post today). Sceptics don’t have to advance a difference position to the orthodox. All they have to do is to point out difficulties with the orthodox argument, and ask for clarification. After all, the null position is that the changes we observe in climate are due to ‘natural’ causes (whatever they are). The onus is on those who see human activities as the cause to show why that position must be true. That is always the case with new theories: they have to be tested against reality, or experimentally, before they are accepted provisionally as the truth. Critics don’t have to have a different theory. I agree that this is a hard ask for those who believe in AGW, but there’s no help for it.
[…] Lewandowsky. I’ve written about their ‘contribution’ to science more than once, as here, for example. In 2013 Cook et al and a team of volunteers looked at more than 12,000 abstracts, rated them […]