I'm Tired of This Nonsense

Global warming skeptics are idiots. This isn't a comment on the merits of global warming skepticism. I personally don't care about global warming, one way or the other. What I do care about is the fact global warming skeptics have managed to completely failed to raise any sort of coherent response to the single most powerful argument raised against them, despite the fact that argument is based upon fraudulent work.

Yes, I said fraud. I don't make accusations of fraud lightly. That's one thing skeptics have done which is dumb. They tend to paint anything and everything as fraud, no matter how minor the issue might be. The result is nobody recognizes real cases of fraud, such as the Cook et al. study which claimed to find a 97% consensus on global warming.

People who know me know I think this paper is complete rubbish, yet I've largely given up on talking about it. The reason is skeptics have made it impossible to talk about the paper. They've done so by embracing any and every argument raised against the paper, no matter how stupid those arguments may be. The result is people talking about the paper reasonably believe critics of the paper are buffoons. I just saw a post about just that where the author said:

I rarely mention the consensus without people responding by adamantly proclaiming that the 97% number is a myth, and the study that produced it (Cook et al. 2013) has been debunked.

He is right on every point he makes about criticisms of the study. The study is complete garbage, and yet, he is able to write a lengthy rebuttal to the "debunking" of it because of how many stupid argument skeptics have made about the paper. For instance, he says:

Richard Tol is one of the most outspoken examples of this. He argued that Cook et al. should have used the search term, “climate change” rather than “global climate change,” because the former returns more hits. The problem problem with this argument is that there is no good reason to think that using different search terms would have yielded substantially different results.

He goes on to say more about this, but he's completely right. The choice of search term is irrelevant to the Cook et al results. And yet, because skeptics keep promoting Richard Tol's idiotic criticisms of the paper, this is the argument the author has to respond to. Similarly, he has to respond to arguments like:

Tol also argues that Cook et al. should have used the Scopus database, rather than the Web of Science.

As though the "consensus" on global warming depends on which database of papers you look at. Any skeptic with any sense would reject this argument as a waste of time, and yet, this is an argument getting attention. And because of that, the author of the post gets to conclude his post by saying:

Note: there have been numerous accusations of fraudulent behavior among the authors of the Cook et al. study, but none of those arguments stand up against the facts and basic logic, so I haven’t bothered to go through them here (you can’t say that someone committed fraud just because you don’t like what they have to say). The authors of the study have, however, written numerous posts explaining the study in more detail and responding to critics. You can find examples of them here, here, here, here, and here. Please give the authors a chance to defend themselves before you believe conspiracy theorist websites (ever heard of innocent until proven guilty?).

Even though he doesn't say a word about the central problem of the Cook et al. study, a problem I highlighted within a day of the paper being published:

11_9_consensus

There is no rebuttal to that point. It is indisputable only 65 abstracts in the Cook et al. database were rated as Category 1 (one was filtered out due to not meeting the selection criteria). It is indisputable that is the only category which says humans are responsible for 50+% of the observed warming. It is indisputable 78 abstracts were placed in one of the three Reject AGW categories, meaning more abstracts were rated as rejecting AGW than were rated as endorsing the idea humans cause the majority of the observed warming.

But because skeptics have embraced idiotic criticisms from people like Richard Tol, nobody has to talk about things like that. Most people don't even have to be aware of it.

Ultimately, the problem with this paper comes down to how one defines the "consensus" position. Is it that humans cause some unspecified amount of warming, or is that humans cause the majority of warming?

The former position is unremarkable. The idea humans cause some amount of warming is embraced by nearly everybody, including most skeptics. It's the latter position which is the more interesting topic. The main thing we want to know is how many scientists are convinced humans are the main driver of global warming?

Cook et al. don't discuss the difference between these two positions. They just refer to a "consensus," without defining it. They did this by saying things like:

Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

The phrase "causing global warming" is vague. It could mean causing a tiny amount of global warming. It could mean causing all of the observed global warming. To know what the "consensus" position is, we need an actual definition. The lack of one was recently pointed out on Twitter, and John Cook (who headed up the study) responded:

Only, Table 2 doesn't define the paper's consensus position. Table 2's header says it gives "Definitions of each level of endorsement." That is, there were categories numbered 1-7, and Table 2 listed them with their definitions. That means we have definitions for the categories, but the categories are not the consensus position. The paper says:

To simplify the analysis, ratings were consolidated into three groups: endorsements (including implicit and explicit; categories 1–3 in table 2), no position (category 4) and rejections (including implicit and explicit; categories 5–7).

Table 2 may give the definitions for Categories 1, 2 and 3, but that doesn't tell us what it means if you combine all three categories. Cook is well aware of this. He discussed this very issue himself. When creating these categories, he and his co-authors discussed how to define their consensus position. Here is Dana Nuccitelli, second author of the paper, discussing the categories:

  1. Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+% cause of the observed warming (or consistent with the IPCC, or something similar)
  2. Explicitly endorses but does not quantify AGW
  3. Implicitly endorses AGW (by definition does not quantify)
  4. Neutral
  5. Implicitly minimizes AGW (i.e. says the sun is playing a big role)
  6. Explicitly minimizes AGW (less than 50%, less than IPCC, less than consensus, etc.)
  7. Explicitly says there’s no anthropogenic effect on climate/temperature

For ‘humans are causing most of the warming’, #1 qualifies as an endorsement, while #5 through 7 are rejections.

For ‘humans are causing warming’, #1 through 3 are endorsements, while only #7 is a rejection.

Nuccitelli and Cook were clearly aware of the distinction between the idea humans cause some amount of warming and the idea humans cause most of the warming. They came up with their categories so they could examine both ideas. In fact, Nuccitell specifically said:

The way I see the final paper is that we’ll conclude ‘There’s an x% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and y% explicitly put the human contribution at >50%’.

If we plug in the numbers, his conclusion would be:

There’s a 97% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and 1.6% put the human contribution at >50%.

That is the consensus on global warming. There is a 97% consensus humans cause some amount of global warming, but there is only a 1.6% consensus humans cause most of the warming. Those are the results as the creator of the Cook et al. categories initially planned to release them.

They, of course, did not release their results that way. Why? Because they decided not to define their consensus. I mean that literally. I know Cook claims in his tweet the "consensus is clearly defined in Table 2," but in truth, he intentionally chose not to define it, saying:

Okay, so we’ve ruled out a definition of AGW being “any amount of human influence” or “more than 50% human influence”. We’re basically going with Ari’s p0rno approach (I probably should stop calling it that 🙂 which is AGW = “humans are causing global warming”. Eg – no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we’re surveying.

I pointed this out over two years ago, remarking:

they rejected any sort of scientific process in favor of hand-waving value judgments. They intentionally rejected all explicit or clear definitions for their “consensus” in favor of the “p0rno approach.”

So now we know. 97% of climate science is p0rn. And Barack Obama likes it 😛

I said that only a week after the paper was published. That's how little time and effort was required to figure out what was wrong with this paper. That's how little time it took to realize Cook et al. simply chose not to define their "consensus," at all. And yet, here we are, with people talking about whether one should do a search for "global climate change" or "climate change."

Now, the problem isn't just that Cook et al. intentionally chose not to define their "consensus," meaning we can't actually say what the "consensus" on global warming is. The problem is Cook et al. have intentionally used that vagueness to lie about what their results show.

And again, I don't make accusations like these lightly. However, there's simply no other explanation for them constantly publishing things they must know are untrue. For instance, Cook et al. (with the addition of another author) co-authored a document responding to Richard Tol's criticisms which referred to these results saying:

C13 classified abstracts of climate science papers based on the level of endorsement that most of the recent global warming is man-made (AGW, Categories 1–3)

Category 3 "by definition does not quantify." Yet here, Cook et al. published a document claiming Category 3 quantifies the anthropogenic contribution to global warming.

John Cook did the same in a scientific paper. He co-authored a paper about "agnotology," the culturally induced ignorance, and how it affects people's views on global warming. That paper said:

Cook et al. (2013) examined abstracts for papers published between 1991 and 2011 using the search terms “global warming” and “global climate change” to search the ISI Web of Science database. Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

Again, only Category 1 was said to quantify the human contribution of global warming. Category 1 only gives a 1.6% consenus. The other ~95% comes from Category 2 (Explicitly endorses but does not quantify AGW) and Category 3 (by definition does not quantify).

Cook must be aware of this. Anyone who looks at the definitions of the categories can see it. I pointed it out within a day of the paper being published. The only explanation for what he said in his paper is that he lied. He intentionally chose not to define his "consensus" position, then he turned around and lied about what that "consensus" was.

And it's not just John Cook. Dana Nuccitelli tells people the same thing. For instance, he told people:

the 96-97% consensus is that AGW since 1950 is >50%.

Even though during the rating process, he said a paper endorsed the consensus because it:

says ‘the CO2 global warming problem’| but doesn’t quantify the CO2 contribution.

This last point is particularly important as the author of the piece I referred to said Cook et al:

accessed the ISI Web of Science database (this is a database for scientific publications), and searched it for any articles on “global warming” or “global climate change” that were published between 1991 and May 2012. This returned 12,465 papers, but 186 were not peer-reviewed, and 288 were not actually on climate change, so those papers were eliminated. This left them with 11,944 papers, written by 29,083 authors, and published in 1980 journals (that’s a pretty large data set).

The reality is far more than 288 of the abstracts Cook et al. found "were not actually on climate change." They just happened to mention global warming in some passing way. All it took for Cook et al. to include an abstract in their data set was that it say something like:

In order to meet upcoming legislative demands regarding acceptable levels of CO2 emissions and to contribute to the fight against global warming, while also meeting customer expectations of reduced fuel consumption, all automotive OEMs are today focusing on lightweight engineering.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of abstracts like this. They mention global warming in one sentence, then they go on to talk about their actual topic (in this case, welding in body shops for cars). They're included in the "consensus" on global warming. That one was placed in Category 2. Here's an abstract that was placed in Category 1:

This work shows that carbon dioxide, which is a main contributor to the global warming effect, could be utilized as a selective oxidant in the oxidative dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene over alumina-supported vanadium oxide catalysts. The modification of the catalytically active vanadium oxide component with appropriate amounts of antimony oxide led to more stable catalytic performance along with a higher styrene yield (76%) at high styrene selectivity (>95%). The improved catalytic behavior was attributable to the enhanced redox properties of the active V-sites.

It has nothing to do with global warming, save that its first sentence mentions global warming. Are we supposed to believe this paper is "actually on climate change"?

Of course not. The reality is while "288 were not actually on climate change," many more were not either. They weren't filtered out because Cook et al didn't try to filter out all the irrelevant abstracts. They didn't do any sort of systematic screening. They didn't create a guidelines for what constitutes a relevant paper and what doesn't. They didn't keep records for why some papers were considered relevant and why others weren't.

Because they didn't need to. Why would they? The author of that piece says:

The abstracts of these papers were anonymously rated by two reviewers who could only see the titles and abstracts of each paper.

Even though it was trivially easy for the raters to look up any information they wanted to find about the papers they were rating. It wasn't even discouraged. They openly discussed having done it with one another! Here's just one example:

So how would people rate this one:

On The Scientific Basis For Global Warming Scenarios
The scientific basis for current projections of significant warming due to enhanced minor greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is reviewed. Care is taken to distinguish the issue of changes in radiative forcing at the earth's surface from the issue of the climatic response to this forcing. With respect to the former, it is noted that the predicted forcing is, in fact, small (2 W m-2 at the surface for a doubling of CO2, or less than 1% of the absorbed solar flux). With respect to the latter, it is noted that predictions of significant warming are dependent on the presence of large positive feedbacks serving to amplify the response. The largest of these feedbacks in current models involves water vapor at upper levels in the troposphere. This feedback appears to be largely a model artifact, and evidence is presented that models may even have the wrong sign for this feedback. The possibility is examined that the response of climate to major volcanic eruptions may provide a test of the climate system's amplification. The basis for this possibility is the fact that the response delay of the ocean-atmosphere system is proportional to the system gain.

Now, once you know the author's name, would you change your rating?

I scored it an impacts/#5 "implicitly minimizes" but I'm not sure I would have if I hadn't recognized the paper. It probably would have got a "neutral" from me objectively. But maybe it even deserves a #6 or a #7.

This proves the idea the raters only had access to the title and abstracts of the paper false. But it gets worse, not only did this rater look up the author of the paper, as he later explicitly states:

BTW, this was the only time I "cheated" by looking at the whole paper. I was mystified by the ambiguity of the abstract, with the author wanting his skeptical cake and eating it too. I thought, "that smells like Lindzen" and had to peek.

This is him discussing how to rate abstracts with the other raters. The Cook et al. paper says:

Abstracts were randomly distributed via a web-based system to raters with only the title and abstract visible. All other information such as author names and affiliations, journal and publishing date were hidden. Each abstract was categorized by two independent, anonymized raters.

So they openly talked to one another about how to rate abstracts, then turned around and claimed their ratings were "independent." And they knew this was wrong. One of the raters specifically said:

But, this is clearly not an independent poll, nor really a statistical exercise. We are just assisting in the effort to apply defined criteria to the abstracts with the goal of classifying them as objectively as possible. Disagreements arise because neither the criteria nor the abstracts can be 100% precise. We have already gone down the path of trying to reach a consensus through the discussions of particular cases. From the start we would never be able to claim that ratings were done by independent, unbiased, or random people anyhow.

And yet, she co-authored a paper which said the raters were independent. Another rater, who wasn't a co-author of the paper, said:

Giving the objective to being as close to double blind in methodology as possible, isn't in inappropriate to discuss papers on the forum until all the ratings are complete?

But rather than be worried about the raters flagrantly violating the study's methodology, John Cook encouraged it. He ran the forum where these discussions were had, he never rebuked them, and there were comments like:

John-

I just sent you the stellar variability paper. I can access anything in Science if you need others.

-sarah

Showing he actively encouraged the very sort of behavior he should have been condemning. He then authored a paper with many of these same people which claimed they independently rated papers based solely on their title and abstract despite the fact they all knew the ratings were not independent and were not based solely on titles and abstracts.

Is it any surprise he'd continue to lie about what they did? If the Cook et al. group had stuck with the original idea, of actually defining their "consensus" in a clear manner and telling people what the different views on it were, they'd have had to say:

There’s a 97% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and 1.6% put the human contribution at >50%.

But why would they ever say something like that? They lied about their ratings being independent, knowing fully well people discussed those ratings with one another. They lied about their ratings being based solely on abstracts and titles, knowing fully well anyone could look up any additional information they wanted, and doing nothing to discourage it when it happened.

What's one more lie? And really, it's usually not a lie. Most of the time Cook et al. just say, "There's a 97% consensus on global warming." As long as they're not forced to define what that consensus position is, they don't have to lie. And when they are pressed to define it, they can just say the definition is in their Table 2, like Cook did in his tweet. It's not clearly a lie, after all.

But if you're honest, and you actually look into it, you have to admit there's really nothing much to the Cook et al. study. If you accept their idea:

Okay, so we’ve ruled out a definition of AGW being “any amount of human influence” or “more than 50% human influence”. We’re basically going with Ari’s p0rno approach (I probably should stop calling it that 🙂 which is AGW = “humans are causing global warming”. Eg – no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we’re surveying.

Then there is simply no definition for the "consensus" on global warming. The "consensus" is just some ephemeral thing we can't define. That's completely unscientific and useless for anyone actually wanting to understand things, but... I guess it's something.

Or we can go with the original idea behind the categories Cook et al. used. In that case, we have two different "consensus" positions. They are:

1) Humans are causing most of the observed warming - 1.6%
2) Humans are causing some amount of global warming - 97%

Or... I guess we can go the Richard Tol route. In that case, we get to argue about all sorts of useless things and say all sorts of stupid stuff. Like, saying if you sort papers by the year they're published, you'll come up with a randomly ordered data set. Because that is, in fact, one of the things Richard Tol said.

I hope skeptics can move away from that sort of stupidity because as long as that's the level of argument skeptics want to embrace, John Cook and his co-authors will get away with their lies.

5 comments

  1. Indeed. I even remembered that when writing this post 😀

    The problem isn't every person. It isn't even every skeptic. It's the mass hordes which collectively make up the "skeptic talking points." There are some people who understand fully well what's wrong with this paper. The problem is they're not the ones getting heard. They're not the ones getting publicity. As long as that's true, it basically doesn't matter what they think. The people who don't know them won't hear what they have to say. All they'll hear are the bad arguments which are easy to rebut. That's what happened with the author of the piece I highlighted in this post. He feels he's rebutted the criticisms of this paper, but if he had to talk to you, he wouldn't even know what you were talking about.

    When Christopher Monckton and his co-authors published their paper saying the real consensus was less than 1% because they divided Category 1's papers by 12,000, everyone should have said they were wrong. When Richard Tol said there were problems with the Cook et al. data set because he found patterns in sorted data (seriously, he complained there are patterns in sorted data), everyone should have said he was wrong. When he started saying it was necessary to search for "climate change" instead of "global climate change" or to use one data set instead of another, everyone should have said he was quibbling over minor differences while ignoring the central problems.

    They didn't though. People decided the publicity these arguments could get was more important than the rigor of the arguments. That was quite likely the reason Cook et al get away with lying about their results.

  2. Thanks for doing such an exhaustive work. Incidentally, my tweet wasn't even really directed at them but at one of these mindless 'Exxon knew' pieces - I haven't really followed the 97% story.

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