A New Consensus Paper, at First Blush

Today I wasted $15. I had seen this tweet by Skeptical Science team member Andy Skuce:

So naturally, I took a look at the paper he's promoting. The paper begins with two quotes:

“CO2CO2 keeps our planet warm ....”
— Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth, p. 411
“Temperature and CO2CO2 are not connected.”
— Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth, p. 278

It makes hay of how these two quotes are contradictory and a perfect example of how "contrarians" will believe multiple, contradictory things at the same time. This is a commom meme people like Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook have been trying to spread, and There is history with them using completely bogus "evidence" to make their case.

Given that, I decided to check the quotations for myself. I needn't have bothered though. It turns out the issue here is exactly what you would likely expect. So you don't have to spend $15 yourself, I'll explain.

Before I get to that, I want to take a moment to highlight where this idea came from. The authors of this paper write:

Conversely, a known attribute of conspiracist thought is that it can appear incoherent by conventional evidentiary criteria. To illustrate, when people reject an official account of an event, they may simultaneously believe in mutually contradictory theories—e.g., that Princess Diana was murdered but also faked her own death (Wood et al. 2012). The incoherence does not matter to the person rejecting the official account because it is resolved at a higher level of abstraction; there is an unshakable belief that the official account of an event is wrong.

The paper cited there, Wood et al 2012, is a paper with the lead author Michael Wood. If you were around when I first created this blog, you would have seen a post I wrote showing the correspondence between me and Michael Wood in which I explained why his conclusions were wrong. He... let's say... tried very hard not to understand what I was saying.

You can find an overview of the issue here if you'd like, but for a short version, Wood surveyed a group of people, asking them their views about various conspiracy theories. A number of these conspiracy theories were about Princess Diana's death. Respondents overwhelmingly rejected all the conspiracy theories, as seen in the figure below:

Fig5

The line in that figure represents the relationship Wood claimed to find in his data. It shows what would happen if the more a person believed Princess Diana was murdered, the more they also believed she was still alive. As you can see, nobody said they believed that. The upper right corner, which represents that combined set of beliefs, is empty. The only "correlation" that exists is people who reject one conspiracy theory were more likely to reject other conspiracy theories. This is akin to asking:

Are you a Cubs fan? No.
Are you an alien? No.

Since people said they are not Cubs fans and they are not aliens, there is a correlation between being an alien and being a Cubs fan. You could plot the responses to these questions and draw a line through it just like with Michael Wood's data.

The mathematical reason for this revolves around how normal correlation tests assume normal distributions and don't work for highly non-linear data sets. The layman's reason for this is you're assuming because people answer multiple questions with "no" that people who answer one question with "yes" will answer the rest of the questions with "yes." Feel free to try that with any set of questions. You'll quickly see why it is nonsensical.

Anyway, the reason I bring that up is I want to highlight why I was skeptical of what this paper had to say about those two quotes. It says:

Similarly, the quotations of Australian climate “skeptic” Ian Plimer at the outset of this article (Plimer 2009) are incoherent. It cannot simultaneously be true that “ CO2 keeps our planet warm ...” and that “Temperature and CO2 are not connected.” We next show that this incoherence suffuses the public posture of climate science denial, suggesting that it cannot lay a strong claim to scientific or intellectual credibility.

Two possibilities occurred to me when I read this: 1) The person who wrote the book those quotes were from is incoherent; 2) The authors of this paper misrepresented these quotes. The only way to check which (if either) of these possibilities is true was to buy the book and see what the quotes actually mean. It turns out the book is pretty bad, and I feel I wasted the $15 spent on it, but buying this book does let us examine the context of those quotes. Here is the first quote in context:

Carbon is more basic to life than sex. You heard it here first! Carbon dioxide is a colourless odourless non-poisonous gas. It is plant food, and it drives the whole food chain. All life is based on and contains carbon. Every cell in every living organism on the planet is based on carbon. Bacteria, algae and plants remove CO2 from the air and water and store it in their tissues. Together with water vapour, CO2 keeps our planet warm such that it is not covered in ice, too hot or devoid of liquid water.

I won't bother explaining why I think this is bad writing as I don't think anyone really cares. The point is the context of the quote shows it says just what John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky and Elisabeth Lloyd portrayed it as - carbon dioxide helps regulate Earth's temperatures. That would seem to contradict the statement, “Temperature and CO2 are not connected.” However, the context for that statement is:

Ice drilling by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) at Concordia Station, Dome C, Antarctica gives another look back in time over some 800,000 years. Eight icehouse-greenhouse cycles were recognised.1414 Antarctic temperatures have been reconstructed1415 as have the CO2, methane and nitrous oxide content.1416,1417 More detailed measurements1418,1419 concentrated on the history of CO2 in ancient air trapped in the ice. Popular paradigms were destroyed. At 800,000 and 650,000 years ago, atmospheric CO2 dropped below 180 ppmv yet temperature was unchanged. Temperature and CO2 are not connected. Furthermore, there was a long-term trend in CO2 which rose by 25 ppmv from 800,000 to 400,000 years ago and then fell by 15 ppmv thereafter. Again, a disconnection between temperature and CO2. Even more intriguing was that the methane levels in trapped air changed from 100,000- to 20,000-year cycles. By contrast, temperature and CO2 showed 100,000-year cycles.

That's quite a bit of text, but the key is this text is discussing specific examples, referencing data for a single region (Antarctica) and time periods in which the author of the book says, "Temperature and CO2 are not connected." If we go a bit further back in the text:

The initial analyses of the Vostok ice core used samples spaced at intervals of hundreds of years. The initial conclusions were that high CO2 in the atmosphere led to high air temperatures. However, with far more detailed measurements on the scale of decades over a 250,000-year ice core record and a correlation of a 35,000-year ice core record from Taylor Dome, it was shown that high air temperatures are followed some 400 to 1000 years later by a high atmospheric CO2 content.1411,1412 More recent work, using argon isotopes in Antarctic ice cores of just one temperature rise, shows that CO2 increased 200 to 800 years after that particular temperature rise.1413 During the last 420,000 years there have been massive temperature changes, and a rise in CO2 concentration follows air temperature increase by about 800 years and it is only after a cooling event that CO2 decreases.

We see the author clearly isn't claiming carbon dioxide levels and the planet's temperature are unrelated to one another. He wrote several paragraphs specifically discussing how the two are related (in his view) for certain cases. All Cook, Lewandowsky and Lloyd have done is take something which was poorly worded out of the context which shows it was a remark about a specific example and portray it as being a general statement that is always true.

If you are willing to take things out of context and portray them as referring to things they clearly aren't referring to, you will always find it easy to paint things as "incoherent." That shouldn't be how "science" works though. Similarly, "science" shouldn't work by asking a bunch of men:

Are you a woman?
Are you a witch?

And concluding that since everyone you asked said, "No" to both questions, men are not witches and women are. Unfortunately, that's exactly how the "science" of this paper is being done. It's not just this paper either. Stephan Lewandowsky relied on this same approach to creating spurious correlations to write multiple papers portraying global warming skeptics are conspiracy nutters. John Cook worked with him on projects arising from this. This sort of bogus methodology is essential for the body of work these people are creating.

Similarly, these people have no problem being dishonest. I don't like accusing people of dishonesty, and I try very hard to think of other potential explanations before accusing people of lying. However, the authors clearly lie in this paper. They write:

Current atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than at any time since at least 2.6 million years ago (Masson-Delmotte et al. 2013, Fig. 5.2), and the consensus position that global warming is happening, is human caused, and presents a global problem is shared by more than 95 % of domain experts and more than 95 % of relevant articles in the peer-reviewed literature (Anderegg et al. 2010; Cook et al. 2013, 2016; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Oreskes 2004; Shwed and Bearman 2010).

They know fully well the "consensus position" these papers find does not say global warming "presents a global problem." People may recall practically the same exaggeration was used back when John Cook published his first "consensus" paper as he and the rest of the Skeptical Science team promoted the tweet:

Celebrating how the President of the United States promoted their work even though the tweet wasn't actually written by Barack Obama, but rather, an advocacy group which purports to be independent of Obama and his administration (see here for a discussion of that claim).

As you can see in that tweet, the not-Obama account claimed Cook's paper showed there is a consensus global warming is "dangerous." No such claim exists in the paper. In fact, Cook and his group didn't even look at the issue of whether people believe global warming is dangerous. Despite that, they repeatedly promoted and celebrated the tweet without ever bothering to warn anyone it was inaccurate.

Now, John Cook himself is signing onto a similar exaggeration by publishing a paper which claims his work shows there's a consensus global warming is "a global problem." Given he knows his work shows nothing of the sort, he must know what this new paper says is a lie.

So yeah, at first blush, that's my reaction to this paper. Much of it is repeating old points based upon bogus methodologies the authors continue to defend. Other parts of it are simply the authors going out of their way to find anything which might even look like it supports their preconceived beliefs. Then there's a bit more I still need to spend some time on.

As a final note, please do not take anything I"ve said in this topic as a defense of Ian Plimer, the book he wrote or what the authors of this paper quote him as saying. I am dead-serious when I say This book is terrible. Nobody should listen to Ian Plimer. I've even highlighted gross distortions he's written in books on this site before (I can find a link if people want). The point here is not to defend or justify anything he said. It is simply to show why the "science" of this new paper is... not science.

24 comments

  1. By the way, this paper is filled with misrepresentations. I wrote this post "at first blush," but the more you read, the worse things get. For instance, the paper promotes this old talking point:

    ast climate changes were largely driven by slight variations in solar intensity arising from orbital variations or solar cycles, and those events are entirely independent of contemporary GHG-driven global warming. Moreover, the appeal to past periods of warming also entails a commitment to high climate sensitivity: if climate sensitivity were as low as contrarians like to claim ( ≈1.5∘≈1.5∘ C), then the minute past variation in intensity of insolation could not have caused the observed warming episodes (PALAEOSENS 2012).

    An unbiased reader should have little trouble spotting the problem with this argument. Cook and Lewandosky say past changes were caused by X, but many people don't agree with that attribution. Many people who think the threat of global warming has been exaggerated think there are sources of natural variability which have a greater impact than the mainstream position claims.

    You cannot prove "contrarians" are wrong to think there are natural factors which have been underestimated by insisting past variability was caused by a set of things which don't include those particular natural factors. The authors try to though, saying:

    Either the climate changed in the past because it is highly sensitive to external forces, in which case we are facing considerable future warming, or its sensitivity to the forces triggered by increasing CO2CO2 concentrations is low, in which case the climate should not have changed much in the past. Except that it did.

    This claim is only true if the factors which caused past changes in temperature were "minute." If those factors were larger than Cook and Lewandowsky claim, then this entire argument would fall apart. Naturally, Cook and Lewandowsky do nothing to demonstrate their claim regarding those past factors is true.

    I won't list all the issues like this in the paper, but another problem with the paper which is worth highlighting is Cook and Lewandowsky portray global warming "contrarians" as holding "incoherent" views because there are contradictory viewpoints. Only, some of the examples provided in the paper are from different people. As in, "Contrarian A believes X while Contrarian B believes Y, therefore contrarians are incoherent!"

  2. 'This claim is only true if the factors which caused past changes in temperature were "minute." If those factors were larger than Cook and Lewandowsky claim, then this entire argument would fall apart.'

    It's the same with every paleo paper. They take what they can measure, which is to say methane and CO2; some papers also include changes in surface albedo though it's unclear why these should be considered 'forcings'. Besides, the albedo is basically the output of a computer model; we still have problems to measure this stuff in the era of satellites. So the only more or less certain things are methane and CO2.

    The paleo researchers then assume that whatever temperature change happened happened because of these changes in methane and CO2. That's it.

    Given that we have basically zero information about paleo behavior of clouds, water vapor and ozone, to name three things, the assumption seems absurd. It's also clear there is potentially a survivorship bias: what if there were large forcings from changes in clouds and so on, but these didn't result in large temperature changes, i.e. these periods had low sensitivity? We will never know because we can only study the forcings that did result in a large temperature change.

    To some degree it's also like this with the papers looking at the thermometer record: they take the temperature starting in 1850 or 1900 or a similar date, compare with today's temperatures, and assume that whatever increase there was was there because of the additional greenhouse forcing; the only natural forcings they account for are volcanoes and solar. So there's a huge uncertainty. But in the thermometer era we also have a wealth of *measurements* that allow us to discard many possibilities. We know the AMOC hasn't collapsed, we know cloud cover has been more or less stable since 2000 and so cannot be blamed for current warming, etc. So in this case, the assumption (that without man's actions temperature would have stayed the same) is not so preposterous.

  3. Have you noticed that co-author Elisabeth Lloyd - is also a co-author of Lewandowsky/Cook/Marriott Recurrent Fury paper?

    The concern here, is not that they are content to say Ian Plimer is wrong, but the utterly dishonest smear of being crazy and incoherent, which they use of evidence that skeptics as a group, are mutually incoherent.. I also pointed out the same problems, and went to the effort of tracking down full context of quotes when they published the same material in an OpenDemocracy article. NOw that it is in aacadmic joural ,it makes it a whole different issue.

    (I've got a draft blog post about it, I may dust off - myself, Paul Matthews and others are in the comments, I put Plimer quotes in full/context)
    https://www.opendemocracy.net/conspiracy/suspect-science/stephan-lewandowsky/alice-through-looking-glass-mechanics-rejection-of-climate-science

    Also look at the table of quotes, some also assigned to Plimer in this new paper. I looked up all of them and they are an even worse misrepresentation. In one Plimer is describing to his readers opinion of others, before he presents to the reader alternative explanations, yet COOK assign the statement to him and say he contradicts himself later on.

    Note how they refer to Ian Plimer as Australian sceptic - no mention that he is Professor Ian Plimer a geologist, perhaps peer reviewers would have checked quotes more carefully if they were aware Ian was a senior scientist and his field was geology?

    Also... This is a rehash of old Skeptical Science material - they had a contradictions little project, (leaked forum) where they collated quotes like this for known sceptics, to be used against them for journalist benefit, and even a specific pager for Plimer 'contradictions - Plimer vs Plimer...

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/plimervsplimer.php

    And here we can show just how dishonest Cook is, in that original page Plimer vs Plimer, he used the longer quote...

    "Together with water vapour, CO2 keeps our planet warm so that it is not covered in ice, too hot or devoid of liquid water." Heaven and Earth pg411

    So, Cook knowingly dropped water vapour, to make his new quote look more mutually incoherent. Also Cook originally included the page number, yet a reviewer of this paper does not know it, if the peer reviewers had been so minded to get a copy of the book, Cook and Lew just made it harder to find the quote.

    Can anyone be bothered to write a comment to the journal, Cook, Lew and Lloyd get paid (well) to write this stuff, it is their day job.. I don't have the time, work, kids, elderly parents, etc.

  4. Cooks contradictions page - if you notice many of them are not even contradictions as quoted, let alone checking the original sources.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/contradictions.php

    Some of Cooks Contrivbutions:
    Argument 1 Argument 2 Submitter
    It's geothermal It's the sun John Cook
    It's albedo It's the sun John Cook
    It's the sun It's CFCs John Cook
    It's the sun It's methane John Cook
    It's El Niño It's the sun Eric L
    CO2 is just a trace gas CO2 effect is saturated Eric L
    Climate's changed before Climate sensitivity is low John Cook
    It's cooling Global warming theory isn't falsifiable Andy Skuce

    different people saying different things, and of course it only works if ONly one factor is responsible for all climate change..
    not if people consider them to be A driver of climate change, but not the Sole driver of climate change.. differnt people are saying them, this is really dire stuff.

    many many more, on that page - they do this sort of nonsense throughout their Climate Misinformers page aswell..
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/misinformers.php

    Climate Myth - What Science says - Judith Curry
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/skeptic_Judith_Curry.htm

    Myth (by Curry)
    "The definition of climate change consensus is now so fuzzy that leading climate change skeptics are categorizing themselves within the 97%." 26 July 2013 (Source)

    The Science Says (Cook)
    The scientist author self-ratings survey included in Cook et al. (2013) found a 96% consensus that humans are responsible for most of the current global warming – a position which most climate contrarians would not agree with.

    this is about a totally different topic, yet Cook claims to counter Curry's 'myth' with nonsense.

    How did this paper get published?

  5. >The Science Says (Cook)
    >The scientist author self-ratings survey included in Cook et al. (2013) found a 96% consensus
    >that humans are responsible for most of the current global warming – a position which most
    >climate contrarians would not agree with.

    I think that paper has been done to death, by our host and elsewhere. It's exactly this sort of
    crap I have a problem with. This is not 'science' nor does it represent in any way 'the science'.

  6. Leaked SKS forum - John Cook on plimer vs Plimer
    http://www.hi-izuru.org/forum/Blog%20posts/2011-10-31-Plimer%20vs%20Plimer_%20a%20one%20man%20contradiction.html

    Point of this article
    John Cook

    Plimer is still around, having an influence. George Pell just posted a piece in The Australian, citing Plimer and is heavily influenced by him. I suspect many Aussie liberal politicians are still influenced by him. And he has a new book coming out targeted at children.
    My goal is primarily to discredit him, have him considered an unreliable source of information. And provide a resource (Plimer vs Plimer) for people to refer to whenever he rears his ugly head.
    2011-10-31 19:33:09

  7. Cook wants to discredit Plimer, (see leaked forum below) the paper is a rehash of SkS - Plimer vs Plimer - linking it to the false mutually contradictory beliefs - Dead and Alive - Wood et al paper..

    http://www.hi-izuru.org/forum/Blog%20posts/2011-10-31-Plimer%20vs%20Plimer_%20a%20one%20man%20contradiction.html

    Point of this article - John Cook

    "...My goal is primarily to discredit him, have him considered an unreliable source of information. And provide a resource (Plimer vs Plimer) for people to refer to whenever he rears his ugly head."

    The disinformation skeptics
    John Cook

    Perhaps we should consider series focusing on the "disinformation deniers". The ones who just vomit out any old rubbish. Hold them accountable. Monckton, Bob Carter, Pat Michaels, Ian Plimer. The worst of the bad bunch. Make them so toxic, even skeptic blogs will think twice before reposting their stuff.

    I guess we'll see how Monckton Myths matures and if it is effective, we'll consider this idea.

    http://www.hi-izuru.org/forum/Blog%20posts/2011-01-13-Crux%20of%20a%20Core...%20Bob%20Carter.html

    News cover this and surprisingly cite SkS
    John Cook

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/climate-sceptic-targets-teachers/story-e6frfro0-1226220417543

    John Cook of Sceptical Science, a website designed to explain what peer-reviewed science has to say about global warming, has branded Prof Plimer "a one man contradiction". He quotes Heaven and Earth on the webpage "Plimer vs Plimer" to highlight what he says is Prof Plimer's use and abuse of information in support of his own arguments.

    Pity they don't link to us. But the "one man contradiction" is a nice meme to get out there.

  8. A reader informed me of a typo by e-mail. For some reason I wrote "makes hey" early in this post rather than "makes hay." It's fixed now.

  9. Nope. I responded to him a couple times on Twitter about the same issues, but since he didn't react in any way, I figured he wouldn't care to have me follow-up since all he did was tweet about it. If he were an author on the paper, I would have tried harder.

    Speaking of which, I did try to alert John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky on Twitter, but they both have me blocked. I figure e-mailing them when they've blocked me on one site would be a bit rude. I'd still do it if I thought it was the only way they'd hear about my post, but I know for a fact a couple of their friends/co-authors have read it. Given I also know those people have discussed previous posts of mine in Cook's forum, I assume either that will happen again. Failing that, I'm sure they'd at least alert cook directly.

  10. I'm at a charity event this weekend so commenting will be light, but I want to point out John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky have effectively nailed their trousers to the mast that is this narrative. They cannot admit errors in it, no matter how obvious, due to the investment they've put into it. Don't be surprised they repeat the same claims. They will continue to do so forever unless some institution or public backlash makes it too costly for them too.

    What should be surprising isn't that they double and triple down on obviously wrong arguments. It's that they keep making new, obviously wrong arguments, even when they know those arguments are wrong. This is the second time John Cook has been an author on a paper which explicitly misrepresented his consensus results (plus a third case where a supporting document for a paper did it). This time though, he's gone further than before.

    People refusing to back off a narrative they're heavily invested in disappoints but doesn't surprise me. Add new elements to the narrative anyone who has read their work knows are false does surprise me. I don't have a good explanation for it. The best I can come up with is they've gotten away with telling falsehoods to such an extent they either figure they can tell any lie they want or they've lied to themselves so long they've tricked themselves into believing the lies.

    Or maybe it's something else. Who knows? This tactic works for Trump. Why shouldn't other people use it too?

  11. Another thing I notice, Brandon, is that in my browser "CO2" in your writing keeps coming through as "CO2CO2". I don't know why but I doubt that's intentional.

    In any case, re: "... if climate sensitivity were as low as contrarians like to claim ( ≈1.5∘≈1.5∘ C), then the minute past variation in intensity of insolation could not have caused the observed warming episodes (PALAEOSENS 2012)."

    There is another explicit assumption in that passage: that total insolation is the only other relevant "natural variable". However, there is good evidence that it is not. Ignoring that fact is either ignorance on the part of the authors (doubtful) or deliberate subterfuge (perhaps somewhat less doubtful, based on their past behavior).

  12. Here is another thought: while it might seem unrelated, I found that the book "SJWs Always Lie" by Vox Day helped me understand the mindset of many climate alarmists.

    No matter one's opinion of the politics of the book, his description of the behavior of certain people hits the nail on the head, and he offers some useful advice in dealing with them. It is my honest opinion that a significant number of climate alarmists fit into this category. The outward symptoms certainly seem to fit, anyway.

    It's a short read. I highly recommend it.

  13. The CO2CO2 thing comes from a strange copying issue I've been having with the website this paper is posted on. Whenever I copy something from the page with certain symbols (like a degree sign), the symbol disappears and the adjacent text gets duplicated. I've tried to manually correct the text whenever that happens, but I probably missed a few cases.

    You're also right about the authors begging the question. They quote a person who would almost certainly argue that one variable is not the only one that matters for the topic, and then they label him incoherent based on the assumption it is the only variable that matters. It's a very shady approach.

    As for that book, I had never heard of it, but I'll have to keep an eye out for it. I'm always on the search for another good book, and if it could give some insight on why people behave like this or how to respond to them when they do, that could be helpful.

    Oh, and I went ahead and deleted your test comment like you requested.

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  15. Probably not. I reacted to him several times on Twitter about similar issues, yet since he didn't respond in any capacity, I figured he wouldn't want to have me follow-up since whatever he did was tweet about it. In the event that he were a creator on the paper, I would have invested more energy.

    Discussing which, I tried to alarm John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky on Twitter, yet they both have me blocked. I figure messaging them when they've blocked me on one site would be somewhat discourteous. I'd even now do it in the event that I thought it was the main way they'd catch wind of my post, however I know beyond all doubt two or three their companions/co-writers have perused it. Given I likewise know those individuals have talked about past posts of mine in Cook's gathering, I expect either that will happen once more. Fizzling that, I'm certain they'd in any event ready cook specifically.

  16. I have to say, that comment just above is one of the most impressive pieces of spam I've seen. I normally delete any spam I notice has slipped through the moderation filters, but I'm impressed enough I"m going to leave that one. I am removing the link it contained to an "escort" site, but otherwise, I'll leave it untouched.

    Judos to whoever wrote the bot that posted it. They've done a much better job than most.

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