These Are Not Contradictions

As I discussed in the last post, a new paper titled, "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism" with John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky has a number of problems, including the one where Cook falsely claimed his own work and the work of others shows there is a consensus global warming is a "global problem." Cook and his co-authors know fully well none of the work they cite shows anything of the sort.

Another issue I commented on is how the paper claims global warming "contrarians" have incoherent belief systems in which they are content to believe contradictory things. This concept is founded on a paper by Michael Wood in which he misused basic statistical tests to draw conclusions about groups of people he had 0 data for. Lewandowsky has also used this same bogus approach to statistics in papers to portray global warming skeptics are conspiracy nuts even when his subjects overwhelmingly said they didn't believe in the conspiracies he smeared them with.

A related issue to this is how these authors give specific examples of how "contrarians" supposedly contradict themselves. In the previous post, I pointed out one key problem to this - the paper cites arguments from different people. That two different "contrarians" might hold contradictory beliefs is completely uninformative. Even climate scientists hold contradictory beliefs. It's called disagreement. It's a normal part of life.

Given that, the only real basis for this paper's headline is the set of examples where an individual supposedly contradicts himself. I discussed the headline example used in the paper in that last post, but today, I'm going to discuss a few of the other ones the authors offer.

In addition to the headline example, the paper lists nine supposed contradictions in its Table 2. Three are attributed to Ian Plimer, the same person the headline example comes from. Two more are attributed to Anthony Watts and the last is attributed to John Christy. All told, there are four people said to contradict themselves. That is not an impressive sample.

It gets worse when you look at the actual examples. For instance, Monckton is said to contradict himself because one time he said this:

Warming at the very much reduced rate that measured (as opposed to merely modeled) results suggest would be 0.7-00.8 K CO2 doubling. That would be harmless and beneficial

Before showing what that supposedly contradicts, I should point out looking at the source of the quote shows that typo was added by the authors of the paper. The source correctly writes "0.7-0.8 K" not "0.7-00.8 K." That doesn't matter for the idea the quote contradicts this:

Throughout most of the past half billion years, global temperatures were 7∘ C ...warmer than the present

The authors offer no explanation for how these two quotes contradict one another. Perhaps a reader could guess at what the authors were thinking, but the simple reality is believing past temperatures were significantly higher than they are now does not contradict the idea the planet would warm by less than a degree if CO2 levels in the atmosphere would double. A person who things other than CO2 have a far greater influence on temperatures may believe this without there being any contradiction.

Similarly, the authors say Monckton contradicts himself because he said:

Since late in 2001, when a naturally-occurring reduction in cloud cover that had caused rapid warming over the previous 18 years came to an end, there has been nearly a decade with virtually no change in temperature

Showing in 2010 Monckton believed there had been virtually no warming for nearly a decade. The authors claim this contradicts what he said the next year:

His GISS surface-temperature dataset, on which he bases his claims, not only suffers from insufficient adjustment for the artificial warmth given off by cities (the urban heat-island effect), but also from evidence of repeated, successive tamperings with the data from earlier decades this century so as artificially to increase the apparent overall rate of “global warming”

Again, the authors do nothing to explain how these ideas are contradictory. They are not. Believing there has been virtually no warming for about ten years in no way contradicts the idea a particular data set (GISS) suffers from data problems and inappropriate adjustments which increase the apparent rate of global warming.

The only "contradiction" is Monckton said there had been virtually no warming for about 10 years and GISS has inflated the rate of warming. That's not a contradiction though. The GISS record extends over 100 years. The rate of warming in it could be inflated even if a particular 10 year period didn't show any warming at all.

The final supposed contradiction by Monckton is he said:

...the Greenland ice sheet rests in a depression in the bedrock created by its own weight, wherefore “dynamical ice flow” is impossible, and the IPCC says that temperature would have to be sustained at more than 5.5 C above its present level for several millennia before half the Greenland ice sheet could melt


Since the warming itself has not yet brought global temperatures to the levels seen in the mediaeval warm period, when we were growing wine-grapes in Scotland and our Viking cousins were farming parts of south-western Greenland that remain under permafrost today, and since the warming has now ceased, it is nonsensical to suggest that the effects of that warming are anything other than insignificant and generally beneficial

I cannot begin to guess what the supposed contradiction here is supposed to be. Monckton says there were parts of Greenland which were used for farmland hundreds of years ago that are now covered in ice. He also says "dynamical ice flow" is impossible and it would take extreme circumstances for half of Greenland's ice sheet to melt.

None of that is contradictory. According to Monckton, hundreds of years ago when it was warmer a small part of the Greenland ice sheet (far less than the half he says would take enormous warming to melt) wasn't there, either because it had melted or hadn't existed in the first place. Colder temperature since then have caused the ice sheet to grow and cover those areas. That's not contradictory at all.

Neither is it contradictory for Anthony Watts to say:

The reality is that the Earth’s climate system is far more complex than that: It isn’t just a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature, it is a dynamic ever-changing one, and climate is tremendously complex with hundreds of interactive variables and feedbacks


“Global warming” suggests a steady linear increase in temperature, but since that isn’t happening, proponents have shifted to the more universal term “climate change,” which can be liberally applied to just about anything observable in the atmosphere

Saying the earth's climate system is extremely complex cannot possibly contradict beliefs about semantic meanings and choices. What words means and which words people use cannot possibly contradict the idea our planet's climate is complex. The quotes simply have nothing to do with one another.

The next "contradiction" by Watts at least involves two quotes dealing with the same general subject. First:

As attested by a number of studies, near-surface temperature records are often affected by time-varying biases ...To address such problems, climatologists have developed various methods for detecting discontinuities in time series, characterizing and/or removing various nonclimatic biases that affect temperature records in order to obtain homogeneous data and create reliable long-term time series


In the business and trading world, people go to jail for such manipulations of data

Interestingly, the authors provide a faulty reference for the second of these quotes. I've provided the correct link just above, but this is the one the authors gave. A hyphen is missing in it. You can see it in this screengrab from the paper's reference section:


The URL given by the authors does not have a hyphen between "hottest" and "year" like it should have. Anyone who tried to check this reference would have found it didn't work. That's a bit weird.

Anyway, there is simply no contradiction here. Simply stating climatologists have developed methods of adjusting data to "create reliable long-term time series" does not mean you believe that is okay or that in the business or trading world a person could do such without going to jail. A person can describe what other people do without endorsing it as okay. On their face, these quotes simply cannot contradict one another.

The real problem, however, is these quotes are not discussing the same thing. The authors of this paper left out important context for the interview they quoted. Here is an expanded quote:

"Is history malleable? Can temperature data of the past be molded to fit a purpose? It certainly seems to be the case here, where the temperature for July 1936 reported ... changes with the moment," Watts told

"In the business and trading world, people go to jail for such manipulations of data."

This is a reference to the fact past temperature data continuously changes. That is, rather than just look at past data for problems and fix them, the methodologies used may look at past data for problems to fix, adjust the data, then re-visit the next day and adjust it in a different way. A person can easily believe it is okay to adjust past data for problems without believing it is okay to keep adjusting that data in different ways every month, week or day.

This post is running long. I hope you'll forgive me for that. However, nearly every single "contradiction" the authors list in this table is fake, and I feel it is worth demonstrating this. People need to understand just because two quotes are placed side-by-side and labeled, "Contradictory and incoherent arguments advanced by the same individuals" does not mean the quotes are actually contradictory. For instance, when Ian Plimer is quoted as saying:

Replacement of high altitude forests by mixing with low altitude forests to create greater species diversity has happened in previous times of warming and would be expected in another warming event

This is a simple claim. If the planet warms, the habitable range for forests will increase. That would cause trees to spread into areas they hadn't been before and mixing with the trees of those areas. Because I wasted $15 on the quoted book by Plimer, I can tell you the reason he brought this up is the increase in number of species he believes this mixing would cause. His idea in no way contradicts:

Even if the planet warms due to increased atmospheric CO2, it is clear that plants will not feel the need to migrate to cooler parts of our planet

Even though the authors claim it does. Migration involves leaving one area and moving to another. That is not what happens when plants' or even animals' habitable range increases. Trees spreading to other areas while still also existing in the original area have spread out and expanded, but they haven't migrated.

That these quotes don't contradict one another should have been obvious to the editor and reviewers of this paper. For instance, this quote by Plimer:

The proof that CO2 does not drive climate is shown by previous glaciations

Cannot possibly contradict:

The global warmth of the Cretaceous has been attributed to elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere

That Plimer says past warmth "has been attributed to elevated levels of CO2" in no way means he believes that attribution is correct. In fact, anyone who is unfortunate enough to waste money buying this terrible book will find Plimer followed that statement by saying:

However, there are some suggestions that the Cretaceous climate was decoupled from the CO2 content of the atmosphere.

The authors of this paper conveniently leave that out though. Because they do, their readers won't know Plimer said some people have attributed past warmth to CO2 levels while other people disagree. They'll just think he said some people have attributed past warmth to CO2 levels.

There are still two more entries in this table, and I don't think either constitutes an actual contradiction. I think this post has ran on long enough though, and the last two examples are a bit murkier. I'll let you readers examine them for yourselves. Before I go though, I want to highlight a remarkable detail of what the source of one of the remaining quotes used is. You can find it here:

Based on emails from both Steven Sherwood and John Christy, and based on Carl Mears’ blogpost, I can report that all three agree that

1) Yes, amplified warming in the tropical troposphere is expected.

And that

2) No, the hot spot in the tropics is not specific to a greenhouse mechanism.

Notice that I changed the wording of question/statement 2 here, because the word “fingerprint” was interpreted differently by John Christy than how we meant it.

In his email to us, John Christy wrote regarding Q1: “Yes, the hot spot is expected via the traditional view that the lapse rate feedback operates on both short and long time scales.” Regarding Q2 he wrote: “it [the hot spot] is broader than just the enhanced greenhouse effect because any thermal forcing should elicit a response such as the “expected” hot spot.” Further elaborations in the email exchange, e.g. regarding whether to call this a fingerprint, involved interpretations as to the meaning of (a lack of) a hot spot, which we will defer for the moment.

The next issue that we’ll take up is encapsulated in Q3:

3) Is there a significant difference between modelled and observed amplification of surface trends in the tropical troposphere (i.e. between the modelled and the observed hot spot)?

That is a comment on a blog post by one Bart Verheggen. Verheggen has not been mentioned in this post. The reason is this "contradiction" is supposedly by John Christy. Verheggen's quote is used as a source because his comment says, "In his email to us, John Christy wrote...."

Yes, that's right. John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky published a paper claiming global warming "contrarians" contradict themselves in which they rely on sources like secondhand quotes from people provided by commenters on blog sites. In any realm other than science, that would be considered hearsay.


  1. Borrowed from CliScep comments - just for fun - "contradictions" (Lewandowsky/Cook/Lloyd style)

    “I reckon it would be easy to write a paper making warmists look inconsistent, using Lew’s techniques.”

    Let’s start with Elisabeth Lloyd, [co-author Alice paper] Professor of the History and Philosphy of Science at Indiana University:

    From the Abstract of Lewandowsky, Cook, Lloyd (2016):

    “the findings from climate science form a highly coherent body of knowledge”

    From: “Confirmation and Robustness of Climate Models”:E Lloyd

    “There is no general theory of climate that takes all the complicating factors affecting climate into account and calculates what the effects on [sic] climate change will be on global temperature change, on precipitation, on wind, on pressure change, or on any other significant climate variable.”


    To quote Lewandowsky’s halfwit henchboy John Cook:


    …I recently taught a Massively Multiplayer Online Course (MOOK) on Climate Denial 101. The 5 characteristics commonly used by climate change deniers, in the order in which I made them up, are as follows:….


    There is no such thing as climate change denial.

    links in comments:

  2. This illustrates that Lewandowsky's ignorance of basic scientific logic and in particular his ignorance of climate science is not hampered in the least by his desire to discredit climate change sceptics by means mostly foul. It also illustrates that he has no problems at all getting his culpable ignorance into peer-reviewed print, on the assumption that the reviewers are seemingly equally woefully uniformed or else share a common incentive to also discredit those people who question consensus global warming science.

  3. There were also typos added by the authors in table 1: "Greenhouse effect has been falsifed" and "Global warming has been falsifed". Probably a copy/paste problem. The first one was also in the list on skepticalscience site and was written correct there. The second one was not in the skepticalscience list.
    "Falsified" was written correctly in the rest of the paper.
    Unless "falsifed" is a correct English word (English is not my mother tongue).

    Strangely nor the authors nor the reviewers spotted the typo's or the broken link.

    I thought that citing a CEO in a newspaper was the new low. Apparently they could even go lower with a quote from a comment on a blog...

  4. Michel, those are interesting typos. "Falsifed" isn't a word (under American or British spelling), so I have no idea how that slipped into the paper. I'm curious how many other typos there might be in this. Those ones might have come about because the entries for that table were rewritten for the paper.

    Speaking of which, that list of contradictions doesn't use quotes or have any evidenciary basis. The paper cites a web page at Skeptical Science, but that web page doesn't give any sources. It was just a page Skeptical Science members could add supposed contradictions to. That's not how science is supposed to work. You're supposed to have evidence and sources, not just a web page where people can list things they say exist.

    As for the comment they rely on for the quote from John Christy, it's worth pointing out John Cook has co-authored at least one paper with Bart Verheggen. I'm sure he feels that means he can trust the comment. Again, that's not how science works. That Cook might trust somebody doesn't mean a comment on a blog supposedly quoting an e-mail a person sent is suddenly acceptable evidence. That Cook wouldn't use a comment from someone else he didn't trust shows how inappropriate it is to use that sort of source in a scientific paper.

  5. Michel, you are right about that typo too. I'm not sure how that i got dropped three separate times, but it is interesting. It might help to know it is also present in a submitted version of the paper (as opposed to the final one), as included in John Cook's PhD thesis. The table remains completely unchanged between the two versions of the paper, including the typos you found and another peculiar one I just noticed. The third line of the table has two items:

    Paleo-temperature proxies are unreliable
    The middle ages were warmer.

    Notice how the second item has a full stop at its end? No other item in the table does. There are almost 40 different items in the table, and that is the only one with this punctuation. It's clearly an error. That's four different typographical errors in this one table.

  6. By the way, this paper makes up half of one of seven chapters of John Cook's PhD thesis. In raw page numbers, it takes up 39 of the thesis's 266 pages. That's ~15% of Cook's thesis devoted solely to a copy-paste of this paper. It's troubling.

  7. Briefly looked at the thesis: in it also the false claim about the consensus position that global warming presents a "global problem" which is unsupported by the papers he referenced. From two of those referenced papers he is an author and one of these papers had the consensus of the other referenced papers as subject.

    So the false claim did not originated from Lewandowsky or Lloyd, but from Cook himself and he even perpetuates it in his thesis...

  8. Excellent detective work. I started a hatchet job on this paper at and before I went off the rails I think I identified the most serious error in what is supposed to be a philosophy paper. There is no attempt to demonstrate that the four quoted individuals fit the cumbersome definition in the abstract of the people who are the supposed subject of the article (“People who oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting GHG emissions […] threaten their worldview or livelihood..”) So even if the quotes were contradictory, it would prove nothing. They might as well be lifting quotes from the Book of Proverbs for all the effect it has on their argument.

    Of course, if they did try and demonstrate that Watts & co "oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting GHG emissions threaten their worldview or livelihood” they'd be in the kind of trouble that got Recursive Fury retracted.

  9. Michel, I am afraid it is not that simple. I'd rather not go into it in public right now though as I'd like to wait until I can work out and write up a number of details and nuances. I think it merits the effort and time. I can e-mail people who would like to know more a quick inteerview if they don't mind not "telling the world" for a few days.

  10. MikeN, please don't refer to Skeptical Science as SS. That seems unnecessarily insulting given the connotations it has.* I make the same request of people regarding my initials despite their connotation being nowhere near as bad, so I can hardly treat this any differently. (Of course, that connotation isn't helped by the images where the Skeptical Science group apparently Photoshopped themselves into Nazi imagery.)

    geoffchambers, I cannot see anything in the paper which indicates they limit their examination to that group. The paper does say the group you refer to "cannot provide an alternative view that is coherent," but that doesn't mean that is the group they are referring to throughout the entire paper. Instead, the very next sentence expands the topic of discussion to cover other groups of people.

  11. Hi Brandon - are you going to also explain why the contradictions sampled from SkS Contradictions page, and used in Table 1 - are also not contradictions?

  12. I can explain those typos. In typesetting, 'fi' is often represent as a single object called a ligature (look it up on wiki).
    If this is then lazily and carelessly copied and pasted from one document to another, this can often appear as just an f,
    so falsified -> falsifed, falsifiable -> falsifable.
    It's a trivial point, but it illustrates how nobody, authors, reviewers, editors, took any care over this paper or even read it carefully.

  13. Brandon
    You're right that they go on to talk about “people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge)” which may overlap with, but is not identical to the first definition. It doesn't really matter which definition they are held to. The point is that they present no evidence that the four people quoted belong to the group(s) defined as the subject of the paper.

    This may seem a fussy point to those of us who know who Watts and Co are, but the whole point of philosophy is fussiness. The paper defines (and then redefines) a group of people who are the subject of the paper, and then says nothing about them.

  14. Hi Brandon - I'm not sure what you mean about his PhD.. ie it seems to be merely including papers that he published (or accepted but pending, not the other way around.. ie in part PhD by publication

  15. Paul, thanks. I've had similar issues when copying from PDF files, so my assumption was it was something like that. I don't know what they would have been copying from that would cause it though. Or how they wouldn't notice. These words would have popped in any spellcheck software.

    Barry, I don't expect to do a line-by-line analysis of Table 1, but I do intend to write a post about it. It may even be my next one. As for Cook's PhD, this approach to writing one doesn't seem that unusual. I haven't read a lot of PhD theses, but I've seen a number which basically just summarize a person's published work. Summarizing/discussing isn't the same as just copy/pasting papers like Cook has done, but PhD by publication seems a normal thing.

    That said, I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say you don't know what I mean. Could you point to the comment you're responding to?

  16. I think I misunderstood you. As I agree its very troubling that 15% of John's Phd is made up of this nonsense...

  17. For what it's worth, after looking at other theses and the rules on writing them, this approach to writing a PhD thesis is relatively normal. I hadn't realized that.

    Anyway, it's a little difficult to judge the importance of this paper. The thesis lists Cook's contribution to the paper as being only 30%, so even with a lot of space devoted to it, that doesn't mean it is central to the thesis.

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