Monthly Archives: October 2014

Inflating peer-review

In the presentation to the public of the findings of the Cook survey in The Consensus Project, we already saw the consensus being inflated well beyond what was actually surveyed. This post will focus in on the small piece of text in which the peer-review process is explained to the public.

theconsensusproject peer-review

As text (emphasis by the authors):

What is peer-reviewed, and why is it important? When a paper has been peer-reviewed, that means it has been evaluated by a number of qualified scientists and found to have followed legitimate scientific methods.

When seeing it explained like this, the peer-review process seems to be quite overrated. As far as I know the peer-review process is more like a quality control. Some peers looked at the paper and they found it okay to publish. That a paper has been peer-reviewed doesn’t mean it is necessarily true.

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Inflating the consensus even more

As seen in previous post, the statements to describe the consensus in The Consensus Project were actually not very truthful. The suggestion was that the queried scientific papers concluded that global warming is a reality and direct result of our actions. This was not the case. Only few paper investigated the physics and most of the papers started from the assumption that global warming is a reality. That is something different altogether.

There also was the suggestion that the authors investigated “climate papers”, which was not the case. They investigated papers with the terms “global warming” and “global climate change” somewhere in the title and/or the abstract. A lot of papers weren’t even about climate research at all.

Therefor I called it inflating the consensus. They presented their case well beyond the scope of their paper (and also previous papers).

Today’s post will be about another aspect of misdirection. The two statements on that page:

Every year, more and more peer-reviewed scientific papers have concluded that global warming is a reality, and a direct result of our actions.

and

97% of published climate papers with a position on human-caused global warming agree: Global warming is happening – and we are the cause.

could be interpreted in more than one way. When we just look at the words, it could be understood whether the papers endorse a warming and to what extent humans were considered the cause. But this statement is not used in such a neutral way. If we look at the bottom of the page we see a link to “About the solutions”.

The Consensus Project overview

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Inflating the consensus

After the Cook presentation a month ago, I thought it would be interesting to see how his ideas were presented to the public. So I went back to the website of the The Consensus Project. This is how the consensus is explained:

the consensus project: about the consensus

Let’s start with the three statements in the top left part of the image:

The consensus of evidence

EVERY YEAR, more and more peer-reviewed scientific papers have concluded that global warming is a reality, and a direct result of our actions.

MEANWHILE, the number of papers that disagree have remained tiny by comparison.

The implication seems rather clear: when we have so much papers in evidence of global warming and so little papers that disagree, believing the statement would be a no-brainer for the public. But not everything is what it seems. There are so many things in those few sentences that don’t fit.

The fact that many scientist have this opinion, doesn’t mean that it is automatically true. If history learns us something it is that scientists agree on many things in the past and this consensus position was wrong afterwards. To be honest, it is not automatically false either. As far as I know science is about which idea is right, not which idea is the most popular.

The point is: how meaningful are these statements? And is this an honest representation of what was found in their study?

For example: it is not true that the scientific papers queried in the Cook survey concluded that global warming is a reality. Most of them weren’t even about the science of global warming, let alone about the evidence of global warming, but they were based just on the assumption that climate change is real and started their research from there.

Big difference.

So I am not really sure where that The consensus of “evidence” comes from. Some categories like Impacts were not about the evidence, but anthropogenic global warming was their starting point, not their conclusion. Unless you call for example The Denial Of Climate Change Among Conservative White Males In The United States an example of the evidence that proves global warming.

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What are the real effects of climate policies?

The reaction of Minister Kamp on the report of the Central Planning Bureau (CPB) about the ineffectiveness climate wise of offshore wind farms, was quite fascinating. Here we have a situation in which a high placed official is eager to put a huge sum of tax payers money in offshore wind farms, even after being told in no uncertain terms that this will not save any emissions on the whole. The reactions on the news story that agreed on the problem, yet also were in favor of continuing the project notwithstanding it having no effect on reducing emissions, was equally mind boggling.

There was one thing in the news story that kept on resonating in my head. More specifically, the part in which the journalist said (translated from Dutch with my emphasis):

A lot of studies and reports on wind energy are published. But this report is important because, for the first time in ten years, the costs and benefits of wind on sea are listed and according to the investigators it are all costs and benefits.

I am not really sure about that last part, but what struck me as odd was that already ten years it was deemed not necessary to have a cost-benefit study on wind energy at sea! What brings a Minister of Economy wanting to throw a huge amount of money to something that has no gain in reducing emissions? All this in an economic crisis, for crying out load. This means something is considered so incredibly important that it calls for drastic measures.

It is of course a very attractive way of thinking. Wind mills are considered devices that combat climate change, therefor healing mother Earth and protecting our (grand)children. It is a very strong emotional message. So very strong that no cost is too high, even for measures of a symbolic nature. So very strong that checking whether the policy is effective is considered unimportant.

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Is it really about emission reduction?

Previous post was about the reactions that condemned the news story about the CPB (Central Planning Bureau) statement claiming that the three new wind farms wouldn’t have an effect in reducing emissions. It is no different for the RTL news story: Wind energy is not the problem, emission trade is (Dutch), but it gave some new insight into the matter. The author, Henri Bontenbal, is a independent advisor on energy and sustainability. Just as the other articles that criticized the CPB statement, Bontenbal says that the CPB statement is simplistic.

He starts saying that the renewable energy sources (like wind, solar, biomass) aren’t able to compete with fossil fuels and therefor are in need of subsidies. Nothing new, nothing controversial. This is known for a long time already. Then he continues with the statement that this competition isn’t fair. Fossil fuel plants cause damage to the environment (like health damages and, ahem, climate change) and this “cost” is not yet calculated in the fossil fuel price. Therefor he finds it “not unreasonable” to subsidize renewable energy sources.

Sure, if he can prove those health damages and climate change because of these emissions. As far as my experience goes there are dramatic improvements in lowering pollution, at least in my country. I can see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case in The Netherlands. Air and water quality improved considerably since several decades. My guess is that the author confuses CO2 emissions with “pollution”.

Follows something really strange. According to Bontenbal the reasoning of the CPB that there will be only pain and no gain is not only the issue with wind energy, but also for solar, biomass, etcetera. True, but that is not really an argument I think.

Then he says that the problem is not wind energy, but the ETS and therefor why didn’t the CPB aimed at the ETS in stead of at wind energy? As far as I know the CPB didn’t give the advice not to do the investment. Their advice was to wait doing the investment until the situation was more favorable. Which makes perfectly sense if one looks at the result they want to achieve.

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Agreeing on the CPB statement, yet at the same time criticizing it

As expected there was quite some criticism on the CPB statement that wind farms do not reduce CO2 emission. Those on the alarmist side apparently were as amazed as the skeptics, but for other reasons. It would be interesting to see how they look at it. Knowledge is gained where two sides clash into each other. The most elaborated reaction was Opinion CPB about wind at sea is badly substantiated. It looks it combined all the arguments that the others had. Let’s look at the arguments.

The objection was raised that the report mentioned that the “energy transition in the long run is unavoidable” because “scarce natural sources will get exhausted in the long run” and “that the report calls the reduction of CO2 emission as an advantage”. That could well be true, but this is not related to whether the Emission Trade System (ETS) stifles reduction of emissions or not.

Follows that the report was not about wind farms being too expensive, but about comparing two scenario’s of building within or outside 12 miles from shore. Also here, that could well be possible, but that doesn’t prevent the ETS failing to reduce emissions.

What I really missed was the real question: whether the assertion of the CPB is true or false. The CPB stated that the planned wind parks at sea didn’t have environmental gain AND will cost a lot of money. Although I don’t really agree that the ETS is the only issue with wind energy, they specifically stated that because of the ETS, no reduction of CO2 will be accomplished. If this is true, shouldn’t it better to wait until the ETS is fixed? If it isn’t true, it would be really interesting to know what exactly the logic is behind this.

Another strange reaction came from the PvdA politician who was not happy with what he calls “the interference of the CPB in the debate” and claiming that “the CPB takes a political standpoint by saying this”. That doesn’t make much sense. If the CPB makes a claim that seems to be true, then how is that interfering in the debate? How is that taking a political standpoint?

The weird thing was that all reactions that condemned the news story, agreed that there was a problem with the ETS and agreed with the Minister when he assumed that the system probably will be fixed some time in the future. Strange, with this they acknowledges that there is a problem with the ETS regarding to emissions. Therefor I find it very odd that they are so eager to invest one billion euro per year, even knowing that this will not reduce emissions. In that regard the advice of the CPB actually make sense. And the rejection of that advice doesn’t.

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One billion euro per year with no gain

With growing amazement I watched the NOS news bulletin of October 5 (Dutch). I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t expect hearing in the mainstream media that the build of a wind farm at sea would have no environmental gain, but would just cost society money, a lot of money. This is how the news was introduced (translated from Dutch):

The construction of large offshore wind farms delivers barely environmental gain now, according to a study of offshore wind energy commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Because by European agreements, the emissions from dirty power plants stay the same despite the extra windmills. The result is that offshore wind costs society now more than it brings in, even if you include the effects on health and environment. The report calculates a loss of more than 5 billion euro.

This was the conclusion of the CPB (“Central Planning Bureau” of The Netherlands). They published a cost-benefit analysis in which they concluded that there will be no environmental gain in building three wind farms at sea, although they would cost a lot (1 billion in subsidies per year).

The reason they see (translated from Dutch):

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