Remember one of previous posts about a video explaining the Cook 2016 paper, in which Bernie Sanders extended the consensus position well beyond what was found in the paper? In the meanwhile, I came to know that Cook apparently criticized Sanders because of such overreaching statement(s). That immediately drew my attention. I wondered in what form this “criticizing” was done, so I found myself searching for that critique.
It wasn’t that simple though, but after a long search, I found that Sanders’ statement was criticized in a podcast from the evidencesquared site, more specifically “episode 2”.
However, the link to the evidencesquared website gives a 403 page. Did I get a wrong link? Is this site misconfigured?
Searching the evidencesquared website via a search engine, I get this entry:
According to Google Translate these signs are Japanese and the translation shows that this website is for those who “intend to gather medical job information”… Is this site parked or being hacked?
They also have a twitter account, but there was no activity anymore since the end of 2017. It mostly hosts short video fragments, only a few larger episodes, but clicking on their link gave me the same 403-page.
Just when I was about to give up, I searched for the evidencesquared podcast episode 2 and, io and behold, those podcasts could also be found on other websites, like for example here.
Indeed, John Cook (and co-presenter Peter Jacobs) criticized Bernie Sanders halfway the podcast. It is however not what I expected.
Let’s first look at the statement that was criticized in the podcast. They played a clip in which Bernie Sanders questions Scott Pruitt (the then nominee for head of the EPA):
[14:23] As you may know, some 97% of scientists, who have written articles for peer-reviewed journals, had concluded that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. Do you believe that climate change is caused by the emission, by carbon emissions, by human activity?
My critique on this would be that none of the consensus papers in the Cook 2016 investigated whether:
- all scientists writing in peer-reviewed journals agreed (they researched a subset, such as climate scientists/earth scientists)
- climate change is 100% caused by human emissions (investigated was: most, significant contribution,…).
- it causes devastating problems in the US and around the world.
Now to the criticism put forward by Cook and Peter Jacobs:
That is interesting just right there. stop it right there, because Bernie’s question has a lot in there we can…
My reaction was that, okay, like so…
Doing good, Bernie.
Doing good, doing good, doing good, Oh no no no no. You are going too far! You are going too far! And then back at the end he kinda sticks the landing and…
Sticks the landing… [laughs]
And later they gave more details. Watch the pea moving:
So what are these studies are trying to do is to establish what do the experts think. And what are experts? The people who are publishing in research on climate change.
Yeah sure, but that is not what Sanders said! He didn’t identify the specific scientists, he just said “scientists”. Suggesting all of them.
Right, and this matters, because like you can get a degree in something and maybe just fall out of the field and not really be active, not being current, but if you is someone who is actually publishing in a field you kinda have to up to date with current thinking because the referees will say “Hey this, but look at all these papers that say that instead”. So the fact that he even gets that part right that is something what a lot of people get wrong. That is kind of where this number comes from. So that is great. So, climate change is real, climate change is cause by…
Humans, ehm, great. And then he kinda steps into impacts and that is where I said “O, no, senator, you are going a little too far”.
And why is that?
We didn’t, to my knowledge, the other consensus papers don’t really get into the percentage of climate scientists who think one way or another about impacts.
That “don’t really get into the percentage” looks like an euphemism. As far as I know, these papers don’t get into that at all.
Basically, they only criticized that last part (the “devastating problems” part) and seemed to have no issue with the first two exaggerations. Yet, none of those consensus papers investigated the opinion of all the scientists or even all scientists who publish in peer-review journals. They investigated specific groups of scientists (Earth scientists, meteorologists, climate scientists,…). That is only a million or so off.
Which is odd. Cook never misses an opportunity to emphasize that this is the consensus of a small, elite group of scientists who we have to believe, yet now Sanders is misrepresenting this and it wasn’t criticized. On the contrary, it was even justified and Sanders was praised for gotting the peer-reviewed part right.
Now I completely understand the fragments that were shown in the Cook 2016 video. In this video, Sanders’ statement was curtailed to the first two claim (from which he got the second one right). The other two politicians also made the “97% of the scientists” claim. After listening to the critique of Cook and Jacobs, I now understand that this is no coincidence. It confirms that they don’t see a problem with it.
In the end, it was not surprising that the critique was framed in some way, but it was surprising for two things. There is the fact that he didn’t criticize Sanders’ exaggeration about which group of scientists it is all about and about the quantification. The most surprising thing of the two however is to hear that he is fully aware that none of those papers investigated the impacts. This is not very clear from for example his communication to the public and from the consensus handbook.
It however makes sense if the goal is to convince the public that there is a consensus in order to facilitate policy action. Then telling what was actually found is not the right thing to do and maybe even contra-indicated.