Skepticalscience takes a … pro truth pledge?

It was not only a long time since I blogged lately, it was also a very long time since I visited the skepticalscience website. This weekend, I landed on the skepticalscience website and, looking at the right sidebar on their website, I noticed this:

SkS pro truth pledge

A pro truth pledge?!?!?

Did skepticalscience really took a … pro truth pledge?!?!

You mean … as in … pledging to write … well … the truth?

That seemed odd to me. Throughout the years, I came to know skepticalscience as not very truth-minded. The articles are one-sided and they are not wary of presenting opposing view in a misleading way, heck, they even were caught several times downright fabricating things.

Like for example the time when they needed a denialist quote for their post debunking the claim that “the IPCC is alarmist”. They use a quote from Roy Spencer as an example, but nowhere in that quote is said that “the IPCC is alarmist”, also not in the article that was linked to. Luckily, they explained their reasoning in the first paragraph. What they did was first provided an interpretation of Spencer’s quote, then rephrased that interpretation and from those two reinterpreted quotes they came to a conclusion that (almost) fitted the quote they were looking for.
Wouldn’t it been much, much, much easier to just quote someone who actually said that “the IPCC is alarmist”? Then there wouldn’t be a need to write a whole paragraph justifying the example.
Finally, they had the audacity to state that Roy Spencer did not offer any evidence to back this claim up… (of course not, that claim was not his in the first place).

That doesn’t sound “pro truth” to me.

The fabrication of quotes and misrepresentation of opposing views is a recurring theme at the skepticalscience site. It will come back in most of the following examples, taken from some previous posts on the subject.

What is also prevalent is the misrepresentation of what is found in the consensus papers. On the page of the 97% consensus on global warming they debunk the myth that “there is no consensus” and as an example of that claim they use the text of the Oregon Petition Project. The quote from the Oregon Petition Project clearly states that there is no consensus specifically on the catastrophic nature of anthropogenic global warming. Skepticalscience however counters this argument by pointing to several consensus papers finding a consensus on global warming. Yet, none of those papers investigated the consensus on the catastrophic nature of climate change, so they debunked a specific claim (there is no consensus on “catastrophic global warming”) by pointing to something much broader (there is a consensus on “global warming”). This way they could rely on a much broader consensus than actually exists for the example that they provide.

This bait-and-switch method of proving something very specific with something much broader is not only limited to the skepticalscience site. The skepticalscience members, especially John Cook, also do the same thing elsewhere. For example, at the National Center for Science Education blog, he claimed that <a href="there is a 97% consensus that “climate change is bad”, although none of the consensus papers that found a 97% consensus, investigated that specific claim (he authered two of these papers).

Another example is the claim in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper that there is a consensus that global warming presents a global problem. To prove his case, there are references to several consensus papers: Oreskes 2004, Anderegg 2010, Cook 2013, Doran & Zimmerman 2009 and Shwed & Bearman 2010).
However, based on the methodology of these very papers, none of these papers investigated this specific aspect of global warming, let alone found it to be the consensus position. Again, this is rather puzzling because Cook authored two of these papers, so he should have known that none of these papers investigated what he claimed they have found.

This is definitely not a slip of the tongue, it is something systemic in his communication. Although I don’t agree with his tactic, I think I can understand where it comes from and why he is doing it. I explained it here and also here.

It might be smart communication, but is it pro truth?

Back to the skepticalscience website. On their page debunking the “there is no consensus”, there were a couple paragraphs detailing the Oreskes 2004 paper and the criticique of Peiser on it. They wrote that Peiser retracted his critique on that paper and the way it has been written suggested that Peiser was now in line with the Oreskes paper. Looking deeper, that didn’t seem to be the case. What they forgot to mention is that Peiser originally found much more documents than Oreskes claimed to have found in her paper, but when Oreskes clarified the exact criteria used in her paper, he retracted that specific part of his critique. Not all the critiques that he had on the Oreskes paper, as was suggested by the skepticalscience article. The skepticalscience article misrepresented Peiser’s position and reading it would give you a wrong understanding of Peiser’s findings and his current position on the Oreskes paper.

That is not exactly what I would call “pro truth”.

The alarmist side is treated more mildly at skepticalscience. For example, Peter Wadhams predicted in 2012 an ice-free Arctic by 2016. When the projection could not be tested against reality, this claims was used to confirm the severity of the situation, without any any mention that these were alarmist views. Yet, after the prediction was caught up by reality, it is then conveniently dismissed as just “misinformation”…

Pro truth?

Next is the the escalator graph that still resides in the right sidebar of their website. It is allegedly a representation of how “contrarians view global warming”. The data source is NASA GISS and the skepticalscience group highlighted six (!) different cooling trends all over the graph, claiming that those contrarians only focus on these cooling trends and neglect the basic upward trend. However, it is pretty unlikely that this is the actual view of “contrarians”. They would unlikely use NASA GISS data to explain their viewpoint and I have yet to encounter the first “contrarian” who views the temperature evolution from the 1970s until 2015 in six distinct steps. In stead of presenting the actual viewpoint of the other side, they just made one up…

Presenting it in that way might have many advantages, but being pro truth is not one of them…

Some more things that were made up. Cook, together with other cognitive scientists, conducted an experiment testing for the effects of blog comments on readers’ comprehension and the first stage was done on the skepticalscience website. The conclusion of this “experiment” was that for a warmist blog post, there was no difference in reader comprehension when the reader was exposed to all warmist comments or no comments, but when the reader was exposed to all skeptic comments, their comprehension dropped.

There is only one slight problem: the skeptical blog post and the skeptical comments that were used in this experiment were not written by skeptics, but by themselves … impersonating skeptics…

Let that sink in for a moment: they themselves fabricated a skeptical post and skeptical comments, then used these fabrications as a basis to analyze the effect of these comments and this analysis led them to the conclusion that “reading skeptical comments make you stupid” (Cook’s words, not mine).

I wonder if anyone sees what is wrong with this methodology. I am pretty sure that it is not in line with being pro truth.

This is not the only time that they impersonated skeptics. John Cook also authored some scientific papers in which he used resources from the skepticalscience website. Not only the psychological “experiment” mentioned above, but also for example the list of global warming skeptic contradictions that they compiled. This list is used in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper to frame skeptical arguments as contradictory. This is an example of how this framing works:

  1. The authors took the argument that “mathematical models can’t predict the future in 100 years” and generalized this according to their compiled list as “future climate can not be predicted”
  2. The authors took another argument of scientists that predict an ice age based on observations, known cycles and extrapolation and then generalized this according to the compiled list as “we are heading into an ice age”.
  3. Conclusion: he generalized arguments are contradictory (if future climate can’t be predicted, then it is impossible to predict an ice age).

Such arguments led to the conclusion that skeptical arguments are inherently contradictory. Again, only one slight problem: the original arguments (before they were generalized by skepticalscience) were not contradictory at all, but became contradictory because they were framed that way by the researchers who looked in a biased way to the skeptic position.

Pro truth?

Also, in a podcast, together with another skepticalscience group member, John Cook made the claim that they considered a paper rejecting the consensus when it expressed that “humans are causing less than half of global warming” in the Cook 2013 paper. However, there were only very few papers in the category that quantified the consensus over 50% (only 0,5% of the papers in their dataset). The way that the two other categories endorsing the consensus (explicit and implicit endorsement without quantification) were classified was overly broad and could include those abstracts stating that humans had some influence, depending on the wording. They could land in those two categories if they for example stated global warming as a known fact or when research stated that greenhouse gases cause warming, even without explicitly stating that humans are the cause…

Pro truth?

Luckily skepticalscience have that shiny “pro truth” icon in the sidebar of their website, otherwise their readers might not realize that they are actually pro truth… 😉

13 thoughts on “Skepticalscience takes a … pro truth pledge?

    1. daveburton

      Prompted by your blog post, I’ve emailed John Cook again (that’s the 6th), requesting that he correct the misinformation on his site. This time I also cc’d eight of his associates (including six whom I had not previously cc’d).

      I do not expect them to correct the misinformation, but I’d like to be wrong.


        1. daveburton

          Today SkepticalScience quietly changed the wording of their web page. There’s no indication on the page that it has been revised, but this is what it said this morning:

          “Doran & Zimmerman (2009) found a 97% consensus among scientists actively publishing climate research.”

          …and this is what it says, now:

          “Doran & Zimmerman (2009) found a 97% consensus among actively publishing climatologists.”

          This is what it would say, if they were honest:

          “Doran & Zimmerman (2009) reported a 90% consensus among scientists actively publishing climate research, but only after excluding many (probably at least one-third) of the ‘skeptical’ responses.”

          Here’s the illustration from Doran’s article:

          However, Doran calculated his claim of “97%” of the 79 most specialized specialists in climate science, by excluding two of four he identified as skeptics, and then calculating 75/77 instead of 75/79. SkS still doesn’t mention that fact, though I’ve been telling them about it since 2013.

          They also still fail to mention that the questions Doran wrote lumped most skeptics of climate alarmism together in the “consensus” with climate alarmists. For instance, I’m a skeptic of climate alarmism, but I would have given the “consensus” answers to both questions:

          1. “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”
          2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

          Liked by 1 person

    2. trustyetverify Post author


      I think however that it is not in his own interest to correct mistakes or provide nuances. It is my impression that his goal is to facilitate political action and, in that sense, it doesn’t really matter whether the story is 100% correct or not, as long as it is effective in achieving that goal.


  1. daveburton

    I long ago quite commenting at SkS because of the heavy-handed censorship: they have a long history of deleting factual comments which disagree with their alarmist propaganda.

    But it occurred to me that, if they’ve really pledged to be truthful, maybe, just maybe, they’ve turned over a new leaf. So I decided to test it.

    They recently ran a little article promoting the bonkers idea of strip-mining basalt, grinding it to dust, and spreading it on farmers’ fields, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. So I posted a short comment:

    “Treating about half of farmland could capture 2bn tonnes of CO2 each year” — that’s only about 5% of current anthropogenic emissions.

    Plus, strip-mining basalt, grinding it to dust, trucking it to the hinterlands, and spreading it on fields, all would require the use of fossil fuels, which would release CO2.

    Even if those additional CO2 releases would be less than the CO2 removed from the atmosphere (which is unclear), and even if rising CO2 levels were a problem (they aren’t), this proposal would not be a solution.

    The moderator did not delete it, but he “struck through” the last 16 words, and posted a testy reply:

    Moderator Response:
    [PS] Blatant sloganeering. A reminder (again) of the comment policy operating on this site. If you want to make assertions, then you back them with creditable evidence, preferably peer-reviewed publication.

    I thought to myself, “You want evidence? No problem! Ask, and ye shall receive!” So I posted LOTS of evidence. Here’s a saved copy, from before it was censored:
    (Note: in this copy I inserted the images inline, for convenience; I just had the URLs in the original.)

    Unfortunately, they were apparently just kidding, about wanting evidence, and about the “Pro-Truth Pledge.” The moderator just deleted it all.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      That is an entertaining read behind that link.

      I personally love turning this comment:

      Eclectic, I agree that it’s drifting from the core topic, into a discussion of the key assumption behind the core topic, but the Mod asked me for it, so I obliged.

      What do you imagine resembles “cherry-picking” in my response to him? I tried to avoid anything which could be considered cherry-picking.

      I showed him the highest and lowest temperature indexes. I showed him the effects of eCO2 on the most important C3 and C4 crops. I showed him the best sea-level measurement record in the biggest ocean, which has a very typical trend. I showed him both hurricanes and tornadoes. Etc, etc. What do you think I omitted?

      He asked a very broad question. He asked me to provide “creditable evidence, preferably peer-reviewed publication” in support of my contention that rising CO2 levels aren’t a problem.

      To thoroughly answer that would require a full cost-benefit analysis!

      That’s obviously not doable here. But even to quantitatively address the question of whether or not rising CO2 levels are a problem requires an examination of both costs and benefits. So I touched on all the major supposed costs, and also on the major benefits. I tried to answer his question, as best I could, without writing a whole book, and while providing credible references for every claim, as he requested.

      I relied on measured evidence, rather than speculative studies based on models, because, in science, measurements are much, much stronger evidence than modeling. Computer model outputs are just calculations: at their best representing the consequences of robust hypothesis, at their worst representing bugs – and usually, actually, somewhere in-between.

      into this:

      Eclectic, I agree that it’s drifting from the core topic

      Making it look like you now cooled down and admit the deletion was justified, while in fact they snipped your entire defense detailing why you wrote that long comment in the first place and why it was relevant in that comment thread (although drifting from the topic of the main article).

      But, hey, they have that shiny little icon in the right sidebar that shows that they honor the truth and nothing but the truth…

      Liked by 1 person


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