It has been a long time that I read something of John Cook. I recently came across the National Center for Science Education blog post in which he was interviewed. The post is titled Got Climate Change Misconceptions? John Cook Can Help and dates from the beginning of this year. This “help” seems to be learning students how to combat climate change misconceptions.
I am not going to make a long post, so I will come to the point immediately. This is what caught my eye at first read (my emphasis):
As mentioned in previous post on the consensus article in skepticalscience, there was an entry explaining the Oreskes 2004 paper. In the article, it was presented as “Oreskes 2004 and Peiser”. Which was an odd thing. Peiser didn’t write the paper together with Oreskes (otherwise it would be “Oreskes and Peiser, 2004). At the contrary, Peiser wrote a critique on the conclusion of the paper (that not a single paper rejected the consensus position). The author of this article seems to have a lot of confidence also mentioning the critique together with the Oreskes paper.
At that time, I did not know much about the Peiser critique and initially had to rely on the explanation provided by the author of the skepticalscience article. This is how the critique is presented in the article:
Oreskes 2004 and Peiser
A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004). 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way (focused on methods or paleoclimate analysis).
Benny Peiser, a climate contrarian, repeated Oreskes’ survey and claimed to have found 34 peer reviewed studies rejecting the consensus. However, an inspection of each of the 34 studies reveals most of them don’t reject the consensus at all. The remaining articles in Peiser’s list are editorials or letters, not peer-reviewed studies. Peiser has since retracted his criticism of Oreskes survey:
“Only [a] few abstracts explicitly reject or doubt the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) consensus which is why I have publicly withdrawn this point of my critique. [snip] I do not think anyone is questioning that we are in a period of global warming. Neither do I doubt that the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact.”
A [snip] in a skepticalscience article? I need to know more about that! What exactly got snipped in that quote from Peiser?
As a non-native English speaker, I often encounter new words. One such word is “equivocation” (using the same word for different things or the use of such word in multiple senses throughout an argument, leading to a false conclusion). The first time I heard about it, I recognized it as something that is frequently used in global warming/climate change communication.
At the end of last week, when searching for something related to the consensus, I landed at the Skeptical Science page titled The 97% consensus on global warming (intermediate version). I am pretty sure that I must have read this before, but having “equivocation” at the back of my mind, gave it a new dimension.
As the title suggests, its subject is the 97% consensus. It starts from the statement of the Petition Project that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere”.
The Skeptical Science author calls this a myth and tackles it by explaining that a consensus of around 95% is found in papers like Cook et al 2013 & 2016, Oreskes 2004, Doran 2009 and Anderegg 2010. Also mentioned are the Vision Prize poll that basically found something similar and a list of scientific organizations that endorse the consensus.
I don’t know much about the Petition Project, but from the excerpt given in the Skeptical Science article, it is clear that the Petition Project statement is very specific. They claim that there is no consensus specifically on the catastrophic nature of global warming caused by human emissions.
Spread over the Cook et al 2018 paper are the terms “anthropogenic climate change” and “anthropogenic global warming”. It is also mentioned a in table S2 of the supplementary material. I assume that “anthropogenic global warming” means that global temperatures are rising and humans have an impact. This seems to be supported by the consensus claim from the paper (my emphasis):
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming (Cook et al 2016), with a number of studies converging on 97% agreement among publishing climate scientists or relevant climate papers (Doran and Zimmerman 2009, Anderegg et al 2010, Cook et al 2013, Carlton et al 2015).
That is a far cry from the previous statement in the Alice in Wonderland paper. In that paper, the claim was made that there is a consensus that global warming “presents a global problem”. A claim that obviously was unsupported by the papers that were referenced.
At least he skipped the “dangerous” part of the claim. It is now in line with what the referenced papers researched. As explained in the link above, the referenced papers investigated the claim that global temperatures are rising and that humans have an influence in this. Not whether it is dangerous. Not whether something should be done about it.
However, I don’t think that the term “AGW” is used in this way in the paper. This sentence in the abstract makes me think that he means something different (my emphasis):
Via the Cliscep post “Don’t call me an alarmist,” says alarmist, I landed on this livescience article: Treading the Fine Line Between Climate Talk and Alarmism. It is an op-ed written by Sarah E. Myhre about climate change communication and her wish not being called an alarmist.
One thing that caught my attention in the op-ed was this statement:
We would never fault an oncologist for informing patients about the cancer risks that come with smoking. Why would we expect Earth scientists to be any different, when we’re just as certain?
It is not clear from the text what we should expect from those Earth scientists. Luckily, the links goes to an article in Scientific American, titled “Climate Risks as Conclusive as Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer”. So apparently, she means that the Earth scientists know as much from climate risks as medical scientists about the link between smoking and lung cancer…
Looking for more background when I was writing previous post, I came across a very lengthy, but nevertheless interesting story in The Guardian. This long read is titled The sugar conspiracy and the subject is the battle between the theory that sugar is the (main) reason for the obesity epidemic and the established theory that fat was the culprit.
This is not something recent, the controversy originated already in the middle of last century and, although the fats theory was found to be ultimately wrong, the sugar theory was ridiculed, discredited and careers were ruined. It took fifty years for the theory to resurface, leaving the question why the top nutrition scientists got is so wrong for so long.
We hear that objection often in climate change discussions: so many scientists can’t be wrong for so long. Well, it is possible and the sugar theory is only one of its manifestations.
The most interesting part of the Guardian story is the tension between the scientist who first proposed this theory (John Yudkin) and his scientific adversary (Ancel Keys). It reads like the current controversy on climate change. Replace Yudkin with your favorite skeptic, Keys with your favorite alarmist, fats with CO2, meat/dairy/sugar industry with Big Oil/Tobacco and the story sounds really modern. There are a lot of similarities between how the scientists in the two sciences treat those who are skeptical towards the consensus position.
My employer is concerned about the health of his employees and subscribed us all to a health newsletter. Every two weeks we receive some health tips in about ten to fifteen lines, based on the latest findings in health science. In the last newsletter, there was one article that jumped out on me. It was titled “Lots of fats or lots of carbohydrates?”. This is how it starts: (translated from Dutch)
Nutritional Sciences made large blunders in the past. For a long time, we had to avoid fats to stay healthy. Not only was this the wrong advice, it also has proved counterproductive.
In the 1950s, scientists drew the wrong conclusions from population studies. They focused on fats as the only cause of obesity and heart disease. Recent studies provide a more nuanced picture: a diet rich in fats and low in carbohydrates works at least as well to lose weight!
This sounded very familiar. Until a few years ago, fats were seen as something bad for our health due to our sedentary life styles and considered to be THE cause of obesity with loads of negative side effects like hypertension and heart disease.