The subject of the second episode of the evidencesquared podcast mentioned in the previous post is among other “Scott Pruitt’s denial of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, both in a CNBC interview and in his hearing for head of the EPA”. At 03:57 in the podcast, the presenters start a audio excerpt of an interview of Scott Pruitt at CNBC back in 2017 when he was the head of the EPA (the interview at CNBC can be viewed here):
Do you believe that it has been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?
No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do. There is a tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
We don’t know that yet. As far as, we need to continue the review and the analysis.
The most surprising find in the evidencesquared episode 2 podcast (see previous post) is a statement by John Cook about the endorsement levels of the Cook 2013 paper. This is how he reacts to his observation that some skeptics claim that they belong to the 97% because they believe that the world is warming and humans have some influence (my emphasis):
Yeah, and the way that the consensus position is often expressed by people who don’t accept the consensus: “Well, I am part of the 97%, because I think that humans are causing some of global warming, but I don’t think it is most and therefor that makes me part of the 97%”.
Right, we saw that with criticism from publishing of the Wall Street Journal, for example.
Yeah, we come to that in a moment, but the problem with that argument is, in our 2013 study, we explicitly ruled that out as an option. Whenever there was an expression that humans are causing less than half of global warming, we categorized that as rejection of the consensus. So the person who thought that humans are causing some, just not more than half, that is a rejection of the consensus.
I remembered from reading the Cook 2013 paper that there were only two levels of endorsement that quantified the consensus and the papers in those two levels just amounted to less than 1% of all papers in their data set. How on Earth could he now claim that they considered it rejecting the consensus when a paper expressed that “humans are causing less than half of global warming” when almost all data had no clear quantification?
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”.
Recently, I came across The Consensus Handbook by Cook, van der Linden, Maibach and Lewandowsky. It was already the first text that I encountered (the take-away message on the introduction on page 3) that caught my attention (my emphasis):
Based on the evidence, 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. This scientific consensus has been a hot topic in recent years. It’s been referenced by presidents, prime ministers, senators, congressmen, and in numerous television shows and newspaper articles.
That last sentence reminded me of a video in which lead author John Cook explained his 2016 paper (Consensus on Consensus). It was the introduction in the video that puzzled me until now:
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):
There is this statement in the introduction of the Cook et al 2018 paper that caught my eye:
This paper introduces key critical thinking concepts and outlines a straightforward process for identifying reasoning errors that allows for people who lack expertise in climate science to confidently reject certain denialist arguments.
In a way, I can understand what they are trying to do. Just before I started blogging, now five years ago, I had the idea to look somewhat deeper into logical fallacies. At that time I wasn’t familiar with the global warming debate and it was my hope that I could find a fast and easy way to differentiate between right arguments and wrong arguments, without having to put much effort in studying the topic. However, it didn’t take very long before I realized that for some type of fallacies this would be perfectly possible, but not for most. If I wanted to know right from wrong, then I had to dive in the arguments themselves.
So although I think that their effort is praiseworthy, in practice it is not black & white. My conclusion back then was that when one wants to confidently confirm or reject an argument, then one needs to get messy and go to the source and understand what the argument is all about. I would certainly not put my bet on the knowledge of logical fallacies alone. Without some background, it could lead to possible misinterpretations.
This became rather clear in the page on the SkepticalScience website that was devoted to the Cook et al paper. The post is titled Humans need to become smarter thinkers to beat climate denial and John Cook is a co-author. At the beginning of the post, they basically repeat the statement from the paper in a slightly different wording:
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):
When I read the new Cook et al 2018 paper for the first time, the one thing that stood out was that the example arguments were simplified versions of skeptical arguments, stripped down of any nuance and context, therefor not representative anymore. I already foresaw many posts in my future about these fabrications…
In the meanwhile I found the discussion of Barry Woods on Twitter, tirelessly calling out the many misrepresentations in the paper. The reaction of some of his opponents, that this doesn’t matter because the compiled arguments are fallacious anyway, puzzled me. I couldn’t grasp that they were just okay with:
- The authors (or Cook and the SkS team) coming up with simplified, unnuanced arguments based on what they think their opponents believe
- then Cook et al show that these simplified, unnuanced arguments are logically fallacious
- thus providing proof that their opponents are wrong and therefor should be safely ignored when it comes to those issues.
That is about as close as one can get to a straw man argument. For those who are not familiar with this type of fallacy, according to wikipedia the definition of a straw man argument is (my emphasis):
A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent.
The examples Cook et al used were textbook examples of this type of argument, but the defenders of the paper were undeterred by it or maybe did not understand the concept. It seemed to shed of them like water off a duck’s back. I couldn’t really understand that, given that it is pretty clear for everybody to see.
Until I found following tweet:
In the beginning of this month, the new paper of Cook et al (John Cook et al 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 024018) was published. I was quite busy around that time, so it was only when I was finalizing my last post that I suddenly realized that I didn’t have a look at it yet. Time to finally read that paper.
The paper is titled “Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors” and there is also a video abstract in which the approach of the paper is explained in very simple terms. Although I am not that keen on watching videos, I gave it a try.
Screenshot of the abstract video Cook et al 2018 paper
Having read the paper in the meanwhile, the video illustrates perfectly the strength and the weakness of the paper.
Let us first look how the story goes.
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.
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.