Making **** Up

In my first post here, I accused John Cook (the propietor of Skeptical Science) of lying about evidence. He had written an article which misrepresented multiple sources and even fabricated a quote. To this day, that fabricated quote remains in the piece. John cook has made no indication he thinks it needs to be changed (though he has fixed the quote elsewhere). This led me to observe:

Additionally, you have not apologized for fabricating the quote or explained how it happened. That is troubling. One may reasonably wonder what would have happened had I not happened to randomly read this piece and check your reference (something you apparently didn’t do). Had I not caught the mistake, would it ever have been fixed? Nobody will ever know.

Being accurate with facts, quotes and references is a fundamental aspect of reporting. If you are as apathetic toward such glaring failures in this regard as you seem to be, why should anyone trust what you say? Why should anyone trust you the next time you “quote” a source?

I can now confirm the answer to my question is, “We shouldn’t.” Almost exactly one month after that piece was published, John Cook published another article with a fabricated quote. Figure 2 of that piece includes a this blurb:

Western Fuels Association
$510,000 campaign to
“reposition fact as theory”

This quote is apparently a bastardization of an actual quote which suggested people “reposition global warming as theory (rather than fact).” A Google search for John Cook’s exact quote finds two results. A Google search for the actual quote finds tens of thousands of results, including a paper Cook was the lead author for. This shows Cook is aware of the actual quote, and had he done anything to check his figure, he’d have seen his version was wrong.

Cook fabricating two quotes in two months is bad enough, but nobody is catching him. I don’t read everything he writes, and I’m the only one who caught either of these. How many fabrications have I not caught? There’s no way to know.

And this isn’t a trivial matter like Cook claimed his last misquotation was. The difference between the quotes is enormous. Many people don’t believe global warming is a fact (by definition, it isn’t one). If they’re right, repositioning global warming as a theory rather than fact is a good thing because its true. Even if one doesn’t agree with those people, their behavior is still honest and well-intentioned.

John Cook’s quote requires the opposite. A person cannot seek to “reposition fact as theory” without seeking to intentionally mislead people. That means Cook accuses those people of being lying bastards by making **** up.
And it doesn’t end there. Cook’s piece says:

The result is a significant “consensus gap” between public
perception and the actual 97% scientific consensus (see Figure 3). Public polls have found that nearly half of the American public think climate scientists are still in disagreement [6]. In my own research, when I asked Americans what percentage of climate scientists agree on human-caused global
warming, the average answer was 55%.

Reference six links to this document. A figure on its seventh page and a data table on its eighteenth page provide data for how many people believe:

There is a lot of disagreement among scientists about GW

In both cases, the value given is 36%. This must be what Cook was referring to as no other part of the document discusses anything close to what he said, but 36% is not “nearly half.” 1/3rd is not 1/2th. Cook is, once again, making **** up.

Not only is that inexcusable, it should make wonder skeptical when Cook refers to what he found, “In [his] own research.” This skepticism should be further fueled by the fact Cook didn’t provide a reference for his work. Why would someone refer to work without any providing any reference for it? How can they get away with it?

I can’t answer the latter question. The former question is easy to answer though. John Cook didn’t provide a reference for his work because no reference exists. A copy of the Figure 3 can be found here on Skeptical Science. This is said about it:

Public perception (55%) comes from a survey conducted by John Cook on a representative USA sample, asking the question “How many climate experts agree that the global warming we are witnessing is a direct consequence of the burning of fossil fuels by humans?” Participants were requested through professional survey firm Qualtrics.

That’s it. No publication information. No link or reference. No data or supporting documentation. Nothing at all other than John Cook’s word.

I can’t imagine a world in which that should that be enough from anyone. I certainly can’t imagine why anyone should be expected to trust Cook’s description when he makes **** up time and time again, even in this one piece.

Two last observations. First, while these accusations of fabricating quotes are relatively new, I’ve accused Cook of lying before. Second, at the bottom of the piece’s first page, there’s an unmatched right parenthesis where it says:

As scientific consensus strengthened, efforts to confuse the
public about the level of agreement in the scientific community intensified as documented in Figure 2).



  1. Welp, this is awkward. It turns out while criticizing Cook for getting the quotation wrong, I got it wrong too. The parenthetical should say “not fact” instead of “rather than fact.” A little time with Google shows this is a common mistake, and it’s even made in Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth. I saw the phrasing I used on Wikipedia (which has had that phrasing for six years), used Google to search for it, found dozens of sources using it (including Al Gore’s), and copied and pasted.

    This doesn’t change anything I said, and it is certainly understandable how I made the mistake. Still, it’s embarrassing.

  2. (Consolidating and slightly re-wording two of my comments at your WUWT guest post into one comment, for the benefit of those wondering about the larger holistic significance of the “reposition global warming …” phrase)

    The original Western Fuels Association Information Council on the Environment (ICE) PR campaign memo phrase was “Reposition global warming as theory (not fact)”, but it was cleaned up a bit by right off the bat in a 1991 NY Times article (3rd paragraph ), and was ultimately streamlined and made famous by anti-skeptic book author Ross Gelbspan as “Reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” (

    As I’ve detailed at my blog and in online articles since 2010 (now collected here ), that the “reposition global warming” phrase was taken out of context and has numerous fatal faults within it as the a smoking gun indictment that’s supposed to prove skeptic climate scientists are paid to lie by ‘big coal & oil’. John Cook (no relation to me, thank God) is just one more in an endless string of people (Oreskes, Gore, Hoggan, Suzuki, Monbiot, Newsweek’s Sharon Begley, etc, etc) who derive that accusation straight from Gelbspan.
    Note that I’ve not covered this specific John “SkS” Cook incident. However, his other Aussie friend Stephan Lewandowsky is among ‘researchers’ who are enslaved to that same effort, as I detailed in my own 9/11/12 WUWT guest post ( ), where I repeated the “reposition global warming” phrase 4 times to illustrate my point.

    At my blog ( ), I quoted 11 separate instances of the “reposition global warming” phrase, including two screencapture photos I showed, to tell how it is the central thing AGW’ers have in their arsenal to claim skeptic climate scientists are paid industry shills. In my Western Fuels blog pieces ( ), I quoted that phrase one or more times in each separate one. And, the results from a basic google search simply of my name and that partial phrase (“russell+cook”+”reposition+global+warming” ) will lead readers to many of my various other online articles over the last several years when I quoted it to tell how it is mischaracterized as some sinister industry directive. My mega-notes file on the smear of skeptics has links to numerous other times when AGW promoters use it and/or misquoting it in various ways to insinuate that skeptic scientists are unworthy of consideration. I’d be happy to share some of those links if anyone requests to see them

    As I concluded in my first 6/25/11 WUWT guest post ( ), where I quoted that phrase twice, we collectively need to ask what happens when all faith in the mantra about corrupt skeptic climate scientists falls apart. Your effort at uncovering what John Cook did is very good, but it is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg illustrating the manner in which he and so many other ‘cogs in the wheel’ of AGW promotion are enslaved to that phrase in an effort to marginalize skeptics. Wipe out the overall ‘corrupt skeptics mantra’, and AGW itself finds itself in serious peril when the public sees no valid reason to ignore science assessments from skeptics.

  3. I do think it’d be good for people to look into the history of the phrase and its usage, but right now, I prefer to focus on the simpler issue of John Cook fabricating a quote. Even people whose eyes glaze over when we talk about twenty year old context will usually will agree quotations should be accurate. After all, it’s far easier to make excuses for misusing a quote than fabricating one.

    That said, I’d really like a writeup examining the conspiratorial ideation showed by people claiming there is a campaign to oppose global warming efforts. I’ve felt that would be appropriate ever since I read Dana Nuccitelli, prominent Skeptical Science team member, claim there is a disinformation campaign. The conversation I had with him in the comments there was shocking. It showed far more conspiratorial ideation than the skeptics quoted in Recursive Fury.

    You might consider looking into that angle. It’s hard to get people to care when you’re saying a quote was misused. It’d be easier if you said the misuse of that quote shows they’re guilty of something. It’d be even easier if you say the misuse shows they’re guilty of the behavior they’re accusing others of. Not only would that be funny and interesting, it’d add more depth to the discussion. That gives more people a reason to read it, and it gives readers a reason to come back for more.

  4. Actually, I only mention a few instances in my writings of how a few ignorant bloggers misuse the “reposition global warming” phrase by getting details wrong or attribute it incorrectly, but that only illustrates how people don’t apply critical thinking to the widespread repetitions of the phrase.

    My goal has long focused on the lack of ANY critical thinking about it, its origins, and the people promoting it, and how no one ever bothered to check the veracity of any facet of it. John “SkS” Cook’s mention of it being a $510,000 campaign is also incorrect, btw. Also, it appears his pgs 2 & 3 quote of that phrase at his “Combating a two-decade campaign attacking the scientific consensus on climate change” piece, with its swipes at the Oregon Petition Project and Frank Luntz, is nothing more than regurgitated material out of SourceWatch and Nuccitelli’s 28 May 2013 article (4th ).

    Nuccitelli in turn links to George Monbiot’s Dec 2009 article, in which he cites Naomi Oreskes & James Hoggan. As I show here, (8th paragraph) Hoggan cites Oreskes who cites Gelbspan, who cites himself for the “reposition global warming” phrase. The $510 grand figure isn’t supportable anywhere that I know of, but I haven’t pursued that figure specifically.

    Fun how were jousting with Nuccitelli at his blog, and perhaps ironic, too – in light of your WUWT guest blog – if you hadn’t caught Nuccitelli’s repeat of the “reposition global warming” phrase. As I’ve said in various places, all paths lead to Gelbspan. Oreskes seems to have made a huge wipeout on all of this, since there is a very critical element to what she said about the Western Fuels memos a while back, but I need to confirm it first. Stay tuned.

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