John Cook, Making More Things Up

Yesterday I lodged a complaint about John Cook, proprietor of Skeptical Science, promoting dishonesty in a piece at The Conversation. I didn’t intend to post about it as dishonesty from him is nothing new. Then today I happened to see another article by him at The Conversation (this one also co-authored by Stephan Lewandowsky) making things up.

My letter to the editors at The Conversation about the dishonesty in the previous piece was:

Dear editors,

I’m writing because an article posted on your site yesterday contains a gross inaccuracy.  This article, titled The truth is out there – so how do you debunk a myth? was written by John Cook, propietor of the website com.  It says:

We achieved this goal beyond our expectations when President Obama tweeted our research to 31-million followers.

This is untrue.  The Twitter profile for the account clearly says:

This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo.

The tweet Cook referenced was not signed -bo, and thus it was not from the President of the United States.  That makes Cook’s statement unquestionably false.

There is even some evidence to indicate this was a willful lie.  I won’t dwell on it as it isn’t a necessary point for this issue, but a small demonstration is in order.  A commenter (Tom Curtis) who regularly posts at John Cook’s site, is an active member of Cook’s forum and a participant in the research Cook refers to observed the tweet was not from Barack Obama a few days after it was made.  A moderator at Skeptical Science, responded:


As far as I know, this is common knowledge (and common sense).  No one expects (or wants) the President of the United States to spend his time tweeting.

If a moderator at the site thinks something is common knowledge, it is difficult to imagine the host of the site would be unaware of it.  This is especially true given many people have criticized Skeptic Science on this very point.  John Cook may not have been aware the tweet was not from Barack Obama, he certainly should have been.

The President of the United States endorsing a scientific paper would be a huge deal.  Falsely claiming he did so exaggerates the significance of one’s work.  Readers would be far less impressed to hear the tweet was made by a nonprofit social welfare organization with hundreds (or thousands) of members.  As such, I must ask the misleading sentence of this article be edited to fix the misleading portion.

On an additional note, it’s worth pointing out John Cook’s research never claimed to find any results related to whether or not global warming is dangerous yet the tweet supposedly made by Barack Obama claims it proved there was a consensus on just that.  That’s a direct and indisputable misrepresentation of John Cook’s work.  It seems peculiar Cook can promote a tweet he knows exaggerates the significance of his work without making any effort to correct that exaggeration.  This lends credence to the idea Cook intentionally lied about the origin of that tweet in this article.

A concerned reader,

Brandon Shollenberger

I haven’t written to them about the current piece (yet?), but I did leave a comment highlighting the issue:

This article grossly misrepresents Robert J. Brulle’s research in it’s fourth to last paragraph by claiming “evidence has recently revealed… a nearly US$1 billion-a-year effort of political and vested interests in the US alone” to inject “pseudo-scientific myths… into the public debate.” Brulle’s work shows nothing of the sort. His paper clearly states:

“Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.”

Brulle himself has even spoken out against this interpretation of his work, explicitly saying “saying that they spent $1 Billion on climate change issues is just not true.”

It’s a disgrace this article would contain such a glaring misrepresentation. If Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook had even read the paper they reference, they’d have known what they said about it is false.

The lack of journalistic integrity in the two pieces I saw is dumbfounding. I don’t know if The Conversation will respond to my letter. I certainly don’t know if it will take action to fix any of these problems. What I do know is these two articles wouldn’t have passed in my high school newspaper. It’s a disgrace they’re accepted by professionals, especially when the company states:

Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy.

Even the most basic fact checking would have caught these errors.


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