Campaign of Deception?

I’ve been reviewing some things, and I want lay them out in a simple manner to see if I’m missing anything. If I’m not, I think it is indisputable John Cook (and possibly his Skeptical Science team) have intentionally engaged in a campaign of deception for over a year.

On February 21st, 2012, John Cook created a thread in the Skeptical Science forum discussing an article published in the Wall Street Journal. This article, written by 16 people Cook labels “deniers” and “climate misinformers,” was a response to criticisms regarding a previous article those authors had written. Amongst those criticisms was this comment:

Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused.

Which the “16 deniers” responded to by saying:

The Trenberth letter states: “Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused.” However, the claim of 97% support is deceptive. The surveys contained trivial polling questions that even we would agree with. Thus, these surveys find that large majorities agree that temperatures have increased since 1800 and that human activities have some impact.

But what is being disputed is the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming. To claim, as the Trenberth letter apparently does, that disputing this constitutes “extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert” is peculiar indeed.

Which is the same point people have made time and time again regarding the Skeptical Science consensus paper. It’s the point I made within a day of the paper being published, where I found:

This study done by John Cook and others, praised by the President of the United States, found more scientific publications whose abstracts reject global warming than say humans are primarily to blame for it.

I had realized only 65 of the 12,465 abstracts rated by Cook et al were rated as saying humans were a primary cause of global warming. This number was smaller than the 78 abstracts rated as minimizing or denying man’s role in global warming. That is, 65 abstracts said humans are 50%+ responsible for global warming; 78 said humans are <50% responsible. 12,322 didn’t take a position on the issue.*

That so few abstracts were rated as saying anything about “the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming” has been the central issue in the criticisms of this paper. Cook discussed that exact issue in that forum thread, saying:

This underscores the value in including the category “humans are causing >50% of global warming” as I think it will be interesting to see how many papers come under this option (yeah, yeah, DAWAAR).

Back then, Cook thought it would be interesting to see how many papers said humans were the primary culprits. A year later, when Cook et al published their results, that interest had vanished. Their paper doesn’t mention that issue a single time. Instead, it combines that interesting category with two others:

(2) Explicit endorsement without quantification: Explicitly states humans are causing global warming or refers to anthropogenic global warming/climate change as a known fact

(3) Implicit endorsement: Implies humans are causing global warming. E.g., research assumes greenhouse gas emissions cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause

Which say nothing about “the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming.” They are the same sort of “trivial polling questions that even” those “16 climate misinformers” would agree with. Combining them with the interesting category is exactly the sort of thing those “16 deniers” called deceptive.

Before he collected his results, John Cook thought this was an important issue to consider. After he collected his results, and those results were unfavorable, he stopped caring. He didn’t make any effort to explain it to people. Instead, he published this in the Cook et al paper itself:

Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

He repeated that statement, the sort the “16 deniers” called deceptive, time and time again. He showed he knew it was considered deceptive a year before, yet he he intentionally chose to use it. Even worse, he started saying things like this to the media:

Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary

That quote isn’t even true as their results were regarding a cause of climate change, not the cause. One could perhaps forgive it if it were a single slip of the tongue. It wasn’t though. It was a predecessor to the outright lies John Cook would later tell. For instance, John Cook co-authored another paper to respond to criticisms of the Cook et al consensus paper. It explicitly said:

Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 % endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

There is no way anyone who has spent any time with the data Cook collected could believe that statement is true. One could perhaps argue Cook was only a co-author, and perhaps he simply didn’t write that description. That defense can’t hold for another lengthy document created to respond to a different critic (Richard Tol). This one said:

C13 classified abstracts of climate science papers based on the level of endorsement that most of the recent global warming is man-made (AGW, Categories 1–3)

We saw what Categories 2 and 3 were just above. It’s clear they do not endorse the idea “most of the recent global warming is man-made.” Despite that, this document claims they do.

And it’s lead author is John Cook. Most of the other authors of it were authors of the original Cook et al consensus paper. These are the people who did the work, collected the data and analyzed it. There is no way they could possibly look at the data and fail to see only 65 abstracts were rated as saying humans have caused most of the observed warming.


So am I missing something? If not, it seems clear there has been a campaign of deception from the very beginning. John Cook knew fully well the primary question of interest was not whether or not “temperatures have increased since 1800 and that human activities have some impact.” He knew “what is being disputed is the size and nature of the human contribution to global warming.” He knew it was deceptive to conflate the two.

He did it anyway. He intentionally used deception from the very beginning, even in the initial paper. When that deception was tolerated, and even accepted, he then moved on to flat-out lying.

That is, unless I’m missing something?

*Only 11,944 of the 12,465 abstracts were used in the Cook et al analysis as some were filtered out for a variety of reasons. The proportions are the same whether you look at the filtered subset or the entire data set. The only difference is the absolute values are slightly lower for the filtered subset.

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6 comments

  1. I think you are not missing anything. I would add only that the problem does not actually define the solution. Even if it should turn out to be true that global warming* is happening*, and is caused* by human activity*, and poses a risk* of catastrophe*, it does not follow that therefore we must do anything differently than we would do for any other event that is happening* and poses risks*.

    Business as usual is a perfectly valid thing to do.

    *where each of these words admit of so many different users’ interpretations, often contradicting one another, that the terms might as well be meaningless.

  2. I also think you are right on here. Cook’s “research” was designed to be propaganda and they are using it as propaganda (and exaggerating their findings to do it). Nothing unusual here. They did their survey and now they lie about the results – to exaggerate them to make better talking points for their campaign . This is to be expected from people (like Cook and Lewendowsky) who believe that the ends justifies the means.

    Remember – to them this is war! They are fighting for the children and mother earth! Anyone who disagrees with them is evil (and therefore a denier).

  3. If as Cook says “found that over 97 % endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”, but on further research found 100% of the scientists thought such a warming would be a positive for our biosphere, I wonder how he would have reacted.

    My guess is that his report would be no different.

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