J. Cook on repeat: ‘consensus’ and the scientists

Steven Schneider, Monkey talk
Take note: 2 minutes further in the interview he repeats this statement!

The reason for this article is twofold: a remarkable article on a strange Dutch website and an atypical reaction under an earlier article of mine about ‘climate denier’ as badge of honor. I’ll start with the more important of the two: an article written by one Kim de Roder. Actually, not Roder’s discussion contribution itself, but the main source this philosopher (!) referred to, entitled “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming“: A 2016 article by Mr. Cook and no fewer than fifteen co-authors. BTW, in the past the creator of that strange website (TPO) provided the more serious contributions to the rather pubescent, but very much viewed website ‘GeenStijl’.

I wrote about this Mr. Cook once before.In both articles I criticised, this kind of work by John Cook and others in particular.

 On his own Academia Page, this Cook blandly suggested back then to be a physicist, but on the page of his university we read that he is “research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, researching cognitive science”. And we see that reflected in his list of publications. His post-graduate profile page in the past left no doubt that he is a psychologist and not a physicist. That page is gone now. His present Academia page is almost completely empty!

The problem with the majority among Members of Parliaments, other politicans and journalists is that they derive stories about ‘consensus among climate scientists’ -sometimes even: ‘among scientists’from studies by non-climate scientists such as this Cook or meteorologists and/or TV weather people.
Therein lies the problem.

About Cook, that young philosopher claimed:

No, John Cook is not a controversial environmentalist either. Cook is just a researcher at a university. Just like all those other scientists who have also done research on the consensus among climate scientists. (my bold of course again, FG)

In March, my emphasis was on what I have shown underlined in the quote. Reactions from shortly after the publication emphasized the curious realization of that infamous 97%: the percentage of scientists who are portrayed as believing that global warming is mainly the result of human activities.

When this Cook came out with his story in 2013 -then in collaboration with eight others- it immediately generated a lot more and different criticism.
This highly critical 2013 piece by Christopher Monckton, for example.
An article that, in addition to being critical, was also rather derogatory in tone. Monckton of course was attacked for that.

His article appeared on Anthony Watts’ website Whattsupwiththat: a meteorologist who was also a long-time weather presenter. In his aboutme Watts himself writes:

While I have a skeptical view of certain climate issues, I consider myself “green” in many ways, and I promote the idea of energy savings and alternate energy generation.

In the summer (!) the man even drives an “electric” automobile! But he also writes:

While I’m not a degreed climate scientist, I’ll point out that neither is Al Gore, and his specialty is presentation TOO. And that’s part of what this blog is about: presentation of weather and climate data in a form the public can understand and discuss.

Yes, different from weathermen who present themselves as climate scientists.

Some of the responses below that Monckton story are at least as interesting as the story itself. One Roman M comes up with the following analogy to that 97% claim (my somewhat free translation):

Suppose a pharmaceutical company conducts a study to determine the efficacy of a drug. At the end of the study, a statistician summarizes the results: in 32.6% of the subjects, the treatment had some positive effect, 66.4% of the subjects reported no change in their condition, and the condition of 0.7% percent of the subjects worsened. Thus, the statistician reports that treatment with the drug produced an improvement in 32.6% of the subjects.
The company finds the results, as reported by the statistician, not sufficiently positive, so it hires a PR firm to reevaluate the analysis. That firm points out that the statistician had also included the subjects in whom the drug had no effect and proposes to exclude that group. The result is now: 32.6 / (32.6 + 0.7) = 0.979 or 97.9% of the subjects who either benefit OR suffer from the drug, benefit from it.

From 9 to 16 authors

The second Cook article, from 2016, can be found here. For everyone who has some knowledge of ‘the climate debate’, alarm bells go off when reading the title. “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming”.

Statements about consensus rarely, if ever, come from serious (climate) scientists. Statements in the category ‘consensus over consensus’ raise the suspicion that we are dealing here with a superlative form of that (focusing on) ‘presenting’ that Antony Watts so rightly draws attention to.

Next, the first thing to notice is that the title does not mention “climate change” but rather the now somewhat old-fashioned sounding ‘global warming’, even though the article only appeared as recent as 2016. The next thing that stands out is the category under which this article was posted: Environmental Research Letters.
Environmental? It raises the question of whether the authors also deal in that rather carelessly populist manner, with the difference between environmental (pollution) at the one hand and questions related to possible greenhouse gas effects on the other.

Finally, upon first observation, that large number of authors stands out: sixteen! Did they ever convene, or was it more like a draft by two or three of them then circulated among like-minded?

Of the eight co-authors of Cook’s 2013 piece, (only) seven are back and, in addition, another group of new co-authors was added. It is notable that the authors are not sorted alphabetically and that those earlier co-authors are listed as a group behind six of those seven new co-authors …

The skeptical science platform: expertise versus concern

No less than seven of the sixteen authors know each other from an activist platform with the somewhat misleading name ‘Skeptical Science’: after all, ‘skeptical’ is mainly used as a label for those who have some or many reservations about the role of humans in the possible warming trend of the average temperature on earth. This subgroup of authors overlapses almost entirely with those of the co-authors of that first Cook article from 2013…

This platform has 37 employees who themselves here give a brief description of their -whether or not scientific – background and their relationship to the climate debate.
Nine of them make it explicitly or implicitly clear that they are not scientists themselves.
In addition, I count five ICT specialists –whom, for the sake of ‘benefit of the doubt’, I count as scientists-, five geologists, three chemists and a few students.
Their “biographies” are more honest than Cook’s.
Most natural scientists in this company do not suggest that they express themselves about ‘AGW’ (global warming caused by humans) on the basis of their specific expertise, but on the basis of their concern. One of those ICT professionals -one Doug Bostrom- writes about his involvement thus:

My interest in the ‘climate debate’ was initially aroused by the accusations [!] against scientists. I am not a scientist myself, but many in my immediate circle are and I know to be people of integrity. I joined ‘Skeptical Science’ because of the clear explanation of different aspects of our (!) climate “as they relate to our role in modifying its behavior”. I found John Cook’s attitude particularly refreshing.

There is little doubt about the activist nature of this club. The most outspoken and honest example is named Bärbel Winkler. She reports that she was volunteering at the local zoo…
And she became increasingly concerned. No misunderstanding: there is nothing wrong with activism because of concern in itself. What is wrong, however, is when types like this young philosopher claim that activism did not play a major role in coming up with articles like this one.

Authors with more (relevant) scientific baggage?

So the 2016 article had more authors. Both social scientists and more serious natural scientists. William R. L. Anderegg is one of the latter.
The publication list of this biologist –a thirty-someting, as can be deduced from his CV and photo– shows what he is doing: pores of leaves, trees and drought, but also things that are linked to ‘climate change’, such as ‘global terrestrial CO2 fertilization’ (!)’ and ‘climate-driven tree mortality’. And he is very prolific in producing scientific pieces as well as ‘opinion pieces’. In July 2018, for example, he wrote ‘Wildfires are white-hot signs of climate change in our backyard’.
In his own words:

Massive mortality events of many tree species in the last decade prompt concerns that drought, insects, and wildfire may devastate forests in the coming decades. I study how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems.

Anderegg, in 2010, when he had not yet obtained his PhD, already/still collaborated with Stephen H. Schneider on an article entitled Expert credibility in climate change.

I devoted an extensive text to this remarkable Mr. Schneider earlier here, in which I called him the ‘Climate Prophet’. Quote from the abstract of that article by Schneider and Anderegg:

… the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC [another abbreviation for AGW] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

Quite arrogant.
Still, I am inclined to take concerns of someone like Anderegg somewhat seriously, although I have not looked at the content of his work and therefore have no opinion about its quality and relevance.

Mrs Sarah E. Green -despite her hippie appearance- also seems to be a serious scientist. However, she too seems to suffer from questionably little modesty or fear of being seen as an activist. Some quotes from a curious interview with her:

My work with policy has also exposed me to a few of the many smart and dedicated people who are striving to improve the world. (…) the urgency of action on multiple fronts also means that people who are working on many different subjects are all contributing to climate solutions. People can contribute by working on myriad fronts, including new energy systems, cultural change, modern materials, ecology, art, hydrology, communication, transportation systems, philosophy, chemistry and especially cross-disciplinary exchanges. (…) We have the technology to drastically slow global warming. (…) the chance of keeping global temperatures within tolerable limits. (…) Next, we need to be sure decision-makers know that we are judging their actions based on long-term climate impacts.

It is reminiscent of the now infamous “How dare you?” by that world-famous girl from Sweden. “Permissible limits…”.

And yes, let’s indeed not discount the role of art…

Not just any social scientists

Each of those social scientists among the authors is different, of course, but for their judgment I give no more than for that of a computer specialist or nurse. Not least because I myself have been involved in erroneous forms of social science in my youth …

Mr. Ed W. Maibach is not just any social psychologist.
He is “an expert in the use of strategic communication and social marketing to address climate change and related public health issues”. His research focuses on “the psychology that underlies public engagement; and cultivating TV weathermen, health professionals and climate scientists as effective climate educators“.

Do you still like snow peas?

Mr. Carlton is also a social psychologist who deals with ‘communication about’. However, he also studied biology. I couldn’t find much of his work. A link suggesting that he also wrote that “The climate change consensus extends beyond climate” (say what?) unfortunately did not work.

Mrs. Oreskes is a historian of science. This does not mean that she loses credibility with me, on the contrary. She does a bit because of the fact that she is the author of a book entitled ‘Objectivity or Heroism: On the Invisibility of Women in Science’. And even more so when I read that she still speaks highly of Mr. Al Gore and draws a parallel between the discussion about the health effects of smoking and the discussion about global warming…

The young Dutch chemist Verheggen, ‘from’ Wageningen, also blogs about ‘climate’. Together with others, who say that they are not climate scientists but do believe that there is “a big gap between the scientific knowledge in this field and what the general public thinks about it…”. Verheggen’s own bio states:

While on a temporary assignment at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), he conducted a large and detailed survey about climate science amongst International scientists.”

So, yet another version of that so-called consensus again as a starting point for ‘research’.

But there is also the psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky who, in line with his growing interest in ‘climate issues’, actually became seriously scientifically proficient in beta subjects. He wrote no less than around 50 opinion articles in the global media on issues related to climate change “skepticism” and the coverage of science in the media”. But he also wrote 36 articles classified under ‘global warming’. When I can free up time for more study in this area, I should start by zooming in on this gentleman’s work.

And last but not least, there is the 70-year-old Mr. Peter T. Dorian.
Presumably the author who has spent most hours seriously studying issues that are associated by almost everyone with the issue of ‘global warming’. There was something tragicomic about his career, however.
Dorian did extensive research in Antarctica.

In doing so, he did not attempt to prove any theorem, or provide any material for or against a particular scientific paradigm regarding CO2, other greenhouse gases, and/or human culpability. He presented the measurement results he found on his expeditions to Antarctica without distortion.
And they were subsequently picked up by ‘skeptics’ in particular, who found clear indications in those measurement results that supported their point of view!
In response, Dorian wrote opinion articles in which he distanced himself from skeptics who praised his work…

One co-author first but later not

Robert Way did co-write the 2013 Cook article but not the 2016 version. Quite remarkable.
I have not yet approached this young man as to why this is the case, but I do have a strong inkling about this based on two hours of study. At the aforementioned ‘Skeptical Science’ platform, they are proud that Way is also in their club. In 2011 they wrote an article about him, in a somewhat puberescent style, under the headline The Cryosphere Kid.
It starts like this:

Robert Way is a steely-eyed veteran of the Climate Wars. An Inuit descendent and native of Northern Labrador, Robert Way has seen his share of action in the Cryosphere.

Eureka: a real Indian who engages in climate wars…

In 2008 Way was still a student. Since then he has written many articles of a scientific level. In 2015, however (in between those two Cook articles), he contributed to this remarkable article. In it, the authors discuss an article by clearly less alarmist scientists and conclude that they “agree with many of the points raised”. Very explicitly they bring to attention:

To interpret the 16 year trend, it is necessary to take into account all of these factors, including volcanoes, the solar cycle, particulate emissions from the far East and changes in ocean circulation. The bias addressed by this paper is just one piece in that puzzle, although a largish one.

Please note: in the entire article dedicated to measuring the average temperature on earth, the terms ‘anthropogenic’, CO2 and ‘greenhouse’ do not appear! Actually, more remakable, is that one of the other authors of this article is Mr. Peter Jacobs: one of the men who did co-write the 2013 and the 2016 article by Cook!

And with that we return, not to the tallying of articles based on their summaries, but to the particular calculation of that 97%. So, this article by Cowtan, Jacobs and Way who are well versed in the subject of climate, would be disregarded for determining that 97% claim!

Clearly attending one serious discussion of a few hours between this Robert Way and Peter Jacobs would be more informative than the tally result of thousands of summaries of articles that did get counted for that claim.

Having heads counted by journalists and (other) sociologists
Where does this strange idea of counting scientific heads come from and what is the thinking behind it?

It certainly does not come from serious practitioners of serious science.
Activists, journalists and (other) ‘social scientists’ use this approach to successfully play politicians.
In my opinion, the success of this is even more to blame on the second group than the first.

Most politicians seem too lazy, stupid and/or afraid to do what they should be doing: forming independent judgments on all kinds of issues -including very complicated ones- with all the risks and responsibility that come with it. On complicated matters including scientific statements.

No, we do not have to require all MPs and ministers to have chosen beta subjects in secondary school and certainly not to have completed a master’s degree in natural science.

Most important for forming independent judgments is having the courage and ability to make estimates of who can be considered the most reliable advisors.

Hiding behind the false certainty provided by the head counters is the exact opposite. False certainty formed on the basis of the suggestion that the dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists is the one that matters. Nonsensical and life-threatening to democracy.

The biggest nonsense lies in ignoring the fact that the variation in level among people with a university education is about the same as that between people who did or did not go to university!
There is no caste of (climate) scientists yet any more than there is a caste of judges yet.
Insofar as caste-consciousness threatens to develop, it must be fought vigorously.
On top of that, utterly unscientific arrogance is found precisely among the most outspoken alarmists. It is not for nothing that I have again placed the image of Stephen Schneider above this article.

When zooming in on the substantive work of some natural scientists –please note: among those authors of that consensus-on-consensus article- in a matter of hours I came across a great deal of interesting, intriguing and important work being done in subfields that have only a rather indirect link to the issue of the possible influence of human activities on the average temperature in the world.
For example, research in the field of precise determination of that temperature…
But not only that.
I also found comments by these scientists in articles that they did not write in their capacity as concerned citizens about more warming through less soot etc. and less CFC (those compounds that threatened the ozone layer) respectively.

Natural science is very different from social science. Last week I was looking for some scientific work on the shape of the leaves of the biggest and most beautiful plant in my living room (Mostera Deliciosa). There are several theories about it, but definitive answers based on experiments with falsifiable hypotheses are not yet available.

The AGW-story is not only tremendously more complicated: there are also tremendously more societal interests involved. It is the job of politics, not science, to weigh those interests. Can anything be done that remotely resembles experiments in the context of falsifiable hypotheses?

The climate debate and the Islam debate

Time to return to that second reason for this post. On the site where I published the Dutch original of this article -I’ve written about 200 by now- have few or no reactions. Siemon’s comment on my piece on ‘climate denier as a badge of honor’ was particularly striking. In short he said: Groenendijk says sensible things about a number of dossiers but on this dossier he talks nonsense, because everyone knows anyway.I looked back again at all those many articles and studies I conducted before becoming an author on that site.

In this century I spent more than 5000 hours of study on the Mohammedanism dossier and less than 500 on the climate dossier. On that site ( verenoflood.nu) I wrote over 80 strongly Islam-related articles and less than 20 climate-related ones. And that while one would rather have to do four times more than four times less study to be able to write meaningfully about the second subject.

On the article you have now read almost in its entirety, I spent less than 25 hours. Still, I learned a lot in that short time. It has only now dawned on me that those most concerned about AGW (global warming caused by humans) find the IPCC too lax… And it has also only now dawned on me that the replacement of the term ‘global warming’ by ‘climate change’ is more due to the spin of politicians than to the genuinely concerned.

While studying for this article, I was most shocked by what I met on that ‘Skeptical Science’ platform. Despite, or perhaps becáuse of the scattering of diagrams and graphs with little substantiation and because of the remakably superficial way of responding to critical reactions, I could not help feeling that it was not exact scientists who were speaking, but ‘communicators’.

P.S. Partially thanks to working on this article, I resolved myself to study and write about the ‘climate dossier’ relatively more after finishing my book 49:49. See the category with that name here on OldDutchPainter.works.

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