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One more go at the 97% consensus

Guest post by Rafe Champion | JoNova | December 11, 2021

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. – Michael Crichton

The 97% consensus on catastrophic human-induced climate warming is one of the great PR coups of all time, demonstrating the effectiveness of The Big Lie for propaganda purposes. Cook’s 2013 paper became a springboard, coming strategically before the Paris COP, for Barack Obama and John Kerry to achieve a face-saving but meaningless result at the event. It was the rejoinder to the leaked emails from East Anglia that sank the Copenhagan COP.

It became the “go to” rejoinder and the killer argument in every private discussion and public debate – “I am just following the science.” Commentators and public service advisors use it to intimidate politicians and the public although practically no one has read the all-important paper by John Cook and associates, or even knows someone who has.

Three tasks

We have to explain how the offending paper fooled uncritical readers. My colleague Jeff Grimshaw has explained this with reference to the advertising tricks used to sell cat food. We also have to explain that the merits of rival scientific theories are determined by critical discussion and rigorous testing, not by a show of hands in the scientific community. Yet another task is to understand how a scientific culture emerged where Cook and associates would be allowed to pursue their work and there are many journals are pleased to publish the results.

The paper has no useful scientific content because it is not about science, it is about the opinions of a sample of scientists, interpreted by green activists and then sliced and diced to eliminate or misrepresent opinions that were not acceptable to the researchers.

The decisive step was to count everyone who thought there was warming and any amount of human influence in the category of people who are worried about warming. Close reading and repeated re-reading is necessary to understand how the information was collected and manipulated to get that result. Then a trick from the advertising industry came into play to sell their product – “97.1% of cats liked it!”

No scientists dispute warming because the arguments are about how much, over what period and with what cause, so you can bet on 100% agreement there, and likewise no scientists dispute human influence (even if it is just the heat island effect) and you can expect 100% there as well. The result should be 100% consensus on CAGW (the revised version) but 97.4% has a strangely reassuring “scientific “ ring to it, not quite 100% but very precise!

The two parts of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) meme: (1) warming is going to be catastrophic and (2 ) human activities are driving it.

Both of these need to be established to justify trillions of dollars of spending on projects that inflict massive environmental damage – like chemotherapy for the planet.

Both of them! Not just one or the other.

If the warming is dangerous and we make little or no contribution to it, then we can do little or nothing to avert the danger.

Alternatively if the warming is not dangerous then the extent of our influence is a matter of scientific interest but we don’t need to worry about it.

Starting with the first leg of the double. The case for the danger of warming is laughable because nobody can credibly deny the benefit of warming over the last 200 years, and the advance of warming has been glacial in recent times.

As for the human emissions of CO2 that are supposed to drive warming, we can reply, starting at the shallow end of the scientific pool. The geological record shows that high levels of CO2 never caused runaway warming. The level of CO2 at present (including a small fraction from human emissions) is nowhere near the pre-historical high points. Doubling atmospheric CO2 from 420ppm at present, with the current increase of 2ppm per annum, will take 200 years. There is a diminishing return from additional CO2 and most of the effect of rising CO2 since the Industrial Revolution has been used up with the one degree of warming since then. And so on and so forth as you go towards the deep end of the pool to learn from Happer and Lindzen on atmospheric physics.

How did Cook and associates manage to fool people into thinking that scientists are terrified of CAGW?

Regrettably a lot of people wanted to believe the consensus and serious public discussion is almost impossible because most people are scientifically illiterate. To be fair, that is not a sin, they just didn’t study science – you don’t beat a dog for chasing cats and you don’t blame cats for chasing mice. The sin for journalists, politicians and their advisors is to ignore the views of the significant number of very highly qualified scientists who are not alarmed. That may be harder since Steven Koonin emerged on the scene, untainted by incorrect political affiliations.

In case President Obama’s strident advocacy of the consensus was not enough, it would have gone viral through the Climate Action Network, a global coalition of 1500 organizations in 130 countries dedicated to driving climate alarm at the local level and in every form of media. There are 10 regional nodes and 12 national nodes, including Australia, and a few years ago they triggered a global offensive to enhance the language of alarmism with guidelines that The Guardian announced a few years ago – the standard terms are now global heating and climate crisis so on. Greta Thunberg signalled the new language in her viral tweet:

“It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”[i]

The latest word is that CAN is closing some parts of the network, presumably because its work is done. Radical environmentalism evolved from the efforts of self-funded activists to organizations with enough money to employ fulltime workers to whole government departments like the US Environmental Protection Agency. Has anyone got a list of all the agencies in Australia that are doing climate and energy activism at our expense?. You could start here and here.

Selling the consensus and cat food

This is explained by my co-author Jeff Grimshaw in our forthcoming book Triggerwarming: A primer for politicians and journalists and anyone else who doesn’t know anything about climate science.

Consider the phrase “97% of scientists agree”? And how about “eight out of ten owners said their cat prefers it!”? Have you ever wondered where these promotional numbers come from? In the research conducted by John Cook and colleagues around the world, there were two stages of data collection followed by some very complicated analysis. It is necessary to read the paper several times to be clear about what they actually found, as distinct from their personal opinions and what they want the reader to think that they found. At the first stage Cook and the team read the abstracts of some 12,000 published papers on climate to find if the authors had a position on AGW:

“We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming.” 

So how did 32.6 become 97? Have a look at cat food advertisements to explain this. How does anyone know that eight out of ten cats prefer a particular type of cat food? Did they ask the cats? In reality, the company simply asked cat owners if their cats liked their cat food and 80% said yes. So they discovered that cats like the cat food they are fed, and with only a modest distortion of the facts the company could claim that (almost) a consensus of cats liked their brand of cat food. After a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority, the slogan was changed to eight out of ten owners who expressed a preference said their cat prefers Brand X.” That language hides as much as it reveals (how were they selected and what were they asked?) but the original slogan was well established and a slight change made no difference to the “vibe” of the advertisement.

Getting back to Cook and associates, in the abstract of the paper we read:

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

Nice work with the advertising gimmicks John! Of course he is a psychologist, not a climate scientist and he probably did a unit on Statistical Manipulation for Marketing and Advertising.

So that is advertising part of the deception, and what happened to the two key questions that scientists need to answer in the debate about CAGW – How much warming and how much human contribution? In their capacity as magicians the methodological arm-waving of Cook et al distracted the attention of readers from the lack of content (actually how many people read past the abstract?) and in their capacity as alchemists they transmuted the base metal of dodgy numbers into gold for climate alarmists. Not 24 carat gold to be sure. How do you rank it?


Jo Nova’s answer:

Cook’s work was a scientific wasteland from the start. Consensus is a fallacy. Science is not a democracy. The keyword survey of abstracts was always a meaningless proxy for biased government funding, and profoundly unscientific. To discuss it in any other terms is to pretend it had any scientific value at all.

Cook’s study could never tell us anything about the climate around the planet, all it could ever do was measure sociobehavioural aspects of the Climate Academic Complex. The more biased the government funding, the more biased the abstracts would be. If Cook was even slightly competent he might have shown that government funded science will find whatever it’s paid to find. Alas, it’s not that useful. Cook got biased friends to subjectively “rate” abstracts. This is not even junk sociology.

Posts on Cooks “consensus”.

December 20, 2021 - Posted by | Book Review, Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | ,

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