Cook’s Dog’s Breakfast

This is ancient history, four years late in the writing, but never mind. History is long.

I’d never really bothered much with Cook’s 97% paper, but a comment here by JonA led me to skepticalscience’s Consensus Project, where you can play with Cook’s data to your heart’s content. This leads to their data file where they define their criteria for endorsement/rejection of AGW as a prelude to rebutting various criticisms of their paper, by Roy Spencer among others.

I took a quick look at Cook et al 2013 when the paper came out and saw what a logical dog’s breakfast [1] it was, and assumed that someone more qualified than I would sort it out. I know plenty of people have rubbished the survey, and Richard Tol even got a reply in at Environmental Research Letters, pointing out the methodological flaws and the irrelevance of consensus to science, but I don’t think anyone has analysed the flaw which is logically prior to all the problems with coder bias etc. It’s not that sceptical papers are being undercounted or miscounted or ignored. The problem with the criteria used for categorising papers is that they entirely fail to come to grips with what sceptics are saying, with the result that the paper isn’t about scepticism at all.

Here are the definitions of the criteria used to categorise the papers, as defined in the paper itself:

Table 2. Definitions of each level of endorsement of AGW

1) Explicit endorsement with quantification – Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming

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

4a) No position – Does not address or mention the cause of global warming

4b) Uncertain – Expresses position that human’s role on recent global warming is uncertain/undefined

5) Implicit rejection – Implies humans have had a minimal impact on global warming without saying so explicitly E.g., proposing a natural mechanism is the main cause of global warming

6) Explicit rejection without quantification – Explicitly minimizes or rejects that humans are causing global warming

7) Explicit rejection with quantification – Explicitly states that humans are causing less than half of global warming

While the revised definitions at SkepticalScience are as follows:

1,Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+%

2,Explicitly endorses but does not quantify or minimise

3,Implicitly endorses AGW without minimising it

4,No Position

5,Implicitly minimises/rejects AGW

6,Explicitly minimises/rejects AGW but does not quantify

7,Explicitly minimises/rejects AGW as less than 50%

You can see what Cook has done here. By combining his categories 4a and 4b, he has simply got rid of those who express the “position that human’s role on recent global warming is uncertain/undefined.” Since his categories 4 a) and b) accounted for 66% of his total sample, and the disappeared category 4b) is the clearest possible definition of the standard sceptical position, by quietly counting it among the “No Positions”, he has simply abolished climate scepticism. According to the paper itself, it’s perfectly possible that a majority of papers were sceptical.

But it’s worse than that. Going back to the extended definitions in the paper, it’s possible for a sceptic to find himself in any one of the categories. Category 1 may seem a stretch, but why not, after all? It’s perfectly possible to accept that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming and say: “So what? Recent global warming is minimal, not accelerating, and probably beneficial. So why worry?” That’s the position of Matt Ridley, for example, who is regularly pilloried as a climate denier.

Personally I’m happy with criterion 2) that “humans are causing global warming” and that “anthropogenic global warming/climate change [is] a known fact,” but I’m equally at home in categories 4b) 5) 6) or 7). What this demonstrates is either: that I’m incapable of rational thought, as explicitly stated in “Recursive Fury” (Lewandowsky, Cook et al. 2013: Table 2) or that the categories are not mutually exclusive and that Cook is incapable of coding data.

There is conclusive evidence in favour of the second hypothesis.

At first sight Cook’s classification of abstracts seems to divide them by three binary criteria:

explicitly v implicitly

endorses v minimises/rejects

quantifies v does not quantify

except that categories 2) and 3) explicitly allow the possibility of minimising without rejecting. So we have at least a 2x3x2 matrix, resulting in twelve cells, while Cook’s bouillabaisse has seven and a half.

What any first year social science student would have done is code the three criteria separately, deciding for each article: whether it took a position explicitly or implicitly; whether it endorsed, minimised, or rejected; and whether it quantified or didn’t; each time with a “don’t know” category. And let the computer programme do the rest.

[That’s what I did when I took a holiday job as a coder in market research as a student, and what I continued to do up to the time I got a medal from the Market Research Society for research for the Ministry of Defence on officer recruitment advertising. Then I had a Marxist revelation of the Groucho kind and decided I didn’t want to belong to a profession which… but I digress.]

Cook’s categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. It s perfectly possible to belong in several of them at the same time. No wonder that two thirds of the abstracts were shoved into the “don’t know/doesn’t mention” category.

Cook et al.’s 97% is nonsense, corrupt pseudo-science, passed through the gastro-intestinal tract of peer-reviewed scientific publication to emerge as one of the most hallowed turds in the climate corpus. The 97% is a fantasy figure invented by Cook and his mentor Lewandowsky, a conspiracy to label a large proportion of the human race, including all those who criticise Cook et al., as non-persons. Cook and Lewandowsky are liars and charlatans. Cook is also an idiot, a bumbling incompetent who doesn’t know his Rsquared from his elbow, promoted to a position of extraordinary influence by an academic system which exhibits all the symptoms of senile decay.

But (Cook et al. 2013) is quoted almost every time anyone wants to assert that catastrophic man-made global warming is a fact. So it seems to be working rather well.

[1] Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.


  1. Thanks Alan. The piece at SkS is the same as the one in the Guardian attributed to Dana Nuccitelli (aka “the 97%”) which I started rewriting at Other authors are professors Leiserowitz of Yale, van Linden of Cambridge, and Maibach of George Mason, where Cook is now a lecturer. The boy Cook has come a long way since those far off days in 2010 when he was sharing his excitement about meeting a couple of professors from the University of Western Australia to discuss using spambots to plant false sceptic comments on blogs.


  2. lest we forget, all sks really have done is AGW is real – no quantification, but then they misrepresent that

    (virtually everysceptic can go with AGW, no quantification is real)

    leaked SKS forum

    John Cook

    Keep reading and I’ll explain what’s really annoying about Dana at the end of this post…

    Okay, so we’ve ruled out a definition of AGW being “any amount of human influence” or “more than 50% human influence”. We’re basically going with Ari’s porno approach (I probably should stop calling it that 🙂

    which is AGW = “humans are causing global warming”. Eg – no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we’re surveying
    That means this now boils down to one issue. Is it worth the trouble of subdividing “endorsing AGW” and “rejecting AGW” into separate categories. They make it more complicated for the reviewers so is it worth it?

    Firstly, it’s definitely worth subdividing into “explicit” and “implicit”, I suggest we must do this. Firstly, because Naomi did that and we’re replicating her research. Secondly, because Naomi’s effort at subdividing into implicit and explicit was a hand-wavy “well, I’m guestimating that 25% is explicit and 50% is implicit”, which frankly doesn’t really cut it. And critiques of her work (by Benny Peiser) rebutted her work by actually going through the 928 papers and specifying the # of explicit and implicit endorsements. So we both improve on Naomi’s research by specifically rating each paper and also head off possible criticisms by having hard, quantified data.

    The next question is do we subdivide explicit into “quantified explicit” and “unquantified explicit”. Dana argues that this captures more information. Ari argues it complicates things with little benefit as the # of quantified papers will be small. I’m sympathetic to both arguments. However, to me, what had me falling one way or the other was this. As I was looking through the papers in Phase 1, I noticed a number of papers that were kick-arse papers that not only endorsed AGW but also quantified and found evidence for AGW. These were papers I would’ve liked to flag for future reference. So on this point alone, I would recommend adding “quantified >50% explicit endorsement of AGW” as a category, in order to flag those great papers. There are other potential benefits too. It will be interesting to see how the “hard centre” of endorsements looks – does it grow or shrink over time, does it grow proportionally compared to the total # of endorsements and how does it compare to the # of rejections. These are all interesting questions and we will only be able to answer them with the extra questions.
    So basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that we rate papers according to this:
    AGW = humans are causing global warming
    Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+% cause of the observed warming (or consistent with the IPCC, or something similar)
    Explicitly endorses but does not quantify AGW
    Implicitly endorses AGW (by definition does not quantify)
    Implicitly minimizes/rejects AGW (i.e. says the sun is playing a big role)
    Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW but does not quantify AGW
    Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW as less than 50%
    So what is annoying about Dana is when we have a long, convoluted discussion and at the end, I end up just agreeing with what Dana was saying at the very start of the conversation. This is not the first time this has happened to me. At my house, we (I) have a rule, WIAR (Wendy Is Always Right). When she volunteers advice (eg – “should take an umbrella today”) and I ignore it, I always end up regreting it. However, I’m not saying I’m endorsing a DIAR (Dana is always right) policy just yet though, wouldn’t want him to get too cocky 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In looking up “lie” on Wikki I came across this

    “The concept of a memory hole was first popularized by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Party’s Ministry of Truth systematically re-created all potential historical documents, in effect re-writing all of history to match the often-changing state propaganda. These changes were complete and undetectable”.

    Only the last sentence doesn’t apply to palaeoclimate.


  4. Long deconstruction of Cook et Al by social psychologist Jose Duarte, here:

    An extract from the conclusion:
    “I think some of you who’ve defended this study got on the wrong train. I don’t think you meant to end up here. I think it was an accident. You thought you were getting on the Science Train. You thought these people — Cook, Nuccitelli, Lewandowsky — were the science crowd, and that the opposition was anti-science, “deniers” and so forth. I hope it’s clear at this point that this was not the Science Train. This is a different train. These people care much less about science than they do about politics. They’re willing to do absolutely stunning, unbelievable things to score political points. What they did still stuns me, that they did this on purpose, that it was published, that we live in a world where people can publish these sorts of obvious scams in normally scientific journals. If you got on this train, you’re now at a place where you have to defend political activists rating scientific abstracts regarding the issue on which their activism is focused, able to generate the results they want. You have to defend people counting psychology studies and surveys of the general public as scientific evidence of endorsement of AGW. You have to defend false statements about the methods used in the study. Their falsity won’t be a matter of opinion — they were clear and simple claims, and they were false. You have to defend the use of raters who wanted to count a bad psychology study of white males as evidence of scientific endorsement of AGW. You have to defend vile behavior, dishonesty, and stunning hatred and malice as a standard way to deal with dissent.”

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Geoff — The problem with the criteria used for categorising papers is that they entirely fail to come to grips with what sceptics are saying, with the result that the paper isn’t about scepticism at all.

    I think the problem is deeper. I argued a similar point at the Nottingham MSP blog, back in 2013…

    The consensus referred to by Davey and Nuccitelli, then, is what I call a consensus without an object: the consensus can mean whatever the likes of Davey and Nuccitelli want it to mean. Davey can wave away any criticism of government’s policy simply by invoking the magical proportion, 97%, even though those critics’ arguments would be included in that number. Consensus is invoked in the debate at the expense of nuance. A polarised debate suits political ends, not ‘evidence-based policy’.

    I don’t think that the Cook crew are even getting to grips with what their own putative camp, much less ‘science’ says. Again, in the comments:

    Martin Lack’s comment typifies the problem of using ad-hoc and subjective categories to frame the debate. For example, “anyone who agrees with Andrew Montford’s Bishop Hill blog” isn’t really credited with having made up their own mind about either the climate debate, or what Montford has claimed. And much less are the substance of Montford’s claims engaged with. Much as a ‘consensus without an object’ operates in climate discourse, so too does a ‘scepticism without an object’ operate in argument’s such as Martin’s.


    So Nuccitelli is left with five papers that should not be included in the 97%. But non inclusion in this category is not equivalent to exclusion from it. We can only imagine that, per Nuccitelli’s claim, Spencer absolutely cannot be part of the 97% if we take for granted that the debate is one between mutually-exclusive categories. But such a complex debate manifestly cannot be reduced to such simply, binary, opposing arguments. At least, not without losing sight of its substance.

    Even worse for Nuccitelli’s claim that his analysis is ‘nuanced’ is the exclusion of the 66%. This and his response to Spencer betrays his the intentions behind the survey. Either that, or he simply doesn’t understand what he has produced.

    Characteristically, Dana refuses to engage on the criticism levelled against his paper by me. (And he only engages with Mike Hulme to the extent that he offended that a qualified climate scientist would lend a sceptic credibility). This is not only a guaranteed method to prevent an understanding of the counterposition, it is an even surer way to make sure you don’t understand one’s own position. Climate warriors do not believe they can improve their understanding through debate. This tendency is owed in part to the fact that environmentalism, in contrast to most significant political movements formed since the enlightenment, has not developed a culture of debate.


  6. Many thanks Barry Woods and Andy West for the references to the Treehut files and the José Duarte articles respectively, both of which provide damning evidence that Cook et al 2013 is fraudulent, and to Ben Pile who provides a different, but equally damning argument.

    All three sources concentrate on the intentions behind the paper. Barry’s shows Cook clearly plotting with his co-authors to get the result they want; José concentrates on the fact that assessment by political activists is both absurd and unethical. As a social scientist intent on cleaning up practices in the field, he quite rightly (and courageously) calls Cook out in terms which would be libellous if unfounded.
    Ben’s useful concept of a consensus without an object can be generalised, I think, to that of climate science as a “science without an object.” If you follow the link provided by JonA at “Data file” in the article above, the first article in Cook’s corpus is “A 20-year Record Of Alpine Grasshopper Abundance With Interpretations For Climate Change” from the New Zealand Journal Of Ecology. Twenty years is weather, not climate, and grasshopper abundance in the New Zealand alps is not something we should be wetting our breeches about.

    But Ben’s argument is not only different from mine, but in one respect opposed, when he says:

    We can only imagine that, per Nuccitelli’s claim, Spencer absolutely cannot be part of the 97% if we take for granted that the debate is one between mutually-exclusive categories. But such a complex debate manifestly cannot be reduced to such simply, binary, opposing arguments. At least, not without losing sight of its substance.

    Now I’m sympathetic to the argument that reducing a debate to simple, binary opposing arguments is reductive and is in danger of missing important aspects. This is implicit in Ian Woolley’s argument at I think, in that Ian is supporting a more qualitative, intuitive approach to interpreting complex social questions. This is something editorialists and university dons used to do in the serious press before they were brushed aside by policy wonks from the social sciences.

    But like it or not, social sciences deal in statistics, often derived from questionnaire-based surveys which ask binary questions. That’s what Cook set out to do, and they can’t be faulted for following the normal rules (however reductive they may be) and setting out binary (or three way) choices. The problem I outlined above is not that they chose the wrong categories, but that they didn’t follow their own rules, which are the rules of basic logic. Having decided to define papers as explicitly/implicitly endorsing/rejecting/minimising climate change while quantifying or not, they are obliged to provide a grid of twelve cells. You can argue that certain cells are by definition empty (e.g. you can’t both reject AGW and quantify it) but you can’t just come up with seven and a bit cells and say “that’s it folks.” I mean, you couldn’t in a first year social science course, and you couldn’t as a junior executive in a market research firm, because you’d be given a fail or get sacked.

    And Cook did worse of course, when he combined two entirely separate categories: 4a) “no opinion expressed on global warming” and 4b) “opinion expressed that human’s role on recent global warming is uncertain/undefined.” But that was after, when he was defending his paper at SkepticalScience, and needed to Hide the Define.

    The point of this article is that my criticism of the non exhaustive, non-exclusive nature of his categories is logically prior to any other criticisms I’ve seen by by Spencer, Tol or Duarte. That doesn’t mean that it’s better, more telling, or more important than any other criticism. It simply means that even if Cook had chosen his articles according to sensible criteria, and even if his coders were pure in heart and not activists, and even if he had analysed the results with a minimum of competence, they would still be rubbish.

    Liked by 3 people


    At a recent gathering (lunch), my spouse revealed my skepticism of the assumption of impending climate catastrophe. I was immediately challenged as to my basis for contending with 97 % of known climate experts and publications. The URL above points to the authority my attacker used for the 97%. I suggested that there had been only two studies which had produced such a number. One, done at Stanford many years ago which i think was not restricted to practicing climatologists and whose queries were pretty benign, and the other the Cook study.

    I identified these two sources for the number, described the innocence of ther first’s methodology, and challenged the methodology of the second. Alas, to no avail. NASA had blessed it so it must be true.

    Nasa, indeed.


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