Join my crowd-sourced complaint about the '97% consensus'

By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

Three-quarters (rounded up to 97.1%) of all commenters expressing an opinion on my recent post about Dana Nuccitelli’s attempt at ex-post-facto justification of the false assertion in the lamentable Cook et al. paper of a non-existent 97.1% “scientific consensus” that turned out on peer-reviewed inspection to be 0.3%, enjoyed the name-calling in the post. A quarter did not. To them, sorry.

One of the non-placets asked if I could summarize the argument without the insults. Certainly, sir. I have redrafted the posting as a letter asking the editor of Environmental Research Letters, which had published that gravely misleading paper, to withdraw it and to announce that he has done so. All who would like to add their names to mine on the letter before I send it, please send an email to Anthony, who will pass it to me. Many thanks.

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Professor Daniel Kammen

Editor, Environment Research Letters

12 September 2013

Dear Professor Kammen,

Request for withdrawal of a misleading paper

published in Environmental Research Letters

For the reasons that follow, we are now requesting you to withdraw a defective and gravely misleading paper published in Environment Research Letters on 15 May 2013.

The paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, was by John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting and Andrew Skuce of the polemical website “Skeptical Science”; Sarah Green of the Department of Chemistry at Michigan Technological University; Mark Richardson of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading; Robert Way of the Department of Geography at the Memorial University of Newfoundland; and Peter Jacobs of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. Copies go to all authors.

The introduction to the Cook paper said:

“We examined a large sample of the scientific literature on global CC [the abstracts of 11,944 papers on global climate change], published over a 21 year period [1991-2012], in order to determine the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW)”.

The Cook paper’s definition of “scientific consensus”, emboldened by us for clarity, is the standard or quantitative definition adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which, in its Assessment Reports of 2001 and 2007, considered it probable that more than half of the 0.7 Cº global warming since 1950 was manmade.

Computerized and manual examination of the data-file assembled by the authors of the Cook paper, which they appear to have released only some weeks after their paper had appeared, showed that they had categorized and marked as few as 64 abstracts out of 11,944, or 0.5% of the entire sample, as explicitly endorsing the “scientific consensus” as they had defined it in their introduction.

Further examination of the 64 abstracts by Legates et al. (2013) showed that only 41, or 0.3% of the entire sample, had in fact explicitly endorsed the “scientific consensus” as defined.

However, the Cook paper concluded with these words:

“Among papers expressing a position on AGW, an overwhelming percentage (97.2% based on self-ratings, 97.1% based on abstract ratings) endorses the scientific consensus on AGW.”

The authors, having stated at the outset their intention to determine the level of

“scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW)”,

and having listed

“(1) Explicit endorsement with quantification (explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming)”

as the first of seven “levels of endorsement” to which they assigned the 11,944 abstracts, did not state in their paper that they had categorized only 64 out of 11,944 abstracts as having explicitly endorsed the “scientific consensus” as defined. To conceal how very small this number was, they added together all of the abstracts they had assigned to the first three of their seven categories, and did not state the three values separately.

The seven categories or “levels of endorsement” in the Cook paper were –

1 “Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of global warming”

2 “Explicit endorsement without quantification”

3 “Implicit endorsement”

4 “No opinion or uncertain”

5 “Implicit rejection”

6 “Explicit rejection without quantification”

7 “Explicit rejection with quantification”

Mr. Nuccitelli, one of the authors of the Cook paper, has written a posting on the “Skeptical Science” blog in which he sought to justify the discrepancy between the 0.5% of abstracts that Legates et al. had shown the Cook paper had assigned to the “explicit endorsement with quantification” category and the “97.1% based on abstract ratings” that the conclusion of the Cook paper had claimed endorsed the “scientific consensus” as defined:

“The IPCC position (humans causing most global warming) was represented in our categories 1 and 7, which include papers that explicitly endorse or reject/minimize human-caused global warming, and also quantify the human contribution. Among the relatively few abstracts (75 in total) falling in these two categories, 65 (87%) endorsed the consensus view.”

From this series of admissions, it is evident that the authors of the Cook paper are now claiming 87% (not 97.1%) “scientific consensus” – but that they are doing so on the basis of a sample size that has shrunk from 11,944 to just 75 papers, arbitrarily and improperly eliminating 99.4% of the papers in the original sample. No scientific survey or opinion poll with a sample size of less than 1000 would normally be regarded as statistically significant.

Even then, Mr. Nuccitelli’s account of events contains an obvious error. For none of those abstracts that the Cook paper had assigned to categories 5 and 6 (explicit or implicit rejection of the consensus without quantification), as well as none of those in category 7 (explicit rejection with quantification), endorsed the “scientific consensus” as defined.

There were 41 abstracts explicitly endorsing the IPCC’s version of consensus. But there were not only 9 in level 7 but also 54 in level 5 and 15 in level 6. Total sample size was thus only 119 out of 11,944 papers, or just 1% of an already smallish sample of the entire literature.

Accordingly, even on Mr. Nuccitelli’s arbitrary basis, endorsement for the “scientific consensus” as defined was not the 87% he asserts on behalf of his co-authors in the above-cited passage, but just 34.5%. That is little more than one-third of the 97.1% endorsement that the Cook paper had originally claimed for the “scientific consensus” as defined.

Nowhere does the Cook paper make it plain that the sample size on the basis of which the claim of 97.1% endorsement for the “scientific consensus” is made was so tiny.

In an article Study reveals scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, posted at http://www.iop.org/news/13/may/page_60200.html, the Institute of Physics wrote:

“Co-author of the study Mark Richardson, from the University of Reading, said: ‘We want our scientists to answer questions for us, and there are lots of exciting questions in climate science. One of them is: are we causing global warming? We found over 4000 studies written by 10 000 scientists that stated a position on this, and 97 per cent said that recent warming is mostly man made.’”

We can discern no basis for the claim made in the above passage by one of the authors of the Cook paper that 97% of the 4000 papers that had stated a position on the “scientific consensus” had “said that recent warming is mostly man made”. The claim is false.

The central, and irremediable, error in the Cook paper is that the authors, by not adhering scrupulously throughout to the definition of “scientific consensus” that they had stated at the outset was the basis of their inquiry, were implying that if 97.1% of those abstracts that had expressed some sort of an opinion on global warming had said or implied that Man could cause some warming (their categories 5 and 6), those same 97.1% would also say or imply that Man caused at least half the global warming since 1950 (their category 7).

We are disappointed at the authors’ apparent attempt to conceal the fact that they had been able to categorize only a very small number of papers as explicitly endorsing the “scientific consensus” as they had themselves defined it; that, even then, they had miscategorised one-third of the 64 papers they had marked as endorsing that “scientific consensus”; that their methodological defects are numerous and fundamental; that they failed to disclose that their effective sample size was not 11,944 nor even 4000 papers but 119, rendering the entire exercise statistically meaningless; and that one of the co-authors has incorrectly stated in a public scientific forum that 97% of abstracts expressing an opinion on global warming had “said that recent warming is mostly man made”, when only 1% of those expressing an opinion and 0.3% of the entire sample had in fact done so.

One of us wrote a corrective commentary and submitted it to the editor of Environment Research Letters, and, upon request, subsequently shortened and resubmitted the commentary, but received no further reply.

In the circumstances, we now request that the manifestly defective and gravely deceptive Cook paper be withdrawn forthwith. We should be grateful if you would make an early announcement to that effect, and if you would kindly let us know when you have done so.

Yours truly,

Monckton of Brenchley (and, I hope, others)

 

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Here is Monckton’s request letter (added)

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Professor Daniel Kammen, Editor, Environment Research Letters

14 September 2013

Dear Professor Kammen,

 

Request for withdrawal of a gravely misleading paper

 

Please withdraw the gravely misleading paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature (May 15, Environment Research Letters). The paper claimed a 97.1% “scientific consensus” among the abstracts of 11,944 climate change papers published from 1991-2012. The true “consensus” was not 97.1%. It was 0.3%.

The defective paper’s introduction said:

“We examined a large sample of the scientific literature on global CC [the abstracts of 11,944 papers on climate change], published over a 21 year period [1991-2012], in order to determine the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW)”. [my emphases]

The paper’s definition of “scientific consensus” is thus the standard, quantified definition adopted by the IPCC, which, in its Assessment Reports of 2001 and 2007, considered it very likely that most of the 0.7 Cº global warming since 1950 was manmade.

Computerized and manual examination by Legates et al. (2013) of the authors’ data-file, made available only some weeks after the paper had appeared, showed that on that file the authors had marked as few as 64 abstracts out of 11,944 (0.5% of the entire sample) as explicitly endorsing that “scientific consensus” as defined in the introduction to their paper.

Legates et al., on further examining the 64 abstracts, found that only 41 of them, or 0.3% of the entire sample, had in fact explicitly endorsed that “scientific consensus”. However, the defective paper you published concluded with these words:

“Among papers expressing a position on AGW, an overwhelming percentage (97.2% based on self-ratings, 97.1% based on abstract ratings) endorses the scientific consensus on AGW.”

The authors had stated at the outset their intention to determine the level of

 

“scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW)”. [my emphases]

They had listed this standard, quantified definition of “scientific consensus” in their paper as

“(1) Explicit endorsement with quantification (explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming)”, [my emphases]

 

the first of seven “levels of endorsement” to which they assigned the abstracts. Yet they did not disclose in their paper how few abstracts – just 64 – they had marked as having stated support for that standard, quantified “scientific consensus”.

To conceal how very small this number was, they added together all of the abstracts they had assigned to the first three of their seven categories, treating all three categories as one, and did not state the three values separately. An impartial peer reviewer would have spotted this.

The seven categories or “levels of endorsement” listed in the paper, with the abstracts marked on the data file or disclosed in the paper as falling within each category, were –

 

  Level of endorsement of “scientific consensus” in 11,944 abstracts

Marked

Disclosed

       
1 Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of global warming

64

    ┐
2 Explicit endorsement without quantification [We cause some warming]

922

│    3896

3 Implicit endorsement

2910

    ┘
4a No opinion

7930

7930

4b Uncertain

40

40

5 Implicit rejection

54

54

6 Explicit rejection without quantification

15

15

7 Explicit rejection with quantification

9

9

   

  Total

11,944

11,944

One of the authors has sought to justify the discrepancy between the 0.5% of abstracts they marked as “1” (“explicit endorsement with quantification”) and the “97.1% based on abstract ratings” that their conclusion had misrepresented as endorsing the “consensus” as defined:

 

“The IPCC position (humans causing most global warming) was represented in our categories 1 and 7, which include papers that explicitly endorse or reject/minimize human-caused global warming, and also quantify the human contribution. Among the relatively few abstracts (75 in total) [actually 73] falling in these two categories, 65 (87%) [actually 64] endorsed the consensus view.” [my emphases]

The authors, then, are now claiming 87% (not 97.1%) “scientific consensus” – but are doing so on the basis of a sample size that has shrunk from 11,944 to just 73 papers, improperly eliminating 99.4% of the papers in the original sample. No scientific survey or opinion poll with a sample size less than 1000 would normally be recognized as having any meaning.

Even then, none of the abstracts the authors had marked as falling within categories 5-7 could possibly be said to have endorsed the “scientific consensus” as defined.

There were 41 abstracts explicitly endorsing the IPCC’s version of consensus. But, rejecting any anthropogenic influence, there were not only 9 in level 7 but also 54 in level 5 and 15 in level 6. Thus, 78 papers rejected any definition of “scientific consensus”.

Total sample size was thus only 119 out of 11,944 papers, or just 1% of an already smallish literature sample. Nowhere does the paper admit that the sample size on the basis of which the claim of 97.1% (now 87%) endorsement of “scientific consensus” is made was so small.

Even on that author’s newly-proclaimed and strange basis, endorsement for the “scientific consensus” as defined was not the 87% he now asserts but just 41 in 119, or 34.5% – a third of the 97.1% endorsement originally claimed for that “scientific consensus”.

In an article entitled Study reveals scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, posted at http://www.iop.org/news/13/may/page_60200.html, the Institute of Physics cites one of the paper’s authors:

 

“Co-author of the study [name and institution] said: ‘We want our scientists to answer questions for us, and there are lots of exciting questions in climate science. One of them is: are we causing global warming? We found over 4000 studies written by 10 000 scientists that stated a position on this, and 97 per cent said that recent warming is mostly man made.’” [my emphases]

I can discern no rational basis for that author’s claim that 97% of the 4014 abstracts that had stated a position on the “scientific consensus” had “said that recent warming is mostly man made”. The author’s claim, like the claim made in the conclusion of the paper itself, is false.

The authors had not adhered throughout to the definition of “scientific consensus” that their introduction had stated was the basis of their inquiry. They were implying, in effect, that since 97.1% of the 4014 abstracts had stated or implied that Man could cause some warming (categories 2-3), those same 97.1% were also stating or implying that Man caused most of the global warming since 1950 (category 1).

I am disappointed – and so should you be –

  • that the paper had erroneously and gravely over-claimed 97.1% “scientific consensus;
  • that the authors had tried to conceal that they had had categorized only 64 abstracts out of 11,944 as explicitly endorsing the “scientific consensus” as they had defined it;
  • that, even then, the authors had miscategorised 23 of the 64 abstracts as endorsing that “scientific consensus” when the 23 had not in fact endorsed it;
  • that the authors had failed to disclose that their effective sample size was not 11,944 nor even 4014 papers but just 119, rendering the entire exercise meaningless;
  • that, on the basis that one of the authors now says was intended, that author says they had meant 87% consensus (not 97%) among just 73 abstracts (not 4014);
  • that the true “scientific consensus”, after correcting an obvious error in the newly-asserted (and still strange) basis for calculation, would be 34% of just 119 abstracts;
  • that the authors had failed to admit that only 1% of the 4014 abstracts they marked as expressing an opinion had endorsed the “scientific consensus” as they had defined it;
  • that the authors had failed to disclose that only 0.3% of all 11,944 abstracts had endorsed that “scientific consensus”;
  • that the authors had not adhered to a single definition of “scientific consensus”; and
  • that one of the authors, in a public scientific forum, continues in defiance of the truth to assert that 97.1% had “said that recent warming is mostly man made”, when very nearly all of the abstracts had neither stated nor implied any such thing.

The paper you published is not merely defective: it is deceptive. It claims that 97.1% endorsed a “scientific consensus” that at most 1% had endorsed. You cannot let it stand.

I submitted a corrective commentary to you. Upon request, I subsequently shortened and resubmitted the commentary, but I received no further reply.

In the circumstances, to protect your journal’s reputation and those of its Board members from any allegation of scientific misrepresentation, you must withdraw the paper forthwith. Please make an early announcement to that effect, and let me know when you have done so.

Copies go to all members of your board. I await your reply.

Yours truly,

 

cc. Professor Myles Allen                                myles.allen@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Professor Maohong Fan                             mfan@uwyo.edu

Dr. Peter Gleick                                           pgleick@pipeline.com

Dr. Jose Goldemberg                                  cominicacao@iee.usp.br

Professor Giles Harrison                           r.g.harrison@reading.ac.uk

Professor Tracey Holloway                                    taholloway@wisc.edu

Professor Klaus Keller                                klaus@psu.edu

Professor Jakob Mann                               jmsq@dtu.dk

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As Anthony has said, his email is a “fire hose”.
Is there something we should put in the subject to make it easier for him to sort and forward?
Perhaps, “Crowd source complaint”?
Also, some of us don’t comment using our real names. Is our “commenter” name OK?
I’m willing to add my real name via Anthony but some may not be willing. Should the [latter] bother?

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Being a medical doctor, I use an online ekename (“handle”) to avoid distressing both my patients and the institutions with which I’ve become associated over the decades, but Tucci78 does seem to have become uniquely identifiable on the Web.
Does certainly bloat and inflame the spleens of Watermelons whenever I post, doesn’t it?
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By the bye, has anyone a link to Mr. Monckton’s earlier insult-laden response to this barrowload of bullpuckey? I rather enjoy vituperation for its own sake, consider it something of an art form.

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Bob says:
September 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm
I thought Lord Monckton requested emails to Anthony. I need Anthony’s email address. Maybe its just me, but I couldn’t find the address on the page.

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(MODS, if this is wrong, feel free to delete.)
On the title bar click on “About”. You’ll get a pull down. One of the options is “Contact”.
I put “Crowd source complaint” as the subject to make it easier on Anthony.

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