I attended John Cook’s talk at the University of Bristol Victoria rooms last night at 6 PM. Besides myself, about 20 other climate skeptics also attended the talk, making up about 25% of what I saw to be about a 75% filled room. The talk itself was rather uneventful; there was really nothing new discussed and in fact the only new thing that I saw in Mr. Cook’s presentation is what you see in the photo above, which is an excerpt from a news pundit episode called “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver.
Here is the video of that segment presented by Cook in full. The part on climate skeptic starts at about 50 seconds in and completes the entire segment. I don’t think Mr. Cook understands that this video, while referencing his infamous 97% contentious claim, makes the 97% look like a gang of bullies. See for yourself:
While this is obviously satire it was presented in parallel with other information that was considered by Mr. Cook to be scientific. I found this juxtaposition very odd, since it essentially disagreed with Cook’s own position on the public viewpoint percentages as well as trivializing and debasing the debate.
I took photos of every slide that Mr. Cook put up last night and I thought about repeating a number of them here but there really is no point since we’ve seen all of them before, having drawn them from his skeptical science website and from his publications. I will place up this one photo though it demonstrates that the parody video above and John Cook’s own assessment of the public levels of skepticism differ significantly:
First I wish to thank the people of the Cabot Institute for their assistance to me related to my hearing impairment. They went above and beyond to make sure that I was accommodated and were most gracious, and I am most appreciative. Second, I wish to thank the WUWT readership at large for assistance in getting me here in the first place.
Third, the event was quiet and reserved. There were no protest signs, and skeptics made no disturbances. In fact, there were no verbal clashes of any sort that I witnessed and overall it was a pleasant event as these events go.
John Cook himself made it a point to come up and introduce himself to me before the talk began. Actually he sat down right next to me in the front row seat that was reserved for made by the Cabot Institute people. I had not wanted to approach him because my goal was simply to observe and not to cause any sorts of disruptions and I didn’t know the in introducing myself would be seen as such.
We chatted about travel, family, and other pleasantries, and I found him to be pleasant and reserved as well as treating me with courtesy. Such types of meetings face-to-face are quite different from what one would expect to see in written commentary or blog chatter. There was no hint of condescension between either of us and we left on pleasant terms.
This sort of meeting underscores what I feel is the need for more one-on-one conversations. It is very easy to demonize your opponent from a distance on social media ( or as some might call it unsocial media) however, meeting one face-to-face humanizes your differences. Barry Woods who was there spoke of this effect in his dealings with the editors of the Frontiers Journal. He said he was unable to make any headway with e-mail exchanges but that when he spoke with the editors personally all of a sudden understandings were forged. We all owe Barry a debt of gratitude for his efforts in helping to get the “Recursive Fury” paper retracted.
I cannot say the same however for Prof. Lewandowski who was also there last night. He was aware of my presence and made no effort at contact nor did I. After what I consider glaring breaches of professional and personal ethics in his taunting (and now retracted) “Recursive Fury” paper I don’t think I would be able to have a civil conversation with him, so it was probably for the best that we did not engage in a conversation.
The question-and-answer period was quite interesting, with the majority of questions coming from skeptical commenters. One question that caught my attention was a gentleman who suggested to Mr. Cook that his viewpoint “reduced the question of climate change to a binary yes or no issue when in fact the issue is far more complex with many shades of gray”.
As the title indicates I’ll leave this forum open for those in attendance last night to relate their own experiences in the Q&A session to the comments section below which I will add to the body of this essay.
After the talk, about 20 climate skeptics walked over to Channing’s free house and made merry, taking over a good portion of the tables. With a much reduced group we later went to a second pub of which I cannot recall the name.
I thank everyone who was there for their kind words and for keeping a drink in my hand. Though this morning as I write this in a somewhat British fog I will say that my thanks while sincere are now somewhat muted 🙂
For those who attended, feel free to leave your own impressions of the event below, and I’ll add to the body of the essay.
Here are the comments from attendees:
Bloke down the pub
September 20, 2014 at 3:39 am
I think my impressions of the evening were pretty close to yours. Your comment on being able to talk one on one does strike a chord. I felt the frustrating part was knowing that many of the warmists or neutrals in the audience would have accepted as fact what Cook was saying, where one on one contact would have allowed weaknesses in the argument to be pointed out. I’m glad you had a good evening and I enjoyed meeting you and so many other names from here who I can now put a face to. Hopefully the Mann event will go as well.
September 20, 2014 at 4:35 am
I agree with Anthony’s comments.
Cook tried to elicit from the audience their understanding of the physical basis of anthropogenic global warming and claimed to have received it from the answers given. However I do not recall the role of water vapour being mentioned from the platform or the floor and the slide he put up to show the answer implied that all the anthropogenic warming came from Carbon Dioxide only. If this were true there would be no significant warming. IPCC 1991 SPM says:
“The main greenhouse gas water vapour, will increase in response to global warming and further enhance it”
The entire AGW scare is based upon the assumption that a positive feedback mechanism exists where more warming produces more water vapour and that produces more warming etc. This mechanism, on which I could say more and the role of the atmosphere was not mentioned. ‘Pathetic’ was my overall impression.
I am glad that I did not have to pay for my ticket but was amply rewarded by the pleasure of meeting Anthony and so many good friends.
September 20, 2014 at 6:49 am
My impression, apart from agreeing with what Anthony and others said about the presentation, was that whilst the sceptic questions were very good, Cook’s slick technique was to say to each one words to the effect of ‘that’s a very good question’ – and then go on to give, like a good pollie, the answer to the question he would have preferred had been asked, so in effect, answered nothing satisfactorily, while giving the impression to those not in the know that he had.
The other thing that was very noticeable was at the end, there was a queue waiting to meet Anthony, while Cook and Lewandowsky were ignored on the whole. Anthony was indisputably the star of the evening, despite not having uttered a single (public) comment.
September 20, 2014 at 7:33 am
I attended this talk as a non-expert “believer” in AGW. My position mostly arises from being science-minded skeptic (in the untarnished sense). I have a good understanding of the scientific process/establishment (both its strengths and weaknesses), combined with an understanding politics, economics, ideology and psychology etc. that makes the world tick.
From the materials I’ve read over a few years (from both sides) I’ve found myself persuaded that the “basic science” is settled i.e. the climate is warming and we are largely responsible. So much so that’s I’ve lost interest in that area somewhat.
Back to the talk: What I got from it was that it’s ^this message (the message on “basic science”) which is still muddled in the public’s minds. Didn’t seem that controversial, given the history we have with trying to get the public to understand all sorts of complex issues over the decades (smoking, vaccinations etc)
I was very surprised at the end of the talk then, to find the majority of audience questions coming from staunch opponents to the thesis that Cook was putting forward! As I have since found out it there were a lot of WUWT readers in attendance ready to ask challenging questions 🙂
As usual in these types of confrontations (where “tribes” seemed wilful to misinterpret) it seems half the questions missed the point, and half the answers avoided the questions :-/ Cook himself mostly handled the questions without panic or aggression which I believe is the right approach. I think he himself said he thought taking on difficult questions but remaining civil was best for everybody. Not that he rebutted them to the extent I would have liked but.
After the Q&A I listened-in to an brief debate between a couple of skeptics and non-skeptics. Given how prepared, passionate and knowledgeable the skeptics seemed I was impressed and surprised to find one of non-skeptics to be equally so (a relief). Sadly we were ushered out of the room before the debate could make much headway.
I had a brief chat with a few of the skeptics and they all seemed like perfectly nice blokes (if a little too eager to exposes the history injustices against their cause!), and although I didn’t have much time it struck me very quickly that all sides seemed to agree on the “basic science” question. (Yet given that, I’m still confused why they come across as seeming so keen still to “prove the [basic] science wrong”?? Supposedly I was told that’s only a fringe group… but then squabbling soon return to whether its 0.3 or 0.15 degrees. I’m sure 6 or 7 years ago they were arguing over whether it was positive or negative…hmmm).
The real disagreements then seemed to come down to risk and policy…which I think are perfectly justified areas of debate (And often areas where science cannot give answers). I’m personally not aware or convinced that higher temperatures are bad. I can see there being potential upsides and downsides to climate change. And there are always costs in taking both action and inaction. I’ve not read the risk assessments but I can imagine this stuff is very difficult to assess so I can seem room for ideology to creeps in. Again I generally am in favour of low carbon as it has lots of other benefits (I like efficiency and don’t like smog) but then building solar farms in drizzly Cornwall doesn’t seem that smart to me either…. but disagreeing on this stuff doesn’t make one side “idiots” or not! There are genuinely justifiable yet alternative positions sensible people can hold on this stuff.
Like Anthony Watts says, I think the humanizing effect of face-to-face communication is vitally important and I’m glad that was able to happen last night and I hope it continues.
September 20, 2014 at 7:33 am
Hi Anthony, it was good to meet you yesterday evening.
The way I saw Cook’s performance was, very well prepared, and had slides to back up any possible/likely questions from sceptics. The title of the presentation, “Dogma vs consensus: Letting the evidence speak on climate change, was rather apt, I thought. He presented 100% dogma, and 97.4% consensus. My only problem was the evidence, which was not convincing and “cherry picked”.
I don’t believe that dogma or consensus is always right, and of course has been proven wrong historically. The consensus thought the world was flat, until proved wrong. The consensus thought the sun revolved around the Earth, until proved wrong. The consensus thought tectonic plates did not exist, until proved wrong.
I thought his temperature graph about the pause, and saying global warming is still happening was interesting, starting in 1970 up till about 2010. As depicted on the chart “cherry picked”, he was right it was.
I never understand why they aren’t honest with temperature records. Using CET data, I know it’s not global, I know it wasn’t all that accurate in early years but it is the longest instrumental record we have. It reflects past temperatures much more accurately than the use of proxy data. If they were honest, they would tell everyone, the temperature has only risen 0.8DegC in 353 years. It also shows a cooling trend for the last 21 years. It is not surprising the temperature has been rising since the record commenced just after the coldest part of the LIA; it is the difference in the amount of rise and cause of the rise they suggest with which I argue.
Natural variation is vast, from an ice free planet to a snowball Earth (140 Deg C difference).
When I asked about how they measure temperatures in the deep oceans I was hoping to add, and how accurate and how long have we been measuring them, but didn’t get the opportunity.
In summary, yes it was all dogma, yes the 97.4% consensus was mentioned consistently, but the real evidence was not there.
Many thanks to the Cabot Institute for putting on this lecture.
Have a good weekend, and see you next week.
September 20, 2014 at 8:17 am Edit
It was great to finally meet you in person Anthony, along with many other sceptics it was my first time meeting face to face. It was only a shame I couldn’t stick around for longer as I had to get the last coach back to London.
I greatly admire your calm and restraint in the face of people like Cook. I’m finding it increasingly harder to rein my temper in with these people and for you to be able to do so in the face of an astronomically higher number of slings and arrows coming your way than I’ll ever have to bear means you’re a far better man than I.
Cooks’ talk for me was highly offensive and equally laughable (and I did laugh). He happily struts around as a purveyor of the belief in some “conspiracy” of “d*niers” that I’ve yet to meet or encounter one member of, or anyone who vaguely resembles them. This would not be nearly so bad for the fact that he, Lewandowsky and others are able to provide work that is of such poor quality, if not outright fraudulent that is not only accepted by the academic establishment, but they are actively rewarded for it at the highest level with plaudits, fame, money.
Cook’s presentation was a long dribble of one fact-free ridiculous claim about “d*niers” after another and I find it both surreal and disturbing that it is (and was) not laughed out of the room by the numerous Bristol academics that were present. I’ve become utterly embittered by climate “science”, and the normalisation of this kind of activist-science in institutions that are supposed to be guardians of integrity and truth. It’s a disease that is now rapidly encroaching on other areas – as ably demonstrated by Lewandowsky’s pernicious influence now being felt in psychology and the social sciences.
I don’t see this situation improving any time soon. As a result, I’m most likely going to be departing academia in utter disgust, and returning to the private sector. I have a thin list of departments and researchers in the UK I’d be willing to work for in an academic setting, however those people have a foot in the real world where they actually have to deliver, and to deliver something substantial at that. Their work contrasts sharply with much of the “research” I’ve been embarrassed to even be in just the proximity of at the institutions I have worked at – it has mostly been vague hand wavy stuff that the taxpayer is gouged for. The covenant there is broken to my mind, even before the toxic reach of activist-science is felt.
The fact that Cook et al, quite literally, draw a cartoon version of sceptics that they then proceed to “engage” with was made clear – yet again – when myself and Barry Woods were accosted by three students who demanded to know who we were. It is becoming increasingly tedious to go through the exact same motions every time – they are shocked to the core to find out that our main objections, as sceptics, are focused on the catastrophism and the feedbacks and that many of our positions are, if not identical, at least compatible with the IPCC. It is truly depressing and sad to realise that they don’t seem to be aware that Cook’s presentation, explaining how to “inoculate” people against “d*nialist propaganda” is itself a masterclass in propaganda. They’re going to be equally shocked every time they meet a sceptic in person until they realise that just because someone is on stage, just because they have fame and just because they have “Dr” in front of their name, does not make them a paragon of integrity.
All bar one of the points made from the floor to Cook were challenging in some respect to his – and the general alarmist’s – perspective. From my POV he airily dismissed all of them and implied strongly at the end that they should be ignored because they were obviously coming from this super sekrit conspiracy of “d*niers”.
For my part, I followed straight up on his complaining about the petition project. He said it should be ignored because most of the people who signed it, whilst many may be academics and researchers, were not climate scientists. Bizarrely he singled out ‘someone with a PhD in Computer Science’ as an example of someone who should not be trusted with regard to their opinion on climate science. I put it to him that his paper on “consensus” should be retracted on multiple grounds. One of which was that – in contrast to what he had just been saying – many of the papers listed in supposed support of “the consensus” were not only written by non-climate scientists, they also had nothing to do with climate science. I listed off some of the many examples identified by José Duarte , including papers on housing associations, television news coverage, cooking stoves, asthma, opinion polls etc etc.
Cook’s response? Er – that ‘proved his point’ apparently, because it “showed consensus across subject areas”. WTF?
A couple of Cook’s responses to others are highly notable however, and should definitely be recorded for posterity. In response to a questioner who pointed out that most objections regard catastrophism Cook said that the “consensus” was not about impending catastrophe but climate disruption. Not only do I think that is a fascinating shifting of the goal posts, but I’d also really like to know how he quantifies that because as most of us here area aware in terms of “extreme weather” the IPCC “consensus” certainly does not support this assertion.
A second response was, I think, in answer to the point from the floor about the issue not being black and white. Cook acknowledged that there are large swathes of the debate that remain unsettled – a point that seems to get people branded as a “d*nier” over at Sceptical Séance and then banned.
All in all the whole experience was more of the same and the best part by far was meeting some other sceptics in the pub.
Oh I should also mention that Cook is launching a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on “Making Sense of Climate Science D*nial”
September 20, 2014 at 8:46 am
I was at the meeting too. However, I must have missed the message about getting to Channings so had a lonely evening 🙁 followed by a trip back to Suffolk today. I didn’t recognize anybody, there was no obvious gang-formation, and there were no name-tags! I was expecting much more in the way both of the “science” and a useful or even lively debate afterwards. Instead it was just pie-charts with “97%” and that irritating graphic “how skeptics see global warming” repeating endlessly. Except for the mewling kittens, I found nothing new in the talk at all: it was just like the website, but with pop-up cartoons and added 3D. I don’t think Cook understands at all that the CAGW hypothesis has transformed into a religion. Banging on about how 97% of Catholics believe that the Pope exists isn’t going to win back any converts to the warmist cause. The Q&A session revealed more and more that the CAGW message these days is just a collection of soundbites without any joined-up message. Any sceptical comment was simply met with variations on “Read IPCC Chapter 4 Verse 3″: “and the seas shall be uplifted and the unbelievers shall be drowned”. I bet they have more exciting meetings at the Malvern Contract Bridge Club.
The only interesting part was being met with the pamphleteers asking me to support the LBGT March Against Climate Change and the walk home. During the walk I was struck by (compared to Suffolk) the disparity of life-styles in this bastion of LibDem country and Bristol Universty: every corner, closed shop entrance and cash-point was festooned with street-beggars asking for “change” from the passing latte-sippers and sushi-eaters. Amazingly, nobody blamed the train disruption (unprecedented flash-floods on the Lonodon-Bristol line) on “climate change”.
Anyone going to the Mann talk? Is there a pre-meeting beer or a post-meeting curry?
September 20, 2014 at 9:49 am
It was great to meet Anthony last night, along with many others.
I concur with Anthony’s comments above, except that the questions were nearly all from skeptics, not just a majority. The most pointed pro-consensus question was towards the end, on why most of the questions were coming from skeptics, when most of those in the room seem to be from the other side.
Of the talk, I would also add a final slide was adapted John Cook’s flickering “escalator” temperature graph from his website – only last night it had cherries on with the “cherry-picking”. It was left flickering away for about 15 minutes.
The link is at http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47
This shows something important. A number of climate skeptics went to listen to someone who grossly misrepresents and maligns our views. There was no heckling, no abusive language or cross words – put there were pointed questions that were mostly met with politician-style answers. From John Cook there was not even a hint of an acknowledgement that the range of skeptical views posted at WUWT, and elsewhere, may have a hint of credibility to them. Rather than try to engage and understand other viewpoints, he makes up something totally false.
The gatherings in the pubs, before and after, were a complete contrast. We “skeptics” have a huge range of different views, but we listened and debated over the beer and cider.
Kevin Marshall – Manicbeancounter
September 20, 2014 at 10:03 am Edit
I felt Cook’s assertions about the 97% figure were laughable. He was obviously facing a more-than-usually cynical audience. He struck me as the “Alex Salmond” of climate science, articulate, but not reliable.
Nice to meet you, Anthony.
One of the slides in the Cook talk was about crossing a bridge and the 97%. The meme is typically phrased like this:
97% of engineers say a bridge will collapse, 3% say not to worry – would you still drive over it?