97% Climate consensus ‘denial’: the debunkers again not debunked

moncktonOn Watts Up With That (WUWT) another attempt at discrediting the scientific consensus paper by Cook et al. was made, this time by Christopher Monckton (archived here). An attempt I’m not exactly impressed by. But before I go into that I’ll provide some context about the Cook et al. paper.

What the Cook et al. paper did was examine 11,944 abstracts from papers that were published from 1991 to 2011 that included the words “global climate change” or “global warming” in their abstract. What they found after analysing these abstracts is that among those that expressed a position on global warming, 97% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

They also contacted 8,547 authors to ask if they could rate their own papers and got 1,200 responses, which meant that 2,142 papers were also rated by their authors on their endorsement level. The results for this again found that 97% of the selected papers stated that humans are causing global warming. This was done to determine that there wasn’t any sort of inherent problem in the rating system used and this seems to indicate that.

In both cases, the self rated papers and the abstract ratings, papers were counted as endorsing that humans are causing global warming if they fell in the first three categories of the following seven that were used:

  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”

And here’s where the problem starts with what Monckton wrote on Watts Up With That:

There were 43 abstracts explicitly endorsing the IPCC’s version of consensus. But there were 54 in level 5; 15 in level 6; and 9 in level 7. Total sample size was thus a not exactly significant 121 out of 11,944 papers, or just 1% of what was already a smallish sample of the entire literature. So the consensus, on their own dopey basis, is not the 97% they originally published, nor even the 87% they now claim, but a mere 35.5%.

Now this is bit hard to follow as a lot of numbers are mentioned and he jumps around a bit with the points he makes. But what Monckton is saying here is that if you only count the papers from categories one and two (rejecting the largest endorsement category 3), then compare that to the number of papers that reject the consensus (category 5 to 7), you only get a consensus of 35.5% compared to his total of 121 papers. Which is only 1% endorsement if you compare it against all papers, which includes papers that don’t state a position. But those are not the numbers the paper states in its results.

Monckton is also the co-author of a paper that claims that the Cook et al. paper found a consensus of 0.3% based on comparing the papers that “actually” endorse that humans are the primary cause of global warming against the total amount of papers.

All these comparisons made by Monckton to lower the scientific consensus percentage are meaningless. You can’t compare papers that state no position on global warming with those that do. It’s nonsensical as the papers that don’t state a position often are researching an entirely different question/subject in climatology.

Take for example a literature search on HIV to answer the question if HIV causes AIDS. When you do this you won’t only get papers that talk about this link, the majority will talk about something entirely different. For example how HIV is being tested as a possible carrier of genetic material in gene therapy (don’t worry, it doesn’t contain the RNA of HIV so it can’t cause AIDS). A very interesting topic and very promising for helping people with genetic disorders, but it doesn’t tell you if HIV causes AIDS. This simple analogy shows how asinine the reasoning is that Monckton uses.

But the biggest flaw is that you can use this very same reasoning against Monckton. If you take for example the papers that explicitly reject that humans are causing global warming based on the abstract rating you get the number of 0.08%. That’s based on 9 papers explicitly rejecting that humans are causing global warming. Against 41 abstract that explicitly state that humans are causing it.

These are the numbers from the paper “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change” of which Monckton is a co-author. His own numbers destroy his argument and show how ridiculous it is how he calculates these percentages. The numbers for the papers rejecting the consensus are minuscule compared to the already tiny numbers Monckton calculated for papers endorsing the consensus:


These attacks aimed at the Cook et al. paper aren’t about honestly discussing the results and raising legitimate criticism. Like I said in my previous blog post on the Cook et al. paper it’s more about discrediting a paper that gives a result that is easy to communicate to the public; a result that is also very easy to understand. Which is probably the reason this paper has struck a nerve among climate science deniers.

Which brings me to the real reason I’m again talking about the Cook et al. paper. What motivated me was the language Monckton uses throughout his blog post:

Cook et al., paid schoolboy interns in propaganda studies at Queensland Kindergarten, are not pleased with Legates et al. (2013), written by grown-ups, which demonstrated that the kids, surveying the abstracts of 11,944 papers on global climate change published from 1991-2012, had marked only 64 abstracts out of 11,944 as explicitly endorsing the IPCC’s version of consensus.

And he says for example the following about other papers that measure the scientific consensus:

You’re going to like this: for the tiny tots’ desperation is hilariously self-evident. Their please-sir-me-too paper says it found exactly the same “97%” “consensus” as two earlier laughable and long-discredited head-count surveys, Doorstop & Zimmerframe (2009) and Scrambledegg et al. (2010).

Changing the names of scientists to call them “Doorstop” (Doran), Zimmerframe (Zimmerman), and Scrambledegg (Anderegg) is extremely childish. He calls everyone that worked on the Cook et al. paper “zit-faces”, “tiddlers”, “teenies”, and “tiny tots”, basically calling them children at every opportunity. While being as snarky and belittling as possible towards them. The whole post written by Monckton is chock-full of these kinds of personal attacks and he hurls insult after insult towards those that he’s critical about.

The reason this annoys me so is because he said the following during a debate held on the 19th of July in 2011 at the National Press Club of Australia:

First of all, ladies and gentlemen of the press, I hope that you would regard us as conducting a civilised debate here and I should certainly like, at this point, to pay tribute to my opponent in this debate, who has conducted himself in an entirely civilised fashion and I’m going to try to do the same. So can we give him a round of applause.


Now I am concerned that three weeks before I arrived in Australia, one of your journalists said that climate sceptics should be branded with tattoos. I am concerned that two weeks before I came to Australia, one of your journalists, on a leading national newspaper, in that national newspaper, said that climate sceptics should be gassed. Now I wonder what kind of a regime it was that used to do that to its opponents?

And what I’m particularly concerned about, ladies and gentlemen of the press, is that you have quite rightly called me out for a single, inadvertent, crass remark for which I have completely and abjectly and humbly and unreservedly apologised – and I renew that apology now – and yet you have not asked your own number, who have done similar things – in fact worse things – to apologise.

And Andrew, you say you work for the West Australian. Was this the paper whose headline, a couple of weeks ago, was Ban the Lord, with a large picture of me?


Was that a civilised tone? I’m not sure that it was.

So let us all agree that in future this debate should be conducted at a more scientific level.

After saying that about being civil towards each other and that the public debate should focus “at a more scientific level” he then has the audacity to ignores all that and goes after opponents personally. This is exactly the reason why I said that he isn’t the person that should lecture anyone on civility in public discourse. Especially considering how nasty he sometimes is, and he can be far more insensitive and nasty than he was in the article on Watts Up With That.

I already was of the opinion that you can basically dismiss anything Monckton says because almost every single time he says something about climatology he’s wrong. A position I reached after examining the claims he made during a debate that was held at the National Press Club of Australia.

Now I can’t take him serious any more on anything outside of climatology. Simply because he can’t stay civil when he says he will, yet he demands it from others.

Update 2014-04-12 @ 8:21
Corrected a mistake in the figures Monckton used in his WUWT blog post and edited it for clarity.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.