Anthony Watts has put up another promo for Richard Tol (archived here, latest here). Richard is an economist who agrees there is an overwhelming consensus among the experts that global warming is real and caused by human activity. Over the last year or so, however, he's been on a crusade to try to argue that 97% isn't 97% or something.
I've already written how Richard's "arguments" range from the idiotic to the preposterous and have been well and truly demolished. For a more orderly, less snarky and highly readable account, see the paper by John Cook and co where they identified at least 24 major blunders in Richard's silliness.
This time, because there have been a number of articles in the UK Guardian about Richard, his errors in his economic papers and now his "verging on the lunatic" crusade against John Cook and SkepticalScience.com - the Guardian allowed him an article of his own.
Richard contradicts himself
Richard doesn't start off his article too well, contradicting himself right up top, writing:
I show that the 97% consensus claim does not stand up.
At best, Nuccitelli, John Cook and colleagues may have accidentally stumbled on the right number.
It gets worse from that point onward. (If you're on the home page, click here to read on...)
Richard thinks 12,000 is a strange number
Richard's Guardian article is as silly as all the rest of his silliness on the subject. Richard, as you're aware, is an adviser to the UK science-denying lobby group, the GWPF. I don't know if he's acting under Nigel Lawson's instructions or if he's playing the jester all by himself. At one point he wrote:
Cook and co selected some 12,000 papers from the scientific literature to test whether these papers support the hypothesis that humans played a substantial role in the observed warming of the Earth. 12,000 is a strange number. The climate literature is much larger. The number of papers on the detection and attribution of climate change is much, much smaller.
Is Richard Tol that dense or is he deliberately deceitful?
Richard is being, deliberately I presume, deceitful here. (It's hard to imagine he is that dense.)
Firstly he's wrongly implying that Cook and his colleagues went through and themselves included or otherwise the list of abstracts they selected. That isn't correct. There were around 12,000 papers returned from a search of Web of Science, using key terms to filter for papers relating to global warming. Richard is likely to be correct that climate literature is greater than that, though he provides no evidence in the Guardian article.
Secondly he's wrongly acting as if the Cook study was only focused on research about the detection and attribution of climate change. Richard is trying to fool you. Theirs wasn't a study of papers on "the detection and attribution of climate change". What it was, as described in their paper, was an analysis of the extent to which the climate change literature accepted the findings of those detection and attribution studies.
That is an important and fundamental distinction. Richard has been missing this fundamental distinction for months - since the paper first came out, in fact. It's hard to tell if he's really that dense or if he's just acting as a mouthpiece for his denialist masters, the GWPF. In the Guardian article, Richard writes: "Most of the papers they studied are not about climate change and its causes,". No they aren't. And it was never intended that they be so.
The research was looking at the extent to which the scientific literature on climate accepts the basic science - that it's human activity, such as human emissions of CO2, that is causing global warming. It wasn't looking at the basic research itself. Rather, the extent to which the basic science has been accepted by experts in the field. (The equivalent would be looking at the extent to which the scientific literature accepts evolution, or gravity, or the expanding universe, as facts.) As described in the abstract, Cook13 (excerpt):
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming'. 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. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.
Richard and his "tired" theory - the "sleepy scientist syndrome"
I've written before about how Richard claims the abstracts got "tired", mistaking the researchers for market research subjects when if there's any parallel with market research or public polls, it's the abstracts that would have got "tired". This time he goes further. He writes:
There are patterns in the data that suggest that raters may have fallen asleep with their nose on the keyboard.Except that Richard doesn't have any "data" that could possibly show this. He's been playing around with the data, making all sorts of wrong assumptions, in an effort to "prove" not that the results were wrong, but that the method was wrong or that the researchers got sleepy and messed up. (Which would imply that the editors at ERL and the paper's reviewers were also sloppy if not sleepy.)
I think that what might have happened here is that Richard sorted the abstracts by year and within each year, alphabetically by title (or author). He wrongly assumed that the researchers went through the abstracts from oldest to most recent abstract. There was an increasing consensus over time as described in the paper. This was discussed a bit last year on various blogs - and Ridiculous Richard became a laughing stock for this reason alone. The wrongness of his false assumption was pointed out to him by numerous people
Anyway, his claim of "falling asleep" points to utter nuttery. Do researchers generally fall asleep when they are doing their research? If they do, does it mean that all scientific papers suffer from the "sleepy scientist syndrome"?
The method wasn't rocket science. All that happened was that a team of researchers categorised abstracts into one of several categories. There's nothing magic about it. The data is all there. Most of the work has already been done so that had Richard wanted to, he could have by now categorised all the abstracts himself. He would only have had to rate fewer than 32 abstracts a day for the past year and he'd have finished the job. Something he could have done if he'd spent half an hour or so on the task before he went to bed each night. But no - lazy Richard, like many science deniers, finds it easier and less arduous to make completely unfounded and nonsensical statements.
Ridiculous Richard lurches from one flawed assumption....
Richard also goes for more silliness and flawed arithmetic. He wrote:
The data is also ridden with error. By Cook’s own calculations, 7% of the ratings are wrong. Spot checks suggest a much larger number of errors, up to one-third.First of all, the "data" are the abstracts. What I think Richard is trying to argue is that the results are wrong. But he's relying on an erroneous assumption. Papers were rated by two people (at a minimum). Where the two people agreed there was no need for an umpire. Where they disagreed then either they considered it again or a third person looked at the abstract and made the final call. This, obviously, happened mostly with "line-ball" categorisations. For example, was the abstract implicitly accepting AGW or was it explicit. Or was it implicitly accepting AGW or was it neutral. On rare occasions it might be between implicitly accepting humans are responsible for most warming or humans have only a minimal impact on warming. Anyway, it's not John Cook who calculated that 7% of the ratings were "wrong". Indeed the validation by the authors of the papers demonstrated that the Cook13 assessment could hardly have been any closer to actuality - with Cook13 finding a 97.1% consensus and the authors reflecting a 97.2% consensus.
What Richard is basing this on is in his ridiculous paper, where he wrote:
Cook reports “disagreement” on “33% of endorsement ratings”. If errors are random, 18.5% of abstracts were incorrectly rated. That implies that 0.6% of abstracts were identically but incorrectly rated. About half of the discrepancies were solved by reconciliation; the rest was referred to a third rater. Assuming the same error rate in reconciliation and re-rating, 6.7% of ratings are wrong.
First of all, Richard is assuming that "disagreement" can be equated to "wrong". That's not so. It could just as well be that the abstract wasn't clear enough to determine which of (usually two) categories it should be placed in.
Secondly, Richard assumes that "errors are random". Yet there's no basis for that assumption either. It is much more likely that there is less clarity between certain categories than others. For example, whether the abstract indicates implicit acceptance of science or whether it's neutral and doesn't indicate one way or another the position on AGW. In other words, Richard has no grounds for assuming that 18.5% of abstracts were "incorrectly rated".
Thirdly, Richard assumes that abstracts that were resolved by reconciliation or a third rater had "the same error rate". This is a stretch. If both raters agreed in the end, then there is less likely to be an "error". If a third person came in and, in the light of the two prior ratings made a call, then equally there is less likely to be an "error".
That means that Richard's assumed "implication" that 0.6% of all 12,000 or so papers were "incorrectly rated" is flawed. His calculations put an upper limit on the number of ratings that could be in "error" - not an absolute definitive number. Even then it's stretching to say they are in "error". It would be more correct to say the abstract may not make it clear to which category they belong.
...to a flawed analogy: Researchers are thermometers
Ridiculous Richard gets even more ridiculous, lurching from one failed analogy to another. He wrote at the Guardian:
At other times, Cook claims that the raters are not interviewees but interviewers.
The 97% consensus paper rests on yet another claim: the raters are incidental, it is the rated papers that matter. If you measure temperature, you make sure that your thermometers are all properly and consistently calibrated. Unfortunately, although he does have the data, Cook does not test whether the raters judge the same paper in the same way.
He's obviously doubling down on his "abstracts got tired" meme. What Richard's now arguing is that researchers are thermometers. In his analogy it's the abstracts that are the thermometers. The researchers would be the people who report the temperature displayed on the thermometers.
Scientific consensus is irrelevant - every bit of research has to go back to first principles
Consensus is irrelevant in science. There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong. Cook’s consensus is also irrelevant in policy. They try to show that climate change is real and human-made. It is does not follow whether and by how much greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced.
Consensus is hardly irrelevant. If it were then knowledge could never be built upon or added to. Every bit of research would first have to go back and "prove" the knowledge on which it was built. Imagine if a virologist had to "prove" the existence and role of DNA and RNA before being able to publish a new paper on virology. Imagine if every astronomer had to "prove" that earth existed within a larger universe before writing up research on black holes.
As for policy not being based on the scientific wisdom of the day - imagine if policy makers said that about public health. How would Ridiculous Richard feel if cities went back to open sewers? How would he feel if governments removed any requirement for hand-washing from hospital accreditation? Perhaps he'll be arguing for the tobacco lobbyists next - although he's missed the boat there.
From the WUWT comments
Although most of this article is pointing out the ridiculousness of Ridiculous Richard at the Guardian, Anthony Watts pointed his readers to the article too. So let's see what they think about it all. There aren't too many comments yet.
June 6, 2014 at 10:28 pm
Tol’s dedication is impressive.
Perhaps I shouldn't pick on the simpletons, but I will. norah4you writes some gibberish and says:
June 6, 2014 at 11:27 pm
There never ever been a consensus of 97% scientists among scholars who knows and live up to Theories of Science.
But what’s worse for those who still believes that academic titles no matter in what subject or a high degree or a Professor’s title show proof when and if a concensus ever happens,
what’s worse for them is that they all show complete lack of knowledge of differences in using Fallacies in argumentation which they show above all, on one side and true facts leading up to valid arguments permitting a sound conclusions. One isn’t the other and vice versa……
Charles Nelson knows that Richard Tol is one of those nasty "alarmists" and says:
June 7, 2014 at 12:00 am
They’re starting to scratch each other’s eyes out now.
When a single discordant note is heard in that hallowed choir that is The Guardian, you sense that end times are nearing for CAGW!
Siberian Hussey and Rusty Bed-springs won’t like the dissent, they won’t like it one little bit!
NikFromNYC is a known paranoid conspiracy nutter. This time he says:
June 7, 2014 at 12:10 am
There is a sociopathic consensus.
Stephen Richards (and Sandi) doesn't realise that Cook13 was a review of the scientific literature, not a primarily poll of scientists (although there was a validation done by asking scientists to assess their own papers), and says:
June 7, 2014 at 1:08 am
Sandi says: June 7, 2014 at 12:38 am The real scientists are the ones who knew better than to reply to Cook’s survey.
They are the cowards that allow the scam to continue.
Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs, and Andrew Skuce. "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature." Environmental Research Letters 8, no. 2 (2013): 024024. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024
Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Andy Skuce, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs, Rob Painting, Rob Honeycutt, Sarah A. Green, Stephan Lewandowsky and Alexander Coulter. "24 Critical Errors in Tol (2014)." Skeptical Science (2014)