Monday, April 11, 2016

The illogic of deniers: David Legates on the 971 vs 20 in a thousand abstracts

Sou | 4:16 PM Go to the first of 26 comments. Add a comment
David Legates is a Professor at the University of Delaware who somewhere along the way managed to get a tenured position. I don't know what he teaches or if he's allowed to get anywhere near students - his profile gives not a clue. However he spends some of his time writing articles for climate conspiracy blogs. Today he's written an article for WUWT (archived here) where he's making wild and wrong claims about consensus studies. That is, about studies that show that almost all scientific papers that attribute a cause to global warming attribute it to human activity. David tells outright lies and also builds a few men of straw along the way.

971 in a thousand vs 20 in a thousand

Let's get the numbers from the Cook13 study. Did you know that Cook13 found that since 1991, there were less than 7 abstracts out of every thousand, that disputed humans are the main cause of global warming? That's not how it's presented in Cook13 though. In that paper they properly looked at the numbers only in the context of abstracts in which a position was expressed. In Cook13 the researchers categorised 4,014 papers that expressed a position on the cause of the current global warming.

Here are the results - if you're a gambler you might be interested:
  • Human cause - 971 out of every thousand: the vast majority, 3896 of the 4014 abstracts or 97.1% attributed at least 50% of the warming to human activity
  • Disputing human cause - less than 20 out of every thousand: only 78 of the 4014 abstracts or less than 2 out of every 100 disputed human activity as the predominant cause
  • Uncertain cause - 10 out of every thousand: only 40 of the 4014 abstracts or only 1 out of every 100 showed that the authors were uncertain as to the predominant cause.

David Legates makes much of the fact that of the 11,944 abstracts categorised, 2/3 did not express a position on the predominant cause of global warming. That's like claiming that we aren't sure if germs can cause disease because not every paper on disease expresses a position on germ theory. If David wants to go there, then let's see how many out of the 11,944 abstracts disputed human activity. Out of all 11,944 abstract it's less than one in a hundred, only 0.65 out of every 100 papers (0.65%) that disputed human activity causes global warming.

David Legates has no excuse for lying

David also tells a lot of lies. For example he wrote: "...Cook and colleagues asserted that 97.1% endorsed their hypothesis that humans are the sole cause of recent global warming." No they didn't. What they were looking at wasn't any sole cause of recent global warming. The categories were based on 50% or more of global warming. It's attribution papers that have found that human activity is the cause of probably all the global warming since 1950 (and some of it prior to 1950).

Is David Legates a liar by nature? Can you believe anything he says on any subject? I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. How he's kept his job at the university is a quirk of the academic system no doubt.

In this case David has no excuse for telling lies. He can't claim that he didn't read the Cook13 paper, because he even coauthored a paper with the potty peer about it, which he got published in some obscure journal.

What David Legates won't admit to deniers

Thing is, as with almost all of the deniers' rants complaining about papers that look over the literature of climate change, David Legates:
  • doesn't say what he thinks has caused the warming
  • doesn't point out that over the past 20 years there were less than 20 in a thousand abstracts that disputed human activity as the main cause (and probably less today)
  • doesn't do his own research to determine what proportion of scientific papers show that human activity is causing global warming vs disputing it
  • doesn't say what he thinks is causing global warming. 
Ergo, David Legates is a science denier not a scientist and his university shouldn't be wasting public money on his employment. (Did I mention it's against his pseudo-religion to "believe in" climate science? He's a member of the Cornwall Alliance cult.)

David Legates draws on consensus to dispute the value of consensus

Here is some more illogic from David Legates. He draws on consensus to dispute the value of consensus:
Moreover, consensus and votes have no place in science. History is littered with theories that were long denied by “consensus” science and politics: plate tectonics, germ theory of disease, a geocentric universe. They all underscore how wrong consensus can be.
How does David know about plate tectonics? Is he arguing that this is real despite few scientists supporting the notion, or is he arguing that it's real because there is a scientific consensus supported by lots of evidence?

How does he know that the germ theory of disease is real? It's not his subject area. So either he's arguing that it's real because there is a consensus or perhaps he's arguing it's real despite all the medicos saying it's nonsense.

As for him putting forward the geocentric universe in the same category as germ theory and plate tectonics - why does David Legates think that the Earth is the centre of the universe? That is not the scientific consensus. I'll leave that one for you to ponder.

Consensus has every place in scientific knowledge. Without consensus every piece of scientific research would have to start from scratch. There'd be no progress. No knowledge to build upon. (Before finding a genetic cause of a particular disability, every bit of research would first have to repeat scientific experiments to show that traits can be inherited, and how.)

David Legates' illogic on dangerous climate change

David's article has more contradictions. He wrote this strange inconsistent passage:
As for climate change being dangerous, this is pure hype based on little fact. Mile-high rivers of ice burying half of North America and Europe were disastrous for everything in their path, as they would be today. Likewise for the plummeting global temperatures that accompanied them. An era of more frequent and intense hurricanes would also be calamitous; but actual weather records do not show this.
First he says that climate change being dangerous is "pure hype". Then to support his conjecture he gives examples of climate change that would be considered very dangerous to human civilisation were it to happen today. Does he read what he writes? Does he know that the "mile high rivers of ice" in the last glacial maximum happened when the global mean surface temperature was perhaps 3°C to 5°C cooler than pre-industrial? There is every reason to be concerned that a rise of 3°C to 5°C above pre-industrial will also have disastrous consequences.

Alarmism from David Legates

David Legates is an alarmist. He wrote a strawman, as if he ever cared for anything but his science denial:
It would be far more deadly to implement restrictive energy policies that condemn billions to continued life without affordable electricity – or to lower living standards in developed countries – in a vain attempt to control the world’s climate. In much of Europe, electricity prices have risen 50% or more over the past decade, leaving many unable to afford proper wintertime heat, and causing thousands to die.
David provides no evidence that higher electricity prices have caused "thousands" to die. Nor does he mention the 70,000 who died in European heat waves this century.

Logic and simple arithmetic

I won't bother with the WUWT comments. They are all over the place. Instead I'll talk about how deniers typically fail logic. They want to have their cake and eat it too. Here's a logic question for you. If you were presented with 1,000 coloured blocks:-
  • 500 red
  • 383 blue
  • 17 purple
  • 97 white 
  • 1 black 
  • 1 mottled white and black
  • 1 striped white and black. 
Q1: You were asked what percentage of blocks having the colour white and/or black in them were pure white, would you answer:
  1. 9.7%
  2. 62%
  3. 97%
  4. 100%
Q2: Then you were asked what percentage of blocks having the colour white and/or black in them were striped white and black, would you answer:
  1. 0.01%
  2. 1%
  3. 10%
  4. 100%
Using the logic displayed at WUWT, deniers would answer A for Q1 and wouldn't even look at Q2. They'd not consider it, though if pushed they'd be yearning to answer D.

For all the clever and not-so-clever people, you can answer the questions here, with some variations :) [Added by Sou after comments below.]

References and further reading

John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A Green, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs and Andrew Skuce 2013 Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024 (open access)

Annan, J. D., and J. C. Hargreaves. "A new global reconstruction of temperature changes at the Last Glacial Maximum." Climate of the Past 9, no. 1 (2013): 367-376. doi:10.5194/cp-9-367-2013 (open access)

Summer heat wave arrives in Europe - article by Tom Tom Di Liberto at NOAA, July 2015

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. I think the "sceptical" approach would be to argue ad nauseam about whether black is a colour or not and avoid answering the question.

    1. And mottled is not a colour ...

    2. Ha ha. Evidence that it always pays to pilot surveys :)

    3. Alright - you can answer the questions here, with some variations :)

    4. As any perceptual psychologist can tell you black and white are the same thing.


  2. Your reference to the article 'Summer heat wave arrives in Europe' - is the attribution incorrect? The header says 'Tom di Liberto'.

    1. Thanks Bob. A senior's moment. I had Legates on the brain :(

  3. "David provides no evidence that higher electricity prices have caused "thousands" to die. Nor does he mention the 70,000 who died in European heat waves this century."

    A far, far bigger killer than all of this is the air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. That kills tens of thousands of UK citizens every year.

  4. About 2,000 full papers were rated by the scientists who wrote them, and the data were released in 2013:

    Critics have been repeatedly pointed towards these data.

    They show (1) that the 97 % is robust, according to the scientists who wrote the papers, and (2) Cook's abstract rating method is conservative and underestimates the strength of endorsement by full papers.

    For example, of the 2,136 ratings released there, the Cook ratings said that 1,339 abstracts did not discuss the cause. According to the authors though, 757 of those papers did discuss cause (perhaps in the non-abstract text). Cook et al. missed 20 rejection papers here, but also 737 endorsements. The consensus among them was 97.4 %.

    Critics like Legates imply that there's no consensus based on abstracts that don't clearly discuss the cause. Firstly, the scientists who wrote the papers with those abstracts report a 97 % consensus among full papers. And secondly this is silly. Look at a bunch of maths abstracts and see how many say something like "evidence shows that 1+1=2". Legates' logic means rejecting consensus on things like plate tectonics or 1+1=2.

    Finally, Cook et al. underestimated the strength of the endorsements. Among the 2,000-odd full paper ratings by the scientists who wrote the papers, more than 200 were "explicit endorsement with quantification", the strongest possible endorsement of the consensus. This is more than the total number of abstracts given that rating among the sample of 11,944.

  5. He was (seems to be missing in latest list of course a signatory of the declaration from Cornwall alliance:

    here are some signatories they highlight

    Dr. Roy W. Spencer (Principal Research Scientist in Climatology, University of Alabama, Huntsville,
    Dr. Joseph D’Aleo (Executive Director and Certified Meteorologist, Icecap
    Dr. David Legates (Associate Professor of Climatology, University of Delaware
    Dr. Ross McKitrick (Associate Professor of Economics, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada,
    Dr. Cornelis van Kooten (Professor of Economics and Research Chair in Environmental Studies and Climate, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Expert Reviewer, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
    Dr. Kenneth W. Chilton (Founder and Emeritus Director, Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment, Lindenwood College);

    Contibuting Writers.
    :Rev. Richard S. Courtney, Expert Reviewer, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Methodist Preacher, Cornwall, UK
    G. Cornelis van Kooten, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and Research Chari in Environmental Studies and Climate, University of Victoria, BC, Canada

    Advisory board
    James A. Wanliss, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics, Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC

  6. Replies
    1. yes I was going to make that point

      Legates + Cornwall Alliance = Evolution denial

      why anyone takes these clowns seriously when they preach rubbish regarding "evidence" is totally beyond me

  7. In much of Europe, electricity prices have risen 50% or more over the past decade, leaving many unable to afford proper wintertime heat

    Leaving aside the fact that "much of Europe" is pretty ill-defined, let's look at Germany, since they're a poster country for the horrible price increases caused by renewable power.

    Yes, between 2001 and 2011, electricity prices did rise by about 50%. Interestingly, that doesn't seem to be the big worry among the investing class at the moment: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-25/why-do-germany-s-electricity-prices-keep-falling-

  8. Legates teaches undergraduates at the University of Delaware although his course load appears to be light: Geography 101 in Fall 2015 and 11 students in Environmental Statistics in Winter 2016. He does not appear to have any graduate students.

    According to Google Scholar he has co-authored 9 papers since 2013... some of these appear to be of marginal quality published in third-rate journals, but the university would be unlikely to consider this when evaluating his performance as a tenured associate professor.

    1. As a matter of no particular interest, his overall rating by students at ratemyprofessors.com is 3.6 out of 5, which is a C+.

    2. A senior faculty who is an associate professor? At my school we call those "stuck associates" -- people who got tenure but then never advanced.

      At this point his way forward is to do some first-rate work -- maybe even a paper that casts legitimate doubt on the global warming consensus!

      Of course, this argument may be difficult to formulate.

      Or, more likely, impossible.

  9. Moreover, consensus and votes have no place in science. History is littered with theories that were long denied by “consensus” science and politics: plate tectonics, germ theory of disease, a geocentric universe. They all underscore how wrong consensus can be.

    This is a standard 'skeptic' strawman. I've seen it a million times.

    No one has ever said that consensus is proof of correctness. That's not the point at all. The point is that it borders on insanity to ignore an overwhelming consensus of experts and simply hope that they're all wrong.

    A secondary reason to document the consensus is to counter the common 'skeptic' argument that there is significant disagreement within the scientific community. The studies on consensus show beyond any reasonable dispute that this is simply false.

    It's interesting though, that the 'skeptics' espouse two contradictory views (as they so often do). Half of them say we shouldn't do anything because there's no consensus, and the other half say that consensus doesn't matter. Either it matters or it doesn't.

    1. It *doesn't* matter, ChrisD, because climate change is all just a lot of groupthink from a bunch of scientists who get paid to publish what politicians want.

      And at the same time, consensus matters because there's no consensus, so we know that plucky independent scientists are being suppressed, and they can never publish in the scientific literature except all those times that they can.

    2. I always find it amusing that deniers complain about scientists and government funding for scientific research --

      On the internet.

      Using a computer.

      One cannot make up a more efficiently self-negating argument.

    3. Also it is worth noting no scientific theory comes out fully formed

      They change and get refined as more/better data become available

      Darwin did not get everything right regarding evolution by natural selection - indeed for obvious reasons he had no knowledge of DNA

      But that does not detract from the central validity of the theory

    4. The interpretation of Quantum mechanics amongst researchers has also been surveyed to determine the extent of any consensus ( see last para of History section here ) But according to climate change deniers I've showed this to, it doesn't count as "doing science by consensus" because the survey didn't find a consensus ! Good job the pollsters knew what result they would find before they conducted their poll, huh ?

    5. And of course, science isn't "done by consensus". The consensus follows collection of the scientific evidence, not the other way around.

    6. I've asked several times but no-one has been able to produce evidence from any study that "skeptics" can't get their papers published or can't get grant funding. Getting a paper published is difficult enough for any scientists and getting grants approved is never a slam dunk.

      It's convenient to whine about skeptics not getting their fair share of air time in professional circles, but I suspect it is really an urban myth.

    7. Windchasers: It *doesn't* matter, ChrisD, because climate change is all just a lot of groupthink from a bunch of scientists who get paid to publish what politicians want.

      Windchasers, you can't produce even the tiniest shred of evidence that this is actually true. I understand that it's taken as gospel by the 'skeptic' community (talk about groupthink!), but it's simply assertion. Unless you can show that no one can publish dissenting papers--and you can't--it's meaningless.

      What's your explanation for the eight years of Bush the Lesser? Global warming was the last thing the Bush government wanted to hear about. Hell, they had political operatives doctoring NASA reports to minimize their conclusions. So, by your theory, the scientists should have been churning out dissenting papers by the trainload. But that didn't happen. The volume of supporting research just kept increasing. Why?

      consensus matters because there's no consensus, so we know that plucky independent scientists are being suppressed

      This is completely circular. It makes no sense whatsoever.

      And of course, science isn't "done by consensus".

      That's exactly what I said. You're simply repeating, in slightly different language, the same straw man my comment was about.

      The consensus follows collection of the scientific evidence, not the other way around.

      Which is precisely what has happened, no matter how desperately you want to deny it.

    8. chrisd - windchasers forgot to add the closing (/sarc) tag ;-)

  10. When I was starting, in lets say 1990, Legates was one of the names you knew; in fact, somewhat in the way you knew Curry's name. In his case, mostly because of the Legates and Willmott surface air temperature climatology (http://research.jisao.washington.edu/data_sets/legates/). Actually, now I look, I can't recall if it ws this or the precip (http://research.jisao.washington.edu/legates_msu/) that people used. Nowadays, I think, its a nothing, because we have the reanalyses and so on; but in those days stuff like that was rarer, so something to compare to your GCMs was useful. If you look, he has a couple of papers with > 1000 cites. His early papers are sane (e.g. http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/1520-0442(1989)002%3C0459:SCCIBD%3E2.0.CO;2). I don't know when he became a nutter.


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