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John Cook of (un) SkepticalScience, admits “climate change denier” is inaccurate. Will he stop name-calling?

Posted By Joanne Nova On February 19, 2013 @ 1:42 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

I don’t think John Cook realizes how his latest article affects virtually everything else he’s written.

(Repeated on the SMH too.)

How accurate is a book when even the title describes a group of people who don’t exist? Will Cook stop abusing English?

So he finally admits the banal, that there is no rational explanation for calling skeptical scientists “climate deniers” or “climate change deniers”. Bravo. (No one denies that climate changes, or thinks the Earth has no climate.). But this is terminology he uses everywhere, and it describes a group of people that don’t exist. Has he only just noticed?

We think through our language, and when we use sloppy, inaccurate words, we get sloppy inaccurate results. Abusing our language is what people do when they don’t have a rational argument.

Misleading language is de rigueur for Cook. Even the name of his “SkepticalScience” website is the anti-thesis of accurate English. He’s not skeptical of “official science” in the slightest, and with a gaping hole in his logic (see below), not too scientific either.

Look out for the “fake” tag, too. Since when did a representative of a university call another university academic a fake? Since Cook did. He labels Ian Plimer a “fake” -  is Plimer a fake PhD in geology and a fake professor at both the University of Melbourne and the University of Adelaide? He has published 130 “fake” scientific papers (apparently). So what does “fake” mean anymore? It means Cook can’t use English accurately. Who is the fake expert now?

“… (Plimer) hasn’t published a single peer-reviewed paper on climate change.”

Neither has John Cook. So?

Clear speech helps civilization, while misleading speech helps the cheats. And cheat-speak, ultimately, is either incompetent or a deliberate ploy to deceive.

Will Cook start to write accurately?

Will he now correct this deceptive label in his paper “Understanding Climate Change Denial”, or his book “Climate Change Denial”? Will he remove the constant references to it throughout his blog? It all depends on whether he is interested in truth and accuracy, or really aiming for cheap marketing and PR wins. Electronic publications can be changed, and apologies made. But will he?

UWA — Achieving Excellence, or debasing the English language?

Since the term “climate denier” is the wrong term, and doesn’t illuminate anything, why use it? To score a trickster win? Surely Cook, UWA and UQ would not want that?

It is a short-term PR victory, but a loss for science. Casual readers are misled by inaccurate labels. They see Cook’s scientific vocabulary and those university logos, and assume that he has a good reason for calling opponents “deniers”. They don’t realize he slips in and out of accurate terms — weaving science and namecalling  — and he may not realize either. Where does the science end, and the PR begin? The end result is a disguised advert for a political campaign, masquerading as a science article.

I and others have been pointing it out for four years, and Cook is now trying to come up with an answer. Skeptics have dragged the debate forward a notch.

But rather than speak in accurate English, he’s trying to justify the namecalling with a new variation of nonsense. Is his “consensus denial” much better? Skeptical scientists don’t deny there is a consensus among official climate scientists either. We deny that it matters more than empirical evidence — which just makes us scientific, and Cook, not so much. Science is skepticism, forever asking for evidence, y’know — nullius in verba, testing assumptions with observations and all, so the scientists who made the biggest contribution were consensus deniers at the time. Not all consensus deniers are revolutionary scientists. But the term is mindless.

In order to rationalize his cognitive dissonance (he thinks he’s being scientific), Cook invents new non-scientific abstractions. He argues that a “consensus” is really a “consensus of evidence“.

What on Earth is a consensus of evidence?

Is Cook twisting words so he might sound legitimate in doing something that isn’t? Let’s poke those terms with a dictionary.

con·sen·sus n An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole [dictionary]

ev·i·dence (in Science): actual observations [Berkley]

So a consensus of evidence literally means the opinions of the observations. It sorta appears rational, but it boils down to a bunch of graphs and tables sitting around the lab having a chat. The graphs and tables argue and debate, then decide what their public position will be and elect a spokesman. O.K.?

It’s like an experiment in Quantum Rhetoric with the Large Hadron Word Collider. Two useful words meet and destroy each other.

Hang on, you think, trying to be fair on Cook, he did explain that he means “many different measurements pointing to a single, consistent conclusion.” But who decides what is “consistent”? Since data tables don’t decide, ultimately it comes back to the opinions of scientists, but Cook explained that that was not what he meant. He said there were two kinds of consensus, a consensus of evidence and a consensus of scientists. Yet they are the same thing. It’s all opinions, and it isn’t evidence.

In any case, the evidence consistently shows us the models are wrong, whether we use satellite measurements of outgoing radiation, or buoys measuring ocean heat content (which is warming but not enough), or weather balloons in the upper troposphere, or ground stations. From every angle the empirical evidence shows the models exaggerate to the point where they “have no skill” at predicting the climate. Not globally, regionally, locally, not in short, medium or long time frames. Maybe the theory embodied by the models is bunk? Just a thought.

Opinions are not evidence — Science without logic is witchcraft

John Cook talks of “logic” but his entire argument is built on a fallacy – Argument from Authority. It’s nice that Cook finally wants to talk about reasoning. But you can’t be a little bit logical. You either are or you aren’t. (A search on SkepticalScience for “logic” turns up an argument for a “consensus” — a fallacy — as the top response.) Science without logic is witchcraft. It may be well intentioned witchcraft, but if you are being bled with leeches, what’s the difference?

Is Cook’s work an example of UQ logic, reasoning and English?

The only thing that will tell us about the climate is data from the natural world. The more Cook quotes “surveys” of humans, the more you know he is scratching for evidence and in political mode.

In any case, the “opinion-meter” doesn’t stack up. All the scientists out there who are nuclear physicists, Nobel Prize winners, experts in tunneling microscopy, spectroscopy, atmospheric chemistry, you name it, their opinion counts for zero in the world of the climate faithful. By ruling out nearly every scientist who has advanced human knowledge in the last 50 years, Cook wants you to believe that only a “climate expert” can spot a dodgy argument in science. The anointed?

Has he noticed this means nearly everyone who’s “opinion counts” is also someone who would find it easier to get grants and junkets if man-made global warming is important, and who have already staked their professional reputations on one theory and one conclusion? An amazing coincidence, no? And before anyone yells “ad hominem”, note, I don’t claim they’re wrong because they have a vested interest. They’re wrong because they don’t have the evidence.

If they had the evidence (instead of just name-calling) wouldn’t most scientists outside their specialty find their evidence convincing, and support them? Instead we know thousands of independent scientists, mostly with no dollars to gain or lose (apart from useless taxes), are risking their professional reputation to put forward their opinions even though the price is that guys like John Cook will call them “fake” experts, imply that they are funded by fossil fuels, or are part of some international campaign to manufacture doubt. Isn’t the simplest explanation of why thousands of scientists are rising up against man-made global warming not due to a wild unsubstantiated conspiracy, but is the most banal idea instead — they sincerely feel concerned that the official science is wrong? Occam’s razor begs.

How do we measure global temperature with Internet surveys?

If the debate about man-made global warming was about adding up scientists on the plus and minus side, how do we add up the numbers? Is one climate scientist worth two retired NASA guys? Cook would say anyone without the “official” title isn’t allowed an opinion (there’s those vested interests again), but ultimately the climate scientists produced models we know fail nearly every test of validity (they don’t even talk about “verifying” them anymore) while the retired NASA guys actually got to the moon.

Who is the “science denier” now?

The NASA guys have a reputation that matters, and since they are retired, have little to gain from speaking out and being called snarky names. Unlike climate scientists, their income and status won’t go down if man-made global warming isn’t a big deal. None of this is any reason to assume that the NASA guys are right, but it’s a reason to listen to their arguments. Cook doesn’t even want you to listen, “Astronauts and engineers are not climate experts.”

Cook’s sloppy reasoning is everywhere

Given that argument from authority is a fallacy, Cook’s writing is practically self-satirizing:

 ”One way of avoiding consensus is to engage in logical fallacies.”

Like saying, one way of avoiding my favorite fallacy is to engage in other fallacies. Except Cook finds imaginary fallacies, or ones that are not the mainstay of the skeptic group.

He claim skeptics make non-sequiturs, pretending that when skeptics point to past heatwaves and extreme heat what they are saying is  “extreme weather events have happened before therefore humans are not having an influence on current extreme weather”. When I wrote Australia – was hot and is hot. So what? This is not an unusual heatwave  I quickly listed Eight reasons the Australian heatwave is not “climate change”.  It’s not the “logical equivalent” of saying “people have died from natural causes so no one ever gets murdered now”. The point skeptics are making is much more sophisticated: our records are short, the BOM should not get so excited about the current weather, the models can’t explain the past “extremes”, and by some measures there is no trend in heatwaves in Australia (See the post for more reasons). His so-called “non-sequitur” is a strawman.

Conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories

Cook invents conspiracy theories that serious skeptics don’t make:

Finally, with consensus denial comes the inevitable conspiracy theories. If you disagree with an entire scientific community, you have to believe they’re all conspiring to deceive you.

If he read skeptical sites, instead of just writing about them, he’d know that there is another possibility. A community can be wrong for other reasons like groupthink, or plain old incompetence. (What’s that saying about conspiracy or cock-up?)

Given that their competence at predicting the climate his so dismal, yet so much money is at stake, it would be amazing if other scientists weren’t protesting. Human history is full of stories of ideas that thousands of experts believed that turned out to be wrong. Given that governments have poured in massive one-sided funding, it would be amazing if the human processes of science had managed to stay untouched from that. Instead, as I’ve said so many times, honest scientists are doing their jobs, but in many ways they are paid to find a crisis, and they found one. Virtually no one has been paid to find the opposite. The vacuum sucks. This is a systematic problem, a confluence of interests, not a conspiracy.

Cook claims there are “tens of thousands” of climate scientists who endorse the consensus. But the only side of this debate that can name tens of thousands of scientists are the skeptics.

Will Cook correct his books, his publications and his site?

Cooks misuse of English could have been inadvertent in his passion to solve something he sees as a big problem. And naturally, if he corrects his language he is to be commended. But if he continues to abuse language now that even he admits it is not the right term, then we’ll know how much he cares about being accurate.

. . .

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