Cook: the 97% consensus on “climate change is bad”

John Cook
Source: Wikipedia (

It has been a long time that I read something of John Cook. I recently came across the National Center for Science Education blog post in which he was interviewed. The post is titled Got Climate Change Misconceptions? John Cook Can Help and dates from the beginning of this year. This “help” seems to be learning students how to combat climate change misconceptions.

I am not going to make a long post, so I will come to the point immediately. This is what caught my eye at first read (my emphasis):

So if a teacher has just one lesson to cover climate change, I assume that mentioning the 97 percent consensus would be important? Anything else?

JC: Yes, absolutely you need to bring up the consensus- that is critical, and as I said, it doesn’t take up much time. In fact, a complete explanation of climate change can be compressed to just ten words: “It’s real. It’s us. It’s bad. Experts agree. There’s hope.” In other words, climate change is happening; human activity is causing it; the impacts are serious and already happening; there’s scientific consensus (97 percent!) on the first three points; but we have all the technology we need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The terms “global warming” and “climate change” were used in an interchangeable way. The previous question was about the 97% consensus on human-caused global warming and it morphs seamlessly into the 97% consensus on climate change in the above question…

I can agree with the first part (“It’s real”) and partly with the second part (“It’s us”). I have no doubt that global warming/climate change is real and, since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, our emissions should have an influence. However, how much warming comes from this human emissions is an entirely different question.

The part “Experts agree” is yet another matter. According to Cook, there is an 97% expert agreement on the three first points (It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad). John Cookn himself is an author of at least two papers quantifying the consensus (Cook et al., 2013 and Cook et al., 2016), so he should know that none of his two papers investigated whether global warming/climate change is “bad”.

It reminds me of an earlier statement in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper, in which he claimed something similar (my emphasis):

[…] and there is no notable scientific dissent from the consensus position that global warming is happening, is human caused, and presents a global problem is shared by more than 95 % of domain experts and more than 95 % of relevant articles in the peer-reviewed literature (Anderegg et al. 2010; Cook et al. 2013, 2016; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Oreskes 2004; Shwed and Bearman 2010).

Also here, none of the six mentioned papers investigated whether “global warming presents a global problem”.

By the way, the same claim (in a slightly different sentence) was also made in his thesis (the Alice-in-Wonderland paper is a part of his thesis):

[…] and there is no notable scientific dissent from the consensus position that global warming is happening, is human caused, and presents a global problem (Anderegg, Prall, Harold, & Schneider, 2010; Cook et al. 2013; Doran & Zimmerman, 2009; Oreskes 2004; Shwed & Bearman 2010).

So this is not a one-time mistake, as I assumed when I first spotted it in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper.

Before someone is again asking how a self professed layman can may sense of this, this is how anyone with some knowledge of the English language and an internet connection can do this:

  1. John Cook conducted two studies on the 97% consensus (see links above, there are also links to other 97%-consensus studies in my reaction on the Alice-in-Wonderland paper)
  2. Just read those studies and their methodologies
  3. You will find that none of those studies investigates what the impact is of climate change, let alone whether the impact is “bad” (or whether it presents a “global problem”).

Therefor John Cook is not honest about the findings of his own research and it is apparently not the first time…

Back to the start of the post: Cook’s help consisted of learning students how to combat climate change misconceptions. Maybe he should start with the misconception that it is somehow assessed that 97% of climate scientists agree that “climate change is bad”?

via Trust, yet verify

January 23, 2019 at 08:48AM

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