Climate change rage: it’s not big and it’s not clever

Angry man hits laptop
James Morgan
James Morgan
This week, I have a whinge about the pseudo-sceptics who, for some strange reason, believe that anger constitutes an argument...

I’m REALLY ANGRY about something!!! I’m ANGRY about the ‘SO-CALLED’ ARGUMENTS of another ‘SO-CALLED’ PERSON!!!! This ‘SO-CALLED’ PERSON’S view of the world DOES NOT TALLY with MY OWN view of the world!! Consequently, I AM REALLY ANGRY with this ‘SO-CALLED’ PERSON for having the GALL to express their ‘SO-CALLED’ ARGUMENTS!??!!///!!

It can be extremely satisfying to highlight the flaws in your opponent’s argument, but to do so will not automatically prove that what you are saying is correct. By the same token, getting really angry about your adversary’s position does not demonstrate that you care more than they do.
In case you can’t tell, I’m really angry. But what am I saying? Of course you can tell. You can tell by the way that my caps-lock button appears to have developed an intermittent fault. You can tell by the fact that I seem to have typed* my ‘so-called’ message on the way home from an exclamation mark sale. If I had the courage of my convictions, you’d also be able to tell by my misspelling of every other word.

As it happens, I chose not to misspell every other word because I was worried that you wouldn’t read to the end of my article. My headache-inducing opening probably caused a fair few of you to stop reading anyway. And this, dear reader, is my point. Rage is not an indicator of how much you care. Being angrier than the next person does not make you ‘righter’ than they are. Your bile is neither big nor clever; it is the very reason that I stop listening to what you are saying.

Double standards

Now, let me double up on a few standards. Those of you who’ve read my blog in the past will know that sometimes, I get angry. I’m actually quite an angry man. However, I don’t believe that my anger validates what I’m saying. To this end, I try to pepper my arguments with a few justifications and – on rare occasions – facts. Essentially, I include anger to amuse rather than to convince.**

Of course, not everybody subscribes to my point of view. Certain topics have a certain capacity to enrage certain people. Nuclear power, for example, is one such topic; I learned that the hard way. Climate change, it appears, is another.

Earlier this week, I travelled to the Institute of Physics (IOP) in London to attend the launch of the Climate Service UK: a new Met Office-led initiative to support the management of climate-related risks and opportunities. Speaking at the event was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey MP. During what I considered to be a sincere and well-delivered speech, Davey attacked some sections of the media for promoting ‘uncritical’ and ‘destructive’ climate change scepticism.

The minister’s argument was, in part, based on the Cook Survey: a Skeptical Science study of 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers. The conclusion of this study was that approximately 97 per cent of the surveyed papers supported the notion of anthropogenic climate change. Only three per cent, according to the surveyors, questioned the assertion that human activity is responsible for our changing climate.

Is 97 per cent accurate?

Unfortunately for Davey, the 97 per cent statistic has come under significant fire from some quarters. Indeed, a journalist contacted a sample of the surveyed authors to find out how they felt about the study’s conclusions. They found that some were unhappy with the fact that their research had been taken as an endorsement of anthropogenic climate change.

Now, as far as I can tell, this article doesn’t reveal how large a sample was taken. Nor does it seem to say how many of the contacted scientists were happy with the way in which their work had been construed. Essentially, it includes the testimonies of seven authors who deny that their work verifies manmade climate change.

Whilst seven out of 12,000 doesn’t seem like an especially damning indictment, similar views may well be common amongst the rest of the 97 per cent. I cannot say because I do not have the facts. What I can say is that some sceptics are using doubts over the validity of the 97 per cent result to dismiss the notion of anthropogenic climate change outright.

Take, for instance, a Twitter exchange that I had with (@WXRISKCOM) after reporting Davey’s speech.
The 97% consensus figure is CRAP and a LIE [citing the article]

The 97% figures comes [sic] from SKEPTICAL SCIENCE web site..a web site run by A CARTOONIST
Towards the end of our short conversation, I posed the following question:
Even if 97% is inaccurate, is it not safe to say that the majority of scientists subscribe to anthropogenic climate change?
@WXRISKCOM did not reply.

So, what did I glean from this exchange? I gleaned that the folks at @WXRISKCOM dispute the findings of the Cook Survey. I gleaned that they agree with the opinions espoused by I gleaned that they don’t much like cartoonists.

Silliest speech ever?

The Telegraph’s James Delingpole offered a more eloquent reproach of Davey’s position in his blog ‘Ed Davey makes the silliest speech ever’. I have to concede that Mr Delingpole’s spelling is impeccable. His caps-lock control is also first class. However, his response to the minister’s speech was to attack everyone and everything in sight.

Davey himself, the BBC, the Cook Survey, Al Gore, the Met Office, and even those in attendance*** received healthy doses of his scorn. Make no mistake: words cannot express how little Mr Delingpole thinks of the Met Office. In fact, I find it difficult to comprehend how one man can harbour such distaste for what is, essentially, a meteorological service. I can only assume that Michael Fish eloped with his first love.

Of course, I suspect that this blog was written predominantly because Davey – perhaps unwisely – chose to level the blame for ‘destructive’ climate change scepticism squarely at the feet of the media. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that sections of the press sceptical towards anthropogenic climate change reacted angrily.

Mr Delingpole, however, made some particularly bold claims. Here are just a few of them:
In the real world, as we know, global warming paused in 1997 and shows little sign of starting up any time soon.
The Met Office is a national laughing stock. Everyone who doesn't actually work there knows that.
As those of us in the real world know, the Cook Survey was bunkum. That 97 per cent figure was a complete invention. In order to reach it, the survey had wilfully to mispresent the nature of the science papers it was purporting to meta-analyse.
There are more, of course, but you get the gist.

I’m perfectly comfortable with disagreement. If people didn’t disagree, nothing would get scrutinised. However, it would be nice to hear an evidence-based counter-argument now and again. Criticism alone can only take us so far.

Scepticism, criticism and cynicism

Sadly, Delingpole did nothing but criticise. It’s a bit rich for him to rebuke Davey for using flawed data whilst simultaneously asking his readers to blithely accept every one of his assertions without a shred of evidence.

As far as I can tell, it all boils down to this: the 97 per cent figure may be inaccurate, but it does not necessarily follow that anthropogenic climate change is a fallacy. If you believe that it is a fallacy, that’s all well and good, but you really should offer evidence to support your claims.

It can be extremely satisfying to highlight the flaws in your opponent’s argument, but to do so will not automatically prove that what you are saying is correct. By the same token, getting really angry about your adversary’s position does not demonstrate that you care more than they do. Bandying about angry insults is not genuine scepticism. At best, it is criticism and at worst, blind cynicism.

The moral of this long-winded blog is this: climate change rage isn’t big and it isn’t clever. To coin one of Mr Delingpole's phrases, "It makes you look a ****."

* A euphemism for ‘bashed my keyboard’
** This might sound like the biggest heap of horse manure that you’ve heard in a long time, but I’m sticking with it
*** Me
**** Dick



James, you might find this interesting. Read the Cook et al. (2013) paper and tell me how many papers out of 12,000 = the 97% statistic. When you get the number I ask if you believe it to be misleading.

Then read these articles,

Poptech - New Jersey, United States
I definitely do not disagree with the point the author is trying to make. But, I would offer this point of view. If someone is attempting to provide statistical evidence, should they not at least make a concerted effort to be unbiased and give as accurate of a number as possible? I think the credibility of the 97% is causing people to dismiss the entire argument all together. I for one would be modest and state that is the studying is willing to fudge statistical numbers, what else are they fudging that I am not smart enough to catch? True, if you don't believe in climate change, you should provide evidence to the contrary. But here's my assertion. If someone took 100 different published research from popular scientists, and gave an inaccurate and twisted conclusion that 97% of them believed in extraterrestrial life, and I can clearly determine that number was skewed to a biased point of view, should I have to provide counter-evidence that extraterrestrial life does not exist? Maybe not an exact apples to apples comparison, but I believe you catch my point.

Patrick - El Paso, Texas, United States
Hi James, interesting article. I agree with you on the importance of keeping a rein on our emotions.

I'm lead author of the peer-reviewed paper discussed. What PopularTechnology and James Delingpole failed to mention was in our study, we actually asked 1,200 scientists to rate their own papers. That's the point of rigorous, peer-reviewed science - you always try to provide independent confirmation of your results. What we found from the 1,200 scientists confirmed our own analysis - among the climate papers that stated a position on human-caused global warming, over 97% endorsed the consensus that humans were causing global warming.

In other words, our paper's conclusion was based on both our ratings of the climate papers and the ratings of the very scientists who authored the papers. Delingpole and PopularTechnology are willfully misrepresenting our paper by cherry picking a handful of scientists and ignoring over 1000 scientists whose views are included in our paper.

It's also worth pointing out that our paper confirmed earlier research. A 2009 survey by Peter Doran found a 97% consensus among actively publishing climate scientists. A 2010 analysis by William Anderegg of public statements on climate change found that among scientists publishing peer-reviewed climate papers, there was 97% consensus. Ours is only the latest in a series of independent studies confirming the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

John Cook - Brisbane, Australia
I am not ignoring anything no matter how many times the same false claim is made. The self ratings support my thesis that Cook et al.'s results are littered with falsely classified papers. Once you compare the flawed abstract rating method to the author self-ratings you will see over 500 papers have been falsely classified by Cook et al. thus supporting my argument.

Poptech - New Jersey, United States
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Now that non-Western countries are submitting research, the theories are so adolescent and basically infantile in logic and misogynistic prejudice, it's appalling.

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