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Consensus? What Consensus?

I have a short GWPF briefing paper out on the Cook et al paper. Here's the press release.

London, 2 September: In recent weeks US President Obama and the UK’s Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Davey have both cited a survey of climate science abstracts that alleges an overwhelming consensus on the subject of global warming.

In a new briefing note published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation today, Andrew Montford reviews the methodology used in the survey and concludes that the consensus revealed by the paper by Cook et al. is so broad that it incorporates the views of most prominent climate sceptics.

“The consensus as described by the survey is virtually meaningless and tells us nothing about the current state of scientific opinion beyond the trivial observation that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that human activities have warmed the planet to some unspecified extent,” Andrew Montford says.

“The survey methodology therefore fails to address the key points that are in dispute in the global warming debate,” Montford adds.

Andrew Montford: Consensus? What Consensus?


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Reader Comments (40)

Great work, Andrew. A very clear critique of the issues.

Sep 2, 2013 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

I have great faith that this will top the agenda in the one o'clock news!!!

Sep 2, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrefjon

None of this stopped co-author, Mark Richardson of Reading University, misrepresenting the study:-

We want our scientists to answer questions for us, and there are lots of exciting questions in climate science. One of them is: are we causing global warming? We found over 4000 studies written by 10 000 scientists that stated a position on this, and 97 per cent said that recent warming is mostly man made.”

And even the paper's introduction states:-

We examined a large sample of the scientific literature on global Climate Change, published over a 21 year period, in order to determine the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW (anthropogenic global warming, or AGW).

It seems there was a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the results.

Sep 2, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

Good effort Bish. The specific examples of the Shaviv and Carlin papers are for me the most helpful. I will definitely point anyone who mentions the 97% consensus to this. A fair few have in recent months. However, on page 4:

Differences over extent of any human influence is the essence of the climate debate.

That is worth parsing carefully. The essence of the climate debate is whether proposed climate policies make any sense. Low sensitivity is an important link in a chain of argument, a chain defined by the IPCC, that says to any rational human being those policies make no sense at all. Human influence on weather disasters is of course related but not the same. You could be including that here. After that who knows the exact point that an increase in average temperature anomaly goes from delivering net benefit to net harm to seven billion very different human beings? Factor in the good CO2 is certain to do as plant food and there's another completely unknown threshold. Above and beyond that, how can any of our proposed policies guarantee anything at all? There's the actual behaviour of China and India and there's spatio-temporal chaos in the system itself. And there is nothing like 97% agreement on any of these links further down the chain.

We don't have a clue how to do good, at any level, but in meddling with energy policy we can clearly do a great deal of harm. That is the essence of the problem.

I think your statement is fine in context. But the misdirection you show was present from the secret SkS forum applies to all levels of the debate. Except a debate it isn't. It's state- and UN- sponsored propaganda given credence only by crude attempts to rule any criticism offside through worthless papers like Cook et al, as shown by the rapid use made of this publicly by both Obama and Davey. May many more come to reject not just the corrupt methods but the very harmful policies they are used speciously to prop up.

Sep 2, 2013 at 11:22 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

emphasis on this:

The last word on the paper goes to Professor Mike Hulme, founder of the Tyndall
Centre, the UK’s national climate research institute

"The [Cook et al.] article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed.
It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately
poor level of public and policy debate in this country that the energy minister
should cite it

It offers a similar depiction of the world into categories of ‘right’
and ‘wrong’ to that adopted in [an earlier study]: dividing publishing climate
scientists into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. It seems to me that these people are
still living (or wishing to live) in the pre-2009 world of climate change discourse.
Haven’t they noticed that public understanding of the climate issue has moved

Sep 2, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Don't forget the Trojan Number. The original number of papers was something like 12,000. That was whittled down to around 4,000 (from memory, corrections appreciated). So headline "97% of 12,000 papers" is wrong. Then there's the screening fallacy, so nicely illustrated by McSteve. Original sample screened post hoc to about 1/3.

Amazing, but it's all fine and publishable as long as it comes up with the appropriate conclusion. Sigh.

Sep 2, 2013 at 12:04 PM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Come on Barry, you know as well as I do that there will be no sanction.



Sep 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

@Barry, Z
Not quite. A first rebuttal has been submitted already. See

Cook has released more data since, which reveal more problems. See

Yet, 57% of the data is still hidden. The Institute of Physics has promised a final verdict "soon". With that data, I hope to build three tables:
Table 1
Number of ratings per rater
Number of third ratings per rater, that is, re-ratings of abstracts (after reconciliation failed) to break ties

Table 2
Per rater, fraction of ratings in categories 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 4a, 4b
Per rater, chi-squared value for the test of equal proportions (with respect to all raters)

Table 3
Per rater, fraction of ratings completed in 1, 10, 60, 600 seconds or less and in more than 600 seconds.

Sep 2, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

97% of climate scientists are WRONG because, for the last 15 years we have had no warming. No natural warming and no anthropogenic warming.

Sep 2, 2013 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

To set out to confirm your bias and then to fail to do so either refutes the validity of that bias or shows you as incompetent.

Which will Cook et al settle for?

Sep 2, 2013 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat


Sep 2, 2013 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Thank you very much, Andrew. Your article was needed.
I have published 6 links to it in my climate and weather pages.

Sep 2, 2013 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndres Valencia

There's also Richard Tol's open letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University, available here.

Sep 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

We need a consensus on whether there is any integrity left in the climate science process and its increasingly shrill and desperate core of pols, unshaven scruffs, mindless elites, ideologues, and rent seekers who long ago latched on to the cause. Of these the most worrisome are those who have paid to play and have a great deal at stake in their investments in the “Green Economy.” Whether it is GE’s Chinese bird choppers, or Deutsche Bank’s tens of billions invested on the climate come, or the faceless but not nameless hedge fund and currency speculators, they make for a formidable group of reactionaries.

Sep 2, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterNoblesse Oblige

"97% of climate scientists are WRONG because, for the last 15 years we have had no warming. No natural warming and no anthropogenic warming"

What he said.

Sep 2, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

There is also a consensus that 97% of turkeys don't vote for Christmas.....

If your job depends on it you vote for it (if you have no moral compass)

Sep 2, 2013 at 4:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

John (and others) DNFTT

Sep 2, 2013 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller


Come on...Travesty Trenberth says the heat is being squirrelled away in the deep ocen in spite of the fact that there is no evidence to support this claim.



Sep 2, 2013 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

As the Bish has many times requested, Do Not Feed The (ZDB) Troll.

It disrupts threads and it takes his time away from other things to go through the threads deleting the responses.

Sep 2, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Word from IoP: PFO

Sep 2, 2013 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Patent Foramen Ovale?
Pendle Forest Orienteers?
Please F--k Off?

Sep 2, 2013 at 7:02 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Sep 2, 2013 at 6:38 PM | Richard Tol

If that "word" from IoP means what I think it means, then the green activist crowd is in even bigger trouble than I thought!

They have no shame, do they? Either that or they are extremely slow learners. The only favourable comment I think I've seen on Cook's cookery is from Dan Kahan ... and he hadn't really looked at it! Do you think they'll ever learn that "climate science" communication is no longer a one way street on which they alone direct the traffic?!

But that aside, wonderful exposition, Andrew. A joy to read, as are all your works.

Your briefing paper and Topher's excellent videos all on the same day?! This has got to be hurting the activist-advocacy crowd. Particularly since the best they've been able to muster is pseudo-scholarly mediocrities such as those produced by Lew, Cook and others of their ilk. And I suspect they are none too thrilled with the posts from Judith Curry over the past few weeks, either :-)

Sep 2, 2013 at 7:35 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov


Paranoid freak out

Just about covers it

Sep 2, 2013 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I don't suppose that Oblarny and Davey are the ones that agree. Both of them supreme idiots and very poor liers.

Sep 2, 2013 at 8:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Richard Drake

The specific examples of the Shaviv and Carlin papers are for me the most helpful.
Not helpful for getting the story on to the one o’clock news though. “Two scientists out of ten thousand object to their ratings” is not a story.
The fact is that Cook is a serial liar, and anyone quoting him (and before him, Zimmerman and Anderegg) is a serial liar or a fool who should resign immediately from any science-related post. And that includes the Minister of the Environment and the President of the Royal Society.
This is not a story that the GWPF can cover. It should be covered in Private Eye and in the routines of a thousand stand-up comics in a thousand pubs across the country. Until that happens, we’re doomed, I tell you, doomed.

Sep 2, 2013 at 11:23 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

The idea that 90+% of the heat is going into the oceans is predicated on the assumption that the up to 6.85 times exaggeration of real warming caused by Trenberth's naive belief that the output of a pyrgeometer is a real instead of a potential energy flux.

So, the missing heat does not exist and you prove it by the basic conservation of energy equation between matter and the EM domains: qdot = -Div Fv where qdot is the monochromatic heating rate of matter per unit volume and Fv is the monochromatic radiation flux density per unit volume [Goody and Yung - 'Atmospheric Physics].

This when integrated gives the difference of two S-B equations. To imagine that each single S-B equation predicts a real energy flux is ludicrous but is unfortunately taught in Climate science as if it were true.

Sep 3, 2013 at 2:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Bishop, you should not ask a question to which you don't already know the answer.

You share the consensus that there is a greenhouse effect.

You share the consensus that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

You share the consensus that CO2 contributes to an increase in global temperature.

You share the consensus that there is such a thing as global average temperature.

You and your flock remind me of this story about Bernard Shaw.
The grizzled old Shaw is sitting at the bar of a trans Atlantic ship, across from a beautiful woman. Shaw goes over and says to her Madam would you sleep with me for 500 pounds? The woman thinks for a moment and says, yes. Would you sleep with me for 5 pounds asks Shaw. What do you think I am? Answers the woman. Madam I know what you are says Shaw, we are just arguing about the price.

Sep 3, 2013 at 2:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Steiner drew my attention to a recent paper in the journal Science & Education dealing with the 97%.

Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change

David R. Legates, Willie Soon, William M. Briggs, Christopher Monckton of Brenchley


Agnotology is the study of how ignorance arises via circulation of misinformation calculated to mislead. … inspection of a claim by Cook et al. … of 97.1 % consensus … shows just 0.3 % endorsement of the standard definition of consensus: that most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic.

(my bold)

Sep 3, 2013 at 6:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterBernd Felsche

GS: Oh yes, believing there is a greenhouse effect is the same as being a prostitute and everyone in the Bishop's flock is one. I note you define scepticism in a way that plays right into the hands of those pushing outrageously harmful policies. For that reason I see no reason to distinguish you from them.

Geoff Chambers: Easily the most thoughtful and challenging comment on this thread. I remain firmly agnostic on how the dam will crack. This paper can only help, though in the GWPF catalogue Ridley on shale is probably going to be much more important in producing change. I agree about the standup comedians and their ilk, of course. But the climate/energy science/policy nexus is a highly complex phenomenon. As I've said elsewhere we each have the freedom to bring our straw and wonder if it will do for any of the exceedingly ugly camels in the caravan.

Sep 3, 2013 at 7:11 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


Not only is the Mann Made Global Warming (tm) machine a highly complex one but more dangerously, it's a beast that has hundreds of billions of dollars of "profit" at risk from its religious dogma being questioned.



Sep 3, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Hilary Ostrov's observation of the contrast in quality between work such as this briefing paper and the 50 to 1 interviews, and the sloppy stuff from such as Lewandwowksy and Cook, is right on the nail. This reaction, this countering of the excesses, the errors, and the carelessness of papers made prominent only by being on the tidal wave of alarmism has been happening for a while. The careful work of McKitrick and McIntyre on the MBH Hockey Stick comes to mind, and will long be an inspiration for those who value good scholarship and good data analysis.

I cannot but wonder that the passage of time will make these contrasts, and the contrasts in behaviour and character of the participants, seem so obvious that future generations will be astonished that so much power and influence grew out and around so little of any substance.

Sep 3, 2013 at 8:59 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Mailman: True and importantly so. But in the end I guess I'm with Niall Ferguson (in The Cash Nexus and no doubt other places) that man's belief systems are more significant than mere money - or in this case that the 'hundreds of billions' follow from and are a symptom of false belief. Deliberate deception plays a role as well. It always does, with anything this size.

Sep 3, 2013 at 9:04 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Now at James Delingpole's blog.

Along with another paper "Quack Policy – Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism" from IEA, that has a 30-page section on global warming. Have we discussed this paper already, or not?

Sep 3, 2013 at 5:53 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Don't think so Paul. First I've seen of it, anyway. Thanks.

Sep 3, 2013 at 6:05 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I think the Bish's paper omits to refer to the habit of one of the authors to wear SS * uniform.

* Skeptical Science

Sep 4, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"97% of climate scientists are WRONG because, for the last 15 years we have had no warming. No natural warming and no anthropogenic warming."
Sep 2, 2013 at 12:44 PM | NeilC

Except that's not true is it, hence your lack of evidence.

For starters, why are you suddenly using such a short timescale, when it takes a 30 year period to rule out natural variability and see an underlying trend? You're simply taking a short, cherry-picked period of time with a high starting point to give a false impression, which has no bearing on overall trend.

Secondly, even if you (rather daftly) use surface temperatures only, there's still been warming, even over a short period of 15 years with a high starting point.

Thirdly, if you actually include 90+% of warming (the oceans) then the warming trend is clear.

Finally, you seem so ill-informed, that you think direct temperature rise is the only metric by which we can see global warming. You've never heard of melting poles and glaciers? What do you think causes that, lack of warming?

You people really do have absolutely no idea!

Sep 4, 2013 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

If AGW is CO2 caused, then the fact that CO2 forcing plateaus at about 160-240ppm means: CO2 is flawed or fraud...pick one.

Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSharpshooter

" the fact that CO2 forcing plateaus at about 160-240ppm"

Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 PM | Sharpshooter

First I've heard of it. Evidence, please.

Sep 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

Don Keiller, Martin A

Excluding any comments which disagree with your world view is censorship.

Are your arguments so weak that they have to be protected from debate?

Do your readers have to be protected from any evidence except that presented by Bishop Hill?

If you reaaly feel that only the sceptic viewpoint can be discussed here, fair enough. If so, you then have to admit that the content here is not scientific discussion, but propoganda.

Sep 10, 2013 at 12:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

" the fact that CO2 forcing plateaus at about 160-240ppm"

Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 PM | Sharpshooter

First I've heard of it. Evidence, please.
Lindzen and Choi, 2009 and a bunch of others

Sep 10, 2013 at 3:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterSharpshooter

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