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An accurately informed public is necessary for climate policy

Posted on 29 July 2013 by dana1981

Last week, the University of Nottingham Making Science Public blog published a guest post by Ben Pile, What’s behind the battle of received wisdoms?, which focused on Andrew Neil’s interview with Ed Davey on BBC Sunday Politics and my articles at The Guardian discussing the scientific errors Neil made on the show and in a subsequent BBC blog post.  This is a re-post of my guest post response.

Response to Professor Hulme’s Comments

Before addressing this post, I would like to respond to some comments made by Professor Mike Hulme regarding a paper I co-authored, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, which was one of the topics discussed on Sunday Politics and in Pile’s post.  Professor Hulme said,

“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 on?”

With all due respect to Professor Hulme, his perception of the public understanding of climate science is not reflected in the polling data.  In fact, we discussed this in our paper (which is open access and free to download),

“…the perception of the US public is that the scientific community still disagrees over the fundamental cause of GW. From 1997 to 2007, public opinion polls have indicated around 60% of the US public believes there is significant disagreement among scientists about whether GW was happening (Nisbet and Myers 2007). Similarly, 57% of the US public either disagreed or were unaware that scientists agree that the earth is very likely warming due to human activity (Pew 2012).”

Polling data for the UK show a similar level of public misperceptions on climate change.  For example, a 2012 Guardian/ICM poll found that only 57% of British voters accept that human-caused climate change is happening.  In an April 2013 YouGov poll, 39% of the UK population agreed that “the planet is becoming warmer as a result of human activity,” and 53% agreed “the world’s climate is changing as a result of human activity.”  This public misperception on human-caused climate change and the associated scientific consensus was the reason we embarked on our study.  For this reason I would also respectfully disagree with Professor Hulme’s description of our paper as “irrelevant,”

“The irrelevance is because none of the most contentious policy responses to climate change are resolved *even if* we accept that 97.1% of climate scientists believe that ‘human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW’…”

Again quoting from our paper,

“An accurate perception of the degree of scientific consensus is an essential element to public support for climate policy (Ding et al 2011). Communicating the scientific consensus also increases people’s acceptance that climate change (CC) is happening (Lewandowsky et al 2012).”

Our co-author John Cook’s PhD research has similarly shown a strong correlation between public awareness of the scientific consensus and support for government climate policy across nearly the entire political spectrum.  Our paper is well suited for correcting the public’s misperception that humans are not causing global warming or that there is no scientific consensus on the subject, and hence it is a relevant and useful contribution.

Ben Pile’s Guest Post and Andrew Neil’s Errors

Regarding Ben Pile’s guest post on this blog, I would first like to say that I encourage healthy scientific skepticism, and also a healthy debate about what climate policy should entail.  I have no problem with Andrew Neil asking Ed Davey if the recently slowed global surface warming and/or some recent scientific papers should cause the UK government to revise its climate policy.  As I detailed in my second Guardian article on the subject, I think the answer is that it clearly shouldn’t, but there is certainly no problem with the question being asked.  However, as I noted, healthy skepticism and an informed climate policy discussion must accurately consider all available evidence, which Andrew Neil did not.  On that subject, Ben Pile wrote,

Dana Nuccitelli (who is not a climate scientist) compiled a list of what he thought were Neil’s mistakes.”

To be more precise, I provided evidence to illustrate why most of Neil’s climate comments were erroneous.  In his post, Pile did not dispute any of my characterizations of the many errors made by Neil, and I would encourage readers here to click the links to read my articles and the evidence I provided to support my assertions.  I think any open-minded reader will agree that Neil made a great many errors on the show and in his subsequent blog post.

“Skeptics” are Not Included in the 97% Consensus

Regarding our consensus paper, Ben Pile repeated claims made by Andrew Montford, Richard Betts, and Roy Spencer (Professor Hulme also made similar statements in the comments) suggesting that even climate “skeptics” would fall within our 97% consensus.  As I discussed in my second article referenced by Pile, these claims display a lack of understanding of the nuance in our study.

“The “skeptic” papers [in our study] included those that rejected human-caused global warming and those that minimized the human influence. Since we made all of our data available to the public, you can see our ratings of Spencer’s abstracts here. Five of his papers were captured in our literature search; we categorized four as ‘no opinion’ on the cause of global warming, and one as implicitly minimizing the human influence.

Thus, contrary to his testimony, Spencer was not included in the 97 percent consensus. In fact his research was included in the fewer than 3 percent of papers that either rejected or minimized the human contribution to global warming.

Our survey also included categories for papers that quantified the human contribution to global warming. In the author self-ratings phase of our study, 237 papers fell into these categories. 96 percent of these said that humans are the primary cause of the observed global warming since 1950. The consensus on human-caused global warming is robust.”

To summarize, our study did not merely show that 97% of peer-reviewed studies taking a position on the issue agree that humans are causing global warming, although that conclusion was our main focus because of the public misperception on the subject.  The 97% also excluded papers that minimized the human influence on global warming (either implicitly or explicitly stating that humans are responsible for less than 50% of the observed warming since 1950).  And we also collected data on papers explicitly quantifying the human influence, among which 96% agreed that humans are the primary driver of global warming since 1950.

Job Well Done by Ed Davey

Our study should certainly not be used to suggest all climate science and policy questions are settled.  Ben Pile seemed to suggest Ed Davey did so on the BBC program,

“Yet the survey was cited by Davey himself in defence of the government’s climate policies in the face of changing science.”

I would encourage readers here to go back and watch the interview.  The entire discussion of the 97% consensus was limited to the first two minutes of the program.  It merely involved Davey pointing out that human-caused global warming has been established in the peer-reviewed literature, and now it’s time to move on and discuss the appropriate policy to address the issue (followed by Andrew Neil making false statements about our paper).  Throughout the interview Ed Davey pointed out that it’s important to retain healthy skepticism of the science, but that it’s also important to consider all the available evidence (which Andrew Neil refused to do throughout the show).  In fact, Ed Davey displayed a strong understanding of the basic science.  I think British citizens should be happy to have such a well informed Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

Pile’s Inaccurate Claims About Our Paper

Finally, Ben Pile made a number of factually inaccurate claims about our paper and its authors,

“Accordingly, rather than being a dispassionate study into scientific opinion, the 97% survey was a superficially academic exercise, intended to obfuscate the substance of the climate debate. Those who fell for it forget that its authors, aside from having their own — shock horror! — agendas, have no expertise in climate science, much less any interest in taking the sceptics’ arguments on.”

As noted above, the purpose of our study was to try and correct the widespread public misperception about human-caused global warming and the scientific consensus on the subject.  That was our “agenda” – as it always is – to communicate what the peer-reviewed literature says to the public.  Frankly Ben Pile’s comments about our “agendas” are offensive, as are his claims that we have no climate science expertise.

Aside from compiling a vast database summarizing peer-reviewed climate research, four of the co-authors on the Cook et al. (2013) consensus paper also co-authored Nuccitelli et al. (2012) – a climate paper about global heat accumulation, among our many other combined climate science publications.  John Cook co-authored a climate textbook, and several of our co-authors are graduate students researching climate science at various universities.  Not that our expertise should matter – Ben Pile’s comment on the subject is ad hominem – but for the record, it’s also factually inaccurate, as is much of his blog post.

Contrarianism is Not Skepticism

To summarize, contrary to the widespread public misperception on the subject, there is a consensus in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are causing climate change.  There is also a consensus that humans are the primary cause of the current global warming.  Correcting that misperception is critical in achieving public support for climate policy, and has been the goal of our discussions about our study.  I hope we would all agree that a misinformed public is not in our best interest – we cannot solve a problem without first understanding it.

There are of course remaining climate uncertainties and nuances that are not addressed in our consensus paper, and it’s certainly valid to ask if they should impact our climate policy.  However, the argument among “skeptics” seems to be that given remaining uncertainties, we should take a “wait and see” approach to climate change for the time being.  That argument is fundamentally flawed.  Uncertainty is not our friend in climate science – it simply means the problem could either be larger or smaller than we currently expect.  Meanwhile our current climate policy is woefully inadequate in addressing the problem, so even in a best-case scenario we’re not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately the most important thing to bear in mind is that true skepticism requires considering all available evidence.  Ben Pile claimed,

“Andrew Neil, in just one show, has done more to promote an active understanding of climate science and its controversies than has been done by the Carbon Brief blog…”

I could not disagree more, precisely because (aside from the many scientific errors he made) Neil refused to consider all the evidence (unlike Pile’s example of the Carbon Brief blog, which is an excellent resource that does consider all the scientific evidence).  That approach of only considering selective pieces evidence and ignoring the inconvenient data simply cannot promote an active understanding of climate science.  That is not skepticism; it’s contrarianism.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 67:


    I would like to thank Nottingham University's Making science Public project for running some very interesting articles, the comments there are I think worth a read. But perhaps this is the best place to raise this question?

    Lets look at the media coverage that Skeptical Science is so proud of:

    especially this one:

    Barack Obama

    @BarackObama Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more: http://OFA.BO/gJsdFp

    Now whatever the paper did, it made zero reference to impact, or any consensus on impacts and there is no justification at all - based on this paper - for a 97% consensus of ‘dangerous’ to be declared a finding of it, did the authors seek to correct this in anyway, no they celebrated it by listing it on their blog, with a link to President Barack Obama.

    Professor Richard Betts (Head of Climate Impacts, Met Office and IPCC lead author AR4 & AR5) sought to correct it, by tweeting back:


    @BarackObama Actually that paper didn’t say ‘dangerous’. NB I *do* think #climate change poses risks – I just care about accurate reporting!

    Maybe John Cook was not aware of President Barack Obama misrepresenting and overstating this paper, when he said (or his official account did) 97% of scientists agree climate change is real man made and dangerous?

    Sadly no. It appear that John Cook  was surprised at all the attention and made no effort (nor the other authors) to correct this Barack Obama tweet (to 30 million people,  or how it was widely reported else where in the media

    Sydney Morning Herald: Obama gives Aussie researcher 31,541,507 reasons to celebrate

    Read more:

    “Australian researcher John Cook, an expert in climate change communication, was inundated with requests for interviews by US media outlets after Obama took to Twitter to endorse his project’s final report.

    “It was pretty cool news,” said Mr Cook, a fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and founder of the website “It was out of our expectations.”

    A survey of scientific papers by a team led by Mr Cook and published by Fairfax Media this week found more than 97 per cent of researchers endorsed the view that humans are to blame for global warming. The peer-reviewed outcome flies in the face of public perception in countries such as the US or Australia that scientists are divided on the issue.

    “One of the highest predictors of how important people think climate change is, is cues from political leaders,” Mr Cook said. “So if the leaders don’t seem to care, people don’t care either.

    “A cue from Obama is a big step,” he said. “The fact it goes to more than 31 million followers, it just raises the awareness of consensus.”


    Awareness,  a false awareness (courtsey of Obama) of a 97% consensus on 'dangerous', misinformation that is now in the public domain about this paper by the President of the United States of America , not corrected by the authors of the paper. An irony is that Prof Lewandowsky and John Cook have a paper published on how hard it is to correct misinformation.. !!!


    President Obama is now going after Deniers in Congress…. (thus this ishighly political, v dangerous for the public perception of scientists if 'misinformation' is uncorrected by scientists)


    “Call out a climate denier

    Check out our list of known climate deniers in Congress-elected officials who refuse to even acknowledge the science behind climate change—and call them out on Twitter.”

    So Dana, will you or any of your co-authors, tell the President, that your paper says nothing about  a consensus on ‘dangerous’?

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  2. Barry,

    So your particular nit is that the paper's authors didn't correct the President of the United States (or, rather, those who manage his twitter feed) for the exact wording of a tweet?

    And for that you need a page long diatribe?

    Sort of sums it up.  You don't care about the consensus, or the state of climate science, what we know, and what scientists really think.

    You only care about playing word games.

    Welcome to the world of denial.

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  3. actually - the authors celebrated the tweet rather than correct the 'misinformation' made in to the public aboutthe papers findings, which was widely further reported to the media. Something I would hope all scientist would be concerned about (Prof Richard Betts was..)


    a big 'nit'

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  4. Actually, I'd support Barry's suggestion for a correction, but only for the sake of not giving the intentional misinformers something to use.  The President's twitter only misinforms the public where that paper is concerned.  The overwhelming majority of those who follow BO's twitter will never read the paper and may not even realize that the consensus is associated with a particular paper.  I'd argue that the twitter was read by most as a representation of the science rather than an extremely short summary of a single study. As a takeaway representation of science, the tweet is accurate: rapid global warming is creating conditions which are dangerous to conditions that support human prosperity at its current standard.  Yes, the term "dangerous" needs defining, but that's twitter -- it's only a progressive tool when those engaged have the time, energy, training, and/or motivation to follow up and think critically about the issue.

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  5. Hulme's comments are, well, naive, at least from the point of view of someone living in the USA.  The nature of our political system makes it relatively easy for relatively small interest groups to obstruct reform efforts.  Building substantial, and not merely majority, support for reform efforts is often necessary to overcome special interest group lobbying.  On an issue like this, where the opposition has considerable financial resources and is supported by the leadership of one of our major political parties, public opinion has to shift a lot to have a measureable effect.  Unlike Prof. Hulme, the professional politicians and conservative media who constitute the shock troops of denialism in the USA recognize this fact clearly and devote quite a bit of effort to obfuscating the truth to prevent a public opinion shift of this type.  He should spend a few days in the USA watching TV ads from fossil fuel companies.  

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  6. Barry Woods, just of out of interest, how should the tweet have been worded (keeping to 140 characters or less and including the link to the article)?

    As SkS has discussed the various misinterpretations of the 97%, while Obama's tweet may not have been explicitly discussed, I don't think it is fair to say that anybody reading the discussion on SkS (with a reasonably open mind) would say that the error itself had not been addressed.

    Life is too short for pedantry and nit-picking, especially if it is only a means to avoid acceptance of what the TCP does actually show, i.e. that there is a broad concensus amongst scientists working on climate-related science that the majority of climate change is anthropogenic.

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  7. "So Dana, will you or any of your co-authors, tell the President..."

    Yeah hold on, let me get him on the phone right now...

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  8. @dana1981  Richard Betts managed a tweet. how about you?

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  9. Barry, if you want to come across as being a troll with no substantive point to make, then playing silly games is as good a way as any to achive that.  Alternatively, you could engage in something more productive, for instance suggesting how the tweet should have been worded in order to avoid any misconception (bearing in mind only 140 characters are available and would need to include the reference to the article).

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  10. Well you could try something similar to Richard Betts, example already shown.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PW] Cease the back-n-forth on this silly nitpick of a single tweet. Return to the topic and further nonsense about a single tweet will be deleted.

  11. No Barry, not a correction to the tweet, but a rewording of the original tweet that you would have found acceptable.  The point I am making here is that given so few characters it is rather difficult to state exactly what the TCP showed in a way that is completely accurate and can't be misunderstood.  This is especially true if the person writing the tweet is not an expert on the subject. 

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  12. Prof Hulme's  description of his work(from here & quoted below) doesn't throw much light on his reasons for objecting to the 97% consensus.

    "My work explores the idea of climate change using historical, cultural and scientific analyses, seeking to illuminate the numerous ways in which climate change is deployed in public and political discourse. I believe it is important to understand and describe the varied ideological, political and ethical work that the idea of climate change is currently performing across different social worlds. My research interests are therefore concerned with representations of climate change in history, culture and the media; with how knowledge of climate change is constructed (especially through the IPCC) and the interactions between climate change knowledge and policy; and with the construction, application and evaluation of climate scenarios for impacts, adaptation and integrated assessments."

    This statement is as clear as mud. But a read of this review of Prof Hulme's 2010 book throws some light on where he is coming from. My reading of it is that he sees science as not being the problem solver and so not in a position to dictate to the world what is or is not the implications of the science. Even with a 97% concensus, even if science is unequivocal that mankind is off to hell in a handcart, that is irrelevant. This is because what we do about it, indeed how much we do about it, this is still a socio-political problem whose solution and whose statement of "problem" should not be dictated to us by science.

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  13. I had not heard of Hulme since he made some inaccurate interjections into the faux-scandal Climategate back in 2009-2010.

    It would be interesting to know if he has done anything at all useful in the meantime.

    IMHO, this latest intervention moves him from zero to zero, or even to less than zero.

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  14. This is yet another denier tactic coming from Barry.  They create impossible barriers of perfection for climate scientists and never expect anything close to the same from their own side.  


    Barry, this website is brimming with outrageous examples of "skeptics" propagating any number of completely ludicris claims.  Where is your incredulity over them?  

    I'm waiting for a wide range of corrections from Pielke, Spencer, Christy, Watts, Goddard, Bastardi, Carter, Taylor, McKitrick, McIntyre, Easterbrook, Kappenberger, Scafetta, Humlum, and a long list of others.  

    Please let me know when these guys make their corrections and I'll gladly personally lobby John for a correction on the president's tweet.

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  15. As I'm in the UK and John Cook is in Australia (Dana the USA) - I'll have to wait (hopefully) to a reply to my question (comment 1) from the authors of the paper.

    I'm a little surprised that Dana did not focuss on the first part Prof Mike Hulme's (founding director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change) comment, as this has recieved the most attention around the blogs (in particular Prof Judith Curry and Prof Dan Kahan), it talks mainly about his view that the climate communications environment with the politicians, media and the public has changed post Copenhagen Conference (or climategate - 2009):

    "Ben Pile is spot on. The “97% consensus” 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 Anderegg et al.’s 2010 equally poor study in PNAS: dividing publishing climate scientists into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’." - Prof Mike Hulme

    Prof Dan Kahan (Yale) made a similar observation of how succesful this consensus aproach communications would be likely to work, in a post when the paper was published:

    "Annual "new study" finds 97% of climate scientists believe in man-made climate change; public consensus sure to follow once news gets out " - Prof Dan Kahan


    Prof Dan Kahan revisited this paper when Prof Mike Hulme's comment came to his attention, and seems to be agreeing with Hulme that the climate of communications has moved on:

    "On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization. That's because "scientific consensus," when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.

    Such a mode of discourse doesn't help the public to figure out what scientists believe. But it makes it as clear as day to them that climate change is an "us-vs.-them" cultural conflict, in which those who stray from the position that dominates in their group will be stigmatized as traitors within their communities."

    This is not a condition conducive to enlightened self-government." - Prof Dan Kahan

    Is it not possible to change focus, and to attempt to discuss what we all agree on, going forward?

    Evidence (if only ancedotal) that the comms climate has changed i the UK at least:

    At the recent Oxford Union Interview with Prof Lindzen, with Mark Lynas (author Six Degreees, God Species and environmental writer/activist), Prof Lyles Allen - Oxford Uni - opposing, and David Rose - Mail on Sunday supporting, surprising the interviewer I think, they all agreed that current EU climate policies were pointless futile symbolic gestures, Myles Allen stated that he and Lindzen were in agreement about most of the science and Mark Lynas stated aterwards that they all agreed on 7 out of 10 things.

    So is it time to work out what we all can agree on and move forward.

    Mike Hulme suggests in this comment that the world has changed and despairs at the polarised and quality of the public debate.

    Consider that  Prof Mike Hulme (Tyndall Centre, UEA) was quoted in a climategate email of trying to keep sceptics like Prof Stott off the BBC airwaves, and Mark Lynas was writing 6 years ago that climates sceptics were the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers, that surely is an indication of  how things have changed?

    I had lunch with Mark Lynas last year and he expressed surpise at the contents of the full Doran survey, an earlier 97% consensus paper (especially the appendices,) he is the unatributed environmental writer here in the WUWT article below, he had often quoted it, but had never read - The Consensus on the Consensus - M Zimmerman (the survey cited by Doran)

    Both Hulme and Kahan are saying that yet another 97% consensus paper is unlikely to change anything and perhaps a new approach is required, even psychologist Dr Adam Corner is trying to broaden the tent, to include conservatives (UK sort) who whilst many care about the environemnet, Dr Adam Corner (Cardiff Uni, Guardian, COIN, PIRC, formerly Green Party MP candidate, and Friends of the Earth) recognises that the issue has become symbolic and identified with the left, and needs a broader viewpoint to actually ever achieve anything with respect to policy.


    If Mark Lynas (who put Lindzen into a who is who of Climate Change Deniers - (with Exxon fossil fuel links innuendo) in the New Statesmen a decade ago and equated sceptics with moral equivalent of Holocause deniers ( 6 years ago) can sit down  with me ( a Watts Up With that very occasional Guest Author)  civily and have lunch, discuss, agree to disagree or even agree to agree on many things (I even 'know where he lives' - ref Greenpeace, he had a bad back, so I gave him a lift), have things moved on?

    Or after the Lindzen debate, when Mark Lynas was asked, do you think Prof Lindzen's scence is in anyway influenced by any fossil fuel infuence, he said highly highly unlikely, Prof Myles Allen was really offended that Lindzen had been asked this sort of question (repeatably, a lot was cut from the video edit) , Myles (frustrated with the interviewer) even saying Exxon paid for my ticket once, can we move on, and that consensus was not getting us anywhere , is that a not a sign that the climate of communications has moved on (in the UK at least)


    So maybe it is time to accept Roy Spencer, Prof Lindzen, Anthony Watts and Andrew Montford, etc into the consensus? As they all agree that the Earth has warmed in the last 200 hundred years, that CO2 is a green house gas, and that man contributes to climate change.

    We can then discuss what we all disagree about, which I think is mainly policy and the hot topics of climate science, senitsivity and the reason for the hiatus in temps in the last decade or so.?

    And also perhaps it is time to drop Deniers Disinformation Databases (Desmogblog) or Deniers Halls of Shame (Rising Tide, Campaign Agansit Climate Change) as a tool in the communications debate (it is ever so counterproductve)


    (sorry the comment was a bit long)



    Prof Myles Alen comments about Prof Lindzen treatement by the interviewer (comment 23):


    the Oxford Union Lindzen interview (Allen, Rose, Lynas)

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  16. Hi Dana

    Bit surprised to read your sentence "Ben Pile repeated claims made by ... Richard Betts ... suggesting that even climate “skeptics” would fall within our 97% consensus ... these claims display a lack of understanding of the nuance in our study."

    Ben pointed to my post at Bishop Hill where I asked the sceptics who considered themselves in the 97%, and in which I was careful to quote your exact definition, which was "97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming".  

    I think it's a bit strong to say I was making "claims" and imply that I'd not understood your definitions.  It would be useful if you could check your reading of your sources a bit more thoroughly!

    Incidentally, shoyemore, since Climategate Mike Hulme has published an excellent, insightful book called "Why we disagree about climate change".  It's a very well-informed and well-argued examination of the complexities of the climate debate and the different viewpoints people are coming from - I think it's a very useful book, and makes a great contribution to moving the dialogue forward beyond the current stalemate between entrenched positions.  Mike is well worth listening to, and I thoroughly recommend his book.

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  17. Barry Woods,

    So is it time to work out what we all can agree on and move forward.

    You mean, figure out what the consensus is and then announce the results to everyone in some sort of publication?

    So maybe it is time to accept Roy Spencer, Prof Lindzen, Anthony Watts and Andrew Montford, etc into the consensus?

    This is a bizarre suggestion. "The consensus" is not a club. It's what the overwhelming majority of scientists with the relevant expertise agree on. Anyone will automatically be a part of that consensus if they agree on the same thing.

    You seem to be suggesting that "the consensus" should be watered down to the extent that the remaining 3% can also be "included", a sort of lowest-common-denominator approach that excludes nobody so everyone gets to be in "the club".

    Well, I've got some bad news for you there. Some of those 3% are real cranks, and they don't all agree on the same thing. Some of them don't even agree with themselves from one blog post to the next!

    Besides which, telling everyone what 97% of scientists say on a subject is good enough for me and, I suspect, most people. We don't need to water it down to pick up the stragglers who can't bring themselves to accept the evidence or let go of their pet theories no matter how many times they've been shown wrong.

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  18. I think it's a very useful book, and makes a great contribution to moving the dialogue forward beyond the current stalemate between entrenched positions.

    I would have thought that having people stop misrepresenting facts would be a great contribution. This entire website is dedicated to busting myths that weren't dreamt up by those who accept the evidence, they're actual myths that have actually been promoted by many of the people who you're suggesting we should now accommodate for the sake of "unity".

    It's unreasonable to expect those who form opinions based on facts and evidence to find some way they can get along with those who promote lies and misinformation to prevent actions they find unpalatable, especially if that means compromising the former group's efforts to get those facts and that evidence into the public arena so that everyone is aware of the reality.

    I suppose "Why can't we all just get along and promote a message we can all agree with" is the next in a long line of tactics to delay action.

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  19. Barry, it appears to me that your whole rant is based on the premise that pointing out the consensus is polarizing, and analyzing and publishing about it is designed to further polarize instead of "moving on". Maybe you could clarify that.

    As pointed out many times over, including in this very post by Dana, the paper was everything but what your long comment seems to make it all about. Thus it clearly appears to me you are beating a strawman. If you want to misunderstand the points the paper is making then it is actually you and those you cite who failed to move on.

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  20. Barry Woods asserts a widespread reframing of climate change discourse, which apparently he believes has relevance to readers here. That may well be true, but his framing of the reframing comes across to me as nitpicky and adversarial – the very thing that ironically it seems he wishes wasn’t part of climate discourse. Political science suggests there may indeed be power in reframing discourse. In fact, I appreciate how this site (SkS) helps to reframe cognitive discourse (at least on this site) away from myth and propaganda toward science.

    “Prof Mike Hulme’s... view that the climate communications environment with the politicians, media and the public has changed post Copenhagen Conference (or climategate - 2009)”

    “Evidence (if only ancedotal) that the comms climate has changed i the UK at least”

    In addition to claiming that this reframing is widespread, Barry implies that this reframing is beneficial, and that communicators who are framing the discourse differently are counterproductive. It is not entirely clear what Barry’s reframing is other than that current ‘contrarians’ (WUWT etc) be categorised as part of a new ‘consensus’ where the consensus envelope is redrawn to be far more inclusive, and then that we resume discussions about things over which there is disagreement (sensitivity and a perceived hiatus). In my opinion this would probably leave us not far from where we are now except that we would have to find other words to describe the current ‘consensus’ that current ‘contrarians’ fall outside of.

    “So maybe it is time to accept Roy Spencer, Prof Lindzen, Anthony Watts and Andrew Montford, etc into the consensus?”

    I wonder whether Barry would consider a contribution at WUWT in which he encouraged its readers to view themselves as part of a meaningful consensus (not just mockery of the idea of consensus) that includes, presumably, SkS authors/readers? While on the one hand that would be a wonderful development, I unfortunately doubt the discourse has moved to this point from the point of view of WUWT authors/readers.

    Barry, in one or two sentences, could you succinctly characterise the change in climate discourse that you are talking about?

    Further, in another one or two sentences, what is your objective for facilitating a reframing of climate change discourse, and what should be the objective generally for climate communication?

    Finally, if one believes the premise of Dana’s conclusion in the OP, would it make to participate in the reframing you are talking about? If so, why? Or if one must logically dispute Dana’s conclusion in order to participate in such a reframing, perhaps it would be useful to start with evidence-based reasoning to come to a different conclusion than that of the OP.

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  21. oops - typo in first sentence of last paragraph above in #20: "would it make sense to participate..."

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  22. After reading all of the above comments I can't help wondering why a 97% consensus paper is causing so much angst in the denial community? If we are to believe the public has moved on, and that publicity of the paper will only harden established positions, I would have thought the denial blogs would simply ignore it.

    My own experience of engaging with climate contrarians is that they believe the basic science of global warming is still in dispute. And I don't blame them with headlines in the popular media declaring that CFCs/cosmic rays/solar activitity, in other words, anything other than CO2 is the cause. With so much misinformation in the public sphere, a recent survey of the scientific literature is something which had to be done.

    I think what Hulme and Kahan are saying is that such a survey is not an end in itself and they are frustrated when it is used in an attempt to silence debate. Fair enough. Kahan calls for evidence based approaches to come up with carefully nuanced methods of climate change communication, but I was having trouble following exactly what he is advocating. Perhaps this from his blog of last Sunday is an example:

    "I just instructed my broker to place an order for $153,252 worth of stocks in firms engaged in arctic shipping. I wonder how many of the people arguing against the validity of the Cook et al. study are shorting those same securities?"

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  23. richard.betts @16 - fair point, that wasn't accurate phrasing on my part.  Sorry about that.  Though it's worth noting that while many 'skeptics' may be part of the 97%, they're not part of the 96%.

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  24. “So maybe it is time to accept Roy Spencer, Prof Lindzen, Anthony Watts and Andrew Montford, etc into the consensus?”

    Hm, are Spencer, Lindzen and Watts ready to accept that >50% of warming is due to human activities?  I think likely not.

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  25. It's interesting.  I think this conversation coming from Kahan, Hulme et al is missing an important element.  They completely miss the target audience of Cook13.  And this is discussed very clearly in the paper.

    The paper is about communicating the level of agreement within the published literature regarding human influences on climate... to the general public.

    The concensus has little meaning within circles of scientists involved in climate.  It does nothing to advance our scientific understanding of climate change.  It does nothing to change anyone's mind who's been involved in the issue.

    The paper does communicate something extremely important to the electorate who have little involvement or understanding of this issue.  The paper addresses those who have been sold the idea that there is substantial doubt about human influence on climate.

    So, what Hulme and Kahan (and Spencer and Watts and Tol, etc) are arguing has pretty much nothing to do with the paper.

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  26. Not surprised "skeptics" are still hopping mad over this paper, drama and all.  Their outrage is not because they feel marginalized. That is part of their false narrative. Their outrage is because their "no consensus" narrative is debunked. They know how harmful to their cause an informed public is.  Their goals are always to confuse the public, and one critical strategy is to foster the notion that there is no consensus on the basics.  This paper, and the subsequent coverage among much of the same media that covers their material, refutes their narrative.

    Hulme's moral argument is illogical.  Is there a general scientific consensus on smoking's link to lung cancer?   Evolution?  Hulme appears to believe that summarizing the scientific literature is wrong to do because it is somehow "divisive".  It should not be done because it offends some people.  Silly.  It does societies and policymakers no good to be disinformed or mislead about the general consensus of experts on these topics.  Such is in fact detrimental to rational frutiful public discourse. 

    Hulme almost seems to get it with his comment on the "irrelevance" of the paper, but in doing so makes another illogical argument.  Understanding among the public and policymakers of a consensus on the basics of anthropogenic climate change may not decide contentious policy debates, such as cap and trade versus carbon tax, but it is a necessary condition.  If leaders and the general public believe there's no consensus among scientists on whether or not the climate is warming and humans are causing most of it, no action at all is likely.  Similarly, any restrictions on smoking would face stronger resistance if the public and policymakers believed scientists were split on the issue.  Creationism might as well be taught in public schools.  After all, there's a raging debate among scientists on the topic and daring to correct that misperception is wrong because it offends some people.  

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  27. Barry, Kahan's quote

    "On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization. That's because "scientific consensus," when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it."

    seems to me to be mere rhetoric and itself polarizing (which is somewhat ironic) as it is deliberately painting a disparaging (and IMHO unfair and innacurate) picture of one "side" of the discussion. 

    AFAICS, the TCP report is a response to the common climate blog myth "there is no concensus", nothing more. For example:

    "As Joseph Bast who heads the Heartland Institute points out, “It is important to distinguish between the statement, which is true, that there is no scientific consensus that AGW [anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming] is or will be a catastrophe, and the also-true claims that the climate is changing (of course it is, it is always changing), and that most scientists believe there may be a human impact on climate (our emissions and alterations of the landscape are surely having an impact, though they are often local or regional (like heat islands) and small relative to natural variation).”

    [note the hypoerbole, AGW doesn't have to be a catastrophe to be worth mitigating against] This simply isn't true, and a perfectly rational, scientific response is to conduct surveys to find out whether or not there is a broad concensus, and to point this out when the topic arises.  It is Kahan that appears to be personalising a discussion of the science.

    If you want to see what we can agree on and move forward, then how about starting with an explicit statement of where you stand on the topic of the existence of a concensus? 

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  28. @25.

    Rob - you are spot on. The climate science deniers and their close cousins, the "lukewarmers" are not going to be convinced by the consensus paper. There could be palm trees growing in Antarctica and they would still be claiming that the science is not "settled". Who gives a hoot for the faux outrage. Best focus on the general public - particularly the young who have to live with the consequences of AGW.

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  29. richard betts, #16,

    I took the trouble to re-read much of what Hulme wrote in 2009-2010 that lost him my respect. Admittedly, I may have been hard on him and his comments seem to be more cogent after 3 or 4 years.

    However, I did note at the time, and still do, that in pieces like his Wall Street Journal op-ed, at no point did he remind his readers that the "Climategate" charges against his colleagues were baseless, and exaggerated in the media.  I think that would have been a useful point to make to make to WSJ readers. Instead, he seemed focussed on his own philosophical and ideological agenda regarding science and the IPCC.

    I am glad he wrote a good book, and some day I may even read it.

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  30. Barry Woods,

    Given Myles Allen's agreement with "7 out of 10" points with Professor LIndzen, Bishop Hill et al, here is an article by Professor Allen in which he indeed says that the "climate of climate change" has changed.

    However, Allen takes the science for granted, and wants the discussion to push on the penalizing fossil fuel companies for polluting the atmosphere. That is the change he sees, but I do not think that is the one noted by Mike Hulme.

    The only institution in the world that could deal with the cost of climate change without missing a beat is the fossil fuel industry: BP took a $30bn charge for Deepwater Horizon, very possibly more than the total cost of climate change damages last year, and was back in profit within months. Of the $5 trillion per year we currently spend on fossil energy, a small fraction would take care of all the loss and damage attributable to climate change for the foreseeable future several times over.

    The fact is that you may well be right about 70%, even 90%, of the science is agreed, leaving out the Killing the Sky Dragon crowd. Unfortunately, you will find that the likes of Roy Spencer and Anthony Watts will only agree sufficient of the science that justifies their preferred policy, which is to do nothing.

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  31. With reference to the discussion about rhetorical bludgeons and polarizing discourse as touched on by Dikran in his response to Barry, as one of the regular lay readers of this site (and the parent of a near 2-year old boy) I should like to pipe in to note that, frankly, if self-styled skeptics would like to avoid being beat rhetorically about the head, then they could simply stop advocating policy action - or should I say inaction - which imperil the fortunes of today's global poor and of future generations (*), on the basis of flimsy misrepresentations or misinterpretations of the evidence.

    (*) For some inscrutable reason I get upset when others' behaviour threatens my son's future. I certainly can't imagine why that would be.

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  32. I just wanted to ask if Mike Hulme has acknowledge he did post the comments regarding Cooks paper? 

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  33. Re: Pile's quote above, “Dana Nuccitelli (who is not a climate scientist) ...” begs the question of "What makes a climate scientist?"  Is it academic training in climate science?  Scientific peer-reviewed papers in climate science journals?  Publication of web posts in climate science?  When I was a college undergraduate choosing a major at one of the better-known US universities, there was no climate science offered and that was the case at nrarly all US colleges and universities.  No one has ever paid me to do climate science. 

    I would be interested in such a discussion, perhaps in another thread.

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  34. Warren Pearce (of Making Science Public, Nottingham) who hosted Dana's article, is being brave with a headine like this at he Guardian?


    Guardian: Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?

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  35. Warren Pearce's contribution is embarrassing and cringeworthy. He sets a standard composed of Karl Popper, Andrew Montfort and Anthony Watts. No scientist, let alone climate scientist, gets a mention.

    Leaving aside Popper (whose philosophy of science is contested), apparently scientists who have spent years observing, writing, publishing and honing their skills may yet aspire to the excellence of our two stalwarts.

    No reference or link is provided (for example, to this site) where the reader may go to gain a balanced overview of climate science. The "technical" references are to the Economist article on climate sensitivity of a few months back, the Bishop Hill blog, Wikipedia,  and a blog called "Climate Resistance".

    Beisdes looking good on his CV in an application to become a Fox News talking head, Pearce's farrago only serves as a minor irritant.

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  36. Baryy, instead of answering the many (or just a few of the) questions you got here explaining your rant @15, you instead moved the goal post to something else. Is that article reflecting your opinion?

    Assuming Warren is a serious researcher, he did well in placing a question mark at that headline. The fact it appeared in the "political science" section says the rest. The article provides no evidence that self-ascribed "skeptics" have actually done significant science or contributed to the science in meaningful ways other than having their claims debunked. The climate science published by "credible" scientists such as Lindzen and others has been either demonstrably false, or simply had such little merrit that it was not pursued any further after showing that. It is thus a mystery to me what Warren Pearce is talking about, other than an endorsement of the doubt-strategy by inviting his readers to endorse including self-ascribed "skeptics" into the political discussion. After all that is where they are at home, preventing meaningful action by ascerting "uncertainty" and the need for "real science". Sorry, sounds like typical false balance to me. Not worth wasting more time on.

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  37. no - I just thought it was interesting, Warren posting that article in the Guardain, just after Ben Piles and Dana' Nucitelis' articles at his Making Science Public project..

    I would hope that John or Dana respond to my comment (no 1) as they were authors, I would like to here their view, rather than  comments from regulars, after all the article is entitled:

    An accurately informed public is necessary for climate policy

    I think this would inlcude the president misunderstanding John Cook et al's 97% paper and misinforming the public. A climate scientist took the effort to correct, better that the authors did the same, or are seen to try?.  Ie Gavin Schmidt went out of his way this week to criticise the artice methane meltdown story doing the rounds in the media and had a long twitter discussion with the author Chris Hope about it. Making corectoin builds credibility amongst the public and my respect for Gavin went up because he did this.

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  38. Barry, I think in most people's view your question has been adequately addressed by the responses since your first comment. Your comparison to Gavin is misleading as Gavin was addressing a strong opinion about scientific evidence by other scientists.

    I think you would have a good point if the president were a scientist or a journalist tweeting this. Alas, he is a politician making a political statement. Anyone of different opinion about interpreting the science like he did is welcome to tweet back. If all scientists tweeted back to politicians making false scientific statements we would not have time to do much else ...

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  39. Barry's comments border on the TLDR, but it appears to me that Dana and Hulme, et al, are having a discussion about the contents of the paper, and Barry is having a discussion about how media play was handled after the paper was published.  I can't make out in Barry's pages what specific problem(s) he has with the paper itself.

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  40. Richard Betts's, a scientist was a strong opinion about this paper, he expressed it to Obama, and I stil haven't heard of the authors response?


    But I think this will get lost now. I hope people are nice to Warren, despite this:

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are skating on the thin ice of sloganeering and excessive repetition, both of which are banned by this site's comment policy. Please cease and desist, or face the consequences. 

  41. Is Warren related to Fred?

    shoyemore, I think a clue to how Warren's arguments are formed is in his research profile:

    "Warren Pearce is a Research Fellow on the Making Science Public Programme, focusing on the relationship between scepticism and science, with a particular focus on the online debates around climate change."

    If you skip an education in the hard sciences, the various science conferences involving climate science, published studies, and synthesis reports, and your primary view of climate science is from an examination of the blogosphere, it's easy to understand where Warren's arguments are coming from.  He views bloggers as the most credible "scientists".

    Such a background doesn't really excuse logical fallacies.  Impressed by many of the comments so far.  An example...


    Warren Pearce seems to argue that the existence of even more extreme voices makes Anthony Watts suddenly a "mainstream" sceptic who is thereby freed of the predicate pseudoscience. That is not a logical argument to make.

    Regardless of what one may think of Watts, contrasting an extremist with someone who is even more extreme doesnt make him mainstream. Regardless of what one thinks of Watts, contrasting someone who frequently flirts with pseudoscience with an all out pseudo-science lover doesn't free the former from any link with pseudo-science.

    That is what I would call the fallacy of the middle ground.

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  42. So still no confirmation that Professor Hulme actually did post the comments?? Because it seems a little too easy to impersonate someone on the internet and for everyone to assume it is them.

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  43. Michael @42, Hulme did post those comments (confirmed by email).

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  44. Hulme's comments aren't all that surprising.  He's viewing the consensus study from the narrow lens of the particular narrative he discusses in the article below.  See the paragraph beginning "Second, there has been a re-framing of climate change."

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  45. NewYorkJ,

    I think Bart Verheggen nailed Pearce's article pretty accurately. It is clear that Pearce has learned all he knows about climate science from reading fake-skeptic blogposts.

    I still do not understand why the John Cook paper has had such a "scalded cat" effect on the fake-sceptics. The President of the United States invited 31 million people to read a Reuters report, adding his own gloss. Perhaps that is what has caused their obvious discomfort.

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  46. “I still do not understand why the John Cook paper has had such a "scalded cat" effect on the fake-sceptics”.

    That’s easy answered.

    This peer-reviewed paper has taken away deniers' no consensus “Holy Grail” - and they want it back.

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  47. And it's a simple representation of what's going on.  No interpretation necessary.  Like MBH98 and Marcott et al. 2013, it's a single figure that is not easily re-contextualized.  When Watts et al. try to spin it, they end up creating the kind of confusion that scientists typically create when they try to communicate the details to the public.  In other words, there's no countermove. They've actually started to pull the Mann Maneuver on Cook: cast doubt on the source if you can't attack the work (funny how no one goes after the "et al.").  Now that the Levitus 0-2000m OHC plot is getting some length to it, it's beginning to come under attack for the same reason (less so, though, because the professional spinners know that OHC vs. temp can be confusing to the general public).  Watts has already tried to stir confusion re Levitus with his goofy attempt to diminish the level of energy going into the oceans.  

    Nothing at all to do with scientific progress.  Everything to do with the power of the piece in the game of shaping public opinion, a game that is difficult for scientists and their communicators to play.  The professional spinners are allowed to play by one set of rules (every trick in the book), and if science communication comes anywhere near any move that even causes a single hair on Ethical Cat's back to tremble, the spinners launch a full "exposure" of it.  It must be quite intoxicating (in a Mad Dog 20/20 sort of way) to have no accountability re science and to have an audience that simply laps it up without question, cheering wildly at the ongoing argument for their own willful ignorance.  The postmodern condition is alive and well.  

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  48. Barry Woods has a point that is being ignored.  If the Obama camp (I seriously doubt he keyed it in himself) tweeted a statement from the original SKS post that was inaccurate (the dangerous part), then the best response from SKS, and any other website parrotting it, should have been, "Great, but to be accurate this is what we said..." 

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  49. Perhaps Dana could use the same wording to correct BO as Mr Watts has used to correct Mr Inhofe over the last few years.

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  50. Terranova @48.

    Barry Woods made very many points down this thread. They were mostly ignored, probably because most of what he said was simply not worthy of a reply. The Obama tweet you refer to was "especially" quoted by Barry Woods @1thus:-

    @BarackObama Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more: http://OFA.BO/gJsdFp

    As a statement, this tweet is inaccurate in a number of ways. But to correct this would require more space than twitter allows and, importantly, the statement does end with a reference to further information which does allow any problems with accuracy to be corrected. Indeed, the tweet is surely imploring the reader to "read more."

    Is the point you attribute to Barry Woods that the Reuters article the twitter links to is unfactual? If so, in what way? If not, what is the substance of this point that you are advocating for Barry Woods?

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