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Climate Hustle

John Cook

John is a Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. He holds a PhD in cognitive psychology at the University of Western Australia and a Bachelor of Science at the University of Queensland, achieving First Class Honours with a major in physics. He co-authored the 2011 book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand with Haydn Washington, the 2013 college textbook Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis with Tom Farmer, and the 2016 college textbook Climate Change: Examining the Facts with Daniel Bedford. He also lead-authored the paper Quantifying the Consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, which was tweeted by President Obama and was awarded the best paper published in Environmental Research Letters in 2013. He co-hosts the podcast Evidence Squared with Peter Jacobs.

  

Publications

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the “Post-Truth” EraJournal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognitionhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2017.07.008 (pre-press).

Cook, J. (2017). Response by Cook to “Beyond Counting Climate ConsensusEnvironmental Communication, 1-3DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2017.1377095

van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., Cook, J., Leiserowitz, A., Ranney, M., Lewandowsky, S., Árvai, J., & Weber, E. U. (2017). Culture versus cognition is a false dilemmaNature Climate Change7(7), 457-457.

Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S., & Ecker, U. (2017). Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. PLoS ONE, 12(5): e0175799. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175799

Skuce, A. G., Cook, J., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Rice, K., Green, S. A., ... & Nuccitelli, D. (2017). Does It Matter if the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming Is 97% or 99.99%? Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 0270467617702781.

Cook, J. (2017). How to Effectively Debunk Myths About Aging and Other MisconceptionsPublic Policy and Aging Report. 27(1), 13-17. doi: 10.1093/ppar/prw034

Cook, J. (2016). Closing the “consensus gap” by communicating the scientific consensus on climate change and countering misinformation. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Western Australia).

Bedford, D., & Cook, J. (2016). Climate Change: Examining the Facts. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Cook, J. (2016). Countering Climate Science Denial and Communicating Scientific Consensus. Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication. London: Oxford University Press.

Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., & Lloyd, E. (2016). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracismSynthese, 1-22.

Cook, J., Oreskes, N., Doran, P. T., Anderegg, W. R., Verheggen, B., Maibach, E. W., Carlton, J. S., Lewandowsky, S., Skuce, A. G., Green, S. A., & Nuccitelli, D. (2016). Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters, 11(4), 048002.

Cook, J. & Lewandowsky, S. (2016). Rational Irrationality: Modeling Climate Change Belief Polarization Using Bayesian Networks. Topics in Cognitive Science8(1), 160-179.

Cook, J., Schuennemann, K., Nuccitelli, D., Jacobs, P., Cowtan, K., Green, S., Way, R., Richardson, M., Cawley, G., Mandia, S., Skuce, A., & Bedford, D. (April 2015). Denial101x: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. edXhttp://edx.org/understanding-climate-denial

Benestad, R. E., Nuccitelli, D., Lewandowsky, S., Hayhoe, K., Hygen, H. O., van Dorland, R., & Cook, J. (2015). Learning from mistakes in climate researchTheoretical and Applied Climatology, 1-5.

Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Oberauer, K., Brophy, S., Lloyd, E. A., & Marriott, M. (2015). Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate DenialJournal of Social and Political Psychology3(1), 142-178.

Cook, J., & Cowtan, K. (2015). Reply to Comment on ‘Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature’Environmental Research Letters10(3), 039002.

Cook, J., Ecker, U. & Lewandowsky, S. (2015). Misinformation and how to correct it, Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Robert Scott and Stephen Kosslyn (Eds.), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Cook, J., Bedford, D. & Mandia, S. (2014). Raising Climate Literacy Through Addressing Misinformation: Case Studies in Agnotology-Based Learning. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(3), 296-306.

Cook, J., Jacobs, P. (2014). Scientists are from Mars, Laypeople are from Venus: An Evidence-Based Rationale for Communicating the Consensus on Climate. Reports of the National Center for Science Education. 34, 6, 3.1-3.10.

Cook, J. (2014). Research on Climate Consensus Provokes Strong Reactions. The Winnower. Available at https://thewinnower.com/discussions/research-on-climate-consensus-provokes-strong-reactions

Verheggen, B., Strengers, B., Cook, J., van Dorland, R., Vringer, K., Peters, J., Visser, H. & Meyer, L. (2014). Scientists’ views about attribution of global warmingEnvironmental science & technology48(16), 8963-8971.

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Skuce, A., Way, R., Jacobs, P., Painting, R., Honeycutt, R., Green, S.A. (2014). Reply to Comment on ‘Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature: a Reanalysis’. Energy Policy. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2014.06.002

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Skuce, A., Way, R., Jacobs, P., Painting, R., Lewandowsky, S. & Coulter, A. (2014). 24 critical errors in Tol (2014): Reaffirming the 97% consensus on anthropogenic global warming. http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/24_errors.pdf

Cook, J. (2014). How Has the Carbon Tax Affected the Public ‘Debate’ on Climate Change? Quiggin, J., Adamson, D., & Quiggin, D. (Eds.), In Carbon Pricing: Early Experience and Future Prospects (pp. 49-64). Cheltenham Glos: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Abraham, J. P., Cook, J., Fasullo, J. T., Jacobs, P. H., Mandia, S. A. & Nuccitelli, D. A. (2014). Review of the Consensus and Asymmetric Quality of Research on Human-Induced Climate Change, Cosmopolis, 2014-1, 3-18.

Farmer, G. T. & Cook, J. (2013). Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media.

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs, P., & Skuce, A. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, 8(2), 024024+.

Bedford, D., & Cook, J. (2013). Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change: A Response to Legates, Soon and Briggs. Science & Education, 22(8), 2019-2030.

Nuccitelli, D., Way, R., Painting, R., Church, J., & Cook, J. (2012). Comment on ocean heat content and Earth's radiation imbalance. II. Relation to climate shifts. Physics Letters A, 376(45), 3466-3468.

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., Seifert, C. M., Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and its correction continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3), 106-131.

Washington, H., & Cook, J. (2012). Climate change denial: Heads in the sand. Routledge.

Cook, J., & Lewandowsky, S. (2011). The Debunking Handbook. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland. ISBN 978-0-646-56812-6. [available at http://sks.to/debunk].

 

Recent blog posts


Why the 97% climate consensus is important

Posted on 2 October 2017 by dana1981 & John Cook

John Cook is a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, researching cognitive science.

Sander van der Linden is an Assistant Professor in Social Psychology, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab and a Fellow of Churchill College.

Anthony Leiserowitz is a Research Scientist and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.

Edward Maibach is a University Professor and Director of Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Unfortunately, humans don’t have infinite brain capacity, so no one can become an expert on every subject. But people have found ways to overcome our individual limitations through social intelligence, for example by developing and paying special attention to the consensus of experts. Modern societies have developed entire institutions to distill and communicate expert consensus, ranging from national academies of science to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Assessments of scientific consensus help us tap the collective wisdom of a crowd of experts. In short, people value expert consensus as a guide to help them navigate an increasingly complex and risk-filled world.

More generally, consensus is an important process in society. Human cooperation, from small groups to entire nations, requires some degree of consensus, for example on shared goals and the best means to achieve those goals. Indeed, some biologists have argued that “human societies are unable to function without consensus.” Neurological evidence even suggests that when people learn that they are in agreement with experts, reward signals are produced in the brain. Importantly, establishing consensus in one domain (e.g. climate science) can serve as a stepping stone to establishing consensus in other domains (e.g. need for climate policy).

The value of consensus is well understood by the opponents of climate action, like the fossil fuel industry. In the early 1990s, despite the fact that an international scientific consensus was already forming, the fossil fuel industry invested in misinformation campaigns to confuse the public about the level of scientific agreement that human-caused global warming is happening. As has been well-documented, fossil fuel companies learned this strategy from the tobacco industry, which invested enormous sums in marketing and public relations campaigns to sow doubt in the public mind about the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

However, some academics have recently argued that communicators and educators should not inform the public about the strong scientific consensus on climate change. UK sociologist Warren Pearce and his colleagues recently published a commentary (and corresponding Guardian op-ed) arguing that communicating the scientific consensus is actually counter-productive. John Cook published a reply, which we summarize here.

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8 comments


Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation

Posted on 17 May 2017 by John Cook &

The ConversationJohn Cook, Research Assistant Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University.  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As a psychologist researching misinformation, I focus on reducing its influence. Essentially, my goal is to put myself out of a job.

Recent developments indicate that I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Misinformation, fake news and “alternative facts” are more prominent than ever. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Science and scientific evidence have been under assault.

Fortunately, science does have a means to protect itself, and it comes from a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. This borrows from the logic of vaccines: A little bit of something bad helps you resist a full-blown case. In my newly published research, I’ve tried exposing people to a weak form of misinformation in order to inoculate them against the real thing – with promising results.

Two ways misinformation damages

Misinformation is being generated and disseminated at prolific rates. A recent study comparing arguments against climate science versus policy arguments against action on climate found that science denial is on the relative increase. And recent research indicates these types of effort have an impact on people’s perceptions and science literacy.

A recent study led by psychology researcher Sander van der Linden found that misinformation about climate change has a significant impact on public perceptions about climate change.

The misinformation they used in their experiment was the most shared climate article in 2016. It’s a petition, known as the Global Warming Petition Project, featuring 31,000 people with a bachelor of science or higher, who signed a statement saying humans aren’t disrupting climate. This single article lowered readers’ perception of scientific consensus. The extent that people accept there’s a scientific consensus about climate change is what researchers refer to as a “gateway belief,” influencing attitudes about climate change such as support for climate action.

At the same time that van der Linden was conducting his experiment in the U.S., I was on the other side of the planet in Australia conducting my own research into the impact of misinformation. By coincidence, I used the same myth, taking verbatim text from the Global Warming Petition Project. After showing the misinformation, I asked people to estimate the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, in order to measure any effect.

I found similar results, with misinformation reducing people’s perception of the scientific consensus. Moreover, the misinformation affected some more than others. The more politically conservative a person was, the greater the influence of the misinformation.

Response to misinformation about climate change. Cook et al. (2017), CC BY-ND

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12 comments


Podcast on National Review & the science of climate science denial

Posted on 15 May 2017 by John Cook &

National Review recently published an article by Oren Cass that misrepresents a 2016 paper on the scientific consensus on climate change, written by coauthors of 7 leading consensus studies and members of the Skeptical Science team (coauthors include Naomi Oreskes, Peter Doran, William Anderegg, Bart Verheggen & Stuart Carlton). I asked National Review for a right-of-reply and to their credit, they agreed. Here is my reply to Oren Cass: How to Recognize ‘Science Denial’.

National Review also published a reply-to-my-reply from Oren Cass: John Cook’s Leap of Faith. Unfortunately, Cass justifies his use of the fake expert strategy because, well, Bernie Sanders. He also misrepresents Gavin Schmidt and the IPCC, attempting to argue that I am an outlier compared to them

Interestingly, this is the same strategy that Richard Tol once tried in arguing our 97% was an outlier compared to other consensus studies, which led to my co-authoring the 2016 consensus-on-consensus study with other consensus researchers (which was the paper that Cass misrepresents, everything is coming full circle). The position of the IPCC, Gavin Schmidt and myself are in perfect agreement: our best estimate of human contribution to global warming is 100% with the lowest bound being around 50%.

Anyway, I also recorded an Evidence Squared podcast with Peter Jacobs, where we critique the original National Review article. We discuss the techniques of climate science denial, focusing on the technique of fake experts that Cass uses to cast doubt on expert agreement.

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4 comments


Evidence Squared #10: Debunking William Happer's carbon cycle myth

Posted on 2 May 2017 by John Cook & PeterJ

In the first “Breaking Debunking” mini-episode of the Evidence Squared podcast, John Cook and Peter Jacobs explain how the carbon cycle works (the CO2 we breath out originally came from the air) and debunk William Happer’s myth from CNN that breathing adds CO2 to the atmosphere.

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11 comments


Evidence Squared: Episode 9

Posted on 28 April 2017 by John Cook &

In Episode 9 of their podcast, John Cook and Peter Jacobs talk about the March for Science, including interviews with people from the DC march.

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0 comments


Heartland Institute's misinformation campaign into schools

Posted on 21 April 2017 by John Cook &

Last month, the Heartland Institute sent a climate denial booklet to 25,000 teachers around the US. In Episode 8 of the Evidence Squared podcast, we look at the why and how of this book. What is the chief motivation for the book’s misinformation and what are the techniques they employ to cast doubt on climate science?

Follow Evidence Squared on iTunesFacebookTwitterYouTube and Soundcloud.

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4 comments


New podcast Evidence Squared by John Cook & Peter Jacobs

Posted on 29 March 2017 by John Cook &

Since arriving in the US two months ago, I've been developing a podcast with Peter Jacobs, a PhD student studying paleoclimate at George Mason University. While there are a number of podcasts about climate change, there were no podcasts about the science of science communication, how to talk about climate change. Today, we've launched our podcast, Evidence Squared.

You can check us out on iTunes and listen to our first four episodes (more on those in a moment). Be sure to subscribe and rate us

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4 comments


What do gorilla suits and blowfish fallacies have to do with climate change?

Posted on 10 February 2017 by John Cook &

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A famous psychology experiment instructed participants to watch a short video, counting the number of times players in white shirts passed the ball. If you haven’t seen it before, I encourage you to give the following short video your full attention and follow the instructions:

 

At the end, participants discovered the point of the video when asked if they had observed the gorilla walking through the players. Half the participants didn’t notice the gorilla at all. The lesson? When we laser-focus on specific details (like players in white shirts), we can miss the gorilla in the room.

What does this have to do with climate change? I’m a cognitive psychologist interested in better understanding and countering the techniques used to distort the science of climate change. I’ve found that understanding why some people reject climate science offers insight into how they deny science. By better understanding the techniques employed, you can counter misinformation more effectively.

Every movement that has rejected a scientific consensus, whether it be on evolution, climate change or the link between smoking and cancer, exhibits the same five characteristics of science denial (concisely summarized by the acronym FLICC). These are fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking and conspiracy theories. When someone wants to cast doubt on a scientific finding, FLICC is an integral part of the misinformation toolbox.

The five characteristics of science denial. Skeptical Science, CC BY-ND

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Skeptical Science at AGU 2016 - a recap

Posted on 26 December 2016 by BaerbelW & John Cook

This year's Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has come and gone and quite a lot happened during the week from Dec. 12 to 16. As mentioned in our earlier post, several SkS teammembers were actively involved with giving talks and/or presenting posters while others were there to take it all in as was the case for me with attending AGU for the very first time.

This post is a (long) recap divided into the following sections:

SkS presentations

Denial101x featured in a poster session

Rally to stand up for Science

ERL's 10th anniversary reception

NCSE Friend of the Planet awards

Interviewing Stephan Lewandowsky

Further Reading

AGU-2016-collage

Some impressions from AGU 2016 (photos: Baerbel Winkler)

SkS presentations

John Cook presented a talk A Brief History of Consensus (PPT 6.8Mb), outlining the misinformation campaign against consensus, the studies quantifying the level of scientific agreement and how to neutralise misinformation.

Dana Nuccitelli presented a talk on climate model accuracy – comparing past global temperature projections to observations, and effectively debunking associated myths.  The model-data comparisons can be seen in the video below.

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Skeptical Science at AGU 2016

Posted on 11 December 2016 by John Cook &

Next week is going to be an exciting and busy period for Skeptical Science. Several of us will be presenting talks and posters at this week's AGU 2016 Fall Meeting.

Monday

John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli will each be presenting talks in a Monday morning session on climate literacy (session ED12A in Moscone South, room 307). This session will also feature Naomi Oreskes, Richard Alley, Mark Jacobson, Peter Sinclair, Stephan Lewandowsky and Alan Robock - not to be missed!)

John Cook will be presenting a poster about our Denial101x MOOC  in a poster session on science communication through curricula (ED13A-0923) on Monday afternoon. You can check out the poster below (full PDF 28Mb):

Sarah Green (who happens to cameo in John Cook's poster shown above, sporting a very fashionable jacket!) is also presenting a poster Monday afternoon:

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1 comments


Trump or NASA – who's really politicising climate science?

Posted on 25 November 2016 by John Cook &

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

Climate research conducted at NASA had been “heavily politicised”, said Robert Walker, a senior adviser to US President-elect Donald Trump.

This has led him to recommend stripping funding for climate research at NASA.

Walker’s claim comes with a great deal of irony. Over the past few decades, climate science has indeed become heavily politicised. But it is ideological partisans cut from the same cloth as Walker who engineered such a polarised situation.

Believe it or not, climate change used to be a bipartisan issue. In 1988, Republican George H.W. Bush pledged to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect”.

Since those idealistic days when conservatives and liberals marched hand-in-hand towards a safer climate future, the level of public discourse has deteriorated.

Surveys of the US public over the past few decades show Democrats and Republicans growing further apart in their attitudes and beliefs about climate change.

For example, when asked whether most scientists agree on global warming, perceived consensus among Democrats has steadily increased over the last two decades. In contrast, perceived consensus among Republicans has been in stasis at around 50%.

Polarisation of perceived consensus among Republicans and Democrats. Dunlap et al. (2016)

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Debunking climate myths with Leonardo DiCaprio's Before The Flood

Posted on 29 October 2016 by John Cook &

On Sunday October 30, 9 PM EST, Leonardo DiCaprio's film Before The Flood will screen free online as well as on National Geographic. The film explores the causes and impacts of climate change, arguing for urgent action and a rapid transition off fossil fuels.

It will be streamed all week on Facebook, Youtube, Hulu, Playstation, and can be viewed on demand on Apple iTunes, Amazon, and GooglePlay. Here's more details on how to see the film and here's the trailer:

I was invited to contribute to Beforetheflood.com, debunking some of the most common myths about climate change. Here are my pages on Leonardo DiCaprio's site:

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10 comments


Researching climate change communication at George Mason University

Posted on 7 September 2016 by John Cook &

Next January, I’ll be relocating to the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. For a Brisbane boy who has never lived outside of Australia, moving to walking distance from Washington, DC is a big call. Two factors influenced this life-changing decision.

First, since I initially learnt about psychological research into debunking, my approach to climate communication has been guided by social science. When I started my research fellowship at GCI at The University of Queensland, my two-pronged approach was to research how to better communicate science, while putting that research into practice. 

As we communicated the scientific consensus on climate change, I also ran psychological experiments into the efficacy of consensus messaging. While we’ve debunked over 190 climate myths, we’ve also published the Debunking Handbook, a summary of psychological research into misinformation. Our MOOC on climate science denial is informed by a synthesis of cognitive psychology, inoculation theory and educational research.

What attracted me to MASON'S Center for Climate Change Communication (or 4C) was their approach to climate communication: a mix of theoretical research combined with practical outreach. They’re not ivory tower boffins - they directly engage with the public, putting into practice their research into the psychology of climate change.

Second, I was also enticed by the collaborative research environment at 4C - a center of scientists and students conducting academic research into the psychology of climate communication. The potential for future lines of enquiry springing from that community is quite exciting.

So after long, thoughtful conversations with my family plus focused research into how to source Vegemite in the U.S., I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the USA. Over the last five years that I’ve been at The University of Queensland, the Skeptical Science team has achieved impact far beyond our expectations, being highlighted by Senators, Presidents and Prime Ministers. My hope is that working at 4C will take our societal impact to another level.

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19 comments


One Nation's Malcolm Roberts is in denial about the facts of climate change

Posted on 5 August 2016 by John Cook &

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

The notion that climate science denial is no longer a part of Australian politics was swept away yesterday by One Nation Senator-Elect Malcolm Roberts.

In his inaugural press conference, Roberts claimed that “[t]here’s not one piece of empirical evidence anywhere, anywhere, showing that humans cause, through CO₂ production, climate change”.

He also promoted conspiracy theories that the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology are corrupt accomplices in climate conspiracy driven by the United Nations.

His claims conflict with many independent lines of evidence for human-caused global warming. Coincidentally, the University of Queensland is releasing a free online course this month examining the psychology and techniques of climate science denial. The very first video lecture addresses Roberts’ central claim, summarising the empirical evidence that humans are causing climate change.


Consensus of Evidence (from Denial101x course)

Scientists have observed various human fingerprints in recent climate change, documented in many peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Satellites measure less heat escaping to space at the exact wavelengths at which CO₂ absorbs energy. The upper atmosphere is cooling at the same time that the lower atmosphere is warming – a distinct pattern unique to greenhouse warming. Human activity is also changing the very structure of the atmosphere.


Human fingerprints in climate change Skeptical Science

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Online course on climate science denial starts Aug 9

Posted on 2 August 2016 by John Cook &

The next run of our free online course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, launches next Tuesday, August 9. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is a collaboration between Skeptical Science and The University of Queensland, that takes a interdisciplinary look at climate science denial. We explain the psychological drivers of denial, debunk many of the most common myths about climate change and explore the scientific research into how to respond to climate misinformation.

The course first launched in April 2015. Since then, over 25,000 students from over 160 countries have enrolled in the course. A few weeks ago, we were honoured to be named one of the finalists for the first-ever edX Prize for Exceptional Contributions in Online Teaching and Learning. We've received some wonderful feedback from students who've taken the course, particularly teachers who are using our course videos in their classes. Here is a video compilation of some feedback from the students:

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A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial

Posted on 21 June 2016 by John Cook &

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

The fossil fuel industry has spent many millions of dollars on confusing the public about climate change. But the role of vested interests in climate science denial is only half the picture.

Interest in this topic has spiked with the latest revelation regarding coalmining company Peabody Energy. After Peabody filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, documentation became available revealing the scope of Peabody’s funding to third parties. The list of funding recipients includes trade associations, lobby groups and climate-contrarian scientists.

This latest revelation is significant because in recent years, fossil fuel companies have become more careful to cover their tracks. An analysis by Robert Brulle found that from 2003 to 2010, organisations promoting climate misinformation received more than US$900 million of corporate funding per year.

However, Brulle found that from 2008, open funding dropped while funding through untraceable donor networks such as Donors Trust (otherwise known as the “dark money ATM”) increased. This allowed corporations to fund climate science denial while hiding their support.

The decrease in open funding of climate misinformation coincided with efforts to draw public attention to the corporate funding of climate science denial. A prominent example is Bob Ward, formerly of the UK Royal Society, who in 2006 challenged Exxon-Mobil to stop funding denialist organisations.


John Cook interviews Bob Ward at COP21, Paris.

The veils of secrecy have been temporarily lifted by the Peabody bankruptcy proceedings, revealing the extent of the company’s third-party payments, some of which went to fund climate misinformation. However, this is not the first revelation of fossil fuel funding of climate misinformation – nor is it the first case involving Peabody.

In 2015, Ben Stewart of Greenpeace posed as a consultant to fossil fuel companies and approached prominent climate denialists, offering to pay for reports promoting the benefits of fossil fuels. The denialists readily agreed to write fossil-fuel-friendly reports while hiding the funding source. One disclosed that he had been paid by Peabody to write contrarian research. He had also appeared as an expert witness and written newspaper op-eds.


John Cook interviews Ben Stewart, Greenpeace at COP21, Paris.

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Ten years on: how Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth made its mark

Posted on 30 May 2016 by John Cook &

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten years ago, An Inconvenient Truth opened in cinemas in the United States.

Starring former US vice president Al Gore, the documentary about the threat of climate change has undoubtedly made a mark. It won two Academy Awards, and Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to communicate human-induced climate change.

An Inconvenient Truth (AIT for short) is the 11th-highest-grossing documentary in the United States. According to Texan climatologist Steve Quiring:

AIT has had a much greater impact on public opinion and public awareness of global climate change than any scientific paper or report.

But has the film achieved what it set out to do – raise public awareness and change people’s behaviour in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

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10 comments


The things people ask about the scientific consensus on climate change

Posted on 12 May 2016 by John Cook &

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It’s been almost a month since the paper I co-authored on the synthesis of research into the scientific consensus on climate change was published. Surveying the many studies into scientific agreement, we found that more than 90% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming.

It’s a topic that has generated much interest and discussion, culminating in American Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse highlighting our study on the US Senate floor this week.

My co-authors and I even participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on the online forum Reddit, answering questions about the scientific consensus.

While my own research indicates that explaining the scientific consensus isn’t that effective with those who reject climate science, it does have a positive effect for people who are open to scientific evidence.

Among this “undecided majority”, there was clearly much interest with the session generating 154,000 page views and our AMA briefly featuring on the Reddit homepage (where it was potentially viewed by 14 million people).

Here is an edited selection of some of the questions posed by Reddit readers and our answers.

Q: Why is this idea of consensus so important in climate science? Science isn’t democracy or consensus, the standard of truth is experiment.

If this were actually true, wouldn’t every experiment have to reestablish every single piece of knowledge from first principles before moving on to something new? That’s obviously not how science actually functions.

Consensus functions as a scaffolding allowing us to continue to build knowledge by addressing things that are actually unknown.

Q: Does that 97% all agree to what degree humans are causing global warming?

Different studies use different definitions. Some use the phrase “humans are causing global warming” which carries the implication that humans are a dominant contributor to global warming. Others are more explicit, specifying that humans are causing most global warming.

Within some of our own research, several definitions are used for the simple reason that different papers endorse the consensus in different ways. Some are specific about quantifying the percentage of human contribution, others just say “humans are causing climate change” without specific quantification.

We found that no matter which definition you used, you always found an overwhelming scientific consensus.

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Consensus confirmed: over 90% of climate scientists believe we're causing global warming

Posted on 16 April 2016 by John Cook &

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

When we published a paper in 2013 finding 97% scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, what surprised me was how surprised everyone was.

Ours wasn’t the first study to find such a scientific consensus. Nor was it the second. Nor were we the last.

Nevertheless, no-one I spoke to was aware of the existing research into such a consensus. Rather, the public thought there was a 50:50 debate among scientists on the basic question of whether human activity was causing global warming.

This lack of awareness is reflected in a recent pronouncement by Senator Ted Cruz (currently competing with Donald Trump in the Republican primaries), who argued that:

The stat about the 97% of scientists is based on one discredited study.

Why is a US Senator running for President attacking University of Queensland research on scientific agreement? Cruz’s comments are the latest episode in a decades-long campaign to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change.

Back in 2002, a Republican pollster advised conservatives to attack the consensus in order to win the public debate about climate policy. Conservatives complied. In conservative opinion pieces about climate change from 2007 to 2010, their number one argument was “there is no scientific consensus on climate change”.

Recent psychological research has shown that the persistent campaign to confuse the public about scientific agreement has significant societal consequences. Public perception of consensus has been shown to be a “gateway belief”, influencing a range of other climate attitudes and beliefs.

People’s awareness of the scientific consensus affects their acceptance of climate change, and their support for climate action.

The psychological importance of perceived consensus underscores why communicating the 97% consensus is important. Consensus messaging has been shown empirically to increase acceptance of climate change.

And, crucially, it’s most effective on those who are most likely to reject climate science: political conservatives.

In other words, consensus messaging has a neutralising effect, which is especially important given the highly polarised nature of the public debate about climate change.

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How to inoculate people against Donald Trump's fact bending claims

Posted on 23 March 2016 by John Cook & Margaret Crane

This article was originally published on The Conversation. For Skeptical Science readers wondering what Trump has to do with climate science, note that this article is actually about critical thinking and inoculation, key topics in our Denial101x online course (Trump is just a case study).The Conversation

A potential Donald Trump presidency terrifies people worldwide. His racism, bullying, and enthusiasm for violence are a great concern for onlookers.

But we see a positive in Trump’s candidacy: We can improve our critical thinking by using him as an example of how people spread misinformation.

And there is no shortage of material to work with, given Trump’s firehose of falsehoods.

Politifact found that 78% of Trump’s statements were Mostly False, False, or “Pants on Fire” (the most extreme form of false). Fact-checking websites, parody videos, and even a debunking speech by former governor Mitt Romney have highlighted his misinformation.

But pundits and political scientists are mystified that this hasn’t hurt his level of support, with fact-checking efforts sometimes helping Trump and energising his supporters.

When facts aren’t enough

Psychologists are quite familiar with the fact that die-hard supporters of an idea aren’t swayed by contrary evidence, which can backfire and strengthen preexisting attitudes. Indeed, trying to change the minds of headstrong Trump supporters may be largely futile.

Communicating to the larger majority who are still open-minded to facts is more effective. Psychological research on science denial provides a model for how to reduce Trump’s influence on the general populace: inoculation theory.

This uses the metaphor of vaccination. Vaccines stop viruses from spreading through inoculation, which is when when healthy people are injected with a weak form of a virus and then build immunity to the virus.

The inoculation theory applies the same principle to knowledge. Research has found we can make people “immune” to misinformation using the Fact-Myth-Fallacy approach. In this method, we first explain the facts, then introduce a related myth, and then explain the technique the myth uses to distort the facts. By understanding the technique used to create the myth, people are exposed to a “weakened form” of the misinformation.

Science deniers use five techniques to distort facts: fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking evidence, and conspiracy theories. The acronym FLICC is an easy way to remember these techniques.

FLICC: Fake experts, Logical fallacies, Impossible expectations, Cherry picking, Conspiracy theories. John Cook

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The science for climate change only feeds the denial: how do you beat that?

Posted on 27 January 2016 by John Cook &

The ConversationAs the scientific consensus for climate change has strengthened over the past decade, the arguments against the science of climate change have been on the increase.

That’s the surprise finding of a study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change last month, which analysed and identified the key themes in more than 16,000 publications about climate change by conservative organisations.

Conservative think-tanks are organisations that oppose policies, such as regulation of pollution by the fossil fuel industry (some have also opposed regulation of the tobacco industry in the past and, in fact, some continue to do so today).

One study found that from 1972 to 2005, over 92% of climate contrarian books originated from conservative think-tanks. They are often ground zero for misinformation casting doubt on climate science, with their messages spread by contrarian blogs, conservative media and politicians opposing climate policy.

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Exxon climate revelations are just part of a long history of science misinformation

Posted on 16 November 2015 by John Cook &

The ConversationA recent investigation by Pulitzer Prize winner Inside Climate News has uncovered damning activity by fossil fuel company Exxon. Long before they supplied millions of dollars to conservative think-tanks who misinformed the public about climate science, Exxon’s own scientists informed them of the scientific consensus that fossil fuel burning would cause disruptive climate change.

This echoes past activity of the tobacco industry, who knew from internal research about the health consequences of smoking but nevertheless funded misinformation casting doubt on the link between smoking and cancer. The same misinformation tactics employed by the tobacco industry are used by the fossil fuel industry.

Even the same spokespeople defending tobacco have also attacked the science on climate change. Given the obvious parallels between the activities of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, the New York Attorney General has issued a subpoena further investigating Exxon’s activities regarding climate change.

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Skeptical Science honoured by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Posted on 16 October 2015 by John Cook &

I’m honoured to be elected as one of ten new Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. It’s especially cool to be listed with some scientists whom I deeply admire such as Naomi Oreskes, Stephan Lewandowsky and James Powell.

One of the goals when I started Skeptical Science was to restore the good name of skepticism, whose reputation has been sullied by being associated with science denial. The Committee for Skeptical Inquirer have also worked hard to claim back the word skepticism, including the powerful article Deniers are not Skeptics written by a number of prominent skeptics, featuring Mark Boslough, Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins and Bill Nigh. They also published my article Taking Back Skepticism.

What to call those who reject mainstream climate science (to borrow the terminology of Associated Press) is a topic of hot debate. There are two key points to remember in this debate, which we emphasise in our free online course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

Firstly, skepticism and denial are polar opposites. A genuine scientific skeptic first considers the full body of evidence then comes to a conclusion. A denialist comes to a conclusion first (usually influenced by ideology), then denies any science that conflicts with their position.

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Conspiracy theories about Skeptical Science

Posted on 27 July 2015 by John Cook &

There is a growing body of research linking climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking. While Stephan Lewandowsky's Moon Landing paper has attracted most of the attention, another important paper from Yale University has flown somewhat under the radar. This research found that when those who deny climate change are asked to name the first thing that came to mind regarding climate change, the most common type of response involved conspiracy theories.

Smith_conspiracy.jpg

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Busting myths: a practical guide to countering science denial

Posted on 12 June 2015 by John Cook &

The ConversationIt should go without saying that science should dictate how we respond to science denial. So what does scientific research tell us?

One effective way to reduce the influence of science denial is through “inoculation”: you can build resistance to misinformation by exposing people to a weak form of the misinformation.

How do we practically achieve that? There are two key elements to refuting misinformation. The first half of a debunking is offering a factual alternative. To understand what I mean by this, you need to understand what happens in a person’s mind when you correct a misconception.

People build mental models of how the world works, where all the different parts of the model fit together like cogs. Imagine one of those cogs is a myth. When you explain that the myth is false, you pluck out that cog, leaving a gap in their mental model.

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Ask Me Anything about Climate Science Denial

Posted on 7 May 2015 by John Cook &

The good folk at edX (who host our online course Making Sense of Climate Science Denial) generously organised a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) for me this week. The AMA was scheduled to start at 7 am here in Brisbane. When I woke up at 6 am and loaded the AMA webpage on Reddit, 2000 comments had already been posted! So I gulped down a coffee and in the short time available, belted out as many answers as I could as quickly as possible (while linking to relevant videos from our MOOC). Here are a selection of my answers, grouped into categories:

Psychology of climate science denial

Q: What are the main reasons someone would deny climate change?

A: The main driver of climate science denial is political ideology. Some people don't like the solutions to climate change that involve regulation of polluting industries. Not liking the solutions, they deny there's a problem in the first place. A number of empirical studies (including my own PhD research) have found an extremely strong correlation between conservative political ideology and denial of science. And randomised experiments have demonstrated a causal relationship between the two.

This is extremely important to understand. You can't respond to science denial without understanding what's driving it. We examine this in Scott Mandia's lecture https://youtu.be/fq5PtLnquew

Q: Do you think the psychology behind climate science denial can also explain other types of science denial?

A: A general principle is that people reject scientific evidence that they perceive threatens their worldview. So while different factors drive denial of different areas of science, often you will find the mechanisms are similar. For example, religious ideology drives rejection of evolution science in similar ways to political ideology driving rejection of climate science. Another thing that different types of science denial have in common is they all share the 5 characteristics of denial, as examined in this video from our course: https://youtu.be/wXA777yUndQ

Q: How can you tell the difference between willful ignorance (or maybe not ignorance but disagreement) based on an agenda, and legitimate disagreement based on really misunderstanding data, or surface level policy disagreement?

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Week 1 of Denial101x: 14,000 students from 159 countries

Posted on 4 May 2015 by John Cook &

Last week, we launched our Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. Already, there's been a great deal of interest in the course, with articles in Newsweek, Salon, Lifehacker and the formidable IFLScience. Currently, the MOOC has 14,000 enrolled students from 159 countries.

As you might imagine, the discussion forum has been vigorous and thought provoking, with a great deal of questions, suggestions and feedback. The positive feedback from the students, enjoying and learning from the week 1 material, has been overwhelming. Here's a word cloud from the student feedback.

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Inoculating against science denial

Posted on 27 April 2015 by John Cook &

The ConversationScience denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.

Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

When you present evidence that threatens a person’s worldview, it can actually strengthen their beliefs. This is called the “worldview backfire effect”. One of the first scientific experiments that observed this effect dates back to 1975.

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Katharine Hayhoe's climate elevator pitch

Posted on 3 February 2015 by John Cook &

At last December's AGU Fall Meeting, Peter SinclairCollin Maessen and myself spent most of the week holed up in a tiny room interviewing scientists. The downside was we missed most of the amazing, informative talks at the conference. The upside was we got to have long, in-depth conversations with some of the world's leading climate scientists.

The full interviews will be available when our MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, comes out in April. In the meantime, Collin and Peter have been having a lot of fun releasing excerpts from our interviews (frankly, I'm a little jealous). The latest release is a wonderfully edited snippet from an interview with Katharine Hayhoe, where I ask her how she would summarise climate change in just a few floors of an elevator ride.

Stay tuned for more videos as Collin and Peter continue to dig through our goldmine of footage. We'll be announcing any new videos from our MOOC interviews on the Denial101x Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Call to climate scientists: submit your quote for 97 Hours of Consensus 2015

Posted on 19 January 2015 by John Cook &

On 7 September 2014, we launched 97 Hours of Consensus. Every hour for 97 consecutive hours, we published a cartoon of a climate scientist with a quote about climate change. We also published a very cool interactive webpage. Our purpose: to raise awareness of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming.

The series was an amazing success. We reached millions of people through social and mainstream media, including President Obama tweeting about 97 hours to 43 million followers:

On 7 September 2015, we're repeating 97 Hours of Consensus with another 97 climate scientists. But with a different approach. This time, we're asking climate scientists to submit their quotes to us. So this is my call to action to the climate science community. If you're a climate scientist who:

  • has something to say about the issue of human-caused global warming,
  • and is interested in your words reaching millions of people,
  • and would like to be drawn in cartoon form

then submit your quote in our 97 Hours of Consensus Submission Form.

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My AGU talk on tackling climate myths in a free online course

Posted on 20 December 2014 by John Cook &

This post is based on an invited presentation I gave at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The talk was titled Applying Agnotology Based Learning in a MOOC to Counter Climate Misconceptions. In it, I explained the approach taken in our upcoming MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) titled Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

The slides for my talk are available in PDF form.

For the last few years, I’ve been talking to people about agnotology-based learning.  Usually they blink or stare at me with blank eyes, responding with “agno-what now?” I explain that agnotology is the study of how and why we don’t know things, coming from the word agnostic. For example, studying the negative influence of misinformation about climate science. 

In 2009, Dan Bedford coined the term “agnotology-based learning”. I met Dan a few years ago at a previous AGU Fall Meeting. We got on famously, sharing similar attitudes to climate communication and how to address misinformation. I was especially impressed with his approach to teaching climate science by debunking myths. As well as teach the scientific concepts, this approach also equipped the students with the critical thinking skills needed to identify the misleading techniques in misinformation. 

Since then, I’ve continued to investigate agnotology-based learning, even co-authoring a paper in the Journal of Geoscience Education with Dan and Scott Mandia. When I began developing a MOOC based on the agnotology-based learning approach, naturally I was keen for Dan to be involved. This week at AGU, we recorded Dan’s MOOC lecture. Some of the SkS team think I have a bit of a bromance going with Dan but I think it’s just a strong working relationship with a healthy dose of mutual appreciation!

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Our short film on the One-Two Punch of Climate Change

Posted on 1 December 2014 by John Cook &

For our upcoming free online course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, we've been interviewing scientists in England and Australia. While on Heron Island last month talking to coral reef researchers, we also had the privilege of interviewing Sir David Attenborough about a range of issues, including the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. 

So when GetUp! announced the #ReefReels short film competition, asking for 3 minute films about the Great Barrier Reef, it seemed logical to use some of our wonderful interviews to communicate what the science is telling us about how climate change is impacting coral reefs.

The full interviews with Sir David Attenborough, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Annamieke Van Den Heuvel (as well as many others) will be released in March and April 2015 when we release our MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. You can sign up for free now.

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Why we need to talk about the scientific consensus on climate change

Posted on 20 November 2014 by John Cook &

An interesting sequence of events followed the publication of a scientific paper the Skeptical Science team published in May last year. The paper found a 97% consensus that humans were causing global warming in relevant scientific papers. Finding an overwhelming consensus was nothing new. Studies in 2009 and 2010 also found 97% agreement among climate scientists on human-caused global warming. Nevertheless, the paper attracted much media attention, including tweets from Elon Musk and President Obama.

We expected our work would be attacked from those who reject climate science. We weren’t disappointed. Since publication, hundreds of blog posts, reports, videos, papers and op-eds have been published attacking our paper. A year and a half later, there is no sign of slowing. But this is just the latest chapter in over two decades of manufactured doubt on the scientific consensus about climate change.

What did surprise me were criticisms from scientists who accept the science on climate change. They weren’t arguing against the existence of a consensus, but whether we should be communicating the consensus. This surprised me, as our approach to climate communication was evidence-based, drawing on social science research. So in response, I along with co-author Peter Jacobs have published a scholarly paper summarising all the evidence and research underscoring the importance of consensus messaging.

One objection against consensus messaging is that scientists should be talking about evidence, rather than consensus. After all, our understanding of climate change is based on empirical measurements, not a show of hands. But this objection misunderstands the point of consensus messaging. It’s not about “proving” human-caused global warming. It’s about expressing the state of scientific understanding of climate change, which is built on a growing body of evidence.

Consensus messaging recognises the fact that people rely on expert opinion when it comes to complex scientific issues. Studies in 2011 and 2013 found that perception of scientific consensus is a gateway belief that has a flow-on effect to a number of other beliefs and attitudes. When people are aware of the high level of scientific agreement on human-caused global warming, they’re more likely to accept that climate change is happening, that humans are causing it and support policies to reduce carbon pollution.

Another argument against consensus messaging is that public understanding of the climate issue has moved on from fundamental issues such as the consensus. The evidence says otherwise. Public surveys have found that the public are deeply unaware of the consensus. On average, the public think there’s a 50:50 debate. There are several contributors to this “consensus gap”, including mainstream media’s tendency to give contrarian voices equal weight with the climate science community.

Funnily enough, a third objection to consensus messaging argues that we shouldn’t communicate consensus because public views have not moved on. In other words, the fact that public opinion about consensus hasn’t shifted over the last decade implies that consensus messaging is ineffective.

Dan Kahan argues that consensus is a polarizing message. Liberals are predisposed to respond positively to consensus messaging. Meanwhile, conservatives are more likely to reject the scientific consensus.

Political ideology certainly does influence people’s attitudes towards climate change. The following graph shows data I’ve collected from a representative sample of Americans, asking them how many climate scientists agreed about human-caused global warming. The horizontal access in this graph represents political ideology (specifically, support for an unregulated free market, free of interference from government).

These data come from research by John Cook, taken from a survey of a US representative sample (N=200).

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97 Hours of Consensus reaches millions

Posted on 24 September 2014 by John Cook &

On 9/7, Skeptical Science launched 97 Hours of Consensus. Every hour for 97 consecutive hours, we published a quote from a climate scientist, as well as a hand-drawn caricature of the scientist. We had a simple goal: communicate in a playful fashion the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

Now that the dust has settled, we've had a chance to analyse how the campaign went. The result exceeded our expectations. Millions of people were exposed to the 97 quotes and caricatures of climate scientists!

Tweets from our twitter account @skepticscience were retweeted by many, being seen potentially 1.1 million times. The graph below shows the number of "impressions" of our tweets, meaning the potential number of times that our followers or followers of retweeters were exposed to our tweets.

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Upcoming MOOC makes sense of climate science denial

Posted on 21 September 2014 by John Cook &

In collaboration with The University of Queensland, Skeptical Science is developing a MOOC, or Massive Online Open Course, that makes sense of climate science denial. The Denial101x MOOC will launch in March 2015 on the EdX platform. Registration has just opened so you can now register for free. Here is a description of the MOOC:

 

Denial101x: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Learn to make sense of the science and to respond to climate change denial.

About this Course

In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.

  • Why the gap between the public and scientists?
  • What are the psychological and social drivers of the rejection of the scientific consensus?
  • How has climate denial influenced public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?

This course examines the science of climate science denial.

We will look at the most common climate myths from “global warming stopped in 1998” to “global warming is caused by the sun” to “climate impacts are nothing to worry about.”

We’ll find out what lessons are to be learnt from past climate change as well as better understand how climate models predict future climate impacts. You’ll learn both the science of climate change and the techniques used to distort the science.

With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.

This isn’t just a climate MOOC; it’s a MOOC about how people think about climate change.

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97 hours of consensus: caricatures and quotes from 97 scientists

Posted on 7 September 2014 by John Cook &

Climate scientists from across the globe feature in our 97 Hours of Consensus campaign addressing one of the most significant and harmful myths about climate change. Each hour, beginning at 9am Sunday EST, September 7th, we'll publish a statement and playful, hand-drawn caricature of a leading climate scientist. Each caricature lists the scientists’ name, title, expertise and academic institution.

97 Hours of Consensus communicates the fact that 97% of climate scientists have concluded that humans are causing global warming. The research, conducted by scientists at The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, University of Reading, Michigan Technological University and Memorial University of Newfoundland found that 97% of relevant climate papers endorsed human-caused global warming. The paper was published in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters in May 2013.

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The power of pie-charts to communicate consensus

Posted on 10 July 2014 by John Cook &

Yale University and George Mason University are conducting some of the pioneering research into the efficacy of consensus messaging. Their latest study in Climatic Change tested the effect of three different ways to communicate the scientific consensus: a simple text message, a pie-chart and metaphors (e.g., likening the 97% consensus on climate change to a 97% consensus among doctors). They found that the most effective messages in increasing awareness of consensus were the simple text message and pie-chart. The most interesting result was that pie-charts were most effective on Republicans:

Change in perceived consensus

Pie-charts get a bad rap among science communicators (and often not without reason), but in this particular instance, the pie-chart is quite effective in communicating the overwhelming agreement among climate scientists. When SJI Associates designed The Consensus Project website, they used the 97% pie-chart as the website logo. It seems they knew what they were doing (I also like the visual double-entendre of the pie-chart forming a C). They used the same imagery in the shareable infographics communicating the results of our 97% consensus paper:

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An externally-valid approach to consensus messaging

Posted on 21 June 2014 by John Cook &

Earlier this week, Dan Kahan published a blog post questioning the value of consensus messaging. He generously allowed me to publish a guest post, An "externally-valid" approach to consensus messaging, responding to his issues. For starters, I examine Dan's idea that the consensus gap (the gap between public perception and the 97% consensus) is due to cultural cognition. I point out that there is a consensus gap even among liberals:

A 2012 Pew surveys of the general public found that even among liberals, there is low perception of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming. When Democrats are asked “Do scientists agree earth is getting warmer because of human activity?”, only 58% said yes. There’s a significant "consensus gap” even for those whose cultural values predispose them towards accepting the scientific consensus. A “liberal consensus gap”.

My own data, measuring climate perceptions amongst US representative samples, confirms the liberal consensus gap. The figure below shows what people said in 2013 when asked how many climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. The x-axis is a measure of political ideology (specifically, support for free markets). For people on the political right (e.g., more politically conservative), perception of scientific consensus decreases, just as cultural cognition predicts. However, the most relevant feature for this discussion is the perceived consensus on the left.

At the left of the political spectrum, perceived consensus is below 70%. Even those at the far left are not close to correctly perceiving the 97% consensus. Obviously cultural cognition cannot explain the liberal consensus gap.

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Resources and links documenting Tol's 24 errors

Posted on 6 June 2014 by John Cook &

24 Errors in Tol (2014)Yesterday, we published a list of 24 errors in Tol's critique of our consensus paper Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. The short URL for our 24 errors report, handy for tweeting and posting in comments, is:

http://sks.to/24errors

In addition, the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland issued a statement summarising our response to Tol (2014) including a scholarly version of the 24-errors report (e.g., the same content but without all the bright, shiny boxes).

Today, a link to our reply to Tol made it onto the homepage of Reddit Science, causing our website traffic to surge to 20 times its normal level (so apologies for the sluggish server performance earlier today).

One of the eyebrow raising elements to Tol (2014) is that his analysis still finds an overwhelming consensus on human-caused global warming. This is significant given a recent George Mason University survey found only 12% of Americans know more than 90% of climate scientists agree on human-caused global warming.

Consequently, it's worth reminding people of Tol's views on consensus, expressed in Tol (2014). I've added a freely shareable graphic to our resource of consensus graphics, featuring an excerpt from Tol (2014). Everyone is encouraged to retweet or republish the graphic which is freely available under creative commons:

Richard Tol endorses the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming

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The Quantum Theory of Climate Denial

Posted on 30 April 2014 by John Cook &

When you get down to the atomic level, the universe gets weird. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger visualized the funkiness of the atomic world with a thought experiment, famously involving Schrödinger's cat. Maybe he thought the idea would go viral if it included a kitten.

Imagine you have some radioactive material that may or may not decay. Quantum mechanics says that if no one is observing it, the radioactive material is simultaneously in both the decaying and non-decaying states. Only when you observe the material does it collapse into one state or the other.

To illustrate how weird this is, Schrödinger imagined placing the radioactive material in a box, connected to a Geiger counter. Also in the box is a cat. If the radioactive material decays, a bottle of poison is smashed, and the cat dies. If there is no decay, then the cat lives. According to quantum theory, until the box is opened, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Schrödinger's cat tells us that what goes on at the microscopic level makes little sense when applied to everyday experience.

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Palmer United Party needs to go back to school on carbon facts

Posted on 28 April 2014 by John Cook &

When you ask Australians what proportion of climate scientists agree on the reality of human-caused global warming, the average answer is around 58%, despite evidence that the true size of the consensus is 97%.

Australians still think there is a roughly 50/50 debate among climate scientists. This is a huge “consensus gap” between public perception and reality.

A one-person embodiment of this statistic is the Palmer United Party (PUP) Tasmanian Senator-elect Jacqui Lambie. She had this to say about the scientific consensus on ABC’s Q&A:

TONY JONES: If you were to speak to a group of scientists and they were to convince you that climate change is a problem, that it’s caused by global warming and that global warming’s caused by emissions, would you think differently about it?

LAMBIE: Well of course I would, but right now I have half the scientists on this side and the other half on this side so, you know…

Crucial votes

Lambie’s views on climate change are based on a fundamental misconception about the scientific consensus on climate change. This wouldn’t matter so much, were it not for two things.

First, Lambie is one of three PUP Senators-elect who, in a bloc with Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, potentially represent four of the six votes the government needs to repeal the current carbon policy after the new Senate comes into effect in July.

Second, Lambie’s party leader Clive Palmer is beset with his own confusion about the carbon cycle, recently telling ABC’s Lateline:

If 97% (of greenhouse gas) comes from nature and 3% comes from man and we say we’ve got to reduce it by 1%, we shouldn’t just look at the 3%, the minority section coming from human enterprise; we need to look at the whole concept. If 1 or 2% comes down from nature, surely that’s a good thing and that brings us back into a balance. It’s the total carbon balance you have to look at. But we’re just focusing on this 3%.

Unpicking these misconceptions (which I will do shortly) does not mean advocating one carbon policy over another. But given PUP’s potentially decisive influence, we should at least expect the party’s elected politicians to understand the basic facts so that they might make an informed decision.

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Skeptical Science consensus paper voted ERL's best article of 2013

Posted on 21 April 2014 by John Cook &

Environmental Research Letters (ERL)have just announced that our paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, has been voted by the ERL editorial board as the best ERL article of 2013. This award came with a prize of $500 (which we'll use to pay the journal fees of future peer-reviewed papers by the Skeptical Science team).

Certificate from Environmental Research Letters awarding Cook et al as best ERL paper of 2013.

Our consensus paper was published in Environmental Research Letters in May last year. We'd like to express our appreciation especially to the readers of Skeptical Science who generously contributed towards the payment of the page charges ($1600 in 9 hours!), making it possible for ERL to distribute the paper free of charge.

Within 24 hours of publication, our paper was tweeted by President Obama's Twitter account and received mainstream media coverage in countries all over the world. The paper has been downloaded 161,443 times, making it the most downloaded paper in over 80 Institute of Physics journals (the second most downloaded paper has 105,275 downloads). The paper continues to be cited in a wide range of scholarly journals.

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Skeptical Science Widget Hacked

Posted on 1 April 2014 by Bob Lacatena & John Cook

ANNOUNCEMENT — Widget Hacked


This is the widget as it appeared during the hack throughout April 1st.

Late last night, we discovered that the Skeptical Science widget website has been hacked. We are working hard to figure out what's going on.

Rest assured that all credentials and data on this site are well secured. The widget is hosted on an entirely separate server, which also — both fortunately and unfortunately — resides with a completely different host.

We do apologize to everyone who hosts and views the widget. If you are hosting the widget on your blog, there is no need to remove it. We will get it working properly soon. It's only a matter of time.

UPDATE (9:20 AM EDT)

We are working with the web hosting service to resolve the issue. For now, we don't really have a handle on how the hacker got control, or why we can't fix the widget.

UPDATE (10:43 AM EDT)

We have some idea now of how the hacker did it.  Doug is running some tests to confirm our theory.

The widget was designed to help to communicate to everyday people how much energy our planet has accumulated as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and how quickly that energy continues to accumulate.  That rate is equivalent to a startling 4 Hiroshima atomic bombs per second.

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13 comments


The Myth Debunking One-Pager

Posted on 20 March 2014 by John Cook &

In late 2011, I co-authored the Debunking Handbook with Stephan Lewandowsky. The purpose of the handbook was to summarise all the psychological research into misinformation and debunking into a short, concise, practical guide. We published a much more comprehensive scholarly review afterwards. Nevertheless, the much shorter version has always been the preferred option.

Until, perhaps, now. I was asked recently if I could boil down the key points of the Debunking Handbook into a one-pager. Apparently boiling down several decades of psychological research into six plain-English, graphics-heavy pages is too much in the age of Twitter :-)

As a result, here is the Debunking One-Pager:

Debunking One-Pager

An effective debunking is more about the fact than the myth

There are two major elements to an effective debunking. The most important thing when debunking a myth is identifying a compelling, memorable factual alternative to the myth. If you're debunking "the sun is causing global warming" and you're eliminating the sun as the cause, how do you communicate the alternative cause in a compelling manner? An effective debunking is more about the fact than the myth.

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5 comments


Peer-reviewed papers by Skeptical Science authors

Posted on 5 March 2014 by John Cook &

One of the features of Skeptical Science that makes our content robust is our internal "SkS-review" system. Before any blog posts and rebuttals are published, they are critiqued and reviewed by the SkS team. This process identifies and filters out scientific inaccuracies as well as works on communicating the science more clearly and simply.

The Skeptical Science team is a diverse group of scientists and laypeople scattered all over the globe.  Their expertise covers climate science, social science, environmental science, computer science, physics, chemistry, and biochemistry.  If you want to peruse the scholarly papers published by the SkS team, check out the Google Scholar profiles of some of our team members:

The purpose of Skeptical Science is straightforward: we debunk climate misinformation with peer-reviewed science. Primarily, this involves citing the peer-reviewed research of other scientists. However, a growing aspect of SkS output is adding to the body of scientific knowledge by publishing our own peer-reviewed research. Over the last few years, Skeptical Science authors have published a number of scholarly papers in peer-reviewed journals. Two of our papers, which both have made significant impact both in the mainstream media and in the academic community, have been available to everyone by the generous donations of SkS readers.  Both papers have been marked with a badge below (click on the badges to see the posts when the papers were crowd-funded).

Climate Science

Cowtan, K., & Way, R. G. (2013). Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

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2 comments


Cartoon: the climate contrarian guide to managing risk

Posted on 4 March 2014 by dana1981 & John Cook

Climate change is fundamentally a risk management problem.  Whether or not you agree with the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, there is an undeniable risk that the consensus is correct and that we're causing dangerously rapid climate change.

Frequently, climate contrarians argue against taking action to mitigate that risk by claiming the uncertainties are too large.  One of the most visible figures to make this argument is climate scientist Judith Curry, who said in 2013,

"I can't say myself that [doing nothing] isn't the best solution."

This argument represents a failure to grasp the principles of basic risk management, as illustrated in the following cartoon.

When it comes to managing risk, uncertainty is not our friend.  Uncertainty means it's possible the outcome will be better than we expect, but it's also possible it will be much worse than we expect.  In fact, continuing with business-as-usual would only be a reasonable option in the absolute best case scenario. 

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77 comments


'It's been hot before': faulty logic skews the climate debate

Posted on 20 February 2014 by John Cook &

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Global warming is increasing the risk of heatwaves. This isn’t a hypothetical abstraction that our grandchildren may experience in the distant future. Heatwaves are currently getting hotter, they’re lasting longer and they’re happening more often. This is happening right now.

Of course, heatwaves have happened in the past, including before humans started altering the climate. But it’s faulty logic to suggest that this means they’re not increasing now, or that it’s not our fault.

Sadly, this logical fallacy pervades the debate over heatwaves, not to mention other extreme events such as droughts, bushfires, floods and storms and even climate change itself. What’s more, we’re hearing it with worrying regularity from our political leaders.

Heatwaves on the rise

First, the science. As the Climate Council has reported, hot days have doubled in Australia over the past half-century. During the decade from 2000 to 2009, heatwaves reached levels not expected until the 2030s. The anticipated impacts from climate change are arriving more than two decades ahead of schedule.

The increase in heatwaves in Australia is part of a larger global trend. Globally, heatwaves are happening five times more often than in the absence of human-caused global warming. This means that there is an 80% chance that any monthly heat record is due to global warming.

As the figure below indicates, the risk from heatwaves is expected to increase in the near future. Assuming our greenhouse gas emissions peak around 2040, heat records will be about 12 times more likely to occur three decades from now.


Increase in the number of heat records compared to those expected in a world without global warming. Coumou, Robinson, and Rahmstorf (2013)

The impacts of heatwaves go a lot further than tennis players’ burnt bottoms. As we are now coming to realise, heatwaves kill more Australians than any other type of extreme weather. Floods, cyclones, bushfires and lightning strikes may capture more media coverage, but heatwaves are deadlier. On top of this comes new research linking heatwaves to increased rates of suicide.

Why are heatwaves increasing? Put simply, our planet is building up heat. Over the past few decades, our climate system has been building up heat at a rate of four Hiroshima bombs every second. As we continue to emit more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the warming continues unabated.

“But it’s happened before!”

This is the point at which some people’s logic tends to go off the rails, distorting the science and insidiously distracting us from the risks. The reasoning is that as heatwaves have happened throughout Australia’s history, it follows that current heatwaves must also be entirely natural. This is a myth.

This is the classic logical fallacy of non sequitur – Latin for “it does not follow”. It’s equivalent to arguing that as humans died of cancer long before cigarettes were invented, it therefore follows that smoking does not cause cancer.

ohn Cook's Cartoon: People died of cancer before cigarettes were invented.The non sequitur logical fallacy

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6 comments


Dodgy Diagrams #1 - Misrepresenting IPCC Residence Time Estimates

Posted on 19 February 2014 by Dikran Marsupial & John Cook

There are a number of diagrams that frequently crop up in discussions of climate change in the blogsphere that are easily demonstrated to be, at best misleading, if not actually fundamentally wrong.  A classic example is shown below, which suggests that the IPCC's estimate of residence time is at odds with those from a wide range of scientific studies.

dodgy diagram

In this case, the diagram was taken from an article at Watts Up With That, entitled "Apparently, 4 degrees spells climate doom"; Google's "search by image" shows it has also appeared on a range of other blogs.

So What is Dodgy About The Diagram?

The IPCC actually gives a residence time of about 4 years in the 2007 AR4 WG1 report (see page 948), which is completely in accordance with the other papers referenced in the diagram.  The confusion arises because there are two definitions of "lifetime" that describe different aspects of the carbon cycle.  These definitions are clearly stated on page 8 of the first (1990) WG1 IPCC report (on page 8):

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8 comments


Establishing consensus is vital for climate action

Posted on 7 February 2014 by Stephan Lewandowsky & John Cook

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

What’s the best way to reduce the roughly half a million annual deaths from smoking in the US alone? Nearly half a million lives cut short, often with untold suffering, by a commercial product that has been known to kill its consumers for more than half a century.

We can raise the price of cigarettes through taxes, which is known to reduce demand, especially among young people who are the industry’s reservoir of future addicts to their legal product.

We can introduce plain packaging, which replaces the glamourous, glittery gold of Benson & Hedges with the graphic image of a lung destroyed by cancer. Or we can put warning labels on packs, in bus shelters, on TV. The possibilities are almost endless.

Many policy options exist, and research has shown that they work. Tobacco control policies save lives. They also save addicts the money they no longer pour into tobacco industry coffers.

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8 comments


Debunking climate myths: two contrasting case studies

Posted on 6 February 2014 by John Cook &

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Here, I've used my original submitted headline.

Debunking myths requires an understanding of the psychological research into misinformation. But getting your refutation out in front of lots of eyeballs is a whole other matter.

Here, I look at two contrasting case studies in debunking climate myths.

If you don’t do it right, you run the risk of actually reinforcing the myth. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid any potential backfire effects.

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11 comments


Answering questions about consensus in a MOOC webinar

Posted on 25 January 2014 by John Cook &

I was honoured to be invited as a guest lecturer for Climate Change in Four Dimensions, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hosted at Coursera. This is a free, online course run by the University of San Diego, featuring two of my personal heroes: Richard Somerville and Naomi Oreskes. Week 2 featured some must-watch lectures by Naomi Oreskes on the nature of scientific knowledge. The required activity for that week involved reading the peer-reviewed paper authored by the Skeptical Science team, Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature.

The webinar had students shooting questions to me about our consensus paper. The time seemed to pass all too quickly (sign of a good time) and a number of questions went unanswered. So I thought I would use this blog post to go through the webinar transcript and address the unanswered questions (the advantage of blogging is I can also bling up my answers with gratuitious infographics):

You said the authors "err[ed] on the side of least drama." Is this still a good idea?

To provide some background to this question, erring on the side of least drama (ESLD) suggests that rather than lean towards alarmism, scientists tend to be conservative and downplay their science. We discuss the evidence for this when looking at how the IPCC tend to underestimate climate impacts.

When deciding on the criteria for categorising climate papers, we took somewhat of a conservative approach in that if there was any doubt whether a paper was stating a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), we rated it as stating No Position on AGW. Did this significantly affect our results? Our method found that by rating abstracts, 97.1% of abstracts stating a position on AGW endorsed the consensus. When we asked scientists to rate their own papers, we found 97.2% of papers self-rated as stating a position on AGW endorsed the consensus.

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Three perfect grade debunkings of climate misinformation

Posted on 21 January 2014 by John Cook &

Professor Scott Mandia at Suffolk County Community College teaches his students using the approach of agnotology-based learning. Agnotology is the study of ignorance and misconceptions. Agnotology-based learning addresses misconceptions and myths while teaching climate science. Two decades of research have found that  direct refutation in the classroom is one of the most effective ways of reducing misconceptions.

As part of the college class MET103  - Global Climate Change, students pick a climate myth from the Skeptical Science list of myths. Our refutations are often written at multiple levels: Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. Students are required to carefully study all the versions of a specific myth, then summarise all the information in their own words. Students are marked on how well they describe the myth, why it persists and how well they refute the misinformation. They're encouraged to read the Debunking Handbook for techniques on effective debunking.

In 2013, three students scored 100%, well above the class average of 72% or 77% in the Spring classes. All three students used an alternative explanation to fill the gap created by the debunking. They also used simple explanations to avoid the Overkill Backfire Effect.

Countering the “It's the Sun” Argument

Robert Necci began his paper by providing an explicit warning mentioning the myth, useful in avoiding the Familiarity Backfire Effect:

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Skeptical Science

Posted on 25 December 2013 by dana1981 & John Cook

And from Santa Claus too.

Santa Coal

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3 comments


Attacks on scientific consensus on climate change mirror tactics of tobacco industry

Posted on 28 November 2013 by John Cook &

The importance of public perception of scientific consensus has been established in a number of studies (e.g., here, here and here). Perhaps nothing underscores its importance more than the strenuous efforts that opponents of climate action have exerted in attacking consensus. For over two decades, fossil fuel interests and right-wing ideologues have sought to cast doubt on the consensus:

Consequently, it comes as no surprise that our paper Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature has come under intense attack. Since published 6 months ago, nearly 200 articles have been published online attacking our paper. The attacks have come in the form of blog posts, Youtube videos, cartoons, papers, reports and conspiracy theories. The most entertaining conspiracy theories are Christopher Monckton's suggestion that the high-impact journal Environmental Research Letters was created for the purpose of publishing our paper and Anthony Watts' accusation that Dana Nuccitelli has vested interests in oil.

Attacks on any scientific consensus, whether it be human-caused global warming or the link between smoking and cancer, exhibit five characteristics of science denial. Similarly, the attacks against our paper have exhibited the same five characteristics. Some of these characteristics are on offer in an opinion piece by Anthony Cox published in the Newcastle Herald. I was granted the opportunity to publish a response in the Newcastle Herald, which was published today:

OPINION: Climate change deniers use tobacco tactics

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30 comments


4 Hiroshima bombs per second: a widget to raise awareness about global warming

Posted on 25 November 2013 by John Cook & Bob Lacatena

This is a working version of the widget, as it would appear on the sidebar of a blog.  To use it, just click the buttons.

Our planet is building up a lot of heat. When scientists add up all the heat warming the oceans, land, atmosphere and melting the ice, they calculate that our planet is accumulating heat at a rate of 2.5x1014 Watts. This is equivalent to 4 Hiroshima bombs worth of heat per second.

When I mention this in public talks, I see eyes as wide as saucers. Few people are aware of how much heat our climate system is absorbing. To actively communicate our planet's energy imbalance, Skeptical Science is releasing the Skeptical Science Heat Widget.

The widget can be added to just about any blog or web site. You can customise the colour of the widget, the style of the design and even the year from which the heat graph begins. It's the result of months of diligent programming and testing by SkS team member Bob Lacatena (Sphaerica). If you have a webpage or blog, here's an opportunity to help raise awareness of global warming.

If you don't have a website but are on Facebook, Bob has also put together a Facebook app and an app for the iPad and iPhone. For complete instructions on how to get and install the widget on your blog or web site, visit the Skeptical Science Widgets page.

The widget shows the amount of energy that has been and continues to be added to the earth's climate system, expressed in ways that non-scientists can more easily relate to. Meanwhile, the counter actively increases with time, showing exactly how much and how fast the planet continues to warm.

For more information on the science behind the heat in the climate system, visit the widget's companion site, 4hiroshimas.com. This website was put together by Bob, in collaboration with the SkS team.

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50 comments


Skeptical Science at the 2013 AGU Fall meeting

Posted on 21 November 2013 by John Cook &

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting is one of the largest gatherings of climate scientists in the world. Every December, tens of thousands of Earth scientists converge on San Francisco. Over 5 days, the scientific community present a mind-boggingly huge and diverse number of talks and posters. And they offer free beer at the poster sessions!

This year, Skeptical Science team members will be presenting a number of talks and posters. Some of it will be about work we've published over the last year while we'll also be presenting upcoming research. On Monday at 10.50am, I'll be presenting the latest results from my PhD research, which includes some fascinating findings that may change the way we think about misinformation. For those not attending the conference, AGU are offering virtual options on the three talks, which means they'll all be available as live video streams. I'll post URLs of the live stream as soon as its available.

Here are the talks and posters where you'll be able to find us - do be sure to track us down at the poster sessions as there will likely be a number of SkSers hovering around (heckling the poster presenter).

TIME TYPE PRESENTER LOCATION TITLE
Sun 8 Dec
10am - 2.30pm
Workshop John Cook Marriott Marquis Communicating climate science in an IPCC year
(registration is now full)

Mon 9 Dec
10.50am - 11.05am
Talk John Cook Moscone South, 104 The Importance of Consensus Information in Acceptance of Climate Change
ED12B
Tue 10 Dec
8am - 12pm
Poster Peter Jacobs Moscone South, Halls A-C The Once and Future North Atlantic: How the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period Can Increase Stakeholder Preparedness in a Warming World
PP21B
Tue 10 Dec
8am
Talk John Cook Moscone South, 103 The Strategic Combination of Open-Access Peer-Review, Mainstream Media and Social Media to Improve Public Climate Literac
ED21B
Wed 11 Dec
8am
Talk John Cook Moscone South 104 Case Studies in Agnotology-Based Learning
ED31E
Wed 11 Dec
8am - 12pm
Poster Dana Nuccitelli Moscone South, Halls A-C Taking Social Media Science Myth Debunking to a Presidential Level
PA31B
Wed 11 Dec
1.40pm - 6pm
Poster Peter Jacobs Moscone South, Halls A-C It Ain’t the Heat, It’s the Humanity
ED33A

Also, on Tuesday 12pm, I will also be appearing at The Commonwealth Club along with Jim Hoggan (cofounder of Desmogblog) and Bud Ward (editor, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media) in an interview with Greg Dalton for Climate One Radio. Here's a video of what Climate One is all about:

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Broad consensus on climate change across American states

Posted on 18 November 2013 by John Cook &

Reposted from The Conversation.

A recent US “survey of surveys” by Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick has analysed public opinion on climate change in 46 of USA’s 50 states. Krosnick found to his surprise that, regardless of geography, most Americans accept that global warming is happening and that humans are causing it.

In all 46 states, they found that at least 75% of participants thought global warming was happening. Even in traditionally conservative red states such as Texas, 84% thought global warming was happening and 72% agreed humans were the cause. Acceptance of global warming increased to at least 84% for states hit by drought or vulnerable to sea level rise.

In all states, at least 65% of Americans thought humans were causing global warming. Utah showed the lowest level at 65% while acceptance was highest in New Hampshire with 90%. Most Americans also supported government curbs of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

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8 comments


Deconstructing former Australian Prime Minister John Howard's 'gut feeling' on climate change

Posted on 13 November 2013 by John Cook &

This article was reposted from Climasphere.org.

Last week, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard gave a speech on climate change for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank opposed to policies that mitigate climate change. Howard characterised scientists who accept the evidence that humans are disrupting climate as religious zealots. Consequently, he is not so convinced of the scientific evidence. On what does he base his views? Howard states that “…I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated.”

Howard is guided by gut feeling rather than empirical evidence and physics. At the same time, he accuses scientists, who arrived at their position through methodical consideration of the full body of evidence, of ideological bias. How does one make sense of this? An appropriate starting place is the scientific research into the biasing influence of ideology.

There are many factors that influence our climate change knowledge and attitudes, including education, scientific literacy and personal experience. Political ideology has a significant influence on climate change beliefs. A striking demonstration of the powerful effect of ideology is the finding that as education levels increased, Democrats became more concerned about climate change while Republicans became less concerned. Ideology rather than education is the hand at the wheel driving climate attitudes.

Does this mean ideological bias is symmetrical, with liberals exaggerating the effects of climate change while conservatives downplay climate impacts? Again, we can consult empirical research for the answer.

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36 comments


Book review - The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars now Available in Paperback

Posted on 6 November 2013 by John Cook &

This is an updated book review of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, by Michael Mann, with the paperback edition released this week. The re-release features a foreword by Bill "The Science Guy" Nye (which opens with the great line "If you like to worry about things, you are living in a great time"). The book also includes an additional chapter based on the eventful last 18 months. You can order it directly from Columbia University Press or pre-order at Amazon.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars takes us into the heart of the climate change controversy via the scientist standing in the eye of the storm - Michael Mann. He provides an eye-opening account of the lengths the opponents of climate science will go to in their campaign to slander climate scientists and distract the public from the realities of human caused global warming.

Before jumping into the dogfight, the book tells us the human story of how Mann got started in science. It was surprising to learn that his PhD began with the notion that natural variability might be greater than what climate scientists thought. I also didn't realize he'd coined the term "Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation" (AMO) off the cuff in an interview (that's the kind of trivia that a science geek like me delights in). Ironically the AMO and natural oscillations are often invoked by contrarians to cast doubt on the human influence on global warming.

Mann also describes the progress of paleoclimate science through the 1990s which puts his 1998 hockey stick research in a broader perspective. The hockey stick paper focused on all the "scientifically interesting" periods of regional climate change over the last 600 years. So a phrase that jumped out at me was Mann's characterization that the "least scientifically interesting" thing he could do with all his regional data was average it out to find the hemispheric average. It was this "least scientifically interesting" graph that sparked a smear campaign against the graph and against Michael Mann that has lasted over a decade.

As someone who has endured more attacks from the forces of climate denial than possibly any other person on the planet, Mann provides great insight into the modes of attack. He labels it the "Serengeti strategy", inspired by African lions isolating members of a zebra herd. The climate denial movement isolate individual scientists, fling reckless charges of fraud or incompetence in the attempt to discredit climate science in general - with the ultimate goal being distraction from the realities of climate change.

The sustained level of attack that Mann has been forced to endure is extraordinary. He's withstood threats to himself and his family, sustained PR campaigns targeting his university, mocking Youtube videos, slandering Google ads and intimidation from Republican congressmen and district attorneys. While reading through the litany of attacks, I couldn't help wondering what the attackers thought will happen - if they successfully intimidate the scientists, do they think the ice sheets will stop sliding into the ocean and sea levels will stop rising?

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24 comments


Consensus study most downloaded paper in all Institute of Physics journals

Posted on 14 October 2013 by John Cook &

In April, Skeptical Science readers became part of a landmark citizen science project when you helped crowd-fund $1,600 to make our consensus paper freely available to the public. It took just 9 hours for the crowd-funding to raise the required funds (apologies to the SkS readers who missed out on the opportunity to donate). Thanks in part to your contribution, the Consensus Project has gone on to make a significant impact. Within 24 hours, our paper was tweeted by President Obama's Twitter account and received mainstream media coverage in countries all over the world:

Figure 1: Mainstream media coverage of Cook et al. (2013).

Most downloaded paper in all Institute of Physics journals

This week, the number of downloads of our paper passed 100,000. To put this number in perspective, the previously most downloaded paper in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) has been downloaded 60,000 times. In addition to ERL, the Institute of Physics publish over 70 peer-reviewed science journals. Over the last week, Cook et al. (2013) became the most downloaded paper in all Institute of Physics journals (this paper is second).

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12 comments


SkS social experiment: using comment ratings to help moderation

Posted on 8 October 2013 by John Cook & Bob Lacatena

Last week, the news rippled through the blogosphere that Popular Science had shut off commenting on their website. The reason: trolls and spambots had overwhelmed the comment threads. This is a great shame, partly because it should be avoidable. Surely a combination of technology, crowd-sourcing and manual moderation should be able to minimise the destructive impact of comment trolls.

To investigate this possibility, Skeptical Science is engaging in a social experiment. You, gentle readers, are the participants. The experiment is a University of Queensland research project, titled "Using comment ratings to facilitate moderation" (I've updated the SkS Privacy Policy to include information about this project). The goal is to investigate using user ratings to assist comment moderation, thus helping to maintain a high quality of discussion. This will be achieved simply through the use of two thumbs:

Thumbs Up

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41 comments


Public talk explaining our consensus paper & answering critics

Posted on 30 September 2013 by John Cook &

I recently presented a public talk at the new Global Change Institute living building on the topic of scientific consensus. Specifically, the talk was titled Closing the consensus gap a key to increasing support for climate action. I go into why there is a scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, explain the research in our consensus paper published in Environmental Research Letters and answer 5 criticisms of our paper. Here's the full video which you can also view at the GCI website (with details of the powerpoint slides to follow):

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2 comments


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Closing the Consensus Gap

Posted on 20 August 2013 by John Cook &

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a prestigious journal, established in 1945 to warn the public about the consequences of using nuclear weapons. They've published the writings of Hans Bethe, Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. The Bulletin is closely followed in Washington, DC, and other world capitals and uses its iconic Doomsday Clock to draw international attention to global risks and solutions. It links the work of researchers and experts with policymaking entities, with the goal of influencing public policy to protect the Earth and its inhabitants. Thus I was honoured to be invited to submit an article, Closing the consensus gap: Public support for climate policy. In this article, I discuss our paper Quantifying the Consensus and why there was a need for it - because of the two-decade long misinformation campaign against the consensus. Here's an excerpt:

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32 comments


Carbon Dioxide's invisibility is what causes global warming

Posted on 16 July 2013 by John Cook &

Australia's leader of the opposition Tony Abbott recently derided an emission trading scheme as "so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one". This echoes an earlier statement where Abbott dismissed carbon dioxide as an "invisible, odourless, weightless, tasteless substance". In this modern age, most people are aware of how something that is invisible to the eye can nevertheless have a significant impact. Examples include radiation from radioactive material, germs and well, gravity. In the case of carbon dioxide, it is actually its invisibility that is the key factor in how it causes global warming.

When sunlight reaches the Earth, it passes through our atmosphere. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are invisible to sunlight, also known as shortwave radiation because of its short wavelength. This allows the sunlight to pass through the atmosphere unhindered by greenhouse gases, and warm the Earth's surface.

The warm surface of the Earth radiates infrared heat, also known as longwave radiation because of its long wavelength. Greenhouse gases absorb longwave radiation. This results in the atmosphere trapping some of the Earth's heat as it tries to escape out to space. Heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide make the atmosphere warmer than it would be without any greenhouse gases.

Currently, we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. As more greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, more heat is being trapped. This causes global warming. Consequently, the fact that carbon dioxide lets sunlight pass freely through the atmosphere is an integral aspect of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide's invisibility is a key part of what causes global warming.

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28 comments


The Consensus Project self-rating data now available

Posted on 8 July 2013 by John Cook &

I've just uploaded the ratings provided by the scientists who rated their own climate papers, published in our peer-reviewed paper "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature". This is an opportunity to highlight one of the most important aspects of our paper. Critics of our paper have pointed to a blog post that asked 7 scientists to rate their own papers. We'd already done that, except rather than cherry pick a handful of scientists known to hold contrarian views, we blanket emailed over 8,500 scientists. This resulted in 1,200 scientists rating the level of endorsement of their own climate papers, with 2,142 papers receiving a self-rating.

While our analysis of abstracts found 97.1% consensus among abstracts stating a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the method of self-rating complete papers independently found 97.2% consensus among papers self-rated as stating a position on AGW. This independent confirmation demonstrates how robust the scientific consensus is. Whether it's Naomi Oreskes' original analysis of climate research in 2004, Doran and Kendall-Zimmerman (2009) surveying the community of Earth scientists, Anderegg et al. (2010) analysing public declarations on climate change, or our own independent methods, the overwhelming consensus consistently appears.

Figure 1: Percentage of climate papers stating a position on AGW that endorse human-caused global warming. Year is the year of publication.

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13 comments


Climate Change Denial now available as Kindle ebook

Posted on 8 July 2013 by John Cook &

Climate Change Denial by Haydn Washington and John CookSince April 2011 when Haydn Washington and I launched our book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand, people have been asking me when the book will be available in ebook format. For two years, I've been answering "soon". Finally, I can answer "now"! The Kindle Edition of Climate Change Denial is now available at the Amazon store.

Our book examines the phenomenon of climate change denial. It looks at the many techniques of literal denial, where 'skeptics' deny the evidence for man-made global warming. It exposes denial within governments, who make a lot of noise about climate change but fail to back it up with action. And it examines the denial within most of us, when we let denial prosper. This book explains the climate science and the social science behind denial.

Climate change can be solved – but only when we cease to deny that it exists. This book shows how we can break through denial, accept reality, and thus solve the climate crisis. 

Our book was designed to engage scientists, university students, climate change activists as well as the general public seeking to roll back denial and act. It's been pleasing to see that over the past few years, the book has been cited extensively in the peer-reviewed literature (30 times according to Google Scholar). To recap, here are reviews of our book:

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4 Hiroshima bombs worth of heat per second

Posted on 1 July 2013 by John Cook & dana1981

UPDATE 27 Mar 2014: I just discovered that my talk at the Climate Action Summit was posted on YouTube:

Last weekend, I gave a talk at the Climate Action Summit on the latest climate science. During the talk, I showed the following graph of the Earth's total heat content, demonstrating that even over the last decade when surface temperature warming has slowed somewhat, the planet continues to build up heat at a rate of 4 Hiroshima bomb detonations worth of heat every second. This data comes from a paper lead authored by Australian climate scientist John Church that tallies up the heat accumulating in the oceans, warming the land and atmosphere and melting the ice:

The next day, I was (pleasantly) surprised to see an AAP journalist had written an article about my talk (and also included some of the science on extreme weather presented by the distinguished scientist Lesley Hughes who spoke after me). The headline, "Climate change like atom bomb", focused on the Hiroshima metaphor (which I believe was first used several years ago by James Hansen). The article was picked up by a number of outlets across the world with a curious concentration of coverage in India. Subsequently, a number of people have commented on this metaphor or emailed me questions. So I thought I would address in this post, with some help from Dana Nuccitelli, why we use this metaphor and how the "4 Hiroshima bombs worth of heat per second" was calculated.

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47 comments


Jim Powell's Inquisition of Climate Science now available in paperback

Posted on 22 June 2013 by John Cook &

The Inquisition of Climate ScienceThose who reject the consensus on human-caused global warming like to compare themselves to Galileo who challenged the Church's view that the sun revolved around the Earth. It turns out this comparison has it backwards. Modern scientists follow the evidence-based scientific method that Galileo pioneered. The "consensus" of geocentrism was promoted by the church rather than the scientific community. The similarity with the current situation is that modern scientists are also being persecuted by ideologically driven groups. This persecution is documented in the book The Inquisition of Climate Science by Jim Powell, which is now available in paperback.

I initially reviewed this book when it first came out in hard cover so let me excerpt from my initial review:

Powell points out one distinction between the Roman Inquisition and the modern day Climate Inquisition.  At least the Roman inquisitors had an alternative theory - Ptolemy's 2nd Century theory of Earth-centered astronomy.  The Climate Inquisition have no alternative theory that can explain the many lines of evidence that point to human caused global warming

The persecution of Galileo is highly instructive in putting today's climate controversy in proper context. The Inquisition Of Climate Science, available in hard cover and as an e-book that can be read on Kindle, iPad and computer, is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the full scope of the denial industry and their modern day persecution of climate science.

Lastly, I recommend checking out this video by Powell on how we know global warming is true:

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New paper on agnotology and scientific consensus

Posted on 19 June 2013 by John Cook &

Agnotology is the study of ignorance and how it's produced. For example, examining how misinformation can generate misconceptions about climate change. An interesting (and influential, at least in my case) paper on this topic is Agnotology as a teaching tool: Learning climate science by studying misinformation by Daniel Bedford, a professor at Weber State University, Utah. Bedford suggests how how examining and refuting misinformation is actually a powerful way to teach climate science, sharpen critical thinking skills and raise awareness of the scientific method. He then illustrates this with case studies applied in his own college classroom. This paper opened my eyes to the educational opportunities in addressing misinformation - an approach I adopted in the chapters "Understanding Climate Change Denial" and "Rebuttals to Climate Myths" in the textbook Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis.

Recently, David Legates, Willie Soon and William Briggs published a paper in the journal Science & Education, Learning and Teaching Climate Science: The Perils of Consensus Knowledge Using Agnotology. The paper comments extensively on Bedford's agnotology paper. Unfortunately, it comprehensively misrepresents Bedford's arguments. Consequently, Daniel Bedford and I have co-authored a response to Legates' paper that was just published in Science & Education: Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change: A Response to Legates, Soon and Briggs. For those without library access, our paper is unfortunately behind a pay-wall. However, the full pre-press version of our paper is available here.

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Live Feed of the AGU Chapman Conference on Climate Communication starting... now!

Posted on 9 June 2013 by John Cook &

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) are trying something new this week. They're running a conference on climate communication where many of the talks are being broadcast live online. Online viewers are encouraged to submit questions which will be put to the talkers at the end of their talks.

I strongly recommend you check it out if you can. Today alone features an amazing array of speakers - Spencer Weart, Mike Mann, Max Boykoff, Richard Alley, Stephan Lewandowsky - and that's just the first day. Right now, Michael MacCracken is giving a fascinating talk on the early history of climate science.

Check out the list of scheduled live talks, which I've been informed will be growing as more talks are added to the live feed. On Wednesday, I'll be presenting results from my PhD research into the psychology of consensus, and I may happen to mention the Cook et al. consensus paper along the way. Hopefully this will be broadcast online as I imagine there may be a few people interested in sending in a few questions.

UPDATE (h/t to Baerbel): My session will be broadcast live on Wednesday,2:00 p.m. — 2:15 p.m. You can watch it live and also submit questions which will be put to me during the Q&A session:

The Importance of Consensus Information in Reducing the Biasing Influence of Worldview on Climate Change Attitudes

Check out the full Web Session Schedule to see all speakers and times.

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Communicating climate change at the Maths of Planet Earth conference

Posted on 3 June 2013 by John Cook &

2013 is the international year of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute is running a conference to explore and extol the role of maths and stats in understanding the challenges of our world in a fun and accessible way. That's right, maths is fun, you heard it here! The conference will be held in Melbourne, July 8 to 12, as academics and scientists converge for a week of lectures, sessions and networking.

I was honoured to be invited to speak at the event, where I'll be talking about The challenges of communicating the reality of climate change. Here's an abstract of my talk:

Communicating the reality of climate change is a deceptively difficult proposition. The average layperson thinks of climate as the weather they experience in their daily lives. Public surveys find people more accepting of global warming on hotter days but more sceptical on cold days. However, climate change is understood through the analysis of long-term trends and regional weather patterns. Climate is in essence weather averaged over time and space. Consequently, simple questions require complex, nuanced answers. Did global warming cause a specific flood? Individual extreme weather events are difficult to blame on climate change but the probability of such events increase with global warming. Converting abstract statistics into concrete concepts that laypeople can understand and relate to is crucial to communicating the realities of climate change.

They've just posted an interview with me on their website where we discuss what I'll be talking about at the conference. The interview was conducted by Stéphanie Pradier (who incidentally is currently in her 4th year of a physics degree, something we have in common). We also delve into a number of other interesting topics such as the biasing influence of political ideology, the essential ingredient of an effective debunking and the humble beginnings of Skeptical Science. Here's the video:

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The 5 characteristics of global warming consensus denial

Posted on 28 May 2013 by John Cook & dana1981

All movements that reject an overwhelming scientific consensus show 5 inevitable characteristics. They celebrate fake experts, cherry pick the data, argue using misrepresentation and logical fallacies, indulge in conspiracy theories, and demand impossible expectations of what research can deliver.

These characteristics are seen in the movements that deny the scientific consensus on vaccination, HIV and AIDS and the link between smoking and cancer. They are also abundantly evident in the movement that denies the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

Industry and conservative groups have been attacking scientific consensus for decades. As far back as 1991, Western Fuels Association launched a $510,000 campaign to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)" in the public perception. A memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republican politicians to "continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate." In a recent analysis of syndicated conservative opinion pieces spanning 2007 to 2010, the most popular myth was “there is no consensus”.

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On the value of consensus in climate communication

Posted on 23 May 2013 by John Cook &

After our Consensus paper was published with extensive media coverage, law professor and climate communicator Dan Kahan posted an emotive blog post (he characterised it as a "haughty outburst"). He questioned the value of a study measuring consensus and whether consensus is something climate communicators should be emphasising.

Once Dan had a chance to calm down, we corresponded about his post and he suggested he summarise his views in a 4-point article that I could respond to. Dan's 4 point critique of Cook et al. and my response have now been posted on his blog. He also included a response from science journalist Scott Johnson. I recommend you head over to Kahan's blog post summarising all three viewpoints, but here are a few choice excerpts.

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Measure the climate consensus yourself with our Interactive Rating System

Posted on 17 May 2013 by John Cook &

The Consensus Project was a long, ambitious effort by many volunteers, lasting 12 months from beginning to submission of our paper to peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters. The project involved citizen science from start to finish - from the rating of the abstracts to the collection of scientists' emails to crowd-funding the journal fee to make the paper free to the public. It was an enormous collaborative effort that the entire Skeptical Science community contributed to. The effort has resulted in strong media interest including a tweet from President Obama.

We want our results to be transparent and replicable, so that anybody can quantify the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming for themselves.  Thus we've created an interactive rating system that lets Skeptical Science readers rate the abstracts from The Consensus Project. You can then compare your ratings to the results from Quantifying The Consensus. Note that your ratings are private - no specific ratings will be publicly attributed to individuals.

All papers receive two types of ratings - the category of research and the level of endorsement of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Here are general definitions of each category and endorsement level, although we've also provided a more detailed set of guidelines.

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Skeptical Science Study Finds 97% Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming in the Peer-Reviewed Literature

Posted on 16 May 2013 by dana1981 & John Cook

A new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers by our citizen science team at Skeptical Science has found a 97% consensus among papers taking a position on the cause of global warming in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are responsible.

consensus pie chart

Lead author John Cook created a short video abstract summarizing the study:

The Abstracts Survey

The first step of our approach involved expanding the original survey of the peer-reviewed scientific literature in Oreskes (2004).  We performed a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications (in the ISI Web of Science) for the terms 'global warming' and 'global climate change' between the years 1991 and 2011, which returned over 12,000 papers.

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364 comments


Participate in a survey measuring consensus in climate research

Posted on 1 May 2013 by John Cook &

The Skeptical Science team has a paper coming out within a few weeks in the high-impact journal Environmental Research Letters (ERL) (many thanks to all who donated money to help make the paper freely available to the public). In our paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, we analysed over 12,000 papers listed in the 'Web Of Science' between 1991 to 2011 matching the topic 'global warming' or 'global climate change'.

Reading so many papers was an eye-opening experience as it hit home just how diverse and rich the research into climate change is. So before the paper comes out, we're inviting readers to in a small way repeat the experience we went through. Not just Skeptical Science readers - I'm emailing an invitation to 58 50 of the most highly trafficked climate blogs (half of them skeptic), asking them to post a link to the survey. In this way we hope to obtain ratings from a diverse range of participants.

You're invited to rate the abstracts of the climate papers with the purpose of estimating the level of consensus regarding the proposition that humans are causing global warming. The survey involves reading and rating 10 random  abstracts and is expected to take around 15 minutes. You have the option of signing up to receive the final results of the survey and be notified when our ERL paper on consensus is published.

No other personal information is required (and email is optional). You can elect to discontinue the survey at any point, and results are only recorded if the survey is completed. Participant ratings are confidential and all data will be de-individuated in the final results, so no individual ratings will be published.

The analysis is being conducted by the University of Queensland in collaboration with Skeptical Science. I'm heading the research project as the research fellow in climate communication for the Global Change Institute.

Click here to participate in the survey.

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Be part of a landmark citizen science paper on consensus

Posted on 25 April 2013 by John Cook &

UPDATE: we have reached our goal of raising $1,600 to pay the publication fee. Many thanks to all the donors who made it possible to publish our consensus research as an open-access paper. Citizen science in action!

Over the past year volunteers here at Skeptical Science have been quietly engaged in a landmark citizen science project. We have completed the most comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed climate science papers ever done. Some 21 years worth of climate papers – more than 12,000 in all – have been carefully ranked by their level of endorsement of human-caused global warming. We also invited thousands of the authors of these papers to rate their own papers.

Earlier this year, we submitted our paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, to the high-impact journal Environmental Research Letters (ERL). This week, the paper was approved by the journal. One of the reasons we submitted our paper to ERL was that the journal is open-access. Their articles are freely available to the public with no pay walls, which was very important to us. However, there is also a US$1,600 publication fee.

In keeping with the citizen science spirit of the project, we're crowd sourcing the funding of the paper's publication. So we're asking Skeptical Science readers to be part of our project by helping us raise the $1,600 to publish our paper measuring the level of consensus in the peer-reviewed literature, in a high impact journal that is free to the public.

UPDATE: we have reached our $1,600 goal. Many thanks to all donors. I will be publishing a blog post providing more details soon.

If you would like to be part of this citizen science effort, click here to donate via Paypal. You can donate with your Paypal account or if you don't have a Paypal account, with your credit card. Any amount, great or small, is important and appreciated.

We will announce when we reach the $1,600 mark. On that blog post, we will also acknowledge those who donated so please indicate in the Paypal instruction window whether you'd like to be acknowledged or prefer to remain anonymous.

UPDATE: many thanks to all our donors - within a few hours, we are already over halfway to our goal. I will announce here when we reach $1,600. To answer jsam's question, yes, indicate in the Special Instructions whether you'd like to be publicly acknowledged. But it's not essential - I will email all donors to confirm whether you'd like to be acknowledged anyway.

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Book review: Cold Cash, Cool Climate by Jonathan Koomey

Posted on 1 April 2013 by John Cook &

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
Alan Kay

Jonathan Koomey's new book Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs puts forth an intriguing idea – entrepreneurs are one of the keys to meaningful, timely climate action. Society needs to make drastic changes to avoid dangerous global warming. However, institutions such as the government and big business only change slowly and incrementally, except under exceptional circumstances.

Koomey argues forcefully that it's the very nature of entrepreneurs that make them an important part of the solution.  While institutions often fear and resist change, entrepreneurs embrace it. The changes required are so large, no part of the economy will be untouched. Most people look at the enormity of this issue and despair. But entrepreneurs are famously scornful of the phrase “it can’t be done” and see opportunity.

This is not to say entrepreneurs are the magic bullet. One of the key points that Koomey makes is that we need to be addressing climate change on many fronts. The key to speeding up the change is to make the systems that are causing the climate problem obsolete more quickly. What entrepreneurs do is develop replacements that are so much better than to existing ways of doing things that people are willing to "upgrade" to gain the advantages of the new technology.

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7 comments


Recursive Fury: Facts and misrepresentations

Posted on 21 March 2013 by John Cook & Stephan Lewandowsky

Our paper Recursive fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation has been published. The paper analyzed the public discourse in response to an earlier article by Lewandowsky, Oberauer, and Gignac (LOG12 for short from here on), which has led to some discussion on this blog earlier.

Refreshingly, the journal Frontiers makes all papers available for free with no paywall. Another unique feature of this journal is that readers can post comments directly beneath the abstract. Unfortunately this has led to the posting of a number of misrepresentations of the paper.

In this post, I’ll be addressing some of these misconceptions (but being careful to practise what I preach, will adopt the principles of the Debunking Handbook when I debunk the misconceptions). So here are some key facts about the Recursive Fury paper:

Conspiracy theorists are those who display the characteristics of conspiracy ideation

Yep, just stating the obvious, right? Recursive Fury establishes, from the peer-reviewed literature, the traits of conspiracist ideation, which is the technical term for a cognitive style commonly known as “conspiratorial thinking”. Our paper featured 6 criteria for conspiratorial thinking:

  1. Nefarious Intent: Assuming that the presumed conspirators have nefarious intentions. For example, if person X assumes that blogger Y colluded with the New York Times to publish a paper damaging to X, then X presumes nefarious intent on the part of Y.
  2. Persecuted Victim: Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution.
  3. Nihilistic Skepticism: Refusing to believe anything that doesn’t fit into the conspiracy theory. Note that “conspiracy theory” here is a fairly broad term and need not involve a global conspiracy (e.g., that NASA faked the moon landing) but can refer to small-scale events and hypotheses.
  4. Nothing occurs by Accident: Weaving any small random event into the conspiracy narrative.
  5. Something Must be Wrong: Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators. Thus, people may simultaneously believe that Princess Diana faked her own death and that she was assassinated by MI5.
  6. Self-Sealing reasoning: Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy. For example, when climate scientists are exonerated of any wrong-doing 9 times over by different investigations, this is reinterpreted to imply that the climate-change conspiracy involves not just the world’s climate scientists but also the investigating bodies and associated governments.

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The educational opportunities in addressing misinformation in the classroom

Posted on 8 March 2013 by John Cook &

An interesting discussion arose in Tom Farmer’s latest blog post about our textbook Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis. One of the commenters questioned whether certain sections should have been included in the textbook. The two chapters he referred to were Chapter 23: Understanding Climate Change Denial and Chapter 24: Rebuttals to Climate Myths. I would argue that not only are such chapters appropriate, they are essential to a comprehensive climate education. In fact, I would go further. Addressing misinformation in the classroom is not just a necessary evil – it’s actually an opportunity that educators should be embracing.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that education isn’t just a matter of downloading new information into student’s heads. An important aspect is correcting misperceptions. Jonathan Osborne sums it up nicely when he says "Comprehending why ideas are wrong matters as much as understanding why some ideas may be right." Another famous educator provides an even pithier quote on the importance of correcting misperceptions.

What is the best way for teachers to dispel misconceptions? Is it enough to simply teach students the facts? It turns out no. A study conducted with 1st year psychology students found that lectures explicitly refuting misconceptions were twice as effective as the standard lecture format in reducing misconceptions. Teachers need to directly challenge false ideas to provoke students into examining their preconceptions.

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Why SkS withdrew from the Bloggies

Posted on 1 March 2013 by John Cook &

The Weblog Awards, aka the Bloggies, is an annual competition honoring blogs in various categories. Finalists are chosen by online nomination and winners are chosen by online voting. This year, Skeptical Science made the finalists of the Science and Technology category. Yesterday, I requested that SkS be withdrawn from the competition, as reported in the Guardian. Why? Because the Bloggies have become inextricably associated with anti-science blogs.

In an inversion of reality, the Science and Technology category is dominated by anti-science blogs that post conspiracy theories about the scientific community, deny the full body of evidence and reject the scientific consensus. The fact that 4 out of 5 science finalists are anti-science demonstrates that the integrity of the Bloggies Award has been compromised. I, like any pro-science blogger, am not comfortable with the notion of competing for an award that has previously been won by anti-science blogs.

It's worth considering why there is such an asymmetry with the award swarmed by readers of anti-climate science blogs but ignored by legitimate science and technology blogs. Quite simply, this is all they've got. Anti-science blogs reject the consensus of evidence in the peer-reviewed literature. They reject the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. They value the opinion of anonymous internet users over climate scientists actively publishing climate research in the peer-reviewed literature.  They clutch at any life preserver to ward off the rising tide of evidence for dangerous man-made global warming, as demonstrated by the zeal that led to 9 anti-science blogs appearing in the finalists of various categories.

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Reality Drop - using social media to rapidly respond to climate misinformation

Posted on 1 March 2013 by John Cook &

One of the more disturbing elements of misinformation is summarised by a pithy quote from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on". Even more perturbing is the fact that Churchill's quote came before the Internet and the age of Twitter, when a lie can take wings in the time it takes to tap 140 characters. However, the Climate Reality Project have just released a new website Reality Drop, that hopes to give truth a leg up.

Here's how it works: Reality Drop rounds up the latest climate news and lets users know where climate misinformation is posted. Then users can drop some reality into the conversation. Doing so earns them points, climbing the leaderboard and earning higher rank. Their video explains the concept succinctly:

This website achieves something I've been wanting to do for years but never found the time to create – a rapid response system to online misinformation. However, Reality Drop's version is much cooler than anything I had in mind so perhaps it was for the best! The website provides several valuable features. It empowers people who are passionate about the climate issue by giving them a way to communicate the realities of climate change. It provides the facts in plain language. The social media aspect with points and ranking make the process interactive and engaging.

The website borrows much content from Skeptical Science's rebuttals and acknowledge so on their About page (in fact, our content is creative commons licensed so all communicators are very welcome to use our rebuttals).

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19 comments


Conspiracy Theorists Respond to Evidence They're Conspiracy Theorists With More Conspiracy Theories

Posted on 26 February 2013 by John Cook &

This is a partial re-post from The Huffington Post.  For the full article, click the link below.

In 2012, cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,000 climate blog readers and observed a link between science denial and conspiracy theorizing. People who denied scientific propositions such as the link between AIDS and HIV or climate change and human activity were more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories like Princess Diana was murdered or AIDS was created by the government. How did climate deniers respond to evidence associating science denial with conspiracy theorizing? With more conspiracy theories, of course!

The conspiracy theories directed toward the "moon landing paper" began small-scale, but grew in scope and intricacy. Now to social scientists, such a public response can mean only one thing. Data! I collaborated with Lewandowsky in documenting the various conspiracy theories and tracking their evolution over time. The analysis has now been published in the paper "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation."

Conspiracy theorists exhibit a number of tell-tale characteristics. Almost ubiquitous is the accusation of nefarious intent. After all, people never conspire with benevolent intent (unless planning a surprise party). One theory promoted by climate deniers focused on the experiment design used for the "moon landing paper." The scientists emailed survey invitations to a range of climate blogs -- some endorsing the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming and others denying the consensus.

Climate deniers accused the scientists of lying about contacting denial blogs. A flood of bloggers came forward to say they hadn't received the invitation. Amusingly, five of those bloggers were the five who had actually been contacted. Irony overload was reached when one of those contacted went so far as to provide the email address of the lead author's university, encouraging readers to send allegations of misconduct.

Another trait of conspiracy theorists is the mentality that "something must be wrong." If a theory is shown to be demonstrably false, the conspiracy theorist can smoothly shift to another theory while maintaining an unshaken belief that "the official account must be wrong." After the names of the five contacted bloggers were released, conspiracy theorists transitioned to a spin-off theory: "obviously they never intended for the skeptic blogs to respond." New theory, same accusation of nefarious intent.

Click here for the rest of the story.

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There is no such thing as climate change denial

Posted on 15 February 2013 by John Cook &

This is a re-post from The Conversation

In a sense, there is no such thing as climate change denial. No one denies that climate changes (in fact, the most common climate myth is the argument that past climate change is evidence that current global warming is also natural). Then what is being denied? Quite simply, the scientific consensus that humans are disrupting the climate. A more appropriate term would be “consensus denial”.

There are two aspects to scientific consensus. Most importantly, you need a consensus of evidence – many different measurements pointing to a single, consistent conclusion. As the evidence piles up, you inevitably end up with near-unanimous agreement among actively researching scientists: a consensus of scientists.

A number of surveys of the climate science community since the early 1990s have measured the level of scientific consensus that humans were causing global warming. Over time, the percentage of climate scientists agreeing that humans are causing global warming has steadily increased. As the body of evidence grows, the consensus is getting stronger.

Two recent studies adopting different approaches have arrived at strikingly consistent results. A survey of over 3000 Earth scientists found that as the climate expertise increased, so did agreement about human-caused global warming. For climate scientists actively publishing climate research (79 scientists in total), there was 97% agreement.

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For Psychology Research, Climate Denial is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Posted on 5 February 2013 by Stephan Lewandowsky & John Cook

This is a re-post from Shaping Tomorrow's World.

There is growing evidence that conspiratorial thinking, also known as conspiracist ideation, is often involved in the rejection of scientific propositions. Conspiracist ideations tend to invoke alternative explanations for the nature or source of the scientific evidence. For example, among people who reject the link between HIV and AIDS, common ideations involve the beliefs that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government.

My colleagues and I published a paper recently that found evidence for the involvement of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of scientific propositions—from climate change to the link between tobacco and lung cancer, and between HIV and AIDS—among visitors to climate blogs. This was a fairly unsurprising result because it meshed well with previous research and the existing literature on the rejection of science. Indeed, it would have been far more surprising, from a scientific perspective, if the article had not found a link between conspiracist ideation and rejection of science.

Nonetheless, as some readers of this blog may remember, this article engendered considerable controversy.

The article also generated data.

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Video on Climate Change Lines of Evidence by the National Academy of Science

Posted on 26 January 2013 by John Cook &

The U.S. National Academy of Science have produced a series of videos providing a basic overview of climate science - the series is called Climate Change: Lines of Evidence. The 7 chapters covered are:

Chapter 1: What is Climate?

Chapter 2: Is Earth Warming?

Chapter 3: Greenhouse Gases

Chapter 4: Increased Emissions

Chapter 5: How Much Warming?

Chapter 6: Solar Influence

Chapter 7: Natural Cycles

You can also watch the entire series in a single YouTube video.

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6 comments


New textbook on climate science and climate denial

Posted on 22 January 2013 by John Cook &

Around 2 years ago, I was honoured to be invited by geologist and long-time educator Tom Farmer to collaborate on a textbook that expounded on the principles of climate science as well as put climate change denial in perspective. That collaboration has now been published by Springer; the textbook is Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis (volume one of a two volume set).

The textbook is written for the introductory science student at the undergraduate college level. We describe the discipline of climate change science, and individual climate scientists whose expertise spans Earth history, geology, geography, biology, oceanography, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and more. We've attempted to cover a variety of the empirical evidence for and the effects of Earth's changing climate.

Significantly (and unique in climate textbooks to my knowledge), there is a detailed analysis of the phenomenon of climate change denial. Students learning climate science will need to put into proper context the myths and attacks on science conducted by those who deny the scientific consensus. One chapter is "Understanding Climate Change Denial", examining the social, psychological and rhetorical aspects of climate change denial. Another is "Rebuttals to Climate Myths" that debunks many of the most common climate myths (and yes, I made sure we adhered to the principles of the Debunking Handbook).

The book is available in hardcover and in e-book form (PDF format). You can also pre-order the hardcover from Amazon. You can find out more details including the full Table of Contents at the Springer website.

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Dutch translation of The Debunking Handbook

Posted on 6 January 2013 by John Cook &

The Debunking Handbook is now it is available in Dutch. Many thanks to Jozef Van Giel who did the translation. Jozef also created an Epub version of the Debunking Handbook, allowing you to read it on your iPad, Kindle or however you like to read ebooks.

Note to other translators:

If you'd like to translate the Debunking Handbook into another language, Bärbel (who did the German translation) has very generously created a two-column Word document with all the English text in one column and a blank column to place the translated text.

Please download the Word document and email me back the document with translated text. I'll then insert the translated text into the existing design. But best first to contact me to ensure nobody else is already working on your language. The Debunking Handbook has already been translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.

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Powerpoint friendly version of SkS Christmas cartoon

Posted on 25 December 2012 by John Cook &

Four years ago, I posted a cartoon of Santa confronted with a melting Arctic. Considering 2012 saw record Arctic sea ice melt (and the ensuing silly season), now seems like an appropriate time to revisit that cartoon. I've created a new 1024 x 768 pixel version of the cartoon, suitable for use in Powerpoint presentations and added it to the SkS Graphics resource. Like all SkS-created graphics, it's under a Creative Commons licence and hence freely available for reuse by other bloggers and communicators. Enjoy and merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us at SkS!

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5 comments


Sun and climate moving in opposite directions, says leaked IPCC report

Posted on 19 December 2012 by John Cook &

Republished from The Conversation. For a more detailed analysis of the science, check out Dana Nuccitelli's IPCC Draft Report Leaked, Shows Global Warming is NOT Due to the Sun.

The sun’s influence on climate may be smaller than you’ve heard (onlinewoman/Flickr).

Last week, blogger Alec Rawls leaked a working draft of the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One section of the IPCC report examines the role of the sun on climate change and concludes that since 1980, solar activity has decreased and had a slight cooling influence on our climate. Over the last few decades of global warming, sun and climate have been moving in opposite directions.

This is hardly a new revelation. In recent years, a number of peer-reviewed studies have investigated the role of the sun on climate change. In 2004, solar researcher Sami Solanki examined solar activity and climate over the last 11,400 years. Upon observing a recent divergence between sun and global temperature, Solanki concluded “solar variability is unlikely to have been the dominant cause of the strong warming during the past three decades”. More recently, UK scientist Mike Lockwood concluded that “…solar forcing has declined over the past 20 years while surface air temperatures have continued to rise…”.

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SkS at the AGU 2012 Fall Meeting

Posted on 30 November 2012 by John Cook &

SkS will be quite active at next week's AGU 2012 Fall Meeting in San Francisco, presenting several posters, giving an invited talk and chairing an oral session (and also convening the now annual SkS shindig). Here is some of the activity, so if you're attending the meeting, please look us up!

Tue 4 Dec, 8:30am. Poster Session: Lessons for climate policy from The Great Stink of London (GC21E-1023)

Andy Skuce will be presenting a poster based on an SkS blog post Changing Climates, Changing Minds: The Great Stink of London from 8.30am. Click on the poster below for a high-rez version.

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German translation of debunking solutions

Posted on 14 November 2012 by John Cook &

Last month, we published a scholarly review of the psychology of misinformation in the journal Psychlogical Science in the Public Interest. An important part of the review was a concise infographic summarising the key problems with misinformation and a number of practical solutions. The infographic is also available as a downloadable PDF.

Ever keen to translate interesting material from Skeptical Science, Bärbel Winkler has translated the solutions infographic into German (PDF). She has also created a Word document featuring all the text from the infographic so if anyone wishes to translate the infographic into another language, please contact me.

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A workshop for educators on debunking misinformation

Posted on 18 October 2012 by John Cook &

A key to a well functioning democracy is a well informed public. However, the ever-increasing flow of misinformation facilitated by the Internet and a fracturing mainstream media makes a well informed public a difficult proposition. But in a valiant effort at a glass-half-full attitude, I suggest that there are positive educational opportunities available in the correction of misinformation.

When we first launched the Debunking Handbook last November, one of the key messages was that when you debunk a myth, you need to replace that myth with an alternative narrative. In other words, by debunking, you create a gap in the person's understanding - you then need to fill that gap to fully remove the myth. The most succinct expression of this idea comes, fittingly, from the authors of Made To Stick who recommend this approach to debunking myths: fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas.

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French translation of The Debunking Handbook

Posted on 15 October 2012 by John Cook &

The Debunking Handbook has already been translated into German and now it is available in French. Many thanks to Alexandre Hanin for doing the translation.

Note to other translators:

If you'd like to translate the Debunking Handbook into another language, Bärbel (who did the German translation) has very generously created a two-column Word document with all the English text in one column and a blank column to place the translated text.

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A comprehensive review of research into misinformation

Posted on 13 October 2012 by John Cook &

Congratulations to John Cook for being co-author on two peer-reviewed papers published this week, Nuccitelli et al. (2012) and the paper discussed in this post, Lewandowsky et al. (2012).

Last November, we released the Debunking Handbook, an introduction to the psychological research into misinformation and practical tips on how to successfully debunk myths. The booklet was intentionally short - briefly covering the research with the emphasis on practical tips for communicators. A more comprehensive scholarly review, Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing, has now been published in the journal Psychlogical Science in the Public Interest (and I'm happy to report the full paper is freely available to the public). The review is a thorough examination of the psychological research into misinformation but also provides a set of practical guidelines that are even more concise than the Debunking Handbook.

Four of the co-authors of the paper are scientists who have conducted much of the research - Stephan Lewandowsky (who gives a detailed two part interview about the paper), Ullrich Ecker (who wrote about the paper in The Conversation & Huffington Post), Colleen Seifert and Norbert Schwarz. The fifth co-author is myself. The paper looks at where misinformation comes from - from rumours, governments, vested interests and yes, the Internet. We explore the psychological research into what makes corrections fail, or even backfire.

Finally, we provide specific recommendations for the debunking of misinformation. This includes a graphic summary of the various problems to watch out for when you're refuting misinformation and suggested solutions. This is a very handy visual guide which if I'd thought of at the time would've included in the Debunking Handbook. If you find yourself frequently having to respond to misinformation, I suggest downloading this PDF and keeping a print-out near your monitor :-)

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Skeptical Science Android App update

Posted on 7 October 2012 by John Cook &

One of the most significant events in SkS history was when IT consultants Shine Technologies released the Skeptical Science iPhone app in February 2010. The immediate response to the release of the iPhone app was Android users crying "me too!" Shine Technologies very graciously obliged with the subsequent release of the Skeptical Science Android app in July 2010 (sorry Blackberry users, no happiness for you).

The boffins at Shine Technologies continue to work on the SkS apps. Their latest work is an update of the SkS Android App. Speciflcally, they've made the following updates:

  • A Recent News feature has been added. This retrieves the latest blog posts from the Skeptical Science RSS feed, allowing users to read our latest blog posts within the app (so you can read the posts offline once you've downloaded them onto your phone). It also flags unread articles.
  • The initial setup time has been decreased from around 20 seconds to ~2 seconds. Now that's what I call a tune-up!
  • The image viewer has been improved (this allows you to zoom in and rotate graphs and images within the rebuttals and blog posts).
  • The Skeptical Science logo appears in more places which can only be a good thing.
  • Some minor bug fixes

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93% of Fox News climate change coverage misleading

Posted on 1 October 2012 by John Cook &

I've just had an article What happened to climate change? Fox News and the US elections published in The Conversation that examines the reality inversion promoted by News Corporation. Here's an excerpt:

An analysis of prime time programs on Fox News has found that 93% of their coverage of climate science in 2012 was misleading. The report, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, analysed six months of prime time segments covering climate change in early 2012.

The Wall Street Journal, News Corporation’s other media flagship, didn’t fare much better. The report also included WSJ opinion pieces over the last year and found 81% of their climate change coverage was misleading.

To characterise this coverage as biased doesn’t capture the magnitude of their treatment of climate science. News Corporation is promoting an inversion of reality. For the past several decades, there has been a strengthening scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

Surveys of the climate science community since 1996 have found the percentage of climate scientists agreeing on human-caused global warming has steadily increased to the point where in the last few years, several independent surveys have found 97% agreement among actively publishing climate scientists.

Fine words from Murdoch but …

As the scientific consensus strengthened, there have been signs of improvement in media coverage of climate change. From 1988 to 2002, US prestige press newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post (and yes, the Wall Street Journal) gave disproportionate attention to climate contrarians. However, coverage improved to the point where in 2007, 96% of U.S. prestige newspaper coverage of climate change depicted human contribution to climate change as significant.

At this time, Rupert Murdoch pledged that News coverage of climate change would improve. In 2007, he said “I think when people see that 99% of scientists agree about the serious extent of global warming, it’s going to become a fact of life”. In fact, the link between perception of scientific consensus and acceptance of climate change has been demonstrated by researchers. The important consequence emerging from this research is that perception of consensus is also a strong predictor of support for climate policy.

Despite Murdoch’s promise to improve Fox coverage, this 2012 analysis shows that coverage is worse than ever at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

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SkS: testimony to the potential of social media and the passion of volunteers

Posted on 21 September 2012 by John Cook &

Skeptical Science appears in a surprisingly diverse range of media. SkS is being adopted into university curriculum, is found in textbooks, books, mainstream media, quoted in blogs and reposted in other websites. The wide adoption of our content is a testimony to the potential of social media and the passionate commitment of the SkS community.

In the early years of the website, I knew it was impossible for a single person to keep up with the torrent of climate misinformation. I was constantly on the look-out for fellow communicators to help write content for Skeptical Science. Whenever someone emailed me a positive comment about the website, I'd reply with "thanks, want to help?". Cue sound of hurried footsteps, car door slamming followed by screeching tyres. For several years, the effort to build a team of authors met with no success.

The turning point came when Sydney physicist Michael Ashley suggested I write the myth rebuttals at three levels - basic, intermediate and advanced. I replied "great idea, Mike, want to help?" Cue screeching tyres. Nevertheless, the idea nagged at me until I could ignore it no more and posted a call to action for help in converting my collection of intermediate rebuttals into basic versions. The result was instantaneous and overwhelming with a rush of volunteers eager to help convert my technobabble into plain English (maybe they all just thought they could do a better job than me).

Overnight, an author community formed, an indication of the non-linear, unpredictable (and exciting) nature of social media. I had to quickly cobble together a forum enabling the group of volunteers from all over the world to collaborate and review each others' work. To organise the flow of information, we implemented a review system for critiquing each other's rebuttals before going live. I described the history of the forum in December 21 when giving a presentation at the University of Victoria, Canada, hosted by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. Incidentally everything I say about Google ranking is now obselete with the Google Panda update.

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Climate Change and the Weightier Matters: a Christian view on global warming

Posted on 13 September 2012 by John Cook &

The Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society at Emmanuel College are running a series of presentations on Science, Religion and Society. I was honoured to be invited to talk about a Christian view on climate change, which I presented on 03 August 2012. Here is a video of the presentation, with an introduction by Stewart Gill, principal of Emmanuel College.

The talk goes for 50 minutes as I cover climate science, an investigation into a  Biblical view of social justice and why climate change is an important issue for Christians. Then I debunk misinformation from the Cornwall Alliance. If you're time compressed and want to jump to a particular section of the talk, here are the key bookmark points:

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A vivid demonstration of knee-jerk science rejection

Posted on 8 September 2012 by John Cook &

This week, I decided to test the hypothesis that the rejection of climate science is an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction. It was inspired in part by recent events. Just before Arctic sea ice fell to record low levels, Steven Mosher predicted five ways that people would avoid the inevitable implications of the precipitous drop in Arctic sea ice. Anthony Watts promptly fulfilled all five predictions. In another ironic twist, the reaction to recent research linking climate denial to conspiracy ideation has been a gush of conspiracy theories.

So I wrote an article for The Conversation listing the various methods employed to reject climate science where I discussed the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias and how it leads to these specific methods. In the conclusion, I predicted that the tell-tale signs of confirmation bias would appear in the comment threads:

Look for cherry picking, conspiracy theories, comments magnifying the significance of dissenters (or non-experts) and logical fallacies such as non sequiturs.

Now you might think, with prior warning, that those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change would seek to make a liar out of me and thwart my predictions. However, my expectation was they wouldn't be able to help themselves. Ideologically driven science rejection is a knee-jerk, instinctive reaction. How did my prediction pan out? Let's go through the list:

Cherry Picking

I first explained how we identify cherry picking, providing the example of global cooling (with a link to Dana's celebrated Escalator):

The most common manifestation of confirmation bias is cherry picking, where one carefully selects a small piece of data that paints a friendly picture and overlooks any inconvenient evidence. How do we spot cherry picking? It’s important to remember that there is no “their evidence” versus “our evidence”. There is only the full body of evidence. If someone arrives at a conclusion from carefully selected evidence that contradicts the conclusion drawn from the full body of evidence, that’s cherry picking.

Cherry pickers ignore the fact that our planet is currently building up heat at the stunning rate of around 3 Hiroshima bombs per second. Instead, they focus on short periods of the surface temperature record. This record bounces up and down from year to year as the ocean exchanges heat with the atmosphere, meaning that it’s possible to find any short period during a long-term warming trend where temperatures fall briefly. Meanwhile the planet continues to build up heat – around 250 Hiroshima bombs worth since you started reading this article.

Almost immediately, examples of cherry picking began to appear. Amazingly, the same cherry picking example I highlighted in my article appeared frequently (familiarity backfire effect?):

"The atmosphere seems not to have warmed for 15 years... The ocean temperature seems also to have stabilised "

"Its is interesting given that planet has been cooling since 2001, yet a rise in CO2."

"...global temps have not not risen significantly for some years now."

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