Skepticalscience takes a … pro truth pledge?

It was not only a long time since I blogged lately, it was also a very long time since I visited the skepticalscience website. This weekend, I landed on the skepticalscience website and, looking at the right sidebar on their website, I noticed this:

SkS pro truth pledge

A pro truth pledge?!?!?

Did skepticalscience really took a … pro truth pledge?!?!

You mean … as in … pledging to write … well … the truth?

That seemed odd to me. Throughout the years, I came to know skepticalscience as not very truth-minded. The articles are one-sided and they are not wary of presenting opposing view in a misleading way, heck, they even were caught several times downright fabricating things.

Like for example the time when they needed a denialist quote for their post debunking the claim that “the IPCC is alarmist”. They use a quote from Roy Spencer as an example, but nowhere in that quote is said that “the IPCC is alarmist”, also not in the article that was linked to. Luckily, they explained their reasoning in the first paragraph. What they did was first provided an interpretation of Spencer’s quote, then rephrased that interpretation and from those two reinterpreted quotes they came to a conclusion that (almost) fitted the quote they were looking for.
Wouldn’t it been much, much, much easier to just quote someone who actually said that “the IPCC is alarmist”? Then there wouldn’t be a need to write a whole paragraph justifying the example.
Finally, they had the audacity to state that Roy Spencer did not offer any evidence to back this claim up… (of course not, that claim was not his in the first place).

That doesn’t sound “pro truth” to me.

The fabrication of quotes and misrepresentation of opposing views is a recurring theme at the skepticalscience site. It will come back in most of the following examples, taken from some previous posts on the subject.

What is also prevalent is the misrepresentation of what is found in the consensus papers. On the page of the 97% consensus on global warming they debunk the myth that “there is no consensus” and as an example of that claim they use the text of the Oregon Petition Project. The quote from the Oregon Petition Project clearly states that there is no consensus specifically on the catastrophic nature of anthropogenic global warming. Skepticalscience however counters this argument by pointing to several consensus papers finding a consensus on global warming. Yet, none of those papers investigated the consensus on the catastrophic nature of climate change, so they debunked a specific claim (there is no consensus on “catastrophic global warming”) by pointing to something much broader (there is a consensus on “global warming”). This way they could rely on a much broader consensus than actually exists for the example that they provide.

This bait-and-switch method of proving something very specific with something much broader is not only limited to the skepticalscience site. The skepticalscience members, especially John Cook, also do the same thing elsewhere. For example, at the National Center for Science Education blog, he claimed that <a href=”there is a 97% consensus that “climate change is bad”, although none of the consensus papers that found a 97% consensus, investigated that specific claim (he authered two of these papers).

Another example is the claim in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper that there is a consensus that global warming presents a global problem. To prove his case, there are references to several consensus papers: Oreskes 2004, Anderegg 2010, Cook 2013, Doran & Zimmerman 2009 and Shwed & Bearman 2010).
However, based on the methodology of these very papers, none of these papers investigated this specific aspect of global warming, let alone found it to be the consensus position. Again, this is rather puzzling because Cook authored two of these papers, so he should have known that none of these papers investigated what he claimed they have found.

This is definitely not a slip of the tongue, it is something systemic in his communication. Although I don’t agree with his tactic, I think I can understand where it comes from and why he is doing it. I explained it here and also here.

It might be smart communication, but is it pro truth?

Back to the skepticalscience website. On their page debunking the “there is no consensus”, there were a couple paragraphs detailing the Oreskes 2004 paper and the criticique of Peiser on it. They wrote that Peiser retracted his critique on that paper and the way it has been written suggested that Peiser was now in line with the Oreskes paper. Looking deeper, that didn’t seem to be the case. What they forgot to mention is that Peiser originally found much more documents than Oreskes claimed to have found in her paper, but when Oreskes clarified the exact criteria used in her paper, he retracted that specific part of his critique. Not all the critiques that he had on the Oreskes paper, as was suggested by the skepticalscience article. The skepticalscience article misrepresented Peiser’s position and reading it would give you a wrong understanding of Peiser’s findings and his current position on the Oreskes paper.

That is not exactly what I would call “pro truth”.

The alarmist side is treated more mildly at skepticalscience. For example, Peter Wadhams predicted in 2012 an ice-free Arctic by 2016. When the projection could not be tested against reality, this claims was used to confirm the severity of the situation, without any any mention that these were alarmist views. Yet, after the prediction was caught up by reality, it is then conveniently dismissed as just “misinformation”…

Pro truth?

Next is the the escalator graph that still resides in the right sidebar of their website. It is allegedly a representation of how “contrarians view global warming”. The data source is NASA GISS and the skepticalscience group highlighted six (!) different cooling trends all over the graph, claiming that those contrarians only focus on these cooling trends and neglect the basic upward trend. However, it is pretty unlikely that this is the actual view of “contrarians”. They would unlikely use NASA GISS data to explain their viewpoint and I have yet to encounter the first “contrarian” who views the temperature evolution from the 1970s until 2015 in six distinct steps. In stead of presenting the actual viewpoint of the other side, they just made one up…

Presenting it in that way might have many advantages, but being pro truth is not one of them…

Some more things that were made up. Cook, together with other cognitive scientists, conducted an experiment testing for the effects of blog comments on readers’ comprehension and the first stage was done on the skepticalscience website. The conclusion of this “experiment” was that for a warmist blog post, there was no difference in reader comprehension when the reader was exposed to all warmist comments or no comments, but when the reader was exposed to all skeptic comments, their comprehension dropped.

There is only one slight problem: the skeptical blog post and the skeptical comments that were used in this experiment were not written by skeptics, but by themselves … impersonating skeptics…

Let that sink in for a moment: they themselves fabricated a skeptical post and skeptical comments, then used these fabrications as a basis to analyze the effect of these comments and this analysis led them to the conclusion that “reading skeptical comments make you stupid” (Cook’s words, not mine).

I wonder if anyone sees what is wrong with this methodology. I am pretty sure that it is not in line with being pro truth.

This is not the only time that they impersonated skeptics. John Cook also authored some scientific papers in which he used resources from the skepticalscience website. Not only the psychological “experiment” mentioned above, but also for example the list of global warming skeptic contradictions that they compiled. This list is used in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper to frame skeptical arguments as contradictory. This is an example of how this framing works:

  1. The authors took the argument that “mathematical models can’t predict the future in 100 years” and generalized this according to their compiled list as “future climate can not be predicted”
  2. The authors took another argument of scientists that predict an ice age based on observations, known cycles and extrapolation and then generalized this according to the compiled list as “we are heading into an ice age”.
  3. Conclusion: he generalized arguments are contradictory (if future climate can’t be predicted, then it is impossible to predict an ice age).

Such arguments led to the conclusion that skeptical arguments are inherently contradictory. Again, only one slight problem: the original arguments (before they were generalized by skepticalscience) were not contradictory at all, but became contradictory because they were framed that way by the researchers who looked in a biased way to the skeptic position.

Pro truth?

Also, in a podcast, together with another skepticalscience group member, John Cook made the claim that they considered a paper rejecting the consensus when it expressed that “humans are causing less than half of global warming” in the Cook 2013 paper. However, there were only very few papers in the category that quantified the consensus over 50% (only 0,5% of the papers in their dataset). The way that the two other categories endorsing the consensus (explicit and implicit endorsement without quantification) were classified was overly broad and could include those abstracts stating that humans had some influence, depending on the wording. They could land in those two categories if they for example stated global warming as a known fact or when research stated that greenhouse gases cause warming, even without explicitly stating that humans are the cause…

Pro truth?

Luckily skepticalscience have that shiny “pro truth” icon in the sidebar of their website, otherwise their readers might not realize that they are actually pro truth… 😉

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August 13, 2020 at 06:21AM

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