William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The 0.3% “Consensus”—Guest Post by Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

Vaguely related image of clouds, which are part of our climate.

A major peer-reviewed paper by four senior researchers has exposed grave errors in an earlier paper in a new and unknown journal that had claimed a 97.1% scientific consensus that Man had caused at least half the 0.7 Co global warming since 1950.

A tweet in President Obama’s name had assumed that the earlier, flawed paper, by John Cook and others, showed 97% endorsement of the notion that climate change is dangerous:

Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. [Emphasis added]

The new paper by the leading climatologist Dr David Legates and his colleagues, published in the respected Science and Education journal, now in its 21st year of publication, reveals that Cook had not considered whether scientists and their published papers had said climate change was “dangerous”.

The consensus Cook considered was the standard definition: that Man had caused most post-1950 warming. Even on this weaker definition the true consensus among published scientific papers is now demonstrated to be not 97.1%, as Cook had claimed, but only 0.3%.

Only 41 out of the 11,944 published climate papers Cook examined explicitly stated that Man caused most of the warming since 1950. Cook himself had flagged just 64 papers as explicitly supporting that consensus, but 23 of the 64 had not in fact supported it.

This shock result comes scant weeks before the United Nations’ climate panel, the IPCC, issues its fifth five-yearly climate assessment, claiming “95% confidence” in the imagined—and, as the new paper shows, imaginary—consensus.

Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: a Rejoinder to ‘Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change’ decisively rejects suggestions by Cook and others that those who say few scientists explicitly support the supposedly near-unanimous climate consensus are misinforming and misleading the public.

Dr Legates said: “It is astonishing that any journal could have published a paper claiming a 97% climate consensus when on the authors’ own analysis the true consensus was well below 1%.

“It is still more astonishing that the IPCC should claim 95% certainty about the climate consensus when so small a fraction of published papers explicitly endorse the consensus as the IPCC defines it.”

Dr Willie Soon, a distinguished solar physicist, quoted the late scientist-author Michael Crichton, who had said: “If it’s science, it isn’t consensus; if it’s consensus, it isn’t science.” He added: “There has been no global warming for almost 17 years. None of the ‘consensus’ computer models predicted that.”

Dr William Briggs, “Statistician to the Stars”, said: “In any survey such as Cook’s, it is essential to define the survey question very clearly. Yet Cook used three distinct definitions of climate consensus interchangeably. Also, he arbitrarily excluded about 8000 of the 12,000 papers in his sample on the unacceptable ground that they had expressed no opinion on the climate consensus. These artifices let him reach the unjustifiable conclusion that there was a 97.1% consensus when there was not.

“In fact, Cook’s paper provides the clearest available statistical evidence that there is scarcely any explicit support among scientists for the consensus that the IPCC, politicians, bureaucrats, academics and the media have so long and so falsely proclaimed. That was not the outcome Cook had hoped for, and it was not the outcome he had stated in his paper, but it was the outcome he had really found.”

Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, an expert reviewer for the IPCC’s imminent Fifth Assessment Report, who found the errors in Cook’s data, said: “It may be that more than 0.3% of climate scientists think Man caused at least half the warming since 1950. But only 0.3% of almost 12,000 published papers say so explicitly. Cook had not considered how many papers merely implied that. No doubt many scientists consider it possible, as we do, that Man caused some warming, but not most warming.

“It is unscientific to assume that most scientists believe what they have neither said nor written.”

Further information from Dr. David Legates: +1 302 831 4920, legates@udel.edu


Briggs now.

Newer readers might like to browse my classic collection of climate posts, where I show the statistical evidence for rampant global warming is not sufficient to conclude the end is nigh.

For those without a scorecard, the ordering of papers went like this:

—Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., et al. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 024024.

—Legates, D. R., Soon, W., & Briggs, W. M. (2013). Learning and teaching climate science: The perils of consensus knowledge using agnotology. Science & Education, 22, 2007–2017.

—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, 2019–2030.

—Us (2013). Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change. Science & Education, DOI 10.1007/s11191-013-9647-9.

The abstract of the latter (I added carriage returns for readability):

Agnotology is the study of how ignorance arises via circulation of misinformation calculated to mislead. Legates et al. (Sci Educ 22:2007–2017, 2013) had questioned the applicability of agnotology to politically-charged debates. In their reply, Bedford and Cook (Sci Educ 22:2019–2030, 2013), seeking to apply agnotology to climate science, asserted that fossil-fuel interests had promoted doubt about a climate consensus.

Their definition of climate ‘misinformation’ was contingent upon the post-modernist assumptions that scientific truth is discernible by measuring a consensus among experts, and that a near unanimous consensus exists. However, inspection of a claim by Cook et al. (Environ Res Lett 8:024024, 2013) of 97.1 % consensus, heavily relied upon by Bedford and Cook, shows just 0.3 % endorsement of the standard definition of consensus: that most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic.

Agnotology, then, is a two-edged sword since either side in a debate may claim that general ignorance arises from misinformation allegedly circulated by the other. Significant questions about anthropogenic influences on climate remain. Therefore, Legates et al. appropriately asserted that partisan presentations of controversies stifle debate and have no place in education.

Lastly, a full disclosure. Despite being willing, and even eager to, Yours Truly has never accepted—nor even been offered!—any consideration of any kind from anybody for his work on climatology. Except, after graduate school, one small honorarium for a speech I also delivered to the American Meteorology Society (showing hurricanes are not about to overrun us). Indeed, the AMS is still after me for page charges for a paper I wrote on the side when I was a grad student. Contrast this with the hundreds of thousands to millions “consensus” scientists receive for their work. And then recall the genetic fallacy.


  1. The assumption of independence is the root of all statistical evil. Just because you hear something N times doesn’t mean that it comes from N sources.

    For the record, I’m not the John Cook mentioned above. I doubt that President Obama will ever quote anything I have to say.

  2. The trouble here is that the damage is already done. I can only tell a few interested people how and why the 97% consensus study is seriously flawed. Not that some of them will change their minds! And you still hear references to it from the administration’s media minions and of course the generally ill informed. They’ve won another battle.

  3. The Obama tweet was wrong on its face. “97% of scientific papers reviewed” is not “97% of scientists” unless every paper had a different author. (This is what John Cook, above, said just said differently).

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