Lies

[This is part 3 in a series of excerpts of the book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein]

There is an oft-cited comment that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is global warming and that human beings are the main cause.30

First of all, this statement itself, even if it were true, is deliberately manipulative. The reason we care about recent global warming or climate change is not simply that human beings are allegedly the main cause. It’s the allegation that man-made warming will be extremely harmful to human life. The 97 percent claim says nothing whatsoever about magnitude or catastrophe. If we’re the main cause of the mild warming of the last century or so, that does not begin to resemble anything that would justify taking away our machine food.

One of the main papers behind the 97 percent claim is authored by John Cook, who runs the popular website SkepticalScience.com, a virtual encyclopedia of arguments trying to defend predictions of catastrophic climate change from all challenges.

Here is Cook’s summary of his paper: “Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 percent [of papers he surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”33

This is a fairly clear statement—97 percent of the papers surveyed endorsed the view that man-made greenhouse gases were the main cause—main in common usage meaning more than 50 percent.

But even a quick scan of the paper reveals that this is not the case. Cook is able to demonstrate only that a relative handful endorse “the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” Cook calls this “explicit endorsement with quantification” (quantification meaning 50 percent or more). The problem is, only a small percentage of the papers fall into this category; Cook does not say what percentage, but when the study was publicly challenged by economist David Friedman, one observer calculated that only 1.6 percent explicitly stated that man-made greenhouse gases caused at least 50 percent of global warming.34

Where did most of the 97 percent come from, then? Cook had created a category called “explicit endorsement without quantification”—that is, papers in which the author, by Cook’s admission, did not say whether 1 percent or 50 percent or 100 percent of the warming was caused by man.35 He had also created a category called “implicit endorsement,” for papers that imply (but don’t say) that there is some man-made global warming and don’t quantify it.36 In other words, he created two categories that he labeled as endorsing a view that they most certainly didn’t.

The 97 percent claim is a deliberate misrepresentation designed to intimidate the public—and numerous scientists whose papers were classified by Cook protested:

  • “Cook survey included 10 of my 122 eligible papers. 5/10 were rated incorrectly. 4/5 were rated as endorse rather than neutral.”            —Dr. Richard Tol37
  • “That is not an accurate representation of my paper . . .”        —Dr. Craig Idso38
  • “Nope . . . it is not an accurate representation.”         —Dr. Nir Shaviv39
  • “Cook et al. (2013) is based on a strawman argument . . .”     —Dr. Nicola Scafetta40

Think about how many times you hear that 97 percent or some similar figure thrown around. It’s based on crude manipulation propagated by people whose ideological agenda it serves. It is a license to intimidate.

About The Author Alex Epstein

Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, is a humanist philosopher who seeks to identify the full context of industrial and environmental controversies. His New York Times bestseller The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels has been widely praised as the most persuasive argument ever made against climate catastrophism, and led The McLaughlin Group to name Epstein the most original thinker of 2014.