Media Fail: John Cook’s Atom Bombs

June 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

News stories citing and quoting a single individual (a self-described non-climate-scientist) make declarations about climate change and atomic weapons.

john-cook-the-conversation

John Cook – photo source:
The Conversation website (click)

According to his official biography at Australia’s Queensland University, John Cook is a researcher/postdoctoral fellow. He is the creator of the misleadingly-titled SkepticalScience.com website (it’s a ferocious defender of non-skeptical climate thought).

Over at The Conversation website, Cook’s profile says he earned a bachelor of science back in 1989. Although he currently holds three positions with two different Australian universities – adjunct researcher, adjunct lecturer, and climate communication research fellow – no other academic degrees are listed. We’re advised that his current research interests are in “Psychology And Cognitive Sciences.”

Those of us unfamiliar with Australian academia are left scratching our heads. If Cook has completed a Masters and a PhD why doesn’t his bio say so? If he hasn’t, how can he be a postdoctoral fellow?

Between 1995 and 2010, Cook was the creator of a popular web-based comic strip. In 2011, the Australian museum recognized the contribution Cook’s SkepticalScience website has made to the “Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge.” Cook pocketed $10,000 and can now claim to have won a prestigious Eureka Prize.

I invite you to visit the official web page where the awarding of that prize is announced. It begins in this oh-so-scientific manner:

Climate-change deniers have nowhere to hide thanks to an ingenious piece of software that detects inaccurate statements on global warming that appear on the internet and delivers an automated response on Twitter citing peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

The so-called ‘Twitter-bot’ is the brainchild of Australian webmaster John Cook and software developer Nigel Leck, and is part of an armoury of tools Cook has developed to rebut common myths and inaccuracies about climate change. [bold added, page backed up here]

The SkepticalScience website itself has a bio of Cook which includes this line: “He is not a climate scientist.”

Which is why we can expect him to be writing with all haste to the news outlet FrenchTribune.com to request a correction to today’s story headlined Climate Change Likened to Atom Bomb by Scientists.

Although that article talks about “climate scientists” it names and quotes exactly one person – Cook himself. Moreover, the claims here are nothing short of fantastical. It says that climate scientists

have given figures of rising and changing climate. These figures are almost like a warning that states that escalating temperatures are equivalent to four Hiroshima bombs in a week.

They’ve completely attributed the condition to human actions.

It’s clear that this reporter’s first language is not English, so I’m sure she has misunderstood. No official document of which I’m aware has declared humans 100% responsible for current temperature trends (see, for example, the discussion here).

This is what comes next:

“All these heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere mean…our planet has been building up heat at the rate of about four Hiroshima bombs every second – consider that going continuously for several decades”, John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland said. [ellipsis in the original, news story backed up here]

Welcome to online journalism in 2013. Articles get written about what “climate scientists” have concluded. The only person who gets mentioned is a long way from being a climate scientist.

Nevertheless we should be worried, very worried. Because, you know, atom bombs are involved.

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Postcript: It appears that the FrenchTribune story was based on one published in The Australian newspaper about a speech Cook recently gave in Sydney. It bears the headline: Climate change like atom bomb: scientists.

In that story, as well, Cook is the only person quoted or cited (the story is backed up here).

This is all it takes to score a headline in a major newspaper containing the term “atom bomb.” Not one climate scientist is actually named – and not a single piece of scientific research is cited in the body of that story. But hey, a non-climate-scientist has made these claims in a speech so they must be true.

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hat tip to Tom Nelson

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