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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Climate Science Consensus Strong as Ever

State Representative Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) wanted to force South Dakota teachers to teach "the skeptical view of climate change." In this year's Legislative session, he sponsored an embarrassing resolution to that end... a resolution that, to our state's great discredit, passed thanks to the votes of folks like GOP House candidate Kristi Noem and my Democratic neighbor and candidate for re-election Gerry Lange.

If Kopp hasn't completely backpedaled from his absurd Big Brother anti-science position, he'd better write that alternate curriculum fast: he's running out of skeptics to cite. New research from Stanford University finds the consensus on climate change is as strong as ever:

...[T]he vast majority of the world’s active climate scientists accept the evidence for global warming as well as the case that human activities are the principal cause of it.

For example, of the top 50 climate researchers identified by the study (as ranked by the number of papers they had published), only 2 percent fell into the camp of climate dissenters. Of the top 200 researchers, only 2.5 percent fell into the dissenter camp. That is consistent with past work, including opinion polls, suggesting that 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.

The study demonstrates that most of the scientists who have been publicly identified as climate skeptics are not actively publishing in the field. And the handful who are tend to have a slim track record, with about half as many papers published as the scientists who accept the mainstream view. The skeptics are also less influential, as judged by how often their scientific papers are cited in the work of other climate scientists [Justin Gillis, "Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change," New York Times: Green, 2010.06.22].

In short: the scientists doing the hardest, most regular and reliable work agree we're changing the planet. The deniers do less science and less good science. Rep. Kopp would have us place our educational bets on scientific third-stringers and retirees who aren't keeping up with reality.

Update 12:45 CDT: Possibly related—79% of Europeans say they are moderately or very interested in science; 65% express the same interest in sports. In America, more people say they follow sports very closely than say they pay the same attention to science. Plus, the percentage of Americans following science news very closely has dropped by more than half since the 1980s.


  1. The Stanford study doesn't prove "consensus" at all. Rather it proves that, duh, people who believe in something are more likely to write a lot about it.

    I'd wager a kidney that of the 50 "most active" authors who write about UFOs, a high percentage of them believe in alien conspiracies. Does this prove that there is consensus that aliens exist?

    I'd wager another kidney that, of authors published in "religious studies" journals, a high percentage of them believe in God. Does this mean that there is consensus that God exists? Should we teach God in schools?

  2. Twitchard-

    Writing about something and publishing peer reviewed journal articles on the subject are two different things. One requires proof, vetting, and vast investments of time and effort; the other doesn't. The meta-study cited by CAH is referring to peer reviewed journal articles.


    I'm so tired of hearing the "let's teach the controversy" argument. Do people who push this view even understand its implications? If we teach "the controversy" then we must include all possible explanations, regardless of proof.

    I love these t-shirts on the issue:


  3. Come on Cory... everyone knows that global warming is caused by a decrease in the number of pirates since 1820!!



  4. Tony -

    I realize the articles are peer-reviewed. So are the articles in religious studies journals. This doesn't dampen--rather it intensifies--the selection bias inherent in the field of climatology.

    The "peers" who are doing the reviewing are climatologists. Now what sort of person is likely to become a climatologist: a person who is predisposed to believing in global warming and thinks that climatology is necessary to save the world, or a climate change skeptic who thinks climatology is by and large irrelevant?

    Again, just like few atheists become Bible scholars and publish
    in peer-reviewed religious studies journals does not mean that there is any expert "consensus" on the existence of God.

  5. You should have named this piece "Climate Science Propaganda Strong as Ever."

    Perhaps no one told you this, Cory, but "group think" does not equate to facts. There has been "consensus" on scientific topics in the past like bleeding patients to cure them, geocentrism and more...and one day not too far in the future, the asinine idea of anthropogenic global warming will join these ideas on the ash heap of history.

    Somehow (one can only wonder how) as these "researchers" compiled this database of 1,372 scientists, they managed to miss the tens of thousands of scientists among the numerous scientific institutions and academies around the world who realize this crazy idea is just a lot of hot air. Many of the scientists involved with the UN political body known as the IPCC don't even drink this Koolaid; their objections are conveniently edited out of final reports.

    Speaking of IPCC reports, theirs have been revealed as as laughing stock, as has the hypocrisy of the snake oil peddlers running that propaganda outfit.

    Sorry, but when you get beyond all the assumptions, conjecture, unreliable temperature data, "fudged" computer models and obfuscation, this thin theory is revealed for the joke it is--and nothing more than a vehicle to separating the average American from more of his money and more of his freedom. The actual science shows climate change is a natural phenomenon that has been going on for thousands of years in extremes far greater than those seen today.

    By the way, I talked to Rep. Kopp on Sunday as we joked about this zany hypothesis and I can tell you: he's not going to be backpedaling on this. There is no need to backpedal when you know the facts and know how accurate they are.

  6. Twitchard-

    So, your argument is basically that if you study something you are inherently biased towards it? Really?

    What is the logical conclusion to that line of thinking? Anything that is studied cannot be trusted because of inherent bias?

    Can't you apply that same line of reasoning to discredit any paper that concludes there is no global warming?

    Also, one cannot compare a religious studies journal (a philosophy) to a climatology journal (a science). One speaks to a supernatural belief and the other describes the natural world. Science creates clear, testable hypotheses that anyone can study. Supernatural beliefs assume hidden information about nature of reality.

  7. Bob, truce. This is a modus vivendi.

    What guarantees would Mexicans have to have from the US Congress to dissolve their government and begin ratification to be the 51st State?

  8. Why was I banned6/23/2010 2:38 PM

    "So, your argument is basically that if you study something you are inherently biased towards it?"

    No, if you want to understand bias, google "Climategate". My bringing it up was one of the reasons Cory banned me.

    Steve Sibson

  9. Tony -

    Yes, you have captured the essence of my argument--though overstated it somewhat. If you study something you are more likely to be biased in favor of it.

    The logical conclusion to this line of thinking is not that "anything that is studied cannot be trusted because of inherent bias," as you say. We should just take the bias into account when considering matters. The validity of most fields--say, physics--isn't really controversial, so this inherent bias isn't really a problem there (for most people), but with climatology it is.

    I can see how it would be a problem to compare a philosophy with a science. Forget about theology, then. A better example, from the sciences, is Chiropractic Medicine. There is no consensus on whether Chiropractic Medicine is legitimate medicine or quackery. Despite this, if you check out the peer-reviewed Journal of Chiropractic Medicine you will find--surprise--the most active writers on Chiropractic believe that it is indeed valid.

  10. [Steve: not about you. Grow up.]

    Richard, your reasoning feels flawed. There is no consensus on chiropracty. There is consensus on climate change. We aren't looking at just one biased journal. We are looking at the scientists' level of research and publishing activity. The people who are bothering to look at the evidence hard enough to pass muster in scientific journals are almost universally concluding, "Yup, climate change is real, and we're causing it." A logical outcome of your thinking seems to be that we should place more trust in the people who aren't bothering to research and write about the topic. Hmm... does expert testimony mean nothing?

  11. Cory -

    But there is consensus on Chiropracty among "the vast majority of the world's active" published chiropracticians.

    I'm not contending here that we shouldn't trust the experts. Maybe me should. That's an issue for another time.

    All I'm saying here is that this particular study isn't fair. If you conducted the exact same study that Stanford did, except replace "climate scientist" with "chiropractic researcher," for obvious reasons the result would be the same: there would be a very small percentage of "dissenters." You can see from the way it's set up. A flawed study like this doesn't really prove anything.

    In short: in a field whose very validity is controversial, it's not fair to look only at the mot active researchers in that field for evidence of "consensus." There is obviously going to be selection bias.

    It's true that the Stanford study doesn't look just at one biased journal--it looks at many of them. Any journal on chiropractic medicine is obviously going to be biased in favor of chiropracty: any journal on climatology is obviously going to be biased in favor of climate change.

  12. Richard, I don't think you can draw an equivalance between the terms "chiropractician" with "climate scientist". You might do better to equate "climate scientist" with "medical scientist". There are a number of scholars who actively and rigorously study medicine, including chiropractors and more neutral researchers, and they (I am following your assumption here—I would love to see an analysis of the medical journals similar to the Stanford climate science meta-study) have not achieved consensus on the validity of chiropractic methods. There are a number of scholars who actively and rigorously study the climate, including vigorous advocates and more neutral scientists, and the Stanford study shows they have come to remarkable consensus.

    I can't help thinking you exaggerate the self-selection factor. In chiropracty, we may indeed find a number of researchers motivated by a desire to find positive results. But can we really find a similar motivation among climate scientists who deep down want to discover that we are putting the planet on the road to doom? Can we really find 90%+ of intelligent researchers (or any portion of the population) reveling in finding data that supports their a priori belief in climate disaster and human culpability?

  13. This is a most peculiar argument. It seems like Twitchard is using a strange form of circular reasoning to accuse climate scientists of a strange form of circular reasoning. Am I tracking you correctly, fellers? Or am I missing something here?


  14. Twitchard-

    So, let's assume that there is selection bias in all of the published work on climatology. Does that mean that we throw it out?

    Also, people who study climatology are not inherently studying global warming. Many climatologists study other patterns in changing climates. Papers on global warming are a relatively small percentage of all published peer reviewed papers on climatology.

    So when you say "people who believe in something are more likely to write a lot about it" you are inherently assuming that they believe in global warming. That is not a correct assumption. The correct assumption is that they believe in the science of climatology.

    Lastly, you also seem to believe that people who study global warming are inherently co-opted by it rather than reporting the facts. You are assuming hidden knowledge of their motivations.

  15. Comparing hard science to religious studies is a waste of time. As for peer reviews: Scientists don't review other scientists looking to confirm it, but to demonstrate it is not correct. That is why there are books describing the structure of scientific revolutions. Revolutions in science are not easy to generate.

    Religions and chiropractors etc are "cheer reviewed" instead of "peer reviewed" as it means in hard science.

    The aim of science reviews is to remove subjectivity as much as possible. It is not like book reviews or "peer reviews" of religious materials.

    If we relied on religion only, we would still be pounding rocks to make stone tools.

  16. Cory -

    I agree that if you expand my hypothetical Stanford chiropracty to include all medical scientists that the result would obviously change.

    Interestingly, the same thing happens (albeit to a lesser degree) if you expand the actual Stanford study to include all atmospheric scientists (and begin including meteorologists and "earth scientists"), according to numbers you can find about 3/4 the way down this New York Times article.

    Thus, there is a meaningless consensus on the soundness of chiropractory among chiropractors, but none among medical scientists: there is a meaningless consensus on the existence of man-made climate change among climatologists, but none among atmospheric scientists.

    You wonder why anybody would have a desire to find results that conclude man-made climate change exists? How about employment? A big employer for climatologists is the Federal government (the BLS has 34% of atmospheric scientists, however that includes meteorologists as well.) Now if you believe climate change doesn't exist and there's nothing we can do about it, what use would the government have in hiring you? Maybe as a weather forecaster, but good luck getting the prestigious government (or government-contracted private) research positions. You can imagine that it's not very convenient for a climatologist to be a skeptic.

    Tony -

    I agree that climatology includes more than just the study of global warming and most of the papers published in the climatology journals aren't directly about the subject of global warming. But still you can't deny the fact that climate change is a huge part of the subject. As you can read about here, climatology didn't even exist as a cohesive field until climate change arose as a topic of study and discussion.

  17. But Richard, this study doesn't define scientists by one narrow field. It defines its pool by active, rigorous scientific work. If I were writing a paper on climate change, I would seek the best authorities on the topic, and activity and publication are exactly the criteria we use to determine scientific authority. What other way is there to determine who knows what's going on other than that?

    We can also expand the field of scholars on gravity to find people who propose alternative theories. But why would we want to, when that expansion requires people who aren't working hard at science? Selecting a sample based on people working hard at science is probably a good thing.

  18. In the past few days, SDPB broadcast a Scientific American program with Alan Alda with 2002 copyright notice.
    I haven't found a transcript or much information, but a few experiments at the Biosphere in Arizona were interesting. With that controlled environment, carbon dioxide levels could be set to projected future levels and then the impact of that on plants could be measured.

    Unless more recent tests have upturned that data, the results suggested a kind of tipping point were plants continued to absorb carbon dioxide, but also released carbon dioxide at the same rate. Prior to that level of carbon dioxide, the plants such as tropical rain forest would pull carbon dioxide out of the air.

    Tests of water simulating ocean rains in an environment of heavier carbon dioxide demonstrated how rain pulls it out of the atmosphere into the oceans at a rate previously unknown. Such carbon dioxide stimulates algae growth which smothers coral reefs and also causes other problems for the reefs as well.

    Here is a link which may provide more information.


    It may be that scientists are not evaluating data correctly, but there is experimental data being generated and tested every hour of every day.

    Were that data reassuring to great days ahead, we can be sure the fossil fuel industries would be spreading it around via all their "scientific research" sites.

  19. (Last post was deleted because I got chiropracty and climatology mixed up and it was confusing, darn C words.)

    But the Stanford study does define scientists by one narrow field--the narrow field of climatology.

    "...his fellow authors compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers. They then focused on scientists who had published at least 20 papers on climate, as a way to concentrate on those most active in the field."

    If you were writing a paper on the validity of chiropractic medicine, would you draw your information from only people with 20 papers or more published in the field of chiropracty? Good luck finding a skeptic that meets that criterion.

  20. Richard, this is a hard argument for me to win on quantitative grounds. You do raise an interesting comparison. To respond, I'd like to spend some time in the research databases and actually count and evaluate the researchers actively publishing on chiropracty... but that would be a full research paper in itself!

    A cursory glance through the Web of Science database (through the Mundt Library -- sorry! can't link!) finds the bulk of the most-cited articles on the topic "chiropractic" appear not in specialty journals on chiropracty but in more general medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, Spine, Pediatrics, British Medical Journal, etc. Of the top 50 articles on this score, I see maybe seven published in journals that might be focused on or biased toward alternative medicine like chiropracty. I don't have an evaluation of the authors yet... that would take some time and more familiarity with the field!

  21. On the 20 standard: I count 2227 articles that come up when I perform the above search. When I limit the results to those including authors with 20+ titles on the topic, I narrow the list to 396. That's still plenty of papers on which to base my research. How many of those are skeptics remains to be seen... but a couple I find right off the bat refer to the danger of medical complications from chiropractic manipulation.

  22. Alright. Well I'm forced to concede, then.

  23. Thanks, Richard. I think you can make something of the chiropracty/self-selection argument if someone cites a poll taken at a climate-change protest or a Sierra Club meeting. But climate scientists are a broader group than that.

    If nothing else, put a real face on it. Talk to Carter Johnson at SDSU. He's probably our state's remier expert on the impact of climate change on South Dakota's ecosystems. Talk to him. You won't hear a man whose work is rooted in self-interest or bias (either willful or accidental). He's a thoughtful and honest scholar, dedicated to finding out the facts and protecting the land and flora and fauna he cares about from whatever threats may exist.


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