Consensus, Mass Media, Politics, Skeptics

Attacking the Consensus on Climate Change

Science is not by popular vote.

It is a refrain heard often in debates concerning climate change. A charge levied at supporters of the theory of anthropogenic global warming when the existence of a scientific “consensus” creeps into the discussion. The implication being that a simple survey was distributed to scientists with but a single question, “Do greenhouse gases emitted by the industrial activities of mankind impact global climate?” And when the results came back, a consensus was born.

The reality is a bit more complex.

The Consensus

In part, the scientific consensus supporting anthropogenic global warming is derived from the “Physical Science Basis” components of the assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These scientific components are compendiums of the published scientific literature on the subjects being addressed at the time of publishing. They represent a summarization of peer-reviewed scientific studies. As concurrence amongst published scientific studies grows, this agreement is reflected in the assessments.

From the IPCC (ppt):

Each report is an assessment of the state of understanding based upon peer-reviewed published work. IPCC assesses published research but does not do research. Each assessment goes through multiple reviews and revision and re-review over a period of years

If the IPCC assessments did not accurately reflect the consensus of opinion as documented in the scientific literature, the approach to their dismissal would be straightforward. Simply show where the reports diverge from the majority of published scientific studies. Not a single study, but the large majority of published studies. However, once again, the reality is a bit different.

While likening challengers to modern-day Galileos taking on the hubris of the Catholic Church, the predominant methods employed in such challenges utilize the exact tactics demonized by those voicing opposition. Surveys are distributed. Petitions are signed. Lists are formed. Qualifications are minimized. Votes are taken.

The examples are numerous and propogated by those at the forefront of the skeptic community.

OISM: Thousands of “Scientists”

The commonly referenced Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) petition project claims a list of 20,000 American scientists alone who dispute harmful anthropogenic global warming and advocate the benefits of increased CO2. The early response to the list was that it contained the names of fictional characters. The authors claim to have scrubbed the list of such entries, but even now, only a Bachelor of Science degree is needed to be added, and that’s assuming that such accomplishments are validated. As the holder of such a degree, I could be deemed a “scientist” for the purposes and intents of OISM. And while I am content to organize and publish this site, I would never consider myself among the ranks of climate scientists, even if OISM sees fit to bestow upon me such a title.

Inhofe’s Weather Forecasts

Senator James Inhofe proudly boasts of a list of 400 “prominent scientists” who disputed “man-made global warming” in 2007. These disputes did not have to be in published studies on climate change in peer-reviewed scientific journals. They only needed to be in the media. Even then, a closer examination revealed a list including television meteorologists and economists.

Avery and Singer’s Assumptions of Concurrence

Renowned skeptics Dennis Avery and Fred Singer take a different tack. They use a logical fallacy to imply a scientific disagreement with anthropogenic global warming. Avery and Singer attribute modern warming to a natural climate cycle that occurs roughly every 1,500 years. Many scientists have found physical evidence to support the existence of such a cycle. Where Avery and Singer take the next step is to assume that if these scientists concur with the existence of a 1,500 year cycle, they must also concur that this cycle is responsible for modern warming, which is quite a large leap to make.

They take a similar approach with solar influence on climate. If a scientific study has found that variations in solar irradiance have driven climate change at some point in history and Avery and Singer suppose a solar influence on the 1,500 year cycle which in their opinions drives current warming, the authors of these studies must invariably concur with Avery and Singer and disagree with anthropogenic global warming. Making such grand assumptions, Avery and Singer have been able to compose a list of over 700 scientists who supposedly disagree with anthropogenic global warming with an air of authority since these scientists are published in peer-reviewed journals. Avery and Singer go so far as to list these scientists as “co-authors”. But such a list is fundamentally flawed.

Based on these faulty assumptions, the list, not surprisingly, contains the names of well known supporters of the anthropogenic global warming theory. Subsequent to the release of the latest additions to the list by the Heartland Institute, DeSmogBlog recently contacted 122 of the scientists listed. Within 24 hours, 45 of them responded that they did not concur with Avery and Singer, many rather vehemently disagreeing.

It is easy to see how a list of supposed “skeptics” of any desired size could be generated. However, the methodologies employed are the exact ones derided by those utilizing them.

Contrary to science, skepticism apparently is by popular vote.

Additional Reading:



5 thoughts on “Attacking the Consensus on Climate Change

  1. A lot of scientists publish data that blatantly contradicts AGW but still say it exists to keep their research money and professional networking.

    Remember that AGW theorists are paid in real United States Dollars the same as the skeptics. Following the money leads you to both camps…

    Posted by mick | May 6, 2008, 8:43 pm
  2. Michael, forget about consensus ; here are the real problems with the IPCC Report IV on anthropogenic global warming:

    No papers published after May of 2005 were reviewed thus a whole body of the most recent studies of climate change were not even considered by IPCC. A group of 100 scientists sent an open letter
    to the Secretary-General, United Nations pointing out that these papers refuted much of the conclusions published by IPCC.

    IPCC used some 22 computer models to determine future average global temperatures. Given these projected temperatures, projections were made on sea level rise, glacier melting, and impacts on species migration and mankind. These were reported in the section on impacts. The final section is on mitigation of these projected impacts. So you see, everything is dependent on the output of the computer models.

    The problem is that the models have been shown
    to be wrong . By comparing model results with actual temperature measurements over a 30 year period, errors of 100 to 300% resulted and sometimes the modeled and observed trends had opposite signs.

    So herein lies the biggest problem of IPCC IV. The results are flawed because the models grossly over estimate the projected degree of global warming .

    And one need only look at the global temperatures
    over the last 10 years to see that there has been no global warming even though CO2 emissions have increased significantly over this same time period.

    Posted by Ed Gulachenski | May 9, 2008, 9:28 pm
  3. The following URLs were left off my May 9 comments. My error.

    Open letter dated Dec 13, 2007 to Secretary General, United Nations—It is not possible to stop climate change, a natural phenomenon that has affected humanity through the ages. Geological, archaeological, oral and written histories all attest to the dramatic challenges posed to past societies from unanticipated changes in temperature, precipitation, winds and other climatic variables. We therefore need to equip nations to become resilient to the full range of these natural phenomena by promoting economic growth and wealth generation.

    IPCC Models are Wrong

    There has been NO Global Warming this Century

    Posted by Ed Gulachenski | May 10, 2008, 9:16 am
  4. Ed, In a plea to forget about the consensus, referencing a petition letter originated by a political think tank is probably not the best approach.

    Every assessment will have a cutoff date for material to be considered, and the skeptical approach will always be that the material after such date negates everything that comes before it. And, of course, the letter in question harkens to “significant new peer-reviewed research” that casts doubt on anthropogenic global warming where the references to such research are notably absent. If asked, the response would likely point to lists the likes of that issued by Avery and Singer, the latter of which is a signatory of the letter in question.

    As for climate predictions, one need only look at the observational data of the present and the recent past to detect a climate influence from mankind that cannot be attributed to natural influences and one that will not cease on its own. Unlike natural influences, mankind’s GHG emissions are not cyclical. The last ten years are no different. Global warming has not stopped, and any analysis of temperature data since 1998 (i.e., 1999 to the present) will reflect a continued warming trend. See my other post on this subject.

    Posted by Michael Searcy | May 10, 2008, 9:43 am
  5. Michael, I know you are convinced that there is evidence of man made global warming in recent and past history, but after reading the following ; maybe you will at least concede that the sources you are using might be suspect.

    Arctic ice melts in the summer and freezes in the winter. No big deal as shown in:

    Antarctic is gaining ice, even at the edges as shown in:

    Studies show that the Polar Bear population is not in danger; in fact they are doing just fine. :

    And for sea level rising; it is not happening:

    Posted by Ed Gulachenski | May 10, 2008, 3:13 pm

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The Consensus

173 professional scientific organizations (and counting) around the world acknowledge the global impact of rising emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities

The Indicators

Climate Change Indicators Climate Change Indicators NASA GISS - Global Annual Mean Surface Air Temperature ChangeGlobal Temperature Sea level change from 1993 to the present day Global Sea Level Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice Anomaly, 1979-Present Arctic Ice Melt Glacial Retreat, 1980-2010 Glacial Retreat Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations, Mauna Loa Atmospheric CO2 Level
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