Meaningless consensus on climate change
Andrew Montford, Special to Financial Post | 19/09/13 8:51 AM ET
More from Special to Financial Pos
NASA file/APa wealth of new empirical and semi-empirical evidence is now suggesting that any warming is likely to be far, far less than has been predicted by the vast electronic hypotheses that are the climate models.
Contrary to reports, global warming studies don’t show 97% of scientists fear global warming
Apart from a handful of eccentrics, everyone believes in the reality of manmade climate change. That’s the message of a recent paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the latest in a series of similar efforts that have been used as a stick with which to beat policymakers. But scratch at the surface of any of these publications and you find that there is considerably less to them than meets the eye.
The earliest paper in this series, by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman of the University of Illinois, reported the results of an opinion poll of climate scientists that Zimmerman had prepared for her MSc thesis. The headline conclusion – that 97% of climatologists thought that mankind was having a significant impact on the climate – was widely reported at the time.
However, although the survey was sent to over 10,000 scientists, there were actually only 79 responses from climatologists, so the 97% figure represented just 75 individuals. [The Hockey Schtick broke this news here] And what was not reported in the paper or in any of the ensuing publicity was that many participants were appalled by the survey and recorded their feelings at the time, calling it simplistic and biased, and suggesting that it was an attempt to provide support for a predetermined view.
A second paper, by William Anderegg and colleagues, took a rather different approach, dividing scientists into those who were “convinced” and “unconvinced” by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and then assessing their relative numbers and their scientific credentials. It was observed at the time that the authors appeared to be trying to create a handy blacklist of scientists non gratae, and so their conclusions – that 97% of scientists were “convinced” and that their expertise was greater than that of their “unconvinced” colleagues – were unsurprising.
But again, the problems with the paper were manifold. One of the authors explained on his blog (but not in the paper) that the list of “unconvinced” included some who were only there because they objected to the Kyoto approach to greenhouse gas reductions. Others observed that the list of “convinced” scientists included some who objected strongly to the IPCC’s take on climate change.
The latest paper, by John Cook and colleagues, made an extraordinary impact, having been mentioned thousands of times on the internet within hours of its release, and being cited on President Obama’s Twitter feed and by the U.K.’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey. The authors of the new paper are all associated with the activist website Skeptical Science, and it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the paper was written with the express purpose of making a political impact.
We know this because a security lapse at the Skeptical Science website led to its private discussion forum being exposed to public view. Among the threads was one in which the protagonists revealed that the purpose of the research was to demonstrate an overwhelming consensus on climate change.
It is also not surprising that some of the methodology was profoundly disturbing. The authors reviewed the abstracts of published climate papers to assess how much these could be said to be supportive of manmade climate change. However, Cook and his colleagues adopted a deliberately vague formulation of climate change, namely “humans are causing global warming.” This completely avoided the key question of the climate debate, namely “how much warming?”
The latest paper was cited on President Obama’s Twitter feed
In reality only a few scientific papers include a quantification of the manmade effect or the likely extent of future warming. A few more give a qualitative feel, but the vast majority take no position at all, being concerned with more mundane questions such as “what is the effect of mineral aerosols on the climate” or “how might climate change affect populations of natterjack toads.”
Most of these irrelevant papers were classified as implicitly accepting the IPCC consensus and it is small wonder then that the authors got the result they had set out to reach. This strange methodological choice did mean that the “consensus” category was very large, but also meant that it ended up including many papers by prominent global warming skeptics, a result that makes a mockery of the whole paper.
Once the methodology used by Cook and his colleagues is understood, it becomes abundantly clear that the consensus it describes is a very shallow one; the results add up to little more than “carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas” and “mankind affects the climate.” These are propositions that almost everybody in the climate debate accepts; the argument continues to be over how much greenhouse gases have affected us in the past and how much they will affect us in the future, and whether any of this represents a problem.
However, while there is no consensus on these questions, in truth there should be. It is the very basis of the scientific method that data trumps hypothesis: as the Nobel laureate Richard Feynman put it, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” And a wealth of new empirical and semi-empirical evidence is now suggesting that any warming is likely to be far, far less than has been predicted by the vast electronic hypotheses that are the climate models.
Yet despite this, the IPCC and governments still cling forlornly to the models and their predictions of doom. It is almost as if they are worried about what might happen if climate change turns out to be less of a problem than they have led us to believe. But until they accept the scientific method, a true consensus on climate change will be elusive.
Andrew Montford is a writer and editor specializing in climate change. His briefing paper on the Cook et al study has recently been published by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation.
I have been trying to find a link to the raw data used by Cook et. al. and have not been able to do so. I went to SkS to see if any of the pieces there gave a link as well as a few of the blogs with posts, analyses, etc. So far I have not found a link to the totality of the list of abstracts. Do you know of any such link. It seems to me that the proof of the pudding of all the discussion could be settled either way by making the data available. The satisfying thing about discussions of temperatures, storm frequencies or the like is that the data is out there and one can look for oneself.ReplyDelete
Cook et al have refused to release all of their data for replication by Dr. Richard Tol, in violation of IOP journal policies.Delete
Links for this and many other refutations of Cook et al can be found in the comment section of this post:
The folks at SkS seem to have made available lists of the paper titles and other details atDelete
I have managed to download a list of about 12,000 papers and the ratings they gave. They also have a link to a list of the ratings given each paper by each of their raters and the final rating assigned. When I have time from my real job in another area of science I have been looking at randomly selected abstracts to compare my rating with theirs. I have come up with very different ratings I would give in many of the cases I looked at, but I would be interested in anyone who took the time to do an exhaustive review. I have the nagging feeling it is a waste of intellectual energy for a physical scientist, because after all it is just a subjective rating of abstracts devoid of any real inferential rigor. It says more about the point of view of the raters than anything else.
Anon: I fully agree with your comments. What is astonishing is that even these highly biased raters could only find 41 out of the 11,944 published climate papers Cook examined which 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.Delete
In the surveys done of science articles many scientists state no position (just as most physicists don't feel the need to state a belief in the existence of the atom).ReplyDelete
When surveyed later, however, 97% state agreement with the theory of AGW.
False and inaneDelete
Either you didn't bother to read the article or have serious difficulties with reading comprehension.
References are missing to "a wealth of new empirical and semi-empirical evidence is now suggesting that any warming is likely to be far, far less than has been predicted" Such a wealth!ReplyDelete
Does, "Your comment will be visible after approval." mean, "if we agree with it?" If so, you are guilty of cowardice.ReplyDelete
"Your comment will be visible after approval" means "Your comment will be visible after approval" if it is not spam, abusive, and meets the comment policy.Delete
If you look at the data they cited: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/97_per_cent_of_warmists_cite_a_97_per_cent_thats_false/#131753ReplyDelete
Only slightly more than 1% of science papers disagree with climate change. If you remove the 7,930 papers that did not offer an opinion in their conclusions as to climate change's validity or not (probably because the papers had nothing to do with climate change in their hypotheses), 98.08% of papers that come to a conclusion utilizing the data they collected say climate change is a reality. So he was right, 97% don't agree; it's actually 98.08%.
There is, no doubt, a 100% consensus of scientists and published papers that the climate does in fact change; I fully agree that the climate has been changing for the past 4.5 billion years. However, that cannot be conflated with AGW, as Cook et al have attempted.Delete
Legates et al shows only 0.3% of papers state that >50% of climate change is man-made, which Cook et al tries to hide by interchangeable definitions of climate change.
Read this post and 58 other links in the comment section: