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Meaningless consensus on climate change

Andrew Montford — Financial Post — September 19, 2013

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. 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.  Continue reading, full article….

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  1. Meaningless consensus on climate change | ajmarciniak - September 19, 2013

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