Global warming

Is the climate change fight better off without Joe Q. Public?

If global warming was shifted to the backburner, fighting it might generate less opposition.

Global warmingIn an opinion piece at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dawn Stover recently wrote:

Apparently most Americans have not only lost interest in learning about what’s happening to our world, but are actively repelled by the very mention of this world. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: Poisoning discussion is easier than countering climate science

If you can’t dispute the facts, attacking your opponent may distort the debate before it even starts.

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

For more posts in this series, please click here.

Debates can be difficult. This is especially true when you’re arguing against subjects that are nearly indisputable, such as evolution or industrial climate disruption (aka climate change). When faced with this situation, it is nearly always easier to create a distraction than it is to argue with either the science or the data underlying it. If the distraction is successful, then you don’t even have to debate the science or data at all – you get to focus on something that you choose and that may be totally unrelated to the argument at hand.

In discussions of climate disruption there are a number of common distractions. For example, the term “catastrophic global warming” is a straw man – a claim that scientists don’t actually make that’s easier to debate than the actual nature of climate change and model projections. Similarly, the argument that the supposedly missing tropospheric hot spot disproves greenhouse gas-driven climate disruption is another straw man, in this case because it’s not the hot spot that demonstrates greenhouse gases, but rather the heating in the troposphere and the cooling in the stratosphere.

Sometimes, however, deniers of industrial climate disruption try to derail any discussion of climate science before it even starts. One way they do this is by using a tactic and logical fallacy known as “poisoning the well,” and it’s the focus of today’s Climate Illogic. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate change in the Department of Defense 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review

For the fourth time since 2008 the Defense Department finds that climate change will exacerbate tensions and conflict.

In June 2008, the Department of Defense under then President George W. Bush published its 2008 National Defense Strategy. In this document was a single mention of climate change as one of trends and risks that could “pose a new range of challenges for states and societies” that “will affect existing security concerns such as international terrorism and weapons proliferation.”

Since then, the Department of Defense (DoD) has discussed climate change in major strategy documents three additional times. The latest, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, was published today (March 4). In the executive summary to the Review, the DoD writes that

The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.

Continue reading

Model vs. measure global temperature comparison for 2012 (RealClimate)

Roy Spencer attacks Anti-Defamation League for denouncing his use of “global warming Nazis”

The Anti-Defamation League clearly understands that a “denier” is someone who denies the truth of something. Unfortunately for his credibility and legacy, Roy Spencer does not.

IPCC AR5 WG1 Decadal variation in global temperature (IPCC)

IPCC AR5 WG1 Decadal variation in global temperature (IPCC)

Last week, once-respected climate scientist Roy Spencer went off the rails with a rant about how he would start calling unnamed climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis.” In response, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Southeast Interim Regional Director Shelley Rose issued a statement that denounced Spencer for “trivializing” both Nazis and the Holocaust. Rather than rethink his position, however, Spencer attacked the ADL for hypocrisy.

Last week I wrote a post cataloguing six significant issues with Spencer’s original rant that sounded “more like paranoid ramblings than the words of someone who should be a respected elder statesman of climate science.” In his attack on the ADL, Spencer took his rant even further, claiming that the “denier” description was a form of character assassination, issuing a blanket defense of anyone and everyone who has been called a denier of climate change/global warming, and implying that only so-called “skeptics” like him really care about the poor. Continue reading

Taylor_Heartland_NCA

Roy Spencer calls climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis”

Roy Spencer’s rant on climate change “deniers” vs. “global warming Nazis” indicates that his signature achievements are in the past.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

There was a point when climate scientist Roy Spencer was widely respected for essentially inventing the method that scientists use to measure the Earth’s temperature from satellites. But since the early 1990s, Spencer’s reputation has suffered a number of self-inflicted injuries. For example, Spencer’s evangelical faith has led him to reject evolution in favor of intelligent design. And he’s been quick to conclude that global warming is overblown while only reluctantly accepting corrections that have nearly always shown his conclusions were biased cold. In short, Spencer has demonstrated that he is no longer able to separate his biases from his science.

But Spencer’s post calling climate experts and global warming activists “global warming Nazis” in response to being called a “denier” of global warming indicates that Spencer – who has been called to testify before Congress at least three times – has finally gone completely off the rails. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Bill Nye’s science vs. creationism “debate” with Ken Ham – some random thoughts

Some musings on the creationism debate between science educator Bill Nye and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham.

I didn’t watch last night’s debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Creationism Museum co-founder Ken Ham for two reasons. First, I had more important things to do, like kissing my kids goodnight, painting my basement, cuddling with the cats, making my wife’s coffee, and getting a good night’s sleep. Second, I’m generally against scientists debating non-scientists on scientific subjects. Most scientists don’t have the personality or the training to do well in a debate setting, even when they’re right. A non-scientist with training in debate and rhetoric could take the position that the sky isn’t blue and still win the debate against an untrained scientist.

I was even more against Nye debating a creationist, not just because he’s a scientist debating science with a non-scientist. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: don’t be distracted by irrational assertions of global warming catastrophe and crisis

“Global warming crisis” and “catastrophic global warming” are common straw man arguments.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

There are a couple of terms commonly used by climate disruption deniers (those who deny that industrial climate disruption1 is derived from widely accepted scientific laws) that are nearly always attempts to distract the reader (aka “red herrings”). These terms often are used specifically because they appear to be both relevant and reasonable, but are actually neither. Instead, these terms are logical errors, specifically “straw men” logical fallacies.

These terms are “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” as well as their variants. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Faux Pause: climate contrarians lose favorite talking point

by Greg Laden

In an ongoing effort to discredit mainstream climate science, climate contrarians have incorrectly asserted that there is a “pause” in the rate of global warming. This was never true,  but now, it is even less true.

CATEGORY: ClimateGreg Laden teaches anthropology at Century College and blogs for National Geographic Scienceblogs.com. He is a long time resident of the Twin Cities and has written extensively on matters of climate change and other areas of science.

To any objective observer, the Earth is now a world warmed. The decade 2001-2010 was the hottest decade on record, and every single month since March 1985 has been warmer than the 20th century average.   Continue reading

Screen capture of Heartland email using AMS logo.

Heartland Institute email distorts American Meteorological Society study, admits it’s all about “spin”

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Abstract: The Heartland Institute sent an email that inaccurately reported the results of a study into the scientific consensus about the nature of global warming. The American Meteorological Society objected to the deceptive nature of the email, and so Heartland’s President Joseph Bast defended the email. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, both the email and Bast chose instead to distort the study’s findings, quote mine, and ignore inconvenient results in the service of an admitted desire to fool the public into disbelieving that climate change is real, human caused, and likely to be harmful.

On November 26, the Heartland Institute sent a direct marketing email that distorted the results of a study investigating the level and strength of scientific consensus about industrial climate disruption among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In addition to the spam-like tracking features embedded in the email, it also prominently featured the seal of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and was only identified as coming from Heartland in the footer. Following a public complaint by Keith L. Seitter, the Executive Director of the AMS, Heartland President Joseph Bast published a defense of the email in which Bast claimed that everything in the email was true, that Heartland had done nothing wrong, and more or less told Seitter to quit complaining.

Given Heartland’s long history of deception, dishonesty, and hypocrisy with respect to industrial climate disruption, S&R compared the claims made in the email and by Bast in his defense with the actual study (“Meteorologists’s views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members,” hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). S&R found that the email and Bast’s blog both fail to accurately describe the results of Stenhouse et al 2013 in multiple ways. Both distort the study’s finding on the scientific consensus among AMS members, both caricature the study’s findings on how political ideology is related to thinking that global warming is happening, the email excises a critical part of a quote and Bast defends the quote mining, and both fail to mention that Stenhouse et al 2013 replicates another study into the scientific consensus. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

James Taylor of Heartland Institute twists new AMS study to cast doubt upon industrial climate disruption consensus

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

Abstract: James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute has published a Forbes blog in which he distorts the results of a new Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society study. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, Taylor chose to distort the study using logic errors, dishonest and misattributed quotes, and even lying about the study’s methodology. Taylor’s blog represents yet another example in a long history of twisting surveys and studies in a failed attempt to manufacture doubt the scientific consensus about global warming.

On November 20, 2013, James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute published a blog at Forbes where he discussed a new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled “Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members” by Neil Stenhouse and nine other co-authors (hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). Stenhouse et al 2013 found, among other things, that 93% of the most knowledgeable climate experts think that climate disruption has occurred over the last 150 years and that human activity is part of the cause.

Rather than focusing on the main points of study, Taylor instead focused on a secondary conclusion (that only 52% of all respondents think that the last 150 years of climate disruption are “mostly” caused by human activity), failed to provide any of the study’s context for that conclusion, and in the process distorted the study’s results in an attempt to manufacture doubt about the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding industrial climate disruption1. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Daily Caller gets it wrong on global warming spending

Michael Bastasch’s shallow and oversimplified reading of federal spending for climate disruption vs. border security misleads his audience.

CATEGORY: ClimateAn article in the Daily Caller on October 28 incorrectly claimed that the federal government was spending twice as much to address industrial climate disruption as it was spending on border security. In the process, the author of the article, Michael Bastasch, misrepresented both the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget and the federal climate change expenditures for 2013. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

IPCC physical science Summary for Policymakers: 95% certain that human activity is dominating climate disruption

[Update: several clarifications have been added in the best case scenario section.]

The complete, 2500 pages long Working Group One (WG1) report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has been published. While the devil is often in the details buried deep in those 2500 pages, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is a distillation of the key scientific findings that the WG1 authors and every national government agree upon. As such, the SPM is an inherently conservative1 summary of the science. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: Sometimes arguing from authority is the logical thing to do

For more posts in this series, please click here.

A common illogical claim among those individuals who deny industrial climate disruption is that any discussion of consensus or reference to a scientist’s expert opinion is an “appeal to authority.” Those who make this illogical claim are essentially trying to say that expert opinion doesn’t matter. This not only a misunderstanding of the logical fallacy, it’s also absurd given the realities of living in a complex world.

The actual fallacy is known as an “appeal to misleading authority.” In order for an authority to be “misleading,” it has to have at least one of the following:

  • The person being referred to as an authority may not be an actual expert on the subject in question.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may be biased.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may hold opinions that are not representative of his/her fellow experts in the subject
  • The reference to authority may be unnecessary.

With respect to climate disruption we find many examples of each of these types of misleading authorities. Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, and most of the NASA 49 are examples of individuals who have been identified as authorities on climate disruption but who are not actual climate experts. There is evidence that climate scientists Roy Spencer and Patrick Michaels are less than objective about climate disruption due to their religion, free market ideology, and/or fossil fuel industry funding. Richard Lindzen of MIT is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences due to his climate expertise, but his opinions about how the Earth supposedly cools itself (his “iris” hypothesis) are not representative of expert opinion on climate disruption, and so referring to Lindzen’s authority may be misleading. And at this point the increase in global temperature has been verified so often and independently that an appeal to any single scientist’s authority on the subject is unnecessary.

So long as these pitfalls are avoided, arguing from authority may be justified. This is especially true with respect to complicated subjects such as climate disruption and with respect to situations where people are forced to make decisions with incomplete information. We live in a complex world, and it’s not possible to rely exclusively on direct evidence from our own senses. Everyone must place their trust in the authority of someone else eventually.

One example of this fact is purchasing an automobile. People generally don’t purchase an automobile until after researching the vehicle, taking a test drive, etc. At each step of the process, however, the customer is forced to place his or her trust in the authority of someone else. When researching the automobile, the customer must decide whether or not to trust the reviewers, the crash reports. After all, its possible that the reports were fraudulent or the reviewers were paid to give positive reviews of a substandard vehicle. And the customer places his or her trust in the authority of the automobile’s engineers, manufacturers, and technicians to build and certify a safe automobile.

Given a proven track record of safety by the manufacturer, no major recalls on a given model, and safety testing monitored and certified by unbiased third parties, it’s not only reasonable to assume that the vehicle is safe, it’s justifiable. Essentially, the authority of the engineers et al is independently verified. And given that most people lack the ability to perform their own crash testing, relying on these types of authorities is not only reasonable, it’s also justified.

The process of verifying a person’s authority includes the person demonstrating a high level of understanding of key issues. In the example of an automobile that might be crash crumple zones, how wiring is routed in the engine in ways to prevent it from being melted by engine heat, or the effects of road grime on frame corrosion. In the case of industrial climate disruption the authority might need to understand how carbon isotopes prove that the excess carbon dioxide is due to burning fossil fuels, the physics of why carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation, and an understanding of blackbody radiation and how it interacts with greenhouse gases to create the greenhouse effect.

In addition, an authority is someone who has been verified to be an expert on a particular subject (automobiles above, or some aspect of climate science). The verification process is subject to some level of assumed trust, but is usually based upon independent, third party proxies such undergraduate and/or graduate degrees related to the subject, years of experience working with/in the subject area, a significant publication record of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, acknowledgment as an expert by multiple other experts on the same subject, and so on.

Finally, someone’s authority may be formally or informally revoked if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the proxies got it wrong. In the case of an automobile, if a test technician was falsifying safety reports, he or she could be fired or even charged with crimes. Meteorologist Joe Bastardi has repeatedly made claims about climate disruption that were easily disproved both mathematically and empirically, and as such he no longer has any real authority on the subject of climate disruption.

Arguing from authority is rarely if ever as good as arguing from first principles. When information is available and can be understood, arguing from that information will nearly always be preferable to arguing from the expert opinion of someone else who understands the information. However, when the subject being argued (say, climate disruption or a criminal proceeding) is sufficiently complicated that arguing from first principles is unrealistic, arguing from authority is not only justified, it is the logical thing to do.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

National Review’s new motion to dismiss Mann’s defamation lawsuit contains false claims

On July 19, DC Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene rejected multiple motions to dismiss climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against the National Review (NR), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), NR writer Mark Steyn, and CEI writer Rand Simberg. On July 24, NR and Steyn submitted a motion asking to reconsider her refusal to dismiss based on what NR and Steyn claim are “material mistakes of fact.” S&R has been investigating the accuracy of three of the claims made in the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider: that Judge Combs Greene had erroneously conflated actions of NR/Steyn with those of CEI/Simberg, that NR/Steyn had not been critical of Mann’s research over a period of years, and that these two claimed mistakes mean that NR/Steyn might not have been aware that they were making false claims against Mann. After reviewing the public record, S&R has found that while the first claim is likely false, the other two claims are clearly false.

National Review has called for investigations into alleged misconduct by Mann

According to the the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, Judge Combs Greene supposedly misattributed requests by CEI/Simberg to investigate Mann’s research conduct to NR/Steyn.

the Order conflates the conduct of co-defendant [CEI] with that of National Review and Steyn, who never petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate or otherwise pressured the agency concerning [Mann’s] research. (emphasis original)

The very specific language of the prior quote leaves open the possibility that either NR or Steyn could have called for investigations in general or other specific investigations such as those conducted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) while still being factually true. Only the EPA investigation is excluded by this language, and as such it comes close to qualifying as an “equivocation” logical fallacy. As such, S&R’s investigation searched for examples of public investigation requests for both general and specific investigations by NR writers or Steyn himself. S&R was unable to find any examples calling for specific investigations, lending some support to this NR/Steyn claim.

However, while S&R did not discover any examples, Mann’s legal team did find several of varying strength, as seen in Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider. The strongest example is in an NR article written by Candace de Russy titled “Your Stimulus Dollars Lavished on Climate-Alarmist Prof.” where de Russy writes about the Penn State investigation into Mann’s conduct. At the end of the article, de Russy writes:

In these crushing economic times, is it too much to ask that university authorities, our political leaders, and the press jump on this case with a bit more rigor?

While this is not a call for a specific body to investigate Mann’s research, it is a call for thorough investigations by “university authorities, our political leaders, and the press.” As such, it demonstrates that, while the specific claim vis a vis the EPA investigation may be true, NR/Steyn did, in fact, call for investigations of Michael Mann’s conduct.

National Review and Mark Steyn have accused Mann of misconduct since 2009

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claims that Judge Combs Greene confused NR/Steyn with CEI/Simberg again when she took into account “all of the statements and accusations over the years” against Mann. NR/Steyn are essentially claiming that both CEI and Simberg have a history of attacking Mann, but that neither NR nor Steyn has a similar history. S&R’s investigation turned up 10 different NR articles and three Steyn articles going back to 2009 that disprove this claim. Note that most, if not all, of the allegations against Mann in the examples below have been investigated repeatedly and found to be without merit.

Examples of National Review criticisms of Mann

  • Global Warming: Science or Religion by Sterling Burnett on July 21, 2009. This post makes a number of indirect criticisms of Mann, who is the only named scientist in the article, and implies that he and other climate scientists are “fanatics” who, by supposedly making unprovable claims, engage in “sly but abjectly dishonest” activities.
  • Mann-made Warming Confirmed by Chris Horner on September 28, 2009. This post contains a brief history of Mann’s supposed errors and alleged cherry-picking to produce the MBH99 “hockey-stick.” “The conclusion is inescapable. The tree ring data was hand-picked to get the desired result. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate: Where Are We? by Iain Murray on November 30, 2009. Mann is explicitly mentioned as a “trickster” (a reference to a Climategate email that Penn State looked at specifically during their investigation) and is thus included in Murray’s “perpetrators.”

    “There have been attempts to muddy the waters with assertions that data were publicly available all along (ha!) and the insinuation that anyone using “stolen” emails is somehow more immoral than the perpetrators of the three frauds outlined above. (emphasis added)”

  • Peer Pressure by the NR Editors on December 1, 2009.

    Phil Jones of CRU, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and other leaders of the climate cartel discussed statistical tricks they used to “hide the decline” of atmospheric temperatures. Other data were fudged to cover up warm periods that didn’t fit their theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). (emphasis added)

  • Groupthink and the Global-Warming Industry by Jonah Goldberg on December 3, 2009.

    CRU scientists discuss with friendly outside colleagues, including Penn State University’s Michael Mann, how to manipulate the data they want to show the world, and how to hide the often-flawed data they don’t. (emphasis added)

  • Climategate: You should be steamed by Greg Pollowitz on January 4, 2010. “If only scientists had taken Dale Carnegie courses, the fraud and sloppy science of Climategate would never have happened. (emphasis added)”
  • Liberals and the Scientific Method by Mona Charen on February 12, 2010. The reference to Penn State in the following quote implies Mann’s involvement.

    The Climategate e-mails from Penn State and East Anglia University were not trivial revelations. They involved deception, intimidation, and manipulation of records by two of the leading research institutions whose data form the backbone of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (emphasis added)

  • Liberty, Tyranny, and the Globe by Mark Levin on April 22, 2010. “The true believers used to cite Mann’s hockey-stick curve as conclusive evidence of man-made global warming. The graph has been demonstrated a fraud… (emphasis added)”
  • Global Warming — RIP? by Victor Davis Hanson on October 27, 2011. While Mann is not mentioned specifically, he was at the time and remains one of the world’s top climate scientists and is one of the, if not the, most investigated climate scientist as a result of Climategate. Thus this passage refers to Mann indirectly.

    Corruption within the climate-change industry explains some of the sudden turnoff. “Climategate” — the unauthorized 2009 release of private e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom — revealed that many of the world’s top climate scientists were knee-deep in manipulating scientific evidence to support preconceived conclusions and personal agendas.

  • Scientists Behaving Badly by Jim Lacey on November 28, 2011.

    Virtually the entire warmist edifice is built around a small, tightly knit coterie of persons (one hesitates to refer to folks with so little respect for the scientific method as scientists) willing to falsify data and manipulate findings; or, to put it bluntly, to lie in order to push a political agenda not supported by empirical evidence. (emphasis added)

    In fact, McIntyre’s work was crucial in proving that Mann’s infamous “hockey stick graph” — the heart of the United Nations’ IPCC-3 report — was a fraud.

Examples of Mark Steyn criticisms of Mann

  • Climate Science and the Peer-Review Consensus Forgery on November 30, 2009. Steyn criticizes Mann and Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) for allegedly manipulating peer review in order to keep poorly refereed papers out of the IPCC, and Steyn agreed with a Wall Street Journal headline about forgery.
  • The science of global warming on December 3, 2009.

    The Settled Scientists have wholly corrupted the process of “peer review.” (emphasis added)

    Phil Jones, director of the CRU, writing to Michael Mann, creator (le mot juste) of the now discredited “hockey stick” graph… (emphasis original)

    Phil Jones and Michael Mann are two of the most influential figures in the whole “climate change” racket.

  • The emperor’s new carbon credits on December 17, 2009.

    The famous hockey stick graph created by Dr. Michael Mann played a critical role in persuading millions of people we’re all gonna fry…. It took two dogged Canadians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, to demolish the hockey-stick fraud (emphasis added)”

In addition to these various examples, there are many more that are similar to the second-to-last NR example above – where Mann is not mentioned specifically, but where the “hockey-stick” is used as a proxy for Mann, or where groups of which Mann would be a member are accused of scientific misconduct such as data manipulation. Whether such examples are sufficient for a court order to be based upon them is beyond the purview of S&R’s investigation.

These lists are by no means exhaustive – they stop in 2011 as the articles published in 2012 and 2013 are dominated by those related to Mann’s lawsuit and NR/Steyn’s responses. There are likely many other examples published by NR and Steyn that are not included above. Regardless, however, the public record demonstrates that both NR and Steyn both had at least a three-year history of criticizing Mann both directly and indirectly before publishing the article that provoked Mann’s defamation lawsuit.

National Review and Mark Steyn were aware of Mann investigations’ results

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claimed that Judge Combs Greene’s logic was flawed. The motion to reconsider essentially argues that a) there is no evidence that NR/Steyn had ever called for an investigation, b) their awareness of the results of those investigations was not demonstrated in the Court Order, and thus c) there is no evidence of actual malice.

This line of argument is not only based on arguably false information, it’s also illogical. As mentioned above, Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider provides five different examples, each of which could be interpreted as a call for an investigation into Mann’s conduct. But even if those examples are ultimately rejected by Judge Combs Greene, the NR/Steyn motion essentially argues that there is only one way that NR and Steyn could be aware of the details of the investigations’ results – if NR and Steyn had called for the investigations. Given the media coverage of each of the various investigations, this is an untenable claim to make for both NR and Steyn.

S&R investigated this claim as well and found that NR and Steyn were both aware of the investigations and were very likely aware of the investigations’ detailed results. As with above, the examples below include claims that have been investigated, in some cases repeatedly, and found to be without merit.

  • Climategate and the Scientific Elite by Iain Murray on May 26, 2010. “Few members of the public have accepted the findings of the inquiries exonerating the scientists; most dismiss them as whitewashes. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate Continues by Andrew Montford and Harold Ambler on May 24, 2012.

    the specific issue of the suppressed record appears to have largely been passed over by the panel, and Briffa’s explanation, like so many others given to the Climategate inquiries, appears to have been accepted without question. (emphasis added)

    However, their machinations have only succeeded in bringing renewed attention to their questionable science and ugly behind-the-scenes shenanigans, reigniting hope that more complete and more independent investigations — on both sides of the Atlantic — will yet be performed. (emphasis added)

  • Senator Inhofe Discusses His Call for a DOJ Climategate Investigation by Greg Pollowitz on February 24, 2010. This is an excerpt of an interview of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) by Neil Cavuto, excerpted extensively, including the following:

    [W]e have the minority report that we put together which shows that climate-gate, fixing the science, cooking the science, actually took place.

    We have it all documented. And people are being investigated right now (emphasis added).

  • ‘Climategate Inquiry Glosses Over the Facts’ by Greg Pollowitz on July 20, 2010. This is an excerpt from a commentary at the Washington Examiner by NR writer Iain Murray, and Murray’s quoted details, while arguably both cherry-picked and distorted, reveal that he was quite aware of the contents of all of the Climategate investigations:

    Yet the [UK Parliament] hearings did not include testimony from the most severe critics of the hockey stick graphic, such as Canadians Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who could have explained exactly why the e-mails did suggest impropriety.

    Yet Lord Oxburgh’s panel handed down a short report which did not examine the quality of the science at all. The panel simply reviewed a selection of CRU papers — selected by the UEA itself — and pronounced itself satisfied that the scientific process was fair and proper.

    The final review, conducted by former bureaucrat Sir Muir Russell, was compromised from the start. Its chief scientist, while purporting to be independent, was a former staff member of the CRU. Once again, it failed to interview the chief critics.This panel did not examine the other e-mails on the CRU server, as it was supposed to do.

  • Climategate Whitewash by Iain Murray on April 1, 2010. “Unsurprisingly, the U.K.’s parliamentary investigation into Climategate whitewashed the implications for climate science, although they did wag a disapproving finger at the University of East Anglia for being naughty about the Freedom of Information Act.”
  • The Climategate Graywash by Greg Pollowitz on July 12, 2010. This is a large excerpt from the Financial Post: “The third British investigation into the Climategate scandal — led by former civil servant Sir Muir Russell — amounts, at best, to a greywash.”
  • by Greg Pollowitz on February 10, 2010. This is a press release from Sen. Inhofe’s office:

    Penn State’s internal inquiry found further investigation is warranted to determine if Dr. Mann “engaged in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.”

    “As the University moves to the next phase of its investigation, I believe the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation should also commence an investigation to examine possible violations of federal laws and policies governing taxpayer-funded research.”

  • Lord Jones is Indisposed by Mark Steyn on December 2, 2009. “The reviled “skeptics” and “deniers” have forced Prof. Phil Jones in East Anglia to step down “temporarily” and prompted Penn State to investigate Prof. Michael Mann.”

These examples demonstrate that both NR and Steyn were aware of ongoing investigations, and that NR was certainly aware of the results of at least one of those investigations. Furthermore, it is not realistic to imagine that NR cultivated a culture where authors writing about the same subject (climate change/global warming) were so isolated from each other that they never discussed the results of the various investigations among themselves. As such, it is virtually certain that NR and Steyn were aware of the investigations’ results and thus cannot credibly claim ignorance of those same results.

S&R investigated three of the claims made in the National Review/Mark Steyn motion for reconsideration. Simple web searches demonstrated that two of the three claims investigated were clearly false, while a more in-depth investigation found that the third claim (that NR/Steyn had not called for investigations into Mann) was plausible. However, Mann’s legal response to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration addressed the third claim and argued that NR and Steyn had both called for investigations following the illegal publication of private emails known as Climategate. As would be expected, Mann’s legal response also addressed the various other claims that S&R did not investigate, such as NR/Steyn’s presentation of a new First Amendment-based argument for dismissal.

Generally speaking, judges react poorly to baldly stated and easily disproved false claims made in legal documents. While S&R’s reading of Judge Combs Greene’s original order finds no reason to believe that she will react any different to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, only time will tell.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

DC Judge: Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against National Review, Competitive Enterprise Institute allowed to proceed

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernmentOn October 22, 2012, climate scientist Michael Mann sued the National Review (NR), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), along with two writers, NR writer Mark Steyn and CEI writer Rand Simberg, for defamation. Mann’s lawsuit alleges that NR, CEI, Steyn, and Simberg’s (hereafter “the defendants”) allegations of scientific fraud and their comparisons of Mann to convicted Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky were libelous. The defendants answered Mann’s lawsuit in court with motions to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that their claims of misconduct were protected opinion speech and not provably false, that Mann was a public figure, and that Mann’s lawsuit qualified as a SLAPP against their right to free speech. On July 19, 2013, DC Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene issued two orders that denied all the motions to dismiss the lawsuit and permitted Mann’s defamation lawsuit to proceed.

The first part of the motions to dismiss that Judge Combs Greene addressed was whether or not Mann would be able to reach the evidence standard required by the DC Anti-SLAPP Act. This law was created to protect defendants from what are known as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuits, and the DC law requires that the plaintiff (Mann in this case) be able to demonstrate a “likelihood” of winning before the lawsuit is allowed to proceed1. The defendants argued that the “likelihood” standard required a high probability or even 100% certainty of winning in order to not dismiss the lawsuit, but Judge Combs Greene rejected those arguments. Quoting precedent from California (upon which DC based its Anti-SLAPP Act), Judge Combs Greene found that Mann need only meet a “likelihood to succeed on the merits” by way of “proof by a preponderance [majority] of evidence.”

In order to determine whether or not Mann reached the “preponderance of evidence” threshold Judge Combs Greene first had to address the defendants’ claim that their various accusations of fraud and academic misconduct against Mann were merely “rhetorical hyperbole” and opinions. However, according to Supreme Court opinions referenced by Judge Combs Greene, this argument requires that the defendants’ accusations not be based on factual information that could be proved wrong using available facts. Judge Combs Greene ruled that claims like “hockey-stick deceptions,” “data manipulation,” and “intellectually bogus” work were, in reality, based on facts, and specifically “provably false” facts at that. Judge Combs Greene wrote that the “hockey stick deceptions” statement

goes beyond harsh debate or “rhetorical hyperbole.” Rather the statement questions facts – it does not simply invite readers to “ask questions.”

She also wrote that the “data manipulation” statement “relies on the interpretation of facts (the [CRU/Climategate] emails).”

Lest there be any question about Judge Combs Greene’s dim view of the defendants’ claims with respect to their accusations against Mann, she also wrote that

Given the dictionary definition as well as the common readers’ thought about the use of these words (fraud and fraudulent) the Court finds that these statement (sic) taken in context must be viewed as more than honest commentary-particularly when investigations have found otherwise. Considering the numerous articles that characterize [Mann’s] work as fraudulent, combined with the assertions of fraud and data manipulation, the [NR and CEI] Defendants have essentially made conclusions based on facts. Further, the assertions of fraud “rely upon facts that are provably false” particularly in light of the fact that [Mann] has been investigated by several bodies (including the EPA) and determined that [Mann’s] research and conclusions are sound and not based on misleading information….

The content and context of the statements is not indicative of play and “imaginative expression” but rather aspersions of verifiable facts that [Mann] is a fraud. At this stage, the Court must find that these statements were not simply rhetorical hyperbole. (emphasis added)

The defendants also claimed to be acting as journalists offering “fair comment” and “supportable interpretation,” both of which are protected speech under DC law. However, Judge Combs Greene found that these claims were untenable since DC law required that the defendants’ reporting be “fair and accurate” in order to qualify. Judge Combs Greene wrote that

Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those investigations having found [Mann’s] work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. (emphasis added)

Claims that are provably false are, by definition, neither fair nor accurate.

Finally, the defendants asked Judge Combs Greene to dismiss Mann’s lawsuit because the First Amendment guaranteed them freedom of speech. However, as with all the rights defined in the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech is not without its limits even when dealing with a limited public figure like Mann2. Essentially, the Supreme Court has ruled that even public figures can sue for defamation when “actual malice” is involved. The examples of “actual malice” offered by Judge Combs Greene were making provably false accusations and making statements with reckless disregard for whether the statements are true or not.

Judge Combs Greene found that, while there was as yet sufficient evidence to demonstrate “actual malice,” there was a “strong probability” that the defendants “disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.” And so Judge Combs Greene found that there was sufficient evidence of “actual malice” to permit the lawsuit to proceed to the discovery process, where both Mann and the defendants must open up their emails and documents to the court and each other and where evidence of actual malice by the defendants might be uncovered.

After considering the arguments and reviewing the record, Judge Combs Greene denied the motions to dismiss Mann’s defamation lawsuit. She found that the CEI had lobbied for investigations into Mann’s scientific conduct yet continued to allege that his research was fraudulent even after a dozen independent investigations had cleared him of those allegations. She found that the NR had been aware of the results of the investigations and yet it too had continued to make provably false allegations. And while she didn’t find that the evidence presented had risen to the level of “actual malice,” she also said that it was entirely possible that the discovery process could turn up that evidence. By denying the motions to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Combs Greene essentially said that Mann had presented a preponderance (majority) of evidence that he had been defamed by the defendants, and thus the lawsuit should proceed.

Mann’s lawsuit is proceeding. So long as there are no additional motions to dismiss3 or appeals of Judge Combs Greene’s orders, the next step is legal discovery. S&R will bring you updates in this case as they become available.

_____

1 SLAPPs have historically been a way to force public citizens and small organizations from criticizing large and powerful interests, but in this case the larger and more powerful organizations (NR and CEI) were claiming that the Act protected them from Mann’s claims of defamation.

2 Mann became a limited public figure as a result of political opposition to the conclusions of his original hockey-stick papers in 1998 and 1999 – that human activity had raised North American temperatures to the highest level in ~2000 years. Essentially, groups like the CEI and various Congressional Republicans didn’t like the fact that his scientific conclusions indicated that industrial climate disruption was unprecedented in the last several thousand years. The free speech argument put forth by CEI and NR was viable only because Mann had become a public figure due to the actions of CEI and their allies.

3 The National Review and Mark Steyn have filed another motion to dismiss based on what they allege are errors of fact made by Judge Combs Greene. S&R is in the process of reviewing the new motion and will be reporting on it soon.

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: industrial climate disruption is not a popularity contest

For more posts in this series, please click here.
UPDATE: see updated definition in Footnote #1 below

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Appeal to consensus,” also known as the “bandwagon fallacy,” is an illogical argument that something must be right because it’s popular. For example, “2 + 2 = 4″ would still be mathematically true even if everyone believed that the right answer was 5. Other examples of the bandwagon fallacy are less obviously absurd. For example, there is a popular movement afoot these days which claims that vaccines are dangerous. But while the claim is popular, it’s just as illogical as “2 + 2 = 5″ – overwhelming scientific evidence has demonstrated that vaccines are far safer than the diseases prevented by the vaccines.

People who deny that industrial climate disruption often illogically claim that genuine climate realists (those who respect the scientific data demonstrating industrial climate disruption) are simply joining the climate bandwagon. The error is even more common in discussions about the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and peer-reviewed studies. The problem is that climate disruption deniers are fundamentally misunderstanding and misapplying the bandwagon fallacy.

If a large majority of people accept industrial climate disruption as true because of the evidence, then claiming that industrial climate disruption is true is similarly based on the evidence. The fact that industrial climate disruption is “popular” is inconsequential. The reasons for the consensus matter, as does the expertise of the people who make up the consensus.

In the case of industrial climate disruption there are good reasons to believe that the consensus position1 is correct . There is a massive body of empirical data that describes how the global climate has changed in the past. There are the physical properties of compounds like carbon dioxide and water vapor. There are the many accepted scientific theories that would have to be dramatically wrong for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect. And there are climate models that combine all of the above to project the most likely course of the rest of this century. There is a consensus on industrial climate disruption because the science demonstrates that industrial climate disruption is real. Referring to that consensus is simply a way to refer to the science by proxy.

The expertise of the people who make up a consensus matters too. If someone were to use popular opinion among veterinarians as support for a claim that industrial climate disruption is real, that might well qualify as a bandwagon fallacy. After all, vets in general have no more expertise on the subject of climate disruption than any other educated member of the public. But publishing climate scientists2 are understood to have expertise on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because they are the people who know the empirical evidence, physical properties, and scientific theories supporting industrial climate disruption the best.

The actual argument would go something like this: “The most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject of climate have overwhelmingly concluded that industrial climate disruption is real, therefore you should too.” This argument is all about expertise, not popularity, and so it’s illogical to label this argument a bandwagon fallacy.

Evidence and expertise matter. And when genuine climate realists refer to the consensus on industrial climate disruption, they’re arguing by proxy that the body of evidence in support of industrial climate disruption is so strong that individuals, businesses, and governments should be factoring it into their decision making. Doing so is the only logically defensible position.

1 The consensus position is that the climate is changing, that the emission of greenhouse gases by human industry is the dominant driver of those changes, and that the changes will almost certainly be disruptive to human society and global ecology. [italicized section added following discussion in the comments below]
2 I include scientists who publish papers on climate-related fields of chemistry, geology, physics, optics, et al. For example, an oceanographer with expertise on the carbon cycle in the ocean and thus expert knowledge of the sources of ocean acidification would qualify as a “climate scientist” for the purposes of this discussion. Similarly, a physicist who studies carbon isotopes and publishes about the changing isotopic ratios due to the burning of fossil fuels would also qualify.

CATEGORY: WordsMatter

Words Matter: Industrial climate disruption is not a religion

CATEGORY: ReligionWeekFor other posts in the Words Matter series, please click here

religion
a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (source)

Some people falsely allege that industrial climate disruption is a religion. This allegation is blatantly flawed, as is the related allegation that industrial climate disruption is a cult. But that doesn’t prevent deniers of industrial climate disruption from making the false allegation in an attempt to render the underlying science moot.

As shown in the definition above, a religion is a set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, with the key word being “religious.” Religion requires the worship of some greater power or divinity. Scientific disciplines do not. In general, religion concerns itself with faith and adherence to established doctrine whether or not the doctrine make sense. Science, on the other hand, concerns itself with what is observable, what can be explained using logic and mathematics, and what can be tested with experiments or future observations.

Industrial climate disruption does not postulate any particular greater power or divinity. This fact alone disproves the claim that climate disruption is a religion. But for the sake of argument, what greater power or divinity could possibly be invoked by industrial climate disruption? The measured infrared properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane make poor deities, seeing as they’re not imbued with any intelligence. Climate models also make poor greater powers since they are merely simulations based on fundamental physics that respond blindly to their inputs. And the various fundamental laws of physics used in climate models are as unintelligent as a molecule of carbon dioxide is.

The only way to make industrial climate disruption into a religion is to redefine the entirety of science itself as a religion. And at that point we might as well say that the Babel Fish is the proof of the non-existence of God, prove that black is white, and avoid zebra crosswalks thereafter (ref.).

And for those industrial climate disruption deniers who go even further and call industrial climate disruption a “cult,” cults are a subset of religions. Specifically, a cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” (source). If industrial climate disruption can’t be a religion, than it can’t be a cult either.

So why do deniers of industrial climate disruption make a blatantly flawed allegation? Some truly are ignorant of the differences between religion and science. Some may be so opposed to policies they fear will result from accepting industrial climate disruption as real that they have unconsciously chosen to ignore the blatant flaw. But the rest know that the allegation is false, but they allege it anyway in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption as a whole.

Since the Renaissance, science has earned a privileged place in human culture. Individuals and organizations make decisions every day based on what the best available science tells them will happen. For example, scientists knew that Mount Saint Helens was going to erupt weeks before it ultimately did – the evacuations ordered by the Governor of Washington as a result of the work of geologists monitoring the volcano saved thousands of lives. Given the privileged place science holds, if the science underlying industrial climate disruption is accepted, then naturally individuals and organizations will start changing how the interact with each other and with the world as a result. Those changes would naturally create winners and losers, and many of the people and businesses on top today would sustain massive losses in the process.

If successful, branding industrial climate disruption as a religion is a shortcut. Instead of having to challenge the expertise of each and every climate scientist one by one, they can all be tarnished as “high priests.” Instead of having to demonstrate errors in thousands of peer-reviewed studies, all the studies can be dismissed as mere holy writ. And instead of having to disprove multiple well-established scientific laws and independent lines of evidence that all demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, all that information can be conveniently swept under the rug with rhetoric

If industrial climate disruption can be branded as a religion, then it can essentially be ignored. The individuals and organizations (both businesses and governments) who stand to lose the most can dismiss industrial climate disruption by saying “We don’t have to change to satisfy the religious beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or pagans, so we don’t need to change to satisfy climate disruption either.” Governments of countries where separation of church and state is codified can go even further, claiming that creating policies to address industrial climate disruption would be in breach of that very separation.

Industrial climate disruption has no greater power or deity and thus cannot be a religion. But that won’t stop deniers from misusing “religion” in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption.

Words matter – and sometimes they’re misused on purpose.

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: the flat Earth consensus

Image Credit: Sinful Illusions


Correction added below
For more posts in this series, please click here.

The fact that the Earth is round has been known for at least 2300 years, but not necessarily known by everyone. We know that the ancient Greeks knew that the Earth was round because several of them wrote discussed the evidence and mathematics underlying their conclusion and wrote it down. But at that point, the consensus position that the Earth was flat would have been held by a large majority minority that lacked sufficient knowledge and education to know any different.

And that’s the problem with the flat Earth analogy as used by climate disruption deniers:

At one point, the overwhelming consensus was that the Earth was flat, a point that only a few people knew at the time was wrong. Therefore we can ignore the fact that there is a scientific consensus on ICD, since consensus positions can be wrong.

When climate disruption deniers make this argument, they’re equating, intentionally or otherwise, the ignorance of ancient Greek citizens with the knowledge of the educated Greek elite. The same situation does not apply to climate science today.

Today, the consensus of climate scientists is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the strength of multiple scientific theories that would all have to be seriously flawed for industrial climate disruption to be wrong. And the scientists who hold the consensus position are well educated and knowledgeable about the science.

On the other hand, the small minority that denies that climate is changing, that the changes are largely due to human industry, and that the changes will cause significant disruptions (or one of those three characteristics) tends to be less well educated and less knowledgeable about climate science. Expert credibility in climate change by Anderegg, Prall, Harold, and Schneider (Anderegg et al 2010), found that scientists with the greatest knowledge and expertise (as measured by published peer-reviewed studies, citations, and study co-authors) almost exclusively agreed with the consensus position on industrial climate disruption, while scientists with fewer published studies, fewer citations, and fewer co-authors were more likely to deny industrial climate disruption.

I asked Jim Prall to analyze the paper’s data to see how many signatories to “skeptical” lists had zero climate publications. He found that the number was quite large – 35.8% of all signatories of “skeptical” lists had no climate publications. This compares to 0.6% of the signatories to “consensus” lists who had no climate publications.

It is not reasonable to believe that the climate disruption deniers are more knowledgeable than the genuine climate realists given these statistics.

By using the flat Earth analogy, climate disruption deniers equate, intentionally or not, an uneducated or ignorant mass of people with an educated or knowledgeable few. It essentially claims that an infinite number of monkeys pounding away on word processors is equal in artistic brilliance to Shakespeare. But in reality, it is the large number of consensus scientists that have greater knowledge and expertise than the scientists and citizens who deny the reality of industrial climate disruption.

CATEGORY: Climate

The Galileo Fallacy: introducing Climate Illogic, a new series unmasking illogical claims made against climate science

The topic of industrial climate disruption (aka climate change or global warming) invokes strong passion by many. Unfortunately, passionate people often fail to make logically sound arguments in the heat of the moment, such as on comment threads.

I’ve spent some time collecting some of the most illogical arguments and I’m starting a series of short posts today that will identify some of the worst offenders and explain why the arguments are illogical.

Let’s start with one of the most common illogical arguments out there.

Climate Illogic: Galileo and denial of industrial climate disruption

Galileo facing the Roman Inquistion by Cristiano Banti (1857)

Galileo was one of the first, if not the first, modern scientist. He demonstrated, with keen observation and mathematics, that Copernicus’ heliocentric theory was correct. He concluded that the observed motions of the planets would all make much more sense if the Earth and planets orbited the Sun rather than having them orbiting the Earth. This claim, however, brought Galileo into conflict with the dominant European political entity of the time – the Catholic Church – which feared that Galileo’s ideas would somehow make the Earth seem less important and could threaten the Church. As a result the Church tried Galileo for heresy.

Galileo’s trial, recantation, and eventual substantiation is used by many to argue – incorrectly – that Galileo’s situation is analogous to that of climate disruption deniers (those who reject the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of industrial climate disruption).

The Galileo analogy is illogical (specifically, it’s a weak analogy logical fallacy) for at least two reasons.

First, Galileo was one of the first scientists in the modern sense of the word. He was a professional who used the scientific method (hypothesis, experiment, and data analysis) to deduce the nature of reality and who, when his beliefs failed to conform to what science was telling him, changed his own beliefs to match the science. Contrary to what Galileo did, climate disruption deniers would rather reject the overwhelming scientific evidence than alter their own economic, political, or religious ideology to match the data – that the Earth’s climate is changing, that industrial sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant source of the changes, and that the changes will cause significant disruptions to the natural world and human society by 2100.

Second, Galileo was not in conflict with other scientists over heliocentrism – the few other experimental scientists with whom Galileo could have been at odds over the issue (such as Kepler) were also Copernicans. Instead, Galileo was in conflict with the religious dogma of the Catholic Church. Modern climate scientists have been convinced by the scientific evidence since the early 1990s (see Figure 4e) that industrial climate disruption is real and a serious threat. In comparison, there was no scientific evidence to support the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, only Catholic dogma. Climate disruption deniers who attempt to use Galileo to justify their rejection of scientific evidence place themselves more on the side of the Catholic Church than on Galileo’s side.

Invoking Galileo in an attempt to claim that the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists and climate “super-experts” as well as peer-reviewed climate papers are somehow dogmatic is both illogical and a distortion of Galileo’s actual history and vaunted position in the annals of scientific advancement.

There is, however, an alternative analogy that could be made while still invoking Galileo. Galileo’s situation – a scientist struggling to force a reluctant church to accept reality and change – is much closer to that of modern climate scientists struggling to force a reluctant public (in the US, anyway) to accept the reality that they need to change their industry and their behavior.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

CATEGORY: Climate

Largest study of peer-reviewed literature to date finds overwhelming climate disruption consensus (UPDATED)

Public perception of the consensus among scientists on the human-driven nature of climate disruption vs. the measured consensus by Cook et al 2013

A new peer-reviewed study has confirmed again that there is an overwhelming consensus on the human-driven cause of climate disruption. The study, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature by John Cook and a large number of contributors to the website Skeptical Science (Cook et al 2013), looked at 11,944 papers over a 21 year period and assigned each to one of three categories on the basis of the papers’ abstracts: endorse, reject, or take no position on the consensus. Of the papers that either endorsed or rejected the consensus, 97.1% of the papers and 98.4% of the papers’ authors endorsed the consensus. In addition, 1200 authors of the analyzed papers were contacted and asked to self-rate their own papers for level of endorsement. Of the self-rated papers that either endorsed or rejected the consensus, 97.2% of the papers and 96.4% of the authors endorsed the consensus.

Cook et al 2013 represents the largest study to date of the consensus among the scientific community regarding the industrial nature of climate disruption (where human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is the dominant cause of the observed global warming). Prior studies such as Doran and Zimmerman 2009 and Anderegg et al 2010 had found that approximately 97% of climate experts and “super-experts” agreed that climate disruption was caused by human activity. However, some critics had attacked the studies for small sample sizes (Doran and Zimmerman 2009) or for using Google Scholar (Anderegg et al 2010) instead of the “official” scientific database, the ISI Web of Science. Cook et al 2013 addresses both criticisms by using a large sample of 11,944 papers from 1980 different journals and by using only peer-reviewed papers identified in the ISI Web of Science.

Cook et al 2013 Figure 2b – Percentage of endorsement, rejection, and no position/undecided abstracts. Uncertain comprise 0.5% of no position abstracts.

Figure 1b from Cook et al 2013 shows how the percentage of abstracts rated as “no position,” “endorse,” and “reject” have changed during the study period of 1991 to 2012. Note that the number of abstracts rejecting the consensus has stayed flat at nearly 0% over the entire period while the number of papers endorsing has declined slightly and the number of papers expressing no opinion has increased. Overall, 32.6% of the abstracts endorsed the consensus, 66.4% took no position, 0.7% rejected the consensus, and 0.3% were uncertain.

Cook et al 2013 explains why this result is expected. Specifically, when a controversial subject has been accepted and is no longer controversial, scientists move on to other subjects and no longer feel the need to explicitly endorse the consensus position. For example, scientists no longer argue about the general accuracy of the law of gravity, so there’s no point in restating why they think that gravitation applies except in unusual cases. Add the fact that abstracts are usually strictly limited in length and adding a few extra words to explicitly endorse the scientific consensus on climate disruption is a luxury most abstracts can’t afford.

Cook et al 2013 Figure 2b – Percentage of self-rated endorsement, rejection, and no position papers.

In addition, Cook et al 2013 contacted 8547 authors of the papers and asked them to self-rate their own papers. 1200 authors responded, and Figure 2b from Cook et al 2013 shows how they rated their papers as endorsing, rejecting, or having no position on the consensus. Overall, 62.7% of the papers endorsed the consensus, 35.5% took no position, and 1.8% rejected the consensus.

The authors who responded to the request to self-rate their papers provide additional clarity to the abstract-only ratings performed by Cook et al 2013. First, the authors made their ratings based on the entire paper, not just the abstract, and so they are better positioned to claim whether or not their paper endorses the consensus or not. Second, the self-ratings also provide a way to measure how much effect just rating the abstract has on the results, and the impact is significant. Cook et al 2013 compared the self-rated papers directly with the abstract-rated papers and found that the number of endorsing papers increased from 36.9% in the abstract-only ratings to 62.7% in the author self-ratings (see Cook et al 2013 Table 5 for more information).

And third, the self-rated papers provides some evidence that the large number of papers categorized as “no position” are categorized that way because the consensus position is no longer controversial. If the position that human activity was the dominant driver of climate disruption was still controversial among scientists, then that would be more likely to be stated in the abstract.

There are a few main areas of uncertainty in Cook et al 2013. The first is the aforementioned issue with short abstracts, but as mentioned above, the self-rating process minimizes this concern. The second is that using a “crowdsourcing” methodology using predefined categories is still ultimately subjective and could be influenced by the biases of the reviewer. However, this effect was minimized through using multiple reviewers and through the self-rating scheme. Possible biases toward the consensus position are ruled out by the fact that self-rated papers were more likely, not less, to endorse the consensus. But a possible bias by the abstract reviewers toward the “no position” category was analyzed and found to have minimal effect on the final results.

The third and final uncertainty is whether or not the papers selected are representative of the overall sample. The large sample size (11,944 papers) is suggestive of representativeness (the larger the sample, the more likely it is to be representative), but doesn’t guarantee it. As Cook et al 2013 points out, there are nearly 130,000 papers with the keyword “climate” in the ISI Web of Science.

However, the highly skewed results of Cook et al 2013 strongly suggest that the results are broadly applicable. The more skewed the results are, the smaller the sample size needs to be in order to accurately deduce the opinions of a population. As I demonstrated in this response to Joe Bast, President of The Heartland Institute, the results of Doran & Zimmerman 2009 had a margin of error of only 3.5% (for a hypothetical sample size of 100,000 scientists). Alternatively, Doran & Zimmerman 2009 could have statistically deduced a 97% consensus using only 39 respondents, not the 79 they actually had.

The results of Cook et al 2013 are even stronger because the sample size is so much larger. Cook et al 2013 found that 98.4% of the authors of the 4,014 papers that endorsed or rejected the consensus. That’s 10,188 authors vs. 168. If we assume that there are 100,000 authors publishing on climate disruption topics globally, then the results of Cook et al 2013 have a confidence level of 99.9% and a margin of error of +/- 0.48%. Increasing the number of climate authors to 1 million results in a margin of error at 99.9% confidence level of +/- 0.51%.

Every serious survey of the expert opinion of climate scientists regarding the causes of climate disruption has found the same thing – that an overwhelming number of climate scientists agree that the causes of climate disruption is dominated by human causes. Cook et al 2013 won’t be the final word on the subject by any means, but if “it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” we can fairly say that Cook et al 2013 indicates that she’s started to inhale.

UPDATE

I’ve been thinking about this paper a bit more and I have a few more thoughts about it that I didn’t include above.

First, in the discussion about sources of uncertainty in the analysis, Cook et al 2013 discusses the representativeness of the sample size. But something that isn’t discussed or mentioned in the Supplementary Information that I can find is a discussion of the representativeness of the paper authors who responded to requests to self-rate their own papers. Generally speaking people who respond to polls are the most energized by the questions being asked, so we could reasonably expect that the scientists who responded would be most likely to either endorse or reject the consensus. But it’s a relatively minor point.

Second, I feel that there was insufficient explanation of the 66.2% of abstracts that were rated “no position.” I would have preferred a few more sentences explaining why scientists don’t explicitly endorse or reject a consensus position, or maybe some attempt on the part of the authors to estimate the degree of consensus among the “no position” abstracts. For example, an analysis could have been done to cross-reference authors of the “endorsing” abstracts with co-authors in the “no position” abstracts and in the process develop a subcategory of “endorsement via co-authorship.” Or a bit more time could have been spent on the Shwed and Bearman 2010 study, which Cook et al 2013 references but doesn’t explain in much detail.

Shwed and Bearman 2010 looked at five historical (20th century) cases, including industrial climate disruption, where a scientific consensus developed and analyzed citation networks among peer-reviewed studies over time. What they found was that, as a consensus developed more and more papers cited a common core of studies that formed the nucleus of the consensus. In addition, Shwed and Bearman 2010 found that consensus leads to a dramatic increase in the number of publications, even as the number of references to the seminal studies remains constant. They describe the rationale as follows:

If consensus was obtained with fragile evidence, it will likely dissolve with growing interest…. If consensus holds, it opens secondary questions for scrutiny.

Essentially, once a consensus on the “big questions” is reached, scientists are free to dive into the details and argue over those instead.

The Shwed and Bearman 2010 analysis found that industrial climate disruption hit this consensus point sometime around 1991, by the way.

There is a lot of work that could be done still with the Cook et al 2013 dataset. I look forward to reading more about it.

Here’s a short list of links to several other sites and news articles about this study: