Heartland Institute’s James Taylor falsely claims a new study rejects climate consensus [Updated]

An update to this story has been included below.

CATEGORY: ClimateJames Taylor, managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News, recently wrote a Forbes blog post about a new study of professional engineers and geoscientists involved in Alberta, Canada’s petroleum industry. According to the authors of the study, however, Taylor got most of the details in his post wrong, and Taylor has not corrected or retracted the blog post even though his errors have been pointed out to him. Furthermore, Taylor republished his deceptive and dishonest post at The Heartland Institute this morning, three days after the study’s authors corrected Taylor. Taylor has a made a habit of distorting scientific studies in the past – his new blog post is no different.

Taylor claims in his post that a study of over a thousand professional geoscientists and engineers in Alberta is somehow representative of all scientists in the world. But the authors of the study, Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer, wrote in a response at Forbes (full comment reproduced below) that

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” (emphasis added)

Taylor’s post is based almost entirely on the incorrect claim that the study’s results are representative. There is no mention that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA. As the study’s authors say, their results are not representative of scientists in general.

Furthermore, Taylor fails to mention fact that 84% of respondents were actually engineers, not scientists. Yet Taylor incorrectly claims in the title itself that the survey applies to the “majority of scientists.” Engineers are only mentioned three times in the first four paragraphs and once more in the conclusion, yet Taylor generalizes “geoscientists and engineers” to just “scientists” 19 times. Given that Taylor quoted extensively from passages throughout the 24 page study, it is not realistic that he could have missed the authors’ repeated warnings about the non-representativeness of the study. As such, his failures to mention key points are not merely deceptive, they’re dishonest as well.

Taylor distorts the study in other ways too. He distorts the purpose of the study, implying that it’s a study of the beliefs of the respondents. According to the paper, the study is about the worldview(s) of the respondents, tactics and strategies they use when arguing with others, and how they justify their own claims to have expert opinions on climate science. Worldviews, tactics/strategies, and justifications are related to beliefs, but they are not the same.

Taylor also draws a line between “skeptics” and “believers” in a way that distorts the paper’s conclusions. The authors point out that Taylor got this wrong as well, writing in their comment at Forbes that

it is also not the case that all frames except “Support Kyoto” are against regulation – the “Regulation Activists” mobilize for a more encompassing and more strongly enforced regulation.

Given that four of the five groups identified by the authors believe that humans have some influence on climate disruption, it would be just as accurate (and just as distorted) to claim that 67% of respondents were “believers” in climate disruption.

In addition to his dishonesty about the representativeness of the APEGA study, Taylor also lies about a couple of other aspects of the study. First, he cherry-picks his quotes from the description of the “Regulation Activists” to make them appear more skeptical than they actually are. According to the paper, regulation activists “do not significantly vary from the mean in how they consider the magnitude, extent, or time scale of climate change.” Other quotes from the description of regulation activists demonstrate this point further:

Despite their seemingly ambivalent stance, they are most likely to believe that nature is our responsibility.”

“They believe that the Kyoto Protocol is doomed to failure, yet they motivate others most of all to create regulation”

“They also recommend that we define and enact sustainability/stewardship, reduce GHGs, and create incentives”

Taylor also dishonestly claims that the study’s authors are “unmistakably alarmist” and that they “frequently use terms such as ‘denier.'” The only problem with this is that the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

We agree with Hoffman that in order to understand this defense and resistance and to move forward with international policies, organizational researchers must gain more in depth understanding of the subtleties of the contestation and unravel the whole spectrum of frames including those of climate change deniers and sceptics. However, given the polarized debate, gaining access to the reasoning of deniers and sceptics, let alone unraveling their framings, is far more difficult than analyzing supporters of regulatory measures. (citations removed)

Finally, Taylor refers to another study whose results he distorted in 2010. When we investigated Taylor’s claims, S&R discovered that Taylor had incorrectly claimed that the study was representative of all meteorologists (it wasn’t), that the study’s purpose was to test the existence of a consensus among meteorologists (it wasn’t), and that experts on weather are also experts on climate (they aren’t). And Taylor’s claims about the AMS study have gone over two years without correction. Taylor’s recent Forbes post follows an very similar pattern, including his refusal to correct the distortions.

0.17% of climate papers since1991 reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

0.17% of climate papers since1991 reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

The reality is that, contrary to claims made by Taylor and others at Heartland, every serious attempt to measure the degree of consensus among scientists and climate experts has concluded that the overwhelming majority of experts agree that climate is changing rapidly, that humans are the dominant drivers of the changes, and that model projections indicate that the changes will be highly disruptive if they’re not planned for. And every attempt to disprove the reported consensus has been disproved or shown to be based on distortions. Just like this attempt by Taylor has been.

Taylor has been deceiving and lying to readers about scientific studies since at least 2010, when his distortions came to the attention of S&R. His recent blog post at Forbes represents a continuation of his habit of deception and dishonesty.

What follows is the full text of the authors’ response to Taylor as S&R received it in email and as it is posted at Forbes. As of publication Taylor has ignored the authors and has issued no corrections, has not retracted the post, and there is no evidence that he has attempted to correct the record at any of the other websites who have reproduced or reported on this post.

Dear Mr. Taylor

Thank you for the attention you are giving to our research and continuing the discussion about how professional engineers and geoscientists view climate change. We would like to emphasize a few points in order to avoid any confusion about the results.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” Our research reconstructs the frames the members of a professional association hold about the issue and the argumentative patterns and legitimation strategies these professionals use when articulating their assumptions. Our research does not investigate the distribution of these frames and, thus, does not allow for any conclusions in this direction. We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

In addition, even within the confines of our non-representative data set, the interpretation that a majority of the respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of global warming is simply not correct. To the contrary: the majority believes that humans do have their hands in climate change, even if many of them believe that humans are not the only cause. What is striking is how little support that the Kyoto Protocol had among our respondents. However, it is also not the case that all frames except “Support Kyoto” are against regulation –the “Regulation Activists” mobilize for a more encompassing and more strongly enforced regulation. Correct interpretations would be, for instance, that – among our respondents – more geoscientists are critical towards regulation (and especially the Kyoto Protocol) than non-geoscientists, or that more people in higher hierarchical positions in the industry oppose regulation than people in lower hierarchical positions.

All frequencies in our paper should only be used to get an idea of the potential influence of these frames – e.g. on policy responses. Surely the insight that those who oppose regulation tend to have more influence on policy-making than the supporters of the Kyoto Protocol should not come as a surprise after Canada dropped out of the protocol a year ago.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such!

We trust that this clarifies our findings. Thank you again for your attention.

Best regards
Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer

10 replies »

  1. Honesty and integrity; two more things the people who articulate against science and global warming lack.

    Thank you for finding one more example, and helping to correct their despicable behavior. It is greatly appreciated.

    • I’ve been engaged in the comment threads at WUWT’s post on Taylor’s Forbes blog, and I’m afraid that they appear to be unwilling to run a correction or update indicating that Taylor distorted the original study. So far, anyway. I remain hopeful that Anthony or the original author of the WUWT post realize that they are doing their reputation no favors by refusing to run a correction.

    • Given Taylor’s documented history of deception and dishonesty, a response like that was not unexpected. When he should have issued a correction or even a retraction, he instead repeated his original distortions and added even more.

      Thank you for bringing this to my attention.