Climate Illogic: the flat Earth consensus

Image Credit: Sinful Illusions

Correction added below
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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.

5 replies »

  1. Actuality, I think you’ve got it backward.

    “held by a large minority that lacked sufficient knowledge and education to know any different.”, is equally applicable to a flat earth & climate change deniers.

    I’d like to insert sailors to those who knew the earth was round as you see a ship approaching incrementally, first the topsails, than the mainsails, then the hull.

    The climate denier argument that minorities may be right is accurate but irrelevant. Their argument is based on numbers alone. The counter argument is based on information in the field.