Far from being an alleged “counter-consensus,” the 31,487 names collected by the Global Warming Petition Project represent only one quarter of one percent (0.25%) of science and engineering degrees awarded since 1970.
In May, 2008, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), a group that denies that industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change) is real, published the results of their Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP). Published originally in 1997 with about 17,100 names, the 2008 update contained the names of 31,487 supposed scientists who allegedly reject the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding climate disruption – that climate change is happening, that it’s largely the result of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and that it will be disruptive to the global climate and human society. In August 2009, an S&R analysis found that the GWPP’s criteria for a “scientist” (someone who was able to “evaluate the research data”) included so many non-experts that the criteria were nonsense. In addition, S&R found that the names represented only one third of one percent (0.3%) of people who met the GWPP’s own nonsensical criteria.
In the six years since S&R published its analysis, the major national media outlets have largely stopped repeating the GWPP’s unscientific claims. Instead, the media has mostly reported on the many peer-reviewed scientific studies1 that have demonstrated that the scientific consensus on climate disruption is real. However, the GWPP’s champion have never admitted that their petition is misleading. Further, S&R is aware that Arthur Robinson, the president of the OISM, was informed of S&R’s analysis and rejected it. Furthermore, since 2009 the GWPP’s false narrative has been repeated by political pundits, think tanks, blogs, conservative media outlets, and even in Congressional testimony and by both Senators and Representatives. Given the continued political attention lavished on the GWPP’s false narrative, S&R decided to update and broaden our original investigation.
Our new investigation will be published over the next several weeks and will include the following:
- an updated comparison of the GWPP numbers to graduation data collected by the U.S. Department of Education;
- a new analysis comparing the GWPP numbers fields to the latest (2013) employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics;
- an updated comparison of the GWPP’s numbers to the membership of several professional organizations;
- a new investigation into which Representatives, Senators, and “experts” giving testimony have uncritically repeated the GWPP’s false narrative;
- an examination into which of the top 15 conservative news outlets champion the GWPP’s false narrative the most;
- an exploration of which political pundits and media personalities are spreading the GWPP’s message;
- a review of scientists who are guilty of unscientific behavior through their repetition of the GWPP’s false narrative;
- and an investigation into which think tanks are still talking about the GWPP six years after S&R showed it was absurd.
The false narrative of the Global Warming Petition Project
The very large number of petition signers demonstrates that, if there is a consensus among American scientists, it is in opposition to the human-caused global warming hypothesis rather than in favor of it. (FAQ, Global Warming Petition Project, accessed 9/23/2015)
In essence, the GWPP is used by industrial climate disruption deniers to falsely challenge the overwhelming scientific consensus that industrial climate disruption is real.
The GWPP false narrative consists of two incorrect assertions. The first incorrect assertion is that there are dozens of college degrees which automatically grant their recipients an informed opinion on the subject of climate disruption. The following list, compiled from the GWPP’s “Qualifications of Signers” page, lists all the GWPP-selected degrees and their top-level groupings:
- Atmosphere, Earth, & Environment: astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric science, climatology, earth science, environmental engineering, environmental science, forestry, geochemistry, geology, geophysics, geoscience, hydrology, meteorology, and oceanography
- Computers and Math: computer science, mathematics, and statistics
- Physics & Aerospace: aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, and physics
- Chemistry: chemical engineering and chemistry
- Biochemistry, Biology, and Agriculture: agricultural engineering, agricultural science, animal science, biochemistry, biology, biophysics, ecology, entomology, food science, plant science, and zoology
- Medicine: medical science and medicine
- General Engineering and General Science: electrical engineering, engineering, general science, and metallurgy
In 2009, S&R asked
What expertise does a nuclear engineer or a medical doctor or a food scientist or mechanical engineer have that makes them qualified to have an informed opinion on the cause(s) of recent climate disruption? How many of these names are working climate scientists instead of science or math teachers or stay-at-home-moms with engineering degrees? How many of these people has actually published a peer-reviewed paper on climate? How many people took a look at the card that served as a “signature” and realized that they could lie about having a science degree and their deception would never be discovered?
The GWPP has never answered any of these questions, and it’s likely they are unable to do so. A quick glance at the petition card used by the GWPP (Figure 1) shows that the card doesn’t even ask for the information that would be required necessary to answer these critical questions. Without being able to answer these questions, however, the GWPP simply isn’t credible.
Furthermore, subsequent surveys such as “Expert Credibility in Climate Change” by Anderegg, Prall, Harold, and Schneider (Anderegg et al 2010) have found that scientists who deny climate disruption are overwhelmingly less expert than scientists who accept climate disruption. It is certainly possible that individual food scientists, medical doctors, math teachers, etc may have studied climate disruption sufficiently to form an informed opinion. However, the mere fact someone has a college degree in one of those fields does not automatically grant that person an informed opinion or make them an actual expert.
Second, while 31,487 names sounds like a lot of people, whether it actually matters depends on the total population of people those names are drawn from. If there were only 50,000 actual experts, nearly 32,000 would be a huge percentage. But the nonsensical criteria used in the GWPP means that there are actually millions of people who the GWPP alleges are experts. And against millions of supposed experts, 31,487 isn’t such a big number any more. The GWPP’s false narrative doesn’t work without this kind of apples-to-oranges comparison. When the comparison is done correctly, the GWPP signers turn out to represent a tiny minority.
The Petition Project’s signers represent one quarter of one percent of related U.S. science degrees
According to U.S. Department of Education data gathered between 1970 and 2013, about 12.7 million students have graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in a field identified by the GWPP as being relevant to climate disruption2. Figure 2 below shows the proportion of graduates in each of the associated Department of Education degree groups.
The number of signatures gathered by the GWPP compared to the total number of Bachelor of Science degrees issued is shown in Figure 3.
A similar comparison can be made between the number of science PhDs who have graduated since 1970 and the number of PhDs who signed the Global Warming Petition (Figure 4).
When we use the GWPP’s own nonsensical criteria as the basis for estimating the total population of “scientists,” we find that the GWPP signatures represent a tiny minority of the population – only one quarter of one perent (0.25%) of the total. This simple comparison proves that the GWPP’s narrative is false.
Comparison by general field of study
We can also compare the GWPP numbers to the Department of Education data by degree group in order to see if individuals with certain types of degrees are significantly more or less likely to deny the overwhelming consensus regarding industrial climate disruption. Figure 5 shows the results of this comparison for each of the degree groups defined by the Department of Education.
The graph shows that the group with the largest percentage (1.00%) of GWPP signatures rejecting industrial climate disruption was people with physical science degrees. These degrees include physics, chemistry, geology and earth sciences. Engineering and engineering technology degrees were second, at 0.47%. [S&R has written previously about possible reasons why engineers are more prone to denying the reality of climate disruption.] The degree group with the smallest percentage (0.02%) of GWPP signatures was computer and information sciences.
Comparison by selected physical sciences and engineering fields
The Department of Education provides even more detailed graduation data for several specific fields within general engineering and physical science degrees. Figures 6 and 7 show the results for selected physical science and engineering degrees, respectively.
Figure 6 shows that individuals with physics degrees were the most likely of the selected physical sciences to sign the GWPP, at 1.35% of all physics degrees earned since 1970. Figure 7 shows that individuals with chemical engineering were the most likely of the selected engineering fields to sign the GWPP, but even they are only 0.76% of degree holders since 1970.
The individuals who signed their names to the GWPP are a tiny minority – 0.25% – of the number of people who could have signed the GWPP. This fact shows that the GWPP’s narrative is false. And not only does data from the US Department of Education disprove the GWPP’s narrative, so does data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More on that in the next installment.
- Peer-reviewed studies published since 2008 that have independently determined that there is an extremely high level of scientific consensus on the subject of industrial climate disruption include Doran and Zimmerman 2009, Cook et al 2013, Stenhouse et al. 2013, and Verheggan et al 2014
- In order to simplify our analysis, S&R assumed that the students who earned Bachelor of Science degrees since 1970 are all still alive. Furthermore, we also assumed that everyone in these fields is qualified to have an informed opinion, as per the stated position of the GWPP itself. We assumed that all students earning a Master’s degree or a PhD in these fields had previously earned a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, and as a result that PhDs represent a subset of Master’s degrees, which in turn are a subset of Bachelor’s degrees. Finally, we ignore the fact that there are an unknown number of foreign students in the graduation data collected by the Department of Education3.
- A quick error estimate found that correcting the Department of Education data using basic statistical methods would result in a change in the conclusions of no more than 0.02% at +/-3 standard deviations.
- Global Warming Petition Project data from Qualifications of Signers.
- US Department of Education Graduation Data from 2014 Digest of Education Statistics, #325
- From US DoEd Table 325.10
- From US DoEd Table 325.20
- From US DoEd Table 325.35
- From US DoEd Table 325.45
- From US DoEd Table 325.47
- From US DoEd Table 325.60
- From US DoEd Table 325.65
- From US DoEd Table 325.70
- From US DoEd Table 325.72