Federal education data shows OISM’s climate change denying Petition Project actually a tiny minority

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.

For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.

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 GWPP presents a false narrative that was crafted by the project’s main organizers, Arthur Robinson and the late Frederick Seitz. The false narrative is summarized by the GWPP itself:

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?

GWPP petition card from

Figure 1. GWPP petition card from “Instructions for Signing Petition,” Global Warming Petition Project (accessed 9/24/2015)

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.

Derived from the 2014 Digest of Education Statistics, Chapter 3, Section 325 (Tables 325.10, 325.20, 325.35, 325.45, 325.60, 325.65, and 325.70.)

Figure 2. Derived from the 2014 Digest of Education Statistics, Chapter 3, Section 325 (Tables 325.10, 325.20, 325.35, 325.45, 325.60, 325.65, and 325.70.)

The number of signatures gathered by the GWPP compared to the total number of Bachelor of Science degrees issued is shown in Figure 3.

Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education Bachelor of Science degrees and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page

Figure 3. Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education Bachelor of Science degrees and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)

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).

Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education science-related PhDs to Global Warming Petition Project data derived from Qualifications of Signers page

Figure 4. Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education science-related PhDs to Global Warming Petition Project data derived from Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)

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.

Comparison of each degree group defined by the U.S. Department of Education to the associated degrees identified by the Global Warming Petition Project. Please see the appendix data table and associated notes for references.

Figure 5. Comparison of each degree group defined by the U.S. Department of Education to the associated degrees identified by the Global Warming Petition Project. Please see the Appendix data table and associated notes for references.

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.

Comparison of selected U.S. Department of Education physical science degrees to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures with the same degree.

Figure 6. Comparison of selected U.S. Department of Education physical science degrees to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures with the same degree.

Comparison of selected U.S. Department of Education engineering degrees to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures with the same degree.

Figure 7. Comparison of selected U.S. Department of Education engineering degrees to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures with the same degree.

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.

Notes:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Appendix:

Complete data comparison for Global Warming Petition Project signatures vs. US Department of Education graduation data, 1970-2013, with sources.

Table 1. Complete data comparison for Global Warming Petition Project signatures vs. US Department of Education graduation data, 1970-2013, with sources.

  1. Global Warming Petition Project data from Qualifications of Signers.
  2. US Department of Education Graduation Data from 2014 Digest of Education Statistics, #325
  3. From US DoEd Table 325.10
  4. From US DoEd Table 325.20
  5. From US DoEd Table 325.35
  6. From US DoEd Table 325.45
  7. From US DoEd Table 325.47
  8. From US DoEd Table 325.60
  9. From US DoEd Table 325.65
  10. From US DoEd Table 325.70
  11. From US DoEd Table 325.72

17 comments on “Federal education data shows OISM’s climate change denying Petition Project actually a tiny minority

  1. How many scientists and engineers have signed (in writing with their credentials and addresses known) a similar petition promoting the hypothesis of human caused global warming?
    The petition demonstrated that the claims of a consensus in favor of the hypothesis of human-caused global warming are incorrect.
    Note: It stopped at 31,000 because we ran out of money for stamps to send out more.

    • Art,

      First, thank you for taking the time to respond.

      In answer to your question, there has never been a petition similar to yours asking scientists and engineers their opinion on the reality of industrial climate disruption. There are many reasons for that. First, there have been at least five scientific polls conducted since your petition was republished in 2008. I list four of them in the OP, Note 1, with the fifth being Anderegg et al 2010. The basic findings of each can be summarized as follows:

      • Doran & Zimmerman 2009: A survey of 10,257 earth scientists found that ~88% of actively publishing earth scientists and 97.4% of the most expert earth scientists thought that a) global temperatures have risen since the 1880s and b) that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures”
      • Anderegg et al 2010: A database of 1372 climate researchers found that researchers with the greatest expertise (measured by both the number of papers published and the number of times the papers are cited) were overwhelmingly convinced by the data that industrial climate disruption is real
      • Cook et al 2013: This study looked at both abstracts rated by volunteers and at paper self-ratings by the papers’ authors and found that 97.1% of abstracts that took a position at all endorsed the consensus and that 97.2% of the self-rated papers did the same. Note that the fact that the authors’ own rating so close match the abstract ratings proves that there was not widespread bias in the abstract ratings.
      • Stenhouse et al 2013: A survey of American Meteorological Society members found that 78% of publishing climatologists thought global warming was happening and was dominated by human influences and an additional 10% though that human and natural influences were about equal. Just as important, only 1% of publishing climatologists thought global warming wasn’t happening at all and 2% thought it was happening but dominated by natural factors.
      • Verheggen et al 2014: A survey of 1868 climate scientists found that 90% of the climate researchers with the most expertise explicitly agreed that human influences were the dominant cause of observed climate disruption.

      Put simply, all the scientific surveys performed since you published the GWPP in 2008 show that your counter-claim is incorrect.

      Second, your work was a petition, not an opinion survey. Properly designed surveys use statistics to estimate the opinions of a population from a subset of people who respond. Petitions only represent people who agree with the statements being made. They’re totally different things, and for that reason your petition’s results cannot counter survey research any more a petition agreeing with the consensus would support survey research. It’s comparing apples and oranges again, and it’s dishonest for anyone who knows the difference between a petition and a survey to compare them in this fashion.

      Third, the data collection method you describe in your “How Petition is Circulated” page is questionable at best. You mailed a copy of the petition card, a copy of the letter from Frederick Seitz, the review article, and a return envelope for the card to individuals you identified as “scientists.” You allowed your contacts to get more petition cards for their associates, and you allowed people to download the cards and mail them in that way. There are so many problems with this approach it’s hard to know where to start.

      • The fact that Frederick Seitz had once been the President of the NAS would have biased people to read the rest of the mass mailings you sent out in 1997 and 2007.
      • The 12-page review document was initially made to appear as if it was a reprint from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), as was documented in 1998 (Sourcewatch is a good starting point for this).
      • The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, where your most recent review article was published, is a) not a climate journal and b) is well known throughout the medical establishment to be a laughingstock because it publishes HIV-AIDS denial, papers that claim thimerisol in vaccines causes autism, and other examples of medical quackery. That this was the only place you could publish your 12-page paper is… enlightening.
      • Permitting the recipients of your mass mailing to distribute your petition for you inflates your response rate artificially and biases your results. Or rather, it would if this were an opinion survey.

      Essentially, your collection methodology makes the Petition Project no better than a self-selected internet poll.

      Finally, no-one who is convinced by the science and data that industrial climate disruption is real will bother with a petition like yours because your selection criteria were completely nonsensical. You have never tried to prove that every one of your respondents is qualified to have an informed opinion. And without a lot more information than you asked for on your response card, you cannot know that they have an informed opinion. I’d love to hear why it is that you think an electrical engineer, or nuclear engineer, or food scientist, or a metallurgist – frankly, anyone who is not an active publisher in a climate-related field – should be presumed to have an informed opinion on climate disruption.

      I’m an electrical engineer myself, and I know more about climate disruption than probably 99.9% of the EEs I know. But that’s because I earned my expertise through over a decade of regular study, reading the scientific papers, talking to scientists, and the like. The vast majority of my peers might think they’re informed on the subject, but simply put – they’re wrong. My wife is a teacher with a geology degree. My neighbor has a computer science degree but works in IT security. By your own criteria, even if they’ve never read a single peer-reviewed paper on climate, never read a single news article, they’re just as much an expert as Ray Pierrehumbert, Gavin Schmidt, or Richard Lindzen. That doesn’t make any sense.

      So please, explain to me and anyone else reading this your rationale for including each and every one of the degrees you allege is capable of evaluating climate research. And then please explain why it is you think that merely being capable of evaluating climate research should grant someone the same degree of expertise as someone who actually does so day in and day out.

      As for the credentials and addresses of each signer, that’s all well and good. Except that we have to take your word for it. And given you’ve taken to presenting a tiny minority of uniformed, inexpert science and engineering graduates as climate experts, you’ll have to excuse me for being unwilling to trust your judgement.

      Finally, you say that you simply ran out of money to get the list of names larger. While I don’t doubt you on that statement, you’ve never been willing to say how many letters you actually mailed. I can understand that, but given that the standard response rate for direct mailings is less than 4%, that means you would have needed to mail over 750,000 letters. If you got an amazing response rate equal to the telephone rate reported by this 2012 DMS News article (~13%), that’s still nearly 250,000 letters. Sourcewatch quoted Robert Park, then spokesman for the American Physical Society, as saying “Virtually every scientist in every field got it.” That’s a significant expense for the professionally-printed reprints, extra-large envelopes, and postage.

      All that said, your comment doesn’t change any of the points I made in the OP. The GWPP still represents only 0.25% of the people who you assert – without proof – are qualified to have expert opinions on the subject of climate disruption.

      And as my next installment will show, the GWPP is a similar tiny minority of the number of people employed in those fields.

  2. By the way, who paid for all these mailing expenses? And for running the website?

    According to IRS Form 990, 2005 (oldest there), the primary charitable purpose of OISM is “Research and education”., and the more detailed relevant one is:

    “Research, development and public education on the chemistry of biological clocks and the degenerative diseases of aging; scientific education; effects of environment on health and welfare; and disaster preparedness.”

    How does the Petition Project fit that? And like certain campaign funds, perhaps the money came from unknown sources?

    • According to Wikipedia, Scientific American found this very thing back in 2001 or so. I haven’t been able to find the original article available online, though, so I can’t verify the Wikipedia statement.

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  4. Pingback: Federal employment data also shows OISM’s climate change-denying Petition Project is a tiny minority | Scholars and Rogues | Progressive Culture

  5. I got the petition. I read the article, and laughed at it. Then I saw where it had been published, and I laughed a bit harder. Then I threw it in the trash where it properly belongs. As I am a paleoclimatologist by training, I had enough information to see through it, but I know I could have taken that article down the hall and a few of my colleagues would have bought it for lack of knowing the details. If 750,000 were sent, and just 5% of recipients were in a similar position as myself, that would be about 36,000 disgusted drops in the trash.

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  10. Pingback: Top conservative media sites regularly misrepresent OISM’s Global Warming Petition Project | Scholars and Rogues | Progressive Culture

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