The Course of Reason

No Consensus, Eh? Think again.

February 15, 2013

You’ve heard it before, “There is no scientific consensus on global warming”.  What better way to downplay the seriousness of an issue than to convince the public that scientists aren’t even sure it’s an issue to begin with.  Like many other claims made by the climate change doubters, this one is a myth. 

Sceptics (it’s how we spell it here in Canada) probably don’t need to be told this but, claims made by scientists are backed up by, “research and data that survive the peer-review process” (Source) and the peer-reviewed opinion on climate change is pretty clear:

A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004). 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way (focused on methods or paleoclimate analysis)

This overwhelming consensus among climate experts is confirmed by an independent study that surveys all climate scientists who have publicly signed declarations supporting or rejecting the consensus. They find between 97% to 98% of climate experts support the consensus (Anderegg 2010). Moreover, they examine the number of publications by each scientist as a measure of expertise in climate science. They find the average number of publications by unconvinced scientists (eg - skeptics) is around half the number by scientists convinced by the evidence. Not only is there a vast difference in the number of convinced versus unconvinced scientists, there is also a considerable gap in expertise between the two groups.

The disagreement here is minimal.  When it comes to the “debate” on the question of, “is global warming caused by humans”, only the media, the general public, and scientists not trained in climate-related sciences are having that debate.  Scientists moved on long ago.  Again, sceptics shouldn’t be surprised by this.  People can be fooled.  A mountain of evidence alone won’t always convince someone that a claim is true.  Strong communication is needed to help the public understand exactly what the climate data is telling us. 

A good example of how the evidence isn’t convincing to some comes in the form of an article from Forbes.  In it, the author refers to a petition signed by 31,000 American scientists, “announcing their belief that there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”  There’s only one problem: It’s false.  The petition is misleading.  What’s wrong with the it is that the petition’s creators allowed for a very broad definition of what constitutes a scientific expert on climate change.  Many of the signatories have no business commenting on climate science as an expert.  Some of these “scientists”, by the petition’s standards, may not even be academic scientists.  As the Skeptical Science article puts it, “How many of these names are working climate scientists instead of science or math teachers or stay-at-home-mom’s with engineering degrees? How many of these people has actually published a peer-reviewed paper on climate?”  Further, this was debunked back in 2010.  The Forbes article was written in 2012.  You see?  Evidence never slows down the climate change doubters, even when said doubter is a university professor! Remember what James Randi always says, “You can be fooled”.



About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.




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