Sceptics face yawning credibility gap

We know that the vast majority of climate scientists support the explanation of anthropogenic climate change set out by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. That majority is now quantified in the first study of its kind published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Expert credibility in climate change.

“Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

The study explains the criteria by which these conclusions were reached, paying particular attention to the question of expertise, where weight was given to the number of climate publications of researchers and to their citation levels.

“We show that the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of ACC vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians. This divide is even starker when considering the top researchers in each group.”

The team of four has obviously put a good deal of time into the study which was contributed for publication by Stephen Schneider (pictured). Why bother, one might ask.  Surely it’s all too apparent. It may be to readers of Hot Topic but the study notes that considerable and even growing public doubt remains about the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement about the role of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in climate change. The vocal minority of researchers and other critics who contest the conclusions of the mainstream scientific assessment has received large amounts of media attention and wields significant influence in the societal debate about climate change impacts and policy.

An analysis such as the study offers has not been conducted before, and the writers observe that it can help inform future ACC discussions. Translated into common parlance I guess that means they hope this will put paid to the idea still abroad, in at least the American media, that denial of anthropogenic climate change retains a respectable level of scientific credibility.

That may be optimistic. Journalism in general still has difficulty getting its head around the reality of mainstream climate science. The idea that there is a realistic alternative shows remarkable persistence. When I was writing occasional columns for my local paper, the Waikato Times, I discovered that my attempts to explain aspects of the current science eventually came up against an anxiety that the paper was not presenting a balanced picture. There was finally talk of pairing my column with another which would meet the paper’s obligation to offer its readers more than one opinion. I protested that I was representing mainstream science and asked why the paper should feel that needed to be balanced. I made that my last contribution and escaped the indignity of a balancing viewpoint. It seemed fairly clear that the East Anglia emails and the baseless attacks on the IPCC report by the likes of Jonathan Leake were enough to unsettle the journalists with whom I was dealing and bring back to life concerns which I thought had long been laid to rest.

One nevertheless hopes that  surveys and appraisals such as this one in a highly regarded journal will make a difference to media perception and help establish in the public mind the seriousness of the scientific understanding and predictions. It seems inconceivable that we should continue much longer refusing to face the reality.  But I’ve been thinking that for four years now.

28 thoughts on “Sceptics face yawning credibility gap”

  1. Shucks, that sounds almost like…….what’s the word?, consensus?. But never fear, the denialsaurs will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to believe otherwise.

  2. The problem of course is that climate science is a new science and the criticism is that its methods leave something to be desired.

    For a view from mainstream science on its quality I was interested to read the recently released comments by Prof Michael Kelly FRS (ex-NZ) on the Biffa and Jones papers reviewed as part of the UK Oxburgh inquiry.

    Particularly germane is his comment that:

    “I think it is easy to see how peer review within tight networks can allow new orthodoxies to appear and get established that would not happen if papers were written for and peer reviewed by a wider audience. I have seen it happen elsewhere. This finding may indeed be an important outcome of the present review.”

  3. I’ll do a spot of pre-emptive trolling! The reason these ‘warmist’ scientists get all the qualifications and the publishing credits is that it’s a vast conspiracy, probably based in the UN, and tied to $billions in grant funding that the poor oil companies cannot hope to match. ‘Peer Review’ is a legacy of the Comintern, out to avenge itself on the only-apparently-triumphant decadent West, and this is why the real real scientists are now BlogScientists. Whatever the exact circumstances are, Al Gore is certainly fat!

    Damn – not quick enough!

  4. I am surprised that there are 2-3% of active climate scientists who do not support the theory. Possibly it is within the margin of error of the study.

    Climate science is older than quantum or Einsteinan physics. It is about as old as Darwinian evolutionary theory, but I suppose that is another Johnny come lately branch of science.

  5. #2 Simon, it would help if you could provide a link to Michael Kelly’s comments. I don’t quite see how climate scientists can direct their papers at people who aren’t working in their field. He seems to be suggesting that there are grounds for questioning the “new orthodoxies” of climate science which haven’t been able to make it through to peer reviewing. You describe his as a view from mainstream science. Are you suggesting that climate science is a minor tributary?

  6. As you might expect, the sceptics are up in arms about this study. James Delingpole at the Telegraph is hilariously over the top (positively Moncktonian, in fact), whinging about the “petty, spiteful, Stasi-like blacklist” of scientists who have signed various crank “declarations”. The East German secret police reference is echoed at, or perhaps derived from µWatts. Unfortunately for Delingpole and the Wattsians (great name for a band!), the “obscure Canadian warmist – outrageously aggrandised by being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” has also produced a “blacklist” of all the scientists who have signed pro-AGW petitions!

    Also over at µWatts, Roy Spencer pontifficates 😉 on the new global warming Inquisition. File under “hell hath no fury”…

  7. Apologies I probably should have referred to the Science of Climate Change. That probably dates from mid last century, somewhat later than quantum mechanics and relativity.

    Bryan, Kelly’s released comments are here and you will see that they are directed at the quality of the papers in question. Kelly’s suggestion is not that authors are missing out because of peer review, rather that papers are getting through that perhaps shouldn’t.

    I note in passing that climate change science should have a strong statistical and experimental basis and these are probably better understood in specializations outside the discipline than within. In this regard I have a lot of sympathy for Michael’s comment that:

    “I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.”

    In the sense that stats and experimental design are underpinning disciplines I do think climate science is very much beholden to these disciplines.

  8. Apologies I probably should have referred to the Science of Climate Change. That probably dates from mid last century, somewhat later than quantum mechanics and relativity.

    Nope. In fact the the first climate model was calculated in 1896. Go read some history why don’t you…

    Unfortunately though we cannot create another planet to run a “real” experiment, so computer models based on established properties of the observable universe are the best available approach.

    If you discount the best available approach out of hand, you are a denier, not a skeptic.

  9. I am surprised that there are 2-3% of active climate scientists who do not support the theory. Possibly it is within the margin of error of the study.

    MOE works with higher numbers e.g. 40%, but when the number is 2-3% and the MOE is the same, does that mean it’s possible these scientists don’t exist when clearly they do?

  10. Ho hum samv. They are all recent sciences, but the difference is in the quality of the methodologies currently accepted in them.

    As to your comment about models I think you rather missed the point. Every one uses models, its just what one does when the model doesn’t agree with empirical data that matters (reject the model or ignore the data).

    I enjoyed your last comment, although I’m still not clear whether I’m a skeptic, a denier or something else. I am, however, always on the outlook for ways to improve myself.

  11. #8 Simon, thanks for providing the link. I’m no scientist, but I struggled through what I took to be the gist of his more general statements. “centuries of real experimentation” bothered me. As a complete layman, but one seized by alarm at what climate change will mean, I fail to see what the objection is to simulations which seem to be being borne out in front of our eyes. James Hansen is always clear that he likes to “start with paleoclimate as our best measure of how how Earth responds to changing boundary conditions of forcings.” Then comes observation of what is happening now – “observations of the climate response to fast-changing human and natural forcings.” Climate models come third. We need them to aid interpretation of past climate and to project future changes. “So models are valuable, but only when used with knowledge of their capabilities and limitations.” (quotes from Storms of My Grandchildren) I note that Kelly didn’t allow his dislike of the methods of the science to translate into accusations of malpractice on the part of Jones and Briffa.

  12. SimonA: I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but it’s straying some way off topic. This thread is supposed to be for discussion of Bryan’s post and the issues it raises. More general stuff you can take to the open threads. Thanks.

  13. The reference to “black lists” and STASI is rather disingenuous.

    These are people who are always putting their names on petitions like the Climate Science Register and the Oregon Petition.

    I guess they have got to found some sort of mud to sling.

  14. “One nevertheless hopes that surveys and appraisals such as this one in a highly regarded journal will make a difference to media perception and help establish in the public mind the seriousness of the scientific understanding and predictions.”

    Regretfully Bryan I wouldn’t hold my breathe. Have we seen the retraction of Amazongate in the NZ media yet? There is a very good cartoon at the standard which is highly relevant to the discussion.

  15. Further to the lack of any sense of accountability in todays msm in NZ the article in NZ Herald linked to here:
    NZ ETS “technically obsolete”, “beyond rescue” as sustainable framework for tackling climate change – new book claims
    fails to mention that the administration were warned by many (including myself and I’m sure others here too) in submissions of the probable out-comes of such a watered down ETS. But do they ever bother to do any ‘investigative’ work? Were the Gov’t informed of this before they bulldozed this idiotic legislation through? Of course they were – we know they were.
    But all John Armstrong is capable of doing, is hint at the inadequacy of the ETS, and infer that its all a crock anyway. I’m sure Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry never inferred ETS’s would never work – just that the scheme NZ has NOW, won’t. And where was the media when the ETS was under discussion? Out in the boondocks listening to denialist farmers.

  16. It seems inconceivable that we should continue much longer refusing to face the reality.

    IPCC (theory)=> 0.2 deg C per decade

    CRU (observation) => 0.03 deg C per decade

    Is “reality” the theory or the observation?

  17. Girma: You’re comparing apples and oranges, from the back of your hobbyhorse. You’ve been warned. Your comments are now being moderated. I’ll pass those that contribute to the conversation, and do not include spurious temperature trend comparisons.

  18. Gareth

    I think the point is that Girma is NOT performing trend analysis. What he is doing is drawing lines on a graph and then carpet bombing this blog with his ignorance.

  19. Sceptics Face Yawning Credibility Gap

    Here is what NASA Facts states 12-years ago:

    … in the early 1970’s, because temperatures had been decreasing for about 25 to 30 years, people began predicting the approach of an ice age! For the last 15 to 20 years, we have been seeing a fairly steady rise in temperatures, giving some assurance that we are now in a global warming phase.

    So what changed in 12-years? Was NASA a sceptic 12-years ago?

  20. …because temperatures had been decreasing for about 25 to 30 years, people began predicting the approach of an ice age! …

    … Was NASA a sceptic 12-years ago?

    Of course! NASA are scientists and therefore always sceptical, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t support the consensus position due to the weight of evidence. This was mostly a popular idea, very few scientific papers were published on the matter. Kukla for instance was one of them and gives it 10k to 20k years – though of course we now know that in the presence of excessive COâ‚‚ forcing, the Ice Age is unlikely to even begin…

  21. Stephen Schneider is an interesting example of what Sam says. Nearly forty years ago he contributed to a paper which predicted cooling by 2100. In his book Science as a Contact Sport he notes that polemicists are still trying to ridicule him for “predicting an ice age then” and global warming now. He writes:
    …this is how science progresses, continuously correcting its conclusions based on new research. You build your case on existing literature, explain what original findings or ideas you are adding, state your assumptions transparently, calculate the consequences as if those assumptions were true, and then redo your calculations after debating with your colleagues, learning more, and reading the latest literature. In science, we are proud of getting the wrong answer for the right reasons, and we’re especially proud if we ourselves are the first to correct it.”

    Incidentally Girma, I read that 1998 NASA statement you linked to, and saw in it a narrative of past events, not a statement of its own scepticism of global warming.

  22. As a natural scientists with over 100 publications and several thousand citations, I can only say that this PNAS paper is the most degrading and embarrassing thing that the National Academy has ever done to itself.
    Imagine. Allowing the fiction that the veracity and accuracy of predictions and hypotheses (and of their proponents) could be measured by counting publications and citations. Publications and citations are the result of ammassing power and popularity in academia.Their number has absolutely no bearing on the author’s accuracy, insight, knowledge, or ability. Some of the citation “classics” are papers that were famously wrong !
    Credibility is not proven by one’s popularity with other mnembers of the “crowd.” Credibility is proven when one’s predictions about nature come true. Sientists should know this.
    WOW. I am ashamed that the NAS is an American society.

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