A short summary of the supposed ‘consensus’

A commenter here raised the matter of the consensus about ‘climate change’, and pointed to the Cook paper. I felt a great weariness descend, but recognised that I would have to do the work — not of replicating the Cook paper, about which I have written before — but of setting out the history of this particular canard. Then Lo! Someone has done it for me, and you can read it for yourself on  the WUWT website, which sets it all out, with the appropriate references. What follows is my summary.

The NASA version of the consensus runs like this: “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Note first that there is no mention here of any danger from such a trend. Note second that global temperatures rose in the first half of the 20th century, levelled out in the middle of the century, rose again in the second half, and have levelled out since. Are these all the work of human activities? If so, how? If not, why not?

The first person to talk in these terms (again without mentioning danger, or falls as well as rises) was a historian of science called Naomi Oreskes, who reviewed 928 abstracts of articles in the climate science field and reported in 2004 that 75 per cent supported the view that human activities were responsible for most of the warming in the last fifty years. Not only do articles not always support the claims made in the abstracts, but Ms Oreskes seemed somehow to have excluded   articles by scientists such as Christy, Lindzen, Michaels and Idso, all of them sceptics.

In 2009 Zimmerman and Doran asked scientists two questions: did they think that temperatures had risen and whether humans were significantly responsible. Again, no mention of dangerous consequences. On alternate days I’d probably answer ‘Yes’ to both questions myself. What does it mean? They narrowed the 10,257 who had been sent the questionnaires to the 3146 who had replied, and then to the 79 who said they were climate scientists and published more than half of their work on ‘climate change’, and found that 77 said yes to both questions. That gave them a 97 per cent figure.

A year later Anderegg explored the work of 200 of the most prolific writers on ‘climate change’ and found ‘that 97% to 98% of the 200 most prolific writers on climate change believe “anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for ‘most’ of the ‘unequivocal’ warming.”’So he got a 97 per cent figure. Again, no mention of any danger from warming. Again, so what?

In 2013 Cook et al looked at more than 12,000 abstracts, rated them according to whether or not they implicitly or explicitly endorsed the view that human activity had caused (wait for it) some of the warming, and again found the magic 97 per cent. See! It’s true!

Unfortunately for Cook, Legates and others later in the same year published a rebuttal. ‘They found that “only 41 papers – 0.3% of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0% of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1% – had been found to endorse” the claim that human activity is causing most of the current warming. Elsewhere, Craig Idso, Nicola Scafetta, Nir J. Shaviv and Nils-Axel Morner and other climate scientists protested that Mr. Cook ignored or misrepresented their work.’

The authors of the WUWT article, Bast and Spencer, go on to refer to another article which I have not seen before: ‘Rigorous international surveys conducted by German scientists Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch – most recently published in Environmental Science & Policy in 2010 – have found that most climate scientists disagree with the alleged consensus on various key issues, such as the reliability of climate data and computer models. They also do not believe climate processes like cloud formation and precipitation are sufficiently understood to enable accurate predictions of future climate change.’

In short, the consensus is dreadfully thin in terms of real evidence, and is not about the projected catastrophe awaiting us, but only about whether or not human activity has caused some of the alleged warming over the past century/fifty years — about which there is substantial agreement anyway. Since survey research was one of my fields, I have thought how I would go about designing one. I think you would offer your respondents a set of questions for which there were several possible answers, of which Don’t Know, or ‘Impossible to say with current knowledge’ were options. Who would be the respondents? That’s much harder, since you need a representative sample, and they are hard to produce. But I would start with the learned academies and the university departments whose fields might encompass aspects of ‘climate change’, which is probably all of them.

But it is a footling exercise anyway, because appeals to authority are a last resort. In the case of ‘climate change’ the real questions are about the temperature data, its reliability and validity, and the worth of the climate models whose projections contain the alleged catastrophe awaiting us. None of the answers are well founded.

And of course, if there were really strong evidence that there is a catastrophe out there that is about a warmer world (we can reasonably accept that another glacial is out there, too) we wouldn’t be fussing about abysmally poor surveys at all. The data and the science would be powerful in themselves. They’re not, which is why we have this rubbishy stuff.


[Not all those links take you to the original papers, which in many cases are behind paywalls. Here I have to trust the veracity of the authors, who presumably do have copies from which they quote.]

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • DaveW says:

    One thing that I find objectionable in these kinds of surveys, and not just in climate science, is that they seem to make no effort to control for conflict of interest, either in the surveyor or in the subjects. How could someone who has strong beliefs on global warming be expected to objectively assess an abstract? That would be like expecting the ABC to report objectively on the Abbott Government. If you are going to survey scientists who are employed by or dependent on research funds designated to address global warming, is it reasonable to expect them to say there is no problem? At the minimum, respondents should be required to declare any conflict of interest, and it would be nice to see comparisons to control groups (e.g., atmospheric scientists that are not funded by climate change money – if such a group exists).

    • David says:


      “If you are going to survey scientists who are employed by or dependent on research funds designated to address global warming, is it reasonable to expect them to say there is no problem?”

      Your argument is silly.

      In case you have not noticed we now have a PM and government that believes AGW is “crap”. So according to your argument there is NOW ample opportunity for sceptics to publish any well argued counter argument. Where are they?

      Currently 80+% of our energy comes from fossil fuel and less
      than 20% from alternative sources. So if research really did just follow the
      money as you suggest, then we should expect to see 80% of research oppose AGW and 20% support it.

      • DaveW says:

        Hi David,
        I’m not sure how you made the leap from a survey to publishing counter arguments. What does one have to do with the other? And no matter what the PM may think, we still have the carbon tax and my electricity is going up 13.6% next year. The government of the day doesn’t really seem interested in dismantling the carbon lobby or providing us with affordable energy.
        How about if I rephrase the question as below. Does this seem less silly?
        “If you are going to survey scientists who are employed by or dependent on research funds designated to produce fossil fuels, is it reasonable to expect them to say that fossil fuels cause problems?”

        • David says:

          No, it is just as silly. It is that bit before the comma,

          “If you are going to survey scientists who are employed by or dependent on research funds designated to address global warming,…”

          that is the problem.

          To suggest that the renewable energy lobby or whoever could match the resources that the fossil fuel lobby could muster to influence research outcomes, is well,…silly.

          • DaveW says:

            Sorry David, your logic escapes me. I said nothing at all about a ‘renewable energy lobby’. I have no idea what you are going on about. Do you see scientific research as a contest between myriad scientists in the employ of Big Oil and a small, valiant coterie of climate scientists and renewable energy advocates fighting against Mammon? Well, great, but that has nothing to do with my comment. What I would like to know in the surveys in question is if a respondent has a probable bias.
            Political polling usual tries to determine the party affiliation and/or voting preference of its victims. That is useful information. A result, e.g. that 97% of people polled don’t like Tony Abbott, is not exactly informative about what to expect in the next election if 97% of the poll respondents voted Labor in the last three elections.

          • David says:

            Ok. Your saying funding generates scientific conclusions in support of AGW and I am saying is does not. 🙂

          • John Morland says:

            Oh David

            It’s the view of who pays the piper which prevails and, of course, assisted by the piper’s skill in targeting the appropriate area(s) of research, to record the acceptable data, to design a plausible model; et voila…you have what the payer wants. Gosh. The final step, is to fund oops.. find a suitable “reviewer”. There you have it – anything between apocalyptic or, apostasy from, AGW

          • David says:

            You live in an alternative universe. Its is silly to think that any other organisations are going to be able to compete with these companies for money and influence.


          • Don Aitkin says:

            What is the evidence of the amount of money paid by ‘the fossil fuel lobby’ for research that is counter to the orthodoxy? We do know that the expenditure on ‘fighting climate change’ runs into the billions, and it includes a lot of research into the possible effects of global warming by the ARC and other bodies in Australia, and their counterparts overseas. I know of no one who has received money from fossil fuel companies with respect to AGW, or from organisations that are at least putatively funded by such companies.
            We the taxpayers fund people to go to IPCC meetings and the satellite (COP) meetings around the world. But to the best of my knowledge, no one pays expect the person concerned to go to an IPA meeting or the Heartland Conferences in the US.
            What can you be thinking of?

          • David says:

            …. and reviewers don’t get paid.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Now David,

        Surely you’re pulling our collective leg! A change of government in Oz doesn’t suddenly lead to a change of opinion across the board, where effects in academia may be the last to arise. And the money that DaveW speaks of is research funding, which is largely influenced by the thinking prevailing at the time of grant among the bureaucrats and academics in charge of those coffers.

        I don’t think you’ve addressed DaveW’s main point, about independence in a survey’s construction, distribution, assessment and reporting. I’m quite startled by the analysis Don cites of Legates and others, and will check that out, as I’m sure you will unless you have done so already. However, as Don says, the abstract may not reflect at all well the views of the author/s about AGW, which may or may not be found clearly enough within the papers themselves. So much depends on what the questions are.

        Such surveys are too superficial to have results of any value. If we found today that 60% of say 20,000 physical scientists drawn from across the globe were of the view that human contribution to global warming was minimal, and that the warming was far from catastrophic, so what? It tells us more about those perceptions by scientists, but zilch about the science and observations themselves. It is these latter that I rely upon.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    The decision published in the latest issue of the Geological Society of Australia (GSA) decalring itself “unable to publish a position statement on climate change due to deep divisions within its membership” (The Australian, June 4, 2014), is interesting in a few ways.

    a) As with the American Physical Society, a significant number of members had objected to the previous statement on climate change issued by their organisation; in this case, last March the Society called on a panel of six experts for advice, three from each “side” of the debate. So that internal argument is still continuing, I imagine.

    b) The GSA meanwhile can’t agree on what to say. Evidently no consensus there. Very hard for those behind the earlier published statement to back down.

    c) What will happen next? I can imagine an almighty tussle in both organisations; given the inconvenient behaviour of the climate to match the models, I expect further members who have not painted themselves into a corner through publicly supporting AGW, will join the sceptical fraternity. Then I see no alternative but the warmists on the executive will be replaced come the next GSA elections.

    d) If so, one could expect similar changing of the guard in many like organisations, with ripples extending into academia and official public bodies. These changes may start to occur over the next twelve months, and continue for the following two or three years.

  • AP says:

    Everyone seems to miss the massive “clanger” in this claim. Even if a percentage of the papers written supported a particular view, this does not equate to a number of scientists. Now, we know the AGW fraternity are particularly prolific publishers, probably because there is not a lot of actual science behind many of their papers. So the claim itself is bullshit, regardless of the enormous errors in the work.

  • 3d says:


    Has detailed responses to Cook’s ‘consensus’, pulls it apart, teasingly referring at one point to it perhaps being little more than a survey of Cook and his friend (12 of them).

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