Breaking: The “97 Percent Climate Consensus” Canard

TV watchers will recall the familiar advertising trope of yesteryear in which we were told “4 out of 5 dentists [or doctors] recommend” using fluoride toothpaste, aspirin for headaches, or some such.  We were always left to wonder whether that fifth doctor was a moron or something, never pausing to consider that the fifth doctor might well recommend the same thing, but emphasize something else first (like flossing perhaps, or Tylenol instead of aspirin because of sensitive stomachs, etc).  But Archie Bunker was coming back on the air in 30 seconds, so most of us didn’t follow up on these puzzles.

Likewise we ought to wonder about the favorite cliché of the Climatistas these days—that “97 percent of scientists ‘believe in’ climate change.”  As I’ve written before, the only real surprise is that the number isn’t 100 percent.  There is virtually no one who thinks the climate hasn’t changed or won’t change in the future, or that there is no human influence on the phenomenon.  The leading so-called “skeptics”—like MIT’s Richard Lindzen or Cato’s Patrick Michaels or NASA’s John Christy or Roy Spencer—would be included in the 97 percent figure.  I’m guessing the outlying 3 percent are actually just anomalies of an arbitrary classification scheme (more on this in a moment) that serve the same point as a magician’s misdirection—to get you to buy an illusion.  In this case, the illusion is that the scientific community is nearly unanimous in thinking we’re on the brink of catastrophe unless we hand our car keys over to Al Gore.

No one can possibly keep up with the flood of scientific articles published on climate-related topics these days (we’re spending way too much on climate research right now, but that’s a topic for another day), so it is ridiculous to offer sweeping generalizations like this about the character of the scientific literature.  I keep up with a fair amount of it in Nature, Science, and a couple of the other main journals, and what is quite obvious is that most climate-related articles are about specific aspects of climate, such as observed changes in localized ecosystems, measurement refinements (like ocean temperatures, etc), energy use and projections, and large data analysis.  Many of these articles do not take a position on the magnitude of possible future warming, and fewer still embrace giving the car keys over to Al Gore.  Only a handful deal with modeling of future climate change, and this is where the debate over climate sensitivity and the severe limitations of the models (especially as relates to clouds) is quite lively and—dare I say it—unsettled.  (Just read the IPCC Working Group I chapter on climate models if you don’t believe me.)  The “97 percent of scientists ‘believe in’ climate change” cliché is an appalling abuse of science, and a bad faith attempt to marginalize anyone who dissents from the party line that we need to hand our car keys over to Al Gore.  The tacit message is: if you dissent from the party line, you must be in that 3 percent who think you shouldn’t brush your teeth, take painkillers for headches, etc.

Where did this 97 percent figure come from?  This story has become interesting over the last few days.  The most prominent form of it comes from Prof. John Cook of the University of Queensland in a paper published last year that purported to have reviewed over 11,000 climate science articles.  Does anyone really believe that Cook and his eight co-authors actually read through all 11,000 articles?  Actually, the abstract of the paper supports the point I made above that most papers don’t actually deal with what the Climatistas say:

We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW [Anthropogenic Global Warming], 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. [Emphasis added.]

Pause here and note that it is odd to see that some folks apparently haven’t gotten the memo that you’re not supposed to call it “global warming”—“climate change” is the term of art now.  Anyway, to continue, read this slowly and carefully:

Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus.

Let’s translate: Among the one-third of papers that “endorse” the “consensus,” there is near unanimity.  In other words, among people who agree with the consensus, nearly all of them agree with the consensus.  Again—the only mystery here is that the number isn’t 100 percent.  Perhaps this would have been too embarrassing to report, like a North Korean election.  For this exercise all climate scientists may as well be called named Kim Jong Il.

The plot thickens.  Prof. Cook refused to share his data with anyone. Shades of the East Anglia mob and their tree ring data.  But also like the East Anglia mob, someone at the University of Queensland left the data in the ether of the internet, and blogger Brandon Shollenberger came across it and starting noting its weaknesses.  Then the predictable thing happened: the University of Queensland claims that the data was hacked, and sent Shollenbeger a cease-and-desist letter.  That just speaks lots of confidence and transparency, doesn’t it?

The irrepressible Steve McIntyre of ClimateAudit has more, including a link to the inevitable Hitler parody video.  But just remember this: 4 out of 5 claims by the Climatistas are self-serving political tommyrot.  (And more here from The Daily Caller.)