A “consensus” of “97% of scientists?”

Unless you’ve been in a Rip Van Winkle state for the past 30 years you’ve heard over and over about the “Consensus of scientists” or “97% of scientists” all agree on man-made global warming or climate change or whatever its called this week. Claims that 97% of scientists agree on global warming is a myth, or maybe just an outright lie.

Joseph Bast and Roy Spencer, both Phd. scientists, debunked that notion brilliantly in a Wall Street Journal article this last May 26th. Here is part of what they said:

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry warned graduating students at Boston College of the “crippling consequences” of climate change. “Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists,” he added, “tell us this is urgent.”

Where did Mr. Kerry get the 97% figure? Perhaps from his boss, President Obama, who tweeted on May 16 that “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” Or maybe from NASA, which posted (in more measured language) on its website, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

Yet the assertion that 97% of scientists believe that climate change is a man-made, urgent problem is a fiction. The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research.

One frequently cited source for the consensus is a 2004 opinion essay published in Science magazine by Naomi Oreskes, a science historian now at Harvard. She claimed to have examined abstracts of 928 articles published in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and found that 75% supported the view that human activities are responsible for most of the observed warming over the previous 50 years while none directly dissented.

Ms. Oreskes’s definition of consensus covered “man-made” but left out “dangerous”—and scores of articles by prominent scientists such as Richard Lindzen, John Christy, Sherwood Idso and Patrick Michaels, who question the consensus, were excluded. The methodology is also flawed. A study published earlier this year in Nature noted that abstracts of academic papers often contain claims that aren’t substantiated in the papers.

An intelligent and informed person would be skeptical of such a claim even without the helpful wisdom of Bast and Spencer. Science is not done by consensus and is never settled. Any assertion can be questioned and retested. That’s how science advances. Of course, some scientific principles are so well established that not many people are trying to refute them. Water reaches its greatest density at 4 degrees Celsius and, contrary to all other molecules, will expand upon being either heated or cooled from that temperature. Someday somebody might find that some condition exists in which that would not be true. Maybe in a dark matter environment or something. But this property of water was never established by consensus, but rather by constant observations by anyone who ever cared to notice. Everyone can see for themselves, or learn by unfortunate experience when frozen pipes burst. Or by noticing that marine life would be well nigh impossible on earth if water did not have this anomalous property.

Margaret Thatcher was not a experimental scientist and was speaking generally when she gave her definition of “consensus.” Nevertheless, I think it applies nicely to the global warming/climate change debate:  Thatcher famously said, “consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

An independent thinker, she was. There are plenty of climate scientists who do not adhere to any “consensus” to evaluate the claims of warming alarmists. They prefer to do their own experiments and make their own observations, as well as rely upon their own common sense to know that the “97% of scientists” and “consensus” claims are flapdoodle nonsense.

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