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Monday, 8 May 2017

The mythical 97%

It happened just last night. Not for the first time and I hazard not the last. It started with a friend complaining about the unseemly argument he had faced with a group of Climate skeptics. He felt he had been assaulted by climate change skepticism. I have to confess I tend take a contrarian view whenever I am confronted by strongly worded statements. However in this instance, given I had limited time, I kept a neutral stance simply raising some questions. Discussions on Climate Change however tend to get emotional very quickly. Despite the casual way we had fallen into the topic and ignoring my body language hinting I wanted to be elsewhere, he felt a need to explain his position and in some detail.

The essence of his argument was indeed the simple one; -

"We rely on a range of experts in every part of our daily lives . We don't build bridges ourselves we let engineers do that, we don't do DIY home surgery, we let doctors to that, we don't represent ourselves in courts we use barristers to do that for us.. So why should it be different with Climate Change, we should rely on Climate Scientists"

And then came the clincher " 97% of scientists are telling us that CC is real and dangerous, so that should be enough for us"

These are indeed sound arguments, and, for those not willing to explore further, totally compelling. Who would go against the world's scientists. So if the claim that a vast majority of Climate Scientists believe in dangerous Climate Change is true, then it is sensible for people to accept the verdict and move on.

I listened and left with but a few neutral platitudes ; "debate is generally a good thing", "we should keep a level head", "we should all keep a level head about it and not get too emotional".

I am guessing he mentally filed me away as a skeptic. We'll see at our next meeting.

But is the claim true?

It has certainly taken prime place in CC debates especially by laymen when debating climate science, notably including the now ex-president of the USA Barack Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry.

But is it true that "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous"?

It seems not.

In their article in the WSJ (The Myth of the Climate Change '97%'), Joseph Bast and Roy Spencer present the history of the claims and demonstrate that it relies on proven falsehoods. But of course "A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes". So we are stuck with the lie.

The article is well worth a read, if you can get through the paywall at the Wall Street Journal. 

However if you cannot here is a summary; -
  • In 2004 an opinion essay by Naomi Oreskes claimed to have examined 928 articles between 1993-2003 and found 75% supported the notion that human activities are responsible for most of the observed warming. However the 928 articles omitted a large number written in the same period that clearly did not support this claim, so it was a flawed survey. Also Oreskes survey looked at the claim of 'man-made' the question whether such climate change was dangerous was ignored.
  • In 2009 an article by Maggie Zimmermann and Peter Doran reported the results of a two question on-line survey of selected scientists. They reported that "97% of climate scientists agree that global temperatures have risen and that humans are a significant factor" However there were only 79 Climate Scientists who responded to their survey. Moreover many climate skeptics would agree that global temperatures have risen and that humans are a significant factor.cause.
  • In 2010 Anderegg used Google Scholar to identify the views of the 200 most prolific writers on climate change. He found that 97 to 98 % of these believe "anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for 'most' of the 'unequivocal' warming". 200 researchers is a far claim from 97% of ALL climate scientists and again the claim is rather weak.
  • In 2013 John Cook, an Australian blogger, with some friends reviewed the abstracts of peer-reviewed papers published from 1991 to 2011. He reported that "97% of those who stated a position explicitly or implicitly suggest that human activity is responsible for some warming". Mr Cooks work was very quickly debunked as having used flawed methodology. After reviewing exactly the same papers as Cook had claimed, Legates would that "0.3 percent of the 11,944 abstracts or just 1.0 percent of the 4,014 expressing an opinion and not 97.1 percent - had been found to endorse the claim that human activity is the causing most of the current warming" 
  • Surveys conducted by Bray and von Storch have found that "most climate scientists disagree with the consensus on key issues such as the reliability of the climate data and computer models"
  • Surveys of meteorologists repeatedly find a majority oppose the alleged consensus with only 39% of 1854 American Meteorological Society members agreeing that global warming is dangerous.
  • IPCC is cited most often to be in favor of the consensus. Its report claims"human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems." Yet IPCC lists only 41 scientists that have contributed to the chapter covering the key question as to "How much of the temperature increase and other climate changes observed in the 20th century was caused by man-made greenhouse-gas emissions?
  • Finally there is a survey by some 31,000 scientists that claim ""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."
So where does that leave the layman?  Where laymen usually are just blowin' in the wind.


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