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The growing divide between climate scientists and public opinion

Posted on 4 September 2009 by John Cook

A conference of global warming skeptics is scheduled for May 2010. They plan to examine the "growing divide between what science has to say about the causes, scale, and consequences of climate change, on the one hand, and what politicians and the media say on the other hand". This is an important and illuminating topic. One hopes (rather futilely) that the agenda will include the paper Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (Doran 2009). The authors surveyed 3146 earth scientists, asking them the following survey question:

Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

What is most interesting is that the authors categorised the scientists based on their level of expertise in climate science. For example, those considered the most qualified were climate scientists who had more than 50% of their peer-reviewed publications in the past 5 years on the subject of climate change. The results are shown in Figure 1:


Figure 1: Response to the survey question "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" General public data come from a 2008 Gallup poll.

What they find was as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement that humans are significantly changing global temperatures. Most striking is the divide between expert climate scientists (97.4%) and the general public (58%). The paper concludes:

It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.

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Comments 1 to 38:

  1. A few points on the above discussion:

    It doesn't matter tuppence whether an entire research field is 100% in agreement, that research field can, and often does, have vested interests to promote a particular view. People who differ from the mainstream within such fields can easily be weeded out through human politics, (if not just through them just leaving research because they don't agree/dont have vested interests), not data.

    Science, like any other human activity, is subject to politics, self- interest, unconscious bias, and distortion. High levels of agreement can be a sign that things are WRONG/CORRUPT within the field, not the other way around.

    Why would anyone want to study climate change for long peiods if you don't believe humans have anything to do with it in the first place? (you would also have to put up with alot of people who you don't agree with, for one thing).

    Another issue is that people who stay for long periods within certain reearch fields (eg >5 years) tend to agree with it in the first place. The level of 'consensus' within such fields is subject to selection bias and can therefore be pretty meaningless.

    I'm sure fields like homeopathy, to take one extreme non-mainstream example, could get '100% agreement' on the effects of diluted water, if somebody really wanted to do a survey, because nobody who researches within it, and who 'excels' at it over a number of years and commits their life to it and doesnt leave (eg for >5 years), would be against it by this time, almost by default.

    If you think this argument doesnt apply to peer-reviewed mainstream research, look at the banks and financial industry in the early 2000s. Financial modellers, with vested interests, in promoting a particular view/perspective, managed to gamble and steal away billions of dollars of both banks and people's money, and almost took entire societies to ruin, based on 'consensus' models and politics widespread throughout the financial community. Anyone who saw through the distortions, within the financial community, would not have been eg promoted, would not have received ridiculous bonuses, and was 'weeded' out of the banking hierarchy, even though they were essentially right.

    It was in the financial modellers' interest to promote a certain angle, and if you did surveys of the financial community regarding various finanical products and practices in the early 2000s, you would have got much the same results as you give above. And they were all basically wrong, because of human politics, distortion, and self interest.

    Academia is not some panacea free of human politics to sort out human societies, as you seem to think.

    People don't tend to study certain research fields unless they have a particular vested interest/political view to begin with.

    Here are just a few ideas/models which have largely come out of 'consensus' fields within academia (going back thousands of years in some cases), or more specifically, from 'radical intellectualism' (typically socialist) within academia:

    -Communism (socialist-determinist economics) (see books by Richard Pipes)
    -Eugenics (socialist-determinist race, biology)
    -Astrology (socialist-determinist astronomy)
    -AGW? (socialist-determinist climate and energy).

    The last is debatable.

    But skeptics don't care a less about the latest 'opinion poll' amongst researchers, any more than a political party's internal review of 'commitment to the party', or some self-appoined dictator's rigged election result.
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    Response: "Why would anyone want to study climate change for long peiods if you don't believe humans have anything to do with it?" The same reason I got into astrophysics and it had nothing to do with vested interests or political views. The same reason any scientist gets into science. The love of knowledge. Curiosity. The challenge of furthering our understanding of how the universe works.
  2. Er... moving right along (and back to reality), it's notable that the Gallup poll used for the "general public" figure above is from the US. The US ranked lowest, and by far the lowest of major economies, in a survey of 18,578 people in 19 countries on levels of concern over climate change.

    To me, the issue is not that the general public are at odds with scientific opinion; in Australia, at least, support for strong climate action is very high indeed. The discrepancy lies in the arena of politics and media commentary, where rates of climate denial appear to be much higher than in the broader community (and among the scientists).
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  3. So the Heartland Institute, a political organization that has also been in the business of disputing smoking's link to lung cancer, is pretending to speak for science. One clear difference between a Heartland Institute "conference" and a real scientific conference (such as AGU, IPCC) is that the Heartland Institute has already decided on what they want the science to say, and seeks to gather like-minded individuals to support their political agenda - those who will effectively push non-peer-reviewed ideas and ignore the overwhelming evidence against their views.

    Matt Andrews,

    "To me, the issue is not that the general public are at odds with scientific opinion; in Australia, at least, support for strong climate action is very high indeed. The discrepancy lies in the arena of politics and media commentary, where rates of climate denial appear to be much higher than in the broader community (and among the scientists). "

    And the media and politicians tend to have a strong influence on public opinion. Thus, the discrepancy between the scientific community and the general public (at least in the U.S.).

    thingadonta,

    "But skeptics don't care a less about the latest 'opinion poll' amongst researchers,"

    Correct. They tend to care much more about the latest opinion poll of the general public, as that is generally their target audience. As for the rest of your post, I refer you to:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/

    Despite the push of this notion in certain extreme political circles, global warming is not a communist/socialist plot where nearly every member of the scientific community (aside from a few contrarian whistleblowers who know better) has compromised their scientific integrity to receive funding and promote their socialist agenda. Then again, maybe the scientific consensus reached on gravity, the Earth being spherical, evolution, crazy claims that smoking causes lung cancer, and the consensus that 9/11 was caused by terrorist hijackers is all bogus. Those with certain anti-government and political or religious agendas all know better (or knew better at one time).

    "Why would anyone want to study climate change for long peiods if you don't believe humans have anything to do with it in the first place? (you would also have to put up with alot of people who you don't agree with, for one thing). "

    Odd logic. Why would anyone want to study astronomy, when humans didn't have anything to do with the creation of the universe? Climate change is a very interesting area of research, regardless of cause.
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  4. re response to 1:
    "The same reason any scientist gets into science. The love of knowledge. Curiosity. The challenge of furthering our understanding of how the universe works".

    Yes, but it is only half the story. Here are some other reasons people get into science.

    A career. Getting paid. Having a secure career and family life. Imposing knowledge on other people and other cultures. Controlling other people through superior access to knowlege and resources. To find God's order in the universe. To find chaos in the universe. To serve God. To avoid serving God. Getting into politics. To avoid getting into politics. Avoiding religious fundamentalism. To get into religious fundamentalism. Starting a knowledge-based cult. Satisfying inborn desires to control other people. Imperialism through knowledge and culture rather than military invasion. Getting a job which is not subject to market forces. Because one can't handle business or other people. Getting into the public service. Because one failed at religion, society, or business. To flee totalitarianism. To further ones political interests. Etc Etc.

    It's not all objective curiosity.
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  5. re 3:
    "Why would anyone want to study astronomy, when humans didn't have anything to do with the creation of the universe? Climate change is a very interesting area of research, regardless of cause".

    It is interesting that the original reasons astronomy was studied was probably religious, and ultimately descended into controlling people (astrology).

    The astronomers couldn't handle just looking at the stars for knowledge sake, no, they had to impose a religious fundamentalism on the people, ie astrology. Astrology was an attempt to impose their supposed objective knowledge on people, to explain peoples behaviour (and everything else) on the movements of the stars. These 'explanations' weren't about objecive knowledge, it was about furthering their own political agenda, self-interests and self-importance, also based on innate tendancies to control other people. It was an early form of socialist determinism.

    AGW could be the same thing, but in reverse. Instead of the heavens controlling people's behaviour, people's behaviour now controls the heavens. AGW could be argued to be the 21st century version of Babylonian astrology.

    Maybe in a few thousand years AGW will be on the back of newspapers for fruitcakes, just like astrology now.

    As for your second point, yes climate change is mildly interesting, but I fear the researchers are not being fair to the actual data, or the history of the planet.
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  6. Re: #5

    Fun with analogies...Astrology is to astronomy as global warming contrarianism (in its typical form) is to climate science. Both rely often on appeals to emotion and dubious philosophy rather than objective scientific study.

    Take for example "people's behaviour now controls the heavens." Certain folks are skeptical of global warming for the basic emotive reason that it's inconceivable that us insignificant humans could possibly have an effect on something as large as the Earth's climate. Only God, or "the heavens", can control that. It's arrogant to think otherwise. Such misconceptions are often based on religious beliefs.

    There are a myriad of other fallacies that are pervasive in global warming skeptic circles, things like:

    - CO2 is too small a part of the atmosphere to possibly have an effect.

    - Climate change happened in the past naturally. Therefore, recent climate change cannot be human caused.

    - It's cold in my city this month. Global warming isn't happening.

    Now when we look at the beliefs of contrarians, they often appear open-minded. And indeed, they are quite open-minded to various natural explanations of global warming, be it the Sun, cosmic rays, ENSO, underseas volcanoes, or benthic bacteria (provided someone they trust doesn't inform them that the latter was an amusing hoax). However, when the thought of human activities, particular ones that implicate fossil fuels and possibly implies concerted government action to mitigate, enters the picture, there becomes a zealous-like devotion towards discrediting the science. I'm afraid these individuals many years from now will be looked upon as those who still to this day latch on to creationism, those who hung on to the belief that the Sun must revolve around the Earth, and smokers and their industry counterparts who vehemently denied the harmful health effects of their activities. There is a very positive role for healthy skeptism. What we often see on scientific topics that have political implications or challenge one's ideology is skeptism that is anything but healthy. I just hope that scientific skeptism in general has not been permanently damaged in the public eye.
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  7. re 3:
    “global warming is not a communist/socialist plot where nearly every member of the scientific community (aside from a few contrarian whistleblowers who know better) has compromised their scientific integrity to receive funding and promote their socialist agenda. Then again, maybe the scientific consensus reached on gravity, the Earth being spherical, evolution, crazy claims that smoking causes lung cancer, and the consensus that 9/11 was caused by terrorist hijackers is all bogus".

    A more pertinent example would be Galileo and the idea of the earth revolving around the sun, rather than the other way around.

    The reason that Galileo encountered such trouble with the idea that the earth revolved around the sun was not essentially religious, but because people who had devoted their entire lives bringing 'order' to society couldn't handle the idea that the earth, and their place within it, was not at the centre of things. In other words, if the sun was at the centre of the solar system, and we had no control over it, their entire life's motivation, training and purpose, (at least in the field of solar astronomy and importantly at the time-geography), was irrelevant.

    People’s psychology and career motivations today are still the same, and they still reject the sun's influence on climate change for exactly the same reasons. People within bureaucracies, scientific agencies etc, are trained for their entire careers and lives to bring stability, order and direction to society. They reject notions that the sun has anything to do with climate change because it goes against their entire purpose and training regarding bringing order to the world/society-it also makes them largely irrelevant. They don't like not being at the centre of the universe.

    'Consensus' amongst such people/officials is also a very much sought after thing, because it is part of their basic training in bringing order and direction to society. When someone like Galileo comes along who is 'outside' the consensus, it is in the political and social training of such people/officials to routinely dismiss such ideas and indeed work against them, because it goes against their entire training and life purpose, and indeed upsets the social(ist) order and relegates the self-importance of various officials to irrelevance.

    Do you honestly think, that if a politician, researcher, or public service career-minded official has to decide between effects of human activity, or effects of the distant sun, they are going to easily believe an idea which makes the entire basis of their training, self-motivation, and their future career, irrelevant? This is the reason there was so much trouble with the sun and Galileo-do you think people have really changed that much since then?
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  8. "People’s psychology and career motivations today are still the same, and they still reject the sun's influence on climate change for exactly the same reasons."

    I don't know of a single climate scientist who rejects the Sun's influence on climate change. Contrary to popular belief among certain political circles, climate scientists study many aspects of climate and climate change.

    Galileo was indeed a pioneering scientist, much like Fourier, Arrhenius, Callendar - scientists discovering Earth's greenhouse effect. Revelle and Suess were also pioneers, discovering that the Earth's oceans would not be able to absorb human-emitted CO2 and much would end up in the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect. Many doubted them at the time. Over the decades that followed, a preponderance of evidence vindicated them and the general consensus was gradually built. Modern-day skeptics often seem to resemble those who insisted on believing that the Sun revolved around the Earth, those with stubborn attachment to the notion that human activities, especially those involving fossil fuels, seen as so vital to economic development in the industrial age, can't possibly be warming the planet. They will not be swayed no matter how strong the evidence is. See post #3 on this thread for a link to Weart's indispensible "The Discovery of Global Warming".

    "Do you honestly think, that if a politician, researcher, or public service career-minded official has to decide between effects of human activity, or effects of the distant sun, they are going to easily believe an idea which makes the entire basis of their training, self-motivation, and their future career, irrelevant? "

    When it's a decision between relatively meager government funding with your name blended in with the rest of the crowd, and a $2,500 per day check from Exxon with your name and arguments parroted repeatedly by media outlets, sometimes the decision is not that difficult.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Richard_S._Lindzen#Fossil_Fuel_Interests_Funding

    There is a huge market for global warming contrarianism. Many folks have a very difficult time believing any scientific idea that might implicate their activities, so they seek out anyone who can tell them there isn't a problem. Credentials or strength of argument don't matter in the least, so fooling this crowd is quite easily done. There are many ready and willing to step up to this task. While denial of evolution is directly religious-based, denial of global warming is more based on a religious-like fear of government. Political and ideological groups, along with entrenched industry interests desperate to protect the status quo, who's going concern is threatened by the science, prey off this fear, spreading false scenarios of economic gloom and doom - claiming that any move away from fossil fuels will cause great calamity to their household. It is a bit of a surprise that the scientific consensus is so strong, since fame and sometimes a bit of fortune await those who argue against the consensus. The incentive is tremendous.
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  9. Have a good read of the survey, it provides some interesting info.

    3146 people respomded, 3020 of them from N. America, 126 from the rest of the world.

    Of the respondents
    157 were climatologists.
    1390 were in what might be classed related fields.
    1599 were in non-related fields ( by inference)

    Of the specialists, only 79 ( or roughly half) had published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed work on climate matters. ( we are not told what considered to be 'recently'.)

    In addition,question 2 is so vague as to be virtually unanswerable except by a 'yes'. What human activities are we considering? All or some? Just burning FF's or deforestation, changing WV distribution patterns thro agricultural changes and so on? How could you not answer the question with a yes?
    And what is considered significant? 1% contribution to GMT rise? And over what time span? Decades or centuries?

    Unimpressed.
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  10. A couple of anecdotes from yesterday.

    I was at an airportand chatted with a fellow who brought up climate change after commenting about the odd weather we've been having this summer. The statement went something like, "I don't believe in global warming...", then went on to rattle of "It's cooling", "It's the Sun", "It's water", It's clouds", and maybe one more skeptic argument I can't remember. After overcoming my initial surprise with the rapidity and certainty in his voice, I said I thought we really don't know what is going to happen, but it's certain we are doing an experiment because we are changing CO2 concentrations in a way that has never happened before. We're rolling the dice, but we're doing it for people who aren't even alive to know we're gambling. The topic was politely changed after that and we went eventually went our separate ways.

    The power and money is heavily weighted towards the status quo and people fear what they see as drastic changes to the way they live. I think it's relatively easy to convince people of something that allows them to feel good about what they have been doing and would like to continue to do.

    In a separate conversation at the same airport the same day, I heard a person who works in the automotive industry say that that Americans will not buy small cars, they want big SUVs and that we should drill for oil in the U.S. so that we can get gas prices back down to $1/gallon. I wanted to say, but didn't, that we all want to be millionaires too, so let's just start printing money. He also mentioned how he felt president Obama was elected due to the stupidity of voters.
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  11. I just remembered, the other argument he mentioned was, "climate has changed before". It was an impressive, if sometimes contradictory list.
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  12. re 9: Mizimi
    Good points: it is the usual statistical rubbish, re-iterated by those who don't understand that the agenda for research within earth sciences is set by government, which has a stated agenda to support non-industry based research (eg squirrel numbers, coral reef bleaching etc etc), and/or research that doesn’t directly support various industries, (which is supposed to magically train and look after itself).

    In essence, if you only fund research that is 'outside' of industry by default, you will ensure the development of a generation of researchers who are fundamentally opposed to industry.

    As for climatologists, there is no private 'climate company' employers, and little funding either if they don't support the academic-consenus opinion/agenda, so what angle do you think they are going to gravitate to?
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  13. Re: #10

    Many laypersons have strong opinions on climate change. We don't see this happening in other scientific fields. Most aren't in the habit of arguing vehemently against a technique for heart surgery, or more analogous, slamming a local weather model and the scientists who develop them. I think any issue that has political implication or challenges one's ideology will ultimately generate certain kinds of press coverage and strong negative opinions by those who don't know better. Many have very strong opinions against evolution theory as well. The science on smoking and lung cancer didn't take hold quickly, especially by smokers.

    Re: #9

    It would have been better if more scientists from other continents were represented in the survey, although then we'd have accusations that the survey represents socialists and scientists from developing countries attempting to bring America down, just like that evil IPCC. The list does appear to be mainly limited to those with advanced degrees, which is good. The expert to non-expert ratio is expected. Most scientists aren't climate experts, but this often doesn't stop some from pretending to be, particularly those who would answer "no" to such a question presented.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect
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  14. Jim Prall has put together a good list (still a work-in progress in some cases) of climate scientists, their number of published studies and citations, and when available, their home pages. The results are pretty similar to the survey mentioned here and is good independent verification. Looking through the list, very few climate scientists and those with significant publications related to climate science are skeptical.

    http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/~prall/climate/climate_authors_table_by_clim.html

    I think this is important work. While we have position statements from dozens of scientific academies and organizations and we see the strong consensus in the peer-reviewed literature, politicians will usually counter with impressive-looking petitions which include "real" people. The impression among some is those scientific organizations are just political and real scientists disagree. Prall's list helps shed some light on this view. One needs to look at the denominator. If the APS has 100 or so skeptical scientists creating a petition claiming their position statement isn't representative, it sounds impressive until you note that the organization has about 50,000 members, and that very few of the 0.2% (likely to grow given the above figures) are climate experts.
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  15. #14

    Define sceptical.....

    "are human activities contributing to global warming?" Most certainly. As do many other processes.
    To what degree? Now that is the question which we are really debating/trying to quantify. And for me, here begins scepticism.
    Ask the same scientists if they consider GCM's to realistically model climate in all its complexity and you will likely get an answer along the lines of..." in accordance with our present understanding of..."
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  16. Mizimi #9, your complaint about question two makes no sense to me. If the question is unanswerable except by "yes", then why so many "no" responses? If the question is too vague, then why so few "I don't know" responses? It seems to me, given your opinion of the question, that the results are very impressive -- people with the least understanding of the issue (and the least understanding of the caveats you note) think human activities have nothing to do with significant changes in mean global temperatures. Almost 40% of the general public responded "no" versus about 6% "not sure"! This staggering response to a question unanswerable except with "yes" should receive more attention. Thanks for blogging it, John.
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  17. The tobacco industry used the exact same arguments to discredit "establishment" studies showing what they and everyone else already knew. It is useful to read this speech from Colin Stokes, then CEO of RJR, introducing Frederick Seitz (he of Oregon Petition fame) in his role as the director of their research program. He repeats industry talking points, each one of them with a direct analog to the arguments posed by so-called AGW skeptics. It's the same game, with higher stakes.

    http://tobaccodocuments.org/ness/29154.html

    Take, for example,

    "the American Cancer Society has concentrated its efforts on developing a cancer cure and on claiming that lung cancer would be virtually elminated by the elmination of smoking. We firmly believe that their claims are a dis-service to society in that they discourage people from seeking out the true causes of cancer"

    "many both inside and outside of the scientific community feel government has proven itself a biased, restrictive sponser."

    "H-E-W [now HHS] direct study under the preconceived idea that smoking causes cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease, and therefore is spending the majority of its anual twenty million dollars in smoking-and-health research money for finding methods of smoking prevention."


    Now, consider the credibility of these claims:

    "prominent medical authorities lining up on each side of the arguments"

    "For every charge that has been made against cigarettes, there has emerged a strong body of scientific data or opinion in defense of the product"

    "It is not possible ... to distinguish between the lung of a smoker or a nonsmoker"

    "why do many nonsmokers fall victim to lung cancer, while the disease is never contracted by ninety-eight percent of those so-called heavy smokers who consume a pack-and-a-half a day or more"

    "One study, for instance, has indicated that light smokers and ex-smokers are less prone to cardiovascular illness than smokers."

    "There is no medical proof that nonsmokers exposed to cigarette smoke in ordinary relation with smokers suffer any damage."


    Also, if anyone can point me to a report from the National Academy of Sciences advocating Communism, Eugenics, and Astrology I'd like to see it. And it had better be an authoritative consensus report urging policy action and not the extra-curricular activities of cranks.
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  18. #16, Steve L....my comment was directed at the 3142 earth scientists, not joe public and perhaps I should have made that clear.
    What is interesting is that there appear to be no figures for the public...are we talking substantial numbers here or what?
    According to a certain shampoo manufacturer 9 out 10 women surveyed prefer their product...but when you check the small print they only questioned 300 women. Hardly a good statistical sample.
    On another note, the European Union didn't like the Irish 'No' response to a referendum. Their reaction? Well you'll have to vote again until you get it right.......
    What is illuminating is that DESPITE all the political/media/evironmentalist hype there are still (apparently) a large number of people who don't believe in any 'significant' effect.
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  19. And Gallup is an agent for Communism, right? Spin all you want, but remind me never to take anything you write as honest/serious commentary. Here's what I found on Gallup's website:
    "Results for knowledge of global warming are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted between 2007 and 2008 with about 2,000 adults in most countries (and a sample size range of 500 to 8,256). Results for perceived causes of global warming have a sample size range of 150 to 5,273. Confidence intervals thus vary widely based on the sample sizes of specific groups. However, for the scores for public awareness of global warming, confidence intervals for all countries were always less than ±6 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls."
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  20. These polls are useful for non scientists, eg the general public, politicians, the press etc to realise that the AGW skeptics are small minority.

    It shows that a layman skeptic is saying either that they believe that the vast majorty of scientists have got it wrong (without any scientific understanding / basis), or that there is a giant global science conspiracy to make us believe something that isn't true.
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  21. re the conspiracy theory, I asked a doctor in oceanography friend at southampton uni what scientists thought of this and he replied as follows:

    "this is an oldie, and actually one some people in the field sometimes agonise over from a different direction, in particular the argument can go 'we (scientists) know that potentially dangerous global warming is just around the corner, but by continuing to do endless research into the magnitude, side effects, feedbacks etc. etc. (and so further our careers) we are actually just distracting the politicians/public from the key message which is that something needs to be done now to drastically cut emissions. Consequently we should all quit until the world gets it's act in order and starts taking things seriously, which they clearly aren't at the moment'.

    Anyway, the way the sceptics tell it is much more common (because they have an agenda). and yes actually I am sure there will be a lot more climate scientists now than 20 years ago and they will consquently be spending more tax payers money (their salaries). But that would be the same if it was a real problem or an exagerated one wouldn't it? If it's a real problem then resources are needed, so more jobs for the boys I'm afraid...

    Anyway, all comes back to integrity, peer review, scientific method etc., any scientist would get really shitty with anyone claiming they are falsifying or exagerating their results, it amounts to accusation of professional misconduct, this is why most won't even bothering to stoop low enough to engage with this one."
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  22. Thingadonta, your politicisation of everything scientific leads to misunderstanding that is not far off conspiracy theorising! The government doesn't "fund research that is outside "industry" by default". That's simply not true. "The government" strongly supports science that has industrial links, and especially that is part-funded by industry, and in our grant applications we have to indicate the benefits of our research to beneficaries including potential industrial applications as well as to society and so on. The government (and charities) fund "technology transfer" grants in which academic ideas with potential industrial applications are supported to facilitiate research at pre-application stage that can be exploited by interested industrial partners downstream. One can examine the NSF budgets and find, for example, that, in the US, climate science is funded around the same level as nanotechnology research. Nanotechnology has huge potential industrial applications, and the US government supports basic research in this area largely (apart from basic scientific interest) as "seed corn" for downstream applications that will be of expected industrial benefit. Much of the pharmaceutical industry feeds off the basic research (in the US) of the government-funded National Institutes of Health…they effectively get a "free ride" off the basic understanding of molecular and cellular biology developed in "academic research"….and so on.

    Obviously there is a large generalised arena of science that has to be funded by governments since it relates to the general interests and well-being of the population but is of little direct interest to industry, at least initially. The basic understanding of AIDS virology, for example, was gained by government funding initially to understand the disease and develop therapies, but with huge downstream benefits for the pharma industry in sales of antivirals. Pharma is not very interested in developing new antibiotics (not very profitable) and this essential task is funded by government….etc. etc.

    And obviously science that relates to the environment pretty much has to be funded by governments, outwith those aspects with direct industrial applications (oil, gas, mineral, forest, hydro exploitation). If we want to know the effects of sulphurous emissions on lakes and forests industry likely isn't going to do that; likewise with the effects of releasing chlorofluorocarbons in large amounts, or of massive greenhouse gas release – industry is about making money wouldn't you say? That's the bottom line…no problem with that obviously, but let's not pretend that we can learn about many fundamental things of interest to our well-being without serious efforts from government-funded scientists. We either decide we should know about these things…or not. And we don't pretend that the laws of physics should yield to our political sympathies just because we don't like the research outcomes.

    In fact I suspect most informed individuals recognise that government-funded and industrial research are two interlinked aspects of a mature society, and that we need both. Your silly caricature (for which you give zero evidence!) that government funding ensures " the development of a generation of researchers who are fundamentally opposed to industry" sounds like a political mantra to me.

    As for your notion of a poor industry "which is supposed to magically train and look after itself", I think you'll find that industry benefits from a vast resource of government-funded research (see above) and a massive resource of educated and trained individuals, the training and education of which they get largely without direcly paying for. Industry, by and large, doesn't pay for those BScs, MScs and PhDs. And of course if things go pear-shaped (financial industry…auto industry) who's there to sort things with huge bail-outs? The nasty government!

    Again nothing necessarily wrong with that… but let's not pretend that there is some sort of "industrial/government-funded" dichotomy about which one has to choose sides…that sort of thing is for political fanatics and propagandists!

    Sadly (getting back to the subject of this thread!) there are some rather well-funded organisations ('specially in the US) that consider it politically expedient and profitable to present the false picture of government-funded science that you portray so well....
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  23. Well said Chris. Indeed a functioning society needs both industry and governement funded research, fundamental and applied science. But in both cases, the education necessary to the people conducting it is acquired in universities.

    I'm still reeling from the astrology=socialism thing, I thought I had heard it all, but this one is out there. Silly caricature indeed.
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  24. Well said Chris. Indeed a functioning society needs both industry and governement funded research, fundamental and applied science. But in both cases, the education necessary to the people conducting it is acquired in universities.

    I'm still reeling from the astrology=socialism thing, I thought I had heard it all, but this one is out there. Silly caricature indeed.
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  25. Does it matter if there is a consensus of like minded twits - if the consensus is incorrect? The planet is still cooling and will continue to do so for another decade or 2.

    See this form Fred Pearce in New Scientist.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17742-worlds-climate-could-cool-first-warm-later.html

    Warm later indeed. Is there something here about flogging a dead horse.
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  26. For Robbo...

    Latif is co-author of the 2008 Keenlyside study, which predicted slight decadal cooling, with no changes to the long-term outlook (see year 2030).

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/global-cooling-wanna-bet/

    I'm not convinced of their short-term outlook, though. Global mean temperature had already overshot their earlier hindcast, and ocean surface temperatures are beyond record levels for June and July.

    http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090814_julyglobalstats.html

    It's interesting that while ocean cycles (PDO, AMO, NOA) are in or moving towards their negative phase, and solar sunspot activity has been at near century-low levels for about 3 years now, global mean temperature is near record levels. Kind of makes you wonder how very rapid the warming will be when these phases reverse.

    Sorry for the off-topic response. Back to the topic...

    "Does it matter if there is a consensus of like minded twits - if the consensus is incorrect?"

    I think it does. The folks over at Wattsupwiththat and other pseudoscience blogs could use a large dose of critical thinking encouragement, as groupthink is prevalent in such places. In addition, our society suffers when large groups of individuals are blinded by ideology and willing victims of the Dunning Kruger Effect.
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  27. Interesting data but not very surprising. Thanks for posting.

    I fall into the darkest blue category. What about you thingadonta? Did you get sent a questionnaire by the authors of the report?
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  28. re 22: Chris
    Thanks for the well reasoned post.

    My experiences as a scientist and as a human being at university, and also in government, has been extremely disillusioning at times. And no this isnt the after- taste of a talent-less good fo nothing. Some of my most bitter experiences within science were very similiar to those I experienced growing up within religion- I would say EXACTLY the same. My experience in industry has given me the impression of a system that is more self-regulating and slightly more akin to reality than either academia, government, and certainly religion.
    There IS a dark side to science, because it is practised by people, and because there is a dark side to people (just like there is a dark side to governmnet and religion). 'Science' is not a perfect process or system by any means, and I think that humans have several hundred more years before 'science' matures to the point where it at least partly addresses some of its weaknesses (all other things being equal).
    As for some of your post, there was a strong shift within earth sciences away from industry-based research to non-industry based research in the 1990s, I know because I saw it first hand. It is still going on. I dont have specific details here, but thanks for your post.

    Re 27: No I didn’t get a copy of the questionaiire, but I suppose I would have if I conformed more to the disgraceful goings on I saw at university.
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  29. Am I the only one here who thinks that polling scientists to find out their *opinions* is silly. Science is about making *predictions* about things that we haven't observed yet IMO. Regardless of what the opinion of scientists working with them, they only get to claim superiority of their *hypotheses* when they are able to demonstrate some valid *risky* predictions of the phenomena they consider.

    While the GCMs haven't been falsified yet (at least IMO), that doesn't mean that they have enough evidence to allow us to choose them over one of the alternative hypotheses.

    If hypotheses A & B are equally likely to be true(based on the evidence), then the fact that most scientists believe A to be valid and most plumbers believe B to be valid, doesn't mean that we should take the *beliefs* of scientists to be more likely true.

    Cheers, :)
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  30. Shawnhet, your post doesn't address the subject of this thread, but instead is about a sort of made up denialist fantasy.

    John Cook's top article and the paper under discussion addresses two quite specific things, the most general being the disconnect between informed opinion and public opinion in the US , and more specifically the response to two straightforward questions about (i) whether the global temperatures have risen since the late 19th century, and (ii) whether human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.

    There is nothing in these questions or analyses that have anything to do with GCM's and one wonders why you wish to attempt to introduce a denialist "stalking horse" where it doesn't belong. The evidence that the global temperature has risen (point i) has nothing to do with GCM's (it's the result of direct observation of land, sea and tropospheric temperatures, mountain glaciers, high latitude ice sheets, sea levels, seasonal climate effects, trends in the biosphere etc.). The evidence for the contribution of human activities (point ii) also has little to do with GCM's (it's the result of basic empirical and theoretical knowledge of the greenhouse effect and greenhouse gases, understanding of natural contributions to temperature change, and empirical knowledge of the variation of greenhouse gas concentrations and of natural factors).

    So your curious notion that the top article lends us to consider a "choice" between GCM's and some "alternative hypothesis", is doubly bogus in the context of the top article and the paper being discussed. (I wonder what your unstated "alternative hypothesis" might be!).

    Your last sentence/paragraph is a contrived "forced sequitur", where you've chosen to drift from the clear and explicit (points i and ii) to the vague and undefined. Specifically, the question addressed in the survey that both scientists and public responded to is "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?". The evidence is strongly on the side of a response in the affirmative, wouldn't you say? However you've chosen to elide from the specific to the vague ("hypotheses A and B" which you say are "equally likely to be true"!). Which hypotheses might these be?! Obviously if you postulate two imaginary undefined hypotheses of which you've made up a notion that they are "equally likely to be true", then obviously we might question whether expert opinion can reliably distinguish these. But, of course, that's not what the thread, the top article or the paper under discussion is about, which is something quite specific.

    Denialism is largely based on the presumption of ignorance and relies on a withdrawl of sufficient information from the debate that a self-serving interpretation can be induced using specious "arguments". Unwittingly or not, that’s what you’ve done. You've taken a specific and well-defined question and its responses, withdrawn all the specifics from this and substituted an information-free notion of imaginary "hypotheses" within a logical construct that forces the conclusion that you've built into it. Interesting!
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  31. One of the overlooked aspects of this discussion is what the question means: "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" To a scientist, this may mean "Is there a correlation between human CO2 release and global temeperature change that exhibits a p-value less than 0.05?" To a non-scientist, it might be interpreted as "Is human activity directly impacting my life through changing temperatures?"

    I think this is part of the big challenge for scientists. We communicate and interpret through our scientific filters. But those filters may be distorting the message received outside the scientific community or our interpretation of the messages coming in.
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  32. Chris, even if my post is off topic(and I don't think it is) that doesn't mean it is a denialist fantasy or whatever pejorative you want to use. It was a simple restatement of the scientific method and what it means for competing hypotheses.

    Fact is, the whole thread is contingent on what the various groups think is "significant warming", and isnce the two groups most likely don't have the same understanding of what that means, comparison is silly( so I didn't bother discussing it). Two people can agree on the exact extent of human caused warming(in degrees C) and answer the question differently. Thusly, comparison of the two polls is meaningless IMO. Do you think the respondents to the Gallup poll had the same understanding of what significant warming was as the scientists? I don't.

    ""Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?". The evidence is strongly on the side of a response in the affirmative, wouldn't you say?"

    In the scientific context, yes. In the context of the mainstream media where significant warming mean more or less two steps away from Armegeddon, then no, I wouldn't. Are you **denying** that most of the respondents get their information on GW from the media?

    BTW, alternative theories to the GCM centred view of climate(with strong positive feedback) are, in simple terms, negative feedback and no net or zero feedback. I would've thought that they were obvious, I don't think I need to give specific examples here.

    "Denialism is largely based on the presumption of ignorance and relies on a withdrawl of sufficient information from the debate that a self-serving interpretation can be induced using specious "arguments". Unwittingly or not, that’s what you’ve done. You've taken a specific and well-defined question and its responses, withdrawn all the specifics from this and substituted an information-free notion of imaginary "hypotheses" within a logical construct that forces the conclusion that you've built into it. Interesting! "

    And one good way to deal with any inconvenient objections is to ignore their substance entirely, call them "denialist" and never think about them again.

    Here is an **interesting** exercise for you: Ignore the fact that my orginal response **may** have been off-topic and re-read it on its own merits. I think you'll see that I didn't actually *deny* anything. It's pretty hard to be a "denialist" if you don't deny anything IMO. However, perhaps I am mistaken, perhaps anyone who even **questions** a scientific "consensus" is automatically a "denialist".

    Maybe we should come up with a term for people who call others "denialists" when they really mean "off-topici-sts" LOL
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  33. Have a look at "Battle of the Jaywalk - May 2005 2/2" on You-tube. This is the FINAL of a general knowledge test in the USA.
    Is this the kind of ordinary 'Joe Public' person asked to give their opinion as to whether human activities contribute significantly to climate chamge? Heaven help us if it is.
    Shawnhet, your post hits the nail firmly on the head.
    It seems to be getting towards the stage where if you challenge the degree of the effect ( not the effect itself) you are a 'denier'.
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  34. I discussed on the "there is no consensus" debate that the Doran paper comes to an invalid conclusion comparing the earth scientists views to that of the general public because the question asked of the earth scientists in the Doran survey was substantially different to the question asked of the general public in the Gallup poll.

    Undoubtedly most scientists in the field agree with the current dominant paradigm. Undoubtedly some do not. Sometimes the majority are wrong; but usually not. However, the Doran study is seriously flawed and tries to exaggerate the degree of consensus that exists. Because it does this clumsily and amateurishly, and is easily exposed with a little further research and thought, it actually undermines (rather than firms) belief in the consensus.

    There must be better "consensus" papers around than this.

    Regarding the extent to which there is a cultural dimension to science, I believe Kuhn's work was highly influential and some of the posters might like to have a look at it

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions
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  35. The most convincing book i've read is 'without the hot air' by david j mackay. its on line free
    http://www.withouthotair.com/
    but i bought it after reading one chapter.
    it focuses on how much energy everyone uses (rather than climate change) and how much energy is available renewables / nuclear / fossil fuels, it really focus's the mind on the reality of humankind's predicament whether forced by climate change or declining fossil fuels.
    it is an example of how to make something huge and complicated understandable. no surprise david mackay has recently been appointed as chief scientist at the (British) department of Energy and Climate Change (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8283909.stm). Politicians must be relieved to have a scientist able to summarise the reality of what is going on.
    brilliant. puts other scientists, journalists and politicians to shame.
    i'm not saying the content is not to be challenged - it is the method of delivery. numbers not adjectives!
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  36. I discussed on the "there is no consensus" debate that the Doran paper comes to an invalid conclusion comparing the earth scientists views to that of the general public because the question asked of the earth scientists in the Doran survey was substantially different to the question asked of the general public in the Gallup poll.

    Undoubtedly most scientists in the field agree with the current dominant paradigm. Undoubtedly some do not. Sometimes the majority are wrong; but usually not. However, the Doran study is seriously flawed and tries to exaggerate the degree of consensus that exists. Because it does this clumsily and amateurishly, and is easily exposed with a little further research and thought, it actually undermines (rather than firms) belief in the consensus.

    There must be better "consensus" papers around than this.

    Regarding the extent to which there is a cultural dimension to science, I believe Kuhn's work was highly influential and some of the posters might like to have a look at it

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions
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  37. The challenge for objective people is to remain skeptical while not becoming drawn into the blind faith that is becoming increasingly a feature of the deniers (people who claim to be skeptics). It is important to question things but, not in the process of doing so, to deny evidence or indicators that do not reinforce a particular theory.

    Sadly, a significant number of people are latching on to points of view that are more driven by inverse intellectual snobbery than a considered point of view that is soundly based. My biggest concern is that points of view that reinforce our deep seated human desire to do nothing are quite appealing.
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  38. I work with a serious global warming denier (GWD). Due to his prompting I began to do a lot of reading about the subject of global warming. Like the posts by thingadonta, there is no serious refutation of the science. The science is well done and convincing. Thingadonta's attack is rhetorical and in this case, an ad hominem attack. If one cannot refute the science, then one can refute the scientists. Current neo-con thought seems to like the socialist bogey-man, so let's drag that out against the climatologists. Even Mizimi's criticism of the survey misses the point about the science, simply seeking to further the ad hominem attack.
    These "contrary" posts constitute a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) attack by the GWDs to try to keep the "Global Warming Debate" myth alive. These GWDs are not contributors to the scientific process nor should one pretend that they are such.
    So, welcome to the age of the internet. Any person with an opinion is free to post it. Expect to see a lot more rhetorical, religious, and political attacks on science and scientists. The fact that science is fluid and subject to change based on evidence will make it even more critical that important information is communicated well and in a way that lay people can understand.
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