The Wall Street Journal denies the 97% scientific consensus on human-caused global warming
Posted on 28 May 2014 by dana1981
Rupert Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal editorial page has long published op-eds denying basic climate science. This week, they published an editorial denying the 97% expert scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. The editorial may have been published as a damage control effort in the wake of John Oliver’s brilliant and hilarious global warming debate viral video, which has now surpassed 3 million views. After all, fossil fuel interests and Republican political strategists have been waging a campaign to obscure public awareness of the expert consensus on global warming for nearly three decades.
The Wall Street Journal editorial was written by Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute political advocacy group of Unabomber billboard infamy, and Roy Spencer of “global warming Nazis” infamy. Spencer previously claimed in testimony to US Congress to be part of the 97% consensus, although his research actually falls within the less than 3% fringe minority of papers that minimize or reject the human influence on global warming.
Spencer’s claim to the contrary was a result of failing to understand the consensus research he referenced. In The Wall Street Journal this week, Spencer and Bast continued that tradition of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the scientific literature on the expert global warming consensus.
For example, in order to reject the findings of the paper my colleagues and I published last year finding a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature, Bast and Spencer referenced a critical comment subsequently published by David Legates et al. in an obscure off-topic journal called Science and Education. That paper was based on a blog post written by Christopher Monckton, who's infamous for calling environmental activists “Hitler Youth.”
Monckton's blog post and paper tried to deny the consensus by ignoring 98% of the papers that endorse it. He compared only papers that explicitly quantified the human contribution to global warming to the full sample of all peer-reviewed papers that mention the phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.”
By that standard, there’s less than a 1% expert consensus on evolution, germ theory, and heliocentric theory, because there are hardly any papers in those scientific fields that bother to say something so obvious as, for example, “the Earth revolves around the sun.” The same is true of human-caused global warming. That Bast and Spencer refer to Monckton and Legates’ fundamentally wrong paper in an obscure off-topic journal as “more reliable research” reveals their bias in only considering denial “reliable.”
Bast and Spencer didn’t just limit their misrepresentations to our paper; they spread the wealth to all of the big global warming consensus studies. The first was done by Naomi Oreskes and published in Science in 2004, finding that in a sample of 928 peer-reviewed climate research abstracts, none rejected human-caused global warming. Bast and Spencer claimed, “scores of articles by prominent [contrarian] scientists … who question the consensus, were excluded.”
This is inaccurate; their ‘skeptical’ papers simply weren’t represented in Oreskes’ sample of 928 papers, which isn’t surprising since these contrarian papers account for less than 3% of the peer-reviewed global warming research. Oreskes’ sample also didn’t capture tens of thousands of other climate papers that are consistent with the 97% consensus. That’s why it’s called a sample.
Bast and Spencer also argued that abstracts don’t necessarily accurately reflect the content of a complete scientific paper, which could be a weakness in Oreskes’ study, given that she only considered the abstracts. However, our study last year included ratings of over 2,000 full papers by the scientist authors themselves. The result? Once again, a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming.
Next came a survey of Earth scientists by Doran & Zimmerman in 2009, and a survey of public statements made by climate researchers by Anderegg and colleagues in 2010, both again finding a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming among climate experts. In their opinion article, Bast and Spencer tried to reject these studies as having relatively small sample sizes.
However, their results were consistent with those in our study, which had a much larger sample size. We found 10,356 scientists whose published climate research has stated a position on human-caused global warming. Among those 10,356 scientists, 98.4% endorsed the consensus. In addition to these consensus studies, at least 80 National Academies of Science and dozens of scientific organizations from around the world agree with the consensus; none oppose it.
Instead of accepting these consistent results that have been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals like Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Environmental Research Letters, Spencer and Bast choose to believe some less robust data that they find more convenient.
The first source they cite is a survey of members of the American Meteorological Society, in which only 13% of participants described climate science as their area of expertise. Worse yet, Bast and Spencer also referenced the Oregon Petition, which can be signed by anyone with just about any college science degree, and which has included “signatures” from fictional characters and Spice Girls. After complaining about the relatively small sample sizes of climate experts in previous surveys, Bast and Spencer instead put their trust in two documents that mostly include non-climate experts.
Bast and Spencer also tried to downplay the expert consensus, arguing that climate scientists don’t specify that global warming is “dangerous.” What we each consider dangerous is subjective and not scientific – some people think that driving 100 miles per hour in a rain storm isn’t dangerous. However, if the 97% expert consensus is right, it means we’re in for several more degrees of global warming if we continue on a business-as-usual path.