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Climate Hustle

97% - A Statistically Representative Debate On Global Warming

Posted on 13 May 2014 by Rob Painting

In a hilarious and insightful comedy skit on HBO's show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver cuts straight to the heart of the scientific consensus on global warming and features the Skeptical Science research paper on this subject - see below. Oh, and be warned, make sure you're not drinking anything hot before clicking on the video.   

A research paper by the Skeptical Science team - Cook et al (2013) - Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature - was an assessment of the level of consensus on the matter of human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Based on the abstracts (a short summary at the beginning of a research paper) of almost 12,000 papers, what we found was that, of those that expressed a view as to the cause, 97.1% of the scientific literature indicated that human activity was largely responsible for global warming. We also invited the authors of the papers we assessed (expressing a view as to cause) to rate their own papers (not abstracts) and based on those ratings it was determined that 97.2% of the author's papers attributed global warming to human activity.

This isn't really that much of a surprise to people familiar with climate science, for example Doran & Zimmerman (2009) found 97.4% endorsement amongst those most active in climate research, and Anderegg et al (2010) found a figure of 97-98%. Of course it's easy to understand why this is so, multiple lines of evidence point the finger at fossil fuel emissions  for the increased (enhanced) Greenhouse Effect which is warming the Earth. And yes, the Earth is still warming despite wishful thinking to the contrary - accumulating heat long-term at the rate of 4 Hiroshimas bombs per second. Most of this heat is going into the oceans, but the atmosphere is still warming too. Land-based ice sheets are disintegrating and sea levels are rising because of this, and because warmer ocean waters expand as well. The list goes on and on, but you get the picture. The wealth of accumulated scientific evidence is immense and the observations are gobsmackingly obvious. 

Despite the 97% scientific consensus, all this scientific research implicating human disruption of the climate system, and all the observations that support it, the general public in most western nations is mightily confused about global warming and about the level of scientific consensus. For example, a US survey, Dew (2012), found 55% of those people polled either disagreed that there was a scientific consensus, or didn't know. This is important because research also shows that awareness of the scientific consensus is a necessary element in support for policy to address global warming (Ding et al [2011]). Clearly this doesn't mean that public knowledge of the genuine scientific consensus will by itself overcome inaction, but it is likely to remove one significant roadblock.

As one might expect, the primary source of misinformation in the public sphere stems from the mainstream media, and a common method of confusing the public are staged debates. This is where they get two people (sometimes more) from each side to argue it out in front of an audience or camera. As far as global warming is concerned, however, the scientific evidence and scientific consensus is heavily skewed toward the climate science community. By having a balanced number of participants in these debates the media is perpetrating a false balance. These are not two sides of equal scientific merit, nor is a typical public audience sufficiently schooled in climate science to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. This whole practice creates the false impression that there is genuine scientific debate where none exists.

Now a truly balanced debate on the topic of global warming would involve a lot more people on the side of climate science, 97% in fact. Which is where John Oliver steps in. And note the screen capture at two minutes into the video. 

  

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Comments

Comments 1 to 26:

  1. Comedy is a great messenger – well done indeed John Oliver.

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  2. The comedy is great but seriously - a bit exaggerated. Those three "deniers" or "skeptics" should also be dressed in white aprons and waving their notepads. They are also reputable (or were reputable until their research led them astray) climate scientists. They are not heckled as on this video. Quite opposite: someone finds time (usually those whose research is contradicted) to take "skeptic" arguments seriously and rebut in peer reviewed journals. The rest of the crowd are just ignoring them: no time to waste arguing that the Earth is flat. That's the tue picture (somewhat unatractive) of "A Statistically Representative Debate".

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  3. I'll bet you a dollar to a donut that Oliver's skit does not tickle the funny bones of Richard Tol and the Tolettes. 

    Ditto for all of the other inhabitants of Deniersville.

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  4. What's not often noted is that "the three" rarely even agree with each other. 

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  5. No. Talking about "the three" deniers in John Oliver's piece. Within the deniosphere there are multiple positions that are not mutually consistent. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thanks for the clarification. I will delete my prior comment.

  6. I refuse to change my denial stance until Oliver holds his statistically representative debate on a rickety footbridge...

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  7. Very good.

    Sums up what we have all been thinking and discussing for many years now.

    But the reality is that a public media debate is a political platform designed to promote personalities, it isn't suitable for discussing the truth about science. Which is why any one on one debate about climate science will present a false balance and will promote the characters taking part in the debate, rather than any science.

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  8. I've actually proposed this exact demonstration (well, I usually cut the numbers by a third) as a way to illustrate the dangers of false balance in the media for years now.

    I shall await my check from HBO.

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  9. Great video indeed!

    However, a sceptic might say: this Cook study shows there are 10 studies in the category 7 (i.e. against AGW in a quantified manner). Albert Einstein would say that 1 is enough. Actually there are 15 more in category 6. What do these studies say and why did they pass the peer review process? 

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  10. Bart Strengers @9, the peer review process is a spam filter for scientists.  There are so many scientists and non-scientists wanting to publish their theories that if they all were published, any scientist wanting to keep up with the literature would be swamped by a sea of ridiculous, crackpot or poorly researched papers and have little time for the good papers that truly advance the science.  This first started being a problem early in the twentieth century, so early in the twentieth century various journals started taking steps to weed out the pseudo-scientific spam.  Those steps developed into the modern peer review system, in which, in order to be published you need to convince just three people (and editor and two peer reviewers) that your research is not obviously wrong.  If you don't convince the first three you try, you can submit to another journal and try there.  And again, and again.

    Once you have been published in peer review, you have the imprimature of those three people that your theory is:

    1) Not transparently wrong;

    2) Does not include any obvious errors that can be picked up without redoing the maths;

    3) Is well enough written that other people have a reasonable chance of determining what you did, and repeating it if they want to.

    For most science publications, there may be some other criteria, ie, that it deals with a particular fairly general subject, that it challenges current views, that it can be communicated briefly, and so on, but no journal requires all, or even most of these additional criteria.

    Fairly obviously, the first three criteria are not onerous.  So like all spam filters, the peer review system sometimes lets spam through.  The system works fairly well, so that the amount of spam tends to be very limitted.  As some does get through, and as the general criteria are not that onerous, that is were the second tier or peer review comes in, ie, the response or otherwise of other scientists in the related field.  and how much it effects the related field.  Nearly all skeptical papers fair poorly in that regard.

    In any event, the way most skeptical papers get published is that they are examples of some of the spam that gets through - in some cases through deliberate attempts to game the system.  Some, on the other hand, are older papers that were on the cutting edge of the debate at the time of publication, but which subsequent publications have shown to be flawed.

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  11. @Curtis

    I understand your point, but I am still curious which studies John was talking about. (Or does he refer to them in his paper?)

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  12. Bart, here are the 10.  A quick read of their abstracts shows that they are indefensible garbage that should never have been published, and many got in by being submitted to "Energy" journals rather than climate science journals (i.e. they gamed the system by finding editors "friendly" to their results).

    For example, one claims this:


    The author suggests that neither modeling nor analyzing the resulting data show the presence of warming in the World Ocean; hence, there is no global warming in the atmosphere either.


    Another has this childish observation to make:


    The authors believe that recent global warming of Earth’s atmosphere is not due to an increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission but rather to long-term global factors. The human contribution to the CO2 content in the atmosphere and the increase in temperature is negligible in comparison with other sources of carbon dioxide emission.


    Look at them all.  They're an embarrassing joke.

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  13. Bart Strengers wrote wrote "Albert Einstein would say that 1 is enough."

    only if it were correct.

    "Actually there are 15 more in category 6. What do these studies say and why did they pass the peer review process?"

    because peer review is only a sanity check, and even then is conducted by human beings that make mistakes.  Getting through peer review is the first step towards acceptance of a paper by the research community, not the last.  A nect step is to look to see what papers have cited it.  Science has a good way of dealing with the odd really bad paper which makes it through peer review, which is to ignore it.  Sadly the blogsphere has a tendency to focuss on them and not let them go (this doesn't just apply to climate change).

    Essentially if a peer reviewed paper has been ignored by the research community (and not cited) or has recieved

     

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  14. BTW the other way science deals with bad papers is for someone to write a peer reviewed comment paper for the journal explaining the errors.  As it happens, I did exactly that for one of the papers on the list of 10 (Essenhigh).  I'd be very happy to discuss the science with you on the appproprate thread.

    However, quite a lot of work is involved in writing a comment paper and the reward is pretty much nil, which is why it is not that common these days, so even for a really bad paper you should not expect a refutation to appear in the journal.  Simply ignoring bad papers is the standard operating procedure.

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  15. On the topic of humor in the service of climate awareness, here is my latest HuffPost article, published today: "Interview With a Climate Vampire", a parody piece send-up of an interview with a denialist organization.  I even reference SKS's "Hiroshima" widget for the 2nd time in one of my articles.  Feel very free to re-print on SKS if the fancy stirkes you!   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidgoldstein/interview-with-a-climate-change_b_5325343.html?utm_hp_ref=climate-change

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link

  16. scaddenp, IMHO the predicted physics are not playing out, and the paleoclimate record demonstrates cyclical phenomena (albeit without a human overlay). 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] What exactly is your IMHO based on? Please cite sources.

  17. terranova, 

    You are going to have to be more specific about "doom and gloom predictions" and "the physics not playing out" and "cyclic phenomena" or it will be hard to take you seriously, regardless of your background.  In so doing, take care to take such questions to specific threads related to them.  We will follow you.  We (well, mostly others) are here to discuss the science.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You literally took the words right out of my mouth - excellent advice.

    Terranova has dropped in to chat on the comment threads of SkS articles multiple times over the past few years. It is not clear to me what exactly he is trying to accomplish. Is it to learn? Is it to lecture? Debate? Perhaps he will be kind enough to explain.

  18. What, Terranova, has been responsible for the trend in GMST since 1960?  It's not the sun.  What is it if not the enhanced greenhouse effect?  Is this "not playing out" simply the result of the trend doing something, over the last six years, that the models--which were not designed to provide subdecadal accuracy--did not project?   I have a feeling the upcoming El Nino is going to breed several new species of meme that will replace "it hasn't warmed since X."

    I will call you "in denial" if you refuse to provide evidence and, in your analysis, refuse to acknowledge and account for evidence provided by others.  This is what the paid denialists do--the James Taylors, Tim Harrises, and Christopher Moncktons of the world.  They have no interest in scientific progress.  They attack simply to shape public opinion in the interests of their employers.  It's easy to tell when someone is only interested in shutting up the science, ending it, silencing it.  The comparison with open, evidence-based dialogue is night and day.

    If I were you, Terranova, I'd spend less time worrying about what people are labeling you and spend more time continuing to read the science, letting it take you wherever it takes you, regardless of your existing politics.  I don't want "IMHO."  I want the evidence you used to get there.  Maybe I've missed something.  Maybe it's important.  Maybe you can tell me. 

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  19. A friendly reminder - Dogpiling is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

    Please let Terranova respond to Steven Barnes and DSL before posting a comment on his initial and subsequent posts.

    Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

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  20. "IMHO the predicted physics are not playing out, and the paleoclimate record demonstrates cyclical phenomena (albeit without a human overlay)"

    That would seem to be an example then of choosing your own interpretation of predicted physics and denying the published papers instead. In my understanding of the paleoclimate record, what is obvious is that the climate changes in response to changes in forcing. Claiming what we see is an unforced cycle would require an interesting interpretation of conservation of energy when you look at OHC. I, with others, would like you to present the science that backs your claim as well as asking again where the "over the top" predictions in the IPCC are. Since you are a scientist, then surely you base your humble opinion on actual data and/or published analysis of data.

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  21. I am disappointed in you Terranova. The cyclical change is due to a cyclical forcing which climate responds to. It completely calculable, currently going negative. Hardly an example of unforced change. The size of the milankovich forcing per century at 65N is about a 1/10 the size of global forcing from anthropogenic CO2. This is all heavily covered in scientific literature, including the paleoclimate chapter of IPCC. Note also how slow the change due to milankovich forcing is compared to temperature rise in past 100 years. See this article and comments for papers and more complete discussion. Discuss further over there.

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  22. Mods, I have posted twice and it has disappeared.  Am I doing something incorrect (-snip-)? Please explain.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Your comments were sloganeering and off-topic for this thread.  Note the thread guidance given you above by commenter scaddenp.

    Moderation complaints snipped.

  23. To JH @ 17:

    Since you asked, I assume I will be able to reply here.  First, I would like a clear explanation of the SkS definition and use of the term "sloganeering".  

    Second, I come here to learn, and to discuss.  I'm hardly interested in debating or lecturing.  When I am asked a question about one of my comments, and I take the time and effort to directly reply with written or graphical data, only to find that reply gets "disappeared" - it becomes frustrating.  

    I don't mind taking the discussion to another thread, but if a point I raise in Thread A is challenged in Thread A, and I reply to the challenge in Thread A with the requested data and/or reasoning, and then that response is moderated or removed because it is off-topic, it begs a question.  

    I prefer civil, intellectual discourse on a level playing field.  With that being said, I think this website can still offer that type of interaction in spite of what appears to be biased moderation as described in the above paragraph.  If a topic needs to be moved to another thread, then start the moderation with that and don't allow rebuttals on the original page.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] What you are looking is contained in the SkS Comments Policy. 

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  24. Terranova, perhaps the best way (often used and I should have done it too), is to respond in the appropriate thread, and then post a pointer to response in the originating thread. At the top of a comment, is a link with the date. Copy this link and then use as a referrer.

    In those appropriate places, by all means give us examples of "over the top" predictions in papers or IPCC reports; and also evidence that we see now is part of natural cycle. Use the search function at the top to find appropriate threads.

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  25. You might also perfer to comment "Its a natural cycle" as place to comment. Your commentary might be better if you look at the paleoclimate section of the IPCC report first however.

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  26. Terranova.

    Sloganeering to my understanding is, for example, about making assertions such as 'over the top' without first providing the basis for that assertion. A basic rule of debate is that conclusions follow from arguments and evidence. Asserting the conclusion without immediately showing the basis for that assertion is poor reasoning. Something may be 'over the top'. Equally the same something may be 'radically understated'. Only argument and evidence leads to a resolution of the question.

    Over stridently proclaiming a conclusion without first providing a basis for that conclusion can be considered sloganeering.

    The restriction here on sloganeering isn't arbitrary. It is part of a civil debate. It is actually the distinction between logic and rhetoric. Logic follow chains of reasoning to conclusions. Rhetoric tends to proceed from assumed or preferred conclusions and work back to reasons. All discussions work best when one is arguing evidence rather than conclusions.

    If we work from the evidence the conclusions just 'fall out in the wash'.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Terranova has been posting comments on SkS for at least a couple of years now. He should have familiarized himself with the SkS Comments Policy (which defines sloganeering) long before now. 

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