TCS Daily

A Consensus About Consensus

By George Taylor - February 13, 2006 12:00 AM

"The vast majority of the most respected environmental scientists from all over the world have sounded a clear and urgent alarm. ...these scientists are telling the people of every nation that global warming caused by human activities is becoming a serious threat to our common future."
-- Al Gore,, January 2004

"...the widely accepted notion among the vast majority of scientists [is] that human activity is contributing to a warming planet, and that business as usual -- doing nothing about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- will make things worse."
-- Sandy Tolan and John Harte, San Francisco Chronicle, November, 2005

Statements such as these appear quite frequently, usually directed at those considered to be on the wrong side of "the widely accepted notion among the vast majority of scientists" that global warming is getting worse, and that it's caused by people -- notably, the people of the United States.

However, some scientists persist, "in the face of the overwhelming conclusions of scientists" in believing that natural variations are the primary cause of observed changes in climate. Without denying that human activities affect climate, these scientists believe that natural factors such as solar radiation, ocean temperatures, and other factors exert a much more significant influence.

As proof of their thesis Tolan and Harte referenced Naomi Oreskes. Last year Science Magazine published the results of a study by Ms. Oreskes. She concluded that there is a "unanimous, scientific consensus" on the anthropogenic (human-induced) causes of recent global warming. Oreskes analyzed 928 abstracts she found listed on a scientific database using the keywords "global climate change."

So what about this "consensus" among scientists. Is it really that broad?

Dr. Benny Peiser of England's John Moores University attempted to duplicate Oreskes' work. Peiser found 1,117 abstracts using the same search technique. Of these, only 13 explicitly endorsed the 'consensus view.' However, 34 of the abstracts rejected or questioned the view that human activities are the main driving force of "the observed warming over the last 50 years."

Oreskes claimed, "none of these papers argued [that current climate change is natural]". According to Peiser, however, 44 papers emphasized that natural factors play a major if not the key role in recent climate change.

Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr, European climate scientists, stated earlier this year that "a significant number of climatologists are by no means convinced that the underlying issues have been adequately addressed. Last year, for example, a survey of climate researchers from all over the world revealed that a quarter of respondents still question whether human activity is responsible for the most recent climatic changes."

That survey involved responses from 530 scientists worldwide. They were asked: "To what extent do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes?" Only 9.4% strongly agreed, while 9.7% strongly disagreed. Another 19.3% were in general disagreement.

But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong. I often think about the lives of three scientists who found themselves by themselves, on the "wrong side of consensus." There have been many in the history of science, but I singled out Alfred Wegener (Continental Drift), Gilbert Walker (El Niño), and J. Harlan Bretz (Missoula Floods). None is well-known now among members of the public, and all of them were ridiculed, rejected, and marginalized by the "consensus" scientists -- and each of the three was later proven to be correct, and the consensus wrong. As a well-known writer once said, "if it's consensus, it isn't science -- and if it's science, it isn't consensus."

Wegener suggested that the continents were all connected at one time but had drifted apart, a phenomenon we now call "continental drift." Among his critics was Dr. Rollin T. Chamberlin, of the University of Chicago, who said, "Wegener's hypothesis in general is of the footloose type, in that it takes considerable liberty with our globe, and is less bound by restrictions or tied down by awkward, ugly facts than most of its rival theories." In time, though well after his death, Wegener's "footloose" theory became dominant.

Walker was chided for his belief that climatic conditions over widely separated regions of the globe could be linked, and that fluctuations in the tropical Pacific affected the Indian Monsoon and other climatic features. We now call those Pacific fluctuations the "El Niño-Southern Oscillation," and recognize that it has a profound effect on world weather.

Bretz postulated that massive floods had transformed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest at some time in the past. Geologists, who believed in slow, uniform processes, called Bretz a "catastrophist" because he believed in large-scale events not currently seen. Bretz engaged in "flaunting catastrophe too vividly in the face of the uniformity that had lent scientific dignity to interpretation of the history of the earth," according to one fellow scientist. Decades after his research began, it was shown that post-Ice Age floods had indeed scoured the landscape, and that Bretz's theories were correct.

When I hear the rather strident words of people like Tolan and Harte I am reminded of Wegener, Walker, and Bretz and what they went through. Many of my fellow climate scientists have been criticized for many years for their "non-consensus" views. They persist in seeking truth, regardless of government policies or popular opinion. No matter how many people agree.

George H. Taylor is the State Climatologist for Oregon and past President of the American Association of State Climatologists. The opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the State of Oregon nor Oregon State University, where he is employed.



No Subject
Sure, there have been famous cases of scientists who bucked opinion and won it over.

The problem for this view is, these cases have mostly been scientists bringing a new idea into a static field: continental drift is the classic case.

In climate studies, research has been intense for the past three decades. It has convinced most of the early sceptics: Roy Spencer is a classic example.

So now your case is down to "if they say it's wrong, they must be right."

YOu're wrong.

Specifically, this is ludicrous:

"That survey involved responses from 530 scientists worldwide. They were asked: "To what extent do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes?" Only 9.4% strongly agreed, while 9.7% strongly disagreed. Another 19.3% were in general disagreement.

First of all the sample is tiny, and "scientists" can be almot anything -- it doesn't limit itself to people with PhDs in the field. But even accepting this, the bottom line is this study found 70 percent either strongly or generally agreed. I can't imagine a more intellectually dishonest way to present this conclusion.

headline for previous: Sure: the more people who say it's wrong, the surer we are it's right
Do we work this way in any other science?

What is your stake in this issue?
Why is it so important to you that global warming be caused by humans?
Where would we be today if all physicists agreed that Newton was 100% correct? or Einstein? Their theories explained a significant percentage of what could be observed, but did not explain all.
So far, many CLIMATOLOGISTS are not convinced that humans are the primary cause of global warming. If the theories, data and analysis were convincing to all, there would be no debate.
(Some thought dinosaurs were related to birds. Now, dinosaur fossils have been discovered with feathers.)

Consensus science
Consensus science has a record of making dogmatic pronouncements and being wrong.

consensus science (fixed URL)
Sorry, looks like HTML isn't allowed here.

Consensus science has a history of making dogmatic pronouncements and being wrong.

best guess
The language of statistical decision theory should be familiar to a scientist who works with data. Call the two states or the world F (fine) and G (human reversable global warming). If we do nothing we have expected loss L_n = (Global warming losses) * prob(G). If we adopt Kyoto, we have expected loss L_k = (Economic loss)*Prob(F). Even without certainty -- prob(F) > 0 -- decision theory can indicate Kyoto -- L_k
In plain English, there is enough evidence for human reversable global warming that we dare not ignore it, even if it proves to be a false alarm. You don't have to be absolutely sure there's a fire to heed the fire alarm.

What, specifically, and quantifiably, (with uncertainty estimations) are the 'losses' due to global warming?
It did a great deal of good for the Vikings and for Europe in general 1000 years ago.

As opposed to?
Sure, the consensus has been wrong quite a few times n the past: that's what research is for, and that's what science is all about. But to say that because there's a consensus the conclusion is dubious is silly. I mean, there's a consensus that the earth is round widely held, but the Flat Earth society believes it's bogus. Does that mean it we should start worrying about sailing off the edge?

As for the degree of consensus: the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific body charged by its charter with giving the best scientific advice to the governmentof the U.S. says that human caused climate change is real and should be addressed. Are we really so sure they're wrong? Why is NAS advice-- and science in general -- wrong about this but not about everything else?

Why not deal with the issues?
This is actively silly. I am not the issue.

"What is your stake in this issue?
Why is it so important to you that global warming be caused by humans?"

First: it is not important to me that global warming be caused by humans. I'd prefer to believe that nothing is happening, but that's not what the experts say. Which gets into what is important to me: that science, conducted by scientists not be attacked by interested political partisans with agendas.

Science works because the culture is to let the chips fall where they may: the truth will come out of study. The people making noises on this don't care about the science and the don't care about the study: they just want to establish the conclusion they want to hear. That's bogus.

regarding many CLIMATOLOGISTS, it's not that many any more, as the NAS statements indicate.

poor assumption
There seems credible evidence that anthropogenic greenhouse gasses may exacerbate current climate warming trends and perhaps cooling elsewhere, however, there is absolutely no evidence for anthropogenic reversal of global warming not attributable to natural variations. Your sniping at earth scientists who have determined that Kyoto will do nothing to achieve the stated goal of reversing global warming, who have nothing to do with the Republican party or the oil companies makes you a partisan idiot. In plain English, you ring the fire alarm when there is no fire, you get to see the judge.

Goodman outlined the logic
You are the one who was "snipping" because Goodman's use of certain terms pressed your buttons.

But I will agree with the incompleteness of Goodman's decision tree. He did not take into account of the economic benefits of the USA ratifying the Kyoto treaty (and there are many) nor were the positive concequences to public health resulting from reducing fossil fuel combustion taken into account.

When the public health and positive financial benefits are brought into the equation, ratifying Kyoto wins.

So why not Kyoto for the USA? I think the interview of (ex) President Clinton on David Letterman pretty much hit the nail on the head; alternative energy is not centralized. So there is a huge momentum by the big energy companies. These corporations, of course, do not want favor Kyoto because they cannot centralize the power and so subsequently the shareholders will not make profits.

And the purpose of the pubic company is to generate revenue for shareholders (in the USA).

Gov't support of corporations
Why do you think more government regulations will decentralize coporate control of energy?
Enron was doing all it could to implement Kyoto in order to get on the ground floor of some type of carbon credits (?). Why did the Clinton Admin help Enron in the failed India power plant?
More government control is not the answer.
Eliminate all subsidies and restictions to all energy companies, including nuclear.
(On-site nuclear geneators for buildings and cities are on the drawing boards, but if conventional sources are subsidized what incentive exists for alternate energy development?

Frst what are you saying?

>however, there is absolutely no evidence for anthropogenic reversal of global warming not attributable to natural variations.

you mean Kyoto won't be enough to reverse the trends? I think that's widely known. Do you mean it is impossible as a practical measure to do anything?

Whichever, can you please source your conclusions?

"These corporations, of course, do not want favor Kyoto because they cannot centralize the power and so subsequently the shareholders will not make profits."

And that is why the "consensus scientists" must be right and the others must be wrong? I always thought that sciencific evidence was independant of commercial and political interests.

There's a very good probability that when all is said and done, Global Warming will be a net plus for humanity.

You are correct that Goodman's analysis was incomplete.
Not because of the supposed positive economic affects of Kyoto. No such affects exist.

But because he ignores the positive affects of global warming, which are legion, and in all probability, outweigh the negative affects.

Motivation and science
In fact, lots of corporations are worried about Kyoto or other action on greenhose gases. Others are trying to adapt. But that's irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Such concerns are completely independent from the science which is and should be independent of outside influences. The NAS and sister organizations aroeund the world aren't taking the position they are taking because they are against (or for) energy companies. They are taking their positions based on the science.

Some Corporations WANT Kyoto
"By now, much to the chagrin of my greener friends, it is common knowledge that Enron Corporation was lobbying the Bush administration for highly profitable policies relating to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In fact, the tatters of Enron still want the administration to place a cap on carbon dioxide emissions so the company can broker the trading of "permits" to emit carbon dioxide under that cap...."

NAS and Concensus
Well the National Academy of Sciences self selects its own members, so it is not too surprising that they often reach a concensus. They also have a habit of never issuing a 'minority report' so the Government can also have the benefit of the dissenting view of equally eminent scientists.
You should look up Margaret Thatcher's wisw comment on 'Concensus'. Something about getting a whole bunch of people to agree on something that none of them actually believe in.

Science is about what you can prove to be true; not what is fashionable, and popular.

And those of us who are skeptical about man-made global warming; also to not use the term 'anthropogenic'; and bottom line is we are interested ONLY in the science. Popularity counts for nothing.

None of this means the NAS is wrong
>nd bottom line is we are interested ONLY in the science.

And you think the NAS isn't? Yes, they select their own members: if you think they are hacks or don't know the business, I'd suggest you look over the roster. Thatcher's comment was about political concensus, which has everything to do with interest and nothing to do with fact. Science has a social component, but the bottom line is "do the numbers work?" As you know.

The Association Of State Climatologists
Let us begin by asking if the executive of an association of political appointees ought to recuse himself from attempts to define scientific consensus.
The answer can only be prejudiced by the observation that he is skilled enough in statistical misrepresentation to conceal the largest bloc of the vote he cites- what has become of the majority when he avers :
' 530 scientists worldwide... were asked: "To what extent do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes?" Only 9.4% strongly agreed, while 9.7% strongly disagreed. Another 19.3% were in general disagreement.'

As the author evades the clear inference that 70 % of the 530 scientists strongly or generally agree that climate change is " mostly" the result of human causes, perhaps he should ask what effect changing " mostly ' to "significantly " would have on the 30% minority put off by the polster's choice of a word calculated to
inspire reluctance among those who confess they do not know the exact ratio of human to background climate forcing ?

doesn't mean it's right either.
Especially when the majority of scientists who study the atmosphere for a living, and aren't on the public dole, disagree with the academie.

You can draw any implication you want from incomplete data.

It's much more likely that there were two more categories, so your pathetic attempt to claim that everyone not quoted agrees with you is a bit hollow.

Let me counter with another question...
You asked "Why do you think more government regulations will decentralize coporate control of energy?"

Government and indusrty are one and the same in the USA. They call this feature "the revovling door" and the USA is famous (or shoudl we say infamous) for this acros the planet. Regulations are the reason for the centralized energy we have today. Without regulations, we would be allowed to generate our own power, on our roofs, or with our windmills. But, becuase many states have regulations that don't allow this, alternative energy has not 'caught on' in the USA as is has in EU.

Take, for example, the US coal-fired power industry. The US environmental regulations do more to protect industry then is does to protect the enviroment and public health.

It is estimated that coal-fired power plants cause 10,000 premature deaths in north eastern states of the US alone. However, because these plants are all operating within federal guidelines, they are not liable for damages. Consequently, the additional cost burden of health care due to poor air quality is just another cost US consumers are forced to pay. They ave no choice and the power industry is protected.

If the coal power industry was held fiancially responsible for the public health problems that are occuring as a consequence of the poor air quality, then the cost of coal-fire power would be on-par with that of alternative energy.

I don't have a clue what Clinton has to do with Enron. But what you say certainly makes sense otherwise.

But, I am not for elimination of all regulations. I only say that the regulations shoudl be such that if an industry harms public health, then they should pick up the cost for that.

On the opther hand, deregulation does really help matters. Look at what has happenned with taking the natural gas out of the hands of consumer groups and "deregulating" these small municipal-owned companies into the private sector. Th ebottom line here is that the cost of natural gas has doubled to the personal consumer while industry is paying half of what consumers are paying. Prior to "deregulations" industry paid the same as consumers for natural gas.

Please source your statement
this is the second time you've made this statement:

"Especially when the majority of scientists who study the atmosphere for a living, and aren't on the public dole, disagree with the academie."

What is your source?

Here are some positive economic factors with Kyoto
1) Development of advanced engineering and science. This is called intellectual property. Intellectual property is what the future economy is all about and this is where the USA is missing the boat. EU, India, and now China have the competative edge in this regard. The US has lost and will continue to do so until they start shifting their policies back toward science.

2) Public health. As mentioned above, coal-fired power plants cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the USA. There is loss of human resources and los of financial resources paying for the health care of these people.

3) Labor increases. With technology "retooling" creates jobs ad enhances the education level of the public. Higher educated people live longer and more enriched lives.

So what's it all about? Quality of life or corporate profit?

You put that quite well
The article did not give any complete data.

If I were to guess why, I would have to suppose that the author was trying to put the data in a format that would best reinforce his arguments.

So given that the data was incomplete, and that the author had access to the full data set, then his inference is most likely wrong, and he is simply another spin doctor who lies by omission of facts.

More regulations?
How would the Kyoto treaty decouple the energy industry from goverment?

Science as the Boogeyman
Consensus and Dissent are a normal function of Science, all of which depends on which theory makes the most accurate explantation of, and predictions for, the evidence found to date.

However, some with financial interests in protecting the oil industry as is -or- in protecting the belief of a literally true Bible, fear Science because of the implications to public policy.

If so, then be honest and debate policy issue openly.

Full Disclosure
The cigarette companies hire their own 'scientists' to refute health warnings.
Enron hired its scientists to support global warming.
Science is a process to discover the laws of nature.
A good science process provides full disclosure of methods, data and analysis for replication.
If a 'scientist' won't provide all of the data, or methods or analysis for peer review, don't believe it.
If the oil companies fund research to prove oil is not organic and they find more oil, is that bad? Only if you don't want them to find more oil.
Or, what if cold fusion really works? Unlimited energy from water, Pt and Pd? How would your 401k respond?

NAS say models models do not adequately represent knowledge of the underlying physics
"The National Academies' Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) held a workshop to explore and evaluate current efforts to model physical processes of coupled atmosphere-land-ocean (A-L-O) models. Numerical models of the atmosphere and ocean are central to weather prediction, research, and education. Although great strides have been made over the past few decades in understanding the atmosphere and ocean, modeling capabilities, and numerical A-L-O simulations, some unresolved processes in the models do not adequately represent knowledge of the underlying physics. Moreover, there is evidence that further progress in numerical simulations is being impeded by the slow pace of improvement in the representation of key physical processes in the models and the fact that geophysical flow models are not receiving the attention needed to make these tools more useful and accurate. These models often are used to predict future events, so it is imperative that their underlying physical processes be represented as robustly as possible. During the workshop, the parameterization of physical processes in A-L-O models was addressed, including associated errors, testing, and efforts to improve the use of parameterizations. Participants also examined intellectual and scientific challenges in modeling and highlighted the idea that some of the key impediments to progress in representing physical processes are primarily cultural in nature."

Great progress made
.. and more expected. Sounds quite responsible to me.

Public record
I agree that Science must remain open -- that's why publishing results in peer reviewed journals is so important. Also, not all oil companies are opposed to alternative energy. BP, for instance, is investing heavily in alternatives like solar, biodeisel, and...

Power plant to be team effort
Long Beach Press Telegram, February 11, 2006

BP America and an Edison International subsidiary, Edison Mission Group, are teaming to a $1 billion hydrogen-fueled power plant that will generate 500 megawatts -- enough electricity to power 325,000 homes a day. It will be located at a 430-acre site alongside BP's existing Carson refinery, just north of Long Beach.

At the heart of the plant will be technology that produces cleaner burning hydrogen from petroleum coke, an oil residue, company executives said. CO2 EMISSIONS WILL BE REDUCED BY NEARLY 90%, and the CO2 that is produced will be PIPED DEEP UNDERGROUND into reservoirs left by oil drilling where it can do no harm to the air or produce greenhouse gas effects.

Something in the air
Having read with interest you comment as to coal, may I presume to ask if you agree strongly or generally with the premise that some significant fraction of the 10,000 deaths you attribute to coal burning arise from its annually releasing some ten tons of toxic mercury ?

1) That money would have been spent on some kind of development that people valued more. At best this is a wash. However since govt never spends money, or directs money, as efficiently as the people who earned the money, this is a net loss.

2) The claim mentioned above is a bunch of bull droppings.

3) Broken window fallacy. The money spent on these new gadgets, would have been spent on something else. At best a wash. See fallacy number 1.

The money wasted on this boondoggle could have been used to make people wealthier. Wealthier people are healthier people.

Hence, this proposal will decrease the expected increase in health.

PS: Drop the false dichotomy. By your own standards (ie points 1 and 3) Kyoto would increase corporate spending and hence corporate profits. So you are the only one stupid enough to think this is a battle between businesses and people.

Your prediliction towards believing anyone who disagrees with you is evil has to be taken into account when giving weight to your hypothesis.

failure to apply
It's interesting to note how our big govt liberals find it impossible to believe that those scientists who make their living off of finding big scary disasters that only govt funded research can avoid, could possibly have any but the purest of motives.

"Think locally, act locally"
The Next Conservatism and Conservation
by Paul M. Weyrich
The Conservative Voice, February 13, 2006

...In my view, the next conservatism's conservation needs to point away from Globalism and toward a new focus on local life. Here, some new technologies may be helpful. In the future, it may be possible to produce energy locally, from solar or wind power or in-home fuel cells. And even with current technology, there is much we can do to reduce our dependence on big systems by reviving old ways, something conservatives favor.

In much of America, we can eat food grown locally and use local products much more than most of us now do. Often, the quality is better, and if the price is somewhat higher, the money is going to our neighbors rather than to some international mega-corporation. As I have said before, the quality of our lives is not determined by how much cheap junk we own ... This also make sense from a conservative perspective, because it strengthens local life.

I have suggested previously in this series that "think locally, act locally" needs to be a principle of the next conservatism ... We should not fall for environmentalism or any other ideology, but we should conserve, in the way we live our own lives and relate to the people around us.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Year of the Dog
All "Your prediliction towards believing anyone who disagrees with you is evil has to be taken into account when giving weight to your hypothesis." needs to become a presentable fortune cookie is a good editor, an active verb and a clause explaining whot on Earth that 'hypothesis might be.

It is assertion, not science
If the author wants to contribute to the debate, he should submit his argument to a peer-revieweed publication for consideration and checking.

BLOG Science
The 'experts' at CBS could not deterimine that a letter purportedly from 1972 was typed using a modern computer.
Bloggers did, in hours.
Science is about theories and data to support those theories.
Blogs are a nearly an instant method of peer review if those theories, data a procedures are made public for all to review.
Why wait months for a 'peer' review journal article when you can have anyone in the world critique your work in hours? (Of course, you may not get 'credit' for publishing, but you do achieve personal satisfaction for performing good science.)

risks and benefits
Please expound on the benefits of implementation of the Kyoto protocols. Also, you might consider the risks and benefits of a warmer climate as opposed to a colder climate. Or are we depending on the fantasy of creating and maintaining the perfect climate to keep everything as it is, forever? What a boring and dead world that would be. If the consensus is that humans are causing runaway climate warming, the inverse must also be true: that humans can cause runaway climate cooling, ala the consensus of 1970's crop of Carter's NSF scientists. How quickly we forget or in this case purge the records! The more abundant evidence is that the system is unstable and that human beings have taken advantage of a natural warming trend and that in the not too distant future, this trend will reverse and the climate will become inhospitable again, to humans (and other critters). Enjoy it while you can.

Spam science
The blog is actually a good analogy to the way science works. Only problem is when people without knowledge but with an agenda spam and troll. As we're seeing here.

spam and troll
I couldn't think of a better description for eric's posts.

I think the question is more of "why?" than "how?"
"How" being a mechanism, which would have to be a legal instrument.

"Why" being more of the philosphy, or change in the way energy is produced, packaged, marketed, and used in the society.

The "why" is easy to answer; "alternative" electrical power sources are needed to lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil fuel use. These alternative sources are distributed. Distributed generation is intrinsically decentralized.

On the other hand, so is natural gas. And that has centralized and the costs have increased two-fold since government-mandated "deregulation" of that industry.

That is why I do not want to address the "how". So-called deregulation of natural gas under Bush Sr. has resulted in more of a corporate feudal-state model for distribution of that energy source. That move alone has been the cause great hardship in the USA public, but great profits for US corporations.

So what do people value more than their health and their life?
It is quite interesting that you think government-directed money spent on stuff that does not enhance public health would be more valued by the public-at-large.

Can you give me an exaple of this?

But other than that, your post is simply "na na you're wrong" without any sort of details to grab hold of. A "waste of bandwidth", so to speak.

What do you mean by "Carter's NSF scientists"?
Can you describe that group for me?

After you do that, can you tell me why you think that our knowledge of how things work (AKA science and its application, technology) has not changed since the 1970's period you refer to?

If it bleeds, it leads
I'm talking about the Year 2000 Report to the President, which predicted many forms of doom and gloom. Much of the focus was on the cooling climate and the reduced productivity of croplands, mass starvation, etc. Relied heavily on Erlich and other popular prophets of the time. Many current GW promoters now claim that the global cooling meme never existed. As to your second comment, I believe that science has made great leaps, but that scientists can still be money grubbing narcissists, who will do whatever it takes to get funded. If it bleeds, it leads.

TCS Daily Archives