Oreskes replies to Schulte

John Lynch has posted Naomi Oreskes response to Schulte and the claims that there is no consensus:

3) The piece misrepresents the results we obtained. In the original AAAS talk on which the paper was based, and in various interviews and conversations after, I repeated pointed out that very few papers analyzed said anything explicit at all about the consensus position.This was actually a very important result, for the following reason. Biologists today never write papers in which they explicitly say “we endorse evolution”. Earth scientists never say “we explicitly endorse plate tectonics.” This is because these things are now taken for granted. So when we read these papers and observed this pattern, we took this to be very significant.We realized that the basic issue was settled, and we observed that scientists had moved on to discussing details of the problem, mostly tempo and mode issues: how fast, how soon, in what manner, with what impacts, etc. (See Oreskes, 2007 for further discussion).

James Hrynyshyn comments:

Naomi Oreskes, … defends herself against a pathetic attempt to show that she was wrong. (thanks Stranger Fruit.) But in her list of reasons why we shouldn’t pay attention to her detractors, there is sad and completely unnecessary little example of the ad hominem logical fallacy:

6) The author is a medical researcher. As a historian of science I am trained to analyze and understand scientific arguments, their development, their progress, etc., and my specific expertise is in the history of earth science. This past summer I was invited to teach a graduate intensive course at Vienna International Summer University, Vienna Circle Institute, on Consensus in Science. I do not know why a medical researcher would feel qualified to undertake an analysis of consensus in the earth scientific literature.

Now, while I have no problem casting aspersions on someone who clearly doesn’t have the expertise required to tackle a specific scientific problem — I wouldn’t know where to begin when it comes to quantum chromodynamics, for example — this particular example isn’t exactly on that level.

What Oreskes did was perform a database search of the literature and count references to certain phrases and words. I would say any competent medical researcher should be able to manage that much.

This isn’t correct. To classify the papers it is not enough to count references to certain phrases and words — you have to understand what the abstract says and how it fits into the science. Schulte does not seem to have this understanding — of the seven articles he said explicitly rejected the consensus, only three actually did. It is not an ad hominem to point out that someone is unqualified when they are unqualified and prove that they are unqualified.

Andrew Dessler quotes an abstract and writes:

Can you tell me if this paper accepts or rejects the consensus view on climate change?

You can’t. It is impossible for anyone but an expert in this particular climate sub-field to be able to read this abstract and understand the implications for the theory of climate change. Most climate scientists could read the entire paper and understand the implications, but it takes a true expert in a particular field to be able to understand the implications just from the abstract.

Why? Because the abstract of the paper contains only what’s new in the paper. Thus, the implications of the paper to our wider knowledge can only be understood if one is familiar with everything that’s been previously published on the topic.

In this case, the paper strongly supports the IPCC view of climate science. I know, because I wrote it. But for non-experts like Dr. Schulte, it is just a bunch of gobbledy-gook.

Now because Schulte’s paper was hyped by Drudge, a whole bunch of bloggers posted the usual claims that the consensus was busted. Gavin M deals with a typical example by a particularly clueless person called Dogstar.


  1. #1 Sparrow (in the coal mine)
    September 5, 2007

    Just in case somebody still doubts the consensus. Everything you need to know about it is here:

    Logicalscience.com – The Consensus on Global Warming: From Science to Industry & Religion

    If anyone here knows of any other organizations or quotes that I should add please post it on my blog or email me.

    Thanks for your support,

    M.J. Sparrow

  2. #2 Boris
    September 5, 2007

    Actually, Pointing out that Schulte is unqualified is doing him a kindness. If he were qualified to judge the abstracts, he’d be lying.

  3. #3 sod
    September 5, 2007

    In this case, the paper strongly supports the IPCC view of climate science. I know, because I wrote it. But for non-experts like Dr. Schulte, it is just a bunch of gobbledy-gook.

    nice reply 🙂

    though there of course must be something wrong with you! the sceptics have told us for years now, that you can only get funding, if you study climate change!
    so why would you exclude that keyphrase from your abstact???? 😉

    btw, i m with you on your critisism on keyword based research on subjects. the method is used in political science, for example to classify politicians or news papers on a conservative — liberal scale. i remember some text book advicing to double check “suspicious” results manually.

  4. #4 Sortition
    September 6, 2007

    I agree with Hrynyshyn that Oreskes’s point is weak and unseemly. It is weak because it is an appeal to authority. It is unseemly because the authority is Oreskes herself.

    Along the same lines she could attack an earth scientist for doing the consensus analysis, claiming that the earth scientist cannot understand the sociological aspects of the issue.

  5. #5 bill ravenwood
    September 6, 2007

    Tim, your argument and Andrew Dressler’s also implies that Oreskes herself is unqualified, since the premise seems to be that only a climate scientist is qualified to interpret and judge these abstracts.

    Which begs the question: why hasn’t a climate scientist published a meta-analysis like that of Oreske?

    It seems like lots of unqualified people are trying to tell climate scientists what they think.

  6. #6 Chris Noble
    September 6, 2007

    It seems like lots of unqualified people are trying to tell climate scientists what they think.

    Honest scientists with an alternative viewpoint would be busy doing research to obtain data to convince their colleagues rather than playing silly games like this.

  7. #7 Tim Lambert
    September 6, 2007

    Umm, Oreskes *is* an earth scientist — she has a BSc in Geology.

    Appeal to authority is only a fallacy if the authority’s qualifications are irrelevant to the quaestion at hand.

  8. #8 John Mashey
    September 6, 2007

    re: #5 bill ravenwood

    In a web era, it is often easy to look people up before writing silly things, especially if their name is easy to Google.

    Are people under the bizarre impression that Dr. Oreskes is a nontechnical historian rather than a well-published geoscientist and interdisciplinary researcher also interested in history of science?

    Google: oreskes [a really difficult search to conceive]

    The first hit is worth reading {although it might help Americans to know that Imperial College is usually rated among the top 3-4 universities in the UK, is sometimes considered the MIT of the UK, and has long been strong in geosciences.] People have probably heard of Stanford, Dartmouth, Harvard.

    Also, I suggest reading the longer version of her original note, which is worth doing even apart from this current brouhaha, for anyone who actually wants to understand this:
    Read the 6 pages of references.

    Now, please explain why you think she’s unqualified, and perhaps say why *you* are qualified to say that?

    Finally, I conjecture that we will indeed learn why a medical researcher got into this mess and the extent to which he’s qualified or not to do this. I think we’ll also come to understand the peculiar orchestration of this effort.

  9. #9 stewart
    September 6, 2007

    Clearly, the Schulte paper was nonsense (we can use the past tense, and it’s not even published). I’d say the appeal to qualifications (not authority) is relevant, for two reasons.
    First,casual readers often do not understand the context just from an abstract (cf.Dessler), thus can get it wrong. A dedicated amateur may get it right, but is no evidence that Schulte is such a creature.
    Second, and more important. If climate research is being misrepresented, for example by the IPCC and NAS, then climate researchers would be complaining about this, as, for example biologists do when their work is misrepresented. The fact that it’s the same 3 elderly folks who claim this, but not working scientists, is a far more important piece of evidence.

  10. #10 Paul
    September 6, 2007

    someone should update the sourcewatch page for Energy and Environment.

    That journal smells like a rotten piece of poo.

  11. #11 Coin
    September 6, 2007

    Biologists today never write papers in which they explicitly say “we endorse evolution”.

    Interestingly, creationists often notice this and interpret it to mean that biologists don’t support or don’t “need” evolution.

  12. #12 Sortition
    September 6, 2007


    > Appeal to authority is only a fallacy if the authority’s qualifications are irrelevant to the quaestion at hand.

    Do you really think it is that simple? Who is to say what qualifications are relevant? I can image John Lott arguing that you are not qualified to opine on gun control, since you are not a social scientist, but rather a CS researcher. Would you find that a good point? What about you opining on global warming? Do you have an earth sciences BSc?

    If Oreskes thinks that Schulte has made mistakes because of his lack of understanding in the relevant disciplines, she should point to such mistakes, not tell us that she knows better.

    I would suspect that any false statements made by Schulte and his likes are attributable primarily to bias. Like in Kane’s case, ignorance is just an enabling factor, not the motive.

  13. #13 luminous beauty
    September 6, 2007

    “Who is to say what qualifications are relevant?”

    I don’t know. Someone who’s qualified, maybe?

    The fact that Schulte misrepresents Oreskes’ methodology may be enough of a disqualification of his expertise. That he lacks academic experience in the qualifying disciplines is just icing on the cake. It may be rhetorical excess, perhaps, but no crime against reason.

  14. #14 John Mashey
    September 6, 2007

    If someone published serious research in a serious peer-reviewed journal, it would get argued about or not.

    This hasn’t even been published in *any* journal, much less a serious one, and at least so far, no one has been able to point to a *published* version by the author, just to what Lord Christopher Moncton says the article says … which, via Morano&co at EPW, infected the blogosphere in 2 days, with articles most commonly entitled:

    “Less than half of all published scientists endorse global warming theory.”

    Google: less than half published scientists oreskes
    Now gives 32,000 hits, which is the point. Does the article ever need to get published?

    Now, do you think this is a scientific argument worth Dr. Oreskes’ time? Or is this something else? Andrew Dessler has a good essay in:

  15. #15 FDB
    September 6, 2007

    The appeal to authority is always fallacious. Fallacies need not be the end of a line of argument once identified though. Unless they’re all you’ve got, i.e. if used as a substitute for critical evaluation of what’s been said by the authority in question.

    Authority is a perfectly good reason to take someone’s work seriously – but it must not supplant rigorous analysis.

  16. #16 John Mashey
    September 6, 2007

    Well, more details appear:

    1) [DeSmogBlog has some interesting background on SPPI (where Lord Monckton published).](http://www.desmogblog.com/the-endocrinologist-the-viscount-of-brenchley-and-the-dc-think-tank)

    2) And SPPI has an [“Open Letter in Response to Namoi (sic) Oreskes’ Criticisms”](http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/sppi_reprint_series/open_letter_in_response_to_namoi_oreskes_criticisms.html),

    3) and a comment by Bob Ferguson, who you find mentioned in 1).

    Well-orchestrated, indeed.

  17. #17 Jody Aberdein
    September 7, 2007

    In medicine, the consensus position is often represented by meta-analysis of published trials, selected by an explicit search and classification schema, and weighted according to study size. Although not a truly analagous process, do we not already have an analysis of the consensus position in IPCC4? It always seemed to me that the Oreskes paper was a bit os a sop to the small but vocal group who are consistelntly impervious to whatever IPCC comes out with, and hence they are quite likely to be impervious to whatever smaller consensus study they are confronted with.

  18. #18 Meyrick Kirby
    September 7, 2007

    Oreskes said:

    I do not know why a medical researcher would feel qualified to undertake an analysis of consensus in the earth scientific literature

    My problem with Oreskes it that her wording is at times ill-chosen. In her original article she said she had analysed 928 abstracts, when she should have said 900 abstracts from 928 article (28 didn’t have abstracts in the ISI DB)

    In this case it would have been better, as Tim has done, point to mistakes by Schulte (and Peiser before him) as evidence that he is not qualified.

    However, poor wording does not negate her arguments.

  19. #19 Paul
    September 7, 2007

    Sortion wrote: Do you really think it is that simple? Who is to say what qualifications are relevant?

    Gee, good point. Maybe Oreskes should start opining on medical issues and move in on Schulte’s territory?

  20. #20 dhogaza
    September 7, 2007

    I drafted the paper because I had become concerned that patients were being perhaps unduly alarmed by media reports of catastrophic climate change and were coming to harm through resultant stress. Peer-reviewed studies of patients’ views on the subject of climate change had reinforced my concern.

    There are really peer-reviewed studies of patients’ views on climate change? Where? Anyone here have a clue?

    This whole spin of his, “I got interested in climate change because of how alarmism affects my patients” is just strange.

  21. #21 dhogaza
    September 7, 2007

    Oh, dear, Schulte seems to have reading comprehension problems.

    The statement [Oreskes] says that “very few papers analyzed said anything explicit at all about the consensus position.” In remarkable contrast to this assertion, however, Oreskes’ 2004 essay says, “Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories [explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals], either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view.”

    The Oreskes quote he claims contradicts her statement actually supports it.


  22. #22 John Mashey
    September 7, 2007

    On July 19, Monckton published a lot of the details of Schulte’s work on the SPPI website, where it remains today.

    Schulte’s “Open Letter” to Oreskes/Fox, sent Sept 3, was then published on that SPPI website, under an SPPI logo, and labeled as an SPPI Reprint.

    That lettter says, up front:

    “My attention has been drawn …commenting on a forthcoming but not yet finalized paper of mine, an early draft of which was circulated without my authority.”

    Really? If so, Schulte had 6 weeks to castigate Lord Moncton and SPPI for publishing something supposedly in review at E&E, and demand that the Monckton paper be removed, IF IT WERE INDEED UNAUTHORIZED. The Monckton piece was clearly the release route. Schulte has published plenty in his own field, and should know what normal review and release processes are. THIS ISN’T.

    Instead, Schulte attacks Oreskes (but not Monckton/SPPI), and then publishes his Open Letter on the same SPPI website!

    I used to think Schulte was an innocent sucked into this, and be a little sorry for him, but he’s clearly an active participant in this disinformation/harassment effort.

    After that, the rest of the Open Letter is *irrelevant* quibbling, if amusingly out of touch with reality. I beleive him when he says he doesn’t know Morano or EPW gang. Why should he, he’s new to the maelstrom… But I bet Bob Ferguson (SPPI) knows them…

    The next day (09/06/07), Ferguson sent out a press release, via BusinessWire (What?!):

    Researcher Demands Apology for Professional Discourtesy from Essayist Who Claimed Climate “Consensus,” Reports SPPI

  23. #23 Eli Rabett
    September 7, 2007

    I believe the traditional response is to take it and shove. There is certainly a widely circulated draft of something out there and I see no reason for anyone to be shy about quoting it.

  24. #24 luminous beauty
    September 7, 2007

    Poor reading comprehension seems endemic over at SPPI. While perusing their site I found this confounding bit of reasoning from His Lordship among several mind-numbing twists of logic and inconsequential petty nit-picking dressed as accusations tantamount to scientific fraud in his ‘critique’ of Lockwood & Frohlich (2007).

    Lockwood and Frohlich have referenced Svensmark’s paper but have made inappropriate deductions, reaching a conclusion opposite from what Svensmark’s hypothesis actually suggests. Lockwood and Frohlich say:

    “For the cosmic ray mechanism, it has been proposed that the long-term decline in cosmic rays over much of the twentieth century … would cause a decline in global cover of the low-altitude clouds, for which the radiative forcing caused by the albedo decrease outweighs that of the trapping effect on the outgoing thermal long-wave radiation.”

    The authors, however, fail to quote the logical conclusion drawn by Svensmark (2007b), even though they cited this reference:

    “Here is prima facie evidence for suspecting that much of the warming of the world during the 20th century was due to a reduction in cosmic rays and low-cloud cover.”

    Excuse me. I have to take a shower now.

  25. #25 z
    September 8, 2007

    M.J. Sparrow, that’s great. Thanks.

  26. #26 Brenda von Ahsen
    September 9, 2007

    There is nothing wrong with an appeal to authority when the question revolves around said authority. In this case much of the controversy is what Oreskes said in her paper. I think she is indeed the proper authority in that matter.

  27. #27 Paul S
    September 12, 2007

    I believe Oreske’s has misled the public with her claims of consensus on AGW.

    Referring to her original 2004 report, approx. 240 papers support AGW. Her mistake is in assuming that climate papers offering no opinion on AGW are actually implicitly supporting AGW, and, big surprise, these papers expressing no opinion on AGW constitute the majority (over 500 papers) of the so-called concensus.

    Oreske’s then offers up the untested assumption that no mention of AGW constituts endorsement of AGW, but nowhere does she offer anything substantive to back up her assumption. Her claim may be true, but it has not been proven.

  28. #28 John Mashey
    September 12, 2007

    paul S

    One needs to be very well-informed to state “nowhere” with strong authority, and claims that someone misled people is pretty silly in this case.

    Do you regularly read primary science research literature?
    I don’t mean newsletters or blogs, or even Scientific American,I mean Science, Nature, etc, etc, i.e., where scientists mostly publish for each other.

    I’m an AAAS member, so I do read Science very week. You may be aware that words there are precious, given the prestige and high bar for getting anything in that journal.

    Oreskes’ Science essay was a page or two long, which leaves little space for giving a tutorial on what real scientists know perfectly well. In fact, the tutorial you want would have consumed much of the allotted space … and for this audience, they never would have published it.

    When something is *actually* controversial, papers fly, and opposing positions are perfectly clear, even in abstracts. This goes on for a while, until the issue gets resolved, one way or another.

    Either the established position survives, and (except for a few holdout dissenters, there are always some), people go on to other issues. For instance, Richard Lindzen’s IRIS hypothesis was like that.

    Others take a while, and sometimes, parts of a new hypothesis make it, some don’t. William Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum” has fine commentary on the way science works. The jury is still out on some of the hypotheses there.

    Sometimes the existing consensus gets radically overturned, but this is rare, science usually works by successively better approximations. But when it happens, you know it, as the new hypothesis gains evidence and strength until only a few dissenters are left. Oreskes’ book “The Rejection of Continental Drift” is a nice study on a real controversy that went for decades.

    But, especially for new research (as opposed to tutorial/review articles) and especially in good journals, scientists don’t bother reaffirming obvious things. Biologists don’t waste words saying “I agree with evolution.”
    As she notes, once a consensus on something major has been reached, people argue about refinements, details, and as Oreskes says “tempo and mode”.

    If someone actually wants to understand this , read the very nice 35-page (but not dense) document, especially pages labeled 72-75.

    Oreskes, Naomi, 2007, “The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong?” Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, edited by Joseph F. C. DiMento and Pamela Doughman, MIT Press, pp. 65-99.

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