It’s fascinating when you catch the start of a new bogus claim enter the denialsphere, bounce from site to site, and echo about without any evidence of critical analysis or intelligence on the part of the denialists. A good example of this was an article by Heartland Institute’s contributor to Forbes, James Taylor, falsely claiming only a minority of scientists endorse the IPCC position on the causes of global warming. This new nonsense meme gets repeated by crank extraordinaire Steve Milloy, bounces the next day to Morano’s denialist aggregation site, and before long I’m sure we’ll be seeing it on Watt’s site, Fox news, and in a couple more weeks, in an argument with our conservative uncles.
The claim is, of course, a deception (or possibly total incompetence) on the part of Heartland’s “senior fellow for environment policy” (I wonder if there is significance to the use of “environment” as opposed to “environmental”). Linking this paper in the journal Organization studies, Taylor makes a false claim that a mere 36% of scientists, when surveyed, hold the consensus view. Anyone want to guess at the deception? Cherry-picking! It was a survey of largely industry engineers and geoloscientists in Alberta, home of the tar sands. In the study authors’ words:
To address this, we reconstruct the frames of one group of experts who have not received much attention in previous research and yet play a central role in understanding industry responses – professional experts in petroleum and related industries. Not only are we interested in the positions they take towards climate change and in the recommendations for policy development and organizational decision-making that they derive from their framings, but also in how they construct and attempt to safeguard their expert status against others. To gain an understanding of the competing expert claims and to link them to issues of professional resistance and defensive institutional work, we combine insights from various disciplines and approaches: framing, professions literature, and institutional theory.
This is pretty classic denialist cherry-picking and and is one of the most common deceptive practices of denialists like Taylor. By suggesting a survey of industry geoscientists can be generalized to scientists as whole, Taylor has demonstrated the intellectual dishonesty inherent in denialist argumentation. You might as well make claims about the consensus that tobacco causes lung cancer by surveying scientists in the Altria corporation headquarters.
The paper is actually quite interesting, and I’m glad I read it, as it is consistent with our thesis that ideological conflicts result in refusal to accept science that contradicts one’s overvalued ideas or personal interests. The authors surveyed a professional association of geoscientists in Alberta Canada (APEGGA), most of whom are working for the petroleum industry, and then performed a detailed analysis of their free-text responses on why they accept or reject climate science. What they found was there are 5 general “frames” used by respondents that their answers conformed to. The most common response was that global warming is real, and we need to act with regulation to address the problem (at 36%, the number quoted by Taylor to suggest there is no consensus), another 5% expressed doubt at the cause but agreed green house gases needed to be regulated. The second most common responses were “it’s nature” or “it’s a eco-regulatory conspiracy” and these responses showed a great deal of hostility in language towards environmentalism, proponents of global warming, liberalism etc. These came in at about 34% of responses and were more common from older white males in the higher tiers of the oil industry corporate structure. The most common remaining frame was a “fatalist” frame (17%) which could take or leave the science because hey, we’re screwed no matter what we do.
The authors weren’t attempting to validate the consensus with this study, but rather were trying to understand how scientists working in industry justify their position on global warming, as they often reject the consensus view of climate science. When a true cross-section of climate scientists is sampled, agreement with consensus is found among about 90% of scientists and 97% of those publishing in the field. A more appropriate summary of what these authors showed was that oil industry geoscientists and engineers most frequently express a view consistent with the consensus IPCC view and a need for regulation of green house gases. A similar but slightly smaller number express hostility to the consensus view and about half as many as that think we’re screwed no matter what we do.
It all would have been short-circuited if Forbes had exercised any kind of appropriate editorial control over this crank James Taylor. Or, if the echo chamber had read some of the comments on the initial post before rebroadcasting a false claim far and wide, but then, that would require intellectual honesty and a desire to promote factual information. Does Forbes have any interest that one of their bloggers is misrepresenting the literature in this way? Is this acceptable practice among their contributors? Is this the kind of publication they wish to be?
Finally, I see the authors of the paper (who I alerted to the Forbes article’s presence – they clearly were not contacted by Taylor for comment) have response. From their comment:
First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” Our research reconstructs the frames the members of a professional association hold about the issue and the argumentative patterns and legitimation strategies these professionals use when articulating their assumptions. Our research does not investigate the distribution of these frames and, thus, does not allow for any conclusions in this direction. We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.
In addition, even within the confines of our non-representative data set, the interpretation that a majority of the respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of global warming is simply not correct. To the contrary: the majority believes that humans do have their hands in climate change, even if many of them believe that humans are not the only cause. What is striking is how little support that the Kyoto Protocol had among our respondents. However, it is also not the case that all frames except “Support Kyoto” are against regulation – the “Regulation Activists” mobilize for a more encompassing and more strongly enforced regulation. Correct interpretations would be, for instance, that – among our respondents – more geoscientists are critical towards regulation (and especially the Kyoto Protocol) than non-geoscientists, or that more people in higher hierarchical positions in the industry oppose regulation than people in lower hierarchical positions.
Incompetence or deception by Taylor? You tell me. Either way, this is the kind of shoddy, non-academic discourse we get from bogus ideological think tanks like Heartland. They should be embarrassed.
Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer
Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change Organization Studies November 2012 33: 1477-1506, doi:10.1177/0170840612463317