A Few Things Ill Considered

What About Peiser?

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

Sure, Oreskes found no one bucking the consensus, but her paper was overturned by Benny Peiser who did the exact same study and found very different results.

Answer:

True, Benny Peiser did attempt a similar study and submitted it as a letter to Science responding to the Oreske study. But for very good reasons, it was not published.

Peiser claimed to find 34 articles that fell into his "reject or doubt the consensus view" category. This is 3% of the total, so even taken at its face does not really cast much doubt on what the majority of scientists believe. But it is still greater than the 0% that Oreskes found in her sample. (It is worth noting that Peiser’s description of the 34 abstracts in his letter is "reject or doubt" whereas he explicitly set out the same "reject" category Oreskes used, odd really, but it means there is not even necessarily a contradiction here.) Still, 3% might be noteworthy, and is a handy foothold for the "there is no consensus" rally cry.

Tim Lambert has already done an excellent dissection of Peiser’s letter here and because Peiser was forthcoming enough to disclose the 34 abstracts he found that Oreskes did not, I encourage all to draw their own conclusions (they can all be seen on Tim’s blog). I will quote a few and just let that speak for itself.

Benny Peiser thinks the following abstracts reject or doubt the scientific consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming:

  • (14) – The variations of global mean sea level are an important indicator of global climate change, and their measurement can provide important information for determining the socioeconomic impact of sea level change on coastal land use… [snip]… Future research will focus on establishing a realistic error budget for these measurements of global mean sea level, so that they can be put in the proper context with other observations of global climate change.
  • (18) – The relationship of global climate change to plant growth and the role of forests as sites of carbon sequestration have encouraged the refinement of the estimates of root biomass and production. However, tremendous controversy exists in the literature as to which is the best method to determine fine root biomass and production. This lack of consensus makes it difficult for researchers to determine which methods are most appropriate for their system…[snip]…Until the different root methods can be compared to some independently derived root biomass value obtained from total carbon budgets for systems, one root method cannot be stated to be the best and the method of choice will be determined from researcher?s personal preference, experiences, equipment, and/or finances.
  • (22) – The paper discusses annual to decadal climate variability and change in the European Alps by utilizing the procedure of synoptic downscaling, i.e. it investigates the influence of global to continental scale synoptic structures and processes on the regional climate of the Alps…[snip]…There is a question over whether this phenomenon is a consequence of natural climate variability or the beginning of an anthropogenic climate change.
  • (24) – Global climate change does not necessarily imply that temperature or precipitation is increasing at specific locations. [snip]
  • (25) – This paper addresses the representation of scientific uncertainty about global warming and climate change in the U.S. popular press. An examination of popular press articles about global warming from 1986 to 1995 reveals that scientific uncertainty was a salient theme. [snip]
  • (30) – Vegetation productivity and desertification in sub-Saharan Africa may be influenced by global climate variability attributable to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)…[snip]… The combined indices explained much of the interannual variability in vegetation productivity in the Sahelian zone and southern Africa, implying that both the NAO and ENSO may be useful for monitoring effects of global climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those are just the ones that have no excuse whatsoever being categorized as doubting or rejecting AGW. Many others are highly questionable.

But there are a couple in his list that do indeed reject the notion of human caused climate change. Why did Oreskes ignore those? Well, it turns out that these are editorials or letters and not peer reviewed papers and should not have been included except that Peiser altered the search criteria. Peiser included "all documents" in the ISI Web of Science database rather than just scientific articles, as Oreskes did, and whereas Oreskes searched only "Sciences", Peiser included "Social Sciences" and "Arts & Humanities".

I think, if anything, Benny Peiser’s effort strengthens Oreskes finding of a widespread consensus simply because this very questionable interpretation of an inappropriate dataset would seem to be the strongest argument he was able to make.

[Update] Since writing this article there have been a couple of developments. First, I crossed Benny Peiser’s path on the Prometheus blog and in the course of a lengthy thread under this post I asked him directly about abstract (18) above to which he replied "I accept that it was a mistake to include the abstract you mentioned (and some other rather ambiguous ones) in my critique of the Oreskes essay." Second, it appears he has since gone even further when being pressed by an Australian television program, Media Watch. The transcript is here, Tim Lambert summarizes it here and the gist is that he has backed down to just one of his 34 fitting his description as rejecting the consensus view on climate change and it was an editorial, not research of any kind.

The reason I still present this article in full despite this back pedalling is because as far as I can tell the retraction has been very quiet and not proactive and the citations of Peiser’s "work" continue to show up all over the place.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“What About Peiser?” was first published here, where you can still find the original comment thread. This updated version is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

Comments

  1. #1 timobrienwells
    October 9, 2008

    What about the many climatologists and scientists working in this area who completely disagree with the AGW theory?What about the scientists who are/were lead authors/contributors to the IPCC reports who completely disagree?

  2. #2 coby
    October 16, 2008

    There are not very many climatologists or scientists working in this area who completely disagree with AGW theory. At most is is a very small handful, less that a dozen for sure, probably less than 5 or 6. I think that is what a survey of the literature clearly indicates and what this article provides support for.

    Before we do too much quibbling though, lets define some terms. By “climatologist working in this area” I would think it is reasonable to take that as those publishing peer-reviewed research. So we have Svendmark and a couple of others pursuing GCR theories and Baliunas and Soon, though they do not publish in the major journals. I would not accept Tim Ball or Bill Gray and others like them in this category.

    By “completely disagree with AGW theory” you can only correctly mean that such a person does not think that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the primary driver of observed temperature increase or that said increases have not in fact occurred. This rules out people like Lindzen, Pielke Sr and Pat Michaels as they all accept anthropogenic climate change, though they quibble about degree of attribution or potential severity of the changes.

    So, on what basis do you claim there are many climatologists and scientists working in this area who completely disagree with the AGW theory?

  3. #3 timwells
    October 20, 2008

    Coby,there are plenty of scientists who work or do research in this area who do not agree with the polemic..I have not used your definition of “climatologist”in the following list.The point of this post is about the existence of “consensus”,not about peer-reviewed papers,though that is a useful guide.Here is a short list but there are bound to be many others.
    Dr David Legates[U Delaware]
    Jorgen Steffenson[Neils Bohr Inst]
    Dr Willie Soon[Harvard]
    Dr John Christy[U Alabama]IPCC
    Dr Roy Spencer[U Alabama]
    Dr Neils-Axel Morner[U Stockholm]
    Roger Pielke
    Robert Balling[U Arizona]
    Richard Lindzen[MIT]IPCC
    William Gray[U Colorado]
    Patrick Michaels[U Virginia]
    Pr Paul Reiter[Pasteur Inst]IPCC
    Pr Ian Clark[U Ottawa]
    Pr S I Akasofu[Arctic Research Centre]
    William Kinimonth[Aust Meteor]
    Dr Eugenio Hackbart[Brazil]
    Dr David Douglas[U Rochester]
    Dr Tim Patterson[U Carleton]
    Dr Tad Murty[U Carleton]IPCC
    Dr Vincent Gray[NZ]IPCC
    Dr Jan Vizer[U Ottawa]
    Please note the 5 who are/were in the IPCC.
    Added to this is-
    1]The 1992 Statement by Atmospheric Scientists[47 names]
    2]The Leipzig Declaration
    3]The Heidelberg Declaration[4600 names]
    4]The Oregon Petition[31,000 names]
    The Oregon petition is worth mentioning because it is the largest.It also had some criticisms over fake names/duplications,but these have now largely been eliminated,and in any case they were only a tiny .1% of the signatories.The shear volume of this evidence therefore puts paid to any claim of “consensus”.
    In regard to Lindzen and Michaels,the suggestion that they accept the AGW theory is laughable I am afraid.
    If this belief rests on their being members of the NAS,then that is as far as it goes.They are well known AGW sceptics.The is also no basis,in my view,upon which you dismiss Tim Ball and Bill Gray.You will have to present clear and robust reasons why.

  4. #4 Larry Wilson
    December 21, 2008

    the key in this argument is the term “consensus”. while there may be a lot of people who would balk at saying the issue of AWG is settled (to use Al Gore’s term). that is not to say they don’t disagree with the central premises altogether. the above list does not distinguish between those who would not go so far as to claim “consensus” and those who have a lesser degree of agreement from those who would claim that: 1) the earth is not warming and/or 2) any warming is due only to natural causes. I’m afraid mr. timobrienwells’ point is not made.

  5. #5 kristof
    February 19, 2009

    timwells said:
    I have not used your definition of “climatologist”in the following list.The point of this post is about the existence of “consensus”,not about peer-reviewed papers,though that is a useful guide

    Hmm, no it really was about consensus among peer reviewed climate scientists. Anyone can claim that he or she is against the consensus theory and even be a climate scientist. If they haven’t published any papers about it (peer-reviewed), than I could just as well ask my neighbor.

  6. #6 Jason
    April 12, 2011

    Most of the researchers in timwells’s list are funded by either energy/fossil fuel companies, right wing ‘free market’ organizations, or both. The Oregon Petition did not just have ‘some criticism’ but has been roundly discredited by several studies. The Heidelberg Appeal (I assume you meant this, and not the 1948 Heidelberg Declaration) was also funded by coal, oil, and energy companies and related PR firms.
    Beyond the conflict of interests that are so common with denialists, you overlook the fact that virtually all relevant scientific organizations in existence have publicly stated their support for the science of anthropogenic climate change.

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