A Few Things Ill Considered

Position Statements Hide Debate

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:

All those institutional position statements are fine, but by their very nature they hide the debate and the variety of individual positions. The real debate is in the scientific journals.

Answer:

This is a fair point. Group position statements are designed to smooth over debate and unite the different points of view that individuals may have. The best indicator of what individual scientists think is in the current scientific literature, where new and different is the paramount value and scientist are free to express their own ideas if they can support them with data and logic. What does the literature look like in terms of the climate debate? Sounds like a good topic for research.

Naomi Oreskes took on just this topic. She did an ISI database search with the keyword phrase "global climate change" and then surveyed all those abstracts she found that had been published between 1993 and 2003 in refereed scientific journals. There were 928. She then divided the papers into six categories:

  1. explicit endorsement of the consensus position
  2. evaluation of impacts
  3. mitigation proposals
  4. methods
  5. paleoclimate analysis
  6. rejection of the consensus position

The details can be read here. Her key finding is that none of these papers fell into the last category while 75% fell into the first three. This is a surprisingly robust consensus of opinion, especially considering that the start date was a full two years before the 1995 IPCC report, eight years before the more recent 2001 report.

A lot has happened since then, and none of it casts any doubt on the finding that the world is warming and it is primarily due to human actions.

(See this guide entry if ever Benny Peiser’s name comes into the discussion of Oreskes’ study.)


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.


“Position Statements Hide Debate” 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 Shane
    September 13, 2008

    Naomi Oreskes picked 928 papers from over 10,000 and she picked them according to the abstract. Amazingly and shockingly she found only ones that agreed with her hypothesis. It was poor research on her part and reflects poorly on her abilities as a researcher. I could have just as easily found all the papers that disagreed with the hypothesis and garnered the opposite conclusion. Secondly, a concensus means nothing in science. Results of experiments that can be reproduced are the answer.

    If rising global temperatures are do to rising CO2, then it can be proven. If we find a causual relationship between the rise of CO2 and the rise of global temperatures, we should do more research. There is the same causual relationship between sun spot activity and the rise of temperature, but maybe we could say that the rise in CO2 is due the sunspots? You could make that relationship.

  2. #2 coby
    September 13, 2008

    Shane,

    Your description of Oreskes method is of course completely wrong.

    re: consensus – The point of determining if there is a consensus is so that non-experts in the field can be confident that the science is at a conclusive state. It is an important thing for non-scientists, not researchers in the field.

    re: CO2 and sunspots – There is a well established causal relationship between CO2 and temperature founded in basic physical properties of radiative gases. The sunspot relationship is only a correlation and one that is failing now (record low sunspots, record high temperatures today)

  3. #3 Ty
    October 15, 2008

    Coby,

    Your dismissal of Shane’s criticism of Oreskes’ study is unfortunate. For anyone familiar with this it reflects a basic dishonesty on your part. Benny Peiser has repeated her study but was unable to duplicate it. See http://www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/Oreskes-abstracts.htm

    In short the database she used doesn’t even have 928 abstracts for the criteria she used. And only 13 abstracts explicitly support “the consensus view”.

    Frankly I’m surprised it isn’t higher than that, given the corruption that has occurred with the peer review process. But perhaps you are unfamiliar with this. Or, perhaps since it favors “the consensus view” you don’t see it as corruption. At any rate, this piece by Richard Lindzen does a good job of chronicling this as well as the inherit bias in the IPCC – http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0809/0809.3762.pdf.

    Yet in spite of the “consensus” bias described by Lindzen, some peer reviewed papers that don’t support “the consensus view” still manage to get through. In Jan, 2007, Madhav L Khandekar took the time to compile a number of these. Not that I expect you to take the time to actually read it, but here’s the link in case you feel so inclined – http://friendsofscience.org/assets/files/documents/Madhav%20bibliography%20LONG%20VERSION%20Feb%206-07.pdf.

    As for CO2 vs solar, to assert as you do above that there is a “well established causal relationship between CO2 and temperature”. implying that CO2 leads to higher temperature is another form of dishonesty, isn’t it? Historically, there is a well established causal relationship, but it is that rising temperatures result in higher CO2 levels, not the other way around. While it is likely that increasing CO2 leads to higher temperature, and both sides concur on that, it is nonetheless only theory. And there is large disagreement on the extent to which this would impact temperature. That temperatures in the last 15 decades have risen and fallen as CO2 has continued to climb, in fact, point to a fairly weak correlation between the two. This is far from a “well established causal relationship”.

    If you’re going to be commenting on things of science, you should be more careful to leave your ideology behind and stick to the science. But then, there wouldn’t really be a debate at all, would there?

    To insist there’s a consensus, requires ignoring all evidence to the contrary, and there is a lot of it. This is the epitome of bad science, which has historically used replication and debate to prove or disprove a hypothesis. In the true spirit of science, the skeptics want to keep the debate going. The dangers of acting prematurely to marshal considerable resources to thwart rising CO2 outweigh waiting a few years to see if the solar theories pan out or not. If they are correct we are heading into a cooling phase and this should be clear by 2010 or 2011. Given the CO2 contributions of China and India, waiting 2 or 3 more years before enacting any additional CO2 mitigation legislation in the West won’t make any difference in the long term.

    Witness the great Ethanol debacle, foisted on us in an effort to lower CO2. It has caused a great shift in corn from food to fuel, raising the price of corn worldwide and yielding a disproportionate burden on those who can least afford it. And has done virtually nothing to lower CO2.

    Witness Kyoto. If all participating nations reached their target, temperature would have been a whopping .06C cooler in 2050, or something equally unmeasurable and insignificant. And it would cost billions to achieve this.

    More knee-jerk reactions like these we don’t need.

  4. #4 coby
    October 23, 2008

    Hi Ty,

    Sorry for the delay in publishing your comment, it was mislabled as junk and I am not very concientious when it comes to checking what’s in the spam filter.

    Your comment is very long and ranges over many topics, so my responses will be very terse.

    WRT Shane, I was not unfair, his description of Oreske’s methods is completely false as I simply stated.

    WRT Pieser, please see this article, in short, he doesn’t even believe his own study anymore.

    WRT “lag vs lead” for CO2 and temperature, see here. In your discussion in general you are confusing correlational with causal. For example, the sunspot argument is really about correlation because direct measurements of solar intensity do not show enough change, they need some additional mechanism to cause such a large response. The causal aspect of CO2 is its uncontroversial radiative properties and the science focuses on this more than it appeals to correlation.

    WRT CO2 rising steadily while temperatures have not, see this article. Your mentioning this only addresses the correlational argument, not the causal one, and the correlation is not expected to be exact on decadal scales due to natural variation. There are also other factors that influence the climate, so exact correlation on any scale is never a given.

    WRT ethanol, I believe what has happened is better described as a cynical usage of climate change issues by a preexisting biofuels industry. I don’t think many prominent green organizations or prominent energy experts thought it was all in all a good idea. The EROEI numbers were never good. It is however a cautionary lesson as you rightly present.

    I don’t recall anything I said that can be considered “ideological” in nature, so leave out the ad hom and let’s stick to data and logic, shall we?

    Thanks for the very substantive comment and if there is something in particular you feel needs a better answer, please focus on it in a shorter offering!

    Best wishes.

  5. #5 mandas
    July 21, 2010

    Meanwhile, in the real world, it seems the people who really matter have stopped debating on whether climate change is real or not, and are starting to take action:

    http://www.eenews.net/assets/2010/07/21/document_gw_02.pdf

  6. #6 crakar24
    July 21, 2010

    Hey Mandas do remember what happened the last time the Yanks tried to manage a forest? I suggest you read up on the history of Yellow stone national park.

  7. #7 crakar24
    July 21, 2010

    Not a very good post Ty,

    Fortunately for the gate keepers of AGW Lindzen is an idiot and your friends of science website is run by a bunch of nut jobs. The only references worth reading to dispute all of your points are conveniently contained right here (its a bit like debating religion with only the bible as a reference).

    As for ethenol the green movement had nothing to do with that it was those greedy BIG OIL companies that saw a chance to exploit the needy, of course shutting down the worlds (fossil)energy markets via ETS/Cap & trade is a whole different story….well until everything goes pear shaped and we will blame BIG OIL once again.

    Lastly dont bother trying to initiate a debate about the sun (refer “its the sun stupid” thread)you see some people believe the sun is no more complex than an incandescent light bulb with a dimmer switch. How do they know this? please refer to “its the sun stupid” thread.

    Best of luck next time.

  8. #8 mandas
    July 22, 2010

    Wow crakar – Yellowstone National Park huh?

    You want me – a wildlife scientist who has a special interest in habitat rehabilitation and the restoration of trophic levels – to read up on Yellowstone National Park?

    How about you give me the benefit of your extensive knowledge on the subject? I’m sure I would learn something.

  9. #9 crakar24
    July 22, 2010

    Mandas you could never learn something because you already know everthing and what you dont know aint worth knowing but i will give it go.

    Be patient

  10. #10 crakar24
    July 22, 2010

    Mandas,

    Here is just a sample to whet your appetite.

    Back in the 1890′s when Yellow stone had already become a national park the park management embarked on a strategy to increase the Elk numbers (did they fear they were becoming extinct).

    Elk numbers flourished by around 1914 and the trout introduced were doing very well at the expense of the native fish.

    Of course antelope and deer began to decline because of over grazing so in response the management then decided to reduce the number of predators which of course only made things worse.

    As the Elk destroyed the flora of the park the beaver then suffered as there were no Aspen around and thus the water system in rivers and creeks was altered, without the dams the flooding was reduced/gone and the meadows/plains dried hard in the summer months.

    By 1934, the park service acknowledged that “white-tailed deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.” Then throw in a misguided fire management policy and in 1988 a 3rd of the park went up in flames.

    But dont be fooled we know just as little now as we knew then, in 1966 it was proposed to reintroduce the wolf after much squabbling 66 wolves were reintroduced in Jan 95 and 96. Gee it only took 30 years to beat the special interest groups.

    So what has happened since then?

    Quote from Wiki link below

    “The reintroduction of wolves has reportedly increased biodiversity within Yellowstone National Park. Along with (and partly because of) an increase in new-growth vegetation, such as aspen and willow trees, which has resulted from the reduction in elk numbers. The aspen and willow were able to recover because not only was the elk population reduced because of predation due to the wolves, but they quit venturing as deep into thickets due to the fear of being attacked by wolves in an area of very low visibility. This process of top predators regulating the lower sections of the trophic pyramid was dubbed, “the ecology of fear” by William J. Ripple and Robert L. Bestcha [8] In addition to the restoration of vegetation several important species such as the beaver (which had also become extinct from the park) and red fox have also recovered, probably due to the wolves keeping coyote populations under control.[9]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_reintroduction

    So thats for starters Mandas, i am sure there are plenty of issues in there that you can find to argue about. Why dont you for the sake of exercise also highlight the issues you agree with (if any).

  11. #11 mandas
    July 22, 2010

    Well gee thanks for all that crakar.

    It might have saved you a little work if you had actually read my previous post (and some of my others where I have referred to this issue in the past). You may have noted my claim to be:

    “…a wildlife scientist who has a special interest in habitat rehabilitation and the restoration of trophic levels…”

    So as you might imagine, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone is something that I have taken a special interest in, especially as I am studying a similar idea to reintroduce dingoes to the Flinders Ranges, to control goats (remember me talking about them and following them around picking up scats – sorry, shit?) and to assist with vegetation recovery and the reintroduction of the yellow-footed rock wallaby.

    But thanks for the info crakar. It seems you are interested in the subject as well. But you shouldn’t rely on wikipedia as a source of information (it can direct you to primary sources though). Here is just one study for you to read:

    http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/04-0953?journalCode=ecol

  12. #12 skip
    July 23, 2010

    Do dingo’s prey on sheep as well? That could be a *real* ecological disaster down under. Think it through, man . . .

  13. #13 Dappledwater
    July 23, 2010

    Babies too Skip, babies too.

  14. #14 mandas
    July 23, 2010

    skip

    Yeah – know all about dingoes and sheep. The issue is more political that ecological though. There are ways around it, but the first issue is to prove the concept. Hope to have a limited field trial some time next year. But…. have to convince the powers that be and the neighbouring farmers.
    Fingers crossed.

  15. #15 mandas
    March 7, 2011

    We recently had a debate about the media, and about the quality of ‘evidence’ and what should and shouldn’t be used to try and support an argument.

    Just thought I would drop this link here, with a quote from NASA, in reference to a recent idiotic report from those paragons of journalistic integrity, Fox News:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=32928

    Important quote from the link:

    “….”NASA is a scientific and technical agency committed to a culture of openness with the media and public. While we value the free exchange of ideas, data, and information as part of scientific and technical inquiry, NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts….”

    Couldn’t agree more!!!

  16. #16 Patrick
    September 20, 2011

    I know the above debate is regarding the validity of the author’s claim, and I think there’s a more important point to focus on.

    Regardless of whether global warming is man made or not, reducing our carbon emissions is a win win for everyone because:
    * Improved health for everyone: combustion engines, coal plants, etc all produce harmful pollution that causes asthma and other health issues. This is directly observed by the improved health seen while reducing smog.
    * reduced dependence on foreign oil (enough said…)
    * domestic “green” power creation creates jobs to help the economy
    * development of “green” technologies would allow us to export those technologies to the world (read: jobs, better economy)
    * reduced co2 production just in case we’re mistaken and global warming IS man made

    I’m sure there’s more reasons, but the point is that we don’t need to use global warming as a reason for reducing carbon dioxide production – there are tons of great reasons that are obvious wins.

  17. #17 Wow
    September 21, 2011

    It’s not being used as a reason for reducing CO2.

    Reducing CO2 is what you have to do to stop AGW.

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