Many readers will no doubt know the 2004 paper in Science by historian of science Naomi Oreskes, a paper which discussed the consensus position regarding anthropogenic climate change. Predictably, the paper received much vitriol from the climate contrarians and denialists. Now, a medical research (Klaus-Martin Schulte, who appears to be a consultant in endocrine surgery) has claimed that Oreskes’ paper is not only outdated but also wrong. This claim has been extensively crowed over not only by Inhofe’s EPW Press Blog but by other Right wing sites and, indeed, our own beloved Uncommon Descent.
Naomi kindly shared with me her response to Schulte’s work and below the fold I provide her reply in full.
Updated: Link to full text of Oreskes (2007) added.
Naomi Oreskes, University of California, San Diego
REVISED POSTING, September 24, 2007
THESE REVISIONS MAKE CLEAR THAT I AM RESPONDING TO THE CHARACTERIZATION OF THE SCHULTE PAPER AS MADE PUBLIC ON THE INTERNET.
1) It is said that the Schulte piece is being published in Energy and Environment, a known contrarian journal. The discussion of it was posted on the minority blog of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, whose leader thinks that global warming is a "hoax,” and circulated on the internet by Marc Morano, a long-standing contrarian and former reporter and producer for the Rush Limbaugh Show, who was involved in the "swift boat" campaign against John Kerry.
2) The blog reports of the Schulte piece misrepresent the research question that we originally posed. It was, "How many papers published in referred journals disagree with the statement, "…most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations"? This statement came from the IPCC (2001) and was reiterated explicitly by the 2001 NAS report, so we wanted to know how many papers diverged from that consensus position. The answer was none. The Schulte claim does not refutes that.
3) The blog reports of the piece misrepresent 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).
4) The blog reports of the Schulte piece misrepresent my own interpretation of the severity climate question, as well as that of the scientific societies whose positions we compiled. This is a typical contrarian tactic – to exaggerate or misrepresent the scientific claim and then "refute" it. My analysis was a summary of the position of scientific experts. I never said, nor have any of the major scientific societies said, that the scientific literature warns of an imminent "catastrophe." An analysis of how severe scientists think warming is or will be would have been a different paper. So you cannot "refute" my analysis by pointing out that the word "catastrophe" doesn’t appear. I never said that it did. Nor would I expect it to. Scientists don’t generally use that kind of language, although contrarians do.
5) The EPW press release accuses my paper of being "outdated." It is in fact a crucial element of the paper that the study that it goes back to 1993. We wanted to see how the arguments had developed over time, and to test, if we could, when the consensus position emerged. A crucial result for me was the realization that the basic consensus had already been established in the early 1990s. However, in hindsight this should actually have been obvious: it’s why President George H.W. Bush signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The basic scientific insight was already in place.
6) The blog reports describe Mr. Schulte as 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.
7) Contrarians have been trying to refute my work for three years. A previous claim, also circulated and cited by Marc Morano, was subsequently retracted by its author.
I refer interested individuals back to the original paper (Oreskes, 2004) and to a more extended version of the argument (Oreskes, 2007).
Oreskes, Naomi, 2004.”The scientific consensus on climate change,” Science 306: 1686. [link]
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. [Download file]