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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance”

New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance”

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, June 21, 2010
Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that: (1) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (2) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
That is the conclusion of an important first-of-its-kind study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Expert credibility in climate change.”

The findings will come as no surprise whatsoever to 97% to 98% of scientists or regular CP readers — but it could theoretically open the eyes of those in the status quo media who keep suggesting the ‘experts’ they cite that keep pushing anti-science disinformation are somehow close to being equal in number, credibility, or expertise to the broad community of climate scientists, thereby implying serious disagreements among mainstream scientists (see here, here, and here).

Of course, those reporters will no doubt just call up their favorite disinformer for a balancing quote.  The status quo media simply doesn’t care if the person they’re quoting has been wrong again and again and again, has published few if any significant articles in the field, or actually continues to spread disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature (see “Should you believe anything John Christy and Roy Spencer say?“)

The PNAS authors say bluntly:
Preliminary reviews of scientific literature and surveys of climate scientists indicate striking agreement with the primary conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature over the second half of the twentieth century…
A vocal minority of researchers and other critics contest the conclusions of the mainstream scientific assessment, frequently citing large numbers of scientists whom they believe support their claims.  This group, often termed climate change skeptics, contrarians, or deniers, has received large amounts of media attention and wields significant influence in the societal debate about climate change impacts and policy….
Despite media tendencies to present ‘both sides’ in ACC debates [anthropogenic climate change], which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC, not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system.  This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change..
The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the study “findings are consistent with a 2009 survey of scientists’ attitudes as well as a 2004 survey of the scientific literature on climate change. The Anderegg et al. paper comes on the heels of a series of NAS reports that underscore the reality of human-induced climate change and the need to respond.”
Brenda Ekwurzel, a UCS climate scientist points out “The biggest wildcard is how much we’ll change the future climate, largely due to uncertainty about how much more carbon dioxide we will dump into the atmosphere. It’s up to policymakers to act, knowing that heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels are the biggest lever acting on the climate.”
UPDATE:  Chris Mooney writes:
Those of us who follow this issue closely won’t be surprised–but the results mean that journalists who have given a lot of weight to climate “skeptics” have some ’splaining to do. Essentially, this paper seems to be suggesting that they got the wrong “experts.”
Incidentally, given how closely this study hits home, I would expect it to be attacked–just as Naomi Oreskes’ famous paper “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” was.
Duh!  The disinformers are certainly upset with this study, since it exposes just how phony the entire disinformation campaign is.

Ironically, the best defense that some of the disinformers seem to have is, “I am not a skeptic.”  But that label was originally pushed by the disinformers themselves — in fact, all serious scientists are skeptics.  The issue is not whether someone is skeptical of the supposed ‘consensus’ — another ill-defined term that is it not terribly useful (see “Disputing the ‘consensus’ on global warming“).  The issue is whether folks are actively spreading disinformation, especially disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature.  As I’ve said for many years now, it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation.

See also CSW.

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