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Annual "new study" finds 97% of climate scientists believe in man-made climate change; public consensus sure to follow once news gets out

Hey! Did you hear? A new study shows that 97% of scientists believe that human activity is responsible for climate change!

We all need to be sure this new information gets reported far and wide -- not only because it is genuinely newsworthy, a true addition to what's known about the state of scientific opinion -- but also because public unawareness of this degree of consensus surely explains cultural polarization over climate change.

The ugly, demeaning, public-welfare-enervating debate will be over soon!

Why didn't anyone think of telling the public about this before now?!



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Reader Comments (106)

There is number of recent works that discuss the consensus gap and how it is part of the solution to the assisting in coming to better communal agreement. Was this sarcastic reaction a response to those scientists specifically, or is this just a hamhanded joke?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermikes

@Mikes: Please elaborate. And explain too why, if communicating consensus is the right approach, it hasn't worked despite being the *most conspicuous* messaging strategy for going on a decade? I really think that is the best critique of any study that purports to find that "telling people" about consensus "works."

Hamhanded or not, I agree joking isn't constructive; my mood is one of frustration, not merriment. maybe the tone doesn't help. But I am not a "science communicator"; I am someone who studies science communication. Please tell me how to communicate that the strategy I'm objecting to doesn't work. Better, find me someone who knows how to communicate that -- doing and communicating science are entirely different things....

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"Was this sarcastic reaction a response to those scientists specifically, or is this just a hamhanded joke?"

I think the point of the reaction is that climate activists have been using the ad populam/ad verecundiam fallacy for years already, and so yet another paper saying exactly the same thing is not going to make any difference. Those people likely to be convince by ad populam fallacies are already convinced. Those who are not will be unmoved. So why do it?

All the result says is that of about 11,000 papers that mentioned global warming, a little under 4,000 mention that anthropogenic CO2 contributes to temperature, but only 143 specify how much. 65 say more than half the observed warming is manmade, and 78 say less than half is manmade.

1 - 78/4000 = 98%.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Upon where did you read that this is the *most conspicuous* messaging strategy, I wonder? And where do you get the idea that the consensus is already well-known, despite this messaging campaign which you seem to think has happened for a decade. My comment only suggests what the recent science suggests, that the fixing consensus gap is 'part' of the solution. Ding etal, McCright etal, both come to similar conclusions. Lewandowski, also comes the same conclusion, a paper which you discussed here, oddly, a bit more receptive to the idea, and much less strident in your conclusions about the way in which a consensus gap can effect cognition.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermikes

If there's no point in communicating this, there's no point in communicating any information of any kind. Surely the existence of cultural filters, etc. doesn't demand that level of cynicism?

Expecting it to be a game-changer would obviously be naive. Are we so set on large shifts of the public opinion needle that we don't care about the slow erosion of doubt among the less partisan segment of the population?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Johnson


thanks. Some responses:

1. It's . And it's clear that they know that there are many people saying that there is overwhelming consensus & that that doesn't change their minds.

2. I have commented on Lewendowsky. I think the study is worthwhile but is much less compelling than ones -- like -- on external validity grounds.

3. McCright & Dunlap "replicates" Ding et al & finds that ideologically motivated reasoning constrains acceptance of information that there is scientific consensus on climate change.

But I do think people should pick whatever strategy they like and try it in the field & in a way that admits of measuring. We've had plenty of "lab" studies, experiments and surveys. So go to it.

I'm not worried that there will be an insufficient number who continue to try the "keep broadcasting 'scientific consensus' " approach (and maybe they should depict the "finding" of consensus as "new," why not?). But I hope concerned communicators do not make the mistake of investing all their resources in that approach, and I hope they don't fail genuinely, menaingfully, to collect & appraise data on the real-world results.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38


I am not cynical. I'm frustrated.

Things that haven't worked continue to be promoted as the right communication strategy, despite evidence that they don't work. People want to believe those strategies will work -- they feel some strong emotional desire to believe they will. But that desire shouldn't be indulged or gratified; it should be met w/ evidence about what we know (there's nothing in the new "97%" study we didn't know; only an emotional reinformcement to keep doing what has been done).

But again, I'm not cynical. I believe lots of *better* things can be done. I believe the response to a "new finding" like this will mislead people into doing things that don't work as well.

But you tell me, then, what a better communication strategy for my position would be?

Or better, show me it. I am not the science communicator. You are.

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

NIV is right. This latest attempt is worse than most. Anybody able to read the paper will come out with the impression that much ado is being done about results that could reasonably contradict anything populating the press releases.

If there'd be anything meaningful in the consensus surely a better argument about it would be presented. Also the reappearance of the magical 97% figure sounds fishy to say the least.

The trouble is that it's perfectly possible to agree with the fabled 97% and still be convinced any solution currently proposed is much worse than the problem itself.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

"But I hope concerned communicators do not make the mistake of investing all their resources in that approach, and I hope they don't fail genuinely, menaingfully, to collect & appraise data on the real-world results."

I'm attempting to agree with you here. I didn't, nor any of the work I cited, suggests that more information about consensus will magically make cultural filters disappear. McCright is adamant about this, even in the abstract! But the work and other polls do suggest that this it is not well known that the agreement on certain aspects of climate science so unanimous. So I think we are missing a step here, which you seem to allude to in your update. That certainly finding a way to get this through cultural filters is important for science communicators. So while your frustration is warranted, I believe your initial reaction to it is quite off the mark.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermikes

" But the work and other polls do suggest that this it is not well known that the agreement on certain aspects of climate science so unanimous."

Part of the trouble is the inconsistency about which parts. On some parts it might be 97%, on others 85%, on yet others 50% or 40%, or 10%. What question are you talking about? And is it the one that is most relevant to the policy choices people are being asked to make?

I think most people are well-aware of the answer that's expected - but many of them disagree on it's interpretation, and when the survey does not offer any choices reflecting their understanding, they'll pick the answer that best represents their position. That can give some counter-intuitive results.

Sometimes the hardest part is asking the right question.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan, I think more than ever that unless these science "communicators" understand S&F they will continue to fail. The real problem is that information like this article presents a numeracy that does not meet the answer part of the "Ask" paradigm that the public needs to communicate. In other words, the most obvious problem is that it is not real communication. It is simply the "Tell" paradigm longer, louder, more often. An obvious fallacy is the supposition that ""the slow erosion of doubt among the less partisan segment of the population"" can be said to occur without measurement. This could be the start of a basic conversation that hopefully would lead to the science communicators addressing the problem by finding out what the problem is. This assumes, as reasearch has shown, that persons without true knowledge nether the less generally are correct in their assessment.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

Did you Hear... The study is absolute rubbish. It's a complete fabrication. Read the paper... How can you start with a result of 32.6% of all papers that accept AGW, ignoring the 66% that don’t, and twist that into 97%? Time to go back to school... Even the big "O" tweeted it.... Gees, you even read stuff before commenting? Take a math class...

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRob Tall

I believe one reason the public is confused about the consensus because it is worded differently or presented differently virtually each and every time.

The IPCC AR4 wording is this: "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." I'd really like to know what the consensus number is on that?

My own opinion is that the consensus is as follows: "Man has caused a warming of the global surface temperature of the Earth through the release of CO2 and through agriculture, urbanization and other land use changes."

So if you take my wording or the IPCC wording, Joe public is going ask: So what? If you try to summarize the entire issue into a digestible nugget for Jane Public, you're going have to exaggerate, omit, round off and whatever else to come up with something that very likely will not be close to being agreed upon.

Personally, I think the way to convince the public of anything on this issue to be trustworthy. That may now be impossible for both scientists and politician alike for a variety of reasons which include all the attempts to communicate this issue to date. There is no confidence being inspired at any turn.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeC

When scientists try to communicate to an audience and the audience is not getting the message, the failure of communications lies with the scientists, right? I can see the reasoning there, or at least some reasoning.

Yet, when communications researchers try to communicate to an audience, in this case, the scientists who are trying to talk to the general public, and their audience doesn't get their message, the failure lies with the audience.

How does that work?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Grumbine


I appreciate the corrective.

But do you see why I believe the corrective that's most needed is the one that counterbalances the seductive but misguided view that sees the problem as a failure to "communicate scientific consensus"? As if the problem were that the past 500 attempts at communication got "lost in the mail"? These communications are being returned, "no resident; no forwarding address."

Get the address, and the message will deliver itself. Otherwise, forget it.

Can you see how that understanding -- which I agree McCright & Dunlap understand -- is nowhere reflected in the reaction to this "new finding" of scientific consensus among those who believe that their message isn't getting delivered?

Tell me what the problem is here; and what can be done to fix it.

If my pitiful outburst provokes you & others to furnish me the benefit of thoughtful counsel (or just insight; I'm not really in the world of action), I'll feel like my tantrum was well worth it! (my strategy is actually already working in that regard, so I'm starting to feel maybe I do know how to communicate after all)

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Robert Grumbine,

Yes. Quite so. And vice versa, of course.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Rob Tall is right. It appears bulls**t baffles brains. Here's the math:

32.6% pro + 0.7% against + 0.3% uncertain = 33.6%
32.6/33.6 = 0.970238095

He just ignored the 66.4% of his "11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming.'" His supporters say he did that because the 7,931 papers 'global climate change' or 'global warming' papers that did not mention GW didn't count BECAUSE they didn't mention AGW or CAGW.

Here's what the paper said:
32.6% endorsed human-caused global warming.
67.4% did not endorse human-caused global waming, or stated no position.

Here's the paper. Read the abstract.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpolicycritic

@Dan: You seem repeatedly surprised, mystified, and frustrated at the repetition of what you consider a losing communication strategy -- but I'm only surprised that you're surprised. Most politicians -- especially the more successful ones (and especially the more demagogic ones) -- understand that constant repetition of a simple message is an effective way to lodge it in people's minds, regardless of its truth or relevance. And this becomes all the more useful when the broader themes or issues behind that message are contentious -- the repetition of a simple soundbite/bumper sticker, like "97% of scientists believe in man-made climate change!" is simply a move, then, in a larger, more extensive political agenda, as opposed to any good faith effort to discover and communicate empirical realities. Regardless of one's own views on the science here, not to see the politics behind the annual repetition just seems a bit naive.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Let me answer your charge of ignorance.
1- Polling has indicated changes in public opinion over the last 20 years, yes? Unless you want to chalk every bit of the deviations up to the state of the economy, the opinions of real people have changed for reasons. Most reasons will be culturally filtered, but some of these are obviously in response to events- news stories, political actions, etc. I'm making the assumption (correct me if I'm wrong) that much of that movement has taken place in the middle.

2- I'm biased/informed by personal experience. I receive feedback on the stories I write in the form of emails and comments, and I can sometimes see someone changing their opinion. More importantly, I also teach geoscience, and I survey student opinions at the beginning and end of class. Opinions about climate change are actually the ones I see move the most. My point is that I think those with at least slightly movable opinions are not yetis. They exist. Maybe in small numbers, maybe in not so small numbers.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and caring about this topic. I may be wrong, but it's not for lack of effort.

There are a lot of reasons why I think this was a news-worthy story (the fact that it made so many major media outlets maybe shouldn't be ignored- most climate studies don't) but I'll try to restrict myself to your response. If people take this to the rooftops for the next 2 years to the detriment of everything else, I'll agree. I just don't understand the "who cares?! what a waste!" response I'm feeling from several corners. Many people are aware of the consensus and have reasoned it away. Many people have never heard of it- either due to news filters or lack of interest. The more it comes up, the better. (Saying "there's nothing here we didn't know" requires a restrictive definition of "we".) We had presidential candidates talking about "a rising number of scientists who are voicing opposition", for crying out loud. If it becomes a little bit harder to say that on a national stage because many recall this news story, that's positive. (I'm digressing...)

Look, you can make the case that we shouldn't be wasting our time on informing at all- after all, cultural filters will negate it. We should only be finding HI faces to put on TV or organizing ad campaigns utilizing better cultural frames. But I don't think you'd go that far. You'd say we still need to be informing, too- making sure to communicate without bumbling across cultural triggers. If that's the case, I don't need to quit writing or teaching, and making the consensus clear is a fine item on the information list. It's simple and concrete, and less easy to wave off (warning: pure opinion) than complicated details about the science.

Put another way: Communicating consensus is not "effective". Effective compared to what we would like to see or effective compared to other communication strategies? What experimental interventions have yielded better results? You're often saying you don't have the solutions (and I understand that), but not everything can be the problem. So what are the better things you'd rather see done? I'd have an easier time with the criticism in this post if I had your alternatives to weigh the consensus story against. Maybe that's what you can communicate better?

(I've probably missed your point. Wouldn't be the first time. On several occasions I've written an extensive comment here, then thought, "I don't think I'm quite getting it" and deleted it.)

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Johnson

what's to communicate when there's no willingness to communicate? What's wrong in answering to NIV's points instead of abstract categories?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

you've neatly expressed my own thoughts on this matter Scott. Thanks for saving me the trouble :). what I find puzzling is Dan (and Kloor's) reluctance to point out the obvious implications of the paper -- it's not the 97% consensus, it's the public's misapprehension of the strength of that consensus and the fairly obvious implications that has for moving climate policy forward (or not). Dr. Kahan I deeply respect your contributions over the years, but I can't help but wonder if you haven't fallen into the "if all you have is a hammer then everything becomes a nail" trap in this particular instance...

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarlowe Johnson

It's an interesting subject full of assumptions. What is the measure that the public does not accept the 97 percent consensus figure? Is it the lack of political will to effect change?

If that is the measure then it could be simply that the public accepts that 97 percent of climate scientists meme that the earth's most recent spat of warming is human caused, but they don't think it really matters.

The more discerning of the public might even bother to read the papers stating 97 percent consensus then come away scratching their heads wondering how someone came to that conclusion given the paper's internal data and logic.

Papers like this one that come to conclusions unsupported by their own data actually tend to work against the goals of the paper in the discerning public.

Truthful communicate is more effective imo with the public than communication that falls on it's own illogical sword. This paper falls on it's own sword once one gets past the title to the content.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Mason

"it's not the 97% consensus, it's the public's misapprehension of the strength of that consensus and the fairly obvious implications that has for moving climate policy forward"

Part of it too is that papers like this are one of the reasons for the public's misapprehension (if there is one). They see papers like this, get the impression that this is where the claims of consensus come from, and disbelieve them as a result.

I don't think the implications it has for climate policy are obvious, either. Besides the issue of what question there is claimed to be a consensus on, and whether it is a policy-relevant one, it's not clear to me that public opinion has anything to do with delays to implementing climate policy. At the international level the Byrd-Hagel resolution explains the reasons, and they have nothing to do with public scepticism, and on a domestic political level the issues seem to revolve around the economics. On a personal and private level, not even those who speak loudest on the issue implement the policies they claim are necessary. From celebrities with private jets and swimming pools to the well-meaning green citizen who still drives their car to work, and to the shops, and flies out on holiday. They know it's inconsistent, and some of them feel guilty about it, but they still do it.

It's not because people don't know.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Dan, Let me take up the same question from a different side; perhaps this one will be worth comment. You, like many, condemn physical scientists in climate for addressing knowledge deficits (rather than doing the right thing, which you, like the same many, are studiously quiet about providing details on how).

Now, in terms of pushing public opinion around and advancing any particular policy agenda, I have no doubt that you're correct. Upton Sinclair nailed the principle a century ago -- "You can't persuade a man of something if his job depends on not believing it." Motivated reasoning is not fundamentally a new idea, though more understanding (e.g. the fact that it is also their cultural group, not just jobs, that prompt this response) is good. Also relevant is the observation "You can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reach by reason."

As a physical scientist (oceanographer/glaciologist), then, what should I be doing? Not a rhetorical question, please do answer and consider.

The fact is, I went in to this area because I have certain strengths, and certain weaknesses. Advancing our knowledge of ice and oceans, and doing something useful with that knowledge (or at least helping people who do the useful things understand what I've done) plays to that. i.e., I'm a physical scientist because I'm good at addressing (certain types of) knowledge deficits. This is general to the beast (physical scientists), not just me. If we were much better at, say, journalism, we'd have gone down that career path instead.

So if there's a situation in which knowledge deficit is the issue, scientists are (at least in principle) good people to turn to. Certainly we have more to learn about how to address them. I've learned a fair amount over the years in the field -- school classrooms, Science Cafe, and the like. Doing well enough in the Science Cafes to be invited back a few times. But those are circumstances where knowledge deficit is relevant.

Move to a circumstance where deep knowledge of the science is _not_ relevant, but other things are ... well, chances are excellent that I'm _not_ the person you want. If it's a matter of understanding research like yours, a different skill set is required than is needed for doing my science. If I were good at your kind of work, I'd be _doing_ your kind of work. You mention yourself not knowing how to translate it in to what to do. No surprise, applying theoretical knowledge in an area is different from developing it. I'll submit that applying theoretical knowledge from a far-removed area is even more different, yet somehow that's what you expect/demand of climatologists. Why?

In yet another format: If climatology knowledge deficit is _not_ the issue, why should climatologists _not_ go back to their desks?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Grumbine

Why are three of the co-authors are too shy to declare their affiliation with Skeptical Science on the actual IoP paper? They are regular authors at Skeptical Science, names that pop up in the leaked SkS private forum comments, discussing this research and their intentions to seek the media out.

ref, Sarah Green, Mark Richardson and Robert Way?

Sarah A Green (5)
Mark Richardson (6)
Robert Way (7)

5 Department of Chemistry, Michigan Technological University, USA
6 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK
7 Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

Perhaps it might be because they do not want to be perceived as a bunch of activists, if they all declare their affiliations to Skeptical Science..

MarkR at Skeptical Science (22 posts)

definitely him:

‘Sarah’ at Skeptical Science (7 posts)

definitely her (Think Progress gave Sarah away) same article

Robert at Skeptical Science (17 posts)

Why, not declare that (Dana does, as does John Cook, Andy Skuce, Barbel Winkler and Rob Painting))

John Cook (1, 2,3) Dana Nuccitelli ( 2,4 ), Barbel Winkler (2) Rob Painting (2)Andrew Skuce 2,9

1 Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Australia
2 Skeptical Science, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
3 School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Australia
4 Tetra Tech, Incorporated, McClellan, CA, USA,
9 Salt Spring Consulting Ltd, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada

Perhaps it might be because they do not want to be perceived by the IoP as a bunch of activists, if they all declare their affiliations to Skeptical Science..

The only author listed not having an affiliation with Skeptical Science is Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs (8) Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University

Or is he another Skeptical Science insider with an anonymous username?

Does having three non SKS (supposedly) authors give the paper the appearance of some impartial input?

Perhaps a minor academic slap on the wrist/misdemeanor is due, and a minor correction made to the paper?

ref, Sarah Green, Mark Richardson and Robert Way

Little deceptions like these by omission, tends to make turn climate sceptics into climate cynics...

and the public I really think again will not be persuaded (if they are even aware) of yet another survey.

2 of the three have more posts at Skeptical Science, than I do at WUWT. just another climate messaging paper..

What if, John Cook pulled it off, and 97% of the USA public become convinced as the 97% of climate scientists, what then.. will they be any more likely to demand polkicy action.. and if so, 'which policy action, pro-anti-nuclear, pro/anti carbon taxes, or carbon trading, pro mitigation, or adaption the list is endless.

so what was the point of all this.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Please don't fail to respond b/c you think you might not get it. If you don't get it, that's my problem! And once you've taken the trouble to write something that will help me see that, what a terrible waste to discard.

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Perhaps. But I feel the nail keeps popping out.
It's not disputed that the public doesn't believe there is scientific consensus on climate. The issue is why don't they? The hypothesis that it's that no one has told them yet is a reasonable one. But it has been tested. Tested in real life-- by 10,000's of of news reports telling them this w/o changing things. And tested in experiments that show that the public rejects *evidence* of consensus when presented to them in exactly the way being proposed.
The alternative is to communicate w/ people in ways that show respect for their identities and their communities. Screaming at them "hey, haven't you heard? there's scientific consensus that what you and the people you respect believe is wrong" is the opposite of that.

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Robert & @Barry:

Rather than bash the study (I accept the findings; they have been made repeatedly), why not tell us how you'd measure what the authors are meauring? How would you define the denominator? Then tell us wha tthe numerator really is.


May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


A question. It occurs to me that perhaps we don't often study the effectiveness of communication strategies employed by groups opposing the science on issues. For example, is the strategy of proclaiming the science to be "unsettled" (i.e., no consensus) successful? (Seems to me like it is.) If so, what are the necessary conditions for that-- pre-existing cultural polarization, little pre-existing knowledge, etc?

Maybe this is flawed because one is inherently more cultural, but if communicating the consensus is deemed ineffective, I would want the converse (communicating lack of consensus) to be found ineffective, as well.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Johnson

Er, how about you answer any questions yourself? You're the one condemning Cook et al., plus anyone else who addresses a knowledge deficit. Tell us what you, in your expertise (which I take seriously, though you seem curiously shy to take responsibility), think they should have done instead. And what I should do today, next week, next year, in the realm of communications. I know what to do as regards learning more about my science -- the worthless, irrelevant knowledge deficit -- but communications is your field.

Now, since I do believe in discussion rather than debate, my answer to your question, even though you've yet to provide the consideration of an answer to my question(s), is "I'd have done it differently." It's a worthless answer, as this is the answer for absolutely every piece of work ever done, by anybody including myself (if I did it more than a year or two ago). So what's your point in asking it?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Grumbine

Dan - what "findings" have been "found" repeatedly? Barry has actually debunked some time ago the original bogus "97% of the scientists" claim. I do not think there is any serious study on the topic, considering also that I suspect Barry and NIV and me and many who can spot the Emperor's nakedness would fall nevertheless within the "97%" group.

Word has it that Cook and friends have measured the degree of conformism in the climate literature, where among 12,000 studies only 150 or so did not just take AGW for granted. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to do as most papers have to start from some assumption.

As for finding a better measure for whatever Cook was trying to measure, I don't think anybody in the Andersen story asked the child for a degree in clothery, did they? /sarc

Anyway, to respond to Scott, there is no medium where there is no message. Following Kloor, the message has definitely little salience, and therefore its communication suffers accordingly. After all, it doesn't matter how much the townspeople will discuss how to communicate the existence of the magical, invisible clothes the Emperor is wearing.

And that's enough recycling of the same concept on my part...

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito


I think it is likely that the "oppositional reporting" (along w/ other things, including misadventure) helps create a climate in which there is polarization.But once there is, people will effectively misinform themselves. They will reject as lacking credibility valid evidence of what experts believe. And when hit by "truth squads," they'll actually give the falsehood being attacked more credence.

We need to detoxify before the truth signal can make it to the receptors that ordinary people ordinarily use, to great effect, to figure out what is known by science. Blaming misinformers doesn't do any more to detoxify than screming "look at the consensus, already!!!"

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Barry & @Maurizio:

1. Can you state in a 2-3 sentences how Barry's disproof of consensus works. Just give us the nature of the inference strategy & the observations that go w/ it it so we can understand.

2. Then can you explain why, in your view, that evidence hasn't gotten through to public yet? It doesn't actually matter who is right about "scientific consensus"; both sides need a theory of what's preventing the public from converging on their evidence of what it is (don't say we are converging on "no consensus"; that's not true either -- we are polarized on competing understandings of what "scientific consensus" is). We can all have a nice conversation about the mysteries of science communication that way -- that's the concept we never tire of recycling (or else you wouldn't be reading this)

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

1. Barry has conclusively shown (he can provide the link) that the original 97% figure (="Anderegg") has been computed incorrectly.

He hasn't disproven the consensus. How could anybody? He was given a paper with a claim and disproved the claim as published in that paper. That's what is possible, and should always be done.

2. Likewise, Brandon Shollenberger at Lucia's Blackboard has shown with plenty of details that the new 97% figure (="Cook") has been computed incorrectly.

He hasn't disproven the consensus. etc etc

I hope that's self-explanatory.

I'd be quite intrigued at reading of a finally robust paper outlining the consensus in all its nuances. Or at least in some of them. Unfortunately activism has been ruling, and when the authors considers themselves at war then Truth will be the first victim. Even when the consensus is obvious and should be easy to compute.

On the public's part I can't see any knowledge gap. Some people are interested because they're activists: they retweet any rubbish claim they can find, without bothering to check if the paper makes any sense. They don't care about knowledge. They "know" already for all they care.

Some people are not interested at all. They don't see why anything to do with climate change would be relevant to their lives, perhaps struggling with unemployment and other economic worries. They don't care about knowledge either.

Other people still are interested but read the small print. They are usually labeled "skeptics" if not "deniers" because they ask questions. They have all the tools to get all the knowledge they want. There is no knowledge gap for them: in fact if anybody bothered to ask all sorts of opinions are represented among them, from concern on climate change to absolute rejection of physics as we know it.

There is no knowledge gap for anybody at all.


IMHO we should focus on the action gap...what would spring action, in what direction and why. That's all one should care about, no?

a. If I want X to happen and we agree on that why should I worry if I support it because I believe in Y and you support it because you believe in Z. Different knowledge, same action.

b. And even if we both are convinced of W, it might make you think we should be doing V and make me think we should be doing U. Same knowledge, different action.

The history of biofuel legislation in the USA is a very interesting case in point.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Sorry I missed your comments & question. I will reflect on them & then answer.

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"1. Can you state in a 2-3 sentences how Barry's disproof of consensus works. Just give us the nature of the inference strategy & the observations that go w/ it it so we can understand."

First, so far as I am aware, no attempt has yet been made to survey the views of "all scientists". The surveys have either been of specific subsets of scientists (sometimes post-selected) or attempts to estimate the proportions of scientists from proxies like the proportion of published papers, which suffer from selection biases of various kinds.

For example, the commonly-cited Anderegg study managed to do both. It first constructed lists of 'believers' and 'sceptics' based on public statements and letters that had been made, surveyed a large number of papers picked out via Google Scholar written by those people, ranked them by citations and removed those with less than 20 publications to their name, and then reported statistics for the top 50, 100, and 200 most-cited prolific climate scientists.

Of the 1372 scientists on their list 903 were given as 'believers' and 472 given as 'sceptics' (with 3 overlaps), a 65% 'consensus'. It's a large enough sample but heavily self-selected, consisting of those with the inclination and career freedom to be able sign public statements (which ranged from only mildly to extremely supportive/sceptical). Then it's further selected from by eliminating those who don't publish prolifically, then further selected from by picking those most cited in the climate science literature. The sample sizes for the reported numbers are much smaller. It definitely doesn't say anything about the opinions of "97% of scientists".

And even where the survey is properly constructed, the questions asked are generally far milder than the policy-relevant ones, and the percentages observed significantly smaller than 97%. For example, Von Storch surveyed climate scientists on whether most of the observed change in temperature was anthropogenic and found 85% consensus. But even many sceptics consider 'most anthropogenic' a plausible position - the policy issue is whether catastrophic climate change is likely, and that's a question rarely asked in these surveys.

"2. Then can you explain why, in your view, that evidence hasn't gotten through to public yet?"

It has got through, but only to a culturally-selected subset of the public. People in those cultural groups seek out evidence to dispute the 97% claims, the most knowledgeable find this stuff (fairly easily, I must say) and pass it on, and the rest do their thing of figuring out who knows what about science, and listen to them. Relatively few could, for example, cite the specific numbers in Anderegg, but a lot of them will have heard that all the '97%' surveys have various things wrong with them.

Other cultural groups will not have sought it out, will not have heard it through their own social networks, and will not be inclined to believe it even if they do hear of it later on in debate, because of course it's just sceptics 'denying' the truth.

No criticism is intended by this, but you're a social scientist, expert at interpreting survey statistics and interested in this subject - so why do you think you hadn't heard about the problems with Anderegg? Why did you not pick up that this new Cook paper was not a survey of scientists but of the literature, and that most of the 'consensus' was implicit or unquantified, and for mild statements many (most?) sceptics don't dispute, anyway? Did you look? Do you listen? Do you feel inclined to believe me, even now?

It's difficult, isn't it?

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NIV - another apparently "difficult" thing to do is to understand that this isn't a black&white situation. If I am convinced that Anderegg's and Cook's figures are rubbish, this still does NOT mean I do not believe there is a consensus (on AGW).

Yet that's exactly what our host expected us to believe.

Funny isn't it...I have written in my blog since 2007 that I am convinced there is warming, it's global and there is a fairly-sized, possibly majority anthropogenic contribution to it (*). And still here we are in the umpteenth blog where one or more of my interlocutors is convinced that it's a "dialogue" between cartoonish characters, with the Good Guys Fighting for Science and the Environment against us Agents of Evil and Deniers of the Consensus.

(*) my interest in AGW is strictly confined to prevent any drastic, deleterious action to be taken by people convinced it's all catastrophically going to cinder if we don't suspend liberties and impoverish humanity

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

My concern with Anderegg and Doran,(and now Cook) was how the soundbite 97% was being misused, hyped and extended far beyond what was surveyed in the papers.. by politicians, environmentalists and the climate concerned, some barely knowing the source

Adam Corner cites Doran for example, but when I asked him, he said to me, that NO he had not read Zimmermann, the actual survey paper - cited by Doran.

ie suddenly the papers are used to claim 97%of scientist believed in 'dangerous' climate change..

Going far beyond any questions asked of the scientists in the surveys.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


Yes. That was my point about exactly what question is being discussed here. There might be 97% think anthropogenic CO2 contributes positively to temperature, 85% think this contribution is detectable over the background natural variation and the majority of the observed warming, 70% think the effect is of only potential concern for the future, in case sensitivity is high, 50% think the models are good enough to make usable predictions, 40% think sensitivity is more likely to be high than low, 20% convinced that catastrophic changes are virtually certain if we continue emitting, 10% think the seas are going to rise more than a metre and there will be mass extinctions, migrations, famine, pestilence and war, and 3% sure that we're going to 'tip' into a nightmare Venusian runaway greenhouse in which the oceans will boil and the planet melt.

And yet, all of these can be understood as what is meant by the terms "global warming", "climate change" or "AGW", and 97% subscription to any of them is taken to mean 97% subscription to all of them, or as many as the speaker thinks reasonable. Refusal to accept any of them is taken to imply a refusal to accept all of them. No distinctions are made, or recognised.

I think that when they do these surveys of the general public, that often they don't make the distinction, or the respondents interpret the questions in their own way (making assumptions about how the results are going to be used politically), and the result becomes meaningless, as it is at best measuring some blurred spread of positions along the spectrum. People commission polls for political reasons, a question on AGW in any sense is going to get interpreted as support for climate change action, however it is worded, and people respond accordingly in line with their politics. I don't believe these polls are evidence of public ignorance (although it surely exists).

I think our host here is more open-minded on the complexities, and while a believer in 'AGW' (although exactly where on the spectrum I don't know) takes a deliberately neutral stance for the purposes of the research. It stands out, because it seems so rare - in a world full of activists to find a genuine researcher. I find it impressive.

But it's a complicated and complex subject, and people seem intent on leaping to applications before they've figured out the basics of the subject. It would probably benefit from somebody first working out a set of question to measure the full spectrum of possible positions, and then to do some systematic surveying to find out the number of adherents to each among climate scientists, scientists generally, and the general public. But I think far more interesting and useful would be to understand people's reasons for belief. I don't see how you can approach the study of people's beliefs through the science of science communication without such an understanding. And the reasons why they believe what they do might be different to the reasons they care about it.

Sadly, it would appear that nobody is researching this question scientifically. All we seem to get are the dodgy propaganda versions from the likes of Cook, and psychological speculation on how to frame the presentation so as to better persuade people - which is partisan marketing, not science. It's depressing.

Still, that's how politics operates nowadays, and we had better make the best of it. The answer is to try to do (or encourage others to do) some good science, not to whine about all the people who don't.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Why not ask the scientists survey questions that are relevant to the state of climate science now (ie everyone thinks earth has warmed, and consider to some degree, humans contributed an amount of it)

WHy not ask? (others might ask a better question, category bands)
How much warming due to humans in 20th century
0-20% - 20-40% 40%-60% 60%-80% 80-100%

What value due you consider climate sensitivity to be 0-1, 1,2C, 2-3C, 3-4C, 4-5C >6C

and many other intersting and relevant questions, how much sea level rise, etc,etc

But they dare not.

This would then probably capture the range of the consensus in theIPCC report, and we would get some percentages, which would include some outliers. (but still within the 'consensus - v low sensitivisty and very high)

Take Prof Richard Betts,Hadley Centre, Head of Climate Impacts, and Prof Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre) they I know disageree quite strongly on 'dangerous' climate change, that's if you can degree on a definition.

ie latest ice2sea project, ~19-49Cm SLR this century, I'd bet on 25cm - what policy action needed then?

Most sceptics, would agree with most of the scientific consensus. I'd answer yes to Doran, for a given value of 'significant'. I even took Cook's survey, and using the criteria, got a result, slightly more convinced than the authors!

Cook is just trying to reduce it to yes/NO and those that are no, he wants the public to ignore, (or paint as nutty as conspiracy theorists) because he can wave yet another 97% surey around.

All Cook wants to do, is messaging to the public as do you believe Yes/NO - which then gets conflated to we must take action, which goes beyond the questions or the papers findings, to support policy action (what policy action is not described) he makes this clear in the SkS forum, (Lucia's Blackboard quotes them)

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

"Part of it too is that papers like this are one of the reasons for the public's misapprehension (if there is one). They see papers like this, get the impression that this is where the claims of consensus come from, and disbelieve them as a result."

Interesting. "Part" of it? What part of it, NIV? Do you have any evidence that it is a measurable amount? "The pubic." "They" You describe a cause-and-effect, with complete certainty. You, apparently, think it is a substantial phenomenon? What we know about cultural cognition tells us much about how the formation of opinion in these issues is far more complicated than the simple mechanism you describe.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Niv, @Barry &@Maurizio:

There are more specific & interesting points that I'd like msyelf to comment on than I have time to right now (not that that usually stops me; we all know that blogs & blog commenting are the procrastination addict's narcotic of choice), but I am very excited to see all of you reflecting on your own frustration w/ the way in which the "consensus" point is portrayed in the media & your concern that this misinforms people.

Maurizio's point about how ordinary people engage the climate issue is very well taken. And "knowledge gap" -- well of course there is one; it would be insane to expect ordinary citizens, busy as they are, to "know" what experts know about the myriad things that require expert knowledge. But the point is that there's no need for ordinary, and ordinarily intelligent & successful people, to know such things; they just need to know what they need to know to live their lives successfully. They don't "know" the science behind treatment of cancer; they don't know the science behind GPS systems; they don't know the science behidn pastuerized milk etc etc etc. So what? The know how to figure out what is known & use that information.

But that system is broken in some way on climate. The evidence is in the deep, bitter, and self-reinforcing state of antagonism that the debate over it is creating in our public life.

I take it you basically agree with me on this (maybe you would characterize things slightly differently) or else you wouldn't spend so much time examing and critiquing the way the issue is presented in the media and in public deliberations generally.

My point is that you you have the same orientation to the "science communication problem" that those on the "other side" have. Forget who is "right" about the science of climate change or the state of consensus (either pct of scientists or # of articles).

Tell me why you think this issue is broken-- particularly given how many aren't. Within the class of things known to science & that matter for individual & collective decisionsmaking, the number that show this sort of polarizling pathology is very very small. What explains how it happens & to what? What can be done to avoid such wasteful & obnoxious (for one thing, deeply hostile to Liberal principles of self-govt) misadventures?

My sense is that you agree these are important and intersting questions & also want to answer them. I want to be sure to learn from any answers you might have & not miss them for the reaons NiV alludes to in one of his msgs to me

(Wow -- I just succeeded in avoiding grading of 15 exams!)

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Dan - two points.

The first is that while I get where you're going here more generally about repeating ineffective strategy , I also think that you are not being particularly scientific about quantifying what % the public has an inaccurate perception of the prevalence of scientific opinion w/r/t climate change. For example, if we look at the polling data on who the public thinks is the most reliable source for information on climate change, and see that the number is quite high, and then we look and see that a large % of the public misperceives the prevalence of scientific opinion w/r/t climate change - then it suggests that more is at play than simply the influence of cultural cognition. The "echo chamber" effect is probably real, at perhaps not insignificant.

Which leads to my second point:

I see a dance being done here where you are essentially saying that it is isn't so much that the misperception of "consensus" opinion is wrong, but that the methodology of communicating about that misperception has been ineffective - and it comes across as you being in line with those who doubt whether there is a strong consensus of scientific opinion w/r/t climate change. I think that is because you don't highlight the "uncertainties" when addressing the issue - in other words, you don't explicitly state from the outset that it really is unknown the precise degree to which cultural cognition would essentially render attempts to communicate opinion about the "consensus" irrelevant. I think that's kind of ironic - especially given that the junior high school lunchroom food fight nature of the climate debate makes all these interactions so predictable.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Sorry - posting before coffee is always a mistake.

That should have read "...and see that the numbers are quite high for trust in climate scientists, or institutions that have strong "consensus" views on climate change, as the most reliable source..."

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

("...we all know that blogs & blog commenting are the procrastination addict's narcotic of choice")

Perhaps the one unassailable truth in the climate blog wars - and I think worthy of more attention than a parenthetical comment.

I have to say, I think that aspect of the debate is an underdiscussed issue. In fact, Dan, I see some important linkages between the cultural cognition aspect of the debate and the addictive (and I must also say, narcissistic) attributes of the debate. I think the connections are not coincidental. The reasons why people are so compelled to be right in these debates, and the reasons why people filter evidence in a biased manner, are part of a complicated psychological phenomenon, and I think that the "rewards" people get from addictive, and not unrelatedly, compulsive behavior, is part of the mix.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The public is not stupid. I am sure that most people realize that if we poll priests we will find that 97% of them agree that God exists. But that does not prove anything. Actually, what the study shows is just how corrupt science has become. It cherry picks papers written by AGW promoters, most of whom use models rather than empirical data and find that the promoters agree that man is causing the warming. This also illustrates the problems that skeptics have had. When von Storch did a survey in which 60% of the scientists said that they did not agree with the AGW premise he could not get the paper published anywhere. And when the AMS asked meteorologists the same question and it also got a 60% rejection of the AGW position nobody was trumpeting the results because they did not fit the official narrative.

Even though consensus is not important in science it should be easy to see where scientists stand. All that is needed is an independent survey that asks clear questions of scientists who have to use some kind of password or special identifier to ensure that their vote only counts once. If anonymity is an issue it should be easy to set up some kind of system where the identifiers are issued by a different independent group from the group that is doing the analysis of the data. The survey should also have an open comment forum that is accessible to everyone so that everyone can see what the arguments for or against the position are. I found the Margaret Zimmerman study very interesting. Even though she claimed consensus it was clear in her appendix that a large proportion of the scientists did not agree with the AGW position. It was also clear that she knew that her responses were not very different from those obtained by Bray & von Storch. Yet she massaged the data until she could come up with a similar conclusion that made a claim that is clearly false and easy to expose.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVangel

Why not ask the scientists survey questions that are relevant to the state of climate science now (ie everyone thinks earth has warmed, and consider to some degree, humans contributed an amount of it)

They have. The results obtained by Bray and von Storch asked for a level of agreement with the statement, "Climate change is mostly a result of anthropogenic causes" only 40% had some level of agreement, with the highest response (20%) being a strong disagreement. The reason why you have not heard much about this survey comes from the difficulty of getting such results published by the journals that have tied their reputations to the AGW position that they have promoted. I found it interesting that when the AMS surveyed meteorologists who worked in the television industry they got very similar results. Most clearly rejected the AGW position and the data showed no consensus.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVangel

One of the more interesting aspects of this debate, IMO, is how some "skeptics" argue that determining "consensus" is at best irrelevant, or more likely an inherently biased process that leads to the stifling of true science and vitally important dissent, and then turn around and argue vehemently about what the "consensus' opinion actually is.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

One of the more interesting aspects of this debate, IMO, is how some "skeptics" argue that determining "consensus" is at best irrelevant, or more likely an inherently biased process that leads to the stifling of true science and vitally important dissent, and then turn around and argue vehemently about what the "consensus' opinion actually is.

Why is it that interesting. First, it is clear that consensus does not matter because the only thing that is important is the scientific method and the actual empirical evidence. Second, when surveys were done they yielded conclusions that the promoters did not like so they did away with any pretence of using the scientific method and massaged the data until they got the conclusions that they wanted.

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVangel

Thanks for reaching out,, dmk38. I'll reply from home tonight.

does anybody know why this site is classified as "sex education" and therefore blocked from some workplaces :)

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

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