Friday, June 02, 2006

The meaning of consensus

Scientists often talk of there being a "consensus" on global warming. Al Gore addresses this issue directly in An Inconvenient Truth by citing a 2004 study on the extent of agreement among scientists.

The study by Naomi Oreskes, published in Science, examined all the peer-reviewed scientific journal articles between 1993 and 2003 in which the abstract contained the phrase "global climate change". The search was conducted using the Web of Science, a popular search engine used by scientists for surveying the popular literature.

Of the 928 papers she found, not one was skeptical of the notion that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations", to quote the IPCC. In other words, every single paper supported the general idea that the emissions of greenhouse gases due to human activity is influencing the climate.

For fun, I did my own search. During that same time period, there were eight peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting "distance healing", that is, having someone else, without your knowledge, pray for your health; one paper with evidence for the existence of “psi”, alternative means of transfering information like telepathy; and another arguing that the "sense of being stated at" is a result of extrasensory perception". A lot of nutty stuff. But not one paper that used the phrase "global climate change" that was sceptical of the evidence for human-induced climate change.

I won't claim that Oreskes' study is perfect. Change the search terms, for example use just "climate change", and you will find a few papers examining previous climate changes in the geological past that may be sceptical about the extent of the human role in today's changing climate. The sceptics are still a very very small minority. The take-home message is, however you cut it, the consensus is overwhelming.

For years now, media coverage has wrongly presented the two "sides" of the debate as equal, thanks in large part to lobbying by special interests like the oil and coal industry and the tendency in popular journalism to devote equal space and time to both sides of an issue. We are just now seeing the mainstream press, like USA Today, accept that there really is an incredibly strong consensus on the issue. So if you ever are irritated that some scientists or environmentalists seem to be trying to sell the science of climate change to the public in an almost political way, try to understand that the experts in this field have only resorted to such tactics because for years they were forced to swim upstream, to see the true state of the scientific agreement misrepresented to the public.

1 comment:

rim said...

Very interesting thesis. It takes into account that a scientist sitting in his or her ivory tower completely independent of society. Unfortunately scientists depend on society to provide them with monetary funds for them to carry intellectual endeavor. Therefore, any successful scientist will tell you that majority of success is in writing and receiving grants. Therefore, practice destroys ivory tower theory. If you follow the logic of the Oreskes' study, you can find many thoughsands paper written by scientists in former Soviet Union that support leading and guiding role of Communist Party of Soviet Union in science. So, lets take a fact that Oreskes was a consultant for the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. This is called motive to support anthropogenic climate change. Why do I hit so hard at the motive and who pays money? Because the thesis claims: “lobbying by special interests like the oil and coal industry” is a root of opposition to the climate change. To some extend it would be true. But I do not think so.

Any person trained in Physical sciences have been trained that there is always an error and unsertainty. Therefore, an intellectual knowing most of possible outcomes will honestly tell that there are different outcome. But in dealing with general population when a person tell them that there are different outcomes, he would be considered not competent. Therefore to appear competent scientists desided that global warming would be the worst outcome. It totally seem logical. 20 years ago it was global cooling, and people were demanding governments to do something, thank God goverments did not do anything. The problem is in details. My favorit show is Simpsons, one (besides bovine university) is where Mr. Burns looses his nuclear plant and ends up in the seniors home. Lisa is very enviromentally knowledgeble and gets Mr. Burns to help her to recicle pop-cans for a dime each. Mr. Burns being good businessman gets whole seniors home working for him, then Lisa tells him that plastic things from six packs catch the fish, therefore they should be cut to prevent that, well watch the epizode to find what happened.

So, let me finish with saying. My personal opinion: there is definitelly anthropogenic climate change. What I can not do is to tell that CO2 is a main culprit. Most of the Earth surface is covered with water. Any scientist who worked with FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy) will tell that H2O is a problem. Well, we can not possibly control water. One observation: why scientists claim increase in hurricane activities over Atlantic, but not in Pacific, or Indian oceans? It is supposed to be a global warming?! The issue that I personally have with global warming is Kyoto protocol. First, this monster became a huge machine that is more interested in self preservation than achieving reduction in carbon dioxide, methane and other GG emissions. Just take a look: how many countries are going to meet Kyoto targets? Canada -- certainly not. Second, governments do not put money into domestic reduction of GG emissions. It can be done through improved productivity, more efficient use of recourses, and real monetary encouragement of citizens to conserve energy. Instead, Kyoto is a huge wealth redistribution scheme to take money from middle class westerners and deliver them to the third world corrupt regimes.
Funny that middle class guilt about their lifestyle compared to the poor nations is used.