Presenting the non-experts

IT’S fun when a scientific study confirms what lots of people already know. Scientists who deny that we should do anything about climate change don’t actually know very much about climate change.

New research in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS… no sniggering), has concluded that

… the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of Anthropogenic Climate Change vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians.

The method of the researchers was to first take the names of scientists who had been co-signatories of statements supporting or questioning the science of climate change and the need to act (or not act), based on evidence.

The researchers list the source of those statements here, which include letters to prime ministers, public declarations and newspaper adverts such as this one from the Cato Institute, which was reported to have cost US$150,000 . Sourcewatch lists Cato’s alliances with fossil fuel money and tobacco denial here.

After getting their list down to 1372 scientists, they then look at the record of those scientists in publishing relevant research in relevant peer-reviewed journals. About 80 per cent of the sceptics had published less than 20 scientific papers on climate change.

… the bulk of UE (unconvinced by evidence) researchers on the most prominent multisignatory statements about climate change have not published extensively in the peer-reviewed climate literature.

Predictably, the sceptics have responded to the findings of the report by saying that peer-review isn’t a good indication of what constitutes being an expert. Or in other words, you don’t have to show you can “do” any relevant science to be called a scientist. If this sounds like a bit of crackpot logic, then that’s because it is.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Hans von Storch, from the Meteorological Institute of the University of Hamburg, says

You have to ask yourself – which are the the tenets of (the human induced climate change) outlined by the IPCC the ‘”convinced” groups of scientists agree with.

Maybe after asking himself the question, he could have gone off and found the answer which is explained in the PNAS research he’s agreed to comment upon. Here it is, from the research paper itself, because he obviously missed it

We defined CE (convinced by evidence) researchers as those who signed statements broadly agreeing with or directly endorsing the primary tenets of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that it is “very likely” that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature in the second half of the 20th century.

The BBC also quotes Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, editor of a famed sceptic science journal, Energy and Environment

Who judges expertise and prominence? It looks to me that the authors belong to an IPCC supporting group that must count as believers and belong to the beneficiaries of the man-made warming scare.

So what Dr Boehmer-Christiansen is suggesting is that those that support the broad IPCC findings have already made up their mind and so can’t be regarded as credible.

In an email to fellow sceptic Andrew Bolt, she said

My political agenda?…. to give climate sceptics a voice because I did not trust what emerged from the IPCC’s policy-makers summaries.

Doesn’t that make Dr Boehmer-Christiansen guilty of her own crime of belonging to a certain group?

So that BBC report brings us to a pertinent piece of advice offered in the PNAS research. The penultimate word, to them

Despite media tendencies to present both sides in anthropogenic climate change (ACC) , 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.


Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.