Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Do Scientists Think About Global Warming?

In my previous post, I mocked the common tactic of listing as many scientists as one can find opposing a scientific consensus. They do it frequently for scientists who disbelieve in man-made global warming, but also for creationism and other subjects.

Here's a list of 2,648 people whose "doubts about AIDS are publicly known," for example. It includes scientists, doctors, nutritionists, lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, and for some reason a large number of mathematicians and physicists.

By contrast, the Republicans in the Senate only came up with 650 scientists who don't believe in man-made global warming. (Here is the document (.pdf) linked to in a comment on my previous post by Ezzie with the claim that "science disagrees.")

As I pointed out in my last post, listing the number of scientists who hold position A tells us nothing useful without also listing the number of scientists who hold position not-A. (It would of course disprove the argument that NO scientists believe in A, but nobody actually makes that claim. It's a straw man argument.)

So, because I'd like to know what's likely true rather than propagandize for a point, I thought I'd look into just how many scientists really don't believe in man-made global warming as compared to the number that do.

Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (.pdf) is the most recent answer to that question that I could find. (I found it in the very well-sourced wikipedia article Scientific opinion on climate change.) Published just last month in Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the paper details the results of a poll of 10,257 Earth scientists (with 3,146 respondants.)

The questions:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

The answers:
Results show that overall, 90% of participants answered “risen” to question 1 and 82% answered yes to question 2. In general, as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement with the two primary questions (Figure 1). In our survey, the most specialized and knowledgeable respondents (with regard to climate change) are those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total). Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2.

They then compare these numbers to the beliefs of the general public.



Okay. So the public is divided, but the 82% of scientists and 97.4% of scientists specializing in the subject come out on the same side. Yes, it's a web survey, and yes, "is a significant contributing factor" is probably too vague. But all of the other surveys (there are several more referred to on that wikipedia page, for example) come to similar numbers.

Here's just one more:
In 2007, Harris Interactive surveyed 489 randomly selected members of either the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University. The survey found 97% agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that “currently available scientific evidence” substantiates its occurrence. Only 5% believe that that human activity does not contribute to greenhouse warming; the rest are unsure; and 84% believe global climate change poses a moderate to very great danger.[75][76]

I think it's safe to say the large majority of scientists believe in man-made global warming. Could they be wrong? Of course, anything's possible. But what could be the basis for assuming that they are wrong, let alone the extreme confidence with which many on the right make that claim? I submit it's pure wishful thinking combined with a reflexive rejection of anything the "other side" believes. Al Gore devotes his post-VP life to "spreading the gospel," ergo the gospel must be false. And did you hear about his mansion?

These scientists are aware of Martian warming, and of sunspot activity, and of all the thousand other little straws the deniers have grasped at. They are professionals in the field, and they've heard it all. But they still believe. To assume that you, a layperson, can better interpret the evidence than the majority of scientists is pure hubris. This isn't the kind of thing where everybody's opinion is equally valid. It's the kind of thing where some people are experts and most others are just talking out of their asses.

Presumably none of you deny the HIV-AIDS link, and even most of my religious readers have accepted that evolution is true, so why cling to this position? What good reason do you have? How can you be so sure?

And please, please stop with the "X number of scientists believe this!" garbage.

19 comments:

jewish philosopher said...

But don't all scientists believe in evolution? Therefore, if the climate changes life will simply evolve, so why is it a problem?

Holy Hyrax said...

>To assume that you, a layperson, can better interpret the evidence than the majority of scientists is pure hubris.

Fair enough, but I am not going to shut my eyes to the other side, that also have some say. You can't fall back on your creationist analogy unless you think dissenters are dogmatist. I believe also, your entire outlook on the right is wrong. What irks the right is the hysteria that grips many on the left.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/18/jim-hansen-obama

The sky is falling, the sky is fallling. Government has to quickly turn things around or else we are all doomed. People horrifically worried about their carbon footprints all around. They worry how gov't will respond to this, not that things can't be done. Should gov't tax the public for different ventures? Should we start taxing drivers per mile they drive?

I remember Thomas Friedman on Charlie Rose, discussing how with global warming, this is a new time for gov't to push industry to find solutions. The only way to do that is to get the public to start actually going for alternative options. His idea: Either have the public pay the $100 a month extra for an alternative option, or charge the public $150 in compensation for the military having to secure oil fields around the world. Obviously, the people will run to pay the $100 for alternative methods.

What Charlie Rose failed to ask him was, where on earth would a family now get an extra $100 to pay?

Shalmo said...

science is a tricky subject.

I remember reading an interesting article by Chuck Norris about how today rather than asking theologians we are dogmatically asking people in lab coats to fix our problems. As if the the lab coat automatically makes the person right.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in global warming, but I disagree with the way you lump up science as this infallible entry point for the truth.

Science can, and often enough is wrong. First they said cow milk is bad for you, then they said its good for you, then they said its bad for you, and now I don't even know where they stand. You'd be surprised how much faith, and how little objectivity , play a part in what scientists find.

Then again since rape, murder, ethnocentrism and genocide are what define 80% of the Torah...science is definitely a far better alternative.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

I agree that a lot of the proposed solutions are impractical and that the environmentalist-as-religion stuff is silly, but that's a different discussion. The first step is getting people to even agree that there is a problem. We're all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.


Shalmo:

I remember reading an interesting article by Chuck Norris

LOL.

about how today rather than asking theologians we are dogmatically asking people in lab coats to fix our problems.

If I want to hear an explanation of why it was okay for Isaac and Mohammed to marry children, I'll go to a theologian. If I want to know what's up with the climate, I'm going to take the lab coats. Sorry.

If you get cancer, are you going to an imam or a doctor?

Then again since rape, murder, ethnocentrism and genocide are what define 80% of the Torah...science is definitely a far better alternative.

Agreed on that, although the Koran's no better, of course.

Random said...

Not got the time for a detailed comment at the moment, but some thoughts.

1 - Only a third of the people invited to take the survey actually did so. What do the rest think? Whilst there are several possible theories I think the only safe conclusion is that two-thirds of the people invited do not feel strongly enough about the issue/have a sufficiently well formed opinion on it to answer a survey on the issue, which puts figures of 90%+ into perspective, somewhat.

2 - "82% of scientists and 97.4% of scientists specializing in the subject come out on the same side."

97.4% of scientists specialising in the subject of climate change believe climate change is real. Well, yes. But do you really believe this tells us anything useful? Does the expression "self-selecting sample" mean anything?

3 - "is a significant contributing factor" is probably too vague.

No, it's certainly too vague. It would capture me for example, and I count myself as a fairly hard core sceptic on the subject. Most scientists would regard a contribution of as little as 10% forex as "significant" - is this really what you're thinking of when you cite figures showing massive majorities of scientists believing in AGW?

"Al Gore devotes his post-VP life to "spreading the gospel," ergo the gospel must be false. And did you hear about his mansion?"

Al Gore is no more an expert than you or I. I'm as entitled to come to a self-taught scepticism of the extreme AGW position as he is to a self-taught endorsement of it. And yes, if the preachers of a gospel do not live it then the rest of us are entitled to question their sincerity as to the truth of it. Come on JA, you have no trouble understanding this point when it comes to organised religion, why the blind spot here?

"These scientists are aware of Martian warming, and of sunspot activity"

Actually, I'm not sure that they are, at least at any level deeper than reading the sort of article I linked to. Earth scientists and astronomers do not tend to go to the same conferences as a rule.

"and of all the thousand other little straws the deniers have grasped at."

A small point perhaps, but I find the use of the term "denier" here to be highly offensive. It's become increasingly common in extreme green circles recently, for no other obvious reason than to attempt to creat some sort of moral equivalence between "climate change denier" and "holocaust denier" - this sort of nonsense incidentally is one of the reasons why so many people on the right are so reluctant to take the climate change industry on good faith about this. Sceptic, if you please.

"And please, please stop with the "X number of scientists believe this!" garbage. "

Erm, haven't you just spent an entire post doing exactly that?

Ezzie said...

Seriously, that was a meaningless post. "Numbers are meaningless... unless they back my view!"

Is the 82% number because they were trying to get such a large sampling of climate change scientists? I.e. what % of the total # of scientists are people who are dealing directly with climate change? Do scientists not have a vested interest in their respective industries continuing to be taken extremely seriously?

Since 2/3 chose NOT to take it, that makes it even more questionable. Which 'side' is more likely to want to answer such a survey? I'm guessing people who are predominantly for it are more likely.

Finally, the questions are quite vague and don't allow for any nuance: A person who believes that humans have a minimal impact would still answer Yes to both questions. There is no question asking if they think that weather cycles are a greater reason for the rise or anything of the sort. There is no question asking the extent of such human effect. There is no question asking just how much they feel temperatures have risen. Etc. etc.

This is silliness.

The 650 I referred to *specifically* denounced the findings of the UN IPCC based on the science therein. To compare that to this is so ridiculous it's laughable.

Anonymous said...

What about the 31,000 scientists who signed the Oregon petion? So far, the scientists who disclaim AGW are listed by name. We have yet to see names of the surveyed scientists who support AGW.

--Jeff

Shalmo said...

"If I want to hear an explanation of why it was okay for Isaac and Mohammed to marry children, I'll go to a theologian. If I want to know what's up with the climate, I'm going to take the lab coats. Sorry."

We are going off topic but...

There are contradictory accounts of how old Aisha was. The closest average is that she was roughly between 19-25 years old when the marriage happened.

That said age is irrelevant on a moral level. In Britain the the age of consent for sex is 18, in Canada its 20 (I think), in Italy its 16 and in Denmark its 12. And these are "modern" countries I am talking about. Different societies determine different norms for marriages. Judaism and Islam set the standard at the age of puberty.

"If you get cancer, are you going to an imam or a doctor?"

I don't go to an imam at all. I get my religion from taqleed (but I don't think you know what that is)

Now its interesting you bring up this point. Did you know that in Nahjul-Balagha Imam Ali asks to eat only 80% of what makes us full. Its a great way to discourage gluttony with food, and frankly if you ask me if all people in North America followed his advice we wouldn't have these souring obesity rates. Still think the theologians have nothing fruitful to offer this world?

"Agreed on that, although the Koran's no better, of course."

Tsk Tsk Tsk.

'There is far more violence in the Bible than the Quran' - Karen Armstrong. Most secular authorities will say the same.

Why don't you give it a read (something I asked of you before) before you start your admonitions. Not trying to convert, just asking you to have the intellectual honesty to check out what you are attacking before you attack it.

Random said...

Shalmo,

This is a global warming thread, not a muslim apologetics one. I'm quite happy to do a take down on your post, but I think this thread has been diverted quite far enough already and I have no desire to show such discourtesy to our host. Back on topic, please...

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

1 - Only a third of the people invited to take the survey actually did so. What do the rest think?

They say that's typical for web surveys. Also, there are other surveys that come to the same result. Finally, I would think that any scientists with significant doubts would jump on the opportunity to raise them. I know that if I were a scientist and saw position X being put forward as the consensus position while I had serious doubts, I'd say so.

97.4% of scientists specialising in the subject of climate change believe climate change is real.

Yeah, there's probably some selection bias there, but still. If the problems with the man-made global warming hypothesis were as big as you guys imply, they'd kind of notice that once they started doing the science.

Most scientists would regard a contribution of as little as 10% forex as "significant" - is this really what you're thinking of when you cite figures showing massive majorities of scientists believing in AGW?

Yeah, I already agreed this is a problem.

Al Gore is no more an expert than you or I. I'm as entitled to come to a self-taught scepticism of the extreme AGW position as he is to a self-taught endorsement of it. And yes, if the preachers of a gospel do not live it then the rest of us are entitled to question their sincerity as to the truth of it. Come on JA, you have no trouble understanding this point when it comes to organised religion, why the blind spot here?

The difference is that preachers (and theologians, etc.) ARE the "experts" on religion. Al Gore is not the expert on global warming. His views and actions are 100% irrelevant as to its truth. It's classic ad hominem.

Actually, I'm not sure that they are, at least at any level deeper than reading the sort of article I linked to. Earth scientists and astronomers do not tend to go to the same conferences as a rule.

They've devoted their careers to climate science. Believe me, they're aware of all the arguments against man-made global warming. You think evolutionary biologists are unfamiliar with the basic arguments of creationists?

A small point perhaps, but I find the use of the term "denier" here to be highly offensive... Sceptic, if you please."

I assure you I mean no comparison with holocaust deniers. "Denier" doesn't have that association for me. The word does imply to me a denial of something others accept as true, so it strikes me as accurate. "Skeptic" I think is giving too much credit. I honestly believe that those who don't believe at this point are not skeptics but people who don't believe because they don't like the implications or the people they'd have to admit are right. Hence, denier.

People who say that cell phones don't cause cancer are skeptics. People who say that cigarettes don't cause cancer are deniers.

Erm, haven't you just spent an entire post doing exactly that?

NO NO NO NO NO. Was I that unclear? The point isn't that X number of scientists believe this" but that "X percent of scientists believe this." That's a huge, huge difference -- the difference between an honest survey of the field and a one-sided propaganda piece.


Ezzie:

Seriously, that was a meaningless post. "Numbers are meaningless... unless they back my view!"

See my last paragraph addressed to Random.

The 650 I referred to *specifically* denounced the findings of the UN IPCC based on the science therein. To compare that to this is so ridiculous it's laughable.

And the 2,648 people I linked to at the top doubt the HIV-AIDS connection. My point is that such lists are useless when they only tally one side.

Let's say I told you of an election in an unspecified country somewhere on Earth, and I said "almost three million people voted for candidate X!" implying that the candidate won. Wouldn't you think it completely dishonest and irrelevant if it turned out that I was referring to Ralph Nader in 2000? That's what the Republicans are doing with their list of 650 (and creationists do with their lists and HIV/AIDS deniers do with their lists.)

You only ever see the side on the overwhelming minority use this tactic. It's just blatantly dishonest. That's the whole point.


Jeff:

What about the 31,000 scientists who signed the Oregon petion? So far, the scientists who disclaim AGW are listed by name. We have yet to see names of the surveyed scientists who support AGW.

First I've heard of it. According to their website, "31,072 American scientists have signed this petition,
including 9,021 with PhDs." What kind of scientists don't have PhDs? I'm not being elitist, it's just that I know you pretty much need one to be a "scientist." Are they including doctors? Sonographers? Nutritionists? I have no idea who these people are or thy their opinions matter.

And again, it's still the same tactic. Why did they start a petition rather than commissioning the best survey of (actual) scientists that they could? I doubt it's because they thought a petition would most accurately reflect the beliefs of scientists.

I just googled a couple of names and the first one I could track down with some degree of confidence is "Mary Ann Baker, PhD." She's a neuroscientist. Okay, that's a real scientist, at least, but in a completely irrelevant field. And this is one of the PhD group! And I picked some unique names for easy googling. "Leo A. Wrona" is an obstetrician. "Adelheid R. Kuehnle" is a horticulturist. Stephen G. Zahony served as "Chief Geologist for Saudi Arabian Mining Co." "Ronald T. Urbanik" is an engineer. Miroslawa Josowicz is a chemist.

I didn't omit any names that seemed like legitimate experts, btw. Those are all the names I googled that had results. Feel free to try it yourself, if you're interested in the truth.


Shalmo:

I'll start thinking about some posts about Islam and/or the Koran.

Holy Hyrax said...

so how goes the wedding plans?

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

Mostly done! Per the religious stuff, I'm trying to come up with a way to tactfully let the Orthodox people know not to wait around for public benching with sheva brachos, because I don't want to do that.

Holy Hyrax said...

im sure they will figure it out. Just don't put benchers on the tables.

DJ or band?

Anonymous said...

The problem of publishing lists of scientists, by name, who doubt the AGW hypothesis (as in the Oregon petition) is that many of the signers can be singled out for elimination for any number of reasons.

Perhaps this is why there are no similar lists with names of scientists who support the AGW hypothesis. If we knew who they are, how many of them could withstand the same scrutiny?

--Jeff

Random said...

"Finally, I would think that any scientists with significant doubts would jump on the opportunity to raise them. I know that if I were a scientist and saw position X being put forward as the consensus position while I had serious doubts, I'd say so. "

Well, when prominent sceptics are getting censored or even fired for their activities, I can't blame less prominent ones for wanting to keep their heads down. But as I said above, the only reliable conclusion you can draw from the response rate is that over two thirds of respondents don't care enough about the subject to respond to a survey on it. But then 25% of people invited (82% of 30%) is a much less impressive
statistic than 82% of people who replied. Lies, damn lies and statistics, as the man said.

"If the problems with the man-made global warming hypothesis were as big as you guys imply, they'd kind of notice that once they started doing the science."

And if the ones who did got out of the field and did something else, they wouldn't be identified as climate change specialists, would they?

"Yeah, I already agreed this is a problem."

No, it renders the survey almost worthless. Speaking personally, I don't deny there's an anthropogenic element to global warming. In particular, I find the Ridderman hypothesis - that AGW has been affecting the climate for several thousand years now, and is very likely the reason why we are not now in an ice age - to be intriguing and plausible. The alarmist don't like Ridderman however because of the implication that AGW can last for millenia without causing a catastrophe, and may indeed have prevented one. Where I do become a sceptic however is with regard to the claims of the "OMG TEH OCEANS ARE BOILING!!!11!ONE1!!one11!!!" extremists.

I would therefore have answered "yes" to both questions if asked. I would submit to you for consideration the point that any survey on global warming where both I and Al Gore would answer the same way is not telling us anything much that's useful about attitudes to global warming.

"I assure you I mean no comparison with holocaust deniers. "Denier" doesn't have that association for me. The word does imply to me a denial of something others accept as true, so it strikes me as accurate. "Skeptic" I think is giving too much credit. I honestly believe that those who don't believe at this point are not skeptics but people who don't believe because they don't like the implications or the people they'd have to admit are right. Hence, denier."

Two points here. Firstly, there's a difference between accepting there's an anthropogenic element to the climate and accepting the most extreme predictions of the alarmists. You don't seem to be aware of this and as a result are trying to push everyone who doesn't fall into the extremist camp into the same box as the flat-earthers. This is simply wrong.

Secondly, you may not mean to link with holocaust deniers yourself, but as my link showed there are plenty of environmental activists out there who do. I would remind you of your own anger on a previous thread at having your exasperation at the tactics of the Israeli army being compared with the rantings of the "Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!" crowd and would ask you to refrain from indulging in anything similar here, even if unintentionally.

"NO NO NO NO NO. Was I that unclear? The point isn't that X number of scientists believe this" but that "X percent of scientists believe this.""

to be honest, it looked as if the point was "so you think loads of scientists support your position? Well, loads *more* support mine!" however you phrase it it's still playing the numbers game.

"My point is that such lists are useless when they only tally one side."

This is a fair point though, and one reason why I steer clear of such lists myself.

"What kind of scientists don't have PhDs?"

Did you ask this question of the 10,000 people asked to do the survey you cited? But to answer the direct question - the survey is defining as "scientist" anybody with a BSc equivalent or higher qualification. You may disagree with this if you wish, but you can't deny they're being anything other than upfront about it. Incidentally, of the 9,000 or so PhDs 1,400 are in a climate related topic.

A final thought - one major problem the petition has had is that environmental activists have persistently tried to discredit it by spamming it with fake names and then drawing attention to them. "Geri Halliwell PhD" for example had to be deleted from the list because of this (though Perry Mason PhD and Michael J Fox PhD turned out to be real people). I'll leave it up to the reader to consider if this sort of thing is legitimate comment or the sort of nonsense that only discredits the people who engage in it.

Orthoprax said...

I think some facts are indisputable. CO2 levels in the atmosphere have by direct measurements been observed to be increasing for 150 years at a pace directly proportional to the increased emissions of the industrial revolution until today. The same is true for methane. And both are at higher atmospheric levels than ever in the past 600,000+ years - as determined by ice core samples. Simultaneously have global temperatures been measured to increase in that same period and in a similar rate. Those glaciers up north really are melting away.

We know those are greenhouse gases and it stands to reason that they came from anthropogenic sources. I think global warming is quite real and human actions are primarily responsible for it.

Now, with that said, I think most of the doom and gloom horror weather scenarios by political activists are BS and I'm not sure how much environmental benefit there'd be in even rolling back our gas productions to zero by tomorrow. The damage has already been done and we'll be living with the consequences for centuries no matter what. Is there a huge difference between global temperatures rising 1.5 degree Celsius versus 2 degrees? I'm not sure. For all I know, global warming could be a good thing as tropical environments expand and barren deserts become rainforests. Who knows?

In any case, given that there have been regular glacial periods every 10,000 years or so for the last 100,000 years or so and we're 8000 years from the last one, the Milankovitch cycles will catch up to us and likely mitigate much of the anthropogenic warming. And if we ever get really concerned about the climate, we can always throw a few tons of sulfur dust into the upper atmosphere which has shown good promise at reflecting enough of that unwanted sunlight.

Apikores said...

I find it ironic that the people most skeptical about climate science are those who could most use a good dose of skepticism with regard to religion.

Random said...

... and the people who show the most religious fervour about climate change are the ones who show the most contempt for traditional religions.

Apikores said...

"... and the people who show the most religious fervour about climate change are the ones who show the most contempt for traditional religions."

I'm not sure you can really call trust in science "religious fervor." There is evidence to back up the science, while there is none to back up religion.

(Although it's true some environmentalists may not base their positions on evidence, they are usually the hippie tree-hugger types, hardly rationalists)