The consensus gap


Do you remember from your youth the game in which someone whispers a word to another and in the same way this word is passed to yet others in a line. Then in the end you find the word morphed into something different? The same seems to be happening with the Cook Survey. It wasn’t that unexpected though.

Look how the results of the survey morphed into something completely different.

First, the following tweet of president Obama:

Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree:
#climate change is real, man-made
and dangerous. Read more: http://OFA.BO/gJsdFp

The link in this tweet goes back to Reuters, stating:

Ninety-seven percent of scientists say global warming is mainly man-made but a wide public belief that experts are divided is making it harder to gain support for policies to curb climate change, an international study showed on Thursday.

The two statements are a strange twist of the conclusion of the survey.

First the claim that “climate change is real, man-made and dangerous”. The conclusion suddenly went from “97% of the abstracts from which a position was found in the title or abstract, was assumed to endorse anthropogenic global warming” to “Climate change is real, man-made and dangerous“. With all due respect, but there is no way this conclusion can follow from this survey! But nevertheless, this is how the results are being reported to the outside world.

Then let’s look at the Reuters statement: “Ninety-seven percent of the scientists say”. This is not what 97% scientists “say” at all. Remember, this is what the survey actually did:

  • A group of volunteers of the blog Scepticalscience compiled about 12,000 papers published between 1991 and 2011 that contained the words “Global Warming” and “Global Climate Change”
  • They limited the list by those with an abstract of less than 1,000 characters
  • Of this selection they viewed the title and the abstract and rated those in 7 categories
  • They could only find a position on anthropogenic global warming in 33.6% of the abstracts
  • From those 33.6% there were 97.1% endorsement and only a tiny fraction (1.9%) rejected or was uncertain (1.0%).

Therefor they claim an “overwhelming” consensus…

They tried to pinpoint how much agreement they could find via the title and the abstract of a paper. This leaves me with the question: how many papers that were assumed to endorse anthropogenic global warming really investigated the issue? And additionally: how many of them found it “dangerous”?

Back to the paper. Let’s just look at the conclusion. This is how it starts (my bold):

The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW is a necessary element in public support for climate policy (Ding et al 2011). However, there is a significant gap between public perception and reality, with 57% of the US public either disagreeing or unaware that scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth is warming due to human activity (Pew 2012).

Followed by a full paragraph about strategies in media treatment.

Sound odd in a publication that is titled: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature”. Nothing about public perception in the abstract either and this “gap” was what the Reuters article was all about. The fact that is in the conclusion and even the largest part of it (2 paragraphs out of 3) is a dead giveaway that this is climate policy in action. Maybe, just maybe this is exactly what they wanted to communicate after all?

6 thoughts on “The consensus gap

  1. grumpydenier

    At the rate at which they are spinning I could use our local trolls to dry a week’s washing in about 5 minutes when this subject comes up. It’s laughable.


  2. grumpydenier

    The thin end of the wedge gets pushed a little further into the crack appearing in the dam.**

    When they are reduced to this sort of nonsense and then they are faced with new papers such as Otto et al (all in the same month), it seems that the end is nigh. Quite appropriate actually, what with it being the 70th anniversary of the Dam Busters.

    **I’ll try and ease up on the silly metaphors in the future; they become burdensome after a while.


  3. trustyetverify Post author

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Grumpy.

    The mainstream media doesn’t look much at the cracks, but sometimes we get a short glimpse (since short I noticed admissions about for example the “warming pause” and “the predictions being overstated”, although still brought in a minimizing tone).

    The Otto paper is another confirmation that CO2 sensitivity is lower than generally thought. I am very curious how the IPCC will bring this in AR5…


  4. grumpydenier

    There have been several things such as this over the last few months. It must be hard for the folks behind the IPCC to work out what their strategy should be. They know this stuff is out in the open and that people will be monitoring AR5.

    In 1998, they couldn’t possibly have considered how the Internet & WWW would grow and the way that sceptics would crowd-source analyses of these papers. It must have seemed so easy; go through a semblance of scientific research; gather together plenty of anti-capitalist NGOs; pull together a summary based on the needs of an unholy triumvirate of governments, NGOs and carbon-trading hopefuls (Al Gore et al) and publish it to a bunch of compliant journalists. Job done.

    They’ve failed to match expectations to observations in virtually every aspect of their analysis but have nailed their colours so firmly to the mast that extricating themselves from the corner they’re in must result in stepping on some paint, somewhere.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.


  5. trustyetverify Post author

    Indeed, internet and social media are gamechangers. Without it I would still be a believer, with many questions but few answers.

    I think you are right that AR5 will be eyeballed in much detail by skeptics and they even have a draft to compare. Interesting times ahead.



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