In the back of my mind on analysing Charles Hanich‘s bogus Climate & Science questionnaire recently, was another, more prominent, survey. The 2009 questionnaire by Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, amongst scientists, concluded
It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely non-existent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to the policy makers and the public who mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.
Laurence Solomon has shown has biased the result actually was. First by excluding scientists who might be give greater emphasis on natural causes, like “solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists and astronomers.” Second, by whittling down the 3146 responses from “earth scientists” to just 77, they create an insignificant sample. Here I want to consider some points that can be drawn from the method and the conclusion
Questions do not isolate the trivial from the catastrophic
The Survey Questions were
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?
Most people would accept that temperatures have risen in the past 200 years. Most climate scientists who are active in the field of researching anthropogenic global warming will tend to think human activity has a significant impact. However, this could not mean as little as 10% or over 100% of recent surface temperature warming could be accounted for by human activity. As such the questions are far from sufficient to establish consensus that there on a high level problem that requires a high level policy response.
Identifiable responses create bias
Laurence Solomon has shown has biased the result actually was. First by excluding scientists who might be give greater emphasis on natural causes, like “solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists and astronomers.” Second, by whittling down the 3146 responses from “earth scientists” to just 77, they create an insignificant sample.
However, there is a further element. The responses were identified, hence the ability to classify the core scientists. What if you are a practicing climate scientist, who no longer believes in the scientific case for global warming? The scientist finds themselves in the position of a priest/pastor/minister of religion in the Christian Church who has lost faith. They may enjoy the status, and the work, and the people they work with. With a questionnaire such as this, there is a risk of being “outed”. There are three strategies to adopt. Firstly it is not to respond. Secondly, to respond, but rationalise or lie. The wording of the question allows for rationalising. Thirdly, is to answer truthfully, risking your career, along with possible damage to friendships and co-workers funding. This is a huge issue for opinion surveys on controversial subjects. The best way to get honest answers is to guarantee anonymity, and for the survey to be conducted by an independent polling organisation.
Publishing record is not a good indicator of scientific understanding
Climate science, like in many other empirical research areas, is full of papers with multiple authors. The issues are complex, and the workload enormous, so the bulk of the work is done by the research assistants, and often most of the science. The lead authors may act as a project manager, or even just a name to get the work published. Major journals need articles by big names to maintain readership and prestige. The leading scientists, by publishing in the major journals, and having lots of works cited are able to attract funding for further projects and thus promote the other department members and the prestige of the university or other institution to which they belong. Thus looking to a core group based on publishing record might be misleading. Some of the leading scientists might now be more managers than cutting edge scientists. Others might be so enmeshed in the detail and hard-working, that they might never step back and question the bigger picture.
On the other hand, highly intelligent people who believe that the science is flawed, or dogmatic, will never have the desire to enter the field, or move into other areas when they change their minds. Alternatively, they may stay in the subject, but keep quiet about their views, backing away from publishing.
The Boundaries of Climate Change Denial
Many of the “pro-consensus”, “pro-science” blogs call those who think the science is faulty, flawed, or unsubstantiated, “deniers” or “denialists”, without ever defining the characteristic features actually are. This survey gives us the minimum criteria for knowing that someone is not a denier. It is someone who supports the “mainstream” view that the world has warmed, and that humans are to some extent, part responsible for it. This survey can only be taken as a public proclamation by a small minority that they are true believers.
If, however, the definition of “denier” is anything different then there is the logical possibility that people can be both part of the mainstream and climate change deniers. As such the word “denier” is nothing more than a term of discrimination and abuse by those in the mainstream.