The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: Naomi Oreskes

Naomi Oreskes, in Science Magazine, writes that global warming may now be a consensus theory among scientists. She notes:

That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change” (9).

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

That’s not to say that the theory is necessarily correct:

The scientific consensus might, of course, be wrong. If the history of science teaches anything, it is humility, and no one can be faulted for failing to act on what is not known. But our grandchildren will surely blame us if they find that we understood the reality of anthropogenic climate change and failed to do anything about it.

Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.

Slashdot also pointed to this paper by University of Leicester geologist Jan Zalasiewicz who heads a group of eminent geologists which has just published a paper in The Guardian outlining its belief that the world is under serious threat of environmental destruction.

4 thoughts on “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: Naomi Oreskes”

  1. Interviewed Mark Adams of the Scientific Alliance yesterday, a group which argues that we are FAR from scientific consensus on CO2 emissions as a root cause of climate change. The research is interesting to read, but more interesting are the backers of the Alliance – right-wing thinktanks, British Aggregates, various multi-nats, etc etc.

    Although they are clearly operating in their own interests, there is a body of peer-reviewed research they direct one to that offers a counterpoint to the (admittedly generally-held) view on climate change.

  2. I’m not sure you really publish a paper in the Guardian. Their environmental coverage is notably poor, but perhaps no non-specialist magazine or newspaper could plausibly claim to be able to evaluate any of this kind of information, leaving themselves open to a huge range of charlatans.

    Dr Z doesn’t seem to either edit or contribute to the IPCC at all, so I’m not sure how seriously she should be taken.

    In spite his extremist politics, Mark Lynas seems to get the science right.

  3. Two possibilites arise.

    First, Oreskes could well be meassuring a politically induced artifact. That is, with 90% of all climate science funding coming from the US federal government, alternative explanations are crowded out. This notion is supported by Colorado State University climatologist William Grey’s complaint in the late 90s about his inability to gain funding for his arguable more important hurricane prediction program.

    Second, her methods are flawed and misleading. The fact that this paper was published without methodological details sthrengthens this possibility. A cns news story from December 7th raises this criticism in a story detailing a critic of the Oreskes’ Science paper by social anthropologist Benny Peiser:

    http://www.cnsnews.com/Nation/Archive/200412/NAT20041207a.html
    [P]eiser, a senior lecturer in Social Anthropology & Sport Sociology at Liverpool John Moores University and the editor of of CCNet (Cambridge Conference Network) webzine, labeled Oreskes’ essay a “disturbing article.

    “Whatever happened to the countless research papers published in the last ten years in peer-reviewed journals that show that temperatures were generally higher during the Medieval Warm Period than today, that solar variability is most likely to be the key driver of any significant climate change and that the methods used in climate modeling are highly questionable?” Peiser asked.

    “Given the countless papers published in the peer-reviewed literature over the last ten years that implicitly or explicitly disagree with the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, one can only conclude that all of these were simply excluded from the [Science Magazine] review. That’s how it arrived at a 100 percent consensus!” he added.

    According to Peiser, Oreskes’ assertion that there is a 100 percent consensus about the issue is not backed by science.

    “Even [former Soviet dictator Joseph] Stalin himself did not take consensus politics to such extremes,” Peiser explained. “In the Soviet Union the official ‘participation rate’ was never higher than 98-99 percent.

    “So how did the results published in Science achieve a 100 percent level of conformity? Regrettably, the article does not include any reference to the [unpublished?] study itself, let alone the methodology on which the research was based. This makes it difficult to check how Oreskes arrived at the truly miraculous results,” he added.

    -Orson Olson, University of London

  4. I’m sorry, but the only consensus that the scientific community is lacking now on climate change is the specific effects
    of climate change and by how many degrees average global temperatures are going to rise. One need not look any farther than
    the UN IPCC report. Even the conservative Indian climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, handpicked by the Bush administration
    in an attempt to derail the IPCC report has publicly announced in the past week or two that climate change is very real and
    it must be addressed immediately.

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