The Irrelevant Climate Change 'Consensus'
A new “peer-reviewed” paper has been released from Cornell University titled “Greater than 99% Consensus on Human Caused Climate Change in the Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature.”
The study is yet another attempt to convey the nebulous notion that widespread scientific consensus exists regarding the primary causal factor behind climate change. A previous study, spearheaded by climate blogger activist John Cook, concluded in 2013 there was “97 percent consensus.” Despite near-universal acclaim and its citation by leading policymakers such as the United Kingdom’s energy minister, the study was inherently flawed.
Dr. Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia explains, “The ‘97% consensus’ article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country [UK] that the energy minister should cite it.”
Even the Guardian -- typically a stalwart supporter of climate activism -- ran a headline stating: “The claim of a 97% consensus on global warming does not stand up.”
After a thorough analysis, more than 100 published articles shredded the study’s faulty methodology and completely rejected its postulated consensus level of 97 percent.
Yet, Cook’s baseless study was still used as the inspiration for today’s release from Cornell -- which, unsurprisingly, is similarly flawed. Regarding the researchers’ methodological approach, the article’s press release states, “In the study, the researchers began by examining a random sample of 3,000 studies from the dataset of 88,125 English-language climate papers published between 2012 and 2020.”
There are many issues with this approach, the primary concern being selection bias. The authors arbitrarily decide to look at just an eight-year range of climate papers, neglecting to examine the large number of papers published before 2012. This approach, therefore, conveniently “forgets” to incorporate the significant sample of climate skeptical papers written in response to the then-nascent concept of global warming in the 1970s.
They go on to say “case closed” even as the glaring bias of pre-selection ensures many skeptical papers from the 1970s, when global warming first appeared on the radar of science, to today, were excluded from the study.
Primary paper author Mark Lynas, visiting fellow with Cornell’s Alliance for Science, concludes: “We are virtually certain that the consensus is well over 99% now and that it’s pretty much case closed for any meaningful public conversation about the reality of human-caused climate change.”
To cast further shadow upon the study’s conclusions beyond the glaring selection bias problem, Lynas himself inspires reason for distrust. The lead author has a history of climate activism.
Danish author Bjørn Lomborg, a former member of Greenpeace, penned a book titled The Skeptical Environmentalist. In that book, Lomborg suggested pragmatic solutions to climate issues. At a book signing in 2001 in Oxford, England, Lynas was caught on video throwing a pie in the face of Lomborg, who was simply attempting to establish good scientific procedure. Rather than attempting to rationally object like an academic is expected to do, Lynas resorted to personal assault.
To further confound the aforementioned issues with the study and its authors, the entire focus of the study is based on the flawed premise that consensus matters, or should even be sought.
Dr. Richard Tol effectively summarizes this problem in his rebuke of this study’s conclusions, claiming, “Consensus is irrelevant in science. There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong.”
Indeed, there are many such examples. Consensus does not require truth or accuracy, it merely establishes that a group of any number of individuals congregated and agreed to a certain perspective -- which is often based on nothing but misinformed opinions.
Author Alex Alexander explains this sociological phenomenon in his article, “When Consensus is a Bad Way to Decide,” “Consensus is about persuasion and compromise, not right or wrong, not what works best. Consensus is about human interactions, which are mainly about emotions, jumping to conclusions, and negotiation, and may or may not include facts and analysis. Consensus is about compromise, and compromise means that someone, maybe everyone, has to set aside an idea that may have value in order to satisfy the group, or the leader of the group.”
Even world-renowned physicist Albert Einstein recognized the fallacy of consensus when it is applied to science. When the Nazi Party of Germany decided they didn’t like Einstein because he was Jewish, they set about to discredit him by publishing One Hundred Authors Against Einstein in 1931. In total, 121 authors were identified as opponents to Einstein’s special relativity theory.
Einstein, one step ahead of them all, is said to have riposted, “It would not have required one hundred authors to prove me wrong; one would have been enough.”
This is the essence of science -- it only takes one author employing sound scientific experimentation to provide effective evidence in support of a theory or hypothesis. Needless to say, this is not how Lynas and many of his peers have historically operated.
So, when Lynas asserts that the case is closed, he has provided little to no valid evidence in support of his theory. More methodologically sound forays into predicting the effects of global warming have been attempted, but their results range everywhere from “little effect” to apocalyptic scenarios. It simply depends on the scientist, the specific question being asked, and the methodology employed to test that question.
Science cannot necessarily provide us with a foolproof answer to the exact effects that global warming may have on our planet, but one thing is certain: science is not a popularity contest. The study released today only further cements that consensus is completely meaningless as a means of establishing proof.
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute.
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