The recent publication in the peer-reviewed scientific literature of research showing that 97% of Climate Scientists are convinced that, not only is global warming very real, but the principal forcings in global warming are anthropogenic in nature has created quite a stir amongst the denialists. Multiple independent lines of research have shown that the 97% figure is quite robust; the scientific data may be explored in detail at the authors’ of the original research own website, The Consensus Project. On the other hand, thorough-going debunkings of the attempts to dispute the 97% claim may be found HERE and HERE. More general discussions by actual Climate Scientists (not just John Conway) can be found HERE.
My purpose here is somewhat different. In yet another sad attempt to dispute the real science behind the 97% consensus, one now sees the “Oregon Petition” once again being trotted out by denialists. This petition purports to show some 30,000+ “scientists” who dispute the scientific findings relating to AGW and the 97% consensus regarding those findings. What I wish to show here is how trivially easy it is to refute the Oregon Petition without making any appeals to a refined understanding of climate science or legitimate statistical techniques. All one really needs is a basic grasp as to the nature of science, and a casual grasp of the precepts of critical thinking.
The Oregon Petition (known as the “Petition Project”) may be found HERE. Several factors easily stand out, provided one merely looks. For example, under the “Qualifications of Signers” button in the bottom right, it is declared that the academic backgrounds of the various signers includes, “7,157 MS; 2,586 MD and DVM; and 12,715 BS or equivalent academic degrees.” In other words, of the over 31,000 signers, 22,458 do not even qualify as scientists OF ANY TYPE. The petition insists that, “Most of the MD and DVM signers also have underlying degrees in basic science.” Of course this is true: most persons who go on to become physicians or veterinarians will likely bias matters in their own favor with an undergraduate degree in something chemistry or biology.
But recall (from my earlier post) that Medical Doctors (and Veterinarians) are not scientists of any kind. For that matter, no one with only an undergraduate degree in some unspecified “scientific” discipline can make such a claim. Even with a Masters degree – and even if that Masters degree is relevant – in all but vanishingly few situations, such persons cannot legitimately claim to themselves to be scientists. They might be on their way to becoming scientists, provided they’ve the talent and have demonstrated themselves worthy of apprenticeship in a genuine, research environment. But up to the point they have listed, as an MS at most, such persons are generally only glorified bottle washers still climbing the ladder.
So without any depth of analysis at all, we can immediately see that the framers of the petition evidently have no idea what a scientist is. However, with only a little more examination, things get infinitely worse.
The petition project immediately follows the above claims with this completely undocumented assertion:
All of the listed signers have formal educations in fields of specialization that suitably qualify them to evaluate the research data related to the petition statement. Many of the signers currently work in climatological, meteorological, atmospheric, environmental, geophysical, astronomical, and biological fields directly involved in the climate change controversy.
Let me repeat: there is not a particle, not a scrap, not a scintilla of evidence to support this proclamation. One is hard pressed to imagine how such an oversight could occur, provided the evidence actually exists. I encourage the reader go to the above links and confirm this fact for herself. Observe how the petition project breaks down its claims by numbers that are supposed to be meaningful, but note how not a single number links back to a verifiable shred of data. Check the lists of signers. Note, for example, that they break the signers out alphabetically and by state. (By State? How is that even possibly relevant?) Yet notice that not a single name is accompanied by a link (for example, to a CV) that might indicate the individuals actual qualifications. If these signers were really in a position of legitimate authority to comment on the subject of AGW, why aren’t their qualifications and legitimacies being announced and presented?
Now, the above is already sufficient to reject the claims from the Petition Project: they show no evidence that they understand who a scientist is, nor do they substantiate their claims that their signers are actually competent to evaluate the issues relating to AGW. And it is worth reminding ourselves that we got to this point with only a minimal understanding of the nature of science and its practitioners. (Additional problems and more detailed debunkings can be found HERE and HERE.)
What about the 97% claim itself? For purposes of simplicity, I will focus on the Cook, et al, research that was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters in 2013.
In the case of Cook, et al., matters are much easier to evaluate: having passed the first stage of the peer-review process into publication, the article has a substantial and substantiated claim for genuine legitimacy, something the Petition Project has never even attempted. Now, as I noted in my earlier post, the peer-review process is not perfect, and is certainly not the final word on any publication. It is in many respects little more than an invitation for further inquiry, test and critique; a case to be given trial in the court of scientific discourse. But already Cook, et al. has passed several additional such tests. For one thing, independent lines of research (some of which Cook lists HERE) have confirmed the 97% figure. Moreover, no substantive criticisms have made any appearance in the scientific literature. This is a point that deserves emphasis. Just because an anonymous poster on “Fred’s Blog” declares that Cook, et al. has been refuted, that hardly makes the claim true or even credible. Such criticisms, if they are to merit any consideration at all, must themselves be of a quality that not only could pass the peer-review process, but actually has done so!
Once again, these sorts of clues and practical data-points are not knock-down demonstrations, but they are adequately probative for non-experts to reach informed, and genuinely rational, conclusions.
 “Anthropo” from the Greek term for “human”; “genic” from the Greek term for “source” or “beginning.” Hence “antropogenic” means “human originated” or “human caused.” For this reason, one often refers to “Anthropogenic Global Warming” or “AGW.”
 A point for later discussion is the difference between a “letter” to a journal, which undergoes no peer-review, and an actual article.
 One difficulty to note (and a topic for a later rant) is that many of the research papers that one might find cited on a blog post are themselves buried behind publisher paywalls that preclude anyone from reading said materials unless they have access to a comprehensive research library.
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