A closer look at the 97 percent climate-change consensus
After being harangued by conservatives and mathematicians, liberal news outlets — the Washington Post Time, Slate , The Daily Beast, a few others — began admitting that the claim that women earn 77 cents on the dollar is a lie. Let the haranguing resume: There is no basis in fact for saying that 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change is real, man-made, and dangerous.
Those were the words tweeted by President Obama: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: Climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” “Read more,” he added, with a link to a Reuters piece that announced the 97 percent finding by the University of Queensland’s John Cook, et al. But Cook’s result is deeply flawed.
For starters, though, Reuters and the president are wrong about what Cook’s study claims. It does not claim that 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change is real, man-made, and dangerous. What it claims is that 97.1 percent of the relevant scientific literature agrees with the much more conservative claim that humans are contributing to global warming in an unspecified amount.
But even in making that considerably more anodyne assertion, the “consensus” is on shaky footing. According to the abstract for Cook’s paper, 66.4 percent of the abstracts Cook and his team looked at neither supported nor opposed the position that man causes global warming. Which gives you not a 97.1 percent consensus, but 97.1 percent of the remainder, which is 32.6 percent. That is, 32.6 percent of peer-reviewed global-warming literature agrees that global warming is man-made. That’s not overwhelming.
And even that number is highly suspect; many scientists have objected to their papers having been categorized as supporting Cook’s position. A number of avowed man-made-warming skeptics were evidently surprised to find their papers included in Cook’s 97 percent monolith. According to a paper written by University of Delaware professor David Legates, et al., for the journal Science & Education, just 0.3 percent — not 97 — of the papers Cook examined explicitly endorsed his position.
Professor Richard Tol of the University of Sussex published a rebuttal of Cook’s paper in the journal Energy Policy. According to Tol, the 97 percent claim, “frequently repeated in debates about climate policy, does not stand. . . . [Cook’s] sample is not representative and contains many irrelevant papers. Overall, data quality is low. Cook’s validation test shows that the data are invalid. Data disclosure is incomplete so the key results cannot be reproduced or tested.”
So: The sample selected for study was flawed. The analysis of that sample was flawed. The conclusion drawn from that analysis was flawed. And the reporting of that conclusion was flawed. To quote Professor Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, as quoted by Popular Technology, “the ’97 percent consensus’ article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed.”
Normally, when faced with the “scientific consensus” on global warming, conservatives dig in and say that science is not a democracy — which, of course, is true. Before Copernicus and Galileo, roughly 97 percent of scientists believed the sun orbited the earth. But what conservatives ought to do is to stop accepting the Left’s nonsense premise: There is simply no evidence of a 97 percent consensus on global warming.
First, the 77 cent lie. Then the 97 percent lie. Next we can work on Bernie Sanders’s insane claim that Americans “don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants.”
— Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard. He is a founder of the tech startup Dittach.