It’s interesting how we keep getting little snippets of ‘news’ circulating the internet that cast doubt on the scientific consensus around the likely anthropogenic contribution to climate change. They will often quote new scientific findings or statements from scientists or scientific organisations. I think we are all aware of what is going on here. We all tend to select the information which supports our arguments. Nevertheless, the apparent scientific credibility of some of these snippets can sow doubt in the minds of many of us.
I thought it would be interesting to follow up a comment made by Ross Dixon on a recent post (Climate change and New Zealand). This implied that the 46,000 members of the American Physical Society had changed their minds on the causes of climate change and had published a paper outlining this in their “journal.” The implication is that the paper had scientific credibility (implied by the peer review involved in publication by a scientific journal) and that the society had made a statement supporting the paper’s conclusions.
Well, the facts are a bit different!
The APS peer-reviewed journals are Physical Review Letters, Physical review and Reviews of Modern Physics. The article (Climate Sensitivity revisited) did not appear in either of these. But it did appear in the Physic & Society – a newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics & Society. The July 2008 issue of the newsletter included two articles (A Tutorial on the Basic Physics of Climate Change By David Hafemeister & Peter Schwartz and Climate Sensitivity Reconsidered By Christopher Monckton) contributing to discussion on climate change, and representing contradictory views. Neither article had been peer reviewed and represented the views of the authors, not the Forum or the APS. The articles had been invited so as to represent views supporting and contradicting the IPCC assessment.
David Hafemeister & Peter Schwartz (from the Physics Department, Cal Poly University, San Lui Opispo, California) presented a pro- IPCC view while Christopher Monckton (a journalist and former adviser to Maggie Thatcher) presented the con view. The Forum Editor invited discussion in future issues of the Newsletter.
The IPCC consensus
The fact that there is scientific consensus around the IPCC assessment that human activity is a likely cause of current climate change does not mean there is scientific unanimity. I have seen the comment that the assessment is supported by about 70% of climate climate scientists while 15% think it exaggerates human inputs and another 25% think it underestimates these inputs.
The APS Forum Newsletter editor referred to the fact that many scientist disagree with the IPCC assessment (hence the discussion being encouraged in the Newsletter). However, the APS itself has a position including the statement: “Emission of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that effect the earth”s climate.” This policy was recently reaffirmed as a result of the way the Newsletter articles have been quoted.
The publication of Christopher Monckton’s article was picked up Michael Asher in his Daily Tech Blog. Well known for his global warming denial articles he posted Myth of Consensus Explodes: APS Opens Global Warming Debate and this was then quoted by numerous other blogs and websites. In particular the incorrect statement “The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change” has been repeated over and over again – often without anything else of substance being included.
Examples are: Is Global Warming Finally Going To Be Put On Ice; Myth of Consensus Explodes: APS Opens Global Warming Debate; I guess this now means the evidence is ‘controvertible’; APS Reverses Position on Global Warming- cites “Considerable presence” of skeptics; Gorebal Warming: The Great Unravelling Begins; The American Physical Society has reversed it’s stance on Global Warming!; Global Warming Consensus Eroding; How can this be?; 50,000 More Deniers; The Myth of Consensus on Global Warming; Global warming in Question?… yeah, so wake up and smell the coffee;Told you so!; Hmm… Paging Al Gore:; Breaking news: sunlight shines on global warming (aka climate change) skeptics; The “Scientific Concensus on Global Warming is Blown Apart”; The Sound Of Settled Science; Al Gore, call your office…; The End is Not Nigh; Do what I think (not what I do); Al Gore, call your office; The Myth of Consensus; The Climate Change Dam is (Finally) Breaking; Rethinking Climate Change and many, many more
But let us not forget our old friend, intelligent design activist Bill Dembski at his “Uncommon Descent” blog – 50,000 Physicists: Humans off the Hook, The Sun is to Blame for Global Warming. It’s noticeable that many of the sites pushing this line are politically conservative or right wing Christian. Many also exhibit the sneering rejection of science common to creationists.
Well, they do say that one should never take information on the internet at face value. It always pays to check the facts.