Earth and Environmental Scientist Peter Doran recently surveyed 3,146 scientists in an effort to clarify the “scientific consensus” on global warming. Professor Doran has previously complained that his study revealing cooling in the Antarctic had been misinterpreted, causing confusion in the global warming debate. Here we go again.

Although I have not yet found the actual published findings, the results have been taken directly to the court of public opinion. CNN reports for example, a very clear relationship between specialization in climate science and strength of opinion regarding the importance of human contributions to warming.

“Two questions were key,” according to the report. Have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures? About 90 percent of the scientists agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second.

It has been heavily reported that the UN’s (IPCC) predictions on catastrophic global warming haven’t held up. This decade has shown that their theoretical models are wrong. Those based on real-world historical data instead continue to give the best results. They are actually predicting cooling, independent of human activity.

The strongest “consensus” in Doran’s results however came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists “were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement.

Doran was not surprised by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists.

“They’re the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you’re likely to believe in global warming and humankind’s contribution to it. The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”

I’m not surprised either. Making a living at climate research depends largely on public funding, guided by a political agenda. The politics pushing climate research funding favors government intervention, which needs human cause as the justification. A climate researcher who says human involvement is inconsequential is more than likely also stating that their research is unimportant and no longer needs funding.

A similar report from Science Daily indicates Doran invited more than 10 thousand scientist to participate in the survey, with fewer than one third deciding to respond. There may be a significant self“selection bias, with a much greater tendency to respond among those most interested in driving public perceptions and political decisions.

But let’s look at the question again. Has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures? “Significant” means anything from barely measurable or merely speculative to important to perhaps the primary cause. It is my impression that many scientists believe human activity has an effect on climate or think they might – although most often that effect is thought to be very, very small. Merely being “significant” one might say is not really “significant” in the general political debate. So we’ve at least narrowed the “consensus” from human activity as a primary driving force to only “significant” as seen through the eyes of publically funded climate scientists

Another interpretation of Doran’s results would presume that everyone surveyed understands the political and economic relevance of the questions and that the intent was to use the results in the general public debate. In the political context, climate scientists push the impression that human activity is important – promoting their own research. Other scientists are not, or are at least less dependent on public impressions and political decisions. It may be that the most significant take home message is that the less involved scientists are in climate research the more objective their answers in such surveys are.


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