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Home » Science votes for human-caused global warming in a landslide

Science votes for human-caused global warming in a landslide

climate-change-consensusI don’t discuss anthropogenic global warming (AGW, or climate change caused by human activities) very often, more just in oft-handed ways, lumping anthropogenic global warming deniers into the whole pseudoscience crowd–antivaccinationists, anti-GMO loudmouths, evolution deniers, HIV/AIDS deniers, and other anti-science fads. To be honest, I was scientifically skeptical about global warming, not because of any political motivation, but because the evidence I reviewed seemed weak at best. But I was guilty of my own confirmation bias, and more than that, I was honestly more interested in other current trends in science than climate change. 

Now, I was never a skeptic (kind of improperly used in my case, I really thought I had examined it scientifically) about global warming itself. I observed changes over my long lifetime, including one year in the early 1980’s when ski resorts in Utah were open well into July. And the Great Salt Lake was heading to levels not seen since the ice age. When I was in grad school in New York, it snowed on July 4th. This doesn’t happen much anymore (and it really isn’t evidence of global warming, but it’s always good when my personal anecdotes are supported by good science). Moreover, the real science, the real numbers, showed that the earth was warming up.

But I just was unconvinced that mankind had much to do with it. My logic went like this: the earth is huge, it’s illogical to believe that the earth’s climate could be influenced by man. I read a book about the so called Medieval Warm Period, which convinced me that historically it was warmer, because Greenland was really green, and the Vikings could farm the land. But to be honest, my denial of AGW was pretty shallow, and I was really on the fence. I watched former United States Vice President Al Gore‘s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and remaining mostly on the fence about the topic.

Then one day, I decided it was time to use my scientific brain (one that cost a bunch of money since it had to be saved from a vaccine preventable disease, because the vaccine wasn’t available when I caught the disease, and a few hundred thousand in tuition bills). I went to one of the best climate change websites Skeptical Science, purely by accident, since I was looking for something else, and found the scientific evidence for AGW to be convincing, overwhelming, and statistically valid. For example, the author thoroughly discredits my concerns about the Medieval Warm Period, by pointing out that the earth was actually cooler then, and the warming was a highly localized event. The team at Skeptical Science states that,

The National Academy of Sciences Report on Climate Reconstructions in 2006 found it plausible that current temperatures are hotter than during the Medieval Warm Period. Further evidence obtained since 2006 suggests that even in the Northern Hemisphere where the Medieval Warm Period was the most visible, temperatures are now beyond those experienced during Medieval times. This was also confirmed by a major paper from 78 scientists representing 60 scientific institutions around the world in 2013.

Skeptical Science debunks over 170 myths propagated by the global warming deniers. And it’s debunked with the highest quality of scientific sources–major meta reviews, publications in peer reviewed high impact factor journals, and evidence from other high quality scientific sources. So a few years ago, after spending an inordinate amount of time studying a branch of science that was way outside of my usual comfort level, I was satisfied with the quality and quantity of evidence supporting a human caused global warming, one with a strong potential to annihilate mankind. 

But like many of the science denying, actually pseudoscience-pushing, groups, if you can’t make your case on the evidence, then it’s time to use logical fallacies, ignorance, or outright lies to make your point. Let’s look at just a few with respect to AGW:

I could go on, but you can read all 174 discredited myths (all using peer-reviewed articles to support the debunking) for yourself. But one myth amused me, and convinces me that there’s a secret meeting of science deniers who share tactics to mislead the public. Oh wait, I shouldn’t go down the conspiracy trail.

One of the fallacious arguments made by global warming deniers is that “according to a report in the WorldNet Daily, more than 500 scientists have published evidence refuting the current man-made global warming scare, according to a new analysis of peer-reviewed literature by the Hudson Institute.” Wait, I’ve heard this before. 

 In case you didn’t know, the evolution deniers (aka creationists) set up the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (SDD), a petition created by the Seattle-based, intelligent design think-tank (yes, you probably see all the irony).  The SDD, which was started in 2001, states:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

Since 2001, they have gotten about 1000 signatures from Ph.D.-level scientists, of which only about 250 are biologists. The remainder of them are in disciplines from engineering (not a basic science, let alone biological science) to meteorology to medicine (again, not a basic science discipline). As I have written previously, science is not a democracy, and scientists don’t go to a convention, then vote to determine what is acceptable as a real scientific theory or principle. But let’s assume it is subject to a vote, and let’s allow the 1000 so-called scientists on the SDD list who claim to “dissent from Darwinism” to vote, because we’re nice. Out of the 1,000,000 or so research biologists in the United States, the creationists get about 0.01% of the vote.  In a democracy, that would be considered a landslide.  In fact, we’d be making jokes about the losers of such a vote.

The AGW deniers assembled the names of 500 scientists who apparently dissent from the consensus on AGW, and they claim that 300 published articles in peer-reviewed journals oppose AGW. I’ve noticed that when I examine the published articles touted by evolution or vaccine deniers, I often find that the paper usually doesn’t say what they think it said. And the same with the so-called 300 papers that deny AGW–they either are of poor quality, or they don’t say what the deniers think they say. Again, more evidence that these denialist fools get together and share tactics. 

But don’t just trust me or the fine editors at Skeptical Science. Let’s see what an article in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, says about what experts say about climate change:

Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC (anthropogenic climate change) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

The authors of the PNAS further stated that:

We show that the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of ACC vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians. This divide is even starker when considering the top researchers in each group. Despite media tendencies to present both sides in ACC debates, which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC, not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system. This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.

So not only is the credibility of the climate researchers who support AGW (or ACC) far exceeds deniers or contrarians. And, more frustrating, journalists tend to give false balance between the two sides, when one side has mountains of evidence and credibility and the other side has nothing. One side has the top scientists in the world, and the other doesn’t. And once again, if science were a democracy, the vote would be 97-98% in favor of AGW, with a handful of votes against. This isn’t close, not even in the broadest definition of what constitutes close. 

As I’ve said a thousand times, science is not dogmatic, and there is a chance that those in that tiny minority are right. But, it’s not done by debate or rhetoric or logical fallacies. If a scientist thinks there’s a viable hypothesis that maybe lower volcanic activity is causing climate change, then get off your lazy butt, get an academic degree, go to a real center of scientific knowledge, do the experiments, get the data, and publish it. And publish more. And stand up to criticism, and convince those who doubt you that you’ve discovered some heretofore unknown factor in climate change.

It isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be easy. Otherwise science would be running all over the place, but it doesn’t. Science isn’t some group mind think, it is a method to gain understanding of the natural world, it is difficult to do, and it’s always subject to intense criticism, repetition and adjustment. But it isn’t done with a political argument, where one group (cough, Republicans or Conservatives) just deny the science because it doesn’t fit their world view, and the other group relies upon hard science.

So just like evolution, anthropogenic climate change wins in a landslide on quantity and quality. But remember, science is not a democracy, it’s about the evidence, and that evidence overwhelmingly supports the fact of anthropogenic global warming.

Key citations:

Michael Simpson
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