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Consensus: the world is flat; the science is settled. Consensus: the earth is at the center of the universe; the science is settled. Consensus: bloodletting can cure diseases; the science is settled. Did these ideas truly represent scientific consensus? They probably thought so at the time, but it’s more likely that they derived from long- and widely-held assumptions that had never been tested adequately via scientific methods. It might have been difficult, if not impossible, to test those propositions using the methods available at the time. There are certainly other examples of  “settled science” that were later revised, such as certain aspects of Newtonian physics.

The so-called “consensus” on climate change is similar to the first few “scientistic” assertions above, except that it’s a much less honest mistake. The most prominent claim about it is that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans have contributed to global warming. That is incorrect in several ways. Its genesis is a 2013 paper by John Cook of the University of Queensland. Richard Tol of the University of Sussex examines the facts surrounding the Cook paper in “Global warming consensus claim does not stand up“. The claim itself is a misrepresentation of Cook’s findings, according to Tol:

The 97% refers to the number of papers, rather than the number of scientists. The alleged consensus is about any human role in climate change, rather than a dominant role….

It is well known that the peer review process in the climate research community was fundamentally corrupt during the period covered by Cook’s examination of the literature. Papers submitted to academic journals by climate “dissenters” were often shut out, which would have biased Cook’s findings even if his review had been conducted honestly. Tol goes on to note the distortions introduced by Cook’s research, including a non-representative sample of papers:

The sample was padded with irrelevant papers. An article about TV coverage on global warming was taken as evidence for global warming. In fact, about three-quarters of the papers counted as endorsements had nothing to say about the subject matter.

It gets even worse:

Cook enlisted a small group of environmental activists to rate the claims made by the selected papers. Cook claims that the ratings were done independently, but the raters freely discussed their work. There are systematic differences between the raters. Reading the same abstracts, the raters reached remarkably different conclusions – and some raters all too often erred in the same direction. Cook’s hand-picked raters disagreed what a paper was about 33% of the time. In 63% of cases, they disagreed about the message of a paper with the authors of that paper.

On top of all that, Cook was uncooperative when asked to make his data available to other researchers. Apparently a hacker obtained the data, which revealed a highly questionable data collection process (and that Cook had lied regarding the existence of time stamps on the surveys):

After collecting data for 8 weeks, there were 4 weeks of data analysis, followed by 3 more weeks of data collection. The same people collected and analysed the data. After more analysis, the paper classification scheme was changed and yet more data collected.

In short, the Cook research upon which the 97% claim is based is trash. There are a number of points upon which climate researchers can largely agree in principle, including the fact that greenhouse gases would warm the planet, but only if ceteris paribus is invoked. There are many feedback effects and confounding influences that change the relationship, and the actual time span of data that can be brought to bear on the issue is strikingly short to justify bold conclusions. Unfortunately, the research environment is so politicized that even the data itself is subject to manipulation. Astonishingly, many assertions about the actual climate are, in fact, based on model output, not actual data!

There is strong disagreement at the highest levels of the scientific community regarding the balance of the evidence on climate change and whether it justifies radical policy change. Matt Ridley examines this issue in “The Climate Wars’ Damage To Science“:

Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a ‘pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence’. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

Ridley goes on to recount the litany of scandals that have erupted within the climate establishment over the past few years. It is well worth reading, but ultimately these developments can’t help but damage science, its reputation with the public, and its usefulness to mankind.