Jim Prall has an odd hobby; he collects climatologists. On his website he has been collecting a list of highly cited climate scientists, and attempting to estimate their publication and citation record. Because Google Scholar is easier to work with than ISI, he’s been using that. Also, he’s been trying to identify which of them have made public statements in support of or in opposition to the consensus position that CO2 concentrations must be capped. He also blogs about this, and you can read his blog to decide for yourself whether he is a reasonable character.
I met Jim last September, and have been on a mailing list with him since. Jim complains about the various ambiguities in the process, and in general makes a good faith attempt to identify the correlation between citation record and a very broad characterization of opinion on climate change.
The results have been available on his website for some time, sliced and diced this way and that, without causing much ruckus. The most interesting result is that there’s about a 40 to 1 ratio among the most cited authors for supporting vs opposing the consensus. You wouldn’t think this would even be controversial! That is, after all, why we call it a consensus.
A consensus can be wrong (though usually it isn’t completely wrong in a modern physical science). Groupthink certainly can apply. Social pressures and even financial pressures can apply. I don’t think anything like that is the issue here, but you may disagree. The existence of a consensus is, therefore, useful evidence in decision making but it doesn’t convey certainty. So the fact that Jim’s results reinforce the existence of the consensus doesn’t seem particularly surprising.
This is simply a public compilation of public data that’s been available incrementally for the past couple of years. So why all the fuss now that these data have been published? There has been a LOT of fuss.
Are there really no depths to which ManBearPig-worshippers will not stoop in order to shore up their intellectually, morally and scientifically bankrupt cause?
Apparently not, as we see from the latest “study” – based on a petty, spiteful, Stasi-like blacklist produced by an obscure Canadian warmist – outrageously aggrandised by being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists on all sides of this issue have known that the best move, personally, is to keep your mouth shut. The relative conservatism of the IPCC itself stems from this tendency. I was informed by a higher-up when I was at a (US) Department of Energy lab that “DOE is not in a position to take sides on matters of controversy!” Well, what’s the bloody point of a department of energy, then?
It takes a modicum of courage to say anything either way. One reason I got out of the private sector is because I felt I had things to say about public matters, a career killer in business, especially if your ideas are perceived as leaning left. The whole idea of democracy is threatened if people are not entitled not only to have their opinions, but also to promote them.
So I sympathize with Roger Pielke Jr.’s tale of being threatened:
A high-up university official (who will go unnamed but who sat in the direct chain of command between my chair and the Chancellor) asked me to lunch, told me about the messages that had been received by the Chancellor’s office and warned me in no uncertain terms that I should think carefully about testifying for the Republicans because my career could suffer. The message that I heard was that I had better not testify or else my career might suffer. I took this as a direct threat from an official with influence on my career at the university and I said so on the spot. I was shocked to be in such a conversation.
(Let me make it clear that I for one would much rather talk with Republicans than with Democrats about climate, because they seem so much more thoroughly confused about it and need the conversation so much more.)
Now, some may say that Roger shares with the hard core of deniers at least the trait of being quick to take offense and so the result that “at that point the university official backed down and apologized, claiming a misunderstanding” might well have more to it than Roger’s version allows us to see.
But this incident, even if told in complete fairness (update/clarification: – about which I venture no opinion either way), has nothing to do with black lists, never mind communist spies. Roger wasn’t black listed. (update/clarification: The point is that I don’t see why Roger raises the incident in this context.)
So where’s the beef?
The paper says:
We provide a large-scale quantitative assessment of the relative level of agreement, expertise, and prominence in the climate researcher community. 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. … Despite media tendencies to present both sides in ACC debates (9), which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC (7, 11, 12, 14), 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.
OK, so Joe Romm goes a little further. In an article entitled New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance”:
The findings will come as no surprise whatsoever to 97% to 98% of scientists or regular CP readers — but it could theoretically open the eyes of those in the status quo media who keep suggesting the ‘experts’ they cite that keep pushing anti-science disinformation are somehow close to being equal in number, credibility, or expertise to the broad community of climate scientists, thereby implying serious disagreements among mainstream scientists
Ironically, the best defense that some of the disinformers seem to have is, “I am not a skeptic.” But that label was originally pushed by the disinformers themselves — in fact, all serious scientists are skeptics. The issue is not whether someone is skeptical of the supposed ‘consensus’ … The issue is whether folks are actively spreading disinformation, especially disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature. As I’ve said for many years now, it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation.
Perfectly sound. Perfectly true. I agree, though I have to point out that nothing in the above is attributable to Jim Prall or his coauthors, so take the occasion to be mad at Joe or me if you don’t like it.
Tom Fuller, who has gone about as bonkers as anyone on this innocous publication, shows us just how far around the bend the response to this has been. He quotes Romm as saying only the last sentence I quoted above: “it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation”. OK, who could argue with that?
Tom can. He prefaces it with this absurd rant directed at Steven Schneider:
Fourth, are you aware that this list is already being used to dismiss scientists as unfit for participation in the debate merely because of their presence on this list? How could you have been unaware that this would be a blacklist used to demean those on it and threaten those who might wish to voice an unpopular opinion in the future?
Fuller’s complaint here amounts to “never dare to reveal any evidence about anything ever because somebody bad might use it.” Strange advice from a journalist, never mind a chronicler of “climategate”.
As always, Fuller is entitled to his opinion. As always, I’m entitled to encourage people to ignore that opinion. (In this case, indeed, you’d be well advised to move on.) There’s nothing sinister about encouraging people to ignore opinions one finds unreasonable.
What do the facts tell us? Let’s keep in mind what the PNAS paper revealed. It did not reveal who had what opinions: it based that on public declarations. Everybody counted in the paper in either category had already added themselves to controversial lists. No new information about people and their opinions was published. Indeed, no names were named in the publication, though they had been visible for months on the web. All that was revealed was how much influence the signatories of the various statements have within the field.
This is what you call “citizen science”; the collation of available information from multiple sources.
Connecting this paper to paranoia about “black lists” is completely detached from reality. Propaganda is to be expected in climate issues of course; that’s the whole problem.
But this time it’s transparently crazy propaganda. Is this the same level of paranoia that’s behind the other extreme criticisms of the field? (hint: yup) I hope the press thinks about this very carefully, not just the original publication, but the ridiculously overwrought response to it.
Images: Screen grab from Climate Depot; The Fonz jumps the shark