Political Climate
Mar 03, 2011
Weather Channel and Weather.com: the survey says…..

By Joseph D’Aleo, CCM, AMS Fellow, First Director of Meteorology at The Weather Channel

Carl Parker, On Camera Meteorologist at the once watchable Weather Channel blogged a response dated March 3 to skeptic criticism of a recent post in which he tries to explain that virtually all scientists agree with him and the network on global warming quotes a survey to support that claim.  I guess the ghost of Heidi Cullen continues to haunt the halls. We had hoped with her departure, sanity or at least some balance would return.

In his post a defensive Parker writes:


Now, a couple of you objected to my use of the word consensus, so I looked it up and found this:

a : general agreement
b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned

It is I think by any reasonable standard fair to say that if 90% of more than 3100 earth scientists agree on something, that fits the definition of consensus.

....Man’s Culpability

As to the question of what most scientists are saying about man’s culpability, we can return to the University of Illinois study and see that 82% of the respondents agreed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

Again, this was 3146 scientists, specializing in climatology, meteorology, geochemistry, geophysics, oceanography, geology, hydrology/hydrogeology and paleontology. Of the climatologists, a staggering 97% agreed to the same question…

It’s very difficult for me to understand the disdain for science that exists today. Though we see unequivocal results in surveys, and though this consensus is backed by nearly every major scientific organization, some still see scientists as nefarious and engaged in conspiracy.

Recall, ICECAP, SPPI and Lawrence Solomon posted on this survey. The facts are very different than Parker claims.

The 97% number stems from a 2009 online survey of 10,257 earth scientists, conducted by two researchers at the University of Illinois. The survey results must have deeply disappointed the researchers - in the end, they chose to highlight the views of a subgroup of just 77 scientists, 75 of whom thought humans contributed to climate change.  The ratio 75/77 produces the 97% figure that pundits now tout.

The two researchers started by altogether excluding from their survey the thousands of scientists most likely to think that the Sun, or planetary movements, might have something to do with climate on Earth - out were the solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists and astronomers. That left the 10,257 scientists in disciplines like geology, oceanography, paleontology, and geochemistry that were somehow deemed more worthy of being included in the consensus. The two researchers also decided that scientific accomplishment should not be a factor in who could answer - those surveyed were determined by their place of employment (an academic or a governmental institution). Neither was academic qualification a factor - about 1,000 of those surveyed did not have a PhD, some didn’t even have a master’s diploma.

To encourage a high participation among these remaining disciplines, the two researchers decided on a quickie survey that would take less than two minutes to complete, and would be done online, saving the respondents the hassle of mailing a reply. Nevertheless, most didn’t consider the quickie survey worthy of response - just 3146, or 30.7%, answered the two questions on the survey:

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

The questions were actually non-questions. From my discussions with literally hundreds of skeptical scientists over the past few years, I know of none who claims that the planet hasn’t warmed since the 1700s, and almost none who think that humans haven’t contributed in some way to the recent warming -quite apart from carbon dioxide emissions, few would doubt that the creation of cities and the clearing of forests for agricultural lands have affected the climate. When pressed for a figure, global warming skeptics might say that human are responsible for 10% or 15% of the warming; some skeptics place the upper bound of man’s contribution at 35%. The skeptics only deny that humans played a dominant role in Earth’s warming.

Surprisingly, just 90% of those who responded to the first question believed that temperatures had risen - I would have expected a figure closer to 100%, since Earth was in the Little Ice Age in the centuries immediately preceding 1800. But perhaps some of the responders interpreted the question to include the past 1000 years, when Earth was in the Medieval Warm Period, generally thought to be warmer than today.

As for the second question, 82% of the earth scientists replied that that human activity had significantly contributed to the warming. Here the vagueness of the question comes into play. Since skeptics believe that human activity been a contributing factor, their answer would have turned on whether they consider a 10% or 15% or 35% increase to be a significant contributing factor. Some would, some wouldn’t.

In any case, the two researchers must have feared that an 82% figure would fall short of a convincing consensus - almost one in five wasn’t blaming humans for global warming - so they looked for subsets that would yield a higher percentage.  They found it - almost - in those whose recent published peer-reviewed research fell primarily in the climate change field. But the percentage still fell short of the researchers’ ideal. So they made another cut, allowing only the research conducted by those earth scientists who identified themselves as climate scientists.

Once all these cuts were made, 75 out of 77 scientists of unknown qualifications were left endorsing the global warming orthodoxy. The two researchers were then satisfied with their findings. Are you?

I would have answered yes to both questions. Sure we have warmed since the Little Ice Age and man plays a role in changing climate locally through land use and urbanization. The survey was a joke. The Weather channel blog using it to support their advocacy more proof how low the old network and weather.com has fallen. 

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