Citing the “97 percent consensus” talking point to silence debate on global warming is an unsuccessful distraction from more urgent public policy debates on the issue, according to a group of UK social scientists.
“Such efforts to force policy progress through communicating scientific consensus misunderstand the relationship between scientific knowledge, publics and policymakers,” sociologist Warren Pearce and others wrote in an academic commentary, published Monday.
“More important is to focus on genuinely controversial issues within climate policy debates where expertise might play a facilitating role,” Pearce and his co-authors wrote.
Pearce and his co-authors argue there needs to be a more “cosmopolitan approach” to the climate debate that doesn’t rely on quantifying a scientific consensus, but rather “more urgent matters of knowledge, values, policy framing and public engagement.”
“Recent efforts to communicate such scientific consensus attained a high public profile but it is doubtful if they can be regarded successful,” Pearce and his co-authors wrote.
“Rather than securing certainty that was absent before, this exercise has invited intense scrutiny to the judgments underpinning their claim, and generated further doubt,” they wrote.
For years, Democrats and environmentalists have cited research claiming that 97 percent of scientists agree human activities are warming the planet. The figure stems from a 2010 study led by Australian researcher John Cook.
Cook’s study examined thousands of scientific papers and interviewed their authors to claim about 97 percent of climate scientists “endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.”
Former President Barack Obama used the 97 percent figure to undercut critics of his policies to fight global warming. NASA cites the Cook study as one of several purporting to show near-unanimous agreement on global warming.
The Daily Caller News Foundation has already reported on why Cook’s consensus figures are more a statistical sleight of hand than actual agreement. University of Delaware geologist David Legates and some colleagues wrote a paper in 2015, debunking the Cook paper.
Legates’ study found only 41 out of the 11,944 peer-reviewed climate studies examined in Cook’s study explicitly agreed that mankind is responsible for most of the warming since 1950.
But even if Cook’s 97 percent consensus is correct, it’s use has done little to sway the policy, according to Pearce.
Claiming there’s a broad consensus on global warming opens consensus enforcers up to criticism when skeptics start to find inconsistencies in the science. That only undermines the supposed 97 percent consensus.
Pearce wrote “the fact remains that in many fields of climate change research scientific consensus is elusive.”
“Scientific consensus exists among some relevant, small communities,” Pearce wrote, “but there are many fields relevant to climate change impacts where such a consensus does not hold.”
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