The Climate Change Consensus

The response from climate change contrarians to last week’s Science paper by Naomi Oreskes on climate change science has been instruction.

Oreskes, you may recall, reviewed all 928 papers in the ISI database with keyword “climate change,” looking for ones that disagreed with the general consensus on anthropogenic climate change. She found nary a one.

There has been a great deal of sputtering from the climate change skeptics, but nothing substantive in the way of a refutation. As Chris Mooney points out, “If Oreskes is wrong, refuting her should be a piece of cake. Simple: Do your own ISI search, and find an article that explicitly disagrees with the consensus position as Oreskes describes it.”

No one seems to have done that.

CNSNews has some lengthy quotations from a number of skeptics, including the cranky and beloved Benny Peiser. Peiser, on his email list (sorry, not on line) claims to have done his own ISI search and the terms “climate change” and found lots more than 928 papers, suggesting that Oreskes somehow unfairly limited the scope of the seach. I don’t have access to ISI, so I can’t check out who’s right. But either way, he has not come up with the paper Mooney is asking for, the one that contests the consensus.

The Climate Change Consensus

Naomi Oreskes, a historian and philosopher of science at the University of California San Diego, yesterday published in Science a remarkable literature review.

Her question: Through international efforts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as professional societies like the American Geophysical Union, we’ve repeatedly seen the development and publication of consensus statements on the issue of climate change. Over and over, they say that greenhouse gases, emitted by humans, are changing the climate. But how does that reflect what’s actually being published in the scientific literature? In other words, as measured by the act of scientific publishing, how strong is the consensus?

Oreskes used the ISI database – the standard bibliographic reference source for the scientific literature – to find every paper on “climate change” publlshed between 1993 and 2003. She found 928. Her question: how many reject the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change. The answer: “Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.”

The scientific consensus might, of course, be wrong. If the history of science teaches anything, it is humility, and no one can be faulted for failing to act on what is not known. But our grandchildren will surely blame us if they find that we understood the reality of anthropogenic climate change and failed to do anything about it.

Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.

(via Chris Mooney and Crooked Timber, both excitedly awaiting the Tech Central Station response)