650 Climate Skeptics?

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe's Press Blog features tidbits like:

U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007. Senate Report Debunks "Consensus" (Report Released on December 20, 2007) U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (Minority)

U.S. Senate Minority Report Update: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims (December 11, 2008)

UN Blowback: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims (December 10, 2008)

The first question that comes to mind after reading these reports is: who are all these dissenters? Can we get a list? So I went through the entire blog and pulled out all the names of alleged dissenters and looked at their credentials. There are indeed over 650 names on the list. After weeding out duplicates and people whose expertise couldn't be clearly identified (they were described simply as "scientist" or identified just by name as signers of a document, for example) I ended up with just over 600 individuals. I broke them down into four categories:

  1. Credentials Relevant to Climate Change
  2. Credentials Possibly Relevant to Climate Change
  3. Credentials Not Relevant to Climate Change
  4. No Scientific Credentials

What Are My Own Qualifications?

I'll tell you straight up that I put my own credentials in the third category above. I have no published research on climate change. What I do bring to the table are these:

Who's A Skeptic?

By the standards used by climate change denialists, almost any scientist could be a "skeptic." A substantial fraction of so called "skeptical" remarks quoted by Inhofe are things that everybody in climate research openly admits: the uncertainty of climate models, the likelihood that solar variability plays a role in climate change, the difficulty of separating human caused change from long term natural cycles, and so on. It is entirely possible that many of the scientists quoted as "skeptics" don't know they have been so quoted and would take vigorous exception to being characterized as skeptics. The remarks attributed to "skeptical" scientists range from responsible statements of known uncertainties all the way to irresponsible, even incompetent, statements by people who knowingly distort their credentials.

For that reason, my listing below is anonymous. I tallied the number of people in each field, but didn't identify them by name.

What Credentials Are For

There are people in science with few publications who nevertheless stay informed, research carefully, and think critically, and whose opinions on controversial subjects may be perfectly sound. On the other hand, I once heard a Nobel laureate (not Al Gore, in case you were wondering) make remarks so stupid and uninformed they literally left me gaping like a goldfish.

But if you're not familiar with a subject, or with the people who are active in it, credentials can really help you sort things out. The questions to ask are:

Credentials cannot make a bad idea good. And as physicist James Trefil once said, "There's no idea on God's green earth so crazy it can't find at least one Ph.D. to support it." When we find experts supporting bad science, there are usually reasons for it. In decreasing order of integrity, some of them are:

Is This A Rigorous Classification?

No. It is absurdly lenient. I am giving people credit for having possibly relevant credentials if they have anything at all in their background that suggests experience in fields relevant to climate change. The more militant climate activists would go positively, bat-guano ballistic over people I rated as possibly having relevant credentials. In particular:

1. Scientific Credentials Relevant to Climate Change

These are people with academic degrees or research in fields closely related to climate change and whose affiliations indicate that they are or have been involved in climate research such that they might have something serious to say about climate change. Many of the remarks made by these people are merely statements of known problems in climate research and scarcely justify the label "skeptic." Some people are here because they were quoted in the narrow context of their particular specialty, for example polar bear researchers. When somebody who researches polar bears tells me the population is healthy now, I believe him. When he tells me it will be just as healthy 100 years from now because he doesn't believe in climate change, he's speaking outside his expertise.

Total: 98 (16%)

2. Scientific Credentials Possibly Relevant to Climate Change

These are people with credentials in fields that are related to climate change, or who do research in settings where climate change could significantly affect their findings. In some cases people are placed here because their credentials were not specific enough to permit a more precise placement, for example, they're listed as a meteorologist but with no substantiation of their expertise on climate. Some might be moved into the category above but many others could be moved down. In a few cases, I know enough about the person listed to be a bit more precise.

Most broadcast meteorologists are here because confusing weather forecasting and climate modeling is one of the most persistent fallacies in the global warming debate. Some broadcast meteorologists are informed enough to know the difference, others, based on some of the comments they make, are not. The mere fact of being a TV weather person doesn't make you qualified to comment on climate change. Most broadcast meteorologists, by the way, have master's degrees.

Space physicists, astronomers, and astrophysicists are mostly here if they have credentials or research related to sun-earth interactions or planetary energy balance.

Total: 162 (27%)

3. Scientific Credentials Not Relevant to Climate Change

These are people in fields not closely related to climate change, and, apart from comments they made on climate change, there is no evidence presented that they have relevant expertise. They may or may not have well informed views, but in the absence of more information, their credentials are simply irrelevant to the debate over climate change. Credentials, remember, are evidence that a person's opinions should be given extra credence, and these credentials fail to establish that. They may be perfectly competent and respected in their own specialties, but there is no evidence that what they have to say on climate change is especially relevant. There are a couple of Nobel Prizes in here. Not relevant is not relevant.

Total: 310 (51%) - Half of all the climate change "skeptics" have no relevant scientific credentials even by the extremely generous standards of my rankings.

4. No Scientific Credentials

These may be wonderful scholars, but they simply have no place on a list of scientists skeptical of climate change. They are just not natural scientists. One of the economists has a Nobel Prize. That still doesn't make him qualified to discuss climate change.

In fact, economists ought to be required to submit evidence that they foresaw the crash of 2008 (in the form of taking measures beforehand to protect their own portfolios) before being allowed to comment on climate change. Climate modeling is rife with uncertainties but it's as precise as a rifle shot compared with economic modeling.

Total: 40 (7%)

Bottom line: 58% of the "experts" quoted on Inhofe's blog have no credentials in climate research and only 16% have top-notch credentials.


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Created 12 December 2008;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

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