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Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 | ISSN 1556-5696

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Global Warming Consensus?

We are often told that there is a consensus that global warming is real and human caused. Because of this, a group of global warming skeptics put together a petition to sign that indicates there is a consensus that the evidence is weak or nonexistent for anthropogenic global warming. So, here we have competing consensus claims on the same issue. What is a skeptic to think? To find out, read on…


Misleading by Petition
Just What is the Consensus on Global Warming?

by Gary J. Whittenberger Ph.D.

Is global warming a real phenomenon, and if so, are humans causing or contributing to it by burning fossil fuels and will it lead to an increased frequency and/or severity of natural disasters? The American public looks to science or scientists to help answer these questions. A petition circulated by a small group of scientists is creating quite a stir, arousing considerable praise and disdain from groups on different sides of the global warming issue.

The petition drive was begun by Dr. Frederick Seitz, now deceased, and is now led by Dr. Arthur Robinson and his son, Dr. Noah Robinson, both members of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), who remain the chief organizers and expositors of the petition project. Seitz was a physicist and past president of both the National Academy of Sciences and Rockefeller University. The two Robinsons are both chemists and Arthur Robinson is the current director of OISM. According to the website which reports the details of the petition and is presumably authored by Arthur Robinson, “the purpose of the Petition Project is to demonstrate that the claim of “settled science” and an overwhelming “consensus” in favor of the hypothesis of humancaused global warming and consequent climatological damage is wrong.”1 Robinson asserts not just that his collection of 31,072 signatures on a petition has refuted the claim of “settled science” and “overwhelming consensus” among scientists with regard to global warming, but that “The very large number of petition signers demonstrates that, if there is a consensus among American scientists, it is in opposition to the humancaused global warming hypothesis rather than in favor of it.”2 Not only has Robinson failed to substantiate either of his assertions, he is misleading the American public by implying that his petition fairly represents relevant expert opinion.

To understand the problems with Robinson’s “Global Warming Petition Project”, we must first examine how the petition itself was distributed and how signatures were collected. To a sample of persons on the mailing list of American Men and Women of Science,3 Robinson sent a petition packet consisting of a petition card, a return envelope, a cover letter from Seitz, and a 12-page review of the literature on the human-caused global warming hypothesis authored by the two Robinsons and Willie Soon.4 The two main assertions stated on the petition card were that there is no convincing scientific evidence that the human release of carbon dioxide and other gases is causing harmful atmospheric heating and climate change and that the U.S. government should reject the Kyoto Agreement and any other similar proposals. Arthur Robinson not only requested that recipients return the signed petition card, if they agreed with its assertions, but also arranged for the recipients to distribute petition packets to their colleagues. He also enabled other persons to obtain petition packets by simply requesting them through his website, and this procedure ultimately produced five percent of the returned petition cards. Thus, signed petitions were solicited in three different ways.

Although the website for the petition indicates that checks of credentials and identity were performed for signatories of the returned petitions, and invalid petitions were excluded, how the checks were performed is not described. Signed petition cards were accepted only if they came from persons who had “obtained formal educational degrees at the level of Bachelor of Science or higher in appropriate scientific fields”.5 In the end, “valid” and signed petition cards were obtained from 31,072 persons with degrees in the following fields: Earth science (3,697 persons or 12% of the total); computer science and mathematics (903 or 3%); physics and aerospace sciences (5,691 or 18%); chemistry (4,796 or 15%); biology and agriculture (2,924 or 9%); medicine (3,069 or 10%); and engineering and general science (9,992 or 32%). The breakdown according to educational level was: PhD (9,021 or 29%); MS (6,961 or 22%); MD and DVM (2,240 or 7%); and BS or equivalent (12,850 or 41%).5 On his website Robinson fails to report the cross-tabulations of fields of expertise and levels of education for his petition respondents. For example, we aren’t told what percentage of the persons with Earth science expertise had Ph.D. degrees.

Although in one interview Robinson called his petition project a “survey”6, it is definitely not a survey, and because it is not a well-designed scientific survey of the views of a group of relevant experts, its results cannot be used to reach the conclusions about “consensus” that are asserted and hoped for by Robinson. In the first place, Robinson presents neither a dictionary nor an operational definition of “consensus”. He wants to reach conclusions about a consensus, but he spends no time telling us what he thinks a consensus is. According to Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, a “consensus” may refer to general agreement, unanimity, judgment by most of those concerned, or group solidarity. Of course if we use the “unanimity” definition of “consensus”, then Robinson’s Global Warming Petition Project shows that a consensus of persons with science degrees, even those with relevant degrees, does not support the hypothesis of human-caused global warming. But this is a trivial conclusion; we knew this before the petition drive! The “unanimity” definition of “consensus”, however, is not the one in which the American public is interested.

If Robinson had been conducting a true survey, he would have offered an operational definition of “consensus” before he started his inquiry. Robinson misleads the public to think that a consensus is defined by some large absolute number of persons. It is not. It is determined by a large percentage of persons in a relevant sample. Does Robinson, or the general public, think of a consensus as agreement within a given group at a level of 75%, 90%, or some other percentage? He does not tell us. He reports only the number of persons who sent back signed petition cards, but he reports neither the total number of persons to whom he sent petition cards in the first place nor the number of persons to whom he sent petition cards who subsequently returned only messages of disagreement. Since Robinson chose to conduct a petition project rather than a well-designed scientific survey, he cannot reach valid conclusions about any consensus, and he should not have attempted to do so.

Had Robinson been interested in finding out the truth about the views of relevant scientists rather than pursuing his own political agenda, he would have given a great deal more consideration to sample selection. Who is a relevant scientific expert when it comes to evaluating the human-caused global warning hypothesis? Robinson seems to have very lenient inclusion criteria. He even seems to think that persons with Bachelors degrees in mathematics and engineering are relevant and qualified experts on the issue. This seems to make about as much sense as considering electricians to be experts on plumbing because they have certificates from trade school just as plumbers do.

In a recent e-mail communication with an acquaintance of mine in which he defended his broad inclusion criteria, Robinson said “In fact, climate science is a very simple discipline. The data is [are] very limited and very easily understood—as is illustrated in our review article…”7 I wonder what percentage of climatologists or Earth scientists would agree with Robinson about this. Robinson doesn’t seem to have much respect for their area of specialization. What reaction might Robinson have if scientists who are not chemists called his area of research on “deamidation of peptides and proteins”8 a “very simple discipline with very limited data which are very easily understood”. I think that the American public would be interested in knowing the views of a more restricted sample than the one used by Robinson. For the main hypothesis concerning human-caused global warming, it would be desirable to know the opinions of scientists with doctoral degrees in climatology or Earth science who had spent most of their lives studying the relevant phenomena. A survey of a large random sample of these scientists would be illuminating and helpful.

There are other flaws in Robinson’s project. If Robinson had been conducting a real survey rather than a petition drive, he would not have allowed three different ways for persons to participate in his project. Instead he would have arranged for persons to participate in only one way; he would have randomly selected participants from a well-defined, qualified and relevant population of scientific experts. Furthermore, in his petition project Robinson simply asked persons with science degrees to sign the petition if they agreed with its content. But did they agree with all 20 overlapping propositions embedded in the four sentences of the petition? Did they agree with most of them? Did they agree with at least 50% of them? We don’t know. In a real survey, Robinson would have constructed a questionnaire in which his respondents could have addressed each of the 20 propositions in which he was interested or possibly each of the main propositions actually stated in Al Gore’s popular book, An Inconvenient Truth, for which Robinson expresses great disdain.9 At the least, in a survey Robinson would have provided five response options for each proposition, something like “strongly disagree, moderately disagree, neither disagree nor agree, moderately agree, and strongly agree”. Or he might have provided a similar scale using anchors such as: “definitely false, probably false, uncertain if false or true, probably true, definitely true”. These response options would have allowed participants the opportunity to more fully express the subtlety and variety of their positions. Robinson may be a brilliant chemist, but he seems to know almost nothing about the behavioral sciences, especially about conducting sound scientific surveys.

Finally, the petition drive can be viewed as an “attempt to persuade” since it included the article reviewing the literature on global warming written by Robinson himself and two others, and it included the cover letter of endorsement from Seitz. The article and cover letter are bound to be biased towards Robinson’s point of view. If Robinson had been interested in finding the truth about expert opinion instead of manipulating that opinion, he would have done one of the following: 1) Sent a questionnaire with no accompanying review article or endorsement letter. (Probably the best option.) 2) Sent a review article not written by himself but by an independent expert representative of qualified climatologists. Or 3) Sent two review articles by two qualified climatologists from different perspectives, reaching different conclusions about humancaused global warming.

In conclusion, through his Global Warming Petition Project, Arthur Robinson has solicited the opinions of the wrong group of people in the wrong way and drawn the wrong conclusions about any possible consensus among relevant and qualified scientists regarding the hypothesis of human-caused global warming. His petition is unqualified to deliver answers about a consensus in which the public is interested. He has a right to conduct any kind of petition drive he wishes, but he is not ethically entitled to misrepresent his petition as a fair reflection of relevant scientific opinion. He has confused his political with his scientific aims and misled the public in the process.

The Author, Gary Whittenberger, is a free-lance writer and psychologist, living in Tallahassee, Florida. He received his doctoral degree from Florida State University after which he worked for 23 years as a psychologist in prisons. He has published many articles on science, philosophy, psychology, and religion, and their intersection.

Footnotes
  1. Robinson, Arthur. 2008. “Purpose of Petition in Global Warming Petition Project.” www.petitionproject.org
  2. Robinson, Arthur. 2008. “Frequently Asked Questions in Global Warming Petition Project.”
  3. American Men and Women of Science. GALE CENGAGE Learning.
  4. Robinson, A. B., Robinson, N. E., and Soon, W. “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 2007, 12, 7990.
  5. Robinson, Arthur. “Qualifications of Signers in Global Warming Petition Project.” Ibid.
  6. Solomon, Lawrence. 32,000 deniers. Posted May 16, 2008, 7:20 PM, by Jeff White in Financial Post.
  7. Robinson, Arthur. 2008. E-mail communication to Howard Kessler, June 17.
  8. Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. http://www.oism.org/oism/s32p21.htm
  9. Gore, Al. 2006. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Rondale Books.


This week at SkepticBlog.org, Michael Shermer blogs about his trip to the big science conference in Puebla, Mexico called “City of Ideas,” in which he and Dan Dennett debated Dinesh D’Souza and John Esposito on “Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?”

While you’re there be sure to read the blogs posts of the other Skepticbloggers: Brian Dunning, Kirsten Sanford, Mark Edward, Phil Plait, Ryan Johnson, Steven Novella, and Yau-Man Chan.

33 Comments »

33 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Interesting, Gary please provide the scientific method for determining if someone has “relevant” experience.

    It seems Gary you have a lot to learn about the Global Warming debate. Let me give you some qualifications of media defined or self proclaimed “experts”.

    Bill Nye, B.S. Mechanical Engineering (Bill Nye the Science Guy)
    Gavin Schmidt, Ph.D. Applied Mathematics
    James Hansen, Ph.D. Physics
    Joe Romm, Ph.D. Physics
    John P. Holden, Ph.D. Theoretical Plasma Physics
    Lonnie Thompson, Ph.D. Geological Science
    Michael Mann, Ph.D. Geology
    Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D. Chemical Physics
    Rajendra K. Pachauri, Ph.D. Industrial Engineering (IPCC Chairman)
    Steven Schneider, Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering and Plasma Physics
    Tom J. Chalko, Ph.D. Laser Holography

    You are apparently clueless since you think the alarmist position is from scientists with Climatology degrees!

    Here are the qualifications of some skeptics…

    David R. Legates, Ph.D. Professor of Climatology, University of Delaware
    Hans Jelbring, Ph.D. Climatology, Sweden
    John R. Christy, Ph.D. Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama in Huntsville
    Marcel Leroux, Professor Emeritus of Climatology, University of Lyon, France
    Patrick J. Michaels, Ph.D. Ecological Climatology
    Richard A. Keen, Ph.D. Professor of Climatology, University of Colorado
    Richard S. Lindzen, Ph.D. Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT
    Robert C. Balling Jr., Ph.D. Professor of Climatology, Arizona State University
    Robert E. Davis, Ph.D. Professor of Climatology, University of Virginia
    Tim F. Ball, Ph.D. Climatology

    Amazing that you use arguments based on your subjective appeals to authority and can call yourself a skeptic?

    If you are interesting in a debunking of Al Gore’s book, it has already been done.

    75 Falsehoods in Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (Book) (Wm. Robert Johnston, B.A. Astronomy, M.S. Ph.D. Physics)

    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/environment/gore.html

    Please try to get your facts straight.

    • momentofsciencetx says:

      Andrew said: Interesting, Gary please provide the scientific method for determining if someone has “relevant” experience.

      Hmmm Andrew based on that logic I guess anyone can perform heart surgery.

  2. Noel says:

    Straw man arguments seem to be the bread and butter of deniers be they anti global warmers, anti evolutionists, or deniers of any other theory in work. This is my personal opinion based on what I have witnessed over the years. Andrew’s response to the article is a classic example of this as it contains two straw man arguments.

    First, what relevance is Al Gore’s book to the article above?

    Second, what relevance is there in the list of names of supporters and skeptics?

    In fact, Andrew’s entire response is a non sequitor.

    • backwards tnuc says:

      I can understand why you say, that after Andrew presented the credentials of many anti AGW who by nature of their qualifications have eminent domain, that you fail to see the “relevant” “Qualifying” associations.
      It must be because you are stupid or suffering some sort of subject based willful “Ignorant Myopia”, and, do you have trouble walking with your head jammed that far up your ass*
      It must completely ruin the instep of your shoes bumbling along like that.

      How does presenting the AGW argument from a bunch of non eminent domain plebs who are NOT eminently qualified help at all?.
      Why did research into the buffoonery of “What happens when you present obviously incomplete AGW research” achieve maximum penetration of the e-mails and other research in the quest for the truth?.
      That’s right, because it was buffoonery and it was obviously so, also protected by buffoons, fortunately.
      Did it help, why yes it did thank you very much, made me feel much better.
      Do a LOT of the general public (people like me) regard the AGW proponents and defenders as a bunch of slippery shysters? why YES, i think, we do!.

      How very interesting to note also, that the bunch of people who are quoted in the first part of the list as being AGW defenders, are also proponents of Geo-Engineering.
      Is it coincidental that the group of peoples research and pet projects, that have most to gain, from the dumping of massive amounts of toxic particulate matter into the upper atmosphere, are also the most ardent defenders of AGW.
      I hope that those good men and women in the scientific community bring their experience and talent to bear on the REAL issues facing humanity from this fraud.

      I just know you are going to say “I was asking about how he judged what was Scientifically relevant and what is not”.
      And my reply is intended for a myopic, pedantic individual who obviously has cognitive issues, and likes to play dumb with semantics.
      I like to be a straight as i can, it’s so much better for everyone.

  3. Jenny says:

    Great article! I was looking for info. of the “Petition Project” because I’ve got a troll who keeps posting it on the comment section of my website. Thanks for your insights!

    http://www.examiner.com/x-6665-Liberal-Examiner~y2009m7d8-Seriously-Arizona-State-Senator-Sylvia-Allen-Earth-is-6000-years-old

  4. Carston says:

    I know I am getting in on this kind of late, but rather than write a piece on the OISM’s petition, why not write a piece “Anthropogenic Global Warming (or Climate Change) : Fact or Fiction”.

    As far as I am concerned, the Earth’s climate, weather, temperature have continuously changed for as long as it has existed, who are we as humans to say or think that we can have an effect on it? Greenland was once green, once it gets back to that point, we may have some adapting to do, but in no way are we able to control the weather, temperature, or climate of this planet.

    • backwards tnuc says:

      Don’t you dare try and bring a sensible argument here, this is a septic blog.
      We try and debunk our own stupidity, though, no luck yet!.

      • time4somefacts says:

        Andrew’s response deliberately focuses on degrees and avoids dealing with the more important qualification of actual study and recent relevant work in the climate or atmospheric research areas. Bill Nye never claimed to be a climate science expert himself. James Hansen has a PhD in astrophysics, but studied planetary atmospheres. Andrew’s denier list includes people who haven’t done significant research in years an/or have ties to ‘certain industries’. Indeed, he falsifies some of their degrees

        Tim F. Ball has no PhD in Climatology
        Tin Ball was a professor of geography at the University of Winnipeg from 1988 to 1996. He is a prolific speaker and writer in the skeptical science community.

        He has been Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the now-defunct Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP), “scientific advisor” to the Exxon-funded Friends of Science (FoS), and is associated with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) as well as numerous other think tanks and right-wing organizations.

        The NRSP’s list of “scientific advisors” includes Tim Patterson, Tad Murty and Sallie Baliunas, all of which are also listed as advisors to the FOS.

        DeSmog uncovered that two of the three directors on the board of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project were at one time senior executives of the High Park Advocacy Group, a Toronto-based lobby firm that specializes in “energy, environment and ethics.”

  5. Richard Okelberry says:

    So, we should discount those that are skeptical about the Man Made Global Warming Theory, because this psychologist has questions about this petition? Where is the argument against the science being used by these “deniers?” I know that many scientists have offered to publically debate Al Gore about the science behind his claims, yet he continues to refuse.

    If Gary Wittenberger is truly interested in supporting the “Theory” then maybe he should put some science behind disproving the conclusions of the “denier” scientists. After all, isn’t that what science is about; a discovery of facts? All I see here is a personal attack in the public relations war surrounding the man-made global warming theory.

    I just finished watching a presentation by Dr. Noah Robinson from 2007. While it doesn’t have the glitz and glam of Gore’s Hollywood production, it is still pretty impressive. Would anyone, including the author like to take a crack at discrediting what was said in this presentation, without attacking the person individually?

    URL: http://www.discovery.org/v/30

  6. Randy says:

    Global warming is natural people. What is preventing “no sun spots” on the SUN?? I guess that’s caused by humans too eh??

  7. James says:

    Randy….do you mean “why are there no sun spots”?….because I agree that things like that are natural.

  8. Randy says:

    Yes….that’s what I mean. Sorry about that.

    Do a little research and see what you all can find on this issue. Global warming is another way that the people running the government can get more tax dollars to fund their secret-agendas….or to bail themselves out of the next up-and-coming problem that they have made specially for the people who DO the real work in this country.

  9. Eli says:

    I live in Arizona, and the first thing I noticed is that Dr. Robert Balling at ASU, who has in the past been very critical of some of the early assessments of Global Warming refused to sign it (and given that some of his associates at ASU did sign it I’m sure he was asked.)

    In other words, even a serious global warming skeptic like Dr. Balling, who believes that there is still more that needs to be studied before reaching a conclusion, didn’t want to put his name on this document, which in effect reaches the opposite conclusion based on the same data that Dr. Balling believes is not yet conclusive.

    I don’t know if this is true in other states but at least in this one the first thing that jumps out is that the most well-known skeptic of global warming in this state did NOT sign this petition.

  10. Karen McRobie says:

    Sorry Sir, I did not buy your argument against the Global Warming Petition Project.

    • time4somefacts says:

      You probably wouldn’t buy the argument that having signatories like Spice Girl members with fake science degrees undermines its credibility either.

  11. ekw says:

    I am disappointed in this article. Instead of being truly skeptical – as I would hope someone writing for a journal called Skeptic would be – about the entire Climate Change/Global Warming issue, the writer simply attacks the fact that in a petition there exists no definition of the word “consensus” and the signatories to the petition – all 30 thousand plus of them – don’t count in the argument because we don’t know who they all are, or at least that is what it seems. The issue really isn’t about a petition or about a word’s meaning, the issue is this: Are the scientists (and political promoters like Al Gore) who have constructed and put forward the thesis that the world is in dire peril – from what they generally term Anthropogenic Global Warming – telling the whole truth about this issue, OR, do those who oppose the inherently alarmist (read: threatening) presentation of that thesis – and, indeed, the thesis itself – have a valid point of their own? That’s it, that is what we are all anxious to establish: who is telling the truth and who is not?

    Why do I get the feeling that Skeptic is not skeptical where it should be skeptical? You can’t simply brush aside this petition because you don’t see proof that all the signatories are climatologists or other earth sciences professionals and the word consensus isn’t clearly defined. It’s ludicrous to put forward an article like this in your publication. It’s weak and it lacks the sort of objectivity required to enter into this debate. Skeptics should always question the current orthodoxy until they are satisfied that all the criteria of verification have stood the scrutiny of emotion-free intellectual examination. You have failed to do that. Aside from the inevitability of those natural perils of natural life (including the fact that systems as large as climate and atmosphere are probably too big for us to effect one way or the other), why haven’t you caught on to the fact that the entire proposition itself is implicitly “fireproof” because all these gigantic multi-national efforts to halt global warming can only fail and since they will fail the threat presented by the global warming enthusiasts will never go away! It’s a closed system – we are in a permanent state of alarm. This speaks to the political reality: Anthropogenic Global Warming is a perpetual money machine, why are you not skeptical about something like that?

  12. Smokey says:

    The OISM Petition was started leading up to the Kyoto conference. So first off, let’s look at what the OISM Petition actually states:

    “The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.” [emphasis added]

    Unlike petition signer Prof Freeman Dyson, Gary Whittenberger is not eligible to sign the Petition himself, because it is restricted to those with advanced degrees in the hard sciences. Even medical doctors are ineligible, unless they also hold a degree in, for example, Physics or Chemistry.

    Whittenberger’s rambling and at times emotional attack on the methodology of what is simply a statement that signatories in the hard sciences agree with, completely misses the point. The real skepticism must be directed toward those pushing the CO2=Catastrophic AGW conjecture – who lack any credible proof, based on the Scientific Method, to back their assertions.

    Skeptics must question the AGW hypothesis because there is no empirical evidence that human activity causes any measurable global warming. All of the putative “evidence” comes from GCMs — computer climate models.

    But models are not evidence; they are only tools. And climate models are unable to predict; they can not even predict today’s climate by hindcasting with all current and previous climate data available.

    Empirical evidence means real world evidence, which requires reproducible, testable and falsifiable measurements, showing that X increase in atmospheric CO2 results in X amount of warming. Despite huge expense to date, such evidence is completely non-existent.

    Empirical measurements have never shown that an increase in carbon dioxide causes a subsequent rise in global temperature. Geologically, a rise in CO2 is an effect that follows a rise in temperature; it is not a cause. Further, the recent coincidental rise in global temperature and CO2 has now broken down: CO2 and temperature have completely diverged for most of the past decade.

    As climatologist Dr Roy Spencer says, “No one has falsified the theory that the observed temperature changes are a consequence of natural variability.”

    Natural climate variability has been the accepted theory for more than a hundred years. But now a new hypothesis – AGW – has appeared. In order to preempt the theory of natural variability, AGW must explain reality better than the long accepted theory of natural variability, and it must make more accurate predictions.

    AGW does neither. In fact, the Earth has cooled for the past eight years, even as the beneficial, minor trace gas CO2 has risen. The planet itself is falsifying the AGW conjecture.

    A true skeptic demands solid empirical evidence of a new hypothesis such as AGW, particularly since accepting an unproven conjecture like AGW will cost literally trillions of dollars. Unfortunately, Mr. Whittenberger is no skeptic.

    For a thorough discussion by both sides in the current AGW debate, review this year’s winner of the Weblog Awards “Best Science” site:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com

    • OnnaSinkinShip says:

      Amen.

      You would think the Skeptic would be skeptical about the climate prediction models and the proposition that man significantly affects the numerous natural cycles affecting climate change.

      Based on testimony and questionable correlations, it would appear that the Skeptic does indeed support a religion of sorts.

      • time4somefacts says:

        Real skeptics are prepared to follow and accept sufficient evidence, not parrot scientific terminology and substitute genuine consideration with pre-packaged industry talking points from a known conspiracy theorist blog.

  13. dan allen says:

    I just picked up my first issue of skeptic, and enjoyed reading it. I have real questions about global warming, and thought this would be a great place to get a skeptical view point that asks questions. I am disapointed that the point of this article was to attack a survey instead of questioning the issue.

  14. Gary says:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/
    Good discussion of the science. No BS just a discussion of the science. Original papers

  15. Steve says:

    Umm, for all those who looked to this as a discussion of climate change and attacked it: it isn’t. This article is about debunking a petition’s methodology. Period. It shouldn’t matter if the petition was for or against global warming.
    This petition was not a valid tool to draw conclusions about the overall viewpoints in climate science and should not be used thusly.

  16. Michael says:

    We need to remember that the petition signers were acting in the late 1990′s when the evidence for AGW was less compelling. I meant to sign the petition but apparently misplaced it–I wouldn’t sign it now because it really is fraudulent in nature.

    Many of the signatories wouldn’t be signatories today. A colleague did sign it in the late 90′s, but is now active in calling for action to end AGW. Claiming that all 31,000+ are still skeptical of AGW is lying plain and simple.

    The sampling used is commonly referred to as “voluntary response sampling” which is well known to produce biased results.

    The petition, as evidence of a lack of consensus for AGW, fails on multiple levels. Anyone with any scientific credentials should be embarrassed to make any positive reference to it.

    • time4somefacts says:

      But if Geri Halliwell, that brilliant researcher from Spice Girls University signed it, it must be valid!

  17. Paul A says:

    Beware of the people who buttress their opinion by referral to “experts” associated with the Discovery Institute, like Dr. Noah Robinson. This group believes in a 6000 year old planet and find Darwin to be a quack. They do not believe a world disaster can occur, unless it is by fire as promised by God.

  18. Lisa says:

    I know I’m reading this quite late, but for what it’s worth, I found this article to be extremely informative. Let’s face it, I’m neither a scientist nor an expert on anthropogenic global warming and I doubt you are either. This article’s purpose was to expose the methodological flaws behind one publicized example of climate change skeptics. How can one be expected to draw conclusions about the nature of global warming if arguments against (and for, I’m sure there are examples on the other side of the table as well) are methodologically flawed?

    Let me rephrase. If the sources we use to determine the truth about climate change are scientifically flawed in research and conduct, how is the public supposed to reach an educated conclusion about its validity?

    I applaud Whittenberger for his insistence on rigorous standards in studies, surveys, petitions, or whatever the authors choose to call them.

  19. DavidB says:

    Mr. Whittenberger states:

    “If Robinson had been conducting a real survey rather than a petition drive, he would not have allowed three different ways for persons to participate in his project.”

    I am flabbergasted. The OISM Petition is, in fact, a petition, not a survey. How is that not crystal clear? It is labeled the “OISM Petition,” and Whittenberger continually refers to it throughout the article as a petition.

    Yet based on a single comment in an outside interview about surveying science professionals, Whittenberger makes that comment his central strawman to attack, and proceeds to knock it down with irrelevant examples of what he personally believes should have been done differently.

    Petitions are routinely collected in various ways; there are no set rules. People collect petitions on street corners and county fairs. These petitions were circulated and collected by “The OISM Petition Project.”

    But Whittenberger demonizes the authors anyway for collecting the petitions – which were signed by educated professionals who knew exactly what they were signing. Unless, of course, anyone preposterously believes that people like Dr. Edward Teller and Prof. Freeman Dyson did not understand what they were signing.

    Whittenberger also states that there are “20 overlapping propositions embedded in the four sentences of the petition.”

    I would like to see each of those putative twenty different propositions identified. (See comment #12 above for the actual language of the petition – which Whittenberger neglected to include in his polemic). Can anyone count twenty (20) different “propositions” in that straightforward petition language?

    Wittenberger’s illogical and disingenuous screed is filled with strawman arguments, appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, red herring arguments, and other rhetorical tricks that should be rejected by readers of a publication calling itself “Skeptic.”

    It is not a skeptical article at all, but rather, it is a heavily biased, devious outburst of factually incorrect propaganda – exactly what a true skeptic must disavow.

  20. Chris says:

    I think this article is touching on the wrong point. Consensus does not make ones theory correct any more than lack of consensus makes it wrong. Initially, Einstein’s theories had little consensus in physics. Of course now there is consensus but also there is a problem that the theory cannot adequately explain the first moment of creation. No scientist has said that the debate is over and that there is no room for a competing theory of physics (in fact there is one – quantum mechanics). Einstein’s theories have been tested by experiment for over 100 years (without one failure), yet still there is some skepticism here.

    My problem with the human caused global warming group is that they are violating the principals of science. Their famous claim is that the “debate is over” on anthropogenic global warming. When was there ever a debate? I don’t remember one.

    Science always allows dissenting views (without attacks on ones character I might add); and continually challenges current theories. The anthropogenic global warming camp has dismissed scientists who question their claims. Where is the truly skeptical group testing their theories? I honestly am an agnostic which means I do not subscribe to either view. I simply do not see enough convincing evidence for either position – it is interesting that a magazine that claims to be “skeptical” has already taken sides on this issue.

  21. G. Purdue says:

    I was skeptical of Whittenberger’s skepticism. I have a Master of Science degree in geology, and I would have signed the petition.

  22. Teddy says:

    This focus of this article is whether Arthur Robinson has reached valid conclusions about the responses to his petition.

    Therefore, discussion of his methods is appropriate, and arguments for and against various global warming hypotheses are irrelevant.

    Arthur Robinson clearly states that the purpose of the petition was to gather signatures from people who agree with him. He achieved this purpose; he got signatures.

    As Whittenberger states, “He has a right to conduct any kind of petition drive he wishes, but he is not ethically entitled to misrepresent his petition as a fair reflection of relevant scientific opinion.”

    Most of these comments go far off topic, with the commentors taking the opportunity to promote their beliefs regarding global warming and attack those who disagree with them. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to read an article that was followed by comments that are actually on point?

  23. Wol says:

    Surely the point is that climate science embraces such a huge number of disciplines that no one individual, no matter how qualified in his field, can possibly personally satisfy himself of the veracity of the conclusions based on the raw data from another. An atmospheric physicist will unlikely to be able to make judgements on tree ring data and its necessary adjustments, and a paleontologist probably won’t have expertise on thermohaline physics. Each will have to accept the consensus of peer groups in the other disciplines.

    Translate that to the situation of the man in the street, who may have had no more than a secondary education. Most politicians will have non-scientific backgrounds, too – and they are the ones who have to make the hard decisions. They have woefully inadequate knowledge in the sciences involved.

    One poster above mentioned Teller: but merely being expert in nuclear physics would not of itself be a qualification for making judgements about, say, oceanography or the validity of a particular modelling methodology.

    Lists of names with opposing viewpoints in such a complex and potentially world-changing argument, as the article says, is almost completely meaningless even without the question of the names’ veracity.

  24. Guillermo says:

    I found it very annoying that denialists call themselves “skeptics”. Check this phrase from comment 4 “who are we as humans to say or think that we can have an effect on it?”. This is belief. When you believe, you stop sticking to the facts. Therefore, you are not a skeptic anymore.

    Whittenberger’s point is simple. OISM petition is not a survey. You may agree or not with the petition, but it’s definitely not a survey and conclusions cannot be made as if it was. However, there seem to be some “skeptics” that cannot deal with the simple fact that it’s not a survey. Skeptic, you say?

  25. SteveB says:

    What is even more annoying are the people who insist that 97% of “scientists”agree that global warming is predominantly man-caused. Does anyone know where that 97% came from? Well, I’ll tell you…

    Two researchers at the University of Illinois conducted an on-line survey. First the researcher eliminated all the scientists that were likely to think that other factors might be an issue..gone were the solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists and astronomers.

    That left 10,257 scientists in disciplines like geology, oceanography, paleontology, and geochemistry that were somehow deemed more worthy of being included in the consensus. Only those associated with an academic or governmental institution were included. About 1,000 of those surveyed did not have a PhD, some didn’t even have a master’s diploma.

    Only about 3100 of the 10,257 responded. In the end, the researchers narrowed the answers to 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?

    They further paired the respondents down to include only those whose recent published peer-reviewed research fell primarily in the climate change field, by those earth scientists who identified themselves as climate scientists. In the end, they counted the responses of only 77 participants..that’s right, 77! 75 of those 77 answered yes to both questions. Putting aside the problems of the questions themselves (Who doesn’t think the earth is warmer now then in pre-1800 times..we were coming out of a little ice-age, for God’s sake). And what is “a significant contributing factor” anyway? 15%? 25%? Who knows?

    In the end, 75 scientists of unknown qualifications answered yes to the above questions. Sure sounds less impressive than “97% of scientists agree…”

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