“4 Pinocchios” for Rep. Chris Stewart’s dishonest statement about climate science experts


The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog awarded “Four Pinocchios” to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), chair of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, for a “whopper” of dishonesty: cherry-picking one survey in an attempt to misrepresent the overwhelming view of the most credible climate science experts on human-caused global warming.

Washington Post: Cherry-picking one survey to discredit a survey of scientists on climate change

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, said in an opinion article on April 13: “[T]he claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.”

Stewart is referring to a survey done for the American Geophysical Union in 2009 by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman  at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The Post Fact Checker blog shows, in a fairly detailed discussion, how Stewart misrepresented this research, while also disregarding other relevant studies that point to the same general conclusion: that the overwhelming majority of scientists who publish in the peer-reviewed climate science literature share the broad view that human activity is now the principal driver of unequivocal global warming.

“We wavered between Three [“Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions”] and Four [“Whoppers”] Pinocchios on this claim,” Fact Checker says, “but in the end settled on Four. Stewart, after all, is chairman of an environmental panel. He said the results of this survey have been ‘repeatedly discounted.’ He should know that beyond this single survey, there are many more that back up its findings on the broad support among scientists — particularly climate researchers — regarding the impact that humans have on climate change.”

The Post also notes the significant study “Expert credibility in climate change,” by William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2010:

Rather than using a poll, another group of researchers in 2010 attempted to discern the opinion of climate researchers by examining their published work. This survey examined the published writings of about 1,000 scientists and concluded that 97 to 98 percent of the most actively published scientists had “striking agreement” with the primary conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): that human-generated greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature.

The Anderegg et al. study actually used an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show, not only that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but also that the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

For Climate Science Watch, Anderegg et al. is the go-to study on this topic. We posted on it here: New study finds striking level of agreement among climate experts on anthropogenic climate change

The authors wrote:

“A vocal minority of researchers and other critics contest the conclusions of the mainstream scientific assessment, frequently citing large numbers of scientists whom they believe support their claims…This group, often termed climate change skeptics, contrarians, or deniers, has received large amounts of media attention and wields significant influence in the societal debate about climate change impacts and policy.

“Despite media tendencies to present ‘both sides’ in ACC debates [anthropogenic climate change], which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC, not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system.  This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.”

We were privileged to interview co-author Steve Schneider in July 2010 on the issues raised in the climate science expert credibility study. Video and text are posted here: Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study

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