A new study published in Environmental Research Letters, drawing on a very large database of peer-reviewed studies, concludes that “the number of papers rejecting the consensus on [anthropogenic global warming] is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.” Getting the public to understand the consensus among the overwhelming majority of credible scientific experts on climate change, i.e., that the scientific community is not deeply divided, would be an important step in the right direction, and could be an aid in stepping up public pressure on our feckless political ‘leaders’. Expert credibility matters.
Also see our post: “The US disconnect over climate change”
The problem of global climate disruption has become entangled in U.S. political and cultural divisions that go beyond the power of science communication alone to solve. Still, it is essential to address the continuing disconnect between how climate scientists understand the problem and how much of the public perceives it. A majority of the U.S. public believes the Earth is warming, but only about half attribute warming to human activity. And less than half of the public believes there is general scientific agreement on the reality of human-caused climate change. About 40 percent believe that there is a lot of disagreement among the scientists. Most of the public simply does not know about the existence of a 97% consensus. Leaving aside a minority of hard core contrarians and deniers, when people are made aware of the consensus they tend to adjust their views in the direction of the science community.
From the study Abstract (full text is available free of charge):
John Cook et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. … Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. … Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. … Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.
Two of the authors of the study have also posted on it, including a post at the invaluable Skeptical Science:
John Cook at Skeptical Science: Skeptical Science Study Finds 97% Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming in the Peer-Reviewed Literature
Dana Nucitelli at ABC (Australia): Is the Science Settled?
Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian (UK):
… Public opinion continues to lag behind the science. Though a majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, just 42% believed human activity was the main driver, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre last October.
“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” Cook said in a statement.
The study blamed strenuous lobbying efforts by industry to undermine the science behind climate change for the gap in perception. The resulting confusion has blocked efforts to act on climate change.
In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, an historian at the University of California, San Diego,surveyed published literature, releasing her results in the journal Science. She too came up with a similar finding that 97% of climate scientists agreed on the causes of climate change. …
“The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW [anthropogenic, ie man-made, global warming] is a necessary element in public support for climate policy,” the study said.
However, Prof Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies the forces underlying attitudes towards climate change, disputed the idea that educating the public about the broad scientific agreement on the causes of climate change would have an effect on public opinion – or on the political conditions for climate action.
He said he was doubtful that convincing the public of a scientific consensus on climate change would help advance the prospects for political action. Having elite leaders call for climate action would be far more powerful, he said. …
Prof. Brulle’s work raises significant issues. We agree on the central importance of high-level politics for influencing media coverage and public perceptions. But we don’t see this as an either/or proposition. We need an ‘all of the above strategy’, i.e., skillful science communication, public education about the shared views of credible expert climate scientists, effective high-level political leadership to raise the salience of climate disruption and frame the policy issues, marginalizing of the global warming denial machine, and public pressure to hold accountable government officials who claim to ‘get it’ but whose actions thus far have failed to match their words. All are essential. The Cook et al. study is a valuable contribution to this bigger picture.
National Public Radio, All Things Considered: Scientists Agree on Climate Change, Why Doesn’t the Public?
Brendan DeMelle at DeSmogBlog: Climate Denial’s Death Knell: 97 Percent of Peer-Reviewed Science Confirms Manmade Global Warming, Consensus Overwhelming
Meteor Blades at DailyKos: Skeptical Science flattens deniers: 97% of peer-reviewed papers say humans causing climate change
The Cook et al. study can be seen as building on Naomi Oreskes’ work, and uses a methodology that can be seen as analogous to that of an important earlier study by William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, Expert Credibility in Climate Change, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2010.
See our Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study (July 2010). Expert credibility matters.