Taylor distorts poll of meteorologists on climate change to reach opposite conclusion of study authors


Authors of a new study of meteorologists’ views of global warming set the record straight when Forbes op-ed writer James Taylor, consistent with his long history of denial and obfuscation on climate change, selectively reports the results of a poll of members of the American Meteorological Society. Taylor claims the study shows weak support for the human contribution to global warming. In fact, as authors of the study point out below, the survey found that more than 90 percent of those respondents who are more engaged in research and publishing on climate science acknowledge the human contribution to warming.

Neil Stenhouse, et al., “Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members” (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, preliminary accepted version) (article Abstract)

Statement by Neil Stenhouse, Edward Maibach, Sara Cobb, Ray Ban, Paul Croft, Keith Seitter, and Anthony Leiserowitz:

James Taylor’s interpretation of our study is wrong. We found high levels of expert consensus on human-caused climate change.

We appreciate the reader engagement with our recently published paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00091.1) which explores the perspectives of AMS members on issues related to climate change.  Some readers may wish to flatten the complexity of our data into a narrative line that tells the story they want it to tell, harnessing facts to make a particular case; others may build a case on the nature of the facts. The first is a political process, and the second an empirical, scientific process. Our paper was written as a scientific paper, with the aim of inquiry and discovery. Should some readers wish to ignore or distort our findings for ideological ends, we can’t stop them.  Readers who consider our findings more objectively, however, are likely to reach conclusions that differ starkly from those of Mr. Taylor.

In our paper, we assessed whether or not AMS members are convinced that global warming is occurring, and if so, what they feel is the cause. Among all the respondents, about 7 out of 10 (73%) said human activities have contributed to global warming.  To then assess how this perception varied among respondents with different levels of expertise, we sub-divided respondents based on their self-assessed area of expertise – climate science vs. meteorology and atmospheric science – and whether or not they have published peer-reviewed research in the previous five years, and if so, on what topic. Our premise was that AMS members who are actively conducting and publishing climate science research have greater expertise on climate science than AMS members who have other areas of expertise.

We found that more than 9 out of 10 climate science experts (93%) who publish mostly on climate change, and the same proportion (93%) of climate experts who publish mostly on other topics, were convinced that humans have contributed to global warming. We also found that about 8 out of 10 meteorologists and atmospheric scientists who publish on climate (79%) or other topics (78%) were convinced that humans have contributed to global warming. Lastly, we found that the group least likely to be convinced that humans have contributed to global warming was AMS members who do not publish research in the peer-reviewed scientific literature; only six out of 10 AMS members in this group (62%) were convinced.

Contrasting with Mr. Taylor’s caricature of the results, in the paper we concluded that: “These results, together with those of other similar studies, suggest high levels of expert consensus about human-caused climate change.” We continue to stand by this conclusion, and would urge readers not to be misled by selective reporting of our results.

Moreover, in the paper we explained that our findings are likely a conservative estimate of AMS member agreement that human-caused climate change is occurring. Some of our survey respondents told us that had we asked about the warming in the past 50 years – rather than the warming in the past 150 years – more respondents would have answered affirmatively (i.e., indicating that human-caused climate change is occurring).  Their point was that the science more clearly indicates human causation of climate change over past 50 years than over the past 150 years.

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Also see this good discussion by Brian Angliss at Scholars and Rogues: James Taylor of Heartland Institute twists new AMS study to cast doubt upon industrial climate disruption consensus

Earlier CSW post: Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study (July 12, 2010)

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6 Responses to Taylor distorts poll of meteorologists on climate change to reach opposite conclusion of study authors

  1. Desertphile says:

    Thank you for the update. Denialists will never check the actual sources.

  2. USthermophysics says:

    “Our paper was written as a scientific paper”

    This is not science. This is a poll.

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      The study draws on a body of social science literature to interpret findings of survey research. I would classify it as part of the fields of social psychology and environmental policy studies. Anthony Leiserowitz is a Research Scientist at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. He and Maibach are recognized leaders in this area of research. The study was funded on a peer-review basis by the National Science Foundation, I expect under the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorate. By their statement, the authors were just drawing a distinction between what they consider to be their empirical research approach, aimed at advancing understanding, and an op-ed aimed more at advancing a political advocacy position.

  3. John R T says:

    Do read the paper.
    About 26% of the selected membership responded. Hence, the authors suggest the findings may not fairly reflect actual member views. This useful poll provides a first step, especially in identifying nuances.
    Earth’s biota affect its energy balance, an indisputable but unquantified fact.

  4. Mike Smith says:

    I am a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society and a Certified Consulting Meteorologist. To the best of my memory I never had a chance to respond to this poll of the AMS membership.

    That said, the fact that 70% of scientists say that humans affect the climate is utterly unsurprising. That has been known scientifically since Changnon’s METROMEX study in the early 70’s. The fact that 9 out of ten that publish on the subject of climate believe humans affect the climate is also utterly unsurprising.

    For me, the money question was #6, “How worried are you about global warming?” Only 30% answered “very worried.” This would make 70% of the respondents “deniers” since that perjorative term seems to be applied to anyone who does not accept the “IPCC consensus” of catastrophic global warming. A statistically similar number (28%) is not worried or “not very worried” about global warming.

    So, you can spin the results any way you want but this survey of a small number of AMS members doesn’t reveal any great concern about global warming.

  5. Arcadia says:

    It is not at all surprising that someone who works at the Heartland Institute should be critical of science!
    His employers take money from the big fossil fuel industries that would have to invest in new equipment to lower their CO2 emissions if everyone knew how bad AGW really is!
    James Taylor is a shill for large fossil fuel interests and their conservative cronies and I am shocked that Forbes would host such utter distortions and ignorance. Until now, I respected Steve Forbes, but this has brought my opinion of Steve Forbes and his business into Fox News territory. I will never again be able to believe things I read on Forbes.

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