Hug A Climate Scientist redux

It’s Hug a Climate Scientist day today. The idea came from a First Dog On The Moon cartoon noting that climate scientists have to face every day in their research the fact that the environment we depend on is under threat, and also get lots of hate mail and death threats for doing their job. Consequently, they need a hug.

hug a climate scientistMuch as I love First Dog, and am grateful for his efforts to bring recognition to our under respected researchers, I do think he erred in selecting early winter for such an important day. If it was held on a day in summer where record breaking heat waves were likely it might get more support.

Nevertheless, I would like to repost my tribute to one particular climate scientist from two years ago.

This also might be a good time to refer to the study by John Cook showing that 97% of peer reviewed papers indicating a position on whether humans are warming the planet or not supported the case that it is. This didn’t get a lot of media attention at the time, but people have referred to it quite often since. Moreover, it got shared a lot on social media, including by Obama’s twitter account, who has over 31 million followers.

There are two aspects of the study that I think deserve wider attention than I have seen however. There first is that Cook went to some effort to demonstrate that his findings are solid. He effectively conducted two independent tests, one of which produced a 97% result, the other of which came back with two different figures – 97 and 98% depending on the measure you consider most significant. In other words the consistency if very strong. Moreover, if you don’t believe him you can do the study in microcosm yourself. Mosey over Cook’s site and you can assess ten random climate science papers and see whether you disagree with Cook’s team’s assessment of where the paper lines up.

Note the majority of papers that refer to “global warming” or “global climate change” don’t express a position on human involvement, but that is because they are looking at topics where it is not really relevant. If you are measuring what global warming is doing to a particular species or ecosystem you may not want to waste what Cook calls “valuable real estate”, particularly in the abstract, discussing why that warming is happening.

The other thing I think is worth pointing out is that the study was done over a twenty year period (1991 to 2011) and as time goes on it gets worse for the denialists. The rate of publication of papers disputing or doubting human contribution to climate change has been quite steady through that period (although slightly higher at the very start) while the number of publications in the field have soared, particularly since 2006. So if the assessment had been done over the last 7 years the anti-consensus “Sceptic” papers would have struggled to break 1%.

Of course that still leaves the possibility that denialists are writing papers but being cruelly suppressed by the scientific community, but we can be clear that if you choose to hug a climate scientist today you can be pretty sure they need it.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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