No such thing as climate change? Tell that to this guy
A US scientist, having studied a raft of articles, concluded that climate change denial ‘has virtually no influence’, writes FRANK MCDONALD
It’s often said by climate change deniers that there is “no scientific consensus” on anthropogenic, or human-induced, global warming. Indeed, the endless repetition of this myth by right-wing groups and politicians, particularly in the US, has contributed to the difficulties of coming to grips with the problem internationally.
As the geochemist James Lawrence Powell notes, opinion polls in the US show a large number of people believe that scientists “substantially disagree about human-caused global warming”. So Powell, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the US National Board for Science and Technology, set out to examine the evidence.
“If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature,” he writes, because this is the “gold standard” of scientific research. So he trawled through the Web of Science searching for scientific articles with the keywords “global warming” or “global climate change”.
Going way back to January 1st, 1991, and right up to date, Powell’s search turned up a total of 13,950 articles. Of these, just 24 – 0.17 per cent or one in 581 – clearly rejected global warming or endorsed a cause other than carbon dioxide emissions for the observed warming of 0.8 degrees since the beginning of the industrial era.
“To be classified as rejecting, an article had to clearly and explicitly state that the theory of global warming is false or, as happened in a few cases, that some other process better explains the observed warming,” Powell says, adding that he did not classify as “rejecting” articles that merely claimed to have found small discrepancies.
“Of one thing we can be certain: had any of these articles presented the magic bullet that falsifies human-caused global warming, that article would be on its way to becoming one of the most-cited in the history of science,” he wrote. Indeed it would be absolutely sensational, however unlikely it is to happen.
“Global warming deniers often claim that bias prevents them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. But 24 articles in 18 different journals . . . expose that claim as false. Articles rejecting global warming can be published, but those that have been have earned little support or notice, even from other deniers,” according to Powell.
The 24 “denial” articles have been cited by others a total of 113 times over the nearly 21-year period, for an average of close to five citations each – compared to an average of about 19 citations for articles answering to “global warming”. Four of the “rejecting” articles have never been cited while another four have 10 or more.
He notes that the 13,950 articles he found had a total of 33,690 individual authors, with the top 10 (in descending order) coming from the US, Britain, China, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, France, Spain and the Netherlands. A similarly broad range would also be reflected in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Only one conclusion is possible: within science, global warming denial has virtually no influence. Its influence is instead on a misguided media, politicians all-too-willing to deny science for their own gain, and a gullible public”, writes Powell, the author of The Inquisition of Climate Science, an illuminating book published in 2011.