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How do meteorologists fit into the 97% global warming consensus?

Posted on 2 December 2013 by dana1981

Several surveys have found relatively low acceptance of human-caused global warming amongst meteorologists. For example, a 2009 survey found that among Earth scientists, only economic geologists (47 percent) had lower acceptance of human-caused global warming than meteorologists (64 percent). A new paper by social scientists from George Mason University, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), and Yale University reports results from a survey of members of the AMS to determine the factors associated with their views on climate change.

Climate Scientists and Meteorologists, Apples and Oranges

Predictably, many climate contrarians have already misrepresented this paper. In fact, the Heartland Institute (of Unabomber billboard infamy) misrepresented the study so badly (and arguably impersonated the AMS in a mass emailing), the AMS executive director (who is a co-author of the paper) took the unusual step of issuing a public reprimand against their behavior.

The misrepresentations of the study have claimed that it contradicts the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming. The prior studies that have found this high level of consensus were based specifically on climate experts – namely asking what those who do climate science research think, or what their peer-reviewed papers say about the causes of global warming.

The AMS on the other hand is not comprised primarily of climate experts. Some of its members do climate research, but only 13 percent of survey participants described climate as their field of expertise. Among those respondents with climate expertise who have published their climate research, this survey found that 93 percent agreed that humans have contributed significantly to global warming over the past 150 years (78 percent said it's mostly human-caused, 10 percent said it's equally caused by humans and natural processes, and 5 percent said the precise degree of human causation is unclear, but that humans have contributed). Just 2 percent of AMS climate experts said global warming is mostly natural, 1 percent said global warming isn't happening, and the remaining 4 percent were unsure about global warming or human causation.

The authors also note that they asked about contributions to global warming over the past 150 years, whereas climate scientists are most confident that humans are the dominant cause of global warming over the past 50 years. Some survey participants sent emails implying that if the question had more narrowly focused on the past 50 years, even more respondents might have said that global warming is mostly human-caused.

Importantly, most AMS members are not climate researchers, nor is scientific research of any kind their primary occupation (for example, weather forecasters). Among those AMS members who haven't recently published in the peer-reviewed literature, just 62 percent agreed that humans are causing global warming, with 37 percent saying humans are the main cause over the past 150 years.

The bottom line is that the previous studies finding 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming are not directly comparable to this new study, which surveyed all AMS members, most of whom are not climate experts. The study's lead author, Neil Stenhouse, agrees that the Heartland Institute's James Taylor has misrepresented their study.

"Mr. Taylor's claims are highly misleading, but we expect that from someone with a long history of distorting the truth about global warming. We found high levels of consensus on global warming among the climate experts in our sample. You only see low levels of consensus in the sample if you also look at the views of people who are not climate experts."

What's Causing Meteorologist Skepticism?

When we actually examine the questions the study does investigate, as opposed to the contrarian approach of twisting the results to try and make them fit preconceived notions, it contains a lot of interesting information. The authors proposed four hypotheses to explain the variation in AMS members' views on global warming. They found evidence supporting each of the four hypotheses. In terms of predicting meteorologists' positions on human-caused global warming, listed in order from strongest to weakest, these were:

1) Perceived scientific consensus on global warming
2) Political ideology
3) Climate expertise
4) Perceived conflict among AMS members on global warming

Interestingly, the strongest single factor in predicting meteorologists' acceptance of human-caused global warming was their perception of the level of expert consensus on the subject. This result is consistent with previous research finding that people are more likely to accept this reality and support taking climate action if they're aware of the expert climate consensus. Like most people who are not expert in a particular field, most meteorologists also defer to the expert consensus...when they're aware that expert consensus exists. This is precisely why climate contrarians work so hard to deny that the climate consensus is real. The authors suggest tackling this misconception head-on.

"First, the strong relationship between perceived scientific consensus and other views on climate change suggests that communication centered on the high level of scientific consensus may be effective in encouraging engagement by scientific professionals."

Political ideology was the second strongest predictor of meteorologists' positions on global warming. Conservative AMS members were significantly more likely to doubt the reality of human-caused climate change. This tells us that the relatively high rate of rejections of the climate consensus isn't based on science, because the scientific evidence has nothing to do with politics.

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Comments 51 to 59 out of 59:

  1. Also see Chris Mooney's Blue Marble/Mother Jones blog post, Why Some Meteorologists Still Deny Global Warming 

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  2. John Hartz  Having read the piece to which you pointed, I note that nowhere in that piece (as far as I could see) does it say that some meteorologists deny global warming.  What it does say is that some meteorologists are not convinced of human input into global warming,  which isn't quite the same thing

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  3. Poster,

    Joe Bastardi is a well known denier who is a meteorologist.  Watch Fox News for the weather report.  Any Fox meteorologist is also most likely a denier.  They were probably not listed in the posts you read since they are so common the writer thought it unnecessary to give examples. I find your apparent claim that no meteorologists are deniers strange.   What is your point?

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  4. Poster, there is a list of denier meteorologists maintained by Forecast the Facts.  With quotes.

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  5. Michael Sweet my point was made based on  the information provided by John Hartz.  It was not a response to comments that are pure conjecure such as "Any Fox meteorologist is also most likely a denier. They were probably not listed in the posts you read since they are so common the writer thought it unnecessary to give examples."

    Similarly Tom Dasyton,  John Hartz didn 't provide a list of "denier meteorologists"  Had he done so my comment would not have been appropriate and would not have been made.

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  6. Poster,

    The key thing is that, as Tom Dayton's list proves, is that your statement:

    " I note that nowhere in that piece (as far as I could see) does it say that some meteorologists deny global warming. What it does say is that some meteorologists are not convinced of human input into global warming, which isn't quite the same thing:

    which I read to claim that there are no meterologists that deny global warming, is incorrect.  As I pointed out, meterologists who deny global warming are so common that it is unnecessary for John Hartz to provide examples.  

    As I asked before: I find your apparent claim that no meteorologists are deniers strange.  What is your point?  

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  7. Michael Sweet will you please read what I wrote not what you think I wrote.  I clearly stated that I am referring to the piece pointed to by John Hartz.  I am not referring to anything or anyone else at all.  My claim is not as you seem to believe "that no meteorologists are deniers..." but that this is not stated in the piece I read.  No more than that.

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  8. @Michael Sweet and Poster: It's time that the two of you cease and desist the Punch & Judy show.

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  9. On Tuesday in the UK House of Commons, one of the members of the select committee on Energy and Climate Change, Graham Stringer MP, asserted that "50% of the meteorologists in the United States are unhappy with the conclusions of the IPCC" (at 1h24m) which led to some disagreement with the relevant Minister as Stringer did not have any source to hand.  From a web search, I think this figure may have originated here, based on a 2008 survey of TV weather forecasters and commentary in an AMS journal (available online via Heartland). 

    (Committee sessions are a disappointing example of the science-policy interface. Stringer and Peter Lilley MP seem to me to be successfully obstructing discussion about important topics such as carbon budgets by focussing on odd details such as p1010 of WG1 SYN.  The committee had previously interviewed Richard Lindzen, giving his affiliation as Professor at MIT, whereas I believe he's now at Cato Institute and we should normally refer to him as emeritus professor.  It cannot be said they aren't giving space to contrarians.)

    Regarding the 2011-12 survey of AMS members, a sample of the email that appeared to come from AMS is available at the Bad Astronomy blog.  (James Taylor of Heartland wrote the misinterpretation of the survey, but has not responded to challenges to comment on Heartland tactics, Cindy Baxter etc.)

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