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The Oregon Petition: How Many Scientists Does It Take To Change A Consensus?

Posted on 20 August 2010 by gpwayne

This post is the Basic version (written by Graham Wayne) of the skeptic argument "Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM petition".

There are several claims that large numbers of scientists do not agree with the theory of climate change, the best known of which is a petition organised by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (the OISM petition). This petition now appears to be signed by over 32,000 people with a BSc or higher qualification. The signatories agree with these statements:

  • The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
  • There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate.

No evidence has ever been offered to support the first statement, and the second statement is in flat contradiction with the scientists who study climate change. There are also valid issues regarding the methodology:

  • The organisers have never revealed how many people they canvassed (so the response rate is unknown) nor have they revealed the sampling methodology, an ironic omission considering how much fuss is made about scientists being candid and making public their methods and data.
  • The petition is, in terms of climate change science, rather out of date.

In the professional field of climate science, the consensus is unequivocal: human activities are causing climate change and additional anthropogenic CO2 may cause great disruption to the climate.

32,000 Sounds Like A Lot

In fact, OISM signatories represent a tiny fraction (~0.3%) of all US science graduates (petition cards were only sent to individuals within the U.S)

According to figures from the US Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics: 2008, 10.6 million science graduates have gained qualifications consistent with the OISM polling criteria since the 1970-71 school year. 32,000 out of 10 million is not a very compelling figure, but a tiny minority - approximately 0.3 per cent.

There are many issues casting doubt on the validity of this petition. On investigation, attempts to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change often appear to have ideological roots, vested business interests or political sponsors. The claims made for the OISM petition do not withstand objective scrutiny, and the assertions made in the petition are not supported by evidence, data or scientific research.

Several studies conducted independently (Oreskes 2004, Oreskes 2007, Doran and Zimmerman (2009), Anderegg et al. (2010), Cook et. al., 2013) have shown that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing the climate to change, and that CO2 is causing global changes to the climate. and that the consequences could be catastrophic. These views form the scientific consensus on climate change.

Note: we're currently going through the process of writing plain English versions of all the rebuttals to skeptic arguments. It's a big task but many hands make light work. If you're interested in helping with this effort, please contact me.

Correction (20/6/2013): struck out text claiming 97% of scientists believe the consequences of climate change could be catastrophic, and added links to studies of the consensus. 

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Comments 51 to 66 out of 66:

  1. Thanks for the challenge, many of the arguments are redundant or can be falsified in chunks, but I agree it will take some time, but I'm confident we have plenty of time before climate disaster strikes :)
    Oh, this should be fun, black-is-white and up-is-down stuff, and of course all scientists studying such things are wrong because theendisfar is an über genius ... Climate disaster *is* striking, firmly enough that Russia's government, long semi-entrenched in the denialist mode, has talked (at least) about an about-face, and it has nothing to do with international politics (internal political pressure, instead).
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  2. "How many cats' tails would it take to reach the sky?" "Just one if it's long enough!"
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  3. KR, First, regarding the 'CO2 is not the only driver' post, it seemed as though the replies were stuck at 250, my posts were not showing up, I thought the post had closed so I abandoned the effort. I see that it is not closed so I'll pick it back up, I have more to add. This is about our futures, our descendents futures. (Moderator, this is not an attempt to inject my beliefs, just motivation) Precisely, without knowing whether an afterlife is reality, I believe my best chance at immortality is to raise children who can take care of themselves to better raise children who can do the same. The better job I do, the better the chances that what my parents, mentors, and experiences have taught me will live on and be expanded. Not as fancy other's beliefs, but it's the best I can come with and it seems a worthwhile effort. It is truly in my best interest that a healthy environment exists for as long as possible. We want the same things in that regard. If you have actual issues with the data or the conclusions drawn from them, we can talk about it. I welcome the offer and hope to make it worthwhile for you and SS as well. Looking back over some posts I recognize that we and others have traded many jabs, it is obvious you and others are learned in this subject and I would not be interested in discussing this if you all were not. With that, I believe that the confirmation or falsification of AGW can be achieved within a year if subjective influences are put aside. I recognize that many here do not share my position that AGW has not been confirmed, or falsified for that matter, and this presents additional challenges, but I'll do my best to earn your patience.
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  4. theendisfar said:
    Calling someone a liar could be considered ad hominem
    Wrong. Calling someone a liar who has obviously just told a porkie is not an ad hominem attack just a reflection of the truth. As far as I am aware the only proven liars are all on the side of the deniers: Monckton, Singer, Michaels, Lindzen et al. If you have proof of climate scientists lying then please provide evidence otherwise you are the one guilty of an ad hominem attack. You are just arguing from a baseless "I don't like it therefore it is wrong" attitude. Also please explain to us how convection and evaporation add energy to the atmosphere. They only move the energy around, the enhanced green house effect is what adds the additional energy. Please read some simple physics texts.
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  5. Ian et al, I was wrong to even allude that anyone was attempting to deceive another under any, or with no, motivation at all. Having attempted to be clever with my position has only secured more resentment and mistrust. Strong claims are not easily retracted, however I offer that I sincerely retract any statements alluding to the deception or understanding of anyone contributing the AGW debate. Making claims of anyone's deception without their immediate availability to offer a rebuttal or clarity is just simply wrong and I apologize to the many and most climate scientists who's motivations and contributions I surely do not fully understand. I also retract any claim or allusion that I am more well versed on this subject than anyone else. From this point forward I will only offer my understanding of the subject. You are just arguing from a baseless "I don't like it therefore it is wrong" attitude. I will offer that it is not baseless. I do not like it because my education and experiences demand, of me, a more rigorous set of methods and conclusions than what I have been exposed to. I can only offer that this paper accurately describes the scientific education I received and has been reliable to me. Making claims, to date, that are unfounded and accusations without the accused present is not worthy of discussion and upon reflection is amateur and low respectfully and arguably inclusive. I was raised and educated to be above this behavior and will seek to reinforce this claim. Also please explain to us how convection and evaporation add energy to the atmosphere. See Empirical Evidence stream for my reply.
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  6. theendisfar said:
    I can only offer that this paper accurately describes the scientific education I received and has been reliable to me.
    I'm afraid that you quoting Popper does not equate to a scientific education. In my over 40 years as a scientist (undergraduate, graduate, post doc and work as a research scientist) I had never even heard of Popper until I found him discussed on creationist anti-science sites. Shortly thereafter I found his name used by AGW deniers. Anyone, in my view, who uses Popper to support science is probably an anti-science sufferer. Does this mean that scientists are not aware of his theories? No, we called it sticking to the scientific method and real scientists still follow this regime. The theory of AGW is valid not because of all the results confirming it but because no-one has produced one iota of evidence disproving it. Non-science editorials and opinion pieces by AGW deniers do not count as scientific evidence.
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  7. :) Ian, I must man up and recognize my inflammatory comments have invited this level of scrutiny. I'm afraid that you quoting Popper does not equate to a scientific education. You are correct. Assume I have no proper education in any sense other than I am indeed the one typing these posts and I'm not simply reciting this to someone to make up for my lack of reading and writing abilities. Heck assume I'm using voice software to read and write these messages if it pleases you. I repeat that my statements going forward are of my understanding and not simply recited from other sources. I recognize your vastly superior titles, tenure, and intellect. I invite your rebuke.
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  8. sorry link was deleted for some reason
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  9. Ian, As for Popper, I simply looked up 'falsification' and his descriptions of how to reinforce a theory were very similar to the methods I was instructed on. I never heard of him till today either. I didn't recognize that I invoked someone hostile to your position, so in my own words. Quickly, I was taught to: 1. Prepare a Hypothesis statement that had the opportunity to be confirmed or denied with the ability to test within mind. 2. First attempt to confirm the hypothesis to see if I was on track using known Laws of physics and methods. 3. If no methods were available, determine and execute a method to confirm. If no method to confirm can be found, the exercise is over since this can only lead to falsifying a negative. Proving the unverifiable is a futile exercise. 4. Once evidence is obtained, this is the important part, try vigorously to break the hypothesis with the ferocity as the biggest skeptic would apply. 5. Once I was not able to break my hypothesis, I was to ask a trusted colleague to attempt the same. 6. Once they could not, though it would be better to have it reconfirmed again by someone who respects you, then it was safe to publish, with all the methods, conclusions, and areas that might lead to falsification for the Skeptical community to confirm or deny. I was taught to expect hostility, especially if what you were proposing was especially novel or would impact your audience in a dramatic way. This an other streams validate this all too well. To me, this method (I was taught it under the name 'scientific method') renders consensus/opinion moot which vastly reduces the number of questions that could arise. Does this seem at all unreasonable? Do you have a better method?
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  10. An apology for: "Without going into motivation, Yes, I think many climate scientists are purposely misrepresenting conjecture as empirical and repeatable evidence quite frequently using subjective terms to provide wiggle room and plugging conjecture into GCM's, passing the predictions off as reliable. That statement seems quite purposeful, almost a recitation, perhaps reflective of something oft-repeated and deeply seated. I wonder if the apology is based on a durable internal integration of actual contrition, or is simply a facile way of being assured of continued conversational stimulation?
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  11. Re: Karl Popper Popper was a wonderful man, a great philosopher, and a brilliant writer. But there is much more to the philosophy of science than Popper and he has his detractors. His "falsificiationism" is probably a bit old hat today, but is a wonderfully useful rule, like Ockham's Razor or Hume's Fork. His best book is actually a work of political philsophy The Open Society and its Enemies. A contending branch of the philosopy is Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which is a more sociological view. Kuhn points out for example that for centuries Newton's Laws did not explain the orbit of Mercury. But scientists did not immediately abandon Newton's Laws - they were much too useful. So Kuhn believed that science works in "paradigms" (a word he invented, and later regretted!). Basically "normal science" continues with its paradigms until evidence begins to contradict a formerly accepted theory. Scientists will try to "save the theory" by modification, but eventually a new paradigm in the case of "revolutionary science" is accepted. The eventual acceptance of continental drift, along with plate tectonics, is a good example of this. There are other manifold and variegated views of science, like the Duhem-Quine thesis Duhem-Quine. Climate science actually depends on fairly straightforward paradigms of radiation physics and atmospheric physics. To falsify it, these would need to be undermined to a significant degree. But anyone is welcome to try.
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  12. Doug, I can understand your skepticism and can only say that time is the best measure and that #55 is sincere. Trust me, if you look at the Empirical Evidence thread you can see how stimulating the AGW community is being. Mind numbingly For what's it worth I repeat Making claims, to date, that are unfounded and accusations without the accused present is not worthy of discussion and upon reflection is amateur and low respectfully and arguably inclusive. I was raised and educated to be above this behavior and will seek to reinforce this claim. Take it or leave it, so long as I an free to comment here I will do so in the manner described above.
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  13. A sudden epiphany, theendisfar? Too much torque, your credibility is snapped.
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  14. Doug, A sudden epiphany, theendisfar? In a manner of speaking. Having commented on deception my argument was self defeating in a couple of ways. First, I was claiming AGW has done a poor job of proving anything, essentially speculating, and then I was doing the same thing with the regards to the folks I was detracting. Second, it has proven to be a terrible distraction, this post is further evidence of that. A different paradigm is exposed when you look in the mirror and apply the standards you hold others up to. I made a mistake and the quicker I own up to it the better. Too much torque, your credibility is snapped. Fair enough, do not take any of my statements at face value. What, you didn't before? :) I expect a fair amount of knocking, I made some dumb comments that I thought were harmless enough without carefully predicting the outcome. What I said is on par with many inflammatory remarks made about Skeptics, here and elsewhere. Not excusing any of it, just reminding those that live in glass houses.
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  15. theendisfar, in addition to the excellent replies you've already gotten in response to your invocation of Popper and your contention that consensus has no role in science, you should read the Skeptical Science response to the Argument There is no consensus". In addition to that post, I suggest you watch Naomi Oreskes's "Consensus in Science: How Do We Know We're Not Wrong?," which I link in my comment there. Also read another of my comments there, regarding the role of scientific consensus. Then my followup two comments here, and about math here, and about Kuhn's description of science here. Also relevant are comments about what science really is. You might start with mine.
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    Moderator Response: Further detailed discussion of the nature and role of consensus in science is better done on the more general thread "There is no consensus," because this thread we are reading now is devoted more narrowly to the Oregon Petition.
  16. Forget about mirrors, consistency, glass houses, your hurt feelings etc. theendisfar. The point is, you're arguing from the perspective that scientists are not trustworthy and that makes a discussion with you entirely pointless. Some of the self-described skeptics appearing here don't seem to believe they're victims of some fantastical plot run by a myriad of scientists and that means it's technically possible to have a productive discussion. Useful conversation with those expediently conjuring up imaginary scientific misconduct, conspiracies etc. is impossible because such artifices are a form of evasion, a way of saying "I doubt it" without having to provide any argument. If you've ever tried to talk down the anxieties of a person who is technically paranoid you'll understand what I mean. My observation is that the response of such a person when boxed in by logic is to imagine a new world with features excusing them from following logic. Mind, I'm not saying you're delusional, I have no way of knowing that. What I will say is that making broad, negative generalizations about the character and methods of a myriad of scientists does sound rather like inventing a new world with conveniently inexplicable features.
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