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Is there a case against human caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature? Part 1

Posted on 3 November 2011 by Jim Powell

Science progresses through the peer-reviewed literature; unless an idea, theory, or interpretation is reported in a peer-reviewed journal, it is just someone’s unsubstantiated opinion. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal does not ensure that an author’s arguments will stand the test of time, but rather that they have been scrutinized by experts and judged to represent a contribution to science that others in the field can benefit from knowing about.

Climate skeptics give the impression that there is a substantial case against human-caused global warming. But is it true? One way to shed light on the question is to review the peer-reviewed literature, as Naomi Oreskes did in her classic article [Science 306, p. 1686, 2004; see] She searched papers written between 1993 and 2003 for the keywords “global climate change.” She turned up 928 papers, read each abstract, and judged that none “reject[ed] the consensus position” that humans are causing global warming. 

Instead of starting with the literature, I began with a list of over 100 skeptics who have or give the impression they have scientific expertise. For example, Christopher Monckton, despite his lack of scientific credentials, gives talks in which he takes on the guise of a scientist. Anthony Watts, a former TV meteorologist, blogs about complicated scientific matters. George Will, in contrast, while acting as though he knows more than scientists, does not pretend to be one. I include Monckton and Watts, but not Will. 

I searched the Web of Science (WoS), which covers more than 8,000 peer-reviewed journals, for each skeptic by name, being careful to include variations in the spelling of the first name. I counted only primary articles; no book reviews, review articles, comments, replies to previously published papers, speeches, presentations, conference summaries, etc. I searched for articles classified by the WoS as “Meteorology Atmospheric Sciences.”

I read the abstract and sometimes the conclusions of each article. If an article takes a negative or explicitly doubtful position on human-caused global warming, I included it. I did not include papers that propose some improvement in methodology but go no further.

Admittedly, my list is subjective. I wanted to count papers that a reasonable person might conclude undercut human-caused global warming, erring on the side of inclusion. I will be happy to consider any skeptic, paper, or correction that readers suggest. This is a work in progress.

Some examples may help:

Because it appeared to cast doubt on the premises of human-caused global warming and the work of the IPCC, I counted a paper by R. A. Pielke, Sr. (2002) which concluded, “Unless it can be shown that land cover change and biogeochemical effects on the regional and global climate systems are insignificant relative to the radiative effect of a doubling of CO2, the IPCC and U.S. National Assessment reports are, therefore, summaries of sensitivity only.”

I counted a paper by Curry (2011) whose abstract reads in its entirety,"This paper argues that the IPCC has oversimplified the issue of uncertainty in its Assessment Reports, which can lead to misleading overconfidence. A concerted effort by the IPCC is needed to identify better ways of framing the climate change problem, explore and characterize uncertainty, reason about uncertainty in the context of evidence-based logical hierarchies, and eliminate bias from the consensus building process itself." Her claim that bias colors our understanding appeared to me to be an attempt to call human-caused global warming into question. 

I did not count a paper by Klotzbach et al. (2009) titled, “An alternative explanation for differential temperature trends at the surface and in the lower troposphere,” which concluded, “The differences between trends observed in the surface and lower-tropospheric satellite data sets are statistically significant in most comparisons, with much greater differences over land areas than over ocean areas. These findings strongly suggest that there remain important inconsistencies between surface and satellite records.” This paper suggests we have a way to go in our understanding of surface and satellite temperatures, but does not go so far as to imply that once we have that understanding, human-caused global warming will be called into question.

I did not count a paper by Fall et al. (2011) titled, "Analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the US Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends," whose abstract concluded, "Comparison of observed temperatures with NARR shows that the most poorly sited stations are warmer compared to NARR than are other stations, and a major portion of this bias is associated with the siting classification rather than the geographical distribution of stations. According to the best-sited stations, the diurnal temperature range in the lower 48 states has no century-scale trend." This paper did not seem to cross the line to suggest explicitly that poor station siting might have given the false impression that global warming is real.  

The results are shown on

To use the database, click on a name to bring up a list of that skeptic’s publications arranged chronologically. By hovering the cursor over the link, you can read an excerpt from the abstract or in some cases the entire abstract. Click on the link and you will be taken to the article itself or to the abstract, if there is one.

Note that some skeptics tend to publish with others: Baliunas with Soon; Balling with the Idsos; etc. So the total number of papers is somewhat less than the total obtained from adding the numbers for each skeptic. 

The point of this exercise is not just the number of papers, but what they say and whether they make a case against human-caused global warming. In subsequent posts, I will offer what I regard as the "takeaways" from these papers. 

Note: Several skeptics have published in Energy & Environment. The WoS includes only some of these papers, perhaps because somewhere along the line, the journal changed its review practices. I include any papers from E&E that come up in the WoS.

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Comments 51 to 83 out of 83:

  1. First off, you are correct that I did not catch which section those papers were under. I did not notice that they were under 'Popular Papers'. Sorry about that. Chris Shaker
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  2. For others who had not heard of the web of science, Wikipedia has an entry Regarding Craig Loehle, I found a site claiming this is one of his peer reviewed papers: The site that pointed me at it was Appears that previous comments under this question denigrate that journal, Energy and Environment. The Wikipedia entry claims that it is peer reviewed, but also includes some negative comments about it In any case, after reading your list of peer reviewed articles that argue against the CO2 primacy, it appears that Al Gore's claims that NO peer reviewed articles cast doubt on AGW were incorrect. Chris Shaker
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    [DB] Chris, an FYI: 

    1. Energy & Environment is not considered a peer-reviewed publication (by far the vast majority of climate scientists would never allow a paper to be published in it)
    2. The vast majority of PopTech's list is not peer-reviewed nor are many indeed papers as is traditionally defined in science.  See this post for more info:  Meet The Denominator
  3. Went to Google Scholar, found tons of articles by Craig Loehle. This one seems applicable. Is it peer reviewed? Climate Change Attribution Using Empirical Decomposition of Climatic Data This article about historical CO2 records may be applicable? The estimation of historical CO2 trajectories is indeterminate: Comment on “A new look at atmospheric carbon dioxide” Another article that looks interesting Climate change: detection and attribution of trends from long-term geologic data Are these peer reviewed articles? Reputable journals or forums? Chris Shaker
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  4. Reading the post about The Denominator now. Where would be an appropriate place to ask why Climate Science Journals appear to have no retractions at all? Or, have there actually been article retractions which I have not been able to find. Been reading the Retraction Watch blog. Most journal retractions appear to be in the areas of medicine, biology, and in chemistry. I haven't found any in Climate Science yet. Why is that? Thank you, Chris Shaker
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  5. cjshaker @54, it is fairly clear from their output that E&E is not currently peer reviewed, whatever their former status. To put the list above into context, I am currently reviewing the supporting literature in the IPCC Assessment Report 4, Working Group 1. I have not yet eliminated all duplicated references so I cannot give you an exact number, but the number of references after duplications are removed will be greater than 5000. Nearly all of those would be suportive of AGW. Ignoring the fact that many of the articles listed above have multiple authors, and hence are duplicated, there are 100 anti-AGW peer reviewed papers listed, or just 2% of the total number referenced by WG1. Al Gore was probably basing his claim on a study of peer reviewed papers on climate change by Naomi Oreskes. Oreskes found no peer reviewed papers that rejected the consensus view of AGW. As such, he was warranted in his opinion, even though with fuller data it turns out to be a slight exaggeration.
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  6. cjshaker @53, The Open Atmospheric Science Journal is, to the best of my knowledge, a vanity press and not peer reviewed. The second two do come from peer reviewed journals. However, the first is a comment, which were excluded from the count:
    "I counted only primary articles; no book reviews, review articles, comments, replies to previously published papers, speeches, presentations, conference summaries, etc."
    You need to read the third and give us a reason to think it contradicts the consensus. It does not automatically follow from the fact that the author is Craig Loehle that it does. @ 54, science journals do withdraw papers, but only for fraud, not for lack of quality, error, or incorrect theories. They do publish corrigendums to correct significant errors in data or method in original papers. Beyond that, once a paper is into the market place of ideas, it is not the Journal's part to try and rewrite history by retracting a paper. Rather, it is up to the scientific community to judge the paper's merits, and either agree, refute or, (for the worst papers) simply ignore them.
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  7. 52, cjshaker, appears that Al Gore's claims that NO peer reviewed articles cast doubt on AGW were incorrect.
    (a) Why in the world do deniers care so much about Al Gore? Is he a scientist? A sitting senator? President of the U.S.A.? [That was a rhetorical question, so don't defend it. The point is that dropping his name here as if anyone cares around is a waste of everyone's time.] (b) Please provide a citation proving that Al Gore, or anyone, ever made such a ridiculous claim. If not, retract the statement or ask that the entire comment be deleted. (c) Otherwise... nice goal post shift. You will note that the whole point of this post was to list the peer reviewed articles published by skeptical scientists. That you found someone who might have said something silly is meaningless. (d) Your purported statement does not say that peer-reviewed papers which argue against AGW do not exist. It says that none succeed in casting doubt on AGW. Can you identify a single paper which has withstood scrutiny and stood up to any more than adequate rebuttal? Can you identify a single paper which does succeed in casting "doubt on AGW" (as you say)?
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  8. Bentham Science is vanity publishing. I note a single cite - our climastrology friends Adriano Mazzarella and Nicola Scafetta. The comment on Hoffman would apply I think - I would assume a comment to be reviewed? And ditto for the Ecological Modelling paper - odd place to publish though. I would assume the glossed-over physics would pass there whereas wouldnt in an climate or meteorological journal.
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  9. (-Snip-) Is peer review more effective in the Climate Science field? As a computer scientist, I've got a jaundiced view of the effectiveness of peer review in quality control. Chris Shaker
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    [DB] Off-topic snipped.  Your focus on fraud is drawing you unwanted attention.

  10. cjshaker asked:
    Are these peer reviewed articles? Reputable journals or forums?
    Well, I looked at the last reference you gave and have the following comments: Ecological Modelling is a peer reviewed journal. However, Loehle is using a new tactic that several AGW "skeptics" are now using. They publish a paper in a journal which really does not have a scope which includes the submitted paper. Here is the editorial scope for this journal.
    The journal is concerned with the use of mathematical models and systems analysis for the description of ecological processes and for the sustainable management of resources. Human activity and well-being are dependent on and integrated with the functioning of ecosystems and the services they provide. We aim to understand these basic ecosystem functions using mathematical and conceptual modelling, systems analysis, thermodynamics, computer simulations, and ecological theory. This leads to a preference for process-based models embedded in theory with explicit causative agents as opposed to strictly statistical or correlative descriptions. These modelling methods can be applied to a wide spectrum of issues ranging from basic ecology to human ecology to socio-ecological systems. The journal welcomes research articles, short communications, review articles, letters to the editor, book reviews, and other communications.
    A quick look at the paper and it would seem that it does not fall under this journal's scope. Thus, the reviewers are probably not up to speed on climate science. My view of the paper is that it is not backed by solid science. This is just another way the "skeptics" can claim a "peer reviewed paper disproving AGW". There are a number of other well known "skeptics" using this technique.
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  11. 61, cjshaker,
    Not sure where...
    That's not good enough. Find it or openly retract the statement. Making stuff up "from memory" is poisonous. As far as your personal irritation at Al Gore, I really don't care. He doesn't change or impact the science, and this site is about the science. Your entire post has no relevance whatsoever, except to demonstrate that you've taken an emotional position of annoyance which is closing your eyes to actually learning facts and science. And it's too bad his "Inconvenient Truth" didn't get you to read the facts about the science rather than denial tripe and lies like "Al Gore said..." My serious advice would be to drop your emotional underpinnings which are creating a bias in what you learn and understand, and to stop worrying about what people said (deniers or otherwise) and instead concentrate on actually learning and understanding the science for yourself, so that you can make your own judgment and adopt your own confident position rather than parroting the misconceptions of others.
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    [DB] Gore is now OT on this thread.  This applies to everyone, sorry.

  12. CJ SHaker, Please provide documentation for your extraordinary claim that fraud is widespread in Chemistry, Biology and Medicine. It has been documented that Big Pharma has gamed the peer review system to put misleading information in the reviewed literature about their drugs. I am aware of only a very few cases of individual scientists who have been accused of fraud. It seems to me that if the primary issue is industry that would condemn the Deniers, who are industry financed, while climate scientists are generally independent. I will note that at Skeptical Science they do not consider working papers from environmental organizations as peer reviewed, because those organizations are also not independent.
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  13. I was wrong. Found where I saw the claim, and it wasn't Al Gore, it was supposedly from John Kerry. I read it here Chris Shaker
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  14. cjshaker - I would ditto Sphaerica's advice. You appear to be engaged in a desperate attempt to find reasons not to take climate change seriously. This strongly suggests that you have come to the subject with a predisposition to deny rather from a dispassionate appraisal of the published science. We can only guess what that basis is, but if its political, perhaps you would like to take the challenge here. Have you thought about what data would convince you that the science is valid? I've found the best to approach issues where I have taken a "side" is to also decide what new information, experiments and data would cause a change of mind and look for them.
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  15. Michael Sweet: I do not believe I said such fraud was widespread. Pretty sure I said it was most common in the fields of medicine, biology, and chemistry. I presume you are not familiar with the Retraction Watch blog? You can read about many, many retracted science papers on their blog Learned about the retractions and fraud on an National Public Radio Some of the authors whose papers are being retracted are having all of their papers studied for retraction. One of them has had 12 papers retracted already. Chris Shaker
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  16. Just proved myself wrong, found an environmental science article which is being retracted, on the retraction watch blog Chris Shaker
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  17. cjshaker #63: You've read Meet the Denominator and you are still citing PopTech? That alone will seriously damage any credibility here you'd like to establish around here. But how has a. quoting (and misquoting) politicians, b. claiming there is widespread fraud, c. casting doubt on the peer review process in general, d. playing 'here a paper, there a paper,' done anything to address the question posed by this post? A case against AGW will be made by a credible series of papers, not by a random scattershot. If you want to support the contention that there is such a case, do the following: research it, document it, evaluate the science presented and see if it stands scrutiny.
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  18. Well, the stakes are high. However, I am very clear on what data would change my mind. I am not sure what your point is about retractions. However, the only paper on climate science that I remember retracted would be Siddal's predictions of sealevel rise Siddal et al 2009. They were somewhat too low. The stakes also mean that scrutiny is very high - much higher than in my field.
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  19. I will note that PT failed completely to imagine any data that would change his mind in that thread. It's fundamental to science (unlike politics) that opinion bows to data.
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  20. You expect the general public to have faith in the 'peer review process' without knowing what it is, how rigorous it is, etc? Yes, I do not like the idea of AGW. I would be delighted to learn that it is incorrect, or overstated, but am also afraid that the IPCC may be understating the case. Had you read the work of professors Ruddiman and Kaplan? They are saying that CO2 has had a more profound effect on our climate than the IPCC does I personally know Professor Kaplan. He is my flying buddy's son. He and professor Ruddiman seem to be saying that mankind has been affecting our climate since the start of agriculture, at least 8,000 years ago, with a very small human population. Chris Shaker
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  21. cjshaker#69: You link to 'retractions from Nature' as if it is somehow relevant. On that page, neither the words 'climate,' 'warming' nor 'AGW' appear. If you have a serious case, make it; otherwise, you're wasting everyone's time with nonsense.
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    [DB] Yes, no more on retractions.  Or fraud.  Both are OT.

  22. Chris - it's hard to imagine that anyone on the planet likes the idea of AGW, any more than you would like a cancer diagnosis but its terrible reason to ignore it. I would also be concerned that IPCC is being too conservative but aside from sealevel rise, there isnt evidence for that. Ruddiman's hypothesis remains interesting but badly needs more data. Peer review will always have flaws but it's the gate-keeper to prevent a flood of rubbish. Just because it's peer-reviewed doesnt make it correct but if something fails peer-review then it very likely has flaws.
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  23. Regarding the much touted (in some circles at least) Energy and Environment (E&E). This claim was made above: "Appears that previous comments under this question denigrate that journal, Energy and Environment. The Wikipedia entry claims that it is peer reviewed, but also includes some negative comments about it" It is not clear whether or not all the papers published in E&E are peer-reviewed. There is another major concern with E&E, because its chief editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, is on record saying this: "The journal’s editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, a reader in geography at the University of Hull, in England, says she sometimes publishes scientific papers challenging the view that global warming is a problem, because that position is often stifled in other outlets. “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway,” she says. “But isn’t that the right of the editor?” No, pushing one's political agenda is certainly not the right of the editor of a real science journal. The editor is denigrating her own journal by stating that. And as if it did not need more strikes against it, the co-editor of E&E is Benny Peiser, who is the director of the ideologically driven lobby group GWPF. I looked up the E&E's impact factor. I went to SCImago Journal and Country Rank, its impact factor for 2010 is 0.19. Compare that with Journal of Climate at 3.93. In 2010 the impact factor for Science was 28, and for Nature was 32. So E&E is clearly not a journal driven by science, but one driven by a political agenda and ideology, with a dubious review process to boot. Additionally, E&E is not a reputable, trustworthy or respected journal. I would not publish in it for all the tea in China.
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  24. DB@ 71: Aww, just one more. cjshaker#66: "found an environmental science article which is being retracted" Yes, this was the Wegman 2008 paper noted here; it's critical of climate science. It is being retracted because of plagiarism. Please stop these link-bombs. Or at least look at the link before you post it to see if it even supports your case. This one didn't.
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  25. (-Snip-) Chris Shaker
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    [DB] Off-topic, ideology and inflammatory tone snipped.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  26. 63, cjshaker, You have misunderstood or misrepresented the quote (which isn't by John Kerry, by the way). What he said was:
    "There was a massive study of every scientific article in a peer reviewed article written on global warming in the last ten years. They took a big sample of 10 percent, 928 articles. And you know the number of those that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we’re causing global warming and that is a serious problem out of the 928: Zero."
    What you claimed he said was: that NO peer reviewed articles cast doubt on AGW were incorrect.
    Anyone can see the difference. The actual quote was citing a specific study that took a snapshot in time of a portion of the available studies and found zero. You are claiming that he said that no peer-reviewed articles exist at all (with the implication that such a statement must also have future predictive power, since An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, five years ago). More importantly, you have still not even proven that statement to be false. Can you identify a peer-reviewed paper which has withstood scrutiny and is accepted to cast doubt on AGW? By the way, as far as I can tell the quote is in fact from "An Inconvenient Truth" (that's right, he did say it, but it still doesn't at all say what your paraphrase says).
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  27. Muon counter: thank you for the pointer to the Blog on the Wegman retraction. Chris Shaker
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    [DB] Fixed text.

  28. (-Snip-). Chris Shaker
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    [DB] I said earlier that Gore was off-topic.  If it doesn't pertain directly to the OP, don't post it.  FYI.

  29. Honestly I'm not sure where to comment this, but there's a paper listed as by Lamar Alexander here that is actually by AJR Alexander, so that paper should be removed. I'd do it myself but I can only tell how to add papers, not remove them.

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  30. This is a very useful compilation of articles, and I was able to find some interesting analyses.  But has the list been updated since 2011?  It seems that the general level of available information on global warming has matured a lot since then; has the skeptic community kept up?

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  31. richieb1234, I don't know exactly what you mean by "the skeptic community." The scientific community has produced a lot of work since 2011. The weight of the evidence points in one direction. 

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  32. Ritchieb1234,

    Answering your query from here, I do not read a lot about very old temperatures.  Searching online I found most of the skeptic blogs had coments on your paper but no real science blogs talked about it.  I thought I had read a review of it but it must have been a comment somewhere.

    The abstract states that Davis performed a correlation study of CO2 and temperature over the past 450 million years.  He does not mention any other forcings that he considered.  

    Only skeptics think that CO2 is the only factor that affects climate.  450 million years ago the sun was much weaker than it is today.  You must consider that in your analysis which Davis apparently neglected to do.  In addition, volcanic activity was higher 450 million years ago, since there was more radioactivity in the Earth, and that must also be consdered.  Other forcings like dust and albeido affect temperature and must be considered in a real analysis.

    Since Davis neglected to consider all the known forcings in addition to the CO2 forcings his results have little meaning.  I note that he confirms that high CO2 time periods coincide with mass extinctions.  How could that happen?  If you search you can find a paper by real scientists who consider all the forcings and show that past temperatures are predicted by current science.

    If you waste time readig skeptic bogs you will never be able to understand AGW.

    Re recent skeptic publications: Every year more skeptics give up.  The quality of skeptic papers like Davis's are very low and real scientists do not read them.  A few fossil fuel companies pay people like Davis to publish their stuff.  Nic Lewis pushes very low climate sensitivity.  Recent record temperatures show that Lewis is wrong but he persists.

    Realclimate occasionally posts on skeptic papers if you read their old stuff.  Tamino also comments on stuff posted on skeptic blogs.

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  33. Ritchieb1234

    Googleing again I found out that the MDPI journal Climate is considered a predatory journal.  It is common for skeptic articles to be in Journals that will publish anything for a fee.  

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