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Climate Hustle

Skeptical Science Study Finds 97% Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming in the Peer-Reviewed Literature

Posted on 16 May 2013 by dana1981, John Cook

A new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers by our citizen science team at Skeptical Science has found a 97% consensus among papers taking a position on the cause of global warming in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are responsible.

consensus pie chart

Lead author John Cook created a short video abstract summarizing the study:

The Abstracts Survey

The first step of our approach involved expanding the original survey of the peer-reviewed scientific literature in Oreskes (2004).  We performed a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications (in the ISI Web of Science) for the terms 'global warming' and 'global climate change' between the years 1991 and 2011, which returned over 12,000 papers. John Cook created a web-based system that would randomly display a paper's abstract (summary).  We agreed upon definitions of possible categories: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no position, and implicit or explicit rejection (or minimization of the human influence).

Our approach was also similar to that taken by James Powell, as illustrated in the popular graphic below.  Powell examined nearly 14,000 abstracts, searching for explicit rejections of human-caused global warming, finding only 24.  We took this approach further, also looking at implicit rejections, no opinions, and implicit/explicit endorsements.

powell pie

We took a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included (either implicit or explicit) language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as 'no position'.

Note that John Cook also initiated a spinoff from the project with a survey of climate blog participants re-rating a subset of these same abstracts.  However, this spinoff is not a part of our research or conclusions.

The Team

A team of Skeptical Science volunteers proceeded to categorize the 12,000 abstracts – the most comprehensive survey of its kind to date.  Each paper was rated independently at least twice, with the identity of the other co-rater not known. A dozen team members completed most of the 24,000+ ratings.  There was no funding provided for this project; all the work was performed on a purely voluntary basis.

Once we finished the 24,000+ ratings, we went back and checked the abstracts where there were disagreements. If the disagreement about a given paper couldn't be settled by the two initial raters, a third person acted as the tie-breaker.

The volunteers were an internationally diverse group. Team members' home countries included Australia, USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Italy.

The Self-Ratings

As an independent test of the measured consensus, we also emailed over 8,500 authors and asked them to rate their own papers using our same categories.  The most appropriate expert to rate the level of endorsement of a published paper is the author of the paper, after all.  We received responses from 1,200 scientists who rated a total of over 2,100 papers. Unlike our team's ratings that only considered the summary of each paper presented in the abstract, the scientists considered the entire paper in the self-ratings.

The 97% Consensus Results

Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers expressed a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. In the self-ratings, nearly 1,400 papers were rated as taking a position, 97.2% of which endorsed human-caused global warming.

We found that about two-thirds of papers didn't express a position on the subject in the abstract, which confirms that we were conservative in our initial abstract ratings.  This result isn't surprising for two reasons: 1) most journals have strict word limits for their abstracts, and 2) frankly, every scientist doing climate research knows humans are causing global warming. There's no longer a need to state something so obvious. For example, would you expect every geological paper to note in its abstract that the Earth is a spherical body that orbits the sun?

This result was also predicted by Oreskes (2007), which noted that scientists

"...generally focus their discussions on questions that are still disputed or unanswered rather than on matters about which everyone agrees"

However, according to the author self-ratings, nearly two-thirds of the papers in our survey do express a position on the subject somewhere in the paper.

We also found that the consensus has strengthened gradually over time. The slow rate reflects that there has been little room to grow, because the consensus on human-caused global warming has generally always been over 90% since 1991. Nevertheless, in both the abstract ratings and self-ratings, we found that the consensus has grown to about 98% as of 2011.

consensus over time

Percentage of papers endorsing the consensus among only papers that express a position endorsing or rejecting the consensus.  From Cook et al. (2013).

Our results are also consistent with previous research finding a 97% consensus amongst climate experts on the human cause of global warming.  Doran and Zimmerman (2009) surveyed Earth scientists, and found that of the 77 scientists responding to their survey who are actively publishing climate science research, 75 (97.4%) agreed that "human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures."  Anderegg et al. (2010) compiled a list of 908 researchers with at least 20 peer-reviewed climate publications.  They found that:

"≈97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change]"

In our survey, among scientists who expressed a position on AGW in their abstract, 98.4% endorsed the consensus.  This is greater than 97% consensus of peer-reviewed papers because endorsement papers had more authors than rejection papers, on average.  Thus there is a 97.1% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature, and a 98.4% consensus amongst scientists researching climate change.

Why is this Important?

Several studies have shown that people who correctly perceive the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming are more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This was most recently shown in McCright et al. (2013), recently published in the journal Climatic Change. People will defer to the judgment of experts, and they trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming.

However, research has also shown that the public is misinformed on the climate consensus.  For example, a 2012 poll from US Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought that scientists agreed that humans were causing global warming.  One contributor to this misperception is false balance in the media, particularly in the US, where most climate stories are "balanced" with a "skeptic" perspective.  However, this results in making the 3% seem much larger, like 50%. In trying to achieve "balance", the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what's causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.

consensus gap

Such false balance has long been the goal of a dedicated misinformation campaign waged by the fossil fuel industry.  Just as one example, in 1991 Western Fuels Association conducted a $510,000 campaign whose primary goal was to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)."  These vested interests have exploited the media desire to appear "balanced."

Open Access for Maximum Transparency

We chose to submit our paper to Environmental Research Letters because it is a well-respected, high-impact journal, but also because it offers the option of making a paper available by open access, meaning that for an up-front fee, the paper can be made free for anybody to download. This was important to us, because we want our results to be as accessible and transparent as possible.

To pay the open access fee, in keeping with the citizen science approach, we asked for donations from Skeptical Science readers. We received over 50 donations in less than 10 hours to fully crowd-fund the $1,600 open access cost.

Human-Caused Global Warming

We fully anticipate that some climate contrarians will respond by saying "we don't dispute that humans cause some global warming." First of all, there are a lot of people who do dispute that there is a consensus that humans cause any global warming. Our paper shows that their position is not supported in the scientific literature.

Second, we did look for papers that quantify the human contribution to global warming, and most are not that specific. However, as noted above, if a paper minimized the human contribution, we classified that as a rejection. For example, if a paper were to say "the sun caused most of the global warming over the past century," that would be included in the less than 3% of papers in the rejection categories.

Many studies simply defer to the expert summary of climate science research put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that most of the global warming since the mid-20th century has been caused by humans. According to recent research, that statement is actually too conservative.

Of the papers that specifically examine the human and natural causes of global warming, virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.

attribution 50 yr

Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green), and Jones et al. 2013 (J13, pink).

Most studies simply accept this fact and go on to examine the consequences of this human-caused global warming and associated climate change.

Another important point is that once you accept that humans are causing global warming, you must also accept that global warming is still happening; humans cause global warming by increasing the greenhouse effect, and our greenhouse gas emissions just keep accelerating. This ties in to our previous posts noting that global warming is accelerating; but that over the past decade, most of that warming has gone into the oceans (including the oft-neglected deep oceans). If you accept that humans are causing global warming, as over 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers do, then this conclusion should not be at all controversial. With all this evidence for human-caused global warming, it couldn't simply have just stopped, so the heat must be going somewhere.  Scientists have found it in the oceans.

Spread the Word

Awareness of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming is a key factor in peoples' decisions whether or not to support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  However, there is a gap here due to the public's lack of awareness of the consensus.  Thus it's critical that we make people aware of these results.  To that end, design and advertising firm SJI Associates generously created a website pro-bono, centered around the results of our survey.  The website can be viewed at, and it includes a page where relevant and useful graphics like the one at the top of this post can be shared.  You can also follow The Consensus Project on Twitter @ConsensusProj, and on Facebook.

Quite possibly the most important thing to communicate about climate change is that there is a 97% consensus amongst the scientific experts and scientific research that humans are causing global warming. Let's spread the word and close the consensus gap.

Coming tomorrow, details about a feature that will let you test our results by rating the papers directly yourself.  The Consensus Project results have also been incorporated into the rebuttals to the myths There is no consensus and IPCC is alarmist.

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Comments 351 to 364 out of 364:

  1. Russ,

    The "C" in CAGW is completely made up by deniers and is never seen in the scientific literature.  If you need to define that term it means you have been informed by deniers and are unfamiliar with the appropriate scientific terms.  Tom's defination is generally accepted.  Look at the recent position papers from the Academy of Science and AAAS.

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  2. Russ: "None of the 'consensus research' has investigated views on future impacts."

    Huh?  Are you saying that none of the research examined in Cook et al. spoke toward future consequences?  Or are you saying that future consequences of rapid warming have not been examined by climate science in general?  or what?

    Also, just for giggles, what does "catastrophic" mean to you?

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  3. Russ R. - "None of the "consensus research" has investigated views on future impacts." That would be entirely incorrect. See the various IPCC WG2 reports on climate change impacts, such as AR5 Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, summarizing the literature on just those topics. 

    It's difficult to take your comments seriously if you make such outrageous claims. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] If this discussion is to continue, let's move Russ over to the It's not bad myth thread.

  4. DSL & KR,

    "None of the "consensus research" has investigated views on future impacts." That would be entirely incorrect."

    "Huh? Are you saying that none of the research examined in Cook et al. spoke toward future consequences? Or are you saying that future consequences of rapid warming have not been examined by climate science in general? or what?"

    No, (and sorry for not being clear) I'm saying that Cook's research paper didn't in any way measure or establish a "consensus" regarding dangerous impacts among the 12,000+ reviewed abstracts.  

    The "Consensus research" (as I'd put in quotations) consists of 4 studies that attempt to define and quantify a "consensus" in climate science: Oreskes (2004), Doran & Zimmerman (2009), Anderegg et al (2010) & Cook et al (2013).

    They all looked for narrow AGW consensus on the questions "Is the planet warming" and "Is the warming manmade".  Where did they ask anything about the future impacts of warming?

    Extending the consensus to anything beyond "the planet is warming" and humans are causing it" is shifting the goalposts.

    That's why it the Obama tweet was misleading.  It's fine to say that Cook13 found a consensus that warming was real and man-made.  But "dangerous"? The question of future impacts was never evaluated by the Cook study, so nobody can claim that the study showed a "consensus" on the matter of whether global warming is or will be "dangerous".

    And, just for giggles DSL, my definition of "catastrophic" is exactly what Tom Curtis wrote @249.  I don't intend to waste more time or bandwidth on the matter.


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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Snipped as off-topic, after having made a clear request to move to an appropriate thread. You can repost your comment on the "it's not bad" myth thread.

  5. I believe, Russ R, that you should probably attend more to the goalpost-sized log in your own eye before getting so exercised about the mote in that of the current POTUS. (*)

    I mean, your initial line of attack last week was that there were serious problems with Cook et al 2013, using a source that alleged fraud on the part of the Cook et al author team.

    This week, without the slightest peep of acknowledgement that last week's criticisms were bogus, we're on to how President Obama is being misleading. That's practically a textbook example of moving the goalposts:

    Person A: Cook et al is wrong [baldly stated or carefully insinuated] because reasons.

    Person B: Those reasons are all rubbish. [Explanation demolishes reasons presented by Person A.]

    Person A: Well, what about Obama's tweet, then?


    (*) Recall that the scientific consensus - the degree of expert agreement - about AGW is a stand-in for the preponderance of evidence gathered regarding AGW, as outlined in (to pick a not-so-random-example) the IPCC reports.

    So President Obama, at least, has a leg to stand on when he Tweets "climate change is real, man-made and dangerous", even if he is off the mark in referring to "ninety-seven percent of scientists" and providing a hyperlink to the Reuters article describing Cook et al 2013.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Just a friendly reminder that political discussions are forbidden by the comments policy. Please dont let this discussion veer into politics.

    Also, [RH] Russ is officially off this topic due to excessive repetition. You can find him on the It's not bad myth thread.

  6. Russ R @350:

    1) When I was young I had a biopsy on a lump on my knee which was poorly executed and kept me on crutches for several weeks (and provided a far larger and more gruesome scar than when my leg was ripped open by a wire while sliding down a hillock on cemment bags).  Being on crutches for that period was a significant adverse impact.  The more so because it caused me to favour one foot over the other (without my knowing) which has lead me to have ingrown toenails late in life.  It was not by any stretch of the imagination catastrophic.  Neither, for that matter were my three broken bones, said accident with the wire, or the various times I have bounced motorbikes of my knee as I hit the pavement (including the occassion that laid the skin back to reveal the patella.  "Significant adverse consequences" does not mean "catastrophic", whatever your rhetorical needs to distort the language.

    Of course, significant adverse consequences for a society are much larger than significant adverse consequences for an individual, but so also is the level of harm that is needed for the events to be called catastrophic.

    Further, my clause (c) explicitly gave a probability indicator.  The "significant adverse consequences" are likely, which allows that there is a real possibility that they will not happen, and even a very remote possibility that there will be net benefits.  So at most your distortion should be Potentially Catastrophic AGW, which indeed I believe it to be although I do not think that is the consensus position.

    2)  Michael Sweet's comment about your marking yourself as a denier with the use of the term CAGW is entirely correct.  So are his citations, although I would have preffered just the IPCC myself.

    3)  Bray and Von Storch (2010) asked a sample of climate scientists:

    "22. How convinced are you that climate change poses a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity?"

     In the responses, 78.92% were more than half responded 5 or higher on a 7 point scale where 1 was "not at all convinced" and  7 was "very much convinced".  If you want to take that as the consensus level on clause (c), I have no problem.  I do note, however, that "a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity" is a far larger level of harm than "cause significant adverse consequences".  I further note that my clause (c) says only that the level of harm is likely, so that strictly even those who are 50/50 on the proposition (response 4, 10.81%) or even 43/57 (response level 3, 4.054%) should be considered part of the consensus on clause (3).  That would lift the consensus level to  93.784%, ie, within error of 97%.  The actual consensus on (c) is likely to lie in the 90% region, IMO (based on Bray and von Storch).

    Regardless, while Cook et al do not investigate opinions on future impacts, it has been investigated in the "consensus literature" contrary to your claim.  And in that investigation, the proportion of climate scientists who think there is no risk of "a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity" from AGW is only 1.162%

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  7. Composer99 @355

    (*) Recall that the scientific consensus - the degree of expert agreement - about AGW is a stand-in for the preponderance of evidence gathered regarding AGW, as outlined in (to pick a not-so-random-example) the IPCC reports.

    One of the goals of the "Consensus Project" is to convince the public of the existence of a consensus.  That this doesn't seem to be a goal of climate scientists themselves much, I would deem important too, but I don't believe the correct way to go about doing that is to be imprecise over just what the consensus is supposedly about.


    Why? Because the natural inclination of people is to be skeptical and to sniff out "spin".  They go their whole lives with people trying to sell them something or another. A famous example of this is an advertising claim made by a sugarless chewing-gum manufacturer. They made the claim that "Sugarless gum is recommended by four out of five dentists for their patients who chew gum." The more perceptive amongst the populace noted that, dentists should probably stick to maintaining and fixing people's teeth.  And.. "Have you considered the benefit of NOT pestering dentists with ridiculous questions?" But people also noted that "for their patients who chew gum" was an important qualifier.  And they also sensibly wondered "What does the fifth dentist recommend? Gum with sugar?"  The answer of course was some variation of "Get out of my office.", or "That's a stupid question." or "Chewing sugarless gum is a habit with no discernible benefit one way or another to your teeth."  The company made use of this by making a funny campaign that had the fifth dentist shouting "NO!" as a squirrel bit him on the nuts.


    The more discerning public is going to wonder similar things about this consensus claim. The "fifth dentist here" either takes no position on their patients gum-chewing, and is in fact, closer to the 4/5. They'll take note of the logical weirdness of deciding that someone who acknowledges that greenhouse gases are a thing that can cause warning is "endorsing" anything meaningful.  Particularly when someone who thinks CO2 is causing 49.9% of warming is an explicit rejection, the lowest part of the scale, and a person at 50.1% is an explicit endorsement, the highest of the scale. Fortunately, the vast majority of scientists wouldn't ever sign up to such a ludicrously precise number, and at best would put it as a range, if pressed, or not quantify at all. The "implicit endorsements" might place it at 10%, 100%, or "potato". We're not really sure.  I think the question for any such consensus to be sold to the public needs to be clear, concise, and asked directly.

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  8. jwalsh - There has indeed been a lot of "selling" on this topic; various and sundry attempting to convince the public that the science is unsettled, uncertain, that we don't know enough to make reasonable policy decisions. "Selling" by the "skeptics", following Frank Luntz's advice to falsely convince the public that no consensus exists, solely to prevent action. Political rhetoric, in other words.

    Papers like Cook et al and discussions of the 'Consensus Project' are simply efforts to correct that misinformation, to bring public perception closer to reality. Efforts, I'll note, that you seem to object to strongly - IMO a position more of politics than reality.

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  9. I believe the only goal of the consensus project was to counter the myth "there is no consensus". The importance of this is not for the science but because the consensus position is the only rational basis for making policy whether it is climate or chewing gum. If new data changes the consensus, then policy can be changed as well.

    On the question of attribution, the data we possess supports the position that warming since 1970 is 100% anthropogenic, not 10%, 50% or 70%. If you are going to argue for another source of change, then present the data to support that position.

    This is particularly so for OHC. Unless you also wish to challenge the consensus of the conservation of energy, you cant talk about unforced natural cycles changing OHC beyond minor wiggles from ocean/atmosphere exchange. I cant see how any amount of dickering about the uncertainties in the forcings can change the position that the warming is anthropogenic.

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  10. KR - Of course there's a lot of "selling" nonsense.  Dangerously too much. It doesn't necessarily help to counter one with a different sales pitch.  And I refuse to discuss "consensus without an object", whether it's by the Koch foundation or here!  Any "consensus" needs to be clear about what exactly is being talked about. Not doing so is frustrating to people and will cause them to tune out.  There is such thing as the charge on an electron. There isn't any such thing as "the science" with respect to the complex and chaotic system that is our climate.


    I think educating the public on the actual science of AGW is a fine goal.  I also think it's a largely irrelevant one.  There wasn't any need to convince the public that the moon wasn't, in fact, made of cheese, to launch the Gemini and Apollo programs.  You only needed to convince those funding the programs.  And those people? They need more than vague information. They ask tough questions, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  And yes, the money influence on politics is an enormous concern. There are indeed many industries and people not wild about their apple-carts being upset.

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  11. jwalsh:

    Cook et al 2013 are unambiguous as to why they chose to perform their review - that is, why they felt reporting on scientific consensus was necessary:

    An accurate perception of the degree of scientific consensus is an essential element to public support for climate policy (Ding et al 2011). Communicating the scientific consensus also increases people's acceptance that climate change (CC) is happening (Lewandowsky et al 2012). Despite numerous indicators of a consensus, there is wide public perception that climate scientists disagree over the fundamental cause of global warming (GW; Leiserowitz et al 2012, Pew 2012).


    Contributing to this "consensus gap" are campaigns designed to confuse the public about the level of agreement among climate scientists. In 1991, Western Fuels Association conducted a $510,000 campaign whose primary goal was to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)". [It needs hardly be said that this is not the only expenditure by fossil fuel companies, associations, or affiliated "think tanks" to spread climate disinformation.] A key strategy involved constructing the impression of active scientific debate using dissenting scientists as spokesmen (Oreskes 2010). The situation is exacerbated by media treatment of the climate issue, where the normative practice of providing opposing sides with equal attention has allowed a vocal minority to have their views amplified (Boykoff and Boykoff 2004).


    The narrative presented by some dissenters is that the scientific consensus is "on the point of collapse" (Oddie 2012) while "the number of scientific 'heretics' is growing with each passing year" (Allègre et al 2012). A systematic, comprehensive review of the literature provides quantitative evidence countering this assertion.

    In short, if it weren't for a sustained misinformation campaign, aided and abetted by media emphasis on drama over accuracy, there would be no requirement for a study such as Cook et al 2013, just as there is no current requirement for a literature review showing, say, the level of expert consensus regarding quantum electrodynamics.

    I should like to address your following comments:

    The more discerning public is going to wonder similar things about this consensus claim. [...] Particularly when someone who thinks CO2 is causing 49.9% of warming is an explicit rejection, the lowest part of the scale, and a person at 50.1% is an explicit endorsement, the highest of the scale.

    The "more discerning public" is going to read the IPCC reports and similar summary documents, and understand that the preponderance of evidence is what drives the expert consensus. I'm not surprised that you brought up the possibility of this hair-splittingly small distinction, which seems designed to obfuscate and muddy the waters rather than improve the paper's clarity.

    There isn't any such thing as "the science" with respect to the complex and chaotic system that is our climate.

    Unequivocally false. If you want to get down to brass tacks, you can sum up the basic fact of global warming with a single number:

    0.6 W m-2

    Everything else is commentary.

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  12. Composer99: "If you want to get down to brass tacks, you can sum up the basic fact of global warming with a single number:

    0.6 W/m²

    Everything else is commentary."

    I'm not getting your 0.6 W/m² figure. The anthropogenic RF is between 1.13 W/m² and 3.33 W/m², by my understanding, if the following figures are correct.


    "The solar constant includes all types of solar radiation, not just the visible light. It is measured by satellite as being 1.361 kilowatts per square meter (kW/m²) at solar minimum and approximately 0.1% greater (roughly 1.362 kW/m²) at solar maximum. The solar "constant" is not a physical constant in the modern CODATA scientific sense; it varies in value, and has been called a "misconception". It has been shown to vary historically in the past 400 years over a range of less than 0.2 percent."

    From: WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf, page 11:

    "The total anthropogenic RF for 2011 relative to 1750 is 2.29 [1.13 to 3.33] W/m² (see Figure SPM.5), and it has increased more rapidly since 1970 than during prior decades."

    For conversational purposes:

    1.13/1,362 is: .083%
    2.29/1,362 is: .168%
    3.33/1,362 is: .246%

    While mankind's percentage contribution is pretty small compared to Mr. Sun, if these percentages are true, we do seem to be warming the planet, and shekels to bagels it doesn't stop anytime soon.

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  13. Hello,

    Has this criticism of the methodology been discussed?


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  14. Postkey @363, do you have an actual link to the relevant section of joseduarte?   I come up with "site under construction" — so I am unsure if it is the same article/blog that I read a couple of years ago.

    If it is the same article [critique of consensus study], then I am able to assure you that it is a waste of your time to read & analyse.  As I recall, Duarte started off well, but his commentary degenerated into a rant.  It became more ridiculous as it progressed.  Duarte seems an angry guy.  Very angry, and with an anger which sabotaged his presentation and made it nonsensical.

    Postkey — best if you avoid Duarte, and simply re-state any points (of his) which you think should be addressed by the participants in this thread.  I suspect that most or all of them have been covered already on SkS here.  Please read through the OP & comments, and come up with anything that you are certain has been missed.

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