Policy Documents

Analysis: New International Survey of Climate Scientists

Joseph L. Bast –
September 25, 2010

German scientists Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch have released their latest international survey of climate scientists. The data are reported here:

http://www.academia.edu/2365610/A_Survey_of_Climate_Scientists_Concerning_Climate_Science_and_Climate_Change

I’ve spent a little time with this report. Here are my observations. Feel free to forward and cite this posting, I’ll appreciate comments on whether I got this right.

  • The report consists of 120 graphs (the numbering system includes, e.g., 11a and 11b, so the exact number is different from the 73 that identifies the last table) and contains no interpretation or discussion of the results. Discussion of the results apparently appears (or will appear) in an article in Environmental Science and Policy. The abstract of that article (presented on page 12 of the current report) seems to completely miss the obvious implications of the survey. No surprise, since Bray and von Storch tried to hide the plain results of their past work in a similar fashion.
  • The relevant/interesting tables start at 11a. On a scale from 1 = “very inadequate” to 7 = “very adequate,” scientists are asked to rank “data availability for climate change analysis.” More respondents said “very inadequate” (1 or 2) than “very adequate” (6 or 7), with most responses ranging between 3 and 5. About 40% score it a 3 or less.
  • This roughly bell-shaped distribution is repeated in about a third of the 54 tables addressing scientific issues (as opposed to opinions about the IPCC, where journalists get their information, personal identification with environmental causes, etc.). The remaining two thirds are divided almost equally between distributions that lean toward skepticism and those that lean toward alarmism. (See my break-out below.)
  • What does this mean? For two-thirds of the questions asked, scientific opinion is DEEPLY DIVIDED, and in half of those cases, most scientists DISAGREE with positions that are at the foundation of the alarmist case. There is certainly NO CONSENSUS on the science behind the global warming scare.
  • The questions for which most scientists give alarmist answers are those that ask for an opinion about the “big picture,” such as “How convinced are you that climate change poses a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity?” These questions ask about BELIEFS, not discrete scientific facts or knowledge. When asked questions about more narrow scientific matters, scientists seem quick to admit their uncertainty.
  • I found pretty much the same thing in an analysis I did of Bray and von Storch’s 2003 survey. Working through allied organizations, The Heartland Institute distributed more than 500,000 copies of that booklet opinion leaders in the U.S. and Canada. I believe it played a major role in shifting informed opinion against the alarmists.
  • This survey, like the previous one, provides us with a fascinating ANATOMY OF A SCIENTIFIC DELUSION. When asked, majorities of climate scientists say they do not believe the scientific claims that underlie the theory and predictions of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, yet large majorities of those same scientists say they nevertheless believe in the theory and its predictions. This cognitive dissonance is, I believe, what gives rise to and sustains popular mass delusions.

20 Tables showing roughly bell-shaped distributions of answers: /p>

11a. Data availability for climate change analysis is currently adequate or inadequate
11b. Data collection efforts are currently adequate or inadequate
11c. The state of theoretical understanding of climate change phenomena
11d. Current theory development for climate change
12a. How well do atmospheric models deal with hydrodynamics
12b. How well do atmospheric models deal with radiation
12c. How well do atmospheric models deal with vapor
13a. How well do ocean models deal with hydrodynamics
13b. How well do ocean models deal with heat transport in the ocean
14. How adequate is the ability to couple atmospheric and ocean models
15c. Current state of scientific knowledge ... allow[s] for a reasonable assessment of the effects of land surface processes
15d. Current state of scientific knowledge ... allow[s] for a reasonable assessment of the effects of sea ice
16d. The ability of global climate models to model temperature values for the next 50 years
16g. The ability of global climate models to model sea level rise for the next 10 years
17b. The ability of regional climate models to reproduce precipitation observations
17c. The ability of regional climate models to to model temperature values for the next 10 years
24. With how much certainty can we attribute recent climate related disasters to climate change?
27a. The potential that climate change might have some positive effects for the country in which you live
27b. The potential that climate change might have some positive effects in other parts of the world
55. Comments about climate change made by environmental activist groups are generally… (from very inaccurate to very accurate)

19 Tables showing more skepticism than alarmism: /p>

12d. How well do atmospheric models deal with the influence of clouds
12c. How well do atmospheric models deal with precipitation
12f. How well do atmospheric models deal with atmospheric convection
13c. How well do ocean models deal with oceanic convection
15a. Current state of scientific knowledge ... allow[s] for a reasonable assessment of the effects of turbulence
16b. The ability of global climate models to reproduce precipitation observations
16e. The ability of global climate models to model precipitation values for the next 10 years
16f. The ability of global climate models to model precipitation values for the next 50 years
16h. The ability of global climate models to model sea level rise for the next 50 years
16i. The ability of global climate models to model extreme events for the next 10 years
16j. The ability of global climate models to model extreme events for the next 50 years
17d. The ability of regional climate models to model temperature values for the next 50 years
17e. The ability of regional climate models to model precipitation values for the next 10 years
17f. The ability of regional climate models to model precipitation values for the next 50 years
17g. The ability of regional climate models to model sea level rise for the next 10 years
17h. The ability of regional climate models to model sea level rise for the next 50 years
17i. The ability of regional climate models to model extreme events for the next 10 years
17j. The ability of regional climate models to model extreme events for the next 50 years
25a. Potential for catastrophe from climate change for the country in which you live in the next ten years (very low to very high).

15 Tables showing more alarmism than skepticism: /p>

15b. Current state of scientific knowledge ... allow[s] for a reasonable assessment of the effects of surface albedo
15c. Current state of scientific knowledge ... allow[s] for a reasonable assessment of the effects of green-house gases emitted from anthropogenic sources
16a. The ability of global climate models to reproduce temperature observations
16c. The ability of global climate models to model temperature values for the next 10 years
16f. The ability of global climate models to model precipitation values for the next 50 years
17a. The ability of regional climate models to reproduce temperature observations
21. How convinced are you that most of recent or near future climate change is, or will be, a result of anthropogenic causes? (17% rated it 5, 32% 6, and 34% 7; about 15% ranked it less than a 5)
22. How convinced are you that climate change poses a very serious and dangerous threat to humanity?
23. How much are we beginning to experience the more gradual impacts of climate change, anthropogenic or otherwise?
25a. Potential for catastrophe from climate change for the country in which you live in the next 50 years (very low to very high).
26a. Potential for catastrophe from climate change for other parts of the world in the next ten years (very low to very high).
26b. Potential for catastrophe from climate change for other parts of the world in the next 50 years (very low to very high).
28.a. How much do you think the potential impact of global climate change is one of the leading problems for eco-systems
28.b. How much do you think the potential impact of global climate change is one of the leading problems for humanity in terms of social and economic issues.
67. There is a great need for immediate policy decisions for immediate action to mitigate climate change. (about 72% ranked it 5 or higher)