Science Organizations’ ‘Consensus’ Statements Do Not Reflect Members’ Views

Published April 1, 2008

The American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest organization representing earth and space scientists, has issued a new statement on the causes and consequences of recent climate change and possible responses.

Similarly, in the past few years the Royal Society, National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and American Meteorological Society (AMS) have issued statements endorsing a so-called consensus view that human activities are driving global warming.

What you don’t hear is that these societies never allowed member scientists to vote on these climate statements. Essentially, in each case only two dozen or so members on ad hoc committees and governing boards of these institutions produced the “consensus” statements.

Member Scientists Ignored

As a council member of one of the professional societies (the AMS), I can tell you I was extremely disappointed with the process and even the notion of issuing a statement supposedly representing to policymakers the view of the society without the full involvement of its members.

In the case of the AMS, the statement drafting process involved appointing an ad hoc committee to draft a statement and then having the council review and recommend changes and post the statement for comment, for just 30 days, on the home page of the society’s Web site.

Few members visit the home page, and many go to the site only to look for papers or register for upcoming conferences. Still, the posted statement received a record number of comments, many of them strongly negative. Despite an exhaustive effort to catalog the comments, in the end little substantive change was made to the statement.

In spite of the dissent, the society proclaimed to Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., when he inquired about the process for creating the statement, that the committee simply “facilitated the drafting and that the council and the membership owned and controlled the final statement.”

Pielke pushed for longer review and for a referendum. However, little changed from the draft statement, and no changes were made to the process.

Goal Is Advocacy

Pielke believes “this problem of our professional organizations using their positions as political pulpits is appalling and compromises the scientific process.”

The AMS has gone so far as to list advocacy and efforts to influence policy in its strategic goals, although to the society’s credit it softened the wording in its 2007 version.

Rank and File Disagree

With my experience as chief meteorologist for two large weather companies, and with many personal contacts in operational meteorology, climatology, and broadcasting, I believe the majority of rank-and-file members within those specialties (as many as 60 to 70 percent) do not buy the notion that man is entirely responsible for climate change. Yet the societies use their statements to imply full support of all the scientists involved.

Joseph D’Aleo (email form is a certified consultant meteorologist, was the first director of meteorology at the Weather Channel, and is executive director of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project.