‘Position statements hide debate’–True enough, but that is not the whole picture
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide)
Objection: All those institutional position statements are fine, but by their very nature they paper over debate and obscure the variety of individual positions. The real debate is in the scientific journals.
Answer: This is a fair point. Group position statements are designed to present a united front. The best indicator of what individual scientists think is in the current scientific literature, where new and different is the paramount value and scientists are free to express their own ideas, as long as they’re supported by data and logic. What does the literature look like in terms of the climate debate? Sounds like a good topic for research.
Naomi Oreskes took on just this topic. She did an ISI database search with the keyword phrase “global climate change,” and then surveyed those resulting abstracts published between 1993 and 2003 in refereed scientific journals. There were 928.
She then divided the papers into six categories:
- explicit endorsement of the consensus position,
- evaluation of impacts,
- mitigation proposals,
- paleoclimate analysis, and
- rejection of the consensus position.
The details can be read here. Oreskes’ key finding is that none of the papers fell into the last category, while 75% fell into the first three. This is a surprisingly robust consensus of opinion, especially considering that the start date was a full two years before the 1995 IPCC report, eight years before the more recent 2001 report.
A lot has happened since then, and none of it casts any doubt on the finding that the world is warming and it is primarily due to human actions.
(See this guide entry if ever Benny Peiser’s name comes into the discussion of Oreskes’ study.)