What happens when a group’s position statement does not reflect its members accurately?
A while back, I blogged on the huge number of scientific organizations that had put out position statements supporting the mainstream theory of human-induced global warming.
Many commenters on my post and around the internet have suggested that one can’t trust a statement put out by a professional organization. They argue that these statements are not voted on by the membership, but generally drafted by an ad hoc committee and adopted by the organization’s leadership.
If this small clique of members turned out to be advocates, the hypothesis goes, then the resulting statement will not reflect the overall views of the organization.
It occurred to me, however, that this is a testable hypothesis. How do we test it, you ask? We have a professional organization try to put out a statement that its members don’t agree with. What would happen?
Well, this actually happened. In the late 1990s, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists put out a statement that essentially said human-induced climate change was a bunch of baloney. When it came time to revise the statement in 2006, the initial draft contained roughly the same statement.
By this time, however, a significant fraction of the AAPG membership disagreed with the position, and a revolt ensued. In his newsletter, AAPG president Lee Billingsley said:
Members have threatened to not renew their memberships if the graduated dues system is passed, or if AAPG does not alter its position on global climate change (although not the same members). And I have been told of members who already have resigned in previous years because of our current global climate change position.
In the end, the resulting AAPG climate change statement was sharply amended to more or less avoid the issue.
It turns out that, if a scientific organization tries to put out a statement many of its members disagree with, the membership will rise up and rebel. If the AGU tried to put out a statement saying that climate change was not caused by humans, I guarantee the membership would not accept that.
Given that, the lack of outrage by the membership at its new statement suggests that this statement does represent the beliefs of the 50,000 members of the AGU.
Another example of the power of the membership within scientific organizations also comes from the AAPG. In 2006, they gave their Journalism Award to Michael Crichton for his novel, State of Fear. Many members felt that this was an enormous embarrassment and complained to AAPG headquarters. As a result, the AAPG executive committee changed the name of the award to “Geosciences in the Media.” This is another example where the membership forced an organization’s leadership to make changes in order to comport with their views on scientific issues.
I hope it is just as clear that the large number of statements by professional organizations supporting the mainstream view of climate change is an extremely powerful reflection of the strong consensus that exists in the scientific community. (Especially combined with the fact that no scientific organization, even the AAPG, disputes the mainstream view.)
The hypothesis that scientific organizations have somehow been hijacked by alarmists simply does not fit the available data.