The Daily Tech website has a lead story today, Less than half of scientists support Global Warming. A rather interesting story you might think and you'd be right- afterall if less than half of the world's published scientists did support global warming- we non-scientists might have to change our opinions of what was going on. Once you go further down you realise that we are dealing with a research paper, which used the same search terms as a previous research exercise which found large support for global warming up till 2003, and which was written by an accredited academic, but it doesn't appear to be published yet. Fair enough- there are still things we can work out from the Daily Tech story as the website helpfully supplies a summary of his results:
Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers "implicit" endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no "consensus."
The website sums up the research by stating affirmatively that this means that there is 'no consensus' on global warming.
Well lets be careful about this. That's not exactly what the results say. Its worth at this point remembering what happens when you write an academic paper- as someone who has written a good fair few in his time, and given seminars in various places, the standerd practice is to try and be concise. That means that you avoid mentioning what you don't have to mention in order to support your argument- even though I agree with the statement that the English Civil War was not a straightforward class revolution, I don't need to really say it because my paper concerning the political theory of Henry Ireton doesn't really deal with the question. Similarly these neutral papers are papers which got published without taking a view on global warming- ie their arguments made sense no matter what way the question was decided- ie and this is the crucial step their authors for the sake of concision didn't need to mention global warming.
The neutral papers in this case are a red herring. Instead of taking them into the calculation lets take all those papers which according to this research expressed a view about global warming- that's 38 which took a view for, 237 or 238 which took a view vaguely assuming global warming (sorry the numbers aren't clear because 45% of 528 is 237.6 it could be either lets presume for the sake of argument 237, it won't make much difference in the end) and 32 which argued against. Out of this new sample of 307 papers which took a view on global warming- only 32 that is roughly 10% took a view against the idea of manmade global warming, and roughly 12% took a view for it whereas 77% of the scientists who took a view implied or assumed it existed. If we discard therefore those whose research didn't involve global warming, we find according to this boasted report that 89% of scientists who made a reference to global warming supported the theory in some way.
Now its worth going further just to explain those numbers even more- and as a PhD student I can use my own experience of how academia works in my area to substantiate that. When something achieves consensus very few academics write about it at all. In the 1960s the way to write about the English Civil War was as a Marxist, in the 1970s great historians including my supervisor discarded the Marxist interpretation of the war and nowadays noone writes about it because its not an issue- people research other things. Indeed its quite possible that the majority of articles about the Marxist theory of the English Civil War published last year supported it! That's not because it was right- but because quite simply most historians have moved on to study other aspects of the English Revolution. Similar things happen in science- I think its very interesting that the largest group of papers in this sample are the group which assumes global warming- that would suggest to me a scientific consensus- indeed exactly what one might expect from the IPCC report. At the moment just as scientists assume Einstein is right and work on the basis of special or general relativity, so they assume global warming is right. There are a small group of people still working to reinforce the theory- and as in all scientific areas rightly a small group working to overthrow the consensus- but most scientists seem from this research to be assuming the theory works, and working on other things.
That is apart from the other group which furnishes the material for the headlines, who feel no need to include any discussion of climate change in their work. Now that could suggest that climate change is dying as an explanation for other things- but given the paper is yet to be published and therefore we can't see the methodology behind it, its difficult to say. What we can say for the moment, is that of the group of scientists who mentioned global warming between 2003 and 2007, most of them assumed it, a few on either side challenged it and that is exactly what we would expect from a consensus interpretation.
Others have pondered on this- particularly Tim Lambert who examines some of the contenders for being against climate change- again the picture is unclear- and the difficulty appears to be in the definition of what exactly against means. It is also worth noting that the author of the original survey which suggested a scientific consensus, Naomi Oreskes responds here citing many misrepresentations of her work in what has been published so far of this new research and she also has republished a book chapter in which she discusses her earlier conclusions but in 2007 here.