Asked by an old and dear friend what I make of the recent “Climategate scandal,” I thought I’d do a quick check on sources summarizing the effect of the hacked East Anglia e-mails on climate change science.
To my surprise, the Wikipedia article on the topic is probably as good a place to start as any (as Wikipedia often is, despite its known flaws and potential unreliabilities; the fact that it’s both up-to-date and reasonably thorough on this topic allays my fears about Wikipedia’s slow decline, as reported in the digital media a little while back).
This article, published early last year in EOS: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, summarizes the results of an extensive survey of climate scientists, which shows that while just over half of Americans believe there is a scientific consensus about human-caused global warming, 97.4% of actively publishing climatologists agree that human activities are bringing about a warming of the global climate. The study was carried out before the East Anglia e-mail flare-up, but the main thing that the latter would have done to this data is to bring down the level of trust in climate science among the public, especially the American public, not to change the scientific consensus. This editorial in Nature, one of the two most respected scientific journals on the planet, presents a fair assessment of what the hacked e-mails mean for the scientific community. (The other of the two, Science, has not editorialized about it, but here’s the news piece they published soon after the e-mail issue broke.)
This piece by Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters usefully summarizes an earlier study by Brown, Pielke, and Annan that shows more or less the same result, and mentions a few of the reasons for the mass media’s overemphasis on climate skepticism. Links to other studies of the scientific “consensus” and to statements by leading scientific organizations can be found at the Wikipedia page on scientific opinion on climate change and on the climate change consensus.
While there’s little scientific value in these, I find David McCandless’s visualizations at Information is Beautiful to be a neat summation of the main arguments pro and con and of the scale of consensus (though some of the commenters make a valid point about his approach, which is not very statistically rigorous). The first of these, however, follows the popular media frame of believers-versus-skeptics (“is climate change real or not?”), which is part of the problem of why so many in the public remain underinformed and unconvinced. Coby Beck’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic, at Grist.org, delves into the various arguments put forward by the (fossil fuel industry-fueled) denialist machine and by the (reasonably) befuddled public.
That ought to do for a start…