By Larry Solomon, The National Post
[SPPI Note: Also see the Dennis Ambler SPPI report.
How do we know there’s a scientific consensus on climate change? Pundits and the press tell us so. And how do the pundits and the press know? Until recently, they typically pointed to the number 2500 - that�s the number of scientists associated with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those 2500, the pundits and the press believed, had endorsed the IPCC position.
To their embarrassment, most of the pundits and press discovered that they were mistaken - those 2500 scientists hadn’t endorsed the IPCC�s conclusions, they had merely reviewed some part or other of the IPCC’s mammoth studies. To add to their embarrassment, many of those reviewers from within the IPCC establishment actually disagreed with the IPCC’s conclusions, sometimes vehemently.
The upshot? The punditry looked for and recently found an alternate number to tout - “97% of the world’s climate scientists” accept the consensus, articles in the Washington Post and elsewhere have begun to claim.
This number will prove a new embarrassment to the pundits and press who use it. The number stems from a 2009 online survey of 10,257 earth scientists, conducted by two researchers at the University of Illinois. The survey results must have deeply disappointed the researchers - in the end, they chose to highlight the views of a subgroup of just 77 scientists, 75 of whom thought humans contributed to climate change. The ratio 75/77 produces the 97% figure that pundits now tout.
The two researchers started by altogether excluding from their survey the thousands of scientists most likely to think that the Sun, or planetary movements, might have something to do with climate on Earth - out were the solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists and astronomers. That left the 10,257 scientists in disciplines like geology, oceanography, paleontology, and geochemistry that were somehow deemed more worthy of being included in the consensus. The two researchers also decided that scientific accomplishment should not be a factor in who could answer - those surveyed were determined by their place of employment (an academic or a governmental institution). Neither was academic qualification a factor - about 1,000 of those surveyed did not have a PhD, some didn�t even have a master�s diploma.
To encourage a high participation among these remaining disciplines, the two researchers decided on a quickie survey that would take less than two minutes to complete, and would be done online, saving the respondents the hassle of mailing a reply. Nevertheless, most didn’t consider the quickie survey worthy of response - just 3146, or 30.7%, answered the two questions on the survey:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
The questions were actually non-questions. From my discussions with literally hundreds of skeptical scientists over the past few years, I know of none who claims that the planet hasn’t warmed since the 1700s, and almost none who think that humans haven�t contributed in some way to the recent warming - quite apart from carbon dioxide emissions, few would doubt that the creation of cities and the clearing of forests for agricultural lands have affected the climate. When pressed for a figure, global warming skeptics might say that human are responsible for 10% or 15% of the warming; some skeptics place the upper bound of man’s contribution at 35%. The skeptics only deny that humans played a dominant role in Earth’s warming.
Surprisingly, just 90% of those who responded to the first question believed that temperatures had risen - I would have expected a figure closer to 100%, since Earth was in the Little Ice Age in the centuries immediately preceding 1800. But perhaps some of the responders interpreted the question to include the past 1000 years, when Earth was in the Medieval Warm Period, generally thought to be warmer than today.
As for the second question, 82% of the earth scientists replied that that human activity had significantly contributed to the warming. Here the vagueness of the question comes into play. Since skeptics believe that human activity been a contributing factor, their answer would have turned on whether they consider a 10% or 15% or 35% increase to be a significant contributing factor. Some would, some wouldn’t.
In any case, the two researchers must have feared that an 82% figure would fall short of a convincing consensus - almost one in five wasn’t blaming humans for global warming - so they looked for subsets that would yield a higher percentage. They found it - almost - in those whose recent published peer-reviewed research fell primarily in the climate change field. But the percentage still fell short of the researchers’ ideal. So they made another cut, allowing only the research conducted by those earth scientists who identified themselves as climate scientists.
Once all these cuts were made, 75 out of 77 scientists of unknown qualifications were left endorsing the global warming orthodoxy. The two researchers were then satisfied with their findings. Are you?
LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com. Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.
See SPPI blog post here.
Dec 30, 2010
December cold - unprecedented?
Posted on WUWT, December 29, 2010 by Verity Jones
BBC news has reported that 40,000 homes are still without water in Northern Ireland after the recent spell of freezing temperatures. Many have been without water for more than 10 days, and reservoirs are being drained due to an unprecedented number of leaks since the thaw. Calls to a few friends confirmed that, yes, it is bad - friends in Lisburn have been without water since Christmas Eve due to a frozen mains supply (i.e. not in their house); others in Belfast report low water pressure. Water is being rationed in places.
Was it really that cold? A search of the BBC site revealed “‘Baltic’ Northern Ireland” tucked away on the BBC NI news page. Castlederg in the West of the province recorded a low of -18C on 20th December - a new record. The thing about Ireland is that it sits on the very western fringes of Europe, bathed by the warm Gulf Stream (which is why Doug Keenan considered the 7000 years of Irish tree ring data so important that he pursued Queen’s University through FOI requests). Ireland, despite its latitude, just doesn’t do ‘very cold’ (or ‘very hot’ for that matter).
When I first got interested in climate I ended up corresponding with Tonyb about the temperature records of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. These stretch back to 1796. How does this current cold month compare with the historical record at Armagh? Was the recent cold unprecedented?
The currently incomplete December record for Armagh consists of raw data - three automated readings per hour. Rather than waiting until they calculate the December average I looked for nearby stations on Weather Underground and found Glenanne PWS, about 15km to the SW of Armagh. The average temperatures for the two stations over the month of November is plotted in Figure 1. This gave a good linear fit (R^2 = 0.889) with an offset � Armagh being on average colder by just over 1C.
Figure 1. Average temperatures for Armagh and Glenanne N. Ireland through November 2010 (enlarged here).
Figure 2 shows the December data for Glenanne on the same scale. Up to the 28th December, the monthly average is -0.86C. Mild conditions are expected for the next three days and, if I plug the forecast max/min (29th 8/6; 30th 8/4; 31st 6/2) into my spreadsheet to complete the month, the monthly average rises to an estimated -0.23C for Glenanne, remembering that this is an approximation for Armagh, which is typically colder.
Figure 2. Average temperatures for Glenanne N. Ireland through December 2010 (enlarged here).
In the Armagh historical record, which I have for 1796-2002 from  the average temperature for December is 4.9C; January average is colder (4.1C). There are just two individual months colder than December 2010: January 1814 (-2.2C) and January 1881 (-0.9C) which puts this one as the third coldest on record at Armagh (2010 might yet tie with 1881 when the actual average for the month is published).
Coldest months according to the Armagh record:
1.January 1814 -2.2C
2.January 1881 -0.9C
3.December 2010 -0.2C
4.February 1855 0.0C, January 1963 0.0C
5.February 1895 0.2C
6.February 1947 0.4C
7.January 1985 0.5C, December 1878 0.5C
The list above also puts it in perspective with respect to other extreme years in living memory - most notably 1963 and 1947. According to the Armagh records none of the coldest months in these years saw such extreme cold as the Christmas period this year. The Arctic cold cut though the mild Atlantic air this year resulting in a monthly average 4-5C below normal (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Enlarged here.
Even without all the warming we have been led to expect December�s cold probably can be described as unprecedented. I’ll await with interest the actual December figures for Armagh (and those from the Met Office). As for this being caused by global warming - bull - it was just an extreme weather event. They happen. Go back >100 years and they happened then too.
 C.J. Butler, A. M. Garc�a-Su�rez, A.D.S. Coughlin and C. Morrell. Air Temperatures at Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland, from 1796 to 2002 Int.J.Climatol. 25: 1055-1079 (2005) [Full paper]
UPDATE - from the Daily Mail (h/t Spectator in Tips & Notes). Looks as if this will be a similar record in other parts of the UK too:
“Met Office figures show that the average temperature from December 1, the first day of winter, to December 28 was a bitter minus 0.8C (30.5F). This equals the record December low of 1890.”
The article goes on to point out that December is rarely the coldest month in the UK and a continued cold spell could beat the record set in 1683-84 of -1.17C.
The first of many official reports from around the country and world of a brutal, even coldest ever December is here in South Florida.
Dec 27, 2010