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The Curious Wavefunction

The Curious Wavefunction

Musings on chemistry and the history and philosophy of science

About that consensus on global warming: 9136 agree, one disagrees.

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The consensus about global warming among scientists (Image: James Powell)

I just want to highlight this illuminating infographic by James Powell in which, based on more than 2000 peer-reviewed publications, he counts the number of authors from November, 2012 to December, 2013 who explicitly deny global warming (that is, who propose a fundamentally different reason for temperature rise than anthropogenic CO2). The number is exactly one. In addition Powell also has helpful links to the abstracts and main text bodies of the relevant papers.

It's worth noting how many authors agree with the basic fact of global warming - more than nine thousand. And that's just in a single year. Now I understand as well as anyone else that consensus does not imply truth but I find it odd how there aren't even a handful of scientists who deny global warming presumably because the global warming mafia threatens to throttle them if they do. It's not like we are seeing a 70-30% split, or even a 90-10% split. No, the split is more like 99.99-0.01%.

Isn't it remarkable that among the legions of scientists working around the world, many with tenured positions, secure reputations and largely nothing to lose, not even a hundred out of ten thousand come forward to deny the phenomenon in the scientific literature? Should it be that hard for them to publish papers if the evidence is really good enough? Even detractors of the peer review system would disagree that the system is that broken; after all, studies challenging consensus are quite common in other disciplines. So are contrarian climate scientists around the world so utterly terrified of their colleagues and world opinion that they would not dare to hazard a contrarian explanation at all, especially if it were based on sound science? The belief stretches your imagination to new lengths.

Those who think scientists keep silent on global warming presumably because they fear the barbs of the world demonstrate a peculiar kind of paranoia, especially since what they fear largely does not exist. More prosaically they need to recall Carl Sagan's words again because the claim that scientist don't dare to speak out against global warming in the literature is, quite definitely, an extraordinary claim. And it doesn't seem to stand up to even ordinary evidence.

This chart should tell us why we need to move the debate beyond the fundamental fact of global warming, from disputing the basic science and effects of the process to disputing the details of consequences and the proposed solutions.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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