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Those 3% of scientific papers that deny climate change? A review found them all flawed

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https://qz.com/1069298/the-3-of-scientific-papers-that-deny-climate-change-are-all-flawed/

 

It’s often said that of all the published scientific research on climate change, 97% of the papers conclude that global warming is real, problematic for the planet, and has been exacerbated by human activity.

But what about those 3% of papers that reach contrary conclusions? Some skeptics have suggested that the authors of studies indicating that climate change is not real, not harmful, or not man-made are bravely standing up for the truth, like maverick thinkers of the past. (Galileo is often invoked, though his fellow scientists mostly agreed with his conclusions—it was church leaders who tried to suppress them.)

Not so, according to a review published in the journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology. The researchers tried to replicate the results of those 3% of papers—a common way to test scientific studies—and found biased, faulty results.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, worked with a team of researchers to look at the 38 papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade that denied anthropogenic global warming.

“Every single one of those analyses had an error—in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis—that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus,” Hayhoe wrote in a Facebook post.

One of Hayhoe’s co-authors, Rasmus Benestad, an atmospheric scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, built the program using the computer language R—which conveniently works on all computer platforms—to replicate each of the papers’ results and to try to understand how they reached their conclusions. Benestad’s program found that none of the papers had results that were replicable, at least not with generally accepted science.

Broadly, there were three main errors in the papers denying climate change. Many had cherry-picked the results that conveniently supported their conclusion, while ignoring other context or records. Then there were some that applied inappropriate “curve-fitting”—in which they would step farther and farther away from data until the points matched the curve of their choosing.

And of course, sometimes the papers just ignored physics altogether. “In many cases, shortcomings are due to insufficient model evaluation, leading to results that are not universally valid but rather are an artifact of a particular experimental setup,” the authors write.

Those who assert that these papers are correct while the other 97% are wrong are holding up science where the researchers had already decided what results they sought, the authors of the review say. Good science is objective—it doesn’t care what anyone wants the answers to be.

The review serves as an answer to the charge that the minority view on climate change has been consistently suppressed, wrote Hayhoe. “It’s a lot easier for someone to claim they’ve been suppressed than to admit that maybe they can’t find the scientific evidence to support their political ideology… They weren’t suppressed. They’re out there, where anyone can find them.” Indeed, the review raises the question of how these papers came to be published in the first place, when they used flawed methodology, which the rigorous peer-review process is designed to weed out.

In an article for the Guardian, one of the researchers, Dana Nuccitelli points out another red flag with the climate-change-denying papers: “There is no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming,” she writes. “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on. There is a 97% expert consensus on a cohesive theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific evidence, but the 2–3% of papers that reject that consensus are all over the map, even contradicting each other.”

The Galileo example is also instructive, Nuccitelli points out. The “father of observational science,” championed the astronomical model that the earth and other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun—a view that was eventually accepted almost universally as the truth. “If any of the contrarians were a modern-day Galileo, he would present a theory that’s supported by the scientific evidence and that’s not based on methodological errors,” she writes. “Such a sound theory would convince scientific experts, and a consensus would begin to form.”

 

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Here’s what happens when you try to replicate climate contrarian papers

A new paper finds common errors among the 3% of climate papers that reject the global warming consensus

 
 
 

Galileo demonstrating his astronomical theories.  Climate contrarians have virtually nothing in common with Galileo.  Galileo demonstrating his astronomical theories. Climate contrarians have virtually nothing in common with Galileo. Photograph: Tarker/Tarker/Corbis

Dana Nuccitelli

Tuesday 25 August 2015 06.00 EDTLast modified on Wednesday 22 February 2017 13.06 EST

Those who reject the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming often invoke Galileo as an example of when the scientific minority overturned the majority view. In reality, climate contrarians have almost nothing in common with Galileo, whose conclusions were based on empirical scientific evidence, supported by many scientific contemporaries, and persecuted by the religious-political establishment. Nevertheless, there’s a slim chance that the 2–3% minority is correct and the 97% climate consensus is wrong.

To evaluate that possibility, a new paper published in the journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology examines a selection of contrarian climate science research and attempts to replicate their results. The idea is that accurate scientific research should be replicable, and through replication we can also identify any methodological flaws in that research. The study also seeks to answer the question, why do these contrarian papers come to a different conclusion than 97% of the climate science literature?

This new study was authored by Rasmus Benestad, myself (Dana Nuccitelli), Stephan Lewandowsky, Katharine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland, and John Cook. Benestad (who did the lion’s share of the work for this paper) created a tool using the R programming language to replicate the results and methods used in a number of frequently-referenced research papers that reject the expert consensus on human-caused global warming. In using this tool, we discovered some common themes among the contrarian research papers.

Cherry picking was the most common characteristic they shared. We found that many contrarian research papers omitted important contextual information or ignored key data that did not fit the research conclusions. For example, in the discussion of a 2011 paper by Humlum et al. in our supplementary material, we note,

The core of the analysis carried out by [Humlum et al.] involved wavelet-based curve-fitting, with a vague idea that the moon and solar cycles somehow can affect the Earth’s climate. The most severe problem with the paper, however, was that it had discarded a large fraction of data for the Holocene which did not fit their claims.

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Military experts say climate change poses 'significant risk' to security

A coalition of 25 prominent members of US national security community warn that higher temperatures and rising seas will inundate bases and fuel conflict

 
 
 
 

Oliver Milman in New York

Wednesday 14 September 2016 00.01 EDTLast modified on Friday 14 July 2017 14.44 EDT

A coalition of 25 military and national security experts, including former advisers to Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, has warned that climate change poses a “significant risk to US national security and international security” that requires more attention from the US federal government.

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The prominent members of the US national security community warned that warming temperatures and rising seas will increasingly inundate military bases and fuel international conflict and mass migration, leading to “significant and direct risks to US military readiness, operations and strategy”.

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In a report outlining climate risks, the group state: “The military has long had a tradition of parsing threats through a ‘Survive to Operate’ lens, meaning we cannot assume the best case scenario, but must prepare to be able to effectively operate even under attack. Dealing with climate risks to operational effectiveness must therefore be a core priority.”

Organized by the non-partisan Center for Climate and Security, the group includes Geoffrey Kemp, former national security adviser to Reagan, Dov Zakheim, former under secretary of defense under Bush, and retired general Gordon Sullivan, a former army chief of staff.

Recommendations to the federal government include the creation of a cabinet-level official dedicated to climate change and security issues and the prioritization of climate change in intelligence assessments.

Last year, the Department of Defense called climate change a “threat multiplier” which could demand greater humanitarian or military intervention and lead to more severe storms that threaten cities and military bases and heightened sea levels that could imperil island and coastal infrastructure. In January, the Pentagon ordered its officials to start incorporating climate change into every major consideration, from weapons testing to preparing troops for war.

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