Here we go again: “Watts up with that?” pushing the no consensus myth

The denial movement, particularly in the United States is in a bit of a head spin. With record temperatures, a drought that is extending over a sizable part of the nation and devastated food crops, public acceptance of climate change has shot up to 70%.

In response, the denial machine has been paddling hard against the stream of public opinion and evidence. The team over at “Watt’s up with that?” have been working furiously to question the temperature record, tell everyone this is all just a “normal summer” and hey isn’t all really a conspiracy?

It must be hard toiling away on you climate denial blog when the power goes due to storm induced black outs or when the temperature is consistently over 100F. Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful tool to shelter ones shelf from reality.

The latest piece of denial to ping around the echo chamber comes courtesy of Mr Watt’s blog and is titled “What else did the ’97% of scientists’ say?” As you may have guessed it is the there is no consensus myth/meme/lie.

This post is authored by well-known climate “sceptic” Barry Woods:

I wonder just how many politicians, environmentalists or scientists who use the phrase ’97% of scientists’ (or those who more carefully use ‘active climate scientists’) to give weight to their arguments regarding climate change to the public, have any idea of the actual source of this soundbite.

I wonder, I really do.

Actually, I really do know where that figure comes from because I took the time to check all the facts. But let’s continue down the tortuous, twisting and amusing path of denial as an illustrative example in creating denier memes.

Woods is attempting to discredit the methodology and results of the paper “”Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” by Doran and Zimmerman.

Wood starts to frame the issue nicely:

In a world where politicians (UK) went to war in Iraq based on a ‘sexed’ up dodgy dossier plagiarised from a 12 year old PhD thesis. I wonder how confident they would be lecturing the public about the need for radical decarbonising economic climate polices, if they were aware that the ’97% of active climate scientists’ quote/soundbite actually comes from a students MSc thesis, that the Doran EoS paper cites?

Yes, the WMD scandal and climate science are the same. How? I don’t know, but it must involve a conspiracy. My money is on the Illuminati. Or the socialists. Or both.

Skeptical Science has a good summary of the Doran survey here

A survey of 3146 earth scientists asked the question “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” (Doran 2009). More than 90% of participants had Ph.D.s, and 7% had master’s degrees. Overall, 82% of the scientists answered yes. However, what are most interesting are responses compared to the level of expertise in climate science. Of scientists who were non-climatologists and didn’t publish research, 77% answered yes…

Which of coursed has outraged sceptics such as Woods, because the answer they want is “no”.

However in order to turn a positive response into a negative – or at least uncertain – Wood has fished out the original Masters of Science thesis by Zimmerman and cherry picked some of the respondents answers:

As this MSc thesis was the original source of the oft cited Doran paper 97% quote, I tracked it down (sometime ago now) and discovered in the appendi that there was a great deal of email feedback and answers to write in questions from the scientists that actually participated in the survey, much of it critical and sceptical of the survey itself, the methodology and the questions asked. Additionally, amongst those environmental scientists that responded, were some very sceptical sounding scientists with respect to man made climate change being the dominant driver of climate change. 

“..Science is based on scepticism and experimental proof. Whereas human GHG emissions certainly have a warming effect, the breakdown between natural and anthropogenic contributions to warming is poorly constrained.

Remember that the warming since 1650 AD (not 1900) is part of a real ‘millennial cycle’ whose amplitude cannot yet be explained by any quantitative theory. 

Also, the computer climate models are both too complex to be readily understood and too simple to describe reality. 

Believing their results is an act of faith…”

I’m shocked!

Should I question the science, and revise my entire “faith” in “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”?

Actually I’m not all shocked, nor surprised that Wood managed to cherry pick a few choice quotes. Wood’s has simply zeroed in on the tiny minority of quotes that are dismissive of the science and ignored the vast majority other respondents.

[Note: see Six Aspects of Denial tactic number 3: Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies]

Now if our entire “belief” that 97% of scientists accept the science is based one supposedly flawed study it might give us pause. But of course, just like the science of climate change there are multiple lines of evidence supporting this statement:

  • The 2004 study by Noami Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” surveyed all peer-reviewed papers on global warming between 1993 and 2003 found not one disputed the consensus. 75% where in agreement and 25% made no statement because those papers focused on methodology
  • The more recent 2010 paper by Anderegg, “Expert credibility in climate change” went beyond surveys and reviewed the actual published work of over 1300 climatologists and found 97-98% in agreement that climate change is real

Let’s not forget there is not a single national scientific academy on the planet who question the science. However, former mining executives, bloggers funded by think tanks and swarms of angry online trolls do.

Knowing who the expert is can sometimes be challenging.

Here’s an analogy: if I was on an operating table and the person standing next to me in hospital garb was holding a scalpel – surrounded by nurses and medical equipment – in what looked like an operating theater….

Well I’m going to make the leap of faith and consider them some sort of expert.

Or, I could go on the internet, Google my malady and place my trust on “”.

5 thoughts on “Here we go again: “Watts up with that?” pushing the no consensus myth

  1. john byatt says:

    Thanks for doing this research Mike, it will make a good reply if needed in future,


  2. Clive Bond says:

    Mean temperatures have not risen for fifteen years yet all the models said they would.Whatever melted that Greenland ice, it wasn’t carbon dioxide

    • Temperatures have indeed risen in the last 15 years. UAH (Roy Spencer’s satellite analysis) shows a rise of .09C since the middle of 1997 (15 years ago), .14C warming since the beginning of 1997 (15.5 years), ,07C since the beginning of 1998 (14.5 years), which was a year with the strongest El Nino in 100 years, and .21C from the beginning of 1999. The oceans have been gaining energy as well, a lot more than the atmosphere. The warmest decade on record was the last one (about .2C warmer than the 1990’s). The 13 warmest years on record all come from 1998 on. What melted that Greenland ice was the rising temps.

  3. […] example, see a recent article debunked by the blog Watching the Deniers, where somebody had cherry-picked skeptical quotes from a few scientists who responded to the […]

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