In his recent response to some of my criticisms about his views on climate change, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made some telling comments about why he rejects the scientific consensus. Here is an excerpt.
Furthermore, it does appear that a majority of scientists agree that humans have some impact on the climate. However, it gives me pause that so many IPCC lead authors and other United Nations scientists voice very strong skepticism about the IPPC’s conclusions.
In an e-mail to me you expressed. concern that I am ”dismissing the judgement of 97-98% of active climate scientists.” I am accustomed to polls but am unsure of their value in science. As you know, scientific advances often come at the expense of consensus positions. To me, it is enough to know that a number of the actual authors of the IPCC reports do not support the conclusions laid out in Summary for policymakers, which is not a scientific document. It would be just as simple for me to ask why you dismiss these scientists,who are the very authors of the IPCC reports.
While making the same point on his Climate Change 101 web page, Senator Hatch referred to a document called “UN Climate Scientists Speak Out On Global Warming“, a selection of quotations from Sen. Inhofe’s “Senate Minority Report” which listed over 700 scientists who dissent from the IPCC’s conclusions. Here’s how I deconstruct how Orrin Hatch is using the testimonies of these dissenters.
1) Senator Hatch isn’t that impressed that two recent, peer-reviewed studies, specifically targeting climate scientists, show that 97-98% of them agree humans are significantly affecting the climate. Science isn’t done by polling, after all!
Obviously, if 97-98% of the experts take one position, that means 2-3% of the experts take another. It’s possible for experts to disagree with the consensus, and since scientific conclusions are always tentative, to some extent, maybe the dissenters are right! But is Senator Hatch really in a position to distinguish between competing expert opinions? What scientific evidence does he offer that leads him to reject the consensus position? In his web page his primary evidence is just Lindzen and Choi’s 2009 paper that Hatch says “disproves” the idea that the climate system is dominated by positive feedbacks. Of course, Hatch doesn’t mention that other scientists have now proven there were serious flaws in that paper, which even Lindzen admits. Of course, Lindzen says he’s now fixed all the errors, and a new paper is in review. We’ll see how that goes, but the point is that Senator Hatch obviously isn’t in a position to tell who’s right about a technical issue like that.
So what does he fall back on? Polling!!!
2) Hatch rejects the scientific studies of climate scientists’ views in favor of a document that shows a number of IPCC scientists have defected! The most recent version of Inhofe’s Senate Minority Report (which was compiled by his former staffer, Marc Morano) ”features the skeptical voices of over 1,000 international scientists, including many current and former UN IPCC scientists, who have now turned against the UN IPCC.” How can we trust the conclusions of the IPCC, when so many of the scientists involved have voiced dissent?
A single paper comes out, and Senator Hatch is just so terribly impressed with it that, before any other scientists have a chance to take a crack at the paper, he announces that the entire edifice of climate change theory has fallen–even though he doesn’t have the technical expertise to evaluate it properly. Likewise, Hatch is terribly impressed that SO MANY of the IPCC scientists have dissented from the recommendations given in the IPCC report. But just how many IPCC scientists are we talking about? How many does it take to “give pause” to Senator Hatch, so that it is “enough for [him] to know” that they aren’t on board?
I went the extra mile, and not only looked at Senator Hatch’s list of dissenting “IPCC scientists,” but searched through Marc Morano’s latest update to see if I could find any more. (I used generic search terms like “author,” “contributor,” and “reviewer,” so I doubt I could have missed many. I believe I came up with a couple more than were on Senator Hatch’s list.) So here they are, divided into “Lead Authors,” “Contributing Authors,” “Reviewers,” and “Other Scientists Associated with the IPCC”. Where I have given more information than is contained in Morano’s report, I have linked the sources.
IPCC Lead Authors
- Richard Tol (economist).
- Tom Tripp (metallurgist).
- Philip Lloyd (chemical engineer)
- John T. Everett (fisheries management)
- John Christy (climatology)
- Dick Lindzen (climatology)
IPCC Contributing Authors
- Rosa Compagnucci (climatology)
- Christopher Landsea (climatology)
- Aynsley Kellow (environmental policy)
- Oliver Frauenfeld (climatology)
- Robert E. Davis (climatology)
- Peter Dietze (electrical engineering, energy consultant)
- Hans Labohm (business/science journalism, economics)
- Richard S. Courtney (materials science, editor of a coal trade journal)
- Steve Japar (don’t know his specialty, but he works for Ford Motor Company)
- Gerd-Rainer Weber (climatology, works for the Association of German Coal Producers)
- Miklos Zagoni (physics)
- Vincent Gray (chemistry, coal industry researcher)
- Madhav L. Khandekar (meteorology)
- Kiminori Itoh (environmental chemistry)
- Tom V. Segalstad (geology, geochemistry)
- David Wojick (philosophy of science)
- Lee C. Gerhard (petroleum geology)
- Patrick J. Michaels (climatology)
- Ross McKitrick (environmental economics)
- Paul Reiter (medical entomology, malaria expert)
Others Scientists Associated with the IPCC
- Hajo Smit (meteorology, MS in environmental science, former Dutch IPCC committee member)
- Indur M. Goklany (electrical engineer, policy analyst for US Dept. of Interior, represented US at IPCC)
- Yury Izrael (meteorology, past vice-chairman of IPCC)
Now, let’s crunch a few numbers to put this list in perspective. According to the Wikipedia article on the IPCC, contributors to the 2007 report (AR4) included “more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors.” I should also note that some of the people on Morano’s list of dissenters were contributors to earlier IPCC reports, rather than AR4, so the numbers I’m going to lay on you are going to be high. As a percentage of the AR4 contributors, Morano’s dissenters amount to < 1.3% of the lead authors, < 0.6% of the contributing authors, and < 0.6% of the reviewers. (The three in the “other” category were just political appointees, and I don’t know how many IPCC-connected political appointees there have been in the world.)
What’s more, while the lead and contributing authors are appointed because of recognized expertise, ANYONE can become a reviewer just by asking for a draft and agreeing not to publicly comment on it! That’s why several of the scientists on Morano’s list of dissenting reviewers are not climatologists, and some even work for the coal industry, for Pete’s sake.
I could go on. For instance, I pointed out in a previous post that Tom Tripp is a metallurgist working for US Magnesium, and lead author of a small section in AR4 on how much CO2 is given off during magnesium production. Presumably he’s very qualified to address that issue, but should his opinion about whether there’s a consensus on the causes of climate change really count for much? When Morano cites Richard Tol (an economist and IPCC lead author) and some other guy named Eduardo Zorita moaning about the IPCC, he says, “Note: Zorita and Tol are not included in the count of dissenting scientists in this report.” I imagine these two had some gripes about the IPCC, but didn’t want to be lumped in with the people who think the whole idea of anthropogenic climate change is bunk.
So that’s it, then. How many dissenting IPCC scientists does it take to impress Senator Hatch? Less than 1%.
When the number is that small, what he is really saying is that any dissent at all is an excuse for inaction. But the fact is that, for any scientific issue that is complicated at all, there will never be 100% agreement. Scientists have all kinds of “old sayings” to illustrate this, e.g., “Old theories never die, their adherents do,” or “And so science progresses, one funeral at a time,” and so on. In other words, Senator Hatch has found himself a permanent, unassailable excuse for inaction regarding climate change.
My challenge to Senator Hatch is to reflect on just how easily he is being swayed toward inaction, and ask himself whether he’s really trying to take an objective approach. If he’s honest with himself, I think he’ll find that the basis for his position doesn’t amount to much.