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Most Geoscientists and Engineers are Global Warming skeptics

Posted By Joanne Nova On February 11, 2013 @ 4:21 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

When researchers Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer asked geoscientists and engineers their opinion about global warming, they discovered that two thirds of them think that the current warming is mostly due to nature.

They also found out that skeptics are scientifically informed and in positions of power and influence. What they didn’t figure out is why this is bleedingly obvious once you start with correct assumptions. Even though the skepticism of well respected scientists matches the skepticism of meteorologists (think about that) the researchers assume the skeptics are “deniers”.

Of course, polls of scientists are not evidence about our climate. But it is evidence that one of the main forms of argument “97% of climate scientists say man-made warming is real” is not just meaningless, but misleading. It’s PR, not science. The endorsement of “science associations” is one of the main points of “evidence” offered by pro-carbon-market activists. But few of those associations ever asked their members, their endorsement is usually just a committee pronouncement from six networking types on the “climate policy” committee. And few researchers even ask “most scientists” what they think. The one large survey was done by volunteers (and done twice) and they found 31,000 scientists who disagree with the six-member-committees of science associations.

Thanks to Heartland and James Taylor.

Survey: Geoscientists, Engineers Are Global Warming Skeptics

Only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believe that humans are creating a global warming crisis, according to a survey reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,077 respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.

The survey results show geoscientists and engineers hold similar views as meteorologists. Two recent surveys of meteorologists (summarized here and here) revealed similar skepticism of alarmist global warming claims.

Read the new survey results here.

The researchers start in the darkness and never find the light

Not to pull punches, this study, like so many, was done by researchers who don’t seem to know what science is, don’t test their base assumptions, and unwittingly build their own mental-contructs around activist PR, mistaking it for “scientific truth”. They use the wholly unscientific and undefinable term “climate change deniers” even though they admit no one seems to deny that the climate changes. If a researcher can’t start with accurate English, what’s left? Namecalling — it’s  not a good look for a scientific mind.  Couldn’t the researchers see “deniers” for what it is — the bullying and intimidation by people who don’t have better arguments?

The research appears to come from the point of view of trying to figure out how to convert those pesky inconvenient skeptics. Look out for two new junkscience terms “Climate change resistance” and “institutional defence”.

One of the biggest flaws is that Lefsrud and Meyer assume that fossil fuel scientists have a vested interest, but think no one else does:

For obvious reasons, fossil fuel industries’ stakes in this struggle are high and, not surprisingly, they are at the forefront of the opposition to carbon regulation (Wittneben, Okereke, Banerjee, & Levy, 2009).

Did no one wonder what happens to a climate change expert if it turns out that (a) climate change is natural and there is no need to spend billions to try to control the weather (or fund large grants to study it), and (b) the climate scientists were mostly wrong, barking up the wrong tree and not very good at their jobs?

The influence of the vested interests in fossil fuel related work is real but not particular strong. The stakes are not that high. Fossil-fuel-based-scientists know that even if CO2 causes a significant climate shift, it won’t cripple their industry. For the foreseeable future people will still be buying coal, oil and gas because there are no real alternatives (apart from nukes).

For climate scientists, the stakes are all or nothing. If CO2 is not a big problem, many careers will crash. Did the researchers  ask the geo’s their opinion on wind and solar, and the likelihood it would threaten their jobs?

Lefsrud and Meyer reckon it’s hard to “gain access” to the minds of deniers:

However, given the polarized debate (Antonio & Brulle, 2011; Hamilton, 2010; McCright & Dunlop, 2011), gaining access to the reasoning of deniers and sceptics (Kemp, Milne, & Reay, 2010), let alone unraveling their framings, is far more difficult than analyzing supporters of regulatory measures (Hoffman, 2011a).

I guess they don’t have the Internet then? Shame.

Crikey, this is their research question? No wonder they don’t find anything useful:

How do professional experts use frames to construct the reality of climate change, and themselves as experts, their credibility in making recommendations and decisions, while engaging in defensive institutional work against others?

They have a strange way of defining expertise:

Expertise, as we have pointed out, relies on credibility and has to demonstrate ‘informedness’ and objectivity of judgment.

In science, expertise is the ability to make predictions that match what happens. Credibility is what happens after someone proves they can do that. Derision is what happens when someone who pretends to have credibility keeps getting it wrong.

They found that skeptics are not scientifically illiterate… and strangely have some influence:

Third, we show that the consensus of IPCC experts meets a much larger, and again heterogenous, sceptical group of experts in the relevant industries and organizations (at least in Alberta) than is generally assumed. We find that climate science scepticism is not limited to the scientifically illiterate (per Hoffman, 2011a), but well ensconced within this group of professional experts with scientific training – who work as leaders or advisors to management in governmental, non-governmental, and corporate organizations.

No wait, fossil fuel type scientists are motivated by money and the status quo:

…we find that professional experts employed in the petroleum industry are more likely to be sceptical of the IPCC and of anthropogenic climate change. Given this, the defensive institutional work of these professionals to maintain existing institutions clearly exceeds the mere maintenance of ‘routines and rituals of their reproduction’…

But bankers can rise above…. oh ha-de-ha…

Marquis and Lounsbury (2007) suggest that banking professionals are more able to resist due to their stronger professional identity; Jonsson (2009) finds that professional resistance differs across firms, depending upon the relative influence of professionals and the logics associated.

The assumptions that make their conclusions like a stumble-through-a-dark-swamp (sorry) are that climate scientists have no “vested interest” and are therefore right about climate science.

So what is climate change resistance?

With our findings, we provide additional insights into climate change resistance.

Does that mean people who are resisting actual climate change (ie. resisting the artificial warming of the planet) or people who are resisting the dominant belief and propaganda? (I assume it’s the latter). Sloppy language does not engender accurate thinking.

At least they did manage to figure out what skeptics are on about in a vague kind of way:

The vast majority of these professional experts believe that the climate is changing; it is the cause, the severity and the urgency of the problem, and the need to take action, especially the efficacy of regulation, that is at issue.

But they still think their research provides more info on the nuances of “institutional defense”. What they have stumbled onto and have no idea, is that their research shows that most scientists have reasonable judgement and that using a poll of one small specialist group of scientists is a poor way to determine the policy of western civilization, especially when those scientists can’t name any observational evidence to support their faith.

Skeptics have risen higher in management

Watch how researchers working on the wrong base-assumptions fall into obvious traps:

… our results indicate that those who are more defensive occupy more senior organizational positions and are much closer to decision-making than activists.

They make it sound like it was an accident of hierarchy. Could be that those who are more rational about other things have risen up to be in senior organizational positions because they are capable, bright, and sensible? They make better decisions than activists, perhaps?

Is being sexist and ageist a useful tool?

This can only partly be explained by adherents of defensive framings being older and more likely to be male compared to activists.

If they had written that activists were more likely to be female and young (and less likely to be right because of that) would that be OK? The idea that young people might be more gullible and less wise is hardly radical, but these researchers seem to think that humans are naturally wiser when they’re younger, but lose it as they gain experience. Barking.

 Vested interests are everywhere

The researchers seem to have the view that only the fossil fuel industry has an “interest” in the outcome of legislation aimed at controlling the weather. Blinded by their own assumption that the “Consensus” is right they are oblivious to the interests of groups like insurers, bankers, and climate scientists. They spend paragraphs discussing how the intransigence of geoscientists is a problem to be solved, then write as if the insurance industry and military is run purely by philanthropists.

Yet this dissension, declining public interest, and political intransigence may be immaterial. A potential, yet so far unused discursive opportunity to ‘broker’ between pro-regulation frames and ‘economic responsibility’ may lie in a more comprehensive (i.e., including financial) understanding of risk (Hoffman, 2011b). Nagel (2011) discusses how the insurance and reinsurance industry is supremely concerned about exposure to financial risks associated with extreme weather events. The US military is concerned about security risks associated with ‘population displacements, increased potential for failed states and terrorism, potential escalation of conflicts over resources’ (Nagel, 2011, p. 206).

I’m sure the reinsurance guys never noticed they’d sell more insurance if the population was scared of floods washing away their homes or droughts destroying their crops. What’s the best kind of insurance deal for the insurance industry? One where the public worries about something that doesn’t happen. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Thanks for the money.

Likewise the military wouldn’t be asking for more funds to deal with “population displacements” would they? Surely not!

Lefsrud and  Meyer need to start again, and with a different mental model

Everything they write hinges on the question “Do we need to try changing the weather?”. The answer to that question lies in the evidence from instruments that measure the climate. Surveys of experts will never tell us what’s happening to clouds or ocean currents, they can only tell us what’s happening in the culture and counter culture of a politically hot-potato topic. When it comes to pricing something as universal as energy, everyone and every industry has something to gain or lose.

If governments had mistakenly funded one side of research in a monopoly to find a crisis, is anyone surprised that mostly honest researchers would find one? If journalists got swept up in a dominant culture that rewarded them as saints if they sound the alarm, but called them nasty petty names like “denier” if they pointed out the flaws, is anyone surprised that the media is slow to point out obvious discrepancies? If social scientists without proper science training mistakenly think that “science” is decided by opinions rather than data, they merely propagate the pool of pointless research, and add to global confusion.

If the US government had poured in say, $79 billion, to find a crisis, while Fossil Fuel funds had only contributed $23 million, and the media did not expose the massive one sided imbalance or the flawed evidence from faulty climate models, the opinions of thousands of independent scientists could be the clarion call of informed whistleblowers. It is exactly what we would expect if the evidence was strongly pointing to a minor role for CO2, but the climate industry denied this. These social science researchers miss the point (and the mass uprising of volunteers) and dismiss the whistleblowers because they assume the peer reviewed process in science can work normally when billions of dollars is on one table, and virtually nothing is on the other.

For what it’s worth, I’m a science-communication whistleblower. My industry has failed, and I’m doing what I can to fix that.


Extra reading:


Lefsrud and Meyer (2012) Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change, Organization Studies, vol. 33, 11: pp. 1477-1506. , First Published November 19, 2012.


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