By Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook via Skeptical Science.
A new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers by our citizen science team at Skeptical Science has found a 97 percent consensus in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are causing global warming.
Lead author John Cook created a short video abstract summarizing the study.
The Abstracts Survey
The first step of our approach involved expanding the original survey of the peer-reviewed scientific literature in Oreskes (2004). We performed a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications (in the ISI Web of Science) for the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ between the years 1991 and 2011, which returned over 12,000 papers. John Cook created a web-based system that would randomly display a paper’s abstract (summary). We agreed upon definitions of possible categories: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no position, and implicit or explicit rejection (or minimization of the human influence).
Our approach was also similar to that taken by James Powell, as illustrated in the popular graphic below. Powell examined nearly 14,000 abstracts, searching for explicit rejections of human-caused global warming, finding only 24. We took this approach further, also looking at implicit rejections, no opinions, and implicit/explicit endorsements.
We took a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included (either implicit or explicit) language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as ‘no position’.
Note that John Cook also initiated a spinoff from the project with a survey of climate blog participants re-rating a subset of these same abstracts. However, this spinoff is not a part of our research or conclusions.
A team of Skeptical Science volunteers proceeded to categorize the 12,000 abstracts — the most comprehensive survey of its kind to date. Each paper was rated independently at least twice, with the identity of the other co-rater not known. A dozen team members completed most of the 24,000+ ratings. There was no funding provided for this project; all the work was performed on a purely voluntary basis.
Once we finished the 24,000+ ratings, we went back and checked the abstracts where there were disagreements. If the disagreement about a given paper couldn’t be settled by the two initial raters, a third person acted as the tie-breaker.
The volunteers were an internationally diverse group. Team members’ home countries included Australia, USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Italy.
As an independent test of the measured consensus, we also emailed over 8,500 authors and asked them to rate their own papers using our same categories. The most appropriate expert to rate the level of endorsement of a published paper is the author of the paper, after all. We received responses from 1,200 scientists who rated a total of over 2,100 papers. Unlike our team’s ratings that only considered the summary of each paper presented in the abstract, the scientists considered the entire paper in the self-ratings.
The 97% Consensus Results
Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers expressed a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. In the self-ratings, nearly 1,400 papers were rated as taking a position, 97.2% of which endorsed human-caused global warming.
We found that about two-thirds of papers didn’t express a position on the subject in the abstract, which confirms that we were conservative in our initial abstract ratings. This result isn’t surprising for two reasons: 1) most journals have strict word limits for their abstracts, and 2) frankly, every scientist doing climate research knows humans are causing global warming. There’s no longer a need to state something so obvious. For example, would you expect every geological paper to note in its abstract that the Earth is a spherical body that orbits the sun?
This result was also predicted by Oreskes (2007), which noted that scientists
“… generally focus their discussions on questions that are still disputed or unanswered rather than on matters about which everyone agrees”
However, according to the author self-ratings, nearly two-thirds of the papers in our survey do express a position on the subject somewhere in the paper.
We also found that the consensus has strengthened gradually over time. The slow rate reflects that there has been little room to grow, because the consensus on human-caused global warming has generally always been over 90% since 1991. Nevertheless, in both the abstract ratings and self-ratings, we found that the consensus has grown to about 98% as of 2011.
Percentage of papers endorsing the consensus among only papers that express a position endorsing or rejecting the consensus. From Cook et al. (2013).
Our results are also consistent with previous research finding a 97 percent consensus amongst climate experts on the human cause of global warming. Doran and Zimmerman (2009) surveyed Earth scientists, and found that of the 77 scientists responding to their survey who are actively publishing climate science research, 75 (97.4%) agreed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.” Anderegg et al. (2010) compiled a list of 908 researchers with at least 20 peer-reviewed climate publications. They found that:
“≈97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change]“
In our survey, among scientists who expressed a position on AGW in their abstract, 98.4% endorsed the consensus. This is greater than 97% consensus of peer-reviewed papers because endorsement papers had more authors than rejection papers, on average. Thus there is a 97.1% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature, and a 98.4% consensus amongst scientists researching climate change.
Why is this Important?