If 9 out of 10 of the world’s best medical doctors said you had cancer and needed immediate treatment, what would you do?
Now take a look at this July 2010 abstract from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:
“Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC…Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98%of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”
Shocking? Yes. News? Well, not really.
Anybody who has been closely following this issue already knows that there is enormous agreement among the experts that humans are causing climate change (It’s even greater than 9 out of 10. It is 97 to 98%). They also know that there is remarkably faint public acceptance of the strong body of scientific evidence that supports their views.
The question is why?
Scientists are trained to be annoyingly skeptical, relentlessly critical, unwilling to accept new ideas without evidence, perpetually questioning. They ceaselessly look for flaws in each others’ work. Yet, amongst the best scientists in the field of climate science (and therefore the most scrupulous), there is an astonishing level of agreement that climate change is human caused and is a big problem. But it appears we don’t care.
This is fascinating to me. It also scares me.
In fact, the real “Climate Gate” might be that in light of what is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, the media and others have confused the public to the point of complacency. People who are confused do not take action; they do not pressure their elected leaders to take meaningful steps towards mitigating emissions and adapting to climate change. People who are confused are more willing to accept the status quo.
I think it is important to be careful about who I accept advice from. If a lawyer told me I needed a root canal, I would seek a second opinion from somebody who is trained and respected in dentistry, before I let anybody stick a drill in my mouth. So why do journalists often quote non-experts when reporting on climate change? And why are we so willing to accept the dogma of non-experts on this issue?
To answer these questions, I will have to know more about the challenges of journalism, and a lot more about human psychology.
There may still be a small number of scientists who are not convinced of the causes and implications of climate change. But they are a distinct minority. Moreover, would you put your personal fate into the hands of the one doctor out of ten who said you do not need cancer treatment?
Follow this link to explore the full length article quoted above.
Follow this link if you are legitimately confused about some of the mechanisms of climate change and want to get straight on what the best science is telling us.