from The 97 Percent Solution by Ian Tuttle at National Review:
Surely the most suspicious “97 percent” study was conducted in 2013 by Australian scientist John Cook — author of the 2011 book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand and creator of the blog Skeptical Science (subtitle: “Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism.”). In an analysis of 12,000 abstracts, he found “a 97% consensus among papers taking a position on the cause of global warming in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are responsible.” “Among papers taking a position” is a significant qualifier: Only 34 percent of the papers Cook examined expressed any opinion about anthropogenic climate change at all. Since 33 percent appeared to endorse anthropogenic climate change, he divided 33 by 34 and — voilà — 97 percent! When David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who formerly headed the university’s Center for Climatic Research, recreated Cook’s study, he found that “only 41 papers — 0.3 percent of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0 percent of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1 percent,” endorsed what Cook claimed. Several scientists whose papers were included in Cook’s initial sample also protested that they had been misinterpreted. “Significant questions about anthropogenic influences on climate remain,” Legates concluded.
Also from National Review from Jonah Goldberg, The 97 Percent ‘Statistic’ — Is There Nothing It Can’t Do?:
Jonah Quotes from Bast and Spencer on the origin of the 97%.
The “97 percent” figure in the Zimmerman/Doran survey represents the views of only 79 respondents who listed climate science as an area of expertise and said they published more than half of their recent peer-reviewed papers on climate change. Seventy-nine scientists—of the 3,146 who responded to the survey—does not a consensus make.
They go on, but I don’t want to reprint the whole article here. Besides the more important point is that consensus — manufactured or otherwise — is not how science is done. “Settled science” — another concept Mair invokes — is an oxymoron. The whole point of science is to unsettle what we know at any given moment. Personally, I am more open to the claim that global warming is happening and is a potential problem than some of my friends on the right (my views line up pretty well with Matt Ridley’s for what that’s worth). But when I listen to people like Mair invoke the Union of Concerned Scientists and deny objective facts by hiding behind the skirts of a bogus statistic, it gives me no confidence that these are the kinds of people who should have anything to do with formulating public policy.
From any objective mind this 97% was deeply suspect, just given the nature of the issue. Upon any minimal examination this 97% number is absolutely bogus. It is absolutely media malpractice to even use it. Yet it has been repeated by the President, the Secretary of State, and it was repeated like a mentally disturbed robot in the Cruz / Sierra interview. Winston Churchill noted that a lie can make its way around the world several times before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
This is not the first time such tactics have been used to push a policy by exaggerating the problem. During the health insurance debate the number of uninsured people was listed at 46 million. It was also a bogus exaggerated number but it was successful in helping the pass the monstrous ACA. I noted that when the president signed his signature bill he announced that now 30 million uninsured people would be covered. No one grasped the magic of 15 million fewer uninsured he accomplished at the stroke of pen. After 5 years about 8 million net uninsured gained coverage. This is getting closer to the actual number to begin with. Ironically if they had used the more accurate 10-13 million uninsured it would have made the results look better, but it would have seemed like less of a crisis and maybe the bill would not have been passed. But to many ends justify the means.
Those of us who are accused of being anti-science for ever doubting this consensus understand the difference between science and authoritarianism masquerading as science. When this 97% becomes discredited then the proponents discount the actual number and simply say that there is still a majority support. This may be the case, but when the proponents and skeptics actually know so little about the science itself and we are harped upon by our leaders and policy makers to accept a consensus that is so easy to totally discredit, then one has to question what else are they exaggerating. This not only discredits those seeking a realistic view of policy but it discredits the scientists themselves and the public’s faith in our scientific institutions. Scientists and the public deserve much better treatment.