2010-08-11 16:39:36Basic rebuttal 94: Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project - REVISION 3
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.132.177.33

The Oregon Petition: How Many Scientists Does It Take To Change A Consensus?

Argument No. 94: Over 32,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project

There are several claims that large numbers of scientists do not agree with the theory of climate change, the best known of which is a petition organised by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (the OISM petition). This petition now appears to be signed by over 32,000 people with a BSc or higher qualification. The signatories agree with these statements:

  • The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
  • There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate.

No evidence has ever been offered to support the first statement, and the second statement is in flat contradiction with the scientists who study climate change. There are also valid issues regarding the methodology:

  • The organisers have never revealed how many people they canvassed (so the response rate is unknown) nor have they revealed the sampling methodology, an ironic omission considering how much fuss is made about scientists being candid and making public their methods and data.
  • The petition is, in terms of climate change science, rather out of date.

In the professional field of climate science, the consensus is unequivocal: human activities are causing climate change and additional anthropogenic CO2 may cause great disruption to the climate.

32,000 Sounds Like A Lot

In fact, OISM signatories represent a tiny fraction (~0.3%) of all US science graduates (petition cards were only sent to individuals within the U.S)

According to figures from the US Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics: 2008, 10.6 million science graduates have gained qualifications consistent with the OISM polling criteria since the 1970-71 school year. 32,000 out of 10 million is not a very compelling figure, but a tiny minority - approximately 0.3 per cent.

There are many issues casting doubt on the validity of this petition. On investigation, attempts to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change often appear to have ideological roots, vested business interests or political sponsors. The claims made for the OISM petition do not withstand objective scrutiny, and the assertions made in the petition are not supported by evidence, data or scientific research.

Several independent studies have shown that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing the climate to change, that CO2 is causing global changes to the climate, and that the consequences could be catastrophic. These views form the scientific consensus on climate change. 

2010-08-11 23:41:02oism farm shed
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

I'd start the post with the picture of the farm shed with the old geysers in checked shirts standing around outside, and the sign 'OISM' painted on the end. A picture is worth a thousand words! It says everything you need to know about the organisation's credibility:  http://www.oism.org (well worth a look!).

Apparently those who have visited say it is exactly what it looks like -- a big farm shed, on a farm, down a dirt road.  You can also find it on Google Earth I believe.

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-12 23:54:48Farm shed
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49

Now call me an idealist but I'm not a big fan of the farm shed picture idea. It's basically an ad hominem approach. I take the approach that Skeptical Science is about explaining the truth and educating people, not scoring debate points. I posted a few comments on the Watts Up With That site recently and had the opportunity to take Anthony Watts down a few pegs but opted not to - just politely pointed out the facts when he'd made some false statements about me then thanked him for defending me from one of his more rabid commenters. I could've sunk into him on several points but my philosophy is how we act is just as important as what we say.

You're probably all thinking, Cookie, you're a starry eyed naive fool! You're probably right! This is a dog fight, a bare knuckled brawl, a battle for our children's future. But I'm conscious of the fact that the people we're trying to win over are the vast, undecided majority. And how we act will play a major factor in how they view our arguments. Are we likeable? Do we share their values? These are all things we need to think about. I'm fighting with as much fierceness as anyone but my fierceness manifests itself as mild-mannered reasonableness :-)

Sorry, getting on a bit of a rant there. Getting back on topic, I wonder if the OISM rebuttal lacks focus. What is the key take-home point? I would've thought the key take-home is something like "what matters is what the climate experts think and 97% of climate scientists are convinced that humans are causing global warming". So you'd start by pointing out the OISM petition casts a wide net but has very few actual climate experts - who are the very guys you'd want to ask about climate.

2010-08-13 01:42:44Comment
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.112
Yeah I agree with John,
the thing that keeps this site different from the others is that it doesn't step into the debate the same as RC and CP do. I mean sure we could all go Romm on the other guys if we liked but does that really serve that much of a purpose? Doesn't it polarize more?

I like some of the stuff romm puts up but I gotta say that the amount of attacks and political nature of his blog does from time to time turn me off of this stuff. Lets be real now, he's got a ph.d in physics, he doesn't need to politicize things to win his arguments. Either way, I like that the skeptic sites can't really come out and condemn anything that's done at skeptical science because its done for the most part without opinions being involved.

Fighting disinformation with science is the best strategy. A couple weeks ago I did a couple posts on some inaccuracies at WUWT. Of course there was no retraction but they had done 3 posts on that topic within the previous week and haven't done any since my posts. Surely but slowly we begin to narrow down their arguments further and further with this site.
2010-08-13 03:24:21Farm shed
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

You are right. John and Robert. I agree completely with your comment. I wouldn't have written that on the site for everyone to see -- it was more a joke between like-minded people (sudden thoughts of the 'Climategate hack' comes to mind!). 

However every time people talk about the 'Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine' that shed comes to mind and I wonder if people are aware of the pedigree of the research they are quoting at me.

Apologies. 

2010-08-13 16:52:10On the focus of the rebuttal
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.132.177.33

I agree with JC about the picture, so I'll move on regarding that one - I also agree that we must maintain a standard of sobriety and objectivity that is consistent with the science and those that do it - cautious, polite, somewhat equivocal but never mean-spirited or combatative. Hard position to maintain, but worth the effort I'm sure.

On the focus of the rebuttal, I take John's point, and this is easily fixed. I'll move the last paragraph - who would you ask for expert advice - to the top and open with that, because the lack of expertise is the 'take-home' point. The other stuff is just some salad dressings and sauces in little pots on the side. (Have to quit this analogy - getting hungry now...)

2010-08-14 20:14:22Updated text...
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255
Here's another one, with John's suggestion taken on board...
2010-08-15 04:21:22Ready
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

This is a sacred cow of skeptics so like all climate debate ox-gorings it'll attract a loud crowd of spectators. Thus if there's anything wrong with it we'll surely know.

I think it tells the story excellently.

2010-08-16 02:41:16Can this be trimmed?
Jim Meador

jimm58@gmail...
68.164.190.177

Maybe it is just a difference in style, but my preference would be to keep the "basic" arguments to a minimal length. (This is the so-called "elevator pitch", which can be conveyed in the 30 seconds you might have to make a point to someone in an elevator ride.)

II suggest cutting this down and simplifying the rebuttal. The key point of the skeptic argument is the number 31,000, which sounds like a lot. The key rebuttal is the number 10 million, which sounds like a lot more!

My tendency would be to ditch the rest of the arguments in this rebuttal:

  • Having a degree doesn’t make you a scientist

True, but scientists are not the only people who can consider the evidence for global warming and weigh in with their opinions. This site is devoted to presenting scientific evidence for warming to non-scientists, and making this kind of "you aren't a REAL scientist" distinction sounds like an elitist argument that non-scientists aren't qualified to evaluate evidence. I don't think this is helpful.

  • No checks were performed

Maybe Mikey Mouse and Superman signed the petition too. Who cares. This is at most a few percentage points. Most of the people who signed were probably sincere. Casting doubts on some of the signers does not honor the good intentions of the majority, even if I think they were misguided or mis-informed. If the number of signers dropped to "only" 30,000 after implementing checks, it still looks like a lot. The key point to make is that 30,000 is not a very big number in the scheme of things.

  • The criteria for ‘scientist’ was very broad

This is another non-issue for me. I am an Electrical Engineer by training, but I can certainly understand the scienctific underpinnings of global warming. Anyone who follows a scientific method is a "scientist". It is not an exclusive club.

The arguments above are only relevant in figuring out the denominator in the 31000/(total possible signers) equation, so I would keep it focused on that.

 

2010-08-16 20:10:00Trimming the rebuttal
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
I would also suggest cutting the table. I think it's too much info for a basic level.
2010-08-17 01:31:23Revision notes
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
86.156.59.156

OK - cut out a fair bit, added a little about the other claim in the petition (added at the top) and removed the graph. See what you think...

2010-08-17 04:01:58
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
bioluminescence@hotmail.co...
80.42.219.219
A very good rebuttal of an argument that pops up time and again.
2010-08-17 16:19:59I think this one is ready.
Jim Meador

jimm58@gmail...
68.164.185.144
Nice work, gp!
2010-08-17 21:39:08Sensible comments.
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

Graham; the sentence...

"There are many issues casting doubt on the validity of this petition, and others like it."

...is ambiguous. It can read that some people like the petition. Amazing what a difference a comma makes in some situations!  

Other comments.

1) Can I also suggest that you mention that we don't know how many people the OISM originally petitioned to arrive at their 32,000 -- and that they won't reveal anything about their sampling methodology (which is not very scientific is it?).

2) Is it also worth mentioning that the petition dates back to the 90s and things -- like the general awareness of climate change -- have moved on?

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-18 15:33:18Nice one
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
86.156.59.156

Good observations John. I removed the reference to other petitions altogether, since it suggests that ALL petitions are flawed. Too broad a generalisation, and better to stick to the point I think. On the other points, I've inserted some text accordingly.

2010-08-18 16:24:30
watchingthedeniers

watchthedeniers@optusnet.com...
203.41.179.162

Worth mentioning serious quality control issues with the petition?

It has been investigated several times by journalists and Sci Am  It's not just the qualifications of the signers but the lack of quality control that undermines it's authority.

2010-08-18 16:29:52To watchingthedeniers
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
86.156.59.156
Hi - I think we've covered the QC issue enough after picking up on John R's points. We have to restrain ourselves and not get too bogged down in these basic rebuttals. When we start putting in too much detail (and the qualifications/sources/arguments that support or validate them) I think the rebuttal stops being 'basic'.  
2010-08-18 19:12:14Ok to Go
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

It's OK to go. As Doug has said, once it's up, if it attracts any unforseen and justifiable criticism, it can be modified.

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-19 00:50:29comment
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.22
gpwayne,
I would put this part to the end "Several independent studies have shown that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing the climate to change, that CO2 is causing global changes to the climate, and that the consequences could be catastrophic. These views form the scientific consensus on climate change"
2010-08-19 02:06:02Take home point
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
OK Robert, I made that the take-home point as you suggested.
2010-08-19 16:48:19
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
192.100.112.211
Seems good.
2010-08-19 17:26:42Agreed
watchingthedeniers

watchthedeniers@optusnet.com...
203.41.179.162

Agree that we need to keep these things concise.

Otherwise, all good!

2010-08-20 13:15:52Some other things worth mentioning
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
58.105.164.221
I know this rebuttal is in a late stage of development, but I’d also try and include some of the following points:

Apparently, those who signed the petition did so just after reading an article written by people involved with the OISM and formatted to look like a report in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with a cover letter from former NAS president Frederick Seitz. So many of the petition signers may have been under the impression that the petition came from the NAS rather than a farm shed.

When Scientific American investigated this petition, they found that many signers said they would not sign the petition today, or they did not remember the petition, or they had died, or they could not be contacted. By extrapolation they concluded that the petition had a core of around 200 climate researchers – a long way short of 31,000.

And I don’t think it elitist to say that it is not evident that the majority of the signers have relevant expertise. About half of them are engineers. Now I’m sure engineering is a very scientific discipline and there are lots of smart engineers, but they’re not climate scientists. They’re just not. It’s not an insult to engineers to say that any more than it is an insult to say that a medical doctor is not a climate scientist. (And don’t forget, another 3,000 of the signers were doctors or vets.)
2010-08-20 13:59:28published
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
Graham, I've gone live with this one but feel free to continue to tinker with it based on later comments if you wish.
2010-08-20 17:09:12On content
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

Hi James,

There is some tension between providing enough information, and being complete. I already cut a fair bit out due to earlier criticisms I thought were appropriate. I agree that everything you mention - and other suggestions - are worthy, but I think the further elaboration should go in the intermediate version. While I've argued that length should not be a critical criteria per se, I do think that making the text longer can sometimes be counter-productive in a basic version.