2010-08-10 19:37:38Basic Rebuttal No.3: Is there a scientific consensus on global warming? - REVISED
Graham Wayne

Can't We At Least Agree That There Is No Consensus?

Argument No.3: There is no consensus between scientists about the cause of global warming

Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing. When a question is first asked – like ‘what would happen if we put a load more CO2 in the atmosphere?’ – there may be many hypotheses about cause and effect. Over a period of time, each idea is tested and retested – the processes of the scientific method – because all scientists know that reputation and kudos go to those who find the right answer (and everyone else becomes an irrelevant footnote in the history of science). Nearly all hypotheses will fall by the wayside during this testing period, because only one is going to answer the question properly, without leaving all kinds of odd dangling bits that don’t quite add up. Bad theories are usually rather untidy.

But the testing period must come to an end. Gradually, the focus of investigation narrows down to those avenues that continue to make sense, that still add up, and quite often a good theory will reveal additional answers, or make powerful predictions, that add substance to the theory. When Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev constructed his periodic table of elements, not only did he fit all known elements successfully, he predicted that elements we didn’t even know about would turn up later on  – and they did!

So a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other's work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work that forms the foundation of climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted - and relied upon.  

In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them. Several studies confirm that “...the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes”. (Doran 2009). In other words, more than 95% of scientists working in the disciplines contributing to studies of our climate, accept that climate change is almost certainly being caused by human activities.

We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.

In the field of climate science, the consensus is unequivocal: human activities are causing climate change.

2010-08-10 22:21:54Response to Grahams' first post.
John Russell


All good meaty stuff -- but it is almost as long as JC's current rebuttal on the site.  While I don't think we should be proscriptive about the length of the 'in-brief' rebuttal, I think we should aim for brevity. Remember, no-one can accuse us of being too shallow if they also have the option of the 'in-full' and 'in-depth' levels*.

[*If anyone thinks I'm lobbying for these titles, they right. Well spotted.]  

Best wishes,


2010-08-10 22:40:26Graham's response
Graham Wayne

Cheers John, and I know what you mean, except as I've said elsewhere, I don't take for granted the idea that these items will always appear in one context i.e. with the tab system.

I found I ended up addressing the serial arguments - what is a consensus, who says there is one, what about the 'other' consensus, but I noticed afterwards that in John's main list, these are separate issues. So, for example, the OISM stuff I've put here could actually be the short rebuttal for the argument of that title. (I'm sure that's the right thing to do, actually - but I'll see what John makes of it first).

2010-08-11 09:57:17Agree on separating OISM stuff


I like your take on this, gpwayne. The image of gradually dying chatter works nicely!

Might also mention something to the effect that a sinking rate of publications on any given topic represents declining interest from investigators and thus consensus. (it's fun to play with this metric on Google scholar) 

Regarding the OISM stuff, a whole other arena, really. It's a synthetic distraction from the actual point, which is the real state of consensus.

2010-08-11 15:55:27I'll move the OISM section
Graham Wayne

Cheers Doug - I think we're agreed the OISM stuff is in the wrong place. I'll cut that out and put in in the OISM article instead, perhaps with a little more meat on it.

2010-08-14 22:43:38Revision notes
Graham Wayne
Hi All - removed the OISM section. Doug - I thought about your suggestion but it appeared ambiguous - a lack of interest can also be spun as a lack of relevance, rather than acceptance. What I did add was that consensus is reflected in the citations.
2010-08-15 03:59:40Another one ready to go

Hits the mark!
2010-08-17 13:21:48Let it rip

ditto - hits the mark
2010-08-17 18:24:05
Ari Jokimäki

Thumb's up.
2010-08-17 19:03:29
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Great work
2010-08-18 01:24:44done
Robert Way

Good Job
2010-08-19 09:23:47Posted
John Cook

Gone live with this one, thanks, Graham. Thanks also for writing the snappy headlines - makes the blog posts pithier and provides a nicely retweetable headline (so I encourage others to suggest blog headlines to go with your rebuttals)