Abby Lieberman_Week5

October 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Week 5 | Leave a comment

As we have been discussing in class, much of what is accepted as science and, furthermore, as truth, has to do with the ways in which information is relayed to the public. The way that media and other information outlets frame issues has become increasingly important overtime, especially for highly contentious ones. A major debate being discussed currently is that of climate change and the amount of responsibility humans hold in the acceleration of global warming.  The “Guidance Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties” introduces a format for how the IPCC, whose job it is to look at scientific information and the risks of human contributions to climate change, should retain consistency and flow in their reports. In his article, “When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus,’” Jay Richards discusses instances when it is acceptable for a person to question the validity of a scientific statement and what can and should prompt suspicion in scientific claims.  One of the points Richards makes has to do with ambiguous phrasing in scientific reports and accounts, a concept that is also brought up in the Guidance Report. In discussions of what constitutes the most efficient way to phrase a concept, both the Guidance Report and Richards delve into how framing debates, such as that on climate change,  can largely effect the interpretation and understanding of information presented to the public.

The main intention of the Guidance Report, provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is to provide a concrete set of rules for how authors in the IPCC should convey the climate debate to the public. The report is divided into general sections, such as how to “treat issues of uncertainty and confidence,” and more specific sections, such as how to develop clear statements for major discoveries on the issue. Additionally, the report addresses that authors “should be prepared to make expert judgments,” and that they should review information already available in great detail.  Information provided in the report also includes specific ways to measure how the public will understand concepts presented based on historical measures.  One specific guideline that I wish to call attention to is that of needing to “communicate carefully, using calibrated language.” In this section, authors are warned about vague framing of an argument and the fact that how they present a piece of information can have a lot to do with how is it is consequently understood. It says, “to avoid uncertainty perceived by the reader being different from that intended, use language that minimizes possible misinterpretation and ambiguity.” That is to say, it is in the authors’ best interests to refrain from using words like “probable” or “likely.” Words such as these are unclear; they can cause confusion for readers.

In the article, “When to Doubt a Scientific Consensus,” Richards presents circumstances when it would be appropriate to question scientific claims.  He uses the issue of climate change to exemplify the points he makes and, overall, he discusses the problems that arise out of scientific consensus. Richards talks about being weary of the consensus and its vague meaning. He says that the dilemma relates to us knowing “whether a scientific consensus is based on solid evidence and sound reasoning, or social pressures and groupthink.” He explains that groupthink is dangerous and that the public can be easily swayed by it.  Similar to the Guidance Report, Richards brings up the importance of questioning vague and indirect statements. Unlike the report, which warns the authors about effective communication, Richards is warning the public.  But, from ‘the other side’ [the public side] he brings up similar points such as that of the phrases “scientists say” or “science says.” He says that, should a report or article say something of the sort, “your mind should immediately wonder: ‘which ones?'” and that the vague concept of “scientists” is often construed as the actual science.

In the discussions of how vague phrases contribute to framing on the author side of the climate debate and how they contribute to understanding as a result of that framing on the public side , a few questions come to mind: If authors provide us with such vague and indirect statements, how are we to detect them? Will different people with different areas of knowledge interpret vague statements differently? And, if so, what effect do these different understandings have on the the general consensus of the issue?


W5: When to Doubt a Scientific “Consensus” by Jay Richards VS. Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change by Don Zimmerman

October 2, 2011 at 11:45 am | Posted in Week 5 | Leave a comment

In When to Doubt a Scientific Consensus, Richards develops some rules of thumb for when one should consider doubting the notion of a scientific “consensus” on any subject. He starts by applying the concept of “non-rational dynamics of the herd” to the Washington Post poll revealing 4 in 10 Americans say they place little or no trust in what scientists have to say about the environment. This notion of scientific skepticism is partly due to the Climategate scandal, but the very idea of “scientific consensus” ought to give us pause alone. Since consensus means both “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief,” it is crucial to know distinctly whether the consensus is based on solid evidence and reasoning or social pressure and groupthink. He then points out that history shows a number of examples where false ideas once had a consensus at one time. However, questioning the paradigm will lead some to respond with dogmatic fanaticism. So, the question is how do we distinguish between “genuine authority and mere received wisdom”? The remainder of Richard’s piece is then a list of 12 signs of doubt one should consider when overlooking a consensus. 1 – When different claims get bundled together. In the case of global warming, evidence for warming is not necessarily evidence for the cause of that warming i.e. human emissions. 2 – When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate. This refers to such events as when Ellen Goldman said global warming “deniers” are on the same level as Holocaust deniers. So, be suspicious if proponents of the consensus lead with an attack on the witness rather than arguments of evidence. 3 – When scientists are pressured to toe the party line. This refers to how scientists from Climategate were pressured to support their colleagues’ opinions on climate change while receiving benefits for doing so. 4 – When publishing and peer review in the discipline is cliquish. In other words, when the same few people review and approve each other’s work, like in climate science, you should be suspicious. 5 – When dissenting opinions are excluded from the relevant peer-reviewed literature not because of weak evidence or bad arguments but as part of a strategy to marginalize dissent. 6 – When the actual peer-reviewed literature is misrepresented. 7 – When consensus is declared hurriedly or before it even exists. 8 – When the subject matter seems, by its nature, to resist consensus. 9 – When “scientists say” or “science says” is a common locution. 10 – When it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies. 11 – When the “consensus” is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with uncritical and partisan zeal, and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as objectively as possible. 12 – When we keep being told there is a scientific consensus. He ends by stating, “When you don’t have decisive evidence or great arguments, you claim consensus.”

In Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Zimmerman starts by pointing out that 52% of Americans think most climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming in recent years, and 47% think climate scientists agree that human activities are the major cause of that warming ( He then goes into the report on the 2 primary questions of a survey of 9 total questions: Q1 – When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant? Q2 – Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? The results were that 90% said “risen” for question 1, and 82% said “yes” to question 2. The study found that as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, agreement that mean global temperatures have risen and that human activity is a significant contributing factor increases as well. Their graph shows that among those who said no to question 2, most of them were from the general public, and among those who said yes, the highest proportion were from the category of climatologists. The general claim from Zimmerman’s study is that among those who understand nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes, the debate on authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activities is nonexistent. Therefore, the challenge is how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.

Between the two readings, there are notable differences in the presentation of the debate global climate change. Note that Zimmerman calls global warming and the role played by humans a fact, and that it is crucial that policy makers understand this fact. Whereas Richards sees global warming and the role humans play in it as very questionable, and the way Zimmerman is intent on communicating the scientific evidence for this should be reason for suspicion alone. In short, Richards adamantly pushes for more suspicion on scientific consensus on global warming and its cause, while Zimmerman pushes for more acceptance of the notion of a scientific consensus on global warming and its cause. Furthermore, one of the major questions being evaluated in Zimmerman’s study is whether human activity is a significant contributing factor, which can be perceived much differently than the poll question where the wording is about human activities being the major cause. Likewise, Richards perceives the claim of scientists to be that humans are the main cause of global warming. However, neither writer examines the enormous significance of the different wording of what is being claimed. For instance, one may be under the impression that humans are the most significant cause, or they may believe that humans play a role in addition to numerous other contributing factors. Whether humans are a significant contributing factor, the major cause, or the main cause is very subjective, and the choice of wording that is being presented to public opinion polls or to policy makers can have vastly different implications for future plans of action.

Questions for discussion:

To what degree do you agree/disagree with some of Richards “signs” of doubt?

Do you feel that writers, like Richards, who continue to be suspicious of scientific notions of global warming and the role humans play are dangerous to the common good?

Do you feel that writers, like Zimmerman, who push for policy action on global warming and the role humans play are dangerous to the common good?

Do you feel that the continuous debate regarding global climate change is an unhealthy one, in that it may be wasting valuable time that could be used in search of a solution? Or, is this a healthy debate that should continue to be sorted out before action is taken? A combination?

In the debate over what action should be taken, how much importance should be placed on the wording used to reference humans’ role in the cause of global warming (whether humans: “play a significant role”, are “a major cause”, are “the main cause”, etc)?

Luke Yiannatji

Week 5 Post – Doran and Oreskes

October 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Posted in Week 5 | 3 Comments

Once again in another debate, it is hard for the public to “believe” or “understand” or maybe even “trust” scientists and their research. Do you think that the average global temperatures have risen, fallen, or stayed the same? And is human activity a significant contributing factor in this change? In Doran, it talks about a survey that was conducted and sent out to many specialized fields pertaining to this topic and 90% of the participants answered “risen” to the first question, and 82% answered yes to the question asking about whether or not it was due to human activity. For the specialists, who listed climate science as their specific specialized area of expertise – 96.2% answered “risen” and 97.4% answered “yes” to the latter of the question. But a poll was taken to estimate the percentage of the general public that would answer yes to human activity being the cause of the risen temperatures and they suggested that only 58% would.

Why is it that only around 58% of the public believe scientists’ theory about how human activity is the largest factor in this climate change? Oreskes talks about a possible reason for disbelief in his essay, The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. It has been stated that there isn’t a consensus on the science and conclusions on climate change, thus when scientists are agreeing it may cause some people to second-guess them. BUT, Oreskes essay made it very clear that “Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect”. He is confident in saying that there is a scientific consensus on the realness of climate change, and the climate scientists have tried to make this clear to the public. So the only thing we (the people) can do, is listen.

It is apparent in these two articles that the scientist community has a general agreement to the reason for the rise in global temperatures is because of human activity. We can believe it or not, but we are only hurting future generations – and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren asking me why we didn’t do something to prevent this.

So I guess my question would be, why wouldn’t one believe something like this? What is the other side’s argument? Why when the scientists are all in agreement on the main reason of the increased global temperatures, are more than half of us are going to sit back and think it must be something else…it isn’t our fault…there isn’t anything we can do??

Week 5 – Emily Thibodeau

October 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Week 5 | Leave a comment

Oreskes presents the evidence for the scientific consensus on climate change, while Richards doubts the premise of consensus itself. Richard’s arguments ignore the scientific data on climate change and the definition of consensus. Oreskes’s “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” presents the basic findings of the Intergovernmental Pannell on Climate Change (IPCC). The main point made is it is agreed that human activities harm the atmosphere. This point is supported by various other prestigious scientific institutes, such as the National Academy of Science. The best piece of evidence for the scientific communities consensus on climate change is that of 928 academic, peer-reviewed articles written by scientists about climate change, 75% support climate change and the other 25% present no opinion. Clearly, by the definition of consensus being a majority opinion, most scientists support climate change.

Richards “When to Doubt Scientific ‘Consensus’” presents many arguments designed to discount the expertise of scientists in regard to this issue. He maintains throughout the article that scientists tend towards a ‘herd dynamic’ and tend to follow the popular opinions of others. He believes the process that created the climate change consensus is incorrect – listing many reasons, such as scientists being pressured to support climate change, or rushed towards consensus. While peer-reviewing may be a ‘cliquish’ process, as Richards suggests, it is highly unlikely that 928 peer-reviewed papers, reviewed by a variety of editors, would all lead to the same conclusion when an argument is made. Essentially, the arguments made by Richards seem dramatic and fall into one of his own arguments, ad hominum: about attacking the witness, in this case, the entire scientific community.

Both articles make reference to the scientific community and the beliefs at large on climate change by scientists. However, there is clear evidence from Oreskes that there is a consensus on climate change among scientists. Richards, however, doubts this consensus. His doubts, while unfounded, hardly seem unique, in light of the fact that only half of Americans, per Doran, believe there is a scientific consensus on climate change. My questions is: Is scientific consensus presented as problematic by Richards because it has the potential to lead to political and economic changes, as he mentions in his argument?

Megan Geske Week 5- Peterson/Doran & Zimmerman

October 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Week 5, Weekly Responses | 4 Comments

As was the case with evolution, there is a difference between what the scientists say about climate change and what the public believes.

In “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus”, Peterson et al looks back to the ‘70s, when despite a general scientific consensus, the public still was divided. Reid Bryson, a climate researcher, laid out four questions in 1972 that were “central to the climate science enterprise”:
1. How large must a climate change be to be important?
2. How fast can the climate change?
3. What are the causal parameters, and why do they change?
4. How sensitive is the climate to small changes in the causal parameters?

By 1978, greenhouse warming had become the dominant theory, with the role of aerosol cooling sorted out. However, the myth of global cooling persevered. Why? Peterson notes that the myth “lies in selective misreading of texts both by some members of the media at the time, and some observers today,” and that the myth was most often found in new coverage. News coverage reported “dramatic or new” stories rather than “the complexity of nuanced discussion within the scientific community.” For example, a troubling report in Newsweek “juxtaposed the possibility of cooling temperatures and decreasing food production with rising global population”, despite the fact that the general consensus was that the world was warming, not cooling. In addition, Peterson et al performed a literature survey of the time, and found that only 7 articles indicated cooling, compared to 44 reports indicating warming.

In 2009, Doran and Zimmerman looked into what the scientific consensus on climate change is currently (Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change). Doran and Zimmerman surveyed scientists about climate change. Overall, 90% of participants answered that global temperatures have generally risen, and 82% thought that human activity is a significant contributing factor. Looking at the “specialists” surveyed (scientists that had more active research on the subject and specialized in climate science), 96.4% said that global temperatures had risen, and 97.4% said that human activity was a contributing factor. This is a stark difference of the general public, with only 52% thinking that most climate scientists agree that Earth has been warming, and only 47% think that climate scientists agree that human activities are a cause.

I think if 97% of climate specialists agree that human activity is a leading cause of climate change, there is a consensus within the scientific community. However, the public does not seem to agree. How many scientists must agree before the public does not think that there is a debate? Does it matter if not all scientists agree, or some are uncertain? How would this affect what politicians/policy makers do?

Jade Hanson – Week 5 Climate Change

September 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Posted in Week 5 | 1 Comment



Science knowledge strongly influences people’s perceptions on global warming. Furthermore, without being educated about the issues of global warming, the general public is “out of the loop” in knowing how scientists feel about the issue. This leads them to a state of confusion, people not knowing what to believe without a guide(scientists). In Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, researchers found that 90% percent of the scientists they questioned believed global temperatures have risen. Also, 82% attribute human activity for part of the warming. On the other hand, another study claimed on 52% of Americans think that climate scientists agree that the Earth has been warming in recent years. It is evident that global warming scientists and foundations dedicated to science need to do a better job at promoting their findings and reasonings for supporting climate change through out the community.


Another article titled The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, also exposes the science community’s unity on the issue of global warming. The article states that not only do the majority of scientists believe in global warming, but a large portion of those scientists (all in this case) attribute global warming to non-natural causes. This piece strengthens the argument laid forth by the first piece, that scientific consensus surrounding global warming is present. However, it is not clearly portrayed to the general public. Oreskes says “politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression confusion” which is where our real issues lies.


Neither article addresses how to solve the problem of public confusion in concerns to global warming. It is evident that some tactic must be taken in order to convey to the global community that science consensus is unified on the issue, actions must be taken. Can the media and politicians be trusted? It is hard to imagine an effective revolution without these two elements. However, scientists need to discover a means of credibly spreading their findings through out society. It is evident that the more time scientists waste in letting the public dwindle in a stage of confusion, the more harm that will be done to our planet.


Overall, it is important for the scientific community to take action because without their credibility driving the spread of awareness about global warming, it is clear no major action will be taken by the general public.






Questions for consideration:


How can scientists generate a “revolution” in a credible manner?


Can politicians and media corporations be trusted to convey scientists “true feelings” regarding the issue of global warming?

Jorden Gemuend – Week 5 – Crichton and Oreskes

September 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Week 5, Weekly Responses | Leave a comment

As our class has discussed the debate between intelligent design and evolution, the most common figure thrown out in the support of evolution was the overwhelming scientific consensus. It is hard to be heard when there is a crowd surrounding you all shouting the same chant. The question that needs to be asked is whether a scientific consensus translates into something being true. In the case of “climate change,” a newer, more politically accepted term than global warming, the idea of a scientific consensus is again employed. Just because everyone agrees on something, does not make it right, but it may hold importance nonetheless.

Michael Crichton understands this dilemma of scientific consensus and attacks it at its core in “Aliens Cause Global Warming.” Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the article does not talk about why aliens cause global warming, but rather why science is wrongly mixing with policy. Crichton grew up during the Cold War, where fear and nuclear predictions were just another part of the day. This led him to a belief that science was the hope that would save the world. First discussing the Drake equation, an equation predicting the likelihood of aliens in our galaxy, Crichton points out that the variables cannot be tested. He relates this to the predictions made about how the atmosphere would be affected in the case of nuclear warfare, and avidly asserts that these types of methods are not science. They are religions based upon pure faith and nothing else. Turning his view to the concept of a scientific consensus, Crichton states plainly that this is an absurd and incredibly weak argument that is irrelevant to science. This is supported by a slew of examples where the scientific consensus was wrong, and he claims that consensus is invoked where the science is not solid enough. The issue of second-hand smoke is used to show how science has been mixed with policy and politics. Science is now elastic, a realm where “anything goes.” Not finished yet, Crichton turns his sights on computer models, and explains how past science and global warming have ridiculous dependencies on them. A humorous line talks about how people don’t believe weather forecasts 12 hours from now, and yet they are expected to believe climate forecasts 100 years from then. Crichton proposes double blind style computer models and unknown sources of funding. He ends by talking about how the scientific community is rife with policy.

On an opposite side of things, Naomi Oreskes published “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” an article solely devoted to proving that there is in fact a scientific consensus on climate change. Short and sweet, Oreskes first addresses the fact that people have attempted to attack climate change by saying there is not conclusive science or consensus. Immdetialy refuting these claims, she fills the bulk of her article with a list of publications and organizations that all support and agree on global warming. She deduces that without substantial disagreement, the scientific community is indeed in consensus that humans are causing temperatures to rise. Oreskes, however, decides to end the article with wisdom in saying that a consensus is not necessarily right, as the history of science has shown. She concludes that although the consensus may not be right, it does not want to risk not acting.

These two authors both took a logical approach to the debate of climate change. The interesting thing is that neither of them actually disagrees with the other, although it is difficult to see this. Crichton is asserting that a scientific consensus over climate change is a weak argument and in no way indicates the truth of the matter. Oreskes is merely asserting that there is a consensus, but also acknowledges that this does not necessarily indicate the truth. Whereas Crichton would argue that until there is hard evidence, despite any type of consensus, there is no debate. Oreskes, on the other hand, wants to use the consensus to generate action, and by relying on a science-expert framing scheme, she encourages support out of fear for what may happen. Both of these articles complement each other like two puzzle pieces being mashed together in order to fit; complementary, but messy. It is plain and obvious that these two authors’ completely disagree on the topic of climate change, but they have cleverly written these two articles so that they avoid the conflict. While Crichton enlightens about why a scientific consensus does not equal truth, Oreskes claims that it might be better than nothing.

My question: Do you believe that there is an absolute truth to existence independent of human conception?

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