Liberal Media Love Flawed Studies Claiming a Vast Scientific Consensus on Climate

Latest study had low response rate, while previous studies criticized for ‘math errors,’ ‘fuzzy’ definitions.

A new survey of climate scientists published in “Environmental Science and Technology” is poised to become the latest weapon used by the left and the liberal media to try to shut down climate change debate, even though more than two-thirds of the scientists contacted failed to return a completed questionnaire.

Bloggers at the Guardian have already touted the study that was released online July 22. On Aug. 11, The Guardian’s “Climate Consensus -- 97%” bloggers said it proved global warming “contrarians get disproportionate media attention” and called the results “broadly consistent” with a 2009 survey that found “97% of climate scientists agreed that humans are causing significant global warming.” Think Progress also pounced, claiming that “false balance” of media attention is alive and well among the media. Think Progress is part of the Soros-funded Center for American Progress, which received $8,067,186 from Soros’ Open Society Foundations since 2005.

According to Think Progress, the latest study showed, “There is widespread agreement that global warming is predominantly caused by human greenhouse gases.”

At first glance the study seemed to indicate “90 percent” agreement about the role of manmade global warming, but upon closer examine even that statistic was a fraction of the 1,868 survey responses.

“90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications (about half of all respondents), explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) being the dominant driver of recent global warming,” the abstract said of the study by Bart Verheggen, Bart Strengers, John Cook and others. That would mean a little more than 900 scientists who replied to the survey shared that view.

Marc Morano has a list of his own, with more than 1,000 scientists who dissented from the global warming claims of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore.

Morano, the publisher of Climate Depot and former Staff of U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, told the MRC’s Business and Media Institute, “The study boasts that ‘90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications...’ agree with so-called consensus. But what this really confirms is that it is easier to get papers published if they support the narrative of man-made global warming.”

A closer examination of the new study shows that there were 1,868 scientists who responded to the survey. That sounds impressive if you ignore the methodology which states that “not all of these were fully completed,” and that the survey had been sent to 6,550 people. The response rate was 29 percent.

Media Squelch Debate with 97 Percent ‘Consensus’ Claims

For years, misleading claims about a huge scientific consensus have been repeated by news outlets and liberal websites. In fact, they’ve been doing that at least since former vice president Gore insisted there was a “consensus” in 2006.

In April, Ann Curry’s NBC documentary “Our Year of Extremes,” staved off skepticism with its claims of consensus saying, “for most scientists the debate is over. Ninety-seven percent agree that as humans burn fossil fuels ... the planet warms.”

In recent months hosts of MSNBC commentary programs have repeated it over and over again:

  • June 6, 2014: MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, “Well, the fact is that there’s almost total consensus among climate scientists that global warming is real and that human behavior is a major contributor.”

  • May 15, 2014: “The Reid Report” host Joy Reid attacked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., saying, “Never mind the total consensus of reputable scientists not on the payroll of fossil fuel companies that human-induced global warming is happening.”

  • May 14, 2014: “All in with Chris Hayes” host Chris Hayes also blasted Rubio saying he was ignoring the “obvious scientific consensus.”

Online media also continued to cite the figure. Left-wing, used the statistic in its article complaining about the U.S. being the “world leader in climate denial” July 22. National Journal wrote an article about climate change and education that mentioned it July 21. So did Andy Schmookler’s column at The Huffington Post on July 17.

The UK’s Guardian website actually hosts a blog in its environment section called, “Climate Consensus - the 97%.” It is written by John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli, both alarmists. In January 2014, alarmist scientist Michael Mann argued that there is a climate debate “where none should exist.” His basis for argument was the claim of 97 percent scientific agreement about global warming. He made similar claims in an MSNBC interview on “Weekends with Alex Witt” in May 2014.

More Studies, More Problems

But the 97 percent consensus statistic comes from multiple sources, and in many cases the studies had serious flaws that were often ignored by the liberal news media.

The most recent origin of the 97 percent claim was from geologist James Powell’s January 2014 study. In that expanded version of his 2012 study even Powell admitted his methods were subjective.

"[F]rom the get-go I do not claim that I have found every article on global warming. I probably have not found every article that rejects global warming. What I have found is the proportion of articles with topics ‘global warming’ or ‘global climate change’ that reject AGW as I define reject," Powell said in the “methodology” section of his website.

An older study with the same 97 percent result was released in June 2010 National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) study that looked at 1,372 scientific studies – and then selected what the PNAS determined as the top 200. Only 2.5 percent of these “top studies” were “unconvinced by the evidence” about man-made climate change, according to PNAS. Steve Milloy at Junk Science was just one of the people who have criticized that study’s methodology, although some prominent media sites ran the number, including USA Today.

Climate skeptics also blasted another study by John Cook, Nuccitelli and others in 2013 for it’s “fuzzy” definitions. Judith Curry, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor who recently served on a NASA subcommittee, explained that the misclassifications were the result of ”The definition of climate change consensus is now so fuzzy that leading climate change skeptics are categorizing themselves within the 97%.” So “fuzzy” it included well-known skeptics like Dr. Roy Spencer.

Professor of economics at the University of Sussex, Dr. Richard Tol, also challenged the assumptions of the paper’s authors saying bluntly, “I think your sampling strategy is a load of nonsense.”

In that paper, Cook claimed a 97.1 percent scientific consensus. Cook was also involved with the newly released study from Environmental Science and Technology. Researchers also exposed “major math errors” in the 2013 Cook paper, according to meteorologist Anthony Watts.

Spencer told the MRC’s Business and Media Institute in May 2014,” They want consensus to mean that all of warming is human-caused and it’s dangerous and that’s simply not the case. That is not what the consensus has been.”

“My personal belief is that climate is always changing and that the warming that we’ve seen the last 50 years or so is some portion of human and natural-caused. And I don’t think we have a clue how much of each one is involved,” Spencer said.

Responding to the latest consensus survey Morano told the MRC, “These types of ‘consensus’ surveys are meant to provide talking points to politicians and the media in order to crush dissenting voices and ban skeptics from the mainstream media. It frees the climate crisis promoter from having to research any scientific points and instead allows them to say: ‘90% of scientists agree. Case closed!’”

— Julia A. Seymour is Assistant Managing Editor for MRC Business at the Media Research Center. Follow Julia A. Seymour on Twitter.