Misleading ‘97 Percent of Scientists’ Claim Resurfaces in NY Times

Warming alarmist Michael Mann claims climate consensus based on flawed methods.

Repeat a statistic often enough and people will start to believe you. At least, that seems to be the philosophy of Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, who has been repeating misleading figures to warn of manmade climate change for years.

The latest example of this effort from Mann was his Jan. 19 opinion piece in The New York Times. In it, Mann bemoaned the fact that there is any sort of debate going on over climate change “where none should exist.” Despite Mann’s claims about the “appearance of a debate” in the media on climate change, the news media are dismissive of manmade climate change skeptics, even going so far as to compare them to “flat earthers,” and are frequently alarmist in coverage of climate.

In the piece, Mann based his arguments a study which claimed that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. While Mann didn’t specify which study he was citing (there have been at least three studies), all are misleading. But that hasn’t stopped people from claiming them as fact, as NASA has.

There are many scientists who disagree with so-called “consensus” on global warming. On Dec. 20, 2007, a report released by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee revealed more than 400 prominent scientists questioning anthropogenic climate change.

The most recent study to come out with this 97 percent number was released in January 2014. That study by James L. Powell, a former member of the National Science Board, was an expanded version of his Nov. 2012 study. His latest version claims that only one scientific study in the past year disagreed with anthropogenic climate change. It was touted by left-wing website Salon.com, and given the timing, appears to be the study Mann was referencing.

According to Powell, his first study searched for peer-reviewed scientific articles supporting climate change from January 1991 to November 2012 from a scientific database. From the 13,950 results, Powell removed all the results which he determined were unimportant, and then compared the remaining results. The second study looked at November 2012 through December 2013.

But Powell himself admitted that 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.

Marc Morano of Climate Depot called Powell’s study a “misdirection.” According to Morano, the study “is implying that skeptics do not ‘accept man-made global warming’ without defining what that means.”

Powell’s study was mimicked by the Climate Change site Skeptical Science, which isn’t even remotely skeptical when it comes to global warming. This study was picked up by the liberal outlet “Slate,” which is owned by the Washington Post.

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 is just one of the people who have criticized that study’s methodology, although some prominent media sites ran the number, including USA Today.

Morano argued that the number of research papers during this time period alone isn’t a compelling factor, even if the numbers had been accurate. According to Morano, since global warming is the “state sponsored science of the day,” many scientists will incorporate mention of it into otherwise unrelated studies, in order to qualify for grants.

“If a scientist studies butterflies, he may choose to do a model ‘if/then’ study on how warming temps 100 years from now may impact butterflies,” Morano said. “The butterfly scientist may never even look at the probability temps may rise a certain amount, only on how rising temps would theoretically impact butterflies.”

To support his argument, Mann referred to James Hansen and Jeffrey Sachs. Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, boldly made climate change predictions in 1988 for how the world would look in 1997. They turned out to be very wrong. Meanwhile, Sachs, of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is a crony of left-wing billionaire George Soros. Sachs has claimed that anyone who failed to adopt liberal energy policies has “blood on their hands.”

According to Mann, both Hansen and Sachs rightly “called for the immediate introduction of a price on carbon emissions, arguing that it is our moral obligation to not leave a degraded planet behind for our children and grandchildren.”

Mann has had data problems of his own. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the presentation of the data in Mann’s own hockey stick model of warming was inherently flawed. Because of their criticism, CEI, The National Review and National Review’s Mark Steyn are currently being sued by Michael Mann for defamation. The hockey stick graph was “highly criticized,” and portrayed data that contradicted the data released in both 1990 and 2013 by the International Panel on Climate Change, according to scientist Anthony Watts’ blog.

Yet, Mann has continued to stand by his climate model, even promoting it in his most recent Times opinion piece. “Our ‘hockey stick’ graph became a vivid centerpiece of the climate wars,” Mann said, “and to this day, it continues to win me the enmity of those who have conflated a problem of science and society with partisan politics.” 

Editor's note: This story originally misspelled Marc Morano's name. BMI regrets the error.

— Mike Ciandella is Research Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Mike Ciandella on Twitter.