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Did we call it or what

Filed under: — david @ 8 November 2007

Steve Milloy has let fly with the results of his twisted survey of climate scientists, pretty much as we expected. It’s not worth analyzing in any great depth, I’m sure we all have better ways to spend our time, but one tidbit jumped out at me.

The first question of the survey was

Which best describes the reason(s) for climate change?.

The survey offered a choice between human activity or natural variation, or some combination of the two. How to answer this? Before a few decades ago, natural variability was the right answer, but since about 1970, human activity has taken over.

I emailed Milloy with my concern about the indeterminate time scope of the question, and he replied

Hi David,

Present tense verbs imply ongoing climate change.

but now from the press release,

Another notable result is that an astounding 20% of those surveyed said that human activity is the principal driver of climate change.

“So was there no climate change before mankind?” Milloy asked.

The rest is more of the same. Garbage in, trash talk out. OK, back to work, enough time wasted on this.

283 Responses to “Did we call it or what”

  1. 1
    Walt Bennett says:


  2. 2
    Spencer says:

    Actually the survey instrument and the responses include some interesting items, which the press release does NOT report. It could have said, for example, “93% of those surveyed agreed that manmade CO2 emissions are important in climate change.” Gee, wonder why they didn’t report that?

    The biggest laugh is a question that asks about the consequences of one degree of warming, which is about what we’ve experienced since 1850. Somehow they forgot to ask about the additional three (best-guess) degrees expected by the end of the present century. Oh, the humanity!

  3. 3

    Hi David, I’ll chime in on this just for fun.

    Here is a list of my predictions for how he would spin his answers along with the question list (published on Oct. 23, 2007)

    and the original linked article from the Centrist Party:

  4. 4
    Winnebago says:

    With the sample size at 54 out of a population of 354, Milloy’s fraud has a confidence interval of +/-12. Wonder why he doesn’t include that info?

  5. 5

    Apparently, Steve Milloy is just as predictable as Global Warming!

  6. 6
    catman306 says:

    Some people use statistics to try and change reality and people’s perceptions of reality. Scientists use them to describe what they find and what they can predict using those findings.

    If a lawyer can be disbarred for improper behavior why can’t a statistician?

  7. 7
    Roger William Chamberlin says:

    Enough talk already…

    Our planet is DYING , and we stand around and talk about who made the weather change?

    If it were natural the problem would still be the same, life CANNOT cope with teh rate of change, it doesn’t have the means , never had to cope with this rate of change before and it’s FAILING

    A quarter of this rate it can just about cope with…

    Seriously we shall soon lose key species and then there is no way back or forward for anyone… and people will wonder why we stood around talking when we had so many things we could do now… every one of us …

  8. 8
    Chris C says:

    Just more evidence showing such skeptics to be very scientific. The predictive and explanatory power is always there, with very high confidence. A bit more work and we might be able to model the future arguments. If I say “CO2 is a greenhouse gas” anyone think we can say with ~95% confidence the answer will be “well water vapor is more powerful”? Perhaps if we show them the glacial-interglacial graph, we can say with, say, 90% confidence they will bring up the CO2 lag. Or maybe we can use paleo-skeptic arguments for prediction. After all, the same stuff has been around for years now. In the case above, we’ve seen similar stuff before- picking out selective uses of information, cherry-picking, twisting what people say, etc.

    Almost a law…law of skeptical arguments.

  9. 9
    Roger William Chamberlin says:

    “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh” – King Solomon

  10. 10
    Greg Simpson says:

    I said when the poll was originally discussed here that I thought the poll was reasonable but not perfect, and I think the results confirm this. It is difficult to make such general questions be so unambiguous that most people would feel that only one answer is at all right, so if you look at the totals for the two highest votes (which are always two that would be adjacent if they were all ranked in a spectrum of beliefs) you would get the following agreement totals:

    1: 83%
    2: 87%
    3: 91%
    4: 87%
    5: 87%

    For question six the two choices with the most votes are not what I would call adjacent (even though they were listed consecutively in the poll), but 68% chose one of the two answers that implied it was a bad question.

    Spinning this to be a lack of consensus is laughable.

  11. 11
    FP says:

    Please Vote on this…

    Right Wing Campaigns To Get Climate Skeptic’s Blog Named ‘Best Science Blog’ In Weblog Awards

    At 5:00 PM (EST) tonight, voting will close in the fifth annual Weblog Awards, “the world’s largest blog competition.” In the competition, participants are allowed to “vote once every 24 hours in each poll.”

    DeSmogBlog is encouraging those who value science to vote for the current second-place contender, Bad Astronomy Blog.

  12. 12
    Figen Mekik says:

    Milloy needs a life and a more constructive and productive pursuit than this weird survey.

  13. 13
    Pekka J. Kostamo says:

    Seen the results of the BBC global poll on climate change?

    Apparently, in the democratic system we elect the politicians to execute someone else’s agenda …

    Besides, consider the sorry state of science education …

  14. 14
    BrianR says:

    The real frustrating part is that someone like Milloy doesn’t even need a truly valid study…a fake one will do. And he knows this…it’s diabolical. He’s in the business of disseminating bunk info. As long as he keeps doing it continuously and fast, his loyalists will accept it and spread it around. And then when someone points out the inconsistencies (or pure fiction) of what he’s saying, it doesn’t matter at that point.

    Frustrating indeed.

  15. 15
    Surly says:

    What a completely bogus survey and analysis! The final two questions are completely meaningless — idea climate indeed.

    The problem is that this will be trotted out and selectively used to bolster the denialists’ side.

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics . . .

  16. 16
    tom says:

    # 7. please define ‘key species’?

  17. 17
    NeilT says:

    It is always interesting to see how these things are being spun.

    I have a friend who is well educated and very aware who does not deny the changes are happening, just why.

    He said to me last week “I would be more inclined to believe that we are doing this if the Governments didn’t try and use it for tax raising agendas, rather than to fix the probem”.

    So spinning surveys like this are just “comfort food” for the skeptics.

    What I find more distressing is the complete inability of the scientific community (and the press) to tell the situation the way that people will understand.

    figures like:

    Ice extent
    Ice area
    Ice thickness

    Do not tell the entire story. After all, the best case I have seen this year is this

    43% loss of Ice Area
    50% loss of Ice thickness

    since the 1950’s. Now I’m totally rubbish at maths, but I can see that 43% loss of half the Ice means we have lost 71.5% of the “ICE” in the Arctic. A totally different story to what is being communicated to the population.

    The worst case I have seen is 55% loss of area and 66% loss of thickness which means an 85% loss of “ICE” in the Arctic.

    Tell the people we have lost 70 or 85 percent of the Ice up there and the significant changes we are seeing today are totally understandable and believable.

    It’s just about communication. Not all about science.

  18. 18
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #6

    Steve Milloy is both a statistician by education and a lawyer, so he might reasonably be multiply-disbarred.

    Best regards.

  19. 19
    Edward Greisch says:

    Here’s an even “better” one: Somebody named Iconoclast421 said on that there weren’t any oceans before 200 million years ago, at which time, the earth split open and grew rapidly.

    “The Accidental Mind” by David J. Linden, 2007 Belknap Press of Harvard
    University Press.

    [edit – no discussion of religion – take it somewhere else]

  20. 20
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE “Present tense verbs imply ongoing climate change.”

    No they don’t necessarily. I would interpret, “Which best describes the reason(s) for climate change?” as a question regarding a generality or law, as in “High cholesterol diets cause heart disease.” Time is unspecified. Then I would feel tricked and stumped as to how to answer it. I teach research methods, including survey questions, and this is an example of a very badly worded question, leading to serious problems with reliability.

    If Milloy meant it to refer specifically to the present situation, it could have easily been worded, “Which best describes the reason(s) for current climate change?” And if he meant “in general” or as a law/theory, then he could have asked, “Which best describes the reason(s) for climate change in general (both in the past and present)?” And, of course, he would have to have an exhaustive list of possible causes, and the option of not ranking them, or just keep the response slot open-ended.

    I think Hopi has separate tenses that would cover both situations, one tense for generality/law, and one for current situation. He really should have asked the question in Hopi. Then he might have better understood what he was asking, as well as what the responses meant.

  21. 21
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #20, Lynn Vincentnathan:

    If Milloy meant it to refer specifically to the present situation

    Milloy meant to get misleading statistics that he could use as propaganda. He knew exactly what he was doing.

  22. 22
    Joe Duck says:

    The response rate – 54 of 345, combined with the bias of the researcher makes the survey pretty much worthless. It would be nice to have regular follow up surveys of IPCC participants to help those of us in the lay community interpret the implications of new studies. For example how many IPCC folks now feel the sea level rise estimates were too conservative? Role of Greenland, etc.

  23. 23
    Simmons says:

    I love it when climate ‘skeptics’ throw fake numbers and statistics at you. It’s so pathetic and easy to refute.

  24. 24
    Fergus Brown says:

    #22 Joe Duck: such a survey (impartial) has been submitted, but has not as yet been published. It, too, will be jumped on as ammo for skeptics because it suggests the unsurprising conclusion that it looks like there’s a range of opinions about the science in the IPCC AR4. Perhaps if more people had contributed, the results would have been different. It is hard to escape the (informal) conclusion that at least some scientists are uncomfortable with some basic parts of the AR4 (in both directions). Good mews is that there no longer appear to be any self-confessed CO2 denialists.

  25. 25


    I was confused about the human induced climate change issue, so I decided to read “Climate Change 2007, The Physical Science Basis”.
    I just started it so the answer may be in the book somewhere, but what is the scientific basis for the “radiative forcing” units? How are these measurements determined?


  26. 26
    Gary says:

    #22, Surveys are certainly difficult to have good control over. The way questions are asked will greatly influence the answers. It is unlikely that any one will really be able to produce unbiased questions that get to the answers we are looking for. It could be worth asking questions using actual current data rather than projections. Such as “Do you consider the current rate of sea level rise, measured by satellite altimetry, of 3mm per year to be dangerous?”

  27. 27
    Ken says:

    Funny how my read of the data is different than Milloy’s press release. I look at the last 2 questions and say:
    “96% of respondents do not consider a 1 degree warming desirable (obviously meaning a 2 – 5 degree warming could be catastrophic)” and “only 2% think the warming we’re seeing is leading to an ideal climate”. That sounds like a consensus to me.

  28. 28

    I believe the key word here is “consensus”. Mr. Milloy states in the article referred to thus-“”Our results indicate that the notion of a meaningful scientific
    consensus on global warming is ludicrous,” said Steve Milloy,’s executive director.

    Now here’s a quote from “Field Notes From A Catastrophe” by Elizabeth Kolbert.
    “A few years ago,pollster Frank Luntz prepared a strategy memo for Republican members of Congress coaching them on how to deal with a variety of environmental issues……….Under the heading ‘Winning the Global Warming Debate,’ Luntz
    wrote ‘The scientific debate is closing (against us)but not yet closed. There is still a window of
    opportunity to challenge the science.’ He warned ‘Voters believe there is NO CONSENSUS (emphasis his) about global warming in the SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY ( emphasis mine). Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are
    settled, their views on global warming will change accordingly………..” )(pg. 163).

    Note his use of ‘Voters believe’. His main concern is getting votes. How cynical can you get?! Never mind, I already know.

  29. 29
    Joel Shore says:

    Interesting…Milloy had scientists damned either way for their answer to the vague question about the causes of climate change. I knew that he was making the timeframe vague in order to try to get them to say that natural processes are important. However, apparently he didn’t get that answer as he wanted to, so instead he is spinning it as if he meant it to mean over all time and aren’t these scientists silly to blame it all on humans?!!

    In other words, no matter what answer to that question that scientists had given, he would have spun it in his favor! It is always better to have a conclusion that is completely independent of the results of your study if what you want is just to provide evidence for you conclusion. However, it is a lousy way to do science.

  30. 30
    Richard Ordway says:

    ALERT!!!!! When I try to type in to GOOGLE anything to do with “”, etc. at 8:24 PM MST November 8, 2007 it DOES NOT DISPLAY ANY clickable links!!!!

    SOMEONE please verify this. (Maybe, it’s just me???).


  31. 31
    Magnus W says:

    Well that Milloy takes every chance he gets to confuse is expected I guess,

  32. 32

    Maybe I’m a bit of an idealist about this, but I continue to believe that a well constructed survey of scientists would be helpful.

    Everyone here likes to say that there is agreement or consensus among scientists about global warming, etc. And perhaps most scientists involved with it are comfortable about this, but simply repeating the mantra of “consensus” doesn’t carry over well to the public. For example, a 2005 PIPA poll found only 52% of Americans actually agreed that “there is a consensus among the great majority of scientists that global warming exists and could cause significant damage”.

    All opponents have to do is trot out some skeptic for the news media, and many parts of the public will wonder about the reality of that “consensus” which no one seems willing to quantify. Or more precisely, no one except the skeptics is willing to quantify. Polls like the one discussed here do exist and get communicated to the public whether or not they are well-designed, and they serve as another argument against “consensus”.

    If a rigourous and well-respected survey could say something like “97% of climatologists blame carbon emissions for recent climate change”, that would be much more powerful than simply invoking the word “consensus”. It is hard to believe that one can expect to get effective political action on global warming without really convincing the public of the scientific agreement.

    I’m not suggesting such a survey would be easy to design or perform, much to the contrary actually, but I beleive it would be a useful exercise if done well.

  33. 33
    EricM says:

    The problem with a survey concerning “consensus” on a technically and politically complicated issue such as global climate change is the definition of “consensus”, and the linkage drawn (or not drawn) between individual components of the consensus. An interesting, and I think meaningful investigation/survey of the scientific community would be a statistical analysis of each of what I see as the five major interlinked assumptions built into the Climate Change “consensus” discussion. The big five assumptions being:
    1. Global warming is currently occuring. (probably near 100% agreement)
    2. Antropogenic carbon dioxide a primary contributor. (percentage agreement will drop some)
    3. A serious problem exists right now. (percentage drops again, maybe significantly)
    4. If we don’t do anything, it will be a crisis in the near future. (percentage agreement might go up or down here)
    5. We need to do something, anything, right now. (Lose lots of folks on this one.)

    Even though most would agree warming is occuring, I think few are of the opinion that we are in a crisis. So… what is the definition of consensus?

  34. 34
    sidd says:

    i think we are wasting time chasing down and refuting specious arguments against co2 induced climate change. i would much rather discuss and learn about cloud models, ocean circulation, ice sheet stability than repeatedly counter ignorant arguments by innumerate dunces.

    as was said at the ruin of constantinople: ‘the hour is late, the need is pressing.’ we have little time and the children have less.


  35. 35
    petefontana says:

    Sorry, if this strays a bit from the survey topic. (I didn’t get to vote, but of course it’s a very serious problem.)

    William Connolley’s excellent site presents several interesting issues related to climate modeling.

    First, the “entrainment coefficient” seems quite important. Can anyone explain why it matters so much to the climate and climate models?

    Entrainment also seems to be only partially understood.

    If someone thinks up a model improvement for entrainment or something else, what happens next?

    How do you check the validity of your existing models, while also constantly making changes to them?

    In other words, if a model is changed, does that mean it has had a very short period of time over which to compare projected results with actually observed results?

  36. 36
    George says:

    David – if you really thought this item was barely worthy of your time why would you toss it out as a scrap to the legions of RealClimate posters. Admittedly many of them may not have time management issues, but why not provide something substantial for that group to toss around. You correctly characterized the survey results as “garbage” so I can’t see the reason for wanting to start a serious discussion on it. Or at least admit that you would like to see people spend some time denigrating Milloy’s work.
    Okay, back to work for me too!

    [Response: Thought it was worth writing what I wrote. Didn’t think it was worth writing any more. David]

  37. 37
    Guy says:

    #32 – what Robert says makes sense to me as a layman. Could RealClimate get something moving with something like this?

    Or would that be seen as partisan? Perhaps that thought exposes the problem. RealClimate has a reputation for being “pro-the-consensus”. This is broadly true, because in a gloriously circular argument it is made up of jobbing climate scientists, and that is what THEY think – based on the scientific data that they work with. But I’ve been in arguments with people who dismiss RealClimate as a partisan lobby-type group (or “they only say that because the funding for their jobs depends on it”). In the end, people just believe what they want to believe, I suspect – maybe no survey will change that. Look at ID.

  38. 38
  39. 39
    Charles Muller says:

    Beyond generalities (like anthropogenic GHGs influence climate), I think every one can find a lack of consensus within IPCC work. For example, a look at table 8.2 shows that equilbrium climate sensitivity 2xCO2 is 2,1°C for PCM or INM-CM3.0 and 4,4°C for IPSL-CM4 or UKMO-HadGEM1. For the same 550 ppmv CO2 atm., the consequences would be quite different, no ?

    This is true for many other domains (e.g. hard to say there’s presently a consensus on expected sea-level rise for 2100). When you speak of the lack of consensus, you’ve usually in mind the skeptical critic of IPCC. But I think there’s now an “alarmist” critic of IPCC too.

    Anyway, I agree with David that the survey is totally uninteresting (because of the poor quality of questions and the weak quantity of answers). And with Robert (#32) that a well constructed and diffused survey would be far more instructive.

    As it is explained in the “Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties” : Likelihood may be based on quantitative analysis or an elicitation of expert views. So, the famous “likely”, “very likely”, etc. statements do not depend exclusively of quantitative analysis. It would be useful to have a better quantification of “the “elicitation of expert views” – not only better, but also independant from the IPCC process.

  40. 40

    Mark posts:

    [[what is the scientific basis for the “radiative forcing” units? How are these measurements determined?]]

    Radiative forcing is measured in watts per square meter. The Earth system absorbs about 237 watts per square meter from the Sun, on average. But the surface, at 288 K, radiates about 390 watts per square meter. The difference, 153 watts per square meter, is the “greenhouse forcing.” It is estimated that doubling CO2 will cause the difference to widen by 3.7 watts per square meter, enough to raise the Earth’s mean surface temperature about 2.8 degrees K. given all the known feedbacks.

  41. 41
    Jim Cripwell says:

    I have no idea whether Gavin will accept the thoughts of an outright denier/skeptic, but here goes. So far as I am concerned, discussing whether or not there is a scientific consensus, is reminiscent of discussions as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Science does not depend on opinion. Rather, in an oversimplified way, it depends on whether we have an idea as to what the cause is, and have data which supports this idea. At present, there are two rival ideas, and not enough data to demonstrate which side is right.
    On this point, it may be of interest to say a little about some recent data. The Arctic Ocean and northern waters had the minimum amount of ice in recent times this September, as was discussed recently on RC. There was over 1 million sq kms less ice than had previously been measured. The claim was made that this was due to AGW. Now, early in November, there is almost as much ice this year, as there was on the same date last year. This year, there is less ice in the Alaska/Siberia part of northern waters, and more ice in the Canadian/Greenland part, compared with 2006. Does this tell us anything about what conditions will be like in September 2008? Almost certainly not, but stay tuned!

  42. 42
    Keith says:

    Ah the power of stats. Personally I think it’s all nonsense. You simply cannot construct a non-biased survey of any group. Simply not possible. So I think we can quite simply ignore this trash. However, as a physical scientist working in the biological arena I would like to strongly disput the suggestion above from Roger William Chamberlin that our planet is in some way dying. Total nonsense. It is simply changing as a result of a combination of forcings, some natural, some man-made. It’s called evolution and it is staggeringly poweful. Selective pressure of biospheres is rapid and often quite unpredictable. At a molecular level it’s quite extraordinary to observe (which is what I currently work on) and at a macro level it’s no different. What we should be saying is that we’re currently putting an enormous selective pressure on the biosphere and as a result changes are going to be dramatic and significant. Sure, man and a whole host of other species may die, but they will certainly be replaced by other species more easily able to adapt. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the CURRENT biopshere is dying but will be replaced with a new one. Evoloution tends to be pretty brutal so all bets are off on what’s going to adapt and how. But you can be sure that every single piece of evolutionary space will get filled. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if evolution has a bigger role to play in the story of global warming than has been suggested. A staggeringly powerful process.

  43. 43
    Boris says:

    “Present tense verbs imply ongoing climate change.”

    His little lie doesn’t even makes sense. So a question like:

    Which best describe(s) the reason for the Third Reich’s rise to power?

    only applies to a current rise of the Third Reich? He’s as bad at grammar as he as at science.

  44. 44
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Charles Muller and Jim Cripwell,
    I would contend that you have a misconception of what is meant by scientific consensus. It has nothing to do with “opinion” and little to do with particular values for parameters in models. It has to do with evidence and the support that evidence provides for particular models or conclusions. This is why a survey or a debate is meaningless–it doesn’t change the evidence, but merely provides a snapshot of researchers perceptions of the evidence.
    Charles, you are looking at point values without looking at overlaps in the confidence intervals–the generally accepted value of 3 K per doubling is in this overlap, so that is the consensus value. Now the consequences of a 2.1 or 4.4 K per doubling might be quite different–or if our own forcing kickstarts the positive feedbacks in the system, it might be irrelevant. I strongly urge you to look into the concept of scientific consensus–it is quite subtle and very powerful, and all science is based on it to some degree.
    Keith says “You simply cannot construct a non-biased survey of any group. Simply not possible.”
    Horsecrap, I reply. The fact that there are dishonest researchers out ther who will misuse statistics does not invalidate their use as a valid research tool. Good surveys are hard to carry out, but when they are good, they be extremely valuable. Any fool can lie with statistics; what takes skill is using statistics to arrive at and illustrate the truth.

  45. 45
    Ben says:

    Re #42: You’re absolutely right that there will be a biosphere long after we’re gone, Keith. The thing is, I think most of us are kind of attached to the idea of the human species lasting for several more generations…

  46. 46

    Unfortunately these results are is being run by Forbes as a real news story.

    My own deconstruction of the survey is here, with some commentary about its source.

    The claim by Milloy’s organization that it is “more worried about the intellectual climate” is a remarkable example of brazenness.

  47. 47
    George Robinson says:

    We all know, well I hope we all know that the Norwegians, being the “owners” of Spitzbergen study the climate up there all the year round, and the Danes, also the owners of Greenland also study all the year round. Both these countries have some very interesting websites where they publish results that are really outstanding, and terrifying at the same time. The melting of the Greenland icecap is accelerating at an alarming rate, about 500 billion tons at the last measurement. This is enough to cover the British Isles with a 2 km thick ice sheet, every year. South of Spitzbergen, the oceans have been ice free the past 2 winters, reason being, the warm waters from the Gulf Stream are travelling further north, and closer to the ocean surface, only 25 meters at the last measurement, The ocean temperature has been +2C instead of -2C.

  48. 48
    Keith says:

    Yes Ben, I kinda hope that we’d be around for a while, but evolution tends not to be that sympathetic unfortunately.

  49. 49
    Nick Barnes says:

    Jim Cripwell @ 41: the experts were expecting arctic sea ice to bounce back during the freeze season this year, and it has turned out exactly according to that expectation.
    I had a longer comment, but the RC software is refusing it.

  50. 50
    Nick Barnes says:

    George Robinson @ 47:

    Both these countries have some very interesting websites

    I am sure that they do. Please provide links.

    The melting of the Greenland icecap is accelerating at an alarming rate, about 500 billion tons at the last measurement. This is enough to cover the British Isles with a 2 km thick ice sheet, every year.

    This is very confusing. 500 billion tons of what? Ice loss per year? That sounds like a lot but is in fact only about 550 cubic kilometres.
    For reference, the British Isles covers 315134 square kilometres. Covering it in ice 2km thick would require about 600 trillion tons of ice. It looks as if you’re out by a factor of around a thousand.