Who Counts as a Climate Scientist?

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters, “The climate change consensus extends beyond climate scientists,” offers encouraging data, while at the same time perpetuating many of the errors that plague the public understanding of climate science.

First, the good news. The paper reports the results of university science faculty polling:

Most respondents (93.6 percent) believe that mean temperatures have risen and most (91.9 percent) believe in an anthropogenic contribution to rising temperatures. Respondents strongly believe that climate science is credible (mean credibility score 6.67/7). Those who disagree about climate change disagree over basic facts (e.g., the effects of CO2 on climate) and have different cultural and political values. These results suggest that scientists who are climate change skeptics are outliers and that the majority of scientists surveyed believe in anthropogenic climate change and that climate science is credible and mature.

That’s all good to hear, though hardly the first time an overwhelming consensus about the reality of climate change has been demonstrated.

So why am I grumpy about this? Let tackle the problems one by one:

1. “Belief”

This paper repeatedly describes scientists’ views on climate science as beliefs. Here’s how the paper put it:

  • “Approximately 97 percent of active, publishing climate scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change.”
  • “The results show that scientists across disciplines nearly unanimously believe in anthropogenic climate change…”
  • “Most respondents believed that humans are contributing to the rise in temperatures.”

The problem with using “belief” in place of “accept” or “recognize” is that the word belief implies opinion, implies faith, implies that people think something for reasons other than rational consideration of evidence. Word choice matters, as NCSE’s Glenn Branch explains here and here. We at the NCSE have struggled for decades against creationists who attempt to undermine acceptance of evolution by arguing that scientists’ “belief” in evolution is just one among —> Read More