Commenter “Abraham” asked a few days ago:
What do you believe to be the cause or causes for such a large majority of active climate scientists and scientists in general to believe AGW IS settled science and that the theory does NOT have “feet of clay”?
That’s a very good question to ask a sceptic.
Before I answer, let me clarify that it is the iconic status of the ‘hockey stick’ and other images used to “sell” global warming and by extension the inflated claim of catastrophic AGW itself that I consider to have “feet of clay”. If anthropogenic global warming was not billed as “settled science” I’d more readily entertain it as a theory. In fact I do consider it a theory – just not as a fact.
I won’t attempt to counter the statement “a large majority of active climate scientists and scientists in general to believe AGW IS settled science”; let me simply say I don’t agree with it – on many levels. Let me also just say that until early 2007 I too believed the Earth was in peril from increasing CO2.
If I might answer for myself first: simply, I trusted science, and I trusted scientists. I believed what I heard via the mainstream media and environmental groups; I could see the evidence in the images they showed; I read the odd editorial in Nature etc., I had no reason to disbelieve or to think that there was conflicting evidence. It never occurred to me to question what I heard and it didn’t even occur to me that there might be many studies that did not support or even contradicted the “settled science”. I would say many scientists who believe in AGW fall into this category.
So – reasons in the first instance – trust, ignorance of alternative theories or counter-arguments for specific elements of the supporting science.
For a long while the counter arguments weren’t terribly prevalent in the media, and you had to go searching for them. However, climate science argues from a position of authority, so when as a trusting, believing scientist (or a person with scientific grounding) you encounter a contrary view, the sceptical argument frequently is put down in some way that does seem plausible. New papers with alternative views are hotly debated, dissected and often dismissed. For non-peer reviewed sources, doubt is cast on the credibility of the source – for example the casual mention that Steve McIntyre is a mining engineer. The “what does he know about climate?” is unsaid, but the media have got you thinking that by its very mention. This undermining of sceptic arguments is common on pro-AGW websites and blogs, and it is quite effective for those starting to think for themselves.
So – secondary reason – lack of trust in contrary views.
Many people at that stage stop digging. I didn’t. In fact my story mirrors that recounted by Lucy Skywalker in a recent comment at WUWT.
Dr Judith Curry has recently published on her blog Climate Etc. a draft version of a presentation entitled Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster. This is relevant to both climate scientists and scientists in general. I hope she’ll forgive my reproducing a screen capture of the most pertinent slide:
This pretty much covers all that I had thought of and much more. Dr Curry’s slides conclude by talking about the ideology of the IPCC in needing a consensus and of her view, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that for the sake of science we should forget about a consensus and get back to debate.
Uncertainty and debate are part of science. AGW, and particularly CAGW is not science, it is politics that needs to be underpinned by a scientific consensus. In writing “a consensus view” the IPCC has produced something that is freely and enthusiastically supported by some, accepted as necessary by many, and grudgingly or not at all by others (see letters of resignation from the IPCC by Dr Chris Lansea, Dr Roger Pielke Sr). So if, between government nominations for lead authors etc. and resignations of those disagreeing with the consensus or the process, the IPCC has been somewhat self-selecting, it is possible that an increasingly supportive view is presented.
One final thought. Scientists tend to be most confident in their own area of focus. Outside of that they’ll tend to trust the judgement of other scientists, and perhaps this is where ‘groupthink’ comes in. Unless they have the time and inclination (and few do) to look in detail across the spectrum of papers published in other areas, they will accept the view of their colleagues. If you were a scientist whose field of science had no overall consensus, but were presented with a lot of supporting evidence in other fields, what would you think?