Want an example of a truly fake news headline? “97% of Climate Scientists Agree: Mankind Causing Climate Change.”
I made it up, but we’ve all seen hundreds of variations of it across the national news media. The news doesn’t get much faker than that. It fits the definition perfectly. It’s misleading, false, and sensationalist, which makes for a great, click-baity headline.
And not only that, but the President himself and his Secretary of State have run wild with this fake news, even stretching it further by saying that these “97 percent” of climate scientists want us to abandon fossil fuels, that this man-caused global warming is dangerous and catastrophic.
Obama had tweeted, “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” (And they get on to Trump for tweeting out nonsense.) Secretary of State John Kerry tried making the case that countries should wean themselves off fossil fuels:
“And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain. . . 97 percent of climate scientists have confirmed that climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible. . . . . they agree that, if we continue to go down the same path that we are going down today, the world as we know it will change—and it will change dramatically for the worse.”
Pew Research Center conducted a poll in which they surveyed people’s opinions on scientists’ opinions regarding global warming and genetically modified foods. It was an opinion poll of an opinion poll.
Pew reported, “Just 27% of Americans say that almost all climate scientists agree human behavior is mostly responsible for climate change. This perception is at odds with a 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assessed more than 9,000 scientific publications and concluded: ‘The science now shows with 95% certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.'”
The truth is much drier and more boring than the headline, which is usually the case. Forbes had a great piece a couple years ago about this “97 percent” figure and where it actually came from. It’s well worth the read. Here’s an excerpt:
Almost no one who refers to the 97% has any idea, but the basic way it works is that a researcher reviews a lot of scholarly papers and classifies them by how many agree with a certain position.
Unfortunately, in the case of 97% of climate scientists agreeing that human beings are the main cause of warming, the researchers have engaged in egregious misconduct.
One of the main papers behind the 97 percent claim is authored by John Cook, who runs the popular website SkepticalScience.com, a virtual encyclopedia of arguments trying to defend predictions of catastrophic climate change from all challenges.
Here is Cook’s summary of his paper: “Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 percent [of papers he surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”
This is a fairly clear statement—97 percent of the papers surveyed endorsed the view that man-made greenhouse gases were the main cause—main in common usage meaning more than 50 percent.
But even a quick scan of the paper reveals that this is not the case. Cook is able to demonstrate only that a relative handful endorse “the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” Cook calls this “explicit endorsement with quantification” (quantification meaning 50 percent or more). The problem is, only a small percentage of the papers fall into this category; Cook does not say what percentage, but when the study was publicly challenged by economist David Friedman, one observer calculated that only 1.6 percent explicitly stated that man-made greenhouse gases caused at least 50 percent of global warming.
Where did most of the 97 percent come from, then? Cook had created a category called “explicit endorsement without quantification”—that is, papers in which the author, by Cook’s admission, did not say whether 1 percent or 50 percent or 100 percent of the warming was caused by man. He had also created a category called “implicit endorsement,” for papers that imply (but don’t say) that there is some man-made global warming and don’t quantify it. In other words, he created two categories that he labeled as endorsing a view that they most certainly didn’t.
The 97 percent claim is a deliberate misrepresentation designed to intimidate the public—and numerous scientists whose papers were classified by Cook protested…
That very well could be the fake news item of the century.
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