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A comment from Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), on the syndicated version of Open Parachute raised the question of how much scientific support there is for the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Of course his group campaigns against the IPCC so he is trying to “prove” overwhelming scientific opposition to the conclusions (the ICSC was one of the sponsors of the recent Heartland Climate Conference).

Tom Harris, Ex. Dir. ICSC

His current campaign is a Climate Scientists’ Register. This is a petition listing people prepared to sign up to the declaration “We, the undersigned, having assessed the relevant scientific evidence, do not find convincing support for the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, dangerous global warming.” He currently has 109 signatures.

Reminds me of the Discovery Institute’s Darwin Dissent petition (see Who are the ’dissenters from Darwinism’?, Dissenters from Darwinism in context and Scientific dissent from . . . science?).

We know science is not determined by petitions and such “registers” are not a reliable way of judging consensus. But in the battle for public opinion they do have some influence. That’s why groups like the Discovery Institute and the ICSC produce them.

So many retired climate scientists?

As these people have been prepared to have their name on a public list it is worth making some judgment of their likely credibility in the field of climate science. Should we listen to them, or are the authors of the papers reviewed by the IPCC more credible.

At this stage I will only make a general comment about one feature of the “register.” That is  the large proportion  of retired people on this list.

In Beware the retired scientist I described a survey comparing “climate sceptics and climate scientist who generally supported the IPCC conclusions.  As a group the sceptics tend to be older and many more of them will actually be retired, compared with those who worked on the IPCC documents.”

Now Tom’s “register” is meant to be restricted to “climate science experts” and he provides professional information for each to support this claim. His criteria seems rather loose in some cases but there is information indicating many are retired. I pulled out all that I could find listed as retired, emeritus or formerly in a specific job. Probably missed a few as some information is rather vague, many are consultants (often a sign of retirement) or work for a blog or think tank.

My rough survey found approximately 35% of the people on Tom’s register are retired!

In my previous article I commented that the age and publication record indicated:

“that climate sceptics are more likely to be divorced from peer review, familiarity with the literature and current findings  and the discipline of consulting colleagues. And maybe they can be influenced by commercial interests, or even just the fact that in the current political climate large numbers of people are willing to see them as authorities and uncritically accept and parrot their articles and statements.”

I think we can say the same about Tom’s “register.”

Please note – I am not knocking retired scientists. I am one myself. But because of my own experience I often think about the role retired scientists play in political issues and their motives for doing so.

The battle for minds

Now, how will Tom use his “register.” We already have one example.

The Conservative examiner produced the article Scientists–carbon dioxide is not causing climate change based on a press release from Tom Harris about his “register.” This of coarse implies the scientists generally have come to that conclusion (not true). The article promotes that interpretation by saying:

“For the past 2 years the ICSC has been on the cutting edge of climate science research.  That research has led the group to not only question but debunk the commonly-accepted notion that man-made carbon emissions are the leading contributor to climate change.”

It gives the false impression that the opinion that people on the register have signed up to is the result of “cutting edge climate research” - by active researchers! Again not true.

And of course this headline gets taken up by the climate denial echo chamber and communicated via Twitter and conservative blogs and newspapers.

Update

A new study has  just been published analysing  the scientific credibility of climate researchers who support the conclusions on anthropogenic climate change outlined by the IPCC compared with researchers unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change. It’s worth a read (see Expert credibility in climate change). Or read a summary at Climate Progress.

This study reports that 97—98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the IPCC conclusions and that the “relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [the conclusions] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers”.

See also:
Beware the retired scientist?
Expert credibility in climate change
New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for ’balance’

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