Who’s the Climate Expert Here?

by Michael D. Lemonick
(Originally published on Time.com's Ecocentric blog)

If my primary care doctor suspected I had cancer, I'd certainly take it seriously; she's a great physician. But she's not an expert on cancer, so I'd go see an oncologist (that's exactly what she'd tell me to do, of course). And I'd go out of my way to find one with the best possible credentials.

When it comes to understanding climate change, though, it can be hard for the general public, and even for many journalists, to judge the dueling constantly tossed around on TV, in print, and online. It's really happening, it's really our fault and it really is a serious potential threat. Or… maybe it's just the Sun, or some other natural cycle. Maybe it will all reverse itself in a few years. Maybe global warming is, as one particularly vocal Senator insists, “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” With the exception of that last one, the above opinions, on both sides of the issue, have been put forward by actual scientists with actual Ph.D.'s, working for reputable institutions. So how is the average person, or the average reporter, who can't read scientific papers him- or herself, supposed to figure out whom to listen to?

That's the very reasonable question William Anderegg, a biology graduate student at Stanford, and several colleagues put to themselves a year or so ago—and the answer is being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The bottom line: of 200 top climate researchers in the world, only about 2.5% qualify as “UE” — that is, Unconvinced by the Evidence for human-caused climate change. Which means that 97.5% agree with the general conclusions of the IPCC.

How Andregg et. al. decided what constitutes a “top climate researcher” is laid out in detail in their paper; basically, it involves how many papers about climate science each published in peer-reviewed journals — not only the number of papers each published, but the number of times those papers were cited by other researchers.

So the experts agree that climate change is a real; the people who think it isn't tend not to be experts. But will that actually sway the public?...

Read more at Time's Ecocentric blog