Nothing sends climate skeptics into orbit faster than seeing NASA repeat the 97% climate-consensus claim, but the effort to have the Obama-era declaration removed from the government website is suffering from a failure to launch.
NASA officials rejected the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s July 9 request for correction under the Information Quality Act, concluding that “changes to the Web site are not needed at this time,” prompting the free-market group to file an appeal Tuesday.
On its Global Climate Change page, NASA states: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
CEI attorney Devin Watkins, who called the statement “inaccurate, unreliable, and biased,” said that NASA has refused to budge even though President Trump has expressed reservations about the consensus argument on anthropogenic global warming.
In 2017, for example, Mr. Trump told The Associated that “you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”
“It’s really weird when the President of the United States seems to say the 97% figure is incorrect, but an agency he is responsible for overseeing continues to say on their website that the President is wrong,” Mr. Watkins said in an email.
In her reply to the CEI, NASA chief information officer Renee P. Wynn said that the Global Climate Change website “presents the state of scientific knowledge about climate change and honors the role that NASA has played and plays in researching and communicating climate science.”
“NASA also still finds this information to be accurate and clear as it does not rely on results of a single peer-reviewed publication for facts, which is why a number of peer-reviewed papers are listed on the Web site to capture the robust nature of the scientific debate,” Ms. Wynn said in the March 11 letter.
Mr. Watkins countered that the “single sentence response says next to nothing,” and that instead of giving a point-by-point response as required by Office of Management and Budget rules, “her denial does not even respond to even a single point of our request.”
“Ms. Wynn totally ignores the requirements of reliability and lack of bias,” said the CEI appeal.
The CEI’s original request for correction ran 11 pages, and included specific methodological challenges to the studies cited by NASA, but the NASA response was barely two pages.
The Washington Times has reached out to NASA for comment.
The research papers cited by NASA to bolster the 97% claim “don’t actually make the claims that NASA’s claiming they make,” in some cases excluding — or including — scientists “who don’t have an opinion or say they’re uncertain or don’t know,” Mr. Watkins said.
He said the statement was posted by NASA at some point during the Obama administration.
“I just think there was political pressure to get it added, and no one questioned NASA directly on it at the time,” he said. “As the political winds shifted and the Trump administration came in, I suspect NASA didn’t really even look at it.”
Consensus gap or myth?
Debate over the scientific consensus on climate change has raged since at least 2004, when Science magazine published an essay by now-Harvard history of science professor Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.”
She reviewed 928 study abstracts with the words “climate change” published in journals from 1993-2003, concluding that 75% implicitly or explicitly endorsed the consensus view and 25% took no position, but “none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.”
The 97% figure took off following a 2013 study led by John Cook, now an assistant research professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, who reviewed peer-reviewed paper abstracts with the words “global warming” or “global climate change” from 1991-2011.
“The first thing we noticed was that a lot of papers don’t even bother to mention whether humans are causing global warming or not. It’s like, you look at astronomy papers: Not many of them would bother mentioning that the earth revolves around the sun. It’s established consensus,” Mr. Cook told Yale Climate Connections in a 2017 interview.
“But amongst the papers that did mention it — there were about 4,000 papers amongst the 12,000 papers we looked at — 97.1% of them endorsed human-caused global warming in their abstract,” Mr. Cook said.
The pushback was immediate. PopularTechnology.com interviewed a half-dozen prominent scientists who said the study mischaracterized their work, while other academics, including Richard Tol of the University of Sussex and the University of Delaware’s David Legates, published challenges to the study’s methodology.
For example, “Legates’s peer-reviewed independent study reevaluating the 64 articles that Cook said explicitly endorsed AGW (that more than half of the warming was caused by humans) found that actually only 41 made such claims,” said the CEI.
The debate has left little room for middle ground. In 2017, Yale Climate Communications rated the 97% figure as “true,” while Mr. Tol said in 2014 that it was “essentially pulled from thin air.”
NASA also cited statements from 18 scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which said in 2014, “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.”
On the other hand, CEI noted that NASA failed to take into account documents signed by researchers rejecting the climate-catastrophe scenario, such as the Oregon Petition, which has more than 31,000 signatures of self-identified scientists, including more than 9,000 with doctoral degrees.
The SkepticalScience blog, founded by Mr. Cook, slammed the CEI challenge, calling the “no consensus” argument “one of the most popular climate myths” perpetrated by “fossil fuel-funded think tanks.”
“That so-called ‘consensus gap’ between public perception and the reality of expert agreement is largely due to a sustained misinformation campaign,” said the Aug. 15 post.
At the other end of the spectrum, Climate Depot’s Marc Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change,” took a jab at the consensus “myth,” saying it was “about time NASA is forced to confront its part in repeating the 97% claim.”
“NASA is likely to fight tooth and nail over this false 97% claim because NASA has a vested interest in keeping up the ‘consensus’ myth,” Mr. Morano said in an email. “Sadly, NASA has long been overrun with many scientists who are willing to bend the truth for the climate cause.”
In its appeal, CEI argued that the decision should be made not by staff but by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, or deputy administrator James Morhand.