Are We Ready to Admit that There’s a Scientific Consensus?

Inexplicably, some still argue that there’s no scientific consensus on anthropogenic – i.e., man-made – climate disruption (ACD). Perhaps it’s necessary to first define consensus.

Merriam-Webster defines consensus as “a general agreement” or “the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.” Clearly, consensus does not mean unanimity. Nor is it normally understood to denote a simple (50% plus 1) majority. So, at what point does an opinion become “consensual”? At 75% of those qualified to speak on a particular matter? At 80%?

Well, in regards to ACD, such subjective thresholds have been passed. Whether we’re assessing scientific opinion in terms of the percentage of refereed journal articles supporting ACD theory, or the percentage of climate scientists endorsing it in survey analysis, the truth is that there’s a very strong consensus in favor of ACD. It’s irrefutable.

In an analysis of over 900 abstracts published from 1993-2003 in refereed scientific journals, it was discovered that literally every article taking a stance on this issue accepted the theory of ACD.

One might counter that this should come as no surprise since dissenting views are marginalized in academia. Journal editors are reluctant to publish research challenging the status quo, and dissenting scientists fear losing research funding, the chance of being promoted, or even their jobs if their views go public. In short, an atmosphere of scientific conservatism and intimidation has silenced dissent, creating the illusion of a strong consensus on ACD theory.

But let’s not simply presuppose that the reason why dissenters are “marginalized” is always political. I have submitted a number of manuscripts to refereed journals; some were accepted, and some were rejected. I don’t normally conclude that the rejections were politically motivated. Although this might deal a huge blow to my pride, the truth that I must face is that some of my manuscripts were scientifically not up to par. Similarly, whereas it’s certainly possible that there is a systematic bias against dissenters, isn’t it also possible that their science is simply flawed?

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the claim that such conflicts of interest have rendered the scholarly literature on ACD unreliable, we cannot dismiss the survey evidence so easily. Why? Because these surveys are conducted anonymously, and this means that climate scientists will feel less pressure to lie about their acceptance of ACD theory for professional or financial reasons. In other words, they will not be singled out as dissenters. If, therefore, they continue to hold to the conventional view, then we can more safely conclude that the scientific consensus is indeed real. And that’s exactly what we find; they are almost in perfect unison in accepting ACD theory. According to a recent PNAS study, “97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC[Anthropogenic Climate Change].”

Although it’s certainly true that an opinion held by a majority of scientists isn’t necessarily correct, it’s also true that a minority opinion isn’t either. Whereas many logically opt for the former in areas where they lack the expertise to engage in their own research, our inaction on climate change implies that the latter has triumphed. This is scientific oligarchy.

Yes, let’s not silence dissent. Let’s not shut the door on scientific “heresies”. Let’s all humbly recognize that the scientific consensus could be wrong. I’m certainly in no position to comment on the science, itself (and my interest here has been limited to demonstrating the existence of a consensus, not on whether the consensus is correct). But let’s not pretend that such a consensus doesn’t exist. When people justify inaction on the grounds that there’s no scientific consensus, they’re implying that it’s nevertheless possible for there to be a consensus (it’s just that there’s no proven consensus in the particular case of ACC theory). Well, the consensus has been proven in literally every conceivable way, and it’s therefore dishonest – at least for those who are aware of the contradiction – to assert the contrary.