The Ongoing Embellishment Problem

My recent Twitter debate with John Stauber, co-author of the “Trust Us, We’re Experts” book, reminded me of a particularly embarrassing embellishment error that pops up elsewhere among efforts to portray experts on man-caused global warming as authoritarians above reproach. It’s like the proverbial fish story, the tendency to make things bigger than they actually are.

From the top paragraph of page 268 in “Trust Us, We’re Experts”,

The most authoritative statement of these concerns is a November 1995 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of some 2,500 climatologists from throughout the world that advises the United Nations.

The substitution of “2500 climatologists” for the more commonly seen “2500 scientists” isn’t a unique mistake on Rampton’s / Stauber’s part. Folks across the internet who favor action to stop man-caused global warming repeat that combined figure and label. In a display of entertaining irony, those same people hurl the “not a climatologist” label as a credibility destroyer of any critic they hear about.

Small problem with that line of reasoning: people who are certifiably climatologists – those arguably having Masters / PhD degrees specifically focused on climatology / climate science – are quite few in number overall. As detailed in a reproduced blog piece at WUWT, biogeochemistry professor / global warming mitigation advocate Dr. William Schlesinger offered his guess for the number of climate scientists within the IPCC as “something on the order of 20 percent have had some dealing with climate”.  2500 x 20% = 500.

In a December 30, 2010 Financial Post article, where Lawrence Solomon pointed out a major flaw in one source for the claim that there is a ‘97% scientific consensus’ on man-caused global warming, he said the following about a group of supposedly ‘climate specialist’ scientists:

The number stems from a 2009 online survey of 10,257 earth scientists, conducted by two researchers at the University of Illinois. The survey results must have deeply disappointed the researchers – in the end, they chose to highlight the views of a subgroup of just 77 scientists, 75 of whom thought humans contributed to climate change.  The ratio 75/77 produces the 97% figure that pundits now tout.

In a December 14, 2007 Canada Free Press article, John McLean and Tom Harris analyzed the “2,500 scientists of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)” tally and concluded regarding the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4),

An example of rampant misrepresentation of IPCC reports is the frequent assertion that ‘hundreds of IPCC scientists’ are known to support the following statement, arguably the most important of the WG I report, namely “Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years.”

In total, only 62 scientists reviewed the chapter in which this statement appears, the critical chapter 9, “Understanding and Attributing Climate Change”.  Of the comments received from the 62 reviewers of this critical chapter, almost 60% of them were rejected by IPCC editors. And of the 62 expert reviewers of this chapter, 55 had serious vested interest, leaving only seven expert reviewers who appear impartial.

IPCC-dissecting blogger Donna Laframboise’s January 16, 2012 blog post notes how the “government of Alberta may think the IPCC consists of more than 3,000 scientists but the IPCC itself says that only 450 lead authors plus 800 contributing authors wrote its last (2007) assessment report.” Immediately below that, Laframboise shows IPCC material with an interesting walkback of the “2500” figure itself: “2500+ scientific expert reviewers” which comes from the IPCC’s own web page IPCC’s own web pages for its 2007 AR4 report.

Keep in mind how I pointed out right here at GelbspanFiles on September 20, 2013 that Al Gore’s former long-time spokesperson, someone having no more than a Bachelor of Arts, History degree*, is found in a 1997 IPCC special report in its Annex H “Authors, Contributors, and Expert Reviewers” USA section, where she is listed in association with Greenpeace. [*10/27/16 Author’s edit: that link for her online resumé no longer works, but this one does and I have a screencapture of the Education section there for good measure]

To his credit, Ross Gelbspan at least does not make the mistake of saying there are 2500 climatologists at the IPCC. He just inflates the number of IPCC scientists to 3000 at his November 5, 2014 Facebook post.

Apparently in the same manner that he glommed onto the notion that skeptic climate scientists are paid illicit industry money under instructions to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact”, it seems he didn’t check the veracity of the more recently repeated ‘3000 IPCC scientists’ figure. The IPCC itself certainly doesn’t claim that number as its tally. At a November 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference, then-IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said (page 3) in regard to the preparation of the new IPCC AR5 report,

We had an unprecedented number of approximately 3,000 nominations of outstanding scientists who volunteered to work on the AR5. The IPCC selected 831 out of this number as Lead Authors and Review Editors for direct involvement in the preparation of the Report.

Entertaining to see one lone public mention in 2008 of ‘3000 scientists’ from President Obama’s then soon-to-be Science Czar John Holdren, where he said:

… if you have 3,000 scientists working for years and producing a report that says our considered opinion is the climate is changing by this much, it’s changing this fast, it’s having these effects, and you have two or three so-called denialists or a few small think tanks, some of which were certainly funded by Exxon, saying the opposite, they get equal time. The deniers get equal time in the newspapers, on the television.

Holdren does hardly more than repeat the Schneider-Gelbspan unsupportable talking point about fair media balance for skeptics, and Gelbspan’s overall unsupportable accusation about fossil fuel money corrupting skeptics.

And to end on the proverbial fish story angle…. how about “3000 climatologists”? How about “4000 climate scientists”? “5000 climatologists”? No joke.