A NY Times Environment blog entry summarizes an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looks into whether there really is a “scientific consensus” that humans are substantially changing the climate. There is. That’s pretty much “dog bites man” as far as news is concerned. But although the results of the study don’t seem noteworthy, I was struck by this paragraph in the blog writeup, which is pretty much a quote of the PNAS article:
For example, of the top 50 climate researchers identified by the study (as ranked by the number of papers they had published), only 2 percent fell into the camp of climate dissenters. Of the top 200 researchers, only 2.5 percent fell into the dissenter camp. That is consistent with past work, including opinion polls, suggesting that 97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.
Two percent of the top 50, that’s one person. And 2.5 percent of the top 200, that’s five people. As a general rule, when the numerator in count data is very small, or when the denominator is fairly small, I prefer to see the numerator and denominator separately rather than a percentage. If someone says “this guy has been making more than 80% of his free throws this post season,” I want to know if that is 6/7 or 17/20. So I think they should say 1/50 and 5/200, rather than 2% of the top 50 and 2.5% of the top 200. Yes, I understand these are mathematically identical, but I betcha a lot of people see “2% of 50” and don’t realize that’s one person, even though they’d realize it if they thought about it for just a second.
By the way, one guy (I assume it’s a guy, most of them are guys) has over 850 climate-related publications. Fourteen people have over 500 publications each (one of these is the “dissenter” among the top 50). Jeez. Andrew might attain this sort of level if he keeps up as his current rate, but for most of the rest of us this is ridiculous. Quite a selection effect, too: it’d be pretty much impossible to be considered as one of their “top 50” climate experts if you are under 45 years old.