Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change

February 17, 2013

The headlines blazed!!

Forbes said…

Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis

IBD said…

Global Warming Consensus Looking More Like A  Myth

WattsUpWithThat copied the the IBD headline.  And we are off and running.

The headlines of these blog articles all refer to the paper, “Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change,” in the journal Organization Studies.

Essentially, Forbes, IBD and WUWT were all saying  “Yippee!!  Here is a survey that shows most science and engineering professionals lean to the skeptical side when it comes to the question of global warming.”

Lessons to be learned here, and they are not pleasant.

I was given a hard copy to the Forbes article about the paper while visiting with a friend at a coffee shop. He knows of and shares my skepticism concerning much of the global warming alarmism. He shared the Forbes article as confirmation that skepticism was gaining ground. The Forbes article certainly presented it that way.

I thought “this would be a good topic  about which to write a blog post.”  (I also selfishly thought maybe I could scoop WUWT in this one.)  So, I got out my computer, logged onto the the coffee shop’s wi-fi and looked up the article.  Much to my chagrin, I found that the Forbes article (and subsequently the IBD article and even the WUWT article) greatly misrepresented the journal paper.

For those of you who have not actually read the journal paper, here is what it is really about: some social scientists are trying to peer into the minds of “deniers” (their word choice, not mine) to see what makes them tick.  What better laboratory could they find than engineers in Alberta that are likely associated with the gas and oil industry!

The authors of the paper are not saying “a bunch of smart scientist and engineer types think global warming is largely over-blown – maybe you should consider their perspective.” Rather, they are saying “Those poor engineer types up there in Alberta live in a world that revolves around oil and gas and their psyches are not able to grasp the true dangers of global warming because of the social and political structure in which they live.  What are the proper tactics to bring them around to the right kind of thinking?” (Not their actual words, but my interpretation of their words.)

Lesson #1

Maybe we ought to actually read journal papers before we start writing blog posts to interpret them for others.

Lesson #2

This journal article is an illustration of the primary problem in the global warming debate, and debates concerning other controversial scientific subjects (like GM plants and animals).  That is, many are fooled into thinking that weighing the credentials (or the social background, or the professional background, or the political affiliation, etc) of the advocate of a particular perspective is an adequate shortcut around the more arduous task of weighing the arguments of the advocate.  To wit, we don’t have to waste time listening to the reasoning of scientists and engineers from Alberta, we can simply dismiss them because the circumstances of those poor souls prevents them from being able to reason fairly.  This is the seductive path of lazy thinkers.

Lesson #3

Bad things could happen at WUWT when Anthony Watts takes a well deserved week-end break.

Lesson #4

My guess is that the authors of “Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change” are having a good laugh at the expense of Forbes, IBD, and WUWT



  1. After reading this post I went back and re-read the paper. Yes, you are correct on the pupose of the paper and the authors are clear about that themselves.

    However the data presented within the paper also shows that the headlines are correct. There has been a huge swing toward the publication of sceptical papers, and the number of respondants who believe global warmiong is mainly anthropogenic in nature is only 36%.

    On that basis I would have to say that this isn’t an either/or situation, and that WUWT was correct in making the claims they did.

    • Jantar,

      Thanks for the comment.

      However, I contend that this journal article does not support the idea that there has been a swing toward skepticism. That swing may be occurring (I hope it is) but this paper provides no evidence of such a swing.

      I have none other than the authors of the paper to confirm my conclusion.

      James Taylor, who wrote the Forbes article about this paper has been eviscerated in the comments. The principal authors of the paper, Lefsrud and Renate Meyer, personally commented at the Forbes site, saying..

      First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” Our research reconstructs the frames the members of a professional association hold about the issue and the argumentative patterns and legitimation strategies these professionals use when articulating their assumptions. Our research does not investigate the distribution of these frames and, thus, does not allow for any conclusions in this direction. We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

      And they conclude their comment with..

      But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such! We trust that this clarifies our findings.

      You can see their entire comment here.

      Best Regards,

      • In the introduction there is this: [Quote]The proportion of papers found in the ISI Web of Science database that explicitly endorsed anthropogenic climate change has fallen from 75% (for the period between 1993 and 2003) as of 2004 to 45% from 2004 to 2008, while outright disagreement has risen from 0% to 6% (Oreskes, 2004; Schulte, 2008). [/Quote]

        While it then goes on to suggest reasons for that comment it doesn’t take away the fact that there has been a swing to scepticism in published work.

        I have recently returned to university after a 40 year break to complete a Phd in climate science, and there is no doubt that both teaching staff and senior students are questioning the concensus to a greater degree than I have ever seen before.

      • Jantar,

        Your observation about the attitudes of teaching staff and students is encouraging.

        I admire your determination in going back for your PhD after so long. Good luck with your studies!


  2. You want to see serious wailing and gnashing of teeth on a subject? Try arguing cannabinoids with “Devil Weed” people.

    • M Simon,

      Not exactly on topic, is it?

  3. As usual, you’re right, Tom. However, many of the comments on the WUWT article are well worth reading.

    For instance, there’s some excellent discussion of the supposed positive feedback on temperatures from sea-ice/albedo, and this insightful comment, by Berényi Péter:

    “To test consensus position on a particular topic of science, correct methodology requires genuine experts of that very field to be excluded from the poll.
    If you wanted to know for example, that homeopathy was science or pseudoscience, so it deserved financial support from government on taxpayer’s money, you’d never ask a group of homeopaths if they believed substances diluted until not a single molecule of the supposed agent remained in them had still beneficial effect, would you? Even if you would and found 98% consensus on this issue among them, it would be utterly meaningless.
    On the other hand, asking experts of neighboring disciplines like doctors, pharmacologists, biologists, nurses and the like makes sense.
    It is the same with climatology. As soon as the scientific value of the basic paradigm of a field, in this case fitting multiple computational models of high complexity to a single run of a unique physical instance is questioned, it is up to experts of neighboring fields to decide its validity. They may not be able to do their own research in that field, but they do have ample background to understand and evaluate the methods applied in the field in question.”

    • Dave,

      WUWT usually has a good mix of comments. Some people just vent – which is OK. But there are usually many good thought provoking comments also. This particular post was no exception, as the comment by Berényi Péter proves.


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