Ivory Tower: 97 Percent Sure

Bad–meaning neither good nor funny–joke time.

What’s the difference between Ivory Soap’s purity and the Ivory Tower’s view of climate change?

Answer: 2.44 percent.

Ivory Soap produced one of the most memorable advertising slogans of all time with their “99 44/100ths percent pure” claim. I wonder how many people today know what the point of comparison was. (In case anyone cares, it was ordinary castile soap.)

In comparison with Ivory Soap, the Ivory Tower sorts are not that far behind, percentage-wise, that is. Daily Tech‘s Tiffany Kaiser reports on the results of a recent study in “Stanford Study: Few Experts Support Global Warming Skepticism”:

[T]he university’s team of scientists decided on who the top 100 climate researchers are by determining the “total number of climate-related publications each had.” According to Anderegg, 97 percent of those in the top 100 agree with and/or endorse the IPCC’s assessment. He also says that this result has been “borne out” by other studies that use different methodology.

How did they calculate this 97 percent? Those performing the study used common methodology:

The university came to these conclusions by analyzing the number of research papers published “by more than 900 climate researchers” and the number of times these researchers’ works were cited by other scientists. The expertise was evaluated by citing the number of research papers written by scientists (with the minimum number for inclusion being 20).

In other words, they used academics to vet other academics who published and cited the work of still more academics. Reading this, I remembered an old cartoon of a dog being tried for cat-icide in front of a jury comprised totally of cats. The cats didn’t look like they could be convinced of the dog’s innocence no matter what evidence was offered. I pictured the dog as academia and climate skeptics as the cats.

This paragraph from Kaiser’s story reinforced that dog-cat image:

The scientists at Stanford have mentioned that they are ready to take some heat from doubters of anthropogenic, or human-affected, climate change who “object to their data.” But according to Stephen Schneider, a professor of biology and a coauthor of the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team “took pains to avoid any sort of prejudice or skewed data in their analysis.” When selecting researchers for the study who either disagreed with statements of the IPCC or signed the petitions, the Stanford team was sure to stay completely neutral in the study by omitting “those who had no published papers in the climate literature.”[emphasis added]

In other words, the researchers omitted the people most often relied on by skeptics. Michaels, Inhofe, various think tanks. Why? Simple. Most skeptics are commentators. Some would say agenda-driven nitpickers and propagandists, but that’s not really the issue. In academia commentators are called secondary sources. In scientific academia, secondary source material generally rates below primary research because secondary work analyzes, interprets, or otherwise comments on some primary source. To scientists, ACTUAL RESEARCH is what counts. Scientists expect criticism in the form of more actual research. Commentary is fine, but there had better be primary data on which to hang it.

Knowing primary from secondary research is vital for most first year college students who want a passing grade in composition. However, skeptic hackles are undoubtedly rising and the hissing and spitting beginning. Most academics put great stress on primary work. Most skeptics do not. Academics tend to put even greater stress on primary work done by well known authorities most of whom live in academia or work for governmental agencies. One guess where skeptics rest their trust.

America has a long history of intolerance for academia. That’s just a fact. Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” traces the historical details on this. The part about how earlier Americans favored the gritty, traditional farmer over the ag college scientists is, to me at least, analogous to the current favoring of meteorologists over climate science specialists.

Some aspects of America scare me–100 percent of the time.



2 Responses to “Ivory Tower: 97 Percent Sure”

  1. Poptech Says:

    The PNAS paper has been completely discredited,

    Google Scholar illiteracy in the PNAS


    “A recent paper published in the PNAS, “Expert credibility in climate change” is being used as propaganda to claim that 97% of all climate scientists agree with the IPCC and the need for government action on climate change. An analysis of this paper does not support these conclusions.

    PNAS reviewers and author’s William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold and Stephen H. Schneider are apparently Google Scholar illiterate since searching for just the word “climate” with an author’s name will bring results from non-peer-reviewed sources such as books, magazines, newspapers, patents, citations, duplicate listings and all sorts of other erroneous results. Such as 16,000 from the Guardian, 52,000 from Newsweek and 115,000 from the New York Times. There is no “peer-reviewed journal only” search option in Google Scholar.”

  2. uncommonscolds Says:

    Some aspects of their parameters bothered me as well, but that wasn’t the point of my post.

    Also, the use of the passive voice in your response bothers me. Who has done this discrediting? Who is using it as propaganda? Specifics would help here.


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