November 27, 2009
Methods used to tabulate the number of experts who are skeptical of climate change leave something to be desired.
There you go,” concluded Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC’s morning radio show, The Current. “According to Jim Prull’s database, of the 615 scientists who published papers on climate change, the skeptics are outnumbered 601 to 14.”
Case closed, she was saying, after Prull, a computer network manager, explained how anyone can use a spreadsheet and Google Scholar searches to separate the real climate experts from the phony ones. Just key someone’s name into Google Scholar if you think he’s a scientist and see how often he has been cited. Those who aren’t cited much have little scientific credibility, CBC’s national audience was told, and those who are cited a lot have lots. Not once during her interview of Prull did Tremonti question Prull’s methodology or his premises or his results.
She didn’t, for example, try a reality check by asking him to search Google Scholar for Al Gore. Had she done so, she would have seen that Gore, with 30,000 Scholar hits and untold citations, was closing in on Einstein’s 36,000.
On what basis did Tremonti, formerly a CBC investigative journalist, grant so much credibility to Prull’s techniques? Perhaps because, as he explained to the CBC audience, Google Scholar “studies just the scientific literature. They look at peer-reviewed journals.” She might have done a reality check on that premise, too. Google Scholar finds articles in popular newspapers and magazines. A search for The New York Times yields 101,000 hits, for The Economist magazine 18,000 and for The Wall Street Journal 17,000. Google Scholar also finds articles on global warming websites, including those of the skeptics.
Prull claims to have objectively investigated 2,940 names, of scientists on both sides of the debate, including those who signed various petitions protesting global warming doomsterism. Yet he dismisses the biggest petition of all — the 31,000 scientists on the petition organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine — on the grounds that organizations like DeSmogBlog say that they’re not really scientists. DeSmogBlog, an organization that Prull donates to, was specifically created for the purpose of discrediting skeptics.
The Oregon Petition, for those who are unfamiliar with it, was organized by Frederick Seitz, a past president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Arthur B. Robinson, the former president and research director of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine and the man who, according to Nobel laureate Pauling, was “my principal and most valued collaborator.” You can’t fault Prull for not wanting to go through all 31,000 names — he has a day job keeping computer systems running — but his dismissal of the Oregon Petition calls his objectivity into question, particularly since that petition includes renowned scientists such as Freeman Dyson, America’s most famous scientist. Moreover, those 31,000 signatories didn’t sign some meaningless motherhood statement — they unequivocally asserted that carbon dioxide benefits the planet and that the danger that we face comes from a misguided Kyoto Protocol.
My book, The Deniers, warrants a special place on Prull’s website. He has investigated 37 of the scientists that I profiled and generally found them wanting. Reid Bryson, for example, fares poorly on Prull’s spreadsheet — he’s ranked 290th — with an inexplicably low number of citations. Yet Bryson, who is known as “the father of scientific climatology,” holds the title of “the world’s most cited climatologist,” according to an analysis in the journal of the Institute of British Geographers.
I don’t mean to be hard on Prull — his professional discipline is outside the ken of climate science or environmental policy, and there’s no reason for him to be especially able to judge whose science counts and whose doesn’t. But what does it say of the standards at CBC and The Current that they would prefer the judgment of a well-meaning amateur to that of the Institute of British Geographers? Or that they would unquestioningly assume that crude returns from a Google Scholar search were worth imparting to its audience?
Even if Prull were capable of judging which scientists qualify as climate scientists, and even if Google Scholar only searched peer-reviewed sites, CBC and The Current would have been remiss in assuming that appearances in peer-reviewed journals mean what they appear to mean.
For one thing, governments have provided some $80-billion in climate research funding over the last 20 years, virtually none of it to the skeptics. With only one side of the debate funded, it’s hardly surprising that one side dominates the publications. For another, as the recently surfaced Climategate emails demonstrate, scholarly publications have been under pressure to refuse any work from skeptics. As The Wall Street Journal Europe put it, “The impression left by the Climategate emails is that the global warming game has been rigged from the start.”
The impression left by the performance of Anna Maria Tremonti and The Current is that they — wittingly or not — have been helping to rig the game in Canada.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe (energy.probeinternational.org) and Urban Renaissance Institute, and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.