The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has utilized a non-expert to write an analysis entitled “Expert credibility in climate change.” This analysis judges the climate science credentials of scientists who have taken a position in the climate change debate, and disqualifies those who are not expert enough in climate science for its choosing.
The non-expert writer of this analysis of credibility, James W. Prall at Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto, is not only not an expert in the field of climate change, he is also not an expert in electrical and computer engineering, at least not in the sense that some might assume from his University of Toronto affiliation. Mr. Prall is an administrator who looks after computers at the university, not a scientist or even a lowly researcher in the field. If it strikes you as odd that an editor at the National Academy of Sciences would accept someone with a life-long service and programming career in the computer field to judge the academic credentials of scientists, it gets odder.
Prall’s methodology in determining who is credible as a scientist involves the use of Google Scholar which, he explained last fall to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “studies just the scientific literature. They look at peer-reviewed journals.” Prall uses Google Scholar to determine how often people publish and how often they are cited. Based on the number of hits that Google Scholar produces – not on any analysis of the actual content of climate studies – Prall determines scientific merit. It’s an easy and straightforward process, he explained, that anyone can perform.
Does Google Scholar really limit itself to scholars? No. Search “Al Gore” on Google Scholar and you will find some 33,200 Scholar hits, almost 10 times as many as obtained by searching “James Hansen,” a true scientist and easily the best known of those endorsed by Prall as a bona fide believer. Neither does Google Scholar limit itself to “just the scientific literature.” Google Scholar finds articles in newspapers and magazines around the world: 113,000 in the New York Times, 22,000 in Economist, 21,000 in Le Monde, 16,000 in The Guardian.
Prall maintains his data on a portion of the University of Toronto website (this is his personal website, and not affiliated with the university, he is careful to note). I first came across him while in the CBC’s studios last fall, when he was invited by CBC Radio to counter my views by presenting a forerunner of his study, which was then unpublished. His results then differed little in the message they conveyed: “According to Jim Prall’s database, of the 615 scientists who published papers on climate change, the sceptics are outnumbered 601 to 14,” CBC announced.
Prall’s now-published work has some important differences. To give his work the trappings required to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, his study has several real scientists as co-authors, the best known and most credible among them being Stanford’s Steven Schneider, who was previously best known for predicting global cooling.
But Prall’s reliance on Google Scholar has not changed. He even tells us what search term he used to arrive at his results – key in the author by first and last name and, to obtain “climate relevant publications,” add the term “climate.”
Works beautifully. Al Gore turns up in such “climate sensitive” academic publications as Vanity Fair, Sierra Club Books, and HollywoodJesus.com.
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, June 23, 2010