No one is immune to falsehoods, in part because of how our cognition is built and how misinformation exploits it.  We use mental shortcuts, or heuristics, to make many of our judgments, which benefit us.  At the same time however, our cognitive tendencies can make us susceptible to misinformation.

Psychologists tell us the more we see something repeated, the more likely we are to believe it. That’s why we see the same State Farm commercials with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers repeated back-to-back-to-back-to back during NFL games.  The success of Madison Avenue is predicated on this “illusory truth effect.”  It uses familiarity and ease of understanding as a shorthand for truth, i.e., the more something is repeated, the more familiar and fluent it feels whether it is misinformation or fact.

Josef Goebbels is said to have used the expression, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”  Now whether Herr Goebbels ever made that comment is debatable, however the concept of ‘the big lie’ is not debatable; 50,000,000 German adults in the 1930s didn’t wake up one morning believing they were the Master Race – someone or something manipulated their collective perception.

And THE biggest lie of the 21st century, bar none, is the lie that 97% of climate scientists believe global warming is a man-made occurrence.  This canard makes the Russian collusion hoax look like child’s play.  But what was the impetuous, where did this falsehood originate?

The notion that 97% of scientists agree about the causes and effects of climate change is beyond absurd – there’s a greater chance of Santa Claus sliding down your chimney next December 24th.

~ How it all began ~

The most influential statement of this alleged consensus first appeared in the summary for policymakers of the 5th assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which enticed then President Barack Obama to state, “97% of scientists agree, climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.”  And to a liberal, if it comes from the lips of Barack Obama then it may as well have come from the burning bush!

But science doesn’t advance by consensus; healthy disagreement isn’t just necessary, it’s essential to any scientific endeavor – consensus is the exception, not the rule because science is a process of leading to ever-greater certainty.  What is accepted as true today will likely not be accepted as true tomorrow.  Recall, it was Einstein who said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” 

~ Four Primary Sources of the Lie~

The most frequently cited source for the consensus lie is a 2004 essay written for The Journal Science by Naomi Oreskes a Harvard historian of science and avowed socialist whose most famous quote may be, “History shows that we need the government to manage markets.” While Oreskes’ “climate commentary” appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, her essay was not peer-reviewed, nor did it include a supporting database, yet it became the basis for the book, Merchants of Doubt and whose claims were repeated in Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth.  (Yup, this is how it works, one person with an agenda makes a false statement, it’s picked up by another true believer, then a third and soon it’s dogma.)  And that’s exactly what’s occurred – an unsupported article of questionable veracity was taken at face value and used, expanded upon, and re-used repeatedly to “prove” a fallacious point.

A second source was a 2009 a paper by Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, a student at the University of Illinois, who along with her master’s thesis advisor who also claimed that “97% of climate scientists agree.”  Zimmerman’s methodology consisted of reviewing the results of a two-minute Online survey sent to 10,257 earth scientists working for various universities and government agencies.  The survey generated responses from roughly 3,000 “scientists,” but even at that, there were no solar scientists, space scientist, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists, or astronomers included in the mix of those surveyed, begging the question of “why not?”

Interesting too, academic qualifications were not a factor regarding who was surveyed.  For a reason never made clear, Ms. Zimmerman used place of employment (huh!) to determine who received the survey.  Further skewing the results, only 5% of those surveyed identified themselves as climate scientists.  But most ridiculous of all were the survey’s questions.

  • When compared with pre 1800s levels do you think that mean-global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
  • Do you think human activity is a significant tributing factor in changing meet global temperatures?

C’mon, you could ask those questions of a third grader and get identical answers.

A third source oft cited as proof of scientific consensus comes from a paper written by William R. Love Anderegg, another college student (Stanford) who used Google Scholar to identify the views of the most prolific writers on climate change.  Anderegg’s methodology was equally suspect, he counted the number of articles he found on the Internet that were published in academic journals and then used the abstracts from these articles to support his conclusions.  However, abstracts are abstracts, and are not peer reviewed for obvious reasons.

Finally, the fourth source ‘proving’ a scientific consensus is another abstract counting exercise by a wacky Australian blogger named John Cook who makes no effort to disguise his bias.  His is little more than a collection of talking points for environmental activists; and when Mr. Cook isn’t writing about climate change, he’s a professional cartoonist in the land Down Under.

So, the next time an apocalyptist makes the comment that 97% of scientists agree global warming is a man-made phenomenon, ask them…

  • Who or what their source is?
  • To detail the specific study or survey
  • What questions were asked in that survey support their conclusion?

I promise you will not receive an answer.