William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Consensus That Wasn’t: Less Than 1%, Not 97%

If I hear that “97% of scientists agree…” nonsense number just one more time—why, I’ll laugh. And why not? It is comedy in its best democratic form. That screwy figure is one of those political fantasy numbers that every sensible person knows is wrong but which they use because they assume their audience will be just dumb or gullible enough to swallow it. It is the contempt politicians and activists have for their fellow citizens which is risible.

The 97% is similar to other political numbers, like the “rape culture” figure 5 out of every 4 women (or whatever) on college campuses are “sexually harassed”, or women “only” make 70 cents for every dollar a man makes, and so on and on. It never quits. Why? It’s part of democracy and its necessary over-fascination with quantification.

Debunking is the word, and every statistic like those above have been debunked time and again. Which proves the efficacy of correction efforts is low. Nevertheless, they are never wrong to try. So here is a reminder of peer-reviewed paper proving the 97% figure is of no use to any except bamboozlers, swindlers, con artists, and members of our political class. (I have seen the paper being linked to again in recent weeks.)

The peer-review, of course, makes the paper unassailable. You must believe. It’s Science. No: the Science. Incidentally, we did the paper on the site before, but it faded fast from memories.

The paper is “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change” in Science & Education, but the non-so-esteemed quartet David R. Legates, Willie Soon, William M. Briggs, Christopher Monckton of Brenchley. You might recognize some of the names.

Abstract (with added paragraphifications):

Agnotology is the study of how ignorance arises via circulation of misinformation calculated to mislead. Legates et al. (Sci Educ 22:2007–2017, 2013) had questioned the applicability of agnotology to politically-charged debates.

In their reply, Bedford and Cook (Sci Educ 22:2019–2030, 2013), seeking to apply agnotology to climate science, asserted that fossil-fuel interests had promoted doubt about a climate consensus.

Their definition of climate ‘misinformation’ was contingent upon the post-modernist assumptions that scientific truth is discernible by measuring a consensus among experts, and that a near unanimous consensus exists.

However, inspection of a claim by Cook et al. (Environ Res Lett 8:024024, 2013) of 97.1 % consensus, heavily relied upon by Bedford and Cook, shows just 0.3 % endorsement of the standard definition of consensus: that most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic.

Agnotology, then, is a two-edged sword since either side in a debate may claim that general ignorance arises from misinformation allegedly circulated by the other. Significant questions about anthropogenic influences on climate remain. Therefore, Legates et al. appropriately asserted that partisan presentations of controversies stifle debate and have no place in education.

The “Legates et al.” mentioned in the last sentence is the peer-reviewed “Learning and teaching climate science: The perils of consensus knowledge using agnotology” in Science & Education by that hip trio David R. Legates, Willie Soon, and William M. Briggs (Christopher was probably prowling around in his castle in Scotland when we did that one, and so missed out on the fun; complete reference is in the link above).

So, there it is. The 97% is exaggerated a tad: it is only 300-some times too large. But, hey. The number might be comedic fiction, but it’s a fiction in a good cause, therefore it’s not wrong. Right?

In politics it’s not the Truth that counts, it’s the purity of your heart measured against the ideological standard of your party. Party is greater than Truth. Think of that next time you hear the 97%.

Incidentally, the correct number for the consensus that man influences the climate should be, based on elementary physics, 100%, not 97%. Just as the consensus that aardvarks influence the climate should be 100%. And so on. It was always a debate over how much, not whether.


  1. Righto, Bill, or Matt or whatever!

    However much aardvarks puff and burp and fart they won’t come anywhere near the CO2 and CH4 output of whales or termites.

    Agnotology is a fascinating “concept”. It should be put in the dictionary of infantile unanswerable questions.

  2. Agnotology may be a fascinating concept, but Wiki used it to “prove” the evil tobacco industry lied by using it as an example of agnotology (never mind 90% of smokers don’t get lung cancer and therefore causality is definately lacking—no correlation, no causality). So, Wiki can bend anything and I’m sure they will continue to do so. A bit OT, but I call it the “Theatre of the Left” because I’ve not seen such projection outside a theatre ever.

    For a fun look at the use of 97%, try:

  3. The linked paper in *Science & Education* contains elementary errors; I wouldn’t bother trying to make sense of it.

    The degree of “consensus” about AGW depends, of course, on how the position is defined. But using a reasonable definition, this paper:


    calculates a consensus >99.99%. This, and related published calculations, are the origin of my recent claim here that the consensus is known to be >99%: that was not rhetoric. I agree that the probable origin of the 97% figure, the often cited paper by Cook, had methodological problems; that was why it underestimated the consensus.

  4. The 97% number is not well-understood. It includes papers and positions from a wide variety of perspectives and directions. Many of these sources only imply anthropomorphic climate change, and only a small percentage are focused directly on it.

    Just the same, it seems most scientists in the relevant fields are very concerned with the levels of certain gasses and particulates building in the atmosphere directly or indirectly from the unprecedented industrial expansion we are seeing throughout the world. The Industrial Age we in the West experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries most of the rest of world is just getting round to, and exponentially more massive and faster. There is no natural precedent for what we are adding to the atmosphere, aside from massive volcanoes and large meteor strikes, but they happen immediately. It’s like a really slow-motion Lake Toba playing out over many decades.

    Fossil fuels are fine and well and will be around for a long time, but they can’t be the main source of energy throughout the world indefinitely. No scientist would argue that. Neither would any economist. We can not forget we need those resources for many, many other everyday uses in our lives. Oil, for instance, is not just for cars and power plants. Look it up (this is from ConocoPhillips): http://alaska.conocophillips.com/what-we-do/oil-production/Pages/what-is-oil-used-for.aspx …the list just goes on and on. So we certainly don’t want to just willy-nilly plow through this resource, a conservative way of thinking that no retirement planner, for instance, would argue.

    We live no a sphere in space, protected and nourished by a bubble of atmosphere around it. Why would we play around with that? Why would we just assume spewing out whatever we want however much we like? We should assume to take care, we should assume that our environment is fragile, and thereby avoid a potential, again one no scientist would argue, that this new industrial age may be endangering our environment.

    I think I’d get about 97% on all that.


  5. RE: “It was always a debate over how much, not whether.”

    Actually, we can argue that the debate is about belief or nonbelief — belief that hazardous warming is real … one needs to be a believer, not a denier (per those on THAT side of the issue…). That is the oft-stated focus and benchmark criterion above all else.

    And therein lies the problem…so much about the topic is ideological, about belief and discussion about the problem, with emphasis on how bad we humans are for causing the problem.

    Conspicuously absent in nearly all the discussion & debate has been and continues to be any objective, or any, real discussion about what real effect [if any] any of the various penitential remedial actions (e.g. of reducing one’s “carbon footprint”) will actually have.

    From what I can tell, the aggregate effect of all that penitence, real and desired, is just about zero, not quite, but a just barely measurable — and indisputably inconsequential — net impact … measurably equivalent to no effect at all on the cited causal factor of ‘too much CO2’ floating about.

    WSJ columnist Brett Stephens dubbed this”sick-souled religion” in his July 1, 2008 article, “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis” (there, he cites a reference for the “sick-souled” criteria). Even if the bases for any of Stephens various points have been updated or refuted (or not, again, debatable), the ongoing omission from consideration about those emphasizing belief remains effectiveness of the penitence. That it doesn’t seem to matter — those espousing belief while engaging in heretical behavior are hailed as wonderful as are countries or their politicians that endorse lowering carbon to inconsequential effects.

    That the statement of belief, coupled or not with ineffectual symbolic overtures is what seems to most matter indicates that science is the tool for what is in reality a sort of pseudo-Druidic faith.

  6. What does consensus have to do with science? As an undergrad I had several physics courses and none of my professors told me that the scientific consensus was that Newton’s laws of motion were correct and therefore I should believe them. Now we are supposed to believe in AGW because of some consensus?

  7. “What does consensus have to do with science?”

    Nothing, really. It’s just that Briggs thinks it’s important enough to write about it repeatedly, and some of his claims are false.

    “Now we are supposed to believe in AGW because of some consensus?”

    You could become expert enough in a field to assess all the evidence and arguments for yourself. Barring that, the only rational choice, if you feel you must “believe” something, is to go with the consensus, especially when it’s so overwhelming. It could always be wrong, but you would have no way whatsoever for determining that, and it’s more likely to be approximately correct than not.

  8. Remember the comic tales about two friends who keep telling each other the same jokes, but because of their familiarity with the repeated jokes they gave them each a number. 37 – ha, ha. 53 – giggle. Climate science has turned a number itself into a joke. The number 97 might never recover its dignity, will never regain its anonymity.

  9. I don’t think 97% of any group can agree on any one thing.

  10. Jersey McJones,

    The 97% number is not well-understood.

    It is not only “not well-understood, it is a based on a study so flawed it is almost fraudulant.

    Just the same, it seems most scientists in the relevant fields…

    Unsupported assertions who are “most scientists” and what are the “relevant fields.”

    You seem to be the one that always challenges posters to provide evidence, yet your comment is all quoting false facts (97% of scientists), and weasel words such as “seems,” “assumes,” “potential,” etc.They are your opinions and you are entitled to them, but no you don’t get 97%. C- at best.

  11. Bob, “I don’t think 97% of any group can agree on any one thing.”
    I think we can all agree on that. But maybe 3% wouldn’t.

  12. Lee – the rational choice is to go against the consensus of experts often. Experts build themselves echo chambers. Einstein fought quantum mechanics until his death.

    Scott Adams lays it out. http://blog.dilbert.com/post/154082416051/the-non-expert-problem-and-climate-change-science

    Abbreviated Quote:
    “It seems to me that a majority of experts could be wrong whenever you have a pattern that looks like this:
    1. A theory has been “adjusted” in the past to maintain the conclusion even though the data has changed.
    2. Prediction models are complicated. When things are complicated you have more room for error. Climate science models are complicated.
    3. The models require human judgement to decide how variables should be treated. This allows humans to “tune” the output to a desired end.
    4. There is a severe social or economic penalty for having the “wrong” opinion in the field.
    5. There are so many variables that can be measured – and so many that can be ignored – that you can produce any result you want by choosing what to measure and what to ignore.
    6. The argument from the other side looks disturbingly credible.”

  13. Monckton et al are heroes!

    “Anthropomorphic” global warming must be the evil twin of the BFG.

    Consensus in science is a problem. Remember this quote:
    No amount of experimentation can prove me right but it takes only one experiment to prove me wrong.”
    That is the spirit which is dead in today’s less fair minded climatologists. The models are never correct in predicting or projecting. Stil the theory is never questioned. So all that’s left is a belief in the theory. Models are slippery crystal balls.

    Consensus has no executive power in the science arena in the abstract sense . It has executive power when awarded by an authority that gives it powers to make decisions about truth. That is the business of man and in that regard the fear, the alarm and the threat are entirely anthropogenic.

    Consensus is used in a criminal court where the burden of proof is already with the claimant or the prosecution. The business of committees and Democracy is not how science progresses. It is the right way to the end of a cull de sac.

    Interestingly, when climate change WAS tested in a court, I don’t know if you know this JMJ but the judge ruled against it. That was Al Gore’s movie which was erroneous, inaccurate and incomplete. The consensus was also brought into question. Errors were considered too numerous to consider all but nine were highlighted for special consideration. In that instance it was one high court judge’s decision.

    Children in British schools now must be shown the errors and omissions as well as be provided with equivalent video or documented material which examines the other side of the debate, that of the ‘denier’. Failure to do this leaves them in breach of an education act concerning indoctrination. So the debate isn’t over.

    It never made the news and the BBC never mentioned it but An Inconvenient Truth is never spoken about or mentioned on TV. Lord Moncton was after someone rich to take up the challenge in the states and provide funds to take the same legal action or similar in the US. I didn’t hear that this ever happened. This is away to raise the profile of the debate and force authorities to wake up and listen. Most importantly, school teachers can be informed so that they stop spreading political doctrine. It would cost a lot more than the one million or so it cost in the UK.

    The only time it matters is when the thing’s controversial, when people’s lives are affected en mass or individually. In my experience, the same one that predicted Trump and Britain’s leaving the EU, the actual Public Consensus view is that the globe is not in peril due to man with respect to the climate.

    As to moral questions, that is the business of churches. Churches that have committed themselves on this issue have not done due diligence. They have duty of care which they have forgotten. Scientists have a duty of care too.

    On seeing Madonna in a pink fit on the news I was reminded about my entry to this subject. She was shouting on a world stage at a concert where she was saving the planet. Live Earth’ probably. The next day a disagreement with a colleague about global warming lead me to look into the matter on line.
    “there must be some evidence on which they base all of this”. I’m still waiting to find it. It was so much worse than I’d suspected and it was so shocking to me at the time that I’ve never really trusted an authority ever since. The luxury of trusting in clever scientists and believing in the media’s approximate motives and so on. All washed away. When there’s a real threat, nobody will be interested after this, the world’s greatest ever joint folly.

    “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”
    “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
    Someone else agrees! It is a power which is undervalued by intellectuals and brings forth new ideas and creations.
    It is more important than mere ‘intellect alone’ if there were such a distillation.
    Keats and Einstein are right and had this in common. In the absence of any further evidence of anything better there’s nothing wrong with this conviction.

    How bored must those modellers be by now? On a scale of 1- 5?

  14. The linked paper in *Science & Education* contains elementary errors; I wouldn’t bother trying to make sense of it.

    Ah, the awesome “you’re wrong and I won’t explain why”. Very believable.

  15. Ah, the awesome “you’re wrong and I won’t explain why”.

    If you try to read the paper and you’re reasonably numerate, the errors jump out at you. Personally, I find it hard to believe that the authors were serious. If you want some more detail, try http://www.jamespowell.org/resources/PowellERLrevisionfinal.pdf

    “Very believable.”

    There it is again. “Belief.”

  16. the errors jump out at you.

    I read yours, and it was based on an analysis of the published papers that were for or against AGW, a hardly convincing criteria given all the problems with peer-review that are highlighted ever so often. I’d rather see a poll of what the scientists involved actually believe, rather than an analysis of (allowed) papers that may/may not be pandering to the whims of Big Science. Like they said:

    “The most obvious way to establish the extent of a scientific consensus is simply to ask scientists for their opinion”

    And even then:

    “Moreover, even expert opinion can be wrong: otherwise there would have been no scientific revolutions”

    There it is again. “Belief.”

    Your inability to comprehend that is your cross to bear.

  17. Can a person believe the veracity of something that pretends to be true?

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