Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    This point is highlighted to stress the difficulties in ascertaining the actual causal role and impact of changing atmospheric carbon dioxide content on weather statistics and climate change over long time scales. We are aware of an opposing conclusion reached by Alley (2007), for example, where atmospheric carbon dioxide content is said to be quintessential for the presence of climate change on all timescales. Dr. Alley’s presentation is at http://agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml.

  2. 2.

    Note that Cook et al. (2013) have apparently missed the key conclusions from three independent studies. First, Knight et al. (2009) have suggested that “The simulations rule out (at the 95 % level) zero trends for intervals of 15 years or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with expected present-day warming rate” (p. S23). Santer et al. (2011), in adopting a slightly different metric, offered the conclusion: “Our results show that temperature records of at least 17 years in length are required for identifying human effects on global-mean tropospheric temperature” (p. 1). Finally, Huang (2013) provided an even more definitive detection and diagnostic of the carbon dioxide-global warming hypothesis by suggesting that “the most detectable secular trend signals appear in the CO2 band and the time it takes to see these radiance changes is much less than 12 years” (p. 1711).

  3. 3.

    See http://policlimate.com/tropical/.

  4. 4.

    Only five such years exist since 1950–2000, 2001, 2006, 2009, and 2010.

  5. 5.

    http://wind.mit.edu/~emanuel/Hurricane_threat.htm.

  6. 6.

    See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3310137/Al-Gores-nine-Inconvenient-Untruths.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/oct/11/climatechange.

  7. 7.

    From Norman Myers, “Environmental refugees. An emergent security issue”. 13 Economic Forum, Prague, OSCE, May 2005; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005.

  8. 8.

    http://phys.org/news/2011-02-million-environmental-refugees-experts.html.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Demetris Koutsoyiannis for his comments and thoughts on Agnotology.

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Correspondence to David R. Legates.

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Legates, D.R., Soon, W., Briggs, W.M. et al. Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation’: A Rejoinder to Agnotology, Scientific Consensus, and the Teaching and Learning of Climate Change . Sci & Educ 24, 299–318 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-013-9647-9

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Keywords

  • Global Warming
  • Climate Policy
  • Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
  • Climate Science
  • Anthropogenic Climate Change