Of consensus and the weakness of plastic pillars

There’s been an interesting confluence (but I’m sure it must be coincidental) of blogposts in the last twenty-four hours or so. Much of the “consensus” alarmism to which we’ve been subjected by the mainstream media (MSM) for so many years can be traced back to the European Union’s (and in particular Germany’s) deep-green-tinted “science”. But as Pierre Gosselin noted in a post today:

THE CO2 LIES … pure fear-mongering … should we blindly trust the experts?

That’s what Germany’s leading daily Bild (see photo) wrote in its print and online editions today, on the very day that renowned publisher Hoffmann & Campe officially released a skeptic book – one written by a prominent socialist and environmental figure.

This is huge. More than I ever could have possibly imagined. And more is coming in the days ahead! The Bild piece was just the first of a series.

Mark this as the date that Germany’s global warming movement took a massive body blow.

Today, not one, but two of Germany’s most widely read news media published comprehensive skeptical climate science articles in their print and online editions, coinciding with the release of a major climate skeptical book, Die kalte Sonne (The Cold Sun).

And on the U.K. alarmist front, Andrew Montford, author of The Hockey Stick Illusion [which Gosselin had indicated was quite influential in the formulation of views of the authors of Die kalte Sonne], at Bishop Hill notes that the BBC’s Richard Black has declared that, in effect, “consensus doesn’t matter“. Montford quotes Black:

But if the presence of a consensus is irrelevant, so, logically, is its absence; which makes the continued use by sceptics’ groups of the “consensus is cracking” meme a bit mystifying.

After all, how many times can you say it’s cracking before people start asking “so why hasn’t it cracked, then?”

In both cases – consensus and breaking consensus – it’s surely the evidence that should count, not the number of people you can get to sign your letter.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)’s Joseph Alcamo would probably differ from Black; or at least he would have circa October 1997, when his recipe contribution to the climate consensus co-ordinators’ cookbook, included:

Distribution for Endorsements –

I am very strongly in favor of as wide and rapid a distribution as possible for endorsements. I think the only thing that counts is numbers. The media is going to say “1000 scientists signed” or “1500 signed”. No one is going to check if it is 600 with PhDs versus 2000 without. They will mention the prominent ones, but that is a different story.

Conclusion — Forget the screening, forget asking them about their last publication (most will ignore you.) Get those names! [emphasis added -hro]

Seems to me that perhaps, in the intervening years, “consensus” has morphed into one of those “ideas” that – not unlike “climate change” – according to Mike Hulme, is “so plastic“.


“Claims such as ’2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous.

“That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields.”

Richard Klein:

[I]t is this line-by-line approval process that results in the actual consensus that the IPCC is famous for, and which is sometimes misunderstood. The consensus is not a consensus among all authors about every issue assessed in the report; it is a consensus among governments about the summary for policymakers.

The above page also contains (along with source links):


Scientific consensus

There is, in fact, a broad and overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, is caused in large part by human activities (such as burning fossil fuels), and if left unchecked will likely have disastrous consequences. Furthermore, there is solid scientific evidence that we should act now on climate change, and this is reflected in the statements by these definitive scientific authorities.

Union of Concerned Scientists:

Scientific Consensus on Global Warming

Scientific societies and scientists have released statements and studies showing the growing consensus on climate change science. A common objection to taking action to reduce our heat-trapping emissions has been uncertainty within the scientific community on whether or not global warming is happening and if it is caused by humans. However, there is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is indeed happening and humans are contributing to it. [emphasis added -hro]


The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC’s purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities. […]

IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members’ expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements.[emphasis added -hro]

As Steve McIntyre noted, he has never made the claim that “the consensus is cracking”. Nor am I aware of any skeptic who has actually made such a claim. So Black’s “consensus is cracking meme” is either a strawman or a figment of his imagination. Although, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Black – not unlike James Painter, whose 2011 Poles Apart “study” of MSM presentations of skeptic views has been elegantly deconstructed by Maurizio Morabito – has chosen to blinker himself (and/or his readers).

OTOH, there is the recent (Jan. 30/2012) report from the “UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability”.

Some might interpret their “diplomatic”:

As international sustainable development policy is fragmented and, in particular, the environmental pillar is weak, [the United Nations Environmental Program, parent of the IPCC, IPBES, and a host of other acronymic offspring and purveyor of increasingly scary stories since 1972 -hro] UNEP should be strengthened.

as implying that the “consensus is cracking”. But I couldn’t possibly comment!

Mind you, come to think of it … “plastic pillars” certainly do have some inherent weaknesses, don’t they?


6 thoughts on “Of consensus and the weakness of plastic pillars

  1. Of course there was also the UK’s MetOffice “consensus” statement that was signed by many scientists, see: http://info.ma002.com/anony/newsletters/C4/C4_0557.asp?str=*3235313330383933302C31383336

    “The widespread consensus among UK scientists on climate change has been clearly demonstrated after more than 1,700 scientists from more than 100 institutes signed up to a statement on the issue. The signatories agree climate change is happening, is primarily due to human activities, and the science that proves this is extensive, robust and reliable.”

    The actual statement & signatories used to be here:
    but has been taken down.

    • Oh, yes, that infamous Statement from December 2009; notably, the word “consensus” is conspicuously absent from the actual text – as are some names (such as Jones, Briffa, Osborne, Hulme) that we’ve come to know so well, in the honour roll of signatories from UEA.

      Here’s the Statement in all its shining glory:

      We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. The evidence and the science are deep and extensive. They come from decades of painstaking and meticulous research, by many thousands of scientists across the world who adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity. That research has been subject to peer review and publication, providing traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method.

      The science of climate change draws on fundamental research from an increasing number of disciplines, many of which are represented here. As professional scientists, from students to senior professors, we uphold the findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which concludes that ‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal’ and that ‘Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations’.

      The new(er) link for this Dec. 9/09 Statement and signatories is:



  2. Good to collect those consensus quotes in one place. The claim that there’s a scientific consenus is just a different way of saying that the debate is over and that the science is settled.

    These foolish, openly anti-scientific claims have been with us for a while. Worse, they have been brandished by people who have had the audacity to label those of us who reject these ideas as anti-science.

  3. Pingback: 5 Star Blogging « Autonomous Mind

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