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COMMUNICATION WITH MASTERS THESIS SUPERVISOR OF SURVEY THAT ORIGINATED THE IDEA OF 97% CONSENSUS IN THE CLIMATE SCIENCE DEBATE
From: Tom Harris [mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ]
Sent: November 4, 2012 1:11 AM
To: ' This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it '
Cc: 'Tim Ball'; 'Carter, Bob'
Subject: A time critical question about "Examining the Scientific Consensus", 2009, for a blog posting I am working on
Importance: High


Peter T. Doran 
Professor - University of Illinois at Chicago 
Earth and Environmental Sciences 
845 W. Taylor St. 
Chicago, IL 60607
 

Dear Professor Doran,

In reading Ms. Margaret R.K. Zimmerman’s Masters thesis, attached [available here], which led to the widely cited EOS paper at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/ssi/DoranEOS09.pdf, I am struck by the fact that 39 scientists, by my count, from the polling population said during the survey that they had serious problems with the ambiguity of the word “significant” in the questions with respect to the degree to which human activity affects “global temperatures” (which I put in quotes since such a parameter does not actually exist):

Specifically, the scientists were given the opportunity to enter text to answer question #3c, “What makes you unsure if human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing global mean temperatures?”, although some of them took the opportunity to also address the use of the word in question 2, which was the most important question of the survey:

Q2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

Here is one of the scientist’s comments:

“'Significant' is a word that is open to multiple interpretations. Significant is the key word. it has made a difference, but I am not sure if it is a significant difference or just adding to a natural change in temperatures.”

________

Here are some others:

““Does 'significant' mean perceptible or outside the 'normal range' of observations. If you choose the latter, then compared to natural processes, peturbations to natural systems that can be attributed to mankind are probably too short term to be geologically significant.”

“What defines significant? If 1-2 degrees F is considered significant then I would agree that human input is significant“

“what do you mean by significant? Statistically? A player in the total rise? sure we are! How much? I am not sure.“

“What is meant by significant? A major contribution, yes, but what is human activity compared with increased solar activity. So far, it is lost in the statistical models.“

“Your use of the word 'significant'. It seems clear that human activity has caused an increase in CO2 levels. That, in theory, might have caused an increase in global temperature. However, did it? If so, was it the only cause? If it was a cause, was it a significant cause?”

“Tried, but could not use the provided selection of answers to the 2nd question, "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperature?" The answer is "probably" or "Very Probable". That's neither "yes", "no", nor "I'm not sure". I am sure that human impact is very probable. Anyone who is "sure" of either "yes" or "no" is either ignorant or fibbing. "I'm not sure" is equivalent if I know nothing whatsoever or if I know a lot.”

“I responded to your survey. However without defining what is meant by significant, you may get a wide range of responses that agree.”

_______

Professor Doran, I would have thought that so much feedback like this during the survey process would justify rewording the question and starting the poll over. Could you give me some background on why this was not the approach that was apparently followed, please?

I am writing about this in a Blog posting and so hope to hear from you soon. I would like to include your answer to this question, either in the original post (if I hear from you in the next day) or as a follow-up later, please.

I Cc two of our leading scientific advisors, Professor Bob Carter of Australia and Dr. Tim Ball of Canada who I know are very interested in this issue.

Sincerely,

Tom Harris, B. Eng., M. Eng. (thermofluids)
Executive Director
International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)
P.O. Box 23013
Ottawa, Ontario K2A 4E2
Canada


http://www.climatescienceinternational.org

613-728-9200


Here is his answer, which he said I could upload:

From: Peter [mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ]
Sent: November 8, 2012 3:59 PM
To: Tom Harris
Cc: 'Tim Ball'; 'Carter, Bob'; Maggie Kendall Zimmerman

Subject: Re: A time critical question about "Examining the Scientific Consensus", 2009, for a blog posting I am working on

Hi Tom, sorry for the delay. I'm currently doing field research in Antarctica. I've cc'ed Maggie on this response.

Our wording was carefully chosen obviously, with the help of an expert in the Survey Research Labratory at my University. It was designed to be unbiased and not have leading questions. Any survey though will have people questioning the wording, especially a survey of scientists who love to analyze things

It's been a while since I thought about this since we designed the survey about 5 years ago now, but the word significant was settled on in it's qualitative form. e.g. From Merriam Webster:

"Having or likely to have influence or effect : important <a significant piece of legislation>; also : of a noticeably or measurably large amount <a significant number of layoffs> <producing significant profits>"

We weren't implying statistics, otherwise we would have said "statistically significant"

I note just scanning the comments that many people use significant in the same way we did in providing feedback to us

"both 1 and 2 and current global records do not cover a significant enough length of time to make the types of projections that are being made"

"Because of the long period of pre-human Earth history characterized by significant climate change (both periodic and random)."

"Correlation between CO@ increase and temperature increase is not convincing and contains significant lags between peak temperature and Peak CO2. Increase in CO2 since 1950 has been constant while increase in T has not."

"Global temperatures have changed significantly over time in the geologic past and the extent to which present-day increases can be attributed to human activity has not been ascertained to my satisfaction."

"Historical and pre-historical changes in climate were more significant than we are experiencing now."

But I get only 19 comments questioning the use of the word "significant" in the survey. Maybe you were counting people who were explaining their answers and saying they had a hard time deciding if the impact was significant or not. E.g.:

"I entered an answer I did not intend. I think human activity is a significant component, but I do not know if it is 10%, 25%, 50% or more."

or

"The global climate system is very big and complicated. the mean temperature is only one measure of climate change. Humans do affect the environment, but are we a significant factor changing mean temperature?"

Or maybe you counted the emails too, which would be possible double-dipping since the email people may also have been (and likely were) commenters in the survey.

But let's say your number is right, that's only 1.2% of the respondents questioning the wording of one question in the survey which does not cause me any concern, and certainly doesn't warrant shutting the survey down and starting over. It is what is is, and we provided all of the comments and emails, etc. for people like you to judge for yourselves.

We stand by our results, especially since a completely independent study came out after ours (Anderegg et al. 2010, PNAS) which largely agreed with our results using a different approach, not based on an opinion survey at all. From that study "Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change...".

I hope this explains our position. I'm sure you'll want to argue it, but this has already taken a substantial amount of time away from what I should be doing down here - my field research.

All the best

-Peter Doran

Peter Doran, PhD
Professor
Earth and Environmental Sciences, MC186
845 W Taylor St.
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Illinois 60607
 
ph: 312-413-7275
fx: 312-413-2279
 
http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran