Hurricane Irma viewed from the GOES-16 satellite, just before striking Florida, 9 September 2017. Photo: NASA / NOAA

By Katherine Ellen Foley
5 September 2017

(Quartz) – It’s often said that of all the published scientific research on climate change, 97% of the papers conclude that global warming is real, problematic for the planet, and has been exacerbated by human activity.

But what about those 3% of papers that reach contrary conclusions? Some skeptics have suggested that the authors of studies indicating that climate change is not real, not harmful, or not man-made are bravely standing up for the truth, like maverick thinkers of the past. (Galileo is often invoked, though his fellow scientists mostly agreed with his conclusions—it was church leaders who tried to suppress them.)

Not so, according to a review published in the journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology. The researchers tried to replicate the results of those 3% of papers—a common way to test scientific studies—and found biased, faulty results.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, worked with a team of researchers to look at the 38 papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade that denied anthropogenic global warming.

“Every single one of those analyses had an error—in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis—that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus,” Hayhoe wrote in a Facebook post. [more]

Those 3% of scientific papers that deny climate change? A review found them all flawed

ABSTRACT: Among papers stating a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), 97% endorse AGW. What is happening with the 2% of papers that reject AGW? We examine a selection of papers rejecting AGW. An analytical tool has been developed to replicate and test the results and methods used in these studies; our replication reveals a number of methodological flaws, and a pattern of common mistakes emerges that is not visible when looking at single isolated cases. Thus, real-life scientific disputes in some cases can be resolved, and we can learn from mistakes. A common denominator seems to be missing contextual information or ignoring information that does not fit the conclusions, be it other relevant work or related geophysical data. In many cases, shortcomings are due to insufficient model evaluation, leading to results that are not universally valid but rather are an artifact of a particular experimental setup. Other typical weaknesses include false dichotomies, inappropriate statistical methods, or basing conclusions on misconceived or incomplete physics. We also argue that science is never settled and that both mainstream and contrarian papers must be subject to sustained scrutiny. The merit of replication is highlighted and we discuss how the quality of the scientific literature may benefit from replication.

Learning from mistakes in climate research



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