This article is well worth reading and remembering. Understand that the goal all along was manufacturing a statistic that was (a) memorable, (b) easily conflated, and (c) quickly used to bash anyone questioning (under an outdated understanding of the scientific method, you know, constant questioning, testing, and striving, rather than accepting Once and For All that the world is as the politicians say it is).

Allow me a brief summary:

  • Most people who use the “97% of climate scientists agree” statistic have no idea upon what it is they are said to agree upon.
  • They remain vague on the terms of agreement (that … “climate change is real”) to imply it means something major, such as “we should ban all fossil fuel use.”
  • The actual stat is that 97% of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and human beings are the main cause of it.
  • The stat has no policy action attached to it. In other words, there is no “and human beings must change by banning all fossil fuel use or taking some other rash action.”
  • The stat applies to climate scientists, not all scientists.
  • The stat attributes no judgment of the climate change; i.e., it is neither good nor bad.
  • Despite the previous two, the stat lends itself to misuse on those scores. Examples: Pres. Obama tweeted that “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous,” and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “97 percent of climate scientists have confirmed that climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible [and] they agree that, if we continue to go down the same path that we are going down today, the world as we know it will change—and it will change dramatically for the worse.”
  • Digging deeper, however, the statistic is not based on a poll of climate scientists — 97% of climate scientists are not in agreement at all.
  • The statistic is based on a researcher’s survey of climate scientists’ research papers and classification of them according to, in the researcher’s mind, agreement with that position.
  • Researcher John Cook found 97% of the climate scientists’ research papers that he surveyed “endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”
  • Only about 1.6% of those papers fit into Cook’s category of “explicit endorsement and quantification” of that view.
  • The remainder were inferred by two categories used by Cook: “explicit endorsement without quantification” and “implicit endorsement.”
  • Several climate scientists whose papers were subject to such a Procrustean analysis rightly complained about mischaracterization.

In sum, the proposition that 97% of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and human beings are the main cause of it is fatally flawed. The percentage is somewhere between 1.6% and 97%; it refers not to scientists nor even climate scientists, but to climate research literature, and then only those research papers chosen in a survey, and not all was; and the terms of supposed agreement are hopelessly inferred within the report generated and ridiculously overstated beyond the report.