Forbes recently ran a piece in their opinion section that deflated the consistent argument that scientists have an overwhelming consensus on Climate Change, or so it would seem.
Many people will read only the headline of an article. In these cases, those people will come away with the idea that the consensus among scientists about climate change broke. Maybe there was some groundbreaking new study. Maybe it really is liberal propaganda using scare tactics to drain money from big business.
Before even going into the content of the article, which many will not do, a section of the byline provides important information. James Taylor, the author of the article, is the president of the Spark of Freedom Foundation. The Spark of Freedom Foundation has a stated goal of pushing information and policy favoring nuclear, hydro, and natural gas power. They also have an implicit goal of debunking climate change. The same author has articles on Forbes with the tired argument that cold winters disprove climate change.
Many people wouldn’t get that far. The headline serves enough of a purpose. Those who did click into the article would likely not notice the parts of the byline indicating that the author runs the Spark of Freedom Foundation. They also likely wouldn’t notice that the author is tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.
Digging into the article, there are very compelling lines, that are true, according to the survey. In this opinion piece, you can find claims that only 36% of scientists hold that climate change is caused by human activity and a serious concern. It also claims that the other respondents fall into various categories that seem overly nuanced for a survey response. The survey does seem to show that the majority of scientists are skeptical of climate change, and the article goes to great lengths to hammer that point home.
Part of the problem is the tendency of the public to view science and scientists as a monolithic group. Scientists are as varied as any other population, when you really look at it, and their expertise varies widely as well. A neurosurgeon knows more about brain surgery than most other doctors, and the same can be said about most scientists. Surgeons and scientists have highly specialized fields of expertise. You probably won’t get far if you go to a brain surgeon for advice about geology, and that is another layer of the misleading nonsense in this article.
If 60% of Facebook users read only the headline of an article before clicking share, and this headline running from Forbes is more than enough to cloud the water when it gets spread around. Few people would go far enough to click on the article. Fewer would go as far as to look into the author and his ties to conservative groups, and far fewer people would go so far as to click into the scientific journal that is cited. If they did, they would see that the survey was conducted among professional engineers and geoscientists in Alberta, Canada. Geoscientists is a broad category covering everything from Geologists to Meteorologists. Furthermore, the oil and gas industry is the single largest employer directly or indirectly in Alberta, Canada. So, most of the respondents are people who are undoubtedly tied by their livelihood to oil and gas. If you take the article at face value, it would seem that the same broad group of experts who agree on climate change being caused by humans has changed its mind, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Personally, I tend to think this is similar to asking Wall Street billionaires what their opinion is on financial regulation.
The point is, that we live in the information age, and most people have so many articles and headlines flying at them every day that they won’t take the time to dig in. Forbes is being highly irresponsible allowing a headline like this with such dubious data behind it. Consume your news carefully. Fake news isn’t only Elvis sightings and mermaids any longer. It has a seed of truth and a ton of spin in its most insidious forms, and it is everywhere.