A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled “Expertise and Credibility in Climate Change,” reports the results of an analysis of the expertise of climate scientists. The results are not particularly surprising:
1) Among scholars who publish regularly on climate, an overwhelming majority accept anthropogenic global warming.
2) Most of the scholars who contest anthropogenic global warming have a less credible scientific record than those who accept.
While this should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the debate on climate science, I doubt it will convince the skeptical public. The reason is that in addition to the most obvious interpretation of these facts — scientific expertise leads individual scholars to accept the strong evidence for climate change — alternative theories may resonate with skeptics:
1) Perhaps skeptics are systematically not allowed to publish in journals, so that they seem less experienced than other scholars?
2) Perhaps the public pressure to accept anthropogenic global warming is particularly heavy among top scientists?
3) Perhaps the authors of the study are themselves supporters of anthropogenic global warming, and thus use data selectively to make their case?
This brings us to the deeper problem with climate science and the media: it does not matter much how credible the evidence for climate change is, as long as influential special interests continue to benefit from contesting it. Almost any fact regarding the credibility of climate science can be explained away using a conspiracy theory, and individuals who are already inclined towards rejecting science are probably also inclined towards accepting such conspiracy theories. Thus, deeper institutional changes may be necessary to improve the public understanding of climate science.