Every Friday morning, someone at my Institute gives a short talk, while everyone else drinks coffee and eats doughnuts (well, the doughnuts are actually hidden till the end, so that everyone who wants a doughnut has to stay for the talk). Yesterday, I gave a short talk about our new consensus on consensus paper. It went fairly well; I got to promote some of Richard Tol’s related work, I got a few laughs, and it was the first time I’d ever included anything like 97% of scientists aren’t just f**king with you in a talk. There seemed to be quite a lot of interest and I had a number of people ask questions and make comments.
However, I was rather surprised by a few things. I opened with a slide with simply 97% on it, and asked if anyone could guess what I was going to talk about. One of the PhD students got it straight away, but when I probed further, only a few others were aware of the 97% theme; most had never come across it before. As someone pointed out to me later, this might bring into question Dan Kahan’s suggestion that everyone’s been aware of this for ages, but some – mainly conservatives – don’t accept it (and that it’s divisive). If a group of well-educated, probably well read individuals, have not come across it before, maybe it isn’t as prevalent as it may seem, and maybe the apparent division predates consensus messaging, rather than being exaccerbated by it.
There were a few other surprises, in that I encountered a number of fairly common “skeptic” talking points. Someone suggested that consensuses are often wrong. Well, I’m not even sure this is true; if it were, why have we developed what appears to be an increasibly robust scientific understanding of the world around us? However, even if it is true, it doesn’t change that a consensus can exist at some point in time and that recognising this could be important. One of our Professors also mentioned an MIT Professor who thinks climate models might be wrong – Richard Lindzen, I assume. I tried to briefly point out some of Richard Lindzen’s flawed ideas, but I didn’t really have even time to cover them all.
The most surprising, though, was a retired member of staff who came up afterwards and started with how poorly James Hansen’s 1988 predictions turned out (this suggests otherwise), moved on to the pause, and then said that he thought we could be heading for an ice age. At that stage, I decided that there wasn’t much point in carrying on and suggested we stopped there. He followed me back to my office claiming that I was incapable of rebutting his suggestion; it felt like real life social media.
Overall, though, I think it went pretty well. At least more people are now aware of the work being done to try and assess the consensus with respect to AGW, and I may now get more opportunities to talk with others about their views on the topic. Maybe I’ll even get a chance to convince some that even if they don’t trust the models, an ice age in the near future is extremely unlikely 😉