A Nature Communications paper came out yesterday called Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians. It generates a list of what they call climate change contrarians and a list of climate change scientists and shows that contrarians are given disproportionate representation in the media.
The result seems pretty self-evident. Those who hold contrarian views about climate change seem to have much more visibility in the media when compared to how visible these views are in the scientific literature. However, I do feel a bit uncomfortable about a paper that labels individuals; I certainly wouldn’t be too happy if it happened to me (okay, it might depend on the label 🙂 ).
The list of climate change contrarians was generated from the Heartland Institute, DeSmogblog’s database, and signatories of the NIPCC. This immediately created one issue, because some included, such as Scott Denning, are clearly not climate change contrarians. The list of climate change scientists was generated from the most highly cited in the Web of Science database. This is the bit that I found interesting. Some of those already included in the list of contrarians also ended up being the amongst the most highly cited. They were then removed from the list of climate change scientists, and the list was then topped with the next most highly cited researchers. They then ended up with a list of 386 climate change contrarians (their term) and a list of 386 climate change scientists.
However, their Supplementary Information suggests there were only 8 people who were in the list of climate change contrarians and also – initially – in the list of the most highly cited researchers; R. Bradley, J. Clark, J. Curry, C. Johnson, R. Pielke (Jr + Sr), J. Taylor, and R. Tol. At this stage, 8 out of the 386 most highly cited researchers are also listed as climate change contrarians (2.2%).
However, the R. Bradley in the climate change contrarian list is probably someone called Rob Bradley, while the highly cited R. Bradley is probably Ray Bradley (from Mann, Bradley & Hughes). So, at least one is probably mis-identified. I’m not familiar with all of the other names, but I am aware of the work of J. Curry, R. Pielke (Jr and Sr) and R. Tol. As far as I’m concerned, there is no way you could describe their research as contrarian; it’s pretty mainstream (this doesn’t necessarily mean that what they say in public would be regarded as mainstream, but their research doesn’t appear particularly contrarian). There are others in the list of climate change contrarians who publish papers disputing key aspects of mainstream climate science (W. Soon, N. Shaviv, H. Svensmark) but none of them make it into the list of highly cited researchers.
Whatever you think of the merits of the paper, it does seem to nicely illustrate that in a relatively long list of highly cited researchers, there are virtually none who publish papers that substantively dispute our basic understanding of climate change. There’s a pretty thin bench of climate change contrarians who would also be regarded as leading researchers. So, maybe it’s worth acknowledging what was being suggested (climate scientists should be more visible in the public discourse) even if one doesn’t particularly like the idea of publishing papers in which people are labelled in some way.
It now seems that the C. Johnson mentioned above is Claes Johnson (see comments) who is highly cited in Mathematics, but not in climate (they appear to think there is no such thing as a planetary greenhouse effect). The J. Taylor is James Taylor (Heartland) but the highly cited J. Taylor is probably John Taylor from CISRO. The J. Clark is John Clark, but the highly cited J. Clark is probably Jorie Clark from Oregon. The highly cited R. Pielke is probably only Roger Pielke Sr. Hence, they seem to have mis-identified 4 of the 7 highly cited researchers who they claim are also in the climate change contrarian list. This means that maybe only 3 in the climate change contrarian list were also initially in the highly cited researcher list. Also – as I said in the post – I think many would regard their publications as pretty mainstream (well, in the sense of not substantially criticising our understanding of AGW).