The Consensus Trap

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One of the quickest ways to trigger a backlash of cynicism and suspicion in the climate change conversation is to insist that there is a “consensus” among scientists about human responsibility for global warming.

To begin, many people misunderstand the word “consensus.” Although the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a general agreement,” people tend to think that it means a unanimous agreement and, therefore, that if a single scientist stands up anywhere in the world and argues the point that the consensus is invalidated.

So, let’s be clear: there is NOT unanimous agreement on the causes and implications of climate change. While the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academies of Science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – really, every major science organization in the developed world – all agree that anthropogenic climate change is a real and pressing problem, there are a couple of respected scientists (Dick Lindzen , Bill Gray ) who question “the consensus.” There is also a larger group of climate change deniers who are either not experts in the field, whose views are fatally tainted by their association with the fossil fuel industry or both (eg., Tim Ball).

Henceforth, we at the DeSmogBlog plan to be more careful about how we present the “general agreement.” And we would appreciate it if our increasingly fiesty correspondents would also exercise some responsibility in their blanket denials of a “consensus.”

I hope we can forge unanimous agreement that this conversation is too important to get hopelessly mired in semantics.

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