Ignore the Petition Project

Many of you have probably heard of Ron Paul’s recent statement in Congress regarding a petition signed by thousands of scientists claiming that there was no scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, no evidence that burning hydrocarbons was harmful, and, in fact, evidence that burning hydrocarbons would be beneficial for the Earth. The purpose of this statement was to persuade the American people to reject the cap-and-trade bill being negotiated in Congress.

I was skeptical of this petition. I did a little research to find out its legitimacy. Before long I discovered that it was an updated edition of the Oregon Petition, which was created to persaude America to reject Kyoto.

The Oregon Petition has some major problems. Firstly, attached to the petition was an article supporting its claims. The article was designed to look just like an article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a reputable peer-reviewed journal. However, the article was created by three skeptics and was not peer-reviewed at all. The NAS was subject to a lot of inquiries and controversy following the publication of this petition. It eventually had to publish a statement saying that the NAS had nothing to do with the article.

Secondly, the petition could be signed by scientists from any discipline, even if they had no experience studying climatology. As British physics student Michael Ashcroft writes,

“The problem is that, as science is such a vast field, you can spend your entire life studying one branch of science and still know absolutely nothing about another. For example, I am a physics student, and I can honestly say that I know nothing about medicine. I also wouldn’t expect an ecologist to understand the processes behind the formation of stars, for example.This is precisely what the Petition Project does assume, though. If we look at the qualifications of the signers, we see that even medical doctors are eligible to sign. Take a look. Some of the more amusing backgrounds, that supposedly give these people enough special knowledge about global warming to deny its existence, include:

Mathematics – without a special interest in the climate, this is worthless in the field.

Physics – I have almost finished a Bachelor’s degree in Physics and there has been only one, optional course about “Environmental Physics”, so I can argue from experience that a degree in Physics does not necessarily equip someone with the information they may need to decry global warming.

Biology – unless there’s a large degree of specialisation of the effects of climate change on some biological variable (growth, change of ecosystems etc), this has no bearing on the subject.

Medicine – What?!

Aerospace Engineering – I happen to live with an Aeronautical Engineering student, who has had no training in any environmental subjects whatsoever.

Computer Science – see Aerospace Engineering

It is like asking celebrities what they think of the economy of Chad. They may be famous, and therefore carry some weight, but their opinions are nothing more than opinion. Asking “Dr X” what he thinks of the manufacture of steel may be all well and good, except that “Dr X” has a PhD in ancient history. He may be qualified in something, but it is misleading to assume that because he is a doctor of something, he must know everything about everything.”

Thirdly, the scientists who did sign may have been misrepresented. An article in Scientific American conducted a study regarding the participants.

Scientific American took a random sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition—one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers; a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.”

The Seattle Times also investigated the Orgeon Petition, and found that some questionable people had signed.

“Several environmental groups questioned dozens of the names: “Perry S. Mason” (the fictitious lawyer?), “Michael J. Fox” (the actor?), “Robert C. Byrd” (the senator?), “John C. Grisham” (the lawyer-author?). And then there’s the Spice Girl, a k a. Geraldine Halliwell: The petition listed “Dr. Geri Halliwell” and “Dr. Halliwell.”

Asked about the pop singer, Robinson said he was duped. The returned petition, one of thousands of mailings he sent out, identified her as having a degree in microbiology and living in Boston. “It’s fake,” he said.

“When we’re getting thousands of signatures there’s no way of filtering out a fake,” Robinson, 56, said in a telephone interview from Oregon.”

 Finally, for a more thorough and visually appealing analysis of the Oregon Petition, including the motives and credibility of its creators, I’d encourage you all to watch this video by Peter Sinclair.

We should all assess the credibility of the Petition Project. Its first revision has some major problems. Should we trust it a second time? Can it compare with the G8 Statement, the Joint Academies’ Statments versions I and II, the survey of individual climatologists by Doran and Zimmerman, and the dozens of other organizations that have made indepent statements?

Which statements truly reflect the opinion of the scientific community?