“Much of the time, the edifice that we refer to as “truth” is really an investment of trust.” - William Davies Why we stopped trusting elites The Guardian November 29, 2018

Most Americans have accepted that the climate is changing as a result of human activity. If pressed for a reason, many will refer to the scientific consensus that such is the case. Some will refer to a 97% consensus. If asked how they know there’s a 97% consensus, they will likely say they read or heard about it. If asked why they believed what they read or heard about, they might they it comports with their understanding of how greenhouse gases work and, besides, 97% is more or less conclusive. I suspect few would be able to name the paper that came up with the 97% figure and a “vanishingly small” number could give a coherent critique of the methodology used in that paper.

The lead author of the paper behind the 97% figure was John Cook (Cook et al, 2013). Cook subsequently considered additional sources of scientific opinion on climate change and noted “a consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of  publishing climate scientists” (Cook et al, 2016).

According to a recent New York Times article, 90 percent of scientists believe GMOs are safe. At around the same time, a Pew Research survey revealed only half the Democrats surveyed agreed with this other “scientific consensus”. In contrast, a large majority of Democrats agree with the climate change consensus. Why so much skepticism regarding one consensus and not the other?

The answer has more to do with trust than with science.

Next: Making science real: a mindset and a process


Cook J, Nuccitelli D, Green S A, Richardson M, Winkler B, Painting R, Way R, Jacobs P and Skuce A 2013 Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/meta

Cook J, Oreskes N, Doran PT, Anderegg WR, Verheggen B, Maibach EW, et al. Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters. 2016; 11(4):048002. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002