by Judith Curry
A comprehensive survey has been conducted of the American Meteorological Society membership to elicit their views on global warming.
Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members
Neil Stenhouse, Edward Maibach, Sara Cobb, Ray Ban, Andrea Bleistein, Paul Croft, Eugene Bierly, Keith Seitter, Gary Rasmussen
Abstract. Meteorologists and other atmospheric science experts are playing important roles in helping society respond to climate change. However, members of this professional community are not unanimous in their views of climate change, and there has been tension among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) who hold different views on the topic. In response, AMS created the Committee to Improve Climate Change Communication to explore and, to the extent possible, resolve these tensions. To support this committee, in January 2012 we surveyed all AMS members with known email addresses, achieving a 26.3% response rate (n=1,854). In this paper we tested four hypotheses: (1) perceived conflict about global warming will be negatively associated — and (2) climate expertise, (3) liberal political ideology, and (4) perceived scientific consensus will be positively associated — with (a) higher personal certainty that global warming is happening, (b) viewing the global warming observed over the past 150 years as mostly human-caused, and (c) perception of global warming as harmful. All four hypotheses were confirmed. Expertise, ideology, perceived consensus and perceived conflict were all independently related to respondents’ views on climate, with perceived consensus and political ideology being most strongly related. We suggest that AMS should: attempt to convey the widespread scientific agreement about climate change; acknowledge and explore the uncomfortable fact that political ideology influences the climate change views of meteorology professionals; refute the idea that those who do hold non-majority views just need to be ”educated” about climate change; continue to deal with the conflict among members of the meteorology community.
The introduction provides an interesting survey of previous analysis of scientific views on this topic, excerpts:
Research conducted to date with meteorologists and other atmospheric scientists has shown that they are not unanimous in their views of climate change. In a survey of earth scientists, Doran and Zimmerman (2009) found that while a majority of meteorologists surveyed are convinced humans have contributed to global warming (64%), this was a substantially smaller majority than that found among all earth scientists (82%). Another survey, by Farnsworth and Lichter (2009), found that 83% of meteorologists surveyed were convinced human-induced climate change is occurring, again a smaller majority than among experts in related areas such as ocean sciences (91%) and geophysics (88%).
I suspect that the higher level of belief among ocean sciences and particularly geophysics represents second order belief (i.e. support for a perceived consensus) rather than personal research on AGW detection/attribution or a careful survey of the literature.
How to square this with the oft reported 97% consensus? Well, ‘climate scientists’ in these surveys typically includes economists, ecologists etc., nearly all probably representing second order belief.
The article attempts to explain ‘disbelief’ in context of lower expertise, political ideology, and perceptions on the existence of a consensus. I don’t think the methodology used is particularly useful in distinguishing these influences, but here are the results:
Confirming all four hypotheses, the regression analyses showed that greater expertise, more liberal ideology, greater perceived consensus, and lower perceived conflict each predicted higher levels of certainty global warming was occurring, higher likelihood of viewing it as mostly human caused, and greater ratings of future harm. Together, the independent variables explained 37% of the variation in certainty that global warming is occurring, and 29% of the variation in views on global warming harm, which is considered a moderate amount of explained variance in social science research (Cohe 342 n, 1992). Due to the nature of logistic regression, an equivalent statistic is unavailable for the proportion of explained variation in views on global warming causation.
In terms of strength of the relationship between the independent and dependent variables, perceived consensus was the strongest predictor of all three types of global warming views – certainty, causation, and harm/benefit. Political ideology was the second strongest predictor of view certainty and causation, and was equivalent to perceived consensus as predictor of harm/benefit. Expertise and perceived conflict were both less strong predictors of global warming views. Expertise was the second weakest predictor of global warming certainty, and the weakest predictor of causation and harm/benefit.Perceived conflict was the weakest predictor of global warming view certainty, and the second weakest predictor of causation and harm/benefit. For details of the regression analyses, see the online supplementary material.
The most interesting finding is this table:
Table 1. Meteorologists’ assessment of human-712 caused global warming by area and level of expertise. Figures are percentages rounded to the nearest whole number. Numbers in the bottom four rows represent percentage of respondents giving each possible response to the follow-up email question, including non-response to the email (labeled “insufficient evidence – unknown”). These responses together add to the same number as displayed in the insufficient evidence (total) row; some differences occur due to rounding. Similarly, columns total to 100% if all numbers except those in the bottom four rows are added, and differences from 100 are due to rounding. Although 1854 people completed some portion of the survey, this table only displays the results for 1821 respondents, since 33 (less than 2% of the sample) did not answer one or more of the questions on expertise and global warming causation.
Look at the views in column 1, then look at the % in the rightmost column: 52% state the the warming since 1850 is mostly anthropogenic. One common categorization would categorize the other 48% as ‘deniers’.
The table seeks to discriminate between those whose expertise is in climate science vs meteorology/atmospheric science. In the context of the AMS membership, I think this distinction is ambiguous. With regards to myself, I would have checked atmospheric science (most of my research is related to physical processes, not to climate change per se). I suspect that those focusing on climate impacts would check the box for climate expertise (note, only 222 checked the box for climate science). The distinction between publishing vs non publishing members probably is meaningful; only 52% of the respondents held Ph.Ds. Non Ph.D. members may be in the private sector or government employees.
Some background information about the American Meteorological Society. The website for the AMS is [here]. The Wikipedia has a good overview article, including the AMS Statement on Climate Change, and a list of journals published by the AMS. A list of Fellows of the American Meteorological Society is found at [link].
A year ago, the AMS issued a Statement on Climate Change, see my blog post on this. Excerpts from their statement:
It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide.
The ongoing warming will increase risks and stresses to human societies, economies, ecosystems, and wildlife through the 21st century and beyond, making it imperative that society respond to a changing climate.
Mitigation will reduce the amount of future climate change and the risk of impacts that are potentially large and dangerous.
I was harshly critical of this statement, which was written by a group of volunteers and then approved by the AMS Council.
This study is an important one, in spite of its methodological flaws and not-quite-adequate list of questions.
Members of the American Meteorological Society generally have better expertise for assessing issues related to climate change detection and attribution than the AGU (with substantial numbers of geophysicists, geochemists, etc), the AAAS, the APS, etc. And this is in spite of the fact that a substantial number of members do not have a Ph.D. We have discussed previously on the Joe Bastardi thread the value of the perspectives of forecast meteorologists, including those without Ph.D.s – they certainly understand limitations of forecasting and general circulation models.
To their credit, the AMS is taking on the issue of disagreement on this topic, hopefully in a meaningful way. Information about the AMS Committee to Improve Climate Change Communication can be found [here]. I have also discussed this issue with Bill Gail, AMS President-elect – he seems to want to have a meaningful dialogue on this topic across the spectrum. Fingers crossed.