RFK Jr Makes Outlandish Claim

by Iain Murray on October 17, 2007

This one takes the cake. If there was a Nobel Prize for Absurd Assertions (hmmm, perhaps there is) RFK Jr would win it hands down with this one:

If — you know, the National Academy of Sciences did a study an inventory, three years ago, of all of the scientific documents that had — the peer reviewed, refereed scientific documents that had been published in the previous decade, over 10,000 documents, 10,000 scientific studies. All of them agreed on the basics: that global warming exists; that human beings are causing it; that it’s upon us now; and that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. In the scientific community, there was literally zero dissent.

There is no such study. The NAS did not conduct such a survey. This is either a complete fabrication or a massive confusion. Neither speaks well about RFK Jr’s credentials to speak as an authority on the subject.

I think RFK Jr is simply confused. Here’s where I think he got it from: a few years back, Naomi Oreskes, an historian, wrote an “Essay” feature for the magazine Science, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, entitled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” (subscription required). She claimed to have reviewed

928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change.”

This was an error. As she admitted in an Erratum, she actually searched under the terms “global climate change.” If she had used just “climate change” she would have got about 10,000 results.

Oreskes’ review concluded that 75 percent of the abstracts (not the full papers) agreed with a consensus view summarized by the National Academy of Sciences as

The IPCC’s conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue.

Note that there is no mention of RFK’s assertion that the consensus exists that global warming is going to be catastrophic. The consensus position thus stated is essentially uncontroversial. It certainly does not say anything about whether or not action should be taken.

Now, given Oreskes’ admitted error, we know nothing about the other 9,000 studies that she could have reviewed but didn’t. This didn’t stop Al Gore, though (It’s That Man Again!). He said in An Inconvenient Truth (p. 262):

[Oreskes] and her team selected a large random sample of 928 articles representing almost 10% of the total, and carefully analyzed how many of the articles agreed or disagreed with the prevailing consensus view.

This is accompanied by a graphic that says “Number of peer-reviewed articles dealing with “climate change” published in scientific journals over the previous 10 years: 928.”

So Gore’s handling of Oreskes contains an outright fabrication – that her team ’selected a large random sample’ when in fact they made a serious and admitted mistake – and an outright untruth – that 928 peer-reviewed papers dealt with ‘climate change’ when in fact they dealt with ‘global climate change.’

So, it looks to me like Kennedy took Gore’s disingenuous handling of Oreskes’ flawed article, made a massive logical leap to the conclusion that Gore’s “random sample” was a representative random sample, unjustifiably added the idea that the “prevailing consensus” had anything to say about catastrophe, and then confused the AAAS with the National Academies.

Now, the question remains, was he deliberately misleading the audience or was he displaying Olympian levels of misunderstanding?

I’m willing to be convinced either way.

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