Saturday, 30 January 2010

Jim Lippard on climate skeptics

I've discovered another blogger who has been tracing the links between climate skeptics, right-wing think tanks, and oily funding sources.

His recent post Who are the climate change skeptics? digs into the names and qualifications of the NIPCC report authors, "expert" panels of various think tanks, Ian Plimer, and various others. I found his page because it links to my site, and I discovered he's made good use of my data on degree dates to illustrate that climate contrarians come from a significantly older demographic than either the IPCC or activist statement signers.

In the comment thread, one commenter named Kahegi (who is critical of climate skeptics and anti-evolutionists) raised an issue of the validity of keyword searches to identify either expertise or supporters of a particular theory:

"Kagehi said...
With respect, counting citations isn't always helpful. Some bozo did that a while back, claiming that "evolution" isn't part of *any* of the papers found at PubMed. His reasoning? If it had anything to do with evolution, they should be using the word specifically. In actual reality, if you search on a related term, which is actually used to convey *specific* information about the subject of what mutations are being looked at, any such word can generate tens of thousands of documents.

Word searches are bad ways to look for this sort of stuff. What you think the experts are using, and what they do, isn't necessarily the same thing. "

Jim Lippard responded:
"Kagehi: I agree that counting the publications containing "climate" has the problem you describe. But that's not the only measure discussed; I also look at overall citation counts. Again, that's at best a rough proxy for relevant credibility, since a scientist may have a high citation count in a non-climate science field."

I felt this conceded too much to Kagehi's original objection to keyword searching. Here's a copy of the comment I posted there on the usefulness of keyword searches on "climate" (two typos in my original are corrected in []s):

For the question of word searches in collecting publication stats, I think searches on "evolution" are not that comparable. I'll argue that while some articles relevant to climate science might fail to contain the word "climate," it's hard to see how someone could be actively publishing on climate change or climate science without using this word fairly regularly. Furthermore, the disparity in the stats between IPCC authors and skeptic signers on this metric is just so glaring that complaints about the imperfections of the metric seem moot.

So what [if] using the word "climate" captures only part of the climate science literature? Surely what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and any shortfall in coverage with this term is not going to favor one group or the other?

The median number of papers mention[ing] climate for the 619 IPCC AR4 wg1 authors is 93. The median among the 472 signers of any of the ten climate skeptic declarations that I've tabulated is ... two (2). It's astronomically implausible for that difference to be a mere artefact of the choice of search term.

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