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In the Great and Silly Debate about global warming, a recent poll surprised me. But it wasn’t the results that were interesting; rather, it was the fact that a poll was taken at all. There is supposed to be some sort of danger in “consensus science.” But I have never agreed with that. Yes, of course there are dangers in most human endeavors—science is no different. Herd mentality, going along with the crowd so as to play it safe for the sake of one’s career—these are some of the worries with consensus science. But the alternatives are also rife with problems.
Still, I take comfort in the fact that some things in science, despite a lack of certainty, do have a consensus—most cancer treatments, for example. Or how much mercury is “safe” to eat. One cannot be an expert in all things, so most of the time I simply choose to trust those who are experts in a given field.
Peter Doran, University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, along with former graduate student Maggie Zimmerman, conducted a survey. They sought the opinion of the most complete list of earth scientists they could find—those listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments. More than 10,200 experts in academia and government research centers around the world were emailed invitations to participate in an online poll. Computer IP addresses were used to prevent non-invitees and repeat voting. The nine-question survey was reviewed by a polling expert who checked for bias in phrasing.
The results found that earth scientists overwhelmingly (90%) agree that in the past 200 or so years, mean global temperatures have been rising.
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