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At a glance – How the OISM Petition Project casts doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change

At a glance – How the OISM Petition Project casts doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change

Posted on 8 August 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added “At a glance” section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a “bump” for our ask. This week features “How the OISM Petition Project casts doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change“. More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

At a glance

Do you think that a lot of scientists reject the idea that human-caused carbon emissions are responsible for climate change – and is that because you once read about a petition signed by them to that effect? If the answer is yes, then this is for you.

The petition exists. It was organised by the self-styled “Oregon institute for Science and Medicine” (OISM). OISM is a non-profit organisation, based at a location in rural Oregon, USA. The petition had two launches, initially in 1998 and again in 2007. People were invited to sign by self-certification, meaning anyone who said they were qualified in the physical sciences at a USA institution could take part.

The initial release of the petition was done as a response to the Kyoto Protocol, signed the year before. Kyoto was explicitly mentioned in the petition text. The petition text also claims that there is, “no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate”.

There are some fairly obvious problems with the petition. To begin with, what guarantee is there that a graduate in engineering or medicine will know anything about climatology? None. We need to pause here and consider for a moment the term ‘scientist’. Science is a broad field. One scientist may work in immunology, another in engineering. Would you go to the engineer if your immune system started playing up? If the answer is ‘no’, then good for you and you can likely see this major problem with the petition. But there’s worse to come.

The documents accompanying the petition included a ‘research paper’ dressed up to look convincingly like official material from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Normally, we say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Not in this case. It was flat-out deceit. So misleading was this document that the NAS issued a press-release in April 1998, stating the following:

“The petition was mailed with an op-ed article from The Wall Street Journal and a manuscript in a format that is nearly identical to that of scientific articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal.”

Who signed? Some 31,487 people eventually – not necessarily all scientists as multiple enquiries have demonstrated – and even if they were that would still only represent 0.25% of all USA physical science graduates over the preceding 43 years. That’s a prime example of the phenomenon of ‘magnified minority’, if there ever was one!

In the light of those figures, the key question would have to be, “so what do the other 99.75% of scientists think?”

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new “At a glance” section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above

In case you’d like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

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