The media have variously reported that:

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.

Based on this study. My question is, who are the 3%, who do not agree on anthropogenic global warming, and what are their main lines of reasoning? It seems that the fact that these scientists represent a small minority is simply an "Argumentum ad populum", not a real refutation, and I'd like to learn more.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know, but every year at AGU or LPSC it seems there always seems to be a few people who are contrarian just to be contrarian. $\endgroup$
    – Neo
    Jun 22, 2014 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I neither find the fact that small percent of a group feel the need to disagree with a group surprising, nor is there any reason to believe that their oppositional views are unhealthy for the majority who they disagree with. As for who these scientist are, surveys normally don't track who the respondents are, they only attempt to insure that the respondents are from the group selected for the survey. $\endgroup$
    – blunders
    Jun 23, 2014 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @blunders - I'm less interested in the names, more in the claims. I assume even contrarians must have some reasoning to back their claims up, however misguided. $\endgroup$
    – nbubis
    Jun 23, 2014 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ @nbubis: If you're really interesting in the lines of logic contrarians claim, then you would have to find them and ask them, otherwise you might as well just reframe your question to request the reasoning that contrarians use; which at best is likely to be what the majority believe the contrarians believe, not what the contrarians believe. $\endgroup$
    – blunders
    Jun 23, 2014 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time – 87% say evolution is due to natural processes, such as natural selection. Do you care about those few scientists who reject evolution? If not, why do you care about the few climatologists who reject AGW? $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2014 at 3:07

1 Answer 1


As the abstract makes clear, the finding of Cook et al. (2013) is not really "97% of researchers agree..."; rather, it is "97% of peer-reviewed publications agree". They didn't just go through some directory of climate researchers asking them what they thought. They read the abstracts of all 11,944 publications they found on the topic, and classified them according to what the abstract said. (The classification was blinded and crowdsourced -- read the paper for details.) As a secondary check, they asked the original researchers themselves to evaluate their own abstracts, presumably to control for any bias which Cook et al. might be bringing to the evaluation. The proportions of abstracts endorsing the consensus were 97.1% and 97.2% respectively for the two methodologies.

Note that this isn't asking researchers anything about their own beliefs. Imagine that, for instance, Jane Q. Scientist privately believes that the earth will cool by 5°C in the next century, but that she hasn't found any solid data to back up this belief, so hasn't yet managed to publish anything supporting it. However, in 1998 she published a paper which provided evidence for anthropogenic global warming. Perhaps she now disbelieves the conclusions of that paper, but it remains in the literature because the data and reasoning were strong enough to stand up to peer review, no matter what the original author now thinks. In practice, of course, it's likely that scientists' personal beliefs will be similar to their published results, but I feel it's very important to stress that this study is not an opinion poll -- it's an evaluation of the research itself. (The media can be a little sloppy in their reporting of this distinction.)

Thus, your question is a little misconstrued: we can't answer "Who are the 3%?" because the 3% are research articles rather than people. However, we can ask "Which are the 3% of published research abstracts which do not support the scientific consensus?" And since Cook et al. (2013) is an open access paper with supporting data provided, you can easily answer this question for yourself: simply download the data file from the supplementary data page and look at the papers with an endorsement rating of 5, 6, or 7. (It's in CSV format, so is easy to load into a spreadsheet or text editor.) Further supplementary data is available from the project page at Skeptical Science, and replication of the research is actively encouraged. If you're interested in the actual people behind the 3% of "non-consensus" papers you can look at the author lists for those publications (though of course there's no guarantee that all those authors would still stand by all their conclusions).

I suggest that you start your investigations by reading the paper itself. It's clear and concise, and will give you much more thorough information about the methodology and supporting data than I've been able to fit into this answer.

  • Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., ... & Skuce, A. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, 8(2), 024024.
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    $\begingroup$ That was sort of my point - since these are peer reviewed papers, I wanted to know the specifics of their arguments, I don't really care about their personalities. I'll take a look at the list. $\endgroup$
    – nbubis
    Jun 23, 2014 at 17:35

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