Rick Santorum Demonstrates the Technique of Fake Science

August 31, 2015

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, one of the major “fact checking” web sites has now contacted the scientists interviewed here to follow up.

I think this is important.

The other night, we had yet another demonstration of how things go wrong when one of our major political parties decides that they no longer believe in the scientific method.

Rick Santorum, former Senator and current Presidential candidate in the US, appeared on the Bill Maher program.  With the departure of Jon Stewart, Maher is left as one of the few remaining powerful, critical and satiric voices available in the media, and thus the platform is an important one.
Maher quizzed Santorum about climate change, and why it was that Santorum did not believe in the overwhelming consensus, 97 percent, of the science community, who have warned about the human causes of climate change.

Santorum’s response was horrifying, but at least we can take the opportunity to learn from it, as an example of how the alternative universe of climate denial works.

“The most recent survey of climate scientists said, 57 percent don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is being caused by man.”

Maher’s response, “Which ass did you pull that out of?”,  was dead-on appropriate.

Since I spend a lot of time looking at asses on this blog, I decided to investigate, using an obscure, antique, and seldom used technique that has fallen out of favor among most professional journalists, –  calling up the author of the survey, and asking him what it really said.

Meet Bart Verheggen.

Another paper that Santorum maligned was the famous “97 percent” paper by John Cook. I spoke to John via skype twice in the last 24 hours, and here’s the first quick cut, more coming.

UPDATE: I had a second chat with John Cook this morning, and he went thru the Santorum statements in more detail.

Verheggen’s paper itself is open access and available here.  Key quote:

Our results for the level of consensus are similar to those found in other surveys. Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann
reported an 82% consensus among 3146 earth scientists,  which rose to 88% for those who identified themselves as climatologists, which is very similar to our findings. However, Oreskes, Anderegg et al., and Cook et al. reported a 97% agreement about human-induced warming, from the peer reviewed literature and their sample of actively publishing climate scientists, as did Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann for the most published climatologists. Literature surveys, generally, find a stronger consensus than opinion surveys. This is related to the stronger consensus among often-published−and arguably the most expert−climate scientists. The strength of literature surveys lies in the fact that they sample the primary for a where the evidence is laid out, whereas the strength of opinion surveys such as ours relates to the fact that much more detail can be achieved about the exact opinions of scientists. As such, these two methods for describing scientific consensus are complementary. Different surveys typically use slightly different criteria to determine their survey sample and to define the consensus position, hampering a direct comparison. It is possible that our definition of “agreement” sets a higher standard than, for example, Anderegg’s definition (e.g., AR4 WG1 author or having signed a public declaration) and Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann’s survey question about whether human activity is “a significant contributing factor”.

As indicated, contrarian viewpoints are likely overrepresented in our sample (amounting to ∼5% of respondents), about half of whom have published peer-reviewed articles in the area of
climate. However, this does not fully explain the difference with the above mentioned studies. Excluding those tagged as “unconvinced” more closely approximates the methodologies of earlier studies and increases the level of agreement, for example, from 84% to 87% based on Q1, excluding undetermined responses. Moreover, we solicited responses from a wide group of scientists. A larger proportion of those not specializing in climate science research may be unconvinced by or unaware of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic causation, as was also found by Doran and Kendall- Zimmermann.  Our results agree with Anderegg’s and Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann’s findings that the level of consensus is strongest for actively publishing climate scientists. For
example, the level of agreement−excluding undetermined responses−among AR4 WG1 authors, usually highly published domain experts, for Q1 and Q3, was 97% and 96%, respectively.

The anonymous blogger that Santorum quotes, goes by the name of Fabius Maximus.  Verheggen responds to FM’s distortions here. There is also an FAQ on the paper here.

Key quote:

4. How does this study compare to the often-quoted 97% consensus?

Our results are consistent with similar studies, which all find high levels of consensus among scientists, especially among scientists who publish more often in the peer-reviewed climate literature.

Cook et al. (2013) found that 97% of papers that characterized the cause of recent warming indicated that it is due to human activities. (John Cook, the lead author of that analysis, is co-author on this current article.) Similarly, a randomized literature review found zero papers that called human-induced climate change into question (Oreskes, 2004).

Other studies surveyed scientists themselves. For instance, Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann (2009) found lower levels of consensus for a wider group of earth scientists (82% consensus) as compared to actively publishing climatologists (97% consensus) on the question of whether or not human activity is a “significant contributor” to climate change. Our results are also in line with those of e.g. Bray and von Storch (2008) and Lichter (2007).

In our study, among respondents with more than 10 peer-reviewed publications (half of total respondents), 90% agree that greenhouse gases are the largest – or tied for largest – contributor to recent warming. The level of agreement is ~85% for all respondents.

While these findings are consistent with other surveys, several factors could explain the slight differences we found:

  • Surveys like ours focus on opinions of individual scientists, whereas in a literature analyses the statements in individual abstracts are tallied. Literature analyses have generally found higher levels of consensus than opinion surveys, since the consensus is stronger amongst more heavily published scientists.
  • This study sets a more specific and arguably higher standard for what constitutes the consensus position than other studies. For instance, Doran and Kendall-Zimmermann (2009) asked about human activity being a “significant contributor” to global warming, and Anderegg et al. (2010) investigated signatories of public statements, while we asked specifically about the degree to which greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change in comparison with other potential factors.
  • Contrarian viewpoints are somewhat overrepresented in our survey and they may have overestimated their self-declared level of expertise (see question 9).

What we’ve observed, time and time again, in the course of pushing back against climate disinformation, is how climate denial talking points make their way from obscure and unchecked, in this case, anonymous, sources – to the right wing media machine, to Fox News, and from there to the mouths of people that really should know better.

What we have here is someone that is offering himself as the potential leader of the Free World, who is taking his science talking points on an issue of critical importance from an anonymous blogger, rather than the scientific literature

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27 Responses to “Rick Santorum Demonstrates the Technique of Fake Science”


  1. […] Climate Crocks ecc. hanno subito scoperto l'ass: il blogger Larry Kummer a.k.a. Fabius Maximus, affetto da […]


  2. […] monday I posted the interview between Bill Maher and climate science denying Republican Presidential candidate (is there any other […]


  3. […] Interviews with me and with John Cook regarding Santorum’s erroneous remarks. […]


  4. […] in a series as candidates begin to weigh in on the issue. Particularly tough for Republican candidates, as their party has decided, incredibly, to go full Darth Vader anti-science on the issue –  […]


  5. […] Fallout from Bill Maher’s interview with Rick Santorum , where Climate change came up, and Santorum, predictably, couldn’t even quote a non-scientist […]


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