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A scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change

16 May 2013

An analysis of peer-reviewed articles has revealed an overwhelming consensus among scientists that recent warming is human-caused.

The study is believed to be the most comprehensive yet, and has identified 4,000 summaries (otherwise known as abstracts) from papers published in the past 21 years that stated a position on the cause of recent global warming. Some 97 percent of these endorsed the consensus that we are seeing man-made, or anthropogenic, global warming (AGW).

Led by John Cook at the University of Queensland, the study was published on Thursday May 16, in IOP Publishing's journal, Environmental Research Letters.

The study went one step further, asking the authors of these papers to rate their entire paper using the same criteria. Over 2,000 papers were rated and among those that discussed the cause of recent global warming, 97 per cent endorsed the consensus that it is caused by humans.

The findings are in stark contrast to the public's position on global warming; a 2012 poll revealed that more than half of Americans either disagree, or are unaware, that scientists overwhelmingly agree that the Earth is warming because of human activity.

John Cook says the findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary. "There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception," he says.

"It's staggering given the evidence for consensus that less than half of the general public think scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. This is significant because when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they're more likely to support policies that take action on it."

In March 2012, the researchers used the ISI Web of Science database to search for peer-reviewed academic articles published between 1991 and 2011 using two topic searches: "global warming" and "global climate change".

After limiting the selection to peer-reviewed climate science, the study considered 11,994 papers written by 29,083 authors in 1,980 different scientific journals.

The abstracts from these papers were randomly distributed between a team of 24 volunteers recruited through the 'myth-busting' website, who used set criteria to determine the level to which the abstracts endorsed that humans are the primary cause of global warming. Each abstract was analysed by two independent, anonymous raters. 

Visitors to the website also raised the funds required to allow the study to be accessible to the public.

From the 11,994 papers, 32.6 percent endorsed AGW, 66.4 percent stated no position on AGW, 0.7 percent rejected AGW and in 0.3 percent of papers, the authors said the cause of global warming was uncertain.

Study co-author, the University of Reading's Mark Richardson says the research uncovered 4,000 studies written by 10,000 scientists that stated a position on anthropogenic climate warming, with a significant number of them - some 97 percent - saying that recent warming is mostly man made.

The paper can be downloaded here.

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