Scientists in all disciplines agree with climate scientists that global warming is real and caused by humans.
The vast majority of climate scientists, very close to 100%, understand that the phenomenon known as “global warming” (warming of the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean, the sea surface, and that atmosphere at the surface of the land) is happening, and is caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. (eg. Anderegg W R L, Prall J W, Harold J and Schneider S H 2010 Expert credibility in climate change Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107 12107–9) Unsurprisingly, the vast majority, very close to 100%, of peer reviewed published papers that address these issues also indicate these conclusions. (eg. Cook J, Nuccitelli D, Green S A, Richardson M, Winkler B, Painting R, Way R, Jacobs P and Skuce A 2013 Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 But, only about half of the American public thinks either of these things to be true. (Weber E U and Stern P C 2011 Public understanding of climate change in the United States Am. Psychol. 66. See also this.) This is sometimes called the consensus gap.
But what about other scientists, outside of climate science? If there was a similar consensus gap between climate scientists and other scientists in general, then maybe we could argue that half of the American population were Galileos, somehow knowing that the climate scientist were wrong, and being persecuted for it.
A recent study looks at this question. The study asked a large sample of American based scientists about their beliefs about climate change. At the same time, a subsample of these scientists were scored on “cultural value” spectra to ascertain the cultural and political frameworks they are operating in. In short, the results indicate that overall scientists are in agreement with the climate scientists. There appears to be no consensus gap within science.
The paper is “The climate change consensus extends beyond climate scientists, by J S Carlton, Rebecca Perry-Hill, Matthew Huber, and Linda S Prokopy. Click the link to see the paper, it is OpenAccess.
The survey polled 1,868 scientists in a wide range of science units at the 12 “big ten” US Universities. The response rate was 37.4 percent, with 698 responding. (That is not exceptionally small, perhaps a bit above average.) Two survey forms were given, one with the “cultural values” questions and one without. For the most part, the polled scientists agreed that global warming is real and caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. The rate of this belief was so high we can stop there and simply conclude that outside of climate science, scientists agree with the climate science consensus on this matter. But the survey did reveal some interesting, though generally small, differences between disciplines (more on that below)
(Note, I use the term “belief” here purposefully. We can discuss that another time if you like. The paper also uses that term, and provides this footnoted background for it: “In this manuscript we use the term ‘belief’ in a technical sense: beliefs are dispassionate, cognitive components of attitudes (Heberlein 2012) and represent people’s understanding of something. People’s ‘beliefs’ may or may not be consistent with accepted scientific facts.”)
From the study:
The results suggest a broad consensus that climate change is occurring: when asked ‘When compared with pre–1800’s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?’, 93.6% of respondents across all disciplines indicated that they thought temperatures have risen, 2.1% thought temperatures had remained relatively constant, 0.6% thought tem- peratures had fallen, and 3.7% indicated they had no opinion or did not know.
So now we know that just under 3% of university scientists can’t read a graph.
Is the rise in temperatures caused by humans?
Most respondents believed that humans are contributing to the rise in temperatures. Of those who indicated that they believed temperatures have risen, 98.2% indicated they believe that ‘human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean glo- bal temperatures’. Together, these two facts reveal that 91.9% of scientists surveyed believed in anthropogenic climate change. This number is slightly lower than the 96.2% of actively publishing climate scientists that believe that mean temperatures have risen and the 97.4% who believe that humans have a role in chan- ging mean global temperatures…
The use of a cultural values question allowed the researchers to parse out responses based on the respondents’ cultural framework. Here, the strongest result indicates that those who fal lhigh on the “Hierarchicalism” and “Individualism” spectra are those contributing most to that small percentage that got it wrong. Along the political spectrum, lots of people get it wrong, from conservative to liberal, but relatively few conservatives get it right, suggesting an ideological bias among conservatives but not necessarily among liberals.
The results of the study certainly fit with my own observations and expectations. Look at the graphic.
A key determinant in the likelihood that a scientist will get it right (believe climate change is real, anthropogenic, etc.) is obviously if the individual is in climate science or a closely related discipline. It is therefore not surprising to find high marks among climate scientists, ocean and marine sciences, and geological and earth sciences.
Another determining factor may be how much a particular area of science requires (on average) more interdisciplinary work. If you are very broadly interdisciplinary, you have to develop the skill of evaluating the science put forward by your colleagues in areas where you don’t have strong background. I’m pretty sure a large number of physicists almost never have to do this, while many biological scientists do. This seems to be reflected in the numbers.
Engineers are a mixed bag. Our experiences dealing with creationists have taught us (we evolutionary biologists) that engineers are very often creationists. I assume this has something to do with values linked to preferred discipline, or something. Having said that, there are those trained in engineering or in engineering schools who deal directly with climate science. Again, from experience dealing with creationists, chemists and engineers are similar, if not worse.
One shocking result seems to be the low performance of those involved in “natural resources.” Shouldn’t they be all over climate change? This is hard to explain but totally expected in my view. The natural resources community has been, as a whole, very sluggish in coming up to bat about climate change, even though the are often working where the rubber meets the road. I think it still may be the case that the impending extinction of moose in Minnesota, which is almost certainly related to parasites which were not a problem when things were colder, is still seen as a mystery by Minnesota natural resource experts.
The study also looked at scientists perception of climate science with respect to overall credibility, maturity of the field, and trustworthiness.
Overall credibility is high, with a similar pattern (mainly, engineers on the lower end) as belief in global warming, across the disciplines. Trustworthiness is middling across all disciplines. This is probably because academics don’t trust each other, or even themselves if they are any good, because they are all skeptics. The maturity results are interesting. Why do physicists think climate science is not a mature discipline? This could be because Newton was hundreds of years ago. Chemists, also; that is a field that goes way back in time. Oceanography is a very young discipline, with its roots in the early 20th century but not really developing until the 1960s. I’m not sure why Astronomy sees climate science as mature, but perhaps because astronomers have actually been doing climate science for a long time. Frankly, I would attribute a bit of apparent randomness in this question to the overall lack of training and scholarly work in the history of science (outside their own discipline) among scientists in general.