Thursday, August 14, 2008

Denialists excited by Albertan engineers' disagreements over climate change

This showed up in Wikipedia and may be used elsewhere by denialists: a survey of members of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta found a majority of respondents felt the debate over scientific causes of climate change isn't settled. Alberta is an oil-producing province so it's a skewed sample to start with, but the main response is these people aren't scientific experts on climate change. Only 3% of the respondents were geophysicists, most were engineers, and only 23.5% had dealt with climate change as part of their professional duties (which still doesn't qualify them as experts on the science - I've dealt with the issue professionally and that doesn't make me a scientific expert).

All that should be enough to dismiss it, but I might as well go on:

  • This wasn't a random survey - all the members were asked to respond and so the ones who did were self-selected.
  • The survey report doesn't say what response rate it had in percentage terms.
  • The survey could be completed online or faxed in, and the report doesn't describe any security methods (a past online survey of "climatologists" by Dennis Bray had been crashed by denialists who gained password access). Providing identifying information is listed as "optional."
  • The question on the cause of climate change is inadequate: it asks to choose between primarily natural factors, primarily human factors, or both factors together. The third option is a different question. They should've asked if it was primarily natural, primarily human, or if the science wasn't clear enough to judge which cause is primary.
  • Amusingly, only 20% trust the climate models, but a solid majority think climate change is a significant risk to public safety. How do they know that if the models stink? I guess they trust the theory, or just take a ruler to the instrumental record and extend the upward-sloping line out a few decades. Whatever. (Might be evidence against the idea that the poll was crashed, though.)
Bottom line: somewhat useful for Albertan engineers to know what Albertan engineers think, maybe, but not relevant to the existence of a consensus.

UPDATE: 52,000 members, 1,000 self-selected to respond back.

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