Well, they don’t mix. At least not so far.
Following Climategate, the activist community felt as though they needed to respond to what they perceived as a victory for skeptics of climate change. Like the skeptics themselves, they were frustrated at the slow pace of the climate conversation in the academic literature and the even slower pace of the IPCC, which issues reports less frequently than the Olympic Games are held.
Again, like climate skeptics, they searched for avenues where non-scientists could contribute. They started a ‘Crusher Crew,’ a rapid response network where skeptic opinions stated on blogs or online articles in the mainstream media would be confronted immediately.
But that wasn’t pro-active enough. So these citizens started doing ‘science.’ Not really science, you understand, but rough overviews of academic literature to show favorable numbers of pro-consensus publications compared to that put out by skeptic scientists.
Using (predominantly) keyword searches and evaluating the titles or abstracts of publications, a number of studies attempted to deligitimize the skeptic opposition. As these papers served no other purpose, the intent was clear to all. Perhaps inevitably, given their distaste for climate skeptics, they made no effort to become familiar with what skeptics were actually writing, relying only on search results, meta tags–things that don’t require thought. The papers uniformly reflect the lack of wisdom of that strategy.
Since Climategate, there have been a number of studies that appear to be deliberate attacks on the skeptic community:
Anderegg, Prall et al PNAS 2010,
Quantifying the Consensus Cook et al,, Environmental Research Letters 2013
Consensus on Consensus, Cook, Oreskes et al, Environmental Research Letters 2016
NASA Faked The Moon Landing–Therefore, (Climate) Science is a Hoax, Lewandowsky et al, Psychological Science 2012
Recursive Fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation’, Lewandowsky et al, Frontiers in Psychology 2013
The papers have much in common.
The received extensive coverage in both the media and the climate blogosphere.
They were quickly critcized by mainstream scientists ranging from Spencer Weart to Mike Hulme, as well as by skeptics. Much of the criticism focused on sloppy methodology and inappropriate analysis tools, criticism often leveled at social science papers outside the realm of climate science.
They contribute nothing to our understanding of the climate and precious little to our understanding of the climate conversation, except as exemplars of shoddy work reinforcing entrenched beliefs about the opposition.
The most recent, covered heavily at this blog, is Harvey et al 2017. It is exactly like the others in intent and (shoddy) execution, although it focuses strictly on weblogs rather than academic literature.
Consensus activists want skeptics (and we lukewarmers) to shut up and go away. However, they don’t want to debate us. They don’t want to know what we actually believe–it would conflict with their *ahem* conspiratorial ideas about us.
Which is why their attacks on us tend towards the ludicrous.
There is a place for literature searches, meta studies and pub counts. There are also protocols, rules of the road, tips and tricks and established procedures for performing this type of research. But none of those were employed in the papers referenced here. The result–sloppy name calling trying to justify itself in the name of science–cheapens the debate.
It also damages science.