Critique of “Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians”

A paper that recently received some media attention is the “Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians” by Alexander Michael Petersen, Emmanuel M. Vincent & Anthony LeRoy Westerling, Nature Communications, volume 10, Article number: 3502 (2019). Here is what I think of it. 

The critique of this paper is going to be very short, because it has a MAJOR flaw that renders all the results totally meaningless (even as an anecdotal curiosity). The underlying problem with the whole analysis is the way that the lists were composed. Here is how they composed each list:

Selection of contrarians (CCC). We compiled a list of 386 contrarians by merging three overlapping name lists obtained from three public sources. The first source is the list of former speakers at The Heartland Institute ICCC conference ( over the period 2008–present, providing a representative sample across time; the second source is the list of individuals profiled by the DeSmogblog project; and the third source is drawn from the list of lead authors of the most recent 2015 NIPCC report (the principal summary of CC denial argumentation produced in conjunction with The Heartland Institute,”

Selection of scientists (CCS). We ranked individuals’ publication profiles according to the net citations $C_i = \sum_{i \in p} c_p$ calculated by summing individual article citation totals ($c_p$) for only the individual articles (indexed by p) included within our WOS CC dataset. In this way, the CCS group is comprised of the 386 most-cited CC scientists, based solely on their CC research.”

As you can see, the selection criteria is completely different. While the list of alarmists, acryonymed CCS (climate change shouters, I think) is selected by the the citations, the list of anti-alarmists, acronymed CCC (Climate Change Comforters, I think ;-) was selected by those who already have more exposure to the media. Then they compare the groups, and what do you know, the group that was selected according to bibliometric impact has a higher bibliometric impact and those selected through public exposure, namely, because they were active in the media, have more public exposure. Duh! ( This is one of the most obvious selection biases I have seen in my scientific life. It's not a compliment. 

Because of this distorted selection, the top CCC is Marc Morano. He isn’t a scientist nor does he pretend to be one, so why do the authors of this “research” compare his null scientific citation record to media appearance ratio with that of scientists? I don’t see that they put Al Gore in the top of the CCS list! He too has a very poor bibliometric impact.

A correct methodology would have been to comprise similar length lists of the top CCC and CCS based on citations alone, and then compare. But I guess it was a little too hard. Let me quote Mark Twain who said that there are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. In this case, it is statistics based on highly biased data.

I said before and I’ll say it again. Alarmists should use scientific arguments to bolster their case. The more they use chaff arguments, the more it reflects badly on their ability to defend their scientific case, perhaps because they can’t (e.g., see this).