In Focus: Climate Science

For years, I’ve been casually accumulating a database ofpeer-reviewed climate papers. A few months ago, some Skeptical Sciencecontributors began brainstorming creative ways to visualise thisdatabase – a kind of visual sequel to Naomi Oreskes’ famous Science paper on consensus. Paul D decided to take it a step further and began programming aJavascript visualisation that very cleverly packs an incredible amountof information into a single, user-friendly graphic.

The visualization displays the number of climate papers publishedeach year, sorted into skeptic/neutral/pro-AGW categories. What really blew me away is the sliderat the bottom — drag it from left to right to observe the evolution ofclimate science research from Joseph Fourier in 1824 to the flood ofresearch in 2011.

How the Interactive History of Climate Science works

The Interactive History of Climate Science displays the number of climate papers published in each year from 1824 to 2011.

Each year is represented by a circle with the size ofthe circle determined by the number of papers. By moving the slider,you change the “current year” – more years are shown as you slide fromleft to right. The visualisation begins with the slider parked in 1824when Joseph Fourier first published General remarks on the temperature of the terrestrial globe and the planetary space.

Mouseover any circle and a small box displays the year and number of papers published in that year. Here’s the cool part – click on anycircle and all the papers published that year are displayed beneath the visualisation with a link to the paper. In one succinct visualisation, Paul D has managed to cram in an incredible amount of information,with links to thousands of climate papers. It captures the ethos ofSkeptical Science – multiple layers of information with both auser-friendly version for the layperson and a more detailed layerallowing deeper exploration.

How the papers are categorised

We took a different approach to Naomi Oreskes’ Science paper who sorted her papers into “explicit endorsement of the consensusposition”, “rejection of the consensus position” and everything else(neutral). In the case of Skeptical Science, the backbone of our site is our list of climate myths. Whenever a climate link is added to our database, it is matched to any relevant climate myths. Therefore, each link is assigned “skeptic”,“neutral” or “proAGW” whether it confirms or refutes the climate myth.

This means a skeptic paper doesn’t necessarily “reject the consensus position” that humans are causing global warming. It may address amore narrow issue like ocean acidification or the carbon cycle. Forexample, say a paper is published examining the impacts of oceanacidification on coral reefs. If the paper finds evidence that oceanacidification is serious, the paper is categorised as pro-AGW and added to the list of papers addressing the “ocean acidification isn’t serious” myth.

There are a large number of neutral papers. Neutral does not mean to say each paper was unable to resolve the climate myth. Sometimes, apaper is relevant to a number of climate myths and the results aremixed as to whether it endorses or rejects all the myths. In manycases, the paper doesn’t directly set out to directly resolve the mythor the paper has a regional emphasis rather than global. Some papersare about method development more than obtaining a final result. Papers that met any of these criteria are often categorised as neutral.

So yes, categorisation can get a little complicated and there’ll be a blog post shortly discussing these issues in more detail. I’m starting to think Naomi’s approach was the better way to go!

How we built the database of peer-reviewed papers

The database of peer-reviewed papers is a crowd sourced effort.Special credit must go to Ari Jokimäki and Rob Painting who bothsubmitted thousands of papers to the database (the horse race betweenthe two was fascinating to watch). Ari runs AGW Observer, a blog that keeps track of peer-reviewed climate papers, so he had ahuge collection at his fingertips. I also highly recommend his Twitter account which announces new climate papers on a daily basis and there’s been a continuous flow of papers in the Skeptical Science Daily Climate Links email.

How you can join the crowd sourcing effort

You can help by joining the crowd sourcing effort. To add peer-reviewed papers, you can use our web based form or the Skeptical Science Firefox Add-on. I’d suggest using the Firefox Add-on – if you can get into the habit of adding any climate links as you browse around, you’ll make thisdata collecting geek very happy! Check out how you’re doing by comparing how many papers everyone has submitted (I’ll probably revamp this page, add some more features and extra layers of information).

We consider this visualisation a first step, not a finaldestination. While we have over 4000 papers in the database, that isjust the tip of the iceberg with many more papers yet to be added. Aswell as build the number of papers, we’d like to experiment withdifferent ways of displaying the papers. In addition to thevisualisation, you can also view all the papers grouped by skeptic/neutral/proAGW and grouped by which climate myths they address. But I’m sure there are other creative ways this data could bedisplayed (eg – by using the categories each paper falls under, itshould be possible to determine which papers fall under Naomi Oreskes’ “reject/endorse the consensus” categorisation). I’m sure there will be much discussion on the issue of categorisation and how it can be morerobust and clearly defined.

If you have any ideas on how this information could be organised and displayed, post a comment here and we’ll discuss it further (Paul D’svisualisation could have gone in many different directions). As withany social media phenomenon, anything is possible when a communitystarts brainstorming.

John Cook

John Cook, in a Skeptical Science cross-post

Original Article on Climate Progress


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