Though really, what sane person would get his science news from This Week Tonight with John Oliver?
But just in case some of you don't know any better, Oliver's recent skit, "Climate Change Debate," had a glaring error -- sadly, one that makes the skit substantially less funny.
So if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to watch it first, and then find out about the error.
OK, here's the error. Oliver's writers apparently are under the impression that global warming "skeptics" are at odds with the 97% of scientists who are said to agree that humans cause global warming. That's not so. The skeptics are among the 97% of scientists who agree that humans cause global warming.
That's how the percentage gets nearly to one hundred.
How can that be, you say? Neither Jon Stewart nor Rachel Maddow ever said any such thing.
Don't expect to get science news from a comedy show.
Jon Stewart is selling comedy and Rachel Maddow is selling liberalism, that's how. They aren't science educators, and don't pretend to be.
Here's the deal. Despite all the contentiousness of the global warming debate, there really is not much debate that the Earth has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1800s, and that the Earth warmed during various decades since (and cooled during others, and didn't change much in still others). So scientists -- alarmists and skeptics alike -- pretty much agree that there has been global warming.
So, if the global warming theory is defined as "the Earth has warmed and humans have caused it," do skeptics believe humans have caused it?
Most skeptics believe humans have caused some of it and nature has caused the rest of it. Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer, for example, a very prominent skeptic and a key man behind the UAH dataset (which provides the ongoing atmospheric temperature records used by alarmist and skeptic scientists alike), believes humans have caused about half of observed warming. That puts him firmly among the 97% of scientists who believe, as John Oliver puts it, that "climate change exists." That also makes him a skeptic, because he does not agree with alarmists that warming is overwhelmingly human-caused and he does not believe human-caused global warming will inevitably cause a catastrophe.
Yet the ignorance and nastiness of the global warming debate is such that, according to Google, the alarmists and allied left-wing propaganda groups such as Think Progress have have called Dr. Spencer a "denier" no less than 34,000 times.
So if Dr. Roy Spencer, skeptic, had been in John Oliver's skit, he would have been seated with Bill Nye (preferably in his place, as Nye doesn't seem to know the North Pole from the South, and isn't a scientist anyway) as one of the 97 scientists. And many of his skeptic friends would have been there with him.
The debate, dear friends, is not whether the planet has done any warming over the last 140 years or so, or even in the late 20th Century, or even whether humans have caused any of that observed warming. The debate is over whether humans have caused the overwhelming amount of said warming (or even all of it), as alarmist scientists and activists like Al Gore believe, and whether said warming inevitably will cause a catastrophe for humankind (as the alarmists and activists also believe).
If you think about it, you'll realize the 97% figure always did sound a bit fishy. Out side of North Korean elections, when do 97% percent of people ever agree on anything?
Only when the question is asked so broadly, nearly everyone agrees.