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Grad Student’s Published Paper Gets Tweeted by President Obama

May 17, 2013

By Tara Laskowski

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Peter Jacobs. Photo courtesy of Peter Jacobs

Students often look to their professors or mentors for validation of their work. In Peter Jacobs’ case, the president of the United States has endorsed his research.

A master’s student in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, Jacobs had his first peer-reviewed publication as a co-author on a paper appearing in Environmental Research Letters this week. The paper, which looked at the scientific consensus on global warming, was tweeted by Barack Obama and is garnering much attention in the media.

“It’s very exciting,” says Jacobs, “but beyond that we are just happy about any work we can do to get our message out to the public about this issue.”

The study considered approximately 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming or climate change over a two-decade period and found that of those that took a position on whether or not humans were responsible for climate change (nearly 4,000 papers), 97 percent of the papers said that humans are causing it.

“Although previous studies have indicated that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that humans are causing global warming, the general public are under the impression that there is still a great deal of disagreement on the issue,” says Jacobs. “There is a large gap between what the public thinks the consensus is and what it actually is — and as previous studies have shown, this affects people’s beliefs about climate change and what actions they will support to prevent it.”

The study, which was led by John Cook of University of Queensland, analyzed 11,944 papers written by 29,083 authors in 1,980 different scientific journals.

The abstracts from these papers were randomly distributed between a team of 24 volunteers recruited through the “myth-busting” web site, which used set criteria to determine the level to which the abstracts endorsed that humans are the primary cause of global warming. Each abstract was analyzed by two independent, anonymous raters.

Jacobs, along with his co-authors — who represent institutions in Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom — worked on categorizing and rating the papers that form the basis of the analysis.

He credits Mason professors Kim de Mutsert, Edward Maibach, and Todd LaPorte, among others, as being good mentors and encouraging him to think outside of the classroom and department. “Many of the professors I’ve had at Mason have been wonderful in encouraging interdisciplinary projects, as well as ensuring that students understand the value of engaging with policymakers and the public, rather than thinking of themselves as apart from such concerns,” he says.