Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for September 2011

Science in a democratic society

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This post was precipitated by several stoushes held at Larvatus Prodeo over climate science but reflects more widely on the state of climate science and its public perception in the English-speaking democracies. It’s an issue I’ve been interested in for a number of years because of the attacks on climate science and the need to build better links between science and the risk management of global change. The post title is also the title of Phillip Kitcher’s new book released earlier this month. Kitcher is an English philosopher based at Colombia University and in 2006 won the Prometheus Prize of the US Philosopher’s Association – this book is the result. He has made his case really well.

The main points of this piece are that:

  • Society needs to draw from a body of public knowledge in order to be successful. Psychological and cognitive limitations lead to the sum of individual decisions producing suboptimal outcomes.
  • Attacks on public knowledge driven by self-interest and opaque values are being made under the cover of free speech and individual freedoms. The evidence used by these attacks is generally untrue, distorted or selective or fails basic tests for scientific proof.
  • Science is a values-driven enterprise. Those values need to be made explicit in what Kitcher refers to as well-ordered science.
  • Science is secular. Passing certain probative (proof) tests allows it to be shared as knowledge that has claims to objectivity.
  • Belief is personal and can also be shared but does not require the same tests (Belief also expresses a set of human needs not necessarily addressed by science).
  • Public knowledge in English-speaking democracies has become degraded. Science is vulnerable to vulgar democracy, where under the guise of free speech, any belief can masquerade as knowledge.
  • Science also needs to become better ordered, through measures that cover:
  • Education – for most students teaching what science does and what its impacts are, rather than how it works (technical), by separating pedagogy into liberal education and technical specialisation. This works on the presumption that most people need to understand the role science plays in society while fewer will become actual scientists.
  • Bringing people into the scientific workplace to familiarise them with knowledge goals and probative values and methods of certifying science.
  • Avoidance of universal punditry (experts speaking beyond their expertise) and overconfidence in findings in favour of communicating scientific evidence with the appropriate levels of confidence in theory and uncertainties in outcomes.
  • A process that steps through claims of consensus, consequences of those claims, ethical exploration of a potential policy framework and an exploration of how current actions can be balanced against future harm. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

September 28, 2011 at 11:55 pm

IPCC uncertainty management – new paper

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I’ve just had a paper, The latest iteration of IPCC uncertainty guidance—an author perspective, published online at Climatic Change. It claims that the new uncertainty management for the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (pdf) is most suited to managing uncertainty in the physical sciences, and climate change as a complex, or ‘wicked system’ risk requires a more applied approach. The paper is open source so can be downloaded and read by anyone. Happy to get comments here. It’s part of a special issue in honour of the late Stephen Schneider, the chief uncertainty cop with the IPCC and climate science community, and founding editor of Climatic Change.

I can take credit for planting the seed of this issue in the minds of the new editors, Michael Oppenheimer and Gary Yohe. Abstract and special issue announcement over the fold. Links to open source papers so far posted and to the guidance documents, past and present, can also be found.

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Written by Roger Jones

September 25, 2011 at 7:46 am

83% of Americans believe Earth is warming

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Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and  political science of Stanford University, has released the latest Stanford University with Ipsos and Reuters survey on public opinion on global warming. 5 out of 6 Americans (83%) believe Earth is warming, 15% say it is not. That is up from 75% in 2010.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of Republicans believe global warming has been happening, as do 92% of Democrats. The percentage of Americans who are certain that warming has been happening has also climbed, from 45% to 53%. Those who do not believe in global warming have become more resolute in their attitude (certainty from 35% in 2010 to 53% in 2011).

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Written by Roger Jones

September 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm

No conspiracy claims Minchin

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Ex Senator and bloke who pretty much wrecked the bilateral approach to climate change policy in Australia, Nick Minchin, has written to The Age saying that he never referred to climate change as a left-wing  conspiracy to de-industrialise the Western world. He has referred to the transcript of the Four Corners program broadcast on November 9 2009, where he said:

For 10 years the left internationally have been very successful in exploiting peoples’ innate fears about global warming and climate change to achieve their political ends.


For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.

Well, glad we’ve cleared that up. Of course, these statements were widely reported at the time as a conspiracy. Ever the lawyer, Minchin is accurate in that he has never claimed a political conspiracy, which would be the overthrow of a legitimate government, or a civil conspiracy, which would break the law at some present or future time. It does however, paint legitimate science and all the scientific academies of the globe as agents of the extreme left.

Good-oh. When you’re extremely right, I guess you’re extremely right.

Apologies for not posting for the past month. Computer problems were causing driver failures and the BSoD. Eventually a new motherboard was installed but this had to be replaced twice more before things got sorted. 

Written by Roger Jones

September 18, 2011 at 10:34 am