Climate Scientists Urged To Be More Honest About Uncertainties

  • Date: 09/06/15
  • Tom Bawden, The Independent

Climate change scientists must be more honest about the limits of their knowledge and uncertainty around predictions if they are to win the trust of the public, according to a new report.

Scientists are under increasing pressure to communicate their research more clearly, to galvanise politicians into taking decisive action to combat climate change, and to help promote their universities.

They are also keen to make their findings meaningful to a public which feels alienated from much climate change research, which is largely abstract and concerned with developments that often lie decades in the future, said Dr Gregory Hollin, of the University of Nottingham.

But this increases the temptation to gloss over any uncertainties in research – an urge they should resist if they don’t want to lose credibility, his report says. And while referencing recent events such as floods and heatwaves can make climate change seem more tangible, they are much less scientifically certain as evidence.

“The most meaningful things are often the least certain things and so that potentially leads to difficulties because scientists are being asked to make their results really meaningful, while being incredibly certain. And there are instances when that leads to real tensions,” Dr Hollin told The Independent.

He acknowledged in some cases scientists are keen to play down uncertainties to limit the scope for climate sceptics to magnify their doubts and use it to attack research – but this approach makes the problem worse.The research, which Dr Hollin carried out with his colleague Dr Warren Pearce and is published in the journal Nature Climate Change, focused on a key press conference in 2013 when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unveiled its latest report.

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