Truthmaking and Credibility Matter

Linking to an article by Alister Doyle over at Reuters titled Climate Scientists Struggle to Explain Warming Slowdown.

“The climate system is not quite so simple as people thought,” said Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician and author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” who estimates that moderate warming will be beneficial for crop growth and human health.

Some experts say their trust in climate science has declined because of the many uncertainties. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had to correct a 2007 report that exaggerated the pace of melt of the Himalayan glaciers and wrongly said they could all vanish by 2035.

Climate scientists who continue to profess “absolutism” in the face of highly variable, stochastic systems, fail to publicly acknowledge our limited understanding of complex climate processes, and fail to present scientific evidence in a credible manner continue to sacrifice not only their own credibility, but the public’s trust in their science.  This is a dangerous and regrettable state of affairs we find ourselves in, particularly if the risks of human-caused climate change are as dire as many climate scientists predict.

Popular risk perception is closely tied to the public’s willingness to accept the views of experts and, in turn, a democracy’s ability to engage in deliberative policymaking, based on consensus, to address such risks.   Although the distortion of science to fit one’s political or world views is certainly nothing new, what’s new is our increasing inability to reach a consensus on solutions to emerging risks whether they be environmental or otherwise.   According to Dan Kahan, an Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School,

The effective regulation of risk poses a singular challenge to democracy.  The public welfare of democratic societies depends on their capacity to abate all manner of natural and man-made hazards – from environmental catastrophe and economic collapse to domestic terrorism and the outbreak of disease.  But the need to form rational responses to these and other dangers also challenges democratic societies in a more fundamental way: by threatening their commitment to genuinely deliberate policymaking.  Effective risk regulation depends on highly technical forms of scientific information – epidemiological, toxicological, economic, and the like.  Most citizens don’t even have access to such information, much less the inclination and capacity to make sense of it.

Assuming human activity is having some indeterminate causal effect on climate change, we need more scientists who are willing to place professional and academic integrity above personal politics.  Society deserves better.