The two cultures of science
Aug 1, 2011
Bishop Hill in Beddington, Climate: WG2

Sir John Beddington has responded to readers' comments on his report "Preparing for the Future", which was much criticised by BH readers for its failure to quantify any of the alleged risks with which it claimed we are beset.

The response, as expected, does little to address criticisms in a meaningful way. Here's what he has to say about the failure to quantify the risks:

It was not in its scope to provide a formal or quantitative risk assessment but to identify a range of threats and opportunities that should be considered as signposts for action by policymakers, and a basis for further, more detailed analysis and assessment.

The failure to communicate risk effectively has been a constant theme of the 18 months since Climategate and indeed in the wake of the CRU disclosures, Beddington himself was much in the media, calling for better communication of risk.

We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that.

It's therefore very disappointing to see Beddington's point blank refusal to put even a qualitative assessment of the size of the risks in the current report.

I was reminded of Steve M's recent ruminations on the differences between the public and private sectors as regards trust - in business, if there is a loss of trust you are finished; in the public sector no such incentive to honesty exists. Ask yourself how the head of risk in a large corporate entity would be received if he were to issue a report to the main board outlining risks facing the company but failed to give any assessment of the likelihood of these events happening in practice. It's hard to see him retaining his job for long.

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