Climate change and academic oversell
Nov 7, 2015
Bishop Hill in Academia, Climate: other

It's not often an article in Times Higher Education can make you laugh out loud, but Helga Nowotny's piece this week managed to reach those heights. Nowotny, from ETZ in Zurich, is writing about overselling of research results and the deleterious effects that this might have on trust in the academy. Her suggestion is that a bit more "we don't know that yet" might be a better approach.

Inevitably talk turns to climate change:

Asked if such an approach may have pitfalls – such as those detailed in the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, when vested interests sow the seeds of scientific doubt as a way of forestalling action on issues like the harm caused by cigarettes or, more recently, climate change – she responded: “You cannot deny climate change; it’s happening. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.”

But she pointed out that modelling future changes to the climate is fraught with uncertainty, with climate forecasting broadly as accurate as weather forecasting was 100 years ago – although none of this should be used as an excuse for inaction.

I'm not sure that she understands that "evidence" for climate change is the output of those uncertain climate models. She seems to be a victim of the very overselling that she is complaining about.

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