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About Those Science Gaps

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 22, 2010 1:30 AM


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Quirin Schiermeier has a must-read piece (free access) in Nature about the gaps in climate science. It's a sober and frank examination, placed in a larger (and very helpful) perspective. He lists the bullet points in this blog post:

My feature describes unressolved problems in four specific areas - regional climate prediction, precipitation changes, aerosols, and tree ring-based temperature reconstructions. None of the considerable uncertainties related with these things have been kept secret by any means; but all four have led, and continue to do so, to enduring misconceptions and false claims which deserve better clarification and greater open discussion in the public and policy spheres. I have also taken a closer look at some of the favourite "˜myths' that keep circulating among the climate sceptics community and beyond, such as that global warming stopped ten years ago.

There's an editorial in the same issue that takes up the communication challenge. Climate advocates willing to consider a change in strategy might want to pay special attention to this piece of advice:

Empirical evidence shows that people tend to react to reports on issues such as climate change according to their personal values (see page 296). Those who favour individualism over egalitarianism are more likely to reject evidence of climate change and calls to restrict emissions. And the messenger matters perhaps just as much as the message. People have more trust in experts "” and scientists "” when they sense that the speaker shares their values. The climate-research community would thus do well to use a diverse set of voices, from different backgrounds, when communicating with policy-makers and the public. And scientists should be careful not to disparage those on the other side of a debate: a respectful tone makes it easier for people to change their minds if they share something in common with that other side.

People have more trust in experts--and scientists--when they sense that the speaker share their values. Yup. That's why it matters that military brass and hawks like former Republican Senator John Warner talk up climate change. That's why it matters that influential evangelicals like Richard Cizik rally his faithful. And if people that share the values of military and evangelical leaders are to take climate change more seriously, then surely it matters that a "receptive tone" in the larger, public debate be maintained by climate advocates and scientists. UPDATE: Hans Von Storch takes issue with how he's quoted in the Nature article.

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