Can science be trusted?

A recent blog commented on a draft of the Fifth Assessment Report, which is soon to be released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Will this Assessment Report receive a better reception by politicians and members of the public than its predecessor?

Many people distrust what they are being told by scientists (the elite of our intellectual world).  In part this attitude is a consequence of the difficulty of explaining scientific conclusions to lay people.

In a one of our earliest blogs we commented:

“Trying to get to the bottom of climate change often requires interpretation of graphs of temperature variations, which make assumptions that are reasonable to the scientist(s) who created the graph.  These assumptions are outside our sphere of knowledge, and so beyond our ability to judge.  We are inclined to accept the graphs and the conclusions they support because of the credibility of their creator(s).  We are baffled when other scientists, often with long strings of initials are their names, reject those assumptions, or dispute the validity of their projection into the future. We don’t appreciate that science benefits from scepticism, and rejection of an opinion is a salutary part of an on-going process. Although we can manage probabilities and time lines concerning events that present a challenge to our daily lives, we are uncertain when confronted with a truly calamitous impact upon our civilization that we have grown accustomed to thinking of as the epitome of human progress. “

In the case of the IPCC, this distrust has been abetted by the Climategate saga.  Although the great majority of scientists supported the conclusions of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, remnants of this distrust lingers in the minds of many people.

If the world scientific community could show via the Fifth Assessment Report that the issues have been resolved, that climate change in the form of global warming is a reality and is caused by GHG emissions, the distrust would soon dissipate.

Unfortunately that will not happen.   This Report refers to one of the current mysteries in climate science:  why global temperatures have not risen in more than a decade, despite higher and higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Climate models that predicted increases in temperature have not been confirmed by what subsequently occurred.

There are explanations for this mystery, but they are closer to reasonable hypotheses than demonstrable proof. So it is that for the next five years there will be disputes among scientists about the conclusions in this Assessment Report.  Denialists will have a field day!

Just when the need for public support of renewable energy is greatest, politicians and members of the public will continue to believe that “science is not settled”.

We (4RG) trust science and credit the explanations given in the Report how heat could have “disappeared”. Our view is that the consequences of climate change are potentially so devastating that we should use the time given by this pause in global warming to avoid its serious longer term effects.

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