Dessler and Parson, The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change. Chapter 2, “Science, politics, and science in politics,”

Dessler and Parson, The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: Ch. 2 pp 175-179

Generic Uncertainty Arguments:

  • some attempt to refute and/or diminish an issue by launching attacks upon scientific knowledge itself, the scientific process, scientific analysis, etc
  • such efforts tend to rely on alluding to vague “uncertainties” that exist in the body of knowledge, rather than pinpointing specific incidences

Quote from a leaked {Republican} strategy memo in reference to ‘dealing’ with climate change:
“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. … {we} need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

The Uncertainty Argument:
1. Uncertainty in the science exists.
2. Given Point 1, it is irresponsible to take action and/or spend money if it will be unwarranted.
3. Seek to eliminate uncertainty before acting.

The latter two are not scientifically-derived arguments. The scientific community lives with a modicum of uncertainty regarding any topic imaginable; science does not/cannot “prove” anything. Science can indicate what is likely, based upon the evidence currently available, and, should a new body of evidence arise to the contrary, then it will supersede former claims (i.e., we no longer contend that the world is flat.)
The notion of striving to eliminate all uncertainty (a degree of certainty will always exist) is less a scientific one, than a normative judgment regarding whether spending money based upon the current evidence is justifiable.

Other decision-making domains where we do require a large body of evidence in order to make decisions (because of the serious results which may ensue if we do not)

• Criminal law (innocent until ‘proven’ guilty beyond a reasonable doubt)
• Scientific research (reiterations, replication of experiments, peer-review process)

“In both these domains, the crucial point is that the decision rules are chosen intentionally, based on normative judgments of which error is worse. The worse we judge a particular error to be, the more we try to make that error unlikely by biasing the decision process against it.”

Re: climate change

“With high & uncertain stakes on both sides, a prudent climate response requires treating costs & risks symmetrically, balancing the risks of doing too much & too little.”

“The risks, costs, and benefits on both sides –those from doing too much, too soon, and those from doing too little, too late-must be compared and balanced.”