Put the ‘consensus’ to a test, and improve public understanding, through an open, adversarial process, says Steven Koonin in the Wall Street Journal.
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Tomorrow’s March for Science will draw many thousands in support of evidence-based policy making and against the politicization of science.
A concrete step toward those worthy goals would be to convene a “Red Team/Blue Team” process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.
The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties.
The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations. It is very different and more rigorous than traditional peer review, which is usually confidential and always adjudicated, rather than public and moderated.
The public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science. At a recent national laboratory meeting, I observed more than 100 active government and university researchers challenge one another as they strove to separate human impacts from the climate’s natural variability.
At issue were not nuances but fundamental aspects of our understanding, such as the apparent—and unexpected—slowing of global sea-level rise over the past two decades. Summaries of scientific assessments meant to inform decision makers, such as the United Nations’ Summary for Policymakers, largely fail to capture this vibrant and developing science.
Consensus statements necessarily conceal judgment calls and debates and so feed the “settled,” “hoax” and “don’t know” memes that plague the political dialogue around climate change.
We scientists must better portray not only our certainties but also our uncertainties, and even things we may never know. Not doing so is an advisory malpractice that usurps society’s right to make choices fully informed by risk, economics and values.
Moving from oracular consensus statements to an open adversarial process would shine much-needed light on the scientific debates.