Climate: Uncertainty in scientific predictions can help and harm credibility

Posted: October 18, 2019 by oldbrew in climate, predictions, sea levels, Uncertainty
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What if anything can ‘uncertain predictions’ about the climate tell us that might be worth taking seriously? Excitable headline-chasing fearmongers do nothing to help, especially when proved wrong.

The ways climate scientists explain their predictions about the impact of global warming can either promote or limit their persuasiveness, reports ScienceDaily.
– – –
The more specific climate scientists are about the uncertainties of global warming, the more the American public trusts their predictions, according to new research by Stanford scholars.

But scientists may want to tread carefully when talking about their predictions, the researchers say, because that trust falters when scientists acknowledge that other unknown factors could come into play.

In a new study published in Nature Climate Change, researchers examined how Americans respond to climate scientists’ predictions about sea level rise.

They found that when climate scientists include best-case and worst-case case scenarios in their statements, the American public is more trusting and accepting of their statements.

But those messages may backfire when scientists also acknowledge they do not know exactly how climate change will unfold.

“Scientists who acknowledge that their predictions of the future cannot be exactly precise and instead acknowledge a likely range of possible futures may bolster their credibility and increase acceptance of their findings by non-experts,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor of communication and of political science and a co-author on the paper. “But these gains may be nullified when scientists acknowledge that no matter how confidently they can make predictions about some specific change in the future, the full extent of the consequences of those predictions cannot be quantified.”

Effects of communicating uncertainty

Predicting the future always comes with uncertainty, and climate scientists routinely recognize limitations in their predictions, note the researchers.

“In the context of global warming specifically, scientific uncertainty has been of great interest, in part because of concerted efforts by so-called ‘merchants of doubt’ to minimize public concern about the issue by explicitly labeling the science as ‘uncertain,'” said Lauren Howe, who was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford when she conducted the research with Krosnick and is first author on the paper.

“We thought that, especially in this critical context, it was important to understand whether expressing uncertainty would undermine persuasion, or whether the general public might instead recognize that the study of the future has to involve uncertainty and trust predictions where that uncertainty is openly acknowledged more than those where it is minimized,” Howe said.

To better understand how the public reacts to scientists’ messages about the uncertainties of climate change, the researchers presented a nationally representative sample of 1,174 American adults with a scientific statement about anticipated sea level rise.

Respondents were randomly assigned to read either a prediction of the most likely amount of future sea level rise, a prediction plus a worst-case scenario, or a robust prediction with worst-case and best-case scenarios, for example: “Scientists believe that, during the next 100 years, global warming will cause the surface of the oceans around the world to rise about 4 feet. However, sea level could rise as little as 1 foot, or it could rise by as much as 7 feet.”

The researchers found that when predictions included a best-case and worst-case scenario, it increased the number of participants who reported high trust in scientists by 7.9 percentage points compared with participants who only read a most likely estimate of sea level rise.

Changes in environmental policies, human activities, new technologies and natural disasters make it difficult for climate scientists to quantify the long-term impact of a specific change — which scientists often acknowledge in their predictions, the researchers said.

They wanted to know if providing such well-intended, additional context and acknowledging complete uncertainty would help or hurt public confidence in scientific findings.

Full article here.
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‘Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts’
Richard P. Feynman

Comments
  1. gbaikie says:

    — “Scientists believe that, during the next 100 years, global warming will cause the surface of the oceans around the world to rise about 4 feet. However, sea level could rise as little as 1 foot, or it could rise by as much as 7 feet.”

    The researchers found that when predictions included a best-case and worst-case scenario, it increased the number of participants who reported high trust in scientists by 7.9 percentage points compared with participants who only read a most likely estimate of sea level rise.–

    I would not call it high trust. Rather I would say it indicates it’s not selling some wacky ideology. And people are tired of this.

    The idea that sea levels could rise 7 feet within a century having anything to do with greenhouse gases {rather than unpredictable factors {ie, impact from space rock}} is foolish, and therefore not vaguely trustworthy. And quite possible sea level could fall within 100 years- maybe as little as 5 inches.
    And pretty clear to me that sea levels are not going to go from a rate of 7 inches per century to a rate of 4 feet within a century. There is zero evidence of this.

  2. Gamecock says:

    Correct, gbaikie. Sea level rise of 1 foot in the next hundred years is consistent with what we have seen the last hundred years. As a ‘prediction,’ it isn’t much of one.

    ‘as much as 7 feet’ is just stupid. It could rise 20 feet. We don’t know. The rate of change could change, lower or higher.

    You can’t predict no change and lots of change at the same time. It is stupid. That more people trust it doesn’t make it wise.

  3. JB says:

    “I would agree with Popper’s argument that observations are theory laden,
    and there is no way to prove an argument beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt, but at the
    very least, the scientist should do more than pay lip service to the scientific method. The true scientist must have faith and believe in the scientific method of testing theories, and not in the theories themselves. I agree with Seeds argument that ‘A pseudoscience is something that pretends to be a science but does not obey the rules of good conduct common to all sciences.’ Because many of the dominant theories of our time do not follow the rules of science, they should more properly be labeled pseudoscience. The people who tend to believe more in theories than in the scientific method of testing theories, and who ignore the evidence against the theories they believe in, should be considered pseudoscientists and not true scientists. To the extent that the professed beliefs are based on the desire for status, wealth, or political reasons, these people are scientific prostitutes.”–BG Wallace The Farce of Physics

    Predictions in these times are what used to be termed, speculations.

  4. tom0mason says:

    By what authority have these so called climate scientists, and the climate worriers for predicting the future? Do they have a documented history of being correct, or barking mad with their predictions?

    Maybe all predictors of future climate effect should be rated by the number of correct predictions divided by number of predictions made (predictions of events yet to happen automatically score 0.5), and lets call it the ‘Wadham’s predictive criterion’.

  5. oldbrew says:

    Today’s alarmist climate predictors serve as a guide to what isn’t likely to happen.

  6. hunterson7 says:

    So many words and so much dissembling to justify scientists lying. And instead of the actual correct answer:
    Tell the truth and stop catastrophist swill, the ass clowns publish their article about how to fabricate a slicker lie.

  7. oldbrew says:

    But those messages may backfire when scientists also acknowledge they do not know exactly how climate change will unfold.

    What *exactly* do they know, or think they know? A lot less than is claimed by most alarm merchants, for sure.

  8. oldbrew says:

    OCTOBER 16, 2019
    Tiny particles lead to brighter clouds in the tropics

    When clouds loft tropical air masses higher in the atmosphere, that air can carry up gases that form into tiny particles, starting a process that may end up brightening lower-level clouds, according to a CIRES-led study published today in Nature. Clouds alter Earth’s radiative balance, and ultimately climate, depending on how bright they are. And the new paper describes a process that may occur over 40 percent of the Earth’s surface, which may mean today’s climate models underestimate the cooling impact of some clouds.

    “Understanding how these particles form and contribute to cloud properties in the tropics will help us better represent clouds in climate models and improve those models,” said Christina Williamson, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division and the paper’s lead author.
    . . .
    Exactly how aerosols and clouds affect radiation is a big source of uncertainty in climate models. “We want to properly represent clouds in climate models,” said Williamson. “Observations like the ones in this study will help us better constrain aerosols and clouds in our models and can direct model improvements.”

    https://phys.org/news/2019-10-tiny-particles-brighter-clouds-tropics.html

  9. ivan says:

    Maybe the climate ‘scientists’ should be truthful and say ‘we don’t know how it all works but this is what we thing might happen but don’t bank on it’. But then there is very little truth in advertising an apparently no truth in climate science using unvalidated computer models.

  10. Gamecock says:

    ‘In a new study published in Nature Climate Change, researchers examined how Americans respond to climate scientists’ predictions about sea level rise.’

    Should have been in Psychology Today as “How to convince people of anything.” Or “How to do propaganda successfully.”

  11. oldbrew says:

    They need to give up with the loaded arguments like ‘how bad will it get’. Built-in assumptions of the ‘as the world warms’ variety are merely tedious propaganda.

  12. stpaulchuck says:

    and yet the media clowns ignore ‘the rest of the story’ from the IPCC because it take away the end of the world story line
    ———-
    “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” – IPCC TAR WG1, Working Group I: The Scientific Basis

  13. BoyfromTottenham says:

    I would like to see a betting agency say ‘What odds can I get that there will be a verified global sea level rise of more than seven millimetres by 2030’, and see what odds they are offered.

  14. Dodgy Geezer says:

    “…..The researchers found that when predictions included a best-case and worst-case scenario, it increased the number of participants who reported high trust in scientists by 7.9 percentage points compared with participants who only read a most likely estimate of sea level rise…..”

    Let us try this with some other skill-sets.

    My mate Jack down the pub, says that Manchester United will win the Cup. But Jim reckons that It might be Manchester, or Arsenal, Spurs, or one of the other UK football teams….

    You know what? I think I believe Jim. His prediction is not very helpful, though…

  15. Gamecock says:

    The researchers found that people will be more likely to believe their wild ass guess if they present it with a rational guess.

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