Re: [asa] Re: Scientific Reticence

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Fri Mar 30 2007 - 11:17:16 EDT

On 3/30/07, David Opderbeck <> wrote:
> Rich, let me just throw out one comment from a "science, technology and
> society" or policy-maker's perspective, as well as from the perspective of
> people in the pews. It's rather disconcerting to be told there is a
> scientific consensus about global warming, that the IPCC is on the whole
> neutral and not politicized, and that policymakers need to appreciate the
> findings of the IPCC as a broad cross-section of the scientific community --
> and then to be told that the scientific community's consensus is way too
> conservative and the IPCC's findings are too narrow! This sounds
> immediately like a fragile consensus cracking apart as underlying fissures
> work their way up to the surface -- much I guess like those antarctic ice
> sheets. And/or, it sounds immediately like a "movement" leader (Jim
> Hansen?) wants to push his agenda out ahead of the consensus. Not to say
> this is necessarily the case in this instance, but it seems to follow the
> pattern of many public policy issues that intersect with science.

That's a complete misread of what Hansen is saying. IPCC findings should
have been just fine and accurately reflect the consensus -- with the
exception of the section on sea level change which the SPM poorly
communicated the consensus. For example, it took Rahmstorm eight screenfuls
to explain what was going on there. See here:
you don't want wade through all the text, I'll give a short summary: The
problem is that there is no way for a policy maker to compare TAR and AR4
because they calculated things differently. But, if you read the
caveats alongside the report you would understand that sea level rise was
seriously underscoped. The cryosphere experts are currently moving extremely
quickly to decrease uncertainty here and get the good, conservative science
behind it. Responsible policy makers understand all this. The problem is
that there are irresponsible policy makers that abuse the reports and use it
to come to the completely unwarranted conclusion that sea level is a smaller
problem. It's a bigger problem, we just don't know how big. Everybody in the
scientific community knows that IPCC is EXTREMELY conservative and the
bigger issue in my mind is that the process is too slow. For example, pretty
much anything after 2005 could not be used. There has been a lot of progress
since then.

Hopefully, when the full text of AR4 comes out the sea level rise will be
better communicated, because as it stands the sea level section of the SPM
is unusable by policy makers. What I mean here is something that the policy
makers can truly do an apple to apple comparison. Hansen proposes a NAS
study much like what was done in 2001 on global warming in general. Whether
you agree or disagree with him on whether IPCC is too conservative this
makes sense. In part because the IPCC whiffed on this and in part because of
the professional obfuscators, the public and the policy makers don't realize
the magnitude the problem here. This is what we are whispering to each other
in hall. Hansen wants this to be effectively communicated in plain language
and quickly because we don't have much time. The scientist's natural
tendency to speak to our own and make sure every i is dotted and t crossed
does not serve us well here. Here a business perspective again helps
us.Those of us in business call the process above "paralysis by analysis".
We have to make decisions quickly, even when all the data is not in. If we
have to wait for certainty our competition will eat our lunch. The stakes
are even higher here than mere business competition, however, making the
need for the NAS report in non-technical language even more critical.

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Received on Fri Mar 30 11:17:43 2007

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