Posted by: egutoday | May 6, 2010

Science under Fire 5

Friday’s column in EGU Today:

Urgent need to build a general public culture in climate science

The public debate on climate change is driven by confusion between climate scientists, environmentalists and politicians. Major scientific challenges are linked with monitoring, understanding and anticipating the behaviour of the climate system. When we explain the state of affairs regarding climate research, including uncertainties, most people express that “if this is true, it is serious and has to be addressed”. This leads to political, technological and economical challenges of adaptation and mitigation. The public debate on climate change is more focused on the climate science challenges (“is this really true?”) than on the political challenges…

Uncertainty is an intrinsic part of science, and scientific controversies follow basic rules that include the demonstration of statements through observations or modelling, and peer-reviewed publication. However, the public stance on climate research does not follow scientific ethics. In a mockery of scientific debate, the media harbour simplistic views, such as: only greenhouse gases act on climate (the “environmentalists”), or that all but greenhouse gases are at play (the “sceptics”).

Unfortunately, most people lack the basic knowledge on climate to act as referees for this public debate. Education is therefore fundamental. As scientists, we are duty-bound to make our methods, results and publications freely available. The open-access publications of the EGU are an important step forward in this direction.

Valérie Masson-Delmotte
LSCE, Gif sur Yvette, France

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