h1

It must be nice

March 18, 2014

It must be nice to believe, as Lawrence Torcello appears to, that clarity in scientific results is as simple as clarity in communication.

Or to believe that there’s no funding bias in climate studies.

Or to believe that there’s no confirmation bias in the studies themselves.

Or to believe that all reputable climate scientists agree with the idea of catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming.

Or to believe that a professor of philosophy can reliably identify misinformation about global climate science.

And there’s the rub with his entire essay below: Who will be making these judgments about what is or is not ‘misinformation’?


Agreeing that the world climate has warmed in the recent past doesn’t imply agreement with any of these statements:

(a) That we’ve definitely identified the warming’s cause(s).
(b) That we can confidently predict future global climate by modeling.
(c) That we can prescribe methods for preventing warming.


Mr. Torcello’s example of the Italian earthquake case seems to say more about the Italian legal system than it does about clear communication of scientific opinion.

With any luck, no one in the United States will face legal prosecution for disagreeing with a scientific consensus; or for failing to gainsay a government official when he or she speaks in a misinformed manner.

Is misinformation about the climate criminally negligent?

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death…

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.

The earthquake that rocked L’Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.

The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. […]

Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him. I don’t believe poor scientific communication should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. […] Wall Street Journal about a report soon to be released by the IPCC. (I wonder whether Professor Torcello has heard of […]


  2. […] wonder whether Professor Torcello has factored this into his evaluation of scientific […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: