Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Understanding Global Warming- Consensus Via Committees

This is an important summary by Spencer Weart, historian emeritus at the American Institute of Physics, Maryland, on the growth of our understand of the risks posed by global warming. He does not point to any particular scientist or specific scientific papers that provided "breakthroughs" in our understanding of climate change and global warming. Instead, he says that the real actors were various committees set up to collate the diverse research done on climate change and to come up with a consensus on the risks climate change poses to humans.

A closer look, if I had much more space, would certainly turn up plenty of individuals, along with lots of mistakes and controversies about details. Each new idea was first brought up by someone and then argued out at length. Our history of committees is like the swan that glides serenely on the surface while paddling furiously underneath. Still, I haven’t been telling a Whig history, reconstructing after the fact an understanding that never existed at the time. In this peculiar case a consensus was constructed by committees on the fly, a consensus that became increasingly detailed and certain decade by decade. The topic was so important that people recognized very early on that it could not be left to a few individuals making statements to the newspapers. Experts had to analyze the entirety of the peer-reviewed literature, even have elaborate computer studies done expressly for their use, and get together to hammer out conclusions that everyone could agree were scientifically sound. To be sure, in some areas they could only agree on the extent of their uncertainty, but that, too, was a genuine and important scientific conclusion.

and this on public perception ..

I submit that a major problem in communicating climate realities to the public is that the media, and everyone else addressing the public, feature individual scientists and their discoveries and disagreements. We have scarcely come to grips with committee consensus, a different kind of history of science. You will find no account digging into details of committee deliberations. I haven’t been able to do it here, and I am not sanguine about prospects for getting it done. In fact, the IPCC and the NAS and their members have been highly reluctant to make public any documents or recollections about just what goes on in the committee deliberations. Only recently, under pressure from critics, has the IPCC made its review process entirely transparent to the public. Be that as it may, I suggest historians and social scientists should give more attention to those committees. If we did, the public would have a better idea of how “science” comes to say what it does say about global warming —and a good many other issues.

Read the article here..

HT @aboutgeology 

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