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3 - The Performance of Science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2013

Mike Hulme
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

Introduction

In February 2007, American physicist Fred Singer and biologist Dennis Avery published a book in the USA called Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 years. The authors argued that the warming currently being observed around the world is part of a natural 1,500-year cycle in solar energy and that, consequently, attempts to reduce global warming this century by controlling human-originated emissions of greenhouse gases are largely futile. That same month the Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. Here it was claimed that ‘most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid twentieth century is very likely [i.e. more than 90 per cent chance] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations’.

These claims cannot both be true: the observed warming cannot be largely due to changes in solar energy and at the same time be due mainly to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. Both claims might be wrong, but they cannot both be right. One common expectation of science is that it should be able to adjudicate between such competing claims to truth: seeking out evidence, testing that evidence and distinguishing between fact and error.

The above example concerns the ability of science to evaluate the veracity of the proposed causes of climate change. Another important contribution of science to debates about climate change is its attempt to establish the value of what is known as the climate sensitivity (see p. 47 for definition).

Type
Chapter
Information
Why We Disagree about Climate Change
Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity
, pp. 72 - 108
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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References

Collins, H. and Evans, R. (2007) Rethinking expertise. University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Funtowicz, S.O. and Ravetz, J.R. (1993) Science for a post-normal age. Futures 25, 739–55.CrossRef
Miller, C.A. C.A. and Edwards, P.N (eds) (2001) Changing the atmosphere: expert knowledge and environmental governance. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.
Millstone, E. (2005) Analysing the role of science in public policy-making. Chapter 2 in Zwanenberg, P. and Millstone, E. (eds), BSE: risk, science and governance. Oxford University Press.
Pielke, R. Jr (2007) The honest broker: making sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge University Press.
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  • The Performance of Science
  • Mike Hulme, University of East Anglia
  • Book: Why We Disagree about Climate Change
  • Online publication: 05 April 2013
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511841200.005
Available formats
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  • The Performance of Science
  • Mike Hulme, University of East Anglia
  • Book: Why We Disagree about Climate Change
  • Online publication: 05 April 2013
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511841200.005
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • The Performance of Science
  • Mike Hulme, University of East Anglia
  • Book: Why We Disagree about Climate Change
  • Online publication: 05 April 2013
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511841200.005
Available formats
×