The Propaganda Continues VI Jan 29, 2010 9:15:45 GMT -5
Post by Big Bunny on Jan 29, 2010 9:15:45 GMT -5
UK's top scientist urges care in presenting results of climate change
* Haroon Siddique
* The Guardian, Wednesday 27 January 2010
A failure by some scientists to be candid on the uncertainty of predicting the rate of climate change is to blame for fuelling scepticism about such predictions, according the government's chief scientific adviser.
John Beddington's comments come in the wake of an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a claim in its 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 was unfounded. The admission has been used as ammunition by climate change sceptics, who say the public is being misled.
Beddington said scientists should give a caveat to their predictions where there was uncertainty, and release source data "wherever possible" – but added that uncertainty was no excuse for inaction. "I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper scepticism," he tells the Times newspaper today. "Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed."
He said the false claim in the IPCC's report was symptomatic of a wider problem with the way evidence was presented in the field of climate science. "Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate," he said. "We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There's definitely an issue there. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, 'There's a level of uncertainty about that'."
He explained that large-scale climate modelling using computers meant "quite substantial uncertainties" which needed to be communicated. While it was unchallengeable that burning fossil fuels released CO2 that warms the Earth, "where you can get challenges is on the speed of change".
He acknowledged that where source data was released there was a danger it could be manipulated, "but the benefits from being open far outweigh that danger".
The head of the University of East Anglia's climatic research unit, Professor Phil Jones, stepped down last year while an investigation was conducted into emails leaked from the unit and seized upon by climate change deniers as alleged evidence that scientists had been hiding and manipulating data to support the view that the world is warming up. Shortly after the row, the Met Office released data which showed a rise in the global temperature.
Beddington said the fact that scientists were not 100% certain about every aspect of climate science did not make ignoring the phenomenon a risk worth running.
The IPCC and its head, Rajendra Pachauri, have also come under fire for another claim in its 2007 report – that the cost of natural disasters had risen gradually since 1970 due to climate change. But the IPCC released a statement yesterday saying that the Sunday Times report which carried the allegation was incorrect, insisting that the IPCC had provided a "balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue". While the IPCC admitted that it was wrong about the Himalayan glaciers, scientists maintain that glaciers are melting at historically high rates.