Climatic Change

, Volume 119, Issue 3–4, pp 559–560 | Cite as

On the “reality” and reality of anthropogenic climate change

  • Naomi OreskesEmail author
Springboard Commentary

Can scholars speak about the reality of climate change? By this I mean, can we fairly say that we know that anthropogenic climate change is real? Or is reality—and the very idea of knowing—something that needs to be continually qualified, by scare quotes or otherwise? Fifteen years ago this issue—broadly applied—erupted as a schism between social scientists who insisted on recognition of the social dimensions of scientific knowledge, and natural scientists who took such claims as an affront not just to their status and dignity, but to their ontology as well. [1]

The question of how well anthropogenic knowledge maps onto anthro-independent phenomena is scarcely new: philosophers from Plato to Kant famously grappled with it. In the 20th century Pierre Duhen and W.V.O. Quine, working from very different perspectives, stressed that empirical evidence never uniquely defines theoretical possibility; our theories are always, to one degree or another, under-determined by our evidence. [2] In...


Climate Change Global Warming Scientific Knowledge Climate Change Impact Tectonic Plate 
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Thanks to Nancy Cartwright for comments on an earlier version of this paper, and for guiding my thinking on all the most important issues.


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    Gross PR, Levitt N (1994). Higher superstitions: the academic left and its quarrels with science, Johns Hopkins Press; idem., 1997, The flight from science and reason, New York Academy of Sciences Press; see also Alan Sokal, 2010. Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, Oxford University Press. For a critique of Gross and Levitt from a historical perspective, see Norton Wise, “The enemy without. The enemy within: a review of Gross and Levitt, Higher Superstition” Isis 87 (1996)Google Scholar
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    Boyd R, Gasper P, Trout JD (eds) (1991) The Philosophy of Science, MIT Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
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    Oreskes N (1999) The rejection of continental drift: theory and method in American Earth Science, Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
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    Fallibilism is a strong argument for adaptive management, but it is not an excuse for quietism or no-nothingism. See Oreskes N (2011). “Working with uncertainty: ‘Unitisation and renegotiation’ as a model for science and environmental policy,” in The politics of science advice: institutional design for quality assurance. Lentsch J, Weingart P (eds), Cambridge University Press, pp. 36–53Google Scholar
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    Lahsen M (2013) Climategate: the role of the social sciences. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-013-0711-x Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History, 0104University of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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