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Adjusting to Policy Expectations in Climate Change Modeling


This paper surveys and interprets the attitudes of scientists to the use of flux adjustments in climate projections with coupled Atmosphere Ocean General Circulation Models. The survey is based largely on the responses of 19 climate modellers to several questions and a discussion document circulated in 1995. We interpret the responses in terms of the following factors: the implicit assumptions which scientists hold about how the environmental policy process deals with scientific uncertainty over human-related global warming; the different scientific styles that exist in climate research; and the influence of organisations, institutions, and policy upon research agendas. We find evidence that scientists' perceptions of the policy process do play a role in shaping their scientific practices. In particular, many of our respondents expressed a preference for keeping discussion of the issue of flux adjustments within the climate modeling community, apparently fearing that climate contrarians would exploit the issue in the public domain. While this may be true, we point to the risk that such an approach may backfire. We also identify assumptions and cultural commitments lying at a deeper level which play at least as important a role as perceptions of the policy process in shaping scientific practices. This leads us to identify two groups of scientists, ‘pragmatists’ and ‘purists’, who have different implicit standards for model adequacy, and correspondingly are or are not willing to use flux adjustments.

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References and Notes

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    Wynne, B.: 1996, ‘SSK's Identity Parade: Signing Up, Off-and-On’, Soc. Stud. Sci. 26, 357–391. We are interested in going beyond the binary assumption that one party is right or wrong, or that someone somewhere can be correct and policy can flow unproblematically from such simple truth (as expressed, for example, in Wildavsky, A.: 1995, But Is It True?, Harvard, Mass., one chapter of which concerned the debate over global warming). The National Research Council report, ‘Understanding Risk’, (op. cit., note 1) provides a useful account of elements of what such an alternative might entail.

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Shackley, S., Risbey, J., Stone, P. et al. Adjusting to Policy Expectations in Climate Change Modeling. Climatic Change 43, 413–454 (1999).

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  • Global Warming
  • General Circulation Model
  • Policy Process
  • Scientific Practice
  • Ocean General Circulation Model