Communicating Uncertainty to Policymakers: The Ineliminable Role of Values

  • Eric Winsberg


Climate science evaluates hypotheses about the climate using computer simulations and complex models. The models that drive these simulations, moreover, represent the efforts of many different agents, and they arise from a compounding set of methodological choices whose effects are epistemically inscrutable. These facts, I argue in this chapter, make it extremely difficult for climate scientists to estimate the degrees of uncertainty associated with these hypotheses that are free from the influences of past preferences—preferences both with regard to importance of one prediction over another and with regard to avoidance of false positive over false negatives and vice versa. This leaves an imprint of non-epistemic values in the nooks and crannies of climate science.



Thanks to Kevin Elliot, Rebecca Kukla, Elisabeth Lloyd, Wendy Parker, Isabelle Peschard, Bas van Fraassen, and Jessica Williams for helpful comments, criticisms, and suggestions as I worked on this manuscript. And thanks to all the participants at conferences and colloquia where I have presented earlier versions of this work, including at the Technical University Eindhoven, San Francisco State University, Georgetown University, the 2010 AGU meeting in San Francisco, and the University of South Florida, and at the 2011 Eastern APA Author Meets Critics session. Too many helpful suggestions, comments, and criticisms have been made to keep track of. Thanks to Justin Biddle and Johannes Lenhard for working with me on previous projects (see the bibliography) that have contributed immeasurably to my understanding of these topics.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Winsberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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