How did local weather situations lose contact with actuality – anticipate?

A failure of self-correcting in science has impaired the ability of climate science to provide plausible views of our collective futures.

Of questions in science and technology

This is an excellent article by Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Ritchie. Here are some excerpts.

The integrity of science depends on its ability to convey an increasingly reliable picture of how the world works. Serious threats to this integrity have emerged over the past decade. The expectation that science is inherently self-correcting, cumulatively and progressively moving from false beliefs to the truth, has been challenged in numerous areas – including cancer research, neuroscience, hydrology, cosmology, and economics – as observers note that many published Results are of poor quality, subject to systemic bias, or cannot be reproduced.

In one particularly troubling example from the biomedical sciences, a 2015 literature search found that nearly 900 peer-reviewed publications reporting studies on an alleged breast cancer cell line were in fact based on a misidentified skin cancer line. Worse, nearly 250 of these studies were published even after the wrong cell line was definitively identified in 2007. Our cursory search on Google Scholar reveals that researchers are still using the skin cancer cell line in breast cancer studies published in 2021, flawed studies remain in the literature and will continue to be a source of misinformation for scientists working on breast cancer.

In 2021, climate research is in a similar situation to breast cancer research in 2007. Our research (and that of some colleagues) shows that greenhouse gas (GHG) scenarios by the end of the 21st century are based on outdated representations of the recent past. Since climate models depend on these scenarios in order to project future climate behavior, the outdated scenarios offer a misleading basis both for the development of a scientific evidence base and for the climate policy discussion. The ongoing misuse of scenarios in climate research is ubiquitous and momentous – so much so that we consider it one of the most significant failures of scientific integrity in the 21st century to date. We need a course correction.

By calling for this change, we emphasize explicitly and unequivocally that man-made climate change is real, that it harbors considerable risks for society and the environment, and that various political responses in the form of mitigation and adaptation are necessary and sensible. However, the reality and importance of climate change does not provide a rationale or excuse for avoiding questions of research integrity, nor does the reality and importance of breast cancer. On the contrary, urgency makes integrity all the more important.

Further in.

The emission scenarios that the climate community uses today as a basis for climate models depend on representations of the present that are no longer true. And as soon as the scenarios lost their reference to reality, the climate, impact and economic models, which are dependent on them for their future projections, also lost their reference to reality. However, these projections are a central part of the scientific basis on which climate policy-makers are now developing, discussing and adopting policies.

The article gives background and story about how we got here.

Then why did the IPCC choose RCP8.5 as the only business-as-usual baseline? Not because it would have explicitly ascribed it the most probable or even most plausible future in the world, although the designation implies both. Rather, it selected RCP8.5 in part to facilitate continuity with scenarios from past IPCC reports, both SRES and previous baseline scenarios, so that climate modeling research results are comparable over decades. It also chose RCP8.5 to help climate modelers study the differences between climate behavior under hypothetical extreme conditions of man-made climate forcing and natural variability. The difference between the high (8.5 W / m2) and low (2.6 W / m2) RCP drive paths created, as the developers of the scenario explained, “a good signal-to-noise ratio for evaluating the climate response in AOGCM” . [atmospheric-oceanic general circulation model] Simulations. ”The technical requirements of climate modeling and not climate policy have determined the design of IPCC scenarios.


During our research on the plausibility of IPCC scenarios, we found that not only RCP8.5 is implausible, but the entire set of basic scenarios used by the IPCC. In a way, this is not surprising. As events unfold in a complex world, even the short-term futures anticipated by scenarios will deviate from reality. In terms of scientific integrity, however, science’s reputation as a source of uniquely reliable knowledge depends on its inner self-correcting capacity. Rather, what we see in the RCPs (as in the example of breast cancer research after 2007) is a persistent admission of mistakes. It wouldn’t matter if climate scenarios had no impact on the world outside of science. But they are at the heart of scientific efforts to understand the future of climate change and the choices society makes about how to respond to it.

The authors summarize the topics very well.

The consequences of ubiquitous, implausible climate scenarios go far beyond the IPCC process and the scientific literature that made these scenarios possible. A continuing focus on implausible emission scenarios in climate research is a failure of the supposed internal quality assurance mechanisms of science and thus a failure of scientific integrity. The continued use of implausible scenarios leads to errors and distortions in climate research. They are now woven through the climate science literature in a way that will be very difficult to untangle.

Many of these thousands of published papers project future human, economic and environmental impacts of climate change that are far more extreme than an actual understanding of emissions and forcing pathways would likely suggest. As scientists’ knowledge of climate change continues to improve, perhaps one day scientists will conclude that the most extreme effects are plausible even with lower emission pathways. But that is currently not the consensus. And so those implausible projections of apocalyptic effects that get lost in the jargon are turned into claims – like in an extended phone game – by press releases, media reports and advocates that climate change is now catalyzing dramatic increases in extreme events like hurricanes, droughts and floods, events anticipating an impending global catastrophe.

At the same time, and unsurprisingly, some opponents of climate policy are politically exploiting the problems with the IPCC emissions scenarios. Groups like the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London and the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC highlight the abuse of RCP8.5 to challenge the overall quality and legitimacy of climate science and assessments. But unlike many attacks on climate science, these organizations have a good point on this one.

Implausible climate scenarios today also lead to errors and distortions in actual political and business decisions. For example, the US government derives its estimates of the social costs of carbon emissions, which it uses for the cost-benefit analysis of state regulations, from the IPCC scenarios. The financial sector is also adapting IPCC scenarios for its use. The emerging market for climate scenario products has resulted in a $ 40 billion climate intelligence industry involving well-known companies like Swiss Re and McKinsey and startups like Jupiter Intelligence and Cervest. These companies use implausible RCP scenarios to develop various predictive products that they sell to governments and industry who will rely on these products to make future policy and business decisions.

I highly recommend reading the full article here.


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