Why the Word 'Uncertainty' Has Gotten Us into Climate Change Trouble

john ashton photoAnother interesting point brought up during the first day of the Copenhagen Climate Congress was made by John Ashton of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Uncertainty means something different to politicians than it does to scientists; and politicians have taken advantage of it, often using it as an excuse for inaction:

"Words mean different things: Uncertainty to a politician often means, 'Come back and tell me when you know whether this is a problem or not.'"

Uncertainty to a scientist often means, 'Well, there's a signal, but there's an uncertainty in the amplitude of that signal; we don't know quite how big it is. It may be 4 or it may be 6.'"
"There are plenty of people in the political world who are quite happy to abuse the rigor that scientists bring to the ways in which they communicate to serve political purposes which are not necessarily those which the communicators were intending to serve. Politics is a shark infested sea, in that sense."

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