Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How should science be presented to the public

David Dickson has an interesting editorial on SciDev.Net dealing with Climategate and the impact of the hacking and release of the emails on those discussing global climate change. He points out, correctly I believe, that scientists are more human than the formalized reports of their research would suggest to the non-scientist. The ideas of what to study, how to study it, how to report results, and especially how to interpret the meaning of the results all are very human and often are worked out in small group discussions, even sometimes in email exchanges.

Dickson suggests that the IPCC having presented the conclusion that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and will increase in this century as the result of a more ethereal process than it really is, allowed critics to unduly undermine confidence in the conclusion when the public saw something of the process.

There is an old saying that like sausage, it is better not to see how laws are made. Scientific culture seems to feel that it is also better for the public not to see how science is really made.

My experience as a researcher and as an administrator of scientific programs suggests that people do work very seriously to make science and that their opinions, when based on their professional background and research, are generally worthy of respect. The IPCC was an exceptionally serious effort to reach a valid conclusion, similar to perhaps the Cochrane Collaboration which seeks to identify the conclusions of biomedical research that are sufficiently sound for medical standards to be based upon.

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