Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/2440/120910
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Type: Journal article
Title: Statistical language backs conservatism in climate-change assessments
Author: Herrando-Pérez, S.
Bradshaw, C.
Lewandowsky, S.
Vieites, D.
Citation: BioScience, 2019; 69(3):209-219
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Issue Date: 2019
ISSN: 0006-3568
1525-3244
Statement of
Responsibility: 
Salvador Herrando-Pérez, Corey J A Bradshaw, Stephan Lewandowsky, David R Vieites
Abstract: The scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is empirically settled, but communicating it to nonscientific audiences remains challenging. To be explicit about the state of knowledge on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has adopted a vocabulary that ranks climate findings through certainty-calibrated qualifiers of confidence and likelihood. In this article, we quantified the occurrence of knowns and unknowns about “The Physical Science Basis” of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report by counting the frequency of calibrated qualifiers. We found that the tone of the IPCC's probabilistic language is remarkably conservative (mean confidence is medium, and mean likelihood is 66%–100% or 0–33%), and emanates from the IPCC recommendations themselves, complexity of climate research, and exposure to politically motivated debates. Leveraging communication of uncertainty with overwhelming scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change should be one element of a wider reform, whereby the creation of an IPCC outreach working group could enhance the transmission of climate science to the panel's audiences.
Keywords: Climate change; communication; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; terminology; uncertainty
Rights: © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved.
RMID: 0030112758
DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biz004
Grant ID: http://purl.org/au-research/grants/arc/DP160103596
Appears in Collections:Environment Institute publications

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