Tag Archives: Uncertainty

Climate scientists 3 Economists 0

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Hold up the trophy. Open the champagne. Climate scientists have easily won the game. According to a recent study, when it comes to the accuracy of forecasts and projections, the climate side is much better at the game  than the economists’ team. London, 14 March – The study, by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a UK based independent think-tank, examines the accuracy and precision of projections made by both climate scientists and economists over the past 20 years. First, the economists. The study looked at measures commonly used in long term UK government economic modelling and decision making, using 1995 as a baseline: the population forecast for England and the forecast for the UK Treasury’s  debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. In the US, the forecasts on oil prices over the period made by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) were also examined.

Economic inaccuracies

The NEF finds the economists’ projections both inaccurate and imprecise in all three areas.  The economists saw the population of England growing at a fairly modest level from 1995 to the present – from around 49 million 20 years ago to 51.5 million now. In fact England’s population has risen steeply, particularly over the past 10 years and is now approaching 54 million.  The UK Treasury’s forecasts on the GDP to forecasts on the debt to GDP ratio fared no better, displaying “a bias towards optimism in government economic forecasts” says the study. Meanwhile the crystal ball gazing of economists at the EIA was a miserable failure: they predicted oil prices rising on a gentle curve in the 15 years 1995 to 2010. In fact prices have been extremely volatile, rising at some points by more than five times the predicted figure. And of course, the most damning judgement of the financial boffins forecasting skills is the failure of nearly all economic pundits to predict the 2008 recession.

Better projections

Contrast this with predictions made by climate scientists over the past 20 years, in particular those made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Again the NEF looks at three specific areas of projection – carbon concentration in the atmosphere, the temperature anomaly and forecasts since 1995 of sea level rise.  There can be no doubt of the result, says the study. “Climate models outperform major economic forecasts on accuracy… global temperature, sea level and carbon concentration have all risen within the ranges originally forecast (by the IPCC) in 1995.” While on one level this can be looked at as a bit of amusing sparring between two academic disciplines, there is serious business going on here. The NEF makes the point that despite the dubious track record of economic forecasting, many government policy decisions are based on the data offered up.

Devious deniers

Meanwhile the climate deniers have succeeded in highlighting the narrow bands of uncertainty in the work of climate scientists – stalling action on the issue. Sections of the media collude in this process. “This emphasis on uncertainty has a negative impact on climate progress” says the report. “It slows down environmental policy and corrodes the public will to act.” The NEF draws attention to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report and its revised estimate of certainty – up to 95% – that humans have been the main cause of global warming from 1950 to the present. “This 95% has a precise scientific meaning. It is higher than the certainty that vitamins are good for your health and equivalent to the certainty that cigarettes cause lung cancer.” Despite this, the climate denial bandwagon continues to roll along. “We often hear the argument that climate models are too uncertain to bother taking action, but this is not borne out by the facts” says Aniol Esteban, the head of environmental economics at the NEF. “We can’t go on making huge policy and investment decisions based on financial advice no more reliable than a coin flip, while at the same time discrediting climate models with a 20 year track record of accuracy. The double standard has to end now.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Hold up the trophy. Open the champagne. Climate scientists have easily won the game. According to a recent study, when it comes to the accuracy of forecasts and projections, the climate side is much better at the game  than the economists’ team. London, 14 March – The study, by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a UK based independent think-tank, examines the accuracy and precision of projections made by both climate scientists and economists over the past 20 years. First, the economists. The study looked at measures commonly used in long term UK government economic modelling and decision making, using 1995 as a baseline: the population forecast for England and the forecast for the UK Treasury’s  debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. In the US, the forecasts on oil prices over the period made by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) were also examined.

Economic inaccuracies

The NEF finds the economists’ projections both inaccurate and imprecise in all three areas.  The economists saw the population of England growing at a fairly modest level from 1995 to the present – from around 49 million 20 years ago to 51.5 million now. In fact England’s population has risen steeply, particularly over the past 10 years and is now approaching 54 million.  The UK Treasury’s forecasts on the GDP to forecasts on the debt to GDP ratio fared no better, displaying “a bias towards optimism in government economic forecasts” says the study. Meanwhile the crystal ball gazing of economists at the EIA was a miserable failure: they predicted oil prices rising on a gentle curve in the 15 years 1995 to 2010. In fact prices have been extremely volatile, rising at some points by more than five times the predicted figure. And of course, the most damning judgement of the financial boffins forecasting skills is the failure of nearly all economic pundits to predict the 2008 recession.

Better projections

Contrast this with predictions made by climate scientists over the past 20 years, in particular those made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Again the NEF looks at three specific areas of projection – carbon concentration in the atmosphere, the temperature anomaly and forecasts since 1995 of sea level rise.  There can be no doubt of the result, says the study. “Climate models outperform major economic forecasts on accuracy… global temperature, sea level and carbon concentration have all risen within the ranges originally forecast (by the IPCC) in 1995.” While on one level this can be looked at as a bit of amusing sparring between two academic disciplines, there is serious business going on here. The NEF makes the point that despite the dubious track record of economic forecasting, many government policy decisions are based on the data offered up.

Devious deniers

Meanwhile the climate deniers have succeeded in highlighting the narrow bands of uncertainty in the work of climate scientists – stalling action on the issue. Sections of the media collude in this process. “This emphasis on uncertainty has a negative impact on climate progress” says the report. “It slows down environmental policy and corrodes the public will to act.” The NEF draws attention to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report and its revised estimate of certainty – up to 95% – that humans have been the main cause of global warming from 1950 to the present. “This 95% has a precise scientific meaning. It is higher than the certainty that vitamins are good for your health and equivalent to the certainty that cigarettes cause lung cancer.” Despite this, the climate denial bandwagon continues to roll along. “We often hear the argument that climate models are too uncertain to bother taking action, but this is not borne out by the facts” says Aniol Esteban, the head of environmental economics at the NEF. “We can’t go on making huge policy and investment decisions based on financial advice no more reliable than a coin flip, while at the same time discrediting climate models with a 20 year track record of accuracy. The double standard has to end now.” – Climate News Network

Climate reporters 'must explain risk'

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 18 September
Reporting climate change as a disaster story, or as something intrinsically uncertain, may be less helpful than describing it in terms of the risks it entails, according to a UK study.

LONDON, 18 September – Doubtful about climate change? Confused by it? Or scared out of your wits? Then perhaps what you’re being told about it is not helping you to get the full story.

A study from the University of Oxford suggests that the way in which climate change is framed too often speaks simply of  uncertainty, when it could be more helpful to speak as well of risk.

What is seldom helpful, it says, is to try explaining climate change simply as a looming disaster – a trap into which many journalists and some scientists can fall.

The study says blending the two themes can sometimes work: “Using the language of risk in the context of uncertainty can be a helpful way of presenting the problem to policy makers; but more research is needed about the effect on the general public of different types of risk language…”

The study is based on an examination of around 350 articles published in three newspapers in each of six countries (the UK, France, Australia, India, Norway and the USA) between 2007 and 2012, with a combined circulation of at least 15 million readers.

The work of researchers from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), which is part of the university, it finds that the messages which readers receive are chiefly those of disaster or uncertainty.

The researchers found what they call a disaster narrative in 82% of the articles in the sample, and a similar proportion about uncertainty. Explanations of the explicit risks of different policy options featured in just 26% of the articles surveyed, and around 25% mentioned the opportunities presented by climate change.

But these were overwhelmingly the opportunities from not doing anything about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only five articles (under 2%) mentioned the opportunities from switching to a low-carbon economy.

Hard to understand

“Explicit risk” is a term used in the study to mean articles where the word “risk” was used, where the odds, probabilities or chance of something adverse happening were given, or where everyday concepts or language relating to insurance, betting, or the precautionary principle were included.

The study concludes that advances in climate modelling and attribution are likely to lead to what it calls the “more helpful” language of explicit risk being increasingly used by journalists.

The sample covered two reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007; the IPCC report on weather extremes in 2012; and the recent melt of Arctic sea ice.

The study’s lead author, James Painter, says: “There is plenty of evidence showing that in many countries, the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance. We also know that disaster messages can be a turnoff, so for some people risk may be a more helpful language to use in this debate.

“Journalists are generally attracted to gloom and doom stories, but they are going to become more exposed to the language and concept of risks in covering climate science…

“For policy makers, this should shift the debate away from what would count as conclusive proof towards a more helpful analysis of the comparative costs and risks of following different policy options.”

Not waiting for certainty

The study forms the basis of a book by James Painter, Climate Change in the Media – Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, published on 18 September.

Describing human-caused climate change as “probably the greatest challenge this century”, he says scientific uncertainty is often misunderstood, particularly by non-scientists, and misinterpreted as ignorance: “Many people fail to recognise the distinction between ‘school science’, which is a source of solid facts and reliable understanding, and ‘research science’ where uncertainty is engrained and is often the impetus for further investigation.”

To talk of risk, Painter argues, can shift public debate away from the idea that decisions should be delayed until there is conclusive proof or absolute certainty.

He writes: “There is also a growing body of literature suggesting that risk language may be a good, or at least a less bad, way of communicating climate change to the general public.”

The study’s recommendations include ensuring that journalists are better trained in writing about numbers and probabilities, “more use of probabilistic forecasting in public weather forecasting on television”, and more resources to enable the IPCC to communicate effectively. – Climate News Network

Climate Change in the Media – Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, by James Painter; published by the RISJ and IB Tauris

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Wednesday 18 September
Reporting climate change as a disaster story, or as something intrinsically uncertain, may be less helpful than describing it in terms of the risks it entails, according to a UK study.

LONDON, 18 September – Doubtful about climate change? Confused by it? Or scared out of your wits? Then perhaps what you’re being told about it is not helping you to get the full story.

A study from the University of Oxford suggests that the way in which climate change is framed too often speaks simply of  uncertainty, when it could be more helpful to speak as well of risk.

What is seldom helpful, it says, is to try explaining climate change simply as a looming disaster – a trap into which many journalists and some scientists can fall.

The study says blending the two themes can sometimes work: “Using the language of risk in the context of uncertainty can be a helpful way of presenting the problem to policy makers; but more research is needed about the effect on the general public of different types of risk language…”

The study is based on an examination of around 350 articles published in three newspapers in each of six countries (the UK, France, Australia, India, Norway and the USA) between 2007 and 2012, with a combined circulation of at least 15 million readers.

The work of researchers from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), which is part of the university, it finds that the messages which readers receive are chiefly those of disaster or uncertainty.

The researchers found what they call a disaster narrative in 82% of the articles in the sample, and a similar proportion about uncertainty. Explanations of the explicit risks of different policy options featured in just 26% of the articles surveyed, and around 25% mentioned the opportunities presented by climate change.

But these were overwhelmingly the opportunities from not doing anything about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only five articles (under 2%) mentioned the opportunities from switching to a low-carbon economy.

Hard to understand

“Explicit risk” is a term used in the study to mean articles where the word “risk” was used, where the odds, probabilities or chance of something adverse happening were given, or where everyday concepts or language relating to insurance, betting, or the precautionary principle were included.

The study concludes that advances in climate modelling and attribution are likely to lead to what it calls the “more helpful” language of explicit risk being increasingly used by journalists.

The sample covered two reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007; the IPCC report on weather extremes in 2012; and the recent melt of Arctic sea ice.

The study’s lead author, James Painter, says: “There is plenty of evidence showing that in many countries, the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance. We also know that disaster messages can be a turnoff, so for some people risk may be a more helpful language to use in this debate.

“Journalists are generally attracted to gloom and doom stories, but they are going to become more exposed to the language and concept of risks in covering climate science…

“For policy makers, this should shift the debate away from what would count as conclusive proof towards a more helpful analysis of the comparative costs and risks of following different policy options.”

Not waiting for certainty

The study forms the basis of a book by James Painter, Climate Change in the Media – Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, published on 18 September.

Describing human-caused climate change as “probably the greatest challenge this century”, he says scientific uncertainty is often misunderstood, particularly by non-scientists, and misinterpreted as ignorance: “Many people fail to recognise the distinction between ‘school science’, which is a source of solid facts and reliable understanding, and ‘research science’ where uncertainty is engrained and is often the impetus for further investigation.”

To talk of risk, Painter argues, can shift public debate away from the idea that decisions should be delayed until there is conclusive proof or absolute certainty.

He writes: “There is also a growing body of literature suggesting that risk language may be a good, or at least a less bad, way of communicating climate change to the general public.”

The study’s recommendations include ensuring that journalists are better trained in writing about numbers and probabilities, “more use of probabilistic forecasting in public weather forecasting on television”, and more resources to enable the IPCC to communicate effectively. – Climate News Network

Climate Change in the Media – Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, by James Painter; published by the RISJ and IB Tauris