The IPCC, the UN climate panel, needs to be more professionally organized and allow sceptics more space, concludes the InterAcademy Council (IAC), which has investigated the IPCC’s way of working. Will this restore confidence in climate science? Doubt is part of science, says Professor of Communication Science Cees van Woerkum.
'Another good proposal by the IAC is that uncertainties and disagreements between climate scientists should be mentioned more often. In doing this, the IPCC should take good care about how the message to the outside world is worded. Many people, including policymakers, expect science to come up with certainties. And the media keep that idea going. But that is not the way science works. Scientific research uses consistent methods to obtain data that come close to the truth, but they remain approximations with a degree of probability. There is no alternative but to give the public and policymakers a more realistic picture of how science works.
'More openness about procedures and authors can be useful here. But scientists themselves also have an ethical obligation to make sure their results are properly understood and used. They cannot just leave that to the media, but are themselves responsible for providing scientifically sound and yet comprehensible accounts of their research.
'Confidence in climate science has been severely dented and it will take years to restore it. There will always be critics, and that is as it should be. As long as the public is capable of seeing that scientific data collected by a large group of scientists in a consistent manner is worth more than the scepticism of a one person.'