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Climate science and climate change: Epistemological and methodological issues

Du Jeudi 21 juillet 2011 19:10 au Vendredi 22 juillet 2011, 03:00

Affiliated symposium to the CLMPS conference

Date: Thursday, July 21

Place: Nancy, faculté de droit, see the CLMPS program for more details.


- 10h10-10h30 : introduction. Thierry Martin, président de la SPS ; Anouk Barberousse, Cyrille Imbert, Stéphanie Ruphy, organizers
- 10h30-11h20 : Franck Lecocq, economist (INRA)
- 11h30-12h20 : Lenny Smith, Professor in Statistics (Research). Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series
- 12h20-14h15 : lunch
- 14h15-15h05 : Wendy Parker, philosopher (Ohio State University)
- 15h15-16h05 : Minh Ha-Duong, economist (CIRED)
- 16h05-16h35 : break
- 16h35-17h25 : Roman Frigg, philosopher (London School of Economics).
- 17h25-18h00 : discussion

Each talk will be devoted roughly 30/35 min ; 15/20 minutes will be kept for discussion.

Description of the affiliated symposium

The SPS (Société de Philosophie des Sciences, organizes a symposium about climate science, which will be affiliated to the CLMPS Congress (Nancy, July 19 - 26 2011).

The purpose of this symposium is to have a pluridisciplinary dialogue about questions related to climate science and climate change. We first intend to discuss epistemological and methodological issues related to the use of complex models and simulations in climate science such as the evaluation of uncertainty in the results obtained from the simulations or the way evidence is assessed. We also wish to address social, economical and political issues related to the previous, epistemological questions. The symposium may favor constructive dialogue about the meaning of the precaution principle and about the way it can be implemented; about the way the interest of future generations can be taken into account, the costs of climate change are estimated, and rational decisions can be taken in this context of partial uncertainty.


- Anouk Barberousse chargée de recherches HDR, Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques UMR 8590 CNRS - Université Paris 1 – ENS,

- Cyrille Imbert , membre du bureau de la SPS, chargé de recherches aux Archives Poincaré, UMR 7117 CNRS, Université Nancy 2,

- Stéphanie Ruphy , secrétaire générale de la SPS, maître de conferences HDR, université de Provence


- Roman Frigg , philosopher (London School of Economics)

title: “Decision-Making with Climate Models”

Climate models are widely used to make forecasts, which provide the basis for far-reaching policy decisions. However, upon closer examination it turns out that climate models do not actually warrant the probabilistic forecasts that are commonly derived from them: due to their intrinsic imperfection and nonlinearity, they cannot be used to calculate decision-relevant probabilities. Although the IPPC has recognised this fact, no research in to other methods of prediction has been carried out. It is the aim of an ongoing project address this issue by first investigating how and why exactly probabilistic predictions break down in climate models, and then develop alternative methods to get around the problem. The proposal is that probabilistic reasoning should be given up altogether. Models should be used to calculate non-probabilistic odds for certain events, and these should be used to guide decision making. We introduce both the problem and the proposal and illustrate it with a simple example.

- Minh Ha-Duong , economist (CIRED)

title: "Review of risk and uncertainty concepts for climate change assessments including human dimensions

This paper discusses aspects of risk and uncertainty relevant in an interdisciplinary assessment of climate change policy. It opposes not only the objective approach versus the subjective approach, but also situations when precise probabilities are well founded versus situations of broader forms of ignorance such as Knightian or deep uncertainty, incompleteness, vagueness. Still, many human dimensions such as strategic uncertainties, surprises, metaphysics, taboos and epistemic uncertainties remain missing from the IPCC guidelines' systematic typology.

- Franck Lecocq, economist (INRA)

title: "At risk of the very long run: How economics can inform climate decision?"

From an economist point of view, climate change can be seen as a typical externality problem between a "polluter" whose activities impact, via the environment, the welfare of a "pollutee". The method and tools developed to approach externalities thus apply to the climate change problem (i.e., finding the optimal level of pollution, choosing a policy instrument to internalize the externality, dealing with distributive issues). But because of three characteristics, climate change tests the limits of this model. First, uncertainty, inertia and increasing information force the analyst to switch from a ballistic to a sequential decision-making approach. Second, the long time-horizon of the climate problem questions our ability to costs and benefits across distant generations. Finally, all sectors and all countries are concerned one way or another with the climate problem, thereby making distributive issues very acute. In this context, economics cannot reveal "the" solution, but it can provide insights on the degree of consistency between proposed actions against climate change, stated preferences and beliefs about the characteristics of the future.

- Wendy Parker, philosopher (Ohio State University)

title: “Conveying Uncertainty: Ownership, Justification and Robustness”

In a recent paper examining how ensembles of climate models are used to investigate uncertainty about future climate change, I suggested that depictions of scientific uncertainty offered to decision makers should meet three requirements, which I referred to as "ownership", "justification", and "robustness". In this talk, I will take a closer look at what these three requirements amount to in practice. I will also consider whether they are purely epistemic in character or whether they stem in part from ethical considerations. In addition, I will explain why, so far, most attempts to depict uncertainty using probability density functions (PDFs) over climate change outcomes fail to meet at least one of my three requirements.
An overarching aim of the talk will be to encourage further discussion of how to represent and communicate uncertainty about future climate change.

- Lenny Smith, Professor in Statistics (Research). Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series

title: “Insight or Numbers? Distinguishing Climate Science from Climate Modelling”

Climate science gives us insight into how the Earth is likely to evolve, with and without anthropogenic perturbations. Detailed observations of the past, along with insights of the laws of physics, allow an understanding of the dynamics of the Earth System. It is not so clear exactly what climate models give us: qualitatively they illustrate how Earth-ish like planets (missing critical phenomena of known importance) respond to detailed changes in the composition of the atmosphere, for instance. Quantitatively, they do not resemble our Earth very closely, if closely is defined in terms of those things that influence human decision making. Relative to Jupiter, or course, they do resemble an Earth, albeit one with somewhat different laws of physics. We can always look at how the model changes under, say, doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the model-atmosphere, but why should the "changes" be informative in a complex nonlinear mathematical model, when there are large differences between the base state of the model and that of the planet modelled? (Large in that the range of systematic "errors" in the base state of the model is larger than the "changes" detected!) This talk will focus on exploring the link, of any, between the diversity of our models and the uncertainty in our future.

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