When I started working last month on a news feature about gaps in climate science I was expecting a tough reporting job. Too fresh, so I thought, were the scars the field and many leading scientists had received from the hacking affair at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Norwich to readily discuss with a reporter the ‘dirty laundry’ (my phrase) of climate science.
My concerns proved unfounded. Some of the scientists I interviewed for the piece did complain about the “insane” climate of suspicion they are working in, and not only since the CRU incident rocked the field. But none of them had the slightest reservation about openly speaking with me at length about gaps and uncertainties in their respective fields of inquiry.
As one would expect, there are indeed many gaps to be filled in this still rather young discipline of research. My feature describes unressolved problems in four specific areas – regional climate prediction, precipitation changes, aerosols, and tree ring-based temperature reconstructions. None of the considerable uncertainties related with these things have been kept secret by any means; but all four have led, and continue to do so, to enduring misconceptions and false claims which deserve better clarification and greater open discussion in the public and policy spheres. I have also taken a closer look at some of the favourite ‘myths’ that keep circulating among the climate sceptics community and beyond, such as that global warming stopped ten years ago.
An accompanying editorial, drawing upon sociological insight, argues that the climate-research community should use a diverse set of voices, from different backgrounds, when communicating with policy-makers and the public, and that scientists should be careful not to disparage those on the other side of the debate.
“The messenger,” the editorial concludes, “matters perhaps just as much as the message.”