On taking sides

I’m in the process of writing an article about climate modeling. There are a couple ways this could go. I could simply explain the ins and outs of climate modeling to the best of my ability, which results in a statement such as “climate models are based on x and y, etc. and can be used to predict z with some degree of uncertainty.” But let’s step back- why do I want to tell people about climate modeling? Because it’s a relevant policy topic with implications for how the world decides to respond to climate change. Some argue that models are too uncertain to be of use. Others argue that the overall message of our models is hardly uncertain despite some acceptable uncertainties in the specifics. And the models are all saying that the climate is warming and will continue to warm. So clearly, whether models are accepted is a pretty big deal. The answer to my original question, then – why am I writing this article? – is that I believe increasing peoples’ understanding of climate modeling will have some positive impact on the larger issue. If information, or if science, for that matter, is not relevant to the wider world in some way then who really cares? So if the relevant topic is uncertainty in climate models, and the purpose of my article is to contribute to the larger issue, then what good is it if I simply write an article that restates what it is that climate models do? Wouldn’t a more helpful approach be to give readers guidance as to how to interpret that information? This is where is gets tricky, because how do I do that without taking sides? If I explain why climate models are reliable despite “uncertainties,” then I’m taking a stance with political implications. Likewise, if I say anything to undermine that standpoint, I am supporting the opposite side. It seems that in science communication, once it moves beyond simply reporting the objective results of a study and begins to make that study relevant to broader issues, can become inescapably politicized. Is that a problem? Not necessarily, it just points to a need for science communicators who are able to reach out to readers across political boundaries and deliver thoroughly-researched content that does not alienate any particular viewpoint.

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