Monday, February 22, 2010

The Dunning-Kruger effect and the climate debate

A wonderful article by John Cook at Skeptical Science about how the dreaded Dunning-Kruger Effect affects climate science debate.

Cook writes,

The most common example is the argument, "why don't climate scientists look up and see that big, fiery ball in the sky - don't they realise the sun drives climate?" In actuality, climate scientists have noticed the big, fiery ball in the sky that provides almost all our climate's energy. Consequently, there are a multitude of peer-reviewed studies examining the sun's role in global warming. These studies have independently come to the conclusion the sun has not shown enough trend to have contributed significantly to recent global warming. More recent papers using the latest data have found the sun is actually moving in the opposite direction to climate. Eg - the sun has been cooling while the climate is warming.

The second most common example of the Dunning-Kruger effect is "don't climate scientists realise climate has changed naturally in the past?" If one peruses the peer-reviewed science, they'll find that yes, climate scientists do realise that climate has changed in the past. There is a whole field of science devoted to examining and understanding past climate change: paleoclimatology. And what scientists find in the Earth's past is that the planet is highly sensitive to changes in energy imbalance. When our climate loses or gains heat, positive feedbacks amplify the temperature change. This is one (of many) lines of evidence that tell us our climate is sensitive to CO2 forcing.

How does one counter the Dunning-Kruger effect, in others or in themselves? Dunning and Kruger propose that improving a person's skills helps them recognise the limitations of their abilities. If there's a question about an aspect of climate science, the first step should be to investigate and improve understanding of the science. Odds are climate scientists have investigated the same question in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Use Google Scholar to find out papers on the topic.

A fun read!

No comments:

Post a Comment