Voicing Restrained Skepticism | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 7 | p. 2 | Letters
Issue Date: February 14, 2011

Voicing Restrained Skepticism

Department: Letters

In 1994, Naomi Oreskes et al. wrote an article that I have since circulated among our students as an example of sober thinking (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.263.5147.641). Therein, the authors emphatically state that “verification and validation of numerical models of natural systems is impossible … the predictive power [of models] is always open to question … even if a model result is consistent with present and past observational data, there is no guarantee that the model will perform at an equal level when used to predict the future … a model, like a novel, may resonate with nature, but it is not a ‘real’ thing.”

According to a C&EN article, Oreskes believes that climate-change deniers exaggerate the inherent uncertainty of science research as a way to delay policy action (C&EN, Dec. 20, 2010, page 40). It says she also believes that “the media and public don’t distinguish areas of scientific expertise; they don’t realize that a weapons physicist is not an expert on climate modeling or cell biology.” It adds that she’s interested in “how scientific consensus is undermined by people who have never published a peer-reviewed article on topics about which they loudly voice opinions.”

I infer that it is acceptable to be skeptical of models, but it is unacceptable to “exaggerate” such skepticism. Please, define exaggerate so I can keep passing Oreskes’ 1994 paper with aplomb. Also, can I, as a physical chemist, have valid opinions on this topic if I promise not to loudly voice them?

Agustin J. Colussi
Pasadena, Calif.

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