If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Voicing Restrained Skepticism

February 14, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 7

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.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.