Should we assess climate model predictions in light of severe tests?



[1] According to Austro-British philosopher Karl Popper, a system of theoretical claims is scientific only if it is methodologically falsifiable, i.e., only if systematic attempts to falsify or severely test the system are being carried out [Popper, 2005, pp. 20, 62]. He holds that a test of a theoretical system is severe if and only if it is a test of the applicability of the system to a case in which the system's failure is likely in light of background knowledge, i.e., in light of scientific assumptions other than those of the system being tested [Popper, 2002, p. 150]. Popper counts the 1919 tests of general relativity's then unlikely predictions of the deflection of light in the Sun's gravitational field as severe. An implication of Popper's above condition for being a scientific theoretical system is the injunction to assess theoretical systems in light of how well they have withstood severe testing. Applying this injunction to assessing the quality of climate model predictions (CMPs), including climate model projections, would involve assigning a quality to each CMP as a function of how well it has withstood severe tests allowed by its implications for past, present, and nearfuture climate or, alternatively, as a function of how well the models that generated the CMP have withstood severe tests of their suitability for generating the CMP.


I thank Henk Dijkstra, Jos de Laat, and this article's four referees for their helpful comments.