Dealing with uncertainty



Juan G. Roederer raises some difficult questions in his Forum article “The Challenge of Global Change” (Eos, Sept. 18, 1990): “How can we sustain a public sense of the common danger of global change while remaining honest in view of the realities of scientific uncertainties? How can we nurture this sense of common danger without making statements based on half-baked ideas, statistically unreliable results, or oversimplified models? How can we strike a balance between the need to overstate a case to attract the attention of the media and the obligation to adhere strictly to the ethos of science?”

There are no easy answers to these questions since debate and uncertainty characterize most scientific advancements. Also, it is often very difficult in the early stages of those advancements to determine which ideas are “half-baked,” which results are “statistically unreliable,” or which models are “oversimplified.”