In The Economists’ World in 2013 edition, I came across a very interesting statement about forecast uncertainty, and just who are the ones doing all the squirming about it.
…recent reforms to the IPCC’s procedures will do little to change its tendency to focus on the areas where there is greater consensus, avoiding the uncertainties which, though unpalatable for scientists, are important to policy. (link)
What struck me about this claim is that it runs completely counter to what I’ve been told during my training as a scientist. It is the scientist, it goes, that possesses a deep understanding of uncertainty. The policy maker, on the other hand, is an oaf who wishes to hear only of black and white pronouncements about the effect of x on y. Could it be that this perception is inverted in each camp?
Certainly the scientist and policy maker each wish to decrease uncertainty. However, it ought to be that neither finds it ‘unpalatable’ in and of itself, but rather an inextricable part of our predictions about complex systems (or even the simplest ones, for that matter). Acknowledgement, understanding, and quantification of uncertainty are absolutely crucial to conducting good science as well as informing science directed policy.