Skeptical Science New Research for Week #18, 2021

Bringing more certainty to uncertainty communications

For the armchair dilettante observer of scientific progress a solid literature review is something akin to going to Disneyland. It’s almost too much stimulation. When a review covers a salient, hot topic, so much the better. More seriously, literature reviews are an opportunity for a scientific community to “take stock,” identify where commonality of purpose might benefit and where gaps or discontinuities in knowledge are stubbornly lodged or newly developing. For the layperson, a review is a great way to gain a toehold on current understanding.

This week we’re pleased to feature a vast review focusing on a key factor controlling public thinking and hence policy progress toward remedying our unfortunate, accidental launching of rapid climate change. “Communications about uncertainty in scientific climate-related findings: a qualitative systematic review” by Astrid Kause et al provides a sweeping view of our best understanding of how people are dealing with the notion of uncertainty when thinking about climate, and how future research might best be directed. 

From the review, it’s safe to say there’s a lot of work left to be done in this arena; research into public thinking about uncertainty and climate change might be termed as in the “generating more questions” as opposed to “answering questions” phase.  As well, this field of inquiry affords what might be termed an embarrassment of riches in terms of suggestive, tentative findings begging for followup. Finally, there’s a lack of coordination or normalization around much of the mechanical aspect of this research work as practiced, such that forming “big picture” conclusions is somewhat stymied. 

Our understanding of uncertainty underpins our thinking about hazards and risks, in the face of what we know are very poor native cognitive skills in producing useful answers when confronted with this trio of probabilistic challenges. Subpar thinking skills in this department lead to bad decisions. Given the need for informed public engagement to drive political energy and – ultimately – useful policy formulation, we face a strong imperative to cement our understanding of and skill in helping the public to accurately perceive and productively think about uncertainty as it concerns climate change. Kause et al is open access, free to read, a diligently constructed snapshot of our present understanding of these matters. From the abstract:

We find that studies of communications about uncertainty in scientific climate-related findings substantially varied in how they operationalized uncertainty, as well as how they measured responses. Studies mostly focused on uncertainty stemming from conflicting information, such as diverging model estimates or experts, or from expressions of imprecision such as ranges. Among other things, users’ understanding was improved when climate communications about uncertainty in scientific climate-related findings were presented with explanations about why climate information was uncertain, and when ranges were presented with lower and upper numerical bounds. Users’ understanding also improved if they expressed stronger beliefs about climate change, or had better numerical skills. Based on these findings, we provide emerging recommendations on how to best present communications about uncertainty in scientific climate-related findings; and we identify research gaps.

126 Articles

 Physical science of climate change, effects

Early-onset of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation weakening in response to atmospheric CO2 concentration
Dima et al 2021 npj Climate and Atmospheric Science
Open Access pdf DOI: 10.1038/s41612-021-00182-x

#PLURV – the German #FLICC – getting popular in Germany

Longtime readers of what we are up to at Skeptical Science will be well aware of the FLICC taxonomy first suggested by Mark Hoofnagle in 2007, written about in Diethelm & McKnee (2009) and since then greatly enlarged by John Cook:


A much simpler FLICC-taxonomy first started out to be utilized in our MOOC Denial101x where it was used to explain and highlight the techniques used to distort the findings of climate science research. But even then it was pretty clear, that taking this kind of approach could be applied not just to climate science but to many other (science) areas. Right from the start of our MOOC we’ve had a section in our discussion forums asking the students to come up with FLICC-examples from other areas.

Report: All new cars and trucks in U.S. could be electric by 2035

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

Thinking ahead to what (and whether?) you may be driving – may have parked in your garage or driveway or parking lot – a few years from now? Like, for instance, in 2035?

Only with “robust” public policy initiatives as yet not on the books (and perhaps not even on the horizon?), could you find yourself choosing, whether a new passenger car or truck, from among only all-electric vehicles? That’s the case if the findings of a newly released analysis from the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues are to be believed.

The new reports, by Berkeley scholars and colleagues from the nonprofit group Energy Innovation, find (spoiler alert here: big caveat coming) that with “the right policy” across a number of areas, “all new cars and trucks sold in the United States can be powered by electricity by 2035.” Minus those policy adjustments, the researchers warn, “most of the potential to reduce emissions, cut transportation costs, and increase jobs will not be realized.”

(The sweeping studies described in this piece were made public just prior to news reports that the Biden administration was about to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 50% by just the end of this decade, requiring “profound changes at home,” the Washington Post reported.)

Technical and economic hurdles are ‘challenging but achievable’

“Political will, policy, and consumer acceptance – not technical or economic feasibility – are the largest barriers” to be overcome, the report authors write at one point.

In what must seem a blanket endorsement of EV proponents, they say their analyses demonstrate that improved battery technology, costs, manufacturing scale, and industry ambition will accelerate rapid electrification of cars and trucks. And they are not awed by the need to build the extensive battery charging infrastructure needed to support a transition to electric vehicles: All that infrastructure “can be built quickly and cost-effectively,” they write: “The pace of the required infrastructure scale-up is challenging but achievable, and the costs are modest compared with the benefits of widespread EV deployment.”

2021 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #18

Listing of articles linked to on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, Apr 25, 2021 through Sat, May 1, 2021

In no particular order the following articles lead to the most interactions during the last seven days: Points of no return, What Skepticism Reveals About Science, The Origin Story Of GOP Outrage Over Totally Imaginary Biden Red Meat Ban, Don’t ask officials what they think of global warming — ask if they want a warning, Nestlé threatened with cease-and-desist over alleged illegal water use and Explainer: Will global warming ‘stop’ as soon as net-zero emissions are reached?.

Articles Linked to on Facebook

Major parties’ climate programs are miles apart

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

President Biden on Earth Day, April 22, unveiled America’s aggressive new climate target: a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, on the way to the pledge of net zero emissions by 2050.

That ambitious target would deliver America’s contribution toward meeting the Paris Climate Agreement and the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. President Biden and supportive House Democrats are backing the pledge with a concrete legislative plan to rapidly curb greenhouse gas emissions. That said, important details of the administration’s legislative package remain largely unanswered, and it’s certain to face rough going when, in whatever eventual form, it gets to consideration in the narrowly divided Senate.

In an effort to show that they too care about climate change, House Republicans unveiled their “Energy Innovation Agenda” in the days preceding Biden’s Earth Day announcement. That agenda did not include any specific emissions targets. Rather, it includes a continued reliance on fossil fuels and explicitly opposes putting a price on carbon pollution. It stands in stark contrast to the Democrats’ ambitious plan to meet the Paris climate targets by transitioning to clean energy and leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

Democrats’ plan

House Democrats had been preparing for this moment. In the summer of 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a comprehensive 547-page report detailing their plan, which analysts estimate would cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 and close to net zero by 2050.

To meet the Paris target of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must reach net zero by around the year 2075, depending on factors like the rate of pollution cuts and the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere and sequestered underground. Wealthy nations like the U.S. will need to reach net zero emissions even sooner to allow developing countries more time to make the clean energy transition as their economies and energy needs grow. President Biden’s pledge is thus designed to hit a sweet spot: It’s about as fast as America theoretically can move, and fast enough to avert the worst climate consequences. Anything faster would be politically infeasible, but anything slower would be inconsistent with the Paris goals.

The House Democrats’ plan centers around fully decarbonizing the electric grid by 2040 (President Biden has been even more ambitious, calling for a zero-carbon grid by 2035) and electrifying as many other sectors as possible (think electric cars and trucks for transportation and electric heat pumps and appliances for buildings). To that end, the Biden administration and House Democrats have been working to include a clean electricity standard and $1 trillion in clean energy investments as part of their infrastructure legislation.

To pass these measures, the closely divided Senate may well need to try to proceed through the budget reconciliation approach requiring a bare majority 51-50 vote, which could likely require all 50 Senate Democrats to vote in favor, with Vice President Kamala Harris then breaking a tie.

In short, Democrats have an ambitious climate target and a blueprint to begin delivering on it. But there’s no certainty at this point on what specific legislative language can pass both the House and the Senate and earn the President’s signature for enactment.

CAD models now available for our temperature sensors

Given how small some cryogenic spaces can be, it’s often helpful to model the structure before starting the build. Over the years, we’ve received many requests from people looking for models of our temperature sensors. Now they are available and can be found under the Downloads tab for whichever sensor you’d like a model for. Source: Lakeshore…

Quantum birds inspire new metrology for biosciences, particle physicist searches for the very small

In this podcast we talk about measuring tiny masses and magnetic fields
The post Quantum birds inspire new metrology for biosciences, particle physicist searches for the very small appeared first on Physics World. Source: Physics World …

Some predictions of a validated physical model of Pt–Rh thermocouple drift above 1200 ° C

A simple model was recently presented which relates the electromotive force (emf) drift rate of Pt–Rh thermoelements to the vapour pressure of Pt and Rh oxides. The model assumes that the evaporation of these oxides gives rise to a continuously changing concentration of Pt and Rh, at different rates along the length of the wires, which causes a change in the Seebeck coefficient. The model was tested by comparison with high precision measurements under comparable circumstances. By considering various thermocouples of…

Distribution identification and information loss in a measurement uncertainty network

Measurement uncertainty is an increasingly important consideration in many applications demanding extreme performance levels. In the era of the internet of things and 5G connectivity we can learn more about device performance by utilising the increasing amount of data produced. These data require appropriate information infrastructure to facilitate continuous updating of device performance knowledge. This paper presents the results of a study which NPL undertook with a leading test and measurement device manufacturer to examine how measurement uncertainty propagates through the…

vEGU21 – EOS7.10 – Science to Action

On Tuesday, April 27 2021 I participated in session EOS7.10 at the virtual General Assembly of the Eurogeosciences Union (EGU) titled Science to Action: Communication of Science and strategies to fight misinformation – Practice, Research and Reflection This session was convened by Sam Illingworth, Heidi Roop, Mathew Stiller-Reeve, Kristin Trimm, Laure Fallou, Irina Dallo, Michèle Marti and Femke Mulder. The session – run at both AGU and EGU – encouraged critical reflection on science communication best practices and provided an opportunity for the community of science communicators and researchers to share best practices and experiences with evaluation and research in this field. The session also explored the way efficient communication strategies can help prevent, fight and debunk misinformation. Case studies, comparisons between different hazards and risks as well as best practices to fight misinformation at all stages of the risk cycle were explored.

vEGU21 Lobby


There were so many interesting 2-minute pitches that it was impossible to just pick a handful to highlight in this blog post. Therefore, the table below shows thumbnails for the presentations I was able to capture a screenshot of and links to the details from there, basically a visual directory to the session. At the end of the blog post, I’ll go into a bit more details on my own contribution to highlight resources Giving Facts a fighting chance against misinformation.

Please click on the presenting author’s name to access the abstract and click on the thumbnail to open a larger version of the graphic.