I’ve emphasized a number of times here that many of the criticisms of climate science are, to some extent, founded on a failure to appreciate the unique challenges of modeling such a complex system. The scientists at work building working climate models, of course, by and large appreciate these challenges. The public, however, very clearly does not. The widespread failure to accept the urgency and immediacy of the call to act to avert a climate change disaster is one symptom of this failure to understand.
This is not just a matter of clear presentation of the data, or of educating people about what climate models say--though these are certainly very important things. Instead, the disconnect between the scientific consensus and the public opinion about the reliability and effectiveness of climate models is a symptom of science education and science journalism that has been left behind by scientific progress. The demands for more data, better models, further research, a stronger consensus, and so on would be perfectly sensible if we were dealing with predictions about a less complex system. Science is presented to the public--both in primary/secondary education and in most popular journalistic accounts--as aiming at certainty, analytic understanding, and tidy long term predictions: precisely the things that complexity theory often tells us we simply cannot have. Is it any wonder, then, that the general public fails to effectively evaluate the reliability of climate predictions and models? Climatology (like economics, another widely mistrusted complex systems science) does great violence to the public perception of what good science looks like. The predictions and methods of science bear little resemblance to the popular paradigm cases of science: Issac Newton modeling the fall of an apple with a neat set of equations, or Jonas Salk working carefully in a forest of flasks and beakers to isolate a vaccine for polio.