Posts Tagged ‘error’

Transparency is convincing

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Climate NYC’s post raises some good points. The skeptics who question climate change are probably in the minority in today’s trendy world (although perhaps that is just my opinion because I’m a geography and environment major). Although these opinions are for the most part unhelpful exaggerations, the use and necessity of the skeptic is undeniable. Without the skeptics politicians and others would be able to convince the public of anything. Al Gore exaggerates in the film An Inconvenient Truth and it hurts his reputation. Skeptics call him out on this and bring his study back down to earth.

The initial predictions that the IPCC reported were not very accurate. Their climate models did not do a successful job at predicting the impacts and rise in CO2; in fact the IPCC’s climate models underestimated these variables. That being said, the public does not want vague estimates. The public wants precise numbers. The IPCC therefore feels compelled to provide the public with quantitative information that may potentially break bad habits.

More recently, as shown by Climate NYC, the IPCC offers multiple climate change scenarios. Not only do they provide the graphs shown below, but they also show future estimates regarding temperature rise using different levels of CO2 reduction. These methods of visualizing error and uncertainty have a positive impact on the public. The transparency of these reports counteract the skeptics’ critiques benefit the research of the IPCC more than if they chose to exaggerate as a scare tactic.

Although perhaps not necessary in all academic reports, it would be interesting to see more visualization of error and uncertainty. Granted, some error and uncertainty cannot be quantified, rather more qualitatively listed, but it gives me the impression of a more honest report.



The hunt for knowledge and bear Foody

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Foody mentions uncertainty with knowledge and discovery. I like how, although seemingly opposite, these elements work together. Before science and empirical reasoning became the norm (I’m talking wayyy back), uncertainty was often explained through legends, ghosts or religious anecdotes. These were ways to calm people. Sea monsters used to live far out to sea and if you sailed too far you would fall of the earth. Without the resources available to man (and women), these explanations were all that was available. There were however some people curious enough to explore the uncertain and unknown.

Today, although uncertainty still causes anxiety amongst many people (like when the next zombie attack will occur and where the best place to hide is) it seems that it now fuels the hunt for knowledge and discovery. In academia, the focus is on the acquisition of good, sound information. We as students often take for granted that the information given to us is without error. It has recently been revealed to me that some of the information provided to students can be very false.

I was once told that if I ran into a grizzly bear, that I should not climb a tree—instead I should run down a steep slope, because bears can’t run down hills. I was amazed by this fact and told many people about this escape technique; unfortunately, I was later informed by an expert that this is not the case. Unknowingly, I had spread what I thought to be valid information when in fact the escape technique was false. I hope that my gossip will not cause anyone harm in the future!

The uncertainty touched on in both articles (and bear escape techniques) does not refer to this type of uncertainty/curiosity, but I cannot help but see how related these words are. When looking at uncertainty in a study, I am able to see how awareness of error and uncertainty could inspire further research. I think that it is human nature to be curious and to strive for perfection; the knowledge of uncertainties and error push us to do better research in the future.