The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?

In Elisabeth A. Lloyd & Eric Winsberg (eds.), Climate Modelling: Philosophical and Conceptual Issues. Springer Verlag. pp. 31-64 (2018)
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In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that anthropogenic climate change had become discernible. Since then, numerous independent studies have affirmed that anthropogenic climate change is underway, and the meta-conclusion that there is a broad expert consensus on this point. It has also been demonstrated that most of the challenges to this claim come from interested parties outside the scientific community. But even if we allow that the challenges to climate science are politically or economically motivated, it does not prove that the scientific consensus is correct. In other words, even if we accept the fact of scientific consensus, how do we know that this consensus is not wrong? This chapter addresses this question by examining a set of criteria that philosophers have traditionally or recently identified as possible bases for trust in scientific conclusions, and shows that climate science meets all of these criteria. Thus, while there is no way to know for sure that scientists are correct in their conclusions, the various means we have to test and evaluate scientific claims lead to the conclusion that, so far as we are able to tell, it is most likely that scientists are not wrong about the reality of anthropogenic climate change.



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