Role Of Statistics In Climate Change Research Investigated
February 16, 2013

Role Of Statistics In Climate Change Research Investigated

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Climate change is a range of potential events that have a better or worse probability of occurring, and statistics could be a useful tool in helping people better understand how their actions could be adversely affecting the planet, according to new research presented on Friday.

The general public´s aversion to statistical thinking and probability is one of the factors that has prevented the implementation of strategies to deal with global warming right now, The Ohio State University professor Mark Berliner, explained during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

"The general public has an understanding of tipping points, the moment beyond which things become inevitable. But as soon as you start thinking of climate change as inevitable, it's easy to throw up your hands and say, 'it's too late, so why bother to do anything?'" Berliner, the former co-chair of the American Statistical Association's Advisory Committee on Climate Change Policy, said in a statement.

"It's like a two-pack-a-day smoker deciding not to cut back on the cigarettes, because he's as good as gone,” he added. "The situation is not hopeless. Instead of taking an extreme all-or-nothing view about climate change, we can think of it as a spectrum of possible problems, and look for a spectrum of practical solutions that will do the most good.”

Based on his own experience researching the climate change issue, Berliner said he sees climate-related events as a group of possible events, some of which are more extreme but less probable to occur, and others that are smaller in scale but far more likely to actually happen, he said.

Climate research suffers from mankind´s natural distaste for uncertainty, as well as the fact different climate models often provide different illustrations of what could occur, but Berliner believes the most important part to remember is “not to pick the right climate model, but to pick the right elements out of each of the models.”

The importance of statistics, probability, and risk in the climate change discussion was also raised by Penn State University researchers at the AAAS meeting on Friday.

In a statement, they called statistics “an important tool in sorting through information on how human activities are affecting the climate system, as well as how climate change affects natural and human systems“¦ As more research is conducted and more data are gathered“¦ scientists are gaining a better understanding of current and future climate conditions, as well as predicting the risk of the dramatic and costly affects of this change.”

“We have a better understanding of the climate now than we have ever had before. With greater availability of data and more sophisticated climate models, our knowledge continues to increase,” said associate professor of statistics Murali Haran. “[But] we still don't know everything there is to know about the climate“¦ Hence it is vitally important to account for our uncertainties about the system — what we know and what we don't know. Statisticians can provide the language and methods to quantify these uncertainties in a rigorous fashion.”