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Meaningful climate science

Shepherd, T. G. ORCID: and Lloyd, E. A. (2021) Meaningful climate science. Climatic Change, 169 (17). ISSN 0165-0009

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s10584-021-03246-2


Within the climate science community, useable climate science has been understood as quantitative, usually as a best estimate together with a quantified uncertainty. Physical scientists are trained to produce numbers, and to draw general, abstract conclusions. In general, however, people relate much better to stories, and to events they have experienced, which are inevitably contingent and particular. Sheila Jasanoff has argued elsewhere that the process of abstraction in climate science ‘detaches knowledge from meaning’. Perhaps useable climate science is, then, meaningful climate science. We argue here that the development of meaningful climate science can be achieved by adopting a storyline approach to climate variability and change. By ‘storyline’ we mean a physically self-consistent unfolding of past events, or of plausible future events or pathways. Storylines represent a combination of qualitative and quantitative information, where the qualitative element represents a packaging or contextualization of the quantitative aspects, which ensures that data can be meaningfully interpreted. Viewed from this perspective, we show that physical climate storylines can be aligned with several well-established vehicles for translation of knowledge between diverse communities: narratives, boundary objects, and data journeys. They can therefore be used as a ‘pidgin language’ to enrich the set of tools available to climate scientists to bring meaning to climate knowledge. “And what is the use of a book”, thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:100792


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