Simulating Nature: A Philosophical Study of Computer-simulation Uncertainties and Their Role in Climate Science and Policy Advice

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Transaction Publishers, 2006 - Nature - 210 pages
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Computer simulation has become an important means for obtaining knowledge about nature. The practice of scientific simulation and the frequent use of uncertain simulation results in public policy give rise to a wide range of philosophical questions. Referring to empirical results from science studies and political science, the author addresses the following philosophical questions: What specific types of uncertainty are associated with scientific simulation? What are the differences and similarities between simulation uncertainty and experimental uncertainty? What are appropriate ways to assess and communicate scientific simulation uncertainties in science-for-policy? One policy arena in which these questions figure most prominently is highlighted, that of anthropogenic climate change. Are humans currently changing the climate? Simulation results play a crucial role in the attribution of climate change to human influences. In this study, the specific types of uncertainty associated with this attribution are closely examined. The scientific knowledge about climate change enters the policymaking arena through the assessment reports produced every few years by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The author participated as a 'philosophical observer' to the IPCC through the Dutch government delegation in order to obtain first-hand insights into how computer-simulation uncertainties are dealt with in such assessments. The final question addressed in this study is whether these uncertainties have been appropriately assessed and communicated in the Working Group I contribution to the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC (2001). The book is intended for a diverse audience of philosophers, natural and social scientists, and policy-makers. Book jacket.

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