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Awareness of Both Type 1 and 2 Errors in Climate Science and Assessment

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  • 1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • 2 Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California
  • 3 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
  • 4 Department of Economics, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
  • 5 Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California
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Treatment of error and uncertainty is an essential component of science and is crucial in policy-relevant disciplines, such as climate science. We posit here that awareness of both “false positive” and “false negative” errors is particularly critical in climate science and assessments, such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientific and assessment practices likely focus more attention to avoiding false positives, which could lead to higher prevalence of false-negative errors. We explore here the treatment of error avoidance in two prominent case studies regarding sea level rise and Himalayan glacier melt as presented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While different decision rules are necessarily appropriate for different circumstances, we highlight that false-negative errors also have consequences, including impaired communication of the risks of climate change. We present recommendations for better accounting for both types of errors in the scientific process and scientific assessments.

*Lead authors

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: William R. L. Anderegg, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, 106A Guyot Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-2016, E-mail: anderegg@princeton.edu

Treatment of error and uncertainty is an essential component of science and is crucial in policy-relevant disciplines, such as climate science. We posit here that awareness of both “false positive” and “false negative” errors is particularly critical in climate science and assessments, such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientific and assessment practices likely focus more attention to avoiding false positives, which could lead to higher prevalence of false-negative errors. We explore here the treatment of error avoidance in two prominent case studies regarding sea level rise and Himalayan glacier melt as presented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While different decision rules are necessarily appropriate for different circumstances, we highlight that false-negative errors also have consequences, including impaired communication of the risks of climate change. We present recommendations for better accounting for both types of errors in the scientific process and scientific assessments.

*Lead authors

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: William R. L. Anderegg, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, 106A Guyot Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-2016, E-mail: anderegg@princeton.edu
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