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Climbing out of the climate bunker?

The recent storm of headlines aside, climate science has not changed radically in the last three months. The peer-reviewed journals are still the same, and the basic broad claims they support are the same. But what has changed in a techtonic manner is perception that the public and policy-makers have of climate science. In that ...

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The recent storm of headlines aside, climate science has not changed radically in the last three months. The peer-reviewed journals are still the same, and the basic broad claims they support are the same. But what has changed in a techtonic manner is perception that the public and policy-makers have of climate science. In that sense, the field has taken a severe hit.

And so, it's welcome news that climate scientists are beginning to take stock of what's happened, climb out of the bunker, and institute policies to repair public trust in the institutions charged with presenting climate findings to the public. As the New York Times' John Broder reports:

The volume of criticism and the depth of doubt have only grown, and many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence and have to fight back. Tentatively and grudgingly, they are beginning to engage their critics, admit mistakes, open up their data and reshape the way they conduct their work ...

The recent storm of headlines aside, climate science has not changed radically in the last three months. The peer-reviewed journals are still the same, and the basic broad claims they support are the same. But what has changed in a techtonic manner is perception that the public and policy-makers have of climate science. In that sense, the field has taken a severe hit.

And so, it’s welcome news that climate scientists are beginning to take stock of what’s happened, climb out of the bunker, and institute policies to repair public trust in the institutions charged with presenting climate findings to the public. As the New York Times’ John Broder reports:

The volume of criticism and the depth of doubt have only grown, and many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence and have to fight back. Tentatively and grudgingly, they are beginning to engage their critics, admit mistakes, open up their data and reshape the way they conduct their work …

A number of institutions are beginning efforts to improve the quality of their science and to make their work more transparent. The official British climate agency is undertaking a complete review of its temperature data and will make its records and analysis fully public for the first time, allowing outside scrutiny of methods and conclusions. The United Nations panel on climate change will accept external oversight of its research practices, also for the first time.

That last note is especially important. In the context of interviewing climate scientists and climate skeptics in recent weeks, including several who have served as authors and peer-reviewers  for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I’ve heard a lot of internal grumbling about the organizational adeptness of the IPCC — even from those who fully support its mission.

Cheers to reform. The IPCC is dead. Long live the IPCC.

Christina Larson is an award-winning foreign correspondent and science journalist based in Beijing, and a former Foreign Policy editor. She has reported from nearly a dozen countries in Asia. Her features have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Science, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and other publications. In 2016, she won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Morton Frank Award for international magazine writing. Twitter: @larsonchristina

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