The bias that leads to underestimating

The bias that leads to ; underestimate

While those who deny global warming still accuse them of being “alarmists”, climatologists rather have this bad habit of continually underestimating the risks, if we judge by recent history of science. 

They're “downplaying” the threats, summarizes science historian Naomi Oreskes in the latest edition of Scientific American. She recalls, for example, that in 2008, political scientist Roger Pielke Jr determined that the rise in sea level was higher than what had been predicted in two of the three previous reports of the IPCC (the United Nations Group of Experts on climate changes). Similarly, in 2009, a synthesis of hundreds of climate studies identified several topics where scientists had “underestimated” what was about to happen, but none where they had overestimated. 

Oreskes has not just made a discovery: as she recalls, as early as 2013, one of her colleagues at the University of California at San Diego, Keynyn Brysse, had written that “ these underestimates represent a kind of bias.” 

“Scientists tend towards the lowest projection, because they don't want to be accused of making dramatic and exaggerated claims. »

Has the problem faded over time? It is not so sure, if we think of the melting of the Arctic ice, or the new temperature records. Several times a year, a new report appears which reveals that previous estimates had underestimated the speed of these changes. 

It is not so different from the unconscious biases that the literature discrimination in recent years. Unconscious bias can be caused by unconscious biases, but it can also be a defensive reflex, writes Oreskes: “Even today, scientists continue to be accused of exaggerating climate risks by influential figures who get attention disproportionate media”. The fear of being targeted can then lead to unconsciously choosing scenarios that are cautious, so cautious that they are unrealistic. With all the risks that entails: “ estimates that are too low can create the false impression that we have more time to solve the problem ”.

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