Research Community on Communicating Uncertainty

Communicating Uncertainty: Science, Institutions, and Ethics in the Politics of Global Climate Change

(2011 - 14)

In the spring of 2011 the research community Communicating Uncertainty: Science, Institutions, and Ethics in the Politics of Global Climate Change received funding from PIIRS. The three-year interdisciplinary community was led in its first two years by Robert O. Keohane, professor of international affairs in Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The research community examines issues of uncertainty with respect to global climate change and other international environmental problems and aims to improve the capacity to discuss and weigh related policy prescriptions. Through multiple lenses, the research community will draw on the expertise of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory to work on real cases. The laboratory, located on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus, is one of the world's leading climate modeling centers. Sixteen Princeton faculty members from several disciplines compose the community's core group:

  • Climate scientists provide an understanding of the kinds of scientific uncertainties that arise.
  • Historians contribute perspective on how uncertainty has been handled in the past regarding fields in which public policy depends in part on scientific knowledge.
  • Specialists on international relations analyze the politics of climate change within global institutions, while regional specialists examine case studies of societies that have been more or less successful in adopting policy measures aimed at addressing the effects of climate change.
  • Other social scientists investigate how uncertainty in scientists' work on climate and other international environmental issues is understood by various audiences, ranging from high-level nonscientist policymakers to the general public.
  • Ethicists question how policymakers concerned with ethics make decisions in light of uncertainty. What are the moral and political principles in play? What constitutes responsible communication of underlying science and policy rationale? What institutional designs facilitate such communication?

As a PIIRS research community, the group receives up to $750,000 over three years to support research, course development, and conferences. The Research Community will be very active in 2013-14. The Research Community has included six visiting research scholars, two postdoctoral research associates, and two visiting research collaborators, as well as the fifteen Princeton faculty who are involved.

For more information contact Kathleen Allen, program manager.

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