Simulating Nature : A Philosophical Study of Computer-Simulation Uncertainties and Their Role in Climate Science and Policy Advice, Second Edition book cover
2nd Edition

Simulating Nature
A Philosophical Study of Computer-Simulation Uncertainties and Their Role in Climate Science and Policy Advice, Second Edition

ISBN 9781466500624
Published April 24, 2012 by Chapman and Hall/CRC
224 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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 raise a wide range of philosophical questions. Most prominently highlighted is the field of anthropogenic climate change—are humans currently changing the climate?

Referring to empirical results from science studies and political science, Simulating Nature: A Philosophical Study of Computer-Simulation Uncertainties and Their Role in Climate Science and Policy Advice, Second Edition addresses questions about the types of uncertainty associated with scientific simulation and about how these uncertainties can be communicated.

The author, who participated in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) plenaries in 2001 and 2007, discusses the assessment reports and workings of the IPCC. This second edition reflects the latest developments in climate change policy, including a thorough update and rewriting of sections that refer to the IPCC.

Table of Contents

Framing of the Problem
Defining Computer Simulation and Positioning It in Science
Philosophical Approach
Brief Outline of This Study

Simulation Practice, Uncertainty, and Policy Advice
The Practice of Scientific Simulation

The Simulation Laboratory
Elements of Simulation-Laboratory Practice
Plurality of Methodologies for Model Development and Evaluation
Plurality of Values in Simulation Practice
The Practices of Simulation and Experimentation Compared

A Typology of Uncertainty in Scientific Simulation

Locations of Simulation Uncertainty
The Nature of Simulation Uncertainty
The Range of Simulation Uncertainty
Recognised Ignorance in Simulation
The Methodological Unreliability of Simulation
Value Diversity in Simulation Practice
The Uncertainties of Simulation and Experimentation Compared

Assessment of Simulation Uncertainty for Policy Advice

The Sound Science Debate
The Challenge of Postnormal Science
The Role of Simulation Uncertainty in Policy Advice
The Guidance on Uncertainty Assessment and Communication

The Case of Simulating Climate Change
The Practice of Climate Simulation

Functions of Climate Simulation
Varying Climate-Model Concreteness
The Sociopolitical Context of Climate-Simulation Practice
Evaluating the Plurality of Climate-Simulation Models

Uncertainties in Climate Simulation
A General Overview of Uncertainty in Climate Simulation
Climate-Simulation Uncertainty and the Causal
Attribution of Temperature Change

Assessments of Climate-Simulation Uncertainty for Policy Advice

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Its Communication of Climate-Simulation Uncertainty
An Example of Exploiting Societal Perspectives to Communicate Climate-Simulation Uncertainty


Uncertainty Associated with Scientific Simulation
Differences and Similarities between Simulation and Experimental Uncertainty
Assessment and Communication of Scientific Simulation Uncertainties in Science-for-Policy
Uncertainty Associated with the Simulation-Based Attribution of Climate Change to Human Influences
Assessment and Communication of Attribution Uncertainty by the ipcc


Appendix: Proceedings and Discussion of the IPCC Contact Group
Meeting on Attribution, 20 January 2001, Shanghai


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"This book can be considered a conceptual book for high-level graduate students as well as scholars from climatology-related fields who wish to understand the philosophy underlying computer-based simulation of climate."
Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 2015

"Simulating Nature is deeply rooted in applied statistics with a welcome openness to a few concepts such as risk, values, and uncertainties. This not-so-frequent-nowadays philosophical dimension in statistics is perhaps the strength of this book and that is why it would be important for graduate students who are already familiar with simulation and applied statistics. On the other hand, philosophers, experts in ethics, policymakers, and sociologists of science would certainly be able to follow most of the demonstrations on climate change, but they would probably focus as well on how these concepts and ideas are discussed and legitimised in this book."
—Yves Laberge, Journal of Applied Statistics, 40, 2013

"Amongst the heated politics of climate science, Petersen’s book does a rare thing. As a philosopher he takes a step back and asks, ‘What sort of knowledge is generated by climate models: is it reliable, is it authoritative, how is it used, is it useful?’ This new edition, fully updated six years after the first, should be read by all those producing or using, criticising or praising, believing or disbelieving, knowledge claims based on climate models. At the least, you will better be able to defend your position; and you may even find yourself changing it."
—Mike Hulme, professor of climate change, University of East Anglia, UK

"In this thought-provoking philosophical analysis, Arthur Petersen explores the nature of climate simulation and attendant uncertainties. Building on this evaluation, Petersen considers the complex processes within the scientific community, and between scientists and society, that ultimately determine whether an assessment becomes a robust, shared basis for decision, or contested and a source of dispute. He points out that it is not enough to analyze uncertainty as a purely technical problem. Deeper uncertainties such as those that stem from the way the problem is framed, models are structured, or expert judgments are made, must also be considered. His analysis has implications not only for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other assessment bodies, but for all who debate the reliability and utility of model simulations as a basis for managing environmental risks in the anthropocene era."
—Richard Moss, senior staff scientist, PNNL Joint Global Change Research Institute, University of Maryland, College Park, USA