One of the challenges of dealing with climate change is that it’s difficult to communicate to the public how much confidence the scientific community has in a particular theory. Here’s a hypothesis: people have a better intuitive grasp of relative comparisons (A is bigger than B) than they do with absolutes (we are 90% confident that “A” is big).
Assuming this hypothesis is true, we could do a broad survey of scientists and use them to rank-order confidence in various scientific theories that the general public is familiar with. Possible examples of theories:
- Plate tectonics
- Childhood vaccinations cause autism
- Germ theory of disease
- Theory of relativity
- Cigarette smoking cause lung cancer
- Diets rich in saturated fats cause heart disease
- AIDS is caused by HIV
- The death penalty reduces violent crime
- Evolution by natural selection
- Exposure to electromagnetic radiation from high-voltage power lines cause cancer
- Intelligence is inherited biologically
- Government stimulus spending reduces unemployment in a recession
Assuming the survey produced a (relatively) stable rank-ordering across these theories, the end goal would be to communicate confidence in a scientific theory by saying: “Scientists are more confident in theory X than they are in theories Y,Z, but not as confident as they are in theories P,Q”.