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Discerning ExpertsThe Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy$
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Michael Oppenheimer, Naomi Oreskes, Dale Jamieson, Keynyn Brysse, Jessica O'Reilly, Matthew Shindell, and Milena Wazeck

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226601960

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226602158.001.0001

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Assessing the Ice: Sea Level Rise Predictions from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, 1981–2007

Assessing the Ice: Sea Level Rise Predictions from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, 1981–2007

(p.127) Chapter Four Assessing the Ice: Sea Level Rise Predictions from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, 1981–2007
Discerning Experts

Michael Oppenheimer

Naomi Oreskes

Dale Jamieson

Keynyn Brysse

Jessica O’Reilly

Matthew Shindell

Milena Wazeck

University of Chicago Press

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has major policy significance due to its potential to disintegrate rapidly, producing a disastrous sea level rise. Scientists have struggled to find ways to express the magnitude of the risk and its time frame, in the face of huge uncertainty and changing scientific understandings of the dynamic behavior of ice sheets in a warming world. The fourth IPCC assessment was produced during a period in which new findings were emerging, generating intense scientific debate. The assessment analyzed aspects of sea level rise in four different chapters, and as a result a coherent statement on WAIS was not presented. In particular, there was a disconnect between the discussion of recent shifts in the understanding of dynamic ice sheet loss and the numerical predictions that were presented. The IPCC’s stated goal of presenting a consensus statement contributed to assessors settling on a “least common denominator” numerical prediction, one that many scientists felt was misleading in minimizing the risk of rapid ice sheet loss. This case shows the anchoring effect of previous models, assumptions, and conclusions; the influence of institutional arrangements and rigidly formalized procedures; and the potential drawback of the univocal, consensus model.

Keywords:   consensus, erring on the side of least drama, ESLD, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, IPCC, sea level rise

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