Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Zoom Talk: Wendy Parker (Virginia Tech) and Marina Baldissera Pacchetti (Leeds)

Meeting-ID: 950 1039 5841

26.01.2022 16:00  – 18:00 

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Epistemic Trust in Climate Science

How can decisionmakers obtain trustworthy information about future climate change? Here is one simple, appealing answer: have scientists build a very-high-fidelity climatemodel and simulate the future scenarios of interest, and information extracted from these simulations is then passed on to the decision makers. At present, however, climate scientists cannot simply build a very-high-fidelity model ofthe climate system. And there is reason to think that evaluations of trust worthiness by scientists and decision makers hinge on additional factors. For this colloquium, we will explore how climate scientists attempt to bolster trustworthiness of model-based climate information with the help of robustness arguments, as well as how epistemic and non-epistemic value judgements affect scientists' and policymakers' evaluations of the trustworthiness of the information provided.

Wendy Parker (Virginia Tech): Varieties of model-basedrobustness analysis in climate science

I will examine the logic and epistemology of three types of robustness analysis in climate modeling. The first type fits Schupbach’s (2018) account of robustness analysis as explanatory reasoning. The second does not; it instead treats models as imperfect indicators whose ‘votes’are aggregated. A third type is concerned with robustness of results across generations of climate models, rather than within a single generation, and is a hybrid of the first two types. Time permitting, I will explain how a recent failure of such intergenerational robustness presented a significant challenge to climate scientists and precipitated the beginning of the end of so-called“model-democracy” in this context.

Marina Baldissera Pacchetti (University of Leeds): Epistemic trust and values at the sciencepolicy interface

It is fairly uncontroversial to say that trust is an important component of the relationship between scientists and policy makers when information is transferred between actors with different expertise. In the context of transfe rof scientific information, philosophers have discussed what is called epistemic trust. Epistemic trust in someone is to take “someone’ s testimony that P as a reason to believe that P on the assumption that she is in a position to know whether P and will express her belief truthfully” (Irzik and Kurtulmus, 2019). In the context of climate change adaptation, “P” refers to information about the actual or expected climate and its effects to be used to minimize harm and maximize benefits. However, this information comes with high degrees of uncertainty. The way uncertainty is handled, and the way information is produced for the public and private sectors, is often mentioned as an important component of the adaptation process (e.g. Fiedler et al. 2021).

The current philosophical debate on epistemic trust in science evaluates how epistemic and non-epistemic values are relevant for well-placed trust. Two relevant yet differing views argue that (1) well-placed trust occurs when there is an alignment of values between trust or and trustee, e.g. about inductive risk (Wilholt, 2013; Irzik and Kurtulmus, 2019) or that (2) well-placed trust arises when scientists (trustees) align keyvalues that influence their scientific analysis with the democratic values ofthe society that benefits from the scientific information to be trusted (trustor) (Schroeder, 2021).

I argue that these views overlook and important component of epistemic trust and its relation to values, especially in the context of climate change adaptation: the positionality of knowledge of trustor and trustee (see Grasswick 2010). I argue that a more detailed analysis of how epistemic and non-epistemic values bear on well-placed trust in science on the part of policy makers is needed. I start sketching a third view on therole of values for epistemic trust by analyzing empirical (social science) literature on successful and unsuccessful information transfer from scientists to policy makers in the context of climate change adaptation (e.g., Skelton etal. 2017). I appeal to “legitimacy, credibility and relevance” (Cash et al. 2003) as values that are directly relevant to well-placed trust in science, and I argue that how these values are embodied at the science-policy interface can change depending on the epistemic communities involved in the trustor-trustee relationship in the context of climate change adaptation.


Cash, D., Clark, W. C., Alcock, F., Dickson,N. M., Eckley, N., Jäger, J. (2003) . Salience, Credibility, Legitimacy and Boundaries: Linking Research, Assessment and Decision Making. KSG Working Papers Series.

Grasswick, H. E. (2010). Scientific and laycommunities: earning epistemic trust through knowledge sharing. Synthese,177(3), 387-409.

Irzik, G., & Kurtulmus, F. (2019). What is epistemic public trust in science?. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 70(4), 1145-1166.

Schroeder, S. A. (2021). Democratic values: A better foundation for public trust in science. The British Journal for thePhilosophy of Science, 72(2).

Schupbach, J. (2018). Robustness Analysisas Explanatory Reasoning. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science,69(1): 275-300

Skelton, M., Porter, J. J., Dessai, S.,Bresch, D. N., & Knutti, R. (2017). The social and scientific values that shape national climate scenarios: a comparison of the Netherlands, Switzerlandand the UK. Regional environmental change, 17(8), 2325-2338.

Wilholt, T. (2013). Epistemic trust inscience. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 64(2),233-253.