Are models wrong? No, they're 'useful'.
Bite notes: the author of this quote, George Edward Pelham Box FRS(born 18 October 1919) is a statistician.
The idea that climate models can be 'wrong' is very popular amongst sceptics lacking a science background. The misunderstanding comes from the belief that climate scientists are trying to make 'absolute' predictions, whereas what scientists are really doing is to identify, within given probabilities, the outcomes that are likely to result in a variety of circumstances.
Quantifying uncertainties is important in all scientific research: without an estimate of confidence, a result cannot be placed in context, cannot be given meaning. But it is essential in climate science because climate is, by definition, the statistics of weather: and statistics is the science of uncertainty.
Even more important are the stakes. The global reach of the earth’s climate – everything under the sky – and the intimate, complex connections between humans, society and the environment mean that climate scientists must work hard to understand the range of possible futures we face.
All models are undoubtedly ‘wrong’, because we cannot precisely simulate every breath of wind, every raindrop, or every worm turning over the soil. But this does not preclude their usefulness as tools to explore the broad consequences of known physical laws. These abstract representations help us to make sense of our world.
February 3, 2012