Some skeptics view climate science as a house of cards. You pull one card from the bottom and the whole thing collapses. But science is more like a jigsaw puzzle, assembled piece by piece over decades of research. Gradually, the overall picture emerges, until it's unmistakable. Remaining gaps or even a few misplaced pieces don't change the overall picture.
Note: This the most powerful metaphor we know for rebutting "cherry-picking" by climate change skeptics. Some professional climate science disinformers search tirelessly through reams of climate science studies to try to unearth some tiny error or gap in knowledge, then proclaim the entire body of knowledge faulty.
Metaphors like this breath life into climate communication by explaining complex, abstract and unfamiliar ideas in terms of simple, concrete and familiar experiences.
Bite Source: paraphrase by Tom Smerling, inspired by William Chameides, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, speaking at the National Academcy of Science, 5-12-2011. A variation is found in the Economist, The Clouds of Unknowing, 3/18/2010, which reads:
"In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists."
The second graphic (tiger puzzle) was used by Nobel-lauriate Mario Molina to characterize the state of climate science. In testimony before Congress in 2010, Molina described his jigsaw analogy this way (via Dot Earth, Andy Revkin)
"'There appears to be a gross misunderstanding of the nature of climate change science among those that have attempted to discredit it. They convey the idea that the science in question behaves like a house of cards: if you remove just one of them, the whole structure falls apart.
"However, this is certainly not the way the science of complex systems has evolved. A much better analogy is a jigsaw puzzle: many pieces are missing, and some might even be in the wrong place, but there is little doubt that the overall image is clear, namely that climate change is a serious threat that needs to be urgently addressed.
"It is also clear that modest amounts of warming will have both positive and negative impacts, but above about 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit most impacts turn negative for many ecological systems, and for most nations."
For a somewhat different metaphor, making the same point, see "Science is a mountain of pebbles, not house of cards."
Image Source: here The second graphic, the tiger puzzle, appeared in Dot Earth (2/2/12) with this caption, "Mario Molina, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, uses this image representing a partially completed jigsaw puzzle to convey the state of understanding of human-driven climate change."