Known unknowns

3 June 2005
Today on openDemocracy, Climateprediction.net's chief scientist Dave Stainforth outlines some of the basics on what state-of-the art climate modelling can and cannot do, and what it can and cannot tell us.

I asked him to make his account as simple as possible, but no simpler. So it still takes a wee bit of effort.

As someone explained an aspect of this to me in another context:

"Understanding the sensitivity of the earth's climate to man made greenhouse gas emissions is difficult. We don't yet know how big the effect will be, but we can be sure that there will be an effect, and that this could be quite large.

Think of the extra greenhouse gas as analogous to additional weight on the accelerator pedal of a car. If one is not familiar with the car, one cannot be sure how quickly it will respond and how fast it may go. Climate modelling helps to limit the range of uncertainty.

The thing is, we don't know whether we're driving a Honda Civic or an S Class Mercedes, and we're not sure what happens when someone tunes up the engine or other parts of the car's system relevant to acceleration".

Dave writes:

"Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are likely to have a much larger effect on the climate during the 21st century than any natural factors, short of very low likelihood events such as a collision with a large meteor" (full text here).

Caspar Henderson

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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