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WIREs Clim Change
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Post‐truth and anthropogenic climate change: Asking the right questions

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Abstract The connection between climate skepticism and climate denial and what has become known as post‐truth culture has become the subject of much interest in recent years. This has lead to intense debates among scientists and activists about how to respond to this changed cultural context and the ways in which it is held to obstruct wider acceptance of climate science. Drawing on research in the sociology of scientific knowledge, science and technology studies, social psychology, and philosophical reflections on evidential reasoning, it is argued that these debates are focused on the wrong topic. The idea of post‐truth implies that a once‐straightforward linear relationship between scientific evidence and decision‐making has been eroded. But such an idealized relationship never existed. The proper role of scientific evidence in informing belief and action in response to the prospect of anthropogenic climate change needs reconsideration. A key part of this is to make uncertainties related to processes within the climate system and their potential outcomes into the main focus of public discussion around climate change. Instead of keeping the focus of debate on how to “get the science right,” such a reframing makes precautionary questions about the prospect of unacceptable losses into the main focus. This brings a variety of ethical and political values into the debate, perhaps creating better conditions for a minimal consensus about what to do. This article is categorized under: Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Communication

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Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Communication

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