Blog Post

The Confidence Trap: Dysfunctional Dialogues about Climate

Dec 13, 2017 | Roger M. Cooke

Mutilation of facts, scriptural snake oil, gerrymandering the proof burden, bloated overconfidence, and outright lies—these are among the miasmas fouling the public debate about climate change. The surprise is not that people try these stratagems, but that they are successful. A snarly cognitive illusion—like an optical illusion but involving the brain instead of the eyes—is preventing us from dealing rationally with climate uncertainties. After discussing a “syllabus of errors” in this recent presentation at the Université de Montreal, I focus on better ways to capture and incorporate experts’ judgments on climate change. Developed in quantitative risk analysis, structured expert judgment has been used in a wide range of applications from nuclear safety, public health, and investment banking, to policy analysis and natural hazards. It is now poised to enter the climate debate in earnest. Can it help? It's time to find out.

Video courtesy of the Centre de recherches mathématiques at the Université de Montreal.

The views expressed in RFF blog posts are those of the authors and should not be attributed to Resources for the Future.