Much of the public debate about climate change revolves around whether there is evidence of increasing global temperatures due to man's impact. In the media it is portrayed as a clash between believers and sceptics, with these groups largely defined by their attitude to this evidence. The intensity of this debate seems to have left no middle ground and much of the media discussion is now about what the public think and the political implications rather than what might be right.
This should be a scientific debate, aiming at finding the truth, not trying to prove preconceived positions. By their training, scientists are normally careful about any evidence until it is well established, and they talk of working hypotheses rather than beliefs. They move forward slowly, gathering evidence. However the complexity of climate research clashes with the need to make decisions as early as possible if some of the predictions of climate change are correct. It is a position that the scientific culture is not comfortable with so it is not surprising that it has not been handled well.
As professional statisticians, we see this debate in a special light. Statisticians are trained in collecting and assessing data and advising on how decisions might be based upon it. Statisticians naturally ask questions such as "how accurate are the measurements?" and "is this a real data point or an estimate?". Statisticians also try to quantify the probability of making the right decision.