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Inference Towards the Best Explanation: Reflections on the Issue of Climate Change

Holt, Robert D.
Israel journal of ecology & evolution 2015 v.61 no.1 pp. 1-12
biodiversity, climate change, climate models, freshwater, glaciers, humans, life history, seasonal variation
Science is an organized enterprise of inquiry which tries to tie together multiple strands of evidence to craft coherent explanations for disparate patterns in the natural world. Philosophers call this enterprise “inference towards the best explanation”. Such inferences at times depend upon detailed quantitative models, but at times one can rely upon the confluence of multiple strands of qualitative evidence. Humans are having unquestionable influences upon many aspects of the earth system at present, on land, in freshwater systems, and indeed the ocean, including devastating impacts on biodiversity. There are many patterns in the world at present – shrinking glaciers, shifting seasonal patterns in species’ life histories, and altered spatial distributions – which point to the signal of climate change, independent of the details of quantitative climate models. Yet, there are many other factors at play, often confounding clear assessment of the specific role of climate change in observed changes in the world. A deeper synoptic understanding of the drivers and impacts of climate change would be incredibly valuable and is urgently needed, even if in the end (though this seems increasingly unlikely) anthropogenic drivers were not the main factor underlying observed climate change.