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Today! PIIRS Director’s Book Forum on the "Ethics of Scientific Communication under Uncertainty "

The Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies continues its 2013–14 Director’s Book Forum series with a presentation by Robert Keohane, professor of public and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; Melissa Lane, professor of politics and director of the Program in Values and Public Life; and Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, on their forthcoming article, “The Ethics of Scientific Communication under Uncertainty,” on March 5, 2014, at noon, in 219 Aaron Burr Hall at Princeton University.  The event is free and open to the public.

**Media who would like to attend should RSVP by March 4 to Carole Frantzen at or 609-258-7497**


Communication by scientists with policymakers and attentive publics raises ethical issues. Scientists need to decide how to communicate knowledge effectively in a way that non-scientists can understand and use, while remaining honest scientists and presenting estimates of the uncertainty of their inferences.  They need to understand their own ethical choices in using scientific information to communicate to audiences.   These issues were salient in the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with respect to possible sea-level rise from disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.  Due to uncertainty, the reported values of projected sea level rise were incomplete, leading some relevant audiences to underestimate future risk. Such judgments should be made in a principled rather than ad hoc manner.  Five principles for scientific communication under such conditions are important: honesty, precision, audience relevance, process transparency, and specification of uncertainty about conclusions. Some of these principles are of intrinsic importance while others are merely instrumental and subject to trade-offs among them.  Scientists engaged in assessments under uncertainty should understand these principles and which trade-offs are acceptable. (Forthcoming, Politics, Philosophy and Economics.)

About the authors

Robert O. Keohane has served as editor of International Organization and as president of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Much of his recent work has focused on issues involving uncertainty and risk in connection with climate change and how international institutions have been and could be designed to cope with these global issues. He is the author or coauthor of numerous publications including, Power and Interdependence (with Joseph S. Nye, 1977); After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984); and Designing Social Inquiry (with Gary King and Sidney Verba, 1994). Ph.D. Harvard University.

Melissa Lane is also an affiliated faculty member in classics and in philosophy. Her interests include ancient Greek political thought and its modern reception as well as a broad range of topics in the history of political thought and in normative theory and public ethics. Her works include Eco-Republic (with Peter Lang, 2011, and with Princeton University Press, 2012); the introduction to Plato's Republic (Penguin Classics, 2007); Plato's Progeny: How Plato and Socrates Still Captivate the Modern Mind (2001); and Method and Politics in Plato's Statesman (1998). Since 2010 she has been a senior associate of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and served for many years previously as a faculty member for seminars run by the Prince of Wales' Business and the Environment Programme. She was awarded a Fellowship of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2012, and was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, in 2012-13.   Ph.D. University of Cambridge

Michael Oppenheimer’s research interests include science and policy of the atmosphere, particularly climate change and its impacts. Much of his research aims to understand the potential for dangerous outcomes of increasing levels of greenhouse gases by exploring the effects of global warming on ecosystems such as coral reefs, on the ice sheets and sea level, and on patterns of human migration. He also studies the process of scientific learning and scientific assessments and their role in problems of global change. Ph.D. University of Chicago.


The aim of the PIIRS Director’s Book Forum series is to provide opportunities for Princeton faculty working in international and regional studies to present their most recently published work to the Princeton community. The series will continue throughout year.


Lunch will be provided at forum events; registration required. Contact the Carole Frantzen, or 609-258-7497.


Stephen Kotkin, John P. Birkelund ’52 Professor in History and International Affairs, is acting director of PIIRS