Strengthening confidence in climate change impact science
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© 2014 The Authors. Aim: To assess confidence in conclusions about climate-driven biological change through time, and identify approaches for strengthening confidence scientific conclusions about ecological impacts of climate change. Location: Global. Methods: We outlined a framework for strengthening confidence in inferences drawn from biological climate impact studies through the systematic integration of prior expectations, long-term data and quantitative statistical procedures. We then developed a numerical confidence index (C index ) and used it to evaluate current practices in 208 studies of marine climate impacts comprising 1735 biological time series. Results: Confidence scores for inferred climate impacts varied widely from 1 to 16 (very low to high confidence). Approximately 35% of analyses were not associated with clearly stated prior expectations and 65% of analyses did not test putative non-climate drivers of biological change. Among the highest-scoring studies, 91% tested prior expectations, 86% formulated expectations for alternative drivers but only 63% statistically tested them. Higher confidence scores observed in studies that did not detect a change or tracked multiple species suggest publication bias favouring impact studies that are consistent with climate change. The number of time series showing climate impacts was a poor predictor of average confidence scores for a given group, reinforcing that vote-counting methodology is not appropriate for determining overall confidence in inferences. Main conclusions: Climate impacts research is expected to attribute biological change to climate change with measurable confidence. Studies with long-term, high-resolution data, appropriate statistics and tests of alternative drivers earn higher C index scores, suggesting these should be given greater weight in impact assessments. Together with our proposed framework, the results of our C index analysis indicate how the science of detecting and attributing biological impacts to climate change can be strengthened through the use of evidence-based prior expectations and thorough statistical analyses, even when data are limited, maximizing the impact of the diverse and growing climate change ecology literature.
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