In 2009, Hans von Storch and myself published an article titled ‘"Prediction" or "Projection"?: The Nomenclature of Climate’ (Science Communication 2009; 30; 534) based on the results of a survey of climate scientists. We concluded ‘Contrary to established guidelines, approximately 29% of the respondents associated probable developments with projections and approximately 20% of the respondents associated possible developments with predictions.’ A facsimile of the publication was posted on http://academia.edu/ and seems to have drawn considerable attention. For that reason, the same questions used to draw these conclusions were repeated in a survey of climate scientists in 2013. Not so much has changed. In 2013 approximately 28% (2008 – 29%) of respondents associated probable developments with projections and approximately 16% (2008 – 20%)of respondents associated possible developments with predictions. This is rather puzzling as the definitions of projection and prediction as used by the IPCC have a considerable history of debate (see http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/08/23/projection-prediction for example - and worth the effort of reading) and should have been a matter that was resolved long ago.
Out of curiosity, I plotted the definitions selected against the number of years of experience of the respondent. The data shows that the less number of years of experience the more inclined the respondent to think they are making predictions. With 0-5 years of experience, approximately 35% of the respondents claimed that ‘From a scenario simulation prepared with climate models, scientists are more inclined to make a prediction; with 6 – 10 years of experience this was reduced to approximately 21% of the respondents; 11-15 years of experience to approximately 17% of respondents; and among those with more than 15 years of experience, the percentage dropped slightly to 15%.While the use of an operational definition (see Percy Williams Bridgman) might lead to much less confusion, this does not seem to have been a practice widely followed. This brings me to the question ‘Is there something fundamentally lacking in science education?’
And, without any intention of further comment, one might wonder the same about education and journalism.