Seductive simulations? Uncertainty distribution around climate models

Myanna Lahsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

159 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the distribution of certainty around General Circulation Models (GCMs) - computer models used to project possible global climatic changes due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. It examines the trope of distance underpinning Donald MacKenzie's concept of 'certainty trough', and calls for a more multi-dimensional and dynamic conceptualization of how uncertainty is distributed around technology. The certainty trough describes the level of certainty attached to particular technoscientific constructions as distance increases from the site of knowledge production, and proposes that producers of a given technology and its products are the best judges of their accuracy. Processes and dynamics associated with GCM modeling challenge the simplicity of the certainty trough diagram, mainly because of difficulties with distinguishing between knowledge producers and users, and because GCMs involve multiple sites of production. This case study also challenges the assumption that knowledge producers always are the best judges of the accuracy of their models. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with climate modelers and the atmospheric scientists with whom they interact, the study discusses how modelers, and to some extent knowledge producers in general, are sometimes less able than some users to identify shortcomings of their models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)895-922
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric sciences
  • Certainty trough
  • General circulation models
  • Global climate change
  • Simulation technology
  • Uncertainty


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