Here’s a little bit of irony:
According to BBC business correspondent Hugh Pym, the report will carry weight because Sir Nicholas, a former World Bank economist, is seen as a neutral figure.
Unlike earlier reports, his conclusions are likely to be seen as objective and based on cold, hard economic fact, our correspondent said.
The idea that economists are more objective than scientists is a very difficult one for me to swallow. While scientific theories are pretty much all testable on the basis of observations, economic theories are much more abstract. Indeed, when people have actually gone and empirically examined economic theories, they have often been found to be lacking.
Part of the problem may be the insistence of media sources in finding the 0.5% of scientists who hold the opposite view from the other 99.5%. While balance is certainly important in reporting, ignoring relative weights of opinion is misleading. In a study published in Science, Naomi Oreskes from the University of California, San Diego examined 10% of all peer-reviewed scientific articles on climate change from the previous ten years (n=928).1 In that set, three quarters discussed the causes of climate change. Among those, all of them agreed that human-induced CO2 emissions are the prime culprit. 53% of 636 articles in the mainstream press, from the same period, expressed doubts about the antropogenic nature of climate change.
I suppose this says something about the relative levels of trust assigned to different expert groups. Economists study money, so they naturally must know what they are talking about.
[Update: 25 February 2007] I recently saw Nicholas Stern speak about his report. My entry about it contains a link to detailed notes on the wiki.