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Al Gore refuses to gamble on the environment

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J. Scott Armstrong, a forecasting expert and climate-change skeptic from the Wharton School of Business, thinks he is smarter than former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore. Armstrong believes he can "make more accurate forecasts of annual mean temperatures than those that can be produced by current climate models," and has repeatedly challenged Gore to put money on the proposition. Today is Gore's deadline to take him up on the wager.

If Gore accepted the bet, both men would deposit $10,000 into an escrow account that would be distributed by the winner to the charity of his choice in 2018, when the contest would end. The prize goes to whomever has the closest-to-accurate predictions of average temperature, over one to 10-year horizons, at 10 independently chosen weather stations around the globe over the course of the next decade.

Armstrong's Global Warming Challenge came in June of last year, as Gore revelled in the success of his film An Inconvenient Truth and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was preparing its most grim predictions on climate change to date. Armstrong and a colleague published a paper (pdf) entitled "Global Warming: Forecasts by Scientists Versus Scientific Forecasts" blasting the IPCC models as unscientific.

Armstrong initially challenged the former veep to answer the wager by December 1, 2007, but was rebuffed by Gore's representatives. Armstrong, in a letter to Gore, then granted an extention of the wager deadline until today, March 26th, 2008. Gore has again declined (click here for the Armstrong's account of the exchange between the two camps), but he still has a few hours in which to change his mind.

I hope he doesn't. Gore is right to dismiss this antagonistic offer. Subjecting complex scientific issues to a game of gotcha only heightens the conflict surrounding the issue, and doesn't bring us any closer to bridging political divides or solving problems that most scientists agree will plague us for generations to come.

But if Armstrong wants people to put their money where their mouths are, perhaps he would agree to this wager: Both he and Gore can purchase vacation homes of equal value, Gore's house on high ground, and Armstrong's on the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu. Then we'll see who's really full of hot air.

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