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Scientists and the public interest

The Royal Society has launched a new project to consider how science can be made to work for the public.

Scientific research has an enormous impact on our world and the lives of citizens. It is therefore important that science is not, and is not seen to be, a private enterprise, conducted behind the closed doors of laboratories, but a public enterprise to understand better the world we live in and our place in it. Effective dialogue about the priorities and insights of science and its relation to public values is vital. Scientists can no longer assume an unquestioning public trust.

The general theme of the project seems sound. As I have pointed out before, scientists have perverse incentives - as civil servants their economic incentive is to publish more, to attract attention and to grow their funding. The public interest is not particularly a priority. And with the Australian chief scientist noting that he sees himself as a lobbyist for the scientific community - no doubt the same situation applies in the UK - this conflict of interest is laid bare. So the idea of trying to get scientists working for the people who pay them is a good one, but I hold out little hope of an effective remedy.

And anyway, I'm not sure the Royal Society wants anyone to take the project seriously. The project is to be led by none other than Professor Geoffrey Boulton, a man whose record on creating public trust in UK science is a tad shaky, to say the least. The panel also includes Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, whose record is little better.


More data libertarianism

Times Higher Ed is once again hot on the trail of academics who fail to disclose their data.

Academics have been accused of failing to make use of new technology to improve research because they are "selfish" and bogged down in the peer review system.

Speaking at a British Library debate, organised by Times Higher Education, academics and students agreed that researchers had not embraced new technology to share their data and findings.

Addressing the question "What is the future of research?", Matthew Gamble, a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Manchester, said that despite projects such as Galaxy Zoo, which shares academic data with the general public, the culture of the "selfish scientist" was holding back British research.

"Altruism is quickly beaten out of young academics in favour of retaining data and making sure you can produce as many publications as possible," he said.


A climate bet

Toward the end of the Cambridge conference, delegates were offered the chance to put some hard cash behind their opinions on AGW in the shape of a bet on temperature trends. The wager was put forward by Dr Chris Hope of the Judge Business School in Cambridge. This is what is on offer:

If the global mean temperature in 2015 is more than 0.1 deg C below the global mean temperature in 2008, I will pay £1000. If not, the other party will pay me £1000. The global mean temperaure to be determined by the NASA GISS data set.

If anyone is interested in taking part, drop Chris an email at chris dot hope and the domain is jbs dot cam dot ac dot uk.


The conference - a summary

I ground to a halt on my live blogging yesterday - a combination of IT issues and frustrations with the conference itself being the cause.

The Howard Trust did a huge public service in getting together the group of people they did, but there were real issues with the format of the event. With the programme already packed, the fact that chairmen had also been asked to make short presentations meant there was almost no time for meaningful questioning of the presenters. On the rare occasions that the Q&A did spark into life the need to move on would bring things to a halt. This was a big issue in terms of developing an understanding of where the differences lie and how readily they might be resolved. There were video cameras in evidence, so you will get the chance to see what I mean. As Vaclav Klaus said in the introduction to his talk, the impression you got was of two groups of people who were talking past each other rather than engaging in a meaningful way.

Click to read more ...


Conference on the Science and Economics of Climate Change - cartooned by Josh

On 10th May 2011 at Downing College, Cambridge. Sponsored by the Howard Foundation.
The nine fascinating lectures from Phil Jones, Andrew Watson, John Mitchell, Michael Lockwood, Henrik Svensmark, Nils-Axel Morner, Ian Plimer, Vaclav Klaus and Nigel Lawson are summarised visually here.




Royal Society summer show

The Royal Society is doing a Summer Science exhibition this year, featuring, bien sur, a global warming exhibit. This has been prepared by Dr David Stainforth of the Grantham Institute at LSE (the Bob-Ward-not-so-science-y bit, rather than the Brian-Hoskins-with-numbers bit at Imperial). The choice of author does rather seem to be the Royal Society nailing its colours to the mast.

The exhibit is called Confidence from Uncertainty and looks at climate models and how their output is communicated and so on.

This bit struck me as straight out of the activist-not-a-scientist handbook:

How does it work?

Mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are warming the planet. This in turn will change the local climate we experience all around the globe. In the globalised society we live in we will feel the consequences not only as a result of local changes but also as a result of impacts in distant places.

Not may be warming the planet, but are warming the planet. Blimey. As readers here know, we have no idea if the warming we've seen is even statistically significant.Yet here is the Royal Society proclaiming that we're definitely warming and its carbon dioxide that's doing it. Not a hint of a doubt.

With a trailer this careless with the uncertainties, the exhibit itself should be something else.


John Mitchell


Says he doesn't do drama (ref to IP's heated delivery)



Q1 Andrew Watson. Says that submarine volcanoes are included. A: IP says that degassing before and after eruption not measured.

Climate catastrophists are engaged in trade and business. They are similar to creationists. Ignore data. It's a cash cow. We're all doomed, pay the rent. They use consensus and frighten the politicians. Punter knows the argument has moved on and the cake has been overiced.

Cacophany about agw has damaged science enormously

Calling people climate deniers is advertisement of people's ignorance. co2 is good

Long term record shows little relationship between co2 and temp

Warm times are good

Nothing unusual about the present

Current temperature changes are pathetic compared to past

Development of plants reduced co2 in atmosphere

Lots of calculations show that atmospheric lifetime of co2 is short. Only one or two suggest not.

All this co2 not going into calculations of carbon balance

Seamounts on ocean floor still erupting. giving off co2. But these are not measured. Known for years.

Supervolcanoes under the ocean are little studied.

Gas volcanos have been investigated thoroughly, but not included in normal measurements of volcanism because no lava.

Reaction of seawater with volcanic rock is a buffer. When we run out of rocks on sea floor we can worry about acidic oceans

Submarine volcanoes are the elephant in the room

Degassing of c02 before and after relationship. Close relationship of atm co2 to volcanoes

About 1500 volcanoes. Only hear about terrestrial volcanoes

% co2 in atmosphere has been up to 20% in the past



Q2 Explain regime change. What was it? Metastable states change. Nobody knows why, but well described in literature.

Q1 Chris Hope Judge bus school. What predictions does HS make about ocean heat in next 10-15 years? A: Might see a cooling. If sun is going down, and temps rise then it's not the sun.

Solar effect appears to be large. If exclude solar or regime change, then it makes anthropogenic look much bigger. These effects are not well covered by climate models.

Can effect be seen in climate? Use ocean heat content. Forcings = volcanoes, gcr, anthropogenic and a regime change in 1977. Solar effect ~1Wm-2, compares well with Shaviv. If remove solar effect left with apparent rgime change in 1977. This can be seen in eg tropospheric temps.

Coronal mass ejections - decrease in gcrs at earth - forbush decrease. Is there an atmospheric response? Liquid water in clouds over oceans fall after forbush decrease. Ditto in low clouds etc. Aerosols ditto

Always lots of nucleation centres in atmosphere. Is this right?

Use trace gases in atmosph concentrations. Change amount of ionisation. See if you get more aerosol particles. SKY experiment.

Correlation between low clouds and GCRs - but need mechanism. Ions?

Discussion of LIA and solar. Solar irradiance too small to explain Need amplification mechanism - clouds.

Get correlations between eg stalagmite 18O and solar variability

One particle entering atmosphere generates shower of particles - incl ions which change chemistry

CRs accelerated by solar events - supernovae.

He's older than I thought.



Q2 Was Maunder minimum effect European. A: Probably stronger in Europe. 1863/4 was coldest. Two years later v warm. What is probability that we go into a minimum and co2 stops us starving.

Q1 Shapiro paper discussed. Not sure I understand this!

In warming world Europe could get cooler

Could have Maunder minimum conditions soon

Global responses to forcings from Lean and Rind - discussion of solar in Eurasia. Blocking events. \do these have solar dependence? 8% decrease when solar output high

Can explain with caveats warming in terms of el nino, co2 and other anthropogenic and solar

But changes in sun since 1985 don't match temp rise - in wrong direction

TSI not enough to explain observed warming

Lockwood says Svensmark's ideas are beautiful and clever but effect may be slow and limited to clean maritime air


Lockwood and Svensmark

Discussion of different solor outputs and how they reach the atmosphere

Lockwood says stewardship of planet immportant issue for grandchildren


Andrew Watson

All done

Q2 ??? Feedback for h20 is not positive. Also no trpospheric hot spot. A: many uncertainties. Possible that RH has gone down. That's why wide uncertainty estimates.

Q1 Mike Kelly. Can we estimate past h20 levels. What is the effect? Can be done. Doesn't know answer.

Such rapid change is rare in Earth history

Good reason to believe that this  will change ckimate. Not certain.

Increase in co2 definitelyanthropogenic

Long calc to get to estimates. Includes estimate of climate sensitivity which gives estimate of rate of rock weathering.

No long term measurements of co2 (>550my). Only proxies.

Talking about co2 lagging temp. V uncertain Not consistent with idea that co2 is a cause he says. yay!!! Consistent with amplifying effect.

Close relationship between atm co2 and antarctic consistent with greenhouse theory.

Discussion of water vapour as a GHG.

Radiative transfer calcs are well known and simple

Decline in atmospheric o2 matches rise in co2, so co2 can't be coming from volcanoes. Must be burning of fossil fuels. Oceans and land taking up co2


Jones live blog

No more questions

2nd Monckton - asking about 60yr perioddicity and PDO. Can we detect AGW. PJ says yes.

1st question Tony Kelly of GWPF. Sea temps fundamentally different to land. Should measure marine air temp. Says sst doesn't agree to land. PJ says SST correlated to marine air temp

Questions next

And that's it

Satellites - same results as surface

SST - bucket adjustment is the most important. Also shift to buoys

Discussion of CRU subsampling studies - still get same result

BEST 2% series shown. We are getting the message that all the series show roughly the same thing.

homgeneity/urbanisation  adjusts have small effect

CRUTEM4 will include a full release of station data

adjustments to stations makes little difference at large scales

"Population growth is not a great metric for urbanisation trends"

Urbanisation. Little difference in urban/rural

Biases in order of importance form Jones and Wigley. 1 SST bucket 2. Thermometer ecposure, 3. Urbanisation

Some discussion of Menne et al 2009 - bimodal distribution of adjusts

PJ discussing homogenity issues

We've been told we will be evicted if we mention climategate

Lovely Georgian theatre here.


Sense about Science lecture

Times Higher Ed has a report about last night's Sense About Science lecture by Cambridge historian Richard Evans. From the sounds of it, this was pretty interesting, with Prof Evans noting that calls for the public to trust scientists are  "inadequate" given the propensity of scientists to get things wrong - he cites the BSE and miasmatism as examples. That said, Prof Evans, like so many others finds it difficult to cope with dissenting voices, and you sense that underneath he longs for consensus and certainty and a nice-neat top-down world. But I wonder if there is some significance in the fact that climate change sceptics were no mentioned alongside the anti-vaccinators (is that a word?,) who he gives as examples of the fringe groups who have taken advantage of the public distrust of scientist.

If someone can lay their hands on the video, do please post a link.


CRU book group

Members of the CRU book group couldn't wait to see what Phil Jones was going to suggest as the title for next month...

H/T Anoneumouse