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Saturday
May142011

Beddington - definitely a lobbyist

A few days ago, I noted the frank admission by the chief scientist in Australia that he saw himself as a lobbyist for the scientific community. I wondered at the time whether our own head boff was working for the benefit of those who pay his salary or just for scientists.

Here's the answer, found in Hansard:

Q5 Chair: Should the Committee, perhaps, re-think its position on the desirability of a Chief Scientific Officer at the Treasury, or do you think the need is even greater now?

Professor Sir John Beddington: I do believe it would be sensible to have a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Treasury. It is a thing I have discussed with Nick Macpherson, the Permanent Secretary in the Treasury. In the run-up to the CSR I did have meetings with the Senior Management Board of the Treasury, which Nick chairs. We were discussing primarily the Science Settlement and there are people in the Treasury who do absolutely know a lot about science and the importance of science, but I don’t think that is a substitute for actually having somebody who comes in from outside who has an appropriate external experience of science and engineering. I do think it is still important. The last month or so has been quite busy, so it is not a thing I have been pursuing with much energy, I confess.

Saturday
May142011

Darrell Ince on the tranny

Darrel Ince is interviewed by Tim Harford about the difficulties of getting corrections made to scientific papers.

Darrell Ince on wrong papers

Saturday
May142011

Boulton's editorial

Geoffrey Boulton has an editorial in the Lancet discussing the Royal Society project on science and the public, which he is leading. In particular, he discusses the first phase of the project, which looks at data availability. Climategate is mentioned:

Conventional peer-reviewed publications generally provide summaries of the available data, but not effective access to data in a useable format. Increasing calls for greater accessibility have not only come from peer reviewers and those who wish data to be more efficiently used, but also from citizens who wish to interrogate scientific conclusions in depth. The latter in particular have often been frustrated by the apparent resistance of scientists to the release of data, and are increasingly making use of freedom of information laws to obtain it. Recent high-profile cases in the UK include the global temperature data sought from the University of East Anglia, which culminated in the so-called Climategate affair, and the tree-ring data series eventually obtained from Queen's University Belfast through the intervention of the Information Commissioner.

The full article is here (free registration required).

Friday
May132011

A new approach to science funding

I wondered earlier if it would ever be possible to separate scientists from the perverse incentives that encourage them to hype their work and work against the interests of the people who are paying for them. (I'm not saying that scientists necessarily work against the public interest, although some clearly do - simply that this is the direction that their incentives push them)

By strange coincidence Susan Greenfield, the former head of the Royal Institution has come up with a pretty radical set of suggestions that would at least improve things. Firstly she wants to abolish the research councils and divide the pot of research money up between researchers. Secondly, and perhaps more practically, she suggests getting venture capitalists to fund research.

Both of these suggestions would reduce the incentives to work against the public. Quite how practical they are, I'm not sure, but the ideas are certainly worth a look.

 

Friday
May132011

Cambridge Conference on the Beeb

BBC Scotland had a correspondent at the Cambridge Conference (neither he nor I were entirely sure why he was there). The results was a short item on Wednesday's DriveTime show, featuring Andrew Watson, Ian Plimer and Alan Howard, the organiser.

H/T Eddie O

Cambridge Conference news item audio

Friday
May132011

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.

Thursday
May122011

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.

Thursday
May122011

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.

Wednesday
May112011

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 ...

Wednesday
May112011

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.

 

 

Wednesday
May112011

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.

Tuesday
May102011

John Mitchell

NAO

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

Tuesday
May102011

Plimer

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

Tuesday
May102011

Svensmark

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.

Tuesday
May102011

Lockwood

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