Sunday, December 19, 2010

AGU part 2

On with the show!

Perhaps it's best to blog a little after the event, as it gives time for the boring and disappointing bits to fade away, leaving a more positive overall impression. And with an 11h flight I have ample time to wax lyrical about the good bits too, rather than struggling to scribble something down in a spare moment. Indeed I now see on checking through my notes that there were a couple of interesting talks on Tuesday, that I didn't mention before, in the section on uncertainty quantification. First Carol Snyder presented an unusually high estimate of climate sensitivity based on paleo data, which appears to hinge on a strong estimated LGM cooling. Not that this makes her wrong of course, but the previous week, Andreas Schmittner had presented a somewhat contrary result at the PMIP meeting, so I will email them to try to identify the discrepancy. Derek Lemoine also presented some evidence, probably compatible with Frank et al (who spoke in the morning), supporting a lowish (but positive) carbon cycle feedback at the bottom end of the model range. Jules went to a session on geoengineering where everyone seems to be trying to prove that even if we could restrain the rise in global mean temperature, it was only by screwing up all regional patterns of rainfall.

Wednesday

On Wednesday morning I started off at writers corner, where several authors of popular science books discussed their work and/or their lives. And then at the end of this session we had Greg Craven. It tended rather to the hysterical, and I don't mean that in a good way. My complete unabridged notes on his presentation read "I am insane. Apocalpyse soon." although in the interests of fairness I should point out that only the first sentence was a direct quote, the second was merely my personal summary of events. Perhaps the most I should say is that since Stephen Mosher wrote in detail about how much he didn't like the panel discussion later that day, I can only assume that he did not attend the prior presentations. I actually walked out of the panel discussion at the point that Greg started telling an uppity woman (president of some equal opportunities organisation, no less) that she had said her piece and could she please shut up and sit down. Pot, meet kettle. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, gave a sensible talk that I found interesting, if not too earth-shattering. He argued that scientists have a general duty to engage with the public, and even if we didn't want to do it individually, we can't necessarily avoid it in a world where merely being a climate scientist puts us in the firing line. However, under the rubric of "engaging" he discussed a wide range of options, and I was amused to see him list blogging as ranking higher than merely participating in assessments such as the IPCC and NAS :-) He also emphasised the importance of only speaking in areas where you had earnt credibility based on your published record, which formed an interesting backdrop to Judith Curry's talk later that day. She devoted her time to accusing the IPCC of ignoring the tails of the pdfs of climate sensitivity that were clearly presented in the very figure that she repeatedly referred to and explicitly emphasised in the summary ("values substantially higher than 4.5C cannot be excluded"), then read out a few cartoons and finally, literally out of nowhere, concluded that therefore they had underestimated the magnitude of decadal variability and that their detection and attribution results were unsound! Really, I'm not making this up, it was actually how it happened. These latter topics were first introduced on her concluding slide and there was no hint of supporting argument. She also talked about the "modal falsification" of Betz 2009, (which I haven't read but just googled now, is there a free version somewhere?) so I asked if and how this "falsification" (and she used the scare quotes herself) was distinct from assigning a low posterior probability in a Bayesian sense. She replied that it could be considered the same, at which point some of the audience were shaking their heads and others were nodding in agreement. From which I conclude that nobody, including Judith, knows what Judith means. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to be anywhere to be found at the end of the session and I didn't see her at any of the other relevant sessions where people actually dealing with these sorts of issues were actually presenting concrete results.

Thursday

There was more communication stuff on Thursday morning, much along the lines of wailing about how nasty everyone (well, Republicans and/or denialists, at least) was being to climate scientists, and how we need to educate everyone about the Truth of climate change. Which of course is true to some extent, but I'm not really convinced it is worth the time and energy that was devoted to it at the AGU. Tim Palmer gave a really good Bjerknes Lecture, which I nearly didn't go to as I've seen most of the content before (at the INI) but I'm glad I did as it seemed much better this time round. Of course, as he mentioned, it was a sort of anti-Bjerknes lecture in some ways, because the eponymous scientist was firmly rooted in the deterministic world and Tim is very much in the probabilistic/ensemble forecasting mould (as everyone in NWP has to be, of course, and I'm sure Bjerknes would agree were he around today). In fact Tim is a strong and convincing advocate of the use of stochastic parameterisations in climate models, which formed the main content of his talk. I agree they are a good idea and must remember to mention some time that Jim Hansen used a random number generator in the cloud scheme of his 1984 model :-) One of the numerous modelling groups here is using a more modern equivalent, so I don't think it's something that people are particularly hostile to. Where I part company with Tim is in his advocacy of a single coordinated model-building effort, which to be fair he hardly mentioned this time. I think it is clear that even with stochastic physics, we would still need a range of different models to investigate our uncertainty in long-term climate change meaningfully, and Suki Manabe made exactly this point in his inimitable style in the questions after the talk.

After lunch there was even more on communication. I'm not sure if it was deliberate or not, but the session discussing how to cope with this blogospheric "other" that scientists don't really understand was running in parallel with a panel of science bloggers offering advice to those who were prepared to join in. I only stayed for a little of the latter, it was pretty anodyne stuff. As jules noted, they all seemed to be "normal" geoscientists, none of them were involved in the post-normal world of climate science so their take on questions of debate, argument and abuse seemed somewhat rose-tinted to me. Not that that should put anyone off who is considering getting involved. I also thought their attitude towards discussing on-going and unpublished work was rather 20th century.

Then it was time for us to head off to defend our posters, which we had planned for beer o'clock to ease the pain. Unlike the EGU where the poster session was arranged every evening, here the poster session was scheduled for a full half-day (4h20m) out of which you were supposed to pick at least an hour that you would be there. Of course this is horribly inefficient and made it very hard to meet specific people, though perhaps there were enough random encounters that it didn't matter and a good poster should be pretty self-explanatory anyway. I didn't have that many visitors but made up for that by having long chats with several of them.

Friday

Friday was probably the most fun, with lots of sessions on using data together with models. First the reanalysis session, where various improvements and new analyses were presented. There are still lots of problems with inhomogeneities in observations which make the trends in precipitation extremely dubious - even at the global average scale, different analyses gave substantially different results. Jules heard about various attempts at carbon sequestration, but it wasn't clear if they would be practical and effective. Then in the afternoon there was a big session on using observations to test and validate models, which is of course right up our street. There is a big push for more of this in the context of the CMIP5 model runs, and it seems there will be some basket of comparisons proposed although it must be remembered that no-one actually knows what particular features are important in improving model predictions. As well as a number of fairly detailed and specific studies Wendy Parker spoke about the broader context of how we could think about model adequacy and performance. There had already been a whole session on more philosophical aspects of model interpretation which I did not attend but jules did, I think many people are generally aware of the issues, but struggling to find concrete solution. Anyway, I didn't think that anyone presented anything particularly earth-shattering in this session but unlike some of the other more disappointing parts earlier in the week, they were at least presenting some new ideas and results, rather than either merely re-reading an old long-published paper I already knew about (which are few had done) or else talking vaguely about what they were hoping to do in the next few years. I also stuck my oar in with a few questions and comments, which at least made it interesting to me :-) I also have a few more things to chase up with some of the speakers via emails as I didn't quite understand what they had done, or perhaps why they had done it.

So in the end I suppose the whole thing was quite fun and I'm certainly happier on the plane on the way home than I was a few days ago when I wrote the previous post. Given that we were tired before we even started (following on directly from the PMIP meeting in Kyoto last week) and that jules came down with a cold that hung around all week, we are glad to be heading home. In fact our devotion to duty is such that we turned down the offer of $800 each to get bumped off the plane which was over-booked. Maybe we should have taken the money and gone straight back to the Mac store but we are sufficiently worn out that another day of sightseeing in SF (especially given the rain) didn't really appeal. Jamstec would also have had a fit of course, which almost tipped the balance in favour of staying, but not quite. And anyway, they've already bought us everything that the Mac store sells :-)

26 comments:

Marco said...

Welcome back to real life, then. First thing: rejected paper. Chip Knappenberger has already complained on Klimazwiebel you guys got your paper rejected, and I'd be interested to hear *your* view of the reviewers' comments. Chip wasn't quite convincing, immediately going into conspiracy-mode.

Nick Barnes said...

s/1984 mode/1984 model/
I expect.

Steve Bloom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Bloom said...

IIRC Hansen didn't have to go into 1984 mode until that little run-in with the NASA bureaucracy a few years back. :)

Lazar said...

"She also talked about the "modal falsification" of Betz 2009, (which I haven't read but just googled now, is there a free version somewhere?)"

Yes... I'd like to be so busy that I forget what I read two months ago :-)... maybe

James Annan said...

Thanks for the reminder - I knew that the best way to get info out of the internets is to make a false assertion and wait for the correction :-)

James Annan said...

Marco,

It was a long time ago and I haven't looked at them since (or read Chip's latest, do you have a link?) but the reviewers had their backs put up by Michaels et al pushing their results rather harder than I would have done had I been writing it.

Marco said...

Chip's comment can be found here (with a comment from me right after):
http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.com/2010/12/tony-gilland-time-to-move-on-from-ipcc.html?showComment=1292515463147#c3286621267814413145

Anonymous said...

Greg Craven wrote an emotional open letter about his disastrous talk on Judith's blog.

Hank Roberts said...

So: been there, done that; did you get the t-shirt?
http://images.vogue.it/imgs/galleries/peole-are-talking-about/zoom/004153/shirt4-311737_0x440.jpg

Tom C said...

James said:

"It tended rather to the hysterical, and I don't mean that in a good way."

Under what conditions might you have meant it in a good way?

James Annan said...

Well, it could have been hysterically funny. But although it had its moments, in the end it wasn't. The letter also looks like the work of a drama-queen - I would advise a better strategy would be to go away and hide under a rock for a few weeks.

Hank, love the pic. We were neither groped nor exposed, as it happens, as nothing seemed to be set up at SF.

Marco, I am searching for my round tuit...

David B. Benson said...

Who is Greg Craven that I (or you) should care?

Anonymous said...

I missed Greg's talk but I watched in horror as he hogged the limelight during the panel discussion. When he told that equal opportunities lady to stop talking all I could do was cringe and face palm simultaneously. Did you stick around for the moment when Greg gave Jim Hansen a note for him to read out on his behalf? Heidi Cullen first refused to read it, but Jim accepted. That was just weird. The note itself was short, highly self referencing, and basically I'd like to say more but I've said too much already, and thus a bit pointless. Greg is citing lack of sleep and stress; I would note that he seems reasonably lucid in his youtube videos.

Part of me was still giving Judith Curry the benefit of the doubt regarding her tendency to opine on matters without supporting her statements with fact, and was assuming that she was perhaps having trouble expressing this information in blog format. Your report of her talk is just one more example though that she is quite comfortable being fact free, or at least fact-lite, wrt her opinions.

Paul H

James Annan said...

I walked out at the point of his confrontation with that woman, due to the combination of cringeworthiness and time wasting. And in answer to David, well he's no-one I should care about, and having had his 15 minutes, I hope there isn't much more to say on the matter.

Judith's talk is on the web and I'll probably say more about it later, in conjunction with Betz which I believe may also be available somewhere, if only I could remember where :-)

James Annan said...

Marco, I think Chip's summary is pretty fair, though I also think the main authors made life difficult for themselves by stretching the results to their limit and a few more qualifications could have been made. I'm confident that the methodology and results are basically sound.

Chip Knappenberger said...

Thanks, James. :^)

-Chip

Steve Bloom said...

As Ray P. says, we should be alarmed, and I suppose as the numbers of the alarmed grow we should also expect more hysterical outbursts. I'm not sure they're a bad thing, taken as a whole, since they serve as a reminder of how much is at stake.

Zeke said...

James,

You lasted longer than me. I walked out after he started opining that there aren't many republican scientists because republicans are fundamentally irrational. On a panel about improving climate science communication...

Carl C said...

Given all the BS climate change and other areas of science (e.g. evolutionary biology) have had to endure from Republicans; isn't it sensible to point out that they are irrational? Or do you think that being nice to Republicans (as Obama has tried for two years) means you'll lure them over to the side of actual science (as opposed to "Creationsim" et al)?

(Thankfully I work in seismology now; and even the most knuckle-draggin' Jefferson-hating Texan doesn't deny there are earthquakes...)

Hank Roberts said...

> Betz

Looks like the first link I left at MT's earlier gets mangled at the site, try this; either of these might be along the same lines as the paywalled paper

http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4490/1/paper_pluralpossibilities.pdf

VARIETIES OF POSSIBILITY: HOW ITERATED MODALITIES SOLVE A METHODOLOGICAL DILEMMA OF SIMULATING UNDER UNCERTAINTY
GREGOR BETZ (UNIVERSITÄT STUTTGART)

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/BetzOnlineModalFalsification.pdf
Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science Technical Report 03/07
What range of future scenarios should climate policy be based on? – Modal falsificationism and its limitations Gregor Betz

steven said...

James,

As you surmised I did not catch Craven's first performance I was hanging out in a GIS session. I've said my piece on his second performance. It's enough for me to say that I would rather listen to Tim Palmer or Oppenheimer. I had a nice lunch with Palmer, Webster and Curry. Since the time you mentioned (thank you) the seminar at the Newton Institute I've scoured their site and looked forward to meeting Palmer. I think it's fair to say that Tim is one of the people who gets the message of Climategate. More care paid to uncertainty would be a good thing. That's it. In one sentence. The whole of climategate. Time to move on.

Anonymous said...

Uncertainty seems to be comforting to many people, it scares me. If I put my money in a bank and it was highly uncertain how much I would get back, I would take it out of that bank.

Regardless of the uncertainty of climate sensitivity, there are several aspects of global warming that are very certain. CO2 is rising, as predicted. The current temperate rise is most likely due to the rise in CO2. The Arctic ice trend is down. Radiative physics says it will get warmer.

That we don't know with certainty by how much worries me.

Anon(1)

Neven said...

Ah, so that was what the 'sadly deranged prophets of doom' was all about it... Now I get it. Thanks for the link.

Well, I've read it and that sure was a tragic speech. Especially if he turns out to be right, but of course he won't.

James Annan said...

Regarding alarm and alarmism, given where we are now I'm not averse to a bit of Overton-window-shifting. OTOH it is important that people are not either so far to the left of the window that they are talking to the wall, or perhaps the metaphor should be jumping through the window...

What was particularly disappointing (in hindsight) in that panel discussion is that apparently none of the panel knew that the infamous "no scientists are Republicans" result was actually based on a survey of AAAS members, and therefore probably not representative of scientists at all. I do, however, find the anti-intelligence wing of the Republican party (or perhaps it is their base these days) to be a particularly odious phenomenon and can understand it being unattractive to many scientists, and indeed intelligent people in general. Of course the Democrats are not unimpeachable either, and probably most people vote based on other priorities anyway...

Steve Bloom said...

"probably most people vote based on other priorities anyway"

Sure, but do scientists vote based on the science?