Friday, March 16, 2012

New Jobs

So as you may have gathered, jules and I have got shiny spanking brand new jobs. From April Fool's Day we will be working in climate change research at an institute called RIGC, located in Yokohama. Conveniently, we will not have to move too far away from our current jobs in climate change research at RIGC in Yokohama. It must be emphasised, however, that any similarity with our current positions is entirely coincidental. Furthermore, our work on predicting climate change is merely a sideshow, a bolt-on optional extra, which is of minor significance to the core strategy of RIGC (founding motto: "Towards the prediction of global change"). It's important to be clear about all this, because under no circumstances should anyone (least of all us) suffer under the illusion that we've been employed for more than 10 years on core research that has been central to the mission of the institute right from its inception. Oh no. That might imply some expectation of continuous future employment, too, and that simply would not do. The core funding has to be reserved for the middle managers and an assorted bag of researchers whose work is sufficiently irrelevant and useless that they can't actually raise any focussed external funding for it. It is important to get the priorities right.

As a reward for her recent efforts in managing and organising a small but relatively successful research group(*), jules has been demoted and awarded a substantial pay cut. I have merely had a pay freeze, after a rather productive year that would normally have resulted in a moderate rise. But we can consider ourselves relatively lucky. Others were summarily sacked - this seems to be principally "pour encourager les autres", since there is plenty of money and in fact further recruitment is planned over the coming months. There is no hint that the sacked staff were actually substandard - they were even invited for interviews, only to find out with less than a month's notice that they would not get their contracts renewed. It is horribly reminiscent of a previous experience in the UK, when a newly-arrived lab director decided we all needed shaken up, which meant the contract staff would be rigorously evaluated (according to his newly-invented criteria, not the performance measures they had actually been operating under) and preferably fired. Jules happened to be first in the queue and was initially told she did not meet his new standards, at which point all the senior staff revolted, and in fact a reasonably sane system (3 year contract followed by tenure evaluation) was designed as a result. The director went on to lay waste to the institute in other ways before hopping off to his next rung on the career ladder and is still one of NERC's darlings. But I digress.

The repeated short-term contract system is of course the same idea that was tried, and found to fail, in the UK around 15-20 years ago. The official ideology behind it is that you can motivate young (and not-so-young...) scientists and encourage their independence through perpetual job insecurity and threat of the sack. Of course the mere act of writing this idea down exposes quite how ridiculous it is, but the middle management simply wring their hands and say "it's the JAMSTEC rule" and the bureaucrats who designed it are sufficiently insulated from the results that they honestly don't seem to see any problems. It was criticised by the institute's external reviews as long ago as 2001, but JAMSTEC has simply ignored those. Across the EU, the perennial contract system was basically outlawed some time ago, of course (there are some very limited exceptions).

I don't expect too much sympathy - when all the dust has settled, it appears that we have 5 years of solid funding, on perfectly adequate salaries - a position that many people might be quite envious of. Even better, we have a substantial additional chunk of funding via long-standing collaboration outside of the institute, which will pay for a post-doc and all the travel etc we can handle. If history is a guide, we will be allowed to do pretty much whatever we want, so long as it contributes to the understanding of climate change. That's just as well, with the next project focussing on "tipping points", as I already mentioned. It's amusing to see how everyone overseas who we've mentioned this to recoils in horror at the phrase, whereas it has just arrived in Japan as the big buzzword of the moment. 5 years ago at the start of the previous project they claimed they were going to do 30-year predictions, and we told them straight away that was idiotic, too. I wonder if they will ever learn how to design these things rationally? First, I suppose they would have to care, and they clearly do not.

One unfortunate casualty of all this is our planned trip to the EGU in April, which we decided that we couldn't arrange and commit to in time. It's a shame as Michel Crucifix had been kind enough to invite me to speak at his Climate Sensitivity session. Luckily that Hansen guy stepped in as a replacement :-) We'll be over to the UK shortly afterwards anyway, for the PMIP conference and a bit of a holiday. As for the longer term, we will see how things go. Spring had sprung and Kamakura is very pretty, even if the atmosphere is currently a bit poisonous at work.

[* As part of a larger project which is primarily charged with "contributing to the IPCC", 15 of her recent (co-authored) papers are cited across 7 chapters of the first draft of the AR5. To put that into perspective, our glorious project leader, who is protected as one of the special people with a core position, has the grand total of two citations.]


William M. Connolley said...

> jules has been demoted

Anyone without a capital to their name is clearly low status.

Being out of the system I don't much care for myself, but I'd be curious as to whether you view what has just happened as an incentive to leave Japan, or if the advantages still outweigh the bureaucracy. You have 5 years funding... do you expect to stay for all those years?

James Annan said...

Well we haven't walked out on the spot :-)

It's certainly a nudge in that direction, but there is no point cutting off our noses just to spite our faces, however much temporary satisfaction there would be to be gained by stomping off. The simple fact is that we rather like living here - we took the morning off on a whim to wander around the plum blossom in our local temple in the sun, before having coffee in our local church. For people of sufficiently low ambition (who, moi?) it has its attractions, though jules is a little more of an (aspiring) empire-builder. And it's not like people around the world would be queueing up to offer us anything anyway, being too old for entry-level positions but not successful or important enough for head-hunters.

The new project is expected to start some time later this summer, at which point things may kick off again if some clueless numpty tries to order us around. With any luck, they will be too scared to approach us.

James Annan said...

Note to any USAians with positions open who may be reading. Where I said "not successful or important enough", this should be read as "amazing, outstanding world-leading experts".

(jules said I should make that clear, just in case. You never can be too careful.)

Carl C said...

I was going to say congratulations but I guess it should be commiserations! maybe it's time to go back and save your homeland....

EliRabett said...

The key, esp. for the owner of the stash is not to volunteer to help out. Let the new leaders make their own hash. Eli, as Ms. Rabett points out, has not learned this lesson.

In any case best of luck and happy hunting.

Steve Bloom said...

But think of it, your very own post-doc!

And is that not how all scientific empires begin, with a single bench monkey? :)

James Annan said...

Yeah, and that's how hers started 5 years ago too. Doing it all again just to be sacked at the end doesn't have the same appeal 2nd time round.

Shibui said...

I'M not sure why you seem against working on tipping points. Hansen and others have been on about this, and obviously there is a resultant public interest.

EliRabett said...

Maybe, and Eli is simply speculating, because statistical analysis really can't say anything about stuff that is external to the part of the system that has been previously explored.

EliRabett said...

With reference to

"Where I said "not successful or important enough", this should be read as "amazing, outstanding world-leading experts"."

When Eli was hunting about, he asked a friend to write a letter of recommendation, who replied: do you want the US version where you part the waters, or the Euro version where you scramble to shore?.

James Annan said...

Regarding tipping points, the fundamental problem is that their mathematical origin in catastrophe theory is basically unrelated to the important questions we care about in climate change, which are (IMO) primarily concerning the magnitude and rate of climate change, rather than the existence and nature of particular equilibria. (Even the concept of cliatological equilibrium itself is dodgy enough.)

AIUI it all went badly downhill when Tim Lenton, on encountering this incompatibility between theory and relevance, decided to (re)define a tipping point as basically any change he didn't really like very much. Which, as far as I can see, makes it more of a politically convenient construct than a scientifically useful one.

Wikipedia politely starts with "A climate tipping point is a somewhat ill-defined concept" :-)

James Annan said...

And Eli replied "the honest one where I walk on the surface" :-)

William M. Connolley said...

> Wikipedia politely starts with "A climate tipping point is a somewhat ill-defined concept" :-)

I wrote that:

EliRabett said...

EBTD, knowledge of the parameter surface (the climate equilibria, but actually much more) tells you what the magnitude and rate of change are, or at least the interesting limits on the same. Otherwise you are simply collecting numbers.

Alastair said...

just because you can't define it doesn't mean it does not exist.

The rapid climate changes that happened at the start and end of the Younger Dryas (YD) happened! And the rapid climate change at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the start of the Bolling-Allerod also happened!

In fact the rapid changes (in geological terms) that occured during all four of the most recent glacial terminations are also facts of life.

Surely enquiring why they occur is more interesting than calculating a new average rise in temperature for an increase in CO2?

And more important. All but one of these rapid events entailed a rapid rise in temperature, which is more likely to occur as a result of the anthropogenic rise in CO2 than the feared repeat of the cooling which occurred on entry to the YD.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, there does seem to be a reasonable common-sensical way of viewing tipping points, i.e. a change that persists even when the factors that caused it revert to their prior state (as with the GIS, apparently), but that doesn't seem to be what Tim settled on. I suspect this obvious definition didn't fulfill the objective of being able to identify lots of them.

Also, as this seems to be the Second Empire (would Second Reich be better?... perhaps not), I was inspired to look up the status of the present Bonaparte heir (Napoleon VIII afaict). He's working for Morgan Stanley in New York. That's cosmically ironic, but perhaps poor material for a metaphor to fit present circumstances. Maybe watch out if a lot of the new RIGC hires are German, though. :)

crandles said...

Re tipping points.

Professor Peter Wadhams and The Arctic Methane Emergency Group
have produced some written and oral evidence for UK parliment for 'Protecting the Arctic"

"Passing such a point of no return would be catastrophic for the whole of humanity, as, inexorably, global temperatures would spiral upwards and food production downwards.

Therefore we consider our present situation is extremely dangerous and warrants the designation of "planetary emergency".

We see only one way to avoid passing this point of no return, which is to intervene by cooling the Arctic, principally by using geoengineering techniques starting immediately."

They seem to think it is not only worthy of research but also of geo-engineering.

Seems like there is some disagreement over the likely quantities of methane release from an ice free in summer Arctic from people giving evidence.

Exponetial loss of arctic sea ice volume also seems to be being taken more seriously rather than an expectation of rate of volume loss to decline as the models suggest. I was surprised there weren't more caveats pointing out the models might be right and the rate of volume loss could decline.

Any reaction to the evidence there?

James Annan said...

I'm with Stoat. It looks like a crock of hype. As with the last time this came up.

crandles said...

Thank James.

Yes, I realise you thought it was overhyped, but was wondering if there was anything worth taking apart in the evidence or in need of correction.

I posted here before seeing stoat's post and realising Dr Schweiger has already done that quite effectively by pointing out misattribution of their position. (Sorry for not looking around adequately before posting.)

I wonder if an appropriate correction will get into UK parlimentary records.