Friday, July 30, 2010

The small world of science and internationality

Science is an international activity; it's also a rather small world.  I've mentioned both of those points before, I expect, but was a little surprised to be reminded of just how small a world it is.  I was in Russia for work recently, specifically St. Petersburg.  That's the story behind Dostoevsky being my summer reading.  At the meeting, of course, I met a number of Russian scientists in my area.  One of them being Dmitry Kiktev, deputy director of the Hydrometeorological Center.

Come ahead a little, and Michael Tobis (whom I know from some years of internet contact) posts a climate/weather news bit at In it for the Gold, regarding heat and fires in Russia.  The scientist quoted is ... Dmitry Kiktev.  In St. Petersburg, we experienced temperatures 20-25 F (10-12 C) above normal the whole week I was there (normal being 72-75 F, we had 95+).  The article is talking about Moscow, but to the same end -- extraordinary temperatures being observed.

A different thing which I'll get to is the Climate Doctrine of the Russian Federation, which I received a copy of when we visited the Main Geophysical Observatory in St. Petersburg.  One virtue it has (at least the English version; I don't speak or read Russian) is that it's short -- 22 pages of 5x8" (12x20 cm) text.  Not so much a story as points for discussion.  Different stories about the visit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Scientific spectating

The peculiar subject line is to introduce a new series of posts I'll be making -- scientific spectating.  My idea is that there is too much science in the universe for us (any of us) to be expert about all of it.  On the other hand, same as there are too many sports to be expert at doing them all, we can all learn to be good spectators.  And being an informed spectator is its own kind of rewarding activity. 

It can be helpful to keep Science Jabberwocky in mind.  Individual terms can be pretty mystifying, but it can be obvious that certain ones are important -- CCR5 means nothing to me directly, but I know that it has something or other to do with plague and partial resistance that some Europeans have towards AIDS.  In a similar vein, you can know that Shaquille O'Neal is a center, without knowing exactly what a basketball center does.  On the other hand, you will find it easier to follow basketball if you know that he is a center.  Knowing that, you can watch what he does, and what other centers do.  After some time of that, you can appreciate watching the game much more.

It was in this vein that I appreciated some papers and comments in the late 1990s and early 2000s, regarding the expansion of the universe.  The expansion of the universe (the 'toves') had been expected to be slowing ('slithy').  After all, gravity was pulling everything together.  But then there were some observations presented which said that the toves were not slithy after all (that the expansion of the universe was not slowing).  It turned out that the expansion of the universe looked to be accelerating (mimsy).  In terms of doing the science myself, it may as well have been Jabberwocky.  But I could spectate -- clearly there was a conflict between the expected slithy-ness and the newly-observed mimsy-ness. 

As a spectator, I knew to start looking for papers defending the slithy-ness of the toves, or attacking the claimed observations of the mimsy-ness, or both.  That, or even newer papers supporting the recently new claims of the mimsy-ness of the toves (er, accelerating expansion of the universe).  And I saw just that.  As it worked out, the papers supporting the mimsy-ness of the toves were stronger, and held the field.  I was able to watch and appreciate that much.  In the same vein, I can appreciate watching a college basketball game -- seeing one team take up a zone defense, and the other break the zone by feeding the ball to their excellent outside shooter, or fail in their attempt to do so.  As a spectator, I know that the offensive team has to do something to counter the zone defense, and look for it.

It is this that the series will attempt to do -- help educate readers in how to be good spectators of science.  A related point being, most of the best spectators of sports are people who love playing the game themselves (whatever the game is).  You may not be professional level, any more than I am at basketball (or any other sport!).  But it can be more fun to spectate when you play the game sometimes yourself.  To that end, see my 'project folder' links, and keep asking questions.

Since I like a conversational approach to blogging, I'll invite comments, questions, suggestions at this point as to how you'd like to see this series go, whether you think it can be useful (and how), and so forth.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revisiting a sea ice prediction

Regular readers will recall that in late March to early April, there was a fair amount of excitement in some parts of the web about the Arctic sea ice cover having reached almost to climatology.  That was rather exciting given that for much of the last several years the Arctic extent had been from moderately to extremely below climatology.  I wrote up my take in Arctic Sea Ice Updates.  Some of the excitable sources on the web were talking about sea ice recovering and the like. My comment back then (April 7, 2010) was:

So my guess for where we are in the Arctic: The ice formed by late season freezing and conveyor belt is thin.  There has not been time for it to freeze thickly, nor for it to get mechanically piled up to be thick.  The expansive winds that lead to the increase in extent also mean driving the ice towards warmer water.  If the current pattern of blowing the ice out towards the edge were to be sustained, it points to a temporary high value for extent, and then a rapid drop in extent as the ice melts, or as winds reverse and compact the ice pack.

It's now almost 4 months later.  What happened to the ice pack?  Did it continue to hang near climatology?  Go above climatology?  Or did it sink rather rapidly back below climatology, as I'd suggested it would?  The NSIDC report for July 6th notes that June saw the fastest recorded decline in June Arctic sea ice extent, and the lowest June Arctic sea ice extent. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I am John Abraham

Those of you of a certain age, or a certain other age, will remember the scene from the movie Spartacus where everyone steps forward and declares himself or herself to be Spartacus.  So it goes now.  Fortunately, it is only threats against jobs and not, yet, lives which are at hand. 

Still, someone's job is indeed being threatened, and the 'transgression' involved is to address the scientific content, or lack thereof, in the whiner's threatener's presentations.  That would be no matter for concern if the threatener were some nonentity.  But it is a person who has testified to the US Senate regarding the science of climate change.  That makes it rather a serious issue -- this is not a marginal person whining from the distant reaches of the auditorium.  This is a person with the ear of US Senators.

The person being threatened is John Abraham.  He's a scientist at a small university in Minnesota who took the time to address the scientific claims of the person who styles himself as Lord Monckton, and, among other things, who recently was invited to address the US Senate on climate change.  Abraham's response is at his University of St. Thomas web page.  I encourage you to view/listen to the presentation Abraham made.  And, of course, to examine yourself the original comments of Monckton's.  And then to hit the scientific literature yourself to see who represented the science most accurately.

I'll include a raft more links below the fold, as many comments are already out there.

The thing which has me writing is the fact that this is such an absurd response from Monckton -- if he were at all interested in the science.  That places this in to the 'weeding sources' category.  If you're interested in the science, you, first, try to get it right yourself.  Then, if someone else points to places where you might have gotten your science wrong (and, in fact, spectacularly wrong), your response is to correct your errors.  You don't have to like it.  Scientists are human, after all, and nobody likes to have it shown that they're wrong.  Still, you do it.  What you don't do is try to get fired the person who showed that you were wrong.  But Monckton indeed responds to correction by trying to get his corrector fired. 

So I encourage you to send your support to Abraham, by facebook group, to email his university, or the like (see, for instance, Hot Topic's petition to sign).  We need more people who are willing to address the scientific content of public statements about climate.  And they need to be reasonably confident that they're not going to lose their jobs for trying to speak honestly about the science.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Catching up on comments

I'm on my way back from break and catching up in general, not just on comments. It looks like several species of bizarreness chose to break loose while I was taking my break, and it'll be a while to catch up to those too.

Several comments in on summer reading.  My current summer reading is The Karamazov Brothers, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  It's the Wordsworth Classics edition, which I picked up for about $4.50 in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Yes, there's a story involved, and I'll get to that in a later note.  There might even be a picture or two.

Two more comments on When will the ice be gone?.  Ecologists are a good group to try to get ideas from (per Hank's comment about how to get an idea of what levels of ice loss are particularly meaningful).  And I see that Belette and I have an area of interesting agreement, [update, that's disagreement] which suggests a later post to be made.  Our point of broader agreement is that neither of us takes my estimate in that post terribly seriously.  My aim being more to illustrate a way to approach the question.  The exact answer ... not so important.

Crandles has some thoughts about Sea ice estimations.  One quick response I'll make is that a reason for some of the variation, or lack thereof, is that the curves are for 14 day averages.  Consequently, you won't see much happening at shorter time scales.