03 April 2015

Citizen Science Versus Science

It's impolitic to say so, but I dislike the term 'Citizen Science'.  Scientists are supposed to be embracing 'Citizen Science' and all that.  But I can't get rid of the feeling that it's a patronizing term.  Nor can I ignore the echo that scientists are something other than citizens.  Lose-lose.

The patronizing, maybe you don't see it.  But consider some other realms of activity.  I am, for instance, a runner.  Not a 'citizen runner', just a runner.  I have been in races with some people who were anywhere from slow beginners to world record holders.  In one race, I ran a 10 km against the (then) current men's marathon world record holder (Khalid Khannouchi) and the soon-to-be women's marathon world record holder (Catherine Ndereba).  No, I'm not great.  That's the point.  They ran their 10k, in about 28 and 30 minutes, respectively.  And I ran mine in about 45 minutes.  They were much better than I.  But we all (about 3000 of us) ran the same race, by the same rules, and were called the same thing -- runners.

Or consider music.  At one point, I played clarinet.  With tons of practice, I was able to get reasonably good results and sat near the top of my section in high school.  We were pretty good for a high school band, so maybe I was pretty good clarinetist back then.  The thing is, I know what seriously good musicians were like -- my sisters were both talented, one exceedingly so.  They were oboist and flautist.  The flautist might have been able to turn professional successfully.  Chose not to.  But you notice, again, same terms -- clarinetist, oboist, flautist -- used for us nonprofessionals as for the professionals. 

My take is, let's all go do science.  Not citizen science, just science, period.  Same as music or sports or anything else, some of us make a living at it, and many more will do it for the love of it.  But we're all engaging in the same activity, so let's also call it by the same name.  Same as we do for any other activity.


EliRabett said...

Consider astronomy, where amateurs have taken over entire areas (comet searching for example), and have time reserved for them on large telescopes.

Or just go botanizing with somebunny who knows the plants of the field.

Robert Grumbine said...

Tom, if you'd like to complain about other people, go to their blogs and do so.

If you'd like to talk science, this is a good place for it. Your choice.

Tom said...

Hi Robert

I see conflicting assessments of heat accumulation in the oceans.

Are oceans warming? If so, by how much? How confident are we about the numbers?

Robert Grumbine said...

A good survey to start with in learning about the state of knowledge is http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rog.20022/full -- Reviews of Geophysics, 2013. It outlines the local observing methods, their biases and uncertainties, the methods for constructing a global estimate from those, and those methods' uncertainty, and, finally, the results from multiple investigators.

Clearly an area with active work. But it's at a point that it can be said with confidence that the oceans are indeed warming on climate time scales.

While the values differ, they can't really be said to be in conflict -- there's a reason not just the final number is given. The error bars are important to notice as well.

An area for people to engage in this science is to tackle transcription of old marine observation logs. There are still archives of information which exist only on paper. The more data which can be recovered, the better these kinds of analysis can be done.

And, as the data volumes are small but care needed in using each observation is large, it's a good area for an amateur to invest time and energy in working on better methods for bias corrections, error estimates for the instruments, better ways of representing what's happening in the areas that aren't directly observed, incorporate satellite altimetry observations, etc..

Tom said...

I logged bucket tosses in the Navy. I wrote down the numbers I was given. I would not swear to the accuracy of those numbers.

Robert Grumbine said...

Indeed. But for computing trends, as long as you (and the people giving you numbers) weren't part of a conspiracy to write down temperatures which were consistently too cold, so as to produce a false warming trend in later decades, the problem is one of large error bars on the observation, not bogus trends.

Bucket temperatures are notoriously difficult to use. Fortunately, when looking at the ocean's heat content, bucket temperatures -- which are surface measurements -- aren't very important. The subsurface measurements are higher quality, though see the paper for discussion for their errors.

Some jump from observations are imperfect (which is always true) to therefore we know nothing (seldom true). On that, see today's post on Bad Philosophy

Tom said...

Well, if you've a problem with Curry you should go to her blog and tell her so.

I'm a fan of Bertrand Russell, myself, and I try very hard to retain the idea that I can be wrong, especially about the things I'm passionate about.

That includes the lukewarmer position on climate change.

If very cold seawater warms slightly at the depths of the oceans, how does that affect climate on decadal scales? (I'm not looking for a mathematical proof--what is the mechanism?)

As a non-scientist I have the mental picture that we would expect at most some effect on millenial scales--and that indeed, some of the changes we are seeing in today's climate are the result of changes introduced into the oceans a very long time ago.

If my mental picture is flawed, if you can spend a few minutes correcting it I would be most grateful.

Robert Grumbine said...

Why would the deep ocean be warming? That affects any answer. Geothermal heat flux, for instance, is only about 0.05 W/m^2, versus the several tenths which are observed in the upper ocean (upper meaning 2000 m). But the geothermal flux, as far as we know, is only variable on geological time scales -- millions of years -- not the decades or centuries of current climate changes.

Millennial times scales don't exist in the modern ocean, nor any since the end of the last ice age.This is just a matter of looking at ocean circulation and its speeds. One way of estimating is to look at how fast a blob of water can move from pole to pole. It's only about 20,000 km. Currents in the deep ocean move only a few cm per second. But let's take a slow one, 1 cm/s. The blob will make that trip in only about 60 years. So decadal variability can plausibly be hidden in the ocean.

Another estimate is to look at how fast the ocean 'fills'. That is, to look at how fast water get made dense enough to sink in to the deep ocean from the surface. This is slower, but still 200-1000 years. So some centennial variability can be hidden in the deep ocean.

But what this has to do with your lukewarmery sentiments, I don't know. If you want to attribute recent heat content increases in the upper 2000 to transfer from the lower 2000, you'll fail because of the sea level observations. If heat is only being moved around, sea level doesn't change due to local heating. But it is observed that sea level is rising by more than glacial ice melting can account for, hence some has to be net ocean warming.

You can rescue a heat content hypothesis by adding another hypothesis that glacial ice is melting even faster than observations so far suggest. But that wouldn't be happy for a lukewarmer, as it means the glacial situation is even worse than lukewarmers think.

Tom said...

The recent things I have read are more about deep water. How long does it take for deep water to heat up? How long does it take to have an effect on climate?

It seems from what I've read that it can take a millenium to cycle through.

BTW, Bertrand Russell is my favorite philosopher. I believe he would approve of what you wrote in Bad Philosophy.

Just as you cannot allow imperfect knowledge to paralyze you, you need to remember the dictum:

You can't do everything.
You must do something.

Tom said...

I just read your most recent comment. I don't think you're actually up to speed on what lukewarmers think.

I don't want convenient facts to bolster my point of view. I don't know any lukewarmers who do. Not Lucia, not McIntyre, not Moser and not myself.

I am aware that the lukewarmer label is proving to be attractive to some skeptics who are tired of being insulted as deniers (and I don't blame them), but I think lukewarmers want to adjust their view of the world to fit the facts rather than vice versa.

Robert Grumbine said...

Lucia and McIntyre have misrepresented others pretty routinely in order to support what they wish were true. More generally, self-described lukewarmers have been rather selective as to what their standards of evidence are. Things pointing to low climate sensitivity, accepted with little consideration if any. Things pointing to higher sensitivity, rejected or subject to vastly higher requirements. Requirements high enough that if they were applied to the shape of the earth, they'd still be considering a flat earth although allowing as how maybe it's a sphere of very large radius. The reality of oblate spheroid is far from what they're considering. So it looks to me from those I've seen.

All of which is rather moot -- are you going to discuss the science, or complain about my lack of knowledge about what members of your club think about yourselves?