I’m going to SciBarCamp this Saturday. The theme is open science, although we’re free to interpret that as broadly as possible. So here’s my pitch for a session:

Climate Change is the biggest challenge ever faced by humanity. In the last two years, it has become clear that climate change is accelerating, outpacing the IPCC’s 2007 assessment. The paleontological record shows that the planet is “twitchy“, with a number of tipping points at which feedback effects kick in, to take the the planet to a dramatically different climate, which would have disastrous impacts  on the human population. Some climate scientists think we’ve already hit some of these tipping points. However, the best available data suggests that if we can stop the growth of carbon emissions within the next five years, and then then aggressively reduce them to zero over the next few decades, we stand a good chance of averting the worst effects of runaway warming. 

It’s now clear that we can’t tackle this through volunteerism. Asking people to change their lightbulbs and turn off unnecessary appliances is nothing but a distraction: it conceals the real scale of the problem. We need a systematic rethinking of how energy is produced and used throughout society. We need urgent government action on emissions regulation and energy pricing. We need a massive investment in R&D on zero emissions technology (but through an open science initiative, rather than a closed, centralized Manhattan Project style effort). We need a massive R&D effort into how to adapt to those climate changes that we cannot  now avoid: on a warmer planet, we will need to completely rethink food production, water management, disease control, population migration, urban planning, etc. And we will need to understand the potential impacts of the large scale geo-engineering projects that might buy us more time. We need an “all of the above” solution.

Put simply, we’ll need all the brainpower that the planet has to offer to figure out how to meet this challenge. We’ll need scientists and engineers from every discipline to come to the table, and figure out where their particular skills and experience can be most useful. We’ll need to break out of our disciplinary straightjackets, and engage in new interdisciplinary and problem-oriented research programs, to help us understand this new world, and how we might survive in it.

Governments are beginning to recognize the scale of the problem, and are starting to devote research funding to address it. It’s too little, and too late, but it’s a start. This funding is likely to grow substantially over the next few years, depending on how quickly politicians grasp the scale and urgency of the problem. But, as scientists, we shouldn’t wait for governments to get it. We need to get together now, to help explain the science to policymakers and to the public, and to start the new research programmes that will fill the gaps in our current knowledge.

So, here’s what I would like to discuss:

  • How do we get started?
  • How can we secure funding and institutional support for this?
  • How can professional scientists redirect their research efforts to this (and how does this affect the career scientist)?
  • How can scientists from different disciplines identify where their expertise might be needed and identify opportunities to get involved?
  • How can we foster the necessary inter-disciplinary links and open data sharing?
  • What barriers exist, and how can they be overcome?
04. May 2009 · 3 comments · Categories: blogging · Tags: ,

After that massive burst of liveblogging at the EGU, I took a week off from blogging. Which gave me time to reflect on the whole blogging experience, and what I want this blog to be. Some thoughts:

  • When I started this blog, I set myself the goal of writing something every (work) day. It’s been very good discipline: the act of writing stuff down on the blog helps me firm up my thinking, and means I have something to show at the end of each day – even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs. I wish I’d had this when I did my PhD.
  • I’m also using the blog to keep track of web links and published papers that I find interesting. For this alone, the blog is worth its weight in gold. (I used to write notes down on paper, but I found I would never look at them again!). I’m also find I’m keeping a long list of unpublished posts around for this too – I start a post when I find an interesting link, and a few weeks later when I have something interesting to say about it, I finish it off and post it. Sometimes, I save it until I have other related stuff to make a post on a cluster of related items (usually involving a serendipitous relationship!). And some things seem to stay in my “unpublished post” stack forever, but at least I know where they are if I ever need them.
  • The blog turns out to be a great way of capturing and sharing ideas at conferences. I especially like it when people I talk to then go on to blog about some of the ideas later – it opens up the discussion in ways that otherwise aren’t possible.
  • I also like it when my students blog about their research ideas, especially when they’re not so sure about something. It helps me to get a good sense of where they’re at, and where I might be able to help with advice.
  • Liveblogging a conference was brilliant and crazy. It kept me focussed during talks, but perhaps too much so – after all the main point of a conference is really the face-to-face discussions between talks. Finishing off my posts into the start of the coffee break definitely gets in the way of this. I need to find a better balance, but I do like the record I now have of all the ideas & links I encountered.

But there’s a bunch of stuff I don’t like, mainly to do with the linear structure of a blog. I miss having traditional navigation tools like an index and a contents list. The categories and tags are nice, but don’t really help me find the older material easily. If I want the posts to be accessible as an archive, I’ll need to impose some more organization on them. Many bloggers set up their blogs with no clear indication of who they are, and no easy way to browse their blogs other than scrolling through the linear sequence. And I still find it laborious to put weblinks into a blog post (drag’n’drop would be nice).

Finally, blogging is time consuming. Several people have told me this is why they don’t blog. But actually, this doesn’t seem to be an issue for me – each blog post represents a small chunk of research that I would do anyway – the only difference is that now I’m sharing my notes in the blog, rather than keeping them to myself. One of the hardest parts of doing research is that its very easy to let the “playing with ideas” part get endlessly encroached by things that have short term deadlines. The discipline of blogging daily means I then don’t let this happen.