I’ve been invited to give a guest seminar to the Dynamics of Global Change core course, which is being run this year by Prof Robert Vipond, of the Munk School of Global Affairs. The course is an inter-disciplinary exploration of globalization (and especially global capitalism) as a transformative change to the world we live in. (One of the core texts is Jan Aart Scholte’s Globalization: A Critical Introduction).

My guest seminar, which I’ve titled “Climate Change as a Global Challenge“, comes near the middle of the course, among a series of different aspects of globalization, including international relations, global mortality, humanitarianism, and human security. I had to provide some readings for the students, and had an interesting time whittling it down to a manageable set (they’ll only get 1 week in which to read them). Here’s what I came up with, and some rationale for why I picked them:

  1. Kartha S, Siebert CK, Mathur R, et al. A Copenhagen Prognosis: Towards a Safe Climate Future.
    I picked this as a short (12 page) overview of the latest science and policy challenges. I was going to use the much longer Copenhagen Diagnosis, but at 64 pages, I thought it was probably a bit much, and anyway, it’s missing the discussion about emissions allocations (see fig 11 of the Prognosis report), which is a nice tie in to the globalization and international politics themes of the course…
  2. Rockström J, Steffen W, Noone K, et al. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Nature. 2009;461(7263):472–475.
    This one’s very short (4 pages) and gives a great overview of the concept of planetary boundaries. It also connects up climate change with a set of related boundary challenges. And it’s rapidly become a classic.
  3. Müller P. Constructing climate knowledge with computer models. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. 2010.
    A little long, but it’s one of the best overviews of the role of modeling in climate science that I’ve ever seen. As part of the aim of the course is to examine the theoretical perspectives and methodologies of different disciplines, I want to spend some time in the seminar talking about what’s in a climate model, and how they’re used. I picked Müller over and above another great paper, Moss et al on the next generation of scenarios, which is an excellent discussion of how scenarios are developed and used. However, I think Müller is a little more readable, and covers more aspects of the modeling process.
  4. Jamieson D. The Moral and Political Challenges of Climate Change. In: Moser SC, Dilling L, eds. Creating A Climate for Change. Cambridge University Press; 2006:475-482.
    Nice short, readable piece on climate ethics, as an introduction to issues of equity and international justice…

So that’s the readings. What do you all think of my choice?

I had to sacrifice another set of readings I’d picked out on Systems Thinking and Cybernetics, for which I was hoping to use at least the first chapter of Donella Meadows’ book, because it offers another perspective on how to link up global problems and our understanding of the climate system. But that will have to wait for a future seminar…

Excellent news: Our study of the different meanings scientists ascribe to concepts such as openness and reproducibility is published today in PLoS ONE. It’s an excellent read. And it’s in an open access journal, so everyone can read it (just click the title):

On the Lack of Consensus over the Meaning of Openness: An Empirical Study

Alicia Grubb and Steve M. Easterbrook

Abstract: This study set out to explore the views and motivations of those involved in a number of recent and current advocacy efforts (such as open science, computational provenance, and reproducible research) aimed at making science and scientific artifacts accessible to a wider audience. Using a exploratory approach, the study tested whether a consensus exists among advocates of these initiatives about the key concepts, exploring the meanings that scientists attach to the various mechanisms for sharing their work, and the social context in which this takes place. The study used a purposive sampling strategy to target scientists who have been active participants in these advocacy efforts, and an open-ended questionnaire to collect detailed opinions on the topics of reproducibility, credibility, scooping, data sharing, results sharing, and the effectiveness of the peer review process. We found evidence of a lack of agreement on the meaning of key terminology, and a lack of consensus on some of the broader goals of these advocacy efforts. These results can be explained through a closer examination of the divergent goals and approaches adopted by different advocacy efforts. We suggest that the scientific community could benefit from a broader discussion of what it means to make scientific research more accessible and how this might best be achieved.

For the Computing in Atmospheric Sciences workhop next month, I’ll be giving a talk entitled “On the relationship between earth system models and the labs that build them”. Here’s the abstract:

In this talk I will discuss a number of observations from a comparative study of four major climate modeling centres:
- the UK Met Office Hadley Centre (UKMO), in Exeter, UK
- the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder Colorado,
- the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) in Hamburg, Germany
- the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL) in Paris, France).
The study focussed on the organizational structures and working practices at each centre with respect to earth system model development, and how these affect the history and current qualities of their models. While the centres share a number of similarities, including a growing role for software specialists and greater use of open source tools for managing code and the testing process, there are marked differences in how the different centres are funded, in their organizational structure and in how they allocate resources. These differences are reflected in the program code in a number of ways, including the nature of the coupling between model components, the portability of the code, and (potentially) the quality of the program code.

While all these modelling centres continually seek to refine their software development practices and the software quality of their models, they all struggle to manage the growth (in terms of size and complexity) in the models. Our study suggests that improvements to the software engineering practices at the centres have to take account of differing organizational constraints at each centre. Hence, there is unlikely to be a single set of best practices that work anywhere. Indeed, improvement in modelling practices usually come from local, grass-roots initiatives, in which new tools and techniques are adapted to suit the context at a particular centre. We suggest therefore that there is need for a stronger shared culture of describing current model development practices and sharing lessons learnt, to facilitate local adoption and adaptation.

Here’s some events related to climate modeling and software/informatics that look interesting for the rest of this year. I won’t be able to make it to all of them (I’m trying to cut down on travel, for various reasons), but they all look tempting:

And then of course, in December, it’s the AGU Fall Meeting. Abstracts are due tomorrow, so we’ll be busy for the next 24 hours. Here’s a selection of conference tracks that look fascinating to me. In the Union sessions there some tracks that look at the big picture:

In the Education sessions, they’ve introduced a whole set of tracks on climate literacy:

And of course, many sessions on climate modeling and climate data in the Global Environmental Change sessions. I’ll go to many of these, but the following are ones I’ve especially enjoyed in previous years:

Of course, the Informatics sessions are where all the action is. I’m glad to there’s a track on Software Engineering Challenges again this year, and there are some interesting sessions on visualization, decision support, open source and data quality (among my pet themes!):

Finally, a couple of session in the Public Affairs division look interesting:

Phew. Look’s like it’ll be a busy week.