Posts Tagged ‘Impact’

Climate Change Question Time (or Climate Science goes to the City)

November 26, 2010

I initially though I had the wrong address for this event. In the shadow of the Swiss Re gherkin and the Lloyds building, I wandered into the Willis Tower and was surprised not to be asked to leave. Then, my second surprise, I saw the registration desk for Climate Change Question Time.

It turns out that the event, organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network in Industrial Mathematics, was aimed largely at City types, particularly the insurance industry. That said, there were some big names in policy circles and high-level representatives from most of the big climate science groups within a short-ish train ride from London (Reading, Imperial, Cambridge, Oxford, UEA, BAS, Southampton and, of course, Brunel ;)).

It was interesting stuff though I expect what most people took away from the meeting was that Tim Palmer really (really) wants a massive computer and he doesn’t care who pays for it.

I’ve no idea how successful it was as a networking event between the financial sector and academia. I spoke to one old boy from Lloyds who seemed well into risk associated with weather events. His point of view was that he couldn’t do anything with current climate projections. I guess the second problem here is that the climatological data that was so useful to him in the past is going to become equally useless in a changing climate. I suppose the challenge for the insurance industry is to recognise the point where low-resolution, uncertain climate projections become more useful than historic data that no longer represents the background climate. Hmm, that sounds like a project…

Anyway, rather than a full meeting report, what I want to share here were a few (probably slightly paraphrased) quotes from some of the panel members. I’ll give a little context where necessary. Here goes:

Tim Lenton: Don’t fall in love with your model.

Whilst the results of a model projection give you enormous ability to understand processes within the model, you mustn’t forget that the model is not the real world.

Tim Palmer: If God exists, he isn’t a climate modeller.

…because the two key scales to successfully modelling global climate are those relating to baroclinic instabilities (on the order of 1000s km) and convective instability (10s km). Achieving this is not easy.

Vicky Pope: Low climate sensitivities (below 2°C) look unrealistic from latest model runs.

As cloud processes have improved in Earth system models, it looks like it is the lower end of the IPCC climate sensitivities that will be affected most.

Alan Thorpe: Parameterisations are not dirty.

…in response to a question about “tuning” climate models.

Abyd Karmali: We use yesterday’s science to inform today’s policy that drives tomorrow’s financial markets.

Adair Turner: Achieving 80% emissions cuts in the UK by 2050 is still possible.

John Beddington: Identifying and monitoring signatures of tipping points is essential.

Ralph Cicerone: The public think that a “climate model” is a [physical] toy.

Just for completeness, here’s a little run down of the contributors to the two session:

The scientific uncertainties and their implications
Tim Lenton (University of East Anglia)
Tim Palmer (University of Oxford, and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting)
Vicky Pope (Head of Climate Change Advice, the Met Office)
Alan Thorpe (Chief Executive, Natural Environment Research Council)
Chair: Jonathan Leake (Science & Environment Editor, The Sunday Times)

Policy in the face of the uncertainties
Sir John Beddington (Government Chief Scientific Adviser)
Ralph Cicerone (President, National Academy of Sciences of the USA)
Abyd Karmali (Managing Director, Global Head of Carbon Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch)
Lord Adair Turner (Chairman, Financial Services Authority, and Committee on Climate Change)
Chair: Oliver Morton (Energy and Environment Editor, The Economist)

Make science an issue

January 14, 2010

The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) last night hosted a debate between the science spokesmen of the three main parties: Lord Drayson (Lab), Adam Afriyie MP (Con) and Dr Evan Harris MP (LibDem).  Firstly, what a great development this is for science policy in this election year – science and engineering have a massive impact in the UK and any effort to “Make science an issue” has to be applauded.  The debate can still be viewed here.

Ok, what about the debate?  Well, the opening statements from Drayson and Afriyie did not fill me with confidence.  Afriyie wants to “get Britain working again” – to me, this sounded like he thinks science in this country is broken.  He probably didn’t mean that and was just mindlessly spouting a party slogan but it’s not how I would have kicked off if I was in his position.  Drayson started off by saying that there “have been no cuts” in the science budget.  I’m sure that most people relying on STFC funding (a topic that was brushed under the carpet in this debate) might find that like a kick in the teeth.  In this company, it was not hard for Harris to tower above his opponents on the scientific, as well as general political, issues at hand.

Given the topic of my previous blog post, I was keen to hear the panel’s views on the “Impact” agenda.  However, as seemed to be a problem with the debate format, the question (“What impact do you expect from government funded research?”) was a bit vague and the initial answer from Drayson was very fluffy.  Harris was negative with respect to the Impact Plan, espousing the merits of blue sky research with unknown impact.  Afriyie picked up the ball and gave more of an opinion on the impact debate and mirrored my own (and the research council’s) views that getting scientists to think about impact at the proposal stage is no bad thing but it should not be used to determine funding decisions.  However, when a question on private/public funding of science came up, Afriyie then seemed all for more applied research to close the “innovation gap” between top quality research and industrial output.

Afriyie later well and truly dropped the ball on the subject of Prof. Nutt.  His view seemed to be that ministers should be free to sack any “advisor” they have for any reason at all!  (This also missed the point, made by @SmallCasserole on the Twitter #scidebate feed, that Prof. Nutt was not a personal advisor; he was the head of a statutory body.)  Afriyie’s opinion seemed even more ridiculous as, in response to a previous question on scientific knowledge within the House of Commons, he had described his passion for evidence based policy.  This evidence can, presumably, be cherry picked from whichever advisor suits your opinion.

Libel reform also got a lot of support from all on the panel.  However, given that the question (as well as most of the momentum behind the libel reform campaign) came from Sense About Science, Afriyie’s assertion that he was making the libel reform case “very loudly within the Conservative Party” rang a little hollow after Zac Goldsmith’s pathetic hatchet job of Sense About Science in the Guardian’s CiF.

So, my conclusion from all this is that Drayson was keen to keep his head down; Harris is clearly a massive bonus for parliament even if his chances of becoming the next Science Minister are relatively slim; and that Afriyie veered from good (repaying student loans for graduates going into teaching, compulsory “science lessons” for all Conservative MPs) to catastrophic (Prof. Nutt, David Cameron’s “zeitgeist” being enough to increase donations to medical research charities).  But I am excited about this interaction between science and politics and really hope that this is widespread and continues all the way to the general election this year.


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