I went along to the Royal Meteorological Society‘s AGM yesterday. I realise this sounds pretty dull but they have a couple of talks before the AGM proper, which were very interesting. (I’m also ashamed to admit that I left the meeting before they got down to the AGM business as I was giving a talk in Guildford that evening.)
The meeting was held at the Bank of England Museum and Mervyn King, who is apparently a bit of a weather geek, gave a short introduction looking at the links between the Bank and meteorology. I thought the most interesting story was on the historical importance of wind to Bank – available credit would have to be increased when easterlies prevailed as ships could sail up the Thames and then decreased again as westerlies returned. Naturally, he also mentioned climatic impacts on the economy.
The first proper talk was by Prof. John Mitchell from the Met Office. He was being awarded the society’s Symons Gold Medal (congratulations John!) so his talk was a celebration of that.
His presentation – “What we know and what we don’t know about global warming” – was based around a series of basic questions, similar to the style of Skeptical Science. He covered topics like: Is CO2 increasing? Is the increase down to humans? Does CO2 affect climate? Is the climate changing? Why is the climate changing? What might future changes look like? Are global temperatures changing as models showed? All interesting stuff, particularly the last point where John showed some updated work from a 2000 paper by Myles Allen where the observed 2009 global temperature was in the middle of the range projected in 1996.
The point that really caught my eye, though, was on recent temperature changes. I think it was some work by Peter Stott that John was showing on the difference between 50 and 10 year temperature trend distributions in model runs forced by natural factors and a 0.2K/decade forcing (I could be wrong about this last point, I can’t remember the setups and didn’t jot them down). Anyway, whilst the 50 year trend distributions where almost completely distinct for the two types of run, the 10 year trend distributions had a considerable overlap, which is pretty interesting given what global temperatures have been doing over the last 10 years or so and what that says about global warming (i.e. possibly nothing you wouldn’t expect from a climate being forced in the way Earth’s climate is being forced).
The second speaker was Simon Singh, who spoke about Science and the Media.
There was a little time spent on climate change; Simon showed a brief email exchange he had with Martin Durkin after the broadcast of the Great Global Warming Swindle in 2007. It seems that Martin’s responses to polite criticism are as sophisticated as his documentaries. Indeed, the presentation of Martin’s emails could also be the first time that c**k and f**k have been used at a RMetS AGM. This, I think, is progress.
There was also an interesting question for Simon about the similarities between the “hide the decline” episode and an edit Simon showed us that he had made to one of his own documentaries (substituting “primes” with “numbers” in an interview with a mathematician to make it understandable for a wider audience). Simon argued that they were quite different situations as the removal of unreliable proxy data was done for scientific reasons whereas his edit was done for communication reasons. I wonder if there isn’t more of an overlap, though. I’m not sure we’ve properly acknowledged the needs of different audiences and how scientists decide to summarise their work for them.