Wednesday, September 1

Climategate and the ghost train!

Wha??? You are thinking. I'll explain the train thing later.

I took the opportunity to go along to the public discussion at Highfield Campus, University of Southampton called 'The Climategate emails: controversy and consequences'. The event was part of the annual Tyndall Centre get together and most of the people attending were academics. I think there were probably just 4 members of the public in the audience, although there were quite a few academics in the audience that were not from a environmental/climate science background.

The panel was made up of Fred Pearce a popular science journalist, Professor Alan Thorpe Chief Executive of Natural Environment Research Council, Professor Mike Hulme from University of East Anglia and Nick Pigeon from University of Cardiff.

Fred Pearce writes for New Scientist, The Guardian and The Independent, he has also written a book about the Climategate issue. The discussion was chaired by Professor John Shepherd - National Oceanography Centre.

Alan Thorpe was the first to speak and generally felt that the outcomes of the climategate affair were positive with many professional bodies who advise big corporations (in the UK) wanting to be updated on the latest science. Quite the opposite reaction, I think, that some skeptics would hope for. He also raised the issue of intellectual property for code, data etc.

Next came Mike Hulme who has worked with Phil Jones, the professor whose emails were at the centre of the controversy. Mike suggested he was aware that something serious might happen before the emails were released on the internet, he had got an email from an American suggesting that CRU data might become publicly available if it didn't release the data the bloggers (McIntyre and others) wanted. Mike also pointed out that the CRU had now received a grant to handle data curation, something that was missing before the climategate issue.

Fred Pearce unfortunately didn't IMO add much to the discussion and advertised his book at the end!
To be honest, I have heard all the stuff Fred talked about before.

Nick Pigeon gave an interesting account of a survey that had been conducted, suggesting an increase in disbelief in anthropogenic climate change from 4% to 10%, but pointed out that the trend seemed to be reversing and looked like it would be going down again. One interesting thing he quoted (he quoted another academic whose name I don't remember) was the idea of limits to the number of things a person could worry about at the same time, termed 'A finite pool of worry'!

The best bit was when the audience asked questions. There was a lot of discussion about freedom of information and it's relation to the field of science. One person in the audience was from the medical/pharmaceutical area of academia and pointed out that climate science could learn a lot from their way of handling FOI requests. The medical science sector appears to have been dealing with FOI requests for a long time and have systems in place to deal with it.

One oceanographer in the audience pointed out that the vast majority of funding was for basic climate science intending to improve knowledge and wasn't directly related to climate change, this was confirmed by Alan Thorpe (I think) and Fred Pearce seemed to be surprised by this revelation, despite apparently being a journalist with expertise in the subject. The point made was that the research didn't have a goal to prove climate change was happening, the main goal was to improve the science and fill the gaps in our knowledge.

A retired statistician in the audience suggested climate scientists might gain from working with statisticians, this was generally accepted.

But what about the ghost train??

Well after the discussion I took the university bus back to Southampton Central station and while I was waiting for my train home, I heard a public announcement which sounded like "stim Dorset shttle passing thru... London , mind platform" or words to that effect. I thought, 'did she say steam'??

Nah, that would be ridiculous.

Then I looked along the rails and in the distance this steam passenger train was coming full pelt towards the station. It was a weekly steam engined passenger service running from Dorset to London called the Dorset Coast Express.
It shot through the station and I have to say I was gob smacked. Not sure what engine was at the front but it was streamlined, I think it was one of those that set a speed record in the 1930s or 1940s.
It was quite strange standing on a modern train station, then for a few seconds, momentarily transported back to the 1950s and the end of the steam era (in the UK). When it had passed, everyone on the station was returned to 2010.


S2 said...

The "finite pool of worry" was apparently coined by Elke Weber, a researcher at Columbia University according to The Economist. It is a nice expression.

Know what you mean about the train - I went out one Sunday to find the place swarming with little vintage sports cars. Apparently the MG Owners Club were out in force on a communal day trip.

TheVille said...

To a degree, I think many opposed to the idea of anthropogenic global warming might understand 'finite pool of worry'.

If in a discussion you can introduce other issues to worry about, then some people are likely to consider AGW less important.

You could even use it without specifically stating you are a skeptic. The impact would be the same.

TheVille said...

I think you have the originator wrong S2.
I think Elke Weber was referencing a work by Linville and Fischer (1991)

Anonymous said...

"Mike Hulme [...] had got an email from an American suggesting that CRU data might become publicly available if it didn't release the data the bloggers (McIntyre and others) wanted."

This is big news indeed if true! Can you confirm that Hulme specifically mention that the e-mail came from an American? Did Hulme say whether the e-mail mentioned McIntyre by name? Did he give any other details? And, what's the best way for me to get in contact with Hulme?

-- frank

TheVille said...

Hello Frank...

It was a few weeks ago and I didn't take very good notes at the event. I can't remember the exact words used and the name of the person wasn't mentioned (someone could have sent the email anonymously I guess).

To be honest I don't think it is surprising that someone at CRU was emailed and warned something might happen. At that point the files may have already been taken!

You probably would have enjoyed the discussion, I was actually surprised more of the public weren't there asking awkward questions.

Anonymous said...


The surprising part to me, if you're correct, is that Hulme somehow decided that the e-mail did come from an American (despite whatever anonymizing might have been used).

-- frank