Friday, July 27, 2007

Science Mag: Editorial - Climate: Game Over

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Science Magazine's Donald Kennedy published an editorial today declaring the public debate over anthropogenic climate change as being over (the scientific debate has been (mostly) done for some time). Why you might ask? Well here are his words:
With respect to climate change, we have abruptly passed the tipping point in what until recently has been a tense political controversy. Why? Industry leaders, nongovernmental organizations, Al Gore, and public attention have all played a role. At the core, however, it's about the relentless progress of science. As data accumulate, denialists retreat to the safety of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page or seek social relaxation with old pals from the tobacco lobby from whom they first learned to "teach the controversy." Meanwhile, political judgments are in, and the game is over. Indeed, on this page last week, a member of Parliament described how the European Union and his British colleagues are moving toward setting hard targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

Donald Kennedy Editorial Climate: Game Over, Science 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, p. 425

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Polar work will drive you mad!

This is an interesting article from Reuters about "Polar Madness" or more to the point, how some people when they go to work at the poles seem to go wacko. Now this is not meant as a slight to any one person or group of people since this could happen to anyone. It is, to me mind, a result of our ego-centric internalized conception of self (some might call that redundant) coupled with group dynamics coupled with some of the ideas pointed out in the article. Odd weather, light conditions, etc.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

Working for long periods in the
harsh and unforgiving conditions near the North and South Poles
often causes people to suffer a stew of psychological symptoms
dubbed "polar madness," scientists said on Wednesday.
That is a funny line really. Who are these scientists. The line "scientists said" is almost a journalistic cliche.

While some people on polar expeditions savor a gratifying
sense of achievement, the researchers said, 40 to 60 percent of
them may suffer negative effects like depression, sleep
disruption, anger, irritability and conflict with co-workers.
Sounds like any office in town.

"Some people may have difficulty adjusting to the
light-dark cycles, and so they can never get a decent night
sleep and experience a sleep disorder," he said. "Some people
can get clinically depressed. Some people just can't handle the
confinement, with seeing the same people day in and day out for
extended periods of time."

Palinkas cited more recent examples of "polar madness" at
research stations, including one staffer clubbing another with
a claw hammer and another beating a co-worker with a pipe.

"There was a saying at the station for the remainder of the
winter that 'If you've got a gripe, use a pipe,"' he said.

Humor is a cure all.

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Compromise Brewing @ NOAA?

Nature has an interesting editorial this week about the goings on at NOAA. Entitled Storm brewing the editorial delves into the problems that occurred recently when the new head of the National Hurricane Center in Florida criticized NOAA administration for spending millions of dollars on an anniversary celebration while at the same time the current generation of satellites that track storms as they form is failing with no replacement in sight.

The editorial seems fair in its treatment of both sides. One of the interesting points it made is the importance of public relations in establishing its scientific credentials with the general public. This is a point that many in the realm of science and in the realm of policy do not understand. The extreme value there is to be placed on, what I shall call advertising, the important role that government agencies play in our national lives. It has seemed to me that one of the key failings of government has been its public relations inaction in the face of the negative sentiment of the past twenty years. For us scientists all one has to do is look at NASA to understand the importance of public relations. Sure, they have a very exciting product (many of the other branches of government do too) but only a portion of the money spent goes to that product.

Towards this NOAA administration has been passing decrees (which, though politically insensitive, is fitting with its traditional military command structure) which has been unpopular with workers within NOAA. As Nature says:
NOAA scientists have also been unhappy in recent months about
management decrees suggesting, for example, that they improve the
agency's branding by substituting 'NOAA' for 'National' in the names of
centres such as the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane
Center. Both of these outfits have distinguished histories and
identities of their own, and NOAA needs to find ways of asserting
itself and its mission in the public eye without diminishing them.
But here I disagree with Nature. It makes absolute sense that NOAA would want its name associated with its two most highly regarded products. But I also understand the importance of keeping these organization's identities. This seems like the perfect situation for compromise. The two organizations should add NOAA to their names such as "NOAA National Weather Service" or "National Hurricane Center NOAA" thus keeping the history and associated quality while melding that scientific quality with NOAA in the public mind.

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