Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Last Entry

This is post number 200. Tomorrow is the 15th of September. I have met my goals. This evening, I mailed off my dissertation (2 copies, printed bound and offset) to the department administrator, and with that, I am no longer a student. Back to the real world and then off to work on Friday.

The past year has been challenging, mostly in unanticipated ways. The course was not what I wanted or expected. Still, good has come from it. The big paper I just submitted is one of those goods. Even if it's not particularly good as a piece of writing, it has been an educational experience, an exercise in discipline and focus, and an opportunity to try something new. This blog is another good thing. I began this blog as an exercise to make myself write about the ideas, themes, and theories I have encountered. It has been a lot of fun inventing topics and writing about the joys I experience as a result of the world around me. There are a few unwritten posts still lurking around and I aim to complete. I am sure this blog will continue, even if only sporadically, for a while. And maybe I'll get brave and post my paper.

Stay tuned. More rambling after a brief brain break.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Interview: IPCC Coordinating Lead Author

Today I interviewed Dr. Pete Smith, Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Review and professor at the University of Aberdeen. I wanted to better understand the Assessment Review process. I've been curious about how it all happens, from selection of scientists to published report. Dr. Smith was kind enough to walk me through the whole thing.

I think there's some suspicion about how these things are done. There seems to be a suggestion of a sinister nature or some less than scientific agenda that drives the reports. After hearing about it all, I am quite impressed with the process that these reports go through and I think if people knew about it, they'd probably be less suspicious of them.

About the IPCC

This body was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization with the purpose of being the leader in assessing climate change. In its efforts to do this, it releases assessment reports every five years which review the available literature on climate issues. Over two thousand volunteer scientists who officially and thousands more who unofficially, upon request, along with government agencies participate in the production of each report. All countries who are members of the United Nations and World Meterological Organization are welcome to partake. Scientists are nominated by their countries to participate in the writing of the report. The world’s leading scientists on the subject areas covered participate in areas of their expertise. The selection process is carefully designed to ensure balanced representation from developed and developing countries and to ensure that the report is as balanced and inclusive as possible. All peer-reviewed scientific studies are considered and included within the reports, even when two or more present conflicting findings. A scale of low to high confidence is used to help clarify the level of certainty in the statements made. There are two drafts which are circulated widely before a final draft is presented to the government bodies. The comments made on each draft must be addressed by the chapter’s lead authors before it can go to a second draft. Once the report is compiled by the scientists, it goes to the governments for acceptance, debate over language, the opportunities for countries to pick out specifics they disagree with, and then it is released to the general public. With all of the hands and eyes that work on the reports, it is nearly impossible to have them overly representative of one perspective.

Some climate skeptics and deniers call these reports alarmists, but in fact, being alarmist in the scientific community is looked down upon. The scientists who work on these reports are often conservative, not wanting to stick their necks out for fear of them being discredited potentially leading to an inability to continue working. Also, if extreme and unfounded views were being expressed, it would be picked up on by other authors, scientists and governments and would be addressed.

Recent events such as “Climate Gate” the leaking of e-mails from a leading climate research institute and a mistake about Himalayan glaciers melting have fueled skepticism, but neither invalidates the rest of the report as a whole, which consists of three volumes and few thousand pages. To date, it is the most comprehensive and authoritative document on climate change and will continue to be until the IPCC publishes the Fifth Assessment Report in 2012.

Attack of the Shield Bugs

There are a few unwelcome visitors in my new apartment. 4 freaky shield bugs, aka stink bugs. Turns out, they're not only invaders in my house, they are also invaders in this country (hitched a ride from Asia). They creep me out. They're loud, clumsy, and like to fly back in the direction they've been pushed away from. So if you're trying to flick one off of something, careful, it'll come right back at you. I think the screens on this place must not be fit right because these freaky creatures are coming in. I caught two yesterday and two more today. They're being kept under glasses. The one I just caught is super aggressive and is making a ton of noise in his new cage. You can't smash them because they stink, so what do you do? Well, my plan is to keep them under the glass until they die and then I'll flush them down the toilet. Good thing glasses are the one thing we have extra of. In the old house, I'd take them outside, but that's a less attractive option in an apartment, when outside is down a long corridor and five flights of stairs. I do okay with most bugs, but these things are so totally gross they make me squeal (thank goodness no one is here to witness it). A friend of mine seemed to have a car infested with them. They'd crawl out of no where, especially in the warmth. No bugs in the morning, and 4 dead ones on the dash and two crawling up the windows in the afternoon. They'd crawl out of who knows where and tend to be exactly where you needed to put your hand--ie the steering wheel or the gear shifter. If you touch them, they fly at you. So you just have to avoid them and hope they don't fly at you while you're driving. And once one did. I was in the passenger's seat and either a window was rolled down or the air turned on and one flew right in my face and then into my hair and down my shirt. I was picking stink bug legs out of my hair for the rest of the ride. I hate these things and one day, when I grow up, I want to move to a place where they don't exist.

Creep yourself out:

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Explaining the Science bits

I'm not a scientist. I'm not a scientific person. My last science class was about 10 years ago and it was in geography. I've never taken a biological, chemistry, or physics class in my life. I'm not bragging. I do feel that I'm missing out. My point is that this doesn't give me an advantage when it comes to translating scientific things into lay terms. It doesn't mean I can't do it or can't understand it, but it often takes a bit of extra effort and reading about the topic. I'm happy to put in the work, but it also delights me when I find explanations of things (terms, events, theories) that are comprehensible. Today, I found it very challenging to come up with a thorough definition of thermal expansion. It seems pretty straight forward, right? Things (not necessarily gasses since they can be compressed, or so one website told me) expand as they warm. It has something to do with the particles that make up the things moving at more rapid rates and needing more space to do so. My brain imagines this as particles bouncing off one another at an increasing speed meaning that the bounce back sends them further apart, and thus you have expansion. Whether or not this is the case, I cannot tell you. I am still searching for a thorough definition. If you have one, please share. Your help is appreciated. Bet one of these books would do it . . . .