Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who's Got Our Backs?

This past week, I've been attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.  Not being a geologist, I've never attended AGU before. However, I was invited to give a talk on carbon sequestration in one of the sessions, so here I am.  Don't worry, though. I'm not going to talk about that.

Instead, I wanted to report about the interesting sessions that were held on science communication and also blogging.  First of all, this was a huge meeting--around 19,000 attendees from all over the world. Easily the largest scientific conference I've ever attended.  I can only imagine the planning that went into this conference.

Anyway, there were several sessions devoted to science communication and associated topics. In one session, I heard Michael Mann (Penn State Univ.) talk about his experiences with harassment due to his climate science work ("hockey-stick" temperature pattern).  Mann has been the target of personal attacks and investigations by various special interest groups, certain media outlets and politicians who have sought to discredit him and his work.  His presentation, "Climate Scientists in the Public Arena: Who's Got Our Backs?", focused on the dilemma of scientists who are out-funded and "outmanned" in the battle, especially if their institutions do not back them up.  He described his experiences in the public arena, into which he was pushed. It was a chilling story he told.  He was ultimately exonerated by investigations into his involvement with "Climategate".  He is currently being pursued by the attorney general of Virginia (Ken Cuccinelli), who is also working to get the state seal changed.

One point Mann made, however, stood out.  He wondered how the attacks on climate scientists would affect recruitment of students to the field, if they saw how their future research might lead to similar harassment.

I'm on the road, so will describe some of the other talks/sessions in the coming days.

Image credit: IPCC 2001 Report

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