Climate Cluster II Panel Discussion: Climate Change Scientists in the Trenches

Climate change science is attracting an exceptional amount of public interest, yet debates over the merit and implications of climate change research seldom unpack the complex set of practices and networks that make up this field. This panel will explore the multiple realities of conducting climate change science at a time of heightened skepticism and media attention. Panelists:

Jason Box, Associate Professor of Geography Atmospheric Sciences & Program Researcher at Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University

Jeffrey Bury, Associate Professor, Environmental Studies, UCSC

Ken Mankoff, Ph.D. Student, Earth and Planetary Sciences, UCSC

Lisa Sloan, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences & Director of the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory, UCSC

Click here or more information on the Climate Cluster.


Thursday, February 24, 2011 | 12:00 p.m. | E2 Room 599

Climate Cluster II: Climate Researchers in the Trenches
SJWG Rapporteur Report
24 February 2011
Lisa Sloan - Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences & Director of the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory, UCSC
Jason Box - Associate Professor of Geography Atmospheric Sciences & Program Researcher at Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University
Jeff Bury - Associate Professor, Environmental Studies, UCSC
Ken Mankoff - Ph.D. Student, Earth and Planetary Sciences, UCSC
Moderator: Costanza Rampini

Rampini began by showing a cover of Rolling Stone, noting that the fact that climate change has made it to the same cover as Lil Dwayne shows how popular this topic has become. Rampini continued that most discussions of climate change don’t take the time to unpack for us for it means to conduct climate change science. The four panelists were introduced as scholars who could help the audience understand what it means to be a climate change scientist.

Rampini then asked the panelists to introduce themselves, briefly explain their work, and say whether they identify as a climate change scientist. (panelists' answers are paraphrased below)

Sloan: Emphatically, yes, I a am a climate scientist and I work on paleo climate. People on an airplance want to change their seat if you tell them you are a climate scientist. Knowing about the past can help you understand the envelope
of behavior the future might bring.

Box: I am a physical climatologist and geographer. I work in Greenland and technically yes I am a climate change scientist because I study climate and the climate is always changing. I want to make the physical science matter and so always want to bring it back to the human impacts. Otherwise the science is just for the science.

Bury: I identify as a social scientist, not a climate change scientist, but 3:1 is a good ratio for this conversation. I work on the Andes.

Mankoff: I am a climate change scientist to be. I am a computer scientist by training and I study how oceans warm Antarctica, and used to be a climate modeler before returning to school. I also volunteered for Al Gore’s group and gave custom live versions of An Inconvenient Truth, and the motivation was to get people to do behavioral change.

Rampini’s next question was about collaboration. She prefaced that, because climate change science generally involves transboundary collaboration whether over disciplinary boundaries or national boundaries. Collaboration can be very
fruitful and very challenging, and asked the panelists to share their experience with transboundary collaboration, especially and instances that were particularly successful or difficult.

Sloan: Not sure what you mean by disciplinary boundaries. Interdisciplinarity on this campus is pretty good and this campus is a good incubator for crossdisciplinary work. Last night I gave a talk to a senior center and this town is
pretty good at breaking down boundaries too.

Box: I want my department to have more impact and give back to society and not just do science for the sake of science. I am between physical and social science boundaries and I have talked with a social scientist in my Geography department
who sees climate change as the biggest issue out there, which is encouraging.

Mankoff: I have been warned against doing interdisciplinary work, for example I am discouraged from doing field work, but I am doing interdisciplinary work anyway.

Bury: I come at this from an International Relations perspective, and also see where I am coming from as transdisciplinarity. I work a lot with Peruvian scientists and have seen the Balkanization of the snow and ice people, i.e. different research teams who sneak in and out of the field and don’t want to talk to each other.

Box: I can confirm that I’ve similarly seen epistemological differences with the scientists in Peru as well, whereas in Greenland things are much friendlier.

Rampini then asked about how uncertainty manifests in the panelists’ work and how they deal with it.

Bury: uncertainty is one of the primary things we try to deal with in our work. The challenge is how to devise the right methods that get the confidence of scientific colleagues when measuring what goes on in Peruvian communities. There is
deep uncertainty about what future costs will be.

Sloan: uncertainty comes with science. The classic problem is that when we hear about the climate change debate people speak in absolutes, but scientists can’t do that. That’s a tough one to me.

Mankoff: I try to explain that a scientist doesn’t have to say that gravity is just a theory, but that doesn’t mean we don't think it’s happening when I talk to nonscientists. The other way I deal with it is with an error bar that gets spit out of a
software program.

Box: Science is only a tool, a way of knowing, and a quantitative statement should always be accompanied by an uncertainty measurement. The IPCC does an excellent job by qualifying each of its statements about uncertainty with a word (e.g. unequivocal, likely, very likely, etc.). Weather forecasters shouldn’t way “it’s going to rain tomorrow,” they should say “there’s a 95% chance it’s going to rain tomorrow.”

Mankoff: I will go so far as to say that species going extinct is bad, and I think this is more compelling, though subjective, than saying “we have observed a 90% decline”

Box: without a value system we are unable to make decisions, and perhaps the wall between left and right is that they simply have different value structures. This is a problem we need to consider if we want to get beyond it.

Rampini then noted how the ‘climategate’ scandal has been compared to the OJ Simpson trial. In the case of OJ Simpson, the large amount of evidence helped lawyers in finding flaws in the police procedures. Rampini then suggested the possibility that more information (or in the case of climate change, data) doesn’t make uncertainty go away but that it can make it worse. Rampini asked if the panelists thought the debate over climate change had left the scientific lab and
entered the political arena. She also asked what kind of role, if any, do scientists still have in these political debates.

Box: Sea level rise will have wider error bars in the 5th IPCC assessment and that will cause confusion for the public.

Sloan: Not sure that outside skepticism makes the science better. What is going on with Inhoffe is ugly, what is going on with the political side of things makes me think the scientists aren’t playing a decent role in the political arena so I feel

Bury: The scandals have taught me not to leave emails on the server. USAID’s whole program is now all about climate change and I brought them together with people from the World Bank. This story shows how the politicization of science in Washington has consequences for development.

Rampini then asked about audience, and whether the panelists had any experiences communicating their research to a general public or policy-makers.

Bury: I have been very impressed by how Box has communicated his findings about Greenland with lots of internet resources and being on a Greenpeace ship. What I’m working on is developing new formats for communicating findings to visually demonstrate glacier repression in the Andes. I won’t take USAID’s money but I do give them free advice. We have no skepticism in Peru, everyone there believes that climate change is taking place.

Mankoff: I have had people walk out of the room and say I am trying to poison them with CFL lightbulbs.

Box: Know your audience. I was sponsored by the UCC to talk with my congressperson about climate science. To speak with conservatives I couldn’t rely on the typical environmental message. Instead, it is wise to make appeals to patriotism, and ask them what we are leaving for our kids, speak in terms of stewardship and to speak of economic competitiveness, e.g. with solar manufacturers in China.
! !

Sloan: Make it local, that gives your audience a stake in what climate change might mean. E.g. say that Beach Hill in Santa Cruz may become Beach Island. The audience also asked a number of questions of the panelists. One participant asked whether the way the panelists conducted their work had changed in response to the skeptic movement, e.g. if there was more pressure for transparency.

Box: The more transparency the better.

Sloan: The NSF now wants a data management plan that includes how it will be archived so that anyone can access it, but this causing issues about how to pay for and manage the data management.

Bury: I also need a data management plan that will be public, which is difficult since I work with human subjects.

Other conversations that were prompted by comments from the audience included: the problem of translating knowledge into action (where even in environmental education one participant had noted substantial gaps between awareness and action); whether tackling the effects and causes of climate change were competing policy priorities; and whether scientists are invested in changing values and perhaps should think more about values. Mankoff commented that it is important to make both causes and effects policy priorities and that values do not come into the science, as that would not be science. Box noted that more than nine out of ten climate scientists come from a liberal perspective, and discussion on what should be done about climate change politically included references to “psychological warfare.” Bury noted that he studies the scientists and asks them to come to policy meetings with him, and that he also brings ethicists into the field with him. Discussion turned to the notion of objectivity as itself a value and the possibility of valuing objectivity.

Science & Justice Training Program Information Session

New date and place: Tuesday, 1/25/11, 12:00-1:30 PM, Humanities I room 320

The second cohort of our Science & Justice Training Program begins in Spring 2011! We are hosting an information session on January 25 in Humanities I 320, 12:00-1:30 PM. A pizza lunch will be provided. Graduate students from all campus departments are welcome in the Training Program and are encouraged to attend the information session.Continue Reading Science & Justice Training Program Information Session

Climate Cluster I: Thinking Through the Technical Fix

The scope of climate change science has expanded from projections of long-term weather trends to include proposals to technically “fix” the climate, such as geoengineering and carbon mitigation strategies.  Like climate modeling, proposals for technical remediation contain scientific uncertainties that translate awkwardly in the political sphere.  This situation compounds the difficulties in planning for future climate conditions.  The Climate Cluster’s fall panel discussion will explore several interrelated themes that arise in discussions of technical approaches to climate change including consensus, uncertainty, indeterminacy and model downscaling.  We will also focus on the possibilities of creating, integrating and communicating climate change research through mechanisms such as climate modeling and geographical information systems (GIS).

Andrew Mathews, Assistant Professor, Anthropology (Technopolitics & Environmental Institutions)
Michael Loik, Associate Professor, Environmental Studies (Plant & Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change)
Barry Nickel, Lecturer & Director of the Center for Intergrated Spatial Research, Environmental Studies (Spatial Ecology & Geospatial Tool Development)
Bruce Daniels, PhD Candidate, Earth & Planetary Science (Science of Climatology & Hydrology)

Moderated by Tiffany Wise-West, Ph.D. Student, Environmental Studies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | 4:15 p.m. | E2 Room 599

“Thinking Through the Technical Fix”
A Panel Discussion Presented by the Climate Cluster
SJWG Rapporteur Report
10 November 2010
The panelists began by discussing ways to improve the predictive power of climate models and other tools that scientists use to predict the impacts of climate change in habitats and species. Some of the challenges that were identified by Barry Nickel, Michael Loik and Bruce Daniels for improving climate change predictions were 1) improving the resolution of climate models which at the moment fail to capture important local variability 2) capturing variables in dynamic systems. Andrew Matthews raised the concern that “more knowledge doesn’t necessarily make the uncertainty go away, sometimes it makes even worse.” With this comment, Prof. Matthews is referring to the political uncertainty that surrounds scientific issues such as climate change that have widespread implications for a variety of stakeholders.

The panelists proceeded by discussing some of the sources of uncertainty and how they affect their respective work.

Barry Nickel stressed the distinction between uncertainty in measurements and uncertainty in understanding. He referred to the chain of uncertainty that is created when GIS models incorporate and combine various global climate models (GMCs). He concluded by saying that “his world is filled with uncertainty.” He also stated that that uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing as it can lead to new forms of knowledge.

Michael Loik explained how the biogeochemical models, which he uses in his work are driven in part by GCMS to which they incorporate biological functions to find out, for example, whether changes in precipitation would lead to increased vegetations in a specific area. In his work, one of the great challenges stems from matching the ‘simple’ results of the biogeochemical models with the complex matrix of biological and ecological found in-situ. Loik stated that him and his lab embrace uncertainty in their field design by often testing opposing hypotheses as they relate to climate change

Bruce Daniels discussed how most models are parameterized (i.e. averaged) to reality. He also reframed the conversation by emphasizing the importance of trust over that of scientific certainty. He explained that trust has a lot to do with knowing what scientists are actually doing and developing relationships over time.

Andrew Matthews then asked about the credibility of trust and whether we can trust a scientists based on their academic accomplishments and affiliations. He concluded by saying that modeling is concerned with the technical side of imagining futures, but not concerned enough with how these futures are taken up by politics and social system.

Collaboration & Communication
Tiffany Wise-West asked the panelists to talk about the type of collaborations that they have been involved in and the publics with whom they communicate.

Bruce Daniels, Michael Loik and Barry Nickel all talked about collaborating with and communicating their findings to professors in various departments on the UCSC campus and other non-academic groups in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area.

Bruce Daniels talked about the importance of seeing the needs of our surrounding communities, even needs that they don’t know they will have yet.

Andrew Matthews talked about the importance of using ways to communicate findings that the public can use in the way they use information (e.g. a poster can be better than an article). Andrew Matthews expressed his opinion that social scientists are sometimes “poorly socialized” and don’t cooperate as much as natural scientists. He spoke of forced collaborations and the ethical questions they raise.

IPCC Scandals & Consensus
Tiffany Wise-West asked the panelists their opinions regarding the recent IPCC scandals dubbed ‘climategate.’

The panelists talked about how politics play an important role in the IPCC.

Michael Loik emphasized that sloppiness was at the root of the scandals and that the IPCC is the best climate change science that we have. He also said that framing and portrayal are ultimately key as the scientific process must go through political filter.

Andrew Matthews asked: What kind of institutions would be able to make better use of the facts hat we do have? He also argued that really good data has often come out of really sloppy processes and that nobody would have picked up on the IPCC sloppiness if they hadn’t been looking for ways to discredit the IPCC as a knowledge-making institution.

Bruce Daniels stressed the difficulty of reaching a consensus that threatens vested interest.

The panelists concluded by suggesting that the IPCC should perhaps include a media section in their assessment reports that would facilitate communicate their findings to the public.

Michael Loik also brought up some examples of successful science-policy collaborations such as the Montreal Protocol.

When panelists were asked how each of them reached consensus with their colleagues, they spoke of comparing various models as well as comparing models to past and present climate and conditions.

Michael Loik also spoke of using synthetic meetings for people to bring their data from their field studies and use meta-analysis to quantify common themes. Andrew Matthews that in his field consensus seems to be reached when others can relate to the story you are telling.

Shadow Politics
Tiffany Wise-West asked Andrew Matthews to explain his use of the term ‘shadow politics.’ Matthews explained that when you create a model, you also create, consciously or not, an imagined institutions/actor that can use that model.

Barry Nickel added to that by remarking that the unintentional creation of the politics around “what we do” actually has ramifications for “the work that gets done.”

Science and the Public
The conversation then shifted to talking about the importance of how climate change science is presented to the public and about the dangers of the public misusing scientific tools when these become too accessible to non-experts.

A person in the public brought up the idea of multiple publics and the importance of focusing on those publics that are most worth communicating to. He also talked about the difference between ethos, logos and pathos, and about how pathos is the real challenge to tackling the challenges of global climate change.

Bruce Daniels proposed the idea of creating a public forum to take climate change science on the road and to the general public. Another member of the public brought up the importance of literacy and science literacy in particular.

In conclusion, Karen Barad asked about the kinds of uncertainty that should we care about and about the ways in which we can deconstruct the word uncertainty to make it helpful to us.

Bruce Daniels compared the uncertainty around climate change to the uncertainty of investing in market stocks – an uncertainty which doesn’t freeze people.

Troy Duster: “Criminal Justice/Genomic Justice?”

The Science and Justice Working Group Presents

A Conversation With: Troy Duster, Professor of Sociology & Director of Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge, New York University and author of Backdoor to Eugenics (Routledge, 2003)

This month, the U.K. government proposed entering into DNA databases those youths deemed “at risk” for being criminals. How can and/or should “we” respond to such proposals? DNA databases have been celebrated for exonerating those unjustly charged with crimes, and for increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, but at what cost? Are DNA databases creating new classes of persons (i.e., proto-criminals)? What are the justice issues raised by these forensic databases, and how do they relate to questions about prisons and justice? Such databases intersect with and alter issues of race, class and gender, issues that already strongly shape the criminal “justice system”; it is not yet clear what we need to know in order to address these topics in science, justice, and law.

Preceding this event, Prof. Duster will present a Sociology Dept. Colloquia: “DNA Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties: The CSI Effect and the Social and Political Implications of the Ever-Expanding DNA Databases" 3:00-4:30 p.m., Interdisciplinary Sciences Building 120

Sponsored by the Science and Justice Working Group and the Sociology Department

Troy Duster, “Criminal Justice/Genomic Justice?”
SJWG Rapporteur Report
23 April 2008
This event began with Reardon recapping Duster’s previous talk about the “CSI effect” and
DNA databanks. She mentioned that there was lots of attention on DNA data when she lived in
the UK last winter. The front page of the “Observer” recently had a headline, “ ‘Put Young
Children in DNA Database,’ Police Urge.” She asked, “How do we respond to this?” In the UK,
there is now biometric scanning/storing of biological information for migration and immigration
policies … In Troy’s earlier talk, he discussed the bias of the data base being 2/3 people of color,
so Jenny raises the question, “Can we put everyone in the database?”

Duster responded that it doesn’t change the operation of race. He noted that there would be a
false sense of universal justice. That is, having everybody is in the database assumes that since
we are all in, we are all equally subject to whatever it means to be in the database. Troy
discussed a case in the late 1980s that took place at University of Virginia. There were about a
dozen white fraternity boys, mostly from privileged backgrounds, who were raided by the police
for what turned out to be a cocaine raid. The community could not believe the police would
target college-attending white boys while real “criminals” are out on the street. Duster contends
that the apparatus of state will always turn primarily to vulnerable populations, which
consequently turn out to be predominantly black and Latino arrests. He stated that if there were
a universal database, such as in Portugal since 2004, there would continue to be arrests in
targeted areas. “Cold hits” are arrested on the streets and not on privileged college campuses.
The important thing to think about is what is the context and specifics of question. That is as
long as we have the apparatus of the state, it’s fool’s gold to have universal database.

Donna Haraway turned discussion toward the question of positive harm. She agreed that racial,
class distributions are fundamental issues, especially in regards to incarceration populations.
However, Donna questions whether the current database harms and whether the universal
database would do positive harm or will it be a money issue? Would it be a waste of distribution?
Haraway questions whether bias is structured in system and whether DNA bias is irrelevant to
system or is it doing harm? Duster responded that there are both exonerations and releasing of
innocent people—it’s always about individual cases.

Discussion turned towards privacy issues and whether it would be possible to protect 4th
Amendment rights through technical solutions. For instance, it may be possible to divide
individuals’ genetic sequences in order segment control of the sequences and allow for
exonerative use without disclosing the entirety of one’s sequence at any one time. Duster
responded that having technical solutions can be misleading and assumes an amount of expertise
and standardization that is typically not available on a large scale in law enforcement. Presently,
local, state, and national law enforcement agencies have widely divergent standards for taking,
storing, and using genetic data on suspects and convicts.

In response to this, discussion moved toward how to change policing practices. Duster responds
to this by suggesting that we change the reward structure within policing and challenge the
funding priorities that favor prisons over schooling. For instance, there are overtime policies in
police departments that encourage extra arrests and the end of shifts, incentivizing officers to
make excess arrests. Similarly, the state often chooses funding law enforcement and prisons over
universities because prisons create jobs for economically depressed communities and these jobs
cannot be outsourced.

Several participants raised questions about how much biometric and genetic infrastructure feeds
into police state and how much of it can actually be used positively to release innocent prisoners.
Duster responds that DNA at best is going to handle 1-2% of all crimes. Out prisons have 2
million people. Maybe 3000 exonerates for 300,000 who are not getting it. Beatriz da Costa
mentioned her experience of being an immigrant to the US and skepticism of being subject to
laser scanning and questioned something along the lines of where that information is going or
how might it be used against her. Duster responded that it seems to depend almost entirely on
who is in control of database. The answer is going to come in context of who is asking the
question and who has got the power.

SJWG member Jake Metcalf raised the question of whether we are giving DNA too much power
and notes there are all sorts of ways of reading the genome and more subtle ways of
understanding DNA. Some the concerns over genetic databases seems to rest on sketchy science
and an incomplete understanding of exactly what types of information get stored and how they
are used. As important as it is to resist the police state, it is important to avoid reifying an overly
powerful understating of DNA because then it is reinforced, when really it should be challenged
empirically and politically. Chelsea argued that the power of DNA in criminal justice will
largely be settled by legal precedent.

Mark Diekhans made the point that there is a privilege to identifying as/with the socio-economic
class that isn’t scared of being targeted as “criminal.” Duster mentioned that there is this pushing
together of “criminals” that started off as just sexual offenders, to then violent, then, felons, then
misdemeanor, to now arrestees – there’s a long continuum that we need to be aware of. Duster
highlights importance of possible, practical solutions. The ACLU says “arrestees, no; felons,
OK…” but at level of arrestees there is potential for mobilizing.

Rebecca [politics student?] then brought up the epistemological assumption of the body. That is,
without too much science how can the body tell the truth? From a political and ethical
standpoint, is the idea of the body property? What are underlying assumptions about the body?
Reardon added, who owns the self? Whose property is it? We’ve moved from ownership of land
to the self…is it white guilt? Who owns a body? Can anybody have property of the self?
Beatrice notes that classification is issue too. We don’t have to have a good science—looking at
donor profiles online; there are spaces for “homosexual tendencies” are being pathologized.

A question was raised whether there is fear of the “criminal gene”? Is there fear that we might
use new or find new categorization by developing a universal database. Duster responded that
crime is socially defined—even murder and rape. Historically, rape could not have happened to
black women by white men or slave owners. Haraway suggested that the politics of DNA storage
need to consider the politics of where samples are taken from? There is an issue of the quality of
science here and assurance regulating and limitations of a set of samples/data. We are not
looking at DNA but more a repeat of sequences. The politics of sampling raises the question of
“who is compared to what?” Donna reminds us that DNA is not one god but is a variety of
practices—the dog genome is useful to investigate—and thus we should not let DNA stand as a
single word.