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What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?

This morning, Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to seven universities seeking documents related to academics who have testified before Congress on climate change. The requests come in the wake of revelations over the weekend that the Smithsonian Institution agreed not to disclose payments from the Southern Company, a major utility, to fund and review the work of Smithsonian aerospace engineer Willie Soon. As all of the researchers in question have been critical of mainstream climate science, some are wondering if Rep. Grijalva’s requests can be considered a witch hunt. So is it? Read More

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Willie Soon’s Failure to Disclose Industry Funding for Contrarian Climate Research is Another Reason to Support Transparency

My first job in science communication was as an “Explainer” in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The program helps visitors – particularly students – understand the forces of flight. Our uniforms included red polo shirts that said “The Explainer Program” on the front and had the name of the company that sponsored the program – Cessna Aircraft – on the sleeve.

I recall this old uniform because the Smithsonian is under scrutiny for an entirely different type of sponsorship that was hidden from public view. Read More

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Four Ways Scientists Can Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

This post originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union’s Plainspoken Scientist blog.

One of the reasons I love working with scientists is that they tend to be very direct. Ask a question: get an answer. Sometimes the answer is a little long and makes me revisit basic physics I haven’t thought about since middle school, but I definitely get an answer.

Thankfully, most of the questions journalists, policymakers and citizens ask scientists are straightforward. But many are off-base and sometimes even badly framed. If a scientist provides a direct answer to a bad question, they can inadvertently leave audiences with an inaccurate impression of their work. While the examples below won’t happen to every researcher, they illustrate good principles for effectively dealing with such questions. Read More

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A Dam Waste: Outdated Reservoir Rules Dump Water During Drought

Last year, California’s drought task force toured the parched state, visiting sites impacted by the record dry conditions. At Lake Mendocino, a reservoir located in the northern part of the state, they saw bathtub rings and beached docks, evidence of drastically reduced water levels. Therefore, it should be surprising that billions of gallons of water were released from the reservoir during the drought to comply with outdated flood control rules. Read More

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Groundbreaking New Report on Geoengineering Tackles Carbon Dioxide Removal Experiments

The scientific body established by a law signed by President Lincoln released two groundbreaking reports today on geoengineering. Read More

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Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth: The NAS Weighs Controversial Measures in New Report

The president’s science advisor John P. Holdren has often observed that humanity has three basic options for dealing with climate change: Mitigation (reducing heat-trapping emissions), adaptation (coping with unavoidable impacts of climate change), and suffering.  The more swiftly we both mitigate and adapt, the less suffering we endure and impose on future generations.

Suppose, however, that we falter and temperatures continue to rise to dangerous levels. In a climate emergency, facing high risks of major and otherwise unavoidable impacts, should the U.S. or other governments consider forced cooling of Earth by injecting reflecting aerosol particles into the stratosphere? Read More

Categories: Global Warming  

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Fire Borrowing, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, and an Opportunity for Bipartisan Action

Perhaps it seems strange to be writing about wildfires in February, even as the Boston area (where I live) has just experienced its snowiest week on record. But it’s during the “off-season” that we have the opportunity to take stock of the causes and costs of past wildfires and take steps to better prepare and protect communities for future ones. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country like California there is no “off-season” as they face the threat of year-round fire seasons. Read More

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Detective or Scientist? Fingerprinting the Ocean to Estimate Global Sea Level Rise

Guest Bogger

Carling Hay, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard University & Rutgers University

Cambridge, MA

When you pick up the newspaper or turn on the television, you are likely to find a story about climate change and rising sea levels. Most of these stories focus on making predictions for the next century and beyond. After all, don’t we already have a complete understanding of the past? The answer to that question isn’t quite so simple.   Read More

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A Bridge Over Troubled Waters: How the Bay Bridge Was Rebuilt Without Considering Climate Change

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently released a report identifying infrastructure vulnerable to climate change in the San Francisco Bay Area. It should be surprising that topping the list was the brand new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge ramp, which connects Oakland to the new span of the Bay Bridge. Read More

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Who Should Decide What Happens When Scientists Violate Conflict of Interest Rules?

Scientists and institutions are under increasing scrutiny to be more transparent, especially when they publish research that has bearing on major public policy debates, and with good reason: funding can influence how studies are conducted and results are presented. It’s not easy though; when it comes to disclosure of conflicts of interest, practices vary across scientific disciplines, journals and institutions, and the lines regarding what should be disclosed are sometimes blurry. Read More

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