I’m not a scientist—but your poster blows my mind: Highlights & Bloopers at AGU14

January 8, 2015 8:12 pm0 comments

#1 Highlight: Watching science happen in a poster hall

Checking out a poster hall during a period of peak activity was by far the absolute coolest experience during my time at the AGU Fall Meeting (AGU14). One walks into a giant hall filled with rows upon rows of posters, and each poster features a particular research project authored by a team of PhD candidates, post docs, research scientists, or combination thereof from universities, labs, and research centers all over the world. There had to have been over a thousand posters up at a single time, and each day there was a new crop.

Poster hall at AGU14 during a period of peak activity. Credit: AGU

Poster hall at AGU14 during a period of peak activity. Credit: AGU

At different times of the day the authors of these posters would stand next to their poster and explain their research and findings to any scientist or journalist who happened to take an interest or have a question. It is at these times that other scientists all around the conference would converge on the two poster halls and the rows would become bustling with activity.

Scope of one of the two poster halls at AGU14. Credit: AGU

Scope of one of the two poster halls at AGU14. Credit: AGU

In my daily excursions outside of the exhibit hall – which were always too short due to my other duties – I would meander through a few of the rows in the climate change-related sections of one of the two poster halls (preferably the massive one in Moscone West) and check out posters, listen to scientists interact with one another, and have some of the scientist authors explain their work to me. Most of the discussions concerned how one’s research could be used to further fool people into believing the hoax of man-made climate change and increase the size of government… OK, just kidding. The discussions involved authors answering substantive questions by other scientists on how they did this or that, what they thought about X or Y finding, whether or not they used this method or included that data, etc. A few of the questioners were supervising professors that were specifically evaluating and grading their students’ posters. Some of the research in the poster hall will later be published in scientific journalists, so I was truly witnessing a part of the scientific process in action, which was really cool.

Ms. Fatemeh Davary Adalatpanah, a scientist working for the Deutscher Wetterdienst (German Weather Service), stands in front of her poster, “On Reliability of Regional Decadal Ensemble Prediction for Europe.”

The whole experience also gave me a valuable insight into where the different frontiers of knowledge lie on climate change science and the different types of research projects being devoted to the topic. There were posters on all manner of purported refinements and improvements in the modeling of climate, particularly on the regional scale; posters on measuring and pinning down the forcing of dust and aerosols (which have a partially compensating cooling effect on the climate); the emerging science of attribution and projections; the role of clouds or deforestation on weather and climate; what the relative uncertainties are in the proxies and different methods of reconstructing ancient climate; the quantification of uncertainties in various models and data; the identification of sites for safe long-term CO2 sequestration and the latest injection and monitoring methods for CCS; convective storm systems and their role in weather, climate, and atmospheric composition; the integration of long-term perspectives and current observations on the rapidly changing arctic for the purpose of understanding future impacts and responses; new research on the properties and processes of arctic and Antarctic sea ice; and more… far far more.

There was also a section of rows in each poster hall titled “Global Change: Science Literacy, Societal Impacts, and Response Strategies,” which would feature posters by social scientists and educators. These involved research on multidisciplinary approaches, projects, and methods to advance climate literacy. Posters in these sections ranged from research on different ways teachers teach climate change in schools to new research on decision-making to model lessons for the classroom on teaching the science of climate change and connecting the science to human values.

My place there was as a journalist and not a solicitor, but if a scientist’s poster or explanation of that poster was coherent or the poster was on a particularly policy-relevant topic or on some area that has yet to receive much discussion in Forum, I’d give the author a quick pitch on CCNF and invite them to apply and participate. If no author was present, I’d leave a card on the poster.

All in all, it was a most fascinating experience.

Poster_Credit_Nasa.gov

Poster hall activity at AGU14. Credit: NASA

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Other Highlights and Funny Moments

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Dr. Richard Somerville

Dr. Richard Somerville. Credit: RichardSomerville.com

–  “There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.” – Quote by Dr. Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography from his presentation in the oral session on ‘Climate Literacy: Effective Responses and Solutions through Best Practices in Communication, Partnerships, and Networks I.’

–  Drs. Denning and Lefer’s reaction when they discovered I got a nice apartment next to the Moscone Center on Airbnb for a little over what they paid for a hotel room 15 minutes away.

–  “Take that you union racketeers!” Comment by David Leib after we saved over $500 by furnishing our own booth.

–  Getting tweeted on by the AGU!

I was so busy with non-stop one-on-one engagements that I hardly tweeted at all. (I was wearing a lot of hats and it was my first Fall Meeting, so please cut me some slack.) But CCNF got a number of tweets by others and the one below by Dr. Ben Bray was retweeted by the official AGU Twitter account! Holla!!! (Thanks Dr. Bray!)

AGU tweet on CCNF

– Conversation with Dr. Kevin Trenberth.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth

Dr. Kevin Trenberth. Credit: ClimateCommunication.org

I had engaged with Dr. Trenberth shortly after the Forum started about a year ago. He was interested in the project but expressed some concerns that the platform might “provid[e] a creditable outlet for deniers of climate change” and warned me that “[t]here are many vested interests who may well try to exploit [CCNF’s] declared openness.” He also said that the “IPCC reports are consensus reports of the community and involv[e] hundreds of scientists” and “[a]s a result are very conservative.”

I caught him while he was walking between the Moscone South and West buildings and joined him on his trip. I recalled our last exchange and informed him that the potential outcomes he had expressed concern about had not come to pass: No scientist has yet to enter the Forum and make an argument that man-made emissions are not causing the planet to warm and no “vested interest” has attempted to influence the dialogue in any way.

I also mentioned that based on my reading of the recently released Summary for Policymakers (SPM) for the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, its positions on the science did in fact seem conservative when compared with many of the positions expressed by the contributing scientists on CCNF.

It was a very brief exchange and Dr. Trenberth is a soft speaker, so I can’t give you exact quotes (note to self: turn your recorder on before engaging with highly prominent scientists), but he did affirm his earlier statement and then mentioned something about a ‘type II error’ and the fact that many scientists go with a more conservative position than they otherwise would because they are afraid of being “called out.”

I took this to mean that scientists purposefully take a low ball position or hold back in highlighting the “tail risk” of certain projections because they don’t want to be called an alarmist. Basically,  if the impact or temperature rise or whatever is larger than expected, scientists won’t get called out for underestimating the impact/response as much as they would if they overshot their estimation or the impact/response didn’t manifest itself until way later. I also looked up what a ‘type II error’ was. It’s a little over my head (my education on epidemiology doesn’t go beyond reading a chapter on the topic in my book for Toxic Torts), but based on my reading it is basically assuming there is no connection between two phenomena when there actually is a connection.

Anyhow, it was an interesting exchange.

–  Meeting CCNF science columnists in person for the first time.

I’ve come to know many of them through their writings in the Forum and through our emails and many virtual interactions on the front-end and back-end of CCNF, so this was a real treat.

–  Being handed an ‘Exhibitor’ badge and ‘Press’ badge at the registration table at the start of the conference.

Exhibit and Press Badges at AGU14.I stood there staring at them for a moment when this happened. Last year I was only able to experience AGU13 through Twitter. That was at a time before the national dialogue in the Forum had even begun and CCNF had only 5 scientists signed up. How far had I come with the CCNF project in one year I thought. It was proud moment, but I snapped out of it quickly. Until CCNF reaches a critical mass in the number of active columnists or gains some legit funding or sponsorship, the project’s future is just as uncertain as it was back then.

We are still not even out of the shallows yet.

–  “You are doing this exactly the right way!” – Assessment from one smartly dressed older gentlemen who was absolutely blown away with the CCNF project after I gave him the full pitch.

Come to find out that gentlemen was a reviewer for the first IPCC report in 1990, the architect and one-time head of the U.S. National Climate Program (early legislation to study climate), the principal architect of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, the former head of NOAA’s Climate Program, and the former director of the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. He left with a card and we plan on connecting again. Will definitely follow up with him after the bar.

IMG_0288–  Having eight scientists make the commitment to apply and (if admitted) participate in the Forum.

This group includes one very high-profile scientist and great communicator whom I have been courting for some time and one physicist who recently authored a fantastic piece that got a lot of play in the media. Very excited about this group. Will need to follow up with these folks ASAP (which means right after I take the bar).

–  Gaining the keen interest and a strong consideration to participate by another 21 scientists as well as 3 science educators/communicators, 2 social scientists, 1 journalist, and 1 thorium-nuclear energy advocate. (Most in this group wanted to spend some time checking out the site before signing up then and there.)

The scientists in this group ranged from PhD students to that former head of NOAA’s Climate Program. One of the social scientists in this group is also well known and very well respected in the climate communication space. Following up with all these folks – which is almost always required to get someone to come through on joining CCNF – will take some time and all the more considering my hiatus, but it will be done.

–  “I f$%#ing love it!” – Reaction of Dr. Scott Denning (a new CCNF board member) after I handed him one of CCNF’s t-shirts with the unofficial Dr. Strangelove-inspired “weapon of mass education” logo on it. I had never heard him cuss, but apparently Dr. Strangelove is one of his favorite movies, and he got the joke in the logo, which pleased me.

"... weapon of mass education."

The t-shirt reads “… a weapon of mass education” right below the graphic.  This is our Dr. Strangelove-inspired unofficial logo.

I had actually been advised by a mentor not to make these t-shirts and stickers because the logo isn’t very PC, but I’m glad I did. Most of the t-shirts were reserved as a thank you gift for the columnists that had participated in the Forum this last year, but David and I had a few extra on display at the booth, all of which were sold. They were a big hit. Some folks would just walk up to the booth and, not caring who we were or what the heck CCNF was about, ask “How much for the t-shirt?” Will be ordering some more once some funds come in.

–  Proving naysayers that questioned whether CCNF is truly a public forum for scientists wrong.

At one point a fairly young geologist (probably around my age) that worked for an oil company stopped by the booth. After hearing my pitch, which I was giving to a group at the time, he said with a slight smirk on his face, “Where do I sign up?” I sensed he was being a little tongue-in-cheek and perhaps just testing how objective CCNF was, but I could have been wrong. Happy to get another signature on the commitment sheet, I excitedly walked him through the criteria to participate, which includes a demonstrated commitment to accuracy, speaking for one’s self,  and an open mind (but nothing about one’s position on climate change) and then told him how this is indeed a public forum for scientists and that once he is in, he can speak up as little or as much as he’d like. I mentioned that he should become an active participant and really utilize the Forum to freely inquire and converse with the other scientists, but when taking scientific positions, to just be ready to defend them. I then handed him a sign-up sheet and pen.

He walked away.

I was genuinely disappointed.

–  Conversation with Dr. Richard Muller.

Dr. Richard Muller

Dr. Richard Muller. Credit: ncnaapt.org

I’ve followed Dr. Richard Muller and the independent research that he and his daughter have done through their group Berkley Earth for a while now.  I’ve also heard an acquaintance speak of witnessing his gradual conversion from “climate skeptic” to a “mainstream climate scientist” by hearing him speak at conferences over the years. One of the board members had also once mentioned offhandedly that he would be an interesting addition to the CCNF community and bring a unique perspective to the Forum, so when I spotted him in the exhibit hall I went up to him and I introduced myself and explained the CCNF project and all who were involved. We exchanged cards. He then gave me his overall conclusion  (unsolicited!) on climate change, droughts, and hurricanes. Again, I wish I had my recorder on. He was quite an interesting fellow.

–  Checking out Mr. Anthony Watts’s checking out the CCNF booth.

Mr. Anthony Watts at a conference by the notorious Heartland Institute.

Mr. Anthony Watts at a conference by the less than objective (to say the least) Heartland Institute.

Mr. Watts, the founder and curator of the popular climate “skeptic” website, WattUpWithThat.com, stopped at CCNF’s booth on the last day of the conference. He is an interesting presence at the AGU Fall Meeting. Many of his legions of fans equate his annual visits to the conference as “walking into the lion’s den” (I doubt it). This is because the AGU has long accepted that the heat being absorbed and re-emitted by the ever increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is heating up the earth’s climate, and the organization considers this a very big problem for society and devotes a ton of research to better understand the phenomena, project impacts, and figure out options for adaptation and mitigation.

Anyhow, he stopped by the booth at a time when David had already left and I was focused on soliciting other exhibitors for sponsorship, so no one was at the booth, but the banner and poster with the community were still on display. I was just two booths down and observed his reaction. He stood there for a pretty long time intently looking at the poster showing CCNF’s columnist community. I really wanted to go up to him and say “Meet the new kid on the climate blog block!” and hear what he thought of the project, but soliciting for sponsors was more important at that time.

–  Great engagement with a high level outreach advisor for NASA. She was at the oral session and later stopped by the booth. I gave her the full presentation. She was impressed. Upon leaving she said, “I’m going to share this information with some folks” in the right kind of tone. I hope so!

–  Having the senior climate outreach advisor for UCAR and leader of the new ClimateVoices.org initiative ask for my card after showing her the Scientists’ Comment Thread.

–  Dr. Nielsen-Gammon’s shout out at the end of his oral session presentation.

The amazing part of all this is that it was created by a single law student and former solider, Michael Quirke, who recognized that we really don’t have a source of scientific information like this that is not extremely filtered one way or another, so in the period after his military service and before law school he developed a prototype website, made contacts at his school, the University of Houston, and other places and got scientists involved.

It has been an interesting and beneficial experience for him, as a science and journalism experiment essentially, because he has been able to interact with scientists and learn about why scientists have these points of view that are not necessarily what you hear about typically in the news media and how areas where they agree or disagree are different than the disagreement portrayed by the various special interests.

So the one question remaining is… will he pass the bar exam this spring?

I appreciated the shout out and it got a chuckle from the audience.

–  Enjoying San Francisco.

San Francisco Skyline by Michael Larson via Flickr.

San Francisco Skyline by Michael Larson via Flickr.

What a cool place!


Corrections: In the original post, I wrote that Ms. Fatemeh Davary Adalatpanah, the scientist standing in front of her poster in the third photo from the top, was working for the University of Leuven (Belgium). This was incorrect. She is an employee of the Deutscher Wetterdienst (German Weather Service).  Also, there were an embarrassingly large amount of typos in the original, which were subsequently cleaned up. My apologies for publishing before a proper edit. I had already started studying for the bar and was anxious to get this up and off my dest. MQ

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