Friday, 12 December 2008

Wish list

It's getting close to Christmas, and for many this means time to make a wish list. Now, I'm not expecting anybody to go shopping for me for the kind of things I've been wishing for; they're too ambitious and far-reaching. OTOH, this wouldn't just be for me - it should benefit researchers everywhere, in the future.

Item #1 on my list is for e-Santa, or Google, or the open-source community, or scholars themselves, to pave the way for a better means to identify authors in scholarly publications. Right now, most journals still follow the tradition of showing just one or two initials and surname for each author. Generally this is supplemented with info on institutional affiliation, and lately with an email address as well. However, journal search engines such as Google Scholar only key on the name; while they do what they can with this limited info, it is really not adequate to find all and only works by a specific person. The worst problem is with very common surnames, whether Smith, Scott, Wang, or Ramesh. Authors who don't have or don't go by any middle initial make the odds that much worse.

The easy first step would be for all scholarly journals to change editorial policy and begin listing full first names for authors. Citation style sheets will need to be brought up to date to conform.

But ultimately there will still be duplicate full names. I guess I can't wish for civilization to reform to ensure every child born from now on is given a name unique throughout history (ha!), and then waiting for a generation or two to age out the current cohort of duplicate names - that's not going to help me in this lifetime.

So I'll settle for somebody coming up with a good strong proposal to assign unique identifying strings to each author who gets published, much as we now do for for publishers and books with ISBN and ISSN numbers, and for articles with DOI numbers.

I don't think it would be too difficult to design such a scheme. We'd need a central worldwide registrar to track the unique number strings, just as does now for DOIs. We'd need a way to ensure that an ID continues to point to a person even as they move through their career (and between jobs and cities, as young scholars seem so prone to do). Other confounding variables this could help overcome include uneven use of one vs. two initials, people with non-alpha characters in their surname including spaces, hyphens and apostrophes (van der Waal, O'Brien, Levi-Strauss) and name surname changes after marriage (or divorce).

Obviously I'm not the first to notice this problem, so maybe there's hope for a movement to build around this kind of idea. Here's one existing proposal and here's another.

I hope they get their wish.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

going public

I've posted to a couple of sites with a link to the Faces of Climate Science project. I've already received one helpful suggestion: to clarify that the stats from Google Scholar are (very) approximate, and best viewed (as I try to do) as a relative measure of output and impact.

I also should put a bit more in explaining my choice to include the few, but veeeeery widely touted, academics who say or suggest that CO2 is nothing to worry about. I'm considering a visual tag to show which entries are "skeptics" - such as some kind of grey question mark icon. The point is to show how few and how far down they fall in context of the citation rankings.

I'm only including scholars with some publication record. I've tossed in Canada's own Tim Ball, though he left academia two decades ago; once the stats are all in (if I ever finish them!), he'll probably fall quite near the bottom for cites. I've got number for Sally Baliunas, who has plenty of journal ink on solar physics (though she strays from that when she editorializes on, e.g. water resources... oh well.)

I see there are some working academics of the skeptics camp that I haven't gotten into the list yet - Lindzen Sr., Pat Michaels, Douglass. I want to give these guys credit for putting their contrarian views in print for others to challenge. However much I may disagree with them, they've at at least stayed on the playing field. Their number is still small, unlike the vast padded lists tossed from the peanut gallery onto the field by the likes of Marc Morano.

Yes, that's my new metaphor: the OISM and the Inhofe 400 or 650 lists are like rolls of T.P. tossed onto the playing field of climate science, in hopes of delaying the game. If only we had ushers to eject the goons from the bleachers...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Home stretch

I've been pouring many hours into building and tuning up my Faces of Climate Science pages. I keep tweaking the perl script to fiddle with the page layout. Today I hit on a great tip: the widely publicized "ALT" tag for HTML IMG entities is only intended for display if the picture is unavailable or the visitor cannot view images. Although MSIE will display the ALT text when the user hovers the mouse over the image, this is not what the official spec calls for; thus, Firefox does not follow Microsoft's lead.

I really wanted to be able to display the authors' names in this "tooltip" way in response to mouse-overs, but I was almost resigned to having to use scripting to get this effect in Firefox. Then today I found a tips page that explains a less-known but official "TITLE" tag, which is supported for both IMG and A entities (links).
I found that if I assign a TITLE= tag to each photo, then Firefox does indeed show that text on mouse-overs. It can be a long text; it will word-wrap if the box reaches about 4" wide. (I could not find a way to embed a line-break in this to control where the text will wrap... that would be handy).

So now, my photo montage page is a bit more useful as a 'book of faces' of the AR4 wg1 team, or of my growing but clearly incomplete longer list of climate scientists.

I've been focusing on the AR4 wg1 list, trying to ensure I've got photos and homepage links for all of them first (so far as these exist online). I've also followed my own links to check people's C.V. to pick up the year they got their PhD (or in rare cases where they don't have one, to note this and instead list their highest degree such as MSc. See my last post on Thomas R. Karl on that.

The other good news is a great document I found today from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It is an urgent appeal for action on greenhouse emission reduction, signed by some 1700 U.S. climate scientists. It breaks out the list by state, and gives institutional affiliations. It fills out the effort with some strong statements from individual signatories.

This should be a good counter to show to anyone still clinging to the sorry spectacle known as the Oregon Petition. Beside the UCS statement (or my photo montage and links to real experts' pages) their lint-filter of veterinarians and the deceased can't hold a candle.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

meeting Gavin

Gavin Schmidt of was a guest speaker at Univ. of Toronto yesterday. I went to his talk and got to meet him afterward. I described my possibly insane undertaking of the "faces of climate science" and he expressed interest. He picked out several faces from my faint b&w laser print of the top of the photo array. There was some question of why I include prominent 'skeptics' such as Sally Baliunas (I've got a plan in mind - to position the most often showcased skeptics in the sea of faces, in order of citation standings...)

Anyway it was very nice to get to meet Gavin in person. I'm still hard at work filling in my Excel collection of names, homepages and photo URLs. I plan to make a post to realclimate fairly soon inviting people there to check out my faces page (and the tabular text version) to get some feedback.

Tonight I worked on expanding first initials to full given names for a bit past the middle of the alphabet, then I checked on the stats and saw that I've hit 800 homepages and was at 699 photos (so I had to find a few more before turning in to get that nice round 700+).

One small detail to note - a blog entry will save this for posterity:

The original list of names of authors for IPCC AR4 wg I is online at:

Eli Rabbett extracted the names, numbered them, added short bio info to the first 11, and posted the list on his Rabbett Run blog at:

When I reached the name
KATZ, Robert
National Center for Atmospheric Research
I ran into a wall. Even allowing that many NCAR scientists don't have a home page, there is just no trace online of any Robert Katz there. There is a Robert Katz
here who writes on interesting green themes related to population, but is not a climatologist.

I had already located Richard Katz of NCAR, homepage here, and I followed the link to his CV and searched for "IPCC", and sure enough, there near the bottom of page 2 it says:

2005 – 2007 Contributing Author, Chapter 11, WG I, IPCC 4th Assessment Report

The Annex II PDF file only lists "Robert" Katz, and no "Richard." Ah, ha!

So I claim this proves there is a CLERICAL ERROR in Annex II to AR4 WG I. Having thus documented my superior trivia dirt-digging skills, can I get one of those high-paying sinecure posts at a big denialist belief tank? Make me an offer, all you {Wholesome term} {Enterpise} Institutes!


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Faces of Climate Science - the Why?

With the onset of winter I have WTMTOMH (way too much time on my hands) and rather than burn it off playing Civ 4, Rise of Nations, or Sim City Societies, I thought I'd finally tackle a project I'd had in mind for some time: creating a website listing the names of all the experts called upon as authors in the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

If you've already read my blog post below, or don't really care how or why I did this, here's a shortcut to my intro page for my List of Climate Scientists, with stats plus links to author's homepage. The intro page sets up what I'm doing, then links to some variant forms of my listing: one with just IPCC AR4 authors, another with a longer list of climatologists that I've collated. I've also created variants with only the photos. The intro page links to these, but with a caution that those pages link to several hundred photos, so they eat a lot of bandwidth and can take a long time to load (esp. the first visit when the photos are not in your browser cache).

Okay, why?

Well, last year I spent a fair bit of time working on Wikipedia, on a really wide scattering of topics that grabbed my interest, but always coming back to
List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming - a motley crew of varied qualifications or relevance to the scientific debate. As of today there are 42 names on the page.

This page has a checkered history of edit wars, interminable debates about what screen to use for inclusion and who meets the bar, etc. There are at least a half-dozen active editors who appear to be strong climate change 'skeptics' eager to include as many names as possible. They seem to engage in so-called 'quote mining' to find statements in support of their 'side.'

If you read over that page, the thing that I find striking is how scattered are the views of this list of people. Some think solar variation explains most recent change so well we can dump all our research about CO2; others--almost half--say the task of projecting future changes is too daunting for us to make any judgments at all - they are in effect 'agnostics,' often implying it is simply beyond human knowing to foresee what effects our atmospheric CO2 pulse may have.

Anyway, the kind of argument I often see on this topic frequently involves some kind of claim that the number of names on this list should count as evidence that the "science is not settled" and that there is an ongoing debate over whether humans actions have or could impact on climate in any detectable way.

That claim seems patently false to me. The number of scientists who still maintain that adding CO2 to the atmosphere does little to nothing to global temperatures is almost vanishingly small, in the context of the number of scientists qualified to speak as experts on this topic.

To demonstrate that, we can point to the authors of the four IPCC Assessment Reports. This report did not waver on that question; it very clearly states that adding CO2 is leading and will lead to rising temperatures (and sea levels.) There are a lot of authors credited in this report--a whole lot. The list in Annex B to the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report names 619 authors in "Working Group I" -- the group responsible for summing up the scientific basis: the greenhouse effect, quantifying human-caused emissions of CO2, CH4, CF6, N2O, etc. and quantifying their radiative forcings; working out the other forcings such as sooty aerosols from coal and diesel, jet contrails, etc; and feedbacks, both positive and negative, that either amplify or dampen the initial forcings.

So I set about gathering all their names - getting the list proved quite simple as they are in the PDF file of Annex B, and indeed the climatologist who blogs under the nom-du-clavier "Eli Rabbett" has already extracted this list, numbered, and made a small start at annotating. His list is here.

I thought I would take things a few steps further. First, when I found that handy list I had already begun assembling a list by hand, picking the author names out of highly-cited papers on climate that I'd find via Google Scholar. This was labour-intensive but still rather interesting, and I've carried on tracing co-authors and departmental co-workers to find yet more names in this field.

Google Scholar can select all works by a specific author. There is an 'advanced' search' page with a box for this, but I found a quick way to enter this search condition is to type author:fm-surname (by observing what Google filled in as the URL once I'd run an 'advanced search').

Google returns the papers by that author sorted by how many times that work has been cited by others, with the most cited at the top. I started collecting just the number of cites for the top articles by each author as a simple indicator of that person's impact within the discipline.

I ended up gathering the number of citations for each author's top four listed papers. Why four? Because I could see that many on the first results page without scrolling, and it felt like a useful number.

I've settled on sorting the authors on the number of cites for their #4 most cited work (sub-sorting on #3 in case of ties). This is a totally arbitrary metric, but the results seem reasonably representative of the authors' standing. For all the ones I haven't gathered the stats on, I've just fallen back on alphabetical order.

Here's what I've got so far (the page is still a work-in-progress for me; I've only got up to letter K looking up home pages, and I've only done the citation stats for about a quarter of these names.)

Here is the intro page explaining the project, with links to the various formats.
The list in table form has name, year of Ph.D., country of birth (or residence), cite stats from Google Scholar, research area, and institutional affiliation. Each name links to the author's homepage.

The 'How'

I'd start with a name generally in the form "F.M. Surname", with just first and possibly middle initials. For some of the top names, I already knew what the initials stand for; otherwise, I'd have to follow the links to the journal paper in search of more clues. Many journals actually never give the full first or middle name of the authors, but they almost always add footnotes showing their institutional affiliations. A few journals now show the full name - much easier for me - but if not, I would next google for the surname plus the institution. Often this would lead straight to the author's academic homepage. If so, great; if not, keep hunting.

Some people - shocking! - don't actually have a homepage. Proving a negative is tough, so given the size of my self-defined challenge, I set a time limit on how long I'll search for a link for any given person. As a rule, anyone teaching at a university has at least some sort of locator page, with their address, phone number, and email. Most fill these in with statements of their research interest, academic history, and current group members. By contrast, some of the largest government-run research bodies such as the Hadley Centre and the U.S. nation research labs, and especially military labs, don't make this a practice. At best they may have a table of member names with contact info (phone and email); they simply don't create member home pages. The same holds for scientists at commercial service providers in the private sector, who from time to time get listed as co-authors on papers they helped on with such services as instrumentation, satellite communications, data assimilation and management, software delevopment, etc.

Fortunately, most experts at the civilian labs typically are cross-appointed at a nearby university also (Hadley->Reading/U.of East Anglia; NCAR->U.Colorado@Boulder, etc.) That usually gets me out of those blind alley.

The step of filling out the author's given names from just initials can take couple of minutes per person. Once armed with the full name and academic affiliation, it's usually a short search to get their home page. Finding the university or government lab, of course, gave me a new source of (full) names of all their research colleagues to add in. So the list just keeps growing - about to pass 1300, as of today.

Almost everyone in academia has a P.R. photo head shot online - if not on their homepage, then elsewhere on their institution's site or in an online brochure for a conference where they've spoken. So I started saving the URL of each author's photo as well.

This led me to create a second version of my project: the "Faces of Climate Science" all on a single page. Viewers with a slow link will probably want to skip this one. I've written a script to convert my tabular list into HTML, and I can tweak any design details such as the assigned image height to which all pictures get scaled:

Just photos with links to author's homepage.

I've been compiling the list for a couple of weeks now, filling up much of my spare time. I've found just under 1300 names, so almost 680 of my own that were not on the IPCC AR4 wg1 authors list.

I welcome any suggestions on how to improve these pages - alternate formats, ways to make them more readable/accessible/useful, whatever.

Jim Prall
Toronto, Canada

Friday, 2 May 2008

Virtual science conference

Here's a delicious headline from the Science magazine website:

World of Warcraft virtual science conference will include a virtual field trip, and virtual swag for attendees including a shirt, 10 gold pieces, a telescope, and a virtual pet. The event is to run May 9-11.

Woo hoo!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Reviving "Mission to Planet Earth"

Those of us who see unchecked climate change as a peril nearly unmatched in human history (only nuclear war would be in the same league) watch in horror as the United States continues to dither over whether to take the issue seriously, and then whether to take any action on it in this lifetime.

In that light, I've chimed in on Joe Romm's Climate Progress blog on the question of whether Bush's new push to resume human space travel and to land people on Mars is too much to bite off just now. While this is not itself an instance of my self-assigned topic of "climate change denial", I feel it fits here even so, as an implicit denial of the horrendous trade-offs it seems to impose.

The problem is that this very ambitious goal came at just the same time as NASA has been losing out on basic science (30% cut in their science budget in recent years; failure to launch the DISCOVR earth observation mission even with the device complete and ready to go, refusing offers from other nations to launch it for us.)

We simply can't afford to sacrifice earth observation (recently cut even from NASA's mission statement!) right now when there is such a pressing need for clear and accurate readings of the state of our own planet and the pace of current changes.

Here's a copy of the comment I posted on Climate Progress in response to a comment thread on whether the U.S. should be pushing for a manned mission to Mars right now:

My preference for unmanned over manned exploration predates the recent embarrassment of removing “Mission to Planet Earth” from NASA’s agenda. People may be great at improvising and observation, but we weigh a lot, require lots of extra mass for life support, and missions have to be designed to bring us home safely with low probability of failure. Weighed against the current generation of robotic observation platforms and instrumentation, we’re just not cost-effective.

Why do you say humans “have to” colonize space? It’s one thing to say we have to take every new opportunity that comes to us, due to our inventive large brain. But we don’t have a “destiny” that somehow compels us to make huge sacrifices of what we still have here on earth in a long-shot attempt to bring this new “manifest destiny” forward from an uncertain span in the future up to *right now*.

Space exploration aside for a moment, everyone here on earth needs a solution to two converging, very pressing issues: climate change, as well as our dependence on fossil feuls which will not last that much longer, and which may be at or near peak annual extraction already - we haven’t yet explained to ourselves how we can continue as technological, growth-oriented economies without increasing energy resource use.

There is enough coal and unconventional oil (e.g. tar sands) still left to create a serious risk of runaway CO2-climate feedbacks such as permafrost thawing leading to large methane releases. But both conventional oil and natural gas may be facing crises before many more years. Lots of turmoil and conflict should be foreseen arising from this.

If we need a new Apollo project, landing a man on Mars has to rank below a really serious, united effort by the whole country (and the whole world) to move promptly to renewable energy sources and far greater efficiency of energy consumption. This has to be done on a scale to replace the vast current volume of fossil fuels before we hit a new mega-energy-crisis AND before we pile too much GHG in the atmosphere to be able to avoid the worst foreseeable impacts (plus whatever unforseen ones could be far worse - what a gamble!)

To get that much change from the status quo, in so many areas of the economy, is a much bigger challenge than the Apollo moon mission, and needs bold national leadership (in every country at the same time!)

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) has used this idea of a “New Apollo Project” in reference to proposed legislation to begin moving toward energy independence and sustainability.

In a few decades, we’ll know if we’ve met these twin challenges or not. In that time frame, we may be able to return to the longer-term dream of sending humans beyond the moon. That target is just not the right place to be focusing at this critical crossroads for our own planet.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Open letter to Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy

I've just emailed the following letter to Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, after reading on Ross Gelbspan's site The Heat is Online that Duke was supporting "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices", a pro-coal astroturf group. The ABEC website offers details of the fuel mix of each U.S. state's electricity supply. It paints an upbeat picture of how great it is having all that coal. If you prefer a more detached view of how coal is contributing to our carbon footprint, I prefer CARMA.

Dear Mr. Rogers,

I am disappointed to learn that your company, as a member of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), is in fact playing both sides of the fence by also supporting Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC)[1]. It's pretty obvious that ABEC is an "Astroturf™" organization, and that in the real world, ordinary Americans are not rising up to demand more coal power plants. ABEC has been advertising heavily, including sponsoring presidential debates – at which no questions at all on global warming were posed. ABEC has also come out against even far distant targets for greenhouse gas reductions. If we can't even set targets for 2050, what hope is there of our getting started in any way in this decade to make any first steps?

Either climate change is a serious issue, or it is not. Please don't try to have it both ways. Does your corporation actually, really, honestly support a nationwide effort to begin to reverse our very high carbon emissions, or are you just saying that to appease the public? Pardon me for questioning the sincerity of your company's joining USCAP, which was a major step; I know you have personally spoken strongly for the need to act on climate change, and that impressed me. But by also supporting ABEC, it strikes me you are really undermining any positive perception your USCAP membership might offer.

Selling carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a solution today is so far just a smoke screen; CCS is at least 15 years away. None of your plants is using it today, and none of the plants you are proposing to add will have CCS – will they even be designed for CCS retrofit? I just don't buy the proposition that new, non-CCS coal plants somehow represent a "bridge" to a lower carbon future. Surely they just widen the gulf we are going to have to span with such a bridge?

I appreciate that Duke Energy is currently heavily reliant on coal. The environmental dilemma that poses for your business' future is best addressed in the forum of USCAP, to advocate a workable transition to lower carbon with fair treatment of impacted industries, not by buying time with ABEC to go on building new, non-CCS coal plants which will incur high carbon emission penalties once either cap-and-trade or carbon taxes become a reality. You and I both know this is just a matter of time.

I urge you to withdraw your company's support and funding from ABEC, whether directly or indirectly, and to reaffirm publicly your company's support for binding limits on carbon emissions. If we establish a level playing field with national policies together with international agreements, this truly will not disadvantage American businesses or consumers. Indeed, failing to act and prolonging our unsustainable present course bears a far greater financial risk, as attested by the Stern Report.

I further urge you to make the promise of CCS meaningful by setting a deadline in the not distant future for your company to build no new coal plants without CCS, and a much closer deadline to ensure currently conceived projects must incorporate designs suitable for retrofitting CCS at minimum cost. Let's not go through another spectacle like "New Source Review" evasion on CCS installation when it becomes available.
As for my own electricity supplier here in Canada, although Ontario is committed to closing our last coal plants by 2014, I didn't want to wait that long and I've recently signed up with a small alternative electricity supplier Bullfrog Power, who supply 100% carbon-free renewable energy from wind, small-scale hydro, and biomass I'm paying an extra 3.5c per kWh for this, but with efficient appliances and CF bulbs throughout our small 2-storey detached house we consume less than 12 kWh/day and I can afford the extra $15/mo. (We heat with natural gas, so that's a different problem for my carbon footprint; I see there are promising alternatives in pelletized switchgrass as recounted at )

Thank you for your consideration of my feedback.


Yours Truly,

Jim Prall
Toronto, Canada

Friday, 22 February 2008

Me vs. the EPA

I just posted to EPA deputy administrator Marcus Peacock's blog on the goofy EPA decision to block thirteen states from adopting California's proposed climate-driven regulation of CO2 emissions from cars. (Check out my zingy little poem at the end.)

And yes, I did hear about this through the Union of Concerned Scientists campaign, but I wrote my own message from scratch rather than adopt their boilerplate. I hope I can be more persuasive this way.

I wrote:

I appreciate your willingness to join the fray and communicate directly on this blog.

As an American citizen, I'm really discouraged at how slowly our federal government has been moving on the most serious issue of the century, the need to reduce our fossil fuel dependency. This is vital both to limit damage from global warming, and to begin to prepare for peak and decline of world oil production, which is surely coming if not here already.

As for blocking the states' effort to regulate CO2 emissions, I'm quite saddened by the spectacle of our Environmental "Protection" Agency standing in the way instead of providing any leadership. The federal government is still just starting with baby steps to begin taking these issues seriously.
Yes, we need a national, unified approach to cutting CO2 emissions and fossil fuel dependency. But that's really not here yet. In the interim, it's just not good to prevent thirteen states from doing as much as they are able to do as a start. There are states' rights grounds for that, as well.
Only when Washington finally steps up to the plate and imposes a price on carbon, either by capped credit auctions or a carbon tax, can we talk about harmonizing a national standard as good or better than California's.
Until we have that, I'm sad to say, "EPA, get out of the way."

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The anti-legacy of Dubya and the neocons

I just posted the following reply on Joe Romm's blog, under his entry on "Successful Failures: The Bush environmental and energy legacy." I realised I might as well reproduce it here (no copyright concern cribbing from myself, eh?)
I'm going to add a brief follow-up mentioning other authors like Chris Mooney, Stauber & Rampton, and Al Gore's new Assault on Reason (as noted in my previous blog entry); I'll post a vanity link back to this blog while I'm at it.

Another devastating account of Bush’s extreme anti-environment “legacy” is in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book Crimes Against Nature Amazon link. It’s a well-documented litany of Bush’s single-minded campaign to lift environmental restrictions in every imaginable area, including appointing anti-environment ideologues to head virtually every department, to evade action on any form of pollution anywhere, and to undermine every scientific expert speaking up for public health, clean air, clean water or for any action on global warming.I am simply appalled at this disgraceful history, which is a stain on the name “Republican.” Apart from hoping for a Democratic win in November, I feel the nation desperately needs to wake up to this pro-pollution, anti-earth, anti-life agenda which the neocon movement is poisoning the political system - and the nation itself. We need a total reform of the conservative tradition to recoup the values of actually conserving, and of respecting our fellow citizens’ rights to safety and property free from toxic assault by PAC-funding, spin-doctoring agribusiness, extractive and consumptive smokestack industry.The religious right needs to speak out against the unholy alliance of social conservatism with a hideous anti-human cynicism that blesses every want of corporate donors for free rein to pollute, despoil and contaminate for free. Foisting smog, mercury, benzene, and hormone disrupters on your neighbors is not a “family value.”Am I dreaming to hope for some better class of conservatives who will come forward to take over the leadership of the Republican party? Or are we forever left with a legacy of one party at war with nature?