18 December 2010

AGU, day 4

Posted by Callan Bentley

My final day at AGU was Thursday, and I spent a lot of it working on school stuff, but I did zip down to the Moscone Center for a session on communicating science to the public in an age of increased public scrutiny. Michael Mann of Penn State was the big draw here, discussing his experiences being subject to the “Climategate” email flap, Freedom of Information Act requests from James Inhofe, and hounding by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia. Mann’s presentation was actually kind of lackluster — I expected something more precise or personal, but it came off as almost flippant. I was more impressed with Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who found in interviews with climate scientists (both of the “global warming is caused by humans” camp and the “global warming isn’t caused by humans” camp) that they were subject to wide-ranging harassment from more than 50 different sources, including threats on their families. The blogger session followed lunch, and was a nice review of the benefits of blogging for science communication and personal development, though I felt rather too much time was spent on cautions and “don’t do this” enumerations. It was also a bit of a “reunion” for the geoscience blogging community, and I was pleased to spend two hours there. In the aftermath, I met Norm Sperling, the editor of the Journal of Irreproducible Results, and gave him some advice about a new roadtrip/”strata”-finding project he’s working on. On a tip from Elli Goeke, who got it from Kim Hannula, I went down to the display booths and picked up a review copy of a new structural geology text from Haaken Fossen. Then a few more sessions, on random topics (oil spill in the Gulf, modeling atmospheric temperature change), I went out to dinner with Elli, Jess Ball, and three distinguished alumni from the Geology Department at the College of William & Mary, my alma mater. Then: back to the hotel, packed up, to bed, up at 3:45am, and off to the airport for the journey home.

I’m still chewing on the overall “take-aways” from the meeting, but I found it to be an impressive experience on several fronts. More on that later if I can figure a way to articulate it.