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Continuing a tale begun here.
So, what did I get for having attended the National Hurricane Conference? I got something any military member dreads - I became the dreaded SME. Subject Matter Expert on all things hurricanic. Thus designated I found myself at an American Meteorological Society conference, a meeting of utmost and obvious importance to meteorologists but which had little attraction for me. But I follow orders, and if ordered to "go forth and see if this is worthwhile" then I go. So once again I found myself wandering about exhibits and in and out of sessions and through poster presentations and having a wonderful time. Two things stand out in my memory of the event. The first was a guy begging in the streets claiming to be a Vietnam veteran, at least, that was his story when I passed by him in uniform. I remember this because the exact thing happened at the Hurricane Conference - a guy saw me in uniform in the street outside and began hitting me up for spare change because he was a Vietnam veteran. Both were lying - they weren't old enough.
But the second was an unusual response to a presentation. A young guy - probably a grad student, but my memory isn't keen on that point - explained the results of his study on new sensing equipment used by the National Weather Service. A bit of background here. During this time period the National Weather Service was undergoing Modernization and Restructuring, which was a nifty term applied to replacing humans with computers. This was a time when Doppler radars were being installed nationwide, and new, high resolution weather satellites were about to be launched. These were very expensive toys, and the Weather Service made a small deal to acquire them. They closed several offices and consolidated operations into larger offices with greatly increased geographical areas of responsibility. At most of the locations that were closed, automated Weather Observing systems were installed. Now this young whippersnapper was standing before the assembled lions of meteorology and telling them that according to his research, the new sensors were reading temperatures warmer than the systems they replaced.
"Hmmmm... " thinks I, "These guys are really going to embrace this. After all, it could be used in building a case for not eliminating all these jobs, even though Al Gore wants to re-invent government and these losses will be part of it!" I was, of course, dead wrong. In fact, the reason I remember this particular presentation at all is the scorn, contempt, and derision that followed. For those who've never had the joy of sitting through such an event, speakers follow a rigid timetable, say what they must in an allotted time, then entertain questions, comments, and general discussion. Usually these are constructive and good natured, regardless of agreement or disagreement with the speaker. This is especially true when the guy sweating at the lectern is a student or a young guy trying to make a name for himself - but not in this case. Given the reaction of the crowd, one might of thought that the speaker had advocated lowering the age of consent to seven and demanded custody of the children of all in attendance. Although a few stood to point out that he might have a point, the vast majority dismissed him with great contempt and declared his methodology flawed.
Something you must understand about these sorts of presentations: given the amount of time allotted, it's virtually impossible to provide all possible support for your hypothesis, so some benefit of doubt is generally accorded the presenter. Usually, that is. But this hapless young man was ripped and shredded and sent packing. I had never seen anything like it. In fact, I can recall neither this man's name or the title of the paper he was presenting; at the time the only thing I found notable about it was the ferocity of the response. Much later it would become clear to me why. In those days global warming fever had yet to grip the nation, and I did not realize that this man was seen as a threat to the goose that was expected to lay a lot of golden eggs.
Recall my flash of insight I explained in our last episode; there is a small pie of federal money available to fund research of any sort, and meteorologists compete for their slices with professionals from a lot of other fields of study. This global warming business was going to give them a leg up - if we don't get this money, people will die! It was only later (perhaps on hearing that the hottest days ever in the history of the world had occurred in the 1990s!) that I realized the full picture of what I'd witnessed that day.
Don't get me wrong - global warming is something deserving study - but here's the point that can't be avoided: any study that indicates that global warming isn't really a problem is a threat to further funding of global warming studies. (And thus a threat to the livelihoods of those who were responding to that presentation those many years ago.)
An important distinction must be made here. AS in many other fields, meteorologists are divided into two camps - research and operational. The vast majority of those who attend Conferences of this sort are from the research side of the house, and they we're threatened. There's no other explanation for the response, Galileo couldn't have been treated more poorly when he proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun. I have no idea whether the guy's study was valid or not, at the time it didn't seem that important anyway. But what is undeniable is the response was one that refused to accept any possibility that his results were anything but flawed, and that didn't jive with my notion of what science was supposedly all about.
But next time you're attending a conference somewhere and some guy comes up begging for quarters, if he looks too young to be a Vietnam veteran he just might be the guy I saw talking about variations between different temperature sensors that day.
Give him a dollar or two for me.
More to come.
As posited by an article in The New Republic magazine: (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?pt=1f7YopMoGv4%2FNF%2F3mpMntB%3D%3D)
"The first thing to understand about disasters is that they have indeed been rapidly increasing worldwide over the past century, in both number and severity, and that the causes of this increase are well understood--and have nothing to do with global warming."
"The reason is not an increase in the frequency or severity of storms, earthquakes, or similar events, but an increase in vulnerability because of growing populations, expanding economies, rapid urbanization, and migrations to coasts and other exposed regions."
Funding for disater preparedness and relief is finite. The sensible course of action would be to maximize the results for this limited resource. The real debate should be where to invest this money most effectively. What returns the biggest bang for the buck.
I see the debate over global warming as a straw-man, which can't yet be proved or disproved. A recent blog thread regarding global warming offered other explanations from the growing population of the world heating their homes (how many BTUs are released every winter season?) to the growth of urban areas located around what were once rural weather stations, thus skewing their temperature readings.
So called progressives will often rally to a cause not with the end result being the motivation, rather, they do it for a sense of self worth. One example I've seen cited is the group of inauguration protesters who flew to washington and stood in the cold just so they could turn their backs on the President and his motorcade when they passed by. Who besides the protesters own psyche, was helped?
If our leaders really want to mitigate damages from natural disasters we need to focus our efforts on activities that make a verifiable difference.Posted by Opinionated Vogon at February 3, 2005 06:59 PM
If you can remember which specific year it might be possible to track down the name and title of that presenter and presentation.
I'm a chemical engineer and will second the opinion on how this type of speech proceeds. It is very rare to have anyone doggedly attempt to denounce the speaker, let alone everyone. (I have seen 'professional enemies' though, that always showed up to the other's speeches in order to ask obnoxious questions. But even then it doesn't turn the mood of the crowd - and it is clear that there's personal animus present.)
The fundamental question of Global Warming is "Is it happening?". So why is the vast majority of the funding going to projects that _can_not_ help answer that question? It goes to projects with questions like this "If Global Warming is happening, how much change can we expect in crop yield?" (Replace crop yield with hundreds of other things.).Posted by Al at February 3, 2005 07:15 PM
Interesting. Makes me think of John Keegan, in "Intelligence and War", describing how outsiders usually think of scientists as open-minded in pursuit of new knowledge, and retorting:
"In fact, scientists can be as prejudiced as any theologian, particularly when one of their pet theories is challenged,"Posted by JPS at February 3, 2005 08:02 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(3) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)