Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Green Ocean

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Off to the the Green Ocean Amazon

On March 1st, I will be leaving for the Amazon rainforest, to investigate turbulent exchange between the rainforest canopy and the atmosphere.

We are interested in the transport of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC) that are emitted by trees and that might have an big impact on the generation of organic aerosols and subsequently cloud development.

All of this is part of the GOAmazon 2014 campaign.

The Green Ocean - Credit: ARM Climate Research Facility (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lying ahead are 2 months of incredibly hard work, on top of all the preparations that went into this campaign, excitement, the unique change to look down on an ocean of green, an awesome opportunity to get exiting data to verify our models and so much more (i.e chiggers, mosquitoes and snakes). 

The ARM GOAmazon Flickr Stream
The Department of Energy press release for GOAmazon 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

What do Americans (and the world) think about science and technology.

And what should that tell us?

The National Science Foundation (USA) has published a detailed report on the public’s attitudes towards science and technology in the US and how this compares to other countries.

Overall the public has a favorable view of scientists and trusts them to work towards a common good. This is relieving to know, especially considering that one of the most common allegation by internet trolls is that scientists are part of a global conspiracy, in it for the money or otherwise villainous.

The report also looked at factual knowledge about science and found out that US-Americans and Europeans have an overall comparable knowledge of science, which exceeds knowledge levels in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement (see below). Also and not at all surprising: The more educated a person is, the more they know about science.

While Europeans and Americans have a similar level of scientific knowledge, there are a few questions in which the US does badly and this has probably more to do with religion than science. When asked about evolution and the big bang, only a minority of Americans knows them or accepts them as a fact. Weirdly, while evolution is not considered true by the majority, an overwhelming 83% showed knowledge in plate tectonics, which is inherently irreconcilable with a biblical Earth, but apparently not such a hot political issue.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are Impact Factors useful?

Florioan Freistetter has made and interesting proposition on (Post in German, Sorry): Should scientists be limited to 5 publications? This was based on another blogpost.

"Publish or perish" has lead to a large flood of mediocre publications primarily intended to bolster the length of the author’s CV or to produce citations for previous articles. At the same time, metric driven hiring decision and funding allocation mean that everyone has to play the game just to keep up. It is like the Red Queen’s race.

Obviously, a hard limit of publications is never going to happen, but some funding agencies like Germany’s DFG have assigned a maximum number of publications that will be considered for grant applications (5) and project reviews (3 per year).

For me this appears to be a good way of bringing people to focus more on quality than quantity. I would love to see something like this for tenure or hiring committees. We need to limit the impact of metric driven decision making in science. After all, scientists are extremely smart people and will always figure out a way to game the numbers game. While some safeguards against nepotism etc are needed, it would give more freedom to hiring committees and young scientists alike, to focus on what really matters.


Would you trust this obscure publication? (wikimedia.commons)

The blogpost went on and disputed the use of impact factors (IF), which is the metric of how often articles in a given journal are cited. Instead of being limited to a small number of hard-copy journals, today’s scientist have articles from even obscure journals or open archives such at their finger tips. Hence impact factors and journal reputation were no longer relevant.

And this is were I disagree. While there are many problems with peer review and big journals such as Science and Nature, who often look for a surprising story than correct results, it is still the gold standard of scientific communication. Journals with good reputations and that are important in their field (as indicated by their impact factor) have access to a much larger pool of editors and reviewers, (hopefully) improving the quality of the reviews.

The danger of no review or bad review can be seen, when a paper by two grad-students that predicts the decline of Facebook is uploaded to and it gets reported everywhere


Is facebook a disease? Maybe but the science is bad (

Additionally - and this is my personal experience - database searches for articles will result in discovering a large number of journal articles that are directly related to my research. As I can properly read about 4-5 papers a day and potentially skim about 20, I need to narrow down the field. The reputation of a journal and its impact factor are a good start. For older papers one can also look at the impact or citations that each paper receives, but when a paper is less than 3 years old, it will hardly have any citations at all or only citations by groups directly related to the author.

In the end a lot of science is built on the trust that the people involved in the process are doing their best and are not driven by selfish motives. I am fully aware that there are no absolutes and that science is not pure, but it is a necessary boundary condition.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Weather vs Climate





Sunday, February 2, 2014

New MIT climate MOOC

Another climate science MOOC is about to start. This time is is run by MIT and will cover the basic science such as radiative transport, convection and radiative equilibrium. The course will also include running a climate model. 

The introduction video gives you an overview of the course which is presented by Kerry Emanuel, Dan Cziczo and David McGee:

The course is free of charge and registration is open (here).


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