Sunday, October 31, 2010


Thumbsuckers coming up bunnies, motivated by something Eli saw somewhere recently but more to the point this whole issue of who is a climate scientist. The specific remark came from Richard Lindzen by way of blog telephone, directed at Kerry Emanuel who, in Lindzen's opinion had sold out by starting to work on hurricanes because the granting agencies were directing funding in that direction. The more circumulus version is generated by the denialism fog machine that the only reason folks do climate science, is for the dineros. Of course, the scale of the dineros is a lot less than our friends write down, because most of the funding goes to the construction and launch of satellites, and, as Bert Brecht said, first feed the face and then tell right from wrong. Still, Eli thought a good rambling post would be some help in this matter.

Eli starts from the observation that what a cute little Rabett acquires in graduate school is a toolbox and a body of knowledge, aka a data set. Good little bunnies tear the data set apart with the shiny new tools extracting meaning under the mentorship of "the best Professor in the field". A bunch of us, as we grow into Rabett status, settle down to a research or teaching career, never straying too far from the Doctor Mother's Rabett Hole, improving the furniture, putting up new drapes, occasionally getting out for a conference. This is, as it were, often the personally preferred path, certainly the comfortable one. Same field, same data set, getting to know every nook and cranny, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Others hop along a different path for a couple of reasons. Sometimes the new PhD goes looking for a place where her toolbox could have a major effect. This can happen on a micro or a macro level, related area or out in left field. Often, driven by the need for a job, the brand new doctor of science sends out a few thousand resumes and one falls into the hands of a Prof. who reads it and says, gee, we could use that and the Prof. hires a new postdoc. Sometimes the prof hears about what was going on in the doctoral study, and sends out the gold plated invitation, wanting to add a new technique to the lab armory.

This happens not only to people but to fields. Eli grew up (ok, we know there is debate on that) as an AMO physicist (atomic, molecular and optical physicist), wandered into physical chemistry and then chemical physics over the course of a decade. At each step his toolbox was the entry to the new area, and at each stop, his toolbox grew. Synthetic organic, or biochem would have been a jump too far, but he found the occasional collaborator in those areas who needed to borrow a cup. Chemical Physics itself bumped along. Many went over to the earth and atmospheric science, others to mechanical engineering combustion research, still others to materials science and even biomedical stuff, all based on a useful toolbox and interesting problems.

Interdisciplinary fields are prone to this sort of talent borrowing because they are not a bridge to far for anyone trained in the one of the inter disciplines. Climate science is one of these sort of areas and Eli leaves it to the comments to list any number of those who joined up. Climate bloggers include examples, to pick on three, Gavin Schmidt, James Annan and William Connolley (who has since wandered in a different direction).

Next, we come to what Eli will call the Emanuel shift. Someone working in a field on a problem, finds another problem which is interesting, important to others and fundable. Even better, there is just the socket wrench in the toolbox to crack that nut. Gotta go for it. Tomorrow, in the next exciting chapter,Workload, Eli will explain why.


Jim Bouldin said...

"Good little bunnies tear the data set apart with the shiny new tools extracting meaning under the mentorship of "the best Professor in the field"."

Even gooder ones put disparate data sets together to connect some (preferably important) dots, then get lambasted because their methods are "novel". And I thought I told you once Rabbit that some of us are expressly here for the mucho dinero to be had. Pay attention yourself.

Wildlife Management-->Molecular Genetics (real science!)-->Ecology-->Paleoclimate methods dabbling

EliRabett said...


Anonymous said...

Have a world class doctoral school and change it cause, just cause.
This little mouse does not know why his favorite glaciologists have become climatologists.

Ric you know who you are. I know you would rather be on the ice. Judge a professor by his students and you come up trumps.

On that criteria Eli rates pretty damn good too.

Not a former student of either just someone who has annoyed both and has had some kind replies.

Little Mouse