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April 4, 2013 / Damien Irving

Are you “climate literate”?

We recently started a journal club at my workplace. As in most research institutions, the format consists of a group of us getting together over morning tea once a fortnight, to discuss a paper of interest. Our group has a pretty broad membership, so the papers we read cover a wide range of topics in climate science.

The thing that stuck me most after the first few weeks of journal club, is that while we all obviously have a very good understanding of the literature relevant to our specific area of research, most of us seem to have a relatively poor knowledge of recent research in other areas of weather/climate science (myself included!). I guess this isn’t surprising, since the whole point of establishing a journal club is to address this very issue, but it concerned me for a couple of reasons:

  1. In some cases, new developments in one area of weather/climate science are applicable to others
  2. As professional weather/climate scientists, we should have a fairly good understanding of the latest developments across our entire discipline, not just in our niche area of expertise

The second point becomes particularly relevant when you are required to speak on behalf of the profession. Some of us have to do this regularly due to positions we hold in professional societies or on media contact lists, but in general most of us aren’t senior enough to worry about those sorts of things. Instead, we are more likely to be required to represent the profession at a social occasion, usually when somebody asks what we do for a living. In such a situation I’d love to chat for hours about my niche area of expertise (tropical/extratropical teleconnections), but that’s not how things typically play out. Given the highly politicised nature of weather/climate science, the conversation inevitably turns to topics like the link between climate change and extreme weather, or media reports suggesting that global warming stopped about a decade ago.

If you’re not at least vaguely aware of the latest research across the wider discipline of weather/climate science, then these situations can be very tricky. Rightly or wrongly, an answer of “I don’t know” from an individual weather/climate scientist can be easily interpreted to mean that we as a profession also don’t know. With this in mind, I’ve created a new page on this blog, which contains an ever evolving list of new and interesting research findings that are highly relevant to the public discourse. Since this blog is all about discussing how we do research (i.e. the tools and best practices we use to get our work done), I’m breaking a little bit from the general focus. However, I think a well rounded weather/climate scientist needs a reasonable level of what I’d call ‘climate literacy’, in order to represent the profession effectively.

Feel free to contribute comments and ideas to the new page, as I intend to continually update the content over time.

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