Once someone begins to comment on climate change in the media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.) and establishes a public profile, it is only a matter of time before questions are asked about whether they are qualified to express an informed opinion. So, who is? A very readable and detailed exposition on the nature of scientific investigation as it relates to climate science has been written by John Mashey and posted over at Deltoid and should be read as part of this post. It explains what/who is credible, and on what basis this judgement can be made. Read it! Generally, people who are working for an organisation which conducts primary research on climate science and publishes this work in peer-reviewed scientific journals should be listened to.
There will be diverse opinions among this group – that is the nature of science – but provided their arguments are bound up in evidence and have survived rigorous pre-publication scrutiny and review, then they have to be considered a valid viewpoint (though not the final word – I’ll blog on ‘proof’ at some point). So, here is an incomplete list of what I consider to be the core scientific disciplines which have been primarily responsible for developing our current understanding of climate change and its implications. Atmospheric and Physical Sciences: Climatology, Meteorology, Atmospheric dynamics, Atmospheric physics, Atmospheric chemistry, Solar physics, Historical climatology Earth Sciences: Geophysics, Geochemistry, Geology, Soil Science, Oceanography, Glaciology, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction Biological Sciences: Ecology, Synthetic biology, Biochemistry, Global change biology, Biogeography, Ecophysiology, Ecological genetics Mathematics, Statistics and Computational analysis: Applied mathematics, Mathematical modelling, Computer science, Numerical modelling, Bayesian inference, Mathematical statistics, Time series analysis
Quite a diverse field and I’ve not listed many sub-disciplines. I’ve also not considered the humanities and social sciences, nor economics, nor engineering – all of which contribute greatly to our understanding of the broader issues – especially with respect to the impacts of climate change and our ability (or not) to manage and mitigate it. But this list is sufficient to underscore an important point. Our current scientific understanding of global warming and climate change impacts are not the domain of one, quirky field called ‘climate science’. In fact, it doesn’t even exist as a discrete field of science. Indeed the leading peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change is explicitly multidisciplinary in its mandate – after all, that is the nature of the problem. So to end this piece, what is my qualification to comment on this amorphous endeavour known as climate science? (I raise this because this issue has been used by some to argue that I shouldn’t be speaking on these matters, or that I shouldn’t hold the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change). Well, my undergraduate degree focused on biology, geology and computer science. I also did multiple units in chemistry, physics and statistics. My honours research degree was in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction (using palynology and micropalaeontology to infer changes in environmental conditions over the 10,000 year period of the Holocene). My Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) was on the validation of stochastic numerical models using real-world environmental data. Since my PhD I have published regularly in top peer-reviewed journals and publishing houses, with first author papers in Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Quaternary Science Reviews, PLoS, Global Change Biology, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and books by Cambridge University Press and Wiley-Blackwell Science.
My scientific papers have covered a diverse array of fields, including stochastic numerical modelling, Earth systems science, palaeoclimatic reconstruction, information theory, Bayesian statistics and meta-analysis, time series analysis, ensemble model averaging, extinction models, ecological genetics, population dynamics and the synergies among drivers of global change. See here for a selection of my papers, and here for a complete listing of my 130+ peer-reviewed publications. I hold a Professorship in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide and am Director of the multidisciplinary Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability. I have also won a number of prestigious scientific awards from leading scientific and academic authorities. So I feel quite qualified enough, and will now continue with my regular blogging.