June 25th, 2009


Canberra bound

Well, I coughed up the money and am going to go to my friend's wedding in Canberra. I feel really good about that - I have always felt bad about not going to a friend's wedding in Melb when probably I should have. I really am touched to have been invited to this one, have been there along the way with all sorts of decisions, including advisement on shoes and invitation address labels and so on. And I love both the couple. And it's two functions, so I'm glad to be able to go.

Next year money might be tight. It might be. It might not be too. I believe in me and I believe I will sort out the job uncertainty - I've lived like this for the last 4 years so ... And if the OCD has taught me anything, it's that you can spend today being anxious about things that may never happen tomorrow, and all you did was ruin your enjoyment of today.

Which means I intend to pop my head into Conflux a bit. Or a lot. Not sure yet. What I can say for sure is, there will be Horn and A Book of Endings and Robot War Espresso and New Ceres Nights at Conflux, at some point :)


An addendum to the climate debate

A friend of mine just said to me that "both sides of the argument want me to believe you on faith."

This would appear to be the crux of the issue.

When we say "scientists" we should be clear in saying that very few scientists actually do not think that CO2 is causing the globe to heat. I tried to get the facts and figures from Al Gore's website, but amusingly, I can't access that from work. But in the movie he quoted the thousands and thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers that were distilled down into the IPPC reports. The world is presented with conclusions from this report because thousands and thousands of papers, that are consistent with their broad scale findings, have been compiled.

The skeptics would have you think that this debate is balanced. That scientists are at odds with each other. But the truth is that a decade or more ago science debated these facts. Scientists rigorously peer review each others work, that's how it comes to be considered science. It's not magic. You can't just say anything you like without facts, figures, experiments, observations and then reproduction of all of these by another scientist. Scientists are trained to be critical and skeptical. They are trained to pick holes in arguments and work, their own and everyone else's.

What is this science exactly?
Imagine trying to explain how everything that is on earth - you, me, the rivers, the wetlands, the ocean, the rain, the runoff from the rain, the humidity, the sunlight, the winds, the carbon in shells and on and on into a mathematical equation so that we can change one parameter (CO2 in the atmosphere) and see what happens next. That's this science.

Except, we haven't actually finished understanding all those other things yet - you, me, the rivers, the wetlands, the ocean, the rain, the runoff from the rain, the humidity, the sunlight, the winds, the carbon in shells and on and on. So what happens is, I'll say, well I know a bit about how wetlands work, I'll take that bit. And someone else says, I kinda understand how the trade winds affect the leuwin current, I'll do that bit. And someone else says, I understand how vector borne disease works I'll do that. Someone else says I understand how the sun's light turns into heat, I'll contribute that. And then we'll all look at trying to put numbers into our smaller area so that we can figure out these smaller equations and then we'll feed them up the chain to something called a Global Climate Change model and see if we can find out the answer.

Except how do we combine all these little things? And how do they relate to one another? And does scale matter? And so, we have several Global Climate Models which use different assumptions about how all the smaller aspects should be summed up.

And ... what should we be modelling? Should we try and figure out how things will change and adapt as the temperature slowly heats up? Or should we hot start it at the new temperature?

And one of the fascinating things is ... a bunch of things we thought about the nature of the world happened to only actually hold true at the previous (cause we've already had global warming since 1950) global temperature. You may have noticed that weather predictions have gotten worse and worse. That's cause humidity and the C02 (I think, not quite my area) are not linear or directly related such that the ability of the atmosphere to hold water changed, and that means you get more clouds but less rain (which may or may not then change global temp).

Imagine how every aspect of the nature of the world changes as you change something so that the way each of these parameters acts changes as well. Essentially all the input parameters need to be better understood too in order to build this giant global climate model.

And then imagine whilst you're trying to finesse it, people are looking over your shoulder at one bit and yelling at you cause the relationship between two parameters (CO2 and temp) are not linearly or directly related. And you look up puzzled cause, well, no. There's 150 or 3000 parameters in the equation.

I think one of the problems is miscommunication. Science operates through a series of scrutineering processes to question and audit and rework findings. Before something is considered to be a working theory that is applicable, many many series of work must be done, reproduced and questioned.

Note that science only ever has theories. Always up for being disproved. You can't really "prove" a theory in science so the constant questions of "prove to me that CO2 is causing temperature rise" won't really get you the answer that you want. Science is based on coming up with a theory and testing it. If it is disproved, it gets thrown out. If testing doesn't disprove it, well, it looks like it holds ... until ... until something disproves it. So the theory of gravity has held because every time we jump, we land back on earth. Every time. But ... it could be that at some point in time, some aspect of that is disproved such that, say, on a day when the sky is green and the wind is in a certain direction at 4 minutes past midnight, the gravity engine at the core of the earth switches off and has a cup of coffee. In which case, the theory of gravity will be amended to say it exists except for in the aforementioned case.

So I guess partly, if scientists come across as though they don't want to be questioned, that they want to just be believed, it's not because they've performed the magic and there is a rabbit being pulled out of the hat. It's because they want you to believe in the process - that theories being presented have been worked on and tested and then peer reviewed. You believe that when a drug makes it to the market that the science of it has been tested rigorously, and if it is for the disease you have, you take the drug.

I think that with climate change, the discussion being had in parliament and in the media is occurring out of step with science. Such that the questions being asked now have been asked and reasked a while ago and the answers have long been accepted. Being asked to consider things that already have been feels like spanners being thrown in to stop the momentum of the progress of the work now, since those things have already been established.

I hate being asked the questions because, whilst I have knowledge, mine is in a discrete part of the field. And when I don't know the answer it looks like the question has stumped "science" when all it's done is stump a wetland hydrologist whose field is in water quantity and flow in wetlands. It's like laughing at medicine when you go to a heart specialist to get a knee problem fixed. I long since looked at the evidence and read a lot of the papers discussed in the IPCC reports. At that time I satisfied myself that the science was rigorous and that the skeptics were out there loonies grasping at straws to maintain a status quo that doesn't work - plants and animals are becoming extinct, water resources are dwindling, habitat is being lost at an alarming rate, top soil erosion and salinity bring challenges of secure food sources for the future. but the actual in and outs of the atmospheric science? Well, that you should ask of an expert.

But the fact that *I* can't answer the question, doesn't make the questioner right.

And the fact that I believe in the theories underpinning current climate change but can't express them to you in a 5 minute spiel, doesn't mean I've drunk the koolaid and hopped on the bandwagon. It just means that the questions are complex.

But I guess it feels like an attack on me as a scientist because I don't know all the climatic science ins and outs and then it feels like an attack on science cause we've moved on, accepted basic facts and are building on that, whilst other (nonscientists) want to rehash the old debates.

The Matter of Tongues

Many thanks to meteordust who linked to L Timmel Duchamp's Guest of Honour Speech at Wiscon last year, The Matter of Tongues

What a great speech well worht reading. Here she talks about finding stories that reflect who you are:

But in 1970, the stories I needed weren’t there for me. You see, I had no trouble believing him when he let me know that he’d agreed to teach me because he wanted to fuck me.


For most of my twenties, I especially sought out stories that could show me who I was and might some day be. But gradually I became more interested in the stories that offered me a way of understanding my experiences and feelings. I had always sought such stories, but these became more important as my need for role models diminished. It was around that time that, as I began to figure out aspects of my childhood experiences that puzzled me, I noticed how limited and narrow the range of available stories actually is. Very little of any of the experiences of my family were well-represented in fiction, for instance.

And this bit resonates for me both as a feminist, and as a scientist in how I was trying to express myself in the last post:

Intelligibility. I keep using that word. It’s an important concept for a writer, intelligibility. Another way to think of it is in terms of translatability. Can all concepts be translated from one language to another? Some people claim that they can, but certain ways of looking at the world, embedded in culture, are in practice incommensurable. And concepts always partake of assumptions about the world and how it operates.

and this:

I see three distinct political aspects to the issue of story and stories for feminists. First, it is tremendously important that we expand the range of stories we tell and re-tell. It is not good enough that people—especially children—who do not see themselves in the stories they read and hear and see must make do with bits and pieces of stories that don’t quite fit their identities or experiences. Second, the problem of intelligibility reflects the usually imperceptible influence of privilege that allows those who are “normal” and unmarked by difference to assume that whenever they don’t get a story or understand the other’s anger that there’s nothing there to get. Third, the intelligibility of stories depends on community. Community—both imagined and material—provides the basis for shared stories, shared narrative conventions and tropes, shared meaning.

Great speech.

I realized that stories based on the most common narratives, usually about white heterosexual males, were the ones that were least likely to be misread.

Go read all of it.


swings and roundabouts

Finally chilling out after yoga. Today I have felt sleepy and sluggish.

At yoga it was obvious and L called out to me to ask if my energy levels were low and then to just pull it all back for the session. Which is the great thing about yoga. But it was frustrating for me. Interestingly, though, I still went even though I felt subpar - normally I would bail on exercise. And we did preparation for bend backs this week - I did 2 of the 3 stages so stopped at the bit where your head is on the ground. But ... ahhh was good to be nearly that stretchy.

So yoga was less than great. Came home and have been slow to move. Discovered I have been piling dishes in the kitchen, thinking that the dishwasher needs emptying and it doesn't.

Talked at cross purposes with a friend today and that was unpleasant.

Was slow at work too.

But ... sent my CV off to my two employers of preference and heard back from Choice Number 1 - she has two vacancies and is about to advertise them and would like me to apply. So the selection criteria and panel interview bit does not sound enticing. But ... the job I most want is the one I currently have so, this is the next best choice. Not because of the job per se but I quite like the boss, the location of work is ok. And it would still be sort of involved in aspects of my area. Though it would probably mean more maths and straight engineering and that would require revision. Paying job is the priority though :)

I'm tired. Maybe port and chocolate and then bed for me.


Happy :)

Just saw THE BEST decontamination scene on Enterprise - you may or may not have heard of these, where everyone gets close to naked and sensually rubs some sort of decontamination gel on each other. And we get hot and heavy watching it.

This episode, poor Porthos, the Beagle, gets the gel rub down too.


And adds to my - is everyone else wondering if "the Captain's dog" is a euphemism? It's getting uncomfortable when people pop in on him in his quarters and he's on his bed "playing with his dog".

Going to rewatch this scene, finish my port and sleep well tonight, methinks.