In Canada, high school students receive guidance counselling in their senior year in order to assist them as they decide what to do after graduation. I went to my guidance session and my counsellor asked me what I wanted to do after June. I was a good student — a few A+s, a few B+s, and a few Bs. Not great — I tended to do well in subjects I liked and less well in those I didn’t value. At the time, I was more interested in high school social life than achievement but youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. I told my guidance counsellor that I wanted to go to university and study science.
“Science is hard for girls,” he said. “You do so well in English. You should study English in University.” I won a regional poetry prize for high school seniors in a nation wide competition, so I can understand this advice, but I was determined. I loved my biology and chemistry classes and could not be convinced otherwise. Being the stubborn sort that I am, I went on to study science and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology. My senior project was a genetic study of metabolic mutatations in Physcomitrella patens, a bryophyte better known as your ordinary moss.
Of course, here I am, a non-scientist writing about science instead of doing it. Guidance counsellors…
On to the subject of my post — fairy tales. They are cautionary tales told in order to both entertain and fill the reader full of moral learnings that will help them navigate the human world. Here are a few of my own personal high school fairy tales.
The Diamond Ring
It’s once upon a time and I’m 15. I have trained as a lifeguard and in the summer, I get my very first job at the local municipal swimming pool. One day, a fellow lifeguard and school chum we’ll call Jane comes to work at the pool and as we girls stand around in the change room before our shift starts, she holds out her hand. There on her ring finger is a diamond ring.
“It’s a promise ring,” she says, moving her finger and hand around so that the gem catches the light and glitters. We all ooh and ahh at this and listen as she tells us all about it.
“John gave it to me last night! We’re engaged to be engaged.”
You have to understand that to many high school sophomores, me included, there is nothing more important than being considered attractive to the opposite sex. It is even more important than being smart or talented. So we are suitably impressed and envious, and most likely each one of us who didn’t have promise rings on our fingers spend the rest of the shift imagining the day we will get our own. Understand that the boyfriend is himself superfluous. He is merely the provider of the “sign” — the purchaser of the ring and it is the ring, and the diamond in its center, that counts as proof of our female worth.
Later, after our shift is over, a few of us go to the local Smitty’s Restaurant to have our usual fare of french fries and chocolate milk shakes — and of course, to discuss the promise ring more thoroughly. I ask to see the ring, and Jane promptly removes it and passes it over. I examine it closely and after a few moments, the reality of the ring’s artifice becomes apparent.
The ring does sparkle quite a lot in the light but I discover the reason and it isn’t to do with the size of the gem. Instead, the jeweller designed the ring to enhance the effect. The band is yellow gold and the setting is in contrasting silver. The setting itself is a concave depression that has been cut into many facet-like planes and in the center of this depression sits the tiny diamond chip. The overall effect is to magnify the tiny chip so that it appears much bigger than it really is – perhaps a dozen times its actual size. In other words, while it is a ring and the gem is a diamond, it is barely above a large piece of diamond dust — the kind of chip that might result from a jeweller cutting a larger gem. The brilliant sparkle is an illusion created by the jeweller’s technique of using silver and multi-faceted cuts in the setting to enhance or exaggerate the size of the actual diamond.
The young couple broke up a few months later and each went on to marry other people as one might expect. Jane continued to wear the ring for quite a while despite the break up, because a diamond is a diamond and even though they were no longer engaged to be engaged, it was still proof that once, she had been a girl who was desired enough to be.
The recent barrage of posts in the denialosphere about O’Donnell 2010 got me to thinking about illusions and how it’s possible, if you repeat something enough and shine enough floodlights on it, hold it in a certain light, and squint your eyes, that you can turn a bit of compressed carbon into a magnificent diamond ring.
As of this writing, in the past two weeks, there have been a total of 44 blog posts about this gate du jour at the main “skeptic” blogs, such as Climate Audit (11),WUWT (9), The Air Vent (7), The Blackboard (9) and Bishop Hill (8).
It seems that the denialosphere is determined to ensure that this current kerfuffle is turned into a second Hockey Stick.
Meanwhile a quick search on google scholar indicates that there are dozens of new papers that discuss Antarctic temperatures and climate, including the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula.
What should we really be focusing on?
An Engaged Girl’s Honour Must Be Protected
It’s my senior year of high school and it’s Saturday night in small-town Western Canada. We’re at a party at my best friend’s house. Her parents are out of town and so it’s party central. The liquor is flowing and the pot is smoking. We’re all feeling quite good. Towards the end of the evening, a small group of friends are sitting in the kitchen. Jennifer, one of our friends is regaling us with tales of her upcoming wedding. Her boyfriend Dave, a few years older and already a graduate, stands behind her and the guys are all nodding and toasting him while we admire her engagement ring.
After a bit, we split up as a group to visit with the last remaining guests, stepping over those who have passed out on the floor and tripping over empty bottles. All of a sudden, a commotion erupts in the front yard. We rush out to see what’s happening and there, in the middle of the lawn, is Dave whaling on this much younger teen. I mean, Dave, the groom to be, is just bashing this guy’s lights out. The bashee is younger and smaller and the rest of us try to intervene in order to stop what is obviously a mismatched fight. The young guy isn’t even fighting back. He’s too drunk.
We finally separate the two and someone takes the young man home. Luckily, Dave wasn’t able to inflict enough damage for any charges to be laid and the young man goes home to bed, thoroughly chastened.
What started this late-night battle?
“Why did you beat him up?” I asked.
Dave is an old friend. My boyfriend and I have double dated on and off with this couple for a year or two so I know them both well.
“He made a pass at Jennifer.”
I turn to Jennifer and ask what the boy did.
“He cornered me when I came out of the bathroom and asked me to go on a date.”
I’m incredulous. This younger teen, slight in build, maybe 14, probably stoned out of his mind, made a pass at Jennifer and she runs to Dave to complain. Dave proceeds to beat the kid up.
I am mad and I am not afraid to express it. I point out that the boy was a few years younger and a dozen kilograms lighter than Dave. He was drunk. Jennifer could defend herself easily, and could have, if she had pushed on him with her pinkie finger, probably toppled him he was so drunk.
“Why on Earth would you run to Dave and get him to beat this kid up?” I ask.
Jennifer punches me in the face. I stand there, more shocked than hurt, mouth agape.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be an engaged woman!”
The engaged couple were married a few months later. I later found out that a week before they were married, Dave went out of town and Jennifer took the opportunity to have one last fling with her old beau. Because, you know, marriage is forever. Of course, she continued to sleep with this old beau on the side for the two years that she and Dave were married. So much for an engaged woman’s honour.
The recent skirmish between Steig and O’Donnell reminded me of this incident in my past. It’s reminiscent of the mountain made out of a molehill back when I was a teenage girl trying to understand how a diamond chip could be made to appear like a big deal, and how the honour of being an engaged woman (who cheated on her groom-to-be and future-husband) had to be defended.
Steig was an anonymous reviewer for O’Donnell. If you google Steig O’Donnell, you get over half a million hits. There are 44 posts in the denialosphere expressing affront and shock and disgust and horror that this could be possible in the peer review system and how it shows that climate science peer-review is broken and that Steig is duplicitous. This, despite the repeated points made by editors and experienced published authors, that it is quite common in other science disciplines for the author of the paper being criticized to be a reviewer – anonymous or otherwise. That it is the editor who has the ultimate power to determine if a critique and response has merit. And that to maintain the custom of anonymity, it is sometimes necessary for the reviewers to maintain the facade of unfamiliarity with the paper.
O’Donnell claims that had to break his word to Steig and break the anonymity of peer review in order to defend his honour in the face of Steig’s criticism. But as Willard has repeatedly said, a man’s word is his honour.
Here is an excerpt from the offending comment that started all this:
At the end of my post last month on the history of Antarctic science I noted that I had an initial, generally favorable opinion of the paper by O’Donnell et al. in the Journal of Climate. O’Donnell et al. is the peer-reviewed outcome of a series of blog posts started two years ago, mostly aimed at criticizing the 2009 paper in Nature, of which I was the lead author. As one would expect of a peer-reviewed paper, those obviously unsupportable claims found in the original blog posts are absent, and in my view O’Donnell et al. is a perfectly acceptable addition to the literature. O’Donnell et al. suggest several improvements to the methodology we used, most of which I agree with in principle.Unfortunately, their actual implementation by O’Donnell et al. leaves something to be desired, and yield a result that is in disagreement with independent evidence for the magnitude of warming, at least in West Antarctica. [my emphasis]
“…a perfectly acceptable addition to the literature.” “…suggests several improvements to the methodology we used, most of which I agree with in principle.”
Sounds pretty positive. Indeed, if you read Steig’s review comments, as I have, he did praise the paper and stated that it should be published — with some major revisions.
O’Donnell, at least as I understand it (which is admittedly that of a layperson), was intended to review the methods of Steig and show the method to be erroneous and the results based on the methods incorrect. That was the gist of their submission.
However, Steig wants them to present not only the correction to methods, but also the “most likely results” since he is primarily interested in Antarctic climate change trends, rather than only in methodological debates. If the authors do have a more likely result for Antarctic temperature trends, Steig appears to argue that they shouldn’t tease the reader with mere mention of them, but should present them along with the improved methods.
My recommendation is that the editor insist that results showing the ‘mostly likely’ West Antarctic trends be shown in place of Figure 3. While the written text does acknowledge that the rate of warming in West Antarctica is probably greater than shown, it is the figures that provide the main visual ‘take home message’ that most readers will come away with. I am not suggesting here that kgnd = 5 will necessarily provide the best estimate, as I had thought was implied in the earlier version of the text. Perhaps, as the authors suggest, kgnd should not be used at all, but the results from the ‘iridge’ infilling should be used instead. The authors state that this “yields similar patterns of change as shown in Fig. 3, with less intense cooling on Ross, comparable verification statistics and a statistically significant average West Antarctic trend of 0.11 +/- 0.08 C/decade.” If that is the case, why not show it? I recognize that these results are relatively new – since they evidently result from suggestions made in my previous review – but this is not a compelling reason to leave this ‘future work’. [my emphasis]
It seems to me that a science paper proper published in a major science journal should do more than just comment on or correct methods used to study a phenomenon. Science is moved forward by applying improved methods to the issue at hand in order to better understand the world. Steig seems to want O’Donnell to show the relevance of improved methods to the issue of Antarctic temperature trends, not just that the old method was incorrectly used or produced incorrect results.
This seems to be the core difference between auditors and scientists. Auditors don’t seem to care about the world being studied. They seem preoccupied with proving that those studying that world are wrong. They want to find flaws in methods and conclusions based on those flawed methods. Scientists want to use new and improved methods, not because they’re fun to use or because they like to solve puzzles, but because they want to better understand the world.
Scientists are actually interested in understanding the world.
Methods are only interesting if they help to understand that world.
Auditors, apparently, are interested in proving scientists wrong. They may claim to care about the world, but they don’t show evidence of this in the kind of work they choose to do.
That, my friends, sums up both this current skirmish and the larger war, at least according to this writer.
I wonder if we’ve advanced beyond high school.