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« Me and Richard B in the Guardian | Main | Who leaked the Hintze correspondence? »
Thursday
Mar292012

Hulme's new climate course

Times Higher Education reports on Mike Hulme's latest idea - a course combining environmental studies and the humanities:

"I have worked in the field for over 30 years," he said. "I started with a very numerical approach but became increasingly frustrated that science alone cannot motivate social change.

As a taxpayer, I must say I struggle with the idea that I should be forced to pay people to work on coming up with new tactics to get me to amend my ways. This seems to me to be political campaigning rather than academic research.

This bit made me laugh:

Professor Hulme - who also teaches an undergraduate class on scientific controversy - acknowledged that UEA had been at the centre of a political row over climate change.

"We have gone through a big controversy here with the 'Climate-gate' scandal, which raised questions about whether some scientists were trying to subvert the peer-review process and who counts as a legitimate expert."

He added that although his own emails were among the batch obtained by campaigners who cited them as evidence that scientists were manipulating climate data, he was "not in the spotlight".

As did this:

Insights from nature writing and eco-poetry will be considered alongside those of philosophy and science.

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Reader Comments (128)

"Hypothesis" should've been "narrative".

Mar 30, 2012 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterSleepalot

Sleepalot

One to cut out and keep. You even managed to preserve the 'which in your case you have not got'.

Mar 30, 2012 at 5:34 PM | Registered CommenterDreadnought

Thank you Sleepalot. I found reading that quite affecting.

Mar 30, 2012 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

@Iank

'You (and others) would have a valid point if poetry (or other art) supporting the skeptical point of view about CAGW were to be deliberately excluded from the course. I somehow doubt, however, that the contributions within this post would find a place, but the reason for exclusion would probably not be on the grounds of content. However, I'll ask Mike for his views.and report back'

Sure. Go and discuss with mike exactly why satire and ridcule as art forms would be excluded from his precious course. Perhaps they would show an unsatisfactory lack of reverence to his subject. And there is nothing that a dyed-in-the-wool believer hates more than not being taken seriously.

Meanwhile the rest of us will continue to have a good giggle at your ever-so self-righteous expense.

And I have had my suspicion that many academic courses are suitable only for the mentally impaired reinforced by this fine example. Many institutions seem really to be run by a 'Wunch of Bankers' - as the Reverend Dr Spooner might so nearly have said.

Mar 30, 2012 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

@IanK

What is it about the 'science' of climatology that attracts post-modernists.

We don't see much 'physics-poetry' about the theories of general and special relativity, do we?

Nor do we see any 'narrative' attached to the above mentioned theories. Why not?

Mar 30, 2012 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Chemico-poetry

Current Parties Never Persuade Sophisticated European Girls to Drink Hard Even Though You Linger .

Mar 30, 2012 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterA L Chemist

Oh Dear, all this concern about eco-poetry but a near total ignoring of the fact that the humanities are an enormous influence on public opinion.

In artists' wet dreams maybe. In the real world, not so much.

On occasion art does lead public opinion. When it does it is almost always non-elite art, albeit that later people will include the formerly low-brow into the new high-brow. I've seen a persuasive argument that the rise of the novel led people to think differently about their inner lives, and those of others. But at that time the novel was not an elite art form.

In the modern world the only art form with a decent chance of changing public perceptions is television.

Mar 31, 2012 at 2:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

I submit Tom Lehrer's "Periodic Table" aka "The Elements" song as a solid example of art in the service of science:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8dtquYDXEU

Admittedly, it's a bit outdated nowadays and the elements are out of order, but it is amazing how many kids learned the names of the elements from this song, in a funny and accessible way. I doubt that kneeling at the shrine of Gaia is ever going to have a comparable educational effect.

Mar 31, 2012 at 3:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

@IanK

Serious artistic contributions from the sceptical viewpoint?

Try

http://cartoonsbyjosh.com/

and

http://www.minnesotansforglobalwarming.com/m4gw/videos/

and

http://fenbeagleblog.wordpress.com/

Funnier and more influential than any 'eco-poetry' that I have yet to see. But not on message so entirely unsuitable for 'serious academic study'.....= sitting around in the common room whinging about how unfair life is. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. But then I left academe and started to grow up.

Mar 31, 2012 at 5:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

@IanK

What is it about the 'science' of climatology that attracts post-modernists.

We don't see much 'physics-poetry' about the theories of general and special relativity, do we?

Nor do we see any 'narrative' attached to the above mentioned theories. Why not?
Mar 30, 2012 at 9:02 PM Billy Liar

Interesting isn't it, how our knowledge about the physical universe has advanced thus far without recourse to "post-modernism" or poetry.

I spent my working life in the silicon chip industry where we managed to progress in fifty years from the single PNP transistor to the megabit DRAM - and I don't recall a single poetry reading.

Old friends in the nuclear and aviation industries have told me that they've managed to come quite a long way without Hulme's "Insights from nature writing and eco-poetry" either.

Be in no doubt, "climatology" is not a science - it's a confected refuge for charlatans, rogues, incompetents and inadequates with the sole unifying motive of obtaining a congenial living out of someone else's taxes.

Mar 31, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Mar 31, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Foxgoose

My view is that it stems from the fact that climatologists, to a large extent, know that it will never, ever become 'hard' science. By that I mean that no practically useful forecasts will ever emerge however many supercomputers they throw at it. Any 'projections' will be rather like the one used to build the tsunami protection walls at Fukushima - just based on what has happened in the past modified by some factor attributed to the concern de jour.

The fact that it will never become 'hard' science means that it has more in common with the social 'sciences', marketing and telephone sanitisation. (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

Mar 31, 2012 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

By gum, there's some great eco-poetry in this thread. My nomination for second prize is the sterling effort by TheBigYinJames:

There once was a group called the Team
Who invented a climate change meme
But the stats didn't work
So they just made them up
And flatlined the whole Holocene

Apr 1, 2012 at 6:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterNZ Willy

As promised I am reporting upon a conversation (brief corridor meeting and e-mails) with Mike Hulme. He gave permission for me to report some of his views but insisted that I use my own words since he does not care for his own to be misrepresented. I share his concerns; in this string, I have been called "self righteous", "mentally impared " and likened to a "Wanker", merely for expressing my view that any attempt to bridge the chasm between science and the humanities is to be lauded not derided (the fact that this has attracted no support whatsoever here speaks volumes).

Mike is both amused and disappointed by the reaction expressed in this forum. His main stance appears to be that it is a legitimate topic and that there are multiple ways of responding to climate change. [I do not care to debate whether climate change is occurring, in my view the evidence if obvious, only the magnitude and the causes of such changes are disputable] The M.Sc/MA course would not be confined to considering creative art but includes considerations about how people form and communicate their values about nature (the course is not only about climate change remember). Surely everyone would agree that the green valuation of nature is not the only one that is legitimate? I believe Mike finds it difficult to understand why this view is being criticized in this forum.

By the way, when I meet Mike in the corridor he was about to give a lecture on "climategate" to final year students. I asked for a copy of his lecture materials which he kindly provided (remember this was to someone who he knows has very different views about this subject, and who (potentially) could do harm). His lecture was (on the basis of materials provided) non controversial concentrating upon the history of the event and its consequences to how science is percieved by the outside world and within the scientific community. The only point I would have taken issue with was when the various committees and their reports about climategate were listed, there was no accompanying list of commentaries expressing concerns about committee membership and lack of scrutiny of essential issues. But then every lecture can be improved (mine included).

All this convinced me that Mike is someone you "could do business with". Our viewpoint has too many enemies, it would be wise to cultivate those who listen - and I include Mike Hulme in this category.

Apr 1, 2012 at 6:57 AM | Unregistered Commenter@lanK

By serious I meant with "artistic merit". The creative artwork commonly has stood the test of time or has been greeted with approval by critics (rightly or wrongly) has having such merit (and originality). I can appreciate and enjoy the poetry and the cartoons of Josh with the rest of you but I have my doubts that this type of material would be considered "serious art" worthy of study by university students. If they were to be so considered I can imagine the howls of protest that would arise.

The fact(?) that there is very little creative art dealing with science (mentioned by some) merely emphasizes the point I was originally trying (unsuccessfuly it seems) to make that the division between Snow's Two Cultures is alive and well, and that attempts at bridging should be applauded.

Apr 1, 2012 at 7:16 AM | Unregistered Commenter@lanK

The fact(?) that there is very little creative art dealing with science (mentioned by some) merely emphasizes the point I was originally trying (unsuccessfuly it seems) to make that the division between Snow's Two Cultures is alive and well, and that attempts at bridging should be applauded. @lanK

Has it occurred to you, Ian, that there may be a good reason for the fact that science has managed thus far without recourse to "creative art"?

We have, after all, crawled out of our caves a relatively short time ago and managed to equip ourselves with some pretty handy stuff - from flint axes to steam power and on to space travel and t'interweb - based on a simple principle of "imagine it, try and make it, see if it works".

People of course come in all intellectual shapes and sizes and the the sort of people who get their buzz form doing the above are generally a rather different breed from those who have excelled in raising the human spirit with works of art, literature or music.

This doesn't mean that people who have a primary interest in the physical aren't perfectly capable of appreciating and participating in artistic endeavour - as I think a casual reading of some of the above comments will show (I'm talking about the clever stuff like Sleepalot's Reed parody - not the knockabout doggerel from the likes of me).

I also find it strange that you invoke Snow's "Two Cultures" concept in defence of Hulme's approach. I started my engineering degree the year after his 1959 Cambridge lecture and it was much discussed around that time - but I think you've got it rather back-to-front.

Snow's killer quote was:-

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?

Snow was advocating for scientific knowledge to be acknowledged as the intellectual equivalent of art - not trying to persuade scientists to decorate the scientific method with poetry readings.

I'm sorry Ian, but I find your comments shallow, facile and poorly thought out - like a lot of "climatology" really.

Apr 1, 2012 at 9:05 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I must agree with Foxgoose. Art is a culturally defined concept, and a very fine thing indeed. But, although a lot of it is about nature, an awful lot of it is not. Going right back through civilisation, it has been about people (love, death etc), war, politics, religion, domestic life, work etc. Even 'primitive' art deals with subjects other than nature.

So, looking at how nature lovers express their art is useful in a course focusing on art, or perhaps in the study of a particular culture. It is just sloppy thinking to imagine it has any relevance in the Hulme course, which sounds like the all too common incoherent grab-bag of elements that makes up so much of 'post modern' academia.

Apr 1, 2012 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Why the insults Foxgoose? Why spoil a perfectly well argued rebutle by resorting to such tactics? In this post alone I have been called many negative things and my motives questioned. In addition some posts are simply stupid yet because I can't think of something kind or neutral to say I refrain from responding.

You are perfectly correct to argue that Snow's main purpose was to draw attention to the elitist view of many that only the humanities mattered, and that Science was part of our culture. But, when I started as an undergarduate in 1961 (in far-away London) the debate was still raging and I distinctly recall that Snow also criticised Scientists who had no time for the hunamities. With respect, I find some of the first part of your post, tantamount to being sympathetic to this viewpoint - namely scientists can get along without the hunanities.

May I also draw to your attention that the degree course will also be an MA and thus will be directed at enhancing the link between the humanities and science (not necessarily diluting the Science content of a degree as many contibutors have assumed or implied)- thus contributing to Snow's original objective

Please also do not insult me by implying I am a climatologist (whatever that is) - I'm a geologist with an interest in the climate and what causes it to change.

Apr 1, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered Commenter@lanK

Ian

I'm sorry you thought I was insulting you.

Calling someone's arguments poorly thought out or facile is just robust debate in my world - and I'm a bit surprised if such debate has died out in academe these days.

I still don't see why there is the remotest need for a degree course to try and amalgamate science and art into some sort of post-modern mush about "considerations about how people form and communicate their values about nature".

Snow wanted people in the arts and sciences to have the breadth of knowledge to appreciate each other's learning - he didn't want to "blend" art and science into intellectual pap.

All respectfully IMHO of course ;-)

Apr 1, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Pleased to see that Andrew Orlowski is onto it. He even links back here!

El Reg

Apr 2, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

FWIW, I often notice that the science graduates on University Challenge can usually answer a few questions on the Arts, but that the arts graduates are universally hopeless at science!

Just saying...

Apr 2, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

@IanK, I will let pass that you are still promoting the establishment view of (serious) art.

If you mix science and humanities, surely all you are going to get is a humanities course? Why?

Science's function is to produce the perfect mirror of the universe.
Art, by its very nature, must use an ever changing, individually unique, imperfect mirror.
Philosophy is trying to put some size and shape and depth on the mirror.

This course is unlikely to add anything to the science, perfecting the mirror. The other elements of the course say there is no perfect mirror (art), or its form is an opinion (philosophy).
So the only "serious" discussions will be on the humanities side.

Science is just a window dressing to a humanities course, riding on the back of Climate Change. Nice work if you get it. Do I personally think this course will progress society? No. Looks more like a funded ego trip to me.

And your dismay at this forum ("speaks volumes")? What do you expect? Many came here because of the bullsh*t the humanities side of society was feeding us. This is not a science forum.

Apr 2, 2012 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Not sure if this has been mentioned before:

http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.com/2012/04/lesson-1-how-to-become-critical-blogger.html

Here we have it, the critical blogger's mindset in a nutshell. It's not that difficult - you can learn it, too, dude! Just try: "I, as a taxpayer, ...." and add the ingredients "social science, political campaign, oh my God!" Got it? Great! Now you are fit to comment as an expert on 99% of all climate issues!

Apr 2, 2012 at 4:35 PM | Registered Commentershub

I'm interested in "humanities" texts and topics, but literary texts are very far from science and Hulme's purpose with this course seems to be overtly, avowedly propagandistic. Hulme says he wants to inculcate essentially political action lessons via discussion of humanities texts.

He says he is concerned to "motivate social change" because the climate scientists have not managed to do so to his satisfaction (as though we are not squandering enough billions of dollars and pounds and euros at their breathless direction).

Hulme's approach here can't help with making genuine scientific judgments, it is about personal "inner" responses of a literary kind. How about some personal literary responses in NAUSEA at the continual waves of propaganda which wash over us all daily??

There is an interesting aside on C. P. Snow and the whole "two cultures" debate (related to many problems with Snow's work on these topics which I won't discuss here). A fascinating furor arose when F.R. Leavis of Cambridge lashed out in the most withering terms at how Snow described the "two cultures" and related issues (the article linked is from 1994 looking back at the raging debate in the early 1960s):

"Two Cultures" and the F.R. Leavis vs. C.P. Snow Controversy

One mini-lesson is that "flame wars" are not limited to the web in our own time, although the attack by Leavis against Snow was quite shocking to many in that era.

Apr 2, 2012 at 5:29 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Thanks, skiphil, for that link. And, it is certainly true that flame wars have always been with us, although the participants were fewer in number and the time lapses were longer because of technological limitations. I suspect that the heat and light ratios have not changed much, though.

It is worth mentioning that C P Snow wrote possibly the first serious novel about scientific fraud - "The Affair", published in 1960. It is about a probable fraud committed by a deceased scientist with a long and distinguished career, and its ramifications. Being a Snow novel, it is set in Cambridge, at that time the pinnacle of scientific rigour and achievement. Either you can stand Snow's writing or you can't; but if you can, it provides useful insights into the way science is made, or manufactured if you will. In particular, it highlights the interaction between human frailty, politics and received 'science'.

Apr 2, 2012 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Now we are getting some more considered criticisms of the newly announced M.Sc/M.A. degree course, including some that I can agree with.

One matter still seems not to have been considered, however - the fact that it is a second degree. I would have agreed with most of the negative comments if it had been a first degree, but applicants for the course will already have done a science or a humanities first degree. The only reason that they would sign-up for the course is that they would consider it useful to them. Most will have to pay all or a large part of the fees; so why do that unles they consider it useful to them? Furthemore the University would not have agreed to running the course unless it were judged to be attractive to prospective students - universities are currently reducing their stock of degree courses and any new course would have been academically and finacially vetted. Only time will tell if students taking the course or the University that agreed to it being commisioned will prove to be wise in their choice.

Apr 3, 2012 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered Commenter@lanK

@lanK

Well I will be curious to learn more over time about how it's turning out, but it does sound as though it's being crafted with one particular sort of activist bent. Will there be genuine academic freedom in this program? I doubt it wil attract any "skeptical" applicants but could they be accepted as degree candidates and allowed to proceed through courses?

I'm familiar (in the USA academic context) with the results of some decades of special-emphasis programs outside of traditional departments, and they often end up even more "left" leaning and ideological than much of the academy is already.

I.e., faculty and students who are attracted to non-science non-departmental programs and degrees in "Environmental Studies" and "Women's Studies" and "Cultural Studies" etc. etc. seem to be immersed in highly polemical, politicized forms of indoctrination more than education.

Of course I can't know how this program will develop, but Prof. Hulme has already described it in a social change type of context so color me skeptical about the program's academic freedom.

Apr 4, 2012 at 2:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

There once was a doctor called Dick
Who fell for the Mannian trick
To hide the decline
He Betts on a crime
That produces a hockey stick

Apr 4, 2012 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Have to join in

Song of a Climate Zombie

Am I some poor merchant of doubt selling shopworn and
threadbare wares on the ebays of the ideas marketplace?
Let me take stock then in a dismal reiteration of my poor
argument that is my faint hope to delude and dismay you.

Unless we can count on some mad and unprovable theory,
then the unholy carbon ghost must grasp the photon closely
in warming arms for a period of no less than 80 years or so.
Or until judgement day – whichever comes before the cart.

My stock in trade must be: the power of the ENSO twins,
the abruptly shifting PDO, the fickleness of the PNA, the
slow pendulum of the AMO and the SAM with its storms
freewheeling off the Southern Ocean to smash on the shore.

These standard bearers of doubt engage in a global dance.
Occasionally, they pirouette towards a grand crescendo and,
then fly wildly to the ends of Earth in a new choreography,
Tremendous energies cascading though powerful systems.

Unless I miss my mark then this is the mark of chaos and
a danger in its own right as climate system components
jostle unpredictably and things settle into whatever pattern
emerges - mayhaps a cold, cold, cold day on planet Earth.

So you’re sure we caused warming over the last 50 years?
But global warming is only seen between 1977 and 1998.
By more than chance, it was the last period when the boy
child, El Niño, reigned over climate in the Pacific Ocean.

His influence can be seen in the gleam of Earth’s radiance.
A slow decline in reflected shortwave as cloud dissipated
over the warm ocean letting in more of the Sun’s warmth.
Ten times more powerful an effect than that of IR trapping.

Before that time and since his sister, the girl child La Niña,
ruled waves with winds and cold, cold water rising in the
eastern Pacific - with cool cloud spreading over cold seas -
she rules for some decades yet before ceding power again.

May 2, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterChief Hydrologist

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