RealClimate has been online for just over a year, and so this is probably a good time to review the stories we’ve covered and assess how well the whole project is working out.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve tackled a 100+ scientific topics that range from water vapour feedbacks, the carbon cycle, climate sensitivity, satellite/surface temperature records, glacier retreat, climate modelling to hurricanes. We’ve had guest postings that span questions of Martian climate change to Arctic ozone depletion and solar forcing. We’ve crossed virtual swords with Michael Crichton, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, George Will, Nigel Lawson, Fox News and assorted documentary makers (though only one person ever threatened to sue us). Hopefully our contributions have interested, intrigued and occasionally amused (at least a few of you…).
In terms of feedback, our surprisingly frequent media mentions indicate that we’ve been at least partially successful in our original aim of helping inform journalists about the science, but there is clearly still a long way to go. We’ve been pleased to see links to RealClimate postings occuring frequently in other climate-related forums and our mailbag continues to be full of questions and suggestions for topics (please keep them coming!). It’s also been extremely uplifting to find so many people who are not professional scientists interested enough to post such detailed comments to the articles.
Overall, we have been more praised than vilified. We certainly haven’t kept everyone happy, though even those who aren’t happy still pay attention to what is posted. Indeed, there are websites that pore over our ruminations with the dedication heretofore only applied to the sayings of the Delphic Oracle (unlike the oracle though, we make no claims to prophecy and don’t encode hidden meanings in our responses).
While we’ve aspired to being a reasonably authoritative resource, we have occasionally slipped and used more personal language than was really necessary. It is difficult at times to remember that although blogsphere conversations happen very quickly, they stay around forever, and so a sober style is most appropriate. However, moderation of comments on this site has been absolutely necessary to avoid the descent into the schoolyard behaviour all too often found in unmoderated forums. This task is not however an exact science, and there have errors of both overzealousness and undermoderation. For that, we apologise.
Being involved in RealClimate has certainly increased our profiles in the climate community and our visibility in the mainstream media, though it’s not yet clear whether it is helping or hindering our own research. Blogging keeps us up-to-date with many different areas of the science, but there is a time penalty to be paid, although being a group blog makes that (just about) managable. The patience (and occasional tacit support) of our employers has been admirable.
It is clear to us that there was (and continues to be) a large demand for a resource such as RealClimate and we encourage colleagues in this field and others to set up similar projects that allow scientists to communicate their enthusiasm and knowledge (and the uncertainties) directly to the interested public. We can all help improve scientific literacy by letting the public in on the conversations that we normally keep confined to the coffee breaks at big meetings or after-seminar beers. As highlighted in a recent Nature article, the scientific community as a whole has not been an early adopter of the latest technologies now available on the web. Some innovations are being used (online only journals, open review, a few blogs) but there is certainly a lot more scope available. How about a society-run purely online ‘rapid-reaction’ journal that could allow the comment and reply concerning controversial studies to happen within weeks rather than the months to years that are needed now? How about a serious attempt to get a comprehensive system for online data citation set up so that data generators can get the recognition that they deserve while and data that would otherwise be lost on some obsolete computer storage device can still make a contribution? How about more subfield-specific blogs for improving communication within the scientific community itself? These and other ideas need support and enthusiasm to get off the ground, but our experience with RealClimate demonstrates that it can be done, and indeed, done rather easily.
Looking forward to 2006, you can expect a mild make-over of the site to reduce some of the clutter on the front page, a better indexing system to find frequently asked about topics, a few more basic issues posts (ideas and suggestions are welcome!) and hopefully more guest postings on interesting issues. If you are a scientist who has just spent an hour on the phone with a journalist in order to have one sentence quoted, think about sending us what you think they should have used! If you think your subject is being misunderstood, send us the article that will straighten things out. But, at all times, we hope to continue to add context to what you read about climate in the media, since, let’s face it, however you feel about the issue, it isn’t going to go away.
And finally, an end of year review is not complete without a thank you to the people that have made contributions to the whole project: Ryan Walker for technical assistance; guest commentators James Annan, Corinne Le Quéré, Beate Liepert, Juerg Luterbacher, Loretta Mickley, Raimund Muscheler, Natassa Romanou, Bill Ruddiman, Jeff Severinghaus, Drew Shindell, Stienn Sigurdsson, Steve Sherwood, Michael Tobis and David Vaughan for making our jobs so much easier; all of the commenters for asking interesting questions, pointing out problems and furthering the debate; and of course, you the readers for, well, being the whole point.
Happy New Year.