Thursday, April 11, 2013

A bumpy ride

Recently, "Nature Climate Change" published a new study about how climate change may cause more turbulence in air travel over the Atlantic. Obviously, the study raised attention and was published all over the place (the world maybe?), also in Germany on spiegel-online. I was asked by a journalist from Associated Press what that might mean in terms of what kind of impact that will have on people’s habits. He said that environmentalists have struggled for years to get people to curb their flying habits and if there is any chance that a bit turbulence might make the problem a bit more concrete for flyers?
This here is what he made out the story, with a quote selected from my written answer. Here is my long version:

Maybe this study confirms what most people already know: air travel contributes to climate change. But to use bumpy air travels as climate pedagogy doesn't work. For decades now, environmentalists and climate scientists confront us on an almost daily basis with doom scenarios. Climate change will flood our lands; extreme weather events will devastate our landscapes;  climate change will cause diseases, depressions, and even wars - there is no scenario not yet studied by scientists and used as "dark pedagogy"  (education by fear) by well-meaning environmentalists. Do people still listen? I am not sure, and I am afraid bumpy air travels in the middle of the century won't come as a shock. This study is maybe of use for the air industry, but its potential to educate people is of limited value, if at all.

Besides the danger of overselling, the pedagogical use of these studies brings also a problem for the credibility of climate science. Those projections are made under the assumption that everything keeps the same except climate. But how will we travel in 40 years? 40 years ago, there was no mass travel. We have no idea how we will live and travel in 40 years. Around the turn of the 20th century, the German climate researcher Eduard Brückner projected consequences of climate change for agriculture, economy, transport and so on. But he could not anticipate the emergence of railways, which made most of his scenarios obsolete. We should keep this in mind and focus on more immediate ways to decarbonize our societies, to improve our life-styles and to learn how to cope with a permanently changing climate. This approach is totally different from the old environmentalist discourse, which has penetrated climate science. What we need today is a new climate realism and pragmatism in order to face the challenge of climate change.

Of course, today many people fly, and this is why this study is framed didactically to educate people; in turn, science journals like "Nature" can sell the news to the world wide media. What we really learn from this study is how knowledge is produced in the 21st century;  when institutions, scientists and publishers have to compete on a knowledge market, where public attention is crucial for surviving the next evaluation and assessment.


@ReinerGrundmann said...

Great comment, Werner. I especially like the link to 'black pedagogy'. The researchers, the publishers, activists, and media who produce, publish and push this kind of story (the dominant discourse, in sociological jargon) show a remarkable lack of imagination. At the same time, there is no lack of fantasy: any 'strange' link to climate change is assumed to 'shock' and therefore galvanize people into action.

hvw said...

Ok, a "pedagogical framing" of such a study is silly, counter-productive, you name it. Difficult to disagree with that.

But whom exactly to you blame for it; who is trying to be pedagogical?

Certainly not the study itself, the researchers. Not even the SPON article. And in the AP piece it's just the part with your answer that has anything to do with pedagogy. So we can blame this reporter for asking you a silly question.

Or do you (including Reiner), think the research was motivated by, and would not have been done without, a hidden agenda, i.e., its future interpretation in a pedagogical way ("see another reason climate change is bad!")?

Werner Krauss said...


good question!

Here the last sentence of the abstract:

"Our results suggest that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century. Journey times may lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions may increase. Aviation is partly responsible for changing the climate9, but our findings show for the first time how climate change could affect aviation."

and now: PAYWALL

It is non-scientific, because it is based on a wrong assumption (nothing changes but climate); it is pedagogical (don't fly), and it is pure market-oriented ideology disguised as science and reduced to fashionable keywords. This is climate science, approved by Nature and sent out into the world to frame the climate problem. Who to blame? Everyone who ignores this.

ob / OBothe said...

Ok then not only on twitter but here:

It is non-scientific, because it is based on a wrong assumption (nothing changes but climate); it is pedagogical (don't fly), and it is pure market-oriented ideology disguised as science and reduced to fashionable keywords.

That's what you read, not what is written there (imho).

Foremost, I can't find the "don't fly". But also: Could you explain the market-oriented ideology to me poor reader?

For me the highlighted part of the abstract is: "but our findings show for the first time how climate change could affect aviation" - not that aviation is a weather/climate forcing. (The "could" is a bit of a weasel word there, as are the "may"s.) Indeed, I like the formulation, that not only b influences a, but that a also affects b. Truth be told, that's a totally un-sensational result, but if NatureCC (see below) thinks it can sell it, that's an editorial decision.

Yes, the study doesn't mention adaptation of technology or other changes, but the reader may be intelligent enough to get that himself. Do you really want to call it "non-scientific" based on this? The authors study how climate change may impact clear air turbulence. They don't say that everybody flying across the Atlantic in 2050 will experience an excorcism (NSFW

This is [sent out] by Nature [Climate Change] [...] to frame the climate problem.

No objection there.

Hans von Storch said...

I thought Werner's summary, maybe without the market-oriented ideology, was pretty good (as was his response to the journalist) - spelling out explicitly what was formulated a bit vaguely.

When we read "Journey times may lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions may increase" - does it mean that it could also be the other way around?

What about the decommissioning of the Concorde?

Werner Krauss said...


Market-driven: for your scientific career, you need peer-reviewed publications. If Nature CC likes alarmist "nature hits back" stories, you frame your study like this. In turn, your institute likes you, too, because next assessment or evaluation is always soon, so every institute eagerly counts peer-reviewed articles and consults the quotation index - otherwise, good-bye: knowledge is just another market, right? Ask your British colleagues, for example. Or your German research center next door.

Maybe that's where the airplanes in this article come from, unconsciously, if you will. And the "climate hits back" message (a hits b and b hits a). Not a pedagogical story? Come on. Pure Gaia stuff. And all those funny "may" and "could" - or do you think climate science is just another fun science which likes to play with little paper planes:

hvw said...

Werner Krauss,

I hear what you are saying but still can't believe this harsh critique of this nice, innocent and compact study, as it appears to me.

Your critique seems to rest on this 3 sentences in the abstract. The main paper is pure technical and includes nothing similar, except that the sentence "Our results suggest that climate change will lead to .." is repeated, with a qualification concerning the assumption that flight paths stay the same.

What if these three sentences would have been changed (perhaps as a response to your review) to:
"Precluding advances in aviation technology that would reduce aircraft susceptibility to clear-air turbulence and assuming unchanged flight paths, our results suggest that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century. Journey times may lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions may increase. [Next sentence deleted]"

Would your critique still stand? I don't want to sound nitpicky but this question makes the difference between a fundamental critique of a quite large research-area and the critique of a little wording issue.

Hans von Storch said...

hvw - a " nice, innocent and compact study"? - for me it is a useless, silly and trivial exercise on the level of a master thesis. Not worth to pay attention to apart of the equally silly attempt to construct significance for the climate change debate, maybe on behalf of the nature editor.

Werner Krauss said...


indeed, it is just a little "wording issue". That's what this climate thing and how we deal with it is all about. That's all I wanted to say, and I agree, we can now leave this small study (which made it around the world in a few days and raised the attention of some million readers) rest in peace.

hvw said...

Hans von Storch,

OK, I take back the "nice", as it's too useless to be "nice". It fits into my category of "boring science". It's likely motivated by publication-count considerations, as is way too much of everything that is published.

But to claim that it is an example of "dark pedagogy", intended to raise fears, that it is "framed didactically to educate people" and that it is generally "pure market-oriented ideology disguised as science and reduced to fashionable keywords", which is "sent out into the world to frame the climate problem" ?

Frankly, am waiting for a social scientist who turns this around and comes up with a refreshing view about who is overselling their story too, which is just a story about a story and which is so weak that it has to be nourished by bottom-feeding from the big pond of anything climate science related.

ob / OBothe said...

Dear Prof. von Storch, so master-theses are generally silly and useless? Sorry, you didn't say that, but... Yes the study is (or maybe only appears to be?) overblown by NatureCC and by the media, but is it silly, is it useless?

How many such "silly" and "useless" studies have you allowed to be published as editor or reviewer? None? I can't believe that.

And what about the significance of your recent Bunde et al. letter? What about the significance of von Storch and Zwiers 2013? Isn't that also rather trivial. (Disclaimer: I think it was necessary to be said but nevertheless in some sense trivial.)

I think you and your Co-Blogger are arguing against the study not because of the study and its scientific merit but because of how it was exploited (and because of your cultural "rucksack").

But then, I really have to wonder: if you argue that strongly against the editorial policy of Nature SomethingOrOther (as coined by John Kennedy from the Met Office) why then agree to send Bunde et al. (or Zahn and von Storch, 2010) there.

But leaving that aside. I guess most people can agree on disagreeing with the PR-focussed editorial policy of NatureorScience SomethingorOther, we can also agree that some scientists like to jump on this story-focussed train, and we can also agree that subsequent exaggerations of the impacts or the importance are definitely not a good thing, but does that require to be that disrespectful?

Maybe a link to Paul Williams homepage is in place

With respect to the Gaia-pedagogy: The final Williams-Quote in the Spiegel-article suggests that you are more right on that part than I thought, i.e. I don't like the revenge-irony-phrasing.

PS: Here's the link to a related press-conference at this week's EGU. Try to start at about 14min.

(and yes the stream suggests, that the authors are quite proud of their work (and why not) - yes possibly due to today's "neoliberal" science)

PPS: For those struggling with "neoliberal" science, here's a link to Lave et al.'s 2010 paper on "STS and Neoliberal Science".

PPPS: I'm impressed by Werner Krauss linking to a M.I.A video (sorry cheap shot).

Günter Heß said...

The article and the current discussion inspired me to the following HAIKU about "Nature", although "CC":

Swallow your pride
pimp your CI
with a bumpy ride

Best regards
Günter Heß

Günter Heß said...


How many airplanes flew in the preindustrial area, when the ride across the atlantic was smooth ?

Günter Heß said...


it needs to be spelled preindustrial era not my "area"

ghost said...

@von Storch

"silly study...on the behalf of the Nature editor"

Ich kann mich erinnern, dass Eduardo Zorita vor kurzem auch eine "silly study" durchließ. Ich fand das damals seltsam, aber irgendwie hatte Dr. Zorita Recht, der Peer-Review-Prozess hatte das Paper verbessert, allerdings nur minimal. Und das Papier hatte nicht mal Grundstudiumsniveau.

Allerdings habe ich nirgends geschrieben, dass Dr. Zorita politisch agiert hätte, on behalf of the editor.

ghost said...


"wording issue"

Ihr Paywall-Gerede von oben deutet an, dass die Autoren und die Klimawissenschaft im Allgemeinen sich der Paywall bedient, um die Allgemeinheit, naja, selektiv zu informieren. Dieses Argument habe ich schon von sogenannten "Skeptikern" gelesen. aber erstens: in Deutschland kann sich jeder, meist kostenlos, bei einer Uni-Bibo anmelden. Ich habe das bspw. getan. Und zweitens: weder die Autoren noch die Klimawissenschaft im Allg. nutzt das im Geringsten aus. Und die Drittens: die Paywalls sind das Problem der Wissenschaftsverlage. Und viertens: sie sind sehr löchrig und werden es immer mehr.

Ich finde Ihre Formulierung sehr problematisch, da Sie dem Vorurteil des Ausnutzens der Paywall Munition gibt... ich denke, Sie wollten das nicht, oder?

Werner Krauss said...


mein "paywall-Gerede"? Sie wollen sich mit mir unterhalten, obwohl Sie offensichtlich 1) meine Kommentare völlig missverstehen und 2) sie als "Gerede" bezeichnen? Ich würde vorschlagen: 1) nochmal lesen und 2) etwas höflich sein. Anonyme Geister, da macht man was mit....

ghost said...


mein Name ist doch egal. Wenn sie ihn kennen würden, wäre auch nichts anders.

Zum Thema: es ist schwierig zu sagen, was so falsch auf mich wirkt. Ich denke, es ist die Mischung. Erstens, sie bringen nicht den großen Zusammenhang von Wissenschaftsvermarktung und -journalismus. Jedes Papier ist eine Sensation! Das wird bedient und genutzt. Oder? Das ist doch das Problem hier, finden sie nicht?

Und zweitens machen sie aus einem kleinen Papier, das gar so nicht wichtig ist irgendwas Monströses, dass uns alle belehren will, damit wir weniger fliegen. Sie richten dieses Papier also so ein, dass es in ihren engen Blick passt.

Und dieser Blick ist für mich: dass die Klimaforschung ein spezielles Problem hat, dass keine andere Forschungsrichtung hat. Und sie haben es gefunden und sind nun der Aufklärer. So empfinde ich ihr Auftreten. Korrigieren sie mich, wenn ich falsch liege.

Ich sehe das nicht so. Fast jedes Papier hat einen "soften" Teil, der beschreibt, warum es relevant ist. Diese Diskussion gab es hier schon auf der Zwiebel. Das kann platter sein, das kann besser sein. Und hier ist die Anwendung der Clear-Air-Turbulence-Forschung: Klimawandel und Luftfahrt. Muss man nicht gut finden, braucht man aber auch nicht so darstellen wie sie es tun.

PS: wenn sie wüssten, dass der Hauptautor auch zwei Studien über den Zusammenhang zwischen Wetter und klassischer Musik schrieb... ;).

Peter Heller said...

In 2050 we will travel across the atlantic in supersonic rocketplanes and most of the flight will take place in the stratosphere - well above any potential turbulence. Flight will be more efficient, safer and much faster than today.

Climate? Not relevant.

ghost said...

@peter heller

and in a case of a freak accident, for example, an rocket failure of a Saturn V start near Sydney, the space shuttle starts three times in 5 days to save the passengers from space in very different ways.

From "Starflight One" with Lee "Colt Sievers" Majors.


Peter Heller said...

@ ghost:

Technology rules:

Climate rules nothing.

ghost said...


technology might rule... for example, the financial market is automatic in large part. But, rocket engines for commercial airplanes do not rule at all. And most likely, they won't rule in 2050. If I had to bet on extremes: "Starflight One" or "The machine stops" in 2050, I would put my money on the second story seeing the current trends. However: always in motion is the future.

I always thought, despite Hari Seldon, the projection of society paths are more complicated than a bit climate. These scenarios are one input of climate projections and one problem in the climate change risk research. It is interessting.

Peter Heller said...

Hollywood is not a good technology-advisor:

ghost said...


it is not Hollywood (well, Star Wars is). It is classic science fiction like Forster or Asimov, the rest is Schirrmacher of the FAZ.

What can I learn from your links? Nothing. I already know it is technical possible within of 40 years. Many things are technical possible. However, there must be a demand, a market, or something like that. Your links do not show this. I know, some people say: rich people will want to have it. That is a small market and most of the people, if not all, will travel sub-sonic in 2050.

Peter Heller said...

Future is not driven by demands, future is made by new offers:

"What can I learn from your links? Nothing."

Thats your problem. You see - but you do not understand.

The rocketplane should not be characterized as "technological possible". It is possible since 50+ years.

But today the "technological infrastructure" (e.g. electronics, materials, computational fluid dynamics, ...) has created a new background. Now the rocketplane is no longer only possible, it is unavoidable.