Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interview with Eduardo Zorita

In a series of interviews with participants of the Climate Science Center of Excellence CliSAP in Hamburg, Mike Schäfer and Hans von Storch have interviewed Eduardo Zorita (as #5 so far). The interview is available in English and German.

See here.


Werner Krauss said...

My favorite answer is the one on the role of science. I highly appreciate the idea that a) science occurs within society and b) that there is a contract between society and science; science gives in solving some solvable problems, and in return science is allowed to do what scientists do best - research etc.
Donna Haraway once said the same about human - animal relationships. Humans give shelter for example to chicken, and in return they are allowed to take their eggs and eat some of the chicken. Fair deal, delicate balance. In both cases, human - animal and science - society relationships.
Once contracts are broken, great misery will prevail.

Werner Krauss said...

This morning, I just want to add: This interview is the best reflection on science I've read in a long time. If somebody asked me what is it like to be a scientist, I would give him this interview. My today's favorite is the answer to "What does constitute good science?". It's not a uniform enterprise, but one of a mix of talents and people and styles. It reminds me that one should not speak of "science" in general, as if science could speak with one voice. Instead, it is a process, a common effort of great diversity. A diversity which has to be maintained against all the uniform streamlining as a consequence of all the hysteria about Bologna, excellence, evaluation, etc. To be real science, it has to be kept as a playground of great diversity. This is maybe the opposite to immediate reward in form of credit points, but it means being relevant in the long run. Howgh.

Hans von Storch said...

From a third side, we got this comment (not anonymous):

I have one small concern about this recent interview with Dr Zorita which is in this line:

"What would you do with an additional million Euros for your research? A million euros is nowadays not much." This struck me as rather insensitive and not the kind of grateful acknowledgment of the public's support of ... research program that I would expect from the public outreach part of the initiative. Perhaps it reads a bit differently in the German version, or in Germany generally, but I cringed when I read this part of the interview....a million euros of public funding is the tax contribution of ~100 workers, so shouldn't be flippantly disregarded as "not much" (even as a rhetorical device). It sounds like a lot to me!

eduardo said...

@2 Thank you very much, Werner... remind me to pay you a bier or two at the next Klimazwiebel conference

eduardo said...

@ 3

Well, my answer could be interpreted indeedas unfair to the public support for research. Probably, it was carried away by a question of the type: what would you wish for your birthday in case you could wish anything. Having just read the news that Cesc Fabregas, a Spanish soccer player, will be hired by Barcelona team for 45 million euros for 5 years, my hunch was that 45 and 46 millions are not actually very different numbers to spend on single player.

But trying to comment more seriously, whether or not a million euros is much or little depends on the perspective. If I had to pay myself one million euros for research it would be a very high figure indeed. On the other hand, we should be aware that all research spending including public and private in a developed country like Germany is about 2% of GDP, in Spain it is even less 0.7%. I am of the opinion that in view of the problems that developed societies are facing and will more acutely face in the future demography, environment, etc, this share is not much.
More particularly to my comments on the one-million-question, I recall a conversation I had about 10 years with a physicist working for Siemens. For his calculation of research budgets he mentioned that, roughly speaking, one single engineer at a large German company will 'consume' about one million D-marks per year, including gross salary and running costs for equipment. Setting up a research project over several years involving a few engineers can easily amount to several million euros nowadays. A research project over 3-5 years funded by the EU can amount between 3 and 20 million euros.
Now, why did I answer that one million euros is nowadays not much ? Well, to be honest if someone gives me one million euros for research I would be very very thankful (anyone, please?). But, roughly speaking, a postdoc in a research centre in Germany is budgeted with over 100 000 euros per year, including gross salary, fringe benefits and general costs. This figure is quite similar across many developed countries in the EU. If in my putative research project 'paleoclouds' I would manage to hire 3 post-docs over just 2 years, the budget would be already over 600 000 euros , without even purchasing any equipment or running any experiments or field campaigns.

Now it can be argued that this particular project is not worth it, and actually my comment is rather a more or less spontaneous answer to a more personal interview. But I stand with the background message of my answer: developed societies must spend more, may be also better, on research. And definitively, less on soccer.