"Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."
That bit of undeniable truth often attributed to Mark Twain is something J. Emil Morhardt, the Roberts Professor of Environmental Biology and director of the Roberts Environmental Center, takes to heart.
For three years, Morhardt has been editor and chief content solicitor of the Claremont Climate Report, a blog providing journalistic summaries of interesting scientific papers on global warming and climate change.
The blog entries themselvessolicited from students and facultyare intended to be "neutral" and "free of commentary," but the authors, and anyone else, are welcome to post comments about the summaries.
We caught up with Professor Morhardt on a recent blustery afternoon with the mercury hovering at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) to ask him a few questions about the Claremont Climate Report, and why global warming might be the most important issue of our time.
*** CMC: How did the idea for the Claremont Climate Report blog come about? Morhardt: Global warming and climate change are some of the most important issues of our time, and we want to make sure that everyone has access to the real science behind them; but most people don't. The real data are in scientific journals, but if you Google one you will find that to see more than the abstract of a technical journal article, a subscription is requiredoften hundreds of dollars per journal per yearor a one-time payment of approximately $50.
At academic institutions like CMC, however, we pretty much have full access online thanks to Honnold Library. Once you do get access, however, the papers are extremely difficult to understand, and you might need to talk to a mix of professional biologists, chemists, physicists, and climate scientists to get to the bottom of them. Fortunately, we have all of those in abundance in the W. M. Keck Science Department. So, my students and I are in a good position to figure out what the current technical literature is really saying. In my classes we read more than 100 current scientific papers about global warming each semester, and each student writes a weekly journalistic summary of one, on a particular topic, that will become part of his or her chapter in the book we publish a the end of each semester. But we start serializing the summaries early in the semester in the blog. CMC: In the omnibus to the blog it states that summaries should be "neutral" or "free of commentary." Why? Morhardt: The object of the book and the blog is converting arcane, often extremely difficult scientific papersone by oneinto something accessible to the general reader. Thus our plan is not to give an opinion of the paper rather, to make its original meaning comprehensible to anyone. There are plenty of blogs offering strong opinions about climate change, but not so many presenting the actual scientific results as the scientists intended them to be presented. CMC: What exactly are the parameters that a summary must meet in order to be published as a blog on the site? Morhardt: The blog entry must summarize a technical paper published in a standard peer-reviewed scientific journal within the last year. Exceptions are made if the topic is better covered in another technical forum such as the working papers economists put online, but only serious academic work is covered. CMC: Can debunking blog posts be written? Morhardt: Only if they summarize a published scientific paper doing the debunking. There is plenty of controversy within the scientific community, and if the scientists are serious enough to publish it, we will cover it. CMC: Are submissions limited just to CMC students and faculty? Morhardt: No. I would love it if others would summarize papers we haven't gotten to and submit them. Since the blog is closely monitored, however, would-be posters need to send me the summary by e-mail and I will post it if it meets our criteria. CMC: Are you getting many submissions other than from your students? And, what are future plans for the blog? Morhardt: Not yet, but I think it's about time to make that happen. I'm hoping to gradually expand the number of sources and begin to look at some of the more controversial areas in more depth than it is possible to do in a class. I'm going to think about how to do that during my sabbatical next semester. CMC: How has the blog been received by faculty and students? Morhardt: The most interesting reception is that we get between 50 and 100 site visits a day, a large percentage of which are from Eastern Europe, where I'm guessing they don't have good access to the technical literature. Since it is clearly interesting to some people, it seems likely that if we could make it more visible, it would attract more visitors. CMC: Are there any subject areas not covered enough by the submissions? Morhardt: One area we don't cover very well is the literature on the physical basis of climate change, and the massive evidence from polar ice cores, ocean sediment cores, and all sorts of geophysical data going back millions of years. In many ways these are the most interesting aspects of global warming and climate change, but they are highly specialized, and my classes are based more on the current ecological effects and the interactions with consumption of fossil fuels and other natural resources. I'll need to get some students or faculty studying climate science involved to cover these areas properly.