Anthony Watts went along to show his readers how brave he is, and to tell his readers what is wrong with science today.
Scientists should not try to "make a difference" sez Anthony Watts
What he found out was that scientists through their research hope to, horror of horrors, make a difference. Anthony is appalled. He wrote:
Science findings really shouldn’t be thought of as “making a difference”, that is a social pursuit. According to the definition that pops up on Google when you query “what is science?” it is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”.
None of the definitions I looked at had “making a difference” as part of the structure. In my opinion, such advertisements can become the seeds of “noble cause corruption”, or as Dr. Judith Curry recently put it, Pathological altruism:
Pathological altruism can be conceived as behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable.
I ask you. Why would earth system scientists hope to "make a difference"? Imagine if, say, medical researchers hoped to "make a difference". What sort of world would that lead to? Imagine if meteorologists hoped to "make a difference" by, for example, coming up with early detection of storms? Or if seismologists were able to detect early warnings of earthquakes. Or what if agricultural scientists were able to breed plants that made a difference to the world's food supply?
Don't spend money on science
Anthony is also horrified by the cost of doing science. He thinks that $415 for five days is over the top. I don't know what world he lives in but $415 for half a day would be considered cheap for any other conference (but don't tell AGU I said so). With discount travel, provided housing or discount hotel accommodation, the cost for the five days would be minimal. Anthony said he only spent $2,000 all up. He thought that was a lot of money. It's not. It's cheap as cheap and huge value for money in anyone's country. And even then, going by the listed hotel prices, he didn't skimp on his meals and accommodation.
Don't duplicate scientific research
Scientists do like to be different, but often researchers will be tackling the same subject matter - maybe from different perspectives. It's how scientific knowledge accumulates. Anthony seems to think that only one team at a time should be addressing any single subject. That would make for very slow progress. He wrote:
There was a lot of science on display there, but as I wandered through the poster sessions each day, I saw a lot of science that seemed to be replicated. I’d see 3 or four posters covering the same topic from different universities or agencies, sometimes on the same day in the same aisle. This duplication of effort is something the US government is quite famous for. For example, USGS now has a climate change division, duplicating some of the work NOAA does. When Eisenhower warned that science was becoming institutionalized, he was only touching the surface of what I observed on display at AGU.
The sound of smirks...
Much of Anthony's article was about who did or did not acknowledge him. He really is a very insecure chap. He complained that he wasn't acknowledged by some people and boasted that he chatted to others for some minutes. I reckon he felt very lonely and isolated. As well as being completely out of his depth with science, he felt under seige. He could even hear people smirking! (Now that must be a first.)
My first two days at AGU were personally difficult. I felt the stares, I heard some smirks.
He praised Scott Mandia for talking to him for 15 minutes. He thinks it was very big of Scott - which it was after the way that Anthony treats him (calling it "satirical ribbing"). I doubt Anthony's good will will last long, going by how he repaid Bill McKibben for being gracious to him. (However I've noticed Anthony hasn't been bagging individuals as much lately. Whether it's coincidence or whether scientists' suing for defamation is having an effect is hard to tell. Maybe even his blog spawn have helped make a small difference.)
On that note, Anthony Watts dismisses lawsuits against scientists and threats of same as a tempest in a teapot. I'm guessing Anthony has never been sued.
After complaining loud and long about David Appell pointing out that Anthony was wrong about a "grunt" (don't ask. It was another instance of Anthony wishing to be noticed) - Anthony ended up saying his experience was a positive one. That's nice. We're yet to hear any reporting of the science from him. He's made a few promises but so far hasn't come through. Or not with anything more than press releases, which he could have got from home, his "live blogging" snapshots of slides minus any comment and a snapshot of three attendees with a lick and a promise of a video interview.
From the WUWT comments
There are more "lions' den" and other equally fatuous comments from the fake sceptics at WUWT. They are easily pleased and some of them are truly deluded. So far no-one has asked him for his take on the science at AGU. Here is a small sample. (Archived here.)
December 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm
Thank you so much for walking into the Roman Coliseum and living to tell about it.
Julian in Wales says:
December 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm
I think you were very brave to go into the lion’s den like that, it takes a lot of guts and also displays your confidence and self-esteem.
Ivor Ward (aka Disko Troop) says:
December 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm
The joys of walking into the lions den and discovering that they are really scared little pussycats.
Scott Mc says:
December 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm
Anthony, you are an amazing man and I have enormous respect for you.
James Strom gives a mild rebuke to Anthony and says maybe it was all in his head:
December 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm
I’ve got to respect your pursuit of your press activities despite hearing difficulties, but they do put you in a situation where you may miss subtleties. You may for example, misconstrue sounds of disapproval, particularly inarticulate ones. Heck, I often do so myself, without need of a hearing problem.
December 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm
Mate, if you were a Pom (or an Aussie) you’d be SIR Anthony Watts. Thankyou for your work.