Mini-edits, add-ons re Grad Ss’ epistemic agency (2&3): July 10-11, 2010

The promised follow-up on the post re Dr Walter Robinson’s talk at UT on July 8, 2010. 

1. Research questions applied to web discourses of North Carolina State University’s MEAS Department revolve around:
== Interdisciplinarity and collaboration
== Epistemic exchanges between MEAS and
==== future generations of climatologists/MEA scientists
==== general public (including non-MEA-ists) and policy makers
== Climate modelling
== Varia

Private Ecosonic joke, if you don’t mind:
MEA, apart from Marine-Earth-Atmospheric (Sci) also acronymizes Media Ecology Association. I’d say, what an apt parallel in view of the increasing importance of more robust eco-consonant communication&interaction between Earth Systems Science and society at large!

2. Multi-Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration. Import of Technoscience?
As is traditional for the agglomeration of the natural sciences that constitute the epistemology of “climate sci”, the notions of “multi-/interdisciplinarity” and “collaboration”, including the literal terms, pop up on just about every page linked to the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences’ online hub of Research Centres and Groups:

Once again, though, whatever technologies are being developed seem to be the prerogative of marine-earth-atmospheric scientists themselves, not so much of (trained) technoscientists, such as software engineers in the case of climate models – which was also the case with GFDL at Prinston (see post “Notes on Dr Balaji’s Talk…”). For example, Lise Watson, a tech-savvy grad S, received a #1 conference award for conducting a study which “relied on numerical models as well as field experiments in a quarry and the Gulf, employing the robot “Plankton Mimics” she helped develop in the Wolcott lab”.

Not much evidence of technoscientists at the North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST, italics mine) either, which would seem to indicate that unless technological needs are sufficiently small-scale to be internally satisfied, the technologies employed are researched/produced elsewhere. “Outsourcing” can be taking place either because this kind of specialization has an established/longer tradition (not seen as “outsourcing”, but as an industry in its own right), and/or because technology development is not as codependent with the science it is serving as is the case – some would argue – with climate models. In view of the longer history of, e.g., marine explorations, I’d hypothesize predominantly the former.

2.1 Hybridity: Among MEASs vs (Any) MEAS(s) and Technoscience
Should I look for arguments in favour of disciplinary hybridity (as I previously did for climate modelling and software engineering, on a principled basis), the almost exclusive use of multi-disciplinarity in the online discourses reviewed (over inter-disciplinarity), would call for a more detailed analysis of epistemic dependencies. Bearing in mind that “Earth Systems Science(s)” is the already (close to fully) established umbrella term for MEASs, the genealogical relation seems to have been granted taxonomic recognition.

As far as the natural sciences involved, in view of how closely related the objects of MEA study are, and the human agency (indivitual and collective) operative in the university context, the epistemological sovereignty of multi-disciplinarity, with the occasional interfacing brush would seem in fact to be the optimal research mode. The need for inter-disciplinarity (epistemological remixing) beyond the profiles of current faculty, projects, and research units being minimal, and the anticipation of a trans-disciplinary (and hybridity proper) stage being yet uncalled for – on its interpretation of requiring individuals’ a jack-of-all-MEA-trades committment.

As for the natural science – support technoscience hybridity, one need not exclude (and may have to embrace) the possibility that should, e.g., the independently developed heuristics of software engineering be
1) imported (given the requisite Time-Funding-MOTIVATION amalgam), and
2) looked at as having research worth commensurate with the core MEASs themselves,
the combined epistemological productivity may happen to exhibit exponential growth.

3. Educating Future Earth Systems Scientists for Requisite Epistemic Agency & Disciplinary Diversity?
Around 35 graduate and undergraduate students are listed as recipients of (prestigious) awards – research funding (from NSF, NASA, Fulbright), thesis and best conference paper awards, travel grants, including to China, New Zealand, conference trips, memberships, internships at prestigious institutions like NASA’s Goddard Institute, NCAR, Dept. of Defense.

In the absence of official announcements of RA and TA assignments through individual faculty grants, the extent of professor-(especially graduate) student epistemic exchanges by way of projects and ensuing conference presentations and publications cannot be given their due recognition. A single mention of a student-professor paper on the Awards page is far from a realistic reflection of co-authored research, that one would expect must be going on at a Dept. such as MEAS.

No links to student pages/blogs, or graduate student journals/newsletters, discussion groups, which deprives this overview of the student perspective. Or how they – doctoral students in particular – are being prepared to take up competitive faculty positions.

It was gratifying to come across an opportunity for undergraduate students to gain “early experience in climate modeling and international research collaboration” in the US and Eastern Africa, formalized as distance credit courses. Is this an option for graduate credit as well, or can one only count on receiving a scholarship (cf. Student Awards page) to get international experience?

Graduate student epistemic agency is explicitly mentioned at the CMAST. More specifically, through the “EES Village” (Energy, Environment and Sustainability Living and Learning Village), which represents implementation of alternative energies on campus, and through the Teaching Aquarium (ibid.), set up to “help… educate the public on the key role of estuarine nursery areas”.

Since award-winning students are announced on the list with their supervisors, a logical question – which certainly extends beyond the context of NCSU – queries what opportunities there may be for collaboration among students, which would seem to be premised, at least in part, on collaboration among professors. Further along these lines, Is the focus of a student’s research supposed to copy a subset of the epistemics of one’s thesis supervisor, and also to steer clear of collaborations – and knowledge – that is not directly streamlinable as thesis material? Or can one have co-supervision for MEA research, that is, does one start to develop holistically as a (grad) student, or do they wait until they get a job?

The answer – like in SO MANY other places across the humanities-soc. sciences-sciences spectrum – most likely refers to case-per-case variability, though a principled & structured approach may very well contribute to a Dept’s heightened profile.

4.1 Commendable Outreach Work for K12 Hands-on Sci Education
Both the CMAST and the North Carolina Climate Office (part of the University) have outreach experience, incorporating in their work the science education of middle/high school students.

CMAST offers the Summer Fellows Program, aimed at Carteret County high school students, through which students also accumulate credit for university scholarships.

Each year, students from Centennial Campus Middle School participate in a State Climate Office internship program, designed to introduce them to “the scientific process, as well as to the different aspects of North Carolina’s climate through data analysis and research.” More…

4.2 Inreach and Outreach
The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) Weather Web program makes weather observation information accessible to
== RENCI disaster response researchers, state climatologists, emergency responders
== agricultural managers and citizens
== teachers and K12 students

5. Policy Making
IPCC is a frequent reference point, and the standard to measure up to.

A very good development worth noting is that an increasing number of mission statements of research units, general/”philosophical” research goals, state funded programs seem to be reflecting how crucial it is to communicate adequately the science beyond its disciplinary locality. The opening sentences of CMAST’s About Us page read:

The principal mission of the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) is to discover innovative solutions to questions and problems in marine systems and provide effective communication of these discoveries… By …  enhancing interaction with other educational institutions and agencies concerned with marine sciences and coastal natural resources, CMAST provides a focal point for citizen contact with NC State University’s marine science and extension faculty. (emphasis mine)

It is thus clear that the development of communication skills has risen considerably on the priority scale of university MEAS education, and I would like to think, of faculty’s own profile upgrades. The science – public epistemic gap is not the unspeakable Elephant.In.The.Room, and the concerted communicative effort that is being invested in handling it (anthropogenic climate change AND the rest of the infringement package), may well be poised to put a bridle on it.

6.1 Climate Models I. The Drive toward Economy and Green
Coming from the Climate Modelling Lab, what caught my attention was the development of a numerical algorithm for atmospheric dynamical cores with low memory requirements, thus lower energy consumption, for a “greener” climate simulation – beautiful eco-consonant parallel on more levels than one! If my eval of what the website presents is correct (see bolded phrases), said algorithm is characterized by:
== processing economy thanks to “minimal communication requirements in parallel”; high-order accurate convergence “without needing explicit filtering for stability”
== aptitude for long-term predictions in view of “stability at large time steps” (CFL > 1)
== good scalability/re-calibration capabilities through “flexibility to handle global and local dynamical scales”.

6.2 Climate Models II. The Best Are not Good Enough
From the empirical side of the North Carolina State Climate Office, according to the State Climatologist [name TBD]

…while there is substantial climate awareness, there is little climate education. And the best scientific models we have are not useful for NC, which leads to increased uncertainty for our clients and partners. Moreover, we often see climate model simulations improperly used without calibration or even an evaluation of their accuracy. Research to calibrate the global climate models to NC and downscale their forecasts is very much needed to provide more confident guidance on the possible impacts to NC. In addition, resources for climate education and climate applications are required to meet the needs of statewide and local agencies and businesses. More…

7. Faculty/Student Demographics and Gender Equity
6 of 37 faculty are women. 1/6
9 of 35 awarded students are women. 1/4
31 (+ up to 6 Chinese names) of 90 graduate students are female. 1/3

Is the female/male ratio moving toward a more equitable 1? One would have to look at undergrad student enrollment numbers as well, to determine whether there is an actual change overtime. Equity criteria in addition to Gender cannot be reliably assessed, if at all, based on the publicly accessible www evidence reviewed.

Mini-edits and additions re Grad Ss’ epistemic agency: July 10-11, 2010