Monday, February 05, 2007

Going to the source: the IPCC AR4 SPM

One way I often try to make sense of things is to go to the source. Perhaps I got that habit from Professor Malcolm MacPhail, who taught me quantum mechanics as well as electricity and magnetism years ago. He would give a bit of extra credit if we'd read and summarize original journal articles, often written in German, on a topic related to what we were studying.

What I learned was that those articles could be interesting and revealing. While later summaries and expositions might shorten the tale, correct early misunderstandings, or smooth out the language, the originals often had a directness that helped. They might offer more data. They might explain things as if no one yet understood them, thus making it easier for me, who was just learning. They might help me see where later writers had veered from the original and why. It's all a matter of triangulation.

When I encounter a new idea, I still often try to find original work in the field. Even if those articles are harder or longer to read, skimming them may help me understand explanations and summaries I read elsewhere. They may help me gain a depth of understanding missing in popular summaries. They may also help me decide how much credence I will give to those explanations and summaries.

You've probably read of the IPCC AR4 SPM in the news. That's the Summary for Policymakers from the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report (obvious, right?).

You can see the original of that document as well as others' assessments. I imagine RealClimate will continue to comment on it in future days, and I look forward to commentary from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Ocean and Climate Change Institute as well as from others. I encourage you to at least skim the 21-page original. If you want to dig even deeper, check out the publications, presentations, and graphics on the IPCC site, and then check out other credible scientific and other writing on the matter.

I tagged this note as business and growth as well as environment, because I think the ramifications of human-activity-induced climate change we have seen and will continue to see will impact us on a business level as well as a personal level.

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