With the latest political changes in mind, Åkesson and Paasche have expressed their concerns about scientific integrity and also how important it is that countries, the US included, comply with the Paris agreement. But what inspired them?
“It came out of a growing concern about the decline of fact-based arguments that emerged during the American presidential campaign, and a sense of urgency from the first week with the new US administration, in particular from reports about possible gag orders at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Åkesson explains.
Åkesson, who is a PhD candidate, spent the last few months at University of California, Irvine on a research stay.
“Our Nordic letter is inspired by an open letter signed by over 2,300 faculty members across fourteen institutions in the University of California system. Also, both of us attended the world’s largest geoscience conference in San Francisco in December 2016. From talking with US colleagues we both came to realize during this period that American climate science is under real pressure, and that this has global implications, given the importance of US institutions and scientists internationally.”
When asked about the importance of scientific integrity and international climate research, Paasche, who works as a project leader and senior advisor, has a clear perspective.
“Scientific integrity is about science being free from any political agenda. Ultimately, science is about being committed to evidence, and scientific integrity means that you as a researcher can work without someone else telling you that one conclusion is better than the other. This is important in any research fields, also in international climate research, where stakes are high both in terms of economic, human and natural consequences.
Without research data, we have nothing, no evidence. So, there can be no research without data. Stopping, hindering or halting the collection of data is a very effective way of undermining research. From time to time we see that funding is retracted for political reasons. This can create unfortunate gaps in long time series, which again can undercut potential conclusions that can be drawn in the first place.”
They both highlight that this is not special for climate research, but still important. Given the fact that earth is rapidly changing due to human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 naturally means that the importance of such data exceeds far beyond a single laboratory or institute. Increasingly, there is the need for sharing data and making data freely available regardless of whom the funder is or where they are collected.
Åkesson stresses that “there are some fantastic efforts in collecting climate data from near and far across the globe. The international community understands and appreciates the value in sharing this data with each other. Several American federal institutions, like NASA, NOAA, NCAR and EPA, are essential in collecting and analyzing climate data, and we should all be concerned if these are put under pressure.”
Åkesson and Paasche underline that international collaboration is pivotal for understanding how and why climate is changing so fast and what the potential implications are.
“It cuts across all levels of science, from coming up with the right question to getting data collected, education and writing up papers. Being able to collaborate freely between small and large institutions and across national borders has always been, and will always be, a major advantage with this endeavor we happen to call Science.”
As for communicating scientific research on climate change to the general public, “the challenges are many, but that shouldn’t stop any climate researcher from communicating his or her results to the public. Getting to do science is a privilege. Presenting new results, that may or may not have implications for a wider audience, is a chance to return a favor and everyone should do it in our opinion.
Having said that, the key challenge with climate change is that it is so interlinked, across domains, spheres and time scales, which can be tough for a researcher who has worked hard to understand particular phenomena such as for instance sea ice physics or extreme precipitation events. But unless you try, you’ll never learn, which is what you should always opt for, especially if your business is science.”
Åkesson and Paasche encourage all their Nordic colleagues to support the petition by signing it and spreading the word.