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Usable Climate Science

  • 12 Nov 2009
  • 7:00 PM - 8:29 PM
  • Bahen Room 1220 (main floor), 40 St. George Street

Usable Climate Science by Steve Easterbrook 

Date: Thursday November 12, 2009
Time: Registration/Refreshments at 7:00pm; Presentation starts at 7:15pm
Location: Bahen Room 1220  (main floor)
         40 St. George Street
Cost: Free for everyone (though we encourage you to join for $20/year)

Sustainability is usually defined as "the ability to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". The current interest in sustainability derives partly from a general concern about environmental degradation and resource depletion, and partly from an awareness of the threat of climate change. But to many people, climate change is only a vague problem, and to some people (e.g. about half the US population) it isn't regarded as a problem at all. There is a widespread lack of understanding of the core scientific results of climate science, and the methodology by which those results are obtained - which in turn means that the public discourse is dominated by ignorance, polarization, and political point scoring. In this environment, lobbyists can propagate misinformation on behalf of various vested interests, and people decide what to believe based on their political worldviews, rather than what the scientific evidence actually says. The chances of getting sound, effective policy in such an environment are slim.

In this talk, I will argue that we cannot properly address the challenge of climate change unless this situation is fixed. Furthermore, I'll argue that the core problem is a usability challenge: how do we make the science itself accessible to the general public? The numerical simulations of climate developed by climatologists are usable only by people with PhDs in climatology. The infographics used to explain climate change in the popular press tend to be high design and low information. What is missing is a concerted attempt to get the core science across to a general audience using software tools and visualizations in which usability is the primary design principle. In short, how do we make climate science usable? Unless we do this, journalists, politicians and the public will be unable to judge whether proposed policy solutions are viable, and unable to distinguish sound science from misinformation. I will illustrate the talk with some suggestions of how we might meet this goal.

Steve Easterbrook is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, Canada. He received his Ph.D. in Computing from Imperial College in London (UK), in 1991, on the topic of requirements negotiation for complex socio-technical systems analysis. His first faculty position was at the School of Cognitive and Computing Science, University of Sussex, where he co-designed and was the first course director for a new degree program in Human-Centered Software Design. In 1995 he moved to the US to lead the research team at NASA┬┤s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in West Virginia, where he investigated software verification on the Space Shuttle Flight Software, the International Space Station, the Earth Observation System, and several planetary probes. He moved to the University of Toronto in 1999, where he now teaches courses in empirical research methods, software engineering, and requirements analysis.

Steve's research interests range from modelling and analysis of complex software software systems to the socio-cognitive aspects of team interaction, including communication, coordination, and shared understanding in large software teams. His research contributions include formal modeling of disagreement and inconsistency, including work on non-classical logics for reasoning about inconsistency; conceptual modeling of multiple viewpoints, and empirical research methodology in software engineering. Since 2006, he has been developing a new research program in Climate Change Informatics, to explore how ideas from systems analysis and computational thinking can be applied to meet the many challenges posed by global warming.

Steve has served on the program committees for many conferences and workshops in Requirements Engineering and Software Engineering. He was general chair for the IEEE International Conference on Requirements Engineering in 2001, and program chair for IEEE International Conference on Automated Software Engineering in 2006. In the summer of 2008, he was a visiting scientist at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre.
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