Chris Essex is now on the hot seat. Recently, the Department of Applied Mathematics professor was appointed Chair of the Permanent Monitoring Panel for Climate for the World Federation of Scientists (WFS).
In new role, he will advise the WFS President on the topic of climate and its scientific developments. His mandate, Essex says, is to bring back traditional scientific values where the focus is on the facts and truth rather than the sins of the personalities.
Founded in 1973 in Sicily by a group of scientists, the WFS initially looked to ease the anxieties due to the Cold War. Science was being associated with war; they wanted science to be associated with peace.
“If science is for peace then what are the good things that science can do?” Essex says. “The focus of interest is trying to figure out how to deal with big global problems of various kinds which are called in the parlance of the organization ‘planetary emergencies.’”
These emergencies include such things as pollution, threat of nuclear proliferation and cyber security.
The annual WFS meeting attracts Nobel laureates, prominent scientists and diplomats discussing what science is and what it isn’t, what can be done and what can’t.
“I think that it is really a good thing because the subject of climate presents a problem for the relationship between science and culture,” Essex says. “There is a huge gulf between the two and tremendous damage has been done to the science because of cultural backflow into science. We are going to try to do our little bit to help repair a few things, or at least point the way to how things can be repaired. Things have changed a lot in the last few years after ‘Climategate.’”
‘Climategate’ – the November 2009 controversy over a set of more than 1,000 private e-mails and other document on climate change stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit – changed the overall attitude toward the subject. As recent survey found, 69 per cent of the public believe scientists have falsified climate data.
“When you come into the question of what good science is to the broader society, it is ultimately based on the credibility of the science,” Essex says. “If science loses its credibility because people get caught misbehaving, then I think it harms everybody, not just the reputations of the people involved.
“People just won’t believe anything that any scientists say.
At a climate conference in December, Essex found it was like he used to remember it – much less factional and much more courteous, with a general awareness of common problems.
“I’m very happy with that shift and we’re going to try to help to make more of that, to make science stay focused on the science and the politics focused on the politics, and not mix the two if we can,” he says.