A Vast Machine
Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
- Winner, 2011 Computer History Museum Prize, awarded by the Society for the History of Technology
- Winner, 2012 Louis J. Battan Author's Award, awarded by the American Meteorological Society
- Winner, 2010 ASLI Choice Award in the History category, awarded by Atmospheric Science Librarians International.
552 pp., 6 x 9 in, 74 b&w illus.
- Published: March 12, 2010
- Published: February 8, 2013
- Published: March 12, 2010
The science behind global warming, and its history: how scientists learned to understand the atmosphere, to measure it, to trace its past, and to model its future.
Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world's climate we know through models. Edwards offers an engaging and innovative history of how scientists learned to understand the atmosphere—to measure it, trace its past, and model its future.
A Vast Machine is a beautifully written, analytically insightful, and hugely well-informed account of the development and influence of the models and data that are the foundation of our knowledge that the climate is changing and that human beings are making it change.
Donald MacKenzie, Professor of Sociology, University of Edinburgh, author of An Engine, Not a Camera
[A] stimulating, well-written analysis...a visual feast.
Ronald E. Doel
American Historical Review
This is an excellent book and a valuable resource for all sides in the debates over global warming.
A compelling account of how political and scientific institutions, observation networks, and scientific practice evolved together over several centuries to culminate in the global knowledge infrastructure we have today.
Review of Policy Research
A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming by Paul Edwards is an outstanding example of the potential for historians to contribute to broader public debates and give non-specialists insight into the work done by scientists and the process by which computer simulation has transformed scientific practice.
Communications of the ACM
A 2010 Book of the Year
A thorough and dispassionate analysis by a historian of science and technology, Paul Edwards' book is well timed. Although written before the University of East Anglia e-mail leak, it anticipates many of the issues raised by the 'climategate' affair. [...] A Vast Machine puts the whole affair into historical context and should be compulsory reading for anyone who now feels empowered to pontificate on how climate science should be done.
A Vast Machine...will be readily accessible to that legendary target, the general reader...The author's impressive scholarship and command of his material have produced a truly magisterial account.
Richard J. Somerville
I recommend this book with considerable enthusiasm. Although it's a term reviewers have made into a cliché, I think A Vast Machine is nothing less than a tour de force. It is the most complete and balanced description we have of two sciences whose results and recommendations will, in the years ahead, be ever more intertwined with the decisions of political leaders and the fate of the human species.
On the whole, this is a very good and informative read on the problems in atmospheric modeling and the way computers are—and have been—used in the process.
This important and articulate book explains how scientists learned to understand the atmosphere, measure it, trace its past, and model its future. Edwards counters skepticism and doom with compelling reasons for hope and a call to action.
James Rodger Fleming, Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Colby College
With this new book, Paul Edwards once again writes the history of technology on a grand scale. Through his investigation of computational science, international governance, and scientific knowledge production, he shows that the very ability to conceptualize a global climate as such is wrapped up in the history of these institutions and their technological infrastructure. In telling this story, Edwards again makes an original contribution to a crowded field.
Greg Downey, University of Wisconsin-Madison