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A Vast Machine
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.
About the Author
Paul N. Edwards is Professor in the School of Information and the Department of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (1996) and a coeditor (with Clark Miller) of Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance (2001), both published by the MIT Press.
Table of Contents
- A Vast Machine
- A Vast Machine
- Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
- Paul N. Edwards
- The MIT Press
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- London, England
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
- For information on special quantity discounts, email firstname.lastname@example.org .edu.
- Set in Stone by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
- Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
- Edwards, Paul N.
- A vast machine : computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming / Paul N. Edwards.
- p. cm.
- Includes bibliographical references and index.
- ISBN 978-0-262-01392-5 (hardcover : alk. paper)
- 1. Weather forecasting. 2. Climatology—History. 3. Meteorology—History. 4. Climatology—Technological innovation. 5. Global temperature changes. I. Title.
- QC995.E296 2010
- 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
- in memory of Stephen H. Schneider (1945–2010)
- The meteorologist is impotent if alone; his observations are useless; for they are made upon a point, while the speculations to be derived from them must be on space. . . . The Meteorological Society, therefore, has been formed not for a city, nor for a kingdom, but for the world. It wishes to be the central point, the moving power, of a vast machine, and it feels that unless it can be this, it must be powerless; if it cannot do all it can do nothing. It desires to have at its command, at stated periods, perfect systems of methodical and simultaneous observations; it wishes its influence and its power to be omnipresent over the globe so that it may be able to know, at any given instant, the state of the atmosphere on every point on its surface.
- — John Ruskin (1839)
- Acknowledgments ix
- Introduction xiii
- 1 Thinking Globally 1
- 2 Global Space, Universal Time: Seeing the Planetary Atmosphere 27
- 3 Standards and Networks: International Meteorology and the Réseau Mondial 49
- 4 Climatology and Climate Change before World War II 61
- 5 Friction 83
- 6 Numerical Weather Prediction 111
- 7 The Infinite Forecast 139
- 8 Making Global Data 187
- 9 The First WWW 229
- 10 Making Data Global 251
- 11 Data Wars 287
- 12 Reanalysis: The Do-Over 323
- 13 Parametrics and the Limits of Knowledge 337
- 14 Simulation Models and Atmospheric Politics, 1960–1992 357
- 15 Signal and Noise: Consensus, Controversy, and Climate Change 397
- Conclusion 431
- Notes 441
- Index 509
—Donald MacKenzie, Professor of Sociology, University of Edinburgh, author of An Engine, Not a Camera
—James Rodger Fleming, Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Colby College
—Greg Downey, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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.