Iowahawk Geographic: The Secret Life of Climate Researchers

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Our very planet depends on them. Yet they remain nature's most elusive scientific species, inhabiting some of the world's most delicate and daunting academic environments. But thanks to new breakthroughs in high speed cameras and email files, metascientists are finally beginning to understand their mysterious behaviors and complex social interactions. Tonight on Iowahawk Geographic: step inside the Secret Life of the Climate Researchers.

French Horn Fanfare Theme
Fast-cut montage of walrus mating with polar bear, astronomer peering through telescope into neighbor's window, cheetahs chasing penguins on the Serengeti, scientists filling out NSF grant proposals

Dah dat dat DAAAH dat, dah daht duh dah dee-dah dee dah-dah!

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This is the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, home of one of the largest nesting populations of climate scientists in Europe.
Gentle ant's-eye scene of idyllic campus lawn, strewn about with drunken mating undergraduates

Each year it attracts magnificent migratory flocks of graduate students, adjuncts and visiting faculty from across the northern hemisphere.
Shots of jumbo jets landing at Heathrow; herds of climate researchers busily milling at Duty Free shops, retrieving baggage, phoning for prearranged limo service

Within minutes of arriving on campus, the migratory researchers approach the entrance of the Climate Research Unit and perform the secret credential dance, fiercely displaying their prominent curriculum vitae. This signals to the security drone that they can be trusted with the sacred electronic lanyard badge that will grant them entrance to the hive's inner sanctum.

During the upcoming research season, this hive alone will produce over 6 million metric tons of grant-sustaining climate data guano, but until recently little was known about the elusive genus of homo scientifica living inside. Where do they come from? What strange force draws them here year after year? In order to unravel the mystery, Iowahawk Geographic documentary filmmaker David Burge undertook a painstaking one-week project to finally capture the climate researchers in their native habitat.

In this exclusive footage, Burge warily approaches the hive's security drone, disguising himself as smelly graduate student. Burge has theorized that as a member of the lowest stratum in the hive's social system, the drone likely enjoys partying. He reaches into his backpack and offers the drone a pint of Guinness and a small bag of weed in exchange for the hive's internal security tapes and email files. Success.

The never-before seen security tapes obtained by Burge provide a rare glimpse into the inner working of the climate research hive and its amazing guano production. In this sequence, we see one group of researchers entering the hive each carrying a datum they have retrieved from a distant climate measuring station. This is the cause of much excitement among their colleagues, who buzz around in a grant-writing frenzy.
Infrared heat map film of highly agitated researchers

But there's a problem: as the worker researchers attempt to store each raw datum into the neat honeycomb hockey stick structure provided by the hive's Alpha Grantwriter, they discover that few will fit. The infrared shows them growing cool with fear. This signals the climate researcher's instinctive behavior to begin viciously beating, rolling and normalizing the data into submission. According to Dr. Nigel V.H. Oldham, professor emeritus at Oxford University's Centre for Metascience, this violent data dance is what makes climate researchers unique among breeds of scientists.

Professor Nigel V.H. Oldham

Like other species in the order homo scientifica, the climate researcher gathers and organizes data to lure grant money to the hive. In contrast to those other species, however, the climate researcher has evolved a set of complex violent behaviors to insure any data leaving the hive is perfectly adapted to nature's most lucrative and sweetest grants. It really is a marvel of natural selection, and explains why the climate researcher continues to thrive in any kind of weather condition.

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Many of those behaviors are on display in the security film, as we see a sexless group of drone graduate students processing a raw datum with saliva, sawdust and Fortran code. After each iteration the time series is presented to the Alpha Grantwriter to see if fits inside his graph. Several graduate drones die of exhaustion, but the data eventually fit the template.

Next the Alpha Grantwriter flies to an international climate research conference with the completed PowerPoint template, where he will share his guano with other Alpha Grantwriters over cocktails in the hotel lounge. This is a process metascientists refer to as "peer review."

Professor Nigel V.H. Oldham

Among climate researchers, peer review seems to serve three purposes. First, it rewards the hives that have the most successful data torturers. Second it singles out mutant hives for elimination. Third, it allows the Alpha Grantwriters to expense drinks.

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The Alpha Grantwriter in our hive has been very successful indeed. He has earned three publications, a keynote address, and attracts the attention of a suitor from the symbiotic grant-giving predator genus Lucra Ecologica Hysterica. The suitor's grant bags are bulging with carbon credits and tax revenues harvested using the hive's last graphs, and the pair once again engage in their annual cross-pollination ritual. They relax with a cigarette, and return to their respective hives: the Grantwriter with fresh money, the Grantgiver to Washington or Brussels with new carbon tax proposals. The circle of life is completed.

But life is not always so easy inside the hive of the climate researcher. Occasionally the sanctity of the hive is breached by a predator from the species Methodica Skeptica Scientifica, who threatens the hive with demands to see their raw data.
security film of ominous skeptic infiltrating the hive

In this rare footage, the invading skeptic is repelled by a swarm of drones before he can reach the entombed data. He makes another attempt, but the Alpha Grantwriter has called in reinforcements from the grantgiver hive and the New York Times.

Climate Researchers

Hissssss hisssssss hisssssssss

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The ear-piercing screech of the swarm warns the intruder that they will cut off his peer review unless he retreats. But the the hungry skeptic is not so easily dissuaded, and returns to the hive with a Freedom of Information Act form demanding a copy of the hive's raw data.

This sends the climate researcher drones into a wild frenzy as they scramble to find and conceal the scent of the preprocessed data. To bide time the Alpha Grantwriter offers the skeptic a copy of the hockey stick graph. The skeptic threatens a lawsuit with his stinger. Thinking quickly, the Alpha Grantwriter performs an elaborate dance, communicating that the original data has been eaten, possibly by graduate drone. He presents the skeptic with the dead bodies of 10 drones as a peace offering.

Finally stymied in his efforts to reach the data, the skeptic flies away. The hive lives on.

Professor Nigel V.H. Oldham

The climate researcher is in some sense a milestone in evolutionary biology. Ever since Darwin, we have understood that a particular species adapts to its environmental reality. Now for the first time, we are seeing evidence that environmental reality is adapting to a particular species. It's not really rocket science. Well okay, I suppose it's really not science at all.

Narrator

Join us next time on Iowahawk Geographic, when we go in search of the outer limits of the economic galaxy with "Stimulus-X: The Black Hole of the Beltway."

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