Ocean scientist Nick Record, from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay, held a public lecture December 2, 2015, at Adams Hall at the invitation of students from the Earth and Oceanographic Science Department.
Record, who was a visiting assistant professor during the 2012-2013 academic year, talked about ways to adapt to the changing climate in the Gulf of Maine.
Key to achieving this, he says, is to develop accurate forecast models for future temperature changes.
At one point in the lecture, Record shows attendees a picture of a human brain.
“What could be more powerful and more effective than a human brain?” he asks. The answer, which no one guessed, was “many human brains.”
Record believes the most effective way to forecast future events is to harness the intellectual power of as many experts as possible – a technique he calls ‘mind-mapping.’
Explain mind-mapping and how it might help adapting to climate change in the Gulf of Maine.
I’m using mind-mapping as kind of a catchy term and I probably don’t understand the true definition of it well. But there’s this idea of collective mind-mapping: you try to take a group of people and tap into that collective knowledge.
So it’s not just using people to gather data, like citizen scientists; it’s beyond that?
That’s right. In my mind there needs to be some interaction between the minds of the people. And then there’s also the focus on solving some problem that everyone is collectively involved in. And any one person might not have the tools or knowledge to solve that problem, but if you set up the interaction correctly then the collective effort can be more efficient in solving that problem.
Are there successful examples of this already happening you can draw on?
The prediction markets are my favorite examples, where a group of people are basically buying and selling shares in the outcome of event like an election. So if you think that Donald Trump is going to get the nomination, then you would buy shares in that. And then once the event occurs, you’ll get a kind of payoff from this collective pool of money. If you’re right, you’ll get, say, a dollar on your 50 cents, if you’re wrong, you’ll get nothing. So based on what everyone thinks is going to happen, the price is going to do up or down, just like stock shares.
And people have found that those prediction markets work really well at predicting future events like elections, in most cases better than polls. And if you’re thinking about other things besides elections, they also perform really well.
I was at a meeting last year on the arctic. About 100 scientists were there. So the guy organizing the meeting set up one of these predictive markets and everyone gave a forecast of next year’s sea ice extent. So he’s basically doing that, trying to tap into the collective knowledge of arctic scientists.
And that isn’t being done regarding the Gulf of Maine?
Not as far as I know.
How are you working to achieve this right now?
We’re working on the algorithm side, how do you get this knowledge and blend it with the really good data — not that knowledge isn’t good data, but blend it with satellite data and other sources to put it into a format that anyone could read. Like you could see a map of, say, deer tick distribution, that combines these sightings and knowledge of people out in the field – maybe they’re fishing, maybe they’re naturalists – and combine that with all these underlying data fields like temperature and salinity and precipitation, to get a map of kind of the community’s best guess as to what’s out there.
And what would you do with this information?
My vision of it is like a social medium where everyone would have access to it. You’ve seen social media have this amazing potential – like what happened in the Arab Spring – and I think we could tap into this as a way to get a tool to study rapidly changing ecosystems, if that social medium is set up the right way. And that’s what we’re still trying to figure out.
Dr Record’s research, which is being done in collaboration with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, is funded by a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.