A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (Infrastructures) (Paperback)

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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.

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.

Praise For…

[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.

Steven Goldman, Environmental History

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.

Chad Monfreda, 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.

Thomas Haigh, Communications of the ACM

A 2010 Book of the Year

The Economist

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.

Myles Allen, Nature

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, Science Magazine

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.

Noel Castree, American Scientist

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.

Jeffrey Putnam, Computing Reviews
Product Details
ISBN: 9780262518635
ISBN-10: 0262518635
Publisher: The MIT Press
Publication Date: February 8th, 2013
Pages: 546
Language: English
Series: Infrastructures