State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Climate Scientist to World: “Ask me Anything”

Tony Barnston types an answer to his "ask me anything" session on Reddit. Credit: Francesco Fiondella

After the warm winter, is this summer going to be insanely hot?

Most of us don’t have a climate scientist on speed dial, so unless an expert gets on television or writes an article on this question, we’d have a hard time finding an answer. With this premise, we decided to get a climate expert to start an “Ask me anything” (AMA) session on the popular social news website, An AMA is like an organized, online town-hall meeting, with people shouting out questions to the host . The crowd actively votes questions and answers “up” or “down”, so that the most popular and interesting content floats to the top. With 1.4 million people subscribed to the Reddit’s AMA section alone, there is potential for one huge, global town hall online.

Tony Barnston, a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), took a few hours out of his day and answered questions ranging from the difference between El Niño and La Niña to his thoughts on the movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

One of the first questions to come in was if we could expect a hot summer because the winter was so mild (at least on the east coast of the US).

“It doesn’t work that way,” Barnston wrote. “One could just as easily say that it would be time for a cool summer to compensate. Actually, there is little correlation between the anomaly during last winter and that to be expected this summer.”

Connecting scientists to the general public is arguably more important now than ever. Using social web platforms such as Reddit, is a way to bridge the gap between these two communities. They allow for two-way conversations and bring more attention to topics that the public would not have access to normally. Barnston’s answers give us an inside look into his profession.

“I enjoyed answering the questions, and I think it’s important to share knowledge with others in the area of climate prediction science,” Barnston writes of the experience. “While some questions were easy to answer, others definitely hit the limits of our current understanding, and could as easily have been asked by a colleague.”

Overall, the experience was quite positive for Barnston. A former student who saw his session praised him in an email. “Just wanted to say how great your Reddit AMA segment was. Really good to have people like you on those sorts of forums.”

Please visit Barnston’s appearance and share with your friends. To learn more about the topics in the “Ask me anything” session, you can subscribe to IRI’s newsletter and follow it on twitter.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

this session helped me understanding things much better.. thanks for your post

11 years ago

Given two identical volumes of air at the same temperature, one with the co2 content of air 100 years ago, the other with todays co2 content. Which one will hold more moisture? I suspect the higher the co2 the lower its ability to hold moisture, hence our current drought situation.