Non-exhaustive list of (occasionally erroneous) reasons why climbing makes me science better (and explaining inter alia why I interview awfully). Prompted by this stupid tweet1:

Caption: Stupid tweet by august organ.

About this daft article.

1. in climbing, like science, preparation is important. You need to understand what you are getting into and:

1a read up on the route, conditions etc.

1b get the right kit

1c think about fall back plans

2. being out in the wilds gives me a real connection with the elements, which is super important for someone working in weather and climate. You can really see and feel the big changes that are happening.

3. as a climber, I make use of weather forecasts on a regular basis, so as both a producer and user of that kind of information, I understand the needs, subtleties and challenges of making good forecasts.

4. climbing teaches you a lot about self-reliance – your actions and the choices you make can mean the difference between life and death – but also working as part of a team as, often, someone else’s life will be in your hands.

5. A lot of climbing happens in your head. You think your way through the route before you climb it, much like you would plan an experiment or analysis. You learn where the tricky parts will be and think of multiple ways to tackle them, so when it comes to it, you are ready.

6. People think climbing is about risk taking, but it’s more about managing risk. Being comfortable with a certain amount of risk is important in science, where you are constantly pushing against the boundaries. Also: getting in way over your head and fluking it.

7. In climbing, as in science, things don’t always go the way you expect. The need to change plans, adapt, and improvise (and cry and hope your fingernails are strong enough) to make progress, rather than stick to a strict plan, is an important parallel.

8. Like in science it’s important to measure your progress. Climbing has a number of grading systems that can be used to reliably measure your performance and which can push you to do better.

9. In climbing, I learned the importance of obsessively farming statistics within numerical grading systems, finding cleverly flexible approaches that prepared me for understanding the importance of maintaining a passable h-index and publishing in NatureorScience.

10. In climbing, it is common to expend huge amounts of energy and time being unsuccessful at scaling twelve feet of rock as a preparation for longer climbs. In this way, I learned the importance of always submitting to NatureorScience first.

11. The history of climbing teaches reverence for the pioneers who did incredibly impressive things whilst being personally unpleasant on an extraordinary scale. Much like science.

12. When trying to record new climbs in local guidebooks, one often has to deal with reviewer 2… I mean, the local guidebook writer who swears this was climbed thirty years ago by someone more eminent than you, in a rain storm, using tennis shoes and a car tow rope…

13. …only to find the climb in the next guidebook with their name next to it. In this way, we learn humility, that the advancement of science is more important than receiving individual acclaim.

14. Climbing taught me that there’s no shame in failure; each time you learn something new and that gives you the skills and strength to grow. On the other hand, mistakes can be fatal, so it also taught me to play it safe.

15. Both climbing and science have demonstrated to me that I have a capacity to do extremely stupid things. I like to think of this as a learning experience, but, if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that this capacity has no apparent outer limit.

16. As a climber, I understand the importance of demonstrating my reverence for the natural world by travelling long long distances to do something I could do at home.

17. As a climber, I am well practised at giving the impression of being a bit of an outsider, someone who has seen and done things that everyday folk find less impressive than I feel they should.

18. Every climber knows there is nothing more wonderful than shiny new kit. Unless it’s old kit with stories. Or whichever bit of kit will fit in this crack right now, before the review deadline, aaarrgh.

19. As a climber, I understand the need to explain the importance and satisfaction that comes from doing something that many people think is expensive, pointless and dangerous, whilst also worrying that it is expensive, pointless and dangerous.

20. As a climber, I also understand the need to make something that seems trivial, contrived, a bit odd, yet personally enjoyable seem mysterious, powerful and jolly hard work.

21. The importance of maintaining a lexicon that, while baffling to the outsider, ensures efficient, perfectly specific and error-free communication to the insider and helps to sharply differentiate the two groups.

22. An appreciation of the comical elasticity of the word “significant”.

23. Climbing and science are both essentially problem solving. Each succumbs to a combination of preparation, persistence, luck and sideways thinking. When I’m stuck on a scientific problem, I think “how would I climb this?”

24. Climbing gave me the interpersonal skills needed to negotiate the outer limits of what constitutes “carry on” on a budget airline. For this reason, my colleagues know I can always be trusted with the poster tube.

25. Finger strength gained from climbing, can be used to tighten or loosen clamps without sensible recourse to tools.

26. In climbing, you can’t climb 100% of the time and that’s fine. Sometimes you’re the climber, sometimes the belayer. Both roles are important. Also, sitting around drinking tea and apparently doing nothing is very, very important.

27. Much like ECS*, uncertainty in the grade of TPS** has not reduced meaningfully in the past 50 years. Debate over the latter leaves one well prepared for debate over the former.

These are the 27 excellent and very serious reasons why climbing helps me do better science.


* Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity

**Three Pebble Slab

1 I say stupid tweet, but I feel like it’s worse than stupid. It encourages people to think of their leisure time and indeed everything they do, in terms how it benefits their work. As if works is some central light that illuminates everything and we can only see things in so far as they reflect its glare. I find this idea unhealthy. I never climbed for any reason other than I enjoyed it. Whether I’m a better researcher for having done it is a question without a meaningful answer. The other reason I don’t like it is because it’s part of the nonsense that surrounds getting a job. The whole palaver of interviews and CVs and application forms is, at least in part, a game. The rules are never clearly stated, but the aim is to decide whether someone can do a particular job based on their ability to play stupid word games like my 27 point list above while wearing a suit and having woken at 4am to get to a 9.30am interview at the other side of the country. One can confabulate answers to such a stupid question nearly endlessly. It’s the kind of thing an LLM would excel at.