Eric Wolff: how to write a scientific paper on ice cores

Eric Wolff comments on the hours of data analysis involved in the writing of scientific papers on climate change evidence in ice cores.

Listen to the full interview track and all other tracks from this interview on British Library Sounds

Most of the really exciting papers in our area of science and I’m guessing in other areas of science, look as if they’re ideas, they look as if they’re somebody sitting in a room and saying, ‘Gosh, I’ve suddenly realised that this is what happens,’ and actually that’s what grabs the attention of say the journal Nature. But of course you can only do that if you’ve got the data on which its based so the process of getting to this, the first point is to get thousands of thousands of analyses of the ice so that you can actually see what was happening in a lot of detail along the ice core and until you’ve got that the rest is speculation. And while speculation is fun it doesn’t [laughs] generally make very good peer reviewed papers.

So what did you do then between 2006 and 2009 that allowed you to be confident enough to be able to write this up from the initial idea that perhaps the end of glaciations are just very successful versions of the warmings that were attempted sort of throughout the glacial period?

I don’t know whether other people do science this way [laughs] but a lot of it is you’ve – first you’ve got to have the data and the idea and then more often than not you make some kind of a plot on the screen, a figure that convinces yourself but the question is is it going to convince other people? And it’s only really by trying it out on people and maybe testing different ways of showing it that you realise whether you’ve found a way of convincing other people, or at least explaining it to other people, even if you’re not convincing them, you’ve at least got to be able to explain what it is that’s in your head. To be honest it’s mainly sitting in front of a computer playing with figures and with words and seeing if – if you think it’s convincing enough to submit it ‘cause it’s a big – it’s a – although scientists have quite big egos it’s quite unpleasant for ones ego to have a paper rejected so you want to be convincing.

  • Interviewee Eric Wolff
  • Duration 00:02:00
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 6/28/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/70

Related Audio Clips

The following clips are short extracts from an in-depth interview.
To listen to the full interview visit

Related Video Clips

Related disciplines