The Summers Were Better When I Was A Kid
....The journal Biology Letters this week reports a novel yet kind of obvious way to tackle the data dearth; simply asking Himalayan villagers about their experiences.
To be fair, the phrase "simply asking" does the researchers a disservice, because what they emphasise throughout their paper is the need to gather local knowledge "rapidly and efficiently... using systematic tools".
Researchers went to 28 villages in total, and did 250 face-to-face interviews as well as a number of focus group exercises.
Their top line conclusions are that villagers are noticing signals suggestive of climate change.
Martin Parry, who co-chaired the working group on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability for the 2007 IPCC assessment.
Now a visiting professor at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change Research in London, he told me there definitely is a role for evidence gathered through word-of-mouth.
"We need to expand the information we can collect on the evidence of climate change occurring now, which the last IPCC report kicked off and the next one is no doubt going to grow greatly - because it's ground-truthing, it's not model-based future stuff.
"But also the gaps in the knowledge are so big, and filling them in by going out and asking people is going to be increasingly the way to go.
"It's about less formal ways of collecting data. It takes time to set up monitoring stations and get 10 years of data, but if we can get into peoples' memories... I guess the one concern is the drift that occurs in peoples' memories, and how do you account for that?"
The Himalayan work threw up questions as well as answers.
For example, in some villages about half of the people questioned reported that summer was now starting earlier than 10 years ago; which raises the question of why the other half did not.
One of the recommendations coming out of recent inquiries into climate science (as pertaining to the IPCC and the University of East Anglia) is that researchers could and should make more use of specialist statisticians.
And perhaps the increasing use of orally-gathered evidence will require the systematic and rigorous involvement of social scientists in order to ensure best practice is followed.
But there surely is going to be more data of this kind used in climate circles in future.
It's cheap, is available in many regions with poor instrumental coverage, it can span large timeframes, and data can be gathered simultaneously on what communities are experiencing and how they're coping.
What's not to like, provided the cautions are heeded?
What's not to like? Replacing pesky data which "only" goes back to the early 1980s with dodgy memories, massaged by specialists to produce a consistent picture. What's not to like indeed.