"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spinning Tornados

Adopting Andrew Sullivan's methodology I point you to interesting stuff elsewhere.



There's a huge kerfuffle about attributing severe weather in Alabama to climate forcing. Kevin Trenberth and Peter Gleick among others proclaim "this is the sort of thing"-ism.

Trenberth:
It is irresponsible not to mention climate change.The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences.
David Appel, who gets far too little credit as a pioneer of climate blogging, is, perhaps surprisingly, appalled.
You don't have to look very far to disprove this -- in fact, you don't even have to look farther than the Drudge Report, which today links to this story:
TuscaloosaNews.com
5 P.M. UPDATE: Hundreds treated at DCH
"The loss of life is the greatest from an outbreak of U.S. tornadoes since April 1974, when 329 people were killed by a storm that swept across 13 Southern and Midwestern states."
When are activists going to learn that they will never make their case by falsifying the science, and that, in fact, they only harm their cause when they do so? You cannot draw conclusions about climate based on weather. You can only do it via long-term (decadal or more) statistics.

Please tattoo this on your foreheads, so you don't ruin this for those of us trying to communicate actual, real science, with all its inconvenient unknowns and uncertainties.
Judith Curry, who has many good links, is somewhat more predictably appalled.

I think that we are seeing another instance of excessive attention to "attribution" in a statistical sense. The climate is changing with increasing rapidity. Some of the changes will be anticipated, some not. We shouldn't presume that changes will be locally monotonic. They won't be. Under the circumstances, we'll get extraordinary runs of just-the-sort-of-awfulness-we-get-around-here in various places as the system wobbles about. I mean, what did you expect?

On that basis, +1 Trenberth

h/t for Tuscaloosa F5 tornado video Dan Satterfield. This is right on Dan's turf. Check out his report.
==137

Friday, April 29, 2011

More on Belief Formation; Mooney & Kay on MSNBC

I don't usually care for the intellectual bandwidth of audio and video chats on commercial media but here's an impressive exception, about conspiracy thinking and denialism, following neatly on some of my observations about belief formation yesterday.


Another related article, via David Brin's Facebook: "Belief in Conspiracies Linked to Machiavellian Mindset" by Tom Jacobs on the Miller-McCune Magazine site.
“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Energy Information Administration Press Release

H/T KoTR, who asks "does anybody see a problem with this?"


Immediate Reductions in EIA's Energy Data and Analysis Programs Necessitated by FY 2011 Funding Cut

WASHINGTON, DC - The final fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget provides $95.4 million for the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a reduction of $15.2 million, or 14 percent, from the FY 2010 level.

"The lower FY 2011 funding level will require significant cuts in EIA's data, analysis, and forecasting activities," said EIA Administrator Richard Newell. "EIA had already taken a number of decisive steps in recent years to streamline operations and enhance overall efficiency, and we will continue to do so in order to minimize the impact of these cuts at a time when both policymaker and public interest in energy issues is high," he said.

EIA must act quickly to realize the necessary spending reductions during the present fiscal year, which is already more than half over. The changes in products and services identified below reflect initial steps to reduce the cost of EIA's program. Additional actions are being evaluated and may result in further adjustments to EIA's data and analysis activities in the near future.

Initial adjustments to EIA's data, analysis, and forecasting programs include the following:

Oil and Natural Gas Information

  • Do not prepare or publish 2011 edition of the annual data release on U.S. proved oil and natural gas reserves.

  • Curtail efforts to understand linkages between physical energy markets and financial trading.

  • Suspend analysis and reporting on the market impacts of planned refinery outages.

  • Curtail collection and dissemination of monthly state-level data on wholesale petroleum product prices, including gasoline, diesel, heating oil, propane, residual fuel oil, and kerosene. Also, terminate the preparation and publication of the annual petroleum marketing data report and the fuel oil and kerosene sales report.

  • Suspend auditing of data submitted by major oil and natural gas companies and reporting on their 2010 financial performance through EIA's Financial Reporting System.

  • Reduce collection of data from natural gas marketing companies.

  • Cancel the planned increase in resources to be applied to petroleum data quality issues.

  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA oil and natural gas surveys.

Electricity, Renewables, and Coal Information

  • Reduce data on electricity exports and imports.

  • Terminate annual data collection and report on geothermal space heating (heat pump) systems.

  • Terminate annual data collection and report on solar thermal systems.

  • Reduce data collection from smaller entities across a range of EIA electricity and coal surveys.

Consumption, Efficiency, and International Energy Information

  • Suspend work on EIA's 2011 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the Nation's only source of statistical data for energy consumption and related characteristics of commercial buildings.

  • Terminate updates to EIA's International Energy Statistics.

Energy Analysis Capacity

  • Halt preparation of the 2012 edition of EIA's International Energy Outlook.

  • Suspend further upgrades to the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS). NEMS is the country's preeminent tool for developing projections of U.S. energy production, consumption, prices, and technologies and its results are widely used by policymakers, industry, and others in making energy-related decisions. A multiyear project to replace aging NEMS components will be halted.

  • Eliminate annual published inventory of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States.

  • Limit responses to requests from policymakers for special analyses.

In addition to these program changes, EIA will cut live telephone support at its Customer Contact Center.

The changes outlined above and the additional actions that may be required to align EIA's program with its FY 2011 funding level are undoubtedly painful for both users of EIA energy information and EIA's dedicated Federal and contractor staff. We will work with stakeholders to minimize the disruption associated with the changes identified above and will issue specific guidance to affected survey respondents soon. We remain committed to maintaining the bulk of EIA's comprehensive energy information program and strengthening it where possible, consistent with the available level of resources.

EIA Press Contact: Jonathan Cogan, 202-586-8719, Jonathan.Cogan@eia.gov

EIA-2011-07

What to Believe and Why

OK, forgive me, this one's a bit philosophical. It starts with why we believe what we believe, and ends with a justification for science outreach, not despite the fact that people's belief structures are stubborn, but because of it. (As usual, just a first pass.)

And it refers to a brewing argument about which "side" of the climate "debate" is most dogmatic and quasireligious. In fact, beliefs are beliefs. I claim that idea that anybody is entirely rational about anything, the idea that some of us form our models of the world entirely on evidence, is excessive. The question is how to deal with reality knowing that these biases exist.

I refer you to this argument by Prof John Stackhouse, about as intelligent a person as you can imagine being a Bible literalist; the resurrection, the loaves and fishes, the whole nine yards, if I understand correctly. I have been following him to try to get insight into how the thought process of dogmatism works, and it's presented an interesting challenge:

I think we share a lot of common ground here. We agree, for example, that one ought to have good reasons for what one believes or, at least, be able to reply adequately to challenges to that belief. We agree that if one cannot adequately defend one’s beliefs, including one’s premisses, one ought to change one’s beliefs, or premisses, or something. One shouldn’t just keep believing things that one cannot adequately defend.

But let’s stop there for a moment. Why shouldn’t I be entitled to keep believing things that I cannot adequately defend?

Suppose, for example, I believe something because I have believed it all my life and it seems to make good sense of whatever it is it is supposed to describe or explain. It seems to fit the facts. Perhaps it is, in fact, true. So when someone comes along and offers apparently strong arguments against my belief, I could certainly accede to those arguments and give up my belief. But couldn’t I also decide that, while the arguments against my belief certainly seem sound for the moment, perhaps they are not as sound as they appear? Perhaps, in fact, they are not sound at all, and I am just not sophisticated enough to see immediately why they are not sound. Indeed, since my belief has seemed to me to be true for quite a long time and over quite a number of relevant circumstances, wouldn’t it be rather reckless of me to drop a belief simply because I can’t defend it well right now? Wouldn’t such an attitude dispose me to credulity and even abuse at the hands of magicians or charlatans or con men or preachers of false doctrines?

When I think, furthermore, that lots of apparently capable people hold to that belief also, it would seem reckless indeed to drop that belief simply because I can’t defend it adequately, for perhaps some of them can. Indeed, isn’t it very likely that some of them can, since it is exceedingly unlikely that I am now encountering a brand new, devastating argument never before encountered and handled well by any of my fellow-believers? So perhaps I might ask around a bit, do some reading, get some expert counsel, before I drop my belief at the first sign of serious trouble.

That’s what a scientist ought to do. That’s what a scholar of any discipline ought to do. That’s what any rational person ought to do.

Now, if you follow the rest of his argument, you will see he takes it to a place that is (not just to an atheist or an agnostic, but to someone like me who finds value in religion but constructs a religious view on evidence rather than defending an inherited and outdated package) transparently ridiculous.

The argument, though, is not easy to dismiss.

Indeed, this is why we tend to eschew debate with denialists. It is not hard to construct a single argument that to somone unprepared for it seems logically coherent. Take the "tropospheric hot spot". Assert that all GCMs produce a feature that no observations reproduce (without noting that this isn't a complete refutation even of the predicted feature). It is best if the scientific community is not especially interested in this contradiction, so that the innocent debater has nothing in his or her arsenal to refute it. Conclude that climate models are flawed (stipulated) and allow the audience to infer that this flaw amounts to a warmING bias everywhere. (The denialists themselves seem incapable of distinguishing between a warm bias and a warming bias, as we see by their squawking about underrepresentation of "cold" (rapidly warming) polar data.) Claim that all predictions are BASED ON these "flawed", implicitly biased models. Conclude that there is nothing to worry about.

An argument like this is convincing coming from an unibased investigator. But nobody is unbiased about the climate question anymore. We want our juries ignorant of the case at hand for a reason, which is why jury trials of celebrated cases are difficult. However, everyone, regardless of background, claims to be the genuine self-questioning scientific party.

How do we react to an argument of this sort? Much as we'd like to say we are not swayed by prior beliefs, nobody is innocent in that way, on either side. We take the argument and slot it into 1) how credible other arguments we have heard are 2) our social connections to other people that we respect and 3) how coherent it is with our "priors", i.e., our pre-established beliefs.

So when I say, come on, if a deity capable of inserting itself into the womb of a virgin existed, why would it choose to spend nine months sweating in a moist sack and a dozen years suffering the indignities of childhood? Why would it not just show up from the sky, a far more impressive performance? I mean, the whole story just doesn't add up, what does the literalist Christian answer? First, that they have heard many arguments form incredulity in the past that have been unconvincing. Second, that most everyone they most love and respect believe exactly the contrary. Third, that their well-being corresponds closely to their perceived relationship to the deity in question, reinforcing their prior (and in fact, reinforcing my own interest in religion, which is ultimately about the nature of the subjective, not about the nature of the objective).

How is this different from out belief in climate science, and in particular, to its not especially subtle conclusion that we are doing a lot of damage with our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions? Presented with a challenge, we note that past challenges have all been defeated. We point to the impressive list of institutions that support the consensus (somewhat ignoring that the list is not compelling to our interlocutors). And we point to the broad coherence of evidence.

Is there some way that this set of "beliefs" really is qualitatively different from the beliefs of our opponents, or form the beliefs of religious dogmatists? Yes, there certainly is, but the answer doesn't lie in the oversimplification of Popperian refutation. As I have said before, the sensible scientific belief in the nature of our problem is not about a hypothesis, but about a set of estimates. There must be a sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gases. There must be an impact function from that system to dependent systems. There must be a threshhold rate of change, and a threshhold absolute change, that exceeds the cost of avoiding it, and another that is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs. What those numbers are is what we should be discussing.

But we are still left with the question of whether these estimates are based on a legitimate evidence-based framework or a constructed dogma. By becoming associated with "environmentalism", we allow ourselves to be tainted by the excesses, real or imagined, of the environmentalist movement. The denialist frame sees claims made by climate science as being of the same ilk as intuitive claims made by environmentalists in the past, some of them established as sloppy and excessive, and others attacked as such. Make no mistake, paranoid excesses of environmentalists have damaged essentially innocent economic activities in the past. So what we see as physics they see as politics, making it easy to slot into a category of doubt.

So from the deniers' frame, the position we espouse is packaged with a whole bunch of other positions (cancer from transmission lines, e.g., or autism from vaccines) that are not well-supported. Our social connections are perceived to be with dubious social elements who are perceived as superstitious and wantonly destructive. And our recommendations are grossly incoherent with their beliefs about economics.

This last, of course, is head-vise territory for us. How could your economic theory falsify an analysis in physics, chemistry and biology? But explaining why physics, chemistry and biology have to be mutually coherent and economics slave to the others is actually not all that easy, given that people really believe economics is a "science"! How often do we hear "this can't be true because..." followed by an argument from economics or politics. We dismiss these arguments out of hand. We are like the dog, these arguments are "blah, blah, blah, Ginger" to us. But we need a way to counter them.

We believe what we believe based on a whole set of inputs. Those who want us to believe things that are not true (e.g., a literalist interpretation of the English translation of the Bible, AGW denial, non-native birth of President Obama, etc.) must replace the set of inputs which we receive from the environment around us with a contrary set.

So what makes arguments from physical science different from arguments from other bases? We know that it is because of a far higher level of coherence than any other human activity has achieved. Some of our opponents know this too, but they haven't had enough experience with it to take their hard knocks.

But others, notably the engineers, get it. They understand about coherence. And they are leaders of the opposition precisely because of the importance of social connections in forming beliefs.

They just don't understand the depth of our fields, nor the social context in which it emerges. That is why, despite what journalistic professionals and people like Randy Olsen say, despite the fact that the number of people who really will roll up theior sleeves and study is small, it is crucial to present information in depth and in a cognitively accessible didactically sound way.

And speaking as someone who has taken graduate level classes in both engineering and in climate science, I assert from experience that we have a more difficult task, but also that we do it quite badly.

So that's why, for all my other disagreements with the naysayer squad, I agree that we need to make the science visible. They think they can just look in our notebooks and figure it out, though! That just shows how badly they underestimate the maturity of the field. That makes the visibility all the harder.

There is still plenty of room for climate research, but it will be quite some time before the predictive capacity of the field improves substantially. We probably have to settle for the very coarse picture of the future we already have, and make decisions based on that. The main practical role for climate science now is didactic. And no adequate institutional support exists.

To connect reason to policy discourse, reason has to be made accessible. This isn't just about openness - that's really a somewhat inadvertent insult. It's about explanation. And at any given level, at any given moment, any given explanation will carry very little weight. We have to accept that. And some people will cling to superstitions or biases. We have to accept that too. But, like the emissions themselves, science is cumulative. And it's beautiful and interesting, but it's unnecessarily obscure. The real task is to make it more visible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Waking Up, Or Perhaps Not

Forbes Blogs may not really be the responsibility of Forbes.

An interesting piece there by Rick Ungar, says (in part)

A Bloomberg National Poll of adults 18 and over reveals that 40% of Tea Party supporters are 55 or older. It should, therefore, come as no big surprise that, according to an April 18th Marist Poll, 70% of Tea Party members strongly oppose the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare as we know it – a plan which received the overwhelming support of the GOP Congress when put to a vote.

The fog was lifting and the death rattle of the Tea Party movement suddenly grew audible.

As Tea Partiers took a look at their own bank accounts and realized that they were, sadly, not among the millionaires and billionaires who have funded their movement, yet another light bulb switched on. Why, they began to wonder, were they being so completely supportive of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy when the wealthy were leaving it to the rank and file of the movement to actually pay the bill for smaller government while the rich squirreled away another 10% in tax reductions?

While Tea Party acolytes may have been misled, they aren’t stupid. Thus, the previously unthinkable began to appear all too true.

Could it be that it was never the government who was their enemy after all? Had they been used by their wealthy sponsors as some perverse investment in a scheme to lower taxes even further for those who need it the least at the cost of those who gave their loyalty to the cause?

Even worse, supporters had to wonder if the Tea Party had inadvertently -and ironically- created government as the enemy by electing people who would take away Medicare and other entitlements that are a part of our cultural and national covenant that the Tea Partiers rely on every bit as much as the rest of us - and all so that they could allow billionaires and others who can afford high-priced lobbyists to keep more of their money?

Meanwhile, Steven Lewandowsky makes the obvious connection between birthers and climate deniers.


The McGuffin Itself

Lewandowsky:
What motivates people who, based on Republican demographics, likely earn a living in business or dentistry or some other well-paying job requiring at least a modicum of literacy, to take leave of their senses and to subscribe to patent absurdities instead?

On May 19 2010, the US National Academy of Sciences, America's highest scientific body, summarised the current state of climate science particularly clearly: “Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

The late Stephen Jay Gould referred to a fact as something that it would be "perverse to withhold provisional assent." Notwithstanding the Academy's clear statement about the existence of global warming and its human-made causes, recent surveys reveal that the majority of US Republicans do not accept this scientific fact.

Indeed, tragically and paradoxically, among Republicans acceptance of the science decreases with their level of education as well as with their self-reported knowledge: Whereas Democrats who believe they understand global warming better also are more likely to believe that it poses a threat in their lifetimes, among Republicans increased belief in understanding global warming is associated with decreased perception of its severity. The more they think they know, the more ignorant they reveal themselves to be.
Will people eventually wake up to how badly their trust has been abused?

James Fallows thinks it will not be soon. On the birther episode (h/t Andrew Sullivan) and the recent release of the infamous "long form" birth certificate, he says:
"Here we have a wonderful real-world test: if 'actual knowledge' mattered, the number of people who thought Obama was foreign-born would approach zero by next week -- with exceptions for illiterates, the mentally disabled, paranoid schizophrenics, etc. My guess is that the figures will barely change,"
Chris Mooney agrees.

Now it can't escape our notice that Fallows' sardonic prediction seems to align with the "facts don't matter" school of communication; the idea that even if we have facts we ought to be communicating "narratives". But I think we should leave the construction of narratives to fiction, and somehow get people to understand that "science communication" by definition is about what is most true, which is almost always interesting, and not about what is most interesting, which is almost always untrue.

Update: Some examples of the denialist mindset hard at work, denying.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CO2 fertilization

Regarding encouraging plant growth, that is a direct CO2 effect. Interestingly, I just learned that it is killing koalas. You see, CO2 fertilized plants put more of their energy into structure. Eucalyptus leaves become harder for present day koalas to digest because they are more fibrous.

The person I heard this from (a world renowned ecologist) suspects that many food plants may become more fibrous and harder to digest. So the CO2 fertilization effect is not obviously a win for us fauna.

In general, rapid change in the environment is bad for niche species and good for pests. That is why the concept of "degraded ecosystem" makes sense.

Now picture ever increasing disruption everywhere...

Image: New Zealand Herald, at the first link above.

Not Boring

Let's start at the very beginning. Every month we dig ourselves deeper in the hole. Every month the future bottleneck looks tighter, the future crisis deeper, the future losses more tragic. And for a few years, we have been out of the realm of the hypothetical, with real damage starting to occur.



The changes we will need to avoid a disaster are immense. Politicians try to sell them by minimizing them, by pretending they are a jobs program. Many people don't believe in jobs programs. Most people don't find them interesting, either way.

The messages we send are soothing, boring and earnest, because politicians are in the business of achieving short term victories. You don't achieve short term victories by saying "we need to lose the growth imperative, we need to reorganize, we need to urbanize, we need more calculus and more spinach, less ATV riding and less barbecue." It's not a product that is easy to sell.

What is the alternative product? Doubt of course, as Oreskes and Conway explain so well. Doubt sells better than calculus and spinach. In times of poor educational standards and stress, doubt feeds paranoia, a favorite pastime of many. Suddenly the earnest hippie is the establishment that is being rebelled against!

Allons enfants de la patrie! For freedom! For gasoline! For beef! (Liberte, petrol, boeuf!)

Who provides the doubt product? Pseudoscientists, of course, or at best arithmeticians and nitpickers. You know who I mean. And who buys? People who flatter themselves that they know some science and who (in some cases desperately) want to believe that the unsustainable is going to be sustained.

To some extent this dynamic is insurmountable. There are people whose only interest in the science is to provide cover for their hostility and their anger and their disbelief. Providers of pseudoscience will emerge to serve that market. It's capitalism at work.

But who takes the long view? Where is the actual reality-based science-informed world view in all this?

Increasingly isolated.

People who support action do so in a tepid sort of way, not understanding what vast changes may be in store. A couple of degrees of warming doesn't sound like much, and all the talk is about "warming", not about the accompanying climate change. A cessation of all net carbon emissions is seen as an absurd goal. And much as we need to move that way overnight, we cannot convince people of the necessity overnight.

What's the problem here? It's simple. People have forgotten that spinach can be fun. And calculus too! Political types do what they do not because they adore science but because they are afraid of it. Some can't handle it, some just think they can't, some just don't want to. Grant agencies encourage outreach but abhor political controversy.

The paranoid story, the environmental equivalent of Obama's birth certificate, is an exciting narrative full of intrigue, cloak and dagger stolen emails, forged data, and competing lawsuits. It's engaging. The opposing story is about retraining steel workers to install solar panels. Good visuals, but really, ho hum. Small scale renewable energy is a niche market, not a solution. And large scale renewables are, well, big, and controversial, and make for tedious town council meetings and sleepy reporters in those towns where somebody still bothers to collect the news.

So we have two competing ideas: 1) The future is a boring place full of nice windmills where we don't want them or else some fluffy creatures will starve 2) the future is a dangerous place where people want to steal our money for stupid windmill projects, but if we stop them, nothing will change at all and gasoline will be cheap again and we can all drive to the coast for a weekend on the beach again hurray!

This is really weird stuff for an old science fiction fan. The future is not boring! It's dangerous, it's strange, it's full of new threats and new opportunities, and it is a world of survival of the fittest, where fittest means smartest. WIRED magazine, which sells gadgets, generally tells only half the story. But every smart young person needs no assistance in seeing the other half. The old world is never coming back. I think Bush Jr. hastened the end of it by a decade or so; I can't understand anyone blaming Obama who is trying very hard to put Humpty back together again. But Humpty will never be quite the same even under the best of circumstances.

We have to give up on fossil fuels or face massive starvation (or maybe factory foods imported from the moon?). And people think this is dull? The whole way we talk about the future here in the 21st century is so bizarre and alienated and avoidant.

Our job as communicators is not just to get the science across, but to get its implications across. They are pretty huge. And though there is hope, whatever will come out in the end will be strange. We need to understand it, and exercise collective will to prevent it from being awful. And we need careful and diligent thinking to get there. But thinking itself is not an awful fate. An obsession with the future, which is collectively adaptive, is also great fun once you have enough of the puzzle pieces in your hand. As LBJ liked to say, come, let us reason together.

As long as people are bored they just aren't getting it.


It's a small world now. A large world is an environment. A small world is just a vehicle. And once it crashes, you are just about done.

So that's really the message, not politics, not culture, but reality.

The thing you are tuning out, that is reality. It will no longer take care of itself. Wake up and start learning how to drive. This thing is moving already!

Image: NASA

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Willard and I Reflect on the Latest

me: hi
ca va?

willard: oui, assez
a bit preoccupied, but alright, you?

me: I am fine.
Lucia's attack seems to be doing me no damage

willard: oh
it's good publicity
it's a comedy
at least Lucia recognized that it can't be serious

me: well, it is not unserious; we cannot forgive Mosher
he can't just say we are best friends now

willard: i'm trying to understand what weapon you have in this war
what's your offensive skill?
how do you score goals?

me: are you saying I am failing? Or are you saying I am succeeding but you don't understand how?

willard: no, i'm wondering about your style
i can't say if you are failing or not

me: heh
I don't know
saying fuck eleven times doubles your traffic. I learned that

willard: lol
yes

me: Perhaps I should say it twentytwo times and see if it quadruples

willard: no, it won't

me: it was a joke

willard: i know

me: this is not a performance I intend to repeat
call it performance art, though
not comedy

willard: well, it's opposed to a tragedy

me: My chief weapon, my chief strength, is also my chief weakness
I am a cultural chameleon
Canadian when it suits me, Texan when it doesn't
I am never an authentic anything
but I am an almost-authentic many things

willard: Colbert is not authentic
that's not the point

me: So the whole point is that you never know what angle I will take on a piece

willard: oh, sure i do

me: What I do is to shift point of view

willard: predictably

me: I think that is my strength and my weakness
perhaps predictably; but still fairly effectively
What I do well is to do lots of things almost well, I think.
It's the totality that is interesting

willard: you're too open to be mean
but you seem to aspire at politeness

me: Yes, there is a tension
I want to respect people and include as many as possible in the conversation

willard: yes, well

me: but then I hit a limit and the response is excessive
You know, drawing the line is the whole problem

willard: there is no such thing as a line

me: No, it's about arrogant ignorance
I can take arrogance
I can take ignorance
but there is a sharp cutoff somewhere in the multiplicative product of the two

willard: that's not something you can know beforehand

me: Indeed that is the problem
it is very difficult to draw the line in advance

willard: the problem lies in thinking there is a problem there

me: No, here I totally disagree

willard: everyone keeps telling you that you're wrong about that

me: Who besides you?

willard: IF you want to talk to people
Keith
Lucia
Steven
Tom Y
John F

me: Well, Lucia is not interesting

willard: everyone except the Rat pack
that's the point, Dr. Doom

me: So you are claiming the Kloorists' complaint about me is what, now?

willard: whatever you may think of those who say that you are divisive, they still might have a point
you are divisive
Lucia and Steve, no good
Mosher, no good
you might have a point

me: well, they are forces of evil

willard: yes, i know
but here's the thing
you are lazy
you should concentrate in identifying what's evil-doing
describe
explain
show us the evil in evil-doers
tell us their tricks
saying that Moshpit is evil is a dud
it nullifies everything you might claim about his behavior
besides
what you think of Moshpit is of no public relevance
you are in a public debate
and you are castigating your opponents
this is stupid, to say it bluntly
you are dividing those who agree from those who don't

me: It is a problem

willard: if what you want to do is to talk to the friends of Moshpit, that's not the way to do it

me: Some division is necessary
Else you end up with Watts

willard: it's a good example
i never talk about Watts
nor Romm
they're uninteresting

me: yes
I aspire to be interesting

willard: it's not a good way to talk to nerds
you know that
you do not like how i'm talking to you
right now
you are gentle
you should aspire to be like Bart V
perhaps with more shoulders
so that you can hit square and fair
but stop the high-sticking
please

me: Interesting
I can simulate many types
But Bart cannot be simulated

willard: no

me: You are right
he is an ideal of a sort
but I don't know that I should aspire to it

willard: you're funnier than Bart
liberals have no choice but to be funnier than conservatives
charitable irony
you are charitable
i think that's you're weapon
so being uncharitable undoes you
we all know that Moshpit is insincere
there is nothing one can do against him speaking
it's the internet
he plays home
he's the freedom guy
there's no use to whine about that fact
what we can do is to underline the stupid tricks he keeps repeating

me: I am not charitable; I am empathetic

willard: well, empathy is no use without charity

me: by not having a home culture, I am forced to be able to identify with many cultures

willard: if you're to keep fighting
you need to find love here

me: love is not just coddling
we are moving from an easy time to a hard time
discipline is needed
I can say, I see why you are acting that way, AND you must look at it this other way, and you must stop.

willard: yes, but you immediatly sound fatherly
and i think Moshpit won't get anything out of it

me: He seemed dazed for a day or so and then came back without any noticeable reaction

willard: you're out of his loop
he's a man on a mission
he will dodge, act saintly and that's that

me: and his mission is wtf again?

willard: lower taxes

me: !

willard: he owes it to future generations

me: you know once almost everybody is dead and the rest of us are brawling over rat flesh with rusty steel rods, taxes will be much lower

willard: yes, i heard they're cheap in sierra leone

Friday, April 22, 2011

Widespread Misinformation on Strat Ozone History?

This will probably appear in a few places, so apologies if you see this more than once.

Andrew Dessler notes the following in the notorious recent article by Nisbet:
According to climate scientist Mike Hulme and policy expert Roger
Pielke Jr., climate change remains misdiagnosed as a conventional
pollution problem akin to ozone depletion or acid rain— environmental
threats that were limited in scope and therefore solvable. In these
cases technological alternatives were already available and the
economic benefits of action more certain—both conditions that allowed
policymakers to move forward even in the absence of strong scientific
consensus.
and observes
It's hard to believe one could get this many errors into two
sentences. First, there *was* a strong scientific consensus on both
of these issues --- just as there is on climate. But more important
is the new false narrative that solving ozone depletion was easy
because we had the technology ready. That's simply not true. I
e-mailed my colleague Ted Parson (U of Michigan Law School), who knows
everything about the history of ozone depletion,
Parson's response is as follows:


Yes, the claim that Montreal Protocol was easy because there was a substitute in hand is simply wrong, and the detailed evidence showing why and how it's wrong is in my ozone book. (Protecting the ozone layer: science and Strategy, Oxford Press, 2003) This is one of the half-dozen major things that “everyone knows” about the stratospheric ozone case that are simply erroneous.

Here’s the summary:

As soon as CFCs came under suspicion in 1974, any competent chemist could, and many
quickly did, figure out that there are a couple of dozen similar chemicals that would be plausible alternatives less destructive of ozone -- the 1, 2, and possibly 3-carbon HCFCs and HFCs. A few years of research allowed labs at Dupont, ICI, Allied, Atochem, and a couple of other CFC producers to verify that there were possible synthesis routes for these, and to do preliminary investigation of the thermodynamic and other properties that would determine their suitability for applications formerly served by CFCs (e.g., to identify the vapor-pressure curves for those that were not already established). Du Pont issued a report in 1979 that said, more or less, that "these are possible in principle, but there are serious problems and obstacles with every one of them, they would cost twice as much as CFCs or more, and developing any of them as a serious CFC alternative would require ten years of research." Most relevant audiences heard this message, as DP intended, as equivalent to "this would be really hard and uncertain of success". The brief threat of comprehensive CFC regulation (which reared its head for a few months near the end of the Carter administration) receded in 1979-1980, and Du Pont and all the others stopped their alternatives research programs within a year.

The threat of comprehensive regulation came back in 1986. DuPont, asked to present what it knew about alternatives at an EPA workshop in mid-1986, repeated exactly the same message as they said in 1979 -- after all, they had done no more research in the interim. But this time, due to some skilful spinning by environmental advocates and EPA officials, most people heard the message as "with several years of further development effort and a higher price, we could probably make some of these work." This was not a big part in the forces that contributed to enabling serious control negotiations to proceed, but it did help a little. Du Pont and the other major US CFC producers and users also, through their industry association, cautiously endorsed mild international controls in an August 1986 announcement – something resembling a freeze at current emissions levels – but this was ALL about responding to scientific evidence for the risk, not a bit about availability of alternatives.

So the negotiations took off, with the US delegation advocating elimination of CFCs, and within 18 months we got the first Montreal Protocol with its 50% CFC cuts. Throughout this period, DP and the other US firms that had cautiously said “maybe a freeze would be OK” screamed bloody murder that they had never said anything about elimination or even 50% cuts, and that alternatives were not proven, let alone fully developed for specific applications. The industry perception through this period was very much that they were being punished for their good deed of accepting the need for some limited degree of regulatory control.

They kept shouting this until early 1988 -- i.e., throughout the entire period of negotiating the Montral Protocol and the first few months afterwards -- even while they ramped up their alternatives development programs at high intensity. There were no major breakthroughs in proving the viability of alternatives in any major CFC application through this period, nor were there by March 1988 when Du Pont reacted in panic to another high-profile scientific risk assessment (the Ozone Trends Panel) by announcing it would cease production of CFCs. The key breakthroughs – of which there were many, pertaining to particular chemicals in particular applications, no single blockbuster -- came from early 1988 through the following couple of years, then kept on coming.

Key point: The crucial technological advances that demonstrated the viability of alternatives all came after, not before, the political decision to impose 50% CFC cuts -- and the effort to generate these advances was motivated by the imminent threat of these regulatory restrictions -- not the reverse. This is widely misunderstood and misrepresented -- not just by those who are careless with the truth, but also by many who have read or heard the contrary claim and remember it because it just makes sense given people's priors about regulation and corporate strategy. (For what it's worth, the original in-print claim of the false alternative came from a 1993 paper in the journal International Environmental Affairs, in which a couple of researchers investigated the factors leading to the Montreal Protocol by interviewing executives at the British CFC producer ICI, and uncritically repeated what their sources told them -- that DuPont had a secret breakthrough, so the US delegation pushed the Protocol through to use international regulation to advantage DuPont relative to its European competitors.)

So ... You would do me, and rational management of climate change, both a big favor by brushing up on some tight talking points to rebut this nonsense whenever it comes up -- which is often -- and crediting my book when people ask how you know.




I have not read Parson's book . Another instructive book on the subject is Ozone Diplomacy by Richard Benedick.

Update: RP Jr responds.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mosher's Team

Someone claiming to be Steve Mosher, in comments:
Sorry Dehog, but I'm on the record from my first appearance on the web in 2007 at RC that the GCMs are the best tools we have for understanding future climate. I'm on the record at CA showing people how to download ModelE results and generally praising its fidelity. I'm on the record noting some of the improvements gavin has made in the documentation. I'm on the record extolling the virtues of MITs model and their approach of including software developers. Im on the record arguing that the IPCC should use the best of breed models. On the record saying that the models and the data as it stands gives us enough cause for action. NOW.

None of those positions on the SCIENCE and on the Need for ACTION, is inconsistent with my views on open data and open source and on best practices. Global warming is true. we should act now. AND hiding data and code is a short sighted tactic. Hiding the decline and other silly chartsmanship games are bad tactics. And I want my tean to STOP employing bad tactics. We've got the science on our side, there is no need for us to compromise our dedication to transparency or our dedication to the highest quality science.
Had trouble finding it. I was grepping for "team" which Mosher egregiously misspelled. Another reason not to trust the dude.

No seriously, he not only wants to be on "our" "tean", he claims to ALREADY BE.

This is kind of a bombshell. And some of my readers are quite annoyed at me for admitting that 1) I enjoy reading Mosher and 2) I think he has some sort of a peculiar ethic.

So, let me make a few points, before taking this appeal for gemutlichkeit seriously.

First, in a recent hullabaloo notable for its vapidity that spread to several blogs which I inadvertently started by being a bit harder on Keith Kloor than circumstances warranted, Mosher led the whole insane cascade of unfounded accusations to a pinnacle of baseless paranoia, claiming that because I did not reveal (as if you couldn't guess) which well known strident climate blogger snarked about Keith on an climate communicator's email list:
It seems clear to me that if a back channel discussed Kloor and then he appears on Source watch shortly thereafter, he has a justifiable belief that the two are connected. Note I dont assert that he has a TRUE belief, but his belief is warranted. To show him that his belief is UNTRUE or not warrarented
the parties to the back channel did the following.

1. the changed the topic to other peoples behavior. This increases his warrant.
2. they derailed the conversation with willardisms. This increases his warrant.
3. They took down the offending piece. This increases his warrant.
4. they selectively published information. This increases his warrant.

In short, every action they take increases his basis for belief.

They have two options: just own it; or prove that Keith’s supposition is wrong.
Any other actions just increase suspicion.
(Note that insofar as I know point 3 is wrong. To point 2, I can't control Willard. Sometimes I wish I could. To point 1, I didn't change the subject. I merely issued a verbal shrug, saying that I wish I could see the opposition's private communications too, a wish that I am hardly alone in uttering, and to point 4, I am not really at liberty to reveal communication addressed to me in private without permission, and didn't consider the matter serious enough to merit asking permission and walking the fellow-who-doesn't-like-Keith-who-you-can't-guess-who-it-is through the whole ridiculous controversy.)

My point, alas, is not to revive the controversy (comments on that matter will be summarily booted) but to raise the question of Mosher's M.O. If he is a coherent and honest person, he has no respect for privacy, and explicitly holds that anything held in confidence is grounds for suspicion. This is totally out of keeping with existing culture, so much so that I suspect it is inherently inhumane. Of course, when we think about Assange, we have to raise exactly the same questions.

How he captured the loyalty of the basically mild-mannered Tom Fuller for this extremist program escapes me. In my opinion he had reckless disregard for Fuller's well-being in doing so. Why he picked climate science is easier to understand. It would seem to be more about having a soft and essentially helpless target than about any fundamental concern for the future of the planet along other axes besides glasnost.

Thus:


Mosher.

Don't get me wrong. The scientific community pisses me off regularly and substantially. I feel like paraphrasing Einstein and saying, "Do not worry about your problems with the scientific community. I assure you mine are far greater." I understand you want to air the dirty laundry. You understand that I don't, but you don't seem to understand why I don't.

Let me explain why. It is not because I am a pusillanimous chickenshit, Mosher. It is because the fucking survival of the fucking planet is at fucking stake. And if we narrowly fucking miss pulling this out, it may well end up being your, your own fucking personal individual fucking self-satisfied mischief and disrespect for authority that tips the balance. You have a lot of fucking nerve saying you are on my "side".

Unless and until you find it within yourself to understand that you have major fucked up, big time, by throwing big juicy meat to the deniers to chew on and spin paranoid fantasies about for years, even decades, I'll take wild-eyed Frank who is inclined to start to hate me for exchanging a word with you, and gasbag Randy Olsen and the stunningly demoralizing Bill McKibben, and everybody, I'll take all of them, on my "team" before I will pass the ball to you, because I have no way of knowing which way you will decide to kick it.

I believe you that you are not on Koch's team. I think you are on Assange's team, Team Loose Cannon. Perhaps I need to put an eleventh encampment on my battle map. But you sure as hell aren't on any team of mine, not until the day you take a deep breath and say "damn, I fucked up bad!"

But you do show the world that one individual can make a difference, in the same way the idiot who put all the backup generators at Fukushima below tsunami levels showed us. Thanks bunches to both of you. You're an inspiration to us all.

regards
mt



Update: Lucia is gleefully giggling about my preposterous use of bad language and even Watts finds it worth a link. Like I said in the comments, sorry, I'm Canadian, so I'm not very good at cursing. Really, though, it's the fucking thought that counts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why does Rice play Texas? Houston, May 25, 1961

Liberalism. You may have forgotten what the stuff is like.

Not that kind of conservative

I probably shouldn't have used the word "conservative" to describe myself as I did in this morning's posting; people will get the wrong idea. I am small-c conservative in that I am risk averse. The larger the system at stake, the less I approve of risks. It's best if a new system can be bootstrapped in parallel with or on top of an old system...

Politically I am a Trudeau Liberal and always have been, since Trudeau showed up. I believe in the redemptive power of the collective in a mixed economy. I am pragmatic but I don't think that means unimaginative. I think any nerd who spent his thirteenth summer at a world's fair would be awfully churlish to deny the possibility that government can be a force for growth, creativity and human dignity. I realize this is hopelessly out of fashion, but I;ve never been a creature of fashion.

In American parlance a "Conservative" can often be someone who doesn't believe that the collective will is a meaningful proposition, and that any attempt to embody a collective will in government is therefore a form of tyranny.

This isn't just not to my taste. It is utterly delusional.

I just picture somebody with an advanced degree in economics from a state university driving down a federal highway sipping coffee made from municipal water obtained from state water projects and beans purchased under terms of international trade agreements agreed to by his senate as he approaches his zoned community using a gasoline supply stabilized by various military endeavors. Such a person can easily be imagined zealously making this argument that there is no collective, and that government is tyranny, perhaps to his attorney or investment advisor, or perhaps even to his children's nanny who has a dubious immigration status and lives in terror of being shipped back to some blighted land where there is no embodiment of the collective will. A person arguing in this stunningly reality-oblivious way is not "conservative" in the sense of risk-averse, nor in the sense of protective of the hard won resources to which we owe thanks to our ancestors and predecessors, nor even in the unsavory sense of protective of inherited privilege.

To call him conservative is an abuse of traditional uses of the word "conservative". No, the word for such a person is "idiot".

I respectfully disagree with those who want to keep the role of government to an absolute minimum on economic reasoning. But the idea that the minimum is ideally zero is just historically ignorant. I always wonder where those people, who somehow think private cars are the ultimate expression of their freedom, think the roads they drive on come from.

Incremental Radicalism and Other Awkward Beliefs

I enjoyed writing the previous entry, yet wondered if it would garner any response. So far, not much. At the risk of losing my audience completely, let me revisit it.

The Question of Openness

But the radical openness question itself is an interesting one. Seeing Mosher as a proto-Assange and ourselves as an early victim of Wikeleakism scrambles the usual, straightforward alignment where all of us are arrayed in two angry clumps.

It's clear that the most widely celebrated blog articles tend to be those that align with one of the clumps. My previous ambivalent piece on openness gets relatively little attention because 1) it's not clear how the "sides" are arrayed on the issue and 2) I take an ambivalent position.

This is disturbing to me. I think cases where 1 apply are far more interesting than issue where they don't. They are also healthier. If we can engage on matters where our positions are not predetermined by other positions, perhaps we can start to remember what a proper argument looks like.

On Being a Moderate in Radical Times

I am beginning to realize my core quandary as a writer. I am consistently cast as a radical when in fact I consider myself the most cowardly and contingent of middle-of-the-road liberals.

The facts on the ground are radical. Our adaptations to radical changes are of necessity going to be disruptive. It seems to me that given this inescapable fact, one should seek transitions that are as little disruptive of existing adaptations as possible.

People think I'm a radical because they think I advocate radical changes. But in fact I am a conservative. Changes terrify me; changes lead to mass hysteria which lead to dangers that aren't limited to this side of genocide. My own life is, among other things, a story of a recovery from a genocide I never saw but which my parents barely escaped.

I do not advocate radical changes. The least radical changes I anticipate are pretty severe. I think we should try to optimize for the smallest adequate changes given that our current trajectory is massively unsustainable. I just don't think we should pretend that business as usual is possible.

Some examples of things radicals want to change but I would leave more or less status quo:

Energy should be provided by giant corporations. Knowledge should be provided by universities. Public discourse should be organized by journalistic enterprises. Wealth should be primarily distributed through employment with a modest backstop from government. Government regulation should to some extent protect the interests of the least able, and should also design to allow for individual ambition, but protection of the interests of the powerful is also reasonable.

If huge changes were not being forced upon us by inescapable physical constraints, I might argue against any of those points, or countenance arguments against them. But we need to address our attentions to the places where very large adaptations are necessary. Land use, water use, energy use, infrastructure resilience and education are in need of massive reform. That's plenty on our plates. Anything that can be patched together and kept in use ought to be, while we deal with our urgent issues.

If It's Not Important, Why Think About It?

So, much though I understand and appreciate the motivations for open science, and much though I understand the pressures under which the scientific process operates, my argument is that I don't see rushing to rock the boat in this direction as an especially urgent matter.

It comes from my sense of the current situation as an emergency. Given the rate of changes we face, I am reluctant to add additional changes to the mix.

Just the same I would like to engage the question, though. This is partly because I'm not sure my argument is convincing. Mostly, though, I find the topic interesting because it's one where our pathetic and tedious polarization so far hasn't kicked in. Most of McIntyres acolytes are right wingers, but the most cogent argument against radical openness, I think, comes from right winger Mark Halperin.

Maybe if we don't know what we are expected to think about something, we can actually practice thinking, rather than team loyalty and rationalization? That would be worth something.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Open science, but not just yet

Change Threatens Existing Adaptations

The reasons people (or creatures) oppose relatively massive change have to do with their relatively smaller adaptations to prior conditions. This applies whether the massive change is desirable or not. So it is indeed the case that there is plenty of opposition to open science. The linked example shows the obvious one: our science reviewing mechanisms are tied to for-profit organizations which obtain their funding by charging fees for access to the reviewed materials. With our new publication technologies, they end up enforcing an artificial scarcity. The costs originally imposed by ink and paper and glue are now imposed by lawyers. (Of course, this makes the lawyers happy, though the ink and paper people are suffering. This is the modern "service economy" at work; the lawyers provide the "service" of maintaining the artificial scarcity.)

The argument then is "What, no fees? Then no journals! And then no peer review!" The idea that we would find other ways to do peer review escapes people. I am reminded of the time many years ago I, perhaps a bit naively, argued against car culture on usenet. I got the answer "Don't be ridiculous. If I didn't have a car, how would I get to my job?" This was a real headscratcher for me, since it was exactly the point I was making that the environment should be set up so that most people don't need a car to get to work! The reason most people have cars is because we have adjusted to a cheap-energy low-cooperation world where not having a car is a severe disadvantage. Redesigning the situation is posited as a threat to "freedom", when in fact no freedom was exercised in the original design.

Proprietary Data in the Public Sector

This sort of resistance to change arises in ways that might not be obvious to those proposing the change. Consider that open science is a threat to established competitive positions within science. The grant agencies have been prevailed upon by the ideology of competition to make grants scarce. Unfortunately, as in any situation where the purchaser (in this case the grant agency) and the beneficiary (in this case the future users of scientific knowledge) are not the same, this leads to distortions.

Consider that some sorts of data are very expensive to collect. The organization collecting the data may be willing to perform this service at a loss, with the expectation that the resulting information will be treated as proprietary. Then, that organization can be confident of a seat at the table on all the subsequent work based on that data. To suddenly be forced to release the data releases that anticipated monopoly without compensation. The institutions with the observational data are motivated to oppose the openness.

It can be seen as a bait-and-switch of the same sort that corporate interests legitimately object to. Stability of market conditions reduces costs; a readjustment of market rules to a more sensible configuration punishes those who most successfully adapted to the old configuratiuon.

The Shallow Way of Making Government More Like Business

This reveals a deeper problem than closed vs open. Public sector activities in the US are often organized on competitive lines. I understand that even the armed services are in competition with each other for limited funds. This all seems to be based on a very superficial idea that public sector activities should be "more like business". And of course, businesses adapt to distorted marketplaces as well, protect them vociferously to the public detriment (see copyright law, again, for numerous plain examples) and often act to create them.

The lesson of the marketplace is not "competition" itself, or at l;east shouldn't be. It is closed loop feedback. The actions and actors contributing most to the desired result should be reinforced; those leading in other directions should be negatively reinforced. There are lots of ways to implement this besides competitive bidding on contracts that, the closer they are to research, the less likely that they can actually be fulfilled in fact.

A Time to Every Purpose

It's clear that an information commons is not enough. There must be a transition to systems or customs that reinforce contributions to that commons. People creating useful information need to be able to make a good living doing that.

The dependence on the scarcity of ink and paper led to specific cultural formulations in the past that worked and made sense, but even then, the hoarding of data was encouraged by a misguided effort at competitive bidding in allocation of resources in pure science. All this artificial scarcity is enforced by attachments to buggy whip technologies reinforced by lawyers, people in business suits, and lawsuits. It's likely that a different organization would work better. It is possible that a sudden declaration of public access to publicly funded information will knock enough props from under the existing system that a new system will emerge (hopefully with a much richer structure of scientific review, actually).

But there's always a risk, in disruptive times, of too much disruption. There is a baby in among the bathwater.

Transitions are complex, even if the goal is simplicity. Resistance has causes rooted in the adaptation to the obsolescent organizational schemes. In the case of science, I favor a radical reorganization and opening of the publication schemes. But I also note how this is conflated with invasion of privacy and with restriction of resources in our addled public discourse. In a time when American public policy debate is reduced to a battle between slow death on one hand and suicide on the other, it is probably foolish to get too ambitious about science around here. Maybe things will settle down a bit, but we simply lack the competence and imagination right now to do much but avoid getting things horribly wrong if we are lucky.

Perhaps American science is not so broken that this bizarre moment would be the time to try to fix it.

It's hard to imagine such a creative change arising in the historically less agile societies of Europe or the Far East. Perhaps a burst of scientific creativity will emerge from somewhere unexpected, like Mexico or Brasil.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Astro Turf Wars

It's great having Greenfyre around again. Perhaps he should call his blog Feetfyre instead. He certainly puts matters back into the right ethical perspective. It's easy, in the ivory tower, to lose sight of the urgency of the emergency. Greenfyre doesn't let us forget.

I'd like to especially thank him for this little video clip, apparently from a documentary I haven't seen called (Astro) Turf Wars.

It has been obvious for years that this is going on. For every person who votes corporate-libertarian out of conviction there are twenty who do so out of a perverse sense of identification. (Perverse, because in the end they are identifying with and voting with the people most actively damaging their conservative, rural communities.) A crucial part of this is voting in solidarity with one's peers and neighbors. So an illusion that one's peers and neighbors holds a certain opinion is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

We've all seen how discussions of climate on newspapers or special interest websites are immediately swamped by denialist nonsense. This reinforces the bullshit about an "elite" trying to manipulate the masses. The lie goes round the world before the truth puts its boots on, and that is because people are encouraged to lie. And how it works at the grass roots has to be something like this:




What else could it possibly have been?

It is nice to finally see some evidence emerging, though. Add the evidence of this video to sockpuppetgate and diggpot dome.

The question that remains is how to fight back against this lie. The population is genuinely angry, but their anger is being stirred against the wrong people.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm Not Surprised


It's not surprising that they wanted to stop giving those bags out, but perhaps they should have tried a lighter weight bag first.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Getting them Nodding

I admit, I once spent a couple of weeks of my youth as a salesman for a shoddy product. It took me a couple of weeks to realize that that was what I was doing. There are people who sell products who are doing a service; people who have complex product lines and customers with complex needs. Then there are people who can sell freezers to penguins.

A knack for selling a product to someone who doesn't really need or want it is a bankable skill. There are tricks of the trade, and being on the whole a hopelessly honest person, I wasn't around long enough to learn too many of them. One, though, is the technique of establishing rapport by saying a lot of things that are hard to disagree with, all the while smiling and nodding. When you get to deliver your payload, your victim already thinks of you as agreeable and plainspoken.

FIRST EXAMPLE

One recent example was in a pice by David Evans in the Canadian magazine Financial Post,
entitled "Climate Models Go Cold". After playing the "used to believe" card, Evans states a number of things that are unobjectionable:
Let's be perfectly clear. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and other things being equal, the more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer the planet. Every bit of carbon dioxide that we emit warms the planet. But the issue is not whether carbon dioxide warms the planet, but how much.

Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet's temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.

The disagreement comes about what happens next.

The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain?
Perfectly reasonable so far. Then things start going a bit screwy:
Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas.
"The carbon dioxide theory"? "Started in 1980"? "Alarmists"? "Guessed"?

By the time we are done we are reading crap like this:
Even if we stopped emitting all carbon dioxide tomorrow, completely shut up shop and went back to the Stone Age, according to the official government climate models it would be cooler in 2050 by about 0.015 degrees. But their models exaggerate 10-fold -in fact our sacrifices would make the planet in 2050 a mere 0.0015 degrees cooler!
Since the author is Australian, he is inheriting a trick common among Australian denialists of measuring the impact of Australian emissions on global temperatures. Since only one of every 350 people is Australian, and since impacts accumulate over time, 0.015 degree is something substantial. And of course the factor of ten is based on all sorts of discredited nonsense.

SECOND EXAMPLE

Of course, we have come to expect this sort of thing from the Financial Post. But we now have a new, prominent figure on the scene, snake charmer Richard Muller, who is trying to position himself as a sensible centrist. Here we are left scratching our heads, delighted that he set the congressional committee straight (in contrast to the ludicrous testimony of Scott Armstrong) about the temperature record, and yet uncomfortable with his past dalliance with denialist memes. His post-testimony NPR interview shows that he has not changed his spots. It is very much in the good salesman bad product mold.

But the public discussion tends to be not on the key science, but on the spectacular things that the exaggerators tend to say or the deniers deny, things like are the Himalayas going to melt? Or what's happening with hurricanes? Are they increasing? These things are - the conclusions of the scientists on those things are actually quite mild and quite soft and equivocal.

The issues that there is strong agreement on is that we have seen global warming over the past 100 years. ...

Yes, yes. It's us. People call me a skeptic, because I drew attention to many of the exaggerations that in - is in former Vice President Al Gore's movie. But I think a scientist has to recognize when there are exaggerations and settle down on what is solidly known. Temperature has been rising over the last 100 years. That's pretty clear. How much is due to varying solar activity and how much due to humans is a scientific issue that we're trying to address.

This is a strong start. "Quite mild and soft and equivocal" can be seen as spin, but it is important and valuable to emphasize that the exact impact of climate disruption is not well known. Of course, unless there is more to the BEST effort than has been let on, solar attribution is not remotely part of what they tell us, in their supposedly open way, that they are up to.

There's also this:
Well, I think what's happened is that many scientists have gotten so concerned about global warming, correctly concerned I mean they look at it and they draw a conclusion, and then they're worried that the public has not been concerned, and so they become advocates. And at that point, it's unfortunate, I feel that they're not trusting the public. They're not presenting the science to the public. They're presenting only that aspect to the science that will convince the public. That's not the way science works. And because they don't trust the public, in the end the public doesn't trust them. And the saddest thing from this, I think, is a loss of credibility of scientists because so many of them have become advocates.
I think there is something at least to think about here. Muller is being the anti-Olson here. Some people say simplify and emotionalize, others say, stick to the science and let others draw conclusions. In the end I am convinced by Eli's position: scientists cannot and will not form a mass movement by their nature. Different people will approach what amounts to Schneider's conundrum in different ways. As the divide between what's reasonable and what is occurring continues to widen, at least in some people's estimation, some behaviors outside the social boundaries of ordinary scientific practice at some point become defensible. But Muller's point is one that shouldn't be glossed over.

But he says other things that most of us would find indefensible. He celebrates Tony Watts:
So for example, if you're near a building, it may be warmer, but the rise in temperature from year to year does not appear to be any more than it is for sites that are out on the countryside. That's very important. And it couldn't have been done if Anthony Watts had not gathered that data. I regard him as a hero in this business.
Er, Watts is a hero for investigating a non-issue and making a cause celebre out of it?
I think that Climategate is a very unfortunate thing that happened, that the scientists who were involved in that, from what I've read, didn't trust the public, didn't even trust the scientific public. They were not showing the discordant data. That's something that - as a scientist I was trained you always have to show the negative data, the data that disagrees with you, and then make the case that your case is stronger. And they were hiding the data, and a whole discussion of suppressing publications, I thought, was really unfortunate. It was not at a high point for science

And I really get even more upset when some other people say, oh, science is just a human activity. This is the way it happens. You have to recognize, these are people. No, no, no, no. These are not scientific standards. You don't hide the data. You don't play with the peer review system. We don't do that at Berkeley.
Well of course not. The entire point is that they didn't. They didn't hide data. They certainly didn't pervert the peer review system (beyond its obvious problems); indeed they were keeping dreadfully incompetent work out.

I won't get into why Muller's work is really scientifically beside the point. I'll get back to that later. For now, it's important to understand that Muller's point in saying these things is explicitly political, in exactly the way he criticizes others.

Muller is not being interviewed on NPR; he is delivering what is essentially a prepared speech. You can see this in the way he repeats himself at the end of Neil Conan's second question and the beginning of the third:
there is strong agreement on is that we have seen global warming over the past 100 years. An issue, though, that isn't really settled yet is how much of that is due to humans? And that's a subject that really can use more investigation.
...
Temperature has been rising over the last 100 years. That's pretty clear. How much is due to varying solar activity and how much due to humans is a scientific issue that we're trying to address.
We are seeing a carefully prepared, precisely calibrated spin, exactly what we are being criticized for. Muller is saying and doing some useful things and some very dangerous and destructive things precisely because he is calibrating a position in the middle. If anything, he's following Judith Curry's path, a bit more carefully and more cleverly, but lacking the credential.

It's reasonably clear that he knows relatively little about climate science, and that he is making it difficult for himself to draw upon those who know more.

Muller has done some good, and apparently sees it necessary to do some harm to balance it out. That isn't science either. It's as political as anything he criticizes.

FORTUNE COOKIE

Beware the fellow with the snake oil. The salesman with a bad product will say wise and congenial things to you before he starts to lie to you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can We Do This?

Watch this.



Sustainability is in some ways a harder problem than proving a theorem, no matter how subtle the theorem. And the global conversation has bad actors, looking out for their own interests while pretending to argue for the common interest. I don't think crowdsourcing informed wisdom is going to be easy. But what other choices are on offer?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Engineer's Survey of Climate Sensitivity

Since the non-existent back channels are probably going to come down on me like a ton of bricks for the previous item, let me add something to soften the blow a bit. Steve McIntyre is right to demand an engineering-level survey of the climate sensitivity problem.

It's a tall order but it is a reasonable one. It is fair to say that IPCC WG I does not succeed. Archer's "Understanding the Forecast" text is a bit elementary for what an engineer would expect but is along the right lines.

Is there a deeper text along those lines? Any suggestions?

Is this a real gap, and if so, how should we go about filling it? Or has somebody already taken this on successfully?

Liljegren and McIntyre

Lucia Liljegren has been coming at me in her ever-so-tedious way this week. She really has been demonstrating the denialist modus operandi so clearly in the process that I thought it might be worth your attention in a surprising way.

This just came up in conversation with Willard. We're discussing Michael Mann and I asserted that while he doesn't always handle things in the way I would prefer, he is a competent and serious scientist. Willard replied " i'm really not sure about his stats skills, though" and while I was explaining why that was unfair, a light bulb went off.

McIntyre is, you see, full of crap. Not wrong, just full of crap. He does in numbers what Liljegren does in words, which is to say, nitpicking with an obnoxious attitude.
If you answer McIntyre in McIntyre's terms, he does what Lucia does and denies that you defeated him and picks another nit. His audience is ever-so-impressed with him, and reinforced in their attitude that whoever is in the cross-hairs this week is contemptible,

Now Lucia's attempts to make me look bad seem transparent enough that I think they don't really work with most people. But when the conversation happens in an obscure branch of statistics rather than in plain language, the visibility of the trickery is much lower. Few people can follow the conversation. And supposing you do make the effort, spending days parsing the argument, days studying the detail, and days engaging in the argument. What do you get for it?

Nothing, if you are lucky. A bunch of enemies if you are not. You will convince nobody because nobody is really following the argument in detail. It is the tone, the contempt, the snark that is the purpose of the whole thing.

It is in the nature of natural language and in the nature of statistics about real world phenomena that anything, no matter how sincere and well-thought-out, can be nitpicked to the point where a third party has doubts raised. That's the modus operandi. If you want to understand what McIntyre does to what he and his followers call "the team", watch Liljegren at work against me here and here, and on another tack here.

She tries too hard on this stuff; her target is too modest and her effort is too transparent. But that's why it's worthy of examination. There was a rather more complex incident, with a tiny bit of substantive content, a couple of months ago in which the same pattern was evident.

(PS - On that latest one, a comment was posted, by lazar if I recall correctly, that explained my meaning clearly enough with reference to its context. That comment seems to be missing. A glitch, perhaps? McIntyre also has been suspected of quietly disappearing inconvenient comments.)

(PPS - No nitpicking zone in comments to this article.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Okies from Muskogee

Sometimes, I feel it's all my fault, mine and the original gang's (Eli, James, William, BobG, and even on occasion RayP). We were on usenet (on the sci.environment list) in the early 90s, and we saw the ideological opposition to climate science emerge. I was confident, truth being more or less on our side, that we would prevail.

Little did I understand that we were just target practice, that great swaths of the society, and ultimately one of the two major parties in America, would simply reject science wholesale. Was engaging the proto-denialists in those days a mistake? It didn't seem like it. Their noise and nonsense had to get answered after all, even if there were only a few hundred people reading.

But we've been there from the beginning, watching the catastrophe unfold. We knew it was a tall order getting people to understand the nature of the situation well enough for good policy to emerge. I don't think we envisioned the success and extent of the polarization, which bodes ill for practical solutions.

WE FAILED

So it's not all our fault. But we failed. We failed, along with the scientific mainstream, all the national academies, all the universities, all the professional groups that have come to understand the daunting implications of the growing human interference in the flow of energy through the climate system.

We all failed horribly. The closer you are to America and to climate science, the bigger your share of the failure. We screwed up. We fell into a bunch of polemical traps.

As of today, it is official. The US House of Representatives today voted down 240-184 an amendment from Henry Waxman (D-CA) that stated:
Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.
This is to say that even the agreement in principle that there is a problem has been roundly defeated in the congress, 19 years AFTER the US agreed with the rest of the world on exactly this point, since which time North America has ignored the progress in the rest of the world in coming to terms with its implications. That is to say, the present Republican caucus voted nearly unanimously against the underpinnings a treaty signed by 2/3 of the senate and a Republican president in 1992, despite the fact that the supporting evidence is dramatically stronger than it was then, and that obvious, non-subtle consequences of climate change are starting to occur, just about on schedule.

SOME REACTIONS

This is despite the fact that, as Joe Romm points out,

Last year, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the equivalent of the Supreme Court of science — a body that is ultra-conservative from a scientific perspective — reviewed the scientific literature in a major report and concluded:
A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems….

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.
There's a lot of headscratching this week. Keith Kloor is justifiably gobsmacked; many of his readers and their sock puppets, as one would expect, are not. Quoting Chris Mooney's observation that
If, as we suspect, skeptics invoke climate frames that resemble abortion politics, this has serious policy implications. As long as members of the skeptic movement are included in the policy debate and sway the opinions of some lawmakers, their discourse is critically relevant.
he muses:
I might have dismissed this rationale two years ago, before the rise of the Tea Party and its dismissal of climate science spread like a contagion throughout the GOP. Now I’m inclined to think that another form of culture war is underway that is definitely not healthy for a constructive dialogue on climate change. I do hope that the reasonable climate skeptics that visit Collide-a-Scape understand this.
Little Green Footballs finds an interesting letter to the editor as a specimen, backing up Chris's speculations (h/t Brian Dupuis):
If you want to save the planet, forsake your arrogance and defiance of God and ask for His forgiveness. Put prayer back in the schools. Put the Ten Commandments back in public view. Stop killing His gift of children; killing infants in the womb is not a God-given right.

Wake up to the fact that God has said the wisdom of our wise men is foolishness. In other words, our wise men don't know jack.

If we turn from our wicked ways and seek God with all our hearts, God will forgive our sins and heal our land.
With all this going on, John Abraham has coauthored a piece on political site The Hill with Democrat congresswoman Betty McCollum. Their conclusion is solid:
Every single member of Congress has a choice: deny the science of climate change or take real steps to confront a changing climate. Congress must accept scientific reality and act on climate change.
Well, yeah. I wish, though, that they had not coauthored the piece. Let me explain why.

WHAT THE PROBLEM IS

We can easily define the practical problem as the near-unanimous agreement of a major political party in a view of a crucial issue that is based in utter fantasy. People who stick their necks out in this way are unlikely to reverse themselves. The possibilities, short of the severe decline of world which we need to void, are the severe decline of the United States, or a sharp separation of the points of view of the supporters of the Republican party from those of their representatives. Even a sharp decline of the Republican party, which seems likely given the trail of destruction their zealots are leaving in the congress and the state houses these days, will not suffice. It is absolutely crucial that the voters who had been inclined to support Republicans understand these issues better, so that whatever responsible conservative force emerges to replace the current batch of detatched-from-reality conservatives, whether within or outside the Republican party, takes real, honest science seriously.

By publishing a piece where a scientist and a Democrat speak together, their article, however cogent, reinforces the incorrect idea that climate science is an interest group with a political alliance. Indeed, it is possible that our problems stem from widespread opposition to Al Gore; this would explain the difference between America and the rest of the world, where the spokesmen for the problem are not closely associated with a political party.

I have been a great admirer of Mr. Gore's for many years, indeed, since his days a a senator. Despite the mockery, we would likely not have the privilege of this conversation were it not for Gore's perceptive support for a widely accessible "information superhighway" system. The absurd tragedy of his bizarre defeat in the election for president was a strange and bleak turning point in history. And his return to the climate issue was a natural process. But it is flawed because he attached a party and a cluster of identity issues to climate change. He reinforced the dull earnestness of kind, well-intentioned, none-too-smart schoolteachers that drive people to rebellion. He was everything that a happy redneck loves to hate. His associations with the rich and educated fed the bizarre paradoxical association of "liberal" and "elite" in the backwoods worldview. And so, climate change became an identity issue.

Obviously.

HOW TO MAKE THE PROBLEM WORSE

So every time we play into that framing, every time we rub people the wrong way by being rude or smarmy or superior or (let's face it) fun-hating, we reinforce that image of liberal as fun-hating freedom-hating authoritarian. It's so bizarre. It's so backwards from the rest of the world's idea of liberalism and conservatism, including that of American liberals.

(Let me tell you about being 13 at Expo '67 sometime. Big liberal fun. Federally funded Disneyland. A future so bright...)

But when you look at the big picture, you'll see these climate horrors are a sideshow. The extent to which the country is being mauled and wrecked by people with a grade school understanding of economics is so astonishing and terrifying that the climate fiasco is beside the point. More to the point, if the Republicans are so much under the control of a cultural thread that is juvenile and arrogantly stupid that they really believe a 30 billion dollar cut infederal expenditures in a weak economy is appropriate, the rank stupidity of their approach to climate issues not surprising. In fact, they embrace that foolishness happily; it is emblematic of their rejection of the sense that emerges from centuries of accumulated experience and decades of individual study.

Again, it is to the genuine conservative that we must appeal. Everybody else understands the situation; perhaps not well enough to decide well, but at least well enough not to be obstructionist. But the way to do that is still not to reinforce their suspicions about science as an interest group dominating the function of science as collective perception.

I'm not sure there's any way out of this awful mess anytime soon. Some people seem to be gearing up to blame God for everything awful that is coming, even if all the fairly clear predictions really do end up corresponding well to how the climate will shift, tilt and crack. It will be all the worse if it cracks some other way we haven't foreseen!

But the wrong thing to do is to have science look like ideology, for scientists to be seen to cozy up to people with ideological and political agendas. This is because it is not important for Democratic voters to look good. It is important for Republican voters to look twice.

I think I'm starting to get what Randy Olson is saying:
I had given my talk which includes a section on the importance of the “voice” of the messenger, based on the 4th chapter of my book, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable.” To make the point I showed portions of two BP commercials from last year about the Gulf oil spill. The first one is Tony Hayward, C.E.O. of BP and with a foreign accent that automatically conveys condescension. The second one, produced after their communications folks realized they had blown their mass communications, is a homeboy from the Gulf coast with a thick southern drawl, pronouncing “oil” as “all.” First guy terrible, second guy okay. It’s not frickin’ rocket science. People listen to voices they like.
The trouble, of course, is that scientists bond better with pedantic patricians like Mr. Gore than with good ol' boys like a well off Texas-born-and-bred BP engineer. You need to talk to rednecks, so get a redneck, and if you can't, at least get somebody who likes and respects rednecks and who rednecks like and respect in turn.