Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I ought to know better than to wave red handkerchiefs in front of raging bulls. I'm not that kind of bullfighter.
But I stupidly blurted this out on Kloor's: "We may already be doomed; sometimes I think Obama is the Gorbachev of America, heart in the right place, but far too late to save the system."
It's not the sort of thing you can un-say. So I might as well defend it.
What I mean by this is not that Obama's policies for America bear any resemblance to Gorbachev's for the USSR. What I mean is that Gorbachev was a decent person with the aim of reducing the most extreme, malign and destabilizing aspects of his nation, who attained a limited amount of power in the face of hidebound reactionary opposition too late to save the system.
If the analogy works out (and I really hope it doesn't) Obama will be stymied by reactionary elements in the US, and the whole structure of corporate capitalism will crumble.
To some extent, Obama has the worse of the deal. Things were very close to collapse when he came in. That he and Geithner managed to patch things together as well as they did is little short of miraculous. It's truly baffling and tragic how little credit he gets for this. Yet again, the press choosing neutrality over objectivity, I guess.
But we see the patience for deficit spending and government intervention failing, even though by all indications it has been exactly the right thing to do to avoid complete destabilization.
What happens when America fails? Everybody seems to have forgotten how close we were, 18 months ago, to finding out. But we're not out of the woods yet. Obama's opposition may yet trigger an absolute and spectacular failure of Gorbachevian proportions. The idea that what will be left to that opposition to control would be any recognizable vestige of what they think Obama is attacking (and of what he is actually doing an amazing job of defending) is unlikely to pan out very well.
We see now a diminished, still authoritarian Russia, at last, after 20 years, recovering some semblance of prosperity, largely by virtue of selling untapped natural resources to others: a sort of gigantic and brutal Canada. What happens to America in the event of a collapse is anybody's guess.
All of this turf is much trodden by Dmitri Orlov.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Hilariously, (I laughed out loud) somebody proposed "alarmists, lukewarmers, skeptics and deniers" as the four camps. Well, no, that's not what I meant.
I propose to think about this for a while; it seems to tie into the varieties of advice we are getting from various, um, camps. The key insight, for me, was in this entry, wherein it became clear to me that I and Joe Romm are not in the same camp at all.
At that time, I envisioned the conversation as
1) advocates for green power
2) advocates for "no" government intervention in the market (*)
3) journalist/referees (including RP Jr.) who are studiously neutral on everything
4) people who think scientifically, who will go where the evidence leads
The things about groups 1 and 2 is that they will play up scientific evidence which suits them, downplay evidence which doesn't, defend dubious actions by their allies, and blow them out of proportion when undertaken by their opposition.
(Note: Not all scientists by job title fit in group 4, and not all people in group 4 are scientists.)
If I have one point in everything I write it is that group 4 is underrepresented in the public conversation. This may be because group 3 controls the conversation, and there is a natural competition between groups 3 and 4 vying for the middle ground.
One reason to think about these encampments is to imagine how to design it so it's more healthy. Which groups are really needed? What motivational structures can we set up so the motivations of the various camps are more benign and less hidebound and destructive?
Of course, it's possible to refine these groups, and add others. (Politicians, regulators, pundits, energy solution vendors...) One refinement that occurs to me now is among the scientific group: there are definitely shades of engagement:
a) Leave me alone! I am a scientist. Figuring out what to do with the information is somebody else's job.
b) Lip service to outreach, but avoiding anything important. Spend a little effort teaching junior high kids about cloud formations, etc.
c) Occasionally willing to talk to a church group or the optimists' club about policy-relevant science but generally reticent and controversy-averse.
d) Engaged in science and policy debates and willing to take whatever lumps that entails.
e) Let other people do the science; I'll try to stay in touch but this policy debate is too important and interesting for me to leave it alone.
The denial camp perceives only subgroups d and e! So one of the ways they fail to be realistic is to treat people like Steven Schneider as representative. Really the first three camps are dominant; a little less so than previously, though, as the (d) group has been much energized in the last few months due to the excesses of the malicious trumped-up allegations related to the CRU emails.
Anyway, everybody has a hand in the present mess, but journalism and other compulsive difference-splitters are not outside the dynamic. Until the journalists are willing to put themselves under the same lens they focus on the other groups, I think we will have a lot of trouble making progress.
(*) As if the "market" weren't a government artifact.
This comment says: "Humor and fun are natural byproducts of curiosity and learning." Yeah, well human decency is a bit of a precursor to learning, don't you think?
As for "our friends on the other side of the argument always seem to be such sourpusses", well, yeah. Duh.
In my case this bit of "humor and fun" hasn't helped any.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
This doesn't mean he's going to win me over to his point of view, of course.
Given that he has been so harsh on others, I think he ought to develop a thick skin. Still, please, let's take care to argue the arguments and avoid ad hominem, and avoid the whole CRU business which is happily quite tangential here. Frankly I think that leaves plenty of room for disagreement, since in this matter I disagree with everything Fuller says.
So, Tom Fuller, with regard to Anderegg, Prall et al writes:
Regardless of my opinion about the motives and eventual use of the defacto list that has been created (and time will tell, certainly), this is garbage science created by an amateur blogger and a grad student with Schneider's name tacked on top of it.I am pressed for time; need to prepare my laptop for SciPy tutorials (in Austin! Huzzah!) tomorrow. But I can address these briefly:
In reverse order:
The findings are incorrect. It incorrectly labels ACC experts as either CE or UE.
The analysis scheme is incorrect. It fails to account for confounding factors such as change of opinion over time, venue and approach for presenting petitions, comparative content of petitions, etc.
The data collection is incorrect. They have wrong names, wrong specializations, wrong counts of publications and wrong citation numbers.
The methodology is inappropriate. They searched with only one database, did not search in other languages, did not crosscheck their data.
Their hypothesis is flawed. There are many factors that could equally explain differences in publication and citation by UE and CE scientists, including publication bias, confirmation bias, fear of retribution or erosion of career potential, etc.
Spencer Weart said it best--the paper should not have been published in its present form. It does not survive the first casual reading.
And yet you've got it up there as if it's the Magna Carta.
1) The findings are incorrect. It incorrectly labels ACC experts as either CE or UE.
This is simply not true. The paper is clear that not all scientists are categorized by this method.
2, 3, 4) The analysis scheme is incorrect. It fails to account for confounding factors such as change of opinion over time, venue and approach for presenting petitions, comparative content of petitions, etc.
The data collection is incorrect. They have wrong names, wrong specializations, wrong counts of publications and wrong citation numbers.
The methodology is inappropriate. They searched with only one database, did not search in other languages, did not crosscheck their data.
These complaints introduce error but they do not introduce any obvious bias. Therefore they cast only modest doubt on the very robust result.
5) Their hypothesis is flawed. There are many factors that could equally explain differences in publication and citation by UE and CE scientists, including publication bias, confirmation bias, fear of retribution or erosion of career potential, etc.
I don't see how this is a flawed "hypothesis", indeed, these cannot affect the resutls. However, it would be foolish to say they don't affect the interpretation of the results. Note, though, that these can be argued both ways. Herd mentality is indeed a risk, but it is as applicable to systematic understatement of problems as to systematic overstatement of problems.
6) Spencer Weart said it best--the paper should not have been published in its present form. It does not survive the first casual reading.
I disagree with Spencer Weart. Perhaps I'm biased because I've been aware of Jim's serious efforts to collect these data over the past couple of years, but it is what it is. Perhaps more resources can be obtained for a more thorough study. A groundbreaking result which has been done without any funding should not be expected to be flawless. More to the point, the editors of PNAS disagreed with him, and here we are.
7) And yet you've got it up there as if it's the Magna Carta.
Well, I'm not the one who needs the existence of a robust consensus proven. I think it's interesting for what it is, and doubly interesting for how many people rushed to criticize it without reading it carefully.
8) The "black list" yadda yadda...
Oh, give us a break. That's just silly.
Update: Here's the Stanford press release. Notable quote from Steve Schneider:
"It is sad that we even have to do this," said Schneider. "[Too much of] the media world has just folded up and fired its reporters with expertise in science."
Image: The Magna Carta, naturally.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Sometimes the camera sees things the eye doesn't.
On Saturday I spoke to the Texas Environmental Democrat caucus at the the statewide convention in Corpus Christi. There are few people on earth as delightful as Texas Democrats. Not that I always agree on everything with everyone, (nor do they with each other, which leads to a complicated dance I'm beginning to appreciate) but these are people with their hearts in the right place.
I write, however, neither to brag nor confess about this, but to tell you about something my camera saw. The photo (two clips shown; the top one, straight out of the camera, is to emphasize the fact of the matter, the other is more of a composition) is from 10:30 AM this morning (June 26) in Corpus Christi, which is in far southern Texas. That is to say, in brighter daylight than many people have seen in their lives.
You will note that the highway lights are glowing. I didn't notice at the time I took the photo, since I was squinting against the intense sunlight.
That is Texas for you. It is too complicated to turn off the highway lights in (extremely) bright sunlight.
(click on images for higher resolution)
Thursday, June 24, 2010
As for web lists of statement signers: thanks Michael Tobis for saying it better than I ever could. [ed- aw shucks, thanks, not sure it's true] Every list I compiled was from a statement already posted on the web. All the links are on my page of list sources
http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/ ~prall/ climate/ list_sources.html
As for Marc Morano’s attempt to Swiftboat this as “Stasi-esque”: what amazing gall! He’s famous for having built a long list of climate skeptics during his term with Sen. Inhofe. Hypocrite! Why wasn’t that list “Stasi-esque?” Just because he agreed with their “side”?
Nothing in our PNAS paper justifies comparisons to the Stasi. We don’t *say* anyone should persecute or blacklist signers of either type of statement, because of course we *don’t believe* that. (Hard to believe I’m even having to say this at all.) What we say is that the media should consider people’s qualifications and standing (oooh!)
The only other way to spin this into something sinister is to argue that someone evil *might use* the lists to persecute people regardless of our intentions. That seems to be the main theme at Roger Pielke Jr’s blog.
That objection of what someone might do with the list really falls down on the point Michael makes so well, that all the source lists I compiled were already on the web. Anyone who could misuse my list could just as well have found the same names on the original sources, or many of the same names plus many more on Morano’s list – and not all on his list by choice.
Morano publicized his list relentlessly, and listed many more names as skeptics than I have. Morano also tended to quotemine, leading to false positives where the person in question would protest their inclusion as unrepresentative of their actual views, yet Morano would refuse to take them off. He’d just point to the mined quote he had, ignoring anything the source might say about being taken out of context or trying to tell him what their actual views are.
If the fear is that someone biased against supporters of one “side” could focus their bias on people on a list, why was it okay for Morano to subject people to that risk with his list? Was Morano’s list “Stasi-esque” as well? If not, why not?
Thanks again to those offering supportive comments on the PNAS paper. Since Morano published my email and compared me to the Stasi, let’s just say I’ve had a stream of unfriendly responses. (Oddly, people keep sending me really weak arguments like “there is no greenhouse effect” or predicting global cooling.)
See also: Denyosphere Jumps the Shark for why this "blacklist" thing is beyond wrong and well into foolish. Has the Denial squad run out of ammunition?
Looks like Marc Morano is not offering anyone else any credit for the pic, so I guess photo: Marc Morano. That can't be right, can it? Hmmm... Jim Prall (see comments)
So it's with mixed feelings but with absolutely no irony or sarcasm intended that I point you to his excellent FAQ on the CO2 record at Watts Up. If you run into a naysayer who says nay to the CO2 record itself, this sound, clear and informed exposition will have the extra cachet with them of being at the Watts site.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I met Jim last September, and have been on a mailing list with him since. Jim complains about the various ambiguities in the process, and in general makes a good faith attempt to identify the correlation between citation record and a very broad characterization of opinion on climate change.
The results have been available on his website for some time, sliced and diced this way and that, without causing much ruckus. The most interesting result is that there's about a 40 to 1 ratio among the most cited authors for supporting vs opposing the consensus. You wouldn't think this would even be controversial! That is, after all, why we call it a consensus.
A consensus can be wrong (though usually it isn't completely wrong in a modern physical science). Groupthink certainly can apply. Social pressures and even financial pressures can apply. I don't think anything like that is the issue here, but you may disagree. The existence of a consensus is, therefore, useful evidence in decision making but it doesn't convey certainty. So the fact that Jim's results reinforce the existence of the consensus doesn't seem particularly surprising.
This is simply a public compilation of public data that's been available incrementally for the past couple of years. So why all the fuss now that these data have been published? There has been a LOT of fuss.
(Morano has had the sense to remove references to the Stasi from his front page. Pity. I was inclined to call this fuss Stasigate.) Why, frankly, such hysteria as this:
Scientists on all sides of this issue have known that the best move, personally, is to keep your mouth shut. The relative conservatism of the IPCC itself stems from this tendency. I was informed by a higher-up when I was at a (US) Department of Energy lab that "DOE is not in a position to take sides on matters of controversy!" Well, what's the bloody point of a department of energy, then?
Are there really no depths to which ManBearPig-worshippers will not stoop in order to shore up their intellectually, morally and scientifically bankrupt cause?
Apparently not, as we see from the latest “study” – based on a petty, spiteful, Stasi-like blacklist produced by an obscure Canadian warmist – outrageously aggrandised by being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It takes a modicum of courage to say anything either way. One reason I got out of the private sector is because I felt I had things to say about public matters, a career killer in business, especially if your ideas are perceived as leaning left. The whole idea of democracy is threatened if people are not entitled not only to have their opinions, but also to promote them.
So I sympathize with Roger Pielke Jr.'s tale of being threatened:
A high-up university official (who will go unnamed but who sat in the direct chain of command between my chair and the Chancellor) asked me to lunch, told me about the messages that had been received by the Chancellor's office and warned me in no uncertain terms that I should think carefully about testifying for the Republicans because my career could suffer. The message that I heard was that I had better not testify or else my career might suffer. I took this as a direct threat from an official with influence on my career at the university and I said so on the spot. I was shocked to be in such a conversation.(Let me make it clear that I for one would much rather talk with Republicans than with Democrats about climate, because they seem so much more thoroughly confused about it and need the conversation so much more.)
Now, some may say that Roger shares with the hard core of deniers at least the trait of being quick to take offense and so the result that "at that point the university official backed down and apologized, claiming a misunderstanding" might well have more to it than Roger's version allows us to see.
But this incident, even if told in complete fairness (update/clarification: - about which I venture no opinion either way), has nothing to do with black lists, never mind communist spies. Roger wasn't black listed. (update/clarification: The point is that I don't see why Roger raises the incident in this context.)
So where's the beef?
The paper says:
We provide a large-scale quantitative assessment of the relative level of agreement, expertise, and prominence in the climate researcher community. We show that the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of ACC vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians. ... Despite media tendencies to present both sides in ACC debates (9), which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC (7, 11, 12, 14), not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system. This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.OK, so Joe Romm goes a little further. In an article entitled New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance”:
The findings will come as no surprise whatsoever to 97% to 98% of scientists or regular CP readers — but it could theoretically open the eyes of those in the status quo media who keep suggesting the ‘experts’ they cite that keep pushing anti-science disinformation are somehow close to being equal in number, credibility, or expertise to the broad community of climate scientists, thereby implying serious disagreements among mainstream scientistsand
Ironically, the best defense that some of the disinformers seem to have is, “I am not a skeptic.” But that label was originally pushed by the disinformers themselves — in fact, all serious scientists are skeptics. The issue is not whether someone is skeptical of the supposed ‘consensus’ ... The issue is whether folks are actively spreading disinformation, especially disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature. As I’ve said for many years now, it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation.Perfectly sound. Perfectly true. I agree, though I have to point out that nothing in the above is attributable to Jim Prall or his coauthors, so take the occasion to be mad at Joe or me if you don't like it.
Tom Fuller, who has gone about as bonkers as anyone on this innocous publication, shows us just how far around the bend the response to this has been. He quotes Romm as saying only the last sentence I quoted above: "it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation". OK, who could argue with that?
Tom can. He prefaces it with this absurd rant directed at Steven Schneider:
Fourth, are you aware that this list is already being used to dismiss scientists as unfit for participation in the debate merely because of their presence on this list? How could you have been unaware that this would be a blacklist used to demean those on it and threaten those who might wish to voice an unpopular opinion in the future?Fuller's complaint here amounts to "never dare to reveal any evidence about anything ever because somebody bad might use it." Strange advice from a journalist, never mind a chronicler of "climategate".
As always, Fuller is entitled to his opinion. As always, I'm entitled to encourage people to ignore that opinion. (In this case, indeed, you'd be well advised to move on.) There's nothing sinister about encouraging people to ignore opinions one finds unreasonable.
What do the facts tell us? Let's keep in mind what the PNAS paper revealed. It did not reveal who had what opinions: it based that on public declarations. Everybody counted in the paper in either category had already added themselves to controversial lists. No new information about people and their opinions was published. Indeed, no names were named in the publication, though they had been visible for months on the web. All that was revealed was how much influence the signatories of the various statements have within the field.
This is what you call "citizen science"; the collation of available information from multiple sources.
Connecting this paper to paranoia about "black lists" is completely detached from reality. Propaganda is to be expected in climate issues of course; that's the whole problem.
But this time it's transparently crazy propaganda. Is this the same level of paranoia that's behind the other extreme criticisms of the field? (hint: yup) I hope the press thinks about this very carefully, not just the original publication, but the ridiculously overwrought response to it.
Images: Screen grab from Climate Depot; The Fonz jumps the shark
Monday, June 21, 2010
Via xkcd of course. Tooltip says:
News networks giving a greater voice to viewers because the social web is so popular are like a chef on the Titanic who, seeing the looming iceberg and fleeing customers, figures ice is the future and starts making snow cones.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The question at hand is how the propagation of doubt works. How do the fake stories about climate propagate so effectively, and why are the real stories so much less effective at capturing the imagination? We could ask the story about numerous ridiculous rumors, going back to the conspiracy theories about the assassination of John Kennedy, the fake moon landing, and moving on to ever more ludicrous ones, like the detonation of the world trade center not involving airplanes or Obama's parents planting a birth announcement in a Hawai'i paper in 1961 so that the infant could be falsely seen as eligible for the US presidency in 2008. (Apparently this in turn may have something to do with preparations for the BP oil spill.)
As somebody (ironically, this has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, though I'm pretty sure it's not very Churchillian) memorably said "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on". But, the question is, how?
Remember the story on here about how the denialists made a big fuss about something perfectly reasonable that Gerd Leopold (of Greenpeace) said in response to a trick question? To recapitulate:
- Hard hitting BBC HardTalk reporter who claims to have talked to lots of climate experts asks "you really don't think Greenland will be ice-free by 2030, like your press release says?" (No such claim, in fact, was made)
- Greenpeace leader Gerd Leipold misses the point, since it's so out of left field.
- Hard hitting BBC HardTalk reporter asks the question again.
- Leipold, not having the copy in front of him, shrugs, says "I don't read every press release" and "it might have been a mistake", as well he should.
- Denialist websites issue headlines like
"Greenpeace Leader Admits Organization Put Out False Global Warming Data"By the time I noticed (eleven days after the trick question) Google had 94 PAGES of hits on "leipold global warming". Even today the first several hits are exatly of that ilk, though happily In It is on the front page trying to rectify the problem.
"Greenpeace Caught Lying"
"Death Blow to Global Warming Tax?"
Beeville, though, was noticed quickly. The lie was perhaps too amateurish, and the denialist sites too eager to run with it. It was possible to trace how the nonsense spread, and Zeke rose to the occasion. You've probably already seen his chart, but here it is in case you missed it.
What do we learn from this? First, we do not have 100% credulity, even among the critics of climate science. In particular, Bradley Fikes of nctimes.com gets some credit for independent thought. Second, as we always suspected, Marc Morano provides a hub of material for the anti-science crowd.
Most importantly, though, we learn that people's credulity is very flexible. Remember what the original report claimed:
R.A. Hall Elementary School fourth-grader Julisa Castillo has been named junior division champion for the 2010 National Science Fair.Yeah, it's possible to believe in a national science fair for fourth graders. It's sadly possible to believe bad judging might give "Disproving Global Warming" a blue ribbon. But it's pretty difficult (for me) to believe in that panel of judges (emphasis added above) for a fourth grade project, never mind that such a group would end up with such a result!
Her project, “Disproving Global Warming,” beat more than 50,000 other projects submitted by students from all over the U.S.
Julisa originally entered her project in her school science fair before sending it to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be judged at the national level.
The NSF panel of judges included former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, 14 recipients of the President’s National Medal of Science, and four former astronauts.
As I said in my travelog story, I started out believing that paragraph was garbled reporting. But dozens of anti-climate-science sites ran it credulously in less than two days!
I was aware of this by the time Irene and I set out for Beeville. We had an opportunity to at least keep one more malicious myth from entering the popular consciousness. The longer we delayed, the more this would propagate.
Once we found out that the whole thing was fake, we had to balance this against the damage that young Julisa Castillo would encounter. But surely the whole story was overreaching on the perpetrator's part. (By the end of the day we suspected the father but hoped others would get to the bottom of that, which indeed happened very quickly.) Julisa would find out sooner or later, but it seemed important that the public find out sooner.
I do hope the Castillos get beyond this in a healthy way, somehow. It's really not my business. Once it was clear that the original lie didn't come from organized sources of disinformation, as far as I'm concerned the Castillo family was not my business. If there were not so much at stake I might well have let the whole thing slide in the interests of protecting the child. Irene and I certainly considered it.
The real story, here, is how such lies propagate. If people can believe transparent nonsense about fourteen national medalists judging a fourth grade science fair, how the hell do we separate skepticism, not just from stubborn hostility, but from credulity?
In Marc Morano's defense and to his credit, he did issue a retraction. On the other hand, he investigated by calling the school principal only after doubts had been raised, and even then not by contacting NSF. Like all his followers, it's clear he very strongly wanted to believe the story. This arguably speaks a little more strongly in defense of his honesty than I might suspect, but also argues against his ability to make reasonable judgments about the world.
In an excellent article in the current issue of Skeptic (V 15 # 4) David Brin examines the nature of criticism of climate science. The incidents described here support him on the following:
[a climate skeptic] needs to acknowledge that atmospheric scientists are human. Having tried for 20 years to use logic, reason and data to deal with a screeching, offensive and nasty denier movement, these human beings are exhausted. They have very important work on their plates. Their time is valuable and, frankly, they see little point in wasting any more of it trying to reason with folks who:and so on. In other words, any of you out there who might be serious, you need to understand the company you are keeping. The idea that this history shouldn't affect our conversations with innocent li'l ol' you might well be true ideally, but in practice there's this little matter of twenty years of frank, unmitigated bullshit that we've had to deal with. Cut us some slack, okay?
- proclaim that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas
- deny human-generated burning of carbon fuels has increased greenhouse gas content in the atmosphere
- claim the increase won't affect temperatures
- claim there's been no warming (while the US Navy is hurriedly making plans for an ice-free Arctic)
- claim humans have no role in the warming
- then admit we're causing it but claim it's too already too late to do anything about it and anyway they'll have a longer growing season in Alberta ...
"The death toll from heavy flooding in southern China rose to 147, as authorities forecast more rain in coming days. In addition, the mud flows and floods have left 93 people missing and prompted the evacuation of more than 1 million people, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported, citing the Ministry of Civil Affairs.The heavy rains have affected more than 15 million people in nine of southern China's provinces, including Fujian, Jiangxi, and Hunan provinces, the ministry told China Daily."
A Beeville reference guide for the perplexed:
Here are the stories from the Bee-Picayune:
The Entry (from last December)
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Image (c) Duncan Davidson (CC) by-nc-sa 2.0
Update: An amazing slideshow of Gulf images from "kk+"; set aside some time.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Even in the clearest cases of climate research, the main problems with climate science are almost all repeated across whole swaths of science.
There's an article at zdnet by Andrew Jones describing some of the problems in "HPC", i.e., "high performance computing" a.k.a. "big iron". It's fairly lightweight; it won't have anything new for people familiar with the field. But it may offer food for thought for outsiders.
The trick then must be to ensure the scientist code developer understands the methods of numerical software engineering, as well as its issues. Software engineers on the team must equally understand that the code is just part of the science, and not usually a goal in its own right.(Ooh, I just noticed. He said "trick"!)
Some unusual features of climate codes:
- there are no obvious whole system tests
- the constituent equations are not known at the spatial scale of interest
- the long-term ensemble average is of more interest than the particular solution
So while the problems are the same across the sciences at the broad-brush level, at the implementation level completely different thinking needs to go into the code; the architecture needs to reflect the testing strategy and the testing strategy needs to reflect the science.
In principle it's a beautiful, interdisciplinary problem. In practice, the relevant disciplines (computational science, software engineering, meteorology, oceanography and statistics) share little in the way of language or methods; even getting the closest pair (meteorology and oceanography) communicating was difficult.
Perhaps similar things can be said about other disciplines. I don't doubt that biological and biomedical applications have some uniqueness at the level of implementation detail such that a specialized branch of software engineering is required there too.
The existing pattern where software people are considered secondary has both the flaw that it is wrong in principle, and the flaw that it doesn't attract the best software people in practice. Throw in the truly dreadful legacy of hundreds of subtly incompatible versions of fortran and rapidly shifting platforms, and you have, well, a mess.
This doesn't mean that the work to date is anything short of a remarkable achievement. It may mean that we are reaching diminishing returns with existing practice.
Andrew Jones again:
However, we must also beware of the temptation to drive towards heavily engineered code throughout. Otherwise we run the risk that each piece of code gains a perceived value from historic investment that is hard to discard. And perhaps in some cases, what we need as much as renovation is to discard and restart.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
From this corporate pep talk on the "Killer Slide Decks" site. Perhaps it applies to us even if we certainly aren't a corporate entity and don't exactly have a "brand".
Some related advice from John Mashey, via a mailing list, on whom NOT to engage:
My experience from decision-processes in business and local government says there is a continuum of approaches.
People might try applying this framework to people discussed and see if it’s useful.
1) At one extreme are people who may or may not have strong views on a particular issue, but:
a) Try to help get the various views articulated as clearly as each can be, to help make decisions.
Quite often a good leader will draw out views counter to their own, to clarify as much as possible the real issues.
b) Look for solutions that take into account the various views.
Sometimes that may yield compromise, sometimes it leads to an entirely different solution than those first considered, as it becomes clear that none really work well enough.
c) Make tradeoffs between waiting for more data and making decisions in a timely fashion.
At that edge, it is valuable to have people able to clearly articulate *all* the relevant views, and people used to this are used to have ing fierce arguments, getting decisions made they don’t always agree with, and moving forward.
[Some of this comes from working in very intense product development environments, with strong opinions, with never-perfect data, and with company survival dependent on making good-enough decisions. Some managers are really very good at 1). So are some people in local government. Of course, this shows up especially strongly in military history, in which bad decisions have very quick consequences.]
2) Somewhere in the middle are people who just cannot help being complexifiers, and just cannot help getting diverted into rat-holes, waste a lot of time in meetings saying things that muddy the issues. In Napoleonic terms, this is incompetence, not maliciousness.
3) But finally, there are people who have agendas that purposefully muddy issues, increase confusion, divert conversations into rat-holes, delay making decisions ,etc.
One certainly sees this in public policy arguments, but it comes up in corporate policy as well. [There, it manifests itself as people want to form endless “study groups” because they are happy with some status quo that others find has stopped working.]
One has to assess where somebody fits on this continuum, and it often takes a while.
One can work with those in 1) with whom one disagrees. Someone who disagrees but looks for solutions can be really valuable.
For those in 2), one can first try to help them, but if that doesn’t work, get them out so they don’t waste everybody else’s time.
For those in 3), wasting time on them … is wasting time.
There is an old saw about big organizations being like elephants (or bulls) when you push on them:
First, they show you their tusks. (1) At least one can deal with that.
Then, if you get beyond that, they show you a big soft underbelly, where you can push, the beast is polite, but nothing happens (3).
[Of course, then there is the third part of the saw, but we need not go to the other end… although it certainly exists.]
I would claim that in any of these discussions, one *must* sort out where on the 1)-2)-3) continuum somebody fits, and the most time-wasting thing one can do is treat somebody in 3) like they are someone in 1).
Jay Rosen has an analysis of the journalistic ideology that is helpful.
At first, I thought that the US press's (not always but sometimes excessive) attacks on BP and their delight in overstating the disaster disproved the idea that they will always find themselves in the middle. But love of oil companies (or even due respect for the enormity of the task they have) is very rare in the public. Consequently "both" "sides" are on board for flaming BP. Not only was the press not taking an independent evidence-based stand (incorrectly, I thought, but at least vigorously) but in fact it was sheepishly going along. When both "sides" agree about something, the polarizing press has no poles to choose between.
In this worldview, says Rosen,
“center right” is the right place for politics to be played not because the center-rightists have the best answers to the nation’s problems but because “the reality [is] that America is a center-right nation.” Now we’re near to the beating heart of the ideology that holds our political press together. That is when journalists try to win the argument not by having better arguments but by standing closer to a reality they get to define as more real than your reality.Rosen isn't even thinking about our turf, so the direct hits he makes on the failure of the press regarding our interests here in climate science, sustainable economics, and rational science-based policy are almost uncanny.
When there is news, two and exactly two positions must be identified, one "left" and one "right". When the CRU emails were hacked, McIntyre quickly stepped up as the voice of the pole of the discussion that alleges that what is revealed in the emails is consequential and shocking. After all, making mountains of climate molehills is the key to his celebrity. He has been practicing the technique and has it down to an artform. So now Climate Audit becomes something of an official opposition.“He said, she said” journalism means…
- There’s a public dispute.
- The dispute makes news.
- No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
- The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
- The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear.
Official oppositions don't make peace, particularly in situations where the rewards for two-sided polarization dominate. Curry takes people at CA at face value when they say they are criticizing real flaws in how science is conducted because they genuinely want to improve matters, or at least gives them the benefit of the doubt. I suspect that they are criticizing "flaws" with near-complete indifference to whether they are real or fake, important or trivial. It's criticism, but on the whole it isn't constructive criticism. The idea is to make the science look bad, not to fix it.
(That all said, it may still be worthwhile to redirect amateur scientists' energies into a less confrontational vein. It just seems unlikely that this will happen at CA.)
McIntyre's purpose is probably self-aggrandizement rather than political gamesmanship or financial reward. But it works because it plays directly into the sleight-of-mind that the delayers favor, and the delayers are there to protect the investment of fossil fuel interests.
The fact that this whole mess works at all is largely the press's fault, which they are constitutionally incapable of admitting. Rosen again:
2. The Quest for Innocence, which is the agenda (I say) the press must continually serve, even as it claims to serve no one’s agenda.Innocence [is] a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved… The quest for innocence in political journalism means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade.
An inordinate number of major U.S. floods this yearI think Nielsen-Gammon was wrong in his analysis of the Nashville flood.
We've had an inordinate number of severe floods in the U.S. so far this year. The worst was the May Tennessee flood, which killed 31 people--the highest death toll from a non-tropical cyclone flooding event in the U.S. since 1994, and the most devastating disaster in Tennessee since the Civil War. The Tennessee floods were rated as a 1000-year flood for Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, South Central and Western Kentucky and northern Mississippi.
We cannot say that any of this year's flooding disasters were definitely due to global warming, and part of the reason for this year's numerous U.S. flooding disasters is simply bad luck. However, higher temperatures do cause an increased chance of heavy precipitation events, and it is likely that the flooding in some of this year's U.S. flooding disasters were significantly enhanced by the presence of more water vapor in the air due to global warming. We can expect a large increase in flooding disasters in the U.S. and worldwide if the climate continues to warm as expected.
Monday, June 14, 2010
I neither endorse nor refute. I find myself thinking quite hard about Climate Audit and what to do about it these days.
I think Willard is an interesting character who says interesting things.
During the week-end, Michael went into the Lion's den:
That journey led Michael to create some free associations:
Being a fan both of Michael and Steve, I followed their exchange with great interest. One of Michael's comments deserves to be quoted in full and annotated. Here is the source of the comment:
Michael Tobis begins by stating:
» Y’all are seriously missing the point. Well, several points. 1) Dr Curry and I agree with you on open science going forward, but by being so disagreeable and hostile you don’t contribute positively toward the odds of that happening.
Notice: **by being so disagreeable and hostile you don’t contribute positively toward the odds of that happening.** This criticism will be forgotten by Steve.
» 2) Very few people in science believe y’all have made a serious case of malfeasance among the CRU email crowd. Except for some peculiar talk about (crudely) deleting email, which deletion probably didn’t occur, there isn’t even anything that you have made a solid case for that even looks suspicious. As for the email deletion, someone is being protected from something, and presumably Oxburgh knows what and isn’t saying. So the best thing is to butt out, those weren’t your emails to start with. Saying “yeah but climategate” really strikes us as you saying “yeah but mxftsdlkfjlx”.
Notice the second point: it's about the Oxburgh inquiry, a topic not quite related to data, and quite related to misconduct, about which Steve still maintains that we need lawyers. So MT's second point is directly related to lawyers. Recall that the first was about being confrontational.
» 3) We don’t refuse to denounce others out of laziness or cowardice. It doesn’t rise to challenge us on those fronts. We refuse because it is inappropriate and unethical to denounce except in the most extreme cases. Skepticism combined with a presumption of innocence, and a sense of mutual respect makes the whole idea seem so totally unethical taht [sic.] the suggestion strikes us as ludicrous. Making science into a courtroom drama or a political battlefield is unseemly. Whatever repairs we agree to in updating scientific process will not change this.
Notice how this third point connects the first two: **making science into a courtroom drama or a political battlefield is unseemly**. Asking scientists to mortify themselves in public is exactly what Steve has been asking for a long time now, employing expressions like _the silence of the lambs_ or the outright _hypocrisy_ of the community.
» On a fourth point, where I disagree with Dr. Curry: 4) She is backing you up on FOIA and comparable laws in the UK applying to science. I think that is nuts. Once you resort to FOIA it is between you and the lawyers.
This is quite true, as lawyers are now in on the game. And everyone knows it. As a commenter once said: "this has lawyers fingerprints on it". There are only two ways to follow-up that war: via legal means or via public relations, which is political. The fact that blogs sound like conversations does not preclude some blogs to consist almost entirely of political warfare. Trying to push for better regulations or to voice concerns regarding the application of actual regulations does not sound like a scientific process at all.
The structure of Michael's post does not separate the overall conclusion from these four points. This might explain Steve's equivocation. Here is the overall conclusion:
» Push on NSF. Push on PNAS. Push on blogs. I’m all for it as long as you are collegial for real and give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Nobody is in this field out of venality or political ambition. This doesn’t amount to a guarantee of competence, far from it.
Take note again: **as long as you are collegial for real**. Somehow, people can notice when you are merely being polite.
» But it means these are people who don’t deserve the way you have treated them, or for that matter, me. If you don’t seriously rethink your approach you won’t be helping matters.
The important sentence is the second one, an advice regarding Steve's editorial policies. By replying only to the first one, Steve decides to pick the lesser one in importance. In fact, Steve never deemed to accept MT's criticism of his editorial practices.
» Once you bring lawyers in, count me out. Once there is a request through legal as opposed to scientific channels I hope they tie you up in court forever.
MT's points can then be summarized as such: keep collegial, informal, and interpersonal, like any scientist would do, and please revise your editorial practices accordingly.
Now, let's look at Steve's reply:
» Steve: Michael, you’re just making things up. Since when I have advocated bringing lawyers into these things?? I’ve pushed on NSF. I’ve pushed on journals. I’ve pushed on blogs. I’ve submitted a few FOI requests (not through lawyers), some of which have been successful. You say that you don’t deserve the way that I’ve treated you?? What on earth have I done to you?? The idea that I’ve “mistreated” you is beyond absurd.
Steve accuses Michael of "making things up". The two counter arguments are that he never advocated bringing lawyers into the debate and that Steve never mistreated Michael. As fas as I can see, the two accusations hold no ground.
Let's deal with the second one, as it has been dealt with first. Steve does not understand how Micheal could feel mistreated. Here's Steve very first response to Michael's contributions:
» Michael Tobis: My credulity is not the issue.
» Steve: On this point, reasonable people can agree. Tobis’ credibility is another matter entirely.
Here is Steve trying to escape with an _ad ludicrum_:
» Steve - surely reasonable people can recognize that this was a bit of fun with a malapropism.
Welcoming someone by making fun of his credibility is surely the safest way to make him feel he will be treated with consideration. There are ways to determine what reasonable people believe that goes beyond armchair dismissiveness.
Whatever the efficiency of Steve's justification, saying that Michael is "making things up" (again an inconsiderate comment) is moot at best.
For the first point, let's see an example where Steve clearly asks for lawyers' intervention :
» Willard, a while ago: Among the thousands of people “having “no prejudicial interest in climate change and climate science””, any names coming to mind?
» Steve, dismissively: this is essentially a legal matter. Turn it over to lawyers.
When confronted by the fact that Steve previously asked for lawyers' intervention, Steve added this erratum:
» I had a different point in mind, though I understand why you made the comment. Tobis was talking about the pursuit of data, in which, as he recommended, I’ve used journal policies, agency policies and blog sunshine to try to get data. For the assessment of the conduct issues that the inquiries are dealing with – legal issues – of course, it’s logical to use people who know how to run inquiries i.e. lawyers. Tobis’ comment was about trying to get data and I haven’t used lawyers for this and have discouraged occasional suggestions by readers to go this route. I’ve had experience with litigation and have little interest in it for getting data. The comment that you quote was about running an inquiry professionally – rather than these sham inquiries with no transcripts, no evidence from critics and in the Oxburgh case, no written terms of reference. In my opinion, an inquiry judge would have done a much better job and the inquiry would not have been as tainted as these ones are. I should have phrased the distinction more carefully.
Notice that Michael's comment contains many points, not just the one about the "pursuit of data". By reading back Michael's comment, the reader will decide for himself if it was about "trying to get data".
Notice the generality of that last comment. Steve rarely generalizes like that. We might wonder why.
Here is another general comment by Steve, replying to Michael:
» You’ve also made wide-ranging critical allegations about things that I’ve said at the blog, but failed to provide any examples. I try hard to be accurate in what I write and to correct any inaccuracies if I make a mistake.
Steve is asking Michael to provide a very specific answer to a very general question. The reader might ask himself how Michael can respond to that request. This shift from general to specific (and here while staying in the general mode) has the bonus effect of conflating criticism with inaccuracy.
The same conclusion obtains regarding the exchange between Michael and Steve, purported to be about "the pursuit of data". In this exchange between Michael and Steve, at no time does Steve's consider his own stated editorial practices.
So here's a pea-and-thimble strategy one might try out in a discussion:
- When confronted with general, collegial, and interpersonal criticisms, look and ask for specifics;
- When being responded to on specifics, return to the general mode, but on another subject, in a more collegial and interpersonal voice.
The reader can easily see that it creates an unwinnable position for the opponent.
images of some kind of an auditor or investigator from strategicdc.com and www.howstuffworks.com/
About 9" of rain has fallen in parts of the great sprawl of Oklahoma City OK so far today, causing flash flooding and extensive damage.
Heavy rains continue in Oklahoma and into Kansas. This is about 150 miles due west of the recent Arkansas flash flooding tragedy, in a much more populated area. However the landscape is flatter, so the intensity of the flows is less. Nevertheless, the storm track is following the major population corridor in the state, from Oklahoma City through Tulsa, and financial damage may be severe.
First map shows rainfall radar echoes at this moment (midafternoon Monday); second shows cumulative rainfall to date. The bullseye (again) is about 9 inches. Click on images for detail.
Meanwhile, everyone caught in the flash flood at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Arkansas is now accounted for. The fatality count stands at 20 souls.
Update: Flash flooding seems to be plaguing the middle latitudes; a similar event occurred today in France on the Cote d'Azur. h/t @Revkin
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Entitled "Science Fair Fiasco Writ Large", it was about a young girl winning a national science fair project for "disproving global warming". Now I've had a bug... er, a bee in my bonnet about science fairs for a while. I think they are a real nexus of spreading doubt about climate science, and basically I wonder whether they are a good idea at all. It's really easy to have some CO2 not cause detectable warming and much harder to have it make a difference in a cheap lab setup.
So when I spotted the story (at Tom Nelson's site) about the national prize, I was ready for a rant, and another effort to figure out how to actually build a desktop demo of the greenhouse effect, and maybe even do it.
(I've made progress on my PhD-level science fair entry; until this week my approach contained a stupid error. Here's a clue: can you construct a situation where an optically thick layer of CO2 causes cooling? Why or why not?)
But the conversation quickly took a sharp turn, when it took not six minutes for Zeke Hausfather (who will return to the saga at a later point) to remark "Huh, something seems... odd about that story".
So while I was among the first to spot the story, and I did scratch my head a time or two about it, and even though I had seen it only on a single hard-core denialist site, I didn't express any doubts. Credulity is a theme here.
On the other hand, suspicions were blazing in our crowd instantly thanks to Zeke.
Was it some sort of conspiracy that the Beeville Bee-Picyune was in on? Or was it bad reporting? I'm no fan of the press as regular readers know, so it seemed clear to me that this called for an investigation of the local paper.
I was the closest. What was I to do? What, besides a Texas road trip, could the fates possibly have in store?
I really thought the newspaper was the story, and this entry is basically the story of the newspaper and of the town, which didn't turn out as I expected.
A little digging, for instance, revealed this nightmarishly awful, coyly racist letter practically blaming Obama for the Nashville flood! Well, not really, but for "ignoring" the flood. When I read it, I missed that it was a letter and thought it was an op-ed. (An awkward consequence of a slip-up on the site design, fellers. Emphasize "letters to the editor"!)
And then there was the amazingly bombastic start to Scott R Wiley's earlier Beeville science fair story:
As world leaders meet in Copenhagen to draft legislation to rein in the release of greenhouse gases and stem climate change, an R.A. Hall Elementary School student is questioning the science supporting global warming.
“There is not enough evidence to prove global warming is occurring,” fourth-grader Julisa Raquel Castillo concluded in a science project she entered in the campus’ annual science fair on Tuesday.
Julisa studied temperatures in Beeville for the past 109 years to develop her conclusion.
I think the young Ms Castillo must have won something, though, andSo it was with some trepidation that we made the long trek through South Texas to check out the lion's den of reactionary viciousness, the evident culprit, the Beeville Bee-Picayune. With attitudes like that, I was terrified that they would up and shoot me if they found out that I'm a clammit santiss my own self.
there is a plethora of competitions that offer a trip to Space Camp as
a prize. So the question to be asked in Beevilee is first, what she
won, and second, where this paragraph came from:
"The NSF panel of judges included former U.S. Vice President Al Gore,
14 recipients of the President’s National Medal of Science, and four
Most searches on "national medal of science" and "former astronauts"
or the like turn up the Beeville article or its remarkably many
The long drive was pleasant and uneventful. Great swaths of Texas are undeveloped and almost uninhabited. Our little car has effective air conditioning. It was June in South Texas, in other words, a hot, sunny day. The three hours flew by in a blur.
A charming peculiarity of Texas is how the past never goes away. Though Texas' history is short, it is eventful, and it leaves interesting detritus of every era scattered hither and yon. The largest cities are mostly visually uninteresting, but there are gems in the small towns, abandoned and still standing because the land is so cheap. Beeville is no different. Some of my favorite Beeville ruins were old gas stations:
Also, the frank and humorous but relentlessly tacky redneck spirit was visible
somewhat mitigated by the uncomplicated Tejano/Mexicano love of hot colors
Given Beeville's simple layout, we had no difficulty navigating to the main street (North Washington)
which runs north off the Bee County courthouse square:
and right where the main street meets the square we found the Beeville Publishing Company, home of the "Bee-Pic".
If you've been following the Beeville hoax story you know what happened next. The newspaper was not at fault, or at least, despite their mea culpa, they just missed a chance to ask questions a little earlier, before the embarrassing national attention which we had hastened to bring down upon them. But they were having their chain yanked like the rest of us.
Indeed, both Beeville and the Bee-Pic, like other relatively prosperous corners of rural America, were in a sort of time bubble. Not only were we treated very well by every single person we encoutered, but the newspaper duly followed the story to its conclusion. I had expected, based on their earlier piece, that they would let it slide. I don't always agree with the journalistic ethic, but it is heartening to see it in action.
I join John Mashey in congratulating the Bee-Picayune, and in thanking Beeville for its decency and generosity. Texans have a bad name in the world, and there are reasons for it, but the caricature view of the Texas culture in the world is shallow. In some ways Texas has been crazy from the git-go, but in other ways it seems like one of the sanest corners of the world. This story has sanity as well as madness written all over it.
But before I talk any more about it, I wanted you to see the place. (OK, you have to look through my camera, or Irene's. You can see higher resolution versions of the images if you click on them. If you like my photo style, please visit PECULIAR MO, my photo blog.)
In the next installment of the Beeville Story, I'll tell you more about why we were in such a all-farred hurry to haul us down to Beeville Texas, and why, despite the turmoil this was sure to cause for Julisa, the balance of ethical pressure said to go public immediately. In that phase of the story, Zeke Hausfather will again figure prominently.