Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Recent Comments

With the new Blogger, I have started using a Blogger feed for recent comments. However, there is a bug in their feed that prevents it from working correctly. Someone figured out that if we start the feed with the second most recent comment it will show all but the most recent comment. So until it gets fixed, the most recent comment left here will have to wait to appear until someone else comments. Sorry.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kruse on Science

Michael Kruse makes some very interesting observations and some very valid points in his piece on the current relationship between politics, science, and money, in America.

Selected excerpts:
Centuries ago Renee Decartes wrote, “A man is incapable of comprehending any argument that interferes with his revenue.” Thus the lobbyist we will have with us. Almost any public policy change has financial consequences for multiple parties. Some stand to benefit directly, while others will lose. Some will see competitor’s fortunes aided, while some will see competitor’s fortunes reversed. Competing interests are going to pursue courses that maximize their positions.

Within the climate change debate, frequent mention is made of Exxon’s efforts to “muddy the waters” on climate change science as they seek to limit regulation on their industry. Whenever a scientist or policy wonk publicly questions climate change, bloggers and media sources are quick to identify that the contrarian receives grants from firms and institutions that would stand to benefit from a muddied climate change science. These are legitimate issues to investigate insofar as they go but it only answers part of the “follow the money” question. To answer the other part we need to look into the very human enterprise of science.

The problem is that the determination of what is a “problem” becomes less a scientific question than a political one. If you want to get funding you better study what the funders see as “the problem.“ The late 1970s were a time of focused efforts in studying and developing energy alternatives. It was during the 1970s that Energy Secretary James Schlesinger became interested in the possible impacts of fossil fuels on global climate change; or as it was known then, “global cooling.” The global temperature had been declining from the 1940s to the 1970s and it was feared that emissions were blocking the suns heating capabilities, thus putting us into an ice age.

James Hansen of NASA indicated in congressional testimony in 1988, that we could expect the temperature to increase nearly 3 degrees C (well over 5 degrees F) in the next fifty years. It was an exaggeration by about a multiple of four. He later justified his extreme scenario because he needed to get the attention of policy-makers who were largely unaware of the “problem” of global warming.

Scientists advance in their fields by publishing in peer reviewed journals. The reviewers are people who have established a track record of publication and are believed to be experts in their fields. They are also people who have been competing for federal funding dollars with everybody else. They review your article that challenges the conventional wisdom about global warming and reject the article as flawed or in some way “unscientific.” The scientific community is a relatively tight knit community and suddenly you find you can’t get any of your research published. No publication eventually means no job; or at least no advancement.

MIT scientist Richard Lindzen wrote:

To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air.

Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.

So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear.

Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers. (Richard Lindzen, “A Climate of Fear,” Wall Street Journal, April, 2006)

In the meantime, politicians benefit by being able to build themselves as protectors of the people against malevolent forces. The sensationalist media benefits financially by being able to feed a steady diet of news stories and “investigative” studies that create anxiety and increase the number of viewers. The UN, the parent institution of the IPCC that periodically publishes the climate science reports, stands to benefit much in terms of prestige and power by becoming a global manager of economies. Some large corporations would benefit from seeing their competitors saddled with heavy regulations.

The bottom line is that the adage of “follow the money” is an important one but it alone can’t answer the question of legitimacy. Science has become such a big industry that almost all research, not just climate change, is funded by someone and these “someones” all have their own interests. In the end, the attempt to discredit opponents by identifying funding sources ends up being a game of mutually assured destruction.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Experiment Hints Alarmists are Wrong on Climate Change

Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, says the orthodoxy must be challenged.

Selected Excerpts:

When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works.

Older readers may recall a press conference at Harwell in 1958 when Sir John Cockcroft, Britain’s top nuclear physicist, said he was 90% certain that his lads had achieved controlled nuclear fusion. It turned out that he was wrong. More positively, a 10% uncertainty in any theory is a wide open breach for any latterday Galileo or Einstein to storm through with a better idea. That is how science really works.

Twenty years ago, climate research became politicised in favour of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the subject as the study of the effect of greenhouse gases. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers. And while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.

Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.

“Why is east Antarctica getting colder?” It makes no sense at all if carbon dioxide is driving global warming.

That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level state of activity.

Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling, should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Climate history and related archeology give solid support to the solar hypothesis. The 20th-century episode, or Modern Warming, was just the latest in a long string of similar events produced by a hyperactive sun, of which the last was the Medieval Warming.

The 2007 Summary for Policymakers boasts of cutting in half a very small contribution by the sun to climate change conceded in a 2001 report. Disdain for the sun goes with a failure by the self-appointed greenhouse experts to keep up with inconvenient discoveries about how the solar variations control the climate. The sun’s brightness may change too little to account for the big swings in the climate. But more than 10 years have passed since Henrik Svensmark in Copenhagen first pointed out a much more powerful mechanism.

The only trouble with Svensmark’s idea — apart from its being politically incorrect — was that meteorologists denied that cosmic rays could be involved in cloud formation. After long delays in scraping together the funds for an experiment, Svensmark and his small team at the Danish National Space Center hit the jackpot in the summer of 2005.

In a box of air in the basement, they were able to show that electrons set free by cosmic rays coming through the ceiling stitched together droplets of sulphuric acid and water. These are the building blocks for cloud condensation. But journal after journal declined to publish their report; the discovery finally appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society late last year.

Where does all that leave the impact of greenhouse gases? Their effects are likely to be a good deal less than advertised, but nobody can really say until the implications of the new theory of climate change are more fully worked out.

The reappraisal starts with Antarctica, where those contradictory temperature trends are directly predicted by Svensmark’s scenario, because the snow there is whiter than the cloud-tops. Meanwhile humility in face of Nature’s marvels seems more appropriate than arrogant assertions that we can forecast and even control a climate ruled by the sun and the stars.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No Longer Biased

In the Los Angeles area, all of the three major broadcast networks air their national News segment from 6:30 until 7:00 PM nightly. Occasionally, I will watch the national News by toggling between the three networks. For years I have marveled (ahem) at how all three networks seem to tell the same stories in about the same order in about the same way.

For years I have also observed national News broadcasts that don’t fairly represent my point of view. As someone who is right of center, I can’t get too upset about any news organization making a profit by appealing to viewers with different opinions than my own. After all, I believe companies should take care of their customers. People with my point of view probably wouldn’t make up much of a customer base anyway for a network News show.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a subtle change in how the News is reported by the major Networks. Reporting the news from a left leaning perspective does not seem to me to be the modus operandi anymore. The major Networks seem to have gone from having a bias to actively promoting an anti-war, anti-capitalism point of view. The Networks have actually become propagandists for socialism.

Last night, the story about the gender discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart did not get reported as a legal decision by a judge, it got reported as a guilty company trying to mitigate the damages caused by the lawsuit. The story about the deaths from friendly fire in Iraq did not get reported as an accident during a time of war, it got reported as two guilty pilots who were lucky enough to not be charged with killing a fellow soldier.

I guess the irresponsible use of freedom is sometimes an offshoot of freedom. Thankfully, there are other, more reasonable, voices besides NBCABCCBS in America.