Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Peer Review and Yamal

The anonymous "Bishop Hill" writes, in reply to my post:
David also takes aim at Climate Audit's not being peer reviewed. I think this argument is completely overdone. Watson and Crick weren't peer reviewed. Einstein wasn't either. Didn't stop them being right.
Well, Steve McIntyre isn't Einstein. Enough said.

Nor is he Crick or Watson. In any case, their work appeared in the best journals of their day (Annalen der Physik and Nature, respectively), and some rather distinguished editors approved of their publication there. (Peer review didn't become common until after WW2.) They didn't appear on a blog, nor where they accepted immediately. Or without the input from experts in the field.

It's important here to remember what science is and what it isn't. Blog posting aren't science. They don't look the same. They don't read the same. They have far different standards of scholarship. They have far different standards of publishing. It's kind of silly to even have to go into this, because there is no comparison.

And by the way, peer-review isn't an appeal to authority, so let's drop that canard. Nor does it say a paper is right. Plenty of peer-reviewed papers have turned out to be incorrect. As Robert Park says, passing peer-review means that a paper is not obviously wrong. And that it follows accepted methods of scholarship. These are important, and an important distinction. Of course, the only authority any scientific paper really has is its agreement with empirical data.

If Steve McIntyre really thinks he has an important point, then he should write up his findings and submit them to a journal. I'm sure he could collect the page charges from a tip jar. These days you can even ask that it be given express treatment.

That Yamal Reconstruction

I heard that people on the science-side are looking at Steve McIntyre's accusations about the Yamal reconstruction, so just wait for it.... It's hard to take seriously, though, if you're a journalist, because
  1. it's a blog post and not science. I know McIntyre tries to be rigorous -- perhaps he tries a little too hard -- but it's certainly not on any kind of level like a peer-reviewed publication; and
  2. the whole tone of the debate -- Aha! Caught you again, you thieves and liars -- is really unscientific and offputting. There's always this tone, though not explicitedly expressed, on Steve's blog, plus the Ahab after the white whale setting....but its far worse in the comments and on other blogs. Unless hardened skeptics learn to express themselves without calling everyone they disagree with liars their points are not going to be taken seriously (even if they are legitimate). It's all about scoring points in public perception, which is no way to address scientific questions.
  3. Also, wait until you see what's in the November issue of Scientific American.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Big Quake in South Pacific

About an hour and a half ago there was a very large earthquake (Mw 7.9) in the South Pacific, near American Samoa.

Reminder: A magnitude M earthquake is about 10 times less likely than a magnitude M-1 earthquake (the Gutenberg-Richter Law).

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was Mw = 7.8. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the same region was Mw = 6.9. The Boxing Day earthquake of 2004 in Indonesia, which caused the huge tsunami, was Mw=9.3.

Wikipedia says:

The USGS estimates that, since 1900, there have been an average of 18 major earthquakes (magnitude 7.0-7.9) and one great earthquake (magnitude 8.0 or greater) per year, and that this average has been relatively stable.

UPDATE: A tsunami warning has been released for the surrounding area, all the way to New Zealand. (That doesn't necessarily mean a tsunami has occurred.)

NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is swamped right now (11:50 am PDT) -- just when the world needs it most. You'd think they'd have a contingency plan for exactly this situation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

One Atomic Bomb Every Four Seconds

Here's an interesting little tidbit: every 4 seconds humans consume as much energy as was released in the Hiroshima atomic bomb. (Both are about 60 trillion Joules.) That is, humans consume over 20,000 Hiroshima bombs worth of energy per day.

H+ Magazine

Here's a magazine you might enjoy: H+, about the future of humanity. Their latest digital issue is here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Glenn Beck, Ha Ha Ha

On Andrew Sullivan's site someone named James Poulos writes:

A word about Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck is the worst. But why? Not so much because of who he distrusts or why. From where I’m standing, Beck is so awful because he theatrically combines and conflates performances of ultimate sincerity with performances of ultimate sarcasm. I think this is a telltale sign of a soul disordered by a confusion of love, power, and resentment. It becomes impossible, in such a person, to tell quite where their selfless solidarity, their egotism, and their hatred borne of weakness begin or end.

This is supposed to be surprising? These talk show hosts EXIST to be theatrical and combine sincerity and sarcasm.

They have chosen to the clowns of our society and are highly awarded for success. Every bit of attention they get -- even this one -- adds to their portfolio and their ratings and makes them money. EVERY ONE.

They aren't idiots -- they know that sacrificing their intellectual honesty and even their dignity will get them lots of attention and will perhaps make them rich. It's a choice they make, and know they've made. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Ed Schultz, Alan Combes, Victoria Taft, all of them -- they all strive to be as outrageous as possible, to get mentioned on Drudge or the Huffington Post, to have people talking about them. It's how they make their living.

The more your disclaim their ideas, the better it is for them.

Obama's Incredible Wealth Creation

Robert Reich -- who is perhaps the straightest shooter out there, in my opinion -- has an interesting column on the Huffington Post noting the large stock market gains during Obama's presidency, which is a little weird seeing as how the economy is supposed to be down and consumer's aren't spending.

So who is spending? The US government. They're providing credit where the private market isn't.

How much wealth has been created in the stock market since Obama's inauguration? About $2.83 trillion, according to the Wilshire 5000. That's only in 8 months. The government has spend a fraction of that in that time, so this would seem to be a good deal (sort of).

So while all those Tea Baggers are out protesting the expansion of government, it's been precisely this expansion that is behind the large increases in their 401Ks (if they own them) since Obama became president. Reich writes:
In other words, the Dow is up despite the biggest consumer retreat from the market since the Great Depression because of the very thing so many executives are complaining about, which is government's expansion. And regardless of what you call it -- Keynesianism, socialism, or just pragmatism -- it's doing wonders for business, especially big business and Wall Street. Consumer spending is falling back to 60 to 65 percent of the economy, as government spending expands to fill the gap.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday stuff

I was at a conference all day, and will be there tomorrow and Wednesday, too. It's in Portland, so it's like having a real job -- leave the house at 6:30 am, get back at 6:30 pm. I don't know how I ever did that when I used to do that. Working at home is so much more efficient.

This conference -- in fact, nearly every conference I go to -- reminds me why I like being a freelancer, and a science writer -- there's so much interesting stuff going on, everywhere, and it's hard to know a tenth of it from just sitting at home reading press releases and papers.

Anyway the sun is setting and the western sky has that dusky, orangish color along the horizon, with that magical blue color above it that you could never capture in paint or on a photograph. I'm wiped out and need to get ready for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Death Rates

I heard this on the Jack Rice radio show this morning:
  • additional chance of dying in the US if you don't have health insurance, compared to someone who does, 1993: +25%.
  • in 2009: +40%

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ocean Rising

Are the seas rising? Yes.

Here's the latest result for global mean sea level from the University of Colorado, taken every 10 days. So the blue line is the 1-year moving average, and the green line is the 5-year moving average. (Click to enlarge.)

George Who?

This is the kind of survey answer I always have trouble believing:
Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.
I usually think that the question was strangely worded, or some other potential misdirection was included. But no, the question, from the US test for citizenship, was:
Who was the first president of the United States?
Answers to the other questions are equally depressing, especially this one:
What ocean is on the east coast of the United States?
Only 61% of high school students knew the answer. 4 in 10 did not. Not 4 in 10 2nd graders -- high school students.

And they wonder why Oklahoma is considered flyover country. What an abomination.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Debate With Marc Morano

Marc Morano (of and I have agreed to a debate on the climate change situation and debate this November, just before the Copenhagen Conference. We'd prefer to do it on the radio than via Web cam. Any one out there want to carry such a debate for, say, an hour?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

USA: Number 37

Via: Pandagon.

Geothermal technology

“The engineers always say that they have everything under control, until something happens that they never expected,” said Sabine Hofmann, 47, who lives near the plant.

Friday, September 11, 2009

American Stupidity

NY Times, on the state of Louisiana:
Though nearly 22 percent of the state’s adult residents have no health insurance — one of the highest rates in the nation — pollsters and political experts say voters in the state are overwhelmingly against Mr. Obama’s health care proposals.

Do you suppose this has anything to do with the fact that high school dropout rates in Louisiana approach 30%?

"The Matrix" in 5 seconds

Obama's Bull Market

Have you noticed how all those people who in March were jumping on Obama for the stock market being down 20% since his inaguration have failed to say a thing now that it is up a total of 53% since then -- that is, up 23% since he came into office (an annualized rate of 37%)?

I really hate that kind of partisanship.

Aage Bohr is dead

Aage Bohr, son of Neils Bohr and a Nobel Laureate in his own right, just died at 87.

While growing up his family lived at the Copenhagen Institute for Theoretical Physics. That seems like a bit of an unfair advantage to me.
“The remarkable generation of scientists who came to join my father in his work became for us children Uncle Klein, Uncle Nishina, Uncle Heisenberg, Uncle Pauli,’’ he wrote in a reference to Oscar Klein of Sweden, Yoshio Nishina of Japan, Werner Karl Heisenberg of Germany, and Wolfgang Pauli of Austria.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

No Cooling

This Peter Sinclair video is worth watching, as Pat Michaels tells skeptics they can't get too ridiculous and say that the world is now in a cooling phase.

Monday, September 07, 2009

False Predictions about the Internet

There's a really interesting blog called Paleo-Future, which looks back at past views of the future. You could spend all day there just reading.

Here's a particularly interesting 1995 Newsweek article by Clifford Stoll, who was an early Internet guru based on his having been one of the first to track down a hacker, and the fact that he was rather charmingly wacko himself.

It's a notable article for (1) how assured Stoll sounds, and (2) how wrong he was. Among his prediction were:
  1. He wrote: "The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works."
  2. "How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure."
  3. "Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shopping--just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet--which there isn't--the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople."
Basically, Stoll got everything wrong.

Predicting the future is very, very difficult. I learned that when way back when I was a pup of a freelance writer and trying to sell something -- anything -- I wrote a short article called "The Brave New Internet" that appeared in an alt-weekly called Metro, Santa Clara Valley's Weekly Newspaper in 1995. I got $40 for the piece. I tried to predict how Congress would act on efforts to control speech on the Internet, then a big topic of discussion. I was completely wrong in nearly every way, and I haven't tried to predict the future since.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Van Jones

Can we please dismiss with this notion that Van Jones was "hounded" out of government?

He called Republicans "assholes." OK, fine. Not the best choice of words, but nothing I suspect LBJ didn't say.

But when you sign a petition saying that the US government was behind 9/11, you obviously have removed yourself from the status quo. Perhaps you are right. Probably you are not. But in any case you have put your stake in the ground and you have to accept the consequences. You want to be a radical? Fine -- more power to you. But don't think you can then be on the inside a few years later. If you really believe what you wrote, you have to believe you have the facts on your side and you have to have the guts to stick to your position when the going gets tough. Otherwise you shouldn't have signed the petition in the first place.

It'd be no different than if some Bush administration minion had once signed a petition calling for the return to the pre-Civil War south.

I don't see that there was any "smear campaign" against Jones. People merely reported what he had said and done. Now would be the perfect time for him to defend his position. Obviously, he can't. And that makes it objectionable.

Angels in America

Have you seen the 2003 HBO movie "Angels in America"?

It is, simply, sublime. It is brilliantly written, brillantly acted, and brilliantly directed. It is like watching a wonderful play, but on-screen. (I don't go to enough plays -- I am always surprised, when I come out, at the experience.)

It might not really make sense to younger people. The 1980s were a unique time with the start of the worst pandemic in history (that's right -- in history), and the Reagan Administration's despicable handling of the situation (which basically amounted to completely ignoring it).

If you haven't seen this, I recommend that you rent it. Every performance in it is great -- and most actors play more than one part. You won't believe Meryl Streep in one of them.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Same-sex Marriage in Mass.

I heard Rachel Maddow say this on the radio: in the 5 years that same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts, the total divorce rate there has dropped from 2.2 per 1000 per year to 2.0 per 1000 per year. Kind of undercuts the argument that SS marriage will lead to the destruction of the "institution of marriage." (I never understood what that was supposed to mean anyway.)

{OK, I suspect divorce rates are dropping in many other places as well, which usually happens in difficult economic times. But you take statistics where you can get them.}