Thursday, June 30, 2011

Communicating With the Demented

I posted my concerns about the comments and WUWT, and here is one of the responses:
hunter said on Bizarre: NYT follows AAAS lead on "FOIA requests equate to death threats"
June 30, 2011 at 4:21 am

David Appell,
What death threats?
Show us any actual death threats.
Your side is lying about this like everything else.

How can a person possibly communicate with such a person, let alone reason with them? How can one even try to imagine where such a person is coming from?

The discussion surrounding this subject is passing into absurdity.

The Climate Science Rap

I missed this when it came out, but it's pretty good (and it would have been easy to do this poorly). Kudos.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where are the Condemnations of the Death Threats?

WUWT has a post about today's AAAS Board of Directors statement on harassment and death threats against climate scientists.... What's stunning is to read the post, and especially the comments, and see essentially no condemnation of the death threats. Instead there are excuses and accusations (always anonymous, of course) that they are "political stunts" or that scientists are "playing the victim." I have yet to see even one comment concerned about them.

Needless to say, regardless of your position on climate science or FOIAs or anything else, threats against individuals are never, ever acceptable. Imagine receiving just one such email, let alone several or on a regular basis. I hope those found to be making such threats are prosecuted to the fullest extent before something deeply tragic happens, which is the path all of this is on. If skeptics are to retain any legitimacy whatsoever, such tactics need to be clearly and loudly denounced, and that's not happening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Rape of James Delingpole

In Peter Sinclair's latest video, James Delingpole is left speechless when asked a simple question about expert opinion, then tries to change the subject -- then later actually claims he was "intellectually raped." I wouldn't even call it a dirty look.... Such a sensitive boy:

The Paper Known as "Aad, et al"

If you're going to be an experimental high-energy physicist, you couldn't pick a much better name than "Aad."

Willie Soon received $1m from oil companies

Climate skeptic Willie Soon has received a million dollars from oil companies in the last decade!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

For Gays But Against Gay Marriage?

New York Archbishop Timothy DolanCan you be for gays but against same-sex marriage? Here's what New York Archbishop Timothy M Dolan, who strongly opposed the same-sex marriage legislation just passed in New York, said today:
I tell the gay community I love you very much, and every single morning when I say my morning prayers, I pray for the health of all New Yorkers and they are part of that.

This strikes me as disingenuous, because it's been known viscerally for forever (and proven scientifically) that a good marriage is quite advantageous to good health. You can't be for someone, let alone claim to "love them very much," while being against the very things that are most likely to bring them love, more happiness and better health.

Dolan is badly fooling himself. I'm glad a majority of New York state decided not to be fooled with him.

Here's the most amazing thing I've read regarding this issue: This year 58% of residents of New York were found to support same-sex marriage. Four years ago the number was 43%.

Who's Who on U.S. Debt

Some numbers to put the US debt in perspective, if you're going to hold presidents solely accountable for it:

If you assume that a president isn't responsible for the first year of debt under his administration, but is responsible for the first year following his administration, then total debt under Bush was up 108%. For Obama, so far, up 16%. Or,

For Bush, up 14 percentage points per year.
For Obama, up 11 percentage points per year.

Finally: Increase in total debt in the last 3 months: only $135B.

Numbers from US Dept of Treasury.

The Trifid Nebula

The Trifid Nebula, 7000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius, formed from the collision of two dust and gas clouds about one million years ago:


Via: Science magazine

Capitalism Compels Us to Be Greedy

Eugene McCarraher in The Nation:
"However lissome its face or benign its manner, capitalism compels us to be greedy, callous and petty. It takes what the Greeks called pleonexia--an endless hunger for more and more--and transforms it from a tawdry and dangerous vice into the central virtue of the system. The sanctity of “growth” in capitalist culture stems from this moral alchemy, as does the elevation of market competition into a model of human affairs.

"The truth is that people matter more than money. While most everyone would agree with that statement, few of us direct our lives guided by the principle.

"Conscripting us into an economic war, capitalism turns us into soldiers of fortune, steeled against casualties and collateral damage, ransacking the earth to fill the shelves and banks with plunder. Capitalism stands condemned most profoundly not by its maldistribution of wealth or its ecological despoliation but by its systematic cultivation of people inclined toward injustice and predation. And I think we on the left need to start dismissing as utterly irrelevant the standard apologetic riposte: the material prosperity and technological achievement generated by capitalist enterprise. No amount of goods can compensate for the damage wrought on human nature by the deliberate nurturance of our vilest qualities. The desecration of the values we claim to hold most dear is the primary reason we should want to abolish, not reinvent, capitalism."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On Expanded Freedom in NY State

A commenter to NRO's Kathrine Lopez's hyperventilation on last night's vote in NY state legalizing same-sex marriage:
In fact, like people in the other 5 states where there's marriage equality, there will no change whatsoever for heterosexuals who wish to marry or are already married. Unless of course your own marriage is so precarious that it's altered by what people who have nothing to do with you choose to do. Straight people will be just as able to abandon cancer stricken wives for younger women like Newt Gingrich, hire prostitutes and write for NRO like David Vitter or exchange questionable tweets like Anthony Weiner.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy 20th Anniversary to Gold Systems

Photo 1
Me, Terry, Jim, and Kevin Obenchain
Twenty years ago I was the third employee and part-owner in a startup company named Gold Systems, in Boulder, Colorado. Terry Gold, who I worked with when I was a project manager at AT&T, and Jim Fudge founded it, and some months later I moved to Boulder to join them. It was just three of us in three rooms trying to figure out how to generate income, and we had a lot of fun too. I spent most of the year designing and writing the software for a voice mail system, with a timeout many afternoons for juggling sessions on the grass outside the office, hoping for the phone to ring. Then I went to Arkansas to install the hardware and get the system running. I learned I wasn't very good with hardware, and also found my interest in writing growing. I left the company after a year, and started on a very crooked path to becoming a science writer. But I still have some shares in the company and remember my time there fondly.

Gold Systems just celebrated their 20th Anniversary. They now have several dozen employees building voice and text communications systems. Terry Gold, their CEO, is a great guy who wanted to make a company that did things the right way, and that truly respected its employees and its customers. And he has. I'm very glad his dream came true--he's worked really hard for it--and hope they continue on their successful path. While having more fun along the way.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bruins' Bar Bill: $156,000

Here's the tab for the Boston Bruins weekend fling after they won the Stanley Cup. They thoughtfully included a 19% tip:

Bruins bar tab at Shirine

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Robert Reich on What's Wrong With Our Economy

In 2.25 minutes:

Via: Huffington Post

Why Eddington Refused to Fight

The British astronomer Arthur Eddington was a Quaker, and he refused to fight in World War I. This is from his application for exemption from military service:
My objection to war is based on religious grounds. I cannot believe that God is calling me to go out to slaughter men, many of whom are animated by the same motives of patriotism and supposed religious duty that have sent my countrymen into the field. To assert that it is our religious duty to cast off the moral progress of centuries and take part in the passions and barbarity of war is to contradict my whole conception of what the Christian religion means. Even if the abstention of conscientious objectors were to make the difference between victory and defeat, we cannot truly benefit the nation by wilful disobedience to the divine will.

From The Life of Arthur Stanley Eddington by A. Vibert Douglas (1956), p. 93.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The 196 Problem

Here's a weird but interesting problem I just learned about: the 196 problem.

Its about what are called "Lychrel numbers" -- numbers which do not form palindromes when their digits are added iteratively.

It's easiest to show some examples. Consider the number 23. Reverse its digits (to get 32) and add these two numbers: 23 + 32 = 55. "55" is palindromic -- it reads back-to-front the same as front-to-back -- so 23 is not a Lychrel number.

How about 431? 431 + 134 = 565, a palindrome.

Or 59: 59 + 95 = 154. 154 + 451 = 605. 605 + 506 = 1111, a palindrome (after 3 iterations).

10,911 reaches the palindrome 4668731596684224866951378664 after 55 steps.

Question: What numbers are Lychrel numbers?

Answer: No one knows. 196 is suspected to be the lowest possible Lychrel number, but there is no proof.

196 has been iterated to a number with 300 million digits without reaching a palindrome.

But here's an even stranger thing about 196: it's been proven to be a Lychrel number in all bases between 2 and 18 (inclusive) except base 10. Weird. Why would 10 be special?

UPDATE: 196 is not a Lychrel number in base 19: 196 base 19 = A6; A6+6A base 19 = GG, a palindrome.

Or in base 20: 196 base 20 = 9G; 9G+G9 base 20 = 44, a palindrome.


James Carroll in the Boston Globe:
In recent months, catastrophic weather events have dominated headlines as rarely before — earthquakes and tsunami in Asia; volcanic cloud in Europe; massive ice melts at the poles; tornadoes, floods, and fires in America. “Records are not just broken,” an atmospheric scientist said last week, “they are smashed.” Without getting into questions of causality, and without anthropomorphizing nature, we can still take these events as nature’s cri de coeur — as the degraded environment’s grabbing of human lapels to say, “Pay attention!”

I guess these kinds of statements are well meaning, but they really don't help.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Warming Since 1995 Now Significant

The other day Phil Jones said that, based on the most recent data, warming since 1995 is now statistically significant.

Of course, Jones' earlier remark was always misinterpreted by skeptics, and the Daily Mail completely botched it (probably on purpose) with this headline. Jones never said there was no global warming since 1995 -- he said there was no statistically significant warming since 1995 if you take 95% as the measure of statistical significance. There's nothing magical about 95%, and the warming trend was significant at the 90% level. That's high enough that I doubt anyone would place a bet against it. In any case 15 or 16 years is too short of a time scale to be making conclusions about climate anyway.

Hopefully this will now be put to rest (though I doubt it).

Quote of the Week

“Do you really need a sermon on why settling questions about the fundamental laws of nature are worth pursuing?”

-- Steven Weinberg, when asked about the importance of studying the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe in a time of (as the reporter later wrote) "high unemployment, crazy gas prices and water shortages."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Latest IPCC Kerfuffle

So what is the big deal if someone from Greenpeace was a Lead Author on the IPCC report on renewable energy?

Experts can be found in many organizations. As a Greenpeace spokesperson points out, the report also includes an author who is from Chevron as well as researcher from Exxon.

I highly suspect that Mark Lynas is wrong to write that Greenpeace "dictated" the report. I've heard many people talk about their experience working on an IPCC report and no one seems to dictate anything -- every sentence is gone over with a fine-tooth comb and endlessly hashed out. Unless someone has some good evidence that Sven Teske had some special influence in constructing the report (and nothing Lynas offers indicates that), this is once again a vastly overblown issue.

This is hardly the equivalent of a Dick Cheney-like situation huddling with oil industry representatives to divide up the Iraqi oil fields.

As Andrew Revkin writes, the IPCC should have been more transparent in their press release. But they should take expertise where they find it, and nothing says Greenpeace or any NGO can't have that. In fact, I've met more than one person from NGOs who knew as much about an issue and had done as much detailed research into it than so-called experts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We Will Not Be Entering Another Little Ice Age

All the skeptics are atwitter at the news that the Sun may (may) be entering another grand minimum, such as the Maunder Minimum which spawned the "Little Ice Age." They can barely contain their glee.

Don't worry--we will not be entering another LIA. Greenhouse gas warming easily swamps any expected decrease in total solar intensity.

This exact subject was studied by Feulner and Rahmstorf in 2009 and Song et al in 2010. Temperatures would decline, at most, by 0.3°C by 2100 from what they are projected to be otherwise (2-4.5°C higher than today).

And before you say "they're just models," note that both papers reproduce the cooling seen during the actual LIA.

( has a nice review.)

Besides, as Andrew Revkin reports, there is a lot of scientific skepticism about the claim of an upcoming grand minimum.

Life Expectancy Actually Falling in Parts of the U.S.

These are absolutely stunning charts--life expectancies are now actually falling in some parts of America:
Changes in years of life expectancy in US counties, men, 1987-2007_IHME

(Via Andrew Sullivan and Kevin Drum.)

Nationwide, life expectancy continues to rise, but whoever thought it would ever fall anywhere in the U.S.?

Our Terrifying Far-Future in a Carbon-rich World

If and when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reach 75,000 ppm, we are in big, big trouble!
Inhalation of 7.5% CO2 increases anxiety and autonomic arousal in humans, and elicits fear behavior in animals. However, it is not known whether CO2 challenge in humans induces dysfunction in neurocognitive processes that characterize generalized anxiety, notably selective attention to environmental threat. Healthy volunteers completed an emotional antisaccade task in which they looked toward or away from (inhibited) negative and neutral stimuli during inhalation of 7.5% CO2 and air. CO2 inhalation increased anxiety, autonomic arousal, and erroneous eye movements toward threat on antisaccade trials. Autonomic response to CO2 correlated with hypervigilance to threat (speed to initiate prosaccades) and reduced threat inhibition (increased orienting toward and slower orienting away from threat on antisaccade trials) independent of change in mood. Findings extend evidence that CO2 triggers fear behavior in animals via direct innervation of a distributed fear network that mobilizes the detection of and allocation of processing resources toward environmental threat in humans.

-- M. Garner et al, Neuropsychopharmacology (2011) 36, 1557–1562
Don't worry--at current rates of emission increases (~0.7%/yr) this won't happen until the 28th century...but just imagine how good it will be for the plants!

Futuristic Airbus

How cool would this be?

Via: der Spiegel


"I don't say that we ought all to misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could."

-- Orson Welles


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Humans Versus the Volcanoes

Because it comes up all the time, the AGU put out a press release clarifying (yet again) that humans emit far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than do volcanoes:
On average, human activities put out in just three to five days the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that volcanoes produce globally each year.

In fact, we emit like a super volcanic eruption:
Gerlach's calculations suggest present-day annual anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions may exceed the carbon dioxide output of one or more supereruptions. As he notes in the Eos article, "Supereruptions are extremely rare, with recurrence intervals of 100,000-200,000 years; none have occurred historically, the most recent examples being the Toba eruption 74,000 years ago in Indonesia and the Yellowstone caldera eruption in the United States 2 million years ago."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Disturbing Charts on US Health Care

Some recent charts on US health care that I've come across.... Increasingly our health care system looks like a large, creaking edifice made of wood, cracking and splitting all over the place, with the people inside working harder than ever nailing up boards everywhere they can, while politicians argue about the shape of the building and if we even need a building. Everyone knows the whole thing can't go much higher, and yet it seems that nothing notable will be done until the whole thing comes crashing down.

Oh, yeah: and one-sixth of the people aren't even allowed to go into the building.

Premiums doubled in the last ten years, to $13,375 for a family. Does anyone expect them to not double again in the next ten years? Can any employer afford $27,000/yr to insure a family of four?

Via Andrew Sullivan:


Via Andrew Sullivan:


Via Andrew Sullivan:


Via Ezra Klein:

Next two from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 8

Friday, June 10, 2011

Palin Emails and Privacy

Someone from the Heritage Foundations says everyone needs the ability to have private communications.

That would include climate scientists too, right?

No Gore Effect, Skeptics Silent

Mojo's Kate Sheppard, yesterday, on Twitter:
Listening to Al Gore speak, in DC, and it's really f-ing hot. Funny, haven't heard skeptics mentioning "the Gore effect" today.
15 hours ago

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Palin Emails

The Internet is gearing up like never before to mass-analyze the Palin emails being released tomorrow:
#PalinEmails on Twitter

A commenter on the NYT calls this an "E-Lynch Mob."

This may be a very interesting precedent. (I was going to add "regrettable," but the Internet is already beyond that.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Mt Rainier is Melting

sn-rainier.jpgIn the last four decades Washington state's Mt Rainier has lost 14% of its ice and snow--enough to cover Rhode Island with 20 cm. All of its glaciers and snowfields have gotten smaller, except the two that have been insulated by falling rocks.

Wikipedia says "Between the height of the Little Ice Age and 1950, Mount Rainier's glaciers lost about one-quarter of their length. Beginning in 1950 and continuing through the early 1980s, however, many of the major glaciers advanced in response to relatively cooler temperatures of the mid-century."

In more important news, some politician sent some naughty pictures to some woman.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

An Outbreak of Reality in the Republican Party?

Apparently Mitt Romney was so cowed by Marc "The Science Bully" Morano's job on Newt Gingrich that he...went right ahead and acknowledged scientific reality--the planet is warming, humans are mostly responsible, and we should do something about it. Naturally, this is called a "blunder" by the extreme right.

Perhaps Morano isn't the Kingmaker on this issue he clearly aspires to be.

Romney's statement seems important, because this early in the primary season candidates usually battle for the edge of their party, then move towards the center once they've secured the nomination. Romney must have looked at that edge and decided he's not going over with them.

Huntsman, Gingrich, Christie, Romney... the smartest people in the Republican party are realizing how abysmally silly it is to deny the findings of science. Could admitting economic reality be next?

Trailer for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

This looks like it will be good:

2nd Trailer:

Saturday, June 04, 2011

No, the Rich Don't Pay All the Taxes

For those people (like commenter CharlesH) who think the rich pay all the taxes in the U.S.--well, it's simply not true. The affluent and rich may pay most of the income taxes, but of course there are lots of other taxes too. When you look at the total, the share of taxes paid is about the same as income earned all across the income spectrum. In other worse, the U.S. tax system is just barely progressive.

Source: Citizens for Tax Justice

More on Corporations and Taxes

Yesterday's post on the decline in federal revenue from corporations received some standard conservative talking points in the comments section, which we should clean up.
  • "The U.S. has the world's highest corporate tax rate."
Actually it's only the second highest, after Japan. But anyway, this is the nominal rate, at 39.2% (for the highest earners). Of course, no corporation pays the nominal rate. The effective rate averages 27.7% (LA Times, 6/3/11), lower than many other OECD nations. And, of course, some of the largest corporations pay no US taxes at all.
  • "What effect do you think this has on our job creation rate?"
Corporations are sitting on records amount of cash--about $2 trillion. Yet they're not now creating jobs. How, then, will giving them even more cash create jobs? It won't, because the problem with the economy is one of demand, not supply. People don't have money to spend, after the debt crisis, after the high unemployment, and after decades of stagnant wages.
  • "Corporations don't pay taxes, shareholders and employees do" [or pass them on to customers]
What's wrong with that? Shareholders should pay taxes. By incorporating, individuals get something very valuable: limited liability. (Not to mention all the valuable services they get from government, unless they'd prefer to set up their own hoses when their office building catches on fire). That's worth something, and so they should pay something.

There are many things a company can do other than pass increased taxes onto consumers. Foremost would be to reduce their massive cash positions, which many oil companies are currently using to buy back their stock, thus raising their stock price and so benefiting (among others) large stock holders like those in executive and director positions.

Likewise they can reduce their dividend payments, which also go primarily to the affluent and wealthy.

They can reduce executive compensation, reduce employee salaries and benefits, work harder with less, and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.

Companies that do all these things will not have to pass increased costs onto consumers, and will be rewarded by having lower prices that in turn attract more customers. That's capitalism, right?

Friday, June 03, 2011

How the Federal Debt Was Created

How did the U.S. federal debt come about? Here's a plot of debt (left-hand scale) versus the percentage of federal revenue that comes from individuals and from corporations (right-hand scale):

US federal debt (red) vs. percentage of federal revenue from individuals (green) and from corporations (blue)
(Click chart to enlarge.)

The revenue percentage from individuals has stayed level for decades, while that from corporations has dropped to only 1/4th what it was in the 1950s.

GPO: Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2012
US Treasury Dept: Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual (via Wikipedia)

Amazing Video of Massachusetts Tornado

Did you see this amazing video of the tornado that hit western Massachusetts the other day? Watch how it gathers up water from the Connecticut River:

I''ve never seen anything like this before.

Via Huffington Post

Emissions: Tracking the Worst of the IPCC Scenarios

Here's a very interesting graph from Brad Plumer, who got it from John Cook at Skeptical Science. It compares the world's history of carbon dioxide emissions to the scenarios considered by the IPCC in their Third Assessment Report of 2001. We're at the upper end, with (so far, at least) no room for optimism:

Here is roughly what how the scenarios are defined:
  • A1FI assumes high global economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels for the remainder of the century.
  • B1 assumes a major move away from fossil fuels toward alternative and renewable energy as the century progresses.
  • A2, is a middling scenario, with less even economic growth and some adoption of alternative and renewable energy sources as the century unfolds.
In short, while the worldwide recession cut into emissions, we're now emitting at an even higher rate than before the recession. It looks like we'll be back on the A1FI line any year now.

World's Highest Standard of Living

Via: First Draft (and Paul Krugman).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Free Books from National Academy of Sciences

This is great: all books from the National Academy Press (publishers for the National Academy of Sciences) are now freely downloadable as PDFs. They have tons of great titles, and the reports I've read are always packed with good information. Consider it ammunition.

Another Cartoon

Another cartoon, this one from NIST's William Phillips in a talk last year at KITP:

By the way, KITP has lots of good lectures online.


From Russell Seitz (thanks):

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Facile Denialism

I feel like I'm seeing more hardcore denial regarding climate change -- not just people who believe that man has no influence on today's climate, but who deny even that there has been any warming, that atmospheric carbon dioxide has a greenhouse effect, or even (as I saw in a blog comment the other day) that the Stefan-Boltzmann law describes blackbodies.

For example, Alan Caruba, a climate writer for the conservative organization Accuracy in Media, writes:
Plainly stated, CO2 emissions have zero effect on the weather or the climate.

Just for fun I wrote to him and asked how he explains the discrepancy between the Earth's surface temperature (about 14°C) and its blackbody temperature as observed by satellites (240 W/m2, or -19°C), and all he wrote back was "Global Warming was and is a hoax. Trying to dazzle me with your CO2 BS won't work. I have read and heard to much CO2 crap at this point to care. It has zero affect on the climate and you know it."

I don't think he even understood the question, let alone had an answer. And this is the person some organization pays to write about their position on climate change? Do they honestly think they're convincing anyone, anyone at all?

I think it was Andrew Revkin who said this, but it does seems that the more such crude, facile denials appear the more you can be sure that not only is manmade climate change a huge [probably unsolvable] problem, but the more even the denialists know it too. It seems they can't even go to the trouble any more of even trying to make an argument.