Monday, October 31, 2011

A New Way to Display Warming Projections

Here's an interesting new way to show future warming: as the year when specific temperature thresholds are projected to be reached:

This is from the paper "Projections of when temperature change will exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels," Manoj Joshi et al, Nature Climate Change (Oct 16, 2011) p. 1-6 (Sub. req.)

Here's another chart from the same paper:

Notice how much faster the warming is projected to hit central Africa -- a region that can hardly afford it. And that warming of 2°C is projected to hit the US and Australia just about last. That, coupled with the fact that they're two of the countries wealthy enough to best adapt to the changes, surely won't help them overcome their reluctance to tackle the issue.

The Rich Getting Richer

“I’ve been recommending to all my colleagues here in the wine district that they should also go for a Nobel Prize, because I promise, it does a lot for your business.”

— Winemaker Brian Schmidt, who also won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering that the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

As quoted in Science magazine, Oct 29, 2011, p, 439.

An Average American Discusses

Via David Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Almond Slices Make Great Fingernails

Also, my sister throws great parties.

More on the BEST infighting

To add yet more confusion to my earlier post on the confusion emanating from the BEST camp, note that the blog Curry Quotes gives this sentence from one of BEST's papers:
Though it is sometimes argued that global warming has abated since the 1998 El Nino event (e.g. Easterling and Wehner 2009, Meehl et al. 2011), we find no evidence of this in the GHCN land data. Applying our analysis over the interval 1998 to 2010, we find the land temperature trend to be 2.84 ± 0.73 C / century, consistent with prior decades.

-- Robert Rohde, Judith Curry, Donald Groom, Robert Jacobsen, Richard A. Muller, Saul Perlmutter, Arthur Rosenfeld, Charlotte Wickham, Jonathan Wurtele, “Berkeley Earth Temperature Averaging Process”
If I was a member of the BEST team, I would be very angry at the way some of my colleagues are being taken advantage of by media looking for yet another climate scrum, aiding those media in that quest, and airing their dirty laundry in public. I would also suspect some of them like seeing their name in the newspaper a little too much.

Scientists Trying to outBEST One Another

Perhaps it's time climate scientists stopped answering emails from journalists and just focused on doing science again. At least for awhile.

Instead of bringing yet more consensus, the BEST papers seem to have thrown another log on the fire. Or maybe that's just the way some media are spinning it. Or maybe scientists are making contradictory claims. I honestly can't tell.

The Daily Mail has an article about BEST, Richard Muller, and whether their results show a "standstill" in warming since the last '90s. They quote him from a BBC radio program:
'We see no evidence of it [global warming] having slowed down,' he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. There was, he added, 'no levelling off'.
The Daily Mail then includes a picture of Judith Curry looking mean (instead of, say, this one) and quotes her:
‘There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped,’
Then she ramps it up by using the HTD phrase, in the process making it clear that, like Muller, she did not understand the context of the notorious email:
As for the graph disseminated to the media, she said: ‘This is “hide the decline” stuff. Our data show the pause, just as the other sets of data do. Muller is hiding the decline.

‘To say this is the end of scepticism is misleading, as is the statement that warming hasn’t paused. It is also misleading to say, as he has, that the issue of heat islands has been settled.’
So the two leading BEST scientists can't even agree on what their papers say. To confuse matters even further, on her blog Curry denies this controversy is anything like Climategate, and says
'Because of substantial year to year and multidecadal variability, it is difficult to interpret trends, especially in the presence of the large warming spike in 1998 associated with El Nino. There has been much recent discussion on an apparent slow down or lag in the warming. The BEST data set shows less of a lag than CRU and GISS, but is comparable to NOAA. The rate of increase of global temperature for the past decade or so is smaller than that seen for the period 1980-2000. I don’t see how you can infer from these data that there has been no slow down in the warming over the past decade or so.' A 'slow down in warming', not no warming. If you're going to lecture others get your facts right.
Or, at least, that's what a commenter on the Daily Mail article said she wrote. And that's what Google's cache said she wrote. But I can't find it there anymore. But on her blog she did write:
There has been a lag/slowdown/whatever you want to call it in the rate of temperature increase since 1998. This is being widely discussed, see the greenwire article for various opinions on this

So, actually this is a “hide the slowdown” issue.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the BEST data that says there is no lag/slow down in the warming during the past decade or so.
Sheesh, who can keep up? (And why should we?) Gerald North had the best comment:
"After lots of work he found exactly what was already known and accepted in the climate community," said Jerry North, a Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor who headed a National Academy of Sciences climate science review in 2006. "I am hoping their study will have a positive impact. But some folks will never change."

Friday, October 28, 2011

If the Climate Were a Bank....

(Taken from a speech by Hugo Chavez at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.)

Friday Stuff

Mitt Romney: agreed with manmade global warming before he disagreed with it. (Shall we say he's hot and cold on the issue?) Can some primary voter somewhere please ask one of these candidates exactly what part of the science they disagree with, and why?

An interview with Gabrielle Giffords will be broadcast on Nov 14th. Her constituents will finally be able to assess her condition for themselves (at least, to the extent ABC doesn't undertake some tricky editing). Giffords has also been recorded reading the last chapter of her memoir (another controlled situation), which comes out...Nov 15th. Does she want to be a Congresswomen, or sell books?

An upcoming meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the American Meterological Society on Anthropogenic Global Warming has a panel that consists of three...skeptics. OR-AMS's president, Steve Pierce, tells me:
The Oregon AMS's official position is that we take "no position on the subject of climate change." The many local chapters of the National AMS have the freedom to promote all aspects of the science of climate, meteorology and the like. We have hosted several "human-caused" global warming meetings over the past few years. This is the first time in recent memory that we have dedicated a single meeting to the opposing side. So, as to uphold our mantra of "equal time for all" in our society, we are hosting this meeting. We hope you will come to the meeting and bring your questions for our guest speakers that evening. Please let me know if you have any further questions." 
You can always follow Rick Perry on "Tweeter." (Yes, he really did say "tweeter.")

An amazing picture of Mt. Rainier casting a morning shadow on the clouds:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nice Chart on Last 20 Years of CO2 Emissions

Der Spiegel has a nice chart on CO2 emissions, showing changes from 1990 to 2010. Over that period emissions from the US, Europe, Russia and Japan are essentially flat -- which I guess is sort of a victory, these days, even though it's mostly due to the economic downturn of the last few years. Most of the growth in the last two decades comes from China and other developing countries (besides India). You can't blame them though -- the U.S. has still put more than its share of CO2 into the atmosphere -- 30% from 1900 to 2004.

Charting the rise in CO2 emissions.

I'm really busy and won't have much to say here for another few days.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Story of Ernest Rutherford's Needless Death

Did you know that Ernest Rutherford, titan of physics who discovered the nucleus, died essentially because he was a "Lord" and no untitled doctors were allowed to fix his ordinary problem? James Poskett gave the story in the Sept 2011 issue of Physics World:
You wake up with an extreme pain in your stomach. Something is seriously wrong. After a fit of vomiting, you are rushed to the nearest medical clinic and, naturally, expect the best doctor straight on the scene. This is what happened to Ernest Rutherford on the night of Thursday 14 October 1937. But Rutherford, by then Lord Rutherford of Nelson, was in the unusual position of having risen so high up within the British establishment that the doctors could not touch him. He lay there in intense pain with a strangulated umbilical hernia, waiting for medical treatment despite being surrounded by some of the country’s best doctors. Why? Because as late as the 1930s, British peerage protocol dictated that only a titled surgeon could operate on a lord. The doctors at the Evelyn Nursing Home in Cambridge could do nothing but wait for the arrival of the knighted surgeon Sir Thomas Dunhill, travelling all the way from Harley Street in London.

The delay cost Rutherford his life. Dunhill arrived in Cambridge but was only able to perform the operation on Friday evening. Despite initial optimism, it was too late: the hernia, having cut off the blood supply to Rutherford’s bowel, ultimately proved fatal. The tissue death and shock of surgery were too much, and he died on 19 October 1937 aged 66.
The rest of the article is good too. They have more, with some videos, on their site. This site from New Zealand (Rutherford's home country) looks good too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bertrand Russell Understood the Anthony Watts of the World

“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”

-- Bertrand Russell
Though to some extent this surely applies to all of us.

Friday, October 21, 2011


"It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing."

-- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Barking Mad End of the Spectrum"

"The people who disagree about temperatures are the barking mad end of the spectrum."

-- David Whitehouse, as quoted today in New Scientist
h/t John Fleck.

BEST, Muller, and the Issue of Peer Review

My previous post notwithstanding, there is some reason to criticize BEST for announcing their results before peer review and publication. You wonder what their hurry is (well, you don't have to wonder too much), because they did this before when Richard Muller testified before Congress based on only 2% of their data. Muller does come off as a bit of a loose cannon trying to get attention stir things up.

And he's been not just wrong, but unfair. He clearly misrepresented the phrase "Mike's trick to hide the decline," right here in his by-now-famous lecture, where he says (of pre-1961 proxy temperatures measured by northern high-latitude tree rings)
"Is this unreliable? No. How do we know? Well, we don't know."
That's simply wrong, and extremely unfair--paleoclimatologists have done a lot of work establishing the correlation between tree ring properties and 1880-1960 temperatures--see D'Arrigo et al 2008 for a great review, and Skeptical Science for a very good summary. Muller implies that that this was just made up, which perpetuated the attacks on the hockey stick, especially since, just two minutes earlier in the same lecture, he held himself up as an expert with "prestige." No study that came out today is going to undo that blight, which I think is why Gavin Schmidt wrote today
"The only thing I would take issue with is the description of Muller as 'brave'. It isn't brave to slander people in many talks (including Jim) without having done the work required to justify such a claim. I do give him some credit with following the data as they emerged from their analysis (mostly from Rohde), but it would have been foolish not to. But this notion of a 'prodigal scientist' being braver than the people who worked out the answer before is not tenable."
Anyway, I really meant to write about peer review, but got sidetracked. It's the nature of our times, propelled by (of course) the Internet/Web, that results are coming out earlier and earlier in the scientific process. This happened most recently with the OPERA superluminal neutrinos, where the collaboration can't even agree if they should submit a paper, but it's been happening for years with the physics arXiv of preprints. Physicists certainly key off what they read there and hear in seminars, and increasingly PIOs send out releases before a paper actually appears -- and, of course, bloggers have ruined everything.

I suspect the community review model is going to replace traditional peer-review for a field like climate science that is so contentious and important. In one sense the world needs to know ASAP what projects like BEST conclude -- there really isn't much time left to argue about things (if any). I'm not sure that was their motivation, though. On the other hand, the issue is clearly being diluted by every person who can type with questions about the science, so they can't all be allowed into a community review. Whatever is left in the world that the Internet hasn't changed already, it will.

And let's not fool ourselves: if and when the BEST papers do appear in a peer-reviewed journal, the Anthony Watts of the world aren't going to then accept them. Instead they'll make the by-now usual claims that the editors are biased, or in favor of world domination, and it's all a big conspiracy and the publication of the BEST papers just proves it all the more, and BEST did it to ensure future grant money and whatever. They simply aren't amenable to evidence, period. Read the comments on today's post by Watts -- they're pathetic. Hilarious, but deeply pathetic.

Red Sox fans are never going to respect the Yankees no matter how many World Series the Yankees win. And that's what the attitude to climate change is these days, for most of the public. Listen to an AM sports talk show, and then read the comments on a skeptic blog. There is very little difference.

Not a Good Day to Be Anthony Watts

Yes, like swinging at a pinata without a blindfold, Anthony Watts is an easy target. But it's still fun when the candy falls to the ground.

Today the Denialist-in-Chief is in the uncomfortable position of trying to retain at least an iota of dignity in the wake of the release of the Richard Muller and company BEST studies on global temperature trends. The best Watts can do is whine that it hasn't yet been peer-reviewed, as if that ever stopped him in the past.

Like most of the lapdog bloggers, Muller was Watts' best friend when he was dissing decent scientists:
October 6, 2008: "There’s an eye-opening interview on Grist of Richard A. Muller about the current state of science understanding by presidential candidates, global warming, and alternate energy tech.

Some of the answers are very enlightening. Coming from an avowed environmentalist such as Muller it cements much of what I and many others have been saying for months about Gore’s outright distortion of facts and Hansens selective cherry picking in choosing “his” way to publish the widely cited GISTEMP data set."
March 18, 2011: Dr. Richard Muller calls out the “hide the decline” aka “Mike’s Nature Trick” on this YouTube video of a presentation he gave.
A Watts post on February 11, 2011 is particularly enlightening. Watts crows about the BEST project and his role in it, and writes (in response to a comment):
Scott Ramsdell says:
February 11, 2011 at 8:20 am
Anthony, I look forward to reading your impending public vindication. Many thanks for this site.

REPLY: Here’s the thing, the final output isn’t known yet. There’s been no “peeking” at the answer, mainly do to a desire not to let preliminary results bias the method. It may very well turn out to agree with the NOAA surface temperature record, or it may diverge positive or negative. We just don’t know yet. – Anthony
And then there's this from March 27, 2011:
I still believe that BEST represents a very good effort, and that all parties on both sides of the debate should look at it carefully when it is finally released, and avail themselves to the data and code that is promised to allow for replication.
One could spend the whole day posting Watts' trail of contradictions, backpedaling, and flip-flops, but it's not worth it. I'm sure he'll find someway to convince himself that he was right all along, maintained a consistency, and is still right. Some graduate student in psychology out to consider him for a doctoral thesis.

And it will be interesting (sort of) to see Fred Singer's comments. Back on February 19, 2011 he wrote:
The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Project aims to do what needs to be done: That is, to develop an independent analysis of the data from land stations, which would include many more stations than had been considered by the Global Historic Climatology Network. The Project is in the hands of a group of recognized scientists, who are not at all “climate skeptics” — which should enhance their credibility.....

I applaud and support what is being done by the Project — a very difficult but important undertaking. I personally have little faith in the quality of the surface data, having been exposed to the revealing work by Anthony Watts and others. However, I have an open mind on the issue and look forward to seeing the results of the Project in their forthcoming publications.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Voyager in Perspective

The Voyager 1 space probe is now about 17.8 billion kilometers from Earth (NASA has a nice counter here), but an article in today's NY Times puts that in perspective:
If Earth were in Orlando and the closest star system, Alpha Centauri, were in Los Angeles, then NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, the most distant manmade objects, have traveled just one mile.

Another way of looking at the challenge is that in 10,000 years, the speed of humans has jumped by a factor of about 10,000, from a stroll (2.6 m.p.h.) to the Apollo astronauts’ return from the Moon (26,000 m.p.h.). Reaching the nearest stars in reasonable time — decades, not centuries — would require a velocity jump of another factor of 10,000.
Incidentally, Voyager 1's distance is 119.1 AUs, or about 16.5 light-hours. It's traveling at 3.3 AU/yr.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drowning People While Drowning Government

You can't "drown government in a bathtub" without drowning people along with it.

Why do governments have so little money that most of them can't balance the budget or prosecute domestic abuse?

And the economic downturn only explains a fraction of it:

Topeka, Kansas decriminalizes spousal abuse

This is incredible -- Topeka, Kansas has decriminalized domestic abuse because they don't have the money to pay for enforcing and prosecuting it:

The city council voted to do this, 7-3.
"Topeka has had at least 35 reported incidents of domestic battery or assault since early September. Those cases are not being pursued, and as of last Friday, 18 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police."
In Kansas, the Shawnee County District Attorney's office has to reduce his work force by 17% as a result of a 10% reduction in his budget by the county commission. The local paper quotes him:
The layoffs "suck," Taylor said in an interview.
One commenter put it well:
Occupy Wall Street? Occupy MAIN street.
In many towns, including mine, domestic abuse calls are the leading reason for calls to the police.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not So Fast on Those Faster-than-Light Neutrinos

Remember those faster-then-light neutrinos that Robert Bryce and others have used as evidence that 'science is never settled' so we shouldn't take action on climate change? Turns out many in that experimental group weren't happy about the announcement and don't think the results should be submitted to a journal until more testing is done for systematic errors. From Physics World:
The announcement made headlines around the world, since it appears to contradict Einstein's special theory of relativity. However, not everyone within OPERA was happy to release the results publicly, with several of the 30 group leaders within the 160-strong collaboration being opposed to the release of a paper on the arXiv preprint server and the accompanying seminars and press release without further tests of possible systematic errors being carried out. Now, a larger fraction of the group leaders is concerned about the paper being submitted to a research journal. One member of OPERA, who does not wish to be named, says there is a "lot of tension" within the collaboration and that up to half of the members are opposed to an immediate submission.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Deniers: Doing their Algebra Right on the Page

This is good: So there's this unit going around making all kinds of claims like there is no greenhouse effect, CO2 is not a well-mixed gas, and those sorts of things. To try and garner respect they've given themselves a name reminiscent of Newton -- Principia Scientific International -- and are publishing what they call "studies." There is a blog and a book, both named Slaying the Sky Dragon, by the Tim Balls of the world (and that guy Mann laid out). One of these people, named John O'Sullivan, says he is "the internet's most read writer on the greenhouse gas theory (August, 2010)...." Another has a blog that makes daily posts showing nearly ever established scientific principle is wrong. (Today's refutation is the Stefan-Boltzmann Law; an earlier post showed that the Schrodinger equation is useless because it cannot be solved, and a manuscript shows that nearly everything else is wrong.)

Anyway, on the blog they mention that "both Postma and Nahle have recently published groundbreaking papers discrediting the GHE [Greenhouse Effect]." You'd think a paper that disproves such an important result, proposed almost 200 years ago by the great Fourier would be sought by renowned journals like Nature or Science, but no, it appears in that other journal of note, Principia Scientific. How good is this new journal? (This is the best part.....) They do their algebra right on the printed page!

Those slashes in Equation 3 aren't Dirac notation, but cancellation of the 4π's in the numerator and denominator -- because, you know, it's important to show all your work.

Why hasn't Nature thought of doing this?

Note: This fulfills our allotment of wasted time for the day.

Richard Feynman on Beauty

This has gotten around lately but it's so good I want to post it here too, if for no other reason than so I can find it again myself someday:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Simply Stated: Stop Screwing Us Over

Paul Krugman is really on these days, but I think a commenter on today's column on the Wall Street protests said it best:
Much of the complaint over the occupiers is that they have no direct agenda, no stated goal. Far from it. Whether it's the wars, the tax rates, the assault on unions, teachers, or the poisoning of the environment, lack of universal health care, or so many other complaints--it's simply enough stated--Stop Screwing Us Over.
In the same vein, you really have to see this rant by MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan:

(Nice editing work, too.) Via Michael Tobis.

Texas Drought Getting Worse

The drought in Texas just keeps getting worse--almost the entire state is now in "exceptional" drought conditions, the worst category:

(Via the Office of the State Climatologist in Texas.) An article says it could last another decade:
This summer, the weather in Texas was anything but normal. According to the "Societal Impacts of Climate in Texas," produced by the office of the state climatologist, the state led the nation in hot-car deaths; the drought caused higher food prices; high temperatures caused railroad tracks in North Texas to warp; the heat triggered asthma and allergy symptoms; and the heat caused foundation problems for homeowners. The list goes on.

Underneath those wounds of the drought and heat lurks the potential for even more serious damage. The Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University estimated last month that the drought has cost Texas $5.2 billion in crops and livestock — exceeding the previous record of $4.1 billion during the 2006 drought. And late last month, the state climatologist warned that dry years could stretch on for nearly another full decade.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Another Federal Data Source to be Cut

Now another federal source of data is on the chopping block.

Two months ago I wrote about the impending death of the Statistical Abstract of the United States. The 2012 issue was just printed, and its future is unclear--the Census Bureau Director seems to be trying to save some aspect of it, but it's still unclear if, or how, this will happen.

Now the National Biological Information Infrastructure is slated for termination in the President's FY2012 budget. (Savings: $3.8 million/yr.) The NBII is a program that provides data and information on US biological resources for field biologists, wildlife managers, etc. -- data on invasive species, wildlife disease, habitat loss, wetlands, and pollinators. Congressional testimony from the American Institute of Biological Sciences said
This would halt efforts to make data on invasive species, wildlife disease, habitat loss, wetlands, and pollinators more accessible to resource managers, scientists, and the public. The budget would also eliminate partnerships with more than 40 federal and state agencies, 20 universities, and other networks. Moreover, this plan would have global consequences, as NBII serves as the United States node for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international collaboration of nearly 60 countries that enables public access to global biodiversity data.
Maybe there is a method behind these kind of cuts, or maybe it's easy to see a conspiracy--I really don't know. But it's one more sign of a country in decline.

WSJ op-ed Undercuts Major Skeptic Talking Point

Robert Bryce's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Five Truths About Climate Change," is, of course, scientifically ridiculous, as lots of others have written.

In addition, by highlighting the experiment that recently announced a finding of faster-than-light neutrinos, Bryce disproves a main contrarian talking point: that scientists are afraid to buck the consensus and must go along to get along for the sake of funding, peer respect, morning donuts, etc.
The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere.
The recent Times Atlas kerfuffle demonstrated the same thing. Scientists are some of the most iconoclastic people around, and everyone loves to tear down ideas and replace them with better ones. At the time, they respect what has been learned by the scientific process and know any new ideas have to pass muster.

Moreover, few people expect the neutrino results to hold up, and there are already a slew of preprints suggesting possible errors in the experiment's design and methodology. Here's how Michael Mann put it when asked by
"This is a very scary statement, for it reveals both an ignorance of how science works, and an antipathy toward the scientific endeavor," said climate researcher Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. "Citing one experiment about a weakly interacting sub-atomic particle in an effort to discredit all of climate science is tantamount to citing the apparent discovery of an unexpected new animal species as reason to reject the theory of gravity. It is a desperate effort by those who find the implications of human-caused climate change inconvenient, to distract the public from the overwhelming evidence that it is both real, and a threat...."

"Most experts believe that the finding won't hold up (there is some evidence it was probably an artifact of clock synchronization errors), and the smart money is definitely with Einstein on this one," Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience. "But even if it was correct, special relativity wouldn't be 'overthrown,' just as classical Newtonian physics wasn't overthrown by the 20th-century innovations of quantum mechanics and relativity. Newtonian physics was still valid within the range of assumptions over which it had been tested (speeds small compared to that of light, and spatial scales large compared to atoms). As for any implications for climate change, there are none that I can see at all."
Climate contrarians remind me of a crab who keeps showing you his claws while backing further and further into a corner. Is this not the essential history of climate skepticism?

Skeptic argument
The world is cooling.
The world isn't warming.
The world is warming, but it's not due to man.
The world is warming, partly because of man, but it won't be a lot.
The world is warming mostly due to man, but there's no other cheap way to get energy.

The trendline of this argument is obvious, as is its projection into the future. It seems to me the only major remaining issue for skeptics/contrarians/deniers is to figure out how, in the end, they're going to manage to pin the blame for a trashed climate on liberals, environmentalists, and climate scientists themselves. I suspect the usual "think tanks" have long-term planning committees who are working on this as we speak.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Now It's A German Satellite Coming Down

Now it's a German satellite that's going to fall back to Earth, late this month or early in November -- 30 pieces collectively weighing 1.6 (metric) tons. As usual, officials are saying they can't predict where it will land, but they put the odds that a human will be hit at 1-in-3200 and repeat that no one has ever been hit by falling space debris.

Who wants to bet that, with the way the world is going, this thing lands somewhere in Greece?

Gabrielle Giffords is Hiding Something

Gabrielle Giffords is visiting Washington again, and it looks more than ever that she, her staff, and her cohorts are hiding something. No one is letting her speak or take questions.
About 30 people, including Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, greeted her and Kelly with a standing ovation as they entered the Secretary of War suite at the Eisenhower Executive Building next to the White House. Giffords walked slowly and with a noticeable limp, but she looked overjoyed to see some of her fellow lawmakers again.

Vice President Joe Biden emceed the ceremony, which included awarding Kelly two of the military's highest awards. Biden had a little trouble pinning the Legion of Merit on Kelly and blamed it on the dim lighting, but Giffords stepped up and had no trouble whatsoever pinning the Distinguished Flying Cross on her husband.

"Gabby did it better than I did," Biden said as the audience laughed and applauded.

Biden made note of Giffords appearance and her near-constant smile.

"You've been an inspiration, an inspiration to thousands of people who suffer from traumatic head injuries," Biden said. "... People look at you and say, `I can make it. I can do this.'"
That's fine and good, and wonderful (of course) that she's recovered physically after such a tramatic injury, and has such presence and dexterity. But....
As the ceremony ended, reporters were quickly escorted from the room so there was no chance to ask Giffords questions or for her to make any statements. She did not have extended conversations with colleagues at the beginning of the reception, but she turned to them and waved or blew them kisses when they were introduced.
Is she on record as having said anything in her two post-shooting visits to Washington? If so I haven't seen it. Meanwhile the Pelosis and Bidens seem to be going out of their way to gush over her recovery and physical capabilities, while her staff seems to go out of their way to ensure that no one hears her speak.

I'm not saying a Congressman with a verbal defect can't be effective, and ultimately, of course, it's up to her constituents to decide her political future. But with questions about her verbal abilities inevitably come questions about her reasoning and critical thinking skills. And if there's an issue there, covering them up just because Democrats don't want to risk losing her seat would be egregious.

Brain injuries like hers take years to recover from, if one recovers at all. And purely physical abilities can return quickly. My father has a stroke when I was in college, and he was never the same after. He recovered most of his physical abilities in a few months (though there were, naturally, some problems with weakness that never returned), but his cognitive and verbal skills were permanently diminished, especially the latter. He still has dysphasia, and never returned to work after his stroke. So I am especially curious about Giffords, and equally curious why no reporters near here are writing about this.

Obama Still Has the Big Picture in Mind

I listened to part of Obama's press conference this morning, and one reply in particular stood out as very smart (especially the 2nd paragraph). It shows he gets the big picture, and amidst all the economic turmoil still has it in mind:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Just following up on Jake’s question about Solyndra -- the loan program, guaranteed loan program that you talked about was giving out $38 billion in guaranteed loans, and promised to save or create 65,000 jobs, green jobs, in clean energy. And there’s been reports that actually only 3,500 new jobs have been created in that industry. Why has that industry been so slow to respond to the investment that your administration has provided? And what do you see going forward as to how it will respond?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that what has been true historically is that businesses that rely on new technologies, a lot of times it’s going to take a while before they get takeoff. And there are a lot of upfront investments that have to be made in research and capital and so forth, a lot of barriers for companies that are trying to break in. Keep in mind that clean energy companies are competing against traditional energy companies. And traditional energy is still cheaper in a lot of ways.

The problem is, is it’s running out, it’s polluting, and we know that demand is going to keep on increasing so that if we don’t prepare now, if we don’t invest now, if we don’t get on top of technologies now, we’re going to be facing 20 years from now a China that -- and India having a billion new drivers on the road; the trendlines in terms of oil prices, coal, et cetera, going up; the impact on the planet increasing. And we’re not just going to be able to start when all heck is breaking loose and say, boy, we better find some new energy sources.

So in the meantime, we’ve got to make these investments, but that makes it more difficult for a lot of these companies to succeed. What’s also a problem, as I said, is that other countries are subsidizing these industries much more aggressively than we are -- hundreds of billions of dollars the Chinese government is pouring into the clean energy sector, partly because they’re projecting what’s going to happen 10 or 20 years from now....

The Right Would Have Mocked the Young Steve Jobs

I didn't know this until this morning, but Steve Jobs' time in college consisted of one registered semester at Reed College in Portland (OR), and three unregistered semesters spent auditing classes there. Reed is a great school and quite bohemian (if tilting towards the upscale), and Jobs' time there was in the same spirit:
"Although he dropped out after only one semester, he continued auditing classes at Reed, while sleeping on the floor in friends' rooms, returning Coke bottles for food money, and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. Jobs later said, 'If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.'" (Stanford Report via Wikipedia)
Jobs later traveled to India and came back a Buddhist with his head shaved and wearing traditional clothing.

Of course, these are exactly the kind of people conservatives like to deride and mock, both here in Portland and with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. But today Jobs is being heralded by all as one of the most creative and visionary businessman in American history. In the same manner, the right mocks places like San Francisco and Massachusetts, without seeing the irony that the first is the center of one of the most innovative episodes in world history and the latter home to some of the best universities in the world (and with them great scientific results, great medical research and hospitals, and its own record of technological innovation as well.)

The Huffington Post has a slide show on this today: Colleges for Visionaries. And this is a bit tangential, but last night's Daily Show was spot-on as well:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wallace Broecker's Amazing 1975 Paper

Sometime when you have a half-hour you really ought to read Wallace Broecker's incredible 1975 paper in Science magazine, "Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" I'd heard mention of it but never sat down and just read it. It's simple and clear and amazing for its prescience--36 years ago, Broecker predicted almost exactly where the world's climate is right now.

Here's his first paragraph.
"The fact that the mean global temperature has been falling over the past several decades has led observers to discount the warming effect of the CO2 produced by the burning of chemical fuels. In this report I present an argument to show that this complacency may not be warranted. It is possible that we are on the brink of a several-decades-long period of rapid warming. Briefly, the argument runs as follows. The 18O record in the Greenland ice core strongly suggests that the present cooling is one of a long series of similar natural climatic fluctuations. This cooling has, over the last three decades, more than compensated for the warming effect produced by the CO2 released into the atmosphere as a by-product of chemical fuel combustion. By analogy with similar events in the past, the present natural cooling will, however bottom out during the next decade or so. Once this happens, the CO2 effect will tend to become a significant factor and by the first decade of the next century we may experience global temperatures warmer than any in the last 1000 years...."
Broecker assumed a model that is as simple as could be. He assumed:
  • that CO2 was the greatest (and only) influence on globally averaged temperature.
  • that temperature change was proportional to the logarithm of the change in CO2.
  • that 50% of man's CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere.
  • that fossil fuel consumption rises by 4.5%/yr from 1960-1975 and 3%/yr after 1975.
  • that a 10% rise in CO2 will cause a 0.3°C rise in average global temperature.
The last assumption is equivalent to assuming climate sensitivity for a CO2 doubling is 3°C.

Broecker gives his reasoning behind each of these assumptions, and they're straightforward to follow. Based on only this, he calculates the following values:

Broecker's projection for atmospheric CO2 in 2010, 403 ppm, was about 12 ppm too high. His assumption of a 50% absorption rate by the oceans was a little too low -- today it's thought to be about 60% absorbed by land and sea combined. And so his temperature change was a little too high as well; Broecker projected that 2010 would be 0.75°C warmer than 1975, whereas it's 0.68°C as measured by GISS and 0.63°C as measured by the Hadley Centre.

That, people, is pretty good.

Maybe Broecker got a little lucky. (But good people have a tendency to be lucky.)

Or maybe all this climate change stuff really isn't that complicated, and while it'd be nice for a big fancy global climate model run on an expensive supercomputer to spit out the exact year the last glacier in the Himalayas will disappear, and then wait a few decades for its confirmation to declare that the science is settled, it is hardly necessary in order to conclude that our large CO2 emissions are bound to bring a lot of warming and its attendant consequences.

Nobel Laureate Stands Up for Climate Scientists

Brian Schmidt, who yesterday won the Nobel Prize in Physics, did a good thing and stood up for the climate scientists now under attack. Schmidt is Australian, and their fights over global warming and a carbon tax have also seen a lot of ugliness:
"I think that (the carbon debate) has maybe in the short-term diminished in some people's mind the standing of science," Professor Schmidt, 44, said.

"But in my mind it's just part of the scientific debate.

"We need to make sure we don't mix policy and science directly. Science is science, the policy is policy. And I would really like the scientists to continue to debate what's right and what's wrong about everything.

"And I would really like the policy people to debate how to deal with what is coming in from the scientists."

Never Tell People What They Can't Do

From a press release by the American Mathematical Society:
In his 1989 book "The Emperor's New Mind", Roger Penrose commented on the limitations on human knowledge with a striking example: He conjectured that we would most likely never know whether a string of 10 consecutive 7s appears in the digital expansion of the number pi. Just 8 years later, Yasumasa Kanada used a computer to find exactly that string, starting at the 17387594880th digit of pi....
Here's more about Kanada, and here's his Web page.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

UAH: 5th Warmest September

UAH has posted their global surface temperature anomaly for last month: +0.29 C.

That sounds low, but actually it's the 5th highest September in their records. (I'm still unsure if one can compare a month's value to any other month in the entire record, or only to the same month in different years.) Remember, they recently moved their baseline forward. And we just started a new La Nina.

It's telling that months that now seem unremarkable are in fact quite high compared to the entire record. We really are in a new normal.

Good Question (on Obamacare)

"Is there any chance that the Justices will have to all recuse themselves since they have government health care?"

-- Stephen Colbert, on the Obama administration's decision to fast-track the PPACA to the Supreme Court.

Arthur C Clarke on the Future

"The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen."

- Arthur C. Clarke

How Americans Win (and Can Lose) Nobel Prizes

This is a good opportunity to point out that the work of this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics was made possible because of the Hubble Space Telescope. Perlmutter:
"First we got seven supernovae on the Hubble diagram, but it was suggestive of an "omega mass = 1' universe. [In other words, the mass density of the universe suggested it was flat and would only asymptotically expand to infinity.] Then we got data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and that made a huge difference, because it could peer much farther, to much higher redshift. That was the first time you started to see the data pull away from a flat universe, and it was suggestive.

The fact that we were not getting an omega mass of 1 started to imply to people that maybe there was an omega lambda [that is, a cosmological constant]. That was the first time we started to have that from our own data. This was the beginning of 1997.

Eventually we had 42 supernovae...."
It was only data from the Hubble Telescope that enabled them to gather enough data for the signal to emerge. This is exactly why canceling the James Webb Space Telescope would be a mistake for the advancement and prestige of American science. Yes, it's expensive, but big funding is how you get big discoveries and big prizes. Who could argue that, if all the Hubble ever did was provide the data to discover cosmic acceleration (and it has given a lot more than that) then it was not worth it?

This Year's Nobel Prize

I'm not at all surprised to see the Nobel Prize in Physics go to Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess, and Brian Schmidt. The discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe and dark energy is surely one of the most profound discoveries in science, ever. It's not often physicists realize they have no no idea what makes up 3/4ths of the universe, and it's still extremely puzzling to them 13 years later, as in no one seems to have any idea what dark energy is (if  indeed that's what is causing the acceleration --that's how enigmatic the situation is). I don't think the public has grasped this yet (insofar as they grasp any science at all).

I profiled Perlmutter in 2008 for Scientific American. He's a great guy and was nice enough to spend the entire day with me; we talked for hours, had lunch, and I tagged along to one of his classes and to a group meeting. We even talked some about the possibility of him winning the Nobel Prize, and he was humble but knew it would probably happen some day. I doubt he's very surprised this morning, though surely still walking on air.

I'm a bit surprised to see that Permutter won half the prize and Schmidt and Riess a quarter each. I suspect this won't sit well with STSCI, who has done a lot to promote Riess and his work. After my Permutter profile one of their PIOs wrote to me and said, nice article, I just want to make sure you know about Adam's work. Of course, I knew all about it, and mentioned it in my article. Profiling Permutter wasn't a slight of anyone, just the suggestion by my Sci Am editor, Phil Yam, that Perlmutter had done important work. (And, Riess had written about the discovery for Sci Am in 2004.) Schmidt and Riess's group published before Perlmutter's work, but the Perlmutter group had been working on the supernova problem for some years before Schmidt and Riess's group and announced the discovery first. Anyway, some people will probably consider this Prize controversial.

PS: Scientific American also published more of my Q&A with Perlmutter, here, where we talk a little about how credit for the discovery is apportioned.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Weird Units?

I'm collecting weird units used in science and engineering, and welcome nominations.

I have in mind units that people make up for the purposes of their own field, but are unlikely to be used (or even known) elsewhere. No, "leagues" and "short tons" don't count as weird.

Some on my list include:
  • sverdrup (Sv), a measure of ocean currents used by physical oceanographers: 1 Sv = 106 m3/s (= 264 million gallons per second). The amount of water going over Niagara Falls, 1834 m3/s, is 0.002 Sv. The total of all fresh water emptying into the oceans is about 1 Sv.
  • MegaYuri (MYuri), a measure of tether strength used by the space elevator community: 1 MYuri = 1 GPa/(g/cm3) = 100,000 N/(g/cm). Strangely, this unit has the same units as velocity-squared, and the speed of sound in dry air (343 m/s), squared, is about 0.1 MYuri.
  • Einstein: A mole of photons.
  • The barn, a unit of area used in particle physics scattering experiments (as in, "big as the side of a barn"). 1 barn = 100 fm2 = 10-28 m2, and is about the cross-sectional area of a uranium atom. Related units are the outhouse (1 microbarn) and the shed (1 yoctobarn, or 10-52 m2).
  • This gives the "inverse femtobarn" (fb-1) used by particle physicists, which just may be the worse, least intuitive unit in all of  physics. It's a measure of particle collision events per femtobarn; one of them is a big deal. Fermilab only produced 10 fb-1 in the last decade, and one experiment at CERN just celebrated their first one.
  • Jansky, used by radio astronomers and heard by everyone who watched the movie Contact. 1 Jy = 10-26 W/m2/Hz.
  • Warp Factor (w), as in speed, as in Star Trek. The definition seems to have changed over the years; in the Original Series a ships speed v was related to its warp factor w by v = w3c where c is the speed of light. Later apparently it was changed to v = w10/3c, kinda, because for some reason ships couldn't  go faster than w=10. 
  • Cochrane (C), a unit of subspace distortion, whatever that is. Named, of course, after the inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane
What else is out there? I haven't Googled yet, because so far it's been fun making up my own list.

Relativity's New Revolution

I have the cover story on this month's issue of Physics World magazine: "Relativity's New Revolution," about the breakthrough that has been made in numerically solving Einstein's equations of general relativity. Here's a copy.

The cover art is by Werner Benger of Louisiana State University. Pretty impressive, isn't it?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Charles Darwin on Americans

Here's that quote from Charles Darwin I mentioned the day, from his book Descent of Man (1871):
"There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection; for the more energetic, restless and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best."
(Clearly I didn't quite remember its sentiment correctly.) I wonder what Darwin would have thought if he knew that Americans would mostly reject his theory -- only 39% believe in evolution, while a recent poll showed 4 in 10 Americans think God created man in his present form about 10,000 years ago.

I found this is the Scott Miller book I wrote about a few weeks ago: The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and the Empire at the Dawn of the American Century.

Silly Slogans All Around

Nicholas Kristof in yesterday's New York Times:
"Much of the sloganeering at 'Occupy Wall Street' is pretty silly — but so is the self-righteous sloganeering of Wall Street itself."

Climate Scientists Fighting Back

Do you get the impression the canonical climate science community has had enough with the abuse and is making a concerted effort to fight back? Not just the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, but the quick pushback to the Spencer and Braswell paper in Remote Sensing (who knows what was said to the editor behind the scenes?) with the fast paper by Andrew Dessler, Dessler's op-eds in the Houston Chronicle (here and here), and a recent op-ed by Kerry Emanuel and Peter Frumhoff that appeared in the Austin Statesman, Ray Bradley's new book, and John Abraham's earlier molecular-level disembowment of Lord (and-I-have-the-letters-patent-to-prove-it!) Monckton.

Yesterday saw Michael Mann's scorching rebuttal to a particularly ignorant and abusive opinion piece that appeared only one day earlier in the Vail Daily by Martin Hertzberg. This paper serves rural Colorado and has a circulation of only 15,000, but Mann unleashed both barrels:
"An individual named Martin Hertzberg did a grave disservice to your readers by making false and defamatory statements about me and my climate scientist colleagues in his recent commentary in your paper.

"It's hard to imagine anyone packing more lies and distortions into a single commentary. Mr. Hertzberg uses libelous language in characterizing the so-called “hockey stick” -- work of my own published more than a decade ago showing that recent warming is unusual over at least the past 1,000 years -- as “fraudulent,” and claiming that it “it was fabricated from carefully selected tree-ring measurements with a phony computer program.”

These are just lies, regurgitation of dishonest smears that have been manufactured by fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers, and those who do their bidding by lying to the public about the science."
Mann continues:
"Mr. Hertzberg then continues the smear by lying again about my work, claiming that “when those same tree-ring data actually showed a decline in temperature for the past several decades, Mann and his co-authors simply ‘hid the decline' by grafting direct measurements (inadequately corrected for the urban heat island and other effects) to his flat tree-ring line.”

"That is, once again, a string of lies tied together. This statement falsely equates my work, which was not based on tree rings but rather a diverse network of different types of “proxy” climate data, with tree-ring work by an entirely different scientist, Keith Briffa of the University of East Anglia.

"And it is is a highly dishonest characterization of his Briffa's work, as well, since the “decline” was a well-known problem with those particular data that Briffa was the first to describe and attempt to deal with, in the scientific literature.

"Mr. Hertzberg's lies are pernicious. Their intent appears to be to do convince you that there is no harm in our continued unfettered release of carbon into the atmosphere."
I hope Hertzberg wears asbestos underwear.

The paper responded by removing Hertzberg's article from their site -- but you can find a Google cache here.

I don't blame scientists for being fed up; it's a shame it's come to this, because they have better things to do. (I'm not one of those who think scientists have an inherent or ethical responsibility to communicate with the public; doing good science is hard enough and requires a lot of focus, and too often they get slammed as activists). With the possibility of Rick Perry become the Commander in Chief of Greenhouse Gases, let's hope they succeed.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Perry Blames the Uninsured for Ignoring His "Options"

From the New York Times:
“Texas measures its health care success by the options that are provided for coverage and the efforts to create ones that are affordable. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s choice whether to utilize these options.”

-- Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Rick Perry
  • leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents
  • has the third-lowest percentage of people covered by their employers (50% compared to a national average of 60%)
  • spends less per capita than all but one other state on Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurance program for the disabled and poor children.
  • an estimated 6.2 million people — one-quarter of the state’s population — are uninsured, including 1.3 million children.