Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This Has Become Farce

This has quickly become a farce.

Watts' recounting of the rush to complete their analysis and put something on the Web doesn't sound like any science I've ever done or seen -- it sounds like final exam week for undergraduates. It's crystal clear this isn't a scientific paper, but an extended blog post intended purely as a PR-counter to BEST's announcement.

And one's blog readers aren't peer reviewers (Watts: "So made announcement Friday. Figured on Sunday at noon so WUWT could provide peer review....").

Patient, careful thinking is the very hallmark of science -- perhaps the only real advantage it has going for it. There is simply no sense that that happened here, as others are quickly pointing out. Scrambling around for the sake of public relations nullifies the very essence of what makes science so useful and so powerful.

It has become impossible to take this "paper" seriously, when there is so much good and true science being put out that requires attention. When and if it ever appears in a journal -- which looks less likely with each passing day -- it's worth revisiting. I have no desire to be a wingnut blogger. Standards, people, standards -- have they really vanished in this day and age?

Audio of Tomorrow's Senate Hearing

Tomorrow the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (Chairman: James Inhofe, R-OK) Barbara Boxer (D-CA)) has a hearing entitled, “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures.”

It's doesn't look to be Webcast It will be Webcast at http://www.epw.senate.gov, and it looks like CSPAN will have the audio here, starting at 10 am ET.

Update: At 10 am ET tomorrow, there will be a copy of James McCarthy's testimony here. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists "he will explain that the ocean has absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat trapped over the past century by greenhouse gasses that have accumulated in the atmosphere, and that this heat is now penetrating deep into the ocean. According to McCarthy, this pattern cannot be explained by short-term natural cycles; it is a clear signature of climate change. He also will explain how what happens in the ocean affects the climate on land, including seasonal patterns of extreme weather events."

Reax to Weekend's PR Blitz

Jason Samenow at the Washington Post has a lot of strong thoughts, and collects reaxs, to the weekend's PR blitz.
"Both studies staged high-profile releases and represent concerted efforts to influence public perception about what we know about climate science. But neither has been published in a peer-reviewed publication and there is cause to question their legitimacy."
Ben Santer in the LA Times:
“I think [Muller] can do great harm to the broader debate. Imagine this scenario: that he makes these great claims and the papers aren’t published? This (op-ed) is in the spirit of publicity, not the spirit of science.”
"The claim that this single study [BEST] was “too important” to hold back - especially in light of scores of other important studies which received no such pre-publication fanfare - reeks of arrogance on the part of the author team."
"Irrespective of the flaws in Muller’s analysis or its merits - grabbing headlines in the New York Times prior to peer review represents an enormous tactical mistake. Peer review is the primary pillar of scientific legitimacy. Without it, a study has little to support it." 
"Science blogger David Appell had it exactly right when he said the Watts paper is “exactly the kind of paper that most needs peer review: based on a lot of judgements and classifications and nitty gritty details....”
"The Muller and Watts studies no doubt represent a lot of hard work and may eventually prove to be valuable contributions to science. But we should reserve judgment on their significance."

"And this new effort by these scientists to grab attention for studies that have not yet been vetted by other, independent scientists is disturbing and unproductive. It’s a disingenuous attempt to score points on a highly polarized scientific issue."

"My advice? Ignore these publicity stunts and pay no attention to these studies until they have passed peer review. And even studies that have been peer reviewed should be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism until they have been confirmed in multiple subsequent studies and stood the test of time."
One obvious hole is that Watts et al made little effort to communicate the statistical significance of their trends. That's a crucial part of any piece of science, without which a result is essentially meaningless (ask the teams who discovered the Higgs), even more so when you're claiming results to three significant figures. Their section 3.2.4, "Statistical Significance Testing," isn't what I mean -- I mean the estimated uncertainty (error bars) on each of the trend results -- are they good to 1% or 50%? It matters, and I suspect some peer reviewers will fail it just for this.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Venema Review of Watts et al 2012

Victor Venema, a meteorologist at the University of Bonn, has a useful review of Watts et al 2012. He writes:
Thus what he found is that the Urban Heat Island effect exists. I did not know that this was controversial.

Good news is that the study finds that after homogenization, the station quality is no longer a problem for the mean temperature.
Venema understands the temperature data homogenization issues, and concludes:
Had the new study found clear differences in the temperature trend in the homogenized data, the study would have been interesting for the general public. Because it is the homogenized data that used to compute large scale trends in the real climate. If the homogenized data would still be partially polluted by the urban heat island effect that would have been an error. The aim of homogenization is exactly to remove artificial changes from the raw data. It seems to do so successfully, now acknowledged by WUWT the second time.
Earlier he had this review of data homogenisation of monthly and annual data from surface stations.   It gets into the weeds, but of course that's often where the science resides.

This is clearly a paper that needs a thorough peer review, which I suspect will take a good while if it's done right. Watts et al don't say where it is being submitted (you almost get the impression that's an afterthought), but that will matter. (E&E, for example, won't cut it.)

Then there are the deluded people who somehow believe one paper about 2 percent of the globe, that finds that quality sites have a 1979-2008 trend of +0.155 C/decade (3 significant figures?? error bars??) will change the debate about global warming and the influence of CO2. (Just like, I guess, the other hundred times they thought some result settled the debate for good.) It won't, of course.

Cost of the US Drought (Relatively Small)

Roger Pielke Jr. has an interesting chart on the cost of the recent drought, compared to past years. This year's hardly compares at all (at least, on a national scale).

You could also scale the numbers in terms of inflation, as measured by the annual CPI. I've give those in the table below.

In USA Today an expert says this year's cost will likely surpass last year's, but it would have to be more than 4 times larger to equal the cost of the drought in 1980.

Science Mores, Disappearing Everywhere

I can completely understand sentiments like this one from Michael Mann:

Some additional thoughts about Muller and 'BEST':
Muller's announcement last year that the Earth is indeed warming brought him up to date w/ where the scientific community was in the the 1980s. His announcement this week that the warming can only be explained by human influences, brings him up to date with where the science was in the mid 1990s. At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of a few years!
My view is that Muller's efforts to promote himself by belittling the collective efforts of the entire atmospheric/climate research community over several decades, though, really does the scientific community a disservice. Its great that he's reaffirmed what we already knew. But for him to pretend that we couldn't trust this entire scientific field until Richard Muller put his personal stamp of approval on their conclusions is, in my view, a very dangerously misguided philosophical take on how science works. It seems, in the end--quite sadly--that this is all really about Richard Muller's self-aggrandizement :(
I suspect there are a lot of climate scientists out there who quietly and diligently go about doing their work and, though they'll never say anything, resent people coming along, retracing steps that were done long ago, and announcing their results in the New York Times as if finally the truth is known. Scientific mores seem to be disappearing everywhere.

Via Tom Nelson.

Watts et al: Clunk


That, to me, seems to be the sound of the drama queen's preprint hitting the Internet. First of all, it's exactly the kind of paper that most needs peer review: based on a lot of judgements and classifications and nitty gritty details that only siting wonks can evaluate. (So does a paper like BEST's -- but their conclusion is nothing surprising.)

And it just doesn't compete with the narrative -- record US heat, the US drought, BEST -- that is quickly sweeping by. It smells a little desperate. If it withstands peer review, then it's worth a good look. Until then it looks like PR, which is, of course, exactly how it's being delivered.

(Can I just say that delivering science as PR, or PR as science, is off-putting and worrisome, whether it comes from private groups or professional journals like Nature.)

Then there are the inconvenient facts that

(1) USA48 is 1.6% of the Earth's surface area, and

(2) the trend of the USA48 lower troposphere, as measured by satellites as calculated by UAH, is 0.23 ± 0.08 °C from 1979 to present (95% confidence limit, no correction for autocorrelation). Satellite measurements almost completely avoid the urban heat island problem.

Then, of course, there is the rank hypocrisy:

Anthony Watts, Oct 11 2011: "The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project puts PR before peer review"

Not to mention: Anthony Watts, Oct 30 2011: Why didn’t Berkeley Earth wait for peer review?


Where BEST Should Have Stopped

It seems BEST is getting into trouble with their claims of attribution instead of their reconstruction of the temperature data. What they've done sounds like -- well, like what a bunch of physicists would do, not what climate science needs (and what climate scientists do).

Andrew Revkin quotes Judith Curry (who declined to be a co-author on the BEST results being announced today):
Their latest paper on the 250-year record concludes that the best explanation for the observed warming is greenhouse gas emissions. Their analysis is way oversimplistic and not at all convincing in my opinion.

There is broad agreement that greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to the warming in the latter half of the 20th century; the big question is how much of this warming can we attribute to greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t think this question can be answered by the simple curve fitting used in this paper, and I don’t see that their paper adds anything to our understanding of the causes of the recent warming. That said, I think there are two interesting results in this paper, regarding their analysis of 19th century volcanoes and the impact on climate, and also the changes to the diurnal temperature range.
Physicists tend to see the world as made up of simple physical systems (particles and fields), and when the physical systems get too complicated (atoms beyond Helium, molecules, galaxies), they hand them off to the chemists and astronomers for analysis. Heisenberg et al found the laws of quantum mechanics; but then they didn't get much beyond calculating the spectra of He2+ before saying, yeesh, that's hard, enough of that! So they turned to the structure of the nucleus and the laws of quantum electrodynamics and partied it up there.

What does x-ray crystallography say about the structure of DNA? Don't ask a physicist! Pure physicists don't do that kind of stuff. Sure, they could if they really wanted to. But by and large they really don't want to, and it's not what they're good at.

Attributing climate is more like figuring out the structure of DNA than it is like figuring out the laws of quantum mechanics -- simple curve-fitting ("exponentials, polynomials") doesn't cut it. In fact, it makes you look kind of foolish. If it were that simple climatologists would have done it in the 19th century (and, of course, they've all tried curve-fitting on the second week of their research, then hid those papers in a bottom drawer.) That's exactly why they scratch around for all the clues they can get, and why they ruin their youth build climate models. (Sure, CO2 is one of the big factors, which is already enough to be worried about our large emissions; but there is usually a lot going on.)

BEST did a great job reconstructing the temperature history of the planet (assuming their work passes peer review, at least). Perhaps they should have stopped there.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is the US Drought Really That Extraordinary?

Despite all the headlines, I am not convinced the current U.S. drought is that exceptional, compared to history. I'm sure it's very tough for farmers, and will be for those who will be buying their food, but farming has always been a tough business.

Here is data on the U.S. Drought Monitor, which looks broadly at the U.S.

US Drought Monitor, July 24, 2012

The following are plots of the percent of the U.S. counties that is "moderately to extremely dry," going back over a century. Granted, this is a broader brush than the information above, since it puts an area in one of two bins instead of five.

So it definitely shows a serious drought today -- but it's akin to about a dozen that have occurred since 1895, and is not as severe as the 1934 or the mid-1950s (which was both broader and longer). Perhaps the spike are becoming a little more frequent in recent decades, but that's not obvious (unlike what Paul Krugman wrote).

Here's the 12-month moving average, which makes things a little clearer:

And here is the dry area 12-month percentage expressed as its standard deviation from the mean:

The current drought looks like a fairly normal drought, at least so far, with no evidence of "Dust Bowlification." (Notice how Romm sneaks in a plot of heat when writing about drought. They're not the same thing.)

I'm sure many farmers are being seriously affected. But farming has always been a tough business (which is why we have price supports). I just don't see an extraordinary drought in this data, but an ordinary drought.

Stoat, Caldiera: BEST Results Nothing New

Stoat finds these new BEST results "rubbish" (by which he means the data analysis is nothing new, and the attribution claims not very scientific), calls Muller a "prima donna," and quotes Ken Caldiera via Romm:
"I am glad that Muller et al have taken a look at the data and have come to essentially the same conclusion that nearly everyone else had come to more than a decade ago. The basic scientific results have been established for a long time now, so I do not see the results of Muller et al as being scientifically important. However, their result may be politically important."
The best part is that this study was partially funded by the Koch Brothers. They must have some PR agency working overtime this weekend (though maybe they don't even care enough to bother....)

BEST's Warming Expectation is on the Low Side

One thing to note is that BEST's expectation of future warming is actually on the low side. Muller is said to write:
"I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about 1.5 degree F over land in the next 50 years."
That's a rate of 0.17 °C/decade over land. But the land is warming faster than the globe as a whole; in the last 30 years the ratio of the trend of warming over land to the trend of global warming is 1.58 for HadCRUT4 (1.27 for UAH's lower troposphere).

So BEST's global warming rate for the next 50 years would be something like 0.11 °C/decade, which is low -- HadCRUT4's global warming rate for the last 30 years is 0.18 °C/decade....

BEST to announce 2.5 F Warming Since 1750

Ron Bailey is now reporting that BEST's Richard Muller has an op-ed appearing in the New York Times saying that warming has been 2.5°F (1.4°C) since 1750 and 1.5°F (0.83°C) since 1950. The op-ed is said to conclude:
What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. With a simple model (no tipping points, no sudden increase in cloud cover, a response to gases that is “logarithmic”) I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about 1.5 degree F over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid growth (it has averaged 10% per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (typically adding one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.
Expect the usual complaints that BEST is by-passing the peer review process and heading straight for maximum publicity. (That might be true if there were normal, typical science; clearly global warming, with its immense societal implications, left that domain about 20 years ago.) Their first studies, submitted for peer review to JGR Atmospheres in October 2011, haven't even appeared yet.

Added: You have to wonder about their attempts at attribution, though. Muller writes (or is said to  have written):
How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect – extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as does carbon dioxide....
Curve-matching doesn't sound very sophisticated...and you might wonder how it would include various other factors that could be in play at different periods: a warmer sun in the early 20th century, increased aerosols (and perhaps dust from atmospheric nuclear testing from 1945-1970s) mid-century, etc.

If the BEST rumor of 1.5 C Warming is True

Ron Bailey at Reason Magazine says there is a rumor that next week the BEST group at Berkeley will announce a finding of a 1.5°C temperature increase since 1750.

OK, it's just a rumor. But what would it mean for climate sensitivity?

The CDIAC estimates of historical CO2 emissions start in 1751 for fossil fuel combustion, but 1850 for land use changes. What if you included land use emissions from 1750 - 1850?

Since 1850, the totals are:

cumulative fossil fuel consumption emissions = 374 GtC
cumulative land use emissions = 165 GtC

where I have filled in the last few years of fossil fuel emissions from IEA data and, since CDIAC's land use emission dataset goes only to 2005, assumed annual land use changes since then are equal to 2005's emissions of 1,467 MtC/yr.

Since HadCRUT4 global surface warming since 1850 (slope × interval length) is 0.73°C, that gives a carbon-climate response of 1.37°C/TtC, which can be compared to the Swart and Weaver CCR function of 1.5 °C/TtC (which comes from a 2009 Nature paper by Matthews et al, which finds the 5th - 95th percentiles of the CCR to be 1.0 - 2.1 °C/TtC).

So what might earlier land use changes, from 1750 - 1850, add to cumulative carbon emissions? Well, from 1850-1870 those emissions averaged 535 MtC/yr. Assuming that's what it was starting in 1750, and adding in CDIAC's numbers for fossil fuel emissions for that period (which are very small), cumulative emissions from 1750-1850 would be 54 GtC, or only 10% more than the total from 1850-2010.

That would only mean an extra 0.08°C (0.05-0.011°C) of warming (5th-95th percentile), for a total of 0.87°C (0.58-1.22°C).

So if the rumor is true and the warming since 1750 is 1.5°C, maybe the global average surface temperature is on the high side of the CCR.

These historical carbon accountings are difficult and the error bars are significant. On the other hand, the CCR should hold over any time period where natural fluctuations average to zero, and its value for recent decades does tend to be high:

CCR of last 20 years: 1.99 °C/TtC
CCR of last 30 years: 2.28 °C/TtC
CCR of last 50 years: 1.91 °C/TtC

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Obama and Committed Warming

Really, someone should have told him about committed warming.
(Sea level by Aviso)

This Message Was Not Approved by Joe Romm

Keith Kloor:
I’m also starting to wonder if every article on climate change should carry this disclaimer: “This message was not approved by Joe Romm. It may not emphasize the full scope of the climate change-triggered apocalyptic death spiral of the human race, and it may not fully emphasize the full culpability of journalists, climate deniers, and all Republicans. May the climate Gods have mercy on my soul.”
This is good too:
Greens and climate activists shouldn’t count on sporadic heat waves and wildfires to do the work for them. This is crucial because extreme weather and disasters has become crack cocaine to the climate community. Many of them are now hooked. And they come crashing down once the heat breaks and global warming disappears from the headlines.

Crop Yields and Drought: Not that Simple

Anthony Watts has a post about the increase in corn yields -- up by a factor of about 7 since 1930 -- as if to say there's no need to be concerned about today's drought.

It's not that simple, of course. The US population has increased by a factor of 2.6 since 1930; the world population by 3.3. And new farmland is ever harder to come by. There's been a 10% increase in US corn acreage in recent years, mostly due to the demand for ethanol. Mark Perry wrote last year:
"Farmers today grow five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s – on 20 percent less land.... The yield per acre has skyrocketed from 24 bushels in 1931 to 154 now, or a six-fold gain..... The national average of 153 bushels produced on each acre in 2010 was nearly 20 percent larger than the average yield in 2002 – and plant breeding experts estimate yields may jump 40 percent before 2020 and, perhaps, hit a national average of 300 bushels per acre by 2030."
With people now (1) more abundant, (2) eating more calories, (3) eating more meat (which uses up crops and water fast), (4) using corn for fuel, there have to be to higher yields. Counting on them to counter drought and higher temperatures is risky -- and it's important to keep in mind that many farmers in the world don't have access to the level of technology that US farmers do. (So once again, looking at climate change as it applies just to the US is very myopic.)

A 2007 study by Lobell and Fields didn't look at corn but at six other crops, found that, all else being equal higher temperatures have decreased yields, just about offsetting higher yields from enhanced CO2 fertilization. They estimate the 2002-2007 global losses at about $5 billion per year. A recent study by Lobell found maize and wheat production declined by 4-6% in 30 years due to higher temperatures (that is, declined from their level in the absence of climate change).

Of course, all else is never equal. But counting on them being unequal in the direction you need is risky.

A recent study by Lin and Huybers found that wheat yields have leveled off in many regions. They write:
"Recent studies (Kalra et al 2008, Lobell et al 2011) also indicate that warming in Bangladesh and India have reduced wheat yields by approximately 20% of their average trend since 1980 (Lobell et al 2011). The deleterious effects of climate change may be expected to decrease yield potential and, coupled with yields already near their maximum potential, may have contributed to the observed leveling in India and Bangladesh. Western European wheat yields were also found to have incurred disproportionate losses from regional warming (Lobell et al 2011) and may be near their yield potential (Licker et al 2010), suggesting that similar factors as discussed for Bangladesh and India may have acted in conjunction with policy changes to cause leveling in that region."
Cavalier conclusions about the very things that keep us all going don't help anyone, and are more intended to score a point for your side than illuminate a complex situation.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mann's Letter to the National Review

Here's the letter that Michael Mann's attorney sent to the National Review. Steyn's article is still up.

It's sad that it has come to this, but good to see an aggressive fighting back against the defamation and lies.

The Next Set of Questions for Exxon Mobil's CEO

Now that Exxon Mobil's CEO has admitted that CO2 emissions cause warming, the next reporter who gets a chance to interview him needs to be ready with the appropriate followup questions.

Last month, Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO ex Tillerson said, at the Council of Foreign Relations:
“Increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have a warming impact,” Tillerson said. “It’s an engineering problem and it has an engineering solution.”
Q: What is that solution?
Q: Should fossil fuel producers and consumers pay the cost of that solution?
Q: If not, why not?
Farmers may shift crops to new regions as temperatures rise. “As a species, that’s why we’re all still here,” he said. “We adapt.”
Q: How will the necessary adaptations be distributed across societies?
Q: Should fossil fuel producers and consumers pay the cost of that adaptation?
Q: If not, why not?
“There are much more pressing priorities that we, as a human race, need to deal with,” he said. The world’s poorest residents “don’t even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably.”
Q: Then, should those who aren't poor pay for the cost of their emissions?
Q: If not, why not?

Q: Is it ethical for a company to keep the profits of a product, which admittedly causes damage, while expecting society to pay for that damage?

Opportunities to put questions to someone like Tillerson are far too infrequent, so reporters need to be ready. These questions would be a good start.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Getting the Basic Stuff Wrong

Fred Guterl started a recent piece in the New York Times with
"SO far 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record."
That's not true at all, globally. Year-to-date 2012 ranks 10th, as measured by GISS*, and that's before you get into error bars and such. (YTD, 2010 is warmest at +0.71°C, while 2012 is at +0.50°C for January-to-June.) GISS says the "2-sigma (95%) uncertainty for comparison of global temperatures in nearby recent years is estimated to be 0.05°C."

It is true that, for the lower 48 states of the U.S., 2012 is the warmest year so far, as measured by NOAA. There the spread is more meaningful: 52.88°F for 2012, with the next-warmest YTD year being 2006 at 51.68°F. But then, the lower 48 states are only 1.6% of the Earth's surface area, blah blah blah. Guterl's piece has a global focus, so the global ranking would be the most relevant number.

Anyway, I know writing about climate change is in fashion this summer because of the US heat wave and drought**. But science writers don't do anyone any favors if they get the basic stuff wrong.


* Why is the Climate Research Unit holding back their version 4 numbers after 2010? I don't understand how they can calculate the anomalies until then, but not after. If they're going to wait a year to two until all the station data rolls in before releasing an anomaly number, that dataset is not going to be as useful as it could be (and was).
** In this respect, Oregon is a lousy place from which to watch climate change. This June was 2.8°F below its 1981-2010 average, and the YTD has been 0.7°F below that baseline.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spiritually Sick By the Afternoon

Yesterday morning I woke up and turned on the radio, and immediately it was about the shootings in Colorado.

It's always sickening, but the truth is it's not really shocking anymore. Mass shootings in America are now like the seasons -- you know there will always be another one. The only mystery is the number -- how many this time?

By now everyone knows the game: it's ax-grinding time. Pundits rush to their computers to get their name in the game: Roger Ebert in the New York Times. Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. Lots of bloggers everywhere, which other bloggers roll up into summaries.

They all have it figured out, or at least their piece of it, seemingly before noon.

It's all predictable. Someone will tie the shooter to the Tea Party. Someone else will tie him to Occupy Wall Street. He will be quickly be identified as a loner, or an atheist, or someone who played video games. Reporters will flock like lemmings around his mother, or father, or whoever they can find who might utter a sentence in the most shocking moment of their life.

The presidential campaigns will immediately delve deep into their playbook on how to appear concerned without alienating their base. How to show they care, but without committing to anything. Say something, but not too much. Their aides will start clocks, ticking until the moment fades away.

“It is an act that defies description," said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Not good enough, Governor, except maybe for the dozen epitaphs that now need to be written.

Everything said was completely predicable.

There are too many guns in America.
There aren't enough guns.
What ordinary person needs all those weapons?
If everyone in the theatre had a weapon this wouldn't have happened.
The shooter was a brilliant mastermind.
He couldn't find a job in this economy.
He was mentally ill.
There are always going to be insane people among us.
Hollywood glorifies violence.
He wanted to be a superhero.

Everyone has it all figured out.

I swear, by the afternoon I felt so spiritually sick I shut everything off and pulled down an old book of fantasy by Peter Beagle. I thought about buying a small cabin somewhere in Montana or France. I looked at my cats with envy, chasing flies and worrying about the stray who jumps on my balcony to steal their food. Not that they do much about her -- they just wiggle and whine about it while she eats. She's young and very thin and weighs half what they do, but she gets her way. Or maybe they know she's hungry.

We're a big country, but so interconnected now that a shooting in Colorado seems like a shooting down the street. Virtual worrying, virtual suffering. Yet in my town of only 12,500 people there have been 3 murders in the last 2 years, all within a mile of me. Someone a hundred yards down the street tried to poison his upstairs neighbors by cooking a poison on his car engine late at night. Across town a son recently shot his mother in the stomach, and was let out on $110,000 bail. The police force has been cut by 20% in just 3 years, and only one in four serious crimes leads to a conviction and sentencing. More than one person in 11 here can't find a job.

Anymore it seems like the whole country is falling apart, and people are too busy fighting about why to care. Maybe it's just too big anymore to govern, or for anyone to notice and care that a 24-year old, obviously intelligent person like James Holmes become so alienated, isolated and alone that one semester he's in medical school, and the next he's outfitting himself for Armageddon.

Like Steve Duin recently wrote in the Oregonian, "Who still believes that either candidate wants anything from the rest of us beyond a show of hands?" Just shut up and vote. Maybe next year GDP growth will be 3.4% instead of 2.2%, and all will again be well. What do you expect, anyway -- to go to a movie in safety?


Michael Mann retains legal counsel (you know what that means) after this obnoxious post by the National Review's Mark Steyn, and Anthony Watts' thinks it's a mistake because it will alert Mann's Twitter followers to the issue.

As if Mann's 3900 Twitter followers weren't already aware of the history of what he's been through, and are no doubt following him for that very reason. Lame.

You can contribute to the Climate Science Defense Fund here

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bill McKibben Makes a Bad Mistake

Bill McKibben repeats a bad mistake in Rolling Stone -- the same one that was corrected by Tamino in a recent post.

McKibben writes:
...June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.
His number comes from assuming the chance of a month being warmer than average is 1/2; then

(1/2)327 = 3.7 ×10-99 

But as Tamino pointed out recently, that is a bad assumption, because monthly temperatures are autocorrelated -- if this month is warm, chances are greater that next month will be warm too. There is a lot of inertia in the climate system, such as ENSO.

Making basic mistakes about climate is not a good way to make your point about climate change.

Oregon Earthquakes, Coal Shipments

Andrew Revkin has an update on developments to fortify Oregon schools for its next great earthquake. About half its schools are estimated to be at risk of collapse.

A commenter notes that the situation in downtown Seattle is even worse, with the possibility of several large skyscrapers coming down in the next great Cascadia earthquake, which is already overdue.

In other Pacific Northwest news, Peabody Energy is reported to be looking at exporting Powder River Basin (Wyoming) coal through Houston and New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. There are currently intense efforts to build coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington to ship coal to China, and this move seems to be a backup and not a replacement -- the plans are said to be for 5 to 7 million tonnes per year through the Gulf, whereas numbers upwards of 60 Mt/yr are being talked about here. But there's a great deal of public opposition here -- I went to two townhall-type meetings in the past month -- and this might be an indication they're working. (The town I'm currently living in would see at least a dozen 7,000-ft coal trains a day; I won't be here by then.) I've heard that 30% of Pacific Northwest air pollution currently comes from Asia.

Some people say that if the coal doesn't go through the Pacific NW it will get to China some other way. But doing so invariably makes the coal more expensive, which provides more incentive for China et al to look elsewhere for the energy they need -- and almost any alternative would be preferable to coal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Heat Waves = Belief in Global Warming

A month ago I wrote this: Global Warming Skepticism to Be Over by Christmas?

Now this today, from Bloomberg:

At mid-month, my estimate of UAH's global lower troposphere anomaly is +0.31°C, which would make it the 5th warmest July in their 34 years of records. The trend really stands out:

Gas Prices Peaked Four Years Ago

Gas is currently 21% below its peak.

Here's the average price of gas in the U.S., in current dollars (blue), and its price adjusted for inflation (red). The real price peaked on 7/17/2008 at $4.30/gal (in current dollars).

(Click to enlarge.) 
I wonder what its price would be today if there had been no financial crisis....

Data sources:
Gas price: This Week in Petroleum, EIA
Inflation: CPI, Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Shall Beauty Hold a Plea

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

- William Shakespeare, from Sonnet 65

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dark Matter Cartoon Physics

And here's a nice video, in the same style, on dark matter:

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Higgs Cartoon Physics

If you're not yet sick of hearing about the Higgs boson, here's a nice little explanation (and neatly produced, too):

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Weinberg's "The Crisis of Big Science"

Steven Weinberg -- probably now the Dean of American science, or at least of American physics -- had a recent essay in The New York Review of Books that I just got around to reading: "The Crisis of Big Science." It's pretty good, once you get past his descriptions of the various forces and particles. He writes:
"What really motivates elementary particle physicists is a sense of how the world is ordered—it is, they believe, a world governed by simple universal principles that we are capable of discovering. But not everyone feels the importance of this. During the debate over the SSC, I was on the Larry King radio show with a congressman who opposed it. He said that he wasn’t against spending on science, but that we had to set priorities. I explained that the SSC was going to help us learn the laws of nature, and I asked if that didn’t deserve a high priority. I remember every word of his answer. It was 'No.'"
He also writes that Peter Higgs perhaps got lucky that the particle that will now forever bear his name wasn't called the Brout-Englert boson (see his footnote 1). Later:
"Another problem that bedeviled the SSC was competition for funds among scientists. Working scientists in all fields generally agreed that good science would be done at the SSC, but some felt that the money would be better spent on other fields of science, such as their own. It didn’t help that the SSC was opposed by the president-elect of the American Physical Society, a solid-state physicist who thought the funds for the SSC would be better used in, say, solid-state physics. I took little pleasure from the observation that none of the funds saved by canceling the SSC went to other areas of science."
He ends with this, which is clearly heartfelt, and with which I agree completely:
"Big science is in competition for government funds, not only with manned space flight, and with various programs of real science, but also with many other things that we need government to do. We don’t spend enough on education to make becoming a teacher an attractive career choice for our best college graduates. Our passenger rail lines and Internet services look increasingly poor compared with what one finds in Europe and East Asia. We don’t have enough patent inspectors to process new patent applications without endless delays. The overcrowding and understaffing in some of our prisons amount to cruel and unusual punishment. We have a shortage of judges, so that civil suits take years to be heard.

"The Securities and Exchange Commission, moreover, doesn’t have enough staff to win cases against the corporations it is charged to regulate. There aren’t enough drug rehabilitation centers to treat addicts who want to be treated. We have fewer policemen and firemen than before September 11. Many people in America cannot count on adequate medical care. And so on. In fact, many of these other responsibilities of government have been treated worse in the present Congress than science. All these problems will become more severe if current legislation forces an 8 percent sequestration—or reduction, in effect—of nonmilitary spending after this year.

"We had better not try to defend science by attacking spending on these other needs. We would lose, and would deserve to lose. Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a member of the Appropriations Committee of the Texas House of Representatives. I was impressed when she spoke eloquently about the need to spend money to improve higher education in Texas. What professor at a state university wouldn’t want to hear that? I naively asked what new source of revenue she would propose to tap. She answered, “Oh, no, I don’t want to raise taxes. We can take the money from health care.” This is not a position we should be in.

"It seems to me that what is really needed is not more special pleading for one or another particular public good, but for all the people who care about these things to unite in restoring higher and more progressive tax rates, especially on investment income. I am not an economist, but I talk to economists, and I gather that dollar for dollar, government spending stimulates the economy more than tax cuts. It is simply a fallacy to say that we cannot afford increased government spending. But given the anti-tax mania that seems to be gripping the public, views like these are political poison. This is the real crisis, and not just for science."
Tax preferences for the wealthy are hollowing America out from the inside.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kerry Muzzey - Bernini's Angels

Quote of the Hour Between 7 and 8 pm

"The moral principles that guided the sacrifice of goats for transgressions of ancient dietary laws for Iron Age nomads are ill-equipped to accommodate the complexity and demands of modern ethical challenges like the best conduct of stem cell research and international economic relations."

-- Matthew S. McCormick, Atheism and the Case Against Christ

A Carbon Tax for Coal Workers

graph of Share of total net generation by fuel type, as described in the article textHere would be a great use for a modest carbon tax: support and retrain workers laid off from the coal mining business.

Domestic coal use is dropping fast: it now generates 34% of US electricity, down from 50% just four years ago. The reason is that natural gas has become much cheaper, due to fracking (though the usual suspects have incited anger and division by saying it's because of the EPA's crackdown on carbon dioxide). This time, though, it looks like coal consumption won't be coming back (which is why they are looking to ship it through the Pacific Northwest to China).

As always, the people at the bottom are the ones getting hurt, as this NPR story reports. The number of miners has been declining long before most people ever heard of carbon dioxide, because of technology -- in the US, there are just half the coal miners there were in 1985, while production has increased by 1/4th. Production per miner has increased by a factor of 2.4 since 1985, 8.0 since 1953, and 15.5 since 1923.

A carbon tax of just $3 per metric ton of carbon -- 1/8th of Australia's carbon tax -- would raise $4.6 billion per year at the 2010 emissions rate. (That averages to $15 per American per year.) Surely politicians couldn't keep their hands off all of that, but a healthy portion could go to support and retrain workers through West Virginia, Kentucky, and places like the Power Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and start clean industries from which they can earn a living.

This probably makes too much sense.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The History of Science Blogging, and More

Good stuff:

Physics World has a free PDF of their July issue, on physics and sport.

Carl Sagan's reading list from 1954, when he was 19 or 20 years old. Lots of science, plus Shakespeare, Plato, Readings in Philosophy, sci-fi novels, the Bible, literature, and more. It really is true that scientists are the most well-rounded people in civilization, and it will stay that way as long as many nonscientists are satisfied (and tolerated) with remaining ignorant of vast areas of scientific knowledge (and sometimes even boast about it).

"Until the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, meaning flowed from ourselves into the world; afterward, meaning flowed from the world to us."
-- Chet Raymo, Skeptics and True Believers

Bora Zivkovic has an interesting, long post about the history and evolution of science blogging. Looking back I found that I started blogging on December 29, 2001. At the time I was just coding it by hand, with no blogging software. I moved to my own domain in March 2003 and used Greymatter, and then here to Blogger in May 2006. I've never been what I would call popular, but I'm OK with that -- most times when I try to be a good blogger and post lots of up-to-the-minute posts about the the most topical subjects, I start to feel uneasy after a few days, like I'm doing too much reacting and not enough thinking. Day-to-day coverage just isn't my thing.

Geophysical Research Letters: "Ice mass loss continues at a high rate among the large glacier tributaries of the Larsen B Ice Shelf following its disintegration in 2002." And yet, overall Antarctic sea ice is growing (though total (i.e. Arctic + Antarctic) sea ice is shrinking; down 2.6% decade-over-decade.

GISS: 4th-warmest June.

Summing Up the Higgs

Steven Weinberg, writing about the discovery of the Higgs boson in the New York Times:
"On a longer time scale, the advance of technology will reflect the coherent picture of nature we are now assembling. At the end of the 19th century physicists in England were exploring the properties of electric currents passing through a near vacuum. Although this was pure science, it led to our knowledge of the electron, without which a large part of today’s technology would be impossible. If these physicists had limited themselves to work of obvious practical importance, they would have been studying the behavior of steam boilers."
Then there's this letter to the editor, from last week's Financial Times:
Sir, Am I alone in finding that the scientific community’s response to thetentative confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson demonstrates science’s failure to sell itself well?

Science has to answer E.M. Forster’s critique that while science explained it would never give understanding. Responses that the Cern finding is comparable to the discovery of the structure of DNA are simply sheer speculation demonstrating a paucity of imagination about what science has achieved: in short, that the tale science has to tell is not one full of sound and fury about the possible implications but a tale of awe and wonder about the complexity and beauty of the natural world that has fundamentally changed the way people think – a tale which is comparable with, if not better than, anything that the artistic world has to offer. Scientists’ failure to understand and explain the significance of their own work suggests a need to get a better grip on reality.

Jonathan Osborne, Shriram Family Professor of Science Education, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, CA, US

Friday, July 13, 2012

[gse-aa] Auroral Alert

Possible aurora tomorrow night and Sunday, as far south as the middle of the US....

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [gse-aa] Auroral Alert
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2012 20:30:19 -0800

A significant event located on the Sun facing Earth took place on July    12.  The effects of this event will begin to reach Earth early on the    14th of July GMT.  Observers in North America should watch for aurora on the nights of    the 14th and 15th local time. Depending on the configuration of the    disturbance, auroras may be visible as far south as the middle tier of    states.   Activity may remain high also on the 16th.  Auroras should be    visible Southern New Zealand, Tasmania, and of course, Antarctica    ----------------------------------------------------------------  This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.    _______________________________________________  gse-aa mailing list  gse-aa@gi.alaska.edu  http://www2.gi.alaska.edu/mailman/listinfo/gse-aa    

The City Dark

The recent PBS program "The City Dark," about the impacts of light pollution, is pretty good -- informative, well-produced, and somewhat sad. You can watch the full program online, here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Show of Hands

"Who still believes that either candidate wants anything from the rest of us beyond a show of hands?"

-- Steve Duin, The Oregonian

Andrew Jackson and the Number "e"

"The first nine digits after the decimal can be remembered by e = 2.7(Andrew Jackson)2, or e = 2.718281828..., because Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828. For those good at mathematics on the other hand, this is a good way to remember their American history."

-- Edward Teller
(as quoted in The Constants of Nature by John Barrow).

PS: Due to other work, some travel, and some personal business, I may not be blogging much until mid-September. Or it might only be short stuff like this. Unless something gets my dander up.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Miscellaneous Stuff

  • Some of the emails purportedly received by UAE climate scientist Phil Jones were released on this a site devoted to UK FOIs. Read them if you have a strong stomach.

    I'm having a little bit of trouble determining the provenance of this site (and by now have learned to be suspicious). Their "About" page isn't helpful, with no names attached to anything, and documentation on the document is nil (isn't there a cover letter?) Skeptical Science thinks they're legitimate. If so, this (and others like them) will be the legacy of climate denialism, and of those who push it. Update: Here are the supporting documents.

  • This may be the saddest thing I've read in awhile: "Appalachia Turns on Itself," by Jason Howard. 2,000 miles of streams buried, 500 mountains destroyed...in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. And the people who live there are so desperate for jobs, so impaled, abused, and turned inside-out by decades of corporate mistreatment, that they are lashing out at anyone and everyone. Why is 350.org protesting the Alberta tar sands and the Keystone pipeline, and ignoring the deep bruise in America's backyard?

  • Atmospheric CO2 levels are approaching 400 ppm (and have already reached that in the Arctic). Including other greenhouse gases, Katy Human at NOAA writes "the global atmosphere reached a CO2 equivalent concentration of 400 ppm in 1985; and 450 ppm in 2003." NOAA ought to put this number on a Web page and update it as new data comes in.

    But this is almost as good: a table of total greenhouse radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. If you do the numbers, CO2-equivalent is now 470 ppm (for 2010).

  • Corvallis Gazette-Times: [Oregon State University Vice President of University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark] "said [Nick] Drapela’s contract was among more than 100 such contracts across the university that were not renewed."

  • This seems absurd, but The Guardian says, "A £1.5bn wind farm that could have powered almost 400,000 homes has been rejected by the government because it might kill 90 small birds a year." 10 million pounds were spent in three and a half years of planning.... The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change said "We want to see renewable energy projects developed because we recognise that climate change will have a greater impact on wildlife [than wind turbines]. But three farms would have been an unacceptable risk." There are always going to be undesirable side effects to the production of energy.

  • I hope you read Paul Krugman's latest column: "Mitt's Gray Areas." Has the GOP noticed that their nominee for President is a man utterly without principles?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Small Victory Over Microsoft Excel

One of my complaints about Excel is that scientific notation doesn't appear in its formulas. So if you want to convert (say) Watts to terawatts, and type a formula like


Excel automatically converts this and you end up with formulas like


which is hard to proofread. This only took me a decade and a half to realize, but if you write the formula as


the problem is solved.

I guess you take your victories where you can get them.

Added: To clarify, I mean how the formula appears in the formula bar, not how the result in the cell is formatted.

Arctic Ice Melting Rapidly

Wow -- Arctic sea ice is disappearing fast. The most recent plot of sea ice volume, as estimated by PIOMAS, shows a stunning drop -- at the end of June the volume was 9% below last year's value, and 36% below the value of 4 years ago:

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The USA48 Problem: Warmer and Warmer

It seems to be dump-on-the-media time, for their daring to report on possible links between global warming and extreme weather events in the eastern US.

The problem, of course, is that it keeps getting warmer and warmer. The NOAA USA48 surface dataset shows the continental US at it warmest 12 months in their 117 year-long series. (Its 12-month moving average is now 0.85°F above the August 1934 peak). The UAH lower troposphere USA48 series is on the verge of setting a 12-month record.

Maybe if it stopped getting warmer, people will stop wondering what are its consequences.

Until then, they’re naturally going to ask. It is journalistically irresponsible to imply that every fire and heat wave is due to manmade global warming, but it would also be irresponsible not to ask the questions.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Making Fun of Arthur Eddington

This is a great story, from John Barrow's book The Constants of Nature (recommended, if you like numbers).

Arthur Eddington was, of course, a great physicist. He had a command of both experimental and theoretical physics. He went to the middle of nowhere to measure the bending of starlight during a solar eclipse, thus verifying Einstein's prediction that masses bends spacetime. And he wrote a highly regarded book on general relativity, Mathematical Theory of Relativity.

But he also took a long detour into numerology that did not serve his reputation well. He claimed to have calculated the number of particles in the universe on a boat trip across the Atlantic. (He took it to be the mass of the universe divided by the mass of the proton, and then spent the long trip doing the long division.) In a 1939 lecture he stated this as follows:
"I believe there are 15 747 724 136 275 002 577 605 653 961 181 555 468 044 717 914 527 116 709 366 231 425 076 185 631 031 296 protons in the universe and the same number of electrons."
He also was obsessed with the number 137. He wasn't alone; the fine structure constant α = e2/ℏc is a dimensionless number, where e is the charge on the electron, h is Planck's constant, and c is the speed of light, and ℏ = h/2π. Being independent of any chosen measuring system, some think it holds some deep secret about the Universe -- and who knows, it just might. Today it's measured to be 1/137.036..., but for decades, before the experiments got precise, many speculated it was exactly equal to the inverse of the integer 137. If today the number 137 appears anywhere in the vicinity of n ≥ 2 physicists, glances will be exchanged and jokes will be made.

Eddington went pretty far afield with 137, and the related pure number given by the ratio of the masses of the proton to the electron (approximately 1840 in Eddington's time; 1836.153... today). Eddington tried to relate such numbers with some simple calculations based on reasoning that many saw as very ad hoc and downright comical. Some people decided to spoof him. G. Beck, Hans Bethe, and W. Riezler managed to get this paper published in the quite serious science journal Naturwissenschaften in 1931:

Remark on the Quantum Theory of Zero Temperature

We consider a hexagonal crystal lattice. The absolute zero of this is characterised by the condition that all degrees of freedom of the system freeze, that is all internal movements of the lattice cease. An exception to this is, of course, the motion of the electron in its Bohr orbit. According to Eddington each electron possesses 1/α degrees of freedom, where α is the Sommerfeld fine structure constant. Besides electrons, our crystal contains only protons, and the number of degrees of freedom for them is the same since, according to Dirac, a proton can be regarded as a hole in the electron gas. Thus, since one degree of freedom remains because of the orbital motion, in order to attain absolute zero we must remove from a substance 2/α - 1 degrees of freedom per neutron ( = 1 electron + 1 proton; since our crystal has to be electrically neutral overall). We obtain therefore for the zero temperature To

To = - (2/α - 1) Degrees.

Setting To = -273° we obtain for 1/α the value 137, which, within limits of error, agrees completely with the value obtained in an independent way. One can easily convince oneself that our result is independent of the special choice of crystal structure.

Cambridge. 10 December 1930

G Beck, H Bethe, W Riezler

If you know just a little physics, this is hilarious.

Better yet, Riezler was asked to give a seminar on the paper in Munich at Sommerfeld's weekly physics seminar! Eddinigton was not amused, nor was the journal's editor Herr Berliner. He published this erratum on March 6, 1932:
'The Note by G. Beck, H. Bethe and W. Riezler, published in the 9 January issue of this journal, was not meant to be taken seriously. It was intended to characterise a certain class of papers in theoretical physics of recent years which are purely speculative and based on spurious numerical arguments. In a letter received by the editors from these gentlemen they express regret that the formulation they gave this idea was suited to produce misunderstandings.'
Those guys sure did seem to know how to have fun.

Lower Troposphere: 3rd Warmest June

Global cooling continues (or something): the UAH lower troposphere global anomaly for June was +0.37°C, not far from my guess on July 2nd of +0.38°C.

That's the 3rd warmest June in their records (after 1998 and 2010, respectively), and the 23rd warmest month out of 403.

It points to a GISS surface anomaly of about 0.66°C.

It will be interesting to see their number for the USA48 LT anomaly, which is on the verge of setting a record for the warmest 12 months since 1979.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

"Fact-checking Ray Bradbury"

Stephen Andrew Hiltner, associate editor of The Paris Review:
One section of the interview gave me more fact-checking trouble than all the rest combined: the part that deals with Bradbury’s lifelong literary inspiration, Mr. Electrico. The story of their meeting is well-known—he told it often—but no one had ever confirmed Mr. Electrico’s existence. (The director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies later told me, over the phone, that the search for Mr. Electrico was the “Holy Grail of Bradbury scholarship.”) I combed through contemporary newspapers from Waukegan, Illinois; I posted on circus-history message boards; I inquired into the American Circus Collection’s cache of posters and programs. Nothing. Not a trace. The entire section—the best part of the interview, in my opinion, or at least the part most characteristic of his writing—fell onto the chopping block. But it was so integral to the piece that editor Philip Gourevitch and fiction editor Nathaniel Rich found a way to keep it in, largely by introducing some factual doubt into the interviewer’s lead-in question. And so it stands exactly as he recalled it: Ray Bradbury’s story of running from a funeral to discover a Dill Brothers circus performer who’d give purpose to the rest of his life. 
“Seventy-seven years ago,” he concludes, “and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from his sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, ‘Live forever.’ And I decided to.” 
It’s so clearly too good to be true, isn’t it? And I was the fact-checker. And yet, if they’d cut a word of it, I would have invented a source and put it all back in.

"God's Rays" by Bryce DeWitt

From the essay "God's Rays" by theoretical physicist Bryce DeWitt in the January 2005 issue of Physics Today. (DeWitt died in 2004.)
So where does that leave the amateur theologian, the young and eager theoretical physicist? Weinberg says, “The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.” It surely does that. But are there no other bright spots? For not everyone is a theoretical physicist. Many years ago I had a postdoctoral assistant named Heinz Pagels, a very nice young man and very bright. Unfortunately he died in a mountain accident before he could display his full potential. He left a wife, Elaine, whom I have met only once, years ago, but who has meant a lot to me through her writings. She is a religious historian specializing in the first three centuries of the Christian era and in particular in the so-called Gnostic Gospels, several manuscripts of which were discovered in a cave in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century. The period before 300 AD is a very difficult one to write about; the evidence is so fragmentary. The historian has to present every scrap of speculation about this period that has been put forward by dozens of other historians, and then answer those with whom she disagrees. Nevertheless, after all preliminaries have been cleared away, one message comes through loud and clear. Many Jesus cults arose around the Mediterranean basin in those years. Some believed that Jesus was divine, others that he was just a man. Some had their own gospels, with stories and sayings of Jesus. Some had their own bishops—intellectual types who couldn’t resist trying to propose frameworks for belief. But the cults themselves typically arose among the lowest social strata (slaves, beggars, convicts) who were coming into contact, for the first time, with a “religion” very different from those they already knew about. This new religion touched such a deep chord in them that many were willing to oppose the authorities on its behalf even if that opposition meant death. And all these developments took place before Constantine co-opted the political power inherent in the new religion by setting up the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. What was the new element in this new religion that had such an overwhelming impact? In a word, love. That is the key word, for believers and nonbelievers alike, that raises our existence above the level of farce. And it needs no religious framework whatever to exert its power.

Bill Nye: (Dis)Credit Where It's Due

Lord, save us from the science pundits. Here is Bill Nye on CNN: "We have enormous fires in Colorado. We had tornadoes in Michigan and Brooklyn. We had a 30-degree temperature drop in Maryland and Virginia this weekend, in just – in a half-hour. These are consistent with climate models." It's at 1:15 in this video:
(Via Roy Spencer; transcript here.) It's also not exactly true that "16 of the last 17 years have been the hottest years on record." At least according to GISS, 1996 and 1999 aren't in the top 17. That's not a big deal though -- unless you say it on CNN.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Before-and-After Images of the DC-area Power Outages

NASA has some interesting before and after photos of DC-area nighttime lighting before and after the derecho and its power outages. Click their "View Image Comparison" button for the best view.


Power Outages in Washington, DC Area


Power Outages in Washington, DC Area

Also, the National Research Council also has a good video series that summarizes the state of climate science research.

The Higgs' Role in Global Warming

Physicists reach consensus on the existence of the Higgs boson.

Climate scoffers say the discovery shows there are many things science is only beginning to understand.

Bill McKibben says global warming is making the particle behave in strange and unexpected ways, which may have had a role in the Colorado wildfires.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

June Sea Ice Extent

Will someone please help this guy get out of this hole?
NSIDC's June sea ice numbers are in:
  • Arctic sea ice extent is 2nd lowest in their 34 years of records (2010 is lowest)
  • Antarctic sea ice extent is 19th lowest. 
In the last 12 months, though, Arctic SIE is very slightly higher than for the previous 12 months, as is global SIE.

I'm still working on the numbers for all months that begin with "J" but whose year is not a leap year, correcting for El Ninos, sunspots, and trends in the use of fireworks, both with and without autocorrelations up to a lag of 3.1415926 years. Stay tuned.

"All You Global Warming Skeptics Would Have Air Conditioning Right Now"

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:
One other observation: As repair crews struggle to get the lights back on, it happens to be another sunny day. Critics have blasted the Obama administration’s unfruitful investment in solar energy. But if government-funded research managed to lower the price of solar panels to the point where it became economical to install them on residential roofs, all you global warming skeptics would have air conditioning right now. I’m just sayin’.
It seems to me his column, claiming the DC-area storm and heat wave is due to manmade global warming -- with the obligatory caveat -- is fruitless. It's consistent with it, but so too would be their absence on any given day, in any given year, in any given decade.... Until the science of attribution progresses, and until there are more statistics -- at least a few decades of them(?) -- no one knows, and until then it will always be a pissing match.

And the arguments may never end, will they? Suppose the world spends $XY trillion dollars to vastly reduce CO2 emissions, and suppose the climate stays the same as it is now. Won't people still argue about those trillions, about whether that was a sound investment, about how all we did was spend it on a problem that didn't exist, and why aren't we using all the cheap coal and oil and natural gas that is still available? I suppose the debate would die out someday -- the world does seem to get a small bit with each generation, despite itself -- but in this lifetime?