Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Emissions Trading Mess

Here's an interesting and informative video on the big mess of emissions trading. It's particular to New Zealand, but much of it applies anywhere. It's via Roger Pielke Jr -- read the comments under his post, as it seems some of the economics in the video aren't really correct. In general, though, it shows what a clusterfuck the emissions trading scheme can be, which is simply a reflection of the basic problem there is just no getting around: reducing atmospheric GHGs is going to cost a lot of money, and not reducing them is going to someday cost a lot of money. You can come up with any scheme you want -- it's going to cost a lot of money. The only solution is development of a cheaper noncarbon energy source than fossil fuels. Period.

Coming Clean - New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme Explained from Lindsay Horner on Vimeo.

By the way, isn't this beautifully filmed?

Roy Spencer Smarter than Feynman?

maxwell says:
August 22, 2011 at 8:17 PM
You know, Feynman had a pretty great quote…well he had many great quotes, but one of my favorites is,

‘I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.’

I know you’re trying to sell some books and move up the list of ‘conservatives liberals love to hate’, but please stick to the science.
Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D. says:
August 23, 2011 at 5:05 AM
I agree *most* scientists are even more clueless about economics than your average joe. I’m not one of them.

Video of Vermont Destruction

A good video overview of the destruction in Vermont from Irene:

(I can't get the video to embed.)

The Scariest Thing Rick Perry Has Said

Of all the crazy things Rick Perry has said or written that are now being revealed, this seems to me by far the scariest:
“Sometimes the rules must protect society at large at the expense of individual expression when that expression is deemed harmful to others and society at large.”

-- Rick Perry, Fed Up! (2010)
I doubt Perry means simply outlawing people from yelling Fire! in a crowded theater. And this from someone who claims to cherish liberty and freedom. But clearly he wants a country that will only tolerate freedom if it's an expression of freedom that he agrees with. Absolutely chilling.

As Dana Milbank writes, Perry is a theocrat. He's dressed up as a populist, but that's just to get elected. I hope voters keep in mind that history shows that it's during times of crisis that the worst people have found a way to power -- but I doubt that they will.

Dana Milbank and Ruth Marcus have more, as does Steven Levingston.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I Don't Understand About Economics

Here is something I don't understand about economics, and maybe one of my smart commenters can educate me.

Jeff Jacoby has a column disputing that disaster relief and rebuilding has any stimulus for the economy. He notes Bastiat's parable of the broken window. As Jacoby tell it:
A boy breaks a shopkeeper’s window, and everyone who sees it deplores the pointless destruction. Then someone insists that the damage is actually for the good: The six francs it will cost the shopkeeper to replace his window will benefit the glazier, who will then have more money to spend on something else. Those six francs will circulate, and the economy will grow.

The fatal flaw in that thinking, Bastiat wrote, is that it concentrates only on “what is seen’’ - the glazier being paid to make a new window. What it ignores is “what is not seen’’ - that the shopkeeper, forced to spend six francs on that, has lost the opportunity to spend them on better shoes, a new book, or some other addition to his standard of living.
I'm with this so far. But then Jacoby concludes:
The glazier may be better off, but the shopkeeper isn’t - and neither is society as a whole.
Here's where I am puzzled -- why isn't society as a whole better-off? Or, at least, equally as well-off? It's true the shopkeeper isn't better-off and the glazier is. Why is this a bad thing, from a macroeconomic point of view?

My only guess is that shopkeeper is forced to spend money he might have used 'more wisely' (my quotes) -- to expand his business, or buy his wife some earrings, or buy stock in a business so they can built a new product. But then, the glazier is still worse-off and doesn't get to spend that money. If the shopkeeper buys stock the jeweler doesn't sell the earrings and he doesn't pay the earring maker, who then doesn't buy her kid a new pair of shoes. So what's the difference?

This is essentially the same question (isn't it?) of whether it's better for government to tax and then spend money, or not tax and let the citizens spend it himself. Which is better, macroeconomically? And why? Do citizens really make better economic decisions than does the government? If so, in what way?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hadley: 9th Warmest July

Hadley says: July 2011 was the 9th warmest in their record of Julys, at +0.444 C.

PS: 3 significant figures? Really??

PPS: Year-to-date (viz. Jan-July), 2011 is their 11th warmest year.

PPPS: Slope of Hadley temperature anomaly for last 10 yrs (viz. 120 months) is  -0.05 +/- 0.03 C/decade, though R^2 = only 0.03. But for the last 15 yrs it is +0.06 +/- 0.02 C/decade (R^2 = 0.05). So Joe Bastardi is wrong when he says temperatures have been "flat" for the last 15 years.


Hurricanes Irene and Before

Now that Hurricane Irene has hit New York city as only a tropical storm (not to minimize the great damage such a storm can do -- it landed in North Carolina and then New Jersey as a legitimate (Cat 1) hurricane), I wonder if Bill McKibben will rethink his recent column that blamed global warming for Hurricane Irene. Remember, it's hardly unprecedented for a major hurricane to hit that area -- this is from Wikipedia:

  • "The Great September Gale of 1815 (the term hurricane was not yet common in the American vernacular), which hit New York City directly as a Category 3 hurricane, caused extensive damage and created an inlet that separated the Long Island resort towns of the Rockaways and Long Beach into two separate barrier islands.
  • "The 1821 Norfolk and Long Island Hurricane, a Category 4 storm which made four separate landfalls in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and southern New England. The storm created the highest recorded storm surge in Manhattan of nearly 13 feet and severely impacted the farming regions of Long Island and southern New England.
  • "The 1869 Saxby Gale affected areas in Northern New England, decimating the Maine coastline and the Canadian Outer Banks. It was the last major hurricane to affect New England until the 1938 storm.
  • "The 1893 New York hurricane, a Category 2 storm, directly hit the city itself, causing a great storm surge that pummeled the coastline, completely removing the Long Island resort town of Hog Island."
  • The Great Hurricane of 1938, which made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane and killed upwards of 800 people with $41 billion (2011 dollars) in damage.
Again, I'm not minimizing this hurricane, which as I write this has killed 22 people (16 in the U.S.) with $7 B in damage. But, storms happen.

PS: Thanks to commenter Steve Bloom for mentioning Kerry Emanuel's Power Dissipation Index as an alternative to Accumulated Cyclone Energy. (Also see Steve's comment here.) PDI essentially adds up the cube of a storm's velocity, while ACE adds up the square. Emanuel has a reason for this (details here), which I'm still trying to understand. It's not intuitively obvious to me that that's a better measure; it does, though, track sea surface temperatures:

This graph is from Emanuel's 2007 paper in Journal of Climate.

von Neumann Quote

From the blog of Ben Horowitz:

There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about. - John Von Neumann

Surprisingly, More Renewables than Nuclear

Who would have guessed: worldwide, there is now more installed energy capacity for renewable sources than for nuclear, according to a new Pew/Bloomberg survey. (And yes, "installed capacity" doesn't mean "energy production.")

There was $243 B invested in clean energy last year, up 33%. Dismally, the U.S. accounted for only 14% of that -- Europe, 39%. Germany now has more renewable energy installed than the U.S, with 1/4th our population.

China got $54 B of last year's investment, or 22%. Or, $20 billion more than the U.S.

China now produces half the world's wind and solar equipment. We install oil pipelines atop one of the best aquifers in the world from environmentally ravaging tar sands.

Other surprising facts:
  • prices of solar panels have dropped 60% in the last 30 months.
  • by the end of this year solar modules are expected to cost half what they did 4 years ago.
  • Last autumn, Germany's environment ministry reported that renewable-energy jobs had doubled since 2004, to 340,000. Remember that next time a right-winger complains that there are no green jobs.

Alberta Tar Sands
Alberta Tar Sands

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rick Perry's Flu Shot

"The second tack is to run against the lunacy of the opposition. In the same week that scientists announced the discovery of fossils 3.4 billion years old, evidence of explosive growth of early life through evolution, Rick Perry showed he will take his science from the Bible. He called evolution “a theory that’s out there.” If he thinks it is just a theory, he should get last year’s flu shot.

-- Timothy Egan, NY Times, August 26, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Charging Your Car in (one of) Portland's Hip Neighborhoods

You can now charge your electric car at a charging station in one of the hipper neighborhoods in Portland (Hawthorne Blvd SE):

It may be free -- a commenter to this Oregonian article says that all the charging stations he's seen so far in Oregon are free, as a way for businesses to entice customers:
" far all the electric vehicle charging stations I've come across in Oregon have been free to use. Most commercial business will see these as a way to "drive" in some business, kinda like wifi at coffee shops, because of the low cost of electricity (maximum of about $0.23 per hour of charging for the Nissan LEAF).

Personally, I see networks of charging stations coming online charging around $0.50 to $0.75 per hour of charging, with DC Quick Charging (full charge in about 30 minutes) costing about $1.00 to $1.50 per half-hour, but so far nobody has announced any plans."
Someday, probably sooner than we would ever guess, this won't be newsworthy at all....

More on McKibben and Hurricane Irene

While attributing Hurricane Irene to global warming, Bill McKibben also wrote:
Just about the only trauma we haven’t had are hurricanes plowing into the U.S., but that’s just luck—last year was a big storm year, but they all veered out to sea.
which is true (number of tropical storms = 19, major hurricanes = 5, ACE = 165), but 2010's ACE ranked only as 12th highest on the 1950-2010 list, despite it being tied for the warmest year according to NOAA. In particular it was outranked by the years 1950, 1961, 1955, and 1964. He says it was "just luck" that they veered out to sea, which is a classic case of confirmation bias because of course it could just as well be "luck" that Irene has veered up the East Coast.

Ryan Maue, who is with the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey and who has a PhD in meteorology, and in particular is all over the cyclone statistics, does not see a link between global warming and global tropical cyclone frequency or intensity:
Recent arguments concerning global warming's influence on causing tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons) to become more frequent and more intense has been given much coverage in the media and by some published papers which claim a valid linkage. But observational data shows no such linkage. Despite the global warming of the sea surface that has taken place between the mid 1970s to the late 1990s and the general global warming of the last century, the global numbers of tropical cyclones and hurricanes and their intensity have not shown any significant trends except for the Atlantic where multi-decadal circulation variations in the ocean drive large multi-decadal variations in major hurricane (Cat 3-4-5) numbers.
See as well as his 2009 paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

Finally, I just don't trust McKibben because he is an activist and head of an activist organization that has mouths to feed. They need money, and they see climate change in everything. Last December, in a email to members sent from Cancun, the site of the climate conference, May Boeve of wrote:
"Meanwhile, out in the real world, climate impacts are all too visible. Since the negotations began 10 days ago, climate disasters have struck all over the world: flooding in Australia, Venezuela, the Balkans, Columbia, India; wildfires in Israel, Lebanon, Tibet; freak winter storms in Europe and the United States. These events have been devastating--hundreds are dead, and hundreds of thousands have been affected."
Come on. Floods happen. Fires happen. Freak winter storms happen. And hurricanes happen. They always have, and they always will. That doesn't mean that climate change doesn't have an impact or that its something to consider lightly, only that you can't separate out its influence and attribute it in a binary fashion. I think the best statement is something I think Gavin wrote (but now I can't find it): 'There's a little bit of climate change in everything now.'

But that doesn't motivate your funders, I guess.

PS: No, I am not a member of I'm not a member of any environmental organizations.

PPS: I am sorry to say something nice about Gavin Schmidt twice in the same day. No, I don't know him, but have met him twice at conferences, and he answers my emails when I ask questions. It's not my fault if he's very quotable.

Bill McKibben: Please Shut Up

Sometimes I wish Bill McKibben would just shut the hell up.

And if he can't stop blaming ever sneeze and puddle on global warming, perhaps he could at least explain this (from Ryan Maue's site):

Now, ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) isn't a perfect measure -- it doesn't take in account a storm's area, for example -- but it's hard to see how that deficiency could keep ACE levels at such lows in recent years.

Clouds, Conspiracies, and Cosmic Rays

Perhaps Nature's publication of the Kirby et al paper on the CERN CLOUD experiment (and accompanying news story) will put an end to the ridiculous notion that science journals are somehow in cahoots and are all suppressing any papers that disagree with the supposedly worldwide, secret conspiracy of tens of thousands of people to promote anthropogenic climate change and thereby enslave billions of people so as to finally realize their fascist utopia.

But probably it will not.

And Gavin Schmidt's post at RealClimate should be noted for his reaction to the paper, indicating that real scientists (and all serious people) are interested in results no matter what they say, because what they really want most of all is understand the world.

But probably it will not.

And perhaps they will remember that this is one result towards the chain of conditions needed to confirm Svensmark's hypothesis; as Gavin writes:
We were clear in the 2006 post that establishing a significant GCR/cloud/climate link would require the following steps (given that we have known that ionisation plays a role in nucleation for decades). One would need to demonstrate:
1. … that increased nucleation gives rise to increased numbers of (much larger) cloud condensation nuclei (CCN)
2. … and that even in the presence of other CCN, ionisation changes can make a noticeable difference to total CCN
3. … and even if there were more CCN, you would need to show that this actually changed cloud properties significantly,
4. … and that given that change in cloud properties, you would need to show that it had a significant effect on radiative forcing.
Of course, to show that cosmic rays were actually responsible for some part of the recent warming, you would need to show that there was actually a decreasing trend in cosmic rays over recent decades – which is tricky, because there hasn’t been....
But clearly people aren't.

Personally I found this 2009 GRL paper by Pierce and Adams (no, not the presidents of the United States) to be a good exploration of the topic.

Others probably did not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Death Threats

More death threats and abuse against scientists, this time scientists suggesting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome might have a psychological component.
"It's direct intimidation in the sense of letters, emails, occasional phone calls and threats," says Professor Simon Wessely, of King's College London, who has received a series of death threats and threatening phone calls, and now has his mail routinely scanned for suspect devices.

"But more often indirect intimidation through my employer or the GMC [General Medical Council]. All of it intended to denigrate and try and make you into a leper."
Did this kind of thing ever go on before the Internet? I know that earlier climate scientist Benjamin Santer received a lot of harassment from the fossil fuel industry. But this now seems to be a dedicated effort from those with different views organizing via online tools.

If CFS truly believe there is not enough research into biological mechanisms, as the BBC article suggests, then they ought to use their organizing 'talents' to advocate for more research funding towards that aspect, not harass those with different views. Intimidation won't work, and can't be tolerated.

And it doesn't even work: one virologist, unable to confirm an earlier finding of a viral link to CFS, stopped doing research in this area after she was harassed and abused. She told the BBC, "I couldn't understand, and still can't to this day, what the logic of that was. Any virologist wants to find a new virus."

Ultimately, of course, the anger springs from concerns that society's view is that mental illness is something different from bodily illness and worthy of ridicule. (Thanks a lot, Rene Descartes.) That stigma and prejudice has to end, but is far too often still tolerated.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Bad Physics Joke

This is dedicated to my friend Tom, with whom I suffered as a Teaching Assistance for Physics 101 & 102 Lab during our first year in graduate school:
A man hasn't been feeling well, so he goes to his doctor for a complete checkup. Afterward the doctor comes out with the results.

"I'm afraid I have some very bad news," the doctor says. "You're dying and you don't have much time left."

"Oh, that's terrible!" says the man. "How long have I got?"

"Ten," the doctor says sadly.

"Ten?" the man asks. "Ten what? Months? Weeks? What?"

Also via Steve Liebling.

(Bad) Physics Joke

An atom walks into a bar and asks if anyone has seen his electron. The bartender says no, and asks the atom if he's sure his electron is missing.

Yes, says the atom, I'm positive.
Via: Steve Liebling, Long Island University. More bad physics jokes here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help Save the Statistical Abstract

Robert Samuelson writes today that the Census Bureau plans to stop producing the Statistical Abstract of the United States due to budget cuts. Doing so would save a mere $2.9 million.

On the verge of extinction
That would be a travesty. Has anyone here ever not used the Statistical Abstract, going back to high school? Has it ever been more important, just as we now have this revolutionary way to distribute, analyze, and discuss information?

This is exactly how good countries decline--one seemingly small piece at a time. And before anyone realizes it we are trapped in ignorance. I hope this isn't our fate.

If you love knowledge, you need to write to the Census Bureau; the Director's contact information is:

phone: 301-763-2135 

Or sign the petition on this Facebook page. Or both. There are people in this country who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Don't let them win.

Another Lie From Fred Singer

I dislike calling anyone a "liar," and charges of dishonesty are spouted far too readily these days. But I just can't think of any other word to call this recent claim from Fred Singer:
"the number of skeptical qualified scientists has been growing steadily; I would guess it is about 40% now."

-- Fred Singer
That's from a January press release from the National Academy of Scholars, who interviewed him. I can't in any way understand a basis for such a number (and Singer offers none). It's not reflected in the scientific literature or at scientific conferences. It's contradicted by this study of over 3,000 scientists active in the field of climate science, which found that 97% think humans play a role in today's climate. (More details of the study are given in this EOS article by one of the study's authors. Their survey had a response rate of only 31%, so there is room for some skepticism there (intellectual skepticism, not climate skepticism). But still....).

There's also this PNAS paper by Anderegg et al, which found that
97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
Maybe Fred Singer lives in a climate skeptic bubble, but he should still be aware of these studies and he should still offer some justification for his 40% number. If you see a reason to disagree with my "liar" label, please give your reasons in the comments. I can't think of any.

John Mashey recently chopped up the National Academy of Scholars. (He gives a great quote that applies here as well:
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

-- Christopher Hitchens
Mashey's long-form reply to the National Academy of Sciences Scholars, "Bottling Nonsense," is something you have to see to believe. I assume that Mashey also likes to kill undesirable bugs by driving over them with a steamroller.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

No Texas Miracle After All

In fact, there isn't much of a jobs miracle in Texas at all. There are jobs being created there, but not so many relative to its population. This chart, from Kevin Drum, shows that the Texas unemployment rate is (barely) in the middle of the pack relative to nearby states:

Certainly, some of this is due to a population increase from people moving to Texas. That by itself would raise the unemployment rate, but on the other hand those people are consumers, too, raising demand and creating jobs. It's easy to look good when all you do is look at the jobs number. But if your unemployment rate is not that great then your society is not that great, even without getting into the high number of medically uninsured in Texas, the pollution due to a lack of regulation, and all the other dismal Texas social indicators.

PS: This great post from Political Math Blog has a more detailed, nuanced view of the numbers.

On Poetry

"It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

-- William Carlos Williams

7.5 Quake

There's just been a fairly large earthquake (M 7.5) 1100 miles off the coast of Australia, near Vanuatu....

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Taxing Millionaires

Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: I fully agree with Warren Buffett's stance on taxing millionaires unless I somehow become a millionaire.

Species Heading Poleward

Friskies Flaked With Tuna And Egg In Sauce Canned Cat FoodA warmer climate is causing plants and animals to move towards Earth's poles, at a rate of about 18 kilometers per decade.

My cats have stayed put so far, but if anyone in Washington state ever comes across them they should know that these spoiled felines prefer Friskies Flaked with Tuna & Egg in Sauce. They also might want to secure their lamps and other breakables, because Oliver chases flies and insects with fanatical abandon. If I could focus on writing the way that cat focuses on his prey I'd get out a novel a week.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

England rioters: young, poor and unemployed

I am weary of pundits opining on the UK riots and assigning blame that invariably and neatly aligned with their pre-riot views of the world, when none of them had been anywhere near England, let alone the environment of the riots. This has come from the left (Thom Hartmann, for example) as well as the right (Ann Coulter), and of course David Cameron had his answers already typed up and waiting in a file cabinet. Among all of this there were scant few interviews with actual rioters talking about their motives.

But now The Guardian has some data that sheds some light on the subject:
They crunched some data on those convicted and found:

   * the majority of people who have appeared in court live in poor neighbourhoods, with 41% of suspects living in one of the top 10% of most deprived places in the country.
   * 66% of neighbourhoods where the accused live got poorer between 2007 and 2010.
   * in almost all of the worst-affected areas, youth unemployment and child poverty were significantly higher than the national average while education attainment was significantly lower.

These aren't really surprising, and it still doesn't mean these weren't mostly kids out breaking shit just for the hell of it. But even that kind of attitude comes from somewhere, and it seems to me very difficult for any pundit, or even journalist, to be able to identify with the rioters or what their lives are like. And unfortunately these are the people the media overlook everywhere until something like this happens. Their facile explanations are disturbing, and so I give the Guardian credit for trying to break through the barriers of understanding.

Rick Perry's GPA in Basic Sciences: D+

Rick Perry has graced us with his learned opinion on climate science, claiming scientist "manipulated data," but let's look at his qualifications. From his college transcript, here are his grades in the basic sciences he took in his first two years:

He barely passed trigonometry!

Here's his full transcript, from the Huffington Post:

Rick Perry's Texas A&M Transcript

Adam's and Eve's Belly Buttons

This is good:
One thing that always bothered me: If Adam and Eve were the first humans in existence, why are they always portrayed as having belly buttons?
Via: Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shooting Star Seen From Space

A shooting star during the Perseid Meteor Shower, as seen from the International Space Station:

Looking Down on a Shooting Star


How People in Science See Each Other

"Payload," a Space Elevator Movie

This looks like a great little movie, if a bit dystopian, by filmmaker Stuart Willis:

Payload - Trailer from Stu Willis on Vimeo.

Another trailer and a teaser here, and the Web site starts here.


Funny Apology Ecard: I'm sorry I didn't console you on your huge stock market loss because I was too focused on budgeting food and gas this week.

Via Someecards

Monday, August 15, 2011

Longview Factories

Some of the big factories on the Columbia River in Longview, WA, as seen from across the river in Rainier, OR:

Longview Fibre (a paper and containerboard mill that gives the area its unavoidable sweetish-sulphur" smell) :

Export Grain Terminal:

Port of Longview:

Rainier, Oregon:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

R2D2 at 2011 Space Elevator Conference

Looking Dumb When You're Not in the Loop

Two quotes, both from the same day:
"The ridiculous fiasco which attended the attempt at aerial navigation in the Langley flying machine was not might be assumed that the flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years."

-- New York Times op-ed, October 9, 1903
"We started assembly today."

-- Orville Wright, from his private diary, same day
The Wright Brothers flew the first powered flight two and a half months later.

Bryan Laubschur gave these quotes at this weekend's Space Elevator Conference and said "It helps to be in the loop."

By the way, the Wright Brothers' first powered plane cost them less than $1,000. By contrast, Samuel Langley received more than $50,000 in government funds for his man-carrying Great Aerodrome, which did not fly.

Interesting story: Langley's plane was modified by someone else over a decade later and did then fly, after which the Smithsonian Institute displayed it as the first heavier-than-air manned, powered aircraft "capable of flight. Samuel Langley was the Smithsonian Institute's Secretary at the time of his 1903 attempt. Orville Wright complained and gave his plane to the Science Museum in London. The Smithsonian finally recanted in 1942.

World's Most Disturbing Wedding Pictures

This is the best of them, from Happy Place:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Roy Spencer's "Pre-determined political goal"

From Michael Tobis, quoting an anonymous source:

On the claim that climate alarmism is due to research funding: this incentive exists in all science, yet it's never occurred in the past. And there's no evidence that it's occurring here: there's no way to dismiss the null hypothesis that scientists are worried because the data are worrying.

On the other hand, there is evidence that climate skeptics are truly working off an agenda. See Spencer's statement "I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government." There's no way that you can reach that conclusion by looking at data. It's a pre-determined political goal.
Sometimes I think the people who claim funding determines results are really saying that they themselves would alter the product of their work if they were paid enough, and so they think all other people have the same level of integrity. In my experience what scientists really love are ideas, and they relish the chance to propose and prove good ones, and tear down and destroy bad ones. Intellectual integrity is all they have, and everything they have.

GISS: July was 3rd Warmest

GISS -- whose method of computing global temperature covers the poles, for better or worse -- says last month was the 3rd warmest July in their records, at +0.60°C above their baseline.

By the way, GISS has thrown out some outlying stations, which makes small changes in their monthly numbers, some of them going back decades. (They explain more near the bottom of this page.) If you keep your own spreadsheet you're going to want to recopy their entire data page.

By the way, one of the consequences of that revision is that the 10-yr change in average global temperature from the 1990s to the 2000s goes from +0.22°:C to +0.24°C.

Arctic Ice Melt Might Pause (?)

This is interesting, though I have to admit that if I were a $keptic or denier I would find this suspicious:
Despite the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice in recent years, the ice may temporarily stabilize or somewhat expand at times over the next few decades, new research indicates.

A new computer modeling study reinforces previous findings by other research teams that the level of Arctic sea ice loss observed in recent decades cannot be explained by natural causes alone, and that the ice will eventually melt away during summer if the climate continues to warm.

But in an unexpected new result, the research team found that Arctic ice under current climate conditions is as likely to expand as it is to contract for periods of up to about a decade.
“One of the results that surprised us all was the number of computer simulations that indicated a temporary halt to the loss of the ice,” says Jennifer Kay, the lead author and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The computer simulations suggest that we could see a 10-year period of stable ice or even an increase in the extent of the ice. Even though the observed ice loss has accelerated over the last decade, the fate of sea ice over the next decade depends not only on human activity but also on climate variability that cannot be predicted.”
Why is this finding just showing up now? (I haven't read the paper yet).

The entire release is here, and the paper here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mayor: "I tried to stay away from the science"

This is good:
So in my decision, I tried to stay away from the science.” 
-- Ken Schaudt, mayor, Philomath, Oregon, on his vote to continue to ban fluoride from the town's water supply
For some reason I've never figured out, most towns in Oregon refuse to add fluoride to their water supply, including Portland. (Schaudt said that only 26% of Oregonians drink fluoridated water.) Large groups of people here think it's toxic, or a government plot, or a mandate from the United Nations, or something. My sister had to buy fluoride drops to give to her babies, and now that they're older gives them fluoride tablets.

Not surprisingly, Oregon kids have some of the worst teeth in the country.

Philomath put fluoride in their water supply in 1980, and took it out this May. Several medical professionals recently spoke to the Philomath City Council, encouraging them to add fluoride. They voted against it in May, and just voted 6 to 1 to keep the ban.

Philomath is about six miles outside Corvallis, the home of Oregon State University. It is an old timber town that has seen an influx of people from OSU and from an Hewlett-Packard division in the town. The resulting culture clash in Philomath is the subject of a good documentary, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon, made by a native son. The trailer is here; Wikipedia has a summary.

Here are some other gems from the Mayor's 1-hour presentation to the Council the other night:
“A lot of where we have gotten our information is from the internet.”

“I am going to be making statements that I don’t want you to take as the gospel truth.”

“Statistics are funny things. Numbers you can make do whatever you want them to do.”

“In researching this issue you can print a stack of paper as high as you wish on the good reasons … you can print the same size stack on why not to do it. I don’t want to choose between the two. I am not a chemist. I am not a scientist. Who am I to say which study is correct? So in my decision, I tried to stay away from the science.”

He called fluoride a “toxic agent,” said that the fluoride that the city uses is is “not pharmaceutical grade.”

“There really is no substance that is tolerated by everyone. If fluoride is healthful to the teeth, it should be applied directly to the teeth.”

His number one reason: “Freedom of choice is precious to all Americans. It’s value must be protected,” he said.

Councilor Bierek talked about the possible negative effects on the health of animals, such as fish in the streams.
“We aren’t doing our streams and waterways any good,” he said of the practice of adding fluoride to water. “We’re upsetting the natural balance of our planet.”

Councilor Buddingh said, “It’s not our right or our role to mass medicate. I think it’s unethical.”

Mayor Schaudt: “I think its a disservice for the public to vote on it. I'm not saying the voting public would be wrong ... but, the voting public would not do the amount of research and be as diligent (as the council has been).”
Look, I don't know a lot about this subject and I don't really want to get into it. I believe the experts. Wikipedia has a summary of the controversy here. I do know the Institute for Medicine (a branch of the National Academy of Sciences) released a report about fluoridation of water a few years ago, and, I think, recommended lowering the recommended level a little. Fine.

But don't give us this it's-a-big-conspiracy story, we're-mass-medicating-out-kids story, or other reasons dressed up to look scientific. Don't whine that it's all about your "freedom" when there are so many other huge issues at stake, like the fact that your government tortures American citizens (and others) or decides it can tap your phone without a warrant or the state of Oregon demands a copy of every prescription you fill. Don't ignore what professionals say because you'd rather do research on the Internet. And Mayor Schaudt, if you're going to make a decision, don't "stay away from the science."

Sometimes you have to wonder if Americans even deserve the benefits that scientific knowledge has brought. A day or two back in the Dark Ages would help tremendously in that regard.

Austerity Survival Guide

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Owl in Slow Motion

This is an amazing video, especially if you have a good monitor and watch it full-screen:

Via: Huffington Post

Monday, August 08, 2011

Telling It Like It Is

Commenter Karen Garcia at the New York Times:
I am starting to think that the only people interested in the presidential election are the pundits and the politicians themselves. It has become painfully clear that whichever candidate wins the Oval Office, he or she will not be working for the electorate.

And whatever gave you the idea that Obama is a liberal? He is as artificial corporate manufactured apple pie as Ronald Reagan. He only seems liberal because the Republicans have turned into such an extremist sect of nihilists, and the Tea Party itself is fond of calling him a Kenyan radical socialist. We only wish!

Our next president will be one of three things: a Wall Street lackey, a Wall Street lackey, or a theocratic Wall Street lackey.
She blogs here.

Egg on S&P's Face

So after making a $2 trillion error in the basic accounting of the US budget, Standard & Poors downgraded US government bonds anyway and the stock markets sold off everywhere. So where did investors go to find a safe investment? Into...US government bonds, driving the rate on 10-yr bonds down about 0.24 percentage points:

What a fine mess they caused.

By the way, if you actually read S&P's release of last Friday announcing their downgrade, they explicitedly say it isn't because the US spends too much:
"Standard & Poor's takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures that Congress and the Administration might conclude is appropriate for putting the U.S.'s finances on a sustainable footing."
(that is to say, Mitt Romney was completely wrong today), but because the politicians can't get it together:
"We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and
will remain a contentious and fitful process."
They said the real problem is that the recent government actions "falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade," they do call out the Republicans:
"Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act."
Paul Krugman, who seems to me to have the best understanding of all of this, wrote more about Standard & Poors track record, including their "A" rating on Lehman Brothers before they went down the tubes. Also, see this.

NOAA: Heat wave leads to fourth warmest July on record for the U.S.

NOAA says last month was the 4th warmest July in the US records, 2.7 F above the 1901-2000 average.

They also say July saw the largest "exceptional" drought footprint--their most severe category--though their drought index is only 12 years old. In their press release they write "Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s." 75% of Texas is in a drought condition.

NOAA: "Drought conditions are so harsh in some locations that it would take as much as 20 inches of precipitation in one month to end the drought. In Oklahoma, 100 percent of the state is suffering from moderate-exceptional drought compared to the beginning of the water year (9/28/2010), when drought conditions covered only four percent of the state."

The press release isn't on the Web yet; I'll link to it when it is. (UPDATE: Here is it.)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Astonishing Camouflage

Science Friday has a video of an astonishing camouflage by an octupus, taken by marine biologist Roger Hanlon:

The Real Crisis

James Fallows on the real crisis facing the US: entrenched unemployment:
The federal deficit is a serious challenge in the long run. The real emergency is how many people are still out of work. That's the deficit that matters. Almost nothing can do more harm to a nation's cultural, social, political, and of course economic fabric than sustained high joblessness. And of [course] nothing can do more, faster, to reduce a federal deficit than a restoration of economic growth. That political and media attention got hijacked to a fake debt-ceiling "emergency" is 1937 all over again -- but worse, because in principle we had the real 1937 to learn from.
(Emphasis mine.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

US Debt Jumps After the Lid Comes Off

Looks like the Treasure Department had a busy week.... (Click to enlarge)

Friday, August 05, 2011

Auroral Alert

Possible aurora visible tonight....

-------- Original Message --------

The effects of the solar events of the past 3 days are have been arriving at Earth and should provide aurora viewing for the next 3 days for the northern tier states in the US, north of England, southern Scandinavia. The skies should be dark enough at midnight south of 60 degrees N Latitude to see this aurora. In the US, the aurora should be visible over most of the northern hald of the nation, if the present activity continues. Watch the short term aurora forecast panel at


Summarizing the Week

Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: The only reason I think the debt-ceiling deal may be good is that the Tea Party thinks it's bad.

Funny TV Ecard: I'm worried this season of Jersey Shore will be less embarrassing to America than our government.

Via Someecards

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thanks, Tea Party

Since the weekend, when the scope of the deal to raise the debt ceiling made it clear it would do nothing for economic growth, the US stock market has lost $1.02 trillion in value.

Whoever decided it was a good idea to put zealots in charge of economic policy?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Motto of the NASA Apollo missions

“Waste anything but time.”

-- Motto of the NASA Apollo missions

Via: Collect Space

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

More Avoidance of the Obvious Question About Gabrielle Giffords

Here's a two-page Politico article about Gabrielle Giffords that doesn't once question if she is competent (or will be competent) to return to her Congressional duties. Another article, about her return to Congress yesterday, doesn't either. On the contrary, there are hints Giffords may be being propped up because her seat is vulnerable to being lost to a Republican:
The vigorous effort is in no small part guided by political reality: Giffords is a popular, moderate pol who’s found a way to survive in a state that is trending increasingly conservative. She is one of three remaining Democrats in Arizona’s eight-member delegation. Finding another contender who could win her seat — previously in Republican hands for more than two decades — would be a tall order.

“She’s the only person on my radar screen right now who could pull that moderate Republican vote,” said Rich Brownell, who chairs the Cochise County Democratic Party. “That’s going to be a hard task to find someone who can also appeal to that.”
Everyone the writers quote has a vested interest in seeing Giffords stay in her office: Gifford's spokesperson, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democratic consultant and Gifford "backer," her political director, a former Arizona Democratic Party chairman, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer (Democratic Whip), Joe Biden, and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). The only thoughts attributed to Giffords are a written statement and a Tweet from her office. The only reporting on her condition is this:
Giffords stood and walked on her own, with some help walking down stairs. Her right right hand was wrapped in a bandage. Overall, she appeared in good spirits and alert.
and that she "waved and mouthed 'thank you,' as the House offered her a standing ovation."

Why are political reporters afraid to ask this question?