Monthly Archives: April 2010

This is Science?

This looks like something a bunch of grad students might have dreamed up in a 10-minute brainstorming session over a few beers.  For those who have read Atlas Shrugged, this should look exactly like the State Science Institute’s report on Rearden Metal.  From the real state science folks at the Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health.

There are potential impacts on cancer both directly from climate change and indirectly from climate change mitigation strategies. Climate change will result in higher ambient temperatures that may
increase the transfer of volatile and semi-volatile compounds from water and wastewater into the atmosphere, and alter the distribution of contaminants to places more distant from the sources, changing subsequent human exposures. Climate change is also expected to increase heavy precipitation and flooding events, which may increase the chance of toxic contamination leaks from storage facilities or runoff into water from land containing toxic pollutants. Very little is
known about how such transfers will affect people’s exposure to these chemicals—some of which are known carcinogens—and its ultimate impact on incidence of cancer.  More research is needed to determine the likelihood of this type of contamination, the geographical areas and populations most likely to be impacted, and the health outcomes that could result.

Although the exact mechanisms of cancer in humans and animals are not completely understood for all cancers, factors in cancerdevelopment include pathogens, environmental contaminants, age, and genetics. Given the challenges of understanding the causes of cancer, the links between climate change and cancer are a mixture of fact and supposition, and research is needed to fill in the gaps in what we know.

One possible direct impact of climate change on cancer may be through increases in exposure to toxic chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer following heavy rainfall and by
increased volatilization of chemicals under conditions of increased temperature. In the case of heavy rainfall or flooding, there may be an increase in leaching of toxic chemicals and heavy metals
from storage sites and increased contamination of water with runoff containing persistent chemicals that are already in the environment. Marine animals, including mammals, also may suffer
direct effects of cancer linked to sustained or chronic exposure to chemical contaminants in the marine environment, and thereby serve as indicators of similar risks to humans.64 Climate impact
studies on such model cancer populations may provide added dimensions to our understanding of the human impacts.

Remember, the point of this all is not science, but funding.  This is basically a glossy budget presentation.  Obama has said that climate is really, really important to him.  He has frozen a lot of agency budgets, and told them new money is only for programs that supports his major initiatives, like climate change.  So, every agency says that their every problem is due to climate change, just as every agency under Bush said that they were critical to fighting terrorism.  This document is the NIH salvo to get climate change money, not actual science.

Goofy Theory of the Day

From NewKerala.com, via the Thin Green Line:

According to Prof McGuire, in Taiwan the lower air pressure created by typhoons was enough to “unload” the crust by a small amount and trigger earthquakes, reports the Scotsman.

Uh, right.  We don’t know what triggers earthquakes in general, so we certainly don’t know the affect of atmospheric conditions on earthquakes.  This is outrageous speculation from an all night session at the pub, breathlessly reported as actual news.

Let’s do a thought experiment.  A strong typhoon might drop local atmospheric pressure by 0.2atm.  The pressure at the bottom of the ocean averages 200-600atm, and under a few miles of rock is even higher.  I would challenge someone with measurement instruments on a fault to even detect such an atmospheric change.  Even on surface faults, we are talking about gigatons of force held in check by friction — this is roughly the equivalent of a feather landing on the Empire State Building and collapsing it.

I sometimes wonder if we will see a future SAT question whose answer is “climate studies are to science as alchemy is to chemistry”.

The Scientific Method

Tycho Brahe was perhaps one of the greatest observational astronomers in history.  He amassed a tremendous amount of absolutely critical data on the motion of bodies within our solar system.  Interestingly, Brahe never accepted the Copernican heliocentric view of the solar system.  For years, he was incredibly protective of the data, refusing to share it with anyone.  Given that he (with historical hindsight) was wedded to a dead-end view of the solar system, his data was not initially valuable.

It was not until Keppler, and later Newton and others, were able to get access to his data that the data was truly useful, and it became the foundation of one of the greatest revolutions in thinking and understanding in human history.  Had Brahe insisted on the confidentiality of his data to his death, developed as it were with significant financial contributions from the state and various universities, his work would have been irrelevant, applied narrowly to support a failed theory.

I am reminded of this story when I read this:

In a landmark ruling, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled that Queen’s University Belfast must hand over data obtained during 40 years of research into 7,000 years of Irish tree rings to a City banker and part-time climate analyst, Doug Keenan.

This week, the Belfast ecologist who collected most of the data, Professor Mike Baillie, described the ruling as “a staggering injustice … We are the ones who trudged miles over bogs and fields carrying chain saws. We prepared the samples and – using quite a lot of expertise and judgment – we measured the ring patterns. Each ring pattern therefore has strong claims to be our copyright. Now, for the price of a stamp, Keenan feels he is entitled to be given all this data.”

I guess I am confused as to what the point of a public university is, if its not to contribute knowledge to the public domain.  Had Mike Baillie formed his own company with private investors to gather and monetize tree ring data, he would be absolutely correct, and I would be the first to defend him.   I would love to see the grant application or funding proposal he submitted for this work.  “We would like public funds in the amount of X to gather tree ring data and keep this data absolutely secret so that no one can check or replicate our results.”   Actively fighting replication is not a very positive indicator of confidence in one’s scientific results.

Some Thoughts From the Original Earth Day

With Lenin’s Birthday Earth Day coming up, here are some thoughts from the original Earth Day back in 1970.  How many times do alarmists have to be wrong before they stop getting such breathless press?

“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner for a 1970 Earth Day issue of “Environment,” a scientific journal.

He did not put an end date to his prediction. But Ehrlich did.

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Ehrlich said in 1970.

“The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

Ehrlich was an optimist compared to Denis Hayes, an aide to Nelson, the chief organizer for the first Earth Day.

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Hayes said.

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa.

“By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions . . . By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

I am thrilled with the progress we have made on a number of real issues — including air and water pollution — since 1970.  It is unfortunate that our attention to these issues has been diverted by a 20 year obsession with trace amounts of CO2.

Climate Issues in Der Spiegel

I am late on this but I only finally read the entire article on climate science issues in Der Spiegel.  The article is a good but not great update on various issues and controversies in climate science, but considering its source it represents a pretty amazing watershed.  While the questions are a bit soft, they are coming from a quarter where questioning of any sort on the topic of climate science was verboten.

What is the Russian Word for “Minus”? And Does it Even Start with an M?

We have discussed temperature measurement on this blog a number of times, focusing particularly on signal to noise ratio issues where errors and manual corrections in surface temperature records tend to be larger than the global warming signal we are trying to measure.  Anthony Watt has an interesting post on human error as related to reporting of temperature numbers over a large part of the measurement network.

With NASA GISS admitting that missing minus signs contributed to the hot anomaly over Finland in March, and with the many METAR coding error events I’ve demonstrated on opposite sides of the globe, it seems reasonable to conclude that our METAR data from cold places might very well be systemically corrupted with instances of coding errors.

Science and Advocacy

I thought this was an interesting analog to some activities in climate science:

some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, [Lancet editor] Dr. [Richard] Horton said in a telephone interview.“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, [Lancet editor] Dr. [Richard] Horton said in a telephone interview.“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

Signal to Noise

The Hockey Schtick points to a study on Pennsylvania temperatures that illustrates a point I have been making for a while:

A new SPPI paper examines the raw and adjusted historical temperature records for Pennsylvania and finds the mean temperature trend from 1895 to 2009 to be minus .08°C/century, but after unexplained adjustments the official trend becomes positive .7°C/century. The difference between the raw and adjusted data exceeds the .6°C/century in global warming claimed for the 20th century.

I think people are too quick to jump onto the conspiracy bandwagon and paint these adjustments as scientists forcing the outcome they want.  In fact, as I have written before, some of these adjustments (such as adjustments for changes in time of observation) are essential.  Some, such as how the urbanization adjustments are done (or not done) are deeply flawed.  But the essential point is that the signal to noise ratio here is really really low.  The signal we are trying to measure (0.6C or so of warming) is smaller than the noise, even ignoring measurement and other errors.

Another Avenue to Prosecute Skeptics

At the United Nations, whose general hostility to free speech is fairly well established, a proposal is on the table to allow the prosecution of people, like myself, who publicly disagree with the UN’s position on climate science:

The proposal for the United Nations to accept “ecocide” as a fifth “crime against peace”, which could be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is the brainchild of British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins.

The radical idea would have a profound effect on industries blamed for widespread damage to the environment like fossil fuels, mining, agriculture, chemicals and forestry.

Supporters of a new ecocide law also believe it could be used to prosecute “climate deniers” who distort science and facts to discourage voters and politicians from taking action to tackle global warming and climate change.

Your Humble Scribe Quoted in WaPo Article on Computer Models

The article onj climate modelling is here, and is pretty good.  My bit is below, from web page 3:

But Warren Meyer, a mechanical and aerospace engineer by training who blogs at www.climate-skeptic.com, said that climate models are highly flawed. He said the scientists who build them don’t know enough about solar cycles, ocean temperatures and other things that can nudge the earth’s temperature up or down. He said that because models produce results that sound impressively exact, they can give off an air of infallibility.

But, Meyer said — if the model isn’t built correctly — its results can be both precise-sounding and wrong.

“The hubris that can be associated with a model is amazing, because suddenly you take this sketchy understanding of a process, and you embody it in a model,” and it appears more trustworthy, Meyer said. “It’s almost like money laundering.”

I actually like my term “knowlege laundering.”

A Pretty Naked Threat From Greenpeace

From the Greenpeace website, via Tom Nelson:

Climate Rescue Weblog: Will the real ClimateGate please stand up? (part 2)

Emerging battle-bruised from the disaster zone of Copenhagen, but ever-hopeful, a rider on horseback brought news of darkness and light: “The politicians have failed. Now it’s up to us. We must break the law to make the laws we need: laws that are supposed to protect society, and protect our future. Until our laws do that, screw being climate lobbyists. Screw being climate activists. It’s not working. We need an army of climate outlaws.”

The proper channels have failed. It’s time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and skepticism.

If you’re one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let’s talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like.

If you’re one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions, and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this:

We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work.

And we be many, but you be few.

So one side of the climate catastrophism argument abhors open debate, refuses to allow scientific work to be shared or replicated, and openly threatens violence, and it is those of us on the other side who are anti-science?

Update: In an interesting use of words, Greenpeace has removed and hidden the original post “in the interest of transparancey” and replaced it with a fairly lame message that says that obviously I and other misunderstood words like “army,”  “break the law,” and “We know where you live” as threatening.  Um, OK.  Any, Anthony was links to the original archived here.

Update #2: This is pretty good overheated stuff, along roughly the same lines.   Because there is no better way to promote open scientific debate than threatening to jail one side:

The criteria was “The scientific and medical community’s knowledge of the relationship of smoking and disease evolved through the 1950s and achieved consensus in 1964. However, even after 1964, Defendants continued to deny both the existence of such consensus and the overwhelming evidence on which it was based.”

So they ARE criminally liable if they continue to knowingly spread misinformation after the scientific community has achieved consensus. There is scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and there has been for 15 to 20 years.

Insomuch as the corporate Deniers claim that they have investigated the climate science thoroughly and that there is no significant evidence it seems to me they have lied themselves into a corner. Either they are lying about having examined the science or they are lying about what the science says, but either way they are lying. This makes them liable to legal action.

We don’t have half a century to waste tolerating these disinformation campaigns. This is not a question of upholding freedom of speech, it is a matter of corporate and individual criminality. The value of these reports is not in casting doubt on the Denier arguments; those have been known all along to be nonsense. The value is that the reports present an opportunity to hold the guilty parties responsible for their crimes, and to end the disinformation campaigns with legal penalties appropriate to the magnitude of those crimes.

Next up, Fremch 19th century chemists are retroactively sued for challenging the nearly century-old consensus on the phlogistan theory of combustion.