Thursday, March 05, 2015

April 22, 1915

April 22, 1915 was the day when gas weapons were first used in WWI.  Chemical and Engineering News has unflinching articles written by Sarah Everts, as the editor says, not to celebrate but to remember, for it is easier to repeat mistakes if they are forgotten.  There is no paywall.  The testimony of two eyewitnesses is available and enough.  Willi Siebert, one of the German infantry who opened the gas cylinders, left this account for his son and us
Finally, we decided to release the gas. The weatherman was right. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining. Where there was grass, it was blazing green. We should have been going on a picnic, not doing what we were going to do. …

We sent the infantry back and opened the valves with the strings. About supper time, the gas started toward the French; everything was stone quiet. We all wondered what was going to happen.

As this great cloud of green grey gas was forming in front of us, we suddenly heard the French yelling. In less than a minute they started with the most rifle and machine gun fire that I had ever heard. Every field artillery gun, every machine gun, every rifle that the French had, must have been firing. I had never heard such a noise.

The hail of bullets going over our heads was unbelievable, but it was not stopping the gas. The wind kept moving the gas towards the French lines. We heard the cows bawling, and the horses screaming. The French kept on shooting.

They couldn’t possibly see what they were shooting at. In about 15 minutes the gun fire started to quit. After a half hour, only occasional shots. Then everything was quiet again. In a while it had cleared and we walked past the empty gas bottles.

What we saw was total death. Nothing was alive.

All of the animals had come out of their holes to die. Dead rabbits, moles, and rats and mice were everywhere. The smell of the gas was still in the air. It hung on the few bushes which were left.

When we got to the French lines the trenches were empty but in a half mile the bodies of French soldiers were everywhere. It was unbelievable. Then we saw there were some English. You could see where men had clawed at their faces, and throats, trying to get breath.

Some had shot themselves. The horses, still in the stables, cows, chickens, everything, all were dead. Everything, even the insects were dead.
The account from the other side, from a Canadian soldier, A.T. Hunter, is equally searing.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Why Willie Soongata May Be But the Start

With Willie Soongata going great gums Eli turns to his friend Jules, nonono, not the photosnapping Jules (Eli has some suspicions about what she has been up to) but Jules of the Klimaat Blog who has been tip toeing through the Legacy Tobacco Archives where he has discovered the source of all astroturf.

Of course, that is the tobacco industry, but in light of what has come to light in the last weeks it is eerily like the tip of today's iceberg, except that Jules has explored the underwater bulk, not completely, but enough to explain the current push back.

This is a long story, the short version that Jules has published takes fifteen pages with more to come, and there is supplementary material.  Oh my, there is supplementary material, but let us simply look at the summary
The recent case showing how climate skeptic Wei-Hook 'Willie' Soon was heavily funded by the fossil-fuel industry has once again drawn attention to the 'tobacco strategy' of casting pseudoscientific doubt on a scientific topic.

The tobacco industry used a series of scientists in so-called 'truth squads' to deny the harmfulness of second-hand smoking.

Lesser known is how the industry handed out well over 1 million dollars to a secret network of over 100 American economics professors, known as the "economists network".

The aim of the network was preventing the government imposing higher excise taxes on tobacco to cover social costs related to smoking. The economists were hired to spread economic doubt on the effectiveness of social cost related actions by the government.

The network, lead by George Mason University professor Robert D. Tollison and tobacco consultant James Savarese, engaged in different activities.

This paper will prove how the economists were:

-Targetting the media in well organized op-ed campaigns.
All op-eds had to be cleared by the tobacco industry's lawyers before publication The economists earned up to $3,000 per op-ed they managed to get published in newspapers

Testifying at political hearings
The economists earned up to $10.000 per hearing Some economists defended arguments they knew were flawed

Producing 'scientific' papers that were approved by the tobacco industry.
The economists earned up to $40.000 per scientific paper they published Some economists "authored" reports actually written by the tobacco industry Every single scientific paper was cleared - corrected by the tobacco industry's lawyers

Producing pro-tobacco books 
Robert D. Tollison and Richard E. Wagner wrote/edited at least 5 pro-tobacco books
The books were promoted in well organized media-tours funded by the industry all over the USA, the authors receiving media training organized by the tobacco lobby on how to deal with tricky questions Positive book review were sent to newspapers by other members of the network 

The economists consistently forgot to mention they were paid by the Tobacco Institute.
Details at the Klimaat Blog

A member of the US Congress,  Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to a number of universities asking for information on Prof Utonium 

Prof. Utonium being one of  David Legates at UDel, John Christy at UAlabama Huntsville, Judith Curry at Georgia Tech, Richard Lindzen at MIT, Robert Balling at ASU, Roger Pielke Jr. at UColorado Boulder and Steven Hayward at Pepperdine.

In light of this it is perhaps, well really clear instead of perhaps, why Rep. Raul Grijalva thought there might be fire under the smoke that some have covered his committee with.  Many, including the AMS and AGU and some who comment at Rabett Run have had problems with these letters as being intrusive and discouraging free interchange amongst scientists and between scientists and the public.

Eli submits that given the history of these folk, remembering that Heartland at the core of the opposition to climate change legislation was one of the public relations operations that the Tobacco Lobby used to oppose regulation of tobacco and, of course that Heartland did budget to fund at least one Utonium, Prof. Balling perhaps, Rep. Grijalva was not operating right off the wall.

The letters inquired, not too politely about
1. What is your university's policy on employee financial disclosure? Please provide a full copy of all applicable policies, including but not limited to those applying to Prof.Utonium.
The letter was sent to the president's of the universities and this information is public.  however, Grijlava went too far, as he himself now admits, when he asked for
2. For those instances already mentioned and others that apply, please provide:
a. all drafts of Utonium's testimony before any government body or agency or that which, to your knowledge, he helped prepare for others;
b. communications regarding testimony preparation.
However, in light of what we know about the tobacco and other industrial astroturf operations it certainly was reasonable to ask for
3. Please provide information on Prof. Utonium’s sources of external funding. “External funding” refers to consulting fees, promotional considerations, speaking fees, honoraria, travel expenses, salary, compensation and other monies given to Prof. Utonium that did not originate from the institution itself Please include:

a. The source of funding;
b. The amount of funding;
c. The reason for receiving the funding;
d. For grants, a description of the research proposal and copy of the funded grant;
e. Communications regarding the funding. 
4. Please provide all financial disclosure forms filed by Prof Utonium in which MIT is listed as his professional affiliation, even if it is only stated for purposes of identification.  
5. Please provide Prof Utonium’s total annual compensation for each year covered here.
 and these are all documents that are in the possession of the University.

Photo from Climate Social on Twitter

Under the Dome

Crowd sourced English subtitles for Chai Jing's Under the Dome

A valentine to those pusing coal

The silence of the Roberts

Brief excursion into law-blogging here, following the morning Supreme Court hearing of the ridiculous challenge against Obamacare. Good summary, as usual, at SCOTUSblog.

The only reason the Court granted the appeal was because at least four justices thought they at least might want to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Four is enough to get a case heard, and you need to five to win. As SCOTUSblog notes, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas are almost certain votes to destroy health care for millions of people, while Kennedy asked questions critical of both sides (I'd guess he's leaning in favor of nonidiocy, he takes his federalism seriously).

The normally inquisitive Roberts wasn't inquisitive. Judges other than Thomas like to ask questions. If they've pretty much decided their view already, they still like to ask questions partly based on the self-delusion that they'd change their minds if given a good enough response, and partly to start jousting and convincing their fellow judges. If they haven't decided because they have unanswered questions, then they also tend to want to ask their questions.

One possibility for Roberts' silence was that he hasn't decided and hasn't even figured what questions he'd like to ask. I think that's unlikely. More likely was that he does have a viewpoint or questions but other justices were expressing them adequately, so he saw no need to pipe up. Seems most likely that Kennedy would be his doppelganger. If Roberts is going to tick off his side yet again over Obamacare, maybe he'd prefer to see Kennedy be more visible.

I'm guessing a 6-3 ruling in favor of sanity. I could be off by two votes though.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Where is Horatio When Eli Needs Him

Eli has been searching for the right song for Soongate and he thinks he has found it

The lyrics just scream out for a rewrite by Horatio Algeranon, but Eli will not go there.  No indeed, the Bunny has been a lot harder in this mess on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics than on the good Dr. Soon, who, as Eli has pointed out and Dr. Soon has said, has had a hard time keeping body and soul together since his mainline grant funding disappeared before the end of the last century.

Now Eli is not going to link to the many, many comments, posts, and newspaper articles on this issue, nor is he going to discuss much who and why Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to various worthies' institutions.  That is been best left to others, but a few words on Rep Grijalva's motivation.

From many sources, it is well known that science obfustication has been well funded by industries who have found research conclusions uncomfortable.  As shown by the Tobacco Legacy Archive, this funding has been both direct and indirect.  Astroturf was invented by those guys well before the Astrodome opened.  For such issues as lead, tobacco, asbestos and of course tobacco, advertising agencies, public relations companies, think tanks and various other pass throughs have been used.  There is no doubt that the hiding of such connections has become more professional, the latest variation being Donor's Trust,

So one may ask, who has been paying the academics testifying before Congress, state legislatures, and local government organizations on these issues and what have they bought?  Further, what are the ethical issues about accepting the Exxon's shilling?  What about other writings designed to influence public opinion such as op-eds or reviews, should a conflict of interest be declared when the writer has been monetarily encouraged?

Based on past history, Rep Grijalva is right to ask these questions. Did he ask for too much?  He agrees
The communications back-and-forth is honestly secondary, and I would even on my own say that that was an overreach in that letter," Grijalva, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, told National Journal on Monday. "I want the disclosure [of funding sources]. Then people can draw their own conclusions.
Does the funding of testimony given by academics have value?  The funders think so.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Krugman on Climate

Or at least the climate of discourse in these days, expressing perfectly the differences between Eli on one side and, and, . . . . well others.
I see three choices: 
1. Continue to write and speak as if we were still having a genuine intellectual dialogue, in the hope that politeness and persistence will make the pretense come true. I think that’s one way to understand Olivier Blanchard’s now somewhat infamous 2008 paper on the state of macro; he was, you could argue, trying to appeal to the better angels of freshwater nature. The trouble with this strategy, however, is that it can end up legitimizing work that doesn’t deserve respect — and there is also a tendency to let your own work get distorted as you try to find common ground where none exists. 
2. Point out the wrongness, but quietly and politely. This has the virtue of being honest, and useful to anyone who reads it. But nobody will. 
3. Point out the wrongness in ways designed to grab readers’ attention — with ridicule where appropriate, with snark, and with names attached. This will get read; it will get you some devoted followers, and a lot of bitter enemies. One thing it won’t do, however, is change any of those closed minds. 
So is there a reason I go for door #3, other than simply telling the truth and having some fun while I’m at it? Yes — because the point is not to convince Rick Santelli or Allan Meltzer that they are wrong, which is never going to happen. It is, instead, to deter other parties from false equivalence. Inflation cultists can’t be moved; but reporters and editors who tend to put out views-differ-on-shape-of-planet stories because they think it’s safe can be, sometimes, deterred if you show that they are lending credence to charlatans. And this in turn can gradually move the terms of discussion, possibly even pushing the nonsense out of the Overton window. 
And the inflation-cult story is, I think, a prime example. Yes, you still get coverage treating both sides as equivalent — but not nearly as consistently as in the past. When Paul hyperinflation-in-the-Hamptons Singer complains about the “Krugmanization” of the media, who have the impudence to point out that the inflation he and his friends kept predicting never materialized, that’s a sign that we’re getting somewhere. 
It really would be nice not having to do things this way. But that’s the world we live in — and, as I said, there’s some compensation in the fact that one can have a bit of fun doing it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chu 'n' tobacco

Last night I went to Palo Alto High School's Great Minds lecture by Steven Chu on climate change. For those unfamiliar with Palo Alto public schools, billionaires send their kids there - they're pretty well decked out.

Chu is all in on using tobacco as the analog for climate, which he did at great length during the discussion (including comparing the corporate disinformation tactics). He did a good job overall, being a professor has made him a good speaker. He said the 500-1000 year period to mostly recover from the effects of GHG emissions is an imposition on costs on umpteen future generations, "500 to 1000 years of future generations breathing our second-hand smoke."

The kindly professor showed some steel at two points during Q&A, sharply correcting two people who misstated something he'd said previously. Guess you need that to survive at a high level in DC.

Few other random notes:  very bullish on wind and solar, believes the business world has really seen the light. He's also bullish on battery technology and has his own business venture in the area. I hope he's right. For all that he still sees a long-term future for fossil fuels - I can't remember quite what he said and don't want to get sharply corrected, but it seemed like 20% of energy to come from fossil fuels well into the second half of this century.

He's supportive of nuclear power but not in the US, saying we take too long to make it happen, and that utilities keep messing around with designs instead of turning out cookie-cutter plants like they do in South Korea and did in France (EDIT - he's pessimistic about near term prospects in the US, but still supports nuclear power). He also supports carbon sequestration and is doing research in that area. I tried to ask a question about the economic failures in that area but didn't get the chance.

He made fun of his fellow physicists for believing they can understand anything in science, but then attempts to do the same thing himself.

New fact:  he was the first scientist ever appointed to a Cabinet-level position, and was replaced by another scientist (Ernest Moniz). He gives Obama a lot of credit for appointing scientists against the advice of people surrounding him, who don't think scientists play well in the DC pool.

EXTENDED REMARKS (Eli)  From YouTube, a talk by Chu at the Stanford Business School.

MOAR EXTENDED REMARKS (Brian) The YouTube clip is pretty similar to his Paly talk. He gives an extended version of the second-hand smoke allegory 15 minutes in, although I think he was pithier with the high school audience.

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 5

Think it could not get stranger young bunnies.  Well, four days ago Brendan Montague was lovin it on Desmog UK, reporting on a strange interlude at the 2012 Heartland Climate Science Roast that he had with Willie Soon, something that was so good that he was holding it for a forthcoming (still book).

Willie was on a role, throwin' everyone under the bus, Exxon Mobile, and CfA.  According to Montague he said

The process is we have to go through my centre I am working for, where I get a paycheque, so it goes through our grants office and of course the director has to approve it. My previous director was very friendly. He loved what we do. Then the new director is somewhat, very not friendly so I’m in a bit more trouble. 
Now Eli is the RTFR type of bunny so he went and looked up who the previous director was, Irwin Shapiro, and then Eli looked for some connection between Shapiro and Soon, when this 2013 gem from the Boston Globe popped up
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.

“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’
True enough and obvious enough for science, but in his own way, as the Globe points out, Soon science has been useful for his funders.  Testimony in its own way to the obliviousness of astronomers.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 4

It just keeps on coming.  Anymore of this and Eli will have to be hospitalized for acute giggles. Chris Mooney at the Washington Post does everyone a service by calling out Willie Soon's research as the fantasy that it is, but buried deep at the top of his article are some interesting quotes

According to a statement from the Smithsonian, Soon is “a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” and the institution is “greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.” The acting secretary of the Smithsonian, Albert Horvath, “has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter.
A twofer.  Last, the real auditors are being called in, and when they get their hands on the budgets Eli suspects that Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is going to have an interesting time explaining how indirect cost money that was originally going to be used to cover institutional operating expenses got converted to discretionary donations under his control.

But that's not all folks.  First, after looking at the grant awards and budgets, Eli was thinking that even with the Koch money and the Southern Money and the Donors Trust money, Willie was not covering his salary, and indeed here is proof.  They list him as part time.  Worse, anybunny with a calculator can see that his institutional base salary was not much at all, a bit less than 100K.  Each grant/contract was for three, four months at max and anybunny can do the math on that.  With overhead and fringes the Smithsonian was actually pulling in more money that Willie Soon.  Were there other non-Smithsonian sources that Dr. Soon was taping?  $50-75K is not much to live on in the Boston area.  Perhaps speaking fees?

From the Smithsonian Facebook page, where such things are found
The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research.

The Smithsonian is taking immediate action to address the issue: Acting Secretary Albert Horvath has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter. Horvath will also lead a full review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies governing the conduct of sponsored research to ensure they meet the highest standards.

Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon is a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. He was hired to conduct research on long-term stellar and solar variability. The Smithsonian does not fund Dr. Soon; he pursues external grants to fund his research.

The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming.
Of course, they were quite happy to accept the funding, but now the Smithsonian has tossed Willie Soon under the bus.  Will he have the company of those who thought it was a good thing?

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 3

More fun and games at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics featuring Eli's heroine Amanda Preston.  So Willie Soon sets up some funding for his salary with Exxon Mobile.  Well that's what soft money people do and Eli would have not been too hard on our Willie had he not at an AGU conference long ago been subjected to the single stupidest poster talk through ever by said Soon.

But be not concerned because once the money was in the bag, Amanda Preston lower (or rather raised) the boom indirect cost rate on Exxon-Mobile in a small Email

I am attaching a proposal for your review and a request for payment. You may recall that I mentioned the adjustment in our indirect costs upwards from the 15% that Walt Buchholtz and I negotiated when he was still in your position. You will see in the attached that the project cost increases to -$76.000. 
The adjustment was to 43% of salaries and wages.

Eli is only a few pages into the document dump but he is laughing so hard that a pause is needed

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 2

More hi-jinks from the crew in Cambridge.

Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon's support network.  As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things.  Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes.

Looking at the FOI document dump Eli reads this interesting bit in the first Email, from Amanda Preston to various people at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

You will see that $22,181.00 was allocated to task 40301770IS50AP. This amount is equivalent to the indirect costs that would have been charged if the gift had been a grant. on instructions from Charles Alcock, I asked ExxonMobil to allow us to reclassify that amount as an unrestricted contribution. Judith Batty assented to our request (see attached email). 
Charles Alcock is the Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Email continues
I have the following questions and comments: Charles Alcock agrees that this money should be used to defray any shortfall in development funding. Do we move it from 301770 to 101600? Or to the DDF
The DDF is the Director's Discretionary Fund, which is a fund that is dispersed at the, guess what, discretion of the director.  These funds in research centers are used for program development, bridge funding when a soft money person is out of grant/contract funding, or for tea.

Now Eli, maybe Russell, does not have a clue of how money from indirect cost accounts flow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, but he expects that as the norm, some of it flows to the PI as a reimbursement for undividable costs, some to the PI's department for same and some to the institution director, but the lion's share goes to things like electricity and heating costs, and oh yes, to make sure that the toilet's flush and that the library maintains subscriptions.  Moving the money to development or the DDF means that it was totally available to the director for other stuff.  Oh yeah, and probably that Willie did not get his cut.  This cut is important to defray many costs including travel to conferences.

One of the gotcha's in research institutions like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is that you cannot use federal grant money to support applications for federal grant money.  What this means in practice is that if someone is completely supported by federal grant money, at least in the audit sense, they cannot spend time writing further grants.  The out for this is to allocate a small amount of a researcher's time to general support from the institution, which, so the argument goes, covers the time and effort of the researcher and the support staff in applying for further federal funds. Coming up with non-Federal money to do this is a bit of a problem.

Charles Alcock is one of the principles in the Origins of Life Initiative which was seed funded by Harvard in 2005.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks1

Justin Gillis has lit the fuse on the interesting funding received by Willie Soon from hither and yon.  Eli had done some digging early on into that pile of offal, but admittedly did not follow through as he should have.  However, the results of the FOI requests by the Climate Investigations Center are telling

One of the fuses in this controversy has been the neglect, rather perhaps the purposeful admission of who funded that in particular with respect to Soon's latest provocation, a rather silly article co-authored by Monckton and two guys to be named later.  The Weasel summarizes this as

I’m not sure it’s coherent enough to count as drivel. There’s quite a bit where I had no hope of working out what it means or what the point of saying it was.
and then goes on to shortly summarize why it was drivel.  Jan Perlwitz provides a more measured discussion (e.g. he provides the reasoning why Soon and Monckton were spitting up, in short, they model the response of the system to a 150 increase in greenhouse gas concentrations as if it was a single pulse and other things and calls the paper drivel after providing the reasons rather than in the opposite order).

Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon's sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication.

Even before the Gillis piece appeared, Paul Thacker was been hot on pointing out that this paper does not acknowledge Soon's support from various sources including the Southern Company and had noticed that the contract between the Southern Company Services and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics contained the unusual clause
Publicity. Smithsonian shall not publish and utilize the name or otherwise identify SCS or its affiliate companies in any publications or other advertisements without the express written consent of SCS. As further consideration to SCS, Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS. 
Eli would guess that even had permission been requested, it might have been, well, not given.

But there is much more in the pile.  Consider the Amanda Preston two step in Hi-Jinks 2 to follow

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Oslo, then the world

Obviously no gas engines when there are no gas stations. In 2013 I argued that each percentage of vehicle sales that EVs take away from gas engines is a percent that will not be maintaining the gas engine infrastructure, and that loss of infrastructure support may make a difference in the near future in some places.

Norwegians are currently buying EVs for about 15% of vehicle sales (admittedly with a lot of incentives that may be gradually reduced). Obviously the existing vehicle fleet composition is different from the new vehicle fleet. Per the video above, a gas engine car bought 20 years from now could still be around 20 years later. Still I think the correct reference for when the gas infrastructure will start becoming spotty and inconvenient uses the percentage of vehicle miles traveled in a given time done by EV. People with two cars generally drive more with the newer one, and with electricity always costing less than gas, it will make sense for people to choose their EV when they can. That 15% will translate into 15% less gas revenue, not today but soon, and gas stations are going to notice it. If I were a young businessperson in Oslo today, I don't think I'd view a gas station as an attractive long term investment.

I don't expect range anxiety for gas vehicles so much as range annoyance as they have to go further and plan more to refill their cars. Mechanics and the rest of the infrastructure that support gas cars will also be less common and more expensive.

The above is obviously true at some large percentage of vehicle miles coming from EVs, the question is whether it can and will happen anytime soon at some smaller percent, say 10%. We could see that in Oslo in 5-10 years.

And FWIW, I don't think gas stations will completely disappear everywhere. There will be some vintage/hobby cars tooling around, maybe retrofitted to run biodiesel or other biofuels, and there will be some businesses that service them.