Thursday, June 30, 2011

Advice to Scientists

In a recent EOS (newletter of the American Geophysical Union), Alan Betts has some advice

Earth scientists face a profound ethical challenge. Humanity is an integral part of the Earth’s ecosystem, but the waste from our industrial society is now driving rapid global climate change. What is our responsibility as a community of scientists? Is it simply to follow tradition and explore and discuss in our own world, largely isolated from the broader community, the many interesting facets and complexities of the transformation of the Earth’s climate system and then to publish our results in our private jargon in copyrighted journals that are not freely available to the public that is funding us? Surely this is for us just “business as usual,” an integral part of the problem, not the solution.

I suggest it is time to reconsider our responsibilities to society and to the Earth. Humanity will be unable to deal with climate change, in terms of both mitigation and adaptation, until a broad spectrum of society is fluent in discussing the issues and the choices we face. Changing the direction of our global society from its present unsustainable path is a moral and ethical
challenge as well as a scientific one.

However, broad understanding of the limits imposed by the Earth system is essential. Clear, open communication and discussion are needed at all levels of society, along with research directed at clarifying the limits for decision makers in local communities. The contribution of science, honest communication of the state of knowledge, is needed to inform and counter the
simplistic ideologies that are common in politics. I conclude that scientists need to
become more deeply embedded in society.

We all face the essential task of reducing human impacts on the Earth system
Now Eli hates to bring this up, but it is not so far from what Greg Craven said somewhat more energetically at the last AGU Conference, for which all the kool kids dumped on him for not being kool. Read his open letter about why he was juuuuuust a bit strong. The scariest part was

It might surprise, and hopefully disturb you, to hear that in my short time at AGU, I discovered four scientists who are already creating some form of survival retreat for their family, and they told me there are many more. But they are all too scared of being ostracized in the scientific community if they speak of it. It struck me that they aren’t even “in the closet” yet. They still think they are isolated freaks of nature, ashamed to share what they truly feel.

Being in the closet would be a positive step for them!
the most depressing

What I ask of the scientists is simple, easy, and does not threaten the purity of the scientific endeavor. I ask only that each scientist recognize that we each wear multiple hats in our lives, and that it is a tragic mistake to insist on wearing exclusively your scientist hat when addressing the public. Instead, go out and tell the public in any forum you can find: “As a scientist, here is what I know. As a citizen, here are my concerns, and my thoughts on what we should do. And as a father, a mother, a grandparent, here are my fears, even my terrors, and my backup plans to safeguard my family.”

This idea has been and clearly still is anathema to the traditional scientific sensibilities, of eschewing any expression of the impact of their knowledge on themselves as people, as citizens, as fathers and mothers. Of actually speaking on policy decisions as a citizen. I am completely befuddled as to why that right–exercised by every other, equally unqualified citizen–is voluntarily surrendered by those who know best what is likely to happen in the physical world. . . .

I have come away from the meeting shaken to the core. Especially after seeing in the panel discussion that there is still absolutely no felt need to change how they operate, though such a small, easy, non-threatening change could turn the tide of the debate.

Instead, to my horror and dismay, what I saw was even the encouragement to hold the line harder, with the incredibly influential Michael Oppenheimer telling the audience to be sure they continue to assiduously stick to avoiding any discussions of policy.

To date, the scientific community has made the understandable but flawed assumption that providing the public with facts will result in the public making a rational decision. It boggles me that the scientific community, of all people, would disregard so completely the long-established finding of psychological research that people on the whole simply don’t make decisions rationally, as the divergence between public and scientific opinion demonstrably shows.

So perhaps you can understand how deeply distressing it is to see the scientific community this late in the game doubling down on a strategy that has already been demonstrated to be woefully ineffective

But Willie Soon is doing well, just as Eli pointed out years ago

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Really Thin, Really Well Paid Bench

One of the long time themes of Rabett Run has been how thin the rejectionist bench is, requiring the usual suspects, the Freds, Seitz and Singer, Willie Soon, etc. to cover all bases. Of course Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger have set up a small business in fronting. In this, the Tobacco Legacy Archive has been the gift that keeps on giving. POGO, well Paul Thacker landed another one in 2006, Steve Milloy it turns out took over $90K from Phillip Morris when he was working as a science churnalist for FoxNews. Fox News put on its best Casablance imitation when told of this

"Fox News was unaware of Milloy's connection with Philip Morris. Any affiliation he had should have been disclosed."
It turns out that Pharma too is in to rent a scientist in a large way, and Paul has found some tracks. UCSF has established a Drug Industry Document Archive.

Eli eagerly awaits a spirited defense of churnalism from the John Flecks, Tom Yulsmans and Keith Kloors of the world

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Murdoch Press

Back to back stories on NPR this morning report on the political and public perceptions of climate change. The first, the most obvious, describes how how today's "conservatives" (those are sarcasm quotes) have lost touch with reality to enter a fact free zone. Something that is being increasingly noticed by the RRs (rational republicans), as, for example in a recent Time Magazine essay by Fahreed Zakaria. This and similar in the main stream media (you know Keith, Churnalism Central) indicates that the the Overton window is shifting. make no mistake about it the wingnuts are in full fluster and it is time to push back on them.


Republican candidates aren't the only ones who have changed their tune in recent years. The Pew Research Center points to a sharp decline in the number of Americans who even believe that global warming is happening, let alone that it's a serious problem.

In 2006, 77 percent of Americans agreed there is "solid evidence" of global warming. By this year, that number had fallen to 58 percent. And just over a third believe that man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

"Most of that decline has occurred among Republicans and Independents," said Andrew Kohut, president of the research center. "The partisan gap is huge."

Of course, these are the primary voters that Republican candidates need to appeal to. And they've been encouraged in their skepticism of climate change by fossil fuel interests, which have bankrolled an aggressive campaign against cap and trade.


The best explanation of this is the parallel universe erected by the Murdoch press, the Koch brothers and allies. Given that this is low comedy or high tragedy, we have to look to Comedy Central and Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart for clear speaking, which Stewart did when interviewed by Chris Wallace.

Stewart wondered why he was doing a comedy show when the networks are doing a much better job.



Wallace was flummoxed when Stewart agreed that Fox has an audience that likes what they show, but that the Fox audience is
The most consistently misinformed media viewers, Fox, in every study
Oh yes, Chris doesn't like Cartman, but you should listen to the entire thing (Fox edited parts in what they showed. Eli is shocked, shocked).

So now let the Rabett Churn move on to the second NPR piece " Climate Change: Public Skeptical, Scientists Sure"



The American public is less likely to believe in global warming than it was just five years ago. Yet, paradoxically, scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is real and caused largely by human activities.

Something a bit strange is happening with public opinion and climate change.

Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication, delved into this in a recent poll. He not only asked citizens what they thought of climate change, he also asked them to estimate how climate scientists feel about global warming.
An interesting formulation, scientists are SURE that we are driving climate change (it ain't the bunnies of the field bucky, we just chew the carrots).

Though a few are still finding reasons for doubt, Cicerone says he and most of his colleagues find the science of climate change is stronger the harder they look. So does this public disbelief mean that Americans are becoming more anti-science?

Leiserowitz of Yale University says that's not what his polls show.

"Most Americans have overwhelming trust in the science and trust in scientists," he said.

But the public is largely unaware of the consensus because that's not what they're hearing on cable TV or reading in blogs.

"They mostly get exposed to a much more conflicted view, and that's of course not by accident," he said.

Leiserowitz is now starting to ask how public opinion changes when people actually know that the National Academy of Sciences and other groups consider climate change to be a big concern.

"So far the evidence shows that the more people understand that there is this consensus, the more they tend to believe that climate change is happening, the more they understand that humans are a major contributor, and the more worried they are about it," Leiserowitz said.

He says if you drill down a bit, the American public actually is not split when you ask them if they'd like to see a gradual transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NIH's disingenuous response on chimps and bioethics

I'm mostly a supporter of the mainstream scientific institutions, but I'll take a moment here to bash the National Institute of Health and its decision to play politics with research regarding medical experimentation on chimps.


NIH wants to return "semi-retired" chimps to invasive medical experimentation, a proposal that provoked a response by several Senators demanding first a study "about the merits of continued invasive research using using chimpanzees." NIH said, okay fine, and then sent things southward.

The disingenuity is, as told by Nature, the deliberate decision to remove all ethical aspects of the research from the scope of the study. To claim you're creating an objective response to a research request that only considers the category with potential positive aspects and while excluding the category with the most potential negatives, is to be transparent. In a bad way.

What doesn't help is the argument by animal rights types that there's no medical benefit to this type of research. They're trying to avoid an ethical dilemma by claiming there's no reason to do it at all, and shutting their ears to contrary evidence. NIH isn't any better by refusing to think about ethical dilemmas.

Research defenders don't help their cause by deliberately underplaying what they want to do with the chimps. For example, they say regarding testing a Hepatitis C vaccine on chimps that "As inconveniencing tens of chimpanzees impacts the health of millions of humans, it is unethical not to use the chimp model." They don't say how they plan to examine effectiveness, but from my perspective, contracting Hepatitis C after being deliberately exposed, because a vaccine didn't work, is more than an inconvenience.

An even better example of the dilemma is the proposal to use the chimps to research treatments for Ebola. Someone needs to explain to me a humane way of infecting a chimp with Ebola. It remains a dilemma though, unless someone can explain a reason not to explore an avenue for saving human beings from Ebola.

FWIW, I'm not an animal rights type, I'm a sapientist. I'll pick a human over a chimp in some weird hypothetical matchup, but I'd rather cheat the hypo and pay some additional money so I don't have to sacrifice either. Researchers might jeer at that evasion, but their own answer is less clear cut than they think. Medical research on chimps is expensive, but only because we treat them according to modern coddling standards. Drop back to early 20th Century standards of care and willingness to euthanize unneeded specimens, and you could reach your research goals faster or cheaper. Even people who think they have a clear cut answer are actually making compromises.

Anyway, I'm not completely opposed to invasive research that doesn't hurt, scare, or medically harm chimps. Maybe the effect of public review of this issue will be to let us cheat the hypo, and inject some extra government money so we find a way to solve these medical problems without harming chimps more than we already have.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

IPCC reports should make projections based on a maximum human lifetime: 110 years

Supercentenarians - people who live to be 110 or older - are interesting for their own sake and as a reminder of the timescale we should keep in mind for climate change. We aren't just talking about future generations, we're talking about what the world will be like for people who are alive today.


Conveniently, the first IPPC report in 1990 focused on a 110-year time frame ending in 2100. Less conveniently, subsequent reports have each decided to emphasize a shorter time frame than the one before it, because each one also emphasized the 2100 time frame. If the Fifth AR due out in 2013-2014 time frame does the same thing, then people now alive will be in their 80's and still have their remaining lives relegated to a far-off time bin.

Choosing a maximum human life span is a good boundary zone for long term analysis. What that life span would be needs somewhat arbitrary delineation. The link above shows there are hundreds of people now alive who reach 110, so that seems pretty safe as a minimum number for a reasonable, maximum life span even under current, primitive technology, and again it matches what we started with in 1990. It would also have the advantage of reversing the increasing tendency of recent reports to downplay climate impacts by emphasizing shorter time periods.

The Fourth Assessment did look at conditions after 2100, but not in great detail and grouped together with impacts heading out to 2300. The Fifth Report will also look at impacts after 2100, in an as-yet unclear fashion. It should change the categories to say, up to 2125 and then after 2125 (UPDATE: corrected my problems with the advanced mathematics of addition). If not, then at least should provide much more detail as to what could happen in the early 22d Century, because it's appropriate to consider what current generations are going to face.

Cage Match

Turns out that the self proclaimed "No. 1 global warming denier in Minnesota" one Michael Jungbauer, a man, whom in his own words, has "studied all 13 disciplines of science" contained in the IPCC reports, and now sits in the Minnesota state senate, well, he has been engaged in resume embroidery, amusing resume embroidery, but resume embroidery none the less.

Don Shelby, of the MinnPost has the story

Sen. Jungbauer is fond of making pronouncements from on high regarding the scientific weakness of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He takes positions in direct opposition to 98 percent of published and peer-reviewed climate, atmospheric scientists and glaciologists. But the water and sewer treatment specialist by day is, apparently, quite knowledgeable on all manner of science. It certainly appears to be. He uses big words and cites studies in his lectures.

No scientist

The problem is, he is not a scientist. Even though his published biography lists his higher education credits from Moody Bible Institute, Anoka Ramsey Community College and Metropolitan State University and that he is working on his master's degree in environmental policy and that he has a background in biochemistry, it turns out he has never graduated from college. He doesn't have a bachelor's degree.

He is an ordained minister, of sorts. But, although his official biography says he has a degree from Moody, he does not. In direct answer to my question, Jungbauer responded: "No I did not graduate. But I have a certificate."
There is lots more at the MinnPost site, and Eli strongly encourages following the link, but collecting certificates appears to be a habit among the rejectionists. Many, including Jungbauer, are just the sort of folks that get their degrees by mail. The picture comes from dotearth, where Andy Revkin was reporting on the 2009 Heartland NIPCC Conference. Jungbauer was on a panel with Don Easterbrook. Andy liked Jungbauer, but listening to him on various videos, it is clear that the guy is not what he claims to be. Shelby has an embedded video showing Jungbauer at work in a MN Senate hearing. Listen to it, there are several "tells". Can the bunnies spot them?

Anyhow, Shelby is organizing a cage match between Jungbauer with the Gish Gallop and John Abraham with the butterfly net.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dive


Neven has headed out on vacation just when the Arctic sea ice extent is getting interesting. It is taking a dive, the Northern Route is about half way open, the main channel in the Northwest Passage is emptying and the next week or so should tell the tale



Oh yes, Eli prefers IUP at Uni-Bremen. Make something of it

Kulturkampf

Eli has been thinking for a long time about the motivation for science and come to the conclusion that it has much to do with Einstein's statement of faith, the Lord is subtle, but not malicious.

Scientists do science to learn the ways in which the Universe, or the part of it we are interested in, work, and the best (and quietest) pleasure is figuring something out and contemplating new understanding. Each has problems we worked on, figured out, and never published (well, maybe less so today with the various pressures to get funding), thinking, well, we'll get around to that in time. Eli has three or four thing like that sitting int the archival layer. Maybe more if he dug down a bit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Double down on Pawlenty's Medicare Option proposal

Tim Pawlenty has proposed, vaguely, to modify Paul Ryan's scrapping/replacement of Medicare by saying he'd keep Medicare as an option people could choose in competition with privatized alternatives:


"I'm going to have my own plan, John, that will feature some differences from Congressman Ryan's plan. It will feature performance pay rather than just volume pay ... it will allow Medicare to continue as an option, but it will be priced against various options," Pawlenty said.

Recall that Ryan's plan for Medicare for future seniors is to replace it with something very similar to what Obamneycare provides to non-seniors. That makes Pawlenty's proposal, if (Big If) applied fairly, Obamneycare plus a vigorous, already-dominant public option.

Democrats should offer a deal. They should say that they don't think privatizing Medicare is a good idea, but Pawlenty's proposal has some safeguards, so they'll agree to it as long as the Republicans agree to let non-seniors also be eligible (or eligible for a stand-alone public equivalent of the Medicare option in case seniors don't want to share Medicare). If the Republicans are confident that private alternatives can outcompete Medicare among seniors, they shouldn't have any worries about making making the options available to nonseniors. Democrats should have the converse perspective, and then we'll see who's right.

Maybe this offer would do no more than expose the Republican lack of confidence in their proposal. OTOH, if they drink their own Kool Aid, it could get interesting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Our Aussie friends start the summer with a conversation about climate, how humans are driving changes and what we can do about it. After a short introduction, they move on to describing what the greenhouse effect is and how science relates to policy. More to come

As Easy as Rocket Science


Over on Master Resource Chip Knappenberger has redeauxed the Lindzen-PNAS papers and elicited a mess of Email, two of which Eli would like to discuss. Roy Spencer writes at #13 (how prescient)

Positive feedback for climate is not the same as for engineering…in the usual sense of the word, the climate system is stable, with net negative feedback.

But the MAIN climate stabilizing effect is NOT included in climate “feedback”: the increase in IR cooling to space as temperature rises (the Stefan-Boltzman(n) effect). It’s just semantics, and leads to much confusion.

For example, positive cloud feedback would reduce the rate of radiative loss to space with temperature below the Stefan-Boltzman(n) value…but it would still be a loss of energy with warming, and so negative feedback in the traditional sense.

not getting the point is mild. For the purpose of energy balance, the Earth is a black box, with solar coming in and IR going out. The box reacts if you try and change anything by restoring the balance and if one thing is constant it is that the IR cooling to space matches the net solar absorption over time allowing for relatively short periods of accommodation to change. This is the classic confusion of space with a corporeal sphere

Andy Dessler at #27 Choi's his Chou's or chews his toys, or whatever, but brings some interesting inside stuff
There’s one additional piece of information missing from this post: this paper was originally submitted to JGR, and it was rejected by that journal, too. When I talked to Lindzen last Oct., he railed about how unfair the reviews from that journal had been. At that point, I think Lindzen recognized that his paper was never going to make it through any kind of legitimate peer review, so he next submitted it to PNAS so he could select his own reviewers. Kudos to PNAS for not letting him select the entirely unqualified Happer or Lindzen’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Choi. But now Lindzen thinks PNAS is being unfair to him. Of course, after so many rejections by so many reviewers, there’s another possibility that Lindzen seems to not consider: his paper is not very good.
Eli, Eli has been looking for the text of Happer and Chou's reviews. Don't seem to be everywhere.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

WINO's Lament

Eli is injecting a new term into the discussion of lukewarmerism, WINO, sort of like RINO, Rabett in Name Only, but terribly appropriate, as we shall see from Lindzen's Lament, featured over at Bishop Hill.

We here at Rabett Run are familiar with the latest horror papers, Lindzen and Choi II, featured in our video of Andrew Dessler's disputation with Dick Lindzen, who constantly whined about Dessler not referring to his new, as yet and still unpublished V2. Lindzen, as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, can submit papers, for which he has gathered referee's reports from two appropriate scientists of his choosing. He chose Will Happer and Ming-Dah Chou, boththe first a member of the NAS, the second well read bellow, but, [corrections in italic] both being not exactly appropriate. As the editor of PNAS wrote to Lindzen

The two reviews provided by Lindzen and Choi do not qualify against any of those criteria. Both scientists are formally eligible for refereeing according to the PNAS rules, but one of them (WH) is certainly not an expert for the topic in question and the other one (MDC) has published extensively on the very subject together with Lindzen. So, in a sense, he is reviewing his own work. I therefore recommend we ask for additional reviews. The final outcome could well be positive, and the process would then considerably strengthen the position of the authors.

The Editorial Board has recommended additional referees to evaluate the paper. Drs. Susan Solomon, Kevin Trenberth, Gavin Schmidt, James G. Anderson and Veerabhadran Ramanathan were suggested as possible reviewers to offer an opinion on the work. The Board will seek the comments of at least one of these reviewers unless you have any specific objections to our contacting these experts.
Now Dick considers this a libel on both (Chou, as the bunnies may remember was a co-author on the Adaptive Iris paper, and Happer, whatever his qualifications does a very different sort of spectroscopy) FWIW, but the paper was sent out for review and roundly rejected. Bishop Hill has posted the Acrobat versions of the manuscript, the reviews as well as Lindzen and Choi's response. The evaluations from four referees were unanimously negative: Not of sufficient quality and the conclusions were not justified. Three of the four though that the procedures were not well enough described. A common thread is that, as one of the reviewers said about one of the assumptions:
They do not bother to prove it or test the validity of this assumption. Again this is an assertion, without any testable justification.
Or as Nick Stokes put it about another paper disproving the greenhouse effect, proof of the assertion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Eli assumes that Andy Dessler, James Annan and several others may wish to practice extended mole whacking in the comments below.


Summer Reading List

As the bunnies prepare for summer vacation, Eli has a few suggestions. The first (or really the first and the second) are books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, described as a youth as a “dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”, something that the Bunny hopes others hold against him

Leigh Fermor was (he recently died at the age of 96) a combination of Charlie Sheen, James Bond and Indiana Jones. His death has unleashed an avalanche of envious obituaries

After being kicked out of school and not really finding anything, he decided to walk across Europe from Holland to Istanbul to have something to do. He started in 1932, with a ferry to Hook van Holland and ended in 1935. Two books describing this, written in his old age and a promised third, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water are perhaps the best travel books ever written. Many readers anxiously awaited the third for decades, covering the last leg of his journey, which perhaps may or may not appear with rumors of at least a draft existing or not as the case may be.

For those of you looking for a science slog, does the bacterium GFAJ-1 use arsenic instead of phosphorous has hit Science with a vengeance with the actual paper being published in print accompanied by a phalanx of NOs, eight out of twenty five being printed as technical comments along with a reply.

For those interested in what happens when scientists make a prediction, Science also reports that seven geophysicists are to face trial in Italy for not having predicted the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake. More precisely at a meeting they said that the probability of a quake in light of recent seismic activity, was not high, although it could not be ruled out. This, according to the prosecutors, falsely reassured the town. There is, as Reader Rabett's may have guessed, politics here, this playing into claims by Gioacchino Giuliani that predictions could be made by monitoring radon. According to Thomas Jordan, a seismologist at USC, More details here and here

“There is a fine line between giving information that is scientifically accurate and information that can be actionable by the public,” he notes. Jordan points out that his commission has recommended that Italy, as well as other countries, needs to improve the way it communicates the risks of earthquakes to decision-makers and the public. He also says that the action taken in response to changing forecasts needs to be put on a more systematic basis. “If there is an 80% or 90% chance of a quake, then you have to consider evacuation,” Jordan says. “But what should you do when the probability rises from one chance in 10,000 to one chance in 100? Those kind of questions remain unanswered.”
And, this week, Science has a short note on the threats to Australian scientists covered at Deltoid, noting that some have been relocated to secure offices

Consider this an open thread. But then again, you always do (and Eli has no complaint)

Weiner and IPCC's Pachauri: both pursued by ankle-biters, both possibly ineffective

(UnAmericans may be unaware of our sexting Congressperson, so here's context.)


Congressman Weiner and the IPCC head Pachauri have both been 1. attacked by people of ill intention 2. for reasons that are only tangentially related to their office, but that doesn't mean that 3. we should root for them to stay in office.

Weiner has displayed astounding stupidity and unethical behavior outside of his political office, but whether that makes him a bad Representative is a different matter. I suppose astounding stupidity could be a disqualifier, but if it hasn't been shown in his work then maybe it doesn't matter. His political ethics should be more important to outsiders than the fact that he's a terrible husband/father-to-be. He burned a lot of friends by lying to them to them and sending them out as media surrogates, but that's not the reason he's being called to resign.

It's a little unfair to group Pachauri with a turdbucket like Weiner, but the conflict of interest charges made against Pachauri and the IPCC by ankle-biters are at least somewhat related to his work and somewhat true. The anklers ignore the fact that Pachauri and all the participating IPCC authors work for free and that Pachauri's home institution paid him 45,000 pounds annually - certainly less than that made by many of the anklers. The IPCC's institutional problem is that it does far too important work to rely on people on top with other jobs. They need to be salaried and cut free from conflicts (or downscale the IPCC, but I think we lose a policy tool that way).

One reason to group Weiner and Pachauri together is on the basis of possibly being ineffective for reasons unrelated to the criticism they've received. Weiner has a reputation of being an ineffective legislator who's used by the Dems to beat up the right in the media (link, June 9 podcast). I disagree that being a lightning rod means he can't do legislating. Ted Kennedy for one thing could do both jobs, and Weiner could've done work behind the scenes and left negotiating to others. If he's not good, then get rid of him.

Pachauri has two jobs at the IPCC: coordinate its internal work, and be its outward face. I know nothing about the former job (probably the more important one), but he's not good at the latter. Lately he's been quiet, which is probably for the best, but someone who can better play the competent scientist role would be an improvement.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Locke on environmental protection and takings

Time for an environmental law tangent.

I've had an idea for years about applying John Locke's theory of property to environmental regulation that could've taken the form of a scholarly article or test case litigation, except that I've not done anything with it. Given a recent blogalanche of posts on Locke and environmental regulation (two posts that I know of), I thought I'd just blog about it. Somebody else is free to do something more substantive with the idea (maybe they have already* and I missed it), or maybe something will motivate me to do more.

So, the issue: regulation of private property by the US Constitution is limited when it goes too far and becomes a taking of private property that must bring compensation to the property owner. The best test of what "too far" means, so far, is the 1978 Penn Central case, where Justice Brennan sez the following factors must be balanced:
  • (1) the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant,
  • (2) the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations and
  • (3) the character of the governmental action.

(Wiki for intermediate level detail).

Number 2 there has been somewhat problematic to apply. Enter John Locke!

Sec. 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

I see a lot of overlap between investment-backed expectations and the labor theory of property. Mixing your labor to transform the land makes it yours, as does investment that buy the land's transformation done by someone else.

One way to move forward would be to just drop investment-backed expectations and replace it with an analysis of whether the aspect of the land being regulated and protected is something that was created/transformed through human labor versus something that was intrinsic to the land. That, however, isn't going to happen anytime soon, as the law doesn't like to lurch that much. What could happen though is to use the labor theory of property as a means for deciding whether the expectation was reasonable and to determine the moral weight to be placed upon the investment made by the owner.

Environmental protection would generally, but not always, come out ahead under this analysis compared the kludge we have now for takings regulation. Soil and water quality are generally innate to the property and not created by the owner, so protecting them doesn't impinge upon something the owner's labor (or predecessor owner) created. Wetlands were generally there naturally, and similarly could be protected. Important to this is that "failing to harm" the land did not create the environmental values that were there originally. Many landowners who think their years of failing to harm the land gives them the subsequent right to harm it are just mistaken.

But then what if someone decides they want wetlands on their property, create some, and then ten years later change their mind? The labor theory of property would give that owner recourse against environmental regulation that she might not otherwise have. And I think that's okay - on an intuitive level, it makes sense.

Historic preservation has a contrary result where protection would generally, but not always, be lessened under this theory. Imagine a young person erects a distinctive building and then wants to destroy it 60 years later. This theory would give that person or possibly a successor owner a lot more room to claim a historic preservation rule constituted a taking. On the other hand, if a historic event like a battle occurred on the property that was not created by the owner's labor, protection of that historic value could be seen as a public right.

I think this concept could be tested through litigation. Civil rights litigation often preceded by looking at reverse discrimination. For example, gender discrimination in jury selection was thrown out in a case where it was men instead of women that were kept from a jury. I think that would the easiest approach to use to establish for Locke and takings - find a good historic preservation case, or an environmental value on a property that was created through labor and then regulated by government, and defend the landowner. Then we could see the value asserted on behalf of environmental protection more generally.

UPDATE: if anyone wants to collaborate on this, that might be the incentive I need to push it forward.


* A student article by Kraig Odabashian on Locke and investment-backed seems related, but sadly goes to a different concept of a "historic baseline" that I don't like very much. Not sure if anyone else has come closer.

Wakey wakey



Eli's opinion on these things has always been wait.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Lord of the Carrots?

Today's New York Times book review discusses a new novel by Sarah Winman, "When God Was a Rabbit". The title of the review is "Lord of the Carrots" in the dead-tree edition, but "Bleak Childhood, Dark Comedy" in the online edition. (Warning: the forces of evil have started to put parts of the NYT behind a pay wall.)

I thought to myself, it's certainly gratifying to see Eli getting the recognition he deserves, and in the NYT, no less. However, I think calling him "God" is a tad over the top.

There is a simple proof that Eli (however wise) cannot be God.

A Sunday School teacher asks the children, "where does God live?" And a little boy answers, "in the bathroom!"
The startled teacher, taken aback, asks, "how do you know that?" And the boy replies, "because my father pounds on the bathroom door, and shouts, GOOD GOD, ARE YOU STILL IN THERE?"

And I've never seen a rabbit in my bathroom. OK, OK, roaches, VERY occasionally. But rabbits, never. Ever.

Eli is an Evil Bunny

So ok, in the middle of one of the better tornados: weather or climate change? scrums Eli threw a curveball to John N-G, innocently asking

FWIW do the floods in Australia have anything to do with what people are doing to the atmosphere?
and got back a disputation

[Eli- The contemporaneous Reuters story http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/12/climate-australia-floods-idUSL3E7CC0KG20110112 does a decent job of summarizing the situation. (I say "decent" because I agree with it.) La Nina set up the weather pattern (there's no clear relationship between La Ninas and AGW), but the exceptionally warm oceanic temperatures in the area provided an extra dose of water vapor to the atmosphere, providing an add-on of 5%-7% to the flood-causing rainfall.

In a month or so I'll be in Melbourne attending an international earth science conference and I'll be keeping an eye (or ear) out for indigenous presentations on this topic.

We'll have an official answer in a year or so whether land use and urban planning contributed to the flood's impact to a significant extent. http://www.urbanalyst.com/in-the-news/401/401.html - John N-G]

Now, if Eli has taught the bunnies anything, it is to look at awkwardly put questions with a jaundiced eye. The sort of thing that Damon Runyon put best in a father's advice to a son going out into the world
Son, my father told me, there will come a time when you are out in the world and you will meet a man who says he can make a jack of hearts spit cider into your ear. Son, even if this man has a brand-new deck of cards wrapped in cellophane, do not bet that man, because if you do, you will have a mighty wet ear.
Observant bunnies note the use of the words "what people are doing to the atmosphere" and the answer (coming up) is a nice example for the next time Watts and Co. have a fit about using the term climate change instead of global warming, for indeed, we are doing more than simply taking a blow torch to the atmosphere, and, in broad outline, what we are doing can be understood in simple ways, although complex models provide needed detail.

Goes like this, springtime ozone depletion over Antarctica blows a hole in the belly of the ozone column. That means that there is a lot less ozone over the pole in the stratosphere. Eli has been at this game long enough to have heard every possible joke about sunburned penguins and more serious thoughts about this not doing good things for the phytoplankton upon which much of the oceans food chains depend, but it does something else that is obvious, it causes a strong, local (over the pole) cooling of the stratosphere, because the ozone is not there to absorb the sunlight which is flooding in as the sun rises in the spring. Such a cooling moves the tropopause upwards. Let us stress that this is both a local effect and and a short term one until the ozone hole heals in the late spring/summer.

Lagomorphs, and even pica everywhere ask, what does this have to do with weather (yes, yes, Eli knows) it rains in Brisbane, let alone Spain. To answer this question come Kang, Polvani, Fyfe and Sigmond in Science 332 (2011) 951 and to be honest a bunch of other people before them referenced in the "Impact of Polar Ozone Depletion on Subtropical Precipitation. They point out that there has been a strong movement of the Southern Hemisphere westerly jet towards the pole driven by the lifting of the tropopause associated with the Antarctic ozone depletion.


Kang and friends argue, supported by modeling that this effect is seen even as far as the tropics as the Hadley cells shift poleward, an observed trend.

Observations, cooling of the stratosphere due to the formation of the ozone hole, increased precipitation between 20 and 40 S latitude, shifting of the Southern Hemisphere westerly jet and the Hadley cell, poleward, and, oh yes, flooding in Australia can all be drawn together qualitatively as shown in the picture to the left taken from Feldstein's appreciation in the same volume of Science, and quantitatively with GCMs.












Saturday, June 04, 2011

Strange George Mason University interpretations of Virginia FOI requests

In a May 28th Climate Audit post, Steve McIntyre sees some perfect contrast to George Mason University's provision of documents when requested under Virginia's Freedom of Information law, versus University of Virginia's resistance to a demand for records for a witch hunt under criminal prosecution laws by the state's denialist Attorney General. Ron Bailey, who's worked as a 'science' correspondent at 'Reason', doesn't even understand that the threat of criminal prosecution wasn't a FOIA request.


Steve includes this strange response that GMU sent with the FOI records:

The materials in this USB are being provided in compliance with the Virginia FOIA. Many of the documents are published research papers that are copyrighted by their respective publishers. All other documents are copyrighted by Edward J. Wegman and Yasmin H. Said or by their respective authors. All rights are reserved. These documents may not be forwarded to a third party. Also included in this USB is the George Mason University policy document 4007 on academic misconduct. This policy requires confidentiality for all parties including complainants, in this case Professor Raymond Bradley. This confidentiality requirement was violated by Professor Bradley.

The alleged confidentiality requirement and violation seem wrong. Prof Bradley wasn't an employee of GMU acting in the scope of his employment when he complained that GMU Professor Wegman was stealing Bradley's work, so Bradley could tell GMU to go stuff it when it talks about its confidentiality policy. They'd have to prove he signed a confidentiality agreement instead if they feel like whining.

This FOI response isn't itself confidential and in no way binds the recipient to confidentiality.

The copyright claims are a little trickier. Generally documents created by employees shift copyright ownership to the employer, GMU. That can be changed by agreement with the employer, though.

I have seen before the claim that documents subject to third-party copyright can't be released by government agencies. I think it's a weak argument, much weaker than say, climate data-sharing that was contractually limited from disclosure, but GMU isn't actually saying that because it is, in fact, releasing the documents. It's not clear what GMU is saying other than weirdly warning the journalist to only reproduce the documents to the extent allowed under exceptions to copyright. (Climate law seems to be as much about copyright, libel, and free expression as it is about environmental law. My knowledge of those areas is somewhat limited, and every state and country is different).

Meanwhile, some commenters at Climate Audit try mightily to clear up confusion between criminal threats versus FOI requests, and between narrowly targeted FOI request of GMU versus the 9,000 page FOI request that has also been asked of UVa in addition to the criminal witchhunting. Somehow, though, people aren't listening.


UPDATE: Climate Audit link enabled at the top of the post for anyone who wishes to review the post or perhaps provide a helpful comment.

UPDATE 2: A funny thing I left out of this post is that attorneys for the denialists are being allowed to review all the items that are being claimed for exclusion from the FOI, which most certainly is NOT how such things are usually done (normally you only get to see a summary and reason for exclusion). I previously focused on the fact that one of the reviewing attorneys is Chris Horner, who's written some frankly ridiculous fluff on climate. We can only hope is legal ethics are made of stronger stuff. No one that I've seen has noted that the other lawyer, one David Schnare Esq. Phd, ain't just no lawyer but is the Director of the denialist Institute. In other words, the lawyer who is supposedly the filter keeping the exempt material from reaching the client is, in fact, the client.

This is a crazy level of bending over backward by UVa to accommodate the FOI request, and still Climate Audit is crying tears.

The Value of an Education

Louis Menand, in the New Yorker, reviews, somewhat doubtfully, two books on the use of a college education, doubtfully more about the books than the value of a college education, but in the course of his disputation answers a question that one always is confronted by, not only from students, but every semester when selecting course material, and more so if you actually look at the cost of the stuff

Soon after I started teaching there, someone raised his hand and asked, about a text I had assigned, “Why did we have to buy this book?”

I got the question in that form only once, but I heard it a number of times in the unmonetized form of “Why did we have to read this book?” I could see that this was not only a perfectly legitimate question; it was a very interesting question. The students were asking me to justify the return on investment in a college education. I just had never been called upon to think about this before. It wasn’t part of my training. We took the value of the business we were in for granted.

Eli has some opinions on the matter previously expressed, but Menand's essay, although not a complete answer contain major sections of the complete answer as to why college exists and why you should but the textbook

I could have said, “You are reading these books because you’re in college, and these are the kinds of books that people in college read.” If you hold a certain theory of education, that answer is not as circular as it sounds. The theory goes like this: In any group of people, it’s easy to determine who is the fastest or the strongest or even the best-looking. But picking out the most intelligent person is difficult, because intelligence involves many attributes that can’t be captured in a one-time assessment, like an I.Q. test. There is no intellectual equivalent of the hundred-yard dash. An intelligent person is open-minded, an outside-the-box thinker, an effective communicator, is prudent, self-critical, consistent, and so on. These are not qualities readily subject to measurement.

Society needs a mechanism for sorting out its more intelligent members from its less intelligent ones, just as a track team needs a mechanism (such as a stopwatch) for sorting out the faster athletes from the slower ones. Society wants to identify intelligent people early on so that it can funnel them into careers that maximize their talents. It wants to get the most out of its human resources. College is a process that is sufficiently multifaceted and fine-grained to do this.

College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test. Students have to demonstrate intellectual ability over time and across a range of subjects. If they’re sloppy or inflexible or obnoxious—no matter how smart they might be in the I.Q. sense—those negatives will get picked up in their grades. As an added service, college also sorts people according to aptitude. It separates the math types from the poetry types. At the end of the process, graduates get a score, the G.P.A., that professional schools and employers can trust as a measure of intellectual capacity and productive potential. It’s important, therefore, that everyone is taking more or less the same test.

I could have answered the question in a different way. I could have said, “You’re reading these books because they teach you things about the world and yourself that, if you do not learn them in college, you are unlikely to learn anywhere else.” This reflects a different theory of college, a theory that runs like this: In a society that encourages its members to pursue the career paths that promise the greatest personal or financial rewards, people will, given a choice, learn only what they need to know for success. They will have no incentive to acquire the knowledge and skills important for life as an informed citizen, or as a reflective and culturally literate human being. College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing.

In performing this function, college also socializes. It takes people with disparate backgrounds and beliefs and brings them into line with mainstream norms of reason and taste. Independence of mind is tolerated in college, and even honored, but students have to master the accepted ways of doing things before they are permitted to deviate. Ideally, we want everyone to go to college, because college gets everyone on the same page. It’s a way of producing a society of like-minded grownups.

If you like the first theory, then it doesn’t matter which courses students take, or even what is taught in them, as long as they’re rigorous enough for the sorting mechanism to do its work. All that matters is the grades. If you prefer the second theory, then you might consider grades a useful instrument of positive or negative reinforcement, but the only thing that matters is what students actually learn. There is stuff that every adult ought to know, and college is the best delivery system for getting that stuff into people’s heads.

Which brings us to a particularly noxious piece of deadwood who is proud of it, one David Rubinstein, who got tenure at U Illinois Chicago back in the days and has proceeded to defraud. Like any good grifter, Rubiinstein likes to brag about it. This matter has been taken up at Andrew Gelman's blog,
After 34 years of teaching sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I [Rubinstein] recently retired at age 64 at 80 percent of my pay for life. . . . But that's not all: There's a generous health insurance plan, a guaranteed 3 percent annual cost of living increase, and a few other perquisites. . . . I was also offered the opportunity to teach as an emeritus for three years, receiving $8,000 per course . . . which works out to over $200 an hour. . . .
and the situation pretty well summarized by one of the commenter, clayton
The travesty, it seems to me after reading the article, is that Rubinstein is essentially admitting to not doing his job because no one can make him -- and he thinks it's an indictment of the system and not him.
and another of the commenters, Russel Almond, who moved from industry to academia, compares the two, making, among other points
4) Teaching is harder work than the pure research job I had before. Students are more demanding than my bosses ever were. My 4 hour intro stat course takes me about 8 hrs/week in prep time, 1/hr week (average) in face to face meetings with students, 8hr/week in grading (if I delegate this all to the TAs I don't get feedback on how my students are doing). 2--4/hrs per week in coordinating with TAs and other instructors. TAs can't be simply left to do the grading on their own, they need to be carefully supervised to make sure that they are providing correct and useful feedback! I might be able to cut some of that prep time once I get into a better rhythm.

5) On top of teaching two courses, I am also supervising 6 PhD students. I also need to sit on committees for other peoples students.

6) On top of that I'm supposed to be spending about 1/2 my time on research, and 5% on other service.

With all these things taken together, I find myself with less time to spend with my family than before. Note, I have not yet gone through my first summer. . . . . .

8) A big advantage for me has been the freedom to pursue my own research project. In industry, my favorite projects were often given low priority by management. On the other hand, if I can't find funding for these, this influence my chance at tenure.

Personally, I enjoy both teaching and mentoring grad students. I think it is important work. So the upshot for me is that by moving to academia, I'm paid less, working harder, but have more flexibility and am having more fun.
Reading this together with the Menand essay, makes perfectly clear that functioning departments, colleges and universities depend on peer pressure to enforce standards. This is admittedly easier to do in departments where external support and space are needed by faculty for their academic work. Especially in non STEM departments there is little to be done about psychopaths like Rubinstein once they get tenure, but normal people can be shamed, and motivated people can become extraordinarily productive as faculty. The goal of faculty, Chairs, Deans and Provost must be to build such a society in their university. The goal of Presidents is to hire Chairs, Deans and Provosts who build such a society while they are out there raising money to support the students and faculty.