Friday, February 21, 2014

Like Lambs to the Slaughter

The American Physical Society had done it again.  In a surprisingly repetitive fit of Dunning Kruger they have assembled a subcommittee to guide the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) in a review of the APS statement on Climate Change which is composed of nuclear physicists and others who know nothing about climate relevant physics.

The chair of the subcommittee is  Steven E Koonin, former Undersecretary of Energy, now at the NYU Center for Urban Science and Policy, a theoretical nuclear physicist now having moved into the energy futures business.

Members of the subcommittee include

Robert Rosner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago who was a big wheel at Argonne National Lab, who chairs both the subcommittee and the parent APS Panel on Public Affairs.  Rosner is an astrophysicist, who is the closest on this assembly of gibbering know it all physicists who comes closest to maybe renting a clue given his work on fluid dynamics in stars and galaxies.  Some of the solar issues might have swum by his eyes at some point.

Susan J Seestrom a neutron scatterer from Los Alamos who is now a lab co-director.

Philip Coyle, an arms control (read nuclear weapons) expert formerly at the Office of Scientific and Technology Policy, and not at a think tank, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, now ain't that just the right background.  Coyle is also a member of the APS Panel on Public Affairs

R. Scott Kemp, another refugee from the nuclear complex

No climate relevant stuff there unless you are interested in nuclear autumn.

 You might as well have picked a bunch of squeegee guys from off the street.  The tragedy is that APS, even in the other divisions such as Chemical Physics, does have a number of experts who have relevant experience and understanding, even if they are not climate scientists.  People who understand such things as spectroscopy, energy transfer, fluid dynamics and more.  Instead we (Eli is a member) get this bunch of Jason wanna bees who think that they are so bright they can understand complex stuff in 2.5 microseconds.  The world is about to relive the tragedy described by Myanna Lahsen

In some respects Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow are representative of broader categories of which they are partly part. They share common characteristics with other physicists and with a particular subgroup of physicists and governmental advisers in particular, an older generation of elite physicists shaped by nuclear physicists. The Marshall Institute trio has lived through dramatic changes in popular attitudes towards science and the environment. Their engagement in US climate politics can be understood in part as a struggle to preserve their particular culturally and historically charged understandings of scientific and environmental reality, and an associated, particular normative order. The trio has found support for important dimensions of their worldviews and policy preferences within the backlash and among Congressional Republicans, but they must continuously contend with challenges to the privilege to which they had grown accustomed in science and government.
In passing she records a conversation with a young physicist which explains the arrogance
this is a problem with physicists: they think they know everything, because they’re smart. What they don’t understand is that yes, it is true, actually meteorology is a branch of physics. And so you take a physicist, like me, and you can sit him down, and in 2 or 3 years, they could learn meteorology. But physicists confuse being smart and having the ability to learn everything with actually knowing stuff!
We lost time to those clowns when they opposed the Montreal Protocols, we lost time to those clowns when they opposed actions on climate change, and we are about to lose more time to them.

The Subcommittee called some witnesses

And, oh yes, who did this subcommittee chose to learn about climate science from?

John Christy
William Collins
Judy Curry
Isaac Held
Richard Lindzen
Benjamin Santer

The best false balance choices since, like forever.  Eli has the following question to the Nuclear Subcommittee:  Lindzen, Curry, and Christy are about the only three respectable (ok, semi- to vaguely respectable) scientists you could find to talk about denial.  Roy Spencer being occupied with shark jumping, but it would be pretty easy to come up with a couple of hundred others who would represent the IPCC consensus position, this should have told you something.

However, what the bunnies can do is look at the transcript of that meeting.  It is concerning, the naivety of the panel is not charming.  Let us fisk, let us fisk, let us fisk


Hank Roberts said...

Fascinating transcript. But it seems the questions addressed to the panel aren't naive, they're right out of the denial playbook. Like, isn't the anthro forcing tiny compared to the sun? One percent?

Loaded dice?

Hank Roberts said...

7... " we don't have a parallel
8 where we can go run experiments,
9 although I have had some interesting
10 discussions with people about using
11 Mars for this purpose. But at the
12 moment, we are limited to just Earth
13 and we have to sort of take the
14 omelet we have and unscramble it.

Hey! We're going to [terraform] Mars!

Ya know, Rule One of Evolution is probably
"Don't put all your eggs on one planet."

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I guess they missed the thousand or so extrasolar planets, soon to be millions, some in high resolution. At the very least the models are in for orders of magnitude improvement.

Hank Roberts said...

"DR. HELD: I think you are getting the concept of radiative forcing wrong."

Russell Seitz said...

In any policy crapshoot, it is customary to choose more than two dice before rolling a pair, and to graft and cross fertilize all of one's favorite cherry trees before picking the lowest hanging fruit.

Arthur said...

Can anybody understand the discussion of "scaling factors"? Koonin brings it up on p. 188, then goes into a whole spiel starting around p. 253 up to around 263 and beyond - arguing that it means the centennial projections of temperature change are 30% too high?

Since when did anybody start applying linear scaling factors to adjust climate model outputs? That seems totally ad hoc to me. Apparently something along those lines was done in Ch. 10 and 11 though? But you can't just take a model of any physical system and throw in fudge factors like that if you don't like the results? Is that what Koonin is arguing for? And Curry apparently agrees?

badger badger badger said...


Anonymous said...

Yeah Eli, it is a shame they chose all those "astrophyscists". Heck they could have stuffed it with inorganic chemists.

Russell Seitz said...

Anyone proposing to add Koonin's name to a Dunning - Kruger List should write down their own name first.

He was Steve Chu's Undersecretary of Energy

Anonymous said...

Fun reading.

Christy and Lindzen, not surprisingly, outed themselves as adaptation-only advocates. Koonin too.

Christy's other contribution seems to be saying 'I don't know' as often as possible, perhaps with the aim of confusing that with 'no one knows'.

I think thi whole thing has partially comeabout on the back of some activitism wihtin a small group in APS - GPC. The GPC was formed in reaction to the last APS climate statement, made up of a small bunch who got their knickers in a twist over the 2007 statement. From what I could see of the GPC Executive, a necessary qualification is that you should not have published or worked in any area of actual climate research. Some of the most vocal nutters where part this, eg Roger Cohen- the ex-Mobil Exec - who being a nut even eeventuallyhad a messy split from the GPC who weren't being nutty enough for him. Of note - it was Cohen who recruited Judith Curry into the APS and GPC.

What isn't clear to me, is the link between the GPC and whoever on the APS board put together this sad case of false balance. Though it seems to me there must be a fairly strong one.

Kudos to Santer, Collins and Held for staying sane.

Anonymous Etc

EliRabett said...

Well yeah, inorganic chemists like Jack Barrett and Richard Courtney were Eli's intro to congenital stupidity (ask the Weasel)

OTOH Russell, Koonin leading a self immolation committee into the wolf's den does not exactly encourage Eli's faith in his having any subway fare.

Hank Roberts said...
... APS spearheaded a drive to create a third undersecretary ... 1 month after Koonin came aboard in May 2009 ... "Here was a guy who had no budget authority, and that's a tough position," Lubell says...
... Koonin, a theoretical physicist by training and former chief scientist at British Petroleum, is leaving next week for the Institute for Defense Analyses' Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
----end quote----

Jeffrey Davis said...

Adaptation only. Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?

How do we "adapt" to nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the militant Islamist faction of Pakistan?

I (regularly, boringly) mention that possibility because Pakistan's agricultural production regularly (4 times in the last 5 years) gets cold-cocked by extreme weather and the country might be ripe for civil unrest.

There are other responses to climate change than merely physical processes. They should know that because they're physicists, and they're smart.

Yes, I suppose it is a hobby-horse idea, but it's mine, and someone has to worry about it. Might as well be me.

Russell Seitz said...

Physicists tend to weigh models against dimensional analysis, parameter by parameter, which is a fairly sane approach to understanding where the outliers come from, and how easy or hard it is to get to them.

OTOH, though one tries to act on the Goudsmit principle : physicists do not shoot other physicists, one can do little when they aim at their own feet.

Pinotgraves said...

Am I the only reader who can't open anyone's link to the transcript or the framing questions except with IE? No go with Chrome or Safari...

Ed Darrell said...

My bias, education and experience are all showing if I say this -- but, no one with experience in public relations and policy communication? Politics of science?

Who appointed the panel. No, I mean really.

EliRabett said...

Firefox appears to work.

Pinotgraves said...

I am now out of the "Forbidden" zone--but maybe that's not a good thing. Anyway, the most revealing part of this whole exercise is the unscripted exchanges at the end. Especially rich was Rosner's comment about "cost shouldn't matter" in regard to experiments and data collection---easy for someone who was the proverbial big wheel at Argonne with its flow of big federal dollars.

guthrie said...

If Courtney is an inorganic chemist, then I certainly am, what with an MSc in materials science stuff and a real life working in laboratories. But because I wasn't an expert on the maths and all the other things, but had at least been exposed to stuff like analysis by IR when doing my chemistry degree, all the climate change stuff fell into place pretty quickly.
Thus stupidity is fairly evenly distributed I think, across scientific areas.

I had a look in the transcript, and found that, e.g. pages in 50's, 80's and so on, Santer and Collins are basically giving lessons in climate science to the committee. Do you think there's enough time to properly educate them, or should some preparatory reading have been prescribed?
Also it seems pretty stupid to have to go through the basics again, when they were either nailed down 40 years ago or were nailed down 5 years ago but the committee members haven't heard about them because its not their area of expertise.
It looks at the moment like they're going to try and rubbish the models, and of course the 'hiatus' that isn't has also come up.

Hank Roberts said...

> Santer and Collins are
> basically giving lessons
> in climate science to the
> committee.

It's like reading the transcript of scientists answering a committee of politicians.

Maybe that's what it is.

I found it terrifying to see what Santer and Collins (and Held, too) had to explain to members of this committee -- basics that even I have a clue about, just from having been an amateur reader with very little physics.

And they weren't just explaining, they were correcting misunderstandings in those basics.

I expect that kind of obligatory obliviouisness from committees of politicians -- they don't understand, and they won't understand, as a matter of political principle.

Arthur said...

I urge any APS members concerned by this to write to the new APS president, Mac Beasley, or to named staff members - they need to know of your concerns. Look up contact info on

Anonymous said...


I will take it a step further. My APS membership renews on 01 March.

I will probably hold off re-upping until I see what impact this has on the APS statement.


Anonymous said...

referring back:


Anonymous said...

O/T, but apparently Mark Steyn has filed a countersuit against Michael Mann. The right-wing blogosphere is echoing with cheers, but as far as I can tell from not actually reading it, it's just a rant.

My favorite search engine turned up no actual rational evaluations of the countersuit -- does anyone know of any?

EliRabett said...

Not quite, it is Steyn's Answer and Counterclaim. Bunnies, Eli suggests significant investments in popcorn futures.

FWIW Steyn is a Canadian who left an English public school, started as a music/theatre reviewer and acquired a bit of grifter patter along the way. His opus is about what you could expect.

This is being discussed at Lucia's by the usual suspects with Eli on occasion tossing a log on the fire. Lots of back slapping going on.

Russell Seitz said...

Steyn's countersuit notwithstanding ,I suspect his travels will not be taking him to India anytime soon, --its criminalization of defamation and low cost lawyering has made it something of a libel tourism magnet.

Anonymous said...

Sad state of Affairs at the PS.

"No climate relevant stuff there unless you are interested in nuclear autumn. "
Luckily the bunny has been pointing at least one ear at Stephen Scheider when he was still talking.


Hank Roberts said...

Lindzen, Christy and Rosner pull Curry back from the brink of the unknowns:


Pp 159-60

DR. BEASLEY: Judy, you talked about solar influences.... for example, the magnetic field, I can't resist picking that one. Do you have a physics notion of what --
DR. CURRY: Okay, this is known/unknown. Some people with publishing papers speculating.
DR. ROSNER: This is based on they are certain that there is an effect or they have a physical process in mind that actually would do something?
DR. CHRISTY: There is the cosmic --
DR. CURRY: Well, that is one example. I can't recite all the arguments off the top of my head. But people are publishing papers that present some intriguing possibilities. These are obviously not in the mainstream. But we have only really started looking at these kind of topics. If you are interested, I can send you a list of papers I have been recently. But this is known/unknown category.
DR. LINDZEN: They all relate to particle processes influencing cloud condensation.
DR. ROSNER: Right.

-------end excerpt-----

What about the iron sun's vibrating magnetic field irritating the leprechauns and fairies? We know cold iron bothers them. How about hot iron?

Seriously, one wonders about that list of papers.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

DR. LINDZEN: They all relate to particle processes influencing cloud condensation.

But we've had plenty of clouds before! Can they PROVE that clouds form from "solar particle processes" as they claim? Because I've read that dust and salt crystals are used to seed cloud formation, therefore THIS CANNOT BE TRUE!

Just use deniermoronity against them.

Anonymous said...

The inclusion of so-called “refugee from the nuclear complex” is not as opaque or without reason as you suggest it to be. Their experience with hydrocodes and the practical problem with modeling complex phenomena, using empirical data as feedback would be quite useful.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I'm pretty sure we can safely add Steven E. Koonin's name to the Dunning Kruger list now Russell, without adding our own. I'll put it right after yours. I guess we'll have to throw out all those complex nuclei models and the experimental data on complex nuclei as well, because, well, we just can't be sure about that stuff anymore.

Expect bigger personal scientific meltdown than this as the future of life on planet Earth progresses, or devolves, take you pick.

Hank Roberts said...

> this bunch of Jason wanna bees

Dr. Koonin is a member and past chair of the JASON Study Group