Monday, March 31, 2014

Dano Tells Eli to Get to Work And Save the World

Big Bunny Eli has been focused on something other than the disinformers Pielke, Tol and McIntyre.

That focus has also been on the snippets coming out about the practical implications of continued warming. Michael Mann recently has been giving interviews about a climate tipping point around the year 2036 (I’ll likely be reclining in my grave, so no big).

The AAAS recently produced a sobering report as well. Perhaps you have your own favorite media explainer.

For my money, the British Medical Journal has a clear-eyed editorial laying out what is before us. But there’s good news! The issue is solvable.

This is what they say is the simple things we have to do:

This is an emergency. Immediate and transformative action is needed at every level: individual, local, and national; personal, political, and financial. Countries must set aside differences and work together as a global community for the common good, and in a way that is equitable and sensitive to particular challenges of the poorest countries and most vulnerable communities.
See? All we have to do is change our basic nature. That, or teach our children how to adapt to a world of greater strife and less predictable water and food supplies (techno-optimism isn’t keeping up with our needs these days). Our fifth-grade daughter is planting her own crops this year and giving the surplus to a women’s shelter, among other things.- Dano

Do Bears Snack in the Woods?

Kerry Emanuel is the designated rebutter @ 538, and in an incredibly nice way strips Roger Pielke down to his skivvies before taking a bite
There is an even more significant problem with Pielke’s analysis. In a nutshell, he addresses trend detection when what we need is event risk assessment. The two would be equivalent if the actuarial data was the only data available pertaining to event risk. But that is far from the case; we often have much more information about risk.
unclothing Roger's nous as a political scientist.  Then enter the hungry ursine
Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Suppose observations showed conclusively that the bear population in a particular forest had recently doubled. What would we think of someone who, knowing this, would nevertheless take no extra precautions in walking in the woods unless and until he saw a significant upward trend in the rate at which his neighbors were being mauled by bears?

The point here is that the number of bears in the woods is presumably much greater than the incidence of their contact with humans, so the overall bear statistics should be much more robust than any mauling statistics. The actuarial information here is the rate of mauling, while the doubling of the bear population represents a priori information. Were it possible to buy insurance against mauling, no reasonable firm supplying such insurance would ignore a doubling of the bear population, lack of any significant mauling trend notwithstanding. And even our friendly sylvan pedestrian, sticking to mauling statistics, would never wait for 95 percent confidence before adjusting his bear risk assessment. Being conservative in signal detection (insisting on high confidence that the null hypothesis is void) is the opposite of being conservative in risk assessment.

When it comes to certain types of natural hazards, there are more bears in the woods. For example, there is a clear upward trend in overall North Atlantic hurricane activity by virtually all metrics, over the past 30 years or so, though the cause of this is still uncertain. But given that only about a third of Atlantic hurricanes strike the U.S.; hurricanes do damage during a very small fraction of their typical lifetimes; and only intense hurricanes (a small fraction of the total) do significant damage, the amount of hurricane data pertinent to U.S. damage is a tiny fraction of the entire database of North Atlantic hurricanes. Thus it is hardly surprising that the upward trend in U.S. hurricane damage is of only marginal statistical significance, and Pielke’s own analysis shows that it takes several decades for such a trend to emerge.
As Eli has been saying, on a proposition, 20:1 is really good odds, "statistical significance" doesn't mean that bet is ironclad or that anything less is not worth taking action on, and when you have the odds in your favor and the physics in your favor, double down.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

We Are All Sitting Ducks

Michael Oppenheimer summed it up, "We are all sitting ducks"

The WGII Summary for Policy Makers is available.  It can be downloaded, and is not very long (44 pages including figures, about 30 pages of print).  If bunnies have been paying attention a fast skim can be done.  It is a sobering read, no more so than expected, perhaps less than needed.  The first sentence says it all

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems
Human existence depends on those natural systems and humans are straining them to the breaking point and it is in the natural systems that the largest effects have been seen, seen, but mere harbingers of that to come.
In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Evidence of climate-change impacts is strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems
We have been told that there is no evidence for humans affecting the climate to change precipitation and affect water resources.  Sadly that is wrong
In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality (medium confidence). Glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide due to climate change (high confidence), affecting runoff and water resources downstream (medium confidence). Climate change is causing permafrost warming and thawing in high-latitude regions and in high-elevation regions (high confidence).
We have been told that climate change has not affected the oceans.  Sadly that is wrong. 
Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change (high confidence).  

We have been told that the WGII report will be able to attribute NO extinctions to climate change,  Sadly that is wrong
While only a few recent species extinctions have been attributed as yet to climate change (high confidence), natural global climate change at rates slower than current anthropogenic climate change caused significant ecosystem shifts and species extinctions during the past millions of years (high confidence). 
We have been told by those who deny the impact of climate change and those who hide from our responsiblity that food will not be a problem as increasing CO2 greens the earth.  Sadly that is wrong. Not today, and certainly not tomorrow
Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence).

The smaller number of studies showing positive impacts relate mainly to high- latitude regions, though it is not yet clear whether the balance of impacts has been negative or positive in these regions (high confidence). Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate (medium confidence). Effects on rice and soybean yield have been smaller in major production regions and globally, with a median change of zero across all available data, which are fewer for soy compared to the other crops. Observed impacts relate mainly to production aspects of food security rather than access or other components of food security. See Figure SPM.2C. Since AR4, several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors (medium confidence). 
The WGII writers and governments are not ancient bunnies, they hold out hope that the challenge can be met, not without disruption, cost and tribulation, but naught like that which would happen if the world does not take action.  They throw up their hands in despair if the path to a 4C world is chosen.  They cannot estimate that damage. 

It would be a good thing if the challenge were met, but sadly, like life, the house money bets against.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stealth Issue Advocate Pielke

Roger Pielke Jr's turn on the pole has not been pleasant, either for Roger, or Nate Silver and bunnies can go here there and everywhere to read about it.  Some of the reads are funny, some are.... . well they just are. but Eli and Ethon (who is looking remarkably fat and sleek recently) would like to point to an interesting thing that Nate Silver wrote over at 538

Roger’s article also contained an implicit policy recommendation in its closing paragraph. Whether or not the recommendation was justified by Roger’s thesis and evidence, we generally prefer to avoid these kind of recommendations, and instead allow readers to draw any policy conclusions for themselves.(em added ER)
That last paragraph reads
When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control. There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses. As countries become richer, they are better able to deal with disasters — meaning more people are protected and fewer lose their lives. Increased property losses, it turns out, are a price worth paying.
You don't have to be a bunny to see that Nate is right. So where does this put Roger, in Roger's taxonomy of the pure scientist, the science arbiter, the honest broker, the issue advocate and the stealth issue advocate, which he describes as follows
"stealth issue advocacy" occurs when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are really seeking to advance a political agenda. When such claims are made, the authority of science is used to hide a political agenda, under an assumption that science commands that which politics does not. However, when stealth issue advocacy takes place, it threatens the legitimacy of scientific advice, as people will see it simply as politics, and lose sight of the value that science does offer policy making .
And he does not consider "Stealth Issue Advocacy a good thing.  Nonono.  And he is not shy about saying whom he considers such, c'mon down Mike Mann, and you Gavin Schmidt, and the Real Climate Crew, and Roger is not right complementary about this

Roger and friends have long tried to pose as the "honest brokers", but as Eli has long pointed out this is empty rhetoric no matter how many books it sells.  What it really is is an attempt to control the Overton Window.  But, of course, what Roger and the rest of the Impact Denialists (Roger, Tol, Lomborg, etc) have been doing all along is preparing the fall back position for when the fact that the climate is changing because of what people are doing becomes clear to the public and governments.

Nate may not be the innocent waif he plays of TV.


With the WGII Summary for Policy Makers ready to be published on Monday, Eli provides a taxonomy of denial, or if the bunnies wish of belief, flow chart.  There has been considerable progress since the AR4, we have made progress with the basic opposition now coming from those who deny that there will be serious impacts of climate change. 

Steve McIntyre in the library with the knife

Steve McIntyre, in his usual passive aggressive style been harassing the University of Western Australia to use "the coercive power of the state to force other people to give him, gratis, the fruits of their labor".  In this case, of course what McIntyre wants is the data used in LOG12, Lewandowsky, Oberauer and Gignac (2012) aka Recursive Fury which had been published by Frontiers in Psychology and recently retracted because of complaints which threatened legal action.  The recursive fury which had broken lose among those who felt themselves called out only recursed with the retraction, with new recurses.

However, our friends appear to have missed something.  Having been retracted, the paper is no long published in it's final form, but a work in progress, that has been made available as a pre-print.  It may be published in another publication,  perhaps with some more work, improved treatment of the data, even more data drawing on the recurse.  Thus, as a work in progress, not a published scientific paper, it is no longer subject to Freedom of Information requests.

UPDATE:  Eli got it wrong, it was another paper from Lew.  Steve still has the knife in the library. see the comments, and the UWA Vice Chancellor is still Faithful.

The University of Western Australia appears to have noticed tho, and sent a Dear Steve letter to dear Steve

Dear Mr McIntyre,

I refer to your series of emails to University officers including Professor Maybery and myself (which you have copied to other recipients including the Australian Research Council) in which you request access to Professor Lewandowsky’s data.

I am aware that you have made inflammatory statements on your weblog “Climate Audit” under the heading “Lewandowsky Ghost-wrote Conclusions of UWA Ethics Investigation into “Hoax”” including attacks on the character and professionalism of University staff. It is apparent that your antagonism towards Professor Lewandowsky’s research is so unbalanced that there is no useful purpose to be served in corresponding with you further. I regard your continued correspondence to be vexatious and there will be no further response to your requests for data.

Yours faithfully,
Professor Paul Johnson,
With no surprise to any, the letter has, well, not met with a great deal of understanding in some quarters.  Eli always enjoys April Fools jokes and has rebalanced his retirement portfolio to hold more popcorn futures.

UPDATE:  Paul Johnson is on a roll.  He writes to Barry Woods (found in the comments)
From: Paul Johnson
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 8:08 AM
To: Barry Woods
Cc: Murray Maybery ; Kimberley Heitman
Subject: request for access to data

Mr B. Woods

Dear Mr Woods,

I refer to your emails of the 11th and 25th March directed to Professor Maybery, which repeat a request you made by email dated the 5th September 2013 to Professor Lewandowsky (copied to numerous recipients) in which you request access to Professor Lewandowsky’s data for the purpose of submitting a comment to the Journal of Psychological Science.

It is not the University’s practice to accede to such requests.

Yours faithfully,
Professor Paul Johnson,

Friday, March 28, 2014

A total of two decent articles on the military situation in the Ukraine

You wouldn't think it would be so hard to write something that goes beyond book reports from wikipedia on the military forces, but I haven't seen much.

One decent article from Jane's notes how the Ukrainian navy and air force lost a lot of their forces in Crimea. Farley argues that the navy probably doesn't matter so much, which sounds right. What seems more disturbing is the large percentage of the Ukrainian navy personnel that defected to the Crimean/Russian side. That may indicate that the Ukrainian military isn't willing to fight if Russia attacks eastern Ukraine, and as important may be perceived by Russia as an indication that they won't face serious military opposition.

A broader Foreign Policy article discusses the (bad) shape of the Ukrainian military while not being too impressed with Russia. It concludes the window of opportunity for an invasion starts in early April (ground dry enough for off-road travel by tanks, experienced Russian military conscripts still in uniform) and ends in late May (experienced conscripts mustered out, Ukrainian elections legitimize the government).

The FP article makes sense as to what's the best window now - I still think the Russians would have thought the best window to attack was at the same time as when they went into Crimea, gaining surprise and with the Urkainian military fractured and political structure unstable. The fact that they didn't attack is therefore hopeful. OTOH, maybe they're just indecisive so far, and could change their minds.

One thing to note about the FP article is the April through May window degrades over the time period - conscripts are mustering out over time, the approach of May elections make it more obvious that Russia is trying to crush democracy, and Ukrainian military has more time to get its act together.

On what we in the West should do, Ian Brzezinski argues we should supply military aid and move up previously-scheduled joint military exercises in the Ukraine from this summer to ASAP. While sending ambiguous messages is sometimes helpful, I don't think it is in this case. If Russia invades Ukraine, we won't and shouldn't engage in direct military action to push them back - so we shouldn't have forces there in potential harm's way, not now and not this summer. OTOH, we can and should provide military assistance in case of invasion, and we can signal that to Russia now by providing military assistance now.

Cancelling summer exercises while initiating military aid should be a mixed message that isn't provocative while still confirming the cost side of the sheet as Russia considers its options.

Don't Mess With Chemists

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Ferret Pwnd

In his interview with Matt McGrath about the IPCC WGII report, Richard Tol said

"You have a very silly statement in the draft summary that says that people who live in war-torn countries are more vulnerable to climate change, which is undoubtedly true," said Prof Tol.

"But if you ask people in Syria whether they are more concerned with chemical weapons or climate change, I think they would pick chemical weapons - that is just silliness."
and in Torald Staud's description of Richard's promotional tour in Yokohoma
"It is only about the consequences of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocolypse." Tol refers to a -in his words- "very stupid" IPCC statement:  People in war zones are especially vulnerable to climate risks.  Tol contrasts this with a reference to the currently most gruesome war on the planet:  "I believe that people in Syria fear chemical weapons more than global warming."  Which is of course true, but no climatologist would disagree.
Eli, old Rabett that he is, has an old saying, maybe if everyone else is panicking and you are calm, just maybe there is something you don't know.  Surprisingly in this case, the Friedman unit has seen the answer in the Wikileaks dump, and it was not six months ago but more than six weeks.
I’ve been reporting on the connection between the Syrian drought and the uprising there for a Showtime documentary that will air in April, but recently our researchers came across a WikiLeaks cable that brilliantly foreshadowed how environmental stresses would fuel the uprising. Sent on Nov. 8, 2008, from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to the State Department, the cable details how, in light of what was a devastating Syrian drought — it lasted from 2006-10 — Syria’s U.N. food and agriculture representative, Abdullah bin Yehia, was seeking drought assistance from the U.N. and wanted the U.S. to contribute. Here are some key lines:

■ “The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched an appeal on September 29 requesting roughly $20.23 million to assist an estimated one million people impacted by what the U.N. describes as the country’s worst drought in four decades.”
■ “Yehia proposes to use money from the appeal to provide seed and technical assistance to 15,000 small-holding farmers in northeast Syria in an effort to preserve the social and economic fabric of this rural, agricultural community. If UNFAO efforts fail, Yehia predicts mass migration from the northeast, which could act as a multiplier on social and economic pressures already at play and undermine stability.”
■ “Yehia does not believe that the [government of Bashar al-Assad] will allow any Syrian citizen to starve. ... However, Yehia told us that the Syrian minister of agriculture ... stated publicly that economic and social fallout from the drought was ‘beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.’ What the U.N. is trying to combat through this appeal, Yehia says, is the potential for ‘social destruction’ that would accompany erosion of the agricultural industry in rural Syria. This social destruction would lead to political instability.”
■ “Without direct assistance, Yehia predicts that most of these 15,000 small-holding farmers would be forced to depart Al Hasakah Province to seek work in larger cities in western Syria. Approximately 100,000 dependents — women, children and the elderly or infirm — would be left behind to live in poverty, he said. Children would be likely to be pulled from school, he warned, in order to seek a source of income for families left behind. In addition, the migration of 15,000 unskilled laborers would add to the social and economic pressures presently at play in major Syrian cities. A system already burdened by a large Iraqi refugee population may not be able to absorb another influx of displaced persons, Yehia explained, particularly at this time of rising costs, growing dissatisfaction of the middle class, and a perceived weakening of the social fabric and security structures that Syrians have come to expect and — in some cases — rely on.”
Eli was aware of this, and reminded yet again by a comment from a passer by
Florifulgurator said...

Tol has no idea of Syria, it looks.

Syrians are, of course, no longer that much concerned with catastrophic climate change. But at the beginning of the Syrian mess was a combination of overpopulation, global warming type super drought (with almost a million ruined and hungry farmers fleeing to the cities), and bad resource management by an incompetent/corrupted government.

The Ferret Cornered

The previous post sets the stage for this translation of freelancer Toralf Staud's article in KlimaRetter on Richard Tol.  Readers of Rabett Run will not be surprised by many of the points Staud makes, but it is all there

An IPCC Author Steals the Headlines

Sensational reports about the World Climate Council in the media:  Richard Tol, environmental economist and Contributing Lead Author of the current IPCC-Report, sharply criticized the panel for allegedly "apocalyptic' statements.  Yet, for half a year he has not participated in writing the text that he no longer wants anything to do with. At the end of the day Tol says that he regrets the dust up.

From Berlin Toralf Staud

The IPCC Working Group II final plenary session has been meeting since Tuesday morning in Yokohama, editing line by line the text of the Summary for Policymakers on climate impacts and adaptation.  At least on the main stage.  Richard Tol had dominated the behind the scenes action.  He told the BBC, that the report verged on being too "apocalyptic", that he could not put up with that and that they should please remove his name from the SPM front page.  A small explosion.

Tol is not just anyone.  The 45 year old, born in the Netherlands, has quite a reputation.  At the moment his is a professor at the University of Sussex.  He has often created controversy in his field.  Tol one of the economists who say that the effects of climate change will be limited - unlike most of the others, most prominently Nicholas Stern or Ottmar Edenhofer.  Tol is also controversial because of his behavior.  His colleague, the economist Frank Ackerman, demonstrates on his website the nasty course of a controversy between the two.  Tol was one who criticized the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.  As a sign that critical voices were welcome, Tol was chosen as one of the "Coordinating Lead Authors" - together with the American Douglas Arent he was responsible for Chapter 10 in Volume 2, with the title "Key Economic Secotrs and Services"

Tol's words were noticed by a large number of media - in the UK, Australia and the Netherlands, and finally in Germany.  The first draft of the report, Tol's core accusations, had kept the balance between the risks of climate change and the possibilities of limiting the risks through clever adaptation measures.  This is completely different in the current version of the Summary for Policy Makers. "It is only about the consequences of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocolypse." Tol refers to a -in his words- "very stupid" IPCC statement:  People in war zones are especially vulnerable to climate risks.  Tol contrasts this with a reference to the currently most gruesome war on the planet:  "I believe that people in Syria fear chemical weapons more than global warming."  Which is of course true, but no climatologist would disagree.

"The IPCC report underestimates the economic risks of climate change" according to one Tol critic

In discussions with other IPCC scientists (who will not agree to be quoted because of the ongoing negotiations) they appear stunned.  While they sweat in grueling meetings in Yokohama, Tol steals attention with around with cheap polemics.  As far as the accusations, there is nothing to them.  On the contrary, the latest progress report stresses much more strongly than earlier ones, how to adopt to those already unavoidable climate change.

Tol has been openly attacked by Robert Ward of the London School of Economics.  Ward was one of the external referees of the current IPCC reports.  For one thing, he says that Tol is playing dirty.  For another that the Report (with Tol's participation) excessively downplays the economic consequences of climate change.

Already in January Ward had written to the IPCC, because he had discovered errors in passages that Tol had worked on.  Tol had, according to Ward, very late in the editing process (and thus after the reviewing had been completed) added a passage to the report "that was based on his own research.  In that passage it was claimed that the published literature shows that a warming of a few degrees Celcius is conducive to the global economy - this passage has a number of errors and is based on estimates which leave out the greatest potential risks of climate change (e.g. melting of the Greenland ice sheet)."

Tol admits that there were indeed minor errors, that were fixed.  Above all he denies Ward's accusations of miscalculations and not following IPCC refereeing procedures.  Some weeks ago Tol attacked Ward on his blog.  The IPCC Secretariat would not issue a statement on this because of the ongoing final plenary meeting.

Does an economist have the competence to evaluate the IPCC Chapter on Agriculture or Health?

But back to Tol's fundamental criticism of the IPCC.  In a follow up question about exactly which IPCC statements he thought alarmist, Tol named three areas.  The passages relating to agriculture "downplayed" adaptation possibilities and technical progress.  Secondly, in discussions of fatality from diseases, there was too little discussion of the effects of cold and too much emphasis on malnutrition.  Thirdly, in relation to war  the IPCC relied too much on "a handful of questionable studies that are of the view that climate change will lead to more conflict."  As of the publication deadline Tol had not answered a follow up question of how an economist could judge if the selected experts author had properly evaluated the wide research literature on agriculture, medicine and military subjects. (See PS at the end of the article).

There has been no response of the IPCC Secretariat. (UPDATE: 27.03 The IPCC has now released a statement in which it stresses that the IPCC Reports are always team products and naturally do not reflect the views of a single author.  The complete text can be found here).  In response to KlimaRetter, spokesman Jonathan Lynn merely pointed out that Richard Tol is one of a total of 309 responsible lead authors responsible in Working Group II.

And about his statement that he would not longer sign the policy summary (SPM), Lynn commented slightly sarcastically that he (ER-Tol) had not taken part in writing the current version, but had separated from the writing group in the previous year.  He had refused "repeated requests of the Working Group leader, Chris Field, to cooperate further."  Therefore his name no longer is included on the title page.

The Reverse Ferret

Richard Tol has been playing Richard Tol at the IPCC WGII meeting in Tokyo.  It looks like he is not going to sign on to the summary statement, which would make the process to reconcile the full report to the SPM, interesting, especially given the short shrift he has given to the expert referees. Tol is extensively quoted in a BBC report by Matt McGrath

Prof Richard Tol is an economist at the University of Sussex, who has been the convening lead author of the chapter on economics.

He was involved in drafting the summary but has now asked for his name to be removed from the document.

"The message in the first draft was that through adaptation and clever development these were manageable risks, but it did require we get our act together," he told BBC News.

"This has completely disappeared from the draft now, which is all about the impacts of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. This is a missed opportunity."

Critics say that some aspects of the projected effects are "alarmist", such as the impact on conflict and migration caused by climate change. 

"You have a very silly statement in the draft summary that says that people who live in war-torn countries are more vulnerable to climate change, which is undoubtedly true," said Prof Tol.

"But if you ask people in Syria whether they are more concerned with chemical weapons or climate change, I think they would pick chemical weapons - that is just silliness."
Tol's first is very pleased to push the article

Tol then reverse ferrets to explain the news about him no longer being a co-author on the SPM and why the BBC is, shock horror, a bunch of journalists
Now some, not Eli to be sure, might think this all is in response to an article by Toralf Staud a freelancer in Klima Retter (Climate Savior) a German on line magazine for which Richard is going all Ms. Manners in the best tradition of his sidekick who when told he was no longer needed, decided everyone was being mean to him. Richard complains about Staud introducing himself as a "freelance science journalist"
Eli will be providing a translation of this article in a few minutes, but just to set the stage, let the Bunny translate the last paragraph which was an additional comment that Tol provided after the article appeared.
P. S. 27 03 : After publication of this article , we received a response from Richard Tol , which we gladly add. On the question of his competence, he replied : " I have done research for 20 years on issues of climate change impacts, have published myself on the topics of health and conflicts and have closely followed the literature on the subject of nutrition."  In addition, it was true that he had between the third and fourth draft of the Summary for Policy Makers,  "sometime  betweenOctober-November " withdrawn from the authors' group, but he had previously been involved in discussions on specific topics, as well as the tone of the summary.Tol rejects the accusation that his current criticism is a PR stunt. In talking with the BBC correspondent although he had made ​​the statements that were quoted they were, however, only a small side issue in a 30 - minute interview . The BBC had inflated the idea without his agreement, and other media had then amplified it. "I'm not the least bit happy with that. Debates should be about climate science or climate policy , not climate people."
Strangely enough, those who never see enough of their names in print are now being quite shy about having their names mentioned, except of course, when they are doing the mentioning.  The great mentioners are having meltdowns

Noted with little comment

Roger Pielke Jr::

Placing bets on the future state of the climate makes sense, but in a research mode, not just in public displays of "calling out" particular opponents....

This recent flurry of calling people out (reminds me of elementary schoolyard brawls - "I'm faster than you!" "No you're not!" "Prove it!" "Meet you after school on the playground!") no doubt has a high element of drama....

I think that while such chest thumping displays are certainly entertaining, they tell us little about the broader state of uncertainty among experts or the public....

Nate Silver:
I’m not particularly certain when pointing out the fact that it might be cool or rainy in your hometown one afternoon became subject for worthwhile blog material, but you have started to see this all the time on certain conservative blogs, probably led by the example of Matt Drudge. 
Therefore, because I’d like to see more accountability on all sides of this debate and because I’m tired of people who don’t understand statistics and because I’d like to make some money, I issue the following challenge.

You are eligible for this challenge if [limits bets to certain category of bloggers].... 
The rules of the challenge are as follows: 
1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.

2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we’ll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.

3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you’d have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

My little comment is that at the time, I thought Nate's bet was a marginal one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Sea Surface Temperature Blog

Eli has stumbled across another interesting blog, a bit more concerned that Eli about what is happening, but with some interesting things, particularly about sea surface temperature

Much about the coming (probably) El Nino, but take a look at Robert Scribbler

Might help more if the link supports your assertion

Back to Roger Pielke Jr., sadly. Readers of Stoat will see deep in the comments that RPJr did a follow-up to his original piece claiming a lack of a climate signal in disaster stats. Once again it wholly fails to deal with the primary issue, that estimating effect makes far more sense than trying to detect a signal in a very noisy environment. It also has a problem with being misleading:

One final note: Other readers raised questions about the role of technological change — such as evolving building practices — and its effects on disaster losses over time. This subject is well addressed in the literature, and has been deemed important in damage trends with respect to Australian cyclone damage and U.S. earthquakes, for instance, but not for floods, U.S. hurricanes or tornadoes.
He's got a link for "floods," a lengthy article that cites repeatedly to RPJr but not one that does much to support his assertion. Instead it has a significant section on how flood protection efforts over time have reduced damages (or sometimes make things worse when done wrong) and concludes:
Based on the evidence recently assessed in the SREX report (S12), one can assess at present that it is likely that there have been statistically significant increases in the number of heavy precipitation events (e.g. 95th percentile of 24-h precipitation totals of all days with precipitation) in more regions than there have been statistically significant decreases, but there are strong regional and sub-regional variations in the trends, both between and within regions. Based on cumulative evidence, there is additionally medium confidence that anthropogenic influence has contributed to the intensification of heavy precipitation at the global scale, though attribution at the regional scale is not feasible at present. Projected changes from both global and regional studies indicate that it is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation, or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls, will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe, especially in the high-latitude and tropical regions and northern mid-latitudes in winter. Heavy precipitation is projected to increase in some (but not all) regions with projected decreases of total precipitation (medium confidence).  
Despite the diagnosed extreme-precipitation-based signal, and its possible link to changes in flood patterns, no gauge-based evidence had been found for a climate-driven, globally widespread change in the magnitude/frequency of floods during the last decades.

I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile the three areas I bolded, maybe there's a mixing of estimation and detection going on. That last statement is a thin reed for RPJr though and he's directly contradicted by the parts saying flood mitigation has significant effects on outcomes. He might note that he only referred to "technology" and that building levees isn't a technological change, but that's proof then that he's throwing sand to obscure the flaws in his attempt to normalize damages over time.

A lot of work to refute just one misleading claim. Thanks a lot, Nate Silver.

UPDATE:  thought I'd check the RPJr refs for US hurricanes and tornadoes not being mitigated by changes over time, but they're paywalled. Curious that changed practices can reduce Australian tropical cyclone damages but not US hurricanes. Either the Aussies are better at this than us or somebody's wrong.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Who You Gonna Trust, Models or Data?

Paul Krugman makes a useful point at his already established blog

It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.
because, if nothing else there are things about the data that they know that you do not.  Now Krugman goes on but Eli would like to pause here and, as he did at the NYTimes and discuss how data is not always right.

Data without a good model is numerical drivel. Statistical analysis without a theoretical basis is simply too unrestrained and can be bent to any will. A major disaster of the last years have been the rise of freakonomics and "scientific forecasting" driven by "Other Hand for Hire Experts"

When data and theory disagree, it can as well be the data as the theory. The disagreement is a sign that both need work but if the theory is working for a whole lot of other stuff including things like conservation of energy as well as other data sets, start working on the data first.

This, of course, is what happened with the MSU data.  A couple of guys (Spencer and Christy) had a bright idea, but implementation was. . . difficult and their first version met their secret (ok, now well known) desires. But climate scientists were suspicious because a) there were several data sets that disagreed b) a lot of work had gone into thinking about problems with those data sets (Hi Tony, Roger Sr. neglected to tell you about that, didn't he) and c) there were theoretical models including well established physics that disagreed with the original MSU decline.  Of course, Spencer and Christy dug in to defend the decline, but eventually and a couple of NRC panels later, the errors were found.   The same thing happened with the SORCE solar insolation measurements and the back and forth was not collegial. 

A friend of the blog put it plainly in an email, blind application of statistics, without understanding underlying science is dangerous.  In the black box, rising sea levels clearly increase global temperatures. 

A couple of days ago, Eli got into it with James and Carrick about who do you trust, the data or the model.  Summing up the Rabett pointed out that flyspecking rates in spotty data over short periods and small areas is inherently futile. Mom Rabett taught Eli to avoid taking derivatives of noisy data.   

It was kind of fun watching them get tangled up because up at the top, in response to James' going on about how Lewis might fit into the category of a reasonable match to the data  Eli had written
EliRabett said...
What often also gets shoved under the rug is that some of the observations are chancy. Probably not so much with temperatures (except for coverage issues see Cowtran and Way), but as a recent note by Trenberth et al pointed out precipitation records are in need of a major combing out and reconciliation.
with the reply
James Annan said...
Well, I think these days most people are aware of the temps issues and factor them into the comparison. At least, they should. Cowtan and Way is probably good enough that residual issues are unimportant. Precip and other things, I agree it's a bit more vague.
This lesson was jammed home by And Then who put up a simple one dimensional two box (ocean and surface) model using known forcings for global temperature and a slab ocean.
The solid line is the model, the dashed line the data for global temperature anomaly, or the dashed line is the data, the dotted line the model.  At this level of agreement it does not matter.  The pause is the . . . ???  What And Then, of course, needs to show is the envelope of outcomes when the forcings are varied within their uncertainties.  That is the envelope that any random walk, "scientific forecast" has to be compared with, not an unrestrained statistical model, a point made, perhaps not as openly, by Rasmus Benestad many years ago at Real Climate.  Polite is nice, but there are times when in your face is needed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Continuous plagiarism of James Annan needed

William sez people are slamming Roger Pielke Jr. without engaging his arguments. Okay, that's pretty easy in that it's mostly the same old stuff that James Annan answered eight years ago:

This is something I've been meaning to blog about for some time. It comes up a lot in the context of the hurricane wars, over at RPJnr's blog. A recent comment of his provides a nice opening:

[Quotes RPjr lecturing on the null hypothesis tested via detection of a climate signal] 
There is, however, an entirely different but equally valid approach that could also be used from the outset, which is: what is our estimate of the magnitude of the effect? The critical distinction is that the null hypothesis has no particularly priviledged position in this approach.

This distinction between detection and estimation is related to that between a frequentist and Bayesian approach to probability....The answers that these two approaches provide may be very different in any given situation, and neither is necessarily right or wrong a priori, but it is surely self-evident that the Bayesian approach is more relevant to decision-making. If we have any reasonable expectation that certain policies would have particular bad effects, it would be ridiculous to wait until such effects could be shown to have occurred at some arbitrary level of statistical significance (that's not a point specific to climate change, of course).

....It is trivial to create situations in which a currently undetectable effect can be reasonably estimated to be large, and the converse is equally possible - an easily detectable (statistically significant) influence may be wholly irrelevant in practical terms. I suspect that this forms a large part of the difference in presentation between various parties in the hurricane debate - the evidence may not yet rule out the null hypothesis of no effect, but some people estimate that AGW is likely to have a substantial effect (even if the ill-defined error bars on their estimate do not exclude zero). In principle, exactly the same evidence could support both of these conclusions, although I don't personally know enough about hurricanes to make a definitive statement in that particular case.

It is amusing to see Roger, very much at the sharp end of policy-relevant work, promoting the scientifically "pure" but practically less useful detection/frequentist approach rather than the more appropriate estimation/Bayesian angle. It's not surprising, although perhaps a little disappointing, that the IPCC explicitly endorses that view. But by placing the null hypothesis in a priviledged position from which it can only be dislodged by a mountain of observational evidence, this approach provides a strong inbuilt bias for the status quo which cannot be justified on any rational decision-theoretic grounds.
(Emphasis added.)

IMO this needs to be repeated every time RPjr repeats the same tired argument in a new format and a new paper. Or maybe in a shortened format - "who cares about detection, it's estimation that counts." Certainly when Roger says:
When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control.
You know he's being disingenuous and that everything he said before that about detection is irrelevant to whether disasters are reasons to do something to control climate change.

So William says "[RPjr's work] addresses the question 'is climate change going to cause disasters so expensive that we'd be better off not changing the climate *because of that*'?" Well, it depends. In his academic work, it doesn't address that question, at all, it's about detection. When he turns to a public venue, then he uses the same stuff to make very questionable policy claims.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Two of Scott Lemieux

Scott does a great job at Lawyers Guns and Money, the best of the bunch there. Two recent examples of his work:

1. He calls for Ginsburg's and Breyer's retirements and for fixed term limits. Of course I agree, I've said the same thing, but he's still right. I don't think they're going to retire - there's something arrogant about judges, even the ones who aren't right wing wackos - but that doesn't change the fact that they should have. Scott's right that it may now be too late because the Republicans will stall reappointment until 2015, maybe until 2017, but at least I think it would give additional motivation to Democratic activists.

Fixed term limits OTOH have some cross-party appeal. If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2016 it will have a lot of appeal to Republicans.

2. Scott makes a persuasive (not conclusive) argument that Breyer and Kagan joined the ridiculous Medicaid-expansion-is-optional Obamacare ruling in 2012 not because they actually believed it to be correct but because in return for a 7-vote majority, Roberts was willing to let Medicaid survive in optional form. We won't know the real truth until after they retire (or die), but it puts a very different light on an otherwise indefensible vote by the two of them.

I don't have any deeper conclusions, just pointing out some good work.

UPDATE:  maybe topical here to mention a much-appreciated post by another LGMer, Erik Loomis, on the need to save the Keeling Curve, which leads to Think Progress.

Mordor Of Our Own Making

Now some, not Eli may consider Eli to be a bit, shall we say sardonic and prone to look through a glass darkly.  Eli knows this is not the case, because he has a friend Dano who makes Eli look like the Easter Bunny spreading cheer.  Dano writes

Bunnies may have sensed a disturbance in the force (no, not the gravitational waves from inflation after the Big Bang) surrounding a foofaraw over some negative comments about the meaning of several recent papers on future resource trends, and especially a paper discussed at The Guardian and elsewhere.  That paper** is, of course, Motesharrei et al. A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction.. It is a first attempt to try and find parameters for a model that can describe the events in, say, Jared Diamond’s Collapse

After turning on the Interwebs and seeing the garment-rending, Dano is inclined to wonder where the intersection of techno-optimist and modeler-computer scientist-physicist lies. Being an. . .erm...sotto voce, urban ecologist does make one grumpy and perhaps understanding of the task of modeling complex socio-ecological systems, but it sure sounds to me like some folks don’t want to hear the message from these papers.

That is: the authors themselves – in their paper – state:

…results of our experiments…indicate that either one of the two features apparent in historical societal collapses - over-exploitation of natural resources and strong economic stratification - can independently result in a complete collapse. [pg. 28] .
The latter assertion about collapse due to economic stratification is essentially the thesis of Thomas Piketty’s new work Capital in the Twenty-First Century, where he argues capitalism may inevitably lead to unsustainable inequality and collapse. There have been lots of people having a sad about this book, as it argues for a suboptimal possible outcome of basic human nature over a large scale (and refudiation of a particular ideology, but still)1.

Motesharreiharrei et al. are not the first to argue over-exploitation of natural resources can … result in a complete collapse [of societies], so what’s the problem? Did they put a graph on it that upset folks? Too many simple equations? Another work that explains a suboptimal possible outcome of basic human nature over a large scale?

What I think is upsetting to non-ecologists/biologists/natural sciency-types is the authors don’t recommend technology to reverse course, but rather
… collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion. [pg. 28]
Say what?!? Lessen resource extraction? Human nature must utterly change and people must cease to want more? Societies must embrace change, re-do their basic infrastructure quickly and make wholesale changes in how the economy is considered? Well, good news: to do societal change, all we have to do is have leaders lead and giant multinational corporations change their ways and people cease to want more. And also easy as pie: much investment must happen to harden, update, make efficient, make cooler cities. And profit may be foregone for some multinational corporations. It’s solvable.

One other thing to consider. Jared Diamond argues collapse has much historical precedent and tries to tease out the reasons why this is so. He argues that in general it is resource depletion and an inability to respond. But why? And is he a doomer? Geoffrey West argues in this TED talk about the conditions surrounding urban and societal growth, and at the end outlines the conditions leading to collapse – but no one is harshing on his buzz. Why? Because he sugar-coated it?

And our current direction, with big changes on the horizon including technology changing monitoring and photography paradigms and technology maybe making some labor go away, doesn’t offer the common folk a lot of hope. Techno-optimists have a long row to hoe (hopefully not for Bt corn that was poorly managed and has bred resistant pests) and not much time before the (CO2-fueled) weeds grow high. Plenty of historical instances to learn from to turn the societal ship around.

In short, as the Kevin Anderson argues in this compelling video that Eli embedded earlier, we have even less time for a technical solution that hasn’t been tested yet. And human nature is very resistant to change. Why wouldn’t garments be rent? It’s hard to be an optimist when looking at the daunting problems in the human socio-ecological system. But shooting the messenger won’t make things better. Leaders leading and basic human nature changing can help us learn from history. But maybe we should have a spoonful of sugar at the ready just in case.

** Well, that was my bookmark, it may have been taken down. I’m glad I know someone who may know someone who may have a hard copy.

1. I understand Krugman is working on a review for the so he may correct my argument soon.NYTRB

Pour Stiff Drink

For those of you thinking that the melt season in the Arctic is going to be a damp squib, Tenney  Naumer sends these instructions

Go to

Choose Northern Hem.

Choose Temperature Anomalies

Click on 180

Click right arrow on Playback

Pour stiff drink.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Springtime, and the Ice Is A Melting

From the Climate Reanalyzer, a picture of sea surface temperature anomalies on the last day of winter.

Oh yes, our friends at Uni Bremen show where the ice is.  Overlaying the maps is interesting, there is a cold block of ice in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard but if the plug comes out . . .

Place your bets.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Silence Is Suicide

Some time ago Eli pointed to a paper by  Steven Sherwood and Matthew Huber which described the the limit of human survival on this planet because if wet bulb temperatures go beyond 35 C, humans simply fall over and die of heat stroke.  Given our behavior, death, doom and disaster are saddling up and while they might not arrive across the entire planet before a couple of hundred years as an Anonymouse said, local excursions could wipe out large, well populated, nuclear armed regions, and those people would vote with their feet and their weapons.

As with much of climate change information, people just don't want to hear doom and gloom.  Coby Beck, from whom Eli "borrows" this video, has found the proper way of explaining

The video has a useful disclaimer


Justin is expressing what scientists discuss around the very, very worst case scenarios for climate change. He is in no way suggesting that these things are 100% definitely going to happen, merely pointing out that these are legitimate possibilities that scientists seriously discuss.
The purpose of this video is to provoke discussion and engagement through highlighting aspects of the scientific discussion that are often glossed over for fear of disengaging a weary public. We believe its important for the community to realise exactly what the worst case scenarios considered are, because after all, the decision to act is ultimately in their hands.
Eli, OTOH, thinks that much of this will happen locally in some exceedingly inconvenient places within the next 10-15 years. 

Silence Is Consent

Kevin Anderson on the coming disaster

Little Liver Treats - Ryan Cooper Planks Roger Pielke Jr.

For those bunnies out there busy earning a carrot or two, perhaps it comes as a bit of a surprise that Nate Silver of 538 fame has launched his ship on the INTERSEAS to earn his way in the world.  Reviews are in, from Paul Krugman, Tyler Cowan and a bunch of others.  Let us say that the consensus (Eli knows, that is a dirty word) is that there is no way but up.

One of the tells that Silver was going for the FreakoBaysean crowd was his hiring of Roger Pielke Jr. to write on climate and soccer or whatever.  This has not gone unnoticed, with many commenting on it, none better than Ryan Cooper at the Week

For those who don't know, Pielke is a highly skilled and intelligent policy professor, ostensibly committed to climate action, who spends the vast bulk of his time criticizing the climate movement and allied scientists. They're wrong about drought. They're wrong about extreme weather. They're wrong about economic growth. Etc.

He does accept the reality of climate change, and keeps his criticism just inside the boundaries of accepted science (e.g., with strategic footnotes). So when he gets an irritated response from, say, President Obama's science adviser John Holdren, who accused him of selective quotation and obfuscation, Pielke can twist the criticism around and write a stern, head-shaking article about how those derned Greens are just getting way over their skis on The Science. This is the Breakthrough Institute program for hippie-punching your way to fame and fortune, and its success on the career track is almost as striking as its wretched failure as a political tactic to actually achieve anything on climate change.

That kind of squid-ink careerist nonsense is what led Foreign Policy to put Pielke on its list of climate skeptics. It's what led the late, famed climatologist Stephen Schneider to dismiss him as a "self-aggrandizer who sets up straw men, knocks them down, and takes credit for being the honest broker to explain the mess." Pretty much.

In any case, this isn't about Pielke, who like the rest of the Breakthrough Boys isn't worth worrying about very much.
Thank you Ryan.  Liver treats at Eli's place.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Environmental denial in history - nope, nothing's gone wrong with passenger pigeons

Nice segment on Living on Earth on a book about the loss of passenger pigeons in eastern North America, from billions in 1860 to functionally extinct in 1900 and extinct extinct in 1914.

The denialist forefathers of our current friends were apparently out in force, some of them part of the passenger pigeon hunting industry. A few carrots:

*They said the pigeons were prolific, with multiple eggs and multiple clutches per season, when neither was true. Probably correllates to the claim that there's no reason to worry about acidification of ocean corals or polar bear habitat loss, based on their survival of past events fifty million and 300,000 years ago.

*A one-time, big flock event in 1882 showed the pigeons were fine. Nice correspondence to any time that we have a cold event.

*The birds just moved somewhere:  this is just making up stuff. See anything Tamino critiques as a correllate.

*When they were truly extinct:  a hunter calls it inexplicable. Probably similar to the mysterious coincidence we presently see as the world just happens to be warming for natural reasons in the way that climate science predicts greenhouse gases would make happen.

While evolution denial precedes this by a decade or two, it's the first environmental issue I'm aware of where denialism spewed forth. Would love to hear of earlier examples.

I didn't know the pigeons were still doing well in the 1860s, when much of their habitat destruction had already ocurred. I'm sure relatively minimal regulation could've kept this species abundant.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add two tangents. First, it's interesting to think of how things would've been different if the pigeon had been properly managed. There's good reason to think it would still be prolific. Hunting pigeons would be as common if not more common than fishing is today.

Second, passenger pigeons are mentioned as candidates for de-extinction through genetic engineering. I think that's a bad idea. The bird numbered in the billions when it had a full complement of diseases and parasites, all of which are now gone. Unless we bring those controls back, there's a serious risk from this species. Mammoths would be much easier to keep their populations in check.

Monday, March 17, 2014

All of a Sudden the World Famous Attorney May Realize He Is In Over His Head

UPDATE:  Rick Piltz has posted the motion over at Climate Science Watch

Eli pretty much has gone into popcorn mode on Mann vs. Steyn, kind of enjoying the thrashing about of the bunnies favorite pro se litigant.  It is a bit cruel watching someone demonstrate how unclear on the concept he is as Mark Steyn, but what the hey.  OK, now and then Eli throws a firecracker into the various on line clown shows, but really, nothing much has happened and won't until the other defendants, CEI, Simberg (but Eli repeats himself) and National Review and Mann and the judge seriously get to discovery.  That is not to say that several have not been jumping up and down in glee at how Steyn in his counter complaint has put it to the judge and Mann. 

Well, never let it be said that Michael Mann and his lawyers, Williams, Fontaine,  Reilly and Grimm want to leave everyone sitting on the couch filling out their NCAA bracket.  Today they filed their own motion to dismiss Steyn's counterclaims, and oh yes, by the way, they asked for costs and fees under the DC Anti-SLAPP Statute.
Finally, this Court should award Mann his costs and attorneys’ fees in responding to Steyn’s counterclaims as provided in the Anti-SLAPP Act. Steyn’s counterclaims lack any merit whatsoever, and his assertion of these claims in the face of this Court’s previous rulings is yet another manifestation of his disdain for this Court and its processes. Shortly before this Court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the amended complaint, Steyn filed a motion to vacate the Court’s July 19 orders—which was nothing other than an extended diatribe against this Court, accusing it of “improper”, “grotesque”, and “zombie-like” behavior. See Mot. to Vacate Order, dated January 21, 2014 at ¶ 8, 10, 12. This conduct should not be sanctioned, and attorneys’ fees should be awarded
Eli and the bunnies have quite enjoyed Steyn's full bore crazy act.  Almost as good as Richard Tol on Frank Ackerman, but there are other styles and Mann's lawyers prefer the drier way.  The anti-SLAPP statute applies only to issues being of public interest and, well what do you know
Mann can also make a prima facie showing under the Anti-SLAPP Act because Steyn is undoubtedly a public figure. The Anti-SLAPP Act defines an “issue of public interest” to include “an issue related to health or safety; environmental, economic, or community well-being” or “a public figure”. D.C. Code § 16-5501(3). There can be no question that Steyn should be deemed a public figure under the Anti-SLAPP Act. Steyn’s Counterclaims essentially concede the point, providing this Court with a litany of his public activities: 
  • Steyn says that he is a self-described “popular writer and columnist on matters of public interest.” 
  • Steyn says that he is the author of two “international bestselling books.” 
  • Steyn says that he has been “published over the years by the leading newspapers and magazines throughout the English-speaking world, including The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The National Post of Canada, The Australian, The Irish Times, The Jerusalem Post, The Spectator, Maclean’s, and The Atlantic Monthly.” 
  • Steyn says that he is a “human rights activist whose efforts on behalf of freedom of speech have been recognized by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, by the Danish Free Press Society, and by the repeal in 2013 of Canada’s Section 13 censorship law.”
Depending on the judge's need to get control of Mr. Steyn, this could indeed be an interesting development.  Eli must go have some fun.

Ms. Rabett Sends Craic and Memory

from Doolin, County Claire, You can see Eli and her in the back with the carrots and Guinness although everybunny knows that Guinness don't travel well.  But Easter came

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;   
And what if excess of love   
Bewildered them till they died?   
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride   
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born. - WB Yeats

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The End of Science

Eli in his long life has seen major changes in the funding models for universities and national laboratories in the US, and Europe.  And you know what bunnies, while different in detail, the end results are pretty much the same. 

The problem is the economic model which fuels health science and increasingly physical science in the US and elsewhere. By only providing a percentage of salaries, the schools and national labs force the faculty and staff to become entrepreneurial at the expense of scholarly.

In order to reach the level of support needed, faculty and staff build large groups of graduate students and post-docs (many of them international students) who then flood the market when they graduate, placing unsustainable stress on the research grant support mechanisms. Of course, some of this overpopulation finds homes at new or lower ranking places who try and populate the streams as lesser piranha  but more often get swallowed by the larger fish.  Starve the poor is the entire point of league ranking.  Rather kill the poor and starve the rich.

The large research groups need to be fed.  This puts the most successful PIs into a constant cycle of grant writing, program manager schmoozing and weekly conferences with little to no time remaining for research or teaching.  There are advantages to staying away from research institutions and burrowing in at a teaching college if you want to do your own research.

At the same time legislatures, seeing the flow of funding from national sources into research at universities, decided that they could cut back on direct support.

A perfect storm.

There is a choice, smaller department with smaller research groups, fewer new doctoral students and a return to a base funding model.

Michelle Goldberg in The Nation, castigates Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health for firing Carole Vance and Kim Hopper for not bringing in enough money to support their salaries.  She sees this as a splendid club for beating on Nicholas Kristof, but the problem isn't Kristof, it isn't Columbia, it is the sea in which Columbia swims.
Kristof is right that universities have become inhospitable places for public intellectuals, but he misses the ultimate cause. The real problem isn’t culture. It’s money.
Like many schools of public health, Mailman operates on a “soft money” model, which means that professors are expected to fund much of their salaries through grants. (Many professors there, including Vance and Hopper, work without tenure.) Recently, the amount expected has increased—from somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of their salaries to as much as 80 percent—and professors say that it’s become a hard rule, with less room for the cross-subsidization of those who devote themselves to teaching or whose research isn’t attractive to outside funders. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, the primary source of grant money, has seen its budget slashed. These days, only 17 percent of grant applications are successful—a record low.

The result is an increasing focus on the bottom line over a broad engagement with social issues. “One of the costs of this push for federal funding is going to be a depoliticization of the scholarship at Mailman,” says a professor there who asked to remain anonymous for fear of administration reprisals. “You can’t do great public health without engaging with politics.
And you certainly cannot support a science with scientists who have to spend all their time shaking the cup.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's summer time in San Francisco Bay

High of 79 today, 81 tomorrow. California's had the warmest winter in its record. As evidence of global climate change goes it's pretty weak - a tiny piece of the planet and a relatively short time period - although it still beats the "hey why's it snowing in February" argument that denialists toss out.

The main point though isn't a tedious argument about detection but whether climate change has made our historic drought worse. Warmer weather during the drought means more evaporation and transpiration, only some of which precipitates back. If Gort could be bothered to push the button and remove all excess GHGs from the atmosphere, the temps would drop slightly and we'd be slightly better off.

I've been pretty silent on our local water district and the drought lately, but we've been busy, very busy. I even had the chance to represent the district and meet Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to discuss it (and then stopped to talk with the protestors outside who hate the Bay-Delta tunnel proposal).

Our problem is that after the last big drought that ended in 1992 we've stored an additional year's worth of water outside the county in Central Valley, but we can't get it. The water's stored in south Central Valley - it flows downhill there from  the Sacramento Bay Delta. The plan never was to withdraw those specific water molecules - instead, we'd take water deliveries they'd otherwise receive from the Bay Delta, and they'd use the water we stored there instead. Now, for the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project, they're planning zero water deliveries, so we can't make this trade. The federal system operated by the Secretary of the Interior is still running somewhat, so maybe we can make it work.

Meanwhile we're calling for a 20% reduction in water use locally. That will still eat into our storage but still leave a fair amount stored in case next winter is also bad. I've been arguing that we should use this as opportunity to be in better shape for next time - massively increase conservation, recognize that lawns are like junk food (okay in small quantities only), and to tap into the massive river that is wastewater and start direct potable reuse of that water, just like they do on the Space Station. We'll see what happens!

USAmerikaner Exceptionalism BRDeutscher Unhappiness

About a week or so ago, NASA announced it was not going to fund the SOFIA project beyond 2015.  SOFIA is an IR telescope that flies on a stubby 747 in order to limit absorption from water vapor.  The program was initiated in 1996, and has taken a long time, with many hitch hikers along the way, and with many developments in IR astronomy, both ground based and in space.  There are technical arguments to be made in favor of continuing and arguments in favor of mothballing the thing, but NASA clearly places a low priority on SOFIA at this point

Due to its high annual operating cost, the Administration greatly reduces funding for the StratosphericObservatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) project. SOFIA has encountered technical and schedule challenges, and while the observatory will address emerging scientific questions, its contributions to astronomical science will be significantly less than originally envisioned. Funding for SOFIA, which costs almost $80 million per year to operate, can have a larger impact supporting other science missions. NASA will work with current partner Germany and potential partners to identify a path forward for SOFIA with greatly reduced NASA funding. Unless partners are able to support the U.S. portion of SOFIA costs, NASA will place the aircraft into storage by FY 2015. (NASA budget pp Astro-16)
Clearly SOFIA is but roadkill in the path of the ever more expensive James Webb Space Telescope
Additionally, the James Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2018, will provide data at mid-infrared wavelengths, partially mitigating the absence of SOFIA.
However, SOFIA is a joint project with the DLR (German Air and Space Center) support and a lot of participation.  The Germans are not happy.  Jan Wörner, the Chair of the DLR executive board has a blog and he unsheathed the sword two days ago
Since 2007 a modified B747 SP jumbo jet has been flying with a sensitive telescope on board to peer deeply into the depths of space.  This flying observatory is a joint activity of the American space agency NASA and the German Center for Air and Space Exploration (DLR).  In the course of establishing its current budget NASA has announced in Washington that the project can not be financed beyond 2015. That is not only a bitter pill for science, because many interesting astronomical investigations were planned, but also for the relationship between NASA and the DLR.

In 1966 NASA and the DLR agreed tostart the joint project SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatorium for Infrared Astronomy oder Stratosphären-Observatorium für Infrarot-Astronomie).  A short version of a jumbo jet would have to be modified to fit.  As the work on the project went forward according to the agreement, in 2006 the Americans suddenly announced a halt.  The project was only continued after massive intervention from Germany through my predecessor in office, Prof. Wittig, with the maiden flight taking place in 2007.  Scheduled flights with appropriate scientific objectives now regularly take place.  (n.b. this is a bit of a stretch, SOFIA only went operational about a year ago after a long testing period.  See comments at NASA Watch and below)  The plane serves not only as a flying observatory but at the same time also for training.  In addition the basic design allows for different scientific instruments to be installed to investigate specific issues.  Germany provides 20% of the operational costs from its national space program.

So far, so good. Suddenly, about a week ago, news reached me that NASA could not continue to fund the project because of budgetary issues.  A few days later the official notification arrived.  Ever since then the telephone wires have been running hot (OK takes a while for the language to catch up -ER) in order to find a way to continue.  With all possible sympathy for financial limitations, it is impossible to understand how, "over night", bilateral projects can be placed at risk.  We already have had this experience with the X38 Space Plane and the ESA EXOMARS projects.  In the case of SOFIA this announcement endangers a scientific program with far reaching implications.  Therefire we are searching intensively for a solution.  In further talks with the American side various options are being discussed.  Until not we have always behaved as "model children" in holding to joint project.agreements.and even in some cases covering for others for a limited time, as in the case of the International Space Station ISS.  If partners place their solidarity and reliability into question it may be necessary to redefine the German position.  As before, I see a great value in international cooperation, but that must be supported by exceptional trust. (Emphasis added - ER)
Make no mistake about this, SOFIA is a flagship project for German astronomy and the DLR ain't gonna give it up without a fight, no more than NASA would give up the James Webb Space Telescope.  They too have the ability to reprogram funds headed for projects NASA has more of an interest in.  Most to the point, they are key members of the European Space Agency, and the Webb is scheduled to be launched in 2018 on an Arianne 5.  This is hardball bunnies.

As to whether SOFIA is worth continuing, well, the budget document pretty well summarizes where SOFIA is and why NASA wants to kill it.  In 2014 
SOFIA has completed science cycle 1 and has initiated science cycle 2. The operations team continues to implement Observatory performance upgrades, and aircraft and telescope heavy maintenance will begin in June 2014. Instrument commissioning activities continue and SOFIA is expected to achieve full operational capability. In 2014 NASA will initiate discussions with current partner Germany and potential partners to identify a path forward for SOFIA with greatly reduced NASA funding.
pretty well summed up by Rocky J's comment at NASA Watch
SOFIA's fate is not unlike that of SLS and Orion. Numerous delays lead to a project life-cycle that ran from 1996 to 2010, fourteen years. Total cost rose as a result, too. But it is one of a kind, state of the art. It just took too long. Present and upcoming space-based infrared scopes and the latest sensors have marginalized its performance. And when one considers the cost of maintaining flight readiness and flying, it is hard to justify continued operations.

It is a _beautiful_ engineering feat and the designers should be proud of their accomplishments. This is a Mount Wilson (Hooker reflector) sized mirror (2.5 m, 98 inches) for infrared that flies at over 40,000 feet, peering out the side of a Boeing 747 with precision guidance. Truly amazing. One can arguably say the same for SLS and Orion (can we?), i.e. trying to justify their completion in light of protracted development, cost to complete, to maintain flight readiness and lack of reusability and now commercial alternatives on the scene.

One of the contrasting features of SOFIA that is testimony to its lengthy development is that the on board instrument control systems, the computers are based on Sun Solaris and software from the late-90s. There is upgrading but the question is now whether the cost can be shared with more partners to continue flying. There is demand for SOFIA because the demand for telescope/instrument time is so high across all of the field of astronomy.
Eli expects that a certain JM may have some comments on the last paragraph and the conversation at the NASA Watch update is interestion