Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Some jerks are on the left side of the spectrum. Who knew?

Today, a grab bag:

* Color me unimpressed with this review of Alice Dreger and her book, Galileo's Middle Finger, although I haven't read the book so I'm unsure if the problem is the book or the review. The review discusses two (2) cases of white male researchers being treated unfairly for saying something that contradicts academic orthodoxy in their field. (I had known previously about the Changnon/Yanomami issue and agree with the author; I didn't know anything about the Bailey/transgender issue other than what I just read.) Two cases do not make a counterpart to Mooney's Republican War on Science.

What's odd is I'm aware of the argument that much of sociology (and anthropology outside of paleo) is hopelessly politicized in academia along a left axis. I don't know enough to make a final conclusion but it seems like there's some good evidence for that. In particular, it seems ludicrous to argue that hunter-gatherer societies were essentially peaceful, and to argue the abundant evidence of violence by modern hunter-gatherers and from those in the historical period is due to "contamination" from developed civilizations. A book that wrestled with this would be interesting; one that points out a few jerks is less so. For more, see some of the nuanced comments at the LGM post on the issue.

Skeptical Science has a good rundown on what Alberta is doing to address climate. Alberta has one of the worst per-capita emissions in the world, making the US looking like Denmark by comparison. It's a good start, but only levels off rapidly-increasing emissions rather than lower them. It also shows the real-world political complexity of a carbon tax - the sausage-making of politics gives you something different from the economic ideal.

* A good-news article about financing solar energy in remote villages in India. We need more of this stuff, but 5 million solar home systems isn't nothing, even in India. Creating a credit history for people making a few dollars a day is also incredibly beneficial.

A bad-news article about incredible methane leak in California, constituting the biggest single source of greenhouse gases in the state (depending on how you weigh methane). I didn't believe it when I first heard a radio talk show caller mention it, thinking it must be exaggerated. It wasn't. I'm not sure how California cap-and-trade should affect this, but I'd want the leaker forced to buy permits as just one part of the punishment.

* Know the flow! Niagara Falls is maintained at 100k cubic feet per second in the daytime (2800 cubic meters per second), with excess diverted for hydropower:

For comparison purposes when water is running down your street.


Hank Roberts said...
On Dec. 15, the Weekly interviewed Rodger Schwecke, a SoCalGas executive who is helping to coordinate the response to the leak. Asked about the safety valve, he said it wasn't damaged. It actually wasn't there.

"We removed that valve in 1979," he said.

He pointed out that the valve was old at that time and leaking. It also was not easy to find a new part, so the company opted not to replace it. If SS-25 were a "critical" well — that is, one within 100 feet of a road or a park, or within 300 feet of a home — then a safety valve would be required. But it was not a critical well, so it was not required....

Russell Seitz said...

The methane plume has to be seen by infrared imaging to be believed

http : //

it's black as soot to thermal radiation

Russell Seitz said...

Eli's links are misbehaving-

Kevin O'Neill said...

A book? You want a book?

Lawrence Keeley wrote War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage (Oxford University Press, 1996) showing that warfare was actually more prevalent and more deadly in primitive societies than it is today. Reflecting 15 years after he wrote ‘War Before Civilization,’ Keeley penned Chapter 2 for ‘The Evolution of Violence’ where he wrote:

In the past 20 years, there has been a resurgence of archaeological interest in prehistoric and ancient warfare. Whether warfare is seen as a cause or an effect of certain features of and changes in the archaeological, ethnohistorical, or ancient historical record, it is back “in play.” This change was the result of a number of archaeologists working in Europe and the New World who were confronted by the warfare obvious in archaeological records in their areas of research. They then all argued in the most widely read and stringently refereed publication venues, citing unequivocal evidence and using clear logic, that prehistoric and ethnohistoric warfare did occur and needs attention (i.e., Vencl, Milner, Haas, Keeley, Cahen, LeBlanc, and Guillane, among others).

Even before agriculture created settled communities our ancestors were at war with their neighbors - almost constantly.

Brian said...

Russell - just checked the links and they're all working, at least in Chrome. Want to try again?

Kevin - yes, the 1996 book is my main reference, although I've mailed my copy to a relative who's currently majoring in sociology. I'm glad Keeley feels that the science has really progressed.

Bryson said...

I read Dreger's book a while ago, and I don't see 'left wingers hate science too' as any part of Dreger's message. Taking her narrative at face value (it does seem to be well-documented), some people with positions that place them on the socially liberal side of public policy attacked other people with different positions who were also on the socially liberal side of public policy. The critics attacks were over-the-top, ignored the norms of academic debate and made wild and damaging accusations. It seems this was because they were very personally committed to a particular view of the issue, and felt threatened by the work of the person(s) attacked. It's an interesting story of motivated reason and how aggressive people can be when they are strongly committed, ideologically or personally, to a position that's being questioned by work by some (other) scientist.

For the rest as an outsider but academic neighbour I wouldn't describe the situation in sociology and anthropology as 'hopelessly politicized' along any axis: though (like academia in general) most in the field would be on the left of the current political spectrum, the most challenging differences that do arise are not about left vs. right, but about narrower moral and political issues that some take very personally.

Disability rights come to mind here-- as a disturbing example, a colleague at my university invited a speaker who was actively engaged in disabled rights. He compared anyone who supported Robert Latimer or even sympathized with his terrible choice to kill his daughter to Nazis and North Koreans. Among other implausibilities, the speaker claimed that Latimer's daughter, Tracy, was perfectly capable of living a full and even largely independent life, and gave not an inch when I challenged him on this. I had written a paper on the case for a volume on euthanasia in Canada, so I know the case pretty well. Based on the testimony of Tracy's physician Ann Dzus about her condition and prospects, I'm confident his claims were completely false (this was later confirmed by a colleague who actually worked with the family).

Like Dreger's examples, this is clearly a case of motivated reasoning, but the motivation doesn't arise from a broad left wing political or economic ideology- it's much more specific and personal than that. I think this has limited the ability of passionate extremists like this speaker to impose their views on the wider society: he has some political allies, but even many of them are put off by such dubious claims and the over-the-top hostility and accusations aimed at anyone who disagrees. I think the contrast with the politics and impact of climate denial is clear enough...

Russell Seitz said...

Thanks, Brian- the links are iffy on Safari - the sytem sometines fails to recognize opening ' a ' tags, as in (see if this works)

Russell Seitz said...

Link not there !???

neverendingaudit said...

> Two cases do not make a counterpart to Mooney's Republican War on Science.

I don't think Mooney was mentioned in that piece.

How many cases would you need, Brian?


For better proto-STS crankery, cross the pond, e.g.:

Russell Seitz said...

From the recieving end perspective of Mooney's War on Republican Scientists, one will do nicely.

Hank Roberts said...

".... But it was not a critical well, so it was not required...."


Also has anyone asked why they're not at least flaring off that methane?
It'd be less damaging after burning it to CO2.
Worse for the PR of course, a worse invisible problem is better than a less bad visible problem, eh?

Russell Seitz said...

Having helped extinguish the Kuwait Oil Fires, I have a really bad feeling about igniting three quarter gigawatt pillars of fire in suburbs in the middle of a drought.

Brian said...

Neverending - I don't know how many examples we'd need, something less than Mooney gave but more than two.

I think the denial that race/ethnicity has a genetic component that partly overlaps with the cultural definition of racial groups is a good example of a broader problem.

Hank/Russell - I've wondered about flaring too. My speculation was the opposite of Russell's, that the leak is too diffuse to ignite. Anyway, local homes have been evacuated and the landscape is wet for the winter.

Maybe they're afraid of some accident within the underground gas storage.

Susan Anderson said...

"over the top hostility and accusations aimed at anyone who disagrees" is quite common on the phony skeptic side, but unfortunately spills over. It is also there in carefully constructed polite sciencey bits (I get a lot of this, so it's familiar) which poke and prod in the hopes of getting a reaction. Professional grade denial is quite good at making its opponents look like they are less reasonable. It's hard to combat.

What comes to mind is the treatment of Feynman. If you search on him and climate, you will find that the WattsUp crowd have claimed him as their hero, and they will not brook any criticism of their fakery.

neverendingaudit said...

Thanks, Brian.

A recent example:

> rce:
Julian Anderson

I am not a climate-change denier, but I think it should be discussed and not placed beyond discussion – and I certainly don’t think that the response we have as a society is beyond discussion,” she says. “Sustainability is one solution, but there might also be more technological solutions. But, within higher education, sustainability has become a major topic and is taught as a moral value. You assess ‘Are your students demonstrating sustainability?’ rather than ‘Is sustainability the only response?’…You can see even in the titles of some courses that sustainability is the answer…As soon as you present something as a value and assess students on that value, you are putting things beyond debate.”

I've seen the "I'm not a X, but" construction before, but where?

Jeffrey Davis said...

Crazy war on science.

Russell Seitz said...

Too diffuse to ignite ? Brian- look at the URL that refuses to link


I'ts a ton a minute gas flow

lolcatstevens said...

Or for more dramatic effect, look at the video:

Steve Bloom said...

While the optics of lighting it off would be terrible, I agree with Russell about the prospect of creating something like a fuel-air bomb in the emptying gas reservoir. As very little of the force of such an explosion could get out the existing outlet, it would make a very, very impressive crater while flinging dangerous debris for miles. If it's too deep for that, effects would probably depend on the local geology but I suspect wouldn't be at all good.

Once lit off, I suspect it would have to burn out entirely. As it is, they seem to still have hope of keeping a lot of the gas from escaping.

I wondered about possible toxic combustion products of mercaptans (the odorants added to the methane to make leaks apparent), but that doesn't seem to be an issue.

Russell Seitz said...

Steve , AFAIK, air cannot enter the positively pressurized reservoir, so there is no underground explosion risk.

But if llit, the energy release at the reported 13.8 kg/sec flow rate woud be ~ 750 megawatts at a flame temperature of ~1500 K

As in Kuwait, this could turn the ground red hot at the base of the flame column, and ignite extensive fires

Steve Bloom said...

Russell, I was thinking something like that might be possible when the reservoir is mostly depressurized, with the combustion creating a partial vacuum that is then filled with air, and then an ignition source from the still-hot/burning material comprising the outlet. But let's not run the experiment.

Russell Seitz said...

If the pressure in the reservoir goes to zero, the flow stops- it can't go negative.

The expansion and ignition of the flow are free jet phenomena, and I suspect the Prandtl numbers run too low to mix a detonateable FAE

Steve Bloom said...


Now I see they're going to divert and flare off some of the flow, which is good GHG-wise but I suppose must not be risk-free.

Brian didn't mention it, but this incident raises an underlying issue of aging infrastructure. Somewhat similarly, a few years ago there was a nasty pipe explosion n San Bruno that killed a number of people, although part of the issue there was poor quality control with the pipes (back in the '50s). My vague impression is that the PUC continues to tap-dance around the issue of bringing gas infrastructure up to snuff. It's a huge cost, especially since so much of it is underground. Abandoning it in favor of all-electric sounds cheaper.

Russell Seitz said...

LA should encourage public spirited locovores to reduce the reservoir pressure by firing up as many ox and pig roasts as practical.

To return to the title topic, why are we giving Coolists like Piers Corbyn a pass-- he's wannbe lefty PM Jeremy's brother !

Susan Anderson said...

Right now the jerks are on the right. They've got an OpEd for tomorrow's Sunday New York Times from Paul Thacker promoting Lamar Smith/Ted Cruz/Judicial Watch unholy alliance.

If you are so inclined, please go over there and give 'em hell. Their reporting on the whole thing has been thin to nonexistent, and now this. I'm just one voice, and it needs an army of complaint.

Russell Seitz said...

Susan, I already did so-, but the Times moderator takes the weekend off-

Susan Anderson said...

Thanks Russell. I didn't see yours yet, but if anything the comments were a mite too radical. I was quite taken with this:

"Who Needs Science When You've Got a World Class Professional Shopper" (goes on to Tim Ball - giggle - and FOS - chortle (well, not really funny, just a mite hysterical)):

The NYT should vet its Op Ed people; Thacker is the equivalent of a low-life, and this will be a line on his resume.

Russell Seitz said...

Ron Bailey makes a better case for candor and FOIA .

We wouldnt want NOAA to set a bad e-mail example for ex- Secretaries of State, would we ?

EliRabett said...

Condi Rice and Colin Powell. Who knew?

Russell Seitz said...

Someone on the 7th floor probably still has John Hay's Edison telegraph recorder

Brian said...

Science-related advice from Ron Bailey, who discovered climate change sometime around 2005 I think (and still isn't very impressed with it), should be taken with a grain of salt.

Some people deserve to be ad-hominemed.

Russell Seitz said...

One reality-oriented science writer is an improvement on none.