Wednesday, November 29, 2017

US Universities Might As Well Close Now

American universities have had a good run since 1945 powered by state and federal government support as well as donations from alumni, foundations and nice folk.  In rankings US research universities occupy the first four places and 13 of the first 25.  The decrease in state funding is already hammering state schools such as the University of Wisconsin, etc.

The US Congress has applied the killer blow.  By proposing to tax tuition remission, the House of Representatives has essentially made attending graduate school a Darwin test.  Eli's friend Andy Dessler has an op ed in the San Antonia Express-News which looks at what would happen if this bill passed.

This would be a terrible policy because it would hurt one of America’s most prized and valuable possessions: excellence in advanced university research. Graduate students form the backbone of research done at universities in the U.S. When professors proudly talk about the amazing work their lab is performing, the odds are that the critical contributions were made by an army of smart, hardworking grad students.
Andy points out the many benefits to the nation of this research, and why passing this tax would be a disaster. 
Our research universities are the envy of the world. Because U.S. research is so good, students come to us from all over the world. And the U.S. benefits from this because the smartest of these people often stay here after they graduate, adding to our professional research workforce.
Sadly, that horse is already out of the barn. Even if the tuition tax is not in the final bill, international students are already forgetting US universities as places to apply to because completing their degrees with Republicans in power, and even if they are defeated is a chancy game to play with your life.

Companies that provide a tuition benefit to their employees, can rip that sucker up since the benefit might come with a tax liability.  US student contemplating graduate school or taking a job now have a simple answer, take the job, who knows if they will be able to complete the degree. 

But it gets worse, STE grad students mostly have research assistantships.  Humanities, social science and math grad students have teaching assistantships which also have tuition remission.  Who is going to take a chance on starting a degree program with the tuition tax lurking?  And without them who is going to teach the myriad sections of English and Math as well as the Chem and Physics Labs.  Undergrad instruction is going to go full sage on the stage MOOCish.

Still, there is something interesting in the proposals from the Goth-Republican caucus, a tax on university endowments for the Harvard Yales.  Now this is really a dumb idea, but it does set the stage for a wealth tax when reality set in (usual if ever clause inserted here)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Biodiversity versus evangelical anti-environmentalism

Given that yesterday's holiday in the US was a spiritual time for many, I'm returning to Creation Care among the Christian right.

We'll need some serious ideological ferment to get to realism on climate change among evangelicals beyond the minority who currently acknowledge the science.* Not impossible - we see how evangelicals and many conservatives broke out of the "tough on crime" position that they were locked into 20 years ago, but still very difficult.

Dominion theology, with its argument that God placed the earth under the "dominion" of humanity as a justification to exploit the earth, is a clear setback. A good example of this nonsense is the Cornwall Alliance, shouting "dominion" at every opportunity as a reason to exploit natural resources. While there might be some sincerity by some few at Cornwall, there's no reason to trust them or their dark money funders.

And yet even these people can't completely deny environmental reality. I think I think the best shot on environmental issues with evangelicals isn't climate change, it's with biodiversity and species extinction. Even Cornwall has to say, after making up a bunch of nonsense about the slow pace of extinctions, that "None of this means that there are not particular species that are, in fact, endangered and that can benefit from careful conservation efforts." Among evangelicals that are less financially motivated for disingenuity than Cornwall, I think the argument could translate into real environmental protections.

One of the strangest places to see environmental issues handled in a nuanced way is the Creationist site, Answers In Genesis. They easily dismiss the idea that dominion is a blank check to destroy. They quote Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" together with the standard verse on dominion at Genesis 1:28, "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Dominion is stewardship with responsibilities over something that belongs to God, not authorization to destroy it. Evangelicals who believe this might have trouble with permanently destroying biodiversity.

If I were a rich environmentalist, this is an area where I'd spend some money developing the activists and message, in addition to the very active environmental movement among religious groups outside of the evangelical community.

*Important to acknowledge not all evangelicals are conservatives, and the climate science believers among evangelicals could just be the non-conservatives. This goes to the question of whether religious belief really drives opinion or if it's all just political tribalism. I think religious belief does have an effect, but it's complicated.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Vanity Press

Retraction Watch has a bombshell, an injunction against OMICS for deceptive business practices.  Now what pray tell are those.

In her decision granting the injunction Judge Gloria Navarro wrote

The evidence produced by the FTC demonstrates that Defendants engaged in probable misrepresentations regarding journal publishing. On the OMICS website, for example, OMICS makes numerous representations indicating that it follows standard peer-review practices. (See PX12 Att. L at 657, 773, 748, Ex. 12 to Mot. for Prelim Inj., ECF No. 9-12). 1 Under standard industry practice, the peer review process often takes several weeks or even months and involves multiple rounds of substantive feedback from experts in the related field. (See PX13 ¶¶ 9–10). In contrast, the FTC has provided evidence that Defendants’ peer review practices, in numerous instances, took a matter of days and contained no comments or substantive feedback
The Court found that the FTC would likely succeed in proving the merits of its claims. 
This inadequacy is further demonstrated by statements from purported “editors,” which indicate that they never received manuscripts to review or else even agreed to be listed as an editor. (See, e.g., PX03 ¶¶ 3–4; PX11 ¶ 7). In some instances, individuals listed as “editors” without permission requested removal from the website without success. (See, e.g., PX02 ¶ 4; PX08¶¶ 4–7; PX06 ¶ 11).
and the injunction is a doozy.  OMICS is enjoined from (among other things
making any representation, or assisting others in making any representation, expressly or by implication, that any journal or other publication is peer-reviewed unless any work product submitted to that journal or publication is reviewed by peers who are subject matter experts, who are not journal employees, and who evaluate the quality and credibility of the work product, and the representation is otherwise non-misleading;
Now whom does Eli know who publishes with OMICS?

Ned Nikolov, and amusingly what points does Ned make about his OMICS publication:
Ned also gives talks at OMICS conferences about which the judge had a few choice words.

For more on Nikolov see Eli and ATTP

Monday, November 20, 2017

Russian money connections paying for Trump's legal defense against illegal activities with Russians

Yes, I think it's a problem:

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Republican National Committee has paid more than $400,000 in personal legal fees for Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in connection with the investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. At least $12,000 of those funds came from a Ukrainian-born billionaire with ties to Vladimir Putin.

It's a problem that any political party money provides direct financial benefits to electeds - that creates a pathway for anyone who's rich to put money in the pocket of the president.* Money with shadowy connections to a hostile government is even more disastrous. I'll concede that $12,000 isn't a lot, but that's just what we know about now.

Maybe this one money connection to Russia will be cut off - CNN says Trump is planning to stop taking RNC money for his own legal defense and may funnel his own money to his staff's defense. Of course when it comes to promises to spend his own money, what Trump says he'll do and what he actually does are different worlds. If it does come true though, it seems to be a sign of fear.

*I might reluctantly have a different opinion if a non-rich person is ever again elected president, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tom's Trick Works and Things Are Worse Than They Seem

Some time ago Eli referred to the US Climate Reference Network as Tom Karl's Trick in that it offered an elegant way of evaluating the data and homogenization of the US Historical Climate Network and by extension the global networks of climate stations

 Its primary goal is to provide future long-term homogeneous observations of temperature and precipitation that can be coupled to long-term historical observations for the detection and attribution of present and future climate change. Data from the USCRN will be used in operational climate monitoring activities and for placing current climate anomalies into an historical perspective. The USCRN will also provide the United States with a reference network that meets the requirements of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).
The Bunny's take on this was here is a sensible way of checking the accuracy of older climate networks in the past and calibrating them in the future.  But there was a point that was missed, perhaps even by the designers.  They sensible paired USCRN stations with USHCN ones for evaluation.  Because of this it was implicit in the design that significantly less than the generic 30 climate data evaluation period would be needed to draw conclusions, and that those conclusions would extend back over the entire USHCN period.

Zeke Hausfather, Kevin Cowtan, Matthew J. Menne, and Claude N. Williams, Jr published a short paper on this, Evaluating the impact of U.S. Historical ClimatologyNetwork homogenization using the U.S. Climate Reference Network (open version) where they showed that the USHCN, the historical network, slightly UNDERESTIMATES the warming trend as measured by the USCRN, the optimal network, especially for maximum daily temperatures

Their conclusion was understated, as one would expect
During the period of overlap between the USHCN and USCRN networks, we can confidently conclude that the adjustments to the USHCN station records made them more similar to proximate homogenous USCRN station records, both in terms of trends and anomalies. There are no systematic trend biases introduced by adjustments during this period; if anything adjusted USHCN stations still underestimate maximum (and mean) temperature trends relative to USCRN stations. This residual maximum temperature bias warrants additional research to determine the exact cause.
 The paper also shows that homogenization narrows the distribution of raw data from USHCN stations while leaving the means unchanged which pretty much kills the loud claims of fake data from the peanuts' gallery, but the systematic difference between the USCRN and USHCN warrants further study and a bit more worry.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Manufactured Russia scandal is a nothing burger

My distinguished colleagues on this site, Eli Rabbet and Brian, are convinced that the ruling-class media (NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC) is hot on the trail of a major scandal. According to the mainstream media, the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to smear Hillary Clinton’s campaign and allow Trump to win.

I respectfully dissent.

Allegation: A server holding a large collection of emails by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked by the Russians, which then leaked the emails to the US media, to the great embarrassment of the DNC and Hilary’s campaign.

Rebuttal: A group of retired spooks, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) has performed forensic investigations of the metadata. The VIPS determined the DNC data was copied onto a storage device at a speed that far exceed an internet capacity for a remote hack. Forensics also shows that the copying was performed on the East coast of the US.

I readily admit that I have no expertise in this area. But the VIPS do have such expertise. I have not seen any coverage by the MSNBC, the NYTimes, or the Washington Post that addresses the claims made by the VIPS. Instead, the Establishment aims to drown out the opposition by dint of constant repetition. The summary of the VIPS study, entitled

Was the Russian Hack an Inside Job?

can be found at

Allegation: Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to subvert the democratic election.

Rebuttal: A recent book on the 2016 election, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. In the book’s final pages, the authors describe the utter shock experienced by the top campaigners, who never dreamed that Hillary could lose the election. At the same time, the top campaigners were staggered by the unflattering revelations of the leaked DNC emails. Allen and Barnes describe how Hillary successfully changed the subject: Instead of inquiring into the content of the emails, Hillary staffers asked, WHO hacked the DNC server. The answer of the Hillary campaign? Russians hacked the emails.

See link at

Gary Leupp, history professor at Tufts University, does not agree with the official line that

“Russia had rigged the election by providing stolen DNC emails to Wikileaks, using them to discredit Hillary. (It’s rarely mentioned how, precisely, they had done that, by showing that the DNC under Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had rigged the primaries against Bernie Sanders.)”

See link at

Journalist Chris Floyd scoff at the anti-Russian hysteria.

Floyd has actually looked at some of the online advertisements that the Russian government (supposedly) bought.

“What did we see? Hillary Clinton in a devil costume boxing with Jesus. A Clinton-backing Satan arm-wrestling with Jesus. Pro-gun memes. Anti-immigrant memes. Memes about military-hating Democrats. Basically, the same sort of things your cranky uncle or Foxicated cousin has been sending around on email for the past 20 years. The idea that someone could be dissuaded from voting for Hillary Clinton because of something like this is absurd.” See link at

Consider the careful work by the journalist Robert Parry, cited by Norman Solomon.

Stripping the 25-page DNI (Director of National Intelligence) report down to its essence, Parry pointed out that it “contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.” Parry added: “The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information — built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump. But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof.”

Solomon concludes that Democrats are playing with fire.

See link at

Aaron Mate writes in the Oct 6, 2017 issue of The Nation magazine that

Russiagate is More Fiction than Fact

From accusations of Trump campaign collusion to Russian Facebook ad buys, the media has substituted hype for evidence, Mate writes.

“Since Election Day, the controversy over alleged Russian meddling and Trump campaign collusion has consumed Washington and the national media. Yet nearly one year later there is still no concrete evidence of its central allegations.”

See link at

Journalist Max Blumenthal addresses a headline in The Washington Post on Sunday Nov 5, 2017. The scare headline reads

At least nine people in Trump’s orbit had contact with Russians during campaign and transition

Wow! Pretty scary! Until Max Blumenthal puts it in perspective.

“Many of these forbidden contacts consisted of meetings with Russian diplomats.”

The Wa Po story authored by Rosalind S. Heiderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig

Blumenthal goes on to comment sarcastically “Diplomacy must cede to brinksmanship if not all out war.”

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Green Plate Challenge

Izen has turned the Green Plate Effect and his animation into a video just in time for the bunnies to show it to their uncles at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Copy this onto your smart phone for future use

and Science of Doom has issued a challenge to the back radiation deniers.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Lysistrata Solution - Do not cite, do not quote, do not review

The latest is that Mark Jacobson has filed a lawsuit against the National Academy of Sciences, the Proceedings of same and Christopher Clack for badmouthing, mopery and no takebacks.  There are important issues at play, for example, can renewable energy get to 100% of what is needed (Jacobson) or only 80% (Clack) without nuclear, and a lot of talmudic stuff about how to interpret what was written by the various parties to justify their positions and whether the other parties interpreted what the parties of the first wrote correctly or cherry picked with malice and aforethought.

These are policy driving questions but both sides advocate strong and immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions starting twenty years ago and certainly now.

What is also clear is that Jacobson in filing this suit has pushed the norms out the Overton window in a way that could quickly lead to no good things and that many are concerned.

Eli, in his usual way has a simple solution.  Those who are troubled, indeed angered by this suit have a simple way of making their concern clear.

Publicly tell Mark Jacobson that they will no longer cite, quote or review his papers and grant proposals until the suit is withdrawn.

Beyond this it may be necessary to ask editors and program managers not to send their work to Jacobson for evaluation and review.

Oh yes, one other tell in this whole mess is the addendum to the initial order summoning the parties attached by the Chief Judge Robert Morin of the DC Court which makes the suit subject to the DC Medical Malpractice Proceedings Act

After an action is filed in the court against a healthcare provider alleging medical malpractice, the court shall require the parties to enter into mediation without discovery or, if all parties agree with only limited discovery which shall not interfere with the completion of mediation within 30 days of the Initial Scheduling and Settlement Conference (ISSC) prior to any further litigation in an effort to reach a settlement agreement.
A report has to be filed ten days after the mediation session.  Eli is holding tryouts for the mediator position.