Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Someone Noticed

Eli got this Email from Bill Foster, who is a former Democratic Representative from Illinois, running again and looking for support

One of the most difficult challenges for a scientist serving in the U.S. Congress is responding gracefully to the torrent of illogical and counterfactual arguments from the right wing message machine.

During my three years as a scientist in Congress, I had the pleasure of dealing with “Death Panel” attacks on health care reform, debates over the origin of herbicide-resistant weeds with Congressmen who did not accept evolution, and pronouncements by a right-wing colleague in Congress who believes the GPS system to be a shining example of the triumph of private enterprise.

Still, a new standard for ignorance seems to have been set by my former colleague Todd Akin, U.S. Representative from the Missouri 8th Congressional District and Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, when he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

As a husband, a father, a scientist, an American and a human being, I was disturbed on many levels by Akin’s comments.  They are both offensive and factually wrong.  (How wrong? Estimates by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are that rape results in tens of thousands of pregnancies each year, even after many pregnancies are prevented by emergency contraception that Akin want to ban). It is discouraging to see how a person with those ideas could win elected office in our democracy, but it happens.

And then I remembered:  Todd Akin sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology
And bunnies thought the Arctic melt was scary?


J Bowers said...

Congressmembers Refuse Science Questions

Anonymous said...

Here in the UK, home of Watership Down, Ralph Hall is not a household name. We benighted Brits don't know that the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is confused:

One senior House Republican who appears comfortable with his positions on climate science is Texan Ralph Hall, chairman of the House Science Committee. Asked if climate change is causing the Earth to become warmer, the lawmaker charged with shaping national science policy responded, “I don’t think it’s the cause. I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Hall said that on the issue of climate science, he is “pretty close” to the stance of his fellow Texan, Rick Perry—believing that climate science may be a conspiracy theory put forth by scientists who are working in concert to receive funding for research.

But we Brits gave the world former battery chicken farmer Sir Antony Fisher and his big idea. True, the Institute For Economic Affairs begat pirate radio, but it's still not okay. So nobody's throwing stones in greenhouses.


Aaron said...

The committee has a Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment run by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) Several links on his site go to which says that a industry funded study by Battelle found flaws with EPA studies on fracking.
Looks to me like some of those flaws are mandated by the plain text of the Clean Water Act.

david lewis said...

There was that March 15 2011 Nature editorial:

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific areas for so long".

The Nature editors were lamenting the fact that a Republican sponsored bill "intended to prevent the US EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions" had emerged from a committee dominated by Republican Party morons.

One of the morons, identified by Nature as a "lawmaker", "described scientists as elitist and arrogant creatures who hide behind discredited institutions".

The editorial continues: "That this legislation is unlikely to become law doesn't make it any less dangerous. It is the attitude and ideas behind the bill that are troublesome, and they seem to be spreading...."

david lewis said...

PS. Aaron seemed to think the people involved with the IPCC AR4 sea level projections blew it. No doubt he would have done way better. Maybe he'll listen to Tad Pfeffer's talk from last years AGU Fall Meeting, i.e. the Nye Lecture, the part where Pfeffer explains what happened, and report back to the bunnies on what Dr. Pfeffer doesn't know.

Sou said...

Speaking of illogical and counterfactual arguments, the right wing denial machine has just released a remake of the denier film of a few years ago (can't remember the title).

Their timing is off, with all the weather disasters of the past few years, particularly in the US this year, not to mention the record low Arctic sea ice.

It is getting only a lukewarm reception over on WUWT I notice.

(Anyone know why climate science deniers hate polar bears so much? One poster even keeps referring to them as 'poley bears', presumably not as a sign of affection.)

david lewis said...

If you read Bill's pitch as presented here by Eli, you'll notice no mention of climate science.

I wondered.

I went to Bill's website. On the front page is a link to a video that explains that Bill is a "Scientist, not a Politician". I didn't watch it. Would your average bunny choose a surgeon to operate on his wife's brain cancer on this basis? "Garbage Collector, Not a Brain Surgeon"?.

Hey, it doesn't matter what a scientist says, what matters is what he/she does.

Bill voted against Waxman-Markey. But getting back to his website:

Although Bill carefully avoids any mention of climate change on the first page of his website, and "climate" or "climate change" is not listed in the drop down list of "issues" Bill feels the need to have a subpage for, if you go to the "energy" page you'll find his position.

At least he has a position.

Apparently, "global warming" is dangerous and real, at least one half caused by humans. It is imperative that we "fix this
problem in the way that does the least damage to our economic growth".

"it is crucial that we get a more accurate scientific picture of the situation as soon as possible". According to Bill, we might have "70 years to correct the problem", or it might be that "global warming must be corrected within 10 years".

There is no statement indicating what the "fix" for this problem would be, whether that fix has to be achieved within 70 years, or in 10. Since we don't know enough to aim for the fix right now, Bill makes no specific climate proposals other than we should find out more.

I have to assume that he thinks the world could "fix" the climate problem if it started the day after tomorrow or whenever Bill would feel comfortable that we knew enough to start working on it, and 70 years later, ta da, it would be solved. Is this a view that is scientifically supported? See: the views of Kevin Anderson, former director, the Tyndall Centre, U.K. In brief, Anderson believes there is very little support for Bill's gibberish.

You have to go back to Bill's general prescription for a US energy policy to pick out what policy might also apply to climate.
There, you'll see he wants "all energy efficiency upgrades that pay for themselves" AND "are a net plus for our economy", to be implemented immediately. And he wants more R&D funds going into "pre commercial energy research". Although he doesn't mention "low carbon energy research", we assume he's a scientist and he'll make sure those R&D funds go to low carbon sources, and not into how to extract oil shale, make liquids out of coal etc. That's it.

This is one of the best people available? You need to single him out for the bunnies on this website?

Just go take a look at Bill's "Science and Technology" page - there isn't one word mentioning anything that has anything to do with climate. Science is touted as necessary to maintain US economic growth. The poor stem cell researchers are singled out because they've been suffering "from opposition that has no basis in science", but the attacks on climate research and researchers are not mentioned.

I guess I would tend to agree that this guy deserves to be supported: things are that bad in Washington. At least he isn't afraid to speak about science as if it were something a respectable.

History is not going to absolve us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for enlightening the bunnies, David.

It is indeed a sad day when some feel they have to lend support to folks who give the argument that need to "get a more accurate scientific picture of the situation as soon as possible", basically the very same argument that climate change deniers/delayers have been giving since the early 90's.

But you know what?

We don't have to support these folks.

We can do better.

Yes we can.


EliRabett said...

The difference is, and it is a large one, that you and Bill can agree on facts.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of the fact that we don't need more facts before we act.


david lewis said...

Bill's line as written on his website can't possibly be what he believes, or we really wouldn't be able to agree on facts.

Is it a fact that all the top level scientific organizations in the world have signed a joint statement calling for reducing global CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050?

"The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable".

Perhaps the state of present knowledge has changed?

Bill states emphatically that what's crucial is that we find out what every science academy in the world asserts we already know.

How hard is it for a "scientist" like Bill to call, say, Cicerone, to check if anyone still believes that climate change horsebleep?

I would still vote for the guy. The Republicans have lost touch with reality in so many ways I find it alarming.

Anonymous said...

What we really need in Congress are biologists (especially ecologists) who understand that endless economic "growth" and "fixing" climate change are really not compatible.

Of course, if one were to say (or even hint at) this "reality", one would have virtually no chance of getting elected in the US (and probably be branded "environ-mental" to boot)

And therein lies the REAL problem.

So we have candidates saying stuff like we need to "fix this problem in the way that does the least damage to our economic growth".


Aaron said...

David Lewis,
As a structural material, ice is very sensitive to temperature and pressure. Any ice dynamics model will fail unless it explicitly includes the total enthalpy of the defined and bounded system; and, the viscosity, tensile strength, and structural strength of the ice under system conditions.

As Pfeffer notes, there are some data requirements for such an approach. However, we can estimate the ice’s behavior at certain boundary conditions. For example,” What happens as the ice approaches its melting point at the local pressure?” We can ask how the ice sheet will behave as super-glacial lakes discharge water through moulins. (This is a point where ice reaches its melting point at the local pressure.) From that we can calculate how much energy is being advected into the ice. We can ask how much internal work is done on the ice as it flows to close the moulins. We can estimate the grain structure, temperature, pressure, viscosity, and structural strength of that reworked ice. We can then do a finite element analysis of the various volumes of ice within the ice and calculate the structural stability and flow rates of the ice structure as a whole.

I can tell you in advance that you will not like the answer, and will therefore assume the model is wrong. It predicts behaviours you have never seen.

Then, we guess the time frame when superglacial lakes are draining through the GIS, and thereby, we have a reasonable behavior of the ice at some estimated point in time.

The rate of formation of moulins is a good indicator of how fast some of these processes work.

If I were in charge, anytime, anybody drilled an ice core, they would required to test samples for compressive, shear, and tensile strength.

E Shumard said...

Some people just can't take yes for an answer. The hypersensitive parsing of Bill Foster's web site is truly depressing. First, the quoting of "scientist" shows complete ignorance of Bill's career. Bill received a PhD in physics from Harvard. As a grad student he worked on all aspects of the IMB proton decay detector. His thesis was on one of the most significant experimental results in physics (proton decay...or the lack thereof). He received the Bruno Rossi prize in Astrophysics for detection of the neutrino burst from Supernova 1987A. After grad school he moved to Texas to work on the SSC. When that was cancelled he went to Fermilab and worked on the CDF experiment (which discovered the top quark) and then moved onto accelerator design. One of his creations was the very cleverly designed Anti-Proton Recycler Ring.

The reading of "It is crucial that we get a more accurate scientific picture of the situation as soon as possible." as indicating a delaying tactic or waffling is incorrect. The cited G8+5 statement on a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 means a 38 year time period in which to correct global warming. Is it not prudent to know whether we should move that date to 2040 or 2030?

Yes, Bill voted against the cap and trade bill, as would other "scientists" like James Hansen had they the opportunity.

The interpretation of Bill's position on climate change in some of the comments is completely off base. Please don't discount him because you are a member of the Judean People's Front and you consider him a member of the People's Front of Judea.

Full disclosure: Bill Foster is a friend of mine. We were fellow grad students and worked closely together on the IMB proton decay experiment. Bill is smart, honest, open-minded and well aware of the danger that climate change presents. We would be well served by having him in congress again.

Anonymous said...

The interpretation of Bill's position on climate change in some of the comments is completely off base.

If that is indeed the case, perhaps it is because Bill Foster has not actually said where he stands on -- and more critically, what he will DO about -- the problem. In other words, it's his fault for not making that clear -- not ours.

Is it really too much to expect that someone who is running for Congress (or any other public office) will make his views on an important issue like climate change clear enough that folks can understand where he actually stands?

Is it too much to ask that he will lay out at least the broad brush approach he would take to the problem?

If he did not support cap and trade, that's fine. As you correctly point out, neither did Hansen.

But does Bill Foster support Hansen's plan? (Fee and Dividend)

If not, what plan DOES he support?

Perhaps as his friend, you might get Bill Foster to actually put this information on his website so that voters can make an informed choice (rather than guessing).

I say this in all sincerity.

I can only speak for myself, but I get tired of trying to guess where candidates stand on important issues -- and TEND NOT to vote for people who don't make it clear, because, like it or not, it has the appearance that they are avoiding taking a stand.

Finally, your comment "Please don't discount him because you are a member of the Judean People's Front and you consider him a member of the People's Front of Judea" is more than a little condescending (and cliche).


PS That Bill Foster has a PhD in physics certainly means he is a scientist, but unfortunately, as many of us (especially folks who follow this blog) know, a PhD in physics need NOT mean that one will accept the consensus on climate science.

david lewis said...

I suppose "E Shumard" would have us ignore what politicians say or post on their websites.

It's probably a good policy.

I weigh what I hear a politician say or what he/she might post on a website in an effort to understand what that politician might do.

I don't feel I learn much. I generally feel I hardly ever find out what a politician actually believes that way.

I said I would vote for the guy.

He's Democratic Party. Read that Nature editorial I posted a reference to up there. The tactics, ideas and attitudes of the Republican Party are almost totally unified around exactly what Nature is deploring.

And almost all the rest of what they are unified around I don't support. They say there is still a lot of money to expand the military budget even after a 67% real expansion in the last decade, but unfortunately, because after they expand the military budget, they've got to cut taxes for the rich, so Medicare and Social Security have to go. Romney is telling Wall Street its the end for the capital gains tax and the end for any tax on dividends and inheritances. That's why Medicare and Social Security have to end. That's fine for those who want it that way. I don't. Romney's father paid an average of 39% in taxes, the son 15%. And it is outrageous to the backers of that son that he has to pay that much. Ryan is an Ayn Rand acolyte. Rand thought caring about your fellow human being, say putting in a program to care for the old or the poor was evil. It is a repugnant philosophy.

J Bowers said...

Within one click at Bill Foster's website I came across,

"...we must aggressively combat climate change, [...] If the global warming problem must be corrected within 10 years, this will be much more expensive to “fix” than if we have 70 years to correct the problem. [...] Thus it is time to invest in clean energy alternatives like solar power, deep-drilled geothermal power, wind energy, and sensible biofuels."

Coupled with his stance on science policy, which is completely counter to the current majority of fools in Congress, I wish I could vote for him here.

J Bowers said...

In the meantime, the other side feel confident and righteous enough that they can resort to outright lying in full view of the world. That's really scary stuff on many levels. Just google "accusation in a mirror" to see how it's usually used.

Anonymous said...

J Bowers

What you quoted is NOT a plan to address climate change. Not even close.

At best, it is a list of things that will help.

Compare that to the actual plan that Jim Hansen has laid out, not only to "fix" the problem, but to finance it.

Or to the Waxman Markey Bill.

Folks may not like those plans, but at least they ARE plans, not wishy washy statements that make people feel like "this guy is on our side".

It's long past time for brief laundry lists of things and vague statements about "investing in clean energy alternatives" (how much?) and "fix[ing] this problem in the way that does the least damage to our economic growth".

What does the latter even mean?

And why do we as voters have to actually settle for candidates who will NOT provide the details? (because they have none, don't want us to know them or whatever the reason)

After all, these people are going to represent us-- and get paid $170k per year to do so (no small potatoes in my book).

Have our candidates become SO elitist and insulated that they actually feel they don't have to provide the details?

Is it somehow below them to do so?

Do they feel that they don't need to bother because they know that Democrats will vote for them because the alternative is a flaming science rejector?

Don't they actually OWE us the details?

Aren't you even curious about what Mr. Foster's detailed (or even broad brush) "plan" might be to address climate change? -- if he indeed even has one, other than "investing in clean energy alternatives like solar power, deep-drilled geothermal power, wind energy, and sensible biofuels."

I would hope that Mr. Foster\'s friend will encourage him to actually provide the a detailed plan to address climate change so that voters can read it on his website. If he is actually serious about the issue, he will do so.

If he does, I will be pleasantly surprised.

But I won't hold my breath.


J Bowers said...

Anon, have you asked him?

Anonymous said...


I don't disagree than many (not all) Republicans in DC have gone off the deep end on scientific issues, but I still don't think that is any excuse for Democrats or Independents not to provide details about where they stand on issues and plans for what they will at least TRY to do if elected.

Perhaps I am just too idealistic, but I find the whole idea of voting for a Democrat "because the Republican is worse" to be very depressing.

There usually are alternatives (eg, Green Party) -- though I realize most would claim i am just "throwing my vote away" (or worse: would claim I am aiding and abetting the "enemy", eg, by voting for Nader in 2000, even though I lived in MA at the time where nearly everyone voted Democrat anyway)

Call me idealistic or call me dumb.

So be it. I simply won't vote for someone who will not tell me where they stand and what they will do.

Or for someone who told me one thing and did quite the opposite (or did almost nothing in the case of climate change)

I refuse.


david lewis said...

"E Shumard" Thanks for your statement supporting Bill by the way.

Obviously, a few hundred more people of his calibre elected to Congress would transform it into something everyone on all sides of the political spectrum would be proud of. (As opposed to how they view us over at the Nature magazine editorial room now.)

And even one person of his calibre is going to help the place out.

I don't know about the Joint Academies statement, but I was involved as a contributor to one of the early ones, i.e. the 1988 Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference statement. People backed a call for a lot less than what even an identical group would call for now, and its not all because the science has become even more solid over the years. Distinguished climate scientists told me 95% of their colleagues would have signed that Toronto document in 1988.

If you want to talk about prudence, I would say prudence would dictate immediately restoring the composition of the atmosphere to the preindustrial and watching carefully to see if even doing that at this point was not too late.

The Joint Academies call looks like they thought this might be possible in a civilization that viewed climate science quite differently than they do right now. I doubt if its actually what they thought was prudent. It's what they thought was possible.

Bill's statement on his website looks to me what a politician who is facing an election will say in order to upset the fewest neanderthals while signalling to those in the know he understands there is a problem.

I like things to be spelled out a bit more clearly.

At the Toronto conference I bugged people to speak clearly, from their hearts. The viability of the only planet known to support life in the universe is at stake. When I introduced myself, I said I am an artist, not a scientist. But I can read your journals. I feel like I am a member of a dying civilization. I was a lot more emotional then.

I don't see the harm in challenging a politician to aspire to finding a better way to state his position.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

A further point on Akin's remarks. He claimed that the "morning after pill" causes abortions. It doesn't; it prevents fertilization.

J Bowers said...

"The CRU e-mail scandal reveals a perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion. The e-mail scandal has not only forced the resignation of a number of discredited scientists,..."
-- Paul Ryan

On Claims of Data Manipulation