"The reason you can do these things is that, essentially, you are a prediction machine, and you effortlessly and correctly predict almost every event that is about to occur in your life. Magicians understand at a deeply intuitive level that you alone create your experience of reality, and, like JOhnny, the exploit the fact that your brain does a staggering amount of outright confabulation in order to construct the mental simulation of reality known a "consciousness". This is not to say that objective reality isn't "out there"…. But all you get to experience is a simulation. The fact that consciousness feels like a solid, robust, fact rich transcription of reality is just one of the illusions your brain creates for itself…. The same neural machinery that interprets actual sensory inputs is also responsible for your dreams, delusions, and failings of memory. The real and the imagined share a physical source in your brain…"
--Stephen L. Macknik et al.: Sleights of Mind
William D. Nordhaus: "Energy: Friend or Enemy?" http://goo.gl/MFW6O
"Each eye is thus roughly equivalent to a one-megapixel camera. Sounds like a lot, but consider that even your cell phone camera probably has better resolution than that. So how can it be that you have such a rich and detailed perception of the world, when in fact your visual system’s resolution is equivalent to a cheap digital camera? The short answer is that the richness of your visual experience is an illusion created by the filling-in processes of your brain."
--Stephen L. Macknik et al., Sleights of Mind
No randomised controlled trials of parachute use have been undertaken
The basis for parachute use is purely observational, and its apparent efficacy could potentially be explained by a “healthy cohort” effect"
Global CO2 emissions rising faster than worst-case scenarios - The Washington Post: [E]missions are now rising faster than the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the IPCC in its 2007 report. What would this mean for global warming?…. If emissions keep growing at their current pace, then the average prediction from MIT’s modeling is that the world could heat up 5.2°C by 2100. But that’s just the average. There’s a 9 percent chance that global surface temperatures could rise more than 7°C — truly uncharted territory…
"Uncertainty is not a statement about the limits of measurement, it’s a statement about the limits of reality. Asking for the precise position and momentum of a particle doesn’t even make sense, because those quantities do not exist."
--Chad Orzel, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog
Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence: I first visited a Wall Street firm in 1984…. I remember one exchange. “When you sell a stock,” I asked him, “who buys it?” He answered with a wave in the vague direction of the window, indicating that he expected the buyer to be someone else very much like him. That was odd: because most buyers and sellers know that they have the same information as one another, what made one person buy and the other sell? Buyers think the price is too low and likely to rise; sellers think the price is high and likely to drop. The puzzle is why buyers and sellers alike think that the current price is wrong.
Most people in the investment business have read Burton Malkiel’s wonderful book “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.”… If all assets in a market are correctly priced, no one can expect either to gain or to lose by trading. We now know, however, that the theory is not quite right. Many individual investors lose consistently by trading, an achievement that a dart-throwing chimp could not match. The first demonstration of this startling conclusion was put forward by Terry Odean, a former student of mine who is now a finance professor at the University of California, Berkeley…. In a paper titled “Trading Is Hazardous to Your Wealth,” Odean and his colleague Brad Barber showed that, on average, the most active traders had the poorest results, while those who traded the least earned the highest returns. In another paper, “Boys Will Be Boys,” they reported that men act on their useless ideas significantly more often than women do, and that as a result women achieve better investment results than men.
Of course, there is always someone on the other side of a transaction; in general, it’s a financial institution or professional investor, ready to take advantage of the mistakes that individual traders make. Further research by Barber and Odean has shed light on these mistakes. Individual investors like to lock in their gains; they sell “winners,” stocks whose prices have gone up, and they hang on to their losers. Unfortunately for them, in the short run going forward recent winners tend to do better than recent losers, so individuals sell the wrong stocks. They also buy the wrong stocks. Individual investors predictably flock to stocks in companies that are in the news….
Mutual funds are run by highly experienced and hard-working professionals who buy and sell stocks to achieve the best possible results for their clients. Nevertheless, the evidence from more than 50 years of research is conclusive: for a large majority of fund managers, the selection of stocks is more like rolling dice than like playing poker. At least two out of every three mutual funds underperform the overall market in any given year.
More important, the year-to-year correlation among the outcomes of mutual funds is very small, barely different from zero. The funds that were successful in any given year were mostly lucky; they had a good roll of the dice…. The subjective experience of traders is that they are making sensible, educated guesses in a situation of great uncertainty. In highly efficient markets, however, educated guesses are not more accurate than blind guesses….
We often interact with professionals who exercise their judgment with evident confidence, sometimes priding themselves on the power of their intuition. In a world rife with illusions of validity and skill, can we trust them?… [P]eople come up with coherent stories and confident predictions even when they know little or nothing. Overconfidence arises because people are often blind to their own blindness. True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes…. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes….
In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow: overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.
"We wind a simple ring of iron with coils; we establish the connections to the generator, and with wonder and delight we note the effects of strange forces which we bring into play, which allow us to transform, to transmit and direct energy at will. We arrange the circuits properly, and we see the mass of iron and wires behave as though it were endowed with life, spinning a heavy armature, through invisible connections, with great speed and power--with the energy possibly conveyed from a great distance."
--Nikola Tesla, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency
… but this is extraordinary:
"There is no permanent rabbitiness, no essence of rabbit hanging in the sky, just populations of furry, long-eared, coprophagous, whisker-twitching individuals, showing a statistical distribution of variation in size, shape, colour and proclivities."
--Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth
"Heathkits were really great. Heathkits were these products that you would buy in kit form. You actually paid more money for them than if you just went and bought the finished product if it was available. These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You'd actually build this thing yourself.
"I would say that this gave one several things. It gave one a understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked because it would include a theory of operation but maybe even more importantly it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean you looked at a television set you would think that: 'I haven't built one of those but I could. There's one of those in the Heathkit catalog and I've built two other Heathkits so I could build that.'
"Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one's environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way."
Well, this is certainly a morning eye-opener!
How To: Remove a bladder stone in the days before anesthesia – Boing Boing: By Maggie Koerth-Baker: The Chirurgeon's Apprentice is an entire blog dedicated to eye-witness accounts of surgery in the days before anesthesia. Oh, Internet. Thou art wonderful and horrible.
Collected by University of London medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, the stories come from well-documented sources, from the 17th century onward. Part of the goal here is to follow the path of surgery as it really started to become its own profession ... separate from that of barber. Yes, this is going to be every bit as gory as you imagine. I'll start looking for a unicorn now.
That's "wonderful and terrible as an army with banners"…
Long overdue, but nice to see.
A dose of reality for the HPV debate: The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a nasty, sexually transmitted disease contracted by about three-quarters of Americans at some point. You can have it, and spread it, without knowing it. In some women, the virus causes abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that can develop into cancerous lesions. Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. There is, however, a vaccine that is highly effective against the most dangerous HPV strains. The main side effect, as you’d expect in a procedure involving a needle, is fainting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all girls should get it anyway.
At least this approach would have added to the public stock of health information. Instead, Michele Bachmann talked of “innocent little 12-year-old girls” who were “forced to have a government injection” by Rick Perry’s 2007 mandate of HPV vaccinations in Texas. Bachmann later added, on the medical authority of a weeping mother’s anecdote, that the HPV vaccine, or maybe it was some other vaccine, might cause “mental retardation.” Bachmann herself seems prone to a serious condition: the compulsive desire to confirm every evangelical stereotype of censorious ignorance....
Try to imagine a parent-daughter conversation about sexual restraint and maturity that includes the words: “Honey, I’m going to deny you a vaccine that prevents a horrible, bleeding cancer, just as a little reminder of the religious values I’ve been trying to teach you.” This would be morally monstrous. Such ethical electroshock therapy has nothing to do with cultivation of character in children. It certainly has nothing to do with Christianity, which teaches that moral rules are created for the benefit of the individual, not to punish them with preventable death.
This approach to moral education may appeal to a certain kind of conservative politician. How could it possibly appeal to a parent, conservative or otherwise?
A second objection to routine HPV vaccination concerns parental rights. Bachmann confused this issue by introducing anti-vaccine paranoia — one of the most direct and practical ways that a public official can undermine the health of his or her fellow citizens. A more sophisticated version of this argument claims that a vaccine against measles or mumps is fundamentally different from a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease such as HPV. Because of the ethical context, parents should have more of a say.
But the public health case for vaccination is similar for diseases spread by coughing and those spread by sexual contact. Vaccines decrease the incidence of a disease in a whole society, which has good health outcomes for everyone, not only the protected individual. Consider a woman who is resolutely abstinent until her marriage at 24. Her husband — who got HPV from a girlfriend who was not vaccinated — unknowingly gives it to his wife on their wedding night, increasing her risk for cervical cancer. She would suffer because others are not vaccinated. The decision to vaccinate — for HPV or any infectious disease — is not just a personal, family choice. It is also a matter of public health. And it is not unreasonable for public authorities to strongly encourage responsible parental choices.
Faster Than a Speeding Photon: "Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam" : Uncertain Principles: there's still room for a canine-level write-up going into a bit more depth about what they did and where it might be wrong.
So, what did those jokers at CERN pull this time? Isn't it bad enough that they want to feed us all into a black hole, now they're messing with the speed of light?… The neutrinos are created at CERN in one of their three varieties, and on the way to Gran Sasso, they can change character and end up being detected as a different type…. As part of the preliminary analysis for their main experiment, they looked at about three years worth of data, and noticed something odd: the neutrinos in their experiment seem to be moving slightly faster than the speed of light…. [T]he difference they see is many times larger than their uncertainty, and they can't figure out why…. [T]hey do is to compare the distribution of times when they detect neutrinos to the distribution of times when neutrinos were created in the source…. [T]he time of flight… is about 60ns too short, suggesting the neutrinos were moving faster than they speed of light….
How about the distance? Could they have screwed that up? That's the other obvious source of error, but it's hard to see how. Again, they have GPS to use for this, and while the accuracy of the position obtained by GPS for a moving receiver, like in your phone, is only several meters, if you're trying to measure the distance between two fixed points, and monitor it over a long time, you can get really good accuracy. They claim to have the distance down to 20cm, which is a bit less than a nanosecond at the speed of light. Twenty centimeters? Really? Really. They even provide a graph showing their measurements over the three-year run, which pick up a slow change due to continental drift, and a dramatic jump due to an earthquake in 2009….
So, what else could be wrong? Well, that's the problem. They've checked all the obvious things, and they all seem to hang together. Which is why they're putting this result out there, knowing full well that it disagrees with just about everything else. They're hoping that some clever person will spot a mistake, or, failing that, that another experiment will do the same test (there's one in Japan and one in the US), and see if they get the same result….
It'd be deeply, deeply weird, though, not least because the existence of superluminal particles that interact with ordinary matter (as neutrinos do, albeit weakly) opens the door to violations of causality-- effects happening before the things that caused them, and that sort of thing. This wouldn't be a big loophole-- the speed difference is tiny, and neutrinos interact extremely weakly-- but it's the kind of philosophical problem that would really bother a lot of people.
So, if you had money to bet on it, bet that this result is wrong. But these guys aren't complete chumps, and if something is wrong with their experiment, it's something pretty subtle, because they've checked all the obvious problem areas carefully.
I ran across this:
William Patterson: The “Horst-Conrad-Milne” interplanetary space drive of [Robert Heinlein's] Between Planets has become in ** a sophisticated interstellar drive (though Milne got left off the name this time—as sometimes happens in real life; there is plenty of Einstein in Starman Jones, but no mention of Hermann Minkowski)…
I have long known that attacking Albert Einstein for undermining the morals of the West and for being an all-around bad guy was a staple of the whacka-whacka right wing of the American Spectator and its ilk. But I had never heard before that Hermann Minkowski was the unfair slighted discoverer or co-discoverer of Einstein's theory of relativity.
I had heard that there were whacka-whacks who claimed that Voigt, Lorentz, FitzGerald, Poincaré, and Larmor really deserved credit for special relativity. And, indeed, there is enormous credit to be shred that is shared: we do speak of Lorentz invariance, of the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction, of the Poincaré group of rotations, and of Minkowski space (alas, Larmor does not make it) all as essential parts of Einstein's theory of relativity.
But I had never heard Minkowski. He did not even start to work on relativity until after 1905. I had never heard any hint that it ought to be called the Minkowski or the Einstein-Minkowski theory of relativity--until now.
Anybody know where this comes from?
Nobody has any business working for, contributing to, or voting for any candidate of this Republican Party in any general election. Nobody. Nobody at a all:
Arctic ice levels hit historic low, researchers say – This Just In - CNN.com Blogs: "The amount of Arctic sea ice has melted to a historic low, with the area of land covered by ice at the smallest level since scientists began observing it with satellites in 1972, researchers from the University of Bremen in Germany report…. Researchers, including those from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, had predicted earlier this summer that Arctic sea ice levels could reach extreme lows. But the University of Bremen physicists said there was uncertainty in July about whether the ice melt would surpass the previous record.
They said their studies indicated that continuing ice decline was related to man-made global warming. "It seems to be clear that this is a further consequence of the man-made global warming with global consequences," researchers said in their report. "Directly, the livehood of small animals, algae, fishes and mammals like polar bears and seals is more and more reduced." As Arctic sea ice has continued to decline, it also has become drastically thinner overall, the report said….
The National Snow and Ice Data Center did not have updated data to confirm the German report but said it expected the historic low to be hit based on the past few weeks' data. Its site is only up to date to September 6. The historic levels were reached two days later. The center said it would "make a preliminary announcement when ice extent has stopped declining and has increased for several days in a row" and said it would release monthly data for September early next month…
Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time: Your memory isn’t as good as you think. When you remember an event in the past, your brain uses a very similar technique to imagining the future. The process is less like “replaying a video” than “putting on a play from a script.” If the script is wrong for whatever reason, you can have a false memory that is just as vivid as a true one. Eyewitness testimony, it turns out, is one of the least reliable forms of evidence allowed into courtrooms. (Via conference participants Kathleen McDermott and Henry Roediger.)
Me? I had always thought that the "hockey stick" was more a measure of our ignorance of the pre-1800 climate--when you don't know much, your best estimate is going to be close to your sample mean and is not going to move around very much, while when you do know what is going on your estimates will track a quite possibly changing reality.
But since Mann and company first started their reconstructions, the evidence that we have now substantially exceeded past historic climate variability on a global scale has been piling up.
And now Joe Romm reports:
Climate Secret: NSF Quietly Closes Out Inspector General Investigation with Complete Vindication of Michael Mann: NSF Inspector General: “Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.”
Two things we know with extremely high confidence:
- Recent warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause (so the temperature history looks like a Hockey Stick).
- Michael Mann, the lead author on the original Hockey Stick paper, is one of the nation’s top climatologists and a source of first-rate analysis.
We know these things because both the Hockey Stick and Mann have been independently investigated and vindicated more times than any other facet of climate science or any other climate scientist…. While the anti-science extremists who rule the Tea Party and the right-wing bunkosphere keep shouting lies about the Hockey Stick and Mann — and urging their followers to “shout down” science-based commenters on independent websites — the vindications of the science and the man are reported as quietly as if they came from the Whos of Whoville. And so after countless investigations — 3 in the U.K., 2 by Penn State, the EPA, the NOAA IG — that have all unanimously found the allegations against climate scientists and their research conclusions based on the hacked “ClimateGate” emails to be wholly unsubstantiated, a top GOP presidential candidate backed by the fossil fuel industry still gives voice to the Texas-sized lie (see “Denier Rick Perry Takes $11 Million from Big Oil, Then Claims Climate Scientists ‘Manipulated Data’ For Money“).
And so while Mann and the Hockey Stick were getting yet another full vindication (from Penn State) earlier this year, Fox News was trumpeting one final investigation:
But the final say will be in the hands of a skeptical inspector general at the National Science Foundation, the primary funder of the research into global warming. According to published documents obtained by FoxNews.com, the IG must determine whether Penn State’s investigation was adequate. The Office of Inspector General confirmed that it will review the misconduct charges. A spokeswoman told FoxNews.com that “in accordance with our research misconduct regulation, (45 C.F.R. part 689), when the OIG is provided with an institution’s investigation report, we review it for fairness, accuracy and completeness” — issues the investigation has already been faulted for….
The IG analyzed all of the charges “de novo” and concluded:
Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.
I have uploaded the full report here, but you can also go the NSF IG website here and insert “A09120086.”
Let me end with some key findings of the Penn State investigation:
“An Investigatory Committee of faculty members with impeccable credentials” has unanimously “determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.”
His work “clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field…. Dr. Mann’s work, from the beginning of his career, has been recognized as outstanding.“
So Mann isn’t merely a competent researcher. He is one of the leading climate scientists in this country, which of course is precisely why the anti-science crowd has gone after him, much as they have with other leading climate scientists, including Hansen and Santer.
And that’s one more reason why the major media outlets who smeared and defamed him owe him an apology and a retraction — loud ones!
Recent Studies Vindicating the Hockey Stick:
- Temperatures of North Atlantic “are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” — Science (2011)
- GRL (2010): “We conclude that the 20th century warming of the incoming intermediate North Atlantic water has had no equivalent during the last thousand years.“
- JGR (2010): “The last decades of the past millennium are characterized again by warm temperatures that seem to be unprecedented in the context of the last 1600 years.”
- Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds (2009)
- Unprecedented warming in Lake Tanganyika and its impact on humanity (2010)"
Henry Hudson, eat your heart out:
Shtetl-Optimized: [W]e in MIT’s complexity theory group are doing everything we can to respond to the most pressing global challenges. And nothing illustrates that commitment better than a beautiful recent paper by my PhD student Andy Drucker…. Briefly, what Andy has done is to invent—and demonstrate—a breakthrough method by which anyone, including you, can easily learn to multiply ten-digit numbers in your head, using only a collection of stock photos from Flickr to jog your memory…. [Y]ou’re not allowed to modify or rearrange the photos, or otherwise use them to record any information about the computation while you’re performing it. You can only use the photos as aids to your own memory.
By using his method, Andy—who has no special mental-math training or experience whatsoever—was able to calculate 9883603368 x 4288997768 = 42390752785149282624 in his head in a mere seven hours….
[T]his method provides probably the most convincing demonstration so far that the human brain, unaided by pencil and paper, can indeed solve arbitrary problems in the class P (albeit thousands of times more slowly than a pocket calculator)…
Do waterfalls play chess? and other stories: After a brief introduction to complexity theory (Section 2), Aaronson turns his attention to one of the main cornerstones of this field, which is also one the points that are usually criticised: the relevance of polynomial time, as opposed to exponential time. Here he argues that this distinction is at least as interesting as the distinction between computable and uncomputable. Section 3.3 contains an interesting question that can be answered using a complexity-theoretic argument: why would we call 243112609 − 1 (together with a proof of its primality) a “known” prime, while “the first prime large than 243112609 − 1” feels somehow “unknown”?
Parasitic Wasp Employs Zombie Ladybug to Guard Cocoon: [A] wasp that not only hatches from its egg inside the belly of a ladybug, but upon emerging forces its eviscerated host to guard its cocoon while it transitions from larva to full-grown horror wasp. Dinocampus coccinellae is its name…. [T]he angiosperms introduced… nectar and pollen. So the wasps of old largely abandoned their flesh-eating ways, except for the carnivorous feasts required by their squirming young…. So the fact that that Dinocampus coccinellae hatches inside the belly of a host bug following some makeshift, catastrophic surgery by its parent is nothing out of the ordinary. But when it celebrates its Chest-Burst Mitzvah, that’s when it gets all weird and noteworthy. Normally, the host organism mercifully dies at this point, but DC’s ladybug is not so lucky. Not only does it live, but a little behavior modification forces it to hang around and “guard” its parasite-baby as it grows into adulthood beneath its protective bulk. Scientists believe that secretions left by the larva when it bursts out might play a role in reprograming the host.
But then the ladybug dies right? Surely once the wasp reaches adulthood, our long-suffering host can at last rest in peace. No such luck. This is the insect world, after all. The researchers found that 25 percent of the manipulated ladybugs recovered normal behavior following their ordeal.
I’m really hoping this makes it into the next PIXAR A Bug’s Life movie...
“They’re Made Out of Meat” is a short story by Terry Bisson. It’s a great rift of the improbability of the human situation, and particularly relevant to psychologists (e.g. “So... what does the thinking?” The full text is here. The story has its own wikipedia page, and there’s a YouTube film here. Now, for your listening delight Erin Revell and Geraint Edwards, at my request, have recorded the story so I can play parts of it during a lecture. The result was too good not to share, so with Terry Bisson’s permission, here’s a link...
Rebutted by Peter Gleick:
Forbes, which regularly publishes biased, misleading, and distorted opinion pieces on climate issues, has just published a remarkable one by Patrick Michaels. Michaels is well known for his regular misleading statements about climate. And while his statements are mostly worth ignoring, this one contains a particularly remarkable combination of errors and falsehoods.... In this case, his misstatements are easily checked (though not, apparently, by Forbes fact-checkers) by actually looking up the real data on world food production. Here are Michaels’ most grossly misleading or simply false statements:
False Statement #1. Michaels says: Gillis claims that “[t]he rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed” because of global warming. His own figures show this is wrong. The increasing trend in world crop yields from 1960 to 1980 is exactly the same as from 1980 to 2010. [Emphasis added.]
Did Michaels think no one would actually look at the data? Gillis is right and Michaels is wrong. Crop yields are certainly increasing, on average, as we do better and better with technology. But the trends are in the wrong direction. Very simply, from 1960 to the present, yield increases have been slowing (exactly as Gillis notes), even accounting for year-to-year variation....
False Statement #2. Michaels states: “And per capita grain production is rising, not falling.”
In this case, Michaels does not provide any year. Rising between when and when? In fact, per-capita grain production has been flat for decades as increases in production have been countered by increases in population. Indeed, in 2008, per-capita grain production was around 374 kilograms per person (and it dropped a bit in 2009, the last year for which global data are available). But the peak in per-capita grain production was 1984 and 1985 — more than a quarter century ago....
Finally, the heart of Michaels’ Forbes piece seems to be that climate change will be good for food production, not bad. In his op-ed, under the title “Facts,” Michaels says the following:
Facts: Global surface temperature rose about three-fourths of a degree Celsius in the 20th century. U.S. corn yields quintupled. Life expectancy doubled. People got fat. Global warming didn’t cause all of this, but increased atmospheric carbon dioxide directly stimulated plant growth. Further, greenhouse warming takes place more in the winter, which lengthens growing seasons. With adequate water, plants then fix and yield more carbohydrate. [Emphasis added.]
Here, Michaels is saying that the warming of the past century was largely responsible (even if it “didn’t cause all”) for increases in U.S. corn yields, life expectancy, and people’s well-being (which is presumably what he means when he says “People got fat.”). This isn’t “fact.” It is... in contradiction to actual science on food and agriculture....
Truthful statement, but not in the way Michaels means it: “I continue to be amazed at how little the facts are checked on global warming, even when writing for the so-called newspapers of record.”
Well, this statement is certainly true. Alas, it applies to Michaels and Forbes.
Rebuttals to talking-points misinformation that I want to have at the forefront of my brain--for when I am surprised, as I will be, by an unexpected question from an unexpected direction while talking to reporters, phone callers, passers-by, radio interviewers, cable TV interviewers, etc....
Max Read issues a warning:
African Grey Parrots Are Going to Enslave Us All: There is not, as far as we know, a forum where we might place bets on which non-robot species is most likely to conquer and enslave the human race, but if there were, we would place our money on the African Grey Parrot, which, scientists have recently confirmed, has the capacity to reason, a skill that places it in the same category as chimpanzees, gorillas and humans.
[E]ach parrot watched a researcher hide a walnut under one opaque cup and a seed under another. Next the researcher hid the cups behind a screen, removed one of the treats and showed the bird which one had been taken. Finally, the screen was removed to see if the parrot could work out which treat must remain, and under which cup it must be. Only one of the parrots, a female called Awisa, was able to do this, choosing correctly in three-quarters of the tests –- 23 out of 30. "So far, only great apes have been shown to master this task," says Mikolasch.
Obviously, not all African Greys are capable of logical reasoning—though neither are all chimpanzees or gorillas, or, we might argue, humans—but even if only one in seven are, that provides the frighteningly long-lived bird with an elite class to lead the rest into battle. As an added advantage, African Greys, unlike great apes, have the ability to mimic, and perhaps speak, human language; they are also, like all bird species, notorious liars. In any event, we are likely to be saved from a future under the booted talon of rational parrots only because robots will get there first, but in the spirit of planning for all eventualities we suggest being nice to all the African Greys you meet from here on out.
Jon Huntsman: Elect Me Leader of the Free World Because I Succumbed To Peer Pressure on Climate Change: For some reason, the media and the pundits have been treating Jon Huntsman as if he is the “serious GOP candidate” for president. I suppose if one is grading on a curve, then he may be the most serious. Hmmm. Did you know Moe is the most serious of the Stooges? I digress.
Huntsman’s idea of demonstrating his serious leadership qualifications is to blame his previous support for climate action on peer pressure. As The Hill reported yesterday in its piece, “Huntsman on past cap-and-trade support: Everyone was doing it”: Huntsman backed cap-and-trade last decade as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but distanced himself from it in an interview Wednesday, casting it as a policy solution from another era. “Every governor was talking about dealing with emissions back many, many years ago only to find that with the economic implosion, we can’t afford anything that is going to put any kind of hamper on economic growth. So cap-and-trade is not something that is viable today,” Huntsman told Fox News. “Everybody talked about it. At least a lot of people did, consulting with CEOs, consulting with all the experts. Everyone took it seriously,” he said...
German police vulture scheme fails to take off: Police in Lower Saxony, Germany, who decided to teach a vulture to sniff out corpses of missing people, have hit difficulties two months into training. Reasoning that it could fly over miles of wasteland, then descend where it found a missing person, they had wanted to fit it with a transmitter. But it transpires that Sherlock, as the bird is known, is not very interested. On top of that, it is shy, confuses human with animal remains and actually prefers to walk, Spiegel magazine says.
Sherlock has been in training in the Walsrode bird park on Lueneburg Heath near Hanover, along with two vulture side-kicks also named after famous fictional detectives, Columbo and Miss Marple. It had seemed such a great idea. What if the police had sniffer dogs that could fly? Dogs do not have wings, they realised, but birds do. But according to Spiegel: "Sherlock's success has been limited.
While he can locate a stinking burial shroud, which the police gave the bird park to use for training purposes and which is clearly marked with a yellow plastic cup, Sherlock doesn't approach the shroud by air. He prefers to travel by foot.
Furthermore, the bird is yet to perform outside the familiar confines of the zoo. "The bird is naturally anxious, and he would hide in the woods or bolt," according to his trainer. The vulture also finds it hard to distinguish between dead people and dead animals, which is a problem in the vast heathland of that part of Germany...
I am sorry, but something a mere 70 feet across is not an "asteroid":
Near-Earth asteroid passes over Atlantic Ocean : An asteroid with an estimated girth as large as a garbage truck soared within 7,500 miles of the Earth on Monday as it passed harmlessly over the Atlantic Ocean, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The space rock, measuring 5 to 20 meters in diameter, followed the same near-Earth path that scientists had earlier predicted, looping around the planet in a boomerang-shaped trajectory, JPL spokesman D.C. Agle said. Its nearest approach to Earth, about 7,500 miles, was 30 times farther away than the International Space Station, which orbits the planet at a distance of 250 miles. On a more celestial scale, the asteroid's closest distance to Earth was just 3 percent of the 250,000 miles separating the Earth from the moon.
An object about the same size as Monday's near-Earth asteroid, designated by scientists as 2011 MD, zips past the planet at about the same distance ever six years, according to JPL.
Even if an asteroid the size of 2011 MD ever entered the Earth's atmosphere, it would likely burn up and cause no damage to the planet, JPL said.
The sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath. And the entire point of horticulture is to grow people the food they would like to eat. And we like to eat tomatoes--even in winter, even though the tomatoes we eat in winter are far, far beneath the Idea of the tomato.
But Maggie Koerth-Baker and Barry Estabrook resent the fact that we like to eat lousy tomatoes in winter. They wish... well, it is not clear what they wish. But they both clearly think that the existence of the winter tomato--which people who want to eat one can eat and people who do not want to eat one cannot eat--somehow has "hurt us."
My brain explodes. Freedom is good. Freedom to do what you want--if you are a properly-informed adult--is good. Freedom to eat winter tomatoes is good. The banning of winter tomatoes by some Sinister Foodie Oligarchy would be bad.
What am I missing here?
"(Buffalo buffalo) [buffalo] (Buffalo buffalo)" I get, where () = NP and  = VP.
But I really do not see how to fit the extra three "buffalos" in there and still make it comprehensible to any native speaker of English. So the claim that the full eight-buffalo sentence is "grammatical" seems to me to be wrong: if something is not comprehensible to any native speaker, it is not grammatical--for grammar was made to illuminate what we find comprehensible and what we do not. Grammar is our servant, not our master.
So the claim is:
The first "Buffalo buffalo" is the subject of the sentence: buffalo from Buffalo.
The second and third "Buffalo buffalos" are a noun--more buffalo from Buffalo--and verb phrase--these Buffalo buffalo in fact buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo) the first Buffalo buffalo.
Then the fourth "Buffalo buffalo" is the verb of the sentence: it describes what the first Buffalo buffalo do--they buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo) others.
What others do they buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo)? Buffalo buffalo, of course...
Can we get from ten to twelve buffalos somehow?
Christopher Ryan, 9/1/2010:
Megan McArdle Really Hates Sex at Dawn | Psychology Today: But still, every party has the red-faced, humorless, easily-offended type. Yesterday, at The Atlantic web site, Megan McArdle provided a stellar example. Her comments begin strangely, with the admission that she's "in the middle" of the book. Note the urgency to condemn it publicly, even before reading the damned thing! And boy, does she lash out:
"It reads like horsefeathers . . . like an undergraduate thesis," "breathless rather than scientific," "cherry-picked evidence stretched far out of shape to support their theory," "they don't even attempt to paper over the enormous holes in their theory."
Ouch! And that's just the first paragraph. But wait, it gets worse. The second paragraph is worth quoting in full, as it's really a perfect expression of the bug-eyed panic the book provokes in some people:
For example, like a lot of evolutionary biology critiques, this one leans heavily on bonobos (at least so far). Here's the thing: humans aren't like bonobos. And do you know how I know that we are not like bonobos? Because we're not like bonobos. There's no way observed human societies grew out of a species organized along the lines of a bonobo tribe.
Got that? Humans aren't like bonobos because we're not like bonobos. No way! So there! Case closed....
Ms. McArdle hasn't read even the first half of the book very closely. Pages 77 and 78 contain a table listing some of the major similarities between humans and bonobos, many of them unique to these two species. Hard to imagine how she managed to miss that. In the discussion of her article, she flatly states that chimps are genetically more closely related to humans than bonobos are, which is not only just plain wrong, it's something we explain very early in the book (along with a graph, no less, on p. 62).
Agree with our thesis or disagree with it, nobody who knows anything about primatology would argue that chimps are genetically closer to us than bonobos are (they're equidistant) or that humans and bonobos don't have a great deal in common—particularly in terms of our sexual behavior and anatomy. (The table appears below.)
Later in her comments, she writes, "If you're going to use evolutionary psychology, you need to deal with human jealousy, which is indeed pervasive. You can't leave it out just because it doesn't fit your model."
Chapter 10 of the book is called: "Jealousy, A Beginner's Guide to Coveting Thy Neighbor's Spouse." How does one miss an entire chapter in a book you're writing about publicly?
I'm not familiar with Ms. McArdle's work, but if she's got a gig at The Atlantic, which is one of the most respected magazines in the country, presumably this is far below her usual intellectual standard.
Wonderful as it would be if Ms. McArdle's opinion of our book were to change when/if she gets around to actually reading it, I'm not holding my breath because I don't think she's responding to the substance of the book at all; she's responding to what it makes her feel, which is something entirely different.
There is a little problem of gravity--it looks to be 50% more than earth normal.
But, ladies and gentlemen, start your terraformers:
AGI News: The first planet almost inhabitable with liquid water has been discovered 20 light years from Earth and astronomers believe it is almost as inhabitable as earth. The planet is called Gliese 581d and orbits around a red dwarf star.
Gliese appears to be a lucky planet situated on the edge of the so-called 'Goldilocks zone' or Green Belt of space where conditions favour the presence of life.... [T]his planet has a mass six times that of Earth and is double its size...
Radioactive turd, meet punchbowl: If this report is true, then: a) Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi melted down within sixteen hours of the quake (about eight hours after all active cooling was lost), b) TEPCO management knew about it, c) The press were systematically nobbled (an early report of the meltdown was withdrawn), d) Going by his rather extraordinary remarks during the subsequent weeks, the Prime Minister, and presumably the rest of the Japanese government, were systematically misled by TEPCO.
BBC News - Setbacks at Japan nuclear plant: A reactor at Japan's crippled nuclear plant has been more badly damaged than originally thought, operator Tepco has said. Water is leaking from the pressure vessel surrounding reactor 1 - probably because of damage caused by exposed fuel rods melting, a spokesman said.... Work to restore cooling systems had been most advanced at reactor 1, the smallest and oldest at the site. But a spokesman for the power giant said when a faulty gauge had been repaired, it showed water levels in the pressure vessel 5m (16ft) below the level needed to cover fuel rods.
Polar Explorer Who Worked With Pawlenty ‘Baffled’ By His ‘Reckless’ Flip-Flop On Climate Threat: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was once a champion of policies like cap-and-trade to combat global warming pollution, but he now calls his past climate leadership “stupid” and a “disaster.” The polar explorer who worked with Pawlenty to “convince the skeptics” and find solutions to greenhouse pollution from oil and coal, Will Steger, is now “baffled” by Pawlenty’s reversal. In an interview with Mother Jones, Steger says that he believed “morally we were on the same level” when they met in 2006, and praised the governor’s acts of leadership in 2007 to build “unity in this community” around a clean energy economy. Now, however, Steger — who has conquered both the North Pole and Antarctica — feels defeated by Pawlenty’s “reckless” abandonment of our children’s future: “I’m baffled by that—did he actually say that?” says Steger, when asked about Pawlenty’s recent statements. “I’m baffled by that. But I think he’s getting information from the wrong source and it’s really too bad for our children. It’s reckless.”
“A lot of environmentalists think I want to dump on the governor because he changed around,” Steger told Mother Jones. “No, I respect the governor and I’m thankful that he did what he did do. It’s too bad that he couldn’t carry the flag, but in that party, you don’t carry that flag.”
Indeed. The moment I first read global warming denier Richard Lindzen's claim that "there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995" my first reaction was: "does he really not understand how to do statistical power calculations?" And, indeed, the answer was no: he did not know enough statistics to even know that he did not know enough statistics to understand what he was trying to do. And somebody who speaks with such authority about things he demonstrably fails to understand raises red flags: how much of the rest of what he says with such authority is really not so at all? The answer is: quite a lot.
John Quiggin » Lindzen, Davidson and statistical significance: Among the many anti-science talking points, a striking one is the widely repeated claim (originating with Richard Lindzen) that there has been no significant warming since 1995. In his original statement, Lindzen was careful to refer to “statistically significant” warming.... [A]ll Lindzen’s claim means is that, given the noise in the data, you need more than the 14 annual observations from 1995 to 2008 (when he made the claim) to get statistical significance. Of course, we had the additional observations, namely those before 1995, so Lindzen’s statement was trivial. It was also safe to predict that, given a few years more data, the trend for the period since 1995 would be significant, and so it has proved.
Sinclair Davidson... introduce[s] a new wrinkle.
Davidson wants to use monthly data, with a first-order autoregressive error structure... [a model] with two estimated parameters... instead of one. That means... the statistical significance of the parameters will be slightly lower.... And, sure enough, he gets a p-value just above 0.05, so, for this model, he can still just claim that the trend is not statistically significant. But this is just another version of Lindzen’s original cheat. There’s no reason to start with 1995, except that it’s the latest date that will fail to give a statistically significant trend....
It’s safe to predict though, that the next El Nino will confirm the upward trend, even with the arbitrary starting point of 1995. At one level, I’m sure Davidson is aware of this (and absolutely sure Lindzen is aware of it). But this isn’t about objective truth. By the time the post-95 trend is confirmed as statistically significant beyond any possibility of a fiddle, they will have moved on to a new talking point.
A final observation is that this bogus controversy illustrates how unhelpful is the classical statistical apparatus of “significance” and hypothesis testing. I’d prefer a Bayesian approach which would work as follows. Start at 1990, when we had a fair bit of evidence and theory supporting global warming, but it was still possible to argue that the observed warming was a natural cycle.... [I]f the observed warming were a natural cycle it would be highly likely to stop or reverse (say 90 per cent), but there would be a small probability of it continuing by chance. Now suppose that Lindzen initially thought the natural cycle hypothesis was likely to be true with a probability of 80 per cent, while Hansen thought the same for the AGW hypothesis. What has actually been observed since 1990... is warming consistent with the AGW hypothesis. We can now update the conditional probabilities using Bayes theorem. For Hansen, the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW true) is 0.8*0.9= 0.72, while the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW false) is 0.2*0.1= 0.02, so his revised probability for AGW is 0.72/0.74 = 0.97.... For Lindzen, the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW true) is 0.2*0.9= 0.18, while the likelihood of (observed outcome + AGW false) is 0.8*0.1= 0.08, so his revised probability for AGW is 0.18/0.26 = 0.69.
That is, if Lindzen was an honest seeker after truth, he would concede that the observed outcome is radically different from what he would have predicted in 1990 based on his preferred model and therefore that his model was most probably wrong. But of course Lindzen isn’t an honest seeker after truth. He’s an irresponsible contrarian who made a wrong call twenty years ago, and is willing to tell any lie necessary rather than admit the fact.
My last post on albedo, I promise: After seeing my recent blogs on Nathan Myhrvold, a friend told me that, in the tech world, the albedo-obsessed genius is known as a patent troll. Really? Yup. My friend writes:
It's perhaps indicative that Myhrvold comes up in the top-ten hits on Google for [patent troll]. These blog posts lay it out pretty clearly: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100217/1853298215.shtmlhttp://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2010/12/giant_patent_troll_awakens_as.phphttp://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/intellectual-ventures-goes-to-court
Just about anyone's that's been in the tech game thinks patents are ridiculous. The lab where I used to work wanted us to create an "intellectual mine field" in our field so the companycould block anyone from entering the space. Yes, we made stuff, but the patents were for totally obvious ideas that anyone would have. Even Google's PageRank was just a simple application of standard social network analysis models of authorities in networks. Who knew? I'm used to seeing Myhrvold's "Intellectual Ventures" company described adoringly by reporters from the New Yorker etc as being a place where brilliant minds create the ideas of the future. Then on the other side is this patent stuff. I know nothing about patents and so am in no position to judge this one. So let me say clearly that I'm not describing his work as patent trolling; I'm merely noting that this perception exists....
I Googled Myrhvold.... Wikipedia... describes Intellectual Ventures as In 2000 Myhrvold co-founded Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio developer and broker," which sounds about right, descriptive rather than pejorative. Later down on the first page of the Google search are a Wall Street Journal article referring to Myhrvold as "the king of patent aggregating" and a TechCrunch article referring to his "patent extortion fund."... [T]his shouldn't really have anything to do with the albedo fiasco, but it provides a bit more perspective, in that Myhrvold has a lot going on. Really the problem was not so much the hasty statements about albedo, so much as the tendency of various journalists from Levitt to Lanchester to just accept them without checking with a physicist. (As a physics graduate myself, I can assure you that a degree in physics does not immunize a person from making physics mistakes.)
Physics is hard - : Readers of this bizarre story (in which a dubious claim about reflectivity of food in cooking transmuted into a flat-out wrong claim about the relevance of reflectivity of solar panels) might wonder how genius Nathan Myhrvold (Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Princeton at age 24, postdoc with Stephen Hawking for chrissake) could make such a basic mistake.... Phil is surprised I didn't take a stronger stance on the albedo issue after reading Pierrehumbert's explanation. Phil asks: Why did I write "experts seem to think the albedo effect is a red herring" instead of something stronger such as, "as Pierrehumbert shows in detail, the albedo effect is a red herring"? I didn't do this because my physics credentials are no better than Myhrvold's. And, given that Myhrvold got it wrong, I don't completely trust myself to get it right!
I majored in physics in college and could've gone to grad school in physics--I actually almost did so, switching to statistics at the last minute. I could be a Ph.D. in physics too. But I've never had a great physical intuition. I could definitely get confused by a slick physics argument. And I suspect Myhrvold is the same way. Given what he's written on albedo, I doubt his physics intuition is anywhere near as good as Phil's. My guess is that Myhrvold, like me, got good grades and was able to solve physics problems but made a wise choice in leaving physics to do something else.
Now, it's true, I don't think I would've made Myhrvold's particular mistake, because I would've checked...
A possible resolution of the albedo mystery!: Remember that bizarre episode in Freakonomics 2, where Levitt and Dubner went to the Batcave-like lair of a genius billionaire who told them that "the problem with solar panels is that they're black." I'm not the only one who wondered at the time: of all the issues to bring up about solar power, why that one?
Well, I think I've found the answer in this article by John Lanchester:
In 2004, Nathan Myhrvold, who had, five years earlier, at the advanced age of forty, retired from his job as Microsoft's chief technology officer, began to contribute to the culinary discussion board egullet.org.... "Modernist Cuisine" contains hundreds of pages of original, firsthand, surprising information about traditional cooking. Some of the physics is quite basic: it had never occurred to me that the reason many foods go from uncooked to burned at such speed is that light-colored foods reflect heat better than dark: "As browning reactions begin, the darkening surface rapidly soaks up more and more of the heat rays. The increase in temperature accelerates dramatically."
Aha! Now, I'm just guessing here, but my conjecture is that after studying this albedo effect in the kitchen, Myhrvold was primed to see it everywhere. Of course, maybe it went the other way: he was thinking about solar panels first and then applied his ideas to the kitchen. But, given that the experts seem to think the albedo effect is a red herring (so to speak) regarding solar panels, I wouldn't be surprised if Myhrvold just started talking about reflectivity because it was on his mind from the cooking project. My own research ideas often leak from one project to another, so I wouldn't be surprised if this happens to others too.
RealClimate: An open letter to Steve Levitt: Dear Mr. Levitt,
The problem of global warming is so big that solving it will require creative thinking from many disciplines. Economists have much to contribute to this effort....
By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics, but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them....
I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example. As quoted by you, Mr. Myhrvold claimed, in effect, that it was pointless to try to solve global warming by building solar cells, because they are black and absorb all the solar energy that hits them, but convert only some 12% to electricity while radiating the rest as heat, warming the planet. Now, maybe you were dazzled by Mr Myhrvold’s brilliance, but don’t we try to teach our students to think for themselves? Let’s go through the arithmetic step by step and see how it comes out. It’s not hard.
Nathan Myhrvold and the Freakonomists:
Freakonomics » Are Solar Panels Really Black? And What Does That Have to Do With the Climate Debate?: The Internet provides the ultimate extremist platform. Every blogger can reach millions, and given the lack of scrutiny or review over content, there is little accountability. Indeed, the more over-the-top the discourse is the better — because it is entertaining. Ancient Romans watched gladiators in much the same way that we read angry bloggers.
That seems to be the case with Joe Romm, a blogger with strong views about global warming and what he calls “climate progress.” In a recent series of blog posts, Romm levels one baseless, bald charge after another. What provoked this? The best summary I’ve seen comes from a comment by DaveyNC to the Freakonomics blog which says:
No, no, no, no — you have committed apostasy; heresy! You are not allowed to speak of warming except in the most emotional, alarmist tones!
You are not allowed to follow an objective, skeptical line of reasoning in this matter. You are not allowed to consider whether or not it is cost-efficient or even possible to cease all carbon emissions; you simply must do it.
That pretty much sums it up, as far as I can tell.... As an example, he goes on and on about a comment that I made about how solar photovoltaic cells have a problem because they are black. Romm attacks me as if I think that this means that solar cells are bad. Yet that wasn’t the point in SuperFreakonomics at all. I am quoted in the book as follows:
As an example he points to solar power. “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12 percent gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributes to global warming. Although a widespread conversion to solar power might seem appealing, the reality is tricky. The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-burning and other power plants would create a huge long-term “warming debt,” as Myhrvold calls it. “Eventually, we’d have a great carbon-free energy infrastructure, but only after making emissions and global warming worse every year until we’re done building out the solar plants, which could take 30 to 50 years.”...
Since this is at least partly a technical point, I will go to the trouble of explaining it further.
The point I was making to Dubner and Levitt is the following: when you build a solar plant it costs you energy.... Solar cells pretty much have to be “black” in the energetic side of the solar spectrum because they absorb sunlight! Of course no material is a perfect absorber, so when I say “black,” what I mean is very high absorption of light — 90 percent or more. Solar cells often have a bluish tint to them because they reflect a tiny bit more blue light than other colors, but that is small enough that it doesn’t matter for our purposes here....
It’s well known in climate circles that the Earth’s albedo (how much light the surface reflects from the surface) is very important. It’s one of the reasons climate scientists are worried about Arctic sea ice melting; you go from a white surface that reflects 90 percent of the light (albedo 0.9) to ocean which is almost black and reflects 10 percent or less (for an albedo of 0.1). Climate studies published in peer-reviewed journals have shown that making roofs white would potentially be a great help against global warming. Other studies have looked at the impact of forests and logging on albedo. It is well known that albedo matters; this isn’t my private theory — it is mainstream climate science...
UPDATE April 2, 2011: Rich Muller emails:
In the olden days, you would have checked with me before publishing something about me. It is interesting how the time pressure of blogging has changed the standards. You might consider writing an article about that.
Here is a guideline that I strive to maintain: I am often mistaken, but I never lie.
It would be good to discuss the facts of "An Inconvenient Truth" sometimes. In my book, "Physics for Future Presidents", I go into some details about the misleading statements former VP Al Gore makes. I'd be happy to send you a paperback copy.
Original Post March 29, 1011: Joe Romm:
Climate Progress: Muller launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study.... [A]s Muller revealed in a public talk last week, BEST’s results to date show “We are seeing substantial global warming” and “None of the effects raised by the [skeptics] is going to have anything more than a marginal effect on the amount of global warming.” Muller, clearly, isn’t a denier like Koch. But he does share one thing in common with Koch — Gore Derangement Syndrome.... Brad Johnson has the story of just how far Muller will go to smear Gore:
Unlike Koch, Muller recognizes that fossil fuel pollution is threatening civilization, Muller argues that existing climate policy is corrupt and misguided, and that many leading climate scientists are guilty of academic fraud — just as Koch argues.... As with Koch, a particular target of Muller’s righteous scorn is Vice President Al Gore, whom he calls an “extremist” and “alarmist.” In a recent lecture at the University of California at Berkeley.... Muller claimed that Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was lambasted by esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ralph Cicerone, the head of the National Academy of Sciences:
Al Gore, when he talks about the polar bears being killed by the receding glaciers, no basis for that. In fact, let me jump ahead and tell a little story. Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy, said there are lots of things wrong in his movie, and Al Gore asked him to come and explain this to him, and he did come. And he said, “Well, what’s wrong with my movie?”
“Well, lots of things, like the polar bears. We track polar bears. Not a single polar bear has died because of retreating ice.”
And Al Gore turned to his movie producer and said, “So, why did we put that in?” The movie producer said, “Well, it really gets people emotionally involved.”
See, this is what politicians do. They put in things that they consider a real danger that represents what they consider to be reality. Doesn’t matter if it’s technically true or not. So, there’s so much misinformation on this field. Global warming is real. I am deeply concerned about it. I am leading a major study on global warming. But most of what made the newspaper headlines is either wrong, or backward, or simply exaggerated.
Muller’s story is not “technically true.” In fact, it’s false. The meeting between Gore and Cicerone that Muller describes is apocryphal.... Bill Skane, the Executive Director of News & Public Information for the National Academy of Sciences explained in an email that the supposed conversation never took place:
There was no meeting or conversation between Dr. Cicerone and Vice President Gore or his film producer regarding An Inconvenient Truth and thus no comment about polar bears. We’ve contacted Dr. Muller today about his speech and are hoping to hear back from him.... Dr. Muller’s remarks regarding Dr. Cicerone were in error....
Not only did the conversation not take place, Muller’s depiction of An Inconvenient Truth was false as well. Here’s the transcript of what Gore actually said about polar bears in his documentary, which was released in 2006:
Right now, the Arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror, all the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90%. It keeps the Earth cooler, but as it melts, and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead, more than 90% is absorbed, so there is a faster buildup of heat here, at the North Pole, in the Arctic Ocean, and the Arctic generally than anywhere else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears, who depend on the ice. They’re now, actually, looking for other ecological niches. It is sad what’s going on in the Arctic ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, Cicerone said essentially the same thing a year before Gore’s documentary came out, in testimony before the U.S. Senate:
The Arctic has warmed at a faster rate than the Northern Hemisphere over the past century. A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2004) reports that this warming is associated with a number of impacts including: melting of sea ice, which has important impacts on biological systems such as polar bears, ice-dependent seals and local people for whom these animals are a source of food; increased rain and snow, leading to changes in river discharge and tundra vegetation; and degradation of the permafrost...
My view is that "An Inconvenient Truth" is not perfect--for example, the "hockey stick" is much more a demonstration of our ignorance of pre-1800 climate than convincing proof of low climate variability in previous centuries relative to the twentieth century--but is on balance quite good on the issues...
The paperback edition of Levitt and Dubner, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is coming out on May 24, 2011...
Anybody know if they made any corrections to the "global cooling" chapter?
As I said, if I were Levitt and Dubner, I would:
pp. 165-6: Change to no longer put "global cooling" in the 1970s and "global warming" today in parallel: The scientists in the 1970s who were worried about global cooling had neither the quantative evidence, the climate models, the understanding of forcing processes, or the peer-reviewed consensus that analysis of global warming has today. Placing the two in parallel is simply wrong.
pp. 165-6: Change to remove false claim that the quotes from Newsweek were the words of "scientists."
pp. 165-6: Change to remove false claim that Newsweek was accurately citing the 1975 NAS Study--which says not that the globe is likely to cool but instead that we don't know enough about climate to forecast trends, and tht we need to do more research.
p. 167: Change to make explicit the claim that switching to an all-vegetarian diet reduces your carbon footprint by about the same order of magnitude as does switching to a hybrid car. But do not say that cars and trucks do not "contribute an ungodly share of greenhouse gases." They do--it's just that human meat-intensive agriculture contributes and ungodly share as well.
p. 168: Change to make the point that the fact that our estimates of climate effects are imprecise is not an argument for doing less or waiting to offset global warming--it is an argument for doing more and doing more now. Uncertainty is not our friend at all
p. 169: Change. Currently massively confused about Marty Weitzman's work. Marty focuses on the chance and valuation of catastrophe. He concludes that a version of the precautionary principle is appropriate: when distributions have fatter tails than log normal--which Marty thinks they do--the right policies are those that minimize the possibiliity of catastrophe. Which means starting to act now.
p. 170: Change to no longer imply that James Lovelock has some special role or authority in climate analysis or climate policy.
p. 170: Change to debunk rather than approve of British conservative Boris Johnson's claim. Johnson's statement is simply wrong. It is not the case that "the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful." We can measure greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, solar radiative forcings, and temperatures. We can tell whether acts of propitiation and atonement are working.
p. 171: Change the highly misleading: "When Al Gore urges the citizenry to sacrifice... the agnostics grumble that human activity accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions, with the remainder generated by natural processes like plant decay..." that 98% of carbon emissions are part of an ongoing biological cycle is not an argument supporting an "agnostic" position. And Levitt and Dubner should not hve claimed that it is.
p. 171: Change highly misleading paragraph to stress that what is relevant is not the stock but the flow: not that human activity accounts for 2% of the flow but rather that but for industrial emissions one-third (and growing) of the stock of greenhouse gases would simply not be there today.
p. 173: Change to no longer dismiss out-of-hand global agreement on climate policy. Dubner and Levitt currently write: "when it comes to actually solving climate change externalities through taxes, all we can say is good luck.... [G]reenhouse gases do not adhere to national boundaries.... Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do." But if the big four--U.S., EU, China, and India--of 2050 do agree, they then have the cultural, economic, and diplomatic power to coerce the rest of the world. Reaching global agreement is a very reasonable prospect.
pp. 177-181: Change to tone down the puff piece on Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures--the subsequent pages contain a lot of clues that Myhrvold and company really don't know very much about what they are talking about.
p. 182: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Wood: "Everybody turns their knobs... so they aren't the outlier, because the outlying model is going to have difficulty getting funded..." Alternatively, back this claim up with some real evidence that it is so. (The climate modelers who I talk to say that it is not.)
p. 182: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Wood: "current climate models 'do not know how to handle water vapor and various types of clouds'..." Current climate models may not handle water vapor and clouds especially well, but they do handle them.
p. 182: Change to reinforce point that uncertainty in climate models is not an argument for doing less now but rather an argument to do more.
p. 183: Change to debunk rather than approve of quote from Myhrvold: "most of the global warming over the past few decades... might actually be due to good environmental stewardship." It's not.
p. 183: Change to remove false claim that worldwide particulate pollution is shrinking rather than growing. It is still growing rather than shrinking, and so still cooling the earth more with each passing year--it's only in the clean North Atlantic that heavy particulates been shrinking.
p. 183: Change to rephrase: "Nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth"--other things equal, it certainly does.
p. 184: Change to remove false claim: "Yet [Ken Caldeira's] research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight."
p. 186: Change to debunk rather than approve of false quote from Wood: "most authoritative literature on the subject suggests a [sea level] rise of about one and a half feet by 2100."
p. 186: Remove false claim: "a most surprising environmental scourge: trees." Distinguish between (a) tropical trees, (b) temperate trees, and (c) boreal trees in regions where there is a great deal of snow cover.
p. 186: Remove false claim that the earth has been cooling "over the past several years."
p. 187: Claim that "coal is so cheap that trying to generate electricity without it would be economic suicide" needs much, much more backing-up: I can't see how it could possibly be true.
p. 187: Change to remove false claim: "A lot of things that people say would be a good thing probably aren't.... As an example he points to solar cells..."
p. 187: Remove claim that "The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-buring and other power plants would create a huge long-term 'warming debt'"--I cannot see how this could possibly be true. The overwhelming majority of power plants that are going to be in operation in 2050 have not been built yet, and building closed-carbon-cycle or non-carbon plants is not much more expensive than building open-carbon-cycle ones.
p. 188: Remove claim that "Myhrvold... has probably thought about such [ecological disaster] scenarios in greater scientific detail than any climate doomsayer."
Can anybody tell me why and how making fun of Al Gore on polar bears became a wingnut talking point? Seems to me that what The Inconvenient Truth says about polar bears is correct, and unexceptionable...
Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth http://www.admc.hct.ac.ae/hd1/blog/gw/An%20Inconvient%20Truth%20Transcript.pdf:
I went up to the North Pole. I went under that ice cap in a nuclear submarine that surfaced through the ice like this. This thing started patrolling in 1957. They have gone under the ice and measured with their radar looking upward to measure how thick it is because they can only surface where the thickness of the ice is 3 and half feet thick or less. So they have kept a meticulous record and they wouldn’t release because it was national security. I went up there in order to persuade them to release them, and they did. And here’s what that record showed. Starting in 1970 there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40 percent in 40 years. There are two studies showing that in the next 50 or 70 years in summertime it will be completely gone. Now you might say, “Why is that a problem? How could the arctic ice cap actually melt so quickly?” When the sun’s rays hit the ice, more than 90 percent of it bounces off right back into space like a mirror. But when it hits the open ocean more than 90 percent is absorbed.
As the surrounding water gets warmer, it speeds up the melting of the ice. Right now the arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror. All the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90 percent, to keep the earth cooler. But as it melts and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead more than 90 percent is absorbed. So there is a faster build up of heat here at the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic generally than any where else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears that depend on the ice. A new scientific study shows that for the first time they’re finding polar bears that have actually drowned, swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice. They did not find that before. What does it mean to us to look at vast expanse of open water at the top of our world that used to be covered by ice? We ought to care a lot because it has planetary effects.
Monnett and Gleason:
SpringerLink - Polar Biology, Volume 29, Number 8: Charles Monnett and Jeffrey S. Gleason: "Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea": Abstract: During aerial surveys in September 1987–2003, a total of 315 live polar bears were observed with 12 (3.8%) animals in open water, defined for purposes of this analysis as marine waters >2 km north of the Alaska Beaufort Sea coastline or associated barrier islands. No polar bear carcasses were observed. During aerial surveys in early September, 2004, 55 polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were seen, 51 were alive and of those 10 (19.9%) were in open water. In addition, four polar bear carcasses were seen floating in open water and had, presumably, drowned. Average distance from land and pack ice edge for live polar bears swimming in open water in 2004 (n=10) were 8.3±3.0 and 177.4±5.1 km, respectively. We speculate that mortalities due to offshore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may be an important and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. We further suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.
How much of this icecap do you think will be left at the end of September?
Japan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor | World news | The Guardian: The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.... Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.... At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.
"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."... Lahey said: "It won't come out as one big glob; it'll come out like lava, and that is good because it's easier to cool." The drywell is surrounded by a secondary steel-and-concrete structure designed to keep radioactive material from escaping into the environment. But an earlier hydrogen explosion at the reactor may have damaged this.
"The reason we are concerned is that they are detecting water outside the containment area that is highly radioactive and it can only have come from the reactor core," Lahey added. "It's not going to be anything like Chernobyl, where it went up with a big fire and steam explosion, but it's not going to be good news for the environment." The radiation level at a pool of water in the turbine room of reactor two was measured recently at 1,000 millisieverts per hour. At that level, workers could remain in the area for just 15 minutes, under current exposure guidelines...
Fresh coolant injected, high-radiation water leaks in nuke crisis | Kyodo News: Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it has begun injecting freshwater into the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor cores at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to enhance cooling efficiency, although highly radioactive water was found leaking possibly from both reactors as well as the No. 2 reactor. The latest efforts to bring the troubled reactors at the plant under control are aimed at preventing crystallized salt from seawater already injected from forming a crust on the fuel rods and hampering smooth water circulation, thus diminishing the cooling effect, the plant's operator said. The utility known as TEPCO is also preparing to inject freshwater into the No. 2 reactor core.
But a day after three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level at the turbine building connected to the No. 3 reactor building, highly radioactive water was also found in the turbine buildings of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The latest development in Japan's worst nuclear crisis raises the risk of more workers being exposed to radioactive substances, hindering their efforts to restore the plant's crippled cooling functions that are key to overcoming the crisis...