February 2009

Climate extremes: not really about George Will

I really didn't want to say anything about George Will's recent Washington Post columns - RealClimate has links to the relevant discussions. I haven't read Will's columns for years, since before we canceled our Newsweek subscription. I had found his frequent clear misstatements annoying, and decided I was learning nothing from reading his opinions. So I've not made an exception in this case, I still haven't read what he actually wrote.

However, over at Andy Revkin's Dot Earth blog there have been several comments on the question of whether one or two (or 10) years of data can be considered strong evidence for a warming or cooling climate, and I thought I would add my own thoughts on that topic, somewhat relevant to the claims in Will's case.

Aldrin, Hsu and Cox: a "Vision for Space Development" is needed

In a draft paper posted at the NSS blog, Buzz Aldrin and other members of the Aerospace Technology Working Group take on NASA's current direction, and propose substantial reforms in US space policy. Interestingly, their proposals seem not entirely unlike what I recommended to the Space Studies Board recently, in answer to their request for comments on the rationale and goals of US space efforts. NewScientist did a substantive review of Aldrin's proposal, with some positive comments, but also quoting Lou Friedman of the Planetary Society's criticism that "I don't know that rearranging the federal bureaucracy is the solution to any problem NASA is encountering right now."

Science Commons - Openness and Sharing, but what about Trust?

In a fascinating interview preliminary to the upcoming ETech conference, John Wilbanks of Science Commons expounds on some of his ideas on the future of scientific information. Science Commons is an offshoot of Larry Lessig's Creative Commons, where Wilbanks works (as VP for Science). As such, part of their focus is on the legal barriers (copyright in particular) to sharing of scientific information - both publications and data. They are big fans of the existing open-access journals like Public Library of Science, but they have a much grander vision than that. Some of my favorite quotes from the interview follow.

Wilbanks on why science will naturally move in this direction:

High Speed Rail in stimulus bill

large_Oct18FRAmap.jpg Somehow or other the stimulus bill that came out of the House/Senate conference and was passed and signed by the president included $8 billion for high-speed rail, among many other transportation and energy-related measures. This is, in principle, a very good thing: rail, as long as the train cars are sufficiently occupied, is far more efficient than any other mode of transportation. Rail also lends itself particularly well to shifting from oil to electricity, the primary form of new energy from renewables. As the Energize America summary I was involved in putting together says:

Ben Mabey on ruby integration testing

At work we've been trying to learn how to do Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), which seems to be greatly encouraged in the ruby world. We've just gotten down to installing Cucumber (mostly Lenny's doing) and getting into the question of at what level we actually want to write the features and scenarios it expects. The choice under discussion is whether to put a lot of detail into the scenario definitions and drive the development from there, or to make them closer to something the users would understand - but in that case the detail has to be somewhere, and so it gets a bit hidden in custom step definitions. Which may be a good thing - anyway, we were pointed to this nice analysis of what is useful in writing scenarios, strongly favoring the "declarative" style, i.e.

Bye-bye Dept. of Commerce, Hello Dept. of Industry and Trade

Former Commerce Department Deputy Under-Secretary Derek Shearer has an interesting solution for problems (including finding a secretary) with his former department - get rid of it! The commerce department as it stands doesn't fit together well at all - there's the Patent Office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST - formerly National Bureau of Standards), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Census Bureau, and more bits and pieces.

Good news for solar prices?

SolarBuzz PV module prices 2001 to 2009 The sustainable energy transition blog has a brief summary of prospects for solar photovoltaic prices over the next couple of years - basically that they're headed down. As this graph from SolarBuzz shows, prices have been pretty much stagnant in the $4 to $5/watt range for about the last 6 years, in spite of exponential growth in production.

Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes - Needed, or just a work-around?

It looks like we'll have the huge stimulus package passed very shortly, and it appears to include $400 million for the new ARPA-E program at the Department of Energy, for advanced energy projects, among many other good energy-related programs in the stimulus bill. I find the ARPA-E piece of interest because the other day I happened to run into this report from the Brookings Institution, part of their Blueprint for American Prosperity project.

Exploratory vs production quality software

large_jmp_92.gifOver at RealClimate I was prompted to add a comment in the discussion on software and data archiving:

Open Access: Looking Back

Eli Rabett writes some thoughts on open access for the scientific literature, presumably spurred by the RealClimate discussion on making data and code available. Eli's comments center around the 2004 Wellcome Trust report on costs of academic publishing.

This spurred my own recollections of old discussions on the topic at the still-running American Scientist Forum on Open Access, going back 10 years now. Not much has really changed...