My commentary on a question about Venus

Note: I wrote the following at the request of climate blogger "Science of Doom" - go there to read the full article in context! Also, please make comments over there, not here, thanks.

[The following is in regard to models of the high temperature of the surface of Venus which ascribe that high temperature essentially to the high atmospheric pressure on that planet, without properly recognizing the role of infrared absorption by greenhouse gases. In particular, Leonard Weinstein, in previous discussions there, had essentially claimed that even if all solar radiation were absorbed by a thin high layer in Venus' atmosphere at a relatively cool temperature, the surface temperature would still be very high. The following is why I disagree.]

My Prius experience

Almost 6 years ago, in September 2004, I was intrigued by the Toyota Prius and put myself on one of the waiting lists for a car. Somewhat unexpectedly they actually had a car for me by April 2005. It was a delight from the moment I first test-drove it, and the only car I've liked more in the time since has been a 2010 Prius I was a passenger in earlier this year. It wasn't just the fancy hybrid electric drive, nor being able to ride in the expressway HOV lane any time I want, joyful as those things might be. Somehow the car expresses a compact perfection that's hard to put into words. The interior is spacious, the seats comfortable, the controls (dashboard and all over the steering wheel) easy to reach and intuitive. The digital speedometer and other urgent indicators above the main dashboard give a different feel from other cars I've been in, one that emphasizes what's important, and lets you ignore the irrelevant. The keyless entry and push-button ignition (thanks to an RFID key that never leaves my pocket) spoil me for other cars I have to drive on occasion.

But the meat of the car is the hybrid engine and fuel efficiency. So how does that do? The dashboard monitor tells me how I'm doing, usually somewhere between 40 and 50 miles per gallon. But I wanted to keep better track, so after my first year I decided to start recording my gas purchases; the following graph shows the record:

Open Thread

I have closed several comment threads which were the recipients of the bulk of recent "spam" comments - it's pretty annoying weeding through all that stuff, so hopefully this will simplify my life a little.

Polanyi's ineffables: inherent, or just awaiting better means of articulation?

I've been slowly working my way through Michael Polanyi's 1958 book "Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy: A chemist and philosopher attempts to bridge the gap between fact and value, science and humanity". I find the book fascinating, and interestingly apropos to many current issues surrounding the interaction between science and policy, debates about certainty and instances where differing modern "tribes" seem to have vastly different views of reality.

Epistemology (studying how we come to know things) is closely related to the issue of semantics (meaning) which I've written about before (and see that post for further links on related topics here). In Polanyi's chapter 2, section 5, "The Nature of Assertions", his discussion nicely emphasizes essentially what I wrote on the centrality of "trust, provenance, and context" to meaning:

A sincere allegation is an act that takes place in speaking or in writing down certain symbols. Its agent is the speaking or writing person. Like all intelligent actions, such assertions have a passionate quality attached to them. They express conviction to those to whom they are addressed. [...] no sincere assertion of fact is essentially unaccompanied by feelings of intellectual satisfaction or of a persuasive desire and a sense of personal responsibility. [...] It is clear that I can make use of the sign |- to put on paper an allegation of my own; but it has not been explained how this sign is to function between different persons and between successive periods in the same person's life. [...] the symbol |- . p must be supplemented, so that it may tell us whose allegation it represents and at what time the person in question had alleged p.

Once again, this is something I expect to return to... but what I wanted to comment on today was a bit later in the book, on the issue of tacit knowledge and the "ineffable".

How about a truly representative Senate?

I've had a number of responses to my last post on changing the way the US Senate is built, in particular pointing out that yes, it would be very difficult to make such a change given the constraint in Article V of the constitution:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

In other words, the 3/4 of states agreeing to the change would need to include at least every state that would be "deprived", i.e. have reduced representation. Since it's rather rare for any entity to give up power willingly, even for a good cause like equal representation, there would most likely need to be additional simultaneous changes adopted. Obviously this issue of upper house representation was a stumbling block in the original constitutional convention in Philadelphia all those years ago - but it should be noted that the states did give up power to the federal government in forming the union in the first place, so the process is not unprecedented.

A proposal for fixing the US Senate

The recently announced death of the climate bill in the US Senate has been cause for much anguish in the last few days among those of us who understand the implications of inaction for our future. Nevertheless, it is hardly the first instance in recent times where the structure of the US Senate has proved an obstacle to necessary legislative action. The drama associated with the recent much-delayed passage of a standard unemployment benefits extension is only the latest example in a very long list.

Having an upper house that runs at a somewhat slower pace to act as a deliberative body on proposals for changes in laws seems to have proved a good idea over time among many different nations, and the US is fortunate to have an upper house that acts as much more than a rubber stamp. Nevertheless, the structure of the US Senate as it works now is fundamentally flawed to the extent that what is necessary regarding actual reality often simply cannot be addressed at all these days, "for political reasons".

One common complaint at the moment regards the filibuster, which in the present Senate has resulted in "parliamentary maneuvers" from the Republican side to delay essentially every action unless a 60-vote super-majority can be found. There is some promise that that will change, at least at the time the next congress begins in 2011.

But the real problem is that the US Senate is a fundamentally un-democratic body.

More climate change basics part 2

Since various people thought some of my recent comments trying to explain certain basic properties of the greenhouse effect were educational, I thought I'd repost them here organized in more narrative fashion, as a follow-on to the previous "climate change basics" post. The questions this time regarded the definitions of radiative forcing and feedbacks, the magnitude of various feedbacks, and the relation of surface energy fluxes (the subject of the previous post) to different forcings. Once again the Trenberth-Fasullo-Kiehl diagram of Earth's energy flows is a useful reference:

Michael Mann's errors

[UPDATE July 1, 2010: Penn State just today issued a final report on their investigation into allegations of misconduct by Dr. Mann. Note their criteria for misconduct were as follows:

(1) fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or other practices that seriously deviate from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities;
(2) callous disregard for requirements that ensure the protection of researchers, human participants, or the public; or for ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals;
(3) failure to disclose significant financial and business interest as defined by Penn State Policy RA20, Individual Conflict of Interest;
(4) failure to comply with other applicable legal requirements governing research or other scholarly activities.
where "research misconduct does not include disputes regarding honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data, and is not intended to resolve bona fide scientific disagreement or debate."

The report concludes "there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann"; the worst they could say was that he was somewhat "careless" in sharing unpublished manuscripts with colleagues. However, this was a pretty high-level review, and seems it did not get into the "Tiljander" issue. So we'll see where that goes here.]

Deep Climate has a new post up concerning the IPCC TAR Figure 2.21 "hockey stick" curves prepared by lead author Michael Mann for the 2001 report. This follows up on my post looking into similar questions regarding the AR4 Figure 6.10b "hockey sticks" in the latest (2007) report. Despite Steven Mosher's claims that the same rather subtle "trick" of padding the Briffa curve with instrumental temperatures was used in both figures, my analysis showed it could not have been in the AR4 case. Deep Climate has now shown that it's possible this padding was used for the Briffa curve in the TAR figure, but it makes essentially no difference (0.01 degrees over about 10 years, almost imperceptible in the full graph). The Mann curve in the TAR figure ("MBH") clearly was padded from 1980 with instrumental temperatures in the end-point smoothing, while the Jones curve in that figure clearly was not. The details of Mosher's (and McIntyre's, in this case) accusations about Mann and Briffa also seem to be contradicted by the actual record as DeepClimate shows, but that's another matter.

In any case, there definitely was an issue with the way Michael Mann was doing end-point smoothing in several of his early published papers, and in at least one of the curves in this IPCC report. As noted in the previous discussion, Mann admitted to this several years ago and indicated it wouldn't happen again, and it doesn't seem to have. So, an error, with minor impact on a couple of curves, since repented of.

In my last post, I called for the best examples of anything close to fraud by climate scientists, in particular Mann. There certainly are a number of cases where he has made similar errors that seem to have not substantially effected the results, but still were indicative of a certain carelessness, and sometimes stubbornness in recognizing the problem. And there are other examples of minor errors by other groups, for example several glitches in the GISS instrumental temperature analysis over the years that caused minor shifts in historical temperature numbers, particularly regionally.

Of course the worst case of unacknowledged errors in climate science was probably the UAH satellite analysis, which for 26 years was substantially under-reporting warming due to an algebra error in the analysis.

People make mistakes; as long as they correct them when the error is detected, it's really not such a big deal. The question I raised in my "Where's the fraud?" post was whether there was any substantive error of some sort that had not been admitted or corrected after exposure.

Towards an "Identity Ecosystem"?

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a draft report proposing a National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace this past weekend. I found the document intriguing in the context of some of my thoughts on trust and identity, and my own recent participation in the ORCID project to create an identity standard for authors and other contributors to scientific research publications.

The draft report comes with a call for public commentary, and there are already some interesting comments that have made me think a little harder about what we're all trying to do here. The time seems ripe for some sort of digital identity standard, but there are an awful lot of concerns that need to be addressed. There are solutions that can be imposed from above (say a government-issued physical id token that connects to trusted infrastructure to identify who you are) but they all have somewhat draconian police-state implications anathema to a free society. We do all have social security numbers or something like that of course (drivers license numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers, ...) - but the number isn't sufficient. Anybody who knows a valid number can use it, whether it's there's or not - identity theft is a real problem. Digital identity as it stands right now consists of many disjoint associations like those many different numbers associated with a given individual, each with its own set of risks and burden in upkeep.

So the scheme proposed in the draft report for a more open "identity ecosystem" was something I found very interesting and encouraging.

Where's the fraud?

In previous posts I have discouraged discussion of Michael Mann's work since I had not investigated it at all myself - but inevitably it came up anyway. There were a couple of interesting comments from Steve Mosher and AMac that I am highlighting in this post. If commenters here agree that the Tiljander case is the closest thing anybody has come up with to show consistent misbehavior by climate scientists (following the basic "fraud-like" criteria I set out) then I commit to looking into it myself and trying to understand why scientists and bloggers seem to be disagreeing about it. AMac's denial of "fraud" while calling it an "honest mistake" seems odd to me - if it's really an "honest mistake" it should be acknowledged, not repeated.

Or if folks here think the Tiljander case is not a real problem but some other hockey stick "trick" or feature is definitely fraudulent, I'll look there. Tell me what your best case is!

Just because scientists are human - that is biased, inconsistent, lazy, argumentative, make mistakes, argue, play "politics", etc. etc. does not make some piece of science a fraud. Scientists in their natural state are fiercely competitive with one another - recognition for solving some problem or being first to discover some new truth about the world is all that matters. Tearing down somebody else's work, if you're right, is always grounds for praise. As long as there is some collection of predictions about the world from a piece of science and measurements to verify those predictions, then no matter what the biases or mistakes of the scientists involved, as long as they are not being deliberately fraudulent, the truth will prevail. Of course, without that check and balance from nature, even without fraud, science can get wildly speculative (*cough* string theory *cough*).

Human frailties can mar any piece of scientific work, and this shouldn't surprise anybody. The worry is that some pieces of work that people have come to respect and rely on have been, in some manner, fabricated and are themselves wrong. But fraud is hard to perpetuate in science - it almost always turns up later when others try to do the same experiment or analysis over again and consistently get some different result. On the other hand, if there has not been any actual fraud, what's the problem? The science is still right, even if the scientists behaved abominably (and I've personally witnessed some pretty abominable stuff from people who received great honors...). That's sort of the beauty of the objectivity that the intrinsic competition and reference to nature of science forces on you: personalities really don't matter, only the truth does - it's only the thought that counts as I wrote some time ago.

But - there have been cries of fraud. Let's try to get to the bottom of them. Here are 5 objective criteria for clear continuing fraud that I posted here in a comment the other day:

McIntyreGate

My previous post, titled "Steven Mosher: even Fuller of it" was, as the title suggests, focused on a claim by Steven Mosher, made in a comment at the website "Scholars and Rogues" and apparently also in his book about "climategate" co-authored with Tom Fuller. One should be able to tell that the post is about Mosher since I refer to his name 16 times in the article, not to mention the title and tags. The fact that I refer to the IPCC at least 20 times (and AR4 10 times) is an indication that my concern was with content of the IPCC reports and specifically the most recent one, AR4. If Mosher was right, IPCC had made a (not large, but verifiable) error in the latest WG1 report. It turned out Mosher was wrong.

Steven Mosher: even Fuller of it

[UPDATE - June 24, 2010: the following text has been slightly modified following some discussion at ClimateAudit and in particular a detailed explanation from Steven Mosher of what he did wrong. Changes are indicated by strikethrough for deletions and bold for additions].

When people are obviously wrong it doesn't take much time or effort to dismiss their claims. When Joe Barton apologizes to BP we know he's spouting nonsense. When Gerhard Kramm gets simple integrals and averages confused it doesn't take much effort to convince anybody other than Kramm where he went wrong. When Tom Fuller blusters about quantitative meta analysis, Gish Gallops, and alternate universes you can tell he has trouble with logical coherence.

But the tricky cases are those who are much more subtle in their nonsense. Making stuff up is easy. Making stuff up that on the face of it looks somewhat plausible does take a bit more skill. Figuring out that the "plausible" stuff is just as much nonsense as the obviously wrong takes considerably more work, and some of these actors tend to make a lot of work for those of us trying to defend real science. One of the most skilled in creating plausible nonsense is Christopher Monckton. Prof. John Abrahams is the latest of us to take on Monckton's fabrications, and collectively thousands of hours have surely been spent tracking down the ways in which Monckton has misrepresented science.

Brian Angliss has recently put a lot of effort into tracking down the basis of some of the claims regarding "climategate", in particular looking at the implications of malfeasance on the part of the scientists whose emails were stolen. Many of these the conclusions Angliss examined were claimed at the website ClimateAudit, and in particular in a book published by Steven Mosher and Tom Fuller. There followed an extensive thread of comment including from Fuller and Mosher, and a response from Steve McIntyre at ClimateAudit that clarified some of the claims prompting Angliss to revise his article to attempt to correct his own mistakes.

The first discussion point in Angliss' review of the claims and in the ClimateAudit back and forth with Mosher and Fuller is the meaning of the "trick" to "hide the decline" phrase found in the stolen emails. This has been adversely interpreted in a couple of different ways but the actual meaning has been clearly identified as the process of creating graphs that do include tree-ring-based temperature "proxy" data only up to 1960, or 1980, a point where they start to diverge from temperatures measured by instrumental thermometers. There is nothing scientifically nefarious or "wrong" about this - the "divergence problem" has been extensively discussed in the scientific literature including in the text of the most recent IPCC report. If you have reason to believe a particular collection of tree ring data is a good measure of temperature before 1960 but for some still uncertain reason not after that point, then it's perfectly legitimate to create a graph using the data you think is reliable, particularly if these choices are all clearly explained in the surrounding text or caption.


Figure 2.21 from IPCC TAR WG1


Figure 6.10b from IPCC AR4 WG1

What's definitely not legitimate is presenting a graph that is specifically stated to be showing one thing, but actually showing another. That might happen just by accident if somebody messed up in creating the graph. But the ClimateAudit discussion and Mosher/Fuller book appeared to claim that in one figure in the 3rd IPCC report (TAR WG1 figure 2.21, 2001) and in one figure in the 4th report (AR4 figure 6.10b, 2007) there was a real instance where "the scientists had actually substituted or replaced the tree ring proxy data with instrument data" deliberately, for the purpose of "hiding the decline". As Angliss cited, McIntyre definitely uses the word "substitution" (but Angliss was apparently wrong that McIntyre did this in the IPCC context), and Fuller highlighted a portion of the Mosher/Fuller book using the word "replaced". McIntyre later clarified that his claim was not related to these IPCC figures but rather something else. However, Steven Mosher in comment #7 on Brian's article at June 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm stated very clearly that he knew what the trick was and that this substitution/replacement was used for the IPCC figures:

More climate change basics

The following is a collection and rearrangement of some of my comments on how we know about the radiative effects of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and how big they are, made on another blog. I'm posting these here as in working things out to my own satisfaction to try to respond to some rather egregiously wrong claims by the blogger there, I believe I clarified a few things in a way that's worth preserving.

The starting view here has to be the Kiehl-Trenberth diagram of Earth's energy flows, even though in some ways (which I'll get to below) it may be slightly misleading.

Where the "Semantic Web" goes wrong: thoughts on "Web 3.0"

I have been thinking about issues of meaning (semantics), context, human understanding and the like for some time now, and particularly on the role the internet plays and could play in the future in human communication and thought. The Pew Internet and American Life Project has a new report The Fate of the Semantic Web in which they sought opinions from hundreds of internet luminaries and long-time experts on prospects for the "semantic web". I find the results illuminating and reassuringly in line with some of my thinking on the subject. I'd been preparing to write an article here on the semantic web (and what's wrong with it) for a few months now, so the release of this report seemed an opportune time to put at least some of what I've been gathering out for public comment.

Everyone agrees that the internet, and particularly the world wide web that began about 20 years ago with Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the URL, HTML, the http protocol and the first web browser, has brought a deluge of information to billions of people, something almost beyond the imagination of earlier generations. But making intelligent use of all that information is difficult. Tools like Google's search engine greatly help in sifting out the best stuff on any given topic. But there is very little to help us make sense of it all. Other than the links themselves, our computers have no understanding of the meaning of what various websites provide us, they can't correlate information from multiple sources to provide a coherent story. We want our computers to give us not just "information", but "meaningful information", "knowledge", perhaps "understanding".

Can you spot the real scientist?

The following appears to be original with this August 2005 Slashdot comment - I'm reposting here to highlight and preserve it. If somebody can tell me a more direct source, let me know!

Can you spot the real scientist?
GOOFUS has a PhD.
GALLANT has a PhD in a field unrelated to his research.

GOOFUS gets little respect as a scientist outside the scientific community.
GALLANT gets little respect as a scientist inside the scientific community.

GOOFUS drives a beat-up old car.
GALLANT drives a BMW unless his chauffeur is driving.

GOOFUS wears street clothes to work, maybe a lab suit on occasion.
GALLANT wears three piece suits at all times.

GOOFUS is employed by a "university", a "hospital", or a "laboratory".
GALLANT is employed by a "Coalition", an "Institute", an "Association", a "Foundation", a "Council", or a "White House".

A place to discuss climate physics

One problem with comment threads on blogs is that they lose the "time-binding" central to human progress: older posts and their comments gradually fade into the background and are, for the most part, forgotten.

A different approach to online discussion is the venerable "bulletin board". There, threads under a given topic migrate to the top of the heap when they are active, and particularly good discussions can be "pinned" so they are always visible. It's still not perfect; lengthy topics are themselves a barrier to newcomers who just want to get the essentials or to oldtimers trying to locate something only partially remembered. But they can certainly be educational and concentrate discussion around a particular topic in a way that's hard to do on an ordinary blog.

Happy Arbor Day!

crabapple1.jpg
Shortly after we bought our house a little over 14 years ago, a note arrived in the mail from the Arbor Day Foundation, offering us "10 trees" for a $10 membership fee. We liked trees, so decided sure, why not, and sent in our money. Our "trees" arrived in the mail I believe in March, and consisted of a plastic bag with 10 straight sticks no more than 6 inches long. They didn't look like much, and since it was still pretty chilly outside we put the bag in the garage and promptly forgot all about it.

Summer came and we discovered the forgotten bag of "trees", the sticks all covered with some sort of white mold from the months of dark neglect. Feeling guilty and expecting little to come from it, we washed them down, prepared a big pot of vermiculite and half-buried the sticks. It wasn't long before buds appeared on 9 of the 10, and by fall they had doubled in size. The next year all 9 were thriving - it turned out we had 2 dogwoods, 2 hawthorns, 2 redbuds, 2 goldenraintrees and 1 crabapple (the second crabapple was the only casualty of our neglect).

On fallacies

This article is mainly intended as a placeholder for some links I've had as tabs in my browser for way too long. I'll add a few thoughts to try to connect them together. Basically the question I've been pondering is a continuation of my meanderings in On the dimensions of the noosphere. In this world awash in information with the deluge increasing seemingly exponentially, what structures will help us to find those pieces of knowledge that are true and useful? What elements of trust are needed, what processes of understanding? As all the new fact-checking websites out there attest, we no longer trust the traditional media as gatekeepers - perhaps we never should have, and the internet just makes their failings more obvious.

The Future can be Bright, not Dark

I have been remiss on my blog here in not yet highlighting Worldchanging and the visionary essays there by Alex Steffen. I've followed Worldchanging for years, bought their first book, and not too long ago won one of their fundraising auction items (a pile of environmental books I still haven't finished reading). I even sent them some material, at least one of which they posted on the blog. But Alex's writing is the real treasure there, and he seems to just get better. He recently posted this powerful look at what we need to do to make the future bright, not dark - go read the whole thing, it's worth it. I'll excerpt and comment on a few bits of it below.

Hansen's Climate Stewardship Act: I don't entirely agree

With US politicians squabbling over current proposals for climate change and clean energy legislation and world leaders getting nowhere fast on a global agreement to limit CO2 emissions, well-informed people may be losing hope for progress on solving the problem. But we should find some hope in that policy choices that could actually substantively address greenhouse warming are at least being openly discussed and debated. A few years ago the only options on the table seemed to be more individual virtuous action ("change your lightbulbs", "buy hybrid cars") or modest government-level efforts; world CO2 emissions continued to rise quickly even after the entry into force of the Kyoto protocol. Now at least there are substantive proposals, still inadequate, but capable of addressing at least a significant fraction of the emissions problem. Any of these would be, if they pass into law, a major step forward.

Aside from the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman (KGL) senate bill that has been so much in the news lately, we have also the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House last year - both of these are "cap and trade" proposals, though the KGL bill avoids that label - and in fact with its constricted "price collar" and credit reserve it's much closer to a straight tax (but still one that is allowed to vary by a factor of 2 or 3 in price). Both bills act at the point of emission of CO2, rather than the point of extraction. And both bills at first give away many of the emission permits to industry, so that it becomes a real tax with money going to the government only over a period of decades. Both bills allow some form of offsets, and both bills include proposals to spend the money raised, partly but not entirely for clean energy and efficiency investments. Flawed as they are, they will clearly have a significant impact on CO2 emissions, and cost estimates indicate little damage to economic growth, and perhaps a rather large positive effect, not even counting the benefits from starting to address climate change itself.

The other bill that seems to be seriously under consideration is from Senators Cantwell and Collins (CC). As I argued here, the real problem is our extraction and import of fossil fuels which are then added to the surface carbon cycle; it makes much more sense to tax or set a cap at that point of extraction. That is one major difference in the CC proposal - they set a cap and then auction shares in that cap to the extractive industries. The effect of that is essentially to eliminate the use of "offsets" and trading markets (though Jim Hansen attacks it for still allowing some offset-like projects). It has the simple direct effect of limiting fossil carbon use to an amount we set, and allocating the "rent" of those shares (or at least 75% of that revenue) back to the American people. It seems a much cleaner policy approach than the complex mechanisms of KGL and Waxman-Markey, and much less subject to attack for unfairness, but as with any political document there are compromises that many will be unhappy with.

What Hansen has been calling for is an even simpler "tax and dividend" plan, and he along with the Carbon Tax Center has just released a People's Climate Stewardship Act proposal with details. I fail to see how such a proposal could become law without some of the sort of compromises at least in the CC bill, but let's look at what the proposal actually entails as it stands now and see whether it really makes that much more sense.

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