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.

Is Richard S. Lindzen deliberately lying, or just deluded?

Dr Richard Lindzen is a respected member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He has led a distinguished career since the 1960's, publishing hundreds of peer-reviewed articles studying and modeling Earth's atmosphere, receiving numerous awards and being selected for membership in the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. As a professor of meteorology and particularly with the studies of radiative and dynamical atmospheric processes that he has conducted, he certainly qualifies as an eminent climate scientist. He is also well-known as being skeptical about climate "alarmism", arguing that feedback effects are much smaller than most other scientists have assessed. At #136 on Jim Prall's list of most cited authors on climate change he is the third-highest-rated of the "skeptics" (after Roger Pielke Sr. and Freeman Dyson).

All of that is fine. While 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are responsible for significant climate change, there are still those 3% who disagree. [UPDATE The exact survey wording on the question was "Has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures" - which is a slightly different emphasis than my paraphrase (but is it "significant"?), and I apologize for any confusion caused]. Their arguments to the extent they are logical and have any scientific merit should be heard. Lindzen continues to publish in scientific journals, and while some of his recent papers have been greatly flawed, at least he's continuing to actively try to put forth his position in a logical and scientific manner.

But he also has other ambitions. Lindzen's current publication list includes two 2006 Wall Street Journal opinion pieces - "Climate of Fear" from April 2006, and "There is no ‘consensus’ on global warming" from June of that year. This past December Lindzen returned to the Wall Street Journal with The Climate Science Isn't Settled, and now celebrating Earth Day, April 22, 2010 we find Climate Science in Denial (subscription required). Both of these opinion pieces are filled with egregious misrepresentations of the facts, statements I find shocking coming from such a respected scientist. From his latest piece one can only conclude that either Lindzen has descended into the epistemic closure of paranoia and conspiracy theories that has become far too prevalent among some Americans lately or, worse, that he is consciously participating in the malicious disinformation campaign on climate that has recently been extensively documented by Greenpeace and elsewhere.

Either way, given that Penn State was forced to investigate complaints about Michael Mann's scientific work, continued congressional attacks on climate scientists, and the several investigations in England over the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, I want to know when MIT will initiate an investigation of Richard Lindzen's recent output, and whether he is, inadvertently or deliberately, dragging the good name of that institution through the mud.

And I would also like to know when, for balance, the Wall Street Journal plans to run the over 100 op-ed pieces it owes to the 97% of climate scientists who understand the impact of humans on our planet, given these 4 pieces it has already run by Lindzen. I'm not going to hold my breath for Rupert Murdoch though.

Gadding with Ghouls: adventures with Christopher W. Monckton

Since becoming a Viscount in June 2006, Christopher Monckton seems to have transformed into a climate crusader, with "Lord Monckton" heralded by conservative politicians and demagogues from Canada to Australia, even recently by the Tea Party here in the US. His first official foray seems to have been this November 2006 article in the UK Daily Telegraph, full of his characteristic pseudo-science, quickly shown to be wrong in almost every respect. July 2008 saw his "Physics and Society" article, again full of nonsense, prompting myself among many others to put some effort into showing the many things he had gotten wrong. I also responded with a shorter and more formal article to the newsletter, copying Monckton as a courtesy, a kindness which he and his associates promptly abused.

In general, Monckton's pronouncements on climate have been so ridiculous that no climate scientist or other prominent member of the climate community has wanted to even appear with him to lend him any credibility. However, this past February Tim Lambert of the Deltoid blog finally agreed to a debate - note Lambert is a computer scientist whose interest in climate is personal, not associated with his work. The resulting discussion was quite respectful - the full debate is viewable here on YouTube - and despite the Monckton-friendly audience and moderator showed Monckton exactly for the pompous clown he has become.

Now Peter Sinclair (greenman3610) has put together two brilliant video debunkings of Monckton's fantasies on YouTube, the second featuring Lambert and a great set of quotes from Margaret Thatcher, who Monckton proudly claims to have worked for in the 1980s:

Fossil carbon is the real problem

It looks like the US Senate plans to work on a new energy bill starting Earth Day (April 22). There's been a steady stream of updates from the likes of Climate Progress and Grist. The goal as usual is to produce something bipartisan - which means a lot of compromising on support for things like oil drilling and nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS - aka "clean coal"). And the resulting bill will surely be thousands of pages that will be easy to attack for unfairness of some form or other.

Not taxed enough - a challenge to my friends!

April 15 is coming up, which is the deadline for income tax forms here in the U.S. Shelly's already finished ours and sent them in (thanks to J.K. Lasser's online service!) so we should be getting big refunds any day now... and that made me wonder a bit. With all our exemptions and deductions, our federal income tax rate ends up being roughly 3% of total income. Social security and medicare taxes are more than double that - about 6.5%, and I believe my employer pays another 6.5% on top of that so quadruple federal income tax if you count both. We also paid around 5% (not quite double the federal tax) in NY State income taxes, and over 5% in local property taxes. Not to mention that state and local government gets 8.625% of every dollar we spend on taxable items here, plus whatever other taxes and fees apply.

The problems with combined heat and power (CHP critique part 3)

"Combined Heat and Power" (CHP) or "cogeneration" systems for producing both heat and electric power are generally mature and really can reduce emissions of CO2 compared to other fossil-fuel technologies. But there are two problems with typical discussion of CHP:

(1) Fossil-fuel-based CHP cannot be a long-term solution on climate or energy because they still burn fossil fuels, and therefore still emit a lot of CO2. Reducing that by 20% or even 50% is not enough; we need to take steps that over the next 30-40 years will bring fossil CO2 emissions close to 0.

(2) Efficiency claims for CHP systems are frequently greatly overstated. Heat is lower-quality energy than electricity, and only at high temperatures does it become close to comparable. Efficiency claims for CHP systems that use high-temperature heat are not so far off, but CHP systems that make use of low-temperature waste heat have much lower thermodynamic efficiencies than usually claimed.

The inflated efficiency claims often lead to assertions that CHP is the "largest" or one of the largest potential solutions. But the number of applications that require high-temperature heat where CHP efficiency really is quite high are limited. And the modest efficiency gains with low-temperature waste heat use, which could be much more widely applied, don't lead to very much improvement in overall energy use. The combining of heat and power production in CHP systems can reduce our fossil CO2 emissions by a few percent, but much more than that is needed in coming decades.

My response to APS "commentary" on climate change statement

Those of you reading this who are APS members should have received an email in the last few days pointing to a new "commentary" that is proposed, by the society's public affairs committee (POPA), to be attached to the 2007 climate change statement. While overall I found the commentary reasonably fair and somewhat useful as a clarifying measure, it had several embarrassing errors that I hope will be corrected before it becomes official. Below I've included my response to this commentary - it will probably be meaningful only to those who have been granted access, sorry about that...

The Bloom box - doing fuel cells right

Todd Woody at the NY Times has had a couple of stories in the last few days on The Bloom Box, or Bloom Energy Server, a solid-oxide fuel cell designed as an on-site distributed generator. Present costs are still rather pricey - $7 to $8 capital cost per watt (or $7000-$8000/kW - I had this mixed up earlier - see this analysis from Jesse Jenkins for details) plus the cost of natural gas as fuel and any operational and maintenance costs (and they're only claiming a 10-year lifetime). Efficiency is quoted at 50 to 55%. Higher efficiency and lower capital costs would be essential to making it truly useful. Still, I find this a good step forward in the technology. Why?

The death of science journalism - and what could replace it

Science journalism is dying - but John Cook's new iPhone app on climate questions points the way to something much better: an at-your-fingertips database of accurate, up-to-date information at multiple levels of explanatory power, addressing common questions on potentially any subject. John's app has been covered in major media, on Real Climate, and on various blogs - I probably should have included his website in the basic climate references list I compiled some months back as well. Read on for why I think this new iPhone app, and the approach it embodies, is so important...

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