One of the great puzzles I feel up against these days in several different contexts is finding a clear way to express how wrong certain expressed views are. This is not (at least usually not) an issue of moral wrongness, but in most cases just simple inconsistency of logic, disagreement with basic scientific understanding of issues, or perhaps abuse of the English language in ways that make no sense whatsoever. Last fall I spent an inordinate amount of time documenting the errors in an article by a climate-change "skeptic", but even then the simple count of the problems doesn't feel like it gives a true picture of the enormity of the misrepresentation of the facts provided by the article in question.
In keeping with the un-theme of this blog, I now present something completely different...
Belonging to a church with a lay clergy, it's my turn to speak once in a while to our ward, a congregation of about 130 on an average week. I seem to get called on every couple of years (more than I would like, but less than some!) Last Sunday (before Memorial Day) was my turn again, under the general topic of "unity". Following are some notes and quotes I gathered for the talk, for anybody interested. No, I did not use all this stuff in the talk... there's only so much you can say in 20 minutes!
Thanks to Michael Tobis I discovered a new report this week from the Congressional Budget Office that has the most dramatic illustration I've seen of projections of temperature for the remainder of this century (right - figure 1 in the report). The PDF of the 33-page report is available for download from CBO.
When I was young I naturally had plenty of exercise. It helped that my parents didn't bother to drive me most of the time and there were no buses to my junior high or high school, so I did a lot of walking (high school was well over a mile each way). That included walking through the blinding snow-storms we regularly got in Newfoundland. Even in college and grad school I was mostly car-less; I'd get occasional rides from strangers when they saw me walking home with bags of groceries (in the rain I looked particularly pathetic, I guess), but mostly it was walk, walk walk. Or sometimes take a city bus. I'd occasionally take my bike out for long rides in the hills around Ithaca.
The main project I'm focused on at work right now relates to uniquely identifying the people who write and referee articles for our journals. Our referee database is pretty good, but even that has a number of duplicate entries, as I've been finding. In one case the name was the same but with last and first name's switched; in another somehow we'd created a record with a slightly modified version of the surname (and a note that the name was wrong). It's a lot trickier than one might at first imagine, but an open public solution for researcher identification could be a big help. There seem to be several projects in the works in that regard:
Rather than say much about it, I'll just let you listen. I thought it was pretty good for a 6th grade band - it's a big band too; Elizabeth loves her teacher. If you listen closely, you can here occasional exclamations from her almost-4 year-old little brother, who loves to hear her play the flute.
Apparently this article of mine on the basic physics and mathematics of radiation on a planet relating to the Greenhouse effect, became somewhat the subject of discussion on a German climate science thread. Given the language difference, I didn't quite follow what they were on about, and so asked for a summary in a related discussion. Note that my article has been discussed at length previously and Google shows lots more references around the 'net.
It's been over a month since I completed most of the following analysis, which I've been planning to write up more concretely. This post is intended as a summary of the basic questions I've been trying to address, although there are some mathematical issues I've worked out that I won't cover here. First, a few basic facts and some terminology regarding Earth's atmosphere. If you're already familiar with lapse rate discussions you can skip the next few paragraphs.
This essay by Rory O'Connor provides an important perspective on the future of media, in particular with some insights on the question of trust. I think the trust and credibility issue is really central to understand for the future of our information world - and particularly the future of scientific publishing where my interests lie. Rather than looking into who actually wrote something they read, people online have come to trust based on how they reach the information - via search engines, or through their social networks, for example. This article mentions the concept of "'credibility heuristics' -- a kind of information Verisign" - up to now, media "brand" (the names of major newspapers, TV networks, etc) has been a central shortcut for many people's perspective on the world - they knew they could trust certain brands to mostly provide them with important, reliable information.
chapter1 has a fun post this morning with a guess at what's behind our continuing financial woes - people who (deliberately?) engineer complexity into systems for job security reasons... The idea is that Credit Default Swap and other derivative contracts are so complicated that only the people who created the problem can help fix it, and they set things up that way on purpose. The enlightening analogy is to the software engineer who creates "spaghetti code" essential to a company's systems that only he can understand, ensuring he can demand whatever he wants. I think I have met some people like that...
Some choice quotes:
When the whole buggy mess finally crashed, the nation's management didn't want to take the time or lose face to build a new payroll system, so once again, Spaghetti Code Guy and his pals could name their price.
It's definitely showing signs of spring here; Saturday was pure sun, and almost warm. The crocuses (right) were wide open and beautiful. I spent a while in a seemingly futile battle with my pitchfork against our huge non-composting pile of leaves. Then decided to switch to digging a garden bed, which yielded slightly more easily.
In testimony to congress this past week, new energy secretary Steven Chu made the case for the administration's energy plans which include considerable increases in spending in a number of areas, and several new programs. Among the things they appear to be really trying to push is getting ARPA-E off the ground - there's $415 million allocated, but apparently a lot of resistance within the department to actually making it happen. In a companion handout for the hearing, the case for and priority areas for ARPA-E were highlighted. The handout perhaps explains why DOE bureaucrats may be resisting:
In the news this weekend, among many other (some related) topics, has been AIG's revelation that much of the "bailout" money they received from the US government has gone to a small collection of banks, foreign and domestic. I am no expert on the various derivative contracts at issue - nor apparently are most of the financial press. However two rather interesting, perhaps disturbing, issues occur to me from reading the actual statements involved:
My friend and colleague Peter Adams just posted a nice essay on the early history of computing in our office. Some day I'll have to write my own version with the more recent history! Peter mentions the early use of the UNIX OS (troff was used for many years for typesetting the journals). This was originally run on Digital VAX hardware, then a series of Sequent machines, then (when I started) we began to replace those servers with Suns, and more recently everything's migrated to Linux. But still essentially UNIX at heart. A lot of what our editors do is still on the command line, and the referee and manuscript data in particular (going all the way back to 1974, plus a small number back-filled from before then to handle later errata) is pretty much completely accessible from a variety of command-line-oriented programs and scripts.
I've been meaning to say something about the energy/climate provisions in Obama's stimulus package, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I also have a post I've been working on that gets into the whole tropical troposphere mess - yeah, I'll get that out some day too.
Anyway, on the stimulus, this post by Jesse Jenkins at Huffington Post does an excellent job of summarizing the key points in the $80 billion that went to energy projects. I agree pretty much with his analysis of the good and the bad there. Some highlights:
A+: The act provides a much-needed, long-term extension of the critical Production Tax Credit that has spurred the booming wind industry, and makes tax credits for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources fully refundable for the next two years.
The last few days have seen a bit of open warfare on the "open access" frontlines, surrounding a bill currently being reviewed in the house, H.R. 801, the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act", which rescinds the NIH's open-access mandate. That mandate requires authors of papers on research funded by the NIH to make a copy of their article publicly available 12 months after publication, and has been in place for a few years now. I haven't heard that the mandate has done any significant harm to science publishers, or made much difference to accessibility of scientific research articles, but I haven't really been following closely and the bio-medical literature is not my speciality, certainly.
Climate scientists and those who understand the threat from global warming have long been puzzled by the apparently limited concern among average members of the public for the issue. That has started to improve in the last few years, particularly in response to Al Gore's efforts. Oil and coal companies have long funded efforts to confuse the issue, but recently claimed to have reformed. The media has frequently been inadequate to the job, we know that. But the most important reason for public confusion on global warming seems to trace not so much to the influence of money, corruption, or incompetence, but ideology.
One of my purposes in starting this blog was to have a place to put bits and pieces of my own thoughts on philosophical, moral, and religious questions; things which didn't fit in with some of the more topical (science and energy) pieces I had written previously for other websites. I've read the principle texts of most of the major religions, and reread and studied more carefully those of my own. I've dabbled in reading philosophy from a variety of sources, but I am sure there is much that I have missed, and I couldn't specifically cite a source for most of what I consider to be settled within my own mind. Some of what I've concluded is based on purely subjective personal experience that I find utterly convincing, to myself at least.
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.
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."