Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I didn't know this about myself

The brush the leftists use to paint the right is large.

IN THE SPIRIT of the season, the following is an open letter to readers of the Drudge Report (that'd be me):

Gee, gang, why so angry? Every time a column or article of mine gets posted on the site, I invariably wake up to a torrent of hostile emails. For awhile, it was like a perverse "Where's Waldo?" game -- "Oh, that one's rage-filled and anti-Semitic -- I must have made Drudge!"

Frankly, all this vitriol seems slightly misplaced, given that there are so many outlets now for people who would write such things. Starting with prison.

Just for the sake of argument, let's concede you're correct in your suspicions that the traditional media -- you know, the one largely controlled by General Electric, Disney, Time Warner and News Corp. -- are completely under the thumb of left-wing anarchists. On the bright side, there's the Internet and talkradio, and you (that is, Drudge readers) clearly have access to the web, which puts you way ahead of your shoeless forebears or toothless cousins. So cheer up!
I learned a few things about myself reading that. I thought all my cousins had teeth. And here I was thinking folks on the Left were against "stereotypes" and "profiling". Apparently its OK as long as you're bashing Southerners and Republicans.

Admittedly, given the dire financial state many newspapers face, it's nice being reminded that people are reading at all out there -- even when the reaction comes in the electronic equivalent of crayon.

As far as I know, the biggest problem newspapers have is that their readers (or potential readers, or past readers) resent the constant implications that they're stupid.

Perhaps if members of the old media paid more attention to their readers instead of writing us all off as stupid, toothless, prison-bound morons they wouldn't be going bankrupt?

Read the rest.

Interesting

Time magazine is interesting. I was at first upset by their selection of Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year. I even began clicking through my links to find stories about his evil rule, stories about people like Anna Politkovskaya his "fiercest critic", about his throttling of the free press in his nation. I admit, I was indignant. Petraeus was on the list of candidates after all. How dare they?

And then I read their disclaimer:

TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership—bold, earth-changing leadership. Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability—stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years. Whether he becomes more like the man for whom his grandfather prepared blinis—who himself was twice TIME's Person of the Year—or like Peter the Great, the historical figure he most admires; whether he proves to be a reformer or an autocrat who takes Russia back to an era of repression—this we will know only over the next decade. At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME's 2007 Person of the Year.
I can buy that.

If the media (including Time magazine) had proportional representation of Putin as a world-changer and actually covered his actions as a fledgling dictator rather than spend their time moaning about either the Bush economy or Iraq (depending on which one is doing poorly) perhaps this recognition would come as less of a surprise.

Read the rest.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

GCC: The problem

In a continuation of a series of posts that I'm breaking up for my own purposes (specifically, so that I can reference them individually at a later date) I'll explain my take on the Big Problem with the state of affairs that exists surrounding global warming.

Communication.

There, wasn't that nice? You could probably do the same thing to define the Big Problem in a lot of areas, but you'd be speaking (writing?) more tongue-in-cheek than I currently am.

Science is a funny thing. I don't think many people understand the kooky world that is academia. To get into the club you have run a gauntlet of various tasks that will take no less than 4 years after the successful completion of a bachelor's degree. A graduate student must take the GRE, apply to a school, get in, find an adviser, figure out how to pay for school (funding, the four letter word of research), pass qualification tests which reassert the right for him to even be there, complete a rehash of his education within his field of study thus far, conduct research, write copiously about the research, have these papers subjected to the fury of his adviser, rewrite these papers, submit these papers, have them subjected to the peer review process (which can be daunting, if done correctly), write an all-encompassing description of his work known as a dissertation, and finally defend not only his dissertation but himself and his knowledge of his field in front of a jury of his superiors. This is a process that occurs in series. Any failure in any of these steps will result in the student being thrown out on his ear, or having to start all over.

So scientists are stuck up. They often develop God-complexes, especially once they're tenured. They tend to be smart, and the writing that is accepted as scientific is full of jargon, math, and is so highly stylized that it is almost its own language, which results in papers that may as well be in code to people who aren't in the club. Sometimes papers are so obscure and esoteric that a PhD isn't sufficient to gain insight or true appreciation for a paper -- but instead a thorough understanding of the basis of the research being explained is in order. Quantum physics can be explained in a matter of moments, provided you have the ten years' worth of math and physics required to understand the equations.

To be sure, you don't need a PhD to read 90% of the papers out there. You don't need to be a scientist to understand them, either. But it does require a large amount of diligence and fortitude, patience and perseverance to get through a paper which is built on a body of research that proceeds backwards through reference after reference, each with little or no explanation beyond a footnote. That is to say, most particular journal papers. And who has that kind of time on their hands? Most folks can't be bothered to read the whole newspaper, much less a fifteen or twenty page paper in two-column format written in ten-point font with itty-bitty figures (and smaller font captions that are two and three sentences long).

Unfortunately for the world, this leads to the intelligentsia making proclamations that often mean little to anyone but others in their club. They discover important stuff, and it needs to be disseminated to people who lack technical education, even to laymen. This is where the media gets involved.

I don't know if you've watched CNN lately, but those guys and gals don't have doctoral degrees. I mean, heck, Katie Couric doesn't even know what "sputum" means. The people writing the stuff that's fed into their teleprompter don't, either. This is where things like the IPCC policy committee come in.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is more than one body of scientists pounding away on their keyboards, Prometheusing us into understanding of climate change. There is a "working group" (i.e., the guys with doctorates) and then there's a committee of people dedicated to take what the scientists say and translate it into one- and two-syllable words so politicians don't get confused or scared and retreat behind their staffers. Thus, the Third Assessment Report is condensed from 1,000 pages into 20 to create the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM).

Think about that for one moment, if you will. Understand, please, that scientists may be wordy in their writing, but they're not superfluous. 1,000 pages exist in the IPCC third report because 1,000 words are necessary. It's like trying to take War and Peace and summarize in a page...you may get the gist, but you won't love Pierre Bezukhov after reading it. (A nice explanation of the variations and impact of this sort of scenario exists here. Happy reading!)

That isn't to say that the SPM is wrong. But I can tell you right away that it almost guarantees that the plethora of news articles, statements, and sound bytes it causes will have as many errors in them as an installation of 32-bit Norton antivirus onto Vista 64. (That's a lot, by the way).

And so politicians misunderestimate what the scientists say. And the Katie Courics of the world tell the laymen the wrong information with cute segues with titles like "Global Warming: Are We All Going To Die?" and you get a big, fat mess. A poster child for this scenario is the Kyoto Protocol. Another is the phrase "George Bush doesn't care about polar bears". Another is anyone who tells you that the science of climate change is settled (yes, that would be Al Gore, specifically).

And there you have it. Whatever the science may say, unless you actually read the publications or chat with the scientists who wrote them you're probably not getting the correct story.

To alleviate this problem, I try to read important or relevant journal papers. I also visit quality climate change blogs such as World Climate Report, which is written by climate scientists and describes itself as "...a concise, hard-hitting and scientifically correct response to the global change reports which gain attention in the literature and popular press. As the nation’s leading publication in this realm, World Climate Report is exhaustively researched, impeccably referenced, and always timely."

Thus, reader, my assertion is that it is absolutely vital for anyone who wanted to really argue with me about global warming climate change to discuss science. Not popular opinion, not "common sense", not conjecture or hearsay. Science. And that means papers, math, and logic. And that's why I always attach the following disclaimer to my posts about cold snaps, snowfall records, and unseasonably cold temperatures:

Anecdotal evidence is beyond stupid as support or condemnation of global warming. I only point these out as a foil to the increasingly shrill comments and stories presented by the mainstream media linking warm-weather aberrations to global warming.
If you want to debate GCC with me, find a journal article, read it, digest it, formulate an opinion based upon it, and get back to me. Because that's what I do.

Read the rest.

Some Nomenclature

Since people seem to want to discuss global warming climate change, I feel an obligation to make my position more lucid. To do so, however, requires a brief review of nomenclature as sometimes I talk like an engineer -- and I always tend to think like one.

First: data is data, theories are theories, and facts are facts. Truth is something else altogether.

Data cannot be true or not true; it simply is. There is good data and bad data, but this is a subjective measurement and usually has more to do with how the data is displayed, explained, and used than the actual numbers themselves. There is an entire field of mathematics devoted to the interpretation and use of large data samples. An overview would require defining accuracy vs. precision but I'll leave that to the reader.

Data is the one thing that is incontrovertible in the entire GCC argument. NASA has tons of it through the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) which has been attempting to compile the huge amount of data required to accurately quantify the temperature of the earth. The use of such data is what falls into the gray area of life.

Second on the list of what's what is theories. A theory is not a guess...not in science, anyway. A theory takes data (see, this is coming in handy already) to explain observed phenomena. Global warming is a theory because it explains the change in temperature as recorded by the various recording agencies.

A fact is something that doesn't really belong in a scientific discussion. One definition is a truth known by observation or recording, or something that is incontrovertible. However, "facts" are based on data which is never infallible. Thus in science, nothing is fact. Everything works more along the lines of it's working so far, and we expect it to continue to work in the future, but we can't make any promises.

Recently a blogger threw some data at me and said I was wrong for using a different data sample and making a point with it, only he called "his" data "facts". Now, perhaps, you can understand the dismay I felt upon reading

You, once again, do not do anything in the way of even attempting to challenge that fact. You simply ignore it, like 99% of the facts that I put on here.
or
I attack you on the merit of the facts that you present in your arguments.
How on Earth is anyone supposed to respond to something like that? I'll answer my own question: with a post like this.

Read the rest.

Publications

I have stated many times that most of what is thrown around about global warming is "smutty psuedo-science" and isn't fit to be printed in a scientific journal alongside real research. There's more than just my random opinion behind this, and I feel as if I have at least some qualification to say this as a published author (in the journals Carbon, Langmuir, and Synthetic Metals).

As a scientist, and engineer, and a researcher, I understand what goes into writing a paper. I understand what an impact factor means to people and how huge it is to be published in Nano Letters, Science or Nature. What I don't understand is how theoretical modeling with very little actual research done or any real relationship to empirical data can consistently be printed in journals with impact factors higher than 5; that is, journals that are more than topic-specific. To get into Nature for any subject other than global warming climate change a scientist must write a paper that has the ability to change the world (this is not a specific criterion, but Nature rejects over 90% of the submissions they receive as "not hot enough"). Papers that are only related to their specific field or which will have very little impact on a currently existing hot or important topic will be shuffled aside. Thus, broad journals such as Science and Nature publish only the cream of the crop while smaller journals such as Carbon publish only what is relevant to scientists who work with carbon based materials (e.g., polymer scientists and those who work with carbon composites).

Unfortunately, papers which do nothing to further science of climate change are submitted, "peer reviewed," and accepted into Nature all the time. More recently it appears that merely adding the phrase Global Warming to your paper will merit its printing. As a result, papers which really have no business whatsoever being printed outside of smaller periodicals (with smaller impact factors) such as the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (3.167) or the Journal of Climate (3.882) or, more appropriately, Global and Planetary Change (1.758) are instead printed in Nature (27.074) or Science (21.911).

Thus, true science is muddied by the force of politics poisoning the waters. Publications which don't "go with the flow" are ignored without review while papers that do nothing more than add yet another climate change model to the sea of models we're drowning in currently are ushered in with nary a challenge. (The peer review process itself is also highly questionable -- but thats a post of it's own).

Read the rest.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Word of the Day, or, How Not To Look Ignorant

The internet is a great place. I really love the fact that there is literally an unlimited amount of information readily available at my fingertips. It has its downsides, though. One is people who don't know how to use dictionary.com:

There's a difference between being a skeptic, and being a debunker. Skeptics will see both sides of an argument and admit the likelihood of both. A debunker will deny, deny, deny the truth, even if it slaps him across the face. Which one are you?
For your reading pleasure (and hopefully, edification):

de·bunk
–verb (used with object)
to expose or excoriate (a claim, assertion, sentiment, etc.) as being pretentious, false, or exaggerated: to debunk advertising slogans.

However wrong he may be on what the word debunk actually means, the commenter was right about one thing. There is a difference between being a skeptic and debunker. Anyone can be a skeptic. All skepticism requires is enough brain matter to choose to doubt. This doesn't necessarily include rational analysis of the subject matter or any real reason to do so.

The debunker, on the other hand, accepts the data as it becomes available and uses his own wits, intelligence, and logic to get through the claims made by others (true or false) with the express purpose of finding truth, and subsequently uses that truth to drown out the claims of the ignorant, uninformed, or intentionally disingenuous. Both parts are critical -- the man who finds truth and does not share it may be wise, but he's no debunker.

Based upon the actual definitions of the words in play, as opposed to the imagined ones of a sadly confused but nevertheless passionate poster, I'll gladly wear the mantle of Global Warming Climate Change debunker. It's the least I can do.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Clap clap, clap-clap-clap...

....glo-bal war-ming...clap clap, clap-clap-clap:

The National Weather Service says the Grand Forks airport had 8.1 inches of snow yesterday, setting a record for the date. And Fargo set a record with 5.9 inches.

The previous mark in both cities was set back in 1926.

And this:
Portland tied the record for the date set in 1890 with 8.5 inches of snow on Monday, according to Bob Marine of the National Weather Service.

Elsewhere, Marshfield in Washington County had 18 inches of snow, Lakeville in Penobscot County 17 inches, Island Falls in Aroostook County 16, Brassau Lake near Moosehead 15.7, Farmington 14.7 inches and Andover 13, the weather service said.

The storm may have produced even more snow if it hadn't tracked farther out to sea that originally forecast, Marine said.
As ever, my disclaimer: Anecdotal evidence is beyond stupid as support or condemnation of global warming. I only point these out as a foil to the increasingly shrill comments and stories presented by the mainstream media linking warm-weather aberrations to global warming.

Read the rest.