Archive for February, 2009

Will v. Science, Part Two

28 February 2009

In a comment on a previous post, Sybil sent this link to “The George Will Affair,” published in the Columbia Journalism Review. I thought it was worthy of a full post.

If you have wandered onto this blog and don’t want to click the link, then here’s the URL:

Read this article. Please, please, please. This is IMPORTANT, folks

I believe in climate change BECAUSE I believe in argument. I don’t have an agenda. I WANT to find peer-reviewed articles that refute climate change. So far I haven’t found them. So, as of today, I believe in climate chance because the weight of evidence is on that side.

That’s why Will’s articles terrify me. He offers easily refuted factual errors. More dangerous yet, Will, talented writer that he is, uses his skills to produce incorrect inferences in readers without knowledge of science.

Since I fully agree with the Post‘s stated position that it’s best to argue about issues, I’m doubly upset about their attitude toward facts and inferences. A major part of my job is teaching people HOW to argue and Will’s use, misuse, and twisting of facts would earn any college student of mine a lengthy lecture on propaganda techniques and evaluation of sources.

In other words, I expected more careful* use of sources from Will. On matters of science, science journals and scientific organizations always trump the popular press.

Why? Because academic journals have standards and a peer-review process to catch the sort of errors that popular sources can cheerfully ignore because they aren’t in danger of a peer-review, the dreaded process in which one’s work is marched past a panel of OTHER experts in the field, a hoard with magnifying glasses and hammers, a throng waiting to pounce on and smash the slightest inaccuracy or unsupported tweak.

Uh oh. I just had a horrifying thought. You don’t suppose–

Could the eminent George Will be like most of my college students? Could he cite popular sources because he gives them the same weight as academic journals?

Does he, like many, think that articles published by Heartland Institute or the Sierra Club are the equal of work published in the Journal of Climate?

Too often I see Americans assume that all opinions are EQUAL.

I agree that everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but, like people, those opinions are merely CREATED equal. After that, it’s magnifying glass and hammer time. Unworthy opinions deserve to be shattered by evidence and logic, and even worthy opinions often have some dents to be hammered out. That’s the scientific method.

Cite your sources, and be ready to revise–that’s my motto. I wonder what George Will’s is.


*Sybil just suggested he was “careful” and that I should use “honest” instead.


George Will (O) – Science (Won)

27 February 2009

While I don’t share many of George Will’s political views, I used to enjoy reading his columns because he was articulate and thought-provoking, but lately he’s had some serious problems dealing with data, science, and the scientific method.

Here’s a snippet from “Climate Science in a Tornado,” his latest column on climate change–or lack thereof:

On Feb. 18 the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that from early January until the middle of this month, a defective performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice by 193,000 square miles, which is approximately the size of California. The Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”), which as of this writing had not printed that story, should unleash Revkin and his unnamed experts.

After reading this, I immediately fact-checked. It’s not a political thing–I try to fact-check EVERYTHING. What I found disturbed me.

In fairness, I’ll say that the portion of Will’s column I quote may be slightly out of context. In quoting, that’s always a possibility. But my use of Will’s words is certainly not as out of context as is Will’s use of the NSIDC info. As I read them, Will’s words suggest that those nasty old scientists had to admit that the sea ice is doing fine–or at least a lot better than those even nastier old Global Warming “Advocates” have insisted.

But here’s what my fact-checking turned up.

NSIDC did indeed find this error, and they reported and explained how the problem occurred in “Satellite Sensor Errors Cause Data Outage.” This article also explains their data retrieval, publication, and review process.

Since then, they’ve shifted sensors and reported this in their February 26 update “Near Real Time Data Now Available”:

The temporary error in the near-real-time data does not change the conclusion that Arctic sea ice extent has been declining for the past three decades. This conclusion is based on peer reviewed analysis of quality-controlled data products, not near-real-time data.

I used to respect Will. Now I wonder whether he’s in the early stages of mental deterioration, a hopeless ideologue, totally ignorant of scientific protocols, or some odious combination thereof.

Read the column. Don’t you get the impression that he’s suggesting that the NSIDC data error–a month and a half worth of faulty and promptly discarded data–negates years of peer-reviewed work of scientists all over the world?



Watch This!

22 February 2009

August 9, 2008 interview with William R. Catton, Jr. author of Overshoot.

It’s nearly 50 minutes long. Get comfortable.

Depressions Depress

20 February 2009

Here’s a lively little tidbit from someone who is, I think, still a billionaire:

Depression? That’s not even the half of it, according to billionaire George Soros.

“The size of the problem is even larger than it was in the 1930s,” writes Soros on the Huffington Post Web site.

“Total credit outstanding was 160 percent of GDP in 1929, and it rose to 260 percent in 1932 due to the accumulation of debt and the decline of GDP.

Comparatively, we entered into the Crash of 2008 at 365 percent, which is bound to rise to 500 percent or more by the time the full effect is felt.”

Source: “Soros: This is Bigger Than Great Depression”

But, hey, there’s been an increase in vegetable seed sales.

Gardening is not only good for the pocketbook, it’s good for the soul.


Climate Change–In the Journals

19 February 2009

During my usual weekly perusal of climate change articles–peer-reviewed only–in the Academic Search Premier database, I spotted this article: “The Denial Machine” by Rick Piltz. It was published in the Index on Censorship 23.4 (2007): 72-81. I had only a brief abstract on the database, so I went to Google and found this site:

The Denial Machine

It’s worth a look.

By the way, I limited my search from Oct. 2008 to Feb. 2009 and got 1625 results. So far, I haven’t found any of those “hundreds” that are supposed to debunk global warming and zilch on anything smacking of global cooling, but I still have several hundred results to wade through. Much more on Australia than I’ve seen before. Interesting. If I find anything supporting either denier or cooling claims, I’ll definitely post about it, but at this point, the odds aren’t looking good for either.


The Sea, The Sea (cough)

14 February 2009

The news was rolling along downhill as usual:

“Global Warming Seen Worse Than Predicted”

Oh, I was shocked, shocked.

“GM to Offer Two Choices: Bankruptcy or More Aid”

I vote for bankruptcy. I’ve never been much in favor of life support for terminal patients.

But then I hit this:

“Beaches May Harbor Staph Bacteria: U.S. Study”

[Researchers] said people who swim in subtropical marine waters have a 37 percent higher risk of being exposed to staph bacteria, including an antibiotic resistant staph known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

The article suggests that a few simple precautions will keep us safe though. Shower before a dip, then shower after. Not a bad idea, of course. But the last line from Dr. Lisa Plano of the University of Miami caused my eyes to widen:

“If you don’t go into the water with a gaping wound, you should be fine.”

What?! So people will miss all the fun of having salt water hit their gaping wounds. Is their no joy left anywhere in the world?


The American Dream

13 February 2009

I was just rereading the transcript of Bill Moyers August 15, 2008 interview with Andrew Bacevich.

In one part, Bacevich responds to the infamous remark Dick Cheney parroted about the American way of life not being negotiable.

The American way of life equals The American Dream, doesn’t it? So what does that mean?

Ever consider the word “dream”?

Here’s the definition from for the noun form:

1. a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.
2. the sleeping state in which this occurs.
3. an object seen in a dream.
4. an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake.
5. a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.
6. an aspiration; goal; aim: A trip to Europe is his dream.
7. a wild or vain fancy.
8. something of an unreal beauty, charm, or excellence.

Nice mix of possibilities here, huh?

As far as I can see, most Americans have slipped well away from “aspiration; goal; aim” to “wild and vain fancy.”

And how many of us noticed? And, assuming many now agree this has happened, WHEN did it happen?

And what–if anything–are most Americans going to do about our current economic crisis?

From what I’m seeing, our government intends to fan the flames rather than extinguish the fire. And it looks like too many who are still employed are grudgingly adding to savings and cutting back while still expecting the good times to roll again.

Dream on.


Fair and Unweighted

11 February 2009

It’s well known that American school children lag in math skills.

But could this help explain why many deny climate change?

Here’s the line from “Global Warming Is Not Our Fault … It’s Nature” that got me thinking: “[F]ar from having their views suppressed, [climate change] sceptics have been given too much exposure.”

From what I can see, the number of truly knowledgeable sceptics is tiny. In fact, I haven’t run across a peer-reviewed study that said anthropogenic climate change wasn’t happening for a long time now.

But somehow a lot of people still think there’s a heated and equal or nearly equal debate going on.

Then I remembered some guy who’d just bought a lottery ticket being asked what he thought his chances were of winning. He said, “Fifty-fifty. Either I win or I don’t.”

Lousy math skills! That’s it!

Of course, other reasons may apply.


Expect Optimism from the IMF?

8 February 2009

Here’s a little something from today’s in an article entitled “IMF Says Advanced Economies Already in Depression (Update1)”:

Advanced economies are already in a “depression” and the financial crisis may deepen unless the banking system is fixed, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

The next paragraph contains a line even more sobering: ““The worst cannot be ruled out,” Strauss-Kahn said . . . . “There’s a lot of downside risk.”

Oh, goodie. Even mainstream sources are beginning to sound as dire as the doomer financial sites I frequent. Interesting, isn’t it?


First the Bees, Now the Bats

4 February 2009

Just ran across this “Bat-killing Syndrome Spreads in Northeast.”

I have a high tolerance for the dire and the dismal, but I could really use some good news.


P.S. A friend just sent me this from YouTube. This counts as good news. Kinda.

Bee-Boy dance crew drops dead