Archive for June, 2010

Ivory Tower: 97 Percent Sure

28 June 2010

Bad–meaning neither good nor funny–joke time.

What’s the difference between Ivory Soap’s purity and the Ivory Tower’s view of climate change?

Answer: 2.44 percent.

Ivory Soap produced one of the most memorable advertising slogans of all time with their “99 44/100ths percent pure” claim. I wonder how many people today know what the point of comparison was. (In case anyone cares, it was ordinary castile soap.)

In comparison with Ivory Soap, the Ivory Tower sorts are not that far behind, percentage-wise, that is. Daily Tech‘s Tiffany Kaiser reports on the results of a recent study in “Stanford Study: Few Experts Support Global Warming Skepticism”:

[T]he university’s team of scientists decided on who the top 100 climate researchers are by determining the “total number of climate-related publications each had.” According to Anderegg, 97 percent of those in the top 100 agree with and/or endorse the IPCC’s assessment. He also says that this result has been “borne out” by other studies that use different methodology.

How did they calculate this 97 percent? Those performing the study used common methodology:

The university came to these conclusions by analyzing the number of research papers published “by more than 900 climate researchers” and the number of times these researchers’ works were cited by other scientists. The expertise was evaluated by citing the number of research papers written by scientists (with the minimum number for inclusion being 20).

In other words, they used academics to vet other academics who published and cited the work of still more academics. Reading this, I remembered an old cartoon of a dog being tried for cat-icide in front of a jury comprised totally of cats. The cats didn’t look like they could be convinced of the dog’s innocence no matter what evidence was offered. I pictured the dog as academia and climate skeptics as the cats.

This paragraph from Kaiser’s story reinforced that dog-cat image:

The scientists at Stanford have mentioned that they are ready to take some heat from doubters of anthropogenic, or human-affected, climate change who “object to their data.” But according to Stephen Schneider, a professor of biology and a coauthor of the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team “took pains to avoid any sort of prejudice or skewed data in their analysis.” When selecting researchers for the study who either disagreed with statements of the IPCC or signed the petitions, the Stanford team was sure to stay completely neutral in the study by omitting “those who had no published papers in the climate literature.”[emphasis added]

In other words, the researchers omitted the people most often relied on by skeptics. Michaels, Inhofe, various think tanks. Why? Simple. Most skeptics are commentators. Some would say agenda-driven nitpickers and propagandists, but that’s not really the issue. In academia commentators are called secondary sources. In scientific academia, secondary source material generally rates below primary research because secondary work analyzes, interprets, or otherwise comments on some primary source. To scientists, ACTUAL RESEARCH is what counts. Scientists expect criticism in the form of more actual research. Commentary is fine, but there had better be primary data on which to hang it.

Knowing primary from secondary research is vital for most first year college students who want a passing grade in composition. However, skeptic hackles are undoubtedly rising and the hissing and spitting beginning. Most academics put great stress on primary work. Most skeptics do not. Academics tend to put even greater stress on primary work done by well known authorities most of whom live in academia or work for governmental agencies. One guess where skeptics rest their trust.

America has a long history of intolerance for academia. That’s just a fact. Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” traces the historical details on this. The part about how earlier Americans favored the gritty, traditional farmer over the ag college scientists is, to me at least, analogous to the current favoring of meteorologists over climate science specialists.

Some aspects of America scare me–100 percent of the time.



Summer on the Farm

22 June 2010

In case anyone wonders why I’ve posted so little, the answer is simple: It’s SUMMER.

The ducklings arrived on June 10. I’ve already had to enlarge the enclosure in the garage. Since their growth rate is prodigious, I had to refill the feeder every couple of hours because there just isn’t room for a larger feeder. Changing bedding takes time. So does changing out the waterer and cutting greens from the garden for them. (At least my bolting spinach isn’t going to waste this year.)

We are also working on the main duck pen. It’s now about 95% complete. A few more trim pieces and it’ll be ready. We have a week before the ducklings will be ready for outdoor living. The heat lamp will need to be moved and adjusted for the house inside the pen. But, with luck, that won’t take too long.

I’ve set all the flagstone around the perimeter of the duck house. That took two days right there. Now I have to find time to pick up and store the extra rock that’s strewn around the site.

In addition to this, of course, I water and weed my vegetables and try to at least pick at some of the weeds in the wildflowers and native grasses. At least I got most of the thistle out of the rock walkway. Most. The Virginia creeper is threatening to take over the junipers on the north walkway. I carried an armload of that out this morning. Perhaps two or three full cartloads remain to be removed. But, hey, it doesn’t look like a desert around here at all.

That, of course, is because we irrigate. We flooded the east field, the one around the house on the 7th. We still have free river water for irrigation, so we’re now irrigating the upper field on the west. That’ll take two days.

With the irrigation and the two inches of spring rain, the pastures are several feet high. The horses are growing fat and now require even more monitoring so they don’t founder. I let them out for two hours and bring them in, once in the morning and once in the evening. Of course, this doesn’t include bringing in the TB gelding after an hour because he’s become so cresty I consider him pre-founder.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s pretty simple. Like most Americans, horses overeat. Spring grass is like ice cream to them. The sugar content of grass rises during the day. As with people, getting fat brings on insulin resistance. Worst case scenario, your horse develops inflammation in his feet so severe the bones rotate in the hooves and he has to be destroyed.

Think Barbaro. The fractures healed, but standing around induced inflammation–founder–and led to his death. Think Secretariat. Like most breeding stallions, he got fat. Then he foundered. Then he too died from an injection. There is no cure for severe founder, and the condition is extremely painful.

Why don’t wild horses founder? Easy. They don’t have irrigated pastures. They eat then walk miles to find the next patch of grass. But we have only 20 acres of so-so ground, which might without irrigation, feed one horse in our semi-arid climate. So I spend my summer shuffling horses in and out.

Once they come in to their nearly bare playpen, they spend the afternoon trying to reach the grass over the fence. Top rails fall. Aging posts snap. Late afternoon becomes a time for fence repair. Yesterday, we gave up and bought another solar fence charger. Later today we will begin electrifying the turnout.

We are working twelve hour days. I’m looking forward to going to the college this afternoon for a short session of teaching in the writing lab. This gives me a chance to sit down.


If Not Oil, Then Lithium?

15 June 2010

I found this New York Times article disturbing: “U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan.”

Reading this, I feel like I need lithium, so, like the NYT, I’ll reserve editorial comment.


Post-Keynesian Problems

12 June 2010

In his June 12, 2010 blog entry, UC Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich touts JM Keynes’ philosophy as an (the?) answer to the current economic situation:

Keynes prescribed two remedies – both of which are now necessary: Government spending to “prime the pump” and get businesses to invest and hire once again. And, as Keynes wrote, “measures for the redistribution of incomes in a way likely to raise the propensity to consume.” Translated: Instead of big tax cuts for corporations and the rich, tax cuts and income supplements for the middle class.

On first mention this sounds reasonable. The top one percent of Americans control the country right now. I have absolutely nothing against people being paid well for hard work, but, using the banking fiasco as a primary example, isn’t it obvious enough isn’t enough any more? Chicanery that passes for hard work is still chicanery, isn’t it?

More questions come. Do most middle class people think of income supplements for themselves when they hear talk of redistribution of income? Don’t they think welfare and lazy people picking up freebies? I’ve read a good many books on how the right took over the mantras of the left, but I’m still unclear on how this sort of wool pulling happened.

More importantly, is this situation fixable by something as basic as taxation? Does it matter if someone were to redistribute by taxing and supplementing as Reich suggests? Where is the consideration of a lapsed manufacturing industry, overpopulation, dwindling resources, possible climate change, and other factors that simply were not there when Keynes came up with his theory? How will this affect the redistribution were it to happen?

Worse yet, is there a chance that our government would possibly act against the wishes of the one percent who own the lobbyists and control the purse?

I wish a recessionary economy were all we had to worry about. I fear we live in a post-Keynesian world.


The Five Stages of Peak Oil

10 June 2010

In today’s post on The Archdruid Report, “Waiting for the Millennium: Part One: Peak Oil Goes Mainstream,” John Michael Greer sums up the Five Stages of Peak Oil thusly: “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and getting off your rump and doing something . . . .”

That last part, although almost certainly inevitable for those who want to survive, would be a problem even if most of us were at that stage. Few want to work as hard as will be necessary.

Having just finished irrigating, I can vouch for how hard the physical labor is going to be. As we flood irrigated this time, I thought continually of the little gasoline pump that aided us. The tiny electric pumps it replaced did only a fraction of its work. Without either gas or electricity, irrigating only the top five acres of our land, already backbreaking work for two people and only somewhat tolerable for the six who did it this time, would require perhaps fifteen people with hoes and shovels.

I suppose this should depress me, but I enjoyed this irrigation even though I’m feeling my age. Shared physical labor is more satisfying than almost anything I know. Plus, I’ve always loved physical labor. After the body recovers from the initial exhaustion comes a new mental clarity.

Unfortunately, few of the intellectuals I know agree with me. Indeed, a good many I know fled to academia to escape the shovel and the hoe that loom as the technology of the future. Right now, they, like most others, still dither and deny that this will come to pass, so I’ll repeat C. Northcote Parkinson’s line as a warning: “Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”

I’m now going to pull weeds, tend the new ducklings, and repeat the closing incantation in Greer’s post. I’ll be smiling.


Pollan on Lawns

8 June 2010

Today’s AWAD vocabulary email brought with it this line:

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule. -Michael Pollan, author, journalism professor (b. 1955)

I like this. The typical, manicured American lawn reflects not a love of nature but of conformity. When I ask the typical lawn tender why a weed-free plane of clipped grass is so important, I usually get blank stares. Most do not reflect on the waste of water, fertilizer, and time.

Consequently, I was glad to add Michel Pollan to my non-infidel list.

I still say it! Death to Infidel Lawns!

Handbasket Report — Oil Kills

7 June 2010

Shortly after the Gulf oil spill began, a viral email hit many blogs. Purportedly by an engineer with 25 years experience, it suggested the possibility of a terrifyingly dire outcome for the world. I couldn’t cross-reference it, so I didn’t mention it.

Unfortunately, mainstream media sources are now pumping out articles where well known authorities are predicting possibilities not unlike that from the person who said he/she was an engineer.

Here’s one: “What the Spill Will Kill”

Reading this, I thought it might be a good time to reread Peter Ward’s Under a Green Sky.

And I was worried about methane from melting permafrost.

Silly me.



4 June 2010

Years ago I caught an illuminating lecture by Naomi Oreskes who teaches history and science studies at UC San Diego. She traced the history and origins of climate change denial in a convincing fashion. Until then, I naively wondered why people would put so much effort into attacking what looked to me to be mostly, kinda, pretty solid studies, that is real science as opposed to “sound science,” which is, as far as I can tell, some sort of absolute and perfect work, that is, something other than real science.

Real scientists screw up and then have their mistakes noted by other real scientists who typically produce counter-results in their own studies. The result is usually an improvement all around. Eventually, a consensus arises. Sometimes this takes a long, long time.

In the lecture, Oreskes pointed out that a significant number of the actual scientists who deny global warming have an “interesting” background. For example, the infamous S. Fred Singer worked diligently to defend cigarettes against the nasty people who said they caused cancer. (Snide aside: Free marketeers know that socialism and communism are the primary causes of cancer.)

I look forward to getting a copy of her new book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming in the next few weeks. But it’s nice to know that others are delving into the historical aspects of this issue. Here’s an article worth a look:

“Climate Denial Activists’ Parallel to Anti-relativity Movement of 1920s”


Peak Wood

3 June 2010

Back in March, I posted “Pining for Cooling, Update: Peak Sawlog”
The situation is even more real to me right now since the beetles are right now flying–swarming–in the mountains, and I have a growing pile of beetle-killed pine logs in the driveway awaiting their fate as winter firewood.

I’m happy to have a supply of wood, but I’m aware that wood is hardly a long term answer to our energy problems. To support that comment, here’s a good article:

“Peak Wood: Nature Does Impose Limits”