Mar 1, 2010

Sense from Senselessness [LINK]

In a much-discussed post, NRO Online's Andy McCarthy says that Democrats' apparent willingness to force the massive health care bill through the reconciliation process is perfectly rational as a means of achieving long-term goals, even amid signs of massive voter backlash. Conservatives such as McCarthy are thus now grappling with much the same paradigm shift as occurred among the defense establishment after September 11, when they recognized the new unfamiliar threat of extremely zealous people willing to commit suicide on behalf of their cause.

Feb 22, 2010

The Weirding of Thomas Friedman [LINK]

In the wake of the CRU climategate and associated scandals surrounding the IPCC's influential assessment reports, Thomas Friedman's New York Times column on "global weirding" comes as a rhetorical cry for help. Read it in full, then judge whether any of my bite-sized comments make sense.

  1. Cold, precipitous weather in the south and warm weather in the Pacific Northwest are typical weather patterns for winters in El NiƱo years. You might even say they're its defining characteristics.
  2. Recent research on the Australian drought has settled on a similar oscillation in the Indian Ocean, with one recent paper providing explicit reason to dismiss increased CO2 as a significant cause.
  3. Friedman argues, correctly, against those who summarily declare that recent heavy snowfall in Washington D.C. serves to disprove global warming. However, he repeats much the same error in casually assigning global warming as the cause.
  4. We used to have "global warming," then we switched over to the more vague term "climate change." I'm not sure if "global weirding" is even more vague, but the point remains: we have traveled from a fairly specific, testable assertion to one that is largely unfalsifiable. Weather patterns trending in any direction might serve as evidence.
  5. Unexpected, outlying, or so-called "weird" weather events are, in fact, quite common, and to be routinely expected given natural variability.
  6. The idea that the "most violent storms" would become "more numerous" is one of the assertions the IPCC was recently found to have made without required proper support from the peer-reviewed literature.
  7. "The hots are expected to get hotter, the wets wetter, the dries drier" ... Amusing that he doesn't go so far as to say that "weirding" makes cold weather even colder, since it's the frigid temperatures throughout the northern hemisphere that made this winter particularly weird, even more so than the local precipitation events. It's not every day people die of hypothermia in Cuba. (Perhaps it would have been too weird for Friedman to say that weirding makes cold weather even colder.)
  8. The hook Friedman uses in his lede is quite disingenuous. There are plenty of substantial grounds for skepticism, yet he focuses on only the most flippant.
  9. While it's true that snowfall in D.C. does not actually disprove global warming, it's certainly legitimate to rub your nose in it to the extent that past outlying episodes of warm weather have been routinely cited as confirmation.
  10. It strikes me as very bad advice for scientists to go on the offensive in trumpeting their climate certainties, when that's exactly the sort of thing that got the CRU & IPCC into such trouble to begin with that they're now struggling to regain their credibility.
  11. Likewise, how is it a good idea that we produce a 50-page report "in language that a sixth grader could understand" on the state of climate science? The IPCC currently produces a large, relatively rigorous document that is boiled down into a much shorter summary document for the benefit of policy-makers and journalists. Most complaints about how the IPCC publishes misleading and exaggerated information concern these dumbed-down summaries. How would the document Friedman describes be formed any differently?
  12. Why should this document only highlight wild exaggerations made by one side? What about the pervasive and false assertion that ice is about to disappear from the North Pole?
  13. "Climate experts can't leave themselves vulnerable by citing non-peer-reviewed research or failing to respond to legitimate questions." Well, this certainly understates the matter, doesn't it? It's not just that the IPCC cited non-peer-reviewed research claiming rapid melting of Himilayan glaciers; it's that it cited bogus, made-up material from activist groups. Likewise, it's not that members of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit simply failed to respond to legitimate questions; it's that they broke the law by evading freedom-of-information requests for data used to support their scientific conclusions.
  14. And what would a climate change article be without a sweeping insinuation about how skeptics are funded? "From the oil and coal companies that finance the studies skeptical of climate change to conservatives who hate anything that will lead to more government regulations"... Note that the latter are characterized as ideologues, while the former are presumably only in it for the money, a rather flexible range of poisonous characterizations.
  15. Accusations of irrational ideological bias can certainly cut both ways. Global warming adherents often see their cause as a moral crusade. If we are indeed on the verge of global catastrophe, with little sign that people are willing to significantly reduce their energy consumption, and little sign of high yields from "renewable" energy sources, wouldn't there be a whole lot more enthusiasm for nuclear power?
  16. Appealing to the precautionary principle, Friedman says "investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and mass transit" makes sense as a form of "insurance." Actually, what we are being asked to do is dramatically lower our energy consumption, which comes at great cost to living standards, and by all accounts would barely reduce CO2 levels or temperature. Such "investments" may arguably be a good idea on their own terms independent of climate panic, but they may just as well be a fantastic waste of time and effort that would be better spent on some more productive end.
  17. Friedman says that regardless of the effects of climate change, rising population means increased demand for renewable energy. Not exactly. It means increased demand for energy from any source, including fossil fuels.
  18. Finally, ice ages do not come and go "slowly." I don't know where he gets this stuff. Here are temperature readings from the last few hundred thousand years, from Antarctic ice core data from the NOAA. Click to enlarge: Granted, the word "slowly" depends on your time frame, but nonetheless those are some pretty wild 10-degree swings. That thick little squiggle on the right, by the way, represents the entire development of human civilization, during what appears to be an unusually sustained warm period. I can think of one "investment" that may be a prudent form of "insurance": come up with any way imaginable to engineer the climate to keep us from dropping into another of those ice ages.

Feb 12, 2010

Tricky [LINK]

Didn't we just have a big to-do about the special meaning of the word "trick" when used by climatologists? Let's do it again!

Jan 10, 2010

Climatologists are Super Smart! [LINK]

From an article, by Robert Frank in the New York Times, on the response of the great economist Ronald Coase to the problem of carbon dioxide abatement:

Climate scientists agree that the cheapest way to combat global warming is to curb carbon dioxide emissions. And economists agree that the cheapest way to do that is by changing emitters’ incentives, either by taxing emissions or requiring emission permits.

At least this odd sequence of statements doesn't suggest economists agree that the cheapest way to combat global warming is to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Nowhere in the article is there any sign that Coase himself was asked this more fundamental question.

Frank finds it "puzzling" that conservatives and libertarians who have made Coase their "patron saint" world object to either carbon taxes or cap-and-trade proposals, which are based on Coase's pioneering work. But one can simultaneously believe that these proposals offer the best way to reduce CO2, but that reducing CO2 is not the most efficient way to address global warming.

Jan 8, 2010

Abolish Sociology [LINK]

From an introductory sociology exam, found in a public room in a college in the eastern United States:

Question: How does the United States "steal" the resources of other (third world) [sic] countries?

Answer: We steal through exploitation. Our multinationals are aware that indigenous people in developing nations have been coaxed off their plots and forced into slums. Because it is lucrative, our multinationals offer them extremely low wage labor [sic] that cannot be turned down.

Question: Why is the U.S. on shaky moral ground when it comes to preventing illegal immigration?

Answer: Some say that it is wrong of the United States to prevent illegal immigration because the same people we are denying entry to, [sic] we have exploited for the purpose of keeping the American wheel spinning.

Question: Why is it necessary to examine the theory of cumulative advantage when it comes to affirmative action?

Answer: Because it is unfair to discredit the many members of minority groups that have [sic] been offered more life chances through the program.

Question: What is the interactionist approach to gender?

Answer: The majority of multi-gender encounters are male-dominated. for [sic] example, while involved in conversation, the male is much more likely to interrupt. Most likely because the male believes the female's expressed thoughts are inferior to his own.

Question: Please briefly explain the matrix of domination.

Answer: the [sic] belief that domination has more than one dimension. For example, Males [sic] are dominant over females, whites over blacks, and affluent over impoverished.

(via Critical Mass)

Jan 7, 2010

Opacity, not Openness [LINK]

To be fair, if you believed Obama's campaign promise to open up congressional health-care sausage-making to C-SPAN, you should have your head examined.

Here's the sort of dissembling that led to led to Cafferty's uncharacteristic anti-Democratic rant: