Sunday, January 3, 2010


Holy living fuck, he's the President of The United States... I think he looks dignified in that pic. And I think he's justified. He saved us from McCain/Whoever for 2012 (in more than one sense, and Palin would be on her third book tour or Oprah-Successor-show).

Those laurels are nice, Mr President- it's too bad that half our country is too whacked out on rightwing ideology that you can't try a little harder to do something about it.

Please see me on that final point at your earliest convenience.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Some Evidence

How do we know that global warming is ongoing? How do we know that it is caused by human activities?

The lines of evidence are numerous, and like a house which is supported by many pillars, the entire edifice is stable even if one or several might fail. This has not happened- the letter writer is spreading disinformation (whether he knows it or not) on a deadly serious subject. Satellite measurements starting in the 1970's have documented a drop in infrared radiation emitted from the Earth's surface out into space, along wavelengths absorbed only by carbon dioxide. Wavelengths absorbed by water vapor have remained relatively constant. This evidence shows that the enhanced greenhouse warming observed is due to excess carbon dioxide. Analysis of the carbon atoms in our atmosphere, compared to those in samples from before the Industrial Revolution, show that the isotopes (carbon atoms varying in the amount of neutrons in their nucleus) come from fossil fuels.

In 1940, for some time onward, the bulk of fossil fuel burning was "dirty" coal. This is the largest reason for the lack of observed mid-century warming. Burning coal not only releases CO2, but also sulfur dioxide. Tiny sulfur dioxide particles in the atmosphere cause cooling by reflecting light back into space.

One way people cloud the facts of this debate is by throwing in short term cooling trends. Climate is defined as weather averaged over time, the shortest time period for climate being 30 years, due to natural cycles such as the Solar Cycle and El Nino. 1998 was unusually warm due to a strong El Nino. Recently, the sun has reached the minimum energy of its cycle. Both of these together have caused slight cooling since 1998. However, the sun is on the upswing, and the lack of a strong El Nino means that the oceans have been absorbing heat, where it is out of sight, but not out of mind. Its effects will be felt in the future- prepare yourselves.

In response to this.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hometown Smackdown! Part II!

Did you know global warming scientists recently have been caught manipulating and suppressing data in one of the biggest scientific frauds of the century? The Gazette along with other like-minded media outlets must consider these global warming revelations no big deal because they’ve chosen to ignore or downplay this scandal for several months now.
A team of reporters at the Associated Press did an “exhaustive review” of the climate scientists’ e-mail stolen from the University of East Anglia in the UK and concluded that “the messages don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked.” at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center said: “Climate skeptics are claiming that they show scientific misconduct that amounts to the complete fabrication of man-made global warming. We find that to be unfounded….E-mails being cited as ‘smoking guns’ have been misrepresented.
In Climate Denier Gate (Stephen Schneider’s term for what the deniers call “Climategate”), “the private frustrations of a few climate scientists was turned into an ostensible plot by the entire climate science community in dozens of countries, hundreds of institutions, and hammered out over 40 years of peer reviewed assessment studies—as some kind of fraud.” Schneider says, “The big untold story here is how broken the 2009 media is for investigating the wrong folks and giving credibility to a non-event that changes nothing in climate science.”

I could easily cut and paste much more on the issue, but these are representative of the informed commentary.

Of course, the main problem is that uninformed commentary has a what seems like a hundred to one advantage on the issue. Why? Could it be that simple, comprehensible narratives about falls from grace are more appealing to most people than complex mathematical operations (the so-called "manipulation of evidence")? Who'd have thought that?
In the history of the last century, can anyone point to a large-scale scientific fraud of the nature alleged? I'm not aware of any comparable episode in countries where research is free of government interference. (No, government funding is not interference. You can write a grant proposal for whatever research idea you can come up with. We have a very good, very open review process which determines whether funding is granted). Of course, large groups of scientists have been wrong, seriously wrong, about issues within their area of expertise before. These issues have been resolved by examination of their work, not by scorched-earth smear campaigns in the media.

On the other hand, can anyone point to a campaign to discredit scientific research which indicated that the activities of an industry were harmful to human health and the environment, or which simply contradicted the dogma of people who, to borrow a phrase from one of the geniuses of our time, believe the same thing Wednesday that they did on Monday, regardless of what happened Tuesday? You'd have to be living in a cave in Antarctica to not know about the public relations wars over at least one of the following: tobacco, lead in gasoline and paint hexavalent chromium, the AIDS virus, various drugs pushed by pharmaceutical companies... the list is long.

So that's what it comes down to. You can believe that something which has never been seen before is happening now, i.e. that scientists worldwide have abandoned their tried and true methods and engaged in a conspiracy, thousands strong, for political power or money (regardless of the fact that either could be achieved by easier means) or you can believe that reactionary elements in the public, in collusion with corporate interests, are engaged in manipulating the views of government officials and average citizens to safeguard their "right" to harm and impoverish you, something that has happened with depressing regularity throughout the last century.

The Noughties Are Dead

Doghouse Riley is my muse on a hung-over morning:

Th' fuck are we supposed to remember about a Decade that began with Gary Condit and Terrorist Attacks and ended with Tiger Woods and demands for More Terrorist Attack nostalgia? And in which The Same Goddam Thing filled the space between those bookends? How do you talk about history, even fatuously, when everything that happens is now either discounted immediately or slowly backed away from in hopes nobody will ask questions? It's the Decade in which we pretty much decided officially to quit trying to solve problems, due to Problems' pesky habit of making us look at problems, and just see if the fishin' wasn't a little better once we floated downstream a tad.

The past decade was much less than the sum of its parts; vapidity, narcissism, cowardice, plastic turkeys and bulging codpieces, served on a bed of mixed brown and white war dead, and a complimentary mug of steaming hot spite. It gave us the notion that reality is out to get us and the observation that it's doing a damn good job of it. The only thing left to do at that point was to invent a new, more pliant "Reality Lite" to stand up next to the scarecrow in the field, a target for the slings and arrows of millionaire pundits and politicians who transport their red pick 'em up trucks to the rally on a semi, behind the stretch hummer with the wet bar, hot tub, and IV Fox News feed. This was the decade which gave us Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber and fucking Nickelback.

Gone, gone, gone. The sooner we can clear the rubble, the sooner we can build again.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rules of Denialism

How does a denialist think? In my opinion, it's indisputable that the most vocal denialists begin with a conclusion. However, pinning down that conclusion is difficult. Do they believe that the earth isn't warming? If it is demonstrated that it is, do they then shift to the claim that the warming isn't anthropogenic? That it's solar forcing, and nothing more? That it's cosmic rays?

Even in the unlikely event that a denialist will admit that warming is happening, and that it is human-caused, they have prepared further lines of defense: Global Warming is good for you! Of course, this completely ignores that massive economic and social disruptions are hardly ever good for anyone.

Or, the denier can skip all of these, and accuse you of holding an irrational "religious" belief in anthropogenic global warming.

I'm finding that my instincts toward civility are being eroded quickly by these interactions with denialists. Of course, I almost always return insults in kind, though I do know that is rarely a productive tactic. As I saw in my argument with H.H, a denier can open a discussion with a pointed personal insult:

That there is a strong correlation between easily managed subjects and the same constituency being liberal and increasingly dependent upon society for their sustenance seems to be more than a coincidence;
and yet be completely oblivious to the fact that this may be offensive. When the insult is returned, rather mildly in my opinion, the denier has a hissy fit:

i do find it interesting how you immediately try to disparage and otherize one who presents you with critical, contrary thought. objective scientists don't rely on such pathetic personal attacks; only those without substantive arguments.

Would it be too much to conclude from this that denialism is often associated with narcissism? I'm not a psychologist- however, it seems to me that this is the product of a psyche with an outsized, yet extremely fragile, ego.

Hometown Smackdown!

Being snowed in and short of hours at work, I've taken to haunting the comments section of my local paper. It is a reliable source for all sorts of right-wing lunacy. And, as anyone interested in the popularization of climate change science knows, where you have right-wing lunacy, you have climate change denial.

The discussion there is complex and ongoing, and extremely difficult to summarize. However, it appears to contain all of the classic denier elements. I offer now my latest post there in the belief that anyone familiar with denialism can deduce what is going on here:

Well I'm sorry to have confused you with my writings. When I wrote "all of these save one" I was talking about your claims that Gore's statements were inaccurate. If you re-read my post, you may find it makes more sense in that light. The fact that you apparently couldn't deduce that from the context doesn't speak well for our ability to communicate on this issue.

I'm not trying to be arrogant, but as I've indicated before, I've studied this issue in academia. It is, without a doubt, a complicated one. I'm starting to wonder if a lot of people have the necessary background in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and logic to comprehend it. That's why Al Gore is a two-edged sword for the climate science community. He simplifies things sufficiently for people who don't have that background to have an illusion of comprehension. At least I assume that to be so, based on the various commentaries and reactions to his books and documentary, as I've never read nor seen them.

The second edge cuts backward, however. His simplification open him up to charges of oversimplification. Some of his examples are poorly chosen, as we've discussed above. There is also a lot of animus in the conservative community toward him, due to his political activities in the '90s and the 2000 election. When you, and these others, develop their own illusion of comprehension, it forms in reaction to these things and is resistant to reputable science, and insists that up is down, black is white, and hot is cold.

Unfortunately, climate change is a very serious political and economic issue. It absolutely needs a "popular information component." Why deniers continue to deny themselves a seat at the table through arguments from ignorance and insane conspiracy theories is beyond me. It seems to show that some people will indeed cut off their nose to spite their face.

As I tried to demonstrate to you by linking to RealClimate's data dump, the work involved in developing a thorough understanding the issue is daunting. It is difficult to imagine that many people could have the time and energy to truly understand the issue. However, when you need a coronary bypass, you don't go and get an MD and do it yourself. You go to someone who has an MD and certificates as a cardiac surgeon, because that is proof that they know what they're doing.

It's also nice for you that you can look at a post, and conclude that it's overlong, and therefore "crud." I was giving you the benefit of the doubt- your apparent passion for the issue might be the result of genuine curiosity. However, your positions are hardened, and when you cannot deny my detailed replies, we see what you do as a last ditch effort to shield your fragile beliefs- you make yourself believe that I, and the thousands of climate scientists devoting their lives to this problem, are part of a "religion," and that making this argument is some sort of auto da fe where we burn heretics at the rhetorical stake. That just reveals the limitations of your perspective.

Now it is probably apparent that I'm coming to the end of my rope with these particular interlocutors. One can only explain the same issue so many times, only be accused of belonging to an irrational religious faith, without either giving up or snapping. And I have to admit, I enjoy a good verbal takedown. For instance, this exchange, between "B" and me (PG):

B: What amazes me is that Gore, a self proclaimed wizard of global warming science, has any credibility at all when he and his "followers" accept every and any cause of global warming except the most obvious - THE SUN!

PG: You know, if the large majority of your income was spent on necessities- housing, utilities, groceries, etc., leaving , say, $100 per month for elective expenses, and you regularly spent $200, does that mean you're going broke because of the necessities?

B: No, according to your analagy, it means you're going broke because of 'the most obvious reason', THE SUN or as you put it, your "elective expenses". Thanks for your help.

PG: lol. Okay, in the earth-sun system, the sun is the necessity. It is the largest factor. Can you decipher the rest now, or do I have to hold your hand some more?

B: The only thing more unattractive than condescending arrogance is
unjustified condescending arrogance

PG: If you would stop trying to justify your irrational beliefs by being purposefully disingenuous, you wouldn't have to feel so put upon by people pointing it out. Or you could stop being so vocal on a subject where you disagree with a very large majority of the experts, and use your eyes and ears instead of your mouth and fingers.

Now I have to admit here I'm channeling what I call my "internal drill instructor." These highly dedicated and skilled Marines were never ones to mince words, and could sting one's pride to the core with a half-second glance. The denier here, however, appears to have a strong reaction, expressed in their "unjustified condescending arrogance" remark. So be it, I should know by now that people don't respond well to criticism from anonymous strangers on the internet. However, I do think that in many cases, a rhetorical slap to the face is the best policy. It's times like this when I think about what my ultimate goal is here- is it to educate these people? Difficult, to say the least (Socrates' friends on the road to Piraeus demonstrated conclusively how to avoid convincing , and I'm no Socrates). Is it to discredit them so that they'll think twice before posting the same crap again? Also an unlikely outcome, as denialism seems to be endemic to verbal masochists. Getting short with them seems simply to reinforce their victimization complexes.

What are the sources of these, and how best to sidestep them?

This remains the open question.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Often Wrong, Never In Doubt

I once heard someone describe a person as "Often wrong, never in doubt." I was a Lance Corporal in the USMC at the time and was tickled by the description. USMC doctrine and tradition demanded that a Marine be ready for action at all times. To hesitate when faced with an ambiguous situation was to invite failure into your house for a good sit-down, a big dinner, and an eternal stay. "It is better to act inappropriately," in effect, "and be wrong, than to do nothing at all." This is useful in combat, where it's better to stay on the move and handle potentially lethal situations as they come. When it comes to collaborative efforts to determine truth, it may be less useful. With the aid of the internet, you can resolve your ambiguity quickly, and armed with numerous citations, you can fortify your rhetorical position so well that you never have to think again.

Thus, many people, military and non-, have become adherents of this view. The internet has allowed everyone to become an "instant expert" on practically any field of endeavor. Don't know much about autocatalytic reactions? Google will sort you out in 0.24 seconds!

The main barrier to education today, it seems, is not being able to find information. It's how to judge how reliable the vast masses of information you find are. In a contentious issue such as climate change, this is a real problem. The always cogent Roy Edroso sums the issue up in this way:

We were once promised a consortium of great minds cooperating to unravel current events, and wound up with a cottage industry of propaganda mills extracting partisan advantage out of every news item that comes down the pike and churning it into outrage.
This isn't exactly new- theological historians will recall the acrimony over minute disputes in Christian dogma in the late Roman period:

The classic argument of the time was based on one iota of difference, the small letter ‘i’ in the Greek alphabet. The Nicene Creed used the term homoousia, God and Jesus being of one and the same substance. The Arians preferred the term homoiousia, God and Jesus being of like or similar substance.

Espousing the incorrect belief then could result in condemnation as a heretic, a meaningful punishment for clergy at the time, but not for the general population. The rarefied air of Church Councils has now given way to the office water cooler, the corner bar, and the echo chambers of the internet.

Thus, the issue has reached epidemic proportions today and affects anyone who seeks to be well-informed. In his novel Anathem, Neal Stephenson explains the problem and envisions a solution and implements it on an alien, though still human, world:

"Anyone can post information on any topic. The vast majority of what's on the [Internet] is, therefore, crap. It has to be filtered... When I look at [an esoteric topic] I don't just see information about that topic. I see meta-information ... the filtering system tells me that only a few sources have provided information about this and that they are mostly of high repute... If I look up the name of a popular music star who just broke up with her boyfriend... the filtering system tells me that a vast amount of data has been posted on this topic recently, mostly of very low repute"

- Neal Stephenson, Anathem, p. 407
Getting back to climate change, the amount of information available is staggering. Google returns 37,600,000 hits for the search "global warming" and suggests several further refinements, most neutral constructions such as "facts on global warming," but also "global warming hoax," which returns 2,740,000 hits, the majority of which I think we can safely assume are crap.
Given the voluminous and calamnous nature of the denialist industry, it is easy to see why people such as my interlocutor yesterday can feel self-righteous and assume that I'm the misinformed one. Mentioning that I have a degree in Geoscience simply verifies in their minds that I have been indoctrinated. Questioning their claims, and rebutting them with reputable science just shows what a close-minded bastard I am.

This is clearly a problem which cannot be solved overnight. However, the alternative is to live in a world where science is done by democratic vote, regardless of qualification. As science is the best method the human race has found to guide its decisions regarding the natural world which we all must live in regardless of personal philosophy, this may be a question of the survival of our species.