Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Political Meltdown

newradiationsymbol_300×200.gifIt’s been a bad month for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It all started rather well. Although not all media outlets were as fawning as Spiegel-Online Merkel did enjoy international praise after the G8 summit in June.

She took that momentum into a German energy summit held in at the beginning of July in order to discuss how CO2 targets can be met. At the summit, it became clear that Merkel planned to pursue one of her long term goals, rolling back the current plan to completely phase out nuclear power in Germany by the year 2021.

There are legitimate reasons to discuss using nuclear power at least as a bridge to achieve lower CO2 emissions while pursuing longer term solutions. Even if no new power plants were built, a very strong argument could be made to keep existing plants in the net. While it is unlikely that she would be able to convince either the SPD or a huge majority of the German public, it was probable that Merkel had planned to put nuclear power back on her party’s platform in time for the next elections.

At this point, a little background is probably necessary for those not familiar with German energy policy.

In the summer of 2001, after long negotiations, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, joined with his coalition partners, the Greens, to in push through a deal to completely eliminate nuclear energy from Germany by 2021 based on a similar plan already in place in Sweden.

Now, depending on whose side you are on, this can be either a good or a bad choice.

On the one hand, it is difficult to deny that there are problems with the current nuclear industry. In Germany, as in many countries, a final repository for nuclear waste has yet to be found. Massive protests are staged every time nuclear waste is re-imported after being processed in France to prepare it for final storage and transported to the interim facility in Gorleben. Another issue is the increasing age of nuclear power plants in Germany. The youngest reactor in the German mix is almost 20 years old, and most were build in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Finally, in an age of terrorist threat, real or imagined, nuclear power stations do make nice targets.

On the other side of the issue stands the elimination of carbon dioxide producing power plants. (Indeed the fly ash produced by coal power plants has been said to be more radioactive because naturally occurring radioactive elements are concentrated in the ash. Of course this is only a problem for coal from certain areas and is something to think about (but not worry about) the next time you spend a lot of time in a cinderblock building.) Lastly, one can make the claim that a normally operating nuclear power plant releases almost no measurable radiation into the environment..

Finally It should also be noted that, following his term as Chancellor, Schröder accepted a job working for the Russian energy supplier Gazprom to build a pipeline to the EU bypassing the eastern European countries. A pipeline that will also supply gas for – you guessed it – non-nuclear power plants. It was a move sharply criticised at the time.

But back to Merkel. As far as I know, alone among top western politicians, Merkel has a science PhD – in physical chemistry. That perhaps explains much of her understanding of the urgency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – she understands the science and not just the policy summaries.

But she also understands politics. And that’s why she’s having a very bad month.

It all started on June 28 with two seemingly unrelated incidents at two different nuclear reactors in Germany,both run by the energy company Vattenfall.

One, Krümmel, had a transformer fire, another reported a minor leak. Later it came out that the transformer fire had been far more serious that first admitted. Plant operators at one point had been forced to put on gas masks. Information has come to light showing that plant operators might have been trying to increase output which ultimately lead to the fire. The “leak” turned out to be a pipe which had exploded due to a hydrogen build up. Vattenfall also doesn’t have a great safety record with two different reactors in Sweden being forced to shut down due to ‘malfunctions.’ They also have a reputation for trying to coverup or downplay events that happen at their reactors.

Merkel was noticeably irritated. According to Spiegel Online,

“It does make me angry, and it’s an experience I had while environment minister, when (safety) regulations are not actually followed from day to day,” Merkel, who led Germany’s ministry of the environment under former chancellor Helmut Kohl, told German television on Tuesday. “That needs to be cleared up, and I mean strictissimi (i.e. according to the letter of the law), otherwise we can’t guarantee ongoing safety.”

Sigmar Gabriel, current environment minister in Merkel’s cabinet, has also been vocally critical of the way Vattenfall has handled the recent reactor mishaps. On Wednesday, he once again took a swipe at the company, saying: “It is a major loss of face for the company. They are campaigning for trust in atomic energy, they should really be the first to say, ‘We are going to lay everything on the table, let’s clear it up.’ Instead, all we see from them is this strange carrying on.” The state of Schleswig -Holstein, where the reactors are located, is looking into whether the company should lose its license to operate nuclear reactors.

Instead of being able to use “glowingly” green energy as part of her next campaign, Merkel will probably have to scrap it. As a matter of fact the Social Democrats, long quite on the issue are becoming far more vocal. From an excellent overview also from Spiegel Online,

Suddenly the Social Democrats, especially Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, see themselves justified in taking the position that nuclear energy is a “risky technology.” “German nuclear power plants are the safest worldwide,” Gabriel said acerbically last week, “aside from the occasional explosion or fire.”
And the public is starting to worry as well. Perhaps for a reason. The article continues with,

The reason for the change in thinking is clear. Whereas most of the some 130 reactor incidents reported annually in Germany are minor and go unnoticed, smoke pouring out of a transformer as happened in Krümmel tends to attract attention. It took the fire department hours to extinguish the blaze. Even worse, the plant operator’s claim that a fire in the transformer had no effect o n the reactor itself proved to be a lie.

In short, the incident has made it clear that nuclear energy is by no means the modern, well organized high-tech sector portrayed until recently by politicians and industry advocates. Indeed, the frequency of problems occurring at Germany’s aging reactors is on the rise. Just as old cars will eventually succumb to rust, the country’s nuclear power plants, built in the 1970s and 80s, are undergoing a natural aging process.

The problems are complicated by maintenance and supervision issues among aging and unmotivated employees. A dangerously lackadaisical attitude has taken hold that is making Germany’s nuclear power plants increasingly unsafe. Most incidents to date have proven to be relatively minor, and yet each new incident becomes yet another link in a chain of problems with the potential to end in a serious accident.,

But the problems aren’t only related to safety issues. In today’s increasingly competitive energy (and management) marketplace, companies are increasingly willing to take risks to improve profit margins.

Industry insiders complain that for some time power plant operators have been attempting to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their old, and for the most part depreciated, reactors. In recent years, for example, the owners of the Krümmel nuclear power plant have invested about €50 million in technical improvements to increase the efficiency of the plant’s turbines, a move that has brought a 7 percent improvement in net output. But these alleged improvements have also increased stress on secondary systems such as the plant’s transformer, systems that were apparently not retrofitted. In fact, this may have been the cause of the Krümmel fire. According to Günther Pikos, a nuclear expert from the western German city of Düren, “the transformer was apparently already damaged by a string of earlier incidents.” Pikos believes that this, combined with the increase in turbine output, was what ended up overloading the transformer.

Finally, perhaps just so Merkel gets the point, yesterday’s earthquake in Japan caused not only a transformer fire but a coolant leak into the Sea of Japan as well.

What all this means is that nuclear power just got much more unpopular in Germany. The long term effects will probably be minimal but Merkel will likely be forced to shelf plans to extend the life of nuclear power until after the next elections.

Any attempt to right now to try to lower carbon dioxide emissions in Germany using the “nuclear option” is, at least politically, radioactive.

Wooly Cutbacks

While I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, I’ve long been a sheep fan. I also like the idea of researchers trying to find alternatives to pesticides which are often made from oil or oil derivatives.

That’s why today’s fluff in the Chicago Tribune made my heart hop higher – it combines sheep, pesticides and wine in one wild and wooly weed-a-thon.

Call them mutton mowers. University researchers are training sheep to clean up vineyard weeds but stay off the grapes.

Enthusiastic and unpicky eaters, sheep are already being used in some vineyards as a green alternative to tractors. They don’t use gasoline and keep down weeds — a necessary task to deter pests and keep vines healthy — sans herbicides.

Unfortunately, sheep will chew up thousands of dollars worth of grapes if left to their own devices.

That’s why University of California, Davis researcher Morgan Doran and his colleagues are experimenting with aversion therapy and other techniques to turn sheep into better field hands.

For those looking to expand the franchise will find that others have preceded them. According to the article Wooly Weeders, a Colorado based company uses lambs and *gasp* sheepdogs to keep those pesky weeds down and the sheep peaceful.

I, for one, am counting on this technology to help reduce global warming and improve sheep-human relations.

Because we all know that the sheep are really an alien race simply biding their time until a UFO comes and takes them home. But you knew that right?

A Tale of Two Tales

Matt Nisbet has a must read post up about two articles covering Bush’s climate plan. Actually it’s less about the idea itself than how the media is reporting it.

The curious part? The two articles based on the same underlying story – written by Climate Change media guru Andrew Revkin -present the context completely differently. As can be seen from the titles – from the

New York Times – Bush Climate Plan: Amid Nays, Some Maybes

International Herald Tribune – Bush critics warming to his plans for cutting emissions

Remember these are the same articles.

Now – go, read all three pieces; then perhaps you should go find a teddy bear and slowly rock yourself because in a world where “reality” is that changeable – we are so screwed.

NASA Needs a New Director!

NASA Needs a New Director!

WTF! I repeat WTF!

I just listened to Michael Griffin on NPR. I’m still under shock. First, go listen.

NPR: Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

Griffith: I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.

NPR: Is that thinking that informs you as you put together the budget? That something is happening, that it’s worth studying, but you’re not sure that you want to be battling it as an army might battle an enemy?

Griffith: Nowhere in NASA’s authorization, which of course governs what we do, is there anything at all telling us that we should take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do it rather well. I’m proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change.

[Original bold removed. My emphasis]

Again Michael Griffin is the NASA director. He is claiming that we shouldn’t do anything about global warming because we don’t know whether this is the best climate there ever was?!

That is just… so … disingenuous. If Phil Plait hadn’t already resigned from NASA, I would expect him too.

To say that people want to change the climate is to ignore the fact that mankind is already changing the climate, in ways we can’t predict – and the NASA director says “I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”

Is this a new Frank Luntz talking point. We don’t want to do anything about climate change because doing something might be bad?

What! WTF!

THANKS loads National Geographic

The kind of image that makes Global Climate Change denialist’s hearts go piddy-pat.


Arctic Ice Melting Much Faster Than Predicted

Kilimajaro’s Glaciers May Last Longer Than Predicted

Look I know both are science, but do they have to be right next to each other? Don’t they look just a bit out of sync?

Couldn’t you headline the second article with “Kilimajaro’s Glacier Loss Linked to Lower Precipitation”. (Check paragraph 4 in the article.) What might be causing the lower preciptiation – hmm?

On the second page of the article –

The scientists say that the Kilimanjaro glacier findings emphasize another way that global warming is affecting the world.

So far many experts have focused on the impact caused by rising sea levels and temperatures. But less has been said about the effects of lower precipitation.

Kilimanjaro’s shrinking glaciers buttress evidence that East Africa is drying out. And that’s a phenomenon that needs to be studied further, researchers point out.


The Gore Delusion? (Updated)

Al Gore is still trying to get America Republicans to believe in Global Climate Change.

According to one attendee of his talks, he’d like you to believe in more than just that.

During his live slideshow today, however, he showed his true colors. One of his slides was a quote from Genesis, which he used to show that humans are the stewards of biodiversity. I have no problem with people quoting from the bible (as long as it makes sense), but I found it kind of funny that he went out of his way to announce that he did not mean to push his religious beliefs on people by using the scripture in his slideshow. I didn’t really see the need for this disclaimer, because I actually agreed with the use of the scripture.

The slide I found particularly interesting/shocking/sad, was his new(?) slide containing a graph of human population growth over the past couple hundred-thousand years. It started off good. He pointed at the beginning of the graph, showing the population of humans on Earth from 200,000 years ago, and referred to the “rise of humans.”

Cool beans. So he believes that Homo sapiens evolved from other hominid ancestors, right? Nope. In the very same breath, he then continued to explain that according to his religious beliefs, this “rise of humans” was God’s creation of mankind – apparently 200,000 years ago. His graph then changed to include the caption “Adam & Eve” above this starting point.

Has anyone else seen this slide? I have no reason to doubt this – but ouch!

I also find it very interesting that despite Al Gore’s activist side, there doesn’t seem to be any way to download his information. Arguably the official web site, The Climate Project is a nice looking, easily sold usability train-wreck. That shouldn’t make me too sceptical.

Nevertheless, can anyone confirm this? It would nice to see Adam and Eve left out of this issue. I mean what did they do wrong? Oh – yeah – that apple thing. *sigh*

I just watched the video of the presentation (not the movie) and it seems to be one of his standard depreciative humor points.

First off. The video is of the presentation given to MoveOn.Org so it is not in front of a big religious crowd. Nevertheless, Gore starts by saying it was his religious beliefs that brought him to environmentalism – stewardship, not activism is the driving force.

But at one point of the presentation, Gore is talking about the three factors leading to the environmental collision with civilisation. The first is population. My transcript from the video.

There are three factors responsible for [the collision] and the first is population

We’re seeing some success in slowing the momentum of population growth, but it is still growing rapidly all around the world.

And if you look at a graph of population from the beginning of the human race until now. Uh. If you go back… now I don’t want to get into a debate about when. We had a trial in Tennessee [Scopes] about this and um. And we lost and I’m very sensitive about it. And uh. But for purposes of argument, if you accept the scientific view that we emerged in our current form 160 thousand years ago, it took more then 10 thousand generations, before we reached a population of 2 billion people when my baby boom generation was born.

So, yes. He might be pointing out a YEC standpoint. On the other hand it doesn’t seem either dogmatic nor terribly serious. I suspect he tailors the talk to the audience.

Do’s and Don’ts of Oversight

The Washington Post has a story up today about the lack of experience staffers needed to implement Democratic oversight over the Bush administration.

According to the article, being in the minority for 10 years takes its toll. Not only on the country, but on the aides and staffers charged with finding and sorting through information. One staffer was embarrassed to admit she didn’t know she could demand documents instead of having to Google for them.

Thus, the nonprofit group Project on Government Oversight has been holding workshops on the lost handicraft of supervision.

The article is a great read and I highly recommend it.

But, to me it also points out the missing workshops for scientists. Scientists need to understand that not only the facts are important, presenting those facts are equally important. According to the Post article, some of the ideas can be directly related to science reporting.

The project’s written tips for “The Do’s and Don’ts of an Oversight Hearing” include: “Keep an eye out for the example that will put a human face on the problem. . . . Find the Department of Defense’s $640 toilet seat” and “Don’t book it in the afternoon — and especially not on a Friday. By the afternoon, most press deadlines have passed. On Friday, the hearing risks getting bumped off the news broadcast in lieu of another celebrity adoption.” [my emphasis]

The classic example of this kind of PR/Framing train wreck is the scheduled release of all three International IPCC reports on Fridays. While most scientists don’t think they should be making policy, they do think they need to make waves on important issues. That doesn’t happen on a Friday.

Thus, the second part of the IPCC, “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” was released on Friday, April 6 with little or no fanfair. The fact that there was little or no press coverage has to do with the timing not the importance.

After all, how many knew that one of the leading scientists got so frustrated with linguistic tweaking by US and Chinese politicians that she walked out? From the Washington Post on the following Saturday,

An inside look at the last few hours of tense negotiations at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals how the diplomats won at the end thanks to persistence and deadlines. But scientists quietly note that they have the last say.

Diplomats from 115 countries and 52 scientists hashed out the most comprehensive and gloomiest warning yet about the possible effects of global warming, from increased flooding, hunger, drought and diseases to the extinction of species.

The 23-page summary certainly didn’t sound diplomatic. But it was too much so, scientists said.

In the past, scientists at these meetings felt that their warnings were conveyed, albeit slightly edited down. But several of them left Friday with the sense that they had lost control of their document. At one point, NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig filed a formal protest and left the building, only to return, make peace and talk in positive tones. Others talked about abandoning the process altogether.

And even worse. How did the headline for this story change over time? When I researched this entry a week ago, I came up with the following screen shot [edited to remove the ad under the header] after searching the Washington Post web site for “IPCC Brussels”

Global Headline Change

I’ll let you guess which headline ended up being used.

All three of those links pointed to the same article. All three of those headlines reflected the same story of politics pushing scientists.

But the final headline? How do scientists ‘get the last word’ at the end of the day? It’s in the last paragraph,

Yet, scientists have their fallback: a second summary that consists of 79 densely written, heavily footnoted pages. The “technical summary,” which will eventually be released to the public but was obtained by The Associated Press, will not be edited by diplomats. The technical summary, Rosenzweig said, contains “the real facts.” [my emphasis]

Oh. Getting the facts out to the public? Right!

Framing science? Workshops about not scheduling things for Friday afternoons might be a start. And refusing to take part in those kinds of hearing due to ‘scheduling conflicts’ might be another.

Science? No.
Important? Your choice – it’s your world.

Science = A Free Exchange of Ideas?

I spend far too much time reading blogs and articles written by scientists for scientists. But I also enjoy reading the behind the scenes view of science journalists like Chris Mooney and Carl Zimmer. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how science can be effectively communicated in a form both understandable and interesting to most lay people.

That is why the news of a paper on framing science by social scientist Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney published in the latest Science sounded so interesting. At least until I realized that the article is only for scientists – or journalists – or those so interested in science to spend somewhere between $100 and $300 for a subscription to a journal that will rarely produce enough information for a ‘layman.’

But then again the article about framing science was directed at scientists and not laymen. And it isn’t that science publications through the American Association of Publishers (AAP) aren’t using framing to present to congress a case against free public access to science papers.  (To be fair, Nature and Science aren’t part of the AAP – John Wiley & Sons, Reed Elsevier and the American Chemical Society are.) And thus scientists will discuss the problem and discuss the ideas and forget that the public are the ones who need to have more input.

But back to framing as such.

Many scientists and journalists seem to think there is a fundamental problem with science education. Carl Zimmer seems to think so.

As a science writer who doesn’t deal much in political reporting, I’m with them–but only up to a point, as far as I can tell. Frankly, I find framing science a bit murky. Nisbet and Mooney tell us that scientists must frame, but for what? They don’t actually say what the goal of framing is, and their implications are hard to turn into a clear picture.
Certainly scientists should think about why the rest of the world ought to care about their research. Certainly they should think about how it will get sucked into the political blender (and how they might want to jump in after it). But framing doesn’t seem like quite the right response to the fact that over two-thirds of people in this country don’t know enough about science to understand a newspaper story on a scientific subject. It seems more like surrender to me. Fixing high school science education seems a better plan. Don’t let kids come out of high school without knowing that a laser emits light, not sound; without knowing about standard deviations; without knowing what a stem cell is. Fixing high school science would be a lot harder than staying on message, but it would be a lot more important.

But the problem isn’t simply education. The problem isn’t simply knowledge. I often see knowledge as an ever growing pyramid.

Children today are being saddled with ever more information on a broader front than ever before. There is little time to filter what knowledge can be accumulated. To think that training hormone-challenged teenagers will solve the issue of scientific thought is a fantasy, to be relegated next to the myths of a historically well trained public (did the Second World War start in 1939 with the invasion of Poland or eight years earlier with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria? Nice western bias – huh? Should we concentrate on science or geography or current events or spelling and basic math?)

Would we prefer people to understand science or be able to balance their check book? Do we want people to understand science or know where Iraq is? Do we want our children to understand the mechanics of evolution or that homelessness isn’t caused by laziness? There is only so much time to teach. A selection must be made. Thus the focus shouldn’t be on the teenagers but their parents and the media. A realistic CSI would be nice, but wouldn’t get ratings. Shows like Mythbusters and Bullshit! are a step in the right direction (Even they get some things wrong – the secondary smoke episode anyone?).

Since I am unable to read the article, I am unable to look at the specific recommendations being made by Nesbit and Mooney.

But I would make a few concrete suggestions.

It has become common knowledge that the Republican National Committee distributes a memo containing talking points. How to frame certain issues using specific language. Scientists need the same thing. Scientists, like politicians need to be able answer bluntly false ideas, not with facts – facts are often unimportant to the general public – but with concrete talking points refuting the idea. And the talking points need to be widely spread – passed from prof to prof, grad student to grad student, sci-blogger to sci-blogger. Perhaps generated at a side conference for distribution before AAS meetings.

From what I understand, the article lists three main areas where scientists should frame responses: climate change, evolution and stem cells. I’d like to touch on each.

It is ironic that one of the biggest supporters for trying to get climate change information into the world, Matt Nisbet, would mange to get his article published on the same Friday the second part of the IPCC on Climate Change report gets finished. Thus Nisbet’s article gets discussed and the IPCC report gets even less attention by the general science blogging public. Nesbit has already railed against the idea of publishing the report on a Friday; the idea of publishing the Report on a Friday going into Easter Weekend is even less intelligent framed and shows how important this issue is.

Since it is the uncertainty that most climate change opponents attack, it is the uncertainty that must be explained, not the climate change. Opponents highlight the uncertainties and question the ability of scientists to make accurate predictions. This can be combated at two levels.

First, is the question of how certain scientist needs to be. Most climate change documents now use very specific language to define how ‘certain’ information is. Many of the conclusions reached are ‘very likely’ meaning better than 90%. (Always to be followed with the comment that this could be 94% certain, it just didn’t make the next level of extremely likely – 95%.*) If you hear the weatherman predict a 90% chance of rain, do you take an umbrella? Does making it 95% likely change your mind? If there are 9 chances out of 10 that it will snow, do you buy a snow blower? How certain is certain?You don’t attack the climate argument, you attack the certainty argument using everyday examples about what we think certain to be.

But take the idea even farther. The opponents of climate change point to the fact that you can’t predict the weather next week how can you predict the weather in 100 years. The answer, you can’t. But you can make some very good estimates. I know the weather will get warmer in the next few months. I know that next summer will be warm but I can’t tell you how many hurricanes there will be. Some things look really random but aren’t. Take casinos. No one can say exactly which number will come up next. But by understanding and studying the odds, the casinos know that certain numbers will come up often enough for them to win money in the long run. Climatology isn’t about knowing exactly which number will come up next; climatology is about calculating the profit (or loss) for mankind.

Moving to evolution, look at the “it’s just a theory” criticism.

Here the talking point might be not to speak of evolution but of theories and to use a clearly loaded image – the apple. Evolution is a theory in the same sense gravity is a theory. Take an apple. If you hold it out and let go, it is clear the apple will fall. No one would dispute that. Now take a cannon ball. Galileo argued that both the apple and the cannon ball would fall at the same rate. Newton, born the year of Galileo’s death would finally put numbers on the time needed for an apple to fall from a tree, a cannon ball from the tower of Pisa or even the time needed for the moon to fall around the Earth, something we now call an orbit.

Most people think of this as the theory of gravity. But it does not explain the origin of gravity, it describes the process. (Indeed the search for the ‘origin of gravity’ may have suffered a major setback in March when an important part failed during a preliminary test of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The part failed partly because engineers didn’t balance the forces correctly – another Newtonian concept.)

But evolution is like gravity. Scientists study and argue about the exact process of evolution. While many of the equations necessary for describing evolution are as simple as Newton’s laws, the specific processes, the individual actions, the origins are still being described. They are still being debated. But the ‘fact’ of evolution is as accepted by scientists as the ‘fact’ that the apple will fall by the general public. And the general public will usually get the ‘theory’ of gravity wrong when they assume that a cannon ball will fall faster than an apple. Which is more important?

The apple is traditionally depicted as the forbidden fruit used by Satan to lead Eve astray in the Garden of Eden. If the knowledge presented by the apple is dangerous, is the knowledge of the theory of gravity any less dangerous than evolution?

Perhaps the most difficult issue approached by the article is on stem cells.

Here the line is difficult to draw because the issues effected are less scientific as ethical. Where do we draw the line? While I agree with most scientists that research on stem cells ‘harvested’ (need to frame a better term there) from unused in-vitro embryos is scientifically ok, I still have different problems with the idea. In a climate of increasing commercialisation and sale of scientific results, who owns the cells and the patents generated from the embryos? Is it ethical to ask parents for permission to use ‘their’ material? Isn’t it likely that one stem cell line will eventually be used simply because it was in the right place at the right time? Isn’t it equally likely that that line will be worth billions? Who gets the profit?

Doesn’t this debate need to solve the “if yes – how” question before returning to the question of whether IV stem cells should be used. Should the pharma company that patents the first stem cell therapy be required to fund future in-vitro fertilisations – at least for the uninsured and underinsured?

I am wary of stem cell research on many ethical levels few of which have anything to do with the science as such. I disagree with the standpoint of the religious right but nevertheless I think the “let us just do the research” standpoint is simply naïve. I don’t have any talking points here. I would love to see the debate shifted to a more centrist position but I don’t see a good way of doing it.

Those scientists who feel threatened because framing science hides the facts are missing the point. Those framing dissent are hiding the facts. They exploit gaps and cracks in theories and knowledge to generate distorted pieces of a larger picture. 

Framing science isn’t hiding the facts, because the general public not only lacks the ability to put the misused pieces of the puzzle into place, but the general public doesn’t even know what the picture should be. Scientists need to spend more time painting the picture and less time trying to fill in the cracks exploited by the enemies of science.

But scientists also need to learn to get on message – on one message and unfortunately it usually has little to do with science qua science. In order to fight those who would use any means to destroy science, perhaps it is time for scientists to learn to fight fire with fire; talking point with talking point. And perhaps that is the role missing today. The creator and disseminator of science talking points – and not science.

Those scientists who think teaching more science will solve the problem need to spend more time watching Monster Garage and American Idol. That is the level of intelligence and knowledge^at which any debate needs to be focused. Not on a future knowledge utiopia – on the here and now – the idol worshiping America world.

That is what I hope Mooney and Nesbit are fighting for. Even if I can’t access the article because it isn’t free, fortunately this exchange of ideas is free.

Note: Matt Nesbit responded to a number of criticisms and comments on the article and linked to a broad number of comments on his blog. It is well worth the read to get an overview of the responses.. 

* From the IPCC Report, most climate change documents have evolved a similar language.

In this Summary for Policymakers, the following terms have been used to indicate: the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: Virtually certain > 99% probability of occurrence, Extremely likely > 95%, Very likely > 90%, Likely > 66%, More likely than not > 50%, Very unlikely < 10%, Extremely unlikely < 5%.

The following terms have been used to express confidence in a statement: Very high confidence At least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct, High confidence About an 8 out of 10 chance, Medium confidence About a 5 out of 10 chance, Low confidence About a 2 out of 10 chance, Very low confidence Less than a 1 out of 10 chance.

Reprehensable Darrell Issa Hearts Car Thieves

During his ‘questioning’ at the House hearing (or ‘earing’ according to the CSpan feed) on Political Influence of Climate Science Reporting, Reprehensible Darrell Issa finally admitted the truth. He hearts car thieves. Or at least he holds no anamosity towards them. After all, they used to make his old company money.

This came out during yesterday’s hearings while he was questioning a former lobbyist.

Before coming to the White House, witness Philip Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute which is a kind of Mecca for Global Climate Change Denialists (Islamofascist – Sciencenazi it’s all the same really). Of course he isn’t a scientist, Mr Cooney was a lawyer/lobbyist.

Anyway, during questioning Rep. Issa asked Mr Cooney whether he still held allegiance to ‘big oil’ or to the president. Mr. Cooney gave the impression that if the president is green Mr. Cooney would start singing like Kermit the Frog (It’s not easy being green…).

He agreed that his views were like totally those of the president and he didn’t bring any actual intelligence to the job. A point the two gentlemen apparently share.

While kissing ass agreeing, the elected public servant (California?! WTF?) came up with the following money quote.

I don’t see a conflict there. I came from and industry that produced car alarms. And I have no loyalty to car alarms nor anamosity to car thieves that exist in Washington today. I’ve moved on. [Check out the C-Span feed yourself. Minute 51. ]

A Republican congressman turns car thief lover and a former API lobbyist turns green.

What’s next? Will the earth start heating up?! Oh. Yeah.

Heads Up: Global Climate Change Denial Bashing

What a wonderful post!

This individual manages to do a wonderful job at doing three things.

First he does a reasonable, measured smackdown on a global warming denier ‘Jack’. In calm measured tones (and with graphs), he points out that while measurements from the Vostok ice cores do show a variation in temperature over time, they are only part of the picture.

Yes, the chart does show that CO2 and earth’s temperature have risen and fallen over the past 400,000 years. No one is claiming that these variations were caused by humans, in fact how the Earth manages to stay within this narrow range of temperatures and CO2 concentrations is the subject of a great deal of debate and research. The point here, is that even with natural variation, these values have stayed within the range shown above for 400,000 years.
[…Image deleted]
This is where global warming comes in. Early in the 20th century the atmospheric CO2 passed 300 parts per million and just kept on rising. In 400,000 years the natural variation never topped 300 ppm, yet in the last few decades CO2 has gone 25% above that. And amazingly enough, this rise coincides neatly with humans dumping CO2 into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates. This is human caused global warming, and this is what increasingly cannot be explained away as “natural variation.”

Second, he manages to do a wonderful job of showing the inane stupidity in the following comment,

What do you think? Is it possible that those people who think the Iraq war was a good proposition could actually be right on the global warming issue? Or are they a related subset of each other?

And, perhaps as a piece d’resistance, he has both cats and a really cool mustache.



There are times when The DailyShow just needs to admit they are a news organisation and start putting up transcripts.

I thought I’d burst a gasket watching Jon Stewart interview Polar-Bear-hating Christopher Horner.

My favorite exchange [my transcript, curse you DailyShow]…

Jon Stewart :Why is this argument so heated? Why is there so much not, pardon the pun, why is there so much volatility? Your book is…, you’re clearly a little worked up. You’re a little angry about it.

Christopher Horner: I’m still working through that, thank you for reading it. But I appreciate your helping me out there.

Jon Stewart: No please.

Christopher Horner: This has been an exercise.

It’s been a heated debate since the Titanic hit an iceberg; as you saw when you read the book. When the New York newspapers found experts, who, if they would have lived a little longer, would have would have made a fortune at Stanford University telling us about the end of the world, because they came out and said…

Jon: Global Cooling

Batshit Horner: …this is proof that the icebergs are attacking.

And then there was global warming because there was global warming, you remember the dustbowl and things like that.

And then there was global cooling.

And we had a lot of money; we became very rich. and so we put satellites up in the air, to measure the atmosphere. Because this isn’t about the surface temperature, it’s about the atmosphere. And then it stopped cooling and like five year olds playing soccer chasing a ball – they chased the thermometer the other direction. So now it’s global warming.

We know the answer. It’s this lassitude argument. I can’t understand it so it must be our fault. The Gods must be angry, man’s responsible. There is a strong desire to believe, as evidenced by the fact that there was a consensus in the 70’s about manmade global cooling. And now there’s a consensus about manmade global warming.

There is a strong desire to believe that it just makes sense because we’ve said that both times. And obviously it can’t just make sense both ways.

: What?!!

How often have I wanted to give exactly that reaction.

I won’t even touch all the things wrong in every single spun sentence that came out of Horners mouth. The only point I might agree with is that the Gods are getting a bit pissed off. Other than that…[queue Twilight Zone music]

But thank you Jon Stewart; you have spoken from my soul.


Quicky: Dino Farts=Global Warming

Just to save the planet, the Republican Rep(rehensible) Dana Rohrbacher seems to be suggesting that we just need to make sure that the modern day dinosaurs don’t have digestive problems…

ROHRBACHER: So, whether or not how dramatic this change will be, or is, what it’s caused by, are things that honest people, I think, can disagree with, and I really personally, having been a journalist, the first thing I was always cautioned by when someone was claiming, well, everybody is on my side, or everybody says this, or there is a total consensus, almost always when people said that to me over my years as a journalist, it wasn’t true. It was that there were honest people who disagreed and significant disagreement on such issues. We don’t know what those other cycles were caused by in the past. Could be dinosaur flatulence, you know, or who knows? We do know the CO2 in the past had its time when it was greater as well. And what happened when the CO2 was greater since then and now? There have been many cycles of up and down warming. So with that said, I think that we’ve had a great discussion today. [my emphasis]

On the other hand anthropogenic methane, not due to dinosaur flautlance but livestock and bacteria in rice paddies, does make up a significant percentage of the greenhouse gas effect. (Nitrous oxides and methane produced are far ‘better’ greenhouse gases than CO2)

Just an idea, let’s start giving cattle not just antibiotics but Pepto-Bismol. Good for the climate, cows and Procter & Gamble stockholders. Or not?

(Hat Tip: Think Progress and Spiegel Online (German)

Fleeing Godzilla?

First in was the frilled shark, photographed in January after being captured off the coast near Japan. Over the weekend another case of a deep sea shark surfacing occurred,

A rare goblin shark—a “living fossil” that closely resembles ancient shark species—was caught alive recently in Tokyo Bay, only to die within days.

Officials from the Tokyo Sea Life Park discovered the 4.3-foot-long (1.3-meter-long) creature on January 25 during an expedition with local fisherman. The shark had been tangled in fishing nets 500 to 650 feet (150 to 200 meters) deep.

The discussion over at BlondSense was focused entirely on salinity, colder denser water, ocean rivers and global climate catastrophes.

I beg to differ.

While GCC might be to blame, I don’t think this has anything to do with underwater rivers.

Godzilla has finally woken up, melted from his (her?) methane ice cocoon from times past. No the sharks aren’t being brought to the surface by a global current change. No they are fleeing to the surface just as the 1954 Japanese prophets predicted. Maybe we should recheck those 1960 horror films for fundamental truth.

I would bring this to the attention of the Senate. We need more defense spending. A major boost in anti-Godzilla weaponry. Studies into how we can stop this threat. The rash development and deployment of a unilateral anti-Godzilla screen is definitely necessary to protect America and her allies. (Those allies that don’t get eaten first and aren’t on the side of the terrorists and aren’t surrender monkies. OK. Let’s just protect America and maybe Canada.)

Of course we could also give science a try but that would probably be un-American.

So, if you get toasted in a radioactive cloud of bad breath, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Feed WWF’s Press Guy to the Pandas

Look. I am a big fan of Pandas and Land-Lobsters. The WWF? Not so much.

Speigel Online pointed to a new study done for the WWF by one of the leading German economic think tanks. That wouldn’t have been so bad if the WWF press release hadn’t have been so..blaach. Spiegel reports,

The press release from the World Wildlife Funds (WWF) isn’t exactly squeamish in wording. “A sharp rise in heat related deaths and loss of productivity as a result of climate change threatens Germany by the end of the century, ” can be found on the web page of the environment and animal protection organisation. More and more days with extreme temperatures won’t just lead to a loss of between 0.1 and 0.5 percent of the GNP. A “tragic” result will also be the increase in heat related deaths: in the years from 2071 and 2100 an increase of between 5,000 and 15,000 deaths per year due to heat – “without acclimatization,” as the WWF laconically adds.

The press release doesn’t dedicate more than these two words to the central facts. The study itself, produced for the WWF by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), sounds much different. Because it is based on a simple calculation. The IfW experts used the “Remo” model from the Hamburg Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology that simulates the heat stress in Germany between 2071 and 2100 – and simply compared them to the conditions in 2003. [my translation]

Basically, since the summer of 2003 was the worst year in recent history for heat deaths not only in German but in Europe as a whole (France was especially hard hit), but the calculations are offset by a number of other factors. Indeed while the number of people dying due to the heat might go up, the number of deaths caused by cold winters will be reduced thus mitigating the first effect.

The study itself also points out even more important factors.

The presented effects of climate change on human heath are all – among other simplifications – estimated assuming that here is no adaptation to the higher summer temperatures. Since we are looking at a process that will take more then 50 years, this is of course, unrealistic. A number of measures as well as natural adaptation can and will occur. The inclusion of these factors is not possible considering the current level of knowledge and remains an area for future research.

It isn’t even clear whether adaptation to the increased summer temperatures combined with the reduction of cold related deaths might bring a positive balance. One interesting result of the study is to look at the related medical costs that might become necessary. The study isn’t great but it is not the we-are-all-going-to-die senario painted up front.

The problem is that the press release simply gives people like Senator I-Hate-Polar-Bears Inhofe more ammunition even if the study is well written. And the study itself really doesn’t say much more than “this is an important thing to look at.” *sigh*

Argueably, the press guy at the WWF and the discredited NASA press hack Michael Deutsch have some things in common. They are both interested in Global Climate Change and both spin things beyond recognition. Even if it is in opposite directions.

But to be honest. I’d just feed the WWF guy to their Panda. Unfortunately it wouldn’t do any good because Pandas only eat bamboo.

So let’s feed the WWF guy to Michael Deutsch.

Republicans Back Global Cooling

Thank God for Republicans.

Remember all that hype we’ve been hearing about Global Climate Change? Well thanks to a poll released by the National Journal, the political right can relax. According to 84% of the Republicans in the Senate. It. Just Isn’t. Happening.

According to the poll, when asked the question “Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?” The overwelming majority of the highly intelligent Republican individuals elected to the highest legislative body in the US just said “no.” This is up from a similar survey from April 2006.


Some of the money quotes,

  • “The only Inconvenient Truth here is that anyone can be a movie star, even someone as boring as Al Gore.”
  • “Check with MIT.”
  • “The Earth is in a warming trend, but the link to man’s activity is weak.”
  • “The key phrase is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ ”
  • “There is the possibility that man’s activity, while certainly part of the problem, is not the sole reason for global warming.”
  • “It’s the carbon dioxide, stupid!”

Wow, I was worried for a minute.

Of course we aren’t trying to convict humans for raping the Earth. (Where would you send them?) No, the Land-Lobster-loving Eco-Terrorists just want them to stop. but whatever.

Oh wait! I lean towards the Democrat Party. What are they saying – the Democrats and those foolish far left wingnuts (like the Hollywood elitists and the UN). Ninety-five percent are saying shit like “All the reputable scientists agree on this in their peer-reviewed studies, but what we don’t know is whether and how our efforts to combat climate change will be effective.” [my bold]


Rats! I guess the Democrats are screwed after all.

But hey, at least the Republicans can pray for Global Cooling. I mean, it worked for Ted Haggard right?

(Hat Tip: Matthew C. Nisbet, Framing Science and yes you should add him to your blog roll)

IPCC = We’re Cooked

Been there, done that. But now we know better then ever before exactly what is going on.

That’s pretty much the message that came out of Paris during the IPCC press confrence this morning. From the NYT,

The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, called it a “very impressive document that goes several steps beyond previous research.”

A top U.S. government scientist, Susan Solomon, said “there can be no question that the increase in greenhouse gases are dominated by human activities.”

The 21-page summary of the panel’s findings released Friday represents the most authoritative science on global warming. The panel comprises hundreds of scientists and representatives of 113 governments.

I won’t go into the specific horror scenarios, more warming, more water, less ice. Mexico will probably not be a great place to live. Texas becomes a paradise. Or something.

There was a lot of rather scientist-y talk about more and better models; statistical improvements and several more years of intense study. Not many really cool soundbites because all of these scientists have been bitten in press conferences before.

Indeed Susan Soloman, the US offical on the panel, bent over backwards to underline that she does not want to make policy; she does not want to say whether the information is important for policy makers; she and the IPCC just want people to know that this is the science.

Science or not, it didn’t take long for ExxonMobile and the Empire American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to strike back.

The Guardian is reporting this morning that there is a $10,000 bounty for science sluts to diss the report.

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

I’m sure the hacks are already typing.

But there is one thing that does kind of get my temperature up. It doesn’t look like the report will be available online. According to the press release, the full report will be printed by Oxford Press. No mention when, where or if the full report and not just the summary can be downloaded. That would be a bummer.

But there is no controversy, we’re cooked, drowned or dried.

We just don’t know exactly how fast it will happen.

Crucifying The Messenger

In what can only be seen as a ‘shoot the messenger’ event, a school board in that liberal snakepit New Jersey has decided that indoctrination is better than hearing about indoctrination.

From yesterday’s New York Times,

After a public school teacher was recorded telling students they belonged in hell if they did not accept Jesus as their savior, the school board has banned taping in class without an instructor’s permission, and has added training for teachers on the legal requirements for separating church and state.

The back story is interesting here. This happened last year. According to the original story in the NYT

Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.
“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.

Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter.

Remember this guy is teaching history. The extra lessons on separation of church and state will probably not come as a big surpise. I am very sure his history also includes the ‘fact’ that America is a Christian nation. (All those ‘original’ writings from the founding fathers is obviously a liberal media plot to just hand America over to Obama Osama bin Ladin.)

The boy mangaged to get death threats and hate mail; the teacher – a slap on the hand.

Of course the only real problem is a separation of church and state. A history teacher explaining things like – say – global warming? That’s ok…

Meanwhile, Matthew said that Mr. Paszkiewicz recently told the class that scientists who spoke about the danger of global warming were using tactics like those Hitler used, by repeating a lie often enough that people come to believe it.

Mr. Lindenfelser said that the district did not investigate the report of that comment, which he said was not religious or a violation of “any kind of law.”

Mr. Paszkiewicz should know, he’s a history teacher.

And he can say anything he wants, just as long as no one tapes it.

(Hat Tip: John Bohrer/Huffington Post)

130 Countries Hate America

Tomorrow the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be releasing it’s 4th Assessment Report on, you guessed it, climate change.

This report will discuss the current level of knowledge about climate change; what observations have been made using atmospheric, oceanographic and geographic evidence; the advances and knowledge gained in the areas of paleoclimatology and what predictions can be made about changing conditions.

There is an excellent video from 2004 showing Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute, Michael MacCracken describing the IPCC. (Hat Tip: Scitizen)

This report has been written using a massive amount of work with over 2500 scientists, 800 contributors, 450 authors from 130 countries. This effort has been going on for the past 6 years and the results are expected to be a slap in the face of the global warming denialists (again).

Current indications aren’t good.

Indeed as bad as the expected results of the report are, for example a rise in levels between 5 and 23 inches (0.13-0.65m), some scientists are saying the report plays down the dangers. One study published in Science showed double the rise in sea levels and James Hansen, the almost-gagged-by-Bush-appointee climate expert at NASA, has estimated up to many times that amount. An article describing the ‘controversy’ can be found here.

Note: none of these people are saying nothing will happen? None of these people are saying climate change is a myth?

I think this is just a global plot. All the scientists in the world have gotten together to just make this shit up and make Michael Bachmann, James Inhofe, America look bad. Um. Right?

There is an excellent Op-Ed at the Washington Post about the report by  Naomi Oreskes. She points out just how long scientists have been talking about global warming.  Her conclusion is great.

[In 1979] the JASON scientists[, a group of top scientists, paid by the DOD to investigate just about everything,]  predicted that atmospheric carbon dioxide might double by 2035, resulting in mean global temperature increases of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius and polar warming of as much as 10 to 12 degrees. This report reached the Carter White House, where science adviser Frank Press asked the National Academy of Sciences for a second opinion. An academy committee, headed by MIT meteorologist Jule Charney, affirmed the JASON conclusion: “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we] find no reason to doubt that climate changes will result, and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”

It was these concerns that led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and, in 1992, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which called for immediate action to reverse the trend of mounting greenhouse gas emissions. One early signatory was President George H.W. Bush, who called on world leaders to translate the written document into “concrete action to protect the planet.” Three months later, the treaty was unanimously ratified by the Senate.

Since then, scientists around the world have worked assiduously to flesh out the details of this broadly affirmed picture. Many details have been adjusted, but the basic parameters have not changed. Well, one thing has. In 1965, the concern that greenhouse gases would lead to global warming was a prediction. Today, it is an established scientific fact. [my emphasis]

You can probably guess what I’ll be reading this weekend.