Monthly Archives: January 2015

Willie Soon Gate

The Willie Soon Controversy

There’s been a lot of talk about the Willie Soon Controversy. Bottom line: Soon was an author on a paper that failed to disclose his extensive funding by the petroleum industry and its friends (over a million dollars to date, I believe) as required. I don’t have time to craft a detailed expose or commentary, but I wanted to get a bunch of resources in one place. I should mention that this is not all about Willie Soon, but rather, about climate science denialists more generally, a few specific others besides Soon, about how crap gets published now and then much to the giddiness of the denialist community, and about the ethical issues plaguing Soon, which have led to, among other things, tens of thousands of people signing a petition to get him sacked from his position at Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics lab.

The Monckton-Soon-Legates-Briggs paper

It all starts with this paper:

Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model, published in the Science Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

The paper is by Christopher Monckton, Willie Soon, David Legates and William Briggs.

The paper has been examined by a number of scientists and others, and found wanting. Here is a selection of the critiques:

On getting bad climate science published in peer reviewed journals

About Soon’s apparent failure to follow disclose, and his funding sources:

Did the Patriots Deflate Their Balls Or Not?

The Great DeflateGate Controversy


This year’s Super Bowl will be, as of this writing, tomorrow, late afternoon, between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Both teams have a 14-4 record for the season, so it should be a good game. Also, the game will be held in a stadium located in an arid and warm region of the country, in a stadium with a covered roof. So, there is no chance of a cloudy with a chance of deflated-balls scenario.

You have probably heard that an accusation has been made against the New England Patriots regarding their balls. It has been claimed that they intentionally deflated their balls during certain, perhaps many, games, in order that players be able to hold on to said balls during play. There is some evidence that this is true. In particular, the New England Patriots seem to have an exceptionally good record playing with balls that are wet and/or chilly — exceeding betting spreads which are, essentially, complex and generally accurate models — 80% of the time.

But now, a New England based scientist who has disclosed, as is proper, his fanship of the New England Patriots, has released a study suggesting that the Patriot’s balls may have deflated naturally, after they were moved from a warm environment to the colder environment of the playing field.

Thomas Healy, former college punter and founder of HeadSmart Labs, a sports safety think tank, has carried out experiments to test this hypothesis. Here is the scientist, Healy, pointing to the relevant calculations:

Healey Deflategate New England Patriots

And here is Healy explaining his research on the behavior of foot balls:

No Emerging Consensus on Deflate Gate


The thing I found most interesting about ball-gate, which is discussed in a New York Times piece on Healy’s research, is that several physicists had goofed up their application of the famous “Inert Gas Law” in making public assertions that the New England Patriots must have ensmallened their balls during the game in question. According to the New York Times, “Other evidence is also turning the Patriots’ way. In a usually obscure profession that has received extraordinary attention during the controversy, some academic and research physicists now concede that they made a crucial error in their initial calculations, using an equation called the ideal gas law. When that error is corrected, the amount of deflation predicted in moving from room temperature to a 50-degree field is roughly doubled.”

PHYSICSmug2-master180Timothy Gay, who wrote “The Physics of Football,” which included a forward by Patriot’s Coach Bill Belichick, also chimed in. He notes that deflated balls would certainly provide an advantage, but he agrees with Healy’s results, and has confirmed them with his own calculations.

Bill Nye has also entered the fray, but he disagrees with Healy. Nye is backed up by a major web site known as “Funny or Die.” From a piece in Salon,

“Funny or Die” and Nye actually demonstrate[s] what would happen if balls went from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 51 degrees Fahrenheit for such a short amount of time. Most importantly, Nye reminds us that man-made climate change is real. And unlike “deflate-gate” it is, as Nye says, “something about which you should give a fuck.”

Here is Nye’s video:

Who will win the Deflate Gate Debate?


So, who are you going to go with? An industry funded scientist and Patriots fan with a fancy thermometer, or an independent science communicator with a better video who is a Seahawks fan? Are you going to accept the experimental evidence (and remember, we have two experiments, one formal and one informal, showing opposite results) or the paleo-data (the New England Patriot’s record playing with damp and chilly balls)?

I’m thinking the jury is still out. But Bill Nye is certainly right about one thing. Climate change is real, and something to truly give a fuck about.

When is the Super Bowl on?

Sunday, February 1st, at 5:30 Central Time. It should be a good game, but don’t get your hopes up. You wouldn’t want to be deflated.

Rush Limbaugh lays down the law for Republican candidates

Rush Limbaugh, leader of the Republican Party, fires Mitt Romney

Rush Limbaugh In Charge Of GOP

Rush Limbaugh, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, fires Mitt Romney

We all know Rush Limbaugh is the Godfather of the Republican Party. You listen to him, and do what he says, or you’re out. People often say that the President of the United States is the “leader of the free world.” No, sorry. If the POTUS is a Republican, Rush Limbaugh becomes the leader of the free world. Can you think of a scarier thought than Rush Limbaugh calling the shots for the entire planet Earth?

(I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. But I digress.)

Anyway, even when the President is not a Republican, Rush still runs the Republican party. He is now in charge of both the Senate and the House, because if you are a Senator or a House rep, and a Republican, you do what Rush says or you are out.

Similarly, Rush Limbaugh is the gatekeeper for the Republican Party’s process of putting up candidate for president.

Not long ago, Mitt Romney seemed to be indicating that he was thinking about running for President. Shortly after that, he indicated that he thought Anthropogenic Global Warming was for real and important. Then Rush said this:

Rush Limbaugh Ends Mitt Romney’s Presidential Aspirations over Global Warming


Then, Romney said this:

‘After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

And so, in this manner Rush Limbaugh has fired Mitt Romney.

I hate the expression, “Grow a pair.” But, really, Republicans, do grow a pair when you get a chance. This is embarrassing.

Peter Sinclair has the whole story and more, here: One Week after Acknowledging Climate – Romney Out of Race

Elections matter!

Bad Faith Criticism of Science

I’ve recently written about the Serengeti Strategy, a coin termed by climate scientist Michael Mann to describe the anti-science strategy of personal attacks against individual scientists in an attempt to discredit valid scientific research one might find inconvenient. Science Careers (from Science Magazine) has a new item called “Science under the microscope” looking at bad faith criticism of science and scientist. Some of this comes from within science itself, where the term “torpedo” is sometimes used. Rival scientists do take shots at each other in the peer review or grant review process.

Whether it’s because they are overworked, lack training, vested in a particular theory or methodology, or just having a bad day, sometimes scientists write what Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg calls “savage reviews.” “A savage review is one that is either personalized—in other words, the criticisms are of the persons rather than of the works—or the criticisms are of the works but the language is excessive … for the gravity of the sins…”

Sometimes criticism from within science plays out outside the usual channels. Sometimes this criticism is quite valid, such as the widespread dislike of a paper on bacteria that seemed to be evolving in an American salt lake a few years ago. Remember that? The paper seemed to make claims about the significance of their findings that went beyond the results they reported, and the authors backed up those claims with a promise that they would be publishing a followup paper with the necessary proof. Never do that. A published scientific paper can include some speculation or suggestion of further findings, but highlighted findings, which in this case were highlighted in a major press event set up by NASA, should have been either not mentioned or backed up, perhaps in a later publication. In that case, the part of the scientific community that inhabits the science biosphere had a feeding frenzy. The criticisms being made in blogs were usually valid, but the tone was in some quarters way overdone. For my part, I took the opportunity of the paper coming out to write about a related topic, and I actually received some of the vitriol myself simply because I did not bother to address the original paper’s flaws. (I had decided not to because experts in the field had it covered!) The point is, sometimes the flak becomes so dense that the flack itself becomes the message. The Science Careers piece talks about a case of overlap between the scientific literature and the blogosphere that was less vitriolic but just as complex:

…cognitive psychologist Axel Cleeremans … attempted to replicate a classic study by John Bargh of Yale University, in which some participants were primed, without realizing it, with concepts associated with old age. Bargh’s study found that they walked more slowly from the exam room than subjects who had not been so primed. Cleeremans’s group found that they could not replicate the result …

The failed replication attempt…was picked up by science journalist Ed Yong at his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog and attracted a lot of attention. Bargh responded with a post on his own blog, at Psychology Today, where he spelled out the errors that he believed the Cleeremans group made. The post, titled “Nothing in their Heads,” used a tone Bargh later told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he now regrets; it has since been taken down. Yong described the post, in a subsequent blog post of his own, as “a mixture of critiques of the science within the paper, and personal attacks a…” Harsh words flew in Bargh’s direction, too, as Bargh’s critics accused him of ad hominem attacks and attacked him in turn, often via anonymous comments.

More recently, a reconstruction of a large and sexy dinosaur was heavily criticized in the blogosphere by individuals who probably knew their dinosaurs, but who had not seen the original fossils or casts. I’m pretty sure the criticisms were weak, and the language was strong, and no dinosaurs (or hypotheses) were harmed in the process. But it was yet another example of the bleed between traditional modalities of communication and newer on line and social networking based modalities, going at least a little bad.

The Science Careers piece also talks about attacks on science, and scientists, from outside the population of scientists and deeply interested and informed parties, such as attacks on climate scientists by those who insist on denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming. My piece on the Serengeti Strategy, which was a commentary on Michael Mann’s paper on that topic, covers that area. See also these posts on the Recursive Fury maneno.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, has experienced many attacks since his “hockey stick” curve was published in the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mann has since become an outspoken defender of climate science…and been the victim of many vilifying media reports, campaigns aimed at discrediting him, the misuse of open-records laws, e-mail hacking (in the so-called “Climategate”), and threats to his and his family’s safety.

Such attacks can be “very stressful, it can take a lot of a scientist’s time. … Unfortunately if their institution doesn’t support them, it’s potentially very expensive” in legal costs, says Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. It can detract from your ability to do research, Kurtz adds. There also is a danger that it will derail your career, especially for young scientists who don’t have the security of tenure, Mann writes in an e-mail. “[T]here is always a fear that your colleagues and bosses (chairs, deans, provosts, presidents) will believe the scurrilous accusations made against you.”

Some of this is not so much about science (or anti science) but just plain harassment. Or, a combination of both, especially if the scientist under attack is a woman. It seems that one of the main roles of the blogosphere is to give misogynists their own private shooting gallery.

“For the longest time, the only people reacting to academic research were either academics or people who were very interested in a particular field,” says Whitney Phillips, a media studies scholar at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. But “Things are … so visible now that anybody … can say something on a blog and then suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of lots of weird commentary.”

There are lots of different kinds of nasty behaviors online, and how they are perceived largely depends on the receiver, Phillips says. Online nastiness can go all the way from potentially offensive general comments to personal attacks directed at you. Sometimes it can even “reac[h] the legal criteria for harassment, so someone is not just saying rude things to you but is … potentially even threatening you or trying to wiggle their way into your life,” Phillips says.

Women and minorities are disproportionately exposed to online antagonism and may also be more sensitized because they already confront it in real life, Phillips says…

Phillips suggests limiting the power of “Internet trolls”…by deleting anything they (the trolls) post on your blog, banning them from your site, and using word filters. Try not to get sucked in, as what they want most is a response and an audience, she says….

One of my favorite quotes by me (if I may be allowed) is, “It is important to be hated by the right people.” This is obvious. If Ghandi hates you and Hitler loves you, you are probably doing something wrong. When sadistic internet trolls and anti-science activists go after you, you are a victim but you are also a symbol of something good. Truly, a mixed bag, but worth keeping in mind. The Science Career piece also makes this point. And other points. Go read it.

(I’m assuming it is not behind a firewall but I’m not sure. If you find it so let me know and I’ll change that last sentence to “Go don’t read it.”)

Biofuels are not a panacea

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 9.01.18 AMA bunch of biological activity happens, organism reproduce, grow, die. Some of this biomass turns into oil, natural gas, or coal. I’ve left out few details.

During certain periods in the Earth’s history, this happened at a much larger scale that usual, and in certain geographic and geological settings, leading to the eventual formation of huge underground oil reserves, coal fields, gas reservoirs, or bitumen deposits. By the way, some of these 10 million year or so long moments in geological history were probably regional extinction events.

That is how we get fossil Carbon based fuels, for the most part (again, I oversimplify).

An alternative, it seems, is to intervene early in the process. Take the organisms out of the system early, when they have just grown, and turn them into biofuels. Trees or other material can be burned, plant tissues can be converted to liquid fuel or gas, etc. This method is inherently limited compared to using fossil fuels because the fossil fuels were generated over tens or hundreds of millions of years, while this form of biofuel is being generated real time. In order to continue to use energy at the rate we currently use it, with all the energy coming from biofuels, we’d have to be scraping a huge percentage of the output of photosynthesis every day.

To put this in perspective, consider that the total amount of energy that natural systems using photosynthesis on the Earth produce is about six times of what we humans use in energy, from fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, and various clean energy sources. In other words, if we used only biofuels for our energy, we would have to use one sixth of the energy the entire natural world currently produces, assuming efficiency matched to what nature does. It is likely that some of that use would enhance natural production, or could be used harvested more efficiently, but the differences can’t be large. Maybe we’d only need a seventh, instead of a sixth, of the Earth’s natural photosynthesized production. Or, maybe we would be using it less efficiently and thus need more.

Having said that, there is a certain amount of potential biofuel that goes from some use or another into the trash (or sewer effluence). When we capture that energy, we might be reducing a carbon sink, but we are at the same time using a non-fossil Carbon based fuel source. This includes using discarded cooking oil, or burning sawdust or trash in waste to energy plants.

Justin Gillis at the New York Times has a writeup on a recent report that seems to confirm that there are severe limitations to the use of biofuels. You can read Gillis’ writeup here. The report is here. Following are a few excerpts from the NYT piece.

Western governments have made a wrong turn in energy policy by supporting the large-scale conversion of plants into fuel and should reconsider that strategy, according to a new report from a prominent environmental think tank.

Turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand, the report found. It added that continuing to pursue this strategy — which has already led to billions of dollars of investment — is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world’s growing population….

The report follows several years of rising concern among scientists about biofuel policies in the United States and Europe, and is the strongest call yet by the World Resources Institute, known for nonpartisan analysis of environmental issues, to urge governments to reconsider those policies.

Willie Soon, will he soon be fired?

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 8.12.15 AM

Who is Willie Soon?”

(ADDED: Since there have been so many wonderful questions about the controversial research and related issues, let me point you to this post, which is essentially a link farm to myriad resources for you to read and enjoy.)

According to DeSmogBlog, Willie Wei Hock “Soon is a prominent climate change skeptic who has received much of his research funding from the oil and gas industry.” He thinks the sun causes the climate change we’ve been observing over the last few decades: Continue reading Willie Soon, will he soon be fired?

Largest New England Storms

Prior to the middle of the 20th century there are few really large blizzards recorded for New England. Then they start happening, then they start to increase in frequency. At this point, expect about one every other years, but also, expect that number to increase over time because of global warming.

I made a graph based on information provided in a post at Jeff Master’s Wunderblog.

Big_New_England_Snow_Storms

Tesla’s Insane Mode

Tesla_insane_modePeter Sinclair has a post on “Passenger’s Reactions to Tesla’s Insane Mode“.

The electric Tesla is a car that actually DOES the stuff other cars can only do in commercials.

I went to a conference a while back and parked my car at that location. A friend and I then walked from there to a nearby hotel for dinner. His car was parked there. His car was a Tesla.

After dinner… Continue reading Tesla’s Insane Mode

Cat killed, buried, lives

You may remember my story of the Adventure of the Missing Cat. Now, there is a story of a cat that was found dead, stiff, in a pool of blood. Buried. Then later, it got better.

Florida ‘zombie cat’ crawls out of grave

Always use proper methods to determine if the cat is dead.

Owners and neighbors attribute the cat not being dead to “god’s miracle.” That is unlikely. More likely, the cat was not really dead to begin with, don’t you think?