Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bolty Sprung, Part III

MediaWatch gives Andrew Bolt a black eye over climate change denialism using discredited reports. More about the 97% false Peiser study from Deltoid. And here is the rest of it.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Photoblogging: McLaren Vale and Front Yard

Taken with Canon EOS400D.

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Three Events That Changed Public Perception of Climate Change

In no particular order:

1. Al Gove's Movie: "An Inconvenient Truth:

2. Stern Review on the economics of climate change

3. Rupert Murdoch's about-face from skepticism to reality

And here is the rest of it.

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Stern Review Released

An excellent review of the science. Denial by clueless shills expected any minute:

An overwhelming body of scientific evidence now clearly indicates that climate change is a serious and urgent issue. The Earth’s climate is rapidly changing, mainly as a result of increases in greenhouse gases caused by human activities.

Most climate models show that a doubling of pre-industrial levels of greenhouse gases is very likely to commit the Earth to a rise of between 2 – 5°C in global mean temperatures. This level of greenhouse gases will probably be reached between 2030 and 2060. A warming of 5°C on a global scale would be far outside the experience of human civilisation and comparable to the difference between temperatures during the last ice age and today. Several new studies suggest up to a 20% chance that warming could be greater than 5°C.

If annual greenhouse gas emissions remained at the current level, concentrations would be more than treble pre-industrial levels by 2100, committing the world to 3 – 10°C warming, based on the latest climate projections.

Some impacts of climate change itself may amplify warming further by triggering the release of additional greenhouse gases. This creates a real risk of even higher temperature changes.

• Higher temperatures cause plants and soils to soak up less carbon from the atmosphere and cause permafrost to thaw, potentially releasing large quantities of methane.

• Analysis of warming events in the distant past indicates that such feedbacks could amplify warming by an additional 1 – 2°C by the end of the century.

Warming is very likely to intensify the water cycle, reinforcing existing patterns of water scarcity and abundance and increasing the risk of droughts and floods.

Rainfall is likely to increase at high latitudes, while regions with Mediterranean-like climates in both hemispheres will experience significant reductions in rainfall. Preliminary estimates suggest that the fraction of land area in extreme drought at any one time will increase from 1% to 30% by the end of this century. In other regions, warmer air and warmer oceans are likely to drive more intense storms, particularly hurricanes and typhoons.

As the world warms, the risk of abrupt and large-scale changes in the climate system will rise.

• Changes in the distribution of heat around the world are likely to disrupt ocean and atmospheric circulations, leading to large and possibly abrupt shifts in regional weather patterns.

• If the Greenland or West Antarctic Ice Sheets began to melt irreversibly, the rate of sea level rise could more than double, committing the world to an eventual sea level rise of 5 – 12 m over several centuries.

The body of evidence and the growing quantitative assessment of risks are now sufficient to give clear and strong guidance to economists and policy-makers in shaping a response.

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Want less funding for the war effort? Ignore climate change

I think I’ve finally discovered the way to convince Right-wing ideologues of the necessity for taking action to prevent further climate change. Wayne Swan, Australia’s opposition treasury spokesman, has been talking to Sir Nicholas Stern about the Stern Review:

The report puts the global cost of global warming and its effects at $A9 trillion - a bill greater than the combined cost of the two world wars and the Great Depression. It represents a fifth of the global economy.

Now, imagine $9 trillion less for the world economy. There’d be no money left for invading liberating countries you don’t like, as wars tend to be rather expensive exercises. This would constitute your average wingnut’s worst nightmare. Time to spread the word.
And here is the rest of it.

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The Rage of the Climate Auditor

As predicted, Climate Audit denialists having hissy fit over being touched up by new climate reconstruction paper. And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bolty Sprung, Part II

MediaWatch is after Andrew Bolt for the garbage he produces regarding climate change and, in particular, his blatant misrepresentation of Jeff Severinghaus' work. Bolty fired off the rage-filled email below. See if you can pick out all the distortions - it's not hard.
Not a day goes by without some journalist grossly exaggerating the perils of man-made global warming, and you say nothing.

Then I pick out 10 of the exaggerations in Al Gore’s propaganda, and Media Watch flies instantly to its defence.

Says it all.

You have given me just 10 minutes to respond to a claim about Peiser of which I knew nothing. That says something, too.

Unable to check for myself what you claim Peiser now says to you, given I am already late for my duties at the school fete, I must simply pass on to you the result of his own review of the scientific literature. See the abstracts he uncovered here.

Whatever nuance you may now have uncovered to criticise this list, the basic fact remains as this reveals: When Gore suggests there is absolutely no scientific debate on man-made global warming he is not telling the truth. Ask, say, Professor Sallie Baliunas, on this point. Or Professors Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Patrick Michaels, Bob Carter and on and on. Consult the Oregon Petition, the House of Lords select committee on economic affairs’ report and more. Got it?

As for Severinghaus, nothing in the research I quoted (or in similar studies of ice cores) refutes the point I make: the Gore deceived viewers in suggesting ice core samples of past ice ages showed increased CO2 caused the world to heat. Severinghaus and others have shown that the world each time started to heat centuries before the CO2 concentrations increased - and that, I said, suggests that it wasn’t CO2 that caused the initial heating.

Severinghaus maintains that there is a later feedback mechanism that makes the CO2 amplify the warming, and so for him this does not challenge global warming. I ran his letter on my blog long ago, along with many other letters making his point - and refuting it. You are weeks late.

I stand by my use of his findings completely, and think it’s absurd for you to somehow suggest we now must ring a scientist for permission to quote from their public papers.

In short, this is a pathetic beat-up, motivated more by an outraged ideology than an outraged journalistic sensitivity.

I can only assume by this quibbling over two of my 10 major objections to Gore’s exaggerations that you couldn’t find a single complaint against the other eight. I hope, then, that you will now go after all the journalists who hailed this film as the true gospel of global warming.

Sic’ em, Monica. You know you can. You just have to want to.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Please repeat after me: It is now warmer than at any time of the past 1000 years

A new review of climate reconstructions by Juckes et al. (Climate of the Past Discussions, 2, 1001-1049, 2006) shows conclusively that it is currently warmer than at any time in the past 1000 years. The authors looked at all recent literature and the data and statistics underpinning each paper. They concluded:

The IPCC2001 conclusion that temperatures of the past millennium are unlikely to have been as warm, at any time prior to the 20th century, as the last decades of the 20th century is supported by subsequent research and by the results obtained here. Papers which claim to refute the IPCC2001 conclusion on the climate of the past millennium have been reviewed and some are found to contain serious flaws. Our study corroborates the IPCC2001 conclusions.

Geddit, shills!! Now warmer than medieval warming period! Please stop saying otherwise, because it’s crap. There are many studies apart from the famous Mann et al. paper that show this. Have a little looky:

Denialist poster-boys, McIntyre and McKitrick, also come in for a pasting (too many times for me to reproduce here – read the paper). Climate Audit is probably spontaneously combusting as you read this. Time do demand another senate hearing me thinks.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Part II

Economic catastrophe if we don’t take action over global warming? Yes, according to the Guardian, reporting on the contents of the soon-to-be-released Stern Review.

Climate change could tilt the world's economy into the worst global recession in recent history, a report will warn next week.

Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist with the World Bank, will warn that governments need to tackle the problem head-on by cutting emissions or face economic ruin. The findings, due to be released on Monday, will turn economic argument about global warming on its head by insisting that fighting global warming will save industrial nations money.

Seemed fairly obvious to me, if not the denialists. Internalizing external environmental costs often swings the balance in cost/benefit analyses and, hence, industry is not keen on the whole idea – less profit, you see. Stern is predicting the dreaded R-word; recession:

But Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, yesterday gave the Guardian a preview of its main findings.

Speaking at a climate change conference in Birmingham, he said: "All of [Stern's] detailed modeling out to the year 2100 is going to indicate first of all that if we don't take global action we are going to see a massive downturn in global economies." He added: "If no action is taken we will be faced with the kind of downturn that has not been seen since the great depression and the two world wars." Sir David called the review "the most detailed economic analysis that I think has yet been conducted".

The review will highlight the threat of sea level rise. Sir David said: "If you look at sea level rises alone and the impact that will have on global economies where cities are becoming inundated by flooding ... this will cause the displacement of ... hundreds of millions of people."

Importantly, the economic costs of acting appear less than many (Bush, I’m looking at you) had feared.

Sir Nicholas will argue that tackling the problem may not prove as economically painful as some experts predict. Investment in low-carbon technologies could stimulate the global economy. Sir David said: "[Stern's] analysis, I think, will also surprise many people in terms of the relatively small cost of action."

The International Energy Agency predicts that $15 trillion (£8 trillion) of investment in new energy sources will be required over the next 15 years. "The massive investment programme that's ahead of us is an opportunity for us to move towards a zero carbon energy system. The investment process is going to act quite possibly in the opposite direction to an economic downturn," Sir David said.

What is the problem then? Well, it’s the rather difficult task of getting all countries to act together. Political consensus is required and since the bad bits are many election cycles away, what’s the motivation? Politicians don’t really deal in short-term spending for long-term gain.

He told the Rapid Climate Change conference, organised by the Natural Environment Research Council in Birmingham, that achieving global political consensus would be extremely difficult. "In my view this is the biggest challenge our global political system has ever been faced with. We've never been faced with a decision where collective decision making is required by all major countries." The timescale too is unprecedented. "Actions being asked of the political system today are only going to play through into mid-century and beyond. So for the first time we are asking a global political system to make decisions around risks to their populations that are well outside the time period of any election process."

Expect a ferocious counter attack from the shills. It’d be entertaining if the outcome wasn’t so important.

Part III coming soon – I’ll finally have a look over those submissions.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

War, war, war is so good!!

From Kevin Tillman, who joined the US Army with his brother Pat in 2002, where they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,

Kevin Tillman

The response for the warbloggers will be.......enlightening.

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ET and the Evolution of Intelligence

A very interesting post from PZ Myers today at Pharyungula on the likelihood of ET existing and the evolution of intelligence.

Firstly, the Drake Equation and Fermi Paradox. The Drake Equation states that:

N = R* × f{p} × n{e} × f{l} × f{i} × f{c} × L

N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which we might expect to be able to communicate at any given time

R* is the rate of star formation in our galaxy
f{p} is the fraction of those stars that have planets
n{e} is average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f{l} is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life
f{i} is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
f{c} is the fraction of the above that are willing and able to communicate
L is the expected lifetime of such a civilization

Briefly, when “plausible” were values plugged into the Drake equation, values for N were usually greater than one (i.e. we aren’t alone). The Fermi paradox is that, to our knowledge, N=1, when really we should have seen other civilizations by now.

So what’s wrong?

According to Myers:

I think it's a non-problem and a non-paradox. The simplest explanation for the reason that ET isn't tapping on our shoulder is that the Fermi and Drake assumptions are wrong—the kind of technological intelligence that might build spaceships and radios and harness fire is very rare, and techno-species are spread very thinly over vast and uncrossable tracts of space.
And why is ET intelligent enough?

………… we do have one fairly substantial body of evidence that illustrates the probability of intelligence evolving, and it's right here in the history of planet earth. We've got about a half-billion years worth of sophisticated multi-cellular animal life on the planet, and our kind of technological intelligence has appeared only once. From the Planetary Society debate on SETI:

After the origin of life, that is, 3.8 billion years ago, life on Earth consisted for 2 billion years only of simple prokaryotes, cells without an organized nucleus. These bacteria and their relatives developed surely 50 to 100 different (some perhaps very different) lineages, but, in this enormously long time, none of them led to intelligence. Owing to an astonishing, unique event that is even today only partially explained, about 1,800 million years ago the first eukaryote originated, a creature with a well organized nucleus and the other characteristics of "higher" organisms. From the rich world of the protists (consisting of only a single cell) there eventually originated three groups of multicellular organisms: fungi, plants and animals. But none of the millions of species of fungi and plants was able to produce intelligence.

The animals (Metazoa) branched out in the Precambrian and Cambrian time periods to about 60 to 80 lineages (phyla). Only a single one of them, that of the chordates, led eventually to genuine intelligence. The chordates are an old and well diversified group, but only one of its numerous lineages, that of the vertebrates, eventually produced intelligence. Among the vertebrates, a whole series of groups evolved--types of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Again only a single lineage, that of the mammals, led to high intelligence. The mammals had a long evolutionary history which began in the Triassic Period, more than 200 million years ago, but only in the latter part of the Tertiary Period--that is, some 15 to 20 million years ago--did higher intelligence originate in one of the circa 24 orders of mammals.

The elaboration of the brain of the hominids began less than 3 million years ago, and that of the cortex of Homo sapiens occurred only about 300,000 years ago. Nothing demonstrates the improbability of the origin of high intelligence better than the millions of phyletic lineages that failed to achieve it.

In part, this is a probability argument: it is saying that the relevant parameter in the Drake Equation is very, very small, perhaps much smaller than the SETI devotees were plugging into it. Maybe, if we actually had accurate values for the equation, the expected number of space-faring civilizations in our galaxy is something less than 1. The 'paradox' isn't.

Myers then goes on to say:

But there's another, subtler lesson in there. What he's saying is that there doesn't seem to be any evidence for a predisposition to favor intelligence in biology. Features like multi-cellularity, photoreception, long sharp fangs, flight, etc., pop up in life's history over and over again, independently; but intelligence? Feh. The universe doesn't seem to like smart guys. We happened once, and what's more, we seem to be teetering at the end of one long chain of improbable events in the history of one marginal set of lineages, of which most of its members are in decline.

Now, I’m not sure if you can extrapolate from this argument to cover other parts of the universe, with the reason being that our planetary conditions may be great for the development of life but poor for the development of intelligence.

Continual environmental upheaval would appear to be a likely reason that life that is similarly intelligent to humans is rather uncommon. The costs of
developing intelligence in a continuously changing environment could easily lead to reduced physical adaptability, which just isn’t compensated for. Something as complex and finely tuned as the human brain, for example, has very, very specific requirements as far as oxygen, temperature and sustenance requirements etcetera are concerned. Complex brains need more time to develop and mature then less complex ones. This very complexity makes them fragile, meaning a complex brain is mostly selected against when the environment changes (luckily our lineage was an exception).

However, in a more stable environment, intelligence would have more positive aspects and less negative ones. The balance would tip further toward an ecological evolutionary driving force (e.g. predator/prey interactions), rather than an environmental ones (eg. abiotic stress tolerance). Intelligence would certainly help the former example but not the latter.

So, I tend to think that the predisposition for the development of intelligent life is there, providing a largely stable environment is present. And one thing we just don’t know at all is how many planets exist with stable environments. Maybe none. Maybe lots.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Photoblogging: Hans Heysen's house and garden

A photo that I'm reasonably happy with (more PS work to be done). Taken on 22-10-06 at artist Hans Heysen's house and garden near Hahndorf. Camera is a crappy Canon digi. Bit of photoshopping already with diffuse glow added, some gradient blue to the overexposed background and hue shift to green. And here is the rest of it.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Part I

In just a few days time the long-awaited “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change” will be released. Sir Nicholas Stern has attempted to 'review of the economics of climate change, to understand more comprehensively the nature of the economic challenges and how they can be met, in the UK and globally'. Stern will present the conclusions to the UK Royal Society on October 30. This review was initiated following an earlier report on the same subject by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs (SCEA). The SCEA’s report was well received in denialist circles, as it cast doubt on the scientific consensus behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and the role of the IPCC in particular. Unsurprisingly, a disproportionate number of skeptics presented to the SCEA, including Ian Castles, Richard Lindzen, Bjorn Lomborg, Nils-Axel Morner, Ross McKitrick and Fred Singer, among others. Some of the conclusions and recommendations for the SCEA report included:

147. The scientific context is one of uncertainty, although as the science progresses these uncertainties might be expected to diminish and be resolved, one way or the other. Hence it is important that the Government continues to take a leading role in supporting climate science, and encourages a dispassionate evidence-based approach to debate and decision making (para 18).

149. Whatever the validity of temperature projections, the science of measuring impacts remains speculative. Many of the adverse effects of warming can be offset by adaptation and we believe that the economic and social returns from investing in adaptation should be properly weighed against the cost of mitigation (para 27).

154. We think it important that the IPCC moves towards clearer judgements on the probabilities of the projected global temperature increases (para 41).

155. We are clear that fuller consideration needs to be given to the literature on the positive effects of warming (para 43).

156. We conclude that there are weaknesses in the way the scientific community, and the IPCC in particular, treats the impacts of climate change. We call for a more balanced approach and look to the Government to take an active role in securing that balance of research and appraisal (para 44).

162. We received a significant amount of evidence on the realism of the IPCC emission scenarios, and doubts were raised, particularly about the high emission scenarios. The balance of this evidence suggests to us that the high emissions scenarios contained some questionable assumptions and outcomes. While errors do not translate into equal magnitude errors in concentrations or warming, it seems to us important that the IPCC emissions modellers give serious attention to adopting the correct procedures (para 72).

Stern’s review, I suspect, will be a different kettle of fish. The discussion paper he released in January, 2006 clearly upset many denialists as it was based on the consensus view of AGW science. From the executive summary:

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue. The underlying science of global warming through greenhouse gases has been understood for more than a century. There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and causing warming. We are already seeing significant impacts. There remain uncertainties about the nature and scale of impacts in the longer term, but the most recent science indicates that some of the risks are more serious than had first appeared.

The shills quickly responded with this paper containing some gems like:

The only recent survey of climatologists of which we are aware, which was conducted by the highly-regarded Institute of Coastal Research (GKSS) in Germany, concluded that ‘These results…seem to suggest that consensus is not all that strong and only 9.4% of the respondents “strongly agree” that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes.’

The [Lavoisier Group in Australia] document concludes with the observation that ‘Climate change is poorly understood, and industrial emissions of greenhouse gases may be a small, even negligible, factor’.

Stern’s smackdown makes enjoyable reading. This says it all, really:

The overwhelming body of evidence leaves no doubt that the threat of climate change is real and serious. Counter-arguments or hypotheses have been undermined and discredited as new evidence has come in. Increasingly, apparent inconsistencies in the evidence are being reconciled. This is not a theory that is fraying at the edges. On the contrary, it is sound basic science building on ideas from the nineteenth century which have stood the test of time, and for which the evidence, already strong, is becoming still stronger.

Coming up in part II, a look at some of the review submissions. Lots of laughs there.

UPDATE: The Stern Review has already been condemned by Jennifer Marohasy of the IPA as it will boost economic alarmism when released. You'd think critics would actually wait to read the report first, wouldn't you?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Human species split into two already?

The BBC today reports that the 'human species may split into two in 100 000 years time'.

Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge.

People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species, he added.

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

Ummm, I think Oliver may be lagging behind the pace a bit here. I mean, 100 000 years time? Come on!! We’ve got plenty dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures runnin’ round right now.

They do have a habit of presiding over the fate of entire countries though. Kinda don’t make sense really. I’d say that there theory needs some refinin’.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Preempting Wing-nut Fury

Right-wing types were none too happy when the Lancet Mortality Survey was published one month prior to the upcoming US elections. I’m confident that they will be equally as furious at what seems a blatant attempt to influence the elections, with the rescheduling of Saddam Hussein’s trial verdict to November 5, right before voting.

Meanwhile, a senior court official said a verdict against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants charged with crimes against humanity in connection with an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1980s will be announced Nov. 5.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

RIP Simon

The reality of mortality hit home today with the passing of Simon Vos, one of my buddies from when I used to rock climb in sunny QLD. Simon was a genuinely nice, cheerful and enthusiastic person who spent so much of his own time patiently teaching others the basics of his two passions, rock climbing and kayaking. His love for the outdoors was only surpassed by his poor taste in trousers.

Unfortunately, an accident while kayaking on the weekend claimed his life. He'll be missed by his family, friends and the Queensland climbing and kayaking communities. He was 24.

Loving tributes at http://www.qurank.com/

Photos by manacubus

And here is the rest of it.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Right-sounding Iraq mortality paper released

Now that the many shortcomings of Burnham et al’s Lancet paper have come to light, it has become obvious than an updated estimate of Iraqi mortality is needed. I have produced such a paper, the accuracy of which can be gauged by the fact it is not peer-reviewed and has no statistics whatsoever.

Mortality after the 2003 Liberation of Iraq: a number that sounds right
Nexus W. Six et al.

Background: An excess mortality of 654 965 deaths was reported in Iraq by Burnham et al. (2006). Our aim is to update this estimate.

Methods: A number was picked that had a certain “rightness” to it. “Rightness” confirmed by US government officials.

Findings: One person, 103-year old Mrs. Salwa Azeez, has passed into the Great Beyond since Iraq’s liberation in 2003. Mrs. Azeez was one of the tens-of-millions of Iraqis who lined the streets to give flowers to Coalition of the Willing (CoW) troops as they took Baghdad. Along with many others she served CoW soldiers cups of tea during the two-week military operation preceding the extended peace. Upon hearing of Mrs. Azeez’s poor health and frailty in her Autumn years, an aged-care hospital was specially constructed in her front yard to attend to her needs. When her poor heart finally gave out, none under than Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice performed CPR into the late hours of the night in a vain attempt to save her. She was, however, revived for just long enough to make a final request: “One group has done more than any other to make this country the peaceful and joyous place it is today. I’d like you to thank them for me. They’re brave souls of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists. God bless ‘em”.

It was noted that 654 964 Iraqi citizens were unaccounted for, but reliable reports suggest they had just popped down to the pub for a quick pint when the study was conducted.

Interpretation: It’s all good in Iraq. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Wine Review: Wirra Wirra Church Block 2004

This is the first in of what will hopefully be many, many a wine review. Most wines I intend to review will be local (South Australian) and under $40. I don’t know all the proper wine-reviewey stuff like “tastes of blackcurrant, cinnamon and sweat of a Labrador’s left bollock”, so I’ll keep it simple. Brief notes, stars (out of 5) and price. That kind of stuff. Most of the wines drunken by my partner and I are picked up from the cellar door, so they’re tested and tasted first, so to speak. That’s why there won’t be too many reviews like: “Nose of dehydrated, asparagus-eating cat’s urine. Palate of maggot-ridden road-kill.” Of course, a wine cannot be reviewed until at least a full bottle is consumed with friends, so there’s no cheating.

First up, Wirra Wirra Church Block 2004, an Australian classic. Wirra Wirra is a largish winery in McLaren Vale which produces a decent drop or two. By far its largest seller is Church Block. Price ranges between $17 to $24 a bottle and most bottleos stock it. The 2004 vintage is a blend of 48 % Cab Sav, 35 % Shiraz and 17 % Melot. As usual, it is shit hot. Smells great, excellent structure and perfectly blended. It’s young, but it’s drinking beautifully already. Like all McLaren Vale reds it has plenty of guts, with alcohol highish at 14.5 %. It certainly isn’t overpowered by food and will go well with whatever you like to eat when you’re drinking red wine. Do buy, you won’t be disappointed.


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Genetic Mutation Responsible for Conservative Behaviour AND Godzilla?

Ever notice how more than a few conservatives are not happy chappies? Over time, permanent lines become etched into their faces from constant use of the sneer, the snarl, the grimace and the frown.

I'm not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist, but it's fairly obvious that behind the outward signs of anger lies the black dog of depression, which probably affects more than a few Right-wingers. "Why?", you may ask. They're in charge of government and setting the cultural agenda in both Australia and the US. All seems well. But an online report from PNAS (covered by Science News) shows how some of the jigsaw pieces that make up Conservative behaviour fit together. You see, an overactive fear centre in the brain, caused by a mutation in the 5-HTT gene, is proposed to lead to anxiety and depression.
That means that people who carry the short version [of 5-HTT] are never free from uncertainty over potential threats,says psychiatrist Daniel Weinberger at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland

When you fear terrorists, foreigners, brown people, black people, gays, feminists, the Left, Muslims, the Labor Party, Michael Moore, Iraq, the ABC, Kerry O'Brian, Al Gore, Al Franken, Iran, Fairfax Newspapers, scientists, France, the youth of today, environmentalists, Latinos, communists, fear itself, academics, Hip-hop, AIDS, atheists, Aboriginals, David Marr, hippies, Heavy Metal music, North Korea, refugees, artists, university students, the unemployed, the Democrats, nature etcetera etcetera, you can put it down to a shorter version of 5-HTT. Ain't going to make you happy, though. Quite the opposite.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Right kills Lancet Iraq survey dead, has way with corpse

If the Lancet Iraqi death survey has only one good outcome, it is this: the reality-based community has been shown the correct way of determining the veracity of a scientific study. In the old days, scientists used to check a study’s conclusions by looking at the experimental design and the type of statistics used, checking for arithmetical errors, and most importantly, seeing if the results were reproducible. Now the Right have shown that there is a far, far better way. It goes something like this:

1. Find one person who doesn’t believe the study. This is enough to discredit it, particularly if that person is a “local”. Evidence to back their assertions is unimportant. For example:

“This figure, which in reality has no basis, is exaggerated,” said Iraqi government spokesman Ali Debbagh.

2. Question whether the study has adopted precise and transparent criteria. It doesn’t matter that it may have
precise and transparent criteria in its Methods section. Mere questioning is enough to discredit it.

“It is a figure which flies in the face of the most obvious truths,” he said, calling on research institutions to adopt precise and transparent criteria especially when the research concerns victim tolls.

3. Is the study published in a respected, peer-reviewed journal? If so, it is politically biased and automatically discredited. Such journals don’t give equal time and space to the fantasy-based community.

Like Nature and Science, Lancet seems increasingly to be run by people motivated by politics rather than science, who prefer a slogan to a reputable survey.

If you’re still unsure, ask yourself: “Is this the kind of material this journal should be publishing”? For example, the Lancet should obviously not publish information about human health or human deaths as it’s a medical journal. Study discredited.

Doctors should ask who has taken over Lancet, ostensibly a professional medical journal, and for what purpose.

4. Does George Bush or John Howard say the study is discredited? If so, it is discredited (This does carry far more weight than if the study is discredited by, for example, a brown person (see point 1)).

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group…

You’ll notice the “Eagle Eye” Bush caught out this particular survey for not having the same results as other surveys that he likes. So it’s not like he’s just making stuff up.

5. Does the study use a survey of any kind? Does it seek to extrapolate results from this survey in any way, shape or form? Quite obviously to do so is impossible and such a study is discredited.

The actual number of Iraqi deaths recorded in Lancet’s latest study is just 547. Extrapolating from that figure, the study’s authors estimate:
... that as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.

6. Are the results different from those of unrelated events? If so, the study is discredited.

Let’s put Lancet’s number in perspective:
* It is larger than the total number of Americans killed during combat in every major conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the first Gulf War.
* It is more than double the combined number of civilians killed in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
* It is a larger number than were killed in Germany during five years (and 955,044 tons) of WWII bombing.

7. Finally, was the study released at a certain time?

Whatever the base credibility of The Lancet’s editors, their propensity to publish these things in October of even-numbered years makes them look like partisan hacks.

The Right probably doesn’t go far enough here. If a study is released on the 13th day of the month, for example, it should be discredited. Or on a Friday afternoon near going home time. Or when you have a hangover on a Monday morning.

In fact, all studies that involve any kind of science or mathematics are now discredited. How simple is that?

More from Tims Lambert and Dunlop.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Greens party score multiple own goals to lose match

When the fanatical Right vie with the fanatical Left for the title of “I’m Teh Mostest Insane”, it’s akin to a bare-fist, unlimited rounds boxing match fought by blind identical twins. The Greens have, however, delivered a devastating haymaker with this submission to the Resource Development and Planning Commission concerning the construction of a pulp mill in Tasmania. The Greens apparently believe that the new mill will “bring HIV, melt the ski-fields in New Zealand, cause international diplomatic incidents and, to cap it all off, create a crisis in the Australian economy”. Personally, I don’t see too many benefits in the logging of old growth forests other than relatively short-term economic gains and, of course, local electoral appeal for pollies allowing it to continue. The loss of pristine, old-growth wilderness is a rather large negative in my view, which is why the garbage called Greens policy seriously annoys me. Like Monday’s silly global warming skeptic-silencing letter, they do far more harm than good for the causes they supposedly support.

[The Greens] claim that because there will be men working on the mill's construction who are without partners, prostitution and fights over women will be the order of the day. Those workers will maraud around the community, seeking "entertainment opportunities, including female companionship in the local community. This may result in conflict with local men," the submission opines.
Now there’s an argument to shut down any large new development in a regional area where construction workers come from outside. It’s novel, I’ll give it that.

And when they’ve finished with the local women and fisty-cuffed all the local men, what are the marauders going to do? Import child prostitutes, that’s what.

And sex workers from Melbourne will be flown in to help alleviate the sex drive of workers. There may even be child prostitution if the pulp mill is built, claim the Greens.
There is, of course, more. These marauding, wife-stealing, husband-bashing pedophile workers will be, dare I say it, foreign. And what do foreigners mean to the Greens? Disease. Kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? I can’t even recall Pauline Hanson saying anything as outwardly racist as this.

Even worse, if the foreign types send money back home to support their families, they’re stealing from us!! Nice of the Greens to care so much.

And in another demonstration of just how mean-spirited the Greens really are on migration issues, they claim in their submission that workers from overseas will be used on the project and those workers will send money back home to their families.

It’s hard to go on, but I will.Once construction has finished, the Greens believe that pollution from the pulp mill will shorten New Zealand’s ski season and ruin their agricultural sector, thus causing a diplomatic incident when NZ sues Australia. It’s almost impossible to parody this stuff.Last but not least, as the expert economists among the Greens Party have calculated:
Interest rates will increase, inflation will rise and Australia will default on its foreign debt if the pulp mill is built.

Not only is NZ doomed, we’re doomed as well. Why on Earth would anyone vote for these fruit cakes? They have not one shred of evidence to back any of their assertions up. They’re scientifically and economically wrong, as well as being condescending to construction workers and racist. And because they can’t be sensible about this issue, they’ve pretty much given the green light of approval for the mill to go ahead. Idiots.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Silencing dissent?

From the cesspit:

Apparently Labor member Kelvin Tomson is sending out the following letter to Australian company executives.

For the past five years I have been concerned about the impact of global warming on the planet in general and Australia in particular. I have made numerous speeches in the Parliament and in the broader community on the need for urgent action to address this issue. Throughout this period I have been increasingly frustrated by the misinformation spread by “climate change sceptics”, who have sought to undermine the case for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by peddling pretty much any line they could think of - that global warming was unproven, that it might not be man-made, that it might be good for us etc. None of these things is true. Global warming is happening, it is man-made, and it is not good for us.

I am prompted to write to you, as well as to a substantive number of other companies, by two recent events. First I saw Al Gore’s global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It is an excellent film and I highly recommend it to everybody. In it he observes the divide between the scientific consensus on global warming - of over 9,000 scientific studies into the issue, every last one concludes global warming is real, man-made and bad - and media reporting of the issue, in which over 50% of reports suggest the science is uncertain. This divide is clearly a result of propaganda and misinformation. Secondly I noticed that the Royal Society, Britain’s leading scientific academy, has written to US energy company Exxon Mobil asking it to halt financial support for groups that have misrepresented the science of climate change. The Royal Society says Exxon Mobil has given $4 million to 39 groups that have been misinforming the public.

I am writing to ask if your company has donated any money to the Institute of Public Affairs, the International Policy Network, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the European Science and Environment Forums or any other body which spreads misinformation or undermines the scientific consensus concerning global warming. If your company has donated such money in the past, is it continuing to do so? If so, I request that your company cease such financial support.

Your earlier response to these important questions would be greatly appreciated.

Kelvin Thomson MP
Member for Wills

As usual Bolt’s childish take is best ignored but this letter does raise some concerns, as does the letter the Royal Society sent to Exxon Mobil. If a company wants to fund research that it thinks may be of benefit to it then so be it. If the research is garbage (which it most likely will be) it won’t pass peer review, won’t make it into decent journals and it won’t be scientifically accepted. It will have no effect on the consensus. What scientists need to do is clearly communicate to the public why good reproducible results obtained from well designed experiments form part of the scientific consensus and why poor quality research doesn’t, though it should be reinforced that the quality of research should not be judged by where the money has come from to fund it.

It is unfortunate that groups such as the IPA and others want to misrepresent what is and isn’t good science, and confuse the issues associated with climate change. However, attempting to silence them just gives them more credence. They can play up the idea that their science is being forcibly hidden from the public. Even if 50 % of reports suggest that the science behind global warming is uncertain, according to a recent Lowy Institute survey only 7 % of respondents thought that ‘until we are sure that global warming is really a problem we should not take any steps that would have economic costs’. When properly informed, the public is not as susceptible to disinformation as some may think.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

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Science, politics and risk perception

Science and politics are indisputably linked, from funding decisions to ethical concerns through to the implementation and adoption of new technologies. Three recent areas where the interaction of science and politics has been “problematic” are climate change, genetic modification and stem cell research. The politics of our society are still largely defined by Left and Right, though each encompasses a large range of personal ideologies. However, I’m often amazed how easy it is to pick a position on the three scientific controversies mentioned above and the political persuasion of the people who believe that particular position.

Now, good science involves testing hypotheses using well designed experiments which can be reproduced by others. Whilst not perfect, publishing results in peer-reviewed journals is a good way to put good science into the public sphere. Politics plays virtually no role in whether science is good or not. There’s plenty of good science to support the theory of global warming. There’s plenty of good science to support the introduction and adoption of genetically modified foods. There’s plenty of good science to support the potential for embryonic stem cells to be a cure for a range of diseases.

Why is it then that almost all global warming skeptics are Right wing types? Why are GMO skeptics likely to be Left wingers? People skeptical of the potential benefits of stem cell research are more likely than not Right wing; however, almost always the skeptics are religious.

Fundamentally, I believe that the problem lies in people’s inability to accurately assess risk. It would appear that when looking at a problem that involves solutions that don’t fit in with a preconceived political viewpoint, people tend to much more risk-averse. When it does the opposite behavior is prevalent. Political operatives know this and play on it by emphasizing risk. To the Right the risk of taking action on climate change is too great. To the left the risk of introducing GMOs is too great. Where science, and particularly its communication to the general public, needs to be at its best is in the accurate portrayal of the risks associated with taking a particular course of action and the risks of keeping the status quo. Then again, maybe political indoctrination is just too hard to overcome in many cases.

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Comments policy - No personal abuse

Argument's fine, disagreeing with anything I say or any other commenter says is fine. Personal abuse isn't and any post that contains it will be deleted, even if some good points are made (I'm looking at you, Bird). GMB, feel free to re-post without the abuse. And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bolty sprung

Andrew Bolt, a Right-wing newspaper columnist at the Herald Sun, doesn't like climate change. Not the reality of climate change but the idea itself. Unfortunately, he's not too well read on the subject and relies on skeptic websites such as this, this and this. Reading actual climate science written by climate scientists is just too much work. So, like Chinese whispers, problems creep in when attempting to refer to a scientist’s original work.

In an attempt to debunk Al Gore's movie "An Inconvienent Truth", Bolty misrepresented the work of climate scientist Jeff Severinghaus. Severinghaus found about it and was not too happy. Some of Severinghaus' work showed that there was a rise in the levels of atmospheric CO2 with increasing temperatures in historical episodes of climate change. The bit Bolty jumped at was the time lag, where the initial rising of CO2 levels followed that of rising temperature. His implication was that the rising levels of CO2 had nothing to with warming and Al Gore was in fact lying. Severinghaus, as quoted by crikey.com.au, was pissed off.

“Many, many other studies have found that carbon dioxide causes the earth to warm. This is not controversial, and to continue to deny it is akin to denying that cigarette smoking causes cancer,” Severinghaus told Crikey. “The evidence for a human-caused warming of the globe is overwhelming. The scientific debate is over, and what we are seeing now is an attempt to mislead the public.” Severinghaus explained how Bolt had been slippery with the facts, "...Bolt omitted the key piece of information that the warmings took 5,000 years, thus misleading the reader into thinking that carbon dioxide was not warming at the same time as temperature and thus cannot have caused the warming...”

Severinghaus wrote a letter to the editor of the Sunday Mail, but it was never published. He posted a comment on Bolt’s blog but told Crikey “...effectively I have not been able to make much if any response”.

“At the very least I would like it to go on record that Bolt's abuse of my science is not done with my approval,” says Severinghaus.

So is the professor sick of having his research misrepresented in the press? “My research actually mostly isn't misrepresented,” he told Crikey. “But it is sometimes misrepresented on climate-denialist websites. I suspect, though do not know, that Bolt got the info from a climate-denialists website.”

So what did Bolty do? He tried to wing it and failed oh so badly. When I pulled him up on it in yesterday’s cesspit he screeched:

Severinghaus' research shows CO2 levels have tended to rise AFTER the globe's temperature starts to rise - and some 5000 years afterwards at that, which is what I drew attention to. This clearly suggests, as he and others have acknowledged, that the warming at least initially may not be caused by increased CO2, but in fact cause it. Severinghaus claims there is a later feedback mechanism so that the increased CO2 in turn increases the warming (many hundreds of years later), but this does not at all dispute the point I made - especially since the warming we've seen has occurred for less than 150 years. So what caused that initial warming in those previous warming episodes, and in this? Yes, he's still a man-made global warming believer, and is upset that I draw attention to this curious fact he's helped to discover, but bad luck to him. His rage and spluttering should not be allowed to obscure the central fact - that Al Gore shows slides from previous ice age that contrary to what he suggests in fact show increased CO2 concentrations initially FOLLOWING rising temperatures (by perhaps as much as 5000 years, say some researchers) and not before. (I've added a couple of words to my initial response to emphasise obvious points that later gotcha-hopers have failed to note, and will probably continue to.) For more on this and links to yet more, see http://www.co2science.org
Check for yourself, and deal with the facts.

But poor old Bolty hadn't actually read Severinghaus' research. Severinghaus stated that the total period of warming was 5000 years while the lag was 800 years.

Does this prove that CO2 doesn't cause global warming? The answer is no.

The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data.

The 4200 years of warming make up about 5/6 of the total warming. So CO2 could have caused the last 5/6 of the warming, but could not have caused the first 1/6 of the warming.
It comes as no surprise that other factors besides CO2 affect climate. Changes in the amount of summer sunshine, due to changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun that happen every 21,000 years, have long been known to affect the comings and goings of ice ages. Atlantic Ocean circulation slowdowns are thought to warm Antarctica, also.

From studying all the available data (not just ice cores), the probable sequence of events at a termination goes something like this. Some (currently unknown) process causes Antarctica and the surrounding ocean to warm. This process also causes CO2 to start rising, about 800 years later. Then CO2 further warms the whole planet, because of its heat-trapping properties. This leads to even further CO2 release. So CO2 during ice ages should be thought of as a "feedback", much like the feedback that results from putting a microphone too near to a loudspeaker.

After I pointed out to Bolty the error of his ways he refused to change his posting to reflect what Severinghaus had actually said, not what he'd hoped he said.

The man’s credibility on this subject is already pretty low. Here's hoping after this episode it's that bit lower.

More from Deltoid

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Cosmic mind rays

Maybe it's time to put on the tin underpants because, wouldn't you know it, cosmic rays are going to do us all in. Well, in a roundabout way. You see, some denialists have now decided that cosmic rays cause global warming. Andrew Bolt and JF Beck are but two examples.

Here's what's got them all excited:

The experimental results lend strong empirical support to the theory proposed a decade ago by Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen that cosmic rays influence Earth's climate through their effect on cloud formation. The original theory rested on data showing a strong correlation between variation in the intensity of cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere and the amount of low-altitude clouds. Cloud cover increases when the intensity of cosmic rays grows and decreases when the intensity declines.

It is known that low-altitude clouds have an overall cooling effect on the Earth's surface. Hence, variations in cloud cover caused by cosmic rays can change the surface temperature. The existence of such a cosmic connection to Earth's climate might thus help to explain past and present variations in Earth's climate.

Interestingly, during the 20th Century, the Sun's magnetic field which shields Earth from cosmic rays more than doubled, thereby reducing the average influx of cosmic rays. The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century. However, until now, there has been no experimental evidence of how the causal mechanism linking cosmic rays and cloud formation may work.

Many climate scientists have considered the linkages from cosmic rays to clouds to climate as unproven, comments Eigil Friis-Christensen, who is now Director of the Danish National Space Center. Some said there was no conceivable way in which cosmic rays could influence cloud cover. The SKY experiment now shows how they do so, and should help to put the cosmic-ray connection firmly onto the agenda of international climate research.

Now, you'd think so-called skeptics would look at a bit of the background behind this. Not so, of course. Here's what Nature had to say:

This cosmic-ray connection drew a lot of media attention for several years, but never found favour with the mainstream of climate science, which holds that the twentieth century's global warming was caused by people, not particles. To many in the community, the attention paid to Svensmark and Friis-Christensen seemed to be at best a diversion, at worst a counter-attack. The connection with the Sun was played on by organizations with connections to oil companies, such as the right-wing George C. Marshall Institute in Washington DC.

There were also questions about Svensmark's use of data. In a 2004 article published in Eos, Paul Damon of the University of Arizona in Tucson and Peter Laut of the Technical University of Denmark discussed several examples of what they called "unacceptable handling of observational data by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen which exaggerated the correlation."

Among several flaws, including arithmetical errors, they noted that the cloud data that had been used originally did not represent total global cloud cover, and that when the correct data were used the correlation broke down. Svensmark began to use a different measure of cloudiness, justifying this by arguing that the new measure made more sense than the original one as something that the cosmic rays might be influencing.

Maybe the new experiments are great science. Maybe there's no unacceptable handling of observational data. Maybe there's no arithmetical errors. Maybe they won't change the way the data is analysed to prevent their hypothesis breaking down. Maybe their experiments will even be reproducible using different methodologies. Maybe. Or maybe not.

UPDATE: As expected, Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate destroys the "cosmic rays cause global warming" hypothesis.

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Climate change denialists - read this before asking

I highly recommend Andrew Dessler's blog. He gets asked the same questions over and over again. Here are the questions and his answers. Superb stuff that even the simplest of minds should be able to comprehend.

1. Is the Earth warming?
Duh. Of course it is. Next question.

2. Are humans to blame?
The bottom line is that we are virtually 100% certain that humans are contributing to the present warming, and we think it's likely that humans are contributing most of the warming over the last few decades. However, no one credible argues that humans are responsible for ALL of the warming.

3. Will the effects of climate change be beneficial or disastrous?
Clearly, some people will benefit from warming, while others will suffer. There are a lot of dimensions to this (economic, moral, etc.), but I'll just give the broadest answer. For small warming (e.g., 1 deg C over the next 100 years), current thinking is that harms and benefits are largely comparable, although it is estimated that harms still outweigh the benefits. As the warming increases, the harms get much bigger, and begin dominating over benefits somewhere around 2-3 deg C of warming. That's why 2-3 deg C is often referred to as a tipping point or threshold for dangerous anthropogenic interference. Warmings much greater, say 5 deg C, would be a calamity of Biblical proportions ... real Wrath of God stuff.

4. Can we do anything about it?
I don't know. I think the problem is largely political, but I'm hopeful that we can get our act together in the next decade to make the technical and societal changes necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 around 550 ppmv (double pre-industrial levels). If we fail, then we move on to other options (like geoengineering), but I think we have to at least make a legitimate effort to to reduce emissions.

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