Thursday, June 14, 2012

Corrupt Elites Discredit Science

The article below is very cautious -- not mentioning Climategate and its subsequent whitewashes, for instance -- but still makes a good point

Reports that the public is losing “faith in science” have caused a lot of chin stroking, head wagging and even some and finger pointing among the intelligentsia — especially since the studies point to a particularly sharp decline among conservatives.

Via Meadia isn’t so sure all this is on the right; the last time we looked, environmentalists around the world were denouncing decades of careful scientific research on the safety of genetically modified organisms, with dire economic consequences for African development. We’ve also noticed a distinct lack of faith in arithmetic by blue politicians who think that promising large pensions to union workers while failing to set money aside to pay those promises is a course of action that can somehow end well.

There is no sport intellectual elites enjoy more than recounting and bewailing the follies and errors of the Great Unwashed out there in flyover land, so in the academy and elsewhere the story of declining confidence in science is seen as reflecting a declining confidence in reason itself — and evidence of the rising tide of stupidity against which we enlightened few must ceaselessly battle.

But are things really so simple? Some of the skepticism is skepticism of journalism rather than skepticism of science proper, and it is heartily deserved. The legacy media loves to report sensational conclusions based on tentative research, and is usually much less careful than scientists about qualifying and conditioning its reports. Every rat that lives another week is reported as a breakthrough and a possible cancer cure; I have lost track of how many news reports I have seen over the years promising cures for everything from obesity to Alzheimer’s.

And there is also the problem of hactivism: people so devoted to some great cause (often environmental) that they twist, distort and overstate scientific conclusions to score points. One can never forget in this context the ineffable Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN’s climate panel, who notoriously scorned opponents as “voodoo scientists” because they refused to swallow his bogus claims about Himalayan glacier shrinkage. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t skeptical about science per se, but are increasingly skeptical about the abuse of science at the hands of pamphleteers and cause junkies.

But unfortunately, something more is at work. Back in May 2011, Harvard University was rocked by the scandal of Professor Marc Hauser. A decorated senior scientist consistently voted one of the most popular professors by students, Hauser was the director of the university’s Mind, Brain and Behavior program and a trailblazer in the field of evolutionary psychology. He was also a fraud who falsified data in his experiments and was ultimately outed by his own graduate students. When the truth came out, he was barred from teaching and resigned from Harvard in disgrace.

Hauser’s case was far from an isolated incident. Seven months later, the New York Times reported on the corruption of noted Netherlands psychologist Diederik Stapel, who managed to mislead the top scientific journals and bamboozle the best science reporters (including those at the Times) with article after article of fraudulent findings:
A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found…

The psychologist, Diederik Stapel, of Tilburg University, committed academic fraud in “several dozen” published papers, many accepted in respected journals and reported in the news media, according to a report released on Monday by the three Dutch institutions where he has worked: the University of Groningen, the University of Amsterdam, and Tilburg…

More than a dozen doctoral theses that he oversaw are also questionable, the investigators concluded, after interviewing former students, co-authors and colleagues. Dr. Stapel has published about 150 papers, many of which … seem devised to make a splash in the media.

The Times contextualized this incident in a broader, disturbing context:
The scandal, involving about a decade of work, is the latest in a string of embarrassments in a field that critics and statisticians say badly needs to overhaul how it treats research results. In recent years, psychologists have reported a raft of findings on race biases, brain imaging and even extrasensory perception that have not stood up to scrutiny. Outright fraud may be rare, these experts say, but they contend that Dr. Stapel took advantage of a system that allows researchers to operate in near secrecy and massage data to find what they want to find, without much fear of being challenged.

“The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found,” said Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.”

Corrupt, incompetent scientists? Lax research standards? Systemically flawed peer review processes? These problems, alas, are anything but rare. Stories like Stapel’s, plus reports on the findings of the evidence-based medicine movement about the unreliability of much medical science, and studies like Leslie John’s in Psychological Science (which revealed that the vast majority of psychologists engaged in questionable research practices and that one in ten falsified data)–not to mention the various alarmist exaggerations of some climate researchers–demonstrate that in many cases scientists have no one but themselves to blame for the loss of public faith in their work. Through laziness, politicization of findings, and outright falsification, the practitioners of some of our most important sciences have discredited their disciplines. Every Stapel and Hauser strengthens the voices of science skeptics — and rightly so.

Oh, and there’s another little problem: economics. Of all the social sciences, economics enjoys the most prestige in the academy and in the broader world outside. Yet ever since 2008 there has been a marked drop-off in the public’s confidence that the discipline of economics is producing useful findings. At any given moment qualified, credentialed and well known economists can be found supporting almost any policy option you can think of: is skepticism about the large claims economists make for their discipline really the mark of an unevolved mind?

This is a sad state of affairs. The questions being asked in the so-called soft sciences go to the heart of who we are as human beings–how we make moral decisions, what subconscious biases underlie our conscious actions, and how our mental landscape affects the way we perceive the world around us. These are crucial questions that science should investigate. But when scientific data becomes putty in the hands of unscrupulous researchers seeking not enlightenment but personal or political advancement, its entire foundation and rationale is undermined. And that too often is where we find ourselves today.

Serious soul-searching and house-cleaning must take place if the academy is to rehabilitate its reputation. Standards must be tightened, publication of experimental data must be made mandatory and peer review in the soft sciences must mean something. We hope that the documented loss of public trust in science serves as the much-needed wake-up call for reform, because until our elites acknowledge that they have a problem, there can be no solution. That acknowledgement begins with the acceptance of a truth as simple as it is deeply disquieting:

Marc Hauser wasn’t some kind of one in a million exception. He just got caught.


Warming causes cold! You can't lose when you are a Warmist

Charles Greene of Cornell has concluded that:
"Greene’s paper describes a key determinant of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter weather: the Arctic Oscillation. When that is in its positive phase, a strong set of winds called the Polar Vortex forms. These winds help trap Arctic air masses at the pole, keeping the cold out of the mid-latitudes. This also allows the jet stream to take a more direct route around the globe, moderating the weather.

But over the last few years, the Oscillation has been strongly negative; in fact, in 2010, we saw a record for the most strongly negative period we’d ever recorded. During this phase, the winds of the Polar Vortex weaken, allowing the cold Arctic air to intrude or mix into the air at lower latitudes. As a result of this, Greene told Ars two things happen to the jet stream: it gets substantially weaker, and it tends to meander widely from north to south as it traverses the globe. This can lead to the severe chills the US and Europe have experienced over the past several winters, but the meandering jet stream can also draw warmer southern air north, as happened in the US this spring.

I would go further. These cold outbreaks “use up” the cold pool, allowing the atmosphere to recover from the winter more rapidly. So an extraordinarily warm spring somewhere in the middle latitudes is doubly likely.


A Warmist fesses up

A few weeks back, I wrote up a story that purported to unveil a conspiracy between nationwide Tea Party groups and clean energy foes to coordinate a grassroots opposition to wind power projects across the country. The newspaper had gotten access to a confidential document that appeared to outline a PR strategy for coordinating opposition to clean energy projects. This document had supposedly been presented at a meeting in D.C. attended by representatives of various conservative groups. And it did indeed seem to offer a roadmap for how best to get folks to rally against wind power.

But here's the thing. John Droz Jr., who organized the meeting, contacted me shortly after I published my piece. The document in question was never discussed at the meeting, he said, and nor has it been since. And it wasn't written by him, as had been alleged. It was written by Rich Porter, a member of Wind Watch, a group that opposes wind turbines. It was submitted for consideration, but wasn't ever tackled.

"I had planned that it would be one of many items we would talk about, but (as fate would have it) we ran out of time and never discussed this document. It stands now as it did initially: the opinions of one person," Droz wrote.

Now, we emailed back and forth a number of times, and Droz ardently responded to my many questions. I think it fair that he tell his side of the story. So, I'm going to reprint his rebuttal to my (and the Guardian's) earlier post on the topic, where he says I printed numerous mistakes.

"As I just wrote, the conspiracy story is 100% false," he writes. He goes on to list the other other fallacies he says that I printed in my post:
a) That this was an attack on Obama's energy policy. Fact: Obama and his energy policy were never mentioned.

b) "A network of ultra-conservative groups is ramping up an offensive". Fact: we were individual citizens. No groups were invited or participated.

c) "The strategy proposal was prepared by a fellow of the American Tradition Institute (ATI)". Fact: the document was prepared by another US citizen, not me.

d) "The proposal was discussed at a meeting". Fact: the document was not discussed at the meeting.

e) "These documents show for the first time that local NIMBY anti-wind groups are co-ordinating and working with national fossil-fuel funded advocacy groups..." Fact: 100% false.

f) "Their main priority was co-ordinating PR strategy. "Our No 1 reason for getting together was to talk about whether there was agreement with a common message."" Fact: the Guardian writer contradicted herself here. The second sentence is accurate, yet it conflicts with what she wrote in the first one. "PR strategy" is methodology. That is a completely different matter from "message". Our primary objective was to assure that we were on the same page about the message, not PR.

g) "But conservative activists describe the ramp-up as critical to the effort to defeat Obama in the elections." Fact: False for us. We are an apolitical collection of citizens.

h) "More than 30 local wind farm opponents, all selected by Droz, came to Washington at his invitation." Fact: There were 20 attendees.

i) "Participants included members of conservative groups such as Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow " Fact: There were also participants that belonged to many other groups, like Audubon. How come Audubon wasn't listed as part of this fabricated conspiracy?

j) "Since the meeting, participants have pooled efforts to make phone calls and send email to members of Congress." Fact: False. We have made no phone calls or emails since the meeting.

Meanwhile, he says, there was no fossil fuel funding for the meeting—it was convened by him, and he says that he's never once received money from the fossil fuel industry. "In the 30+ years I have worked on environmental and energy matters, I have not received compensation from anyone, anywhere," he writes.

Now, it's clear that the meeting was indeed convened to discuss if and how to promote a common message opposing wind power. In my eyes, my initial post wasn't completely wrong—these are indeed individuals, who belong to various groups, who have a common interest in opposing wind power projects. They were discussing strategy. And I think it's fair to report on such meetings taking place—just like it's fair to report on strategy meetings at Netroots Nation or other progressive gatherings. But I regret the conspiratorial angle, and for unduly assigning so much meaning to one strategy document without considering its background.

I may disagree with Droz on numerable counts, but, especially with climate and energy issues, it's important to confer with those we disagree—there's much to be learned. I've spilled tons of negative ink about efforts to roll back environmental protections, to kill the climate bill, about the Tea Party and other groups that oppose clean energy-friendly policies. And I've never gotten such an in-depth response, or engaged in such a spirited back and forth like this.

The bottom line is this: Droz opposes clean energy (which he repeatedly says is nothing more than "a marketing term") because he believes it "has no scientific basis," not because he's paid to. He's passionate about the issue. The debate, in other words, is more complicated than we'd sometimes like to let on.


Some of the Warmists' favourite places: Iran, North Korea, Sudan

The U.N. is funneling millions of dollars worth of tradable carbon credits to corrupt nations worldwide, including Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan in an attempt to encourage clean energy projects in the developing world.

The U.N. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol. Western European countries fund energy projects in the developing world in order to obtain Certified Emission Reduction credits (CERs), tradable credits that enable Europeans to count foreign emission reductions towards their own domestic emission reduction targets.

“The CDM started from a page and a half in the Kyoto Protocol,” said David Abbass, a spokesperson for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “In the beginning they thought there would be maybe 600 projects, but now there are over 4,000 projects.”

Iran, Uzbekistan, Sudan, and North Korea are among the more than 70 countries currently hosting CDM projects.

Iran, with 16 separate CDM projects, brings in around 4.8 million CERs, worth about $26 million, every year, despite numerous U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Uzbekistan, dominated for the last two decades by the autocratic Islam Karimov, hosts 20 different CDM projects, with a combined annual value of over 7.5 million CERs, or roughly $40 million.

Sudan, whose president Omar Hassan al-Bashir came to power via military coup over 20 years ago and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur, is on the receiving end of two different CDM projects, with a combined annual value of over 180,000 CERs, or almost $1 million.

North Korea is hosting seven hydroelectric dams, which may generate over $1 million in CERs annually.

North Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan are among the 10 most corrupt nations worldwide, according to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.

It is unsurprising that North Korea is using U.N. money to develop its own infrastructure, said Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“One of the first questions with any U.N. program is, ‘Who is overseeing this?’” said Rosett. “Very often no one is.”

The worldwide expansion of the CDM has been accompanied by “troubling stories in various countries,” said Abbass. “When you have over 4,000 projects, you’ll have some projects in areas in dispute.” “We learn by doing,” he said. “We’re fixing as we go.”

CDM support is open to any country with the appropriate bureaucratic machinery in place. Abbass maintained that the CDM is not concerned with human rights issues and that the Kyoto Protocol merely set up the system—individual projects “come from interest in the private sector.”

The program was born of European self-righteousness, said Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. European governments have staked their reputations on environmental issues, but cannot meet emission reduction targets on their own, he said.

Europeans therefore “buy phony reductions” through the CDM, said Horner.

“Europeans basically say to the developing world, ‘I’ll pay you not to treat this byproduct as a waste product,’” said Horner, referring to numerous CDM projects that focus on reducing perceived waste in the developing world, from natural gas flaring to the release of methane from farm animals.

More than 83 percent of CDM projects are based in Asia, while Africa and the Caribbean account for a tiny fraction of CDM projects, according to U.N.F.C.C.C. data.

CDM projects are concentrated in Asia due to the disastrous environmental effects of communism and the bureaucratic savvy of China, experts say.

“Communism created the most intensely wasteful society the world has ever seen,” said Horner, explaining why former Soviet states in Central Asia such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan receive substantial support from the CDM.

The Chinese government, an aggressive host for CDM projects, has manipulated the system, going so far as to re-open defunct factories in order to get Europeans to pay them to close them again.

The Chinese are adept at twisting the “mandated inefficiency” of CDM projects to their own benefit, said Horner.

Haiti has set up the bureaucratic mechanisms required to host CDM projects, but is currently sponsoring zero projects.

Dorine Jean-Paul, an energy specialist at Haiti’s Ministry of Environment, decried a lack of support from the U.N.

“I believe the U.N. is not helping the countries that need it the most,” said Jean-Paul. “Besides some training sessions that are organized with the U.N. support in the [Latin American and Caribbean] region, we don’t get assistance or funds for a specific and national identified need.”

Abbass acknowledged that CDM projects are concentrated in Asia, and said the under-representation of Africa and the Caribbean might be addressed at the upcoming Rio +20 conference.

But he also noted that any substantial changes to the CDM could be a long time coming.


The Feds Retaliate Against Advisory Board Warning About Renewables Endangering the Electric Grid

Imagine if some obscure trading desk within J.P. Morgan had tried to warn Jamie Dimon about corporate malfeasance—or perhaps a risky investment—and it turned out he tried to shut up the whistleblower. We'd never hear the end of it. Somehow the same norms don't apply in government, as shown by a federal energy regulator's reprisals against an independent advisory body.

The target is the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, and its crime is scrutinizing the Obama Administration's anticarbon agenda. This highly respected nonprofit has monitored the power system since the 1960s and establishes best practices to keep the lights on. In 2005, Congress gave NERC a formal role as adviser. But now it may be defrocked for questioning the "pace and aggressiveness" of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory wave in a 2010 report.

NERC's position is that the EPA goal of mothballing many or most coal-fired power plants could endanger the security of the electric-power grid, with possible blackouts and much higher energy costs. In a follow-up report last year it found that "Environmental regulations are shown to be the number one risk to reliability over the next one to five years."

Apparently that was too honest for Washington. Earlier this month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission disclosed that it has spent months conducting a highly unusual audit of NERC. The commission oversees NERC under the 2005 law, so it has every right to check its practices. But this probe exceeded normal auditing standards and was a free-floating investigation into NERC's "economy and efficiency," whatever that means. It didn't find any rule-breaking.

Instead, the auditors question NERC's focus and statutory responsibilities, concluding that it "may have exceeded the functions" Congress intended for a reliability organization. Never mind that NERC has been doing the same job for decades and its integrity hasn't been questioned. The feds also complain about NERC's "periodic reliability assessments," otherwise considered the gold standard. They say this role "should be revisited."

In other words, the energy G-men think NERC should help protect reliability without studying the actual threats to reliability. This may be intimidation to get NERC to tone down its candor, or it could be a prelude to decertifying NERC to silence a troublesome critic. NERC tried to compromise on some of the audit's proposals while protecting its core duties, but the feds are now litigating to impose them.

The back story is that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is an EPA wingman and President Obama ally. He has told the trade press that he has "some real, real, real serious issues with respect to the functioning of NERC," without details, and he launched the audit on his own personal authority as boss. It's especially notable that Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur—an Obama appointee—attacked the move as "inconsistent with Commission regulations" and said it should have been put to a vote.

Bureaucratic infighting is an eternal reality of government, but Congress should ask Mr. Wellinghoff what he has to fear from honest counsel.


Inhofe alleges propaganda tactics in ‘Big Green Environmental Handbook’

Nothing is off limits when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “war on coal,” including activists’ use of children as props to reach their ends, according to Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe.

During a Tuesday afternoon floor speech urging members to pass his resolution of disapproval to stop the EPA from implementing its Utility MACT standards — designed to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), which Republicans argue will result in increased energy costs and coal plant closures — Inhofe highlighted recent guidance from the US Climate Action Network detailing to activists how to best pull at America’s heart-strings and demonize coal during public hearings.

According to the document, opponents of coal are encouraged activists to bring young children to at least two public hearings in Washington, D.C. and Chicago as visual props for testimony.

“Holding your baby with you at the podium, or pushing them in strollers, baby car seats, baby-bjorns. Older children also welcome,” the directive, titled “US EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Public Hearings How To Prepare My Testimony” explained. Among other desired props are, “asthma inhalers, medicine bottles, healthcare bills, and medication for air-toxics related illnesses.”

Based on the Sierra Club’s own recount and pictures of the event, participants followed the document’s advice.

“While activists rallied outside, hundreds of people packed the rooms in Chicago’s Metcalfe Federal Building and EPA Headquarters in Washington, including moms with small children, sportsmen in camouflage, and activists with signs and banners,” the May 24th Sierra Club post reads.

Inhofe argued that it is tactics like this which show the anti-coal advocates cannot argue on the merits.
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“EPA and their Big Green allies can’t tell the public the truth that they are crucifying oil and gas companies or that their efforts to kill coal will be ‘painful every step of the way.’ So they have been deceiving the public with talking points from their playbook,” he said referring to the document — alleging that Democratic members likely got the memo as well.

“My good friend, Senator Boxer, must have gotten this memo, as it is not unusual to see her on the Senate floor with a visual of a little child holding an asthma inhaler,” he said. “And Senator Boxer isn’t alone – we’ve seen these visuals from many of our friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Inhofe added that as his vote becomes more imminent there will be more images of suffering children.

“Get ready to see lots of pictures of babies and children wearing inhalers. But these are the same members who voted against my Clear Skies bill that would have given us a 70% percent reduction in [sulfur oxide], [nitrogen oxide] and mercury by 2018,” he said.



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