Monday, February 03, 2014

Scientific Pride and Prejudice

The article below by MICHAEL SUK-YOUNG CHWE discusses the biases common in science.  I also append after it a comment by Martin Herzberg that points out the relevance of such biases to Warmism.  I actually don't think there is much relevance to Warmism because Warmism has long gone from being science to being a political creed.  The studies Mr Chwe discusses are rigorous compared with the rank speculation that is Warmism

SCIENCE is in crisis, just when we need it most. Two years ago, C. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis reported in Nature that they were able to replicate only six out of 53 "landmark" cancer studies. Scientists now worry that many published scientific results are simply not true. The natural sciences often offer themselves as a model to other disciplines. But this time science might look for help to the humanities, and to literary criticism in particular.

A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias": We seek out information that confirms what we already believe. "We each begin probably with a little bias," as Jane Austen writes in "Persuasion," "and upon that bias build every circumstance in favor of it."

Despite the popular belief that anything goes in literary criticism, the field has real standards of scholarly validity. In his 1967 book "Validity in Interpretation," E. D. Hirsch writes that "an interpretive hypothesis," about a poem "is ultimately a probability judgment that is supported by evidence." This is akin to the statistical approach used in the sciences; Mr. Hirsch was strongly influenced by John Maynard Keynes's "A Treatise on Probability."

However, Mr. Hirsch also finds that "every interpreter labors under the handicap of an inevitable circularity: All his internal evidence tends to support his hypothesis because much of it was constituted by his hypothesis." This is essentially the problem faced by science today. According to Mr. Begley and Mr. Ellis's report in Nature, some of the nonreproducible "landmark" studies inspired hundreds of new studies that tried to extend the original result without verifying if the original result was true. A claim is not likely to be disproved by an experiment that takes that claim as its starting point. Mr. Hirsch warns about falling "victim to the self-confirmability of interpretations."

It's a danger the humanities have long been aware of. In his 1960 book "Truth and Method," the influential German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer argues that an interpreter of a text must first question "the validity - of the fore-meanings dwelling within him." However, "this kind of sensitivity involves neither `neutrality' with respect to content nor the extinction of one's self." Rather, "the important thing is to be aware of one's own bias." To deal with the problem of selective use of data, the scientific community must become self-aware and realize that it has a problem. In literary criticism, the question of how one's arguments are influenced by one's prejudgments has been a central methodological issue for decades.

Sometimes prejudgments are hard to resist. In December 2010, for example, NASA-funded researchers, perhaps eager to generate public excitement for new forms of life, reported the existence of a bacterium that used arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA. Later, this study was found to have major errors. Even if such influences don't affect one's research results, we should at least be able to admit that they are possible.

Austen might say that researchers should emulate Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice," who submits, "I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes and fears." At least Mr. Darcy acknowledges the possibility that his personal feelings might influence his investigations.

But it would be wrong to say that the ideal scholar is somehow unbiased or dispassionate. In my freshman physics class at Caltech, David Goodstein, who later became vice provost of the university, showed us Robert Millikan's lab notebooks for his famed 1909 oil drop experiment with Harvey Fletcher, which first established the electric charge of the electron.

The notebooks showed many fits and starts and many "results" that were obviously wrong, but as they progressed, the results got cleaner, and Millikan could not help but include comments such as "Best yet - Beauty - Publish." In other words, Millikan excluded the data that seemed erroneous and included data that he liked, embracing his own confirmation bias.

Mr. Goodstein's point was that the textbook "scientific method" of dispassionately testing a hypothesis is not how science really works. We often have a clear idea of what we want the results to be before we run an experiment. We freshman physics students found this a bit hard to take. What Mr. Goodstein was trying to teach us was that science as a lived, human process is different from our preconception of it. He was trying to give us a glimpse of self-understanding, a moment of self-doubt.

When I began to read the novels of Jane Austen, I became convinced that Austen, by placing sophisticated characters in challenging, complex situations, was trying to explicitly analyze how people acted strategically. There was no fancy name for this kind of analysis in Austen's time, but today we call it game theory. I believe that Austen anticipated the main ideas of game theory by more than a century.

As a game theorist myself, how do I know I am not imposing my own way of thinking on Austen? I present lots of evidence to back up my claim, but I cannot deny my own preconceptions and training. As Mr. Gadamer writes, a researcher "cannot separate in advance the productive prejudices that enable understanding from the prejudices that hinder it." We all bring different preconceptions to our inquiries, whether about Austen or the electron, and these preconceptions can spur as well as blind us.

Perhaps because of its self-awareness about what Austen would call the "whims and caprices" of human reasoning, the field of psychology has been most aggressive in dealing with doubts about the validity of its research. In an open email in September 2012 to fellow psychologists, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman suggests that "to deal effectively with the doubts you should acknowledge their existence and confront them straight on, because a posture of defiant denial is self-defeating." Everyone, including natural scientists, social scientists and humanists, could use a little more self-awareness. Understanding science as fundamentally a human process might be necessary to save science itself.



`The above article by Michael Suk-Young Chwe is one of the finest I have read for years in the Times. Science is  indeed "in crisis" because of the "selective use of data" because of the "confirmation bias" whereby "we seek out information that confirms what we already believe." Unfortunately, he neglects to mention the most egregious example: the "global warming / climate change" theory that attributes changes in weather to human emission of CO2. There is not one iota of reliable evidence for that theory, yet it has been accepted by many scientific organizations, government agencies, mainstream media (including the Times) and even President Obama: all because of their biases, and their complete absence of self doubt. As a result, billions of dollars are being wasted in the pursuit of the phantom in the sky: the so-called "greenhouse effect" - a pure fiction.

    Only one disagreement with Mr. Chwe: Milliken's oil drop experiment was complicated because of the difficulty in measuring the mass of his oil drops by balancing the gravitational force against the drag force when the droplets reached terminal velocity in the absence of an electric field. Once that mass was determined, and a balance was achieved in the presence of balanced electric and gravitational forces, the electric charges on the droplets were all found to be multiples of the fundamental charge of the electron. Milliken's early difficulties had nothing to do with his "confirmation bias" but only with the difficulty of an indirect and complex determination of the droplet's masses.

Martin Herzberg  -- Via email

EPA Administrator on `Destroyed Ozone Layer' - `We Are Fixing That'

Speaking at the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) conference on Thursday in Arlington, Va., Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said her agency is "fixing" the damaged ozone layer.

"From keeping our air clean and our water clean to combating climate change, science has always been and will always be at the heart of the mission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency," McCarthy said.

"Just think: Science showed us beyond a doubt the deadly effects of a destroyed ozone layer," McCarthy said. "We are fixing that."

According to an April 26, 2007 report from the EPA, the banning of the chemicals thought to damage the ozone layer between the Earth and the sun were no longer being produced in the United States.

"Countries around the world are phasing out the production and use of chemicals that destroy ozone in the Earth's upper atmosphere," the report stated. "The United States has already phased out production of those substances having the greatest potential to deplete the ozone layer."

Actions to "fix" the ozone layer date back to 1989 with the creation of United Nations-backed Montreal Protocol, which called on countries to stop using the chemicals some scientists said were depleting it. The United States is one of the countries to sign on to the Protocol, which was amended in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008, according to the U.N.

The NCSE conference described its mission in the program this way: "The 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Building Climate Solutions will engage some 1,000 key individuals from any fields of sciences and engineering, government and policy, business and civil society to advance solutions to minimize the causes and consequences of anthropogenic climate change."


UK flooding: Environment Agency boss Lord Smith engulfed in crisis

Lord Smith's leadership of the Environment Agency is in crisis following the flooding gripping parts of Britain.

Sources have accused Lord Smith, a Cabinet minister in Tony Blair's Labour government, of "keeping his head down" despite parts of the country being submerged for weeks.

Allegations that he is "too distracted" by having too many jobs - in all Lord Smith has 11 paid and unpaid posts - have added to the growing concern in Whitehall.

Although he is due to step down as chairman of the Environment Agency in June, a source said: "There is no way he would get back in even if he wanted to reapply for his post."

Lord Smith has insisted the agency is doing all it can in the face of the wettest January in history and has pointed out that - unlike the North Sea floods of 1953 when more than 300 people died - lives have been protected through the hard work of his staff.

However, the agency has faced severe criticism, particularly over its alleged failure to dredge rivers on the Somerset Levels. One local MP accused the body of failing to spend its resources on flood defences and instead diverting millions of pounds to bird sanctuaries.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater in Somerset, said: "We're just sick to death of it [flooding]. They [the Environment Agency] need to dredge these rivers, stop spending money - œ31 million - on bird sanctuaries and spend œ5 million, that's all we want, to sort this out.

"What comes first is the humans. I'm afraid the birds will fly off elsewhere."

The Telegraph can also disclose that the Environment Agency undertook detailed computer modelling on the impact of dredging in 2012, which showed that dredging would have "significantly reduce[d] the duration and depth of flooding" in the worst hit areas.

Residents of the Somerset Levels piled further pressure on the agency after tests showed stagnant flood water had left gardens "awash with unsafe bacteria".

Tests by microbiologists from the University of Reading in Moorlands, Somerset, showed 60,000 to 70,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres. The World Health Organisation states agricultural water should have no more than 1,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres. Experts said it would take up to three months for bacteria levels to fall within safe limits.

"It's unsurprising considering there are septic tanks in these people's gardens that are overflowing and animals within close proximity," said Nathaniel Storey, the microbiologist who carried out the research, "All this excrement in these areas is being dredged up by the floodwater and taken into houses and into gardens."

Gavin Sadler, 35, who lives in Moorlands in Somerset, said: "We've been told children shouldn't go in any of the areas for two months after the water has gone . The guys on the ground for the Environment Agency have been great. But some questions ought to be asked about at management level. Where was the help weeks ago?"

On Saturday, the Environment Agency issued five severe flood warnings - in Cornwall and in areas around the Severn River - and 147 flood warnings and 289 flood alerts as a combination of high tides, torrential rain and gale force winds battered Britain. A severe flood warning is only issued if lives are in danger.

Significant disruption is predicted over the next 24 hours for much of the coast of Wales and south-west England from Flintshire to Dorset.

This includes coasts and tidal areas of Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. Parts of south-east England, the North West and the Yorkshire and Hull coast were also facing the cumulative effects of wind, rain and high tides over the weekend.

The military remained on standby last night in Somerset, where the village of Muchelney has been cut off for a month.

New spending on flood defence schemes will be announced this week with resources likely to be targeted at the hardest-hit areas.

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee yesterday in an attempt to get to grips with the crisis. He was criticised last week for wearing a suit and shoes to flood-hit areas rather than appropriate footwear and clothing. Aides said he had rushed to the scene.

Cobra was told that 20 properties remained flooded in the Somerset Levels amid suggestions the worst may be over.

But there was further exasperation after allegations that Somerset county council had failed to dip into a œ24 million contingency fund available for local flood victims. On Saturday, David Cameron, writing in the Western Daily Press, appeared to criticise the response to the flooding. He said: "It is not acceptable for people to have to live like this almost four weeks later - and I am not ruling out any option to get this problem sorted out."

An Environment Agency spokesman said last night: "Chris Smith has done a brilliant job as chairman. But he can only serve two terms as chairman and his second term is coming to an end. There just isn't the option to have him any longer." She added that the agency was working around the clock to alleviate difficulties caused by heavy rainfall.


EPA Administrator to Scientists: 'Speak the Truth' on Climate Change to Meet Obama's 'Needs'

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asked scientists at a climate change conference on Thursday in Arlington, Va., to explain the science of climate change.

She also said that the EPA looks at climate change as an opportunity to grow the economy and create jobs.

"Scientists, you folks help us understand our world," McCarthy said at the 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Building Climate Solutions, sponsored by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE). "You help EPA to meet our mission of public health protection and environmental protection.

"I need you now more than ever to speak the truth," McCarthy said. "I need you to stand up together with us and explain what the science is telling you.

"To tell people that science and technology improvements will allow us to take action moving forward that meets the needs of this president as he has charged EPA, which is to look at climate change as something where we can innovate and we can move forward to grow the economy, to grow jobs, to understand how we're producing sustainable, livable communities," McCarthy said.

Obama has said he will use executive authority to move forward his agenda, including climate change.

Obama referenced climate change in his State of the Union address while talking about "cleaner energy."

"The shift to a cleaner energy economy won't happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way," Obama said. "But the debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.

"And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did," Obama said.

Peter Saundry, executive director of NCSE, introduced McCarthy by noting Obama's pledge to act unilaterally on climate change.

"President Obama has announced that he will work with Congress whenever he can but will not be held hostage - will move forward and do the utmost, we hope, through executive authority and through the agencies," Saundry said. The Supreme Court has noted that EPA has authority under (the) Clean Air Act and also other authorities, under (the) Clean Water Act, and so EPA is marching forward and taking actions right now which is really, really important."

The conference described its mission in the program this way: "The 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Building Climate Solutions will engage some 1,000 key individuals from any fields of sciences and engineering, government and policy, business and civil society to advance solutions to minimize the causes and consequences of anthropogenic climate change."


Build the Keystone pipeline, already!

KXL was AWOL from SOTU - along with real energy, job, economic and revenue solutions

Paul Driessen

President Obama frequently says he wants to turn the economy around, put America back to work, produce more energy, improve public safety, and open new markets to goods stamped "Made in the USA." In his State of the Union address he said, if congressional inaction continues, "I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."

Unfortunately, like Arafat, he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do all these things.

Most Americans are no longer fooled by empty hope and change hype. In December only 74,000 jobs were created (many of them low-paying part-time seasonal positions), while 374,000 more people gave up looking for work. Not surprisingly, recent polls have found that three-quarters of Americans say the country still appears to be in a recession, two-thirds don't trust the President to make the right decisions for the country, and barely 30% say the nation is "heading in the right direction."

The President needs to use his pen and phone to free our energy, economy and entrepreneurial instincts. But ANWR, OCS, HF, KXL and other solutions were AWOL from the SOTU. They were sacrificed on the CO2 and CMGW altar, by the POTUS, EPA, DOI and DOE, in obeisance to the EDF, NRDC, other environmentalist pressure groups, and assorted unelected, unaccountable, unconstitutional autocrats.

(Don't you love Washington-speak - from the land of acronyms, that pricey patch of real estate on the banks of the Potomac River, bordered by reality and places where people actually work to earn a living, despite presidents and hordes of legislators and regulators doing their level best to make that difficult. For those whose Wash-speak is as bad as their Spanish and German, translations are provided below.)*

Our nation is blessed with vast energy, metallic, mineral, forest and other resources, waiting to be tapped. But they are locked up in favor of crony-capitalist, eco-unfriendly, land-hungry, subsidy-dependent, nigh-useless pseudo-alternatives that are dearly beloved by utopian environmentalists - and by politicians hungry for campaign contributions from businesses that they repay with billions in other people's money, taken from taxpayers at the point of an IRS gun to prop up renewable energy schemes.

Our hydrocarbon wealth especially offers amazing benefits: improved human safety, health, welfare and living standards, in a more stable world, with new sources of jobs, wealth and income equality. Not tapping these resources is contrary to Obama's promises and our national interest. It is immoral.

Of all the opportunities arrayed before him, the 1,179-mile Alberta to Texas Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) is the most "shovel ready." Indeed, it awaits merely a presidential phone call or signature, to slash bureaucratic red tape, streamline the permitting process, and create construction and manufacturing jobs. Some 40,000 jobs in fact - more than half as many as were created nationwide last December.

As I have pointed out before (here, here, here and here), there are compelling reasons why the President should end this interminable six-years-and-counting dilatory KXL review process - right now.

Jobs. KXL would create an estimated 20,000 construction jobs; another 10,000 in factories that make the steel, pipelines, valves, cement and equipment needed to build the pipeline; thousands more in hotel, restaurant and other support industries; and still more jobs in the Canadian, North Dakota and other oil fields whose output would be transported by the pipeline to refineries and petrochemical plants where still more workers would be employed. With Mr. Obama and his EPA waging war on communities and states that mine and use coal, these jobs are even more important to blue-collar workers in Middle America.

Revenue. States along the pipeline route would receive $5 billion in new property tax revenues, and still more in workers' income tax payments. Federal coffers would also realize hefty gains.

Safety. Right now most of the oil from Canada's oil sands and North Dakota's Bakken shale deposits moves by railroad and truck fuel tanks, often through populated areas. Truck and rail accidents have forced towns to evacuate and even killed 50 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Corporate executives and federal regulators are working to improve tanker designs and reroute traffic. But even despite occasional accidents, pipelines have a much better safety record. KXL would be built with state-of-the-art pipe, valves and other components, to the latest design, manufacturing, construction and inspection specifications. It has been configured to avoid population centers, sensitive wildlife areas and the Ogallala Aquifer.

Resource conservation and energy needs. Building Keystone will help ensure that vast petroleum resources can be efficiently utilized to meet consumer needs. In conjunction with other pipelines, it will greatly reduce the need to flare (burn and waste) natural gas that is a byproduct of oil production in Bakken shale country. The pipelines will also help get propane and natural gas to places that need these fuels. Recent pipeline problems, plus unusually high demands for propane to convert corn to ethanol, created soaring prices and shortages amid one of the nastiest North American cold spells in decades.

KXL will also enable state and private lands to continue contributing to America's hydrocarbon renaissance. That is especially important in the face of congressional and Obama Administration refusals to open more federal onshore and offshore oil and gas prospects in Alaska and the Lower 48 States.

US-Canadian relations. The endless dithering over KXL has frayed relations between Canada and the United States. It has compelled the Canadians to take decisive steps toward building new pipelines from the Alberta oil sands fields to Superior, Wisconsin . and to Canada's west coast, for shipment to Asia's growing economies. Further delays will not reduce oil sands development - only the oil's destination.

Climate change. In his SOTU speech, President Obama informed us that "climate change is a fact." Well, duh. It's been a fact since Earth was formed. The only pertinent issues are these: Are humans causing imminent, unprecedented climate change disasters? And can we control Earth's climate, by drastically curtailing hydrocarbon use, slashing living standards and switching to renewables?

No evidence supports either proposition. Moreover, oil sands production would add a minuscule 0.06% to US greenhouse gas emissions, a tiny fraction of that amount to global carbon dioxide emissions, and an undetectable 0.00002 deg F (0.00001 C) per year to useless computer-model scenarios for global warming.

A January 24 letter spearheaded by Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and signed by all 45 Republican Senators notes many of these points and requests that President Obama permit KXL pipeline construction "as soon as possible." Several Democrats told Hoeven privately that they support his effort and Keystone, but are nervous about challenging the President or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly.

On January 31, the State Department reaffirmed its previous conclusions that KXL is unlikely to noticeably increase demand for Canadian oil sands or global emissions of carbon dioxide. With reelection behind him, the President has "greater flexibility" and doesn't need to kowtow to his radical green base. By picking up his pen and phone, cutting off another year-long study of whether Keystone is "in the national interest," and approving the pipeline, he could satisfy independents and his union base. He'd even reduce CO2 emissions, which State says would be 28-42% higher if Canada's oil is shipped via train or truck, instead of through the pipeline.
Democrats are urging unemployed workers to lobby Republicans for extended benefits. They should instead lobby Democrats and the President to do what's right for America: create the jobs they promised, by approving Keystone - along with drilling, fracking, mining, and reduced taxes and regulations.

America is waiting. Will there finally be real hope and change? Or just more hype and empty rhetoric?

Via email

Greenie shark lovers in Australia

People have never been a Greenie priority

Anthony Joyce once shared the Western Australian government's views on sharks after he found his foot in the jaws of one while surfing.

But the surfer from Sydney's northern beaches, who was pulled on to the beach at Narrabeen last October bleeding profusely from a wound lined with puncture marks, has done what says is a "180" on his initial support for the culling of sharks over three metres.

"The amount of sharks they are going to kill is going to make no difference in the scheme of things," he said.

Mr Joyce said, since undertaking three months of research that included talking to shark experts and marine biologists, he now supports greater government support for marine biology programs and shark education in schools and through surf lifesaving.

Mr Joyce, who took three months to enter the water again after his shark bite, soon hopes to get back on his board.

He was one of thousands of people gathered on Manly Beach on Saturday to protest against WA's shark culling policy. The policy, introduced after a fatal attack off Gracetown in November, intends to target tiger, bull and great white sharks longer than three metres that come within a kilometre of the shore.

The Manly rally was one of many held around Australia and New Zealand.  Witty signs, foam shark fins and chants of "stop the cull" filled the idyllic beach.

Among the protesters was James Cook, a 27-year-old who said he was more likely to be king hit than attacked by a shark. His mother, Katherine Cook, was equally outraged at Australia's desire to kill the marine animals.  "I'm really angry and incensed that we can't co-exist with anything," she said. "We are going into their [sharks'] environment. Why can't we co-exist?"

She said more people died across the world each year from being hit by coconuts than shark attacks.

Thousands of Western Australians also rallied at Perth's Cottesloe Beach, calling for an end to the state government's policy.

The protest came hours after an under-size two-metre shark, believed to be a tiger shark, was pulled from a baited drumline off Leighton beach by Fisheries officers. The animal - the second to be killed under the program - was dumped further offshore.

The first rally at Cottesloe - the home suburb of WA Premier Colin Barnett - on January 4 drew an estimated 4500 protesters while the event on Saturday attracted about 6000 people, with speakers including Greens leader Christine Milne and state Labor leader Mark McGowan.

``Rights, rights, rights for great whites,'' the crowd chanted. One placard read: ``Sharks are more important than human recreation''.

The Liberal-led government believes a string of fatal attacks in WA waters in recent years has dented tourism, particularly the diving industry and says beachgoers must be protected.

But Virgin Airlines boss Sir Richard Branson, who is fighting China's shark fin trade, told the local Fairfax radio station on Friday that the catch-and-kill policy would backfire, driving away tourism.

Mr Barnett, who is in Africa for a mining conference, has come under immense pressure to call off the cull, including having the windows of his Cottesloe office smashed by a protester.

The baited drumlines are scheduled to remain in metropolitan and South West waters until April 30.

WA shark expert Paul Sharp said the baited drum lines might actually increase the risk of shark attacks.  "Simply having those baits in the water will result in excited and stimulated sharks," he said at the Manly protest on Saturday.  "Like any other animal, when they are excited, there is a greater risk of an accident happening."



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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