Wednesday, February 15, 2006


(From The New York Times, 13 January 2006)

The journal Science recently retracted two papers by the South Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. But the editors of Science were not alone in telling the world of Dr. Hwang's research. Newspapers, wire services and television networks had initially trumpeted the news, as they often do with information served up by the leading scientific journals. Now news organizations say they are starting to look at the science journals a bit more skeptically. "My antennae are definitely up since this whole thing unfolded," said Rob Stein, a science reporter for The Washington Post. "I'm reading papers a lot more closely than I had in the past, just to sort of satisfy myself that any individual piece of research is valid. But we're still in sort of the same situation that the journal editors are, which is that if someone wants to completely fabricate data, it's hard to figure that out."

But other than heightened skepticism, not a lot has changed in how newspapers treat scientific journals. Indeed, newspaper irs openly acknowledge their dependence on them. At The Los Angeles Times, at least half of the science stories that run on the front page come directly from journals, said Ashley Dunn, the paper's science editor. Gideon Gil, the health and science editor for The Boston Globe, said that two of the three science stories that run on a typical day were from research that appeared in journals.

Beyond newspapers, papers from journals are routinely picked up by newsweeklies, network news, talk radio and Web sites. "They are the way science is conducted, they're the way people share information, they're the best approximation of acceptance by knowledgeable people," said Laura Chang, science editor for The New York Times. "We do rely on them for the starting point of many of our stories, and that will not change."

There are limits to the vetting that science reporters, who are generally not scientists themselves, can do. Most journal articles have embargoes attached, giving reporters several days to call specialists in the field, check footnotes on an article and scrutinize the results. "Scientific discoveries are more difficult because they often require in the generalist reporter a good deal of study, follow-up interviews and some guidance on how to make sense of technical matters," said Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, which studies journalism. "But I think the scandals do require both a new level of skepticism on the part of the reporter and also maybe some new protocols between scientists and journalists."

The Hwang case was not the first time journals had been duped: recently, editors at The New England Journal of Medicine said they suspected two cancer papers they published contained fabricated data. In December, the same journal said that the authors of a 2000 study on the painkiller Vioxx had omitted the fact that several patients had had heart attacks while taking the drug in a trial. A study on the painkiller Celebrex that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association was discredited when it was discovered that the authors had submitted only six months of data, instead of the 12 months of data they had collected.

While the journals have a peer review process that is in part meant to filter out fallacious papers by checking research techniques and conclusions, perhaps the greatest difficulty for science reporters is trying to catch what journal editors have missed.

After hearing the news of Dr. Hwang's fabrications, Mr. Gil of The Globe said he immediately remembered his newspaper's coverage of the stem cell papers. "We were blown away, in part because we had written those stories on Page 1," Mr. Gil said. "And when we wrote them, we called the leading experts in the world on all this embryonic stem cell stuff, who are here in Boston. And they were as hoodwinked as anybody else."

Despite the fraud cases, most of what the journals publish is basically credible, said David Perlman, the science editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. Among the most prestigious science journals that reporters consult regularly are Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association. "I think they and we have been burned enough that they're making efforts," Mr. Perlman said. "They're being more careful now, and I think reporters are too. I definitely have more of a 'Hey, let's look more carefully' attitude now that I did 5 or 10 years ago."

Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science, said in a statement in December that the journal itself was not an investigative body. But when reporting on journal findings, most news outlets fail to caution that studies must be replicated to be truly authenticated. "Beyond Hwang, the more fundamental issue is that journals do not and cannot guarantee the truth of what they publish," said Nicholas Wade, a science reporter for The New York Times. "Publication of a paper only means that, in the view of the referees who green-light it, it is interesting and not obviously false. In other words, all of the results in these journals are tentative."

The journals' own peer review processes, which are intended to be the first barrier against fraud, have come under criticism lately. A cover story in the February issue of The Scientist said that the top-tier journals were receiving more submissions every year, overtaxing peer reviewers and weakening the screening process.

After the Hwang scandal, Science announced it was considering a set of changes to better prevent fraud: Dr. Kennedy said in January that new rules could include "requiring all authors to detail their specific contributions to the research submitted, and to sign statements of concurrence with the conclusions of the work," as well as "implementing improved methods of detecting image alteration, although it appears improbable that they would have detected problems in this particular case." (Through a spokeswoman, Dr. Kennedy declined to be interviewed and said the editors were currently conducting a review of the episode.)

Some newspapers have adopted guidelines of their own to check for conflicts of interest involving authors of journal articles. The Globe instituted guidelines last July requiring reporters to ask researchers about their financial ties to studies, and to include that information in resulting articles. In its weekly health and science section, The Globe outlines any shortcomings of a study under the heading "Cautions."

Kit Frieden, the health and science editor for The Associated Press, said: "We've always had our own peer review process, where on the major studies we seek outside expert comment. We've always regarded scientific research cautiously because mistakes can be made, and I don't think that's changed."

The growing competition for the most important research among the journals may contribute to mistakes and fabrications, even in the most prestigious of the bunch. But in the end, the severe consequences of presenting fraudulent research generally act as a deterrent, said Mr. Dunn of The Los Angeles Times. "Unlike financial fraud, where you can bamboozle somebody of their money and disappear and then start over again, in science the researchers are in one place," he said. "If they get caught in this type of thing, their careers are over."


(By Roger Pielke Jr., Science Policy, 11 February 2006)

In the 20 February 2006 issue of The New Republic, John B. Judis has an article about how the issue of hurricanes and global warming has been handled by NOAA. Judis is engaging in scientific McCarthyism by arguing that certain perspectives on science are invalid because they are viewed as politically incorrect by some.

The transformation of this part of climate science into pure politics is fully embraced by those on the political left and the right, and most troubling is that this transformation is being encouraged by some leading scientists who have taken to criticizing the views of other scientists because they happen to work for the federal government. These scientists know full well how such accusations will be received. What ever happened to sticking to the science? Read on for background and analysis:

Judis alleges that scientists and political appointees in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA (pronounced "Noah") are together conspiring to suppress scientific knowledge about a linkage of hurricanes and global warming,

Many respected climate scientists, including some who work for NOAA, believe the organization's official line on the link between global warming and hurricanes is wrong. What's more, there is reason to believe that NOAA knows as much. In the broader scientific community, there is grumbling that NOAA's top officials have suppressed dissenting views on this subject--contributing to the Bush administration's attempt to downplay the danger of climate change. Says Don Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "There are a lot of scientists there who know it is nonsense, what they are putting up on their website, but they are being discouraged from talking to the press about it."

The notion that NOAA has an "official line" on hurricanes put up on their website apparently comes from this press release from 29 November 2005 which includes the following statements:

The nation is now wrapping up the 11th year of a new era of heightened Atlantic hurricane activity. This era has been unfolding in the Atlantic since 1995, and is expected to continue for the next decade or perhaps longer. NOAA attributes this increased activity to natural occurring cycles in tropical climate patterns near the equator. These cycles, called "the tropical multi-decadal signal," typically last several decades (20 to 30 years or even longer). As a result, the North Atlantic experiences alternating decades long (20 to 30 year periods or even longer) of above normal or below normal hurricane seasons. NOAA research shows that the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming.

There is consensus among NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters that recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal.

Judis argues that the scientific consensus has moved on:

NOAA's official position reflects what used to be the conventional wisdom on the relationship between global warming and hurricanes. Until recently, most empirical climate studies had focused on the frequency of hurricanes; and most researchers concluded that there wasn't a link to global warming--the frequency was connected to cyclical trends. But, in the last year, two important studies have suggested that there is an observable link between global warming and the growing intensity of hurricanes.

The studies that he refers to are familiar to readers of this blog, Emanuel in Nature and Webster et al. in Science, (hereafter E05 and W05). What Judis doesn't tell his readers is that neither E05 nor W05 are attribution papers - that is, neither paper conducted a rigorous analysis to explain the trends that they have documented. Here is what those papers actually say about attribution:

Emanuel et al. 2005 expresses some doubt as to the cause of the trends that he observes: "Whatever the cause, the near doubling of power dissipation over the period of record should be a matter of some concern"

Webster et al. 2005 more explicitly eschew attribution: "attribution of the 30-year trends [in hurricane intensity] to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state."

Now to be fair, Emanuel and the Webster et al. team have stated frequently in public that they firmly believe that the trends that they have documented are in fact caused by global warming. Why is there a difference between the cautious statements these scientists have made in their peer-reviewed publications and what they have said in public? The difference is that between rigorous research and hypotheses about what future research will show. Neither E05 nor W05 fully explain the trends that they see, but as we suggest in our 2005 BAMS review, they are "suggestive" of a linkage. Further peer-reviewed research may indeed demonstrate attribution, but it has not yet, and for those of us without expertise in the science it is probably best to rely on what the peer reviewed literature says rather than picking sides in an unfolding debate yet to appear in the peer-reviewed literature.

Judging by a quote in the Judis article, Donald Kennedy of Science thinks that this issue is important enough to violate his own magazines embargo policy when he says that, "According to Kennedy, forthcoming papers by Emanuel and by Kevin Trenberth of NCAR could strengthen the case for a link between hurricanes and global warming." Of course it seems obvious that even if such papers are soon to appear, it makes no sense for scientists who are unaware of them to reflect what they say. [My guess is that these papers will offer competing theories to explain recent trends.] But I suppose that the logic here is that such studies merely confirm what those evil NOAA scientists should have known in the first place.

TNR's Judis appears to acknowledge a "scientific debate" but then writes as if the previous scientific paradigm has been overturned and anyone who says differently must be in cahoots with the Bush Administration's spin machine or conservative commentators. Bizarrely, Judis criticizes NOAA scientists for making statements fully supportable by peer-reviewed science, and in some cases work that those scientists have published.

NOAA officials have sometimes included carefully crafted caveats designed to deflect criticism from scientists who know about the controversy. But, because they don't acknowledge the debate explicitly, the general public is likely to miss the caveats' significance. Appearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee on September 20, for instance, Max Mayfield, the director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, said, "The increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations and cycles of hurricane activity, driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming." NOAA officials also resort to clever ambiguities that elude the public."

If there is a scientific debate as Judis suggests, should Mayfield have the right to express his views on the science? Didn't we just go through this with James Hansen? Is it that Mayfiled's views are not politically correct and so therefore he must be lying to the public? Judis is encouraging scientific McCarthyism.

Judis continues to pile on NOAA administrators and scientists for making statements that are either consistent with existing science or their own personal views on the science,

They deny, for instance, any link between global warming and hurricane "activity"--a term that glosses over the distinction between frequency and intensity. The November issue of NOAA's online magazine declares that "NOAA attributes recent increase in hurricane activity to naturally occurring multi-decadal climate variability" (italics added). In settings where scientists are not likely to be listening, NOAA officials have even dropped the hedged and ambiguous language. On August 30, Conrad Lautenbacher, the head of NOAA, said in Weldon Spring, Missouri, "We have no direct link between the number of storms and intensity versus global temperature rise." The next month, when CBS's "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer asked Mayfield whether the hurricanes had "something to do with global warming," he replied unequivocally, "Bob, hurricanes, and especially major hurricanes, are cyclical." And, at the NOAA press conference, Bell said simply of hurricane intensity: "It's not related to greenhouse warming."

Bell has an impressive record of scientific research. Is he not allowed to speak to his conclusions and hypotheses, or are only certain perspectives allowed in today's politics of the climate debate? If we are going to advocate that James Hansen can speak his views on climate science, which are not universally shared, on what basis is Judis criticizing Bell for expressing his views?

Judis even endorses scientific McCarthyism by associating the views of certain scientists with conservative commentators, suggesting that certain views should be evaluated by who refers to them,

As expected, Rush Limbaugh, Rich Lowry of National Review, The Washington Times, and other conservative voices have cited NOAA to attack what Limbaugh has called "the global warming crowd." But NOAA's and Mayfield's statements have also influenced mainstream commentators. Citing Mayfield, USA Today editorialized against "global warming activists" who were turning the "storms into spin." CNN correspondent Ann O'Neill counseled against attributing hurricanes becoming "bigger and meaner" to global warming. "Don't rush to blame it on global warming, experts warn," she wrote. And two of the experts she quoted were Mayfield and Chris Landsea, Mayfield's colleague at the National Hurricane Center. Citing Mayfield, a Chicago Tribune editorial issued a similar admonition against linking hurricanes with global warming.

Judis goes on to discuss the state of public relations in NOAA, a subject on which I too have heard rumors of a clamp down. As I understand things the alleged clamp down affects all NOAA employees, not just those who want to assert a linkage between global warming and hurricanes (Who are these folks? Judis does not name names.). This is indeed an important subject and it would benefit from some hard evidence (muzzled NOAA employees contact me:!). But to suggest that any such clamp down on media interactions has contributed to a stifling of discussion of hurricanes and global warming is absurd. This subject has received far more attention than is warranted by its policy significance. The great irony here is that Judis is trying to stifle the voices of those who he disagrees with.

For its part, NOAA should never put out an official agency position on a scientific subject, unless it has some formal mechanism for arriving at such a position (as does the FDA, for instance). Individual scientists, whether they are in NOAA and NASA, should be able to voice their views on science in which they have expertise. If many scientists within NOAA happen to think that the linkage of hurricanes and global warming is overstated by others, there is no need to ascribe this to the politics of the Bush Administration or to lying or deceit. Every NOAA scientist quoted in the Judis story has had a career that began long before Bush took office. Each is an accomplished scientist. They are deserving of our respect, even if their views are not received as politically correct.

The reality is that the last word on the science of hurricanes and climate change has yet to be written. And as far as the peer-reviewed literature is concerned, the debate really hasn't even begun. There are differing expectations from very smart people about what future research will say. This is a recipe for an increase in our collective uncertainty. For the foreseeable future there will be conflicting statements made by qualified scientists. How people choose sides in this debate is likely to be much more a function of politics and ideology than anything else. Expect to see more scientific McCarthyism.


(From Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 February 2006)

Not everyone was pleased with the way former US Vice President Al Gore was given "celebrity" treatment when he spoke as a crusader against global warming in Manila. Two scientists from the University of the Philippines yesterday lamented how Gore's "doomsday" pronouncements apparently received more attention than the more detailed analyses and solutions offered by Filipino environmental experts. They also challenged and branded as "exaggerated" what the former US leader said about Manila Bay "overflowing" because of the greenhouse effect.

Too much use of ground water by typical households and establishments-not global warming-was the bigger reason the metropolis is sinking, said Dr. Carlo Arcilla and Dr. Fernando Siringan of the UP College of Science in Diliman, Quezon City. "There we go again. A foreign celebrity coming over for a quick visit, giving a talk, and we are all in adulation, taking everything said as gospel truth," Arcilla said in a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer. Arcilla is an associate professor of geosciences and coordinator of the college's Science and Society Program. He has a Ph D in geosciences and geotechnical engineering earned at the University of Illinois. Siringan, a professor on marine geology, holds a Ph D from Rice University in Houston, Texas.


In his first visit to the country, Gore delivered a lecture on global warming at a forum hosted last Thursday by Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco. The standing-room-only affair drew ranking politicians, business leaders and members of the diplomatic corps. The former Vice President of the Clinton administration warned that up to two million Metro Manila residents may have to be evacuated from flooded communities as melting glaciers and the polar icecap raise sea levels worldwide. Warning that the world will reach the "tipping point" toward an ecological catastrophe within the next 10 years, he urged international and local leaders to focus their efforts toward halting the phenomenon of global warming.

Doomsday scenarios

His computer-aided presentation earned a standing ovation. "The problem with these exaggerated and very general pronouncements about environmental doomsday scenarios is that they distract us from the real local problems which we can really do something about," Arcilla said. He conceded that global warming was "a serious threat to humanity, (but) it is certainly not in the terms that Gore presents." As to Manila Bay overflowing, he noted that his peers at UP, like Siringan and Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, along with their students, had conducted their own studies of the water level's rise.

Real story

"While it is true that global warming could contribute to the rise, this is only in the millimeters, but the centimeters' rise could be attributed more to heavy groundwater extraction which results in subsidence, which makes it appear that the sea is invading land," he explained. "I am not saying that we should stop helping control greenhouse gas emissions, but very, very few really know the real story about flooding in Metro Manila," he said. "We could cry all day about greenhouse gases but if we don't regulate carefully our use of groundwater, we could be flooding faster than whatever could come from global warming."

Reached by phone, Siringan observed: "We're falling over each other when it comes to foreign scientists. We don't listen to our very own. They have done more work but they are ignored." He said this bias was evident in the hiring of expensive "foreign consultants" for projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways. For the Camanava Flood Control Project, for example, the DPWH has tapped Japanese consultants who "earn in a month what Filipino scientists cannot earn in a year," said Siringan, who gets around P30,000 a month as a UP professor. He said he shared Arcilla's "sentiments" about the Gore visit.


James Lovelock was the darling of the greens, a pioneer who saw the Earth as a self-regulating entity under threat from global warming ... then a wind farm was planned near his home

At 86, James Lovelock is nearing the end of his long journey from scientific crank to revered thinker. These days, this ultimate environmentalist, a medic turned biophysicist who devoted 40 years to the study of the planet, thinks that all human life is nearing extinction, and says so in The Revenge Of Gaia, a shrill book that is the publishing equivalent of the doomsayer's sandwich board: "The end is nigh." Normally, Lovelock insists, he is quite upbeat. And in the flesh he's a chipper old fellow who wears his age lightly. When it comes to the future of the Earth, though, he is happy to be called a pessimist. We, all of us, don't have much time left.

Initially ridiculed, Lovelock's famous "Gaia theory", which proposed that the planet was one living organism with a series of connected systems that controlled climate and temperature, has since become the standard explanation for the changes to our rapidly warming world.

In the 1960s, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring awakened humanity to its polluting effect on the planet, Lovelock ploughed a lonely furrow, insisting that the Earth was more resilient than many in the nascent green lobby imagined. Back then, he thought the world might be on the brink of a new Ice Age, and many agreed.

Lately , Lovelock has changed his opinion. The recent dramatic shift in global warming has convinced him that we are hastening the planet's ruination. Three years ago, this environmental icon shook the green movement to its core by championing nuclear power as a safe, quick-fix way to meet our growing energy needs without pumping carbon into the already unbalanced atmosphere. No other solution can deliver on time or in sufficient quantity. The expense of nuclear is nothing compared to the cost of losing civilisation to rising flood waters, while the dangers are a figment of our fearful imaginations. And the pollution? Mere industrial waste that could be a blessing in disguise.

Lovelock's new book appears designed to instil fear of our imminent destruction, in the hope of combating our paranoia about nuclear power. In this guidebook to the forthcoming apocalypse, he predicts melted icecaps, flooded cities and vast burning deserts: all a consequence of carbon-fuelled global warming. Mankind is on the brink of destroying itself within one or two lifetimes.

For all Lovelock's superb rhetoric and rigorous scientific research, the last few pages of his book reveal an all too human explanation for his dismissal of renewable alternative energy sources. In fact, his love of the nuclear option stems from his hatred of wind farms. James Lovelock, it turns out, is a NIMBY ["Not in my back yard"]. When neighbours alerted him to plans to build wind turbines near his Devon retirement home, he writes, "fear crystallised as sharp needles in the supersaturated spaces of my mind", and he realised that the politically overstated case for renewable energy could lead to his view being spoiled. "I moved to West Devon 28 years ago to escape the bulldozers that were destroying the Wiltshire hedgerows and meadows," he writes . "Unwisely I thought that the gentle farmland of Devon was too poor to be developed and would let me live out my life in countryside I loved."

Confronted with the Nimby label, he agrees: "I think in a sense that's true. I am a Nimby. You need an emotional inspiration because writing is quite a chore really, so that was the kick that got me going." It seems perverse to dismiss a clean source of energy because of a few pylons, but then Lovelock has always straddled contradictions.

He revels in his stance as an independent outsider to the scientific and political establishment, and in his reputation as the man who risked all in 1961 by giving up a safe job as a government scientist despite having four young children and a wife in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. Widowed and remarried, he has since achieved enormous success as an inventor, consultant and author.

Earnestly serious about the environmental crisis, he also has the twinkling eye of someone who delights in mischief. In 2003, he rocked the environmental world with a clarion call for nuclear power published in The Independent newspaper , which made "nuclear" palatable as a word if not a policy, and has helped the Blair government articulate the case for a new generation of nuclear power stations. " The current generation of nuclear reactors have run for over 40 years with no trouble, he says. "What is the fear?"

The nuclear industry , he says, has a remarkable safety record compared to other sectors. Even with the Chernobyl nuclear reactor fire, deaths were limited to 75, mostly among those who extinguished it. Hundreds may have developed life-shortening cancers, but cancer claims a third of us anyway, so why quibble over a few years?

Lovelock treats our nuclear nightmares with such flippancy, you begin to think this old man doesn't care much for mankind. Yet he insists the opposite is true and is fond of quoting Christ's admonishment of the Pharisees from the gospel of Matthew: "Ye blind guides which strain at a gnat and swallow whole a camel."

Even the spectre of nuclear waste - a "gift" to future generations which some predict could remain hazardous for hundreds of centuries - troubles him little. It could be a guardian of the environment, he argues. Twenty years on , the Ukrainian countryside around Chernobyl is uninhabitable for humans but inside the "dead zone", wildlife is flourishing. "We call the ash from nuclear power 'nuclear waste' and worry about its safe disposal," he says. "I wonder if instead we should use it as an incorruptible guardian of the beautiful places of the Earth."

Lovelock devotedly studies the planet and concludes that it's already too late to prevent the change; the lush, comfortable world we have become used to will disappear very rapidly. "We live in a fool's climate and a fool's paradise in a sense too," he says. "When things get bad - and they might get bad relatively soon, in the next couple of decades - then all hell will be let loose.

"I think people have no idea what's going to happen," he adds. "When I say in the book that billions are going to die, I mean it. We're not going to survive in any numbers at all. My hope is that we can continue civilisation somewhere up in the Arctic but we have to prepare for it now to make sure it doesn't degenerate into a lot of warlords running the show."

The good news is that, according to Lovelock, Scotland won't do too badly. Britain sits on a temperature anomaly because of the warm Gulf Stream. Take that away (there is evidence it is switching off), and we're back in the Ice Age. "But if the world heats up by the same temperature then we'll be practically the same," says Lovelock. "The trouble is that everyone will want to move here." And when that happens, where will we find room for the wind farms?

The Sunday Herald, 12 February 2006


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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