Thursday, June 21, 2007


A truism among scientists and technologists is that the more the public understands what they do, the more the public will support their activities. The basic idea is that the more people know about science, the more they will love it. However, with regard to nanotechnology, new research published by the Cultural Cognition Project at the Yale Law School casts some doubt on the sunny premise that more information leads to more acceptance.

In the study, "Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation," researchers polled 1,850 Americans about their attitudes toward nanotechnology. Eighty-one percent of those polled had heard nothing at all (53 percent) or "just a little" (28 percent) about nanotechnology. Nevertheless, after being offered a bare bones two-sentence definition of nanotech, 89 percent of respondents had an opinion on whether the benefits (53 percent) of nanotech would outweigh the risks (36 percent).

So how could people who know nothing or almost nothing about a new technology have an opinion about its safety? Pre-existing world views, of course. "The driving force behind these snap judgments, we found, was affect: the visceral, emotional responses of our subjects, pro or con, determined how beneficial or dangerous they thought nanotechnology was likely to be," write the authors.

The researchers relying on work by social scientist Aaron Wildavsky divided Americans into four cultural groups with regard to risk perception: hierarchists, individualists, egalitarians and communitarians. Hierarchists trust experts, but believe social deviancy is very risky. Egalitarians and communitarians worry about technology, but think that social deviancy is no big deal. Individualists see risk as opportunity and so are optimistic about technology.

"Egalitarians and communitarians, for example, tend to be sensitive to claims of environmental and technological risks because ameliorating such risks justifies regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize unconstrained pursuit of self-interest," claim the researchers. "Individualists, in contrast, tend to be skeptical about such risks, in line with their concern to ward off contraction of the sphere of individual initiative. So do hierarchists, who tend to see assertions of environmental technological risks as challenging the competence of governmental and social elites." Not surprisingly, the researchers found that people who were concerned about environmental risks such as global warming and nuclear power, were also concerned about nanotechnology.

However, the Yale Cultural Cognition researchers made another more disheartening discovery. In their poll they gave a subset of 350 respondents additional facts - about two paragraphs -- about nanotechnology to see if more information would shift public risk perceptions. They found that it did. In this case, the more information people had, the more they retreated to their initial positions. Hierarchists and individualists thought nano was less risky, while egalitarians and communitarians thought it was more risky.

"One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessments of its risk and benefits should converge. Our results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen," note the researchers. What seems to be happening is that individuals use information to affirm their pre-existing cultural identities rather than evaluate risks in purely instrumental terms.

Think now of the scientists, technologists and yes, regulators who have to try to bridge these diverse cultural values. More specifically they have to figure out how to persuade communitarians and egalitarians that technology somehow affirms their values. And this is no easy task. History clearly shows technological progress that has been absolutely essential to the creation of wealth and health in the West over the past two centuries has generally provoked resistance from egalitarians and communitarians.

Scientists may themselves have cultural barriers to overcome when it comes to talking with egalitarians and communitarians. Scientists often think of themselves culturally as good egalitarians, but as pioneers on the frontiers of knowledge they are operationally individualist. In addition, scientists are supposed to change their minds in the light of new data, not seek out biased information to confirm their pre-existing theories.

Unfortunately, the Cultural Cognition researchers left the problem of how to handle these polarizing cultural values for future research. The "major conclusion" of the study is that "mere dissemination of scientifically sound information is not by itself sufficient to overcome the divisive tendencies of cultural cognition." With regard to nanotechnology, it "could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict."


Helping along the appearance of global warming

Remember in January when the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its good friends in media trumpeted that 2006 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States? NOAA based that finding - which allegedly capped a nine-year warming streak "unprecedented in the historical record" - on the daily temperature data that its National Climatic Data Center gathers from about 1,221 mostly rural weather observation stations around the country.

Few people have ever seen or even heard of these small, simple-but-reliable weather stations, which quietly make up what NOAA calls its United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN). But the stations play an important role in detecting and analyzing regional climate change. More ominously, they provide the official baseline historical temperature data that politically motivated global-warming alarmists like James Hansen of NASA plug into their computer climate models to predict various apocalypses.

NOAA says it uses these 1,221 weather stations -- which like the ones in Uniontown and New Castle are overseen by local National Weather Service offices and usually tended to by volunteers -- because they have been providing reliable temperature data since at least 1900. But Anthony Watts of Chico, Calif., suspects NOAA temperature readings are not all they're cracked up to be. As the former TV meteorologist explains on his sophisticated, newly hatched Web site, he has set out to do what big-time armchair-climate modelers like Hansen and no one else has ever done - physically quality-check each weather station to see if it's being operated properly.

To assure accuracy, stations (essentially older thermometers in little four-legged wooden sheds or digital thermometers mounted on poles) should be 100 feet from buildings, not placed on hot concrete, etc. But as photos on Watts' site show, the station in Forest Grove, Ore., stands 10 feet from an air-conditioning exhaust vent. In Roseburg, Ore., it's on a rooftop near an AC unit. In Tahoe, Calif., it's next to a drum where trash is burned. Watts, who says he's a man of facts and science, isn't jumping to any rash conclusions based on the 40-some weather stations his volunteers have checked so far. But he said Tuesday that what he's finding raises doubts about NOAA's past and current temperature reports. "I believe we will be able to demonstrate that some of the global warming increase is not from CO2 but from localized changes in the temperature-measurement environment."

Meanwhile, you probably missed the latest about 2006. As NOAA reported on May 1 - with minimum mainstream-media fanfare - 2006 actually was the second- warmest year ever recorded in America, not the first. At an annual average of 54.9 degrees F, it was a whopping 0.08 degrees cooler than 1998, still the hottest year. NOAA explained that it had updated its 2006 report "to reflect revised statistics" and "better address uncertainties in the instrumental record." This tinkering is standard procedure. NOAA always scientifically tweaks temperature readings for various reasons -- weather stations are moved to different locations, modernized, affected by increased urbanization, etc. NOAA didn't say whether it had adjusted for uncertainties caused by nearby burn barrels


Energy bill just a straw in the wind

Debate is now under way in the Senate over a sprawling bill that would impose major changes in the country's energy policy. In theory, the country could see mandates for renewable fuel use, investment in the storage of carbon dioxide and punishment for companies that engage in price gouging.

But like the massive immigration measure that failed in the Senate earlier this month, the energy package pieced together by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will likely founder unless some major deals can be brokered. There are many moving parts and competing interests, and there's only a limited amount of time to get things done.

So consider this round a dry run. After all, the massive Energy Policy Act of 2005 took four years to cobble together. But the debate is still important, because it will likely set the tone of energy policy for at least the next decade--and ultimately have direct effects on what you could end up paying for food, cars and electricity during that time.

"This is just a first ride," says Frank Maisano, a spokesman for several different energy industries in Washington. "It underscores the heavy lifting that needs to be done to get this thing through."

One of the stickiest debates involves the standard for renewable fuels. The bill includes a provision to essentially quintuple the amount of renewable motor fuels to 36 billion gallons per year by 2020.

But last week, 15 food and drink producers, including Heinz, Kellogg and Coca-Cola, sent a letter to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warning them about the effects of such an ambitious goal and the price effects of diverting corn to ethanol production.

"[I]f our country produces anything short of a record corn crop, the changes proposed in [the bill] could deal a detrimental blow to livestock producers," the companies said, noting that food prices rose by 7.3% in the first three months of the year.

In addition, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., plans to introduce an amendment that will require utilities to use renewable fuels in at least 15% of their production of electricity, also by 2020. The idea has not been popular in the Southeast, where there is not a lot of wind energy, and firms like Southern Company are lobbying against such a proposal. Opponents of the standard argue that it will cause added costs to be passed on to consumers.

More here


Ambitious goals to fight climate change look less achievable as coal use continued to soar last year in China and India, data compiled by BP Plc showed on Tuesday. The data confirmed that China was on track to overtake the United States as the world's number one carbon emitter this year, one analyst said. "I would still say 2007, this is the year," said Gregg Marland, senior scientist at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC).

China's CO2 emissions in 2006 were over 5.7 billion tonnes versus nearly 5.9 billion tonnes in the United States, with China up 8.5 percent and the United States falling slightly, Marland estimated on Tuesday, using the new BP data.

Coal releases more of the planet-warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) than any other fossil fuel. But coal was the fastest growing fuel globally worldwide last year, BP's annual Statistical Review of World Energy showed, rising at a rate that was slightly down on last year but well above the average for the last decade.

A U.N. panel of climate scientists last month said that global CO2 emissions should peak by 2015, to keep atmospheric concentration at levels which the European Union says will avoid the worst effects of climate change. Manchester University's Kevin Anderson, research director at the Tyndall Centre's energy and climate change programme, said the BP figures suggested this goal was unlikely to be reached. "None of this is pointing to peaking in 2015," Anderson said. "Without a big global policy change you're seeing very rapidly rising emissions to 2020, 2025."

G8: Last week the eight leading industrialised countries agreed to work with big developing countries to try to clinch by 2009 a new global U.N.-sponsored climate change deal, to succeed or extend the Kyoto Protocol from 2013. But they failed to agree on a target or timetable for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter what developed countries agree to, it is the rapidly growing developing countries that are increasing their consumption of fossil fuels. China and India now account for nearly half of all the world's coal consumption, to power their booming economies, and their combined share rose more than 2 percentage points in 2006. "The high-carbon economies grew so fast that they out-did the rate of energy efficiency improvements in the developed world," said Christof Ruhl, BP's deputy chief economist.

Total consumption of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- last year dropped in most leading developed countries, including in the United States, Japan, Britain and Italy. But consumption rose in nine out of the top 10 developing countries, with notable increases in China, Saudi Arabia and India, at 8.6 percent, 5 percent and 4.8 percent respectively. The world in total last year consumed 9.6 billion tonnes of fossil fuels, in oil equivalent, versus 9.3 billion tonnes in 2005, the BP data showed.



Indians know how to talk the moralistic talk of the West too. You can't beat the Indians at talk. It is one of their major exports, after all

India will not curb its greenhouse gas emissions as long as the West continues to treat it as a 'second class global citizen' with less right to pollute than the developed world, a senior Indian environment official has said. Pradipto Ghosh, who retired last month as India's environment secretary and now sits on a committee advising India's prime minister on climate change, warned that the West must "get serious" about its own cutting emissions if it wanted progress on the issue.

His comments confirm the massive gulf between the West and the world's emerging economies a week after President Bush agreed to enter UN-sponsored climate change negotiations on condition that India and China also agreed to play their part. Mr Ghosh reiterated India's position that it would not compromise its continued 8 per cent economic growth to arrest global warming, arguing that it was historical polluters in the industrialised West who must make the first move. "The fact is that India has a very, very large number of poor people who are living in conditions of which people in the West can have no conception unless they have visited India's villages and urban slums. "The goals of addressing climate change cannot supersede our goals of maintaining our current rates of GDP growth and poverty alleviation programs, as was agreed by everyone at Kyoto," he told The Telegraph in New Delhi.

At the heart of India's position on climate change is the notion that India - whose population is predicted to reach 1.5bn by 2050 - must be allowed to pollute on a per capita basis equally with the West. That would imply drastic cuts in emissions in developed countries if the world is meet the target of keeping global warming within the generally agreed 'safe limit' of two degrees, as set out by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The prime minister [Dr Manmohan Singh] has said that while pursuing our policies of development and poverty alleviation, we will ensure that our per capita emissions will never exceed developing countries," Mr Ghosh added. "This is our challenge to the West. 'You do the best you can, and we'll match it'. If the West thinks that India will subscribe to any long-term solution that is not based on per capita emissions then it is very misguided."

His remarks emphasise the divide which will face developed and developing nations when they meet in Bali, Indonesia in December to start negotiations on a new climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Despite claims of a climate change 'deal' at the G8 summit last week, the meeting only served to increase Indian irritation at being treated as "petitioners not partners" at the global top table.

India's prime minister let it be known the G8 decision to deliver their final communique‚ before meeting with the G5 countries - India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa - had made him question the worth of even attending the summit.

Mr Ghosh said it was now up to the world to decide how big the 'carbon pie' should be at a certain point in the future - say, 2050 - and then agree that by that date all nations should have an equal entitlement relative to their size of population. At present, the average America citizen accounts for more than 15 times the carbon emissions of the average Indian - the average Briton seven times - while in absolute terms India's emissions are predicted to surpass those of the US in 30 years time.

"This [Global warming] is a challenge for the West. Those countries have been at a tremendous party since the nineteenth century and now the party has to come to an end. It is the West that has to get serious about this problem. "India will not accept an endgame where Western people continue to pollute the earth in perpetuity at three or four time the rate of people in this country. And my impression is that China agrees.

"We see a lot of resistance to this idea [of counting emissions on a per capita basis] but the intellectual force of the idea is unassailable. We often hear from the West that 'it can't be done' or 'it's impracticable', but we say 'do the maths and make a plan to make it possible'.

In the meantime, Mr Ghosh added, India was actively taking measures to increase energy efficiency in industry and continue its economic advances while polluting at a far slower rate than the West did when undergoing the same transition. "There does seem to be a reluctance to appreciate our position," he concluded, "There seems to be an idea around that developing countries like India must accept the position of being second class global citizens in our planet. "We can only hope that this is not the frame of mind in which negotiations are approached in the future."



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 generally 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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