Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Cheers for Scientific Backbiting

Malaria theory debunked

If, as I argued last week, scientists are just as prone as everybody else to confirmation bias—the tendency to look for evidence to support rather than to test your own ideas—then how is it that science, unlike cults and superstitions, does change its mind and find new things?

The answer was spelled out by the psychologist Raymond Nickerson of Tufts University in a 1998 paper: "It is not so much the critical attitude that individual scientists have taken with respect to their own ideas that has given science the success it has enjoyed…but more the fact that individual scientists have been highly motivated to demonstrate that hypotheses that are held by some other scientist(s) are false."

Most scientists do not try to disprove their ideas; rivals do it for them. Only when those rivals fail is the theory bombproof. The physicist Robert Millikan (who showed minor confirmation bias in his own work on the charge of the electron by omitting outlying observations that did not fit his hypothesis) devoted more than 10 years to trying to disprove Einstein's theory that light consists of particles (photons). His failure convinced almost everybody but himself that Einstein was right.

The solution to confirmation bias in science, then, is not to try to teach it out of people; it is a deeply ingrained tendency of human nature. Dr. Nickerson noted that science is replete not only with examples of great scientists tenaciously persisting with theories "long after the evidence against them had become sufficiently strong to persuade others without the same vested interests to discard them" but also with brilliant people who remained wedded to their pet hates. Galileo rejected Kepler's lunar explanation of tides; Huygens objected to Newton's concept of gravity; Humphrey Davy detested John Dalton's atomic theory; Einstein denied quantum theory.

No, the reason that science progresses despite confirmation bias is partly that it makes testable predictions, but even more that it prevents monopoly. By dispersing its incentives among many different centers, it lets scientists check each other's prejudices. When a discipline defers to a single authority and demands adherence to a set of beliefs, then it becomes a cult.

A recent example is the case of malaria and climate. In the early days of global-warming research, scientists argued that warming would worsen malaria by increasing the range of mosquitoes. "Malaria and dengue fever are two of the mosquito-borne diseases most likely to spread dramatically as global temperatures head upward," said the Harvard Medical School's Paul Epstein in Scientific American in 2000, in a warning typical of many.

Carried away by confirmation bias, scientists modeled the future worsening of malaria, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change accepted this as a given. When Paul Reiter, an expert on insect-borne diseases at the Pasteur Institute, begged to differ—pointing out that malaria's range was shrinking and was limited by factors other than temperature—he had an uphill struggle. "After much effort and many fruitless discussions," he said, "I…resigned from the IPCC project [but] found that my name was still listed. I requested its removal, but was told it would remain because 'I had contributed.' It was only after strong insistence that I succeeded in having it removed."

Yet Dr. Reiter has now been vindicated [again]. In a recent paper, Peter Gething of Oxford University and his colleagues concluded that widespread claims that rising mean temperatures had already worsened malaria mortality were "largely at odds with observed decreasing global trends" and that proposed future effects of rising temperatures are "up to two orders of magnitude smaller than those that can be achieved by the effective scale-up of key control measures."

The IPCC, in other words, learned the hard way the value of letting mavericks and gadflies challenge confirmation bias.


No corn? Let them eat ethanol

Here come the corn riots. Climate change policies – much more than the vagaries of climate – are now beginning to create the instabilities that cooler heads have been warning about for years.

Corn prices on the Chicago Board of Trade are now at or near record levels, around $8.30 per bushel for spot delivery. The rise in recent weeks has been dramatic, driven by the perception of declining yields caused by hot and dry conditions mainly in the upper Midwest.

Much of this corn is beyond redemption as grain. High temperatures render corn's pollen sterile, and the narrow pollination season – usually around ten days in a given field – dictates that once this time has passed, there's likely to be very few kernels set on each ear. While rain may allow the plant to recover, its value as feed is dramatically reduced.

The U.S. corn growing region is massive in extent, so that some residual yields are always preserved. The drought of the mid-1950s was a widespread and multi-year event, but it only reduced yields (the amount produced per acre) around 20 percent. The current drought is comparable in extent, but not in magnitude nor in duration. Yet.

Back then, the average yield was around 45 bushels per acre (a bushel is 56 pounds of shelled corn), and rising at a pretty constant rate that began with the large-scale adoption of hybrid corn, which began in the 1930s.

Despite the wailings of Paul Ehrlich and his tiresome compatriots, there were no great famines because of some fantasy "limits to growth" that were forecast to soon to be breached. Instead, corn yields continued their steady climb. A good year now yields around 160 bushels. Between then and now, there have been several bad years caused by drought, heat, and blights, and pretty much every one of them has seen the same percentage toll on yields, about 25 percent of the maximum expected value at the time.

The Department of Agriculture's July 11 projection is for a 9 percent reduction from that nominal 160. But it's been pretty hot and dry since that estimate was made (with data from many days before 7/11), so things are going to drop further, which is why corn prices continue to climb.

Which brings us to ethanol. It comes from corn. The amount to be produced is a mandate, not a choice. It's 13.2 billion gallons this year. Last year we burnt up 40 percent of our crop. This year, given the expected yield reductions, we could easily destroy over half of our corn.

The U.S. is by far the world's largest producer, and our abundant supply is a major factor in keeping the price of the world's most abundant feed and food grain low – generally around $3.00/bushel. That was before George W. Bush decided that the answer to global warming was to produce ethanol from corn. Hence the rise in corn price that commences with the 2007 passage of the ethanol mandates, followed soon by global food riots. $8.00 corn today will likely bring much more of the same.

Bad weather is a fact of life in agriculture. In the last four decades, the time of maximum and increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, there's no evidence of an increase in the number of bad crop-years, nor a change in the magnitude of the percent drop in yields that occurs. 2012 is shaping up like a garden-variety crummy year.

What we have seen is a change in policy, not of the weather. Now, the Saudi Arabia of corn burns up half of its supply, instead of selling it to a hungry world. All of this was brought to you by our greener friends and, yes, Republicans, working the political process hand in hand. Later, the environmental community realized – as some of us had been telling them for years – that corn ethanol results in an increase in carbon dioxide emissions, not a decrease.

Of course, there is little chance that the disproportionately influential farm lobby is going to swallow changing the ethanol mandate when its constituents are making money hand-over-fist because of an artificially induced shortage. It's also an election year. But, isn't it just too bad about those poor people in Mexico and around the world who actually will suffer for the insanity and depravity of our agricultural/environmental policy?


Are environmentalists’ anti-gun policies to blame for wildfires in the West?

The headlines have echoed across the country: “Guns blamed for starting wildfires in parched West” According to the Associated Press, officials believe target shooting or other firearms use sparked at least 21 wildfires in Utah and nearly a dozen in Idaho. Shooting is also believed to have caused fires in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

In Utah, the AP says Republican Gov. Gary Herbert “took the unusual step” of authorizing the top state forest official to impose gun restrictions on public lands after a gunfire-sparked fire.

A gunfire-sparked, you say? How could target shooting start fires? I mean, we’re almost certainly not dealing with flintlock guns here.

The devil is in the details, and an accurate Associated Press headline would read as mine does above:

“Are environmentalists’ anti-gun policies to blame for wildfires in the West?”

From the AP article:

“Utah officials believe steel-jacketed bullets are the most likely culprits, given one shot that hits a rock and throws off sparks can ignite surrounding vegetation and quickly spread…The bullets were recently banned on state and federal lands in Utah. Officials are telling sportsmen to use lead bullets that don’t give off sparks when they hit rocks.”

What the article doesn’t mention, of course, is that environmental extremists have been attempting to ban the use of lead bullets - the very ones Utah officials now say are preferred - in favor of bullets made of materials such as steel, which is blamed for causing sparks when they impact rocks. Many in the West are avid Second Amendment proponents, so most state lawmakers are hesitant to enact any restrictions for fear of a backlash.

“We’re not trying to pull away anyone’s right to bear arms. I want to emphasize that,” said Louinda Downs, a county commissioner in fire-prone Davis County, Utah. “We’re just saying target practice in winter. Target practice on the gun range.

“When your pleasure hobby is infringing or threatening someone else’s right to have property or life, shouldn’t we be able to somehow have some authority so we can restrict that?” she asked.

For weeks, state officials have said they were powerless to ban gun use because of Second Amendment rights, but legislative leaders say they found an obscure state law that empowers the state forester to act in an emergency. The last high-profile time people’s Second Amendment rights were stripped in the name of an emergency, the problem was hurricane-level flooding in Louisiana, not fires.

For his part, Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Sports Shooting Council, told the AP he is skeptical about the placement of blame on target shooters, and estimated that perhaps 5 percent of the wildfires in the state have been caused by target shooters this year. “I don’t know how much of a problem it really is,” he said. Aposhian said his group will conduct tests to determine if the steel-jacketed bullet theory is true. If there are limits, “we want to make sure it is not knee-jerk legislation to ban guns or ammunition,” he said. “If it turns out the problem is with a few types of rounds, we will not be an apologist for them.” There is no need for such tests, Utah state fire marshal Brent Halladay said. With steel bullets, “you might as well just go up there and strike a match,” he said.

And so, yet again, we have to suffer the unintended consequences of extreme environmentalist policies that weren’t based on sound, verifiable data in the first place, just as we are suffering with the whole lead bullet controversy that may very well have caused these fires in the first place.


Contrary To IPCC Climate Models, Massive Human CO2 Emissions Still Unable To Reverse Nature's Global Cooling Over Last 15 Years

Over the last 15 years, we've been told that human CO2 emissions would cause global warming to accelerate to new dangerous levels, and this "unequivocal" warming would generate fantastic, catastrophic climate change disasters - the IPCC's climate models told us this, and truth be told, they were absolutely and spectacularly wrong

As the adjacent HadCRUT global temperature chart shows, the large growth in atmospheric CO2 levels continues, ad nauseam. Yet the 15-year trend of stable to a slight global cooling remains.

This extended 180-month period of non-warming was not predicted by a single global climate model - nada, zilch, zero.

The IPCC's climate models obviously have very serious, fundamental issues that can't just be 'tweaked' away. The most serious issue is their being CO2-centric, thus minimizing other factors (ie, forcings) that influence temperatures and climate.

From recent experience, it is quite clear that the climate models' sensitivity to CO2 levels is likely to be way overstated - in other words, the climate is not as sensitive to CO2 as the programmers thought.

SOURCE (See the original for links and graphics)

We have to keep the message simple

It seems like there’s a new article appearing almost daily on the Internet with new and shocking evidence that the entire manmade global warming story has been a hoax. But is anyone really listening or doing anything about it?

They’re starting to pay attention in Europe, but America, like an environmentalist Don Quixote, just keeps tilting at the climate change windmill. For over three years, residents of the Northeast have been paying for worthless carbon credits in every electric bill they pay. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cap-and-trade system that’s already bilked citizens of the nine member states out of over a billion dollars, and most people in those states are totally unaware that this is going on. I recently compared my electric bill to a friend’s from NYC and found that he was paying almost four times what I’m paying per KWh.

It’s not surprising because for the most part, when we attack the climate alarmists, we usually do so in the wrong way and mostly for the wrong reasons.

Prior to Climategate, our primary argument against cap-and-trade laws, was that the potential benefits were too meager for the enormous costs involved. But there were no benefits! CO2 is a beneficial trace gas that’s one of the cornerstones of all life on earth. It’s NOT a pollutant. There’s no such thing as a carbon footprint unless you’re a coal miner and still wearing your work boots. You don’t attack a bogus idea by granting the validity of its underlying scientific premise up front. By pandering to the eco-fascists in this way, we’re playing word games that are hurting us in the long run.

None of the new scientific reports and studies that prove global warming is a hoax are ever seen in the major media, and even if they were, they’re above most people’s heads, or at least outside their attention span. Instead we need to keep repeating the basic scientific facts about climate change: 1) That climate change drives CO2 levels, and 2) That the earth in fact is relatively cool right now, and that constantly changing cycles of solar activity are the real reason for climate change. We also need to start mentioning the most ironic part of this farce, the fact that warming is good!. The only type of climate change that’s dangerous to us is extreme cooling. Man and all other forms of life have always thrived during the earth’s warm periods, while every extreme cold period has brought suffering, starvation and death. It doesn’t take an atmospheric physicist to understand why this is true. Crops don’t grow well when it gets cold. Crop failures cause famines, which kill both people and their domestic animals thru malnutrition and reduced resistance to disease.

They demonize capitalism and freedom … and it’s working! Read Brian Sussman’s new book, “Eco-Tyranny: How the Left’s Green Agenda Will Dismantle America”

Drawing any conclusions about long-term climate change based on short term changes in the weather is just silly. A character from a Robert Heinlein novel observed: “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” Climate change is merely the long-term average of all the short-term changes in our day-to-day weather. But no matter how much new evidence we keep producing, the average man on the street isn’t getting the message.

Maybe we need to borrow some strategy from the left and start attacking the messenger. Every 25 to 35 years the same cast of characters starts whining about the coming climate catastrophe, and each and every time they’ve been proven wrong. So why on earth do we even listen to them? For the last 20 years or so, the propaganda has been pretty consistent:

In the ’60s and ’70s, however, the same alarmists were singing an entirely different tune, and it wasn’t motivated by globalism, money and power the way it is today.

A Time magazine article from June 24, 1974, “Another Ice Age,” showed that there was no progressive/globalist political agenda behind it when it correctly identified the real cause of the changing climate:

“Sunspot Cycle. The changing weather is apparently connected with differences in the amount of energy that the earth’s surface receives from the sun. Changes in the earth’s tilt and distance from the sun could, for instance, significantly increase or decrease the amount of solar radiation falling on either hemisphere–thereby altering the earth’s climate.”

They also had a different take on human activity and the greenhouse effect back then: “Man, too, may be somewhat responsible for the cooling trend. The University of Wisconsin’s Reid A. Bryson and other climatologists suggest that dust and other particles released into the atmosphere as a result of farming and fuel burning may be blocking more and more sunlight from reaching and heating the surface of the earth.”

These days they’re saying our emissions are trapping the sun’s heat. Back then, they were saying the same emissions were blocking the heat from reaching us in the first place.

But this most recent cooling period is especially important because all by itself, it quite adequately refutes the theory that manmade CO2 causes global warming. The chart below proves the point. As anyone can clearly see, this cooling period, during which our use of fossil fuels was rising at the fastest rate, was one that saw a steady lowering of temperatures at virtually the same rate. Not one advocate of CO2 caused warming has ever tried to refute this clear and direct evidence. Instead they just falsify the data.

Prior to the global cooling scare of the 1950s through 1970s, we had another warming period, and prior to that, another cooling period, and so on, and so on, ad nauseum.

What lessons should we take from all of this? The first and most obvious is that climate is always changing, and it does so quite slowly. It always has and always will. The second is that we can’t control it, and we’re not even that good at predicting it yet. So what should we be doing about climate change? Australian scientist Dr. Bob Carter described it quite simply and eloquently in a short You-Tube video, when he said:

“We don’t try to stop volcanic eruptions, we don’t try to stop earthquakes, we don’t try to stop storms and we don’t try to stop tsunamis because we know that they’re natural hazards that we can neither predict nor control. Climate change is exactly the same with the single difference that it tends to happen over slightly longer periods of time. But our response should be the same. We should adapt to it, and we should help the people, who through no fault of their own, are particularly badly damaged by it.

SOURCE (See the original for graphics)

The Smithsonian makes an exhibition of itself

One of my motives for a fortnight’s stay in Washington DC was to check out the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (MNH). I was one of the museum’s 7 million annual visitors....

At the back corner of the display one gets to the dangerous-global-warming hypothesis per se. There are two graphics asserting the warmist case.

One graph plots, on a 400,000 year time scale, atmospheric CO2 against temperature and sea level rises. This has a strong resemblance to the notorious ‘up on the cherry picker’ graph in Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie. It has the same vertical rocketing of the CO2 line in the past half-century, although we are actually just viewing a rise from 0.00028 to 0.00039 in atmospheric CO2 content.

The caption reads: "Our Survival Challenge"

"During the period in which humans evolved, earth's temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere fluctuated together. Higher CO2 levels are associated with a warmer planet ..."

The graph’s source is undoubtedly the seminal paper by Petit et al in Nature in 1999, but with sea level changes added.[6] However, new data by 2003 clarified that temperature lagged CO2 changes by 800 years or so.[7]

It is therefore accepted by warmists and sceptics alike that CO2 and temperatures did not “fluctuate together”; temperatures rose and probably caused the later rise in CO2. We even have a UK High Court Judge, Justice Burton, ruling:

"Mr Gore shows two graphs relating to a period of 650,000 years, one showing rise in CO2 and one showing rise in temperature, and asserts (by ridiculing the opposite view) that they show an exact fit. Although there is general scientific agreement that there is a connection, the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts.[8]"

Dr Potts’ graph time-scale is too long to show the lagged relationship, but coupled with the caption, the graph is misleading. Nearby is another placard saying: Rising CO2 levels

"The level of CO2 today is the highest since our species evolved. The projected increase over the next century is more than twice that of any time in the past 6 million years and suggests a long term sea level rise of 6.4 meters (21 ft)."

The placard does not mention that the mid-point of IPCC sea rise projections for 2100 (itself a wild extrapolation), is only about 60cm (2 ft).[9]

From where does Dr Potts get the alarming 6.4m rise? Oceanographers talk in terms of several centuries for a 7m rise, and that’s assuming the Greenland ice sheet melts away entirely.[10] [11] The great-grandchildren of the primary schoolers in the museum now being scared by talk of 21ft sea rises, will be buried long before any problem arises.

The other key graph in the display does what warmists normally run a mile to avoid. It plots CO2 rises over just the past 140 years against temperature rises. Normally, such a graph will show good correlation only for the 1970-1995 quarter-century. The other periods show an ugly lack of correlation.

Dr Potts’ treatment avoids discomfiture by showing a smoothed rising line for CO2 levels but a confusing forest of annual bars for actual temperatures (rather than the normal plotting of temperature variations against a long-term average). The non-correlation is hard to perceive, especially behind glass and two paces away. The graph also halts at the year 2000, ignoring the lack of statistically-significant warming from about 1997 to 2012.[12] Given that the display was launched in 2010, nearly a decade’s worth of inconvenient data was omitted.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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