Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Faith in science is undermined by peer-review failings

Science has been in the news ­lately. As part of the release of the latest UN Inter­govern­mental Panel on Climate Change report, the boast was made that the contents were based on the work of 91 of the top scientists and more than 6000 scientific references.

This carries on the tradition outlined by the chairman of the IPCC from 2002 to 2015, Rajendra Pachauri: “We carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry the credibility of peer-­reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that.”

The trouble for the IPCC — and for many other outlets that carry scientific findings — is that a crisis in science has been brewing for some time. Known as the replication or reproducibility crisis, the fundamental problem is that the results of many peer-reviewed ­papers and reports have not been confirmed when the experiments have been repeated or the data ­reanalysed. Eminent medical scientist John Ioannidis belled the cat as early as 2005 in a much cited technical paper, Why Most Published Research Findings are False.

He concluded that “there is ­increasing concern that most current published research findings are false … For many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.” He further noted research findings were less likely to be true when “more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance”.

There is a variety of reasons for the failure of studies to be repli­cated. At one end of the spectrum is fraud and misconduct, while at the other end is manipulation and cherry-picking of data. Researchers have strong incentives to ­establish significant results while discarding inconvenient data and failed hypotheses. Authors often deliberately make it difficult for other researchers to re-do experiments or check findings.

Additionally, many referees, who are the gatekeepers in the peer review process, do a lousy job by simply reading papers and ­approving them if they agree with their findings. Peer review generally doesn’t involve re-running ­experiments, for instance.

One editor of an academic journal was so troubled by the issue of non-reproducibility that he decided to send out already published papers to new reviewers for their assessments. Apart from the fact a reasonable proportion of reviewers didn’t even recognise that the papers had ­already been published, several of the papers were actually rejected by the new reviewers. So much for the infallibility of peer review.

A serious effort was made in 2015 to replicate the findings of 100 experiments reported in three major psychology journals. Ninety-seven per cent of the original studies had reported significant results but only 36 per cent of the repli­cated studies could confirm these effects. This is a damning outcome.

More recently, a research project tried to reproduce 21 ­social ­science experiments published ­between 2010 and 2015 in the prestigious journals Science and ­Nature. Thirteen replication studies were successful, while eight others could find no effects at all.

The editors of Nature recently conducted a survey of nearly 1600 researchers. It was noted that 70 per cent of researchers had ­failed to ­reproduce other scientists’ experiments. Ninety per cent of respondents felt reproducibility in science was a significant or slight crisis. Only 3 per cent thought it wasn’t a crisis at all.

Whether economics should be regarded as a science is debatable, but a recent edition of the prominent Economic Journal ­included a reassessment of the ­results from several of its published papers. The conclusion drawn was that most of the underlying analyses were statistically underpowered, meaning no reliance could be placed on the conclusions. For the other studies that had enough power, there was a distinct tendency for the size of ­effects to be overstated.

A replication audit of 67 economics papers published in 13 prestigious journals was conducted by the US Federal Reserve and the Department of Treasury. Less than half the studies could be replicated, even with the help of the ­authors. “We assert that eco­nomics research is usually not ­replicable,” concluded the authors.

If all this sounds alarming to the layperson, it should. After all, the results of many of these peer-reviewed studies have had practical effects, warning people to alter their diets or lifestyles as well as influencing public policy initiatives.

At this stage, the disciplines most under a cloud are social ­psychology, neuroscience, chemistry, medicine (including cancer ­biology) and economics. No doubt the list will continue to grow as more replication studies are ­under­taken, although this is often difficult as such studies are generally not government funded.

One of the main elements of this crisis as identified by Ioannidis is the tendency of ­researchers to dredge data to get the most sig­nificant results. (Nobel prize-winning economist Ronald Coase famously quipped: “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.”) To this we can add the downplaying of any deficiencies in the underlying data.

In this context, it is interesting to note the findings of John McLean, an Australian who has been awarded a PhD for his audit of the HadCRUT4 data set on global temperatures used by the IPCC. There are a large number of anomalies in the data set. For ­instance, two stations tracking temperatures recorded monthly average figures above 80C. Another two stations in the Carib­bean recorded averages of 0C. A station in Romania recorded minus 45C and there is data sourced from ships that are located 80km inland.

More worrying is the use by the IPCC of a small number of global temperature recordings from the 1860s and 1870s — coverage was about one-eighth of the world at that time — as the measure of pre-industrial temperature levels. The accuracy of this assumption is highly questionable.

When the British Met Office was asked to respond to these criticisms, the answer was along the lines that there was an awareness of these weaknesses but they were few in number and the Met ­Office continuously was working to improve the data set, and this would be available to the IPCC when it next produced a report. On the face of it, this looks like a very unsatisfactory response, particularly given what we know about the crisis in science more generally.

What does the replication crisis mean for the credibility of science? Should we trust science to reliably inform public policy decision-making? Or should we conclude the scientific world is basically a club of self-serving, like-minded individuals who do not welcome dissenting views and are sloppy to boot? Should we just forget about scientific research and go with our instincts?

In my view, the preferred middle course is along the following lines. All research findings should be treated cautiously. Journals and research outlets should sign up to an open and transparent code of conduct, and published authors should be made to release all the details of underlying experiments, the data sets and computer codes. Studies that find no effects should be considered for publication.

Research funding bodies should allocate a portion of their funding to replication studies. An urgent priority in Australia is for the replication of several contentious studies about the Great Barrier Reef in which the overseas authors have never been prepared to hand over the data or the codes.

There is no doubt science has an important role to play in our ­society and economy. But as University of California computational biologist Michael Eisen warns us: “We need to get away from the notion, proven wrong on a daily basis, that peer review of any kind at any journal means that the work of science is correct.” The leadership of the IPCC should take note.


Former Harvard U. Physicist rejects new UN IPCC report: ‘Similar claims are on par with the spam about penis enlargement’

Former Harvard University Physicist Dr. Lubos Motl on UN IPCC report: “I am no longer reading this garbage – and neither does an overwhelming majority of the people. There’s absolutely no true, useful, or original content in this stuff. Almost identical predictions have been proven incorrect hundreds of times…We’ve been bombarded by effectively equivalent garbage hundreds of times, the specifics of the newest report are completely irrelevant and uncorrelated with any events, insights, or new scientific evidence. All this fearmongering is just a random mutation of nonsense that everyone has seen many times, with some completely irrelevant and random new noise.”

“Only the people who consider themselves to be obedient soldiers of any far left-wing movement pay lip service to that junk but they don’t really believe it, either.”

“Message to all climate fearmongers: Give it up. This unscientific movement has already peaked in 2009, it has been dying a slow and painful death for about a decade, and you will be much happier if you accelerate it and make the climate hysteria die quickly and abruptly.”

“Climate fearmongers, you’ve become some of the most dishonest as well as useless people in the Earth’s history.”


Is Renewable Energy a Fraud?

Can it be that wind and solar energy is a complete fraud? In the book "Dumb Energy," Norman Rogers makes a powerful and convincing case. His main point is that there must be backup generating plants because the delivery of electricity from wind or solar is erratic, depending on the surging or weakening of wind and sunlight. The backup plants supply kilowatt hours when the flow of green electricity falters. As a consequence one has to have two systems, the wind or solar system plus a backup system.

The backup system is usually a fossil fuel plant powered by natural gas. Natural gas plants are best suited to serve as backup plants, because a gas turbine is agile, able to increase and decrease power rapidly. Agility is needed because the variations in wind or solar can happen quickly.

The cost of generating electricity with wind or solar is nearly the same for either technology — about seven cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost of generation is mostly due to the cost of financing initial construction. Building a wind or solar facility costs about four times as much as a natural gas plant with the same average electricity output. A natural gas plant is cheaper to build, but burns about two cents worth of natural gas for each kilowatt-hour generated.

If you have to have a backup plant, why not eliminate the wind or solar and just use the backup plant? The outspoken supporters of wind and solar energy say consumption of fuel in the backup plant will be reduced whenever green electricity is generated. Burning less fuel means less carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted.

Let’s examine those alleged benefits of wind or solar.

Both wind and solar electricity costs about seven cents per kilowatt-hour but the fuel saved in the backup plants has a value of two cents per kilowatt-hour. Do the math. That’s a net loss of five cents for every kilowatt-hour of green electricity generated. Remember, the only financial benefit of wind or solar is the fuel saved in the backup plants. A wind or solar plant can’t replace a fossil fuel plant, because a fossil fuel plant has to remain in place as backup. The backup plants have to be capable of carrying the full load because sometimes there is no green electricity. Sometimes clouds set in and sometimes the wind just doesn’t blow.

The loss of five cents per kilowatt-hour represents a subsidy for wind or solar. Somebody has to cover that bill and just whom do you think that is? That’s right, taxpayers and electricity consumers’ pick-up the subsidy. The subsidy is paid for primarily by increasing rates to consumers and funneling tax-dollars to the plants.

Is wind or solar justified because it reduces CO2 emissions?

We can calculate how much it costs to use wind or solar to reduce CO2 emissions. Every kilowatt-hour of wind or solar electricity requires a five-cent subsidy. Generating that same kilowatt-hour using natural gas results in the emission of 0.8 pounds of CO2. So it costs five cents to reduce CO2 emissions by 0.8 pounds. That works out to a cost of about $140 to reduce CO2 emissions by a metric ton (2200 pounds). We use a metric ton, because that is the standard method of accounting for reductions in CO2 emissions. Reducing CO2 emissions by a metric ton is called a carbon offset. There are many companies selling carbon offsets, often for around $10 each. They create carbon offsets by such things as planting trees that absorb CO2. Why pay $140 for a carbon offset you can buy one for 10 bucks?

Utility scale wind or solar is 70 percent subsidized — five cent subsidy on a seven cent cost. Residential solar is far more expensive per kilowatt-hour due to the lack of economies of scale, while the benefit of fuel saved is the same. As a result the subsidy exceeds 90 percent. The homeowner that installs rooftop solar may actually save money depending on the economic relationship with the utility but the taxpayers and other electricity consumers pay for the homeowner’s savings. It is laughable that the advocates of rooftop solar depict their highly subsidized installations as allowing homeowners to escape the tyranny of greedy utilities. Actually, the homeowner is swindling the greedy utility, the government and the other consumers of electricity down the line.

The book has a chapter on the extensive propaganda campaigns used to plant the idea in the public mind that wind and solar are a cost saving wave of the future. Environmental non-profits and trade groups generate the propaganda, lots of it. For example they will quote the cost of wind power without revealing the extensive subsidies. Competitors to wind and solar, particularly coal and nuclear, are demonized as dangerous and polluting. Trick photography is used to make it look like coal generating plants are emitting black smoke from their smoke stacks. The meaning of the word pollution has been extended to include CO2, a colorless, odorless and harmless gas essential to plant life. CO2 is not pollution.

The book is primarily about energy, not global warming. But, there is a chapter on global warming. Global warming propaganda has been improved by replacing “global warming” with “climate change.” The reason is that the globe has not been warming significantly, undercutting the climate catastrophe theme. The promoters of climate change now blame every bad weather event on the emissions of CO2. The scientific justification for this is nil, but it makes for good propaganda.

There is a scientific establishment dependent on government money. Scientists are not high-minded and disinterested advisors. Scientific conclusions and advice are slanted to support the interests of the scientific establishment. Scientists who dispute the global warming theme are attacked and may lose their jobs. Scientific truth is discarded if it gets in the way of the money flow from Washington. Rogers provides many examples of corrupt behavior on the part of the scientific establishment.

Rogers does not claim that global warming is impossible. Rather his position is that there are so many different forces that can cause warming or cooling that it is difficult to isolate the effects of CO2 and similar “greenhouse” gases. The data on the Earth’s climate provides little support for the idea that we face a looming catastrophe.

A short chapter on nuclear power shows that nuclear power has been killed in the country where it was invented by environmental hysteria. Nuclear power thrives in Asia and some other countries. Nuclear does not emit CO2.

In contrast to the wildly exaggerated global warming catastrophe there is the danger of a real catastrophe caused by a long term collapse of the electric grid. There are about 2,000 very large transformers that are an essential part of the grid. These transformers are vulnerable to an attack by hacking or by an electromagnetic pulse. If the transformers are destroyed, the grid could be down for years with disastrous consequences for the country. An electromagnetic pulse can be created by a natural solar storm or by the detonation of a nuclear device in near outer space. This is a real danger that can be prevented by protective measures, but that danger is ignored, swamped by the constant propaganda promoting renewable energy and a global warming catastrophe. "Dumb Energy" is a book that takes direct aim at popular beliefs, or delusions, with solid arguments.


Anti-Wind Farm Activism Is Sweeping Europe And The U.S. Could Be Next

In September, the Netherlands counterterrorism unit the NCTV identified a new group threatening public safety: anti-wind farm activists.

These activists, the NCTV claimed, had “radicalized” to the point that they represented a public risk. The picture the NCTV painted—of a group that has threatened, intimidated, and destroyed the property of politicians and developers—might sound bizarre to the casual follower of the renewable energy industry. But anti-wind farm activism is serious business, and it isn’t limited to the Netherlands.

At the December 2017 inauguration of France’s first offshore wind turbine, protesters set fire to tires in front of police in riot gear. Earlier this year, French protesters went even further, setting fire to wind turbines directly and lodging explosives in others. Across Europe, where last year countries erected about 5,000 wind turbines, the sudden emergence of the towering machines—both on land and offshore— has incited deep-seated anxiety in a small but vocal minority. Anti-wind activists are a diverse patchwork, from local residents stirred by NIMBY-ism to fishermen claiming wind farms displace fish populations to coal workers dreading a renewable energy future.

In the Netherlands, which is home to one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world (150 turbines in total) and which is planning another, even larger offshore wind farm that it will anchor to an artificial island, anti-wind farm activism reached a fever pitch this year. In April, activists distributed pamphlets calling pro-wind farm politicians Nazis and planted flags with swastikas that compare the encroachment of wind turbines to living in “occupied territory.” Farmers who have supported the construction of land-based wind turbines have discovered heavy chains, concrete-filled cans, and iron bars on their property, seemingly left by activists who want to damage their farm equipment.

This July, anti-wind farm activists in the northern regions of Drenthe and Groningen in the Netherlands issued a threatening letter to 34 companies involved in the construction of wind farms. Jan Nieboer, a leader of the anti-wind farm group Platform Storm, told the Dutch news service NOS that he has heard of people buying hand grenades and other explosives for protests.

The complaints of these activists are multitudinous. Many resent the way wind farms are located without their input. Others despise the presence of turbines along their skyline. Some fear that living near wind turbines will cut into their home values (although at least in the United States, research has shown no effect).

Another sore spot is that the money made from wind farms is rarely shared with the local community. “Communities are almost always more supportive of wind projects when the financial benefits are distributed widely among locals residents, rather than flowing to outside investors,” Bob Darrow, a PhD candidate at UMass Amherst who studies the politics of renewable energy, told Earther.

But, at least for onshore wind farms, the most galvanizing fears revolve around rumours that wind turbines punish the health of local residents. Activists claim that the low noise emitted by turbines triggers everything from persistent headaches to behavioural changes in animals in what they term “wind turbine syndrome,” a concept that scientists have largely rejected.

A 2013 analysis from researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia concluded that although noise from wind turbines can result in “annoyance” and potentially “poorer sleep quality” among residents, “there is no consistent evidence” tying that noise to many of the self-reported health effects. In a 2014 paper, King’s College psychology professors attributed “wind turbine syndrome” to the “nocebo effect”—a psychological phenomenon in which the expectation of negative health outcomes becomes self-fulfilling—and to anxiety about technological encroachment.

“There is also a lot of ‘fake news’ circulating about wind power,” said Darrow. “Often this misinformation is intentionally spread by groups with a vested interest in slowing the adoption of renewable energy.”

One prominent vessel for those false claims is U.S. President Donald Trump. During an August 2018 rally in Indiana, he insisted that people living near wind farms “go crazy after a couple of years,” before adding that wind turbines “kill so many birds” and that resisters “can blow up the windmills” if they need to.

Whether Trump’s rhetoric has stoked more wind energy resistance on the American right is unclear. But even land-based wind, which is a booming industry across parts of the midwestern U.S. and Great Plains, struggles against backlash from rural communities that pushed over 120 local governments to scrap or restrict turbines from 2015 to 2017. Offshore wind, meanwhile, has long struggled to gain a toehold thanks to fierce local opposition.

In Cape Cod, a 2001 attempt to launch what would have been the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm was abandoned in December 2017 after a decade of lawsuits from local residents concerned about disrupting fishing patterns and coastal views. Rhode Island’s 6-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, which opened in December 2016 after angry locals likened it to “visual pollution,” now holds the title of the first U.S. offshore wind farm.

Recently, U.S. states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York have unveiled ambitious plans to build offshore wind farms that will power hundreds of thousands of homes within the next decade. But UMass professor Erin Baker, who has written about the rise of offshore wind farms, doubts that these projects will see opposition on the scale of Europe because most U.S. offshore wind farms will be located 40km or more from the coast. That distance “will not get the general public too interested,” Baker told Earther. Fears about “wind turbine syndrome” tend to dissipate when a wind farm is far offshore, and 40km is roughly the distance where wind farms become invisible from the shore, pre-empting complaints of visual pollution.

What’s more, only a small subset of the U.S. population actually opposes wind farm development. Just a quarter of residents living within half a mile of a wind farm have a “ negative” or “very negative” view of wind farms, while three-quarters take a neutral or positive view, according to a poll of Americans from researchers at the California-based Berkeley Lab. And most Americans, including roughly 8 in 10 Republicans, support expanding wind and solar energy, according to a May 2018 Pew poll.

In Europe too, the number of people who oppose wind farms is quite small. In the Dutch region of Groningen, where wind farm opposition is at its strongest, only 2 per cent of people have reported experiencing “a form of hinder in their everyday life by windmills,” according to statistics that University of Groningen researcher Tom Postmes shared with Earther. In Denmark, where wind turbines accounted for an unprecedented 43.4 per cent of the nation’s electricity last year, at least 8 in 10 people support their construction.

Still, the anti-wind minority remains an exceptionally vocal one. Especially for onshore wind farms, resistance in Denmark has grown so intense that it has become nearly impossible for some local governments to approve turbines, according to Darrow. “In many municipalities, officials are hesitant to support wind projects for fear of the public backlash such proposals inevitably generate,” he said.

One strategy to quell that backlash is for wind energy proponents to work more closely with nearby communities about where to site wind farms so that they will be the least disruptive. Denmark has seen some success engaging with fishermen to build offshore wind farms away from prime fishing territory, for instance.

But if there’s one thing proponents of wind energy have learned in Europe, Darrow said, it’s “not to get overconfident about the public supporting their projects.” And while U.S. opposition hasn’t reached the kind of fever pitch that it has across the Atlantic, it seems unlikely that the renewable energy source will continue to spread without a few fights.


How the Supreme Court Could Now End the Climate Wars

Many climate skeptics were hopeful that the election of Donald Trump would end the climate wars in the US on favorable terms. Many of us assumed that this would be done by persuading EPA to overturn the greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding (EF). But so far all that has happened is that a number of Obama EPA climate regulations have been put on hold or started down the road towards repeal. If the Democrats should win the Presidency, all these changes could be undone fairly rapidly.

To start the process of EF reconsideration, a number of petitions have been sent to EPA by skeptic groups requesting that EPA reconsider the EF. Unfortunately, EPA has not announced such a reconsideration. I believe this is still the best overall strategy since if successful it would finish off climate alarmism as an option on a fairly permanent basis if upheld by the Supreme Court, which now appears possible. This is the strongest approach, and is still the preferred approach.

A second approach which should now be a possibility would be for the Court to overturn Massachusetts vs. EPA by finding that EPA does not have authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Mass. vs. EPA was decided by only one vote at the Court, including the justice that will  be replaced by Brett Kavanaugh. With such a ruling, the climate alarmists would have to persuade Congress to change the CAA to explicitly allow EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. This appears unlikely.

The  confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh  opens up a third possible approach, however, of getting the Supreme Court to declare the Obama Clean Power Plan (CPP) illegal by exceeding the powers granted by Congress to EPA under the CAA. By ruling that EPA cannot impose limitations on emissions beyond “the fence” of polluters, the Supreme Court could effectively prevent the legal cornerstone of the Obama EPA climate regulations from becoming a regulation. The action of the Supreme Court in staying the CPP has had a similar effect in the near term but leaves the way open for a reconsideration by a future Democratic administration.

Or what might be best is to try to get the Court to endorse all of these viewpoints, which are arranged in decreasing order of effectiveness. That would effectively prevent even a future possible Democratic administration from reviving the Obama EPA’s attempt to impose major decarbonization as the law of the land through regulations and the courts. The great danger is not that the Trump Administration will support decarbonization but that a new Democratic Administration would do so. But if the views above should be endorsed by the Court, that would be very difficult for many years.

The time has come to nail down the death of climate alarmism in terms of achieving its climate goals through regulations and the courts by using the now stronger conservative majority.




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


No comments: