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Posts Tagged ‘Scientific Method’

Settled Science: Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Krauthammer

Mon ,24/02/2014

What do George Will, Cal Thomas, and Charles Krauthammer have in common? They all claim to be conservative, but it is not clear what they wish to conserve. It is certainly not the environment or people’s health. They are all against environmental regulations, scientific evidence that contradicts their ideology, and the Affordable Care Act. They do seem to have a keen interest in conserving money for corporations. Mr. Krauthammer’s recent article , The Myth of ”Settled Science”,  certainly illustrates that point . Though he claims he is not a denier, he follows the recent denier’s tactics of casting doubt on the conclusions of science that could lead to actions which might cost fossil fuel companies and insurance companies money.

 

Mr. Krauthammer tries to make his points by assigning beliefs to scientists that they do not hold. Scientists will not agree, as Mr. Krauthammer claims, that all the issues pertaining to a scientific theory are settled, nor that their predictions 50 years into the future are absolutely correct. Predicting the future is difficult, but does he expect Ouija boards and crystal balls to be a better source of predictions than the scientific models based upon an understanding of the factors and variables that affect climate? Scientific hypotheses are accepted at the 95% confidence level, data is reported with an estimate of its precision, and scientific theories are modified when new evidence emerges. Who then, is claiming science is settled? Scientists do consider empirical evidence that is reproducible and supported by many independent investigations as facts that are settled enough to take action. He criticizes Pres. Obama for saying that “climate change is a fact”, but it is, in fact, a fact supported by empirical evidence from many independent investigations and one requiring action.  The theory of gravity, for instance, is not and may never be settled, however, the effect of gravity is considered to be a fact by engineers who design airplanes, buildings, and bridges. If we had waited for the theories of science to be completely “settled” before we acted, then all of our advances in science, technology, engineering, and medicine would never have been possible.

 

Mr. Krauthammer offers as evidence that science is “not settled” a list of things that are all questionable. He says that hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane, though those who live along the East Coast of the United   States would probably disagree. He offers up the opinion of a physicist who has not worked in climate science in 40 years. He claims that models are wrong because John Christy, who is miffed that empirical evidence disproved his models, says so. He says that that there has been no global warming in 15 years, but he ignores that while the warming of the atmosphere has slowed, the oceans have been warming faster. He claims that there is no link between climate change and severe weather events when scientists, and even insurance company Munich Re’s data , show that climate change has increased the  probability of severe weather and the associated costs. He is probably unaware of Dr. Jennifer Francis’s research, which shows the disappearance of the Arctic ice has slowed the jetstream, increasing the probability of severe weather in the Northern Hemisphere. He claims that scientists are whores and those who believe them are sinners, a rather harsh claim from someone who receives money to write op-ed articles full of misinformation but favorable to corporations and insurance companies. He even claims that it is not a settled fact that mammograms are useful for reducing breast cancer. Say what?

 

You might wonder about that last one, but it illustrates Mr. Krauthammer thinking. He points to a 25 year long study in Canada which found that mammograms did not reduce deaths from breast cancer. You would think that since Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in medicine, that he would have noticed right away the problems with the study. The technology for detecting breast cancer by mammograms has improved remarkably over the time of the study making older data questionable. Also, both the experimental group and the control group included women who already had lumps in their breast, while mammograms are most useful for detecting cancer before lumps appear. And, measuring death rates is not an appropriate way to evaluate how effective mammograms are for early detection and treatment of cancer – which may be life-saving.

 

Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in medicine and took an oath that he would do no harm, but the way he presented this may harm many women if it keeps them from having a mammogram. He wished to use this as an example of science not being settled, but it is an even better example of him using one study to cast doubt on a larger body of research that shows that regular mammograms save lives. So why did he bring this up? The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance cover mammograms and Mr. Krauthammer objects to them being, as he said, “ free, even yet”. There are about 48 million mammograms performed each year in the United States, so the cost to the insurance companies amounts to about $10 billion. Could it be that insurance companies are pushing this study as a way of reducing their costs in providing mammograms and Mr. Krauthammer is helping them? For “free, even yet”?

 

So what is it that Mr. Krauthammer and his fellow conservatives wish to conserve? They apparently wish to conserve the status quo for the benefit of those who make money from it, but they are not very interested in conserving the environment or people’s lives. Demanding absolute truth before acting is just a stalling tactic promoted by those who do not wish to be regulated or who are profiting from the status quo.  There is clear and convincing evidence that the climate is changing in response to man’s activities, and that is clearly the consensus opinion among scientists. Every major scientific organization in the world has adopted a statement agreeing with the consensus opinion and saying that immediate action is needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

 

Even though Mr. Krauthammer is delivering a denier’s message, he says that “ the term ‘denier’ — an echo of Holocaust denial, contemptibly suggesting the malevolent rejection of an established historical truth.” Apparently, rejection of historical evidence is malevolent but rejecting scientific evidence is not. Finally, I wish to point out that Mr. Krauthammer has a degree in psychiatric medicine and should be formally addressed as Dr. Krauthammer. However, Dr. Jekyll had a another manifestation, Mr. Hyde, and it is apparently Mr. Krauthammer who wrote this article demeaning women’s health issues and climate science.

 

Note added on 02/28/2014:  Forecast the Facts has fact checked  and cited the evidence that the claims about climate science in Mr. Krauthammer’s article are false.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.forecastthefacts.org/images/Debunking_Krauthammer.pdf

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

Book Review: The Greatest Hoax by Sen. James Inhofe

Tue ,20/03/2012
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s long promised book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future is finally finished. It was published by WND Books, which has published other grand conspiracy books such as The Late Great USA: The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada . The book will certainly be a hit with some lobbyists, politicians and corporate leaders. It may also be popular among scientists as it reveals some interesting things about Sen. Inhofe and gives scientists an opportunity to examine his ideas and arguments.

 Sen. Inhofe has served as the mayor of Tulsa and is the senior Senator from Oklahoma. He has been a strong advocate for many of his constituents and he has been a strong critic of the lack of openness of some congressional procedures. He was instrumental in getting federal Superfund money to clean up the Pitcher lead mines in northeastern Oklahoma. A large area of northeastern Oklahoma was affected and millions of dollars have been spent to try to mitigate the environmental damage. No one knew at the time that lead was toxic, and Pitcher is a perfect example of how what you don’t know can hurt you and be costly.

Sen. Inhofe has often stated “Global warming is a hoax” but proving that may be difficult. Every major scientific organizations in the world has adopted a statement similar to that of the American Chemical Society: ”Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles. There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.” A 2010 Stanford University poll of 1,372 climate scientists found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in climate science agree that global warming is occurring and man activities are the main factor. The Greatest Hoax tries convincing us otherwise by quoting media sources, politicians, lobbyist, and the 2-3% of the scientists who claim to be skeptics, though some receive substantial rewards for being skeptical.  Legitimate science is based upon evidence and reason, but many of the ideas put forward in this book are not.

Politics:  Sen. Inhofe says: “I am not a scientist. I do understand politics. “He says he went into politics because a Tulsa city engineer would not approve his request to move a fire escape on his building. Mr. Inhofe told him that he was going to run for mayor and fire him when he won. And he did. It is possible that the engineer was following the building code adopted by the city’s elected officials, and that there may have been a good reason to leave the fire escape where it was, such as it being easily assessable in case of a fire. That incident, however, explains Senator Inhofe’s attitudes toward regulations, regulators, and scientists whose research show the need for regulations. It also explains the Senators approach to regulations. He sees them as an impediment to business but he does not see that most regulations are developed to protect the public. One of his favorite targets is the EPA, which was created by Pres. Nixon to protect the environment. Sen. Inhofe chose to work on the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works (EPW) committee so he could protect businesses from what he considers needless environmental regulations.

The Hoax: Sen. Inhofe was apparently convinced “global warming is a hoax” by one of the worse hoaxes in recent Congressional history. It started when Dr. Willie Soon managed to get a paper through the peer review process at Climate Reviews with the help of an editor sympathetic to his views. The paper reviewed the literature on climate science, and concluded that the global warming in the 20th century was not unusual and that natural forces, rather than man’s activities was the cause. An important piece of his evidence was the Medieval Warm Period, which he claimed was warmer than the latter 20th century. But there was something wrong with the paper. There were no accurate temperature records in Medieval Times, the Americas had not yet been discovered, and much of the Southern hemisphere was unknown. Dr. Soon’s paper contradicted the evidence from hundreds of other peer-reviewed papers. It caused quite a furor at Climate Reviews which ended with 3 members the editorial board resigning in protest and the newly hired chief editor stating the paper had serious errors and should never have been published. The EPA was unwilling to include the paper in its assessment of climate science, so Sen. Inhofe scheduled a meeting of the EPW committee to examine the paper.

Shortly before the meeting, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release from 13 of the scientists whose work was used in Dr. Soon’s paper, saying the paper distorted their research. At the hearing, Michael Mann represented the scientific viewpoint, presenting evidence from multiple sources showing that the Medieval Warm period was not worldwide and resulted only in a small hump in the temperature record. Soon stood behind his work and testified that he had not received any funds that might have biased his objectivity. However, the paper lists the American Petroleum Institute as a major source of funding and documents received since from the Smithsonian Institution in response to FOIA requests, revealed that since 2001  Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in funding from oil and coal interests. Sen. Inhofe was upset by the turn of events and tried to get him fired – Michael Mann that is. At Sen. Inhofe’s insistence, the University of Pennsylvania, a Quaker University, has conducted 2 investigations into Dr. Mann’s research and found no misconduct. A 2010 Science article reviewed the investigations, declaring “Michael Mann is cleared, again. “ Dissatisfied with the ruling, Sen. Inhofe has tried to get the attorney general to charge Michael Mann with fraud. Sadly, for the first time in history, scientists are collecting a legal defense fund to defend scientists against political attacks. And even worse, the scientific opinion of the senior member of our Environmental and Public Works committee is apparently based on a paper that would not pass freshman English.

Endorsement: The Greatest Hoax was endorsed by Dr. R.M. Carter, a paleontologist from Australia, who was the star witness at Sen. Inhofe’s 2006 Senate hearing on Climate Change and the Media. No credible members of the media testified, and one might wonder why Sen. Inhofe would be interested in the media bias in Australia. Dr. Carter was likely there because he could be counted on to testify that historically the rise in global temperatures had always preceded rising carbon dioxide concentration; thus some natural cause must be releasing the carbon dioxide that is causing the temperature to rise. He was right about the role of carbon dioxide in increasing the Earth’s temperature, but he rather ignored the possibility that the CO2 concentration was rising because the burning of fossil fuels was releasing 30 billion tons of CO2 annually.

After the hearing, Dr. Carter was challenged by climatologists to produce research showing the natural variability he claimed, but the paper he belatedly produced was soon refuted when significant errors were found in his reasoning. Though two of the four scientists who testified at the hearing were skeptics, all four agreed that the Earth had warmed about 1°C in the last century. Sen. Inhofe’s own hearing had clearly refuted his claim: “Global warming is a hoax.” That was of little concern to Sen. Inhofe, as the main purpose of the hearing was to intimidate members of the press – as if that were needed.

Science: There is little science in the book, though much of the book is dedicated to discrediting science and scientists by quoting friends of his from the Heartland Institute, media personalities, and other politicians. He even sets up Al Gore as a strawman for scientists. In the book’s introduction, he displays a rather tasteless picture of Al Gore naked, and considerable space is devoted to vilifying him. That is a shame as Al Gore has served as a respected Senator, Vice President, and as a Presidential candidate came within a few hundred votes of being elected. Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work and his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar. The movie also had its day in court and won. Interestingly, the same Dr. Carter, who endorsed the book, was the star witness for the plaintiff in Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education, a suit which sought to prevent the educational use of An Inconvenient Truth in England. The court apparently did not agree with Dr. Carter and ruled that, though the film had some errors, it was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could be shown. Sen. Inhofe claims to be a free market capitalist, but he seems to take great umbrage that Al Gore has profited from his investments in green energy, apparently without realizing that most of those profits have been dedicated to promoting conservative causes, such as protecting the Earth.

Though he may be a skilled politician, in the partisan sense, Sen. Inhofe is correct when he says “I am not a scientist.” He does not understand how scientific knowledge from many fields fits together to form a consistent view of nature. For instance, the book tells that after a large snowfall in Washington D.C., his grandchildren built an igloo and put up a sign: “Al Gore’s New Home”. Sen. Inhofe used the picture to denounce global warming alarmism, though he should know that a single weather event proves nothing. And, if he were a scientist, he might understand how the warming oceans increase the probability of a record snowfall in Washington D.C. , making the igloo possible – and how carbon dioxide has made more probable the record heat waves in Texas and Oklahoma, making droughts and wildfires possible.

Sen. Inhofe shows he does not understand how science works when he brings up the “Coming Ice Age” story to discredit the scientific evidence.  The argument goes, “How can you trust science, when in the 1970s the scientists were predicting the coming of a new Ice Age, but now scientists claim that the Earth is warming?” In the 70’s, scientists found that increased industrialization was causing not only an increase in particulates, which would cause global cooling, but also an increase in CO2, which would increase global warming. There was no consensus among scientists about which effect would predominate.  A count of scientific papers in that decade showed that only 7 journal articles predicted that the global average temperature would continue to cool, while 44 papers indicated that the average temperature would rise. The research on global cooling was valuable as it showed a nuclear war was unwinnable as particulates from a nuclear exchange might create a nuclear winter, ending life on Earth as we know it.

Scientific controversies are usually settled by the evidence, but this one was settled by the intervention of man. Particulates are visible and have serious health consequences. By 1980, regulations were in place to limit particulate emissions and, as that happened, the temperature of the Earth began increasing again. The fossil fuel companies became alarmed, as it was becoming apparent that we should also limit carbon emissions to keep the Earth’s temperature at equilibrium, so they began a propaganda campaign to convince us that carbon dioxide was harmless. If you believe that, remember the lesson of Pitcher, Oklahoma. What you don’t know can hurt you and be very costly.

Cap and Trade: Sen. Inhofe claims that cap and trade is the “crown jewel” of a global conspiracy of scientists, Hollywood stars, and media personalities who want to take away your freedom and create a world government. However, cap and trade was devised by free-market conservatives for President Reagan, who used it successfully to stop the acid rain drifting into Canada from our Northeastern power plants. It was part the Clean Air Act signed into law by President Bush I and many prominent Republicans, including John McCain, have supported it. Cap and trade is considered to be the market solution to reducing carbon emissions. It is described by the EPA as “an environmental policy tool that delivers results with a mandatory cap on emissions while providing sources flexibility in how they comply. Successful cap and trade programs reward innovation, efficiency, and early action and provide strict environmental accountability without inhibiting economic growth.” Does that sound like it “Threatens Your Future” , as the subtitle of the book claims? And, it  cannot be making Al Gore rich – or be the cause of rising energy prices – as it has not yet been enacted for carbon emissions.

Costs: Sen. Inhofe main objection to environmental regulations is their tremendous cost; but an accurate analysis of costs and benefits are not in the book. He just claims that it would cost each U.S. household $3,100 a year, a cost that has great sticker shock, but is totally inaccurate. Dr. John Reilly, the MIT economist whose work was used to arrive at that number, has publicly criticized a Republican lobbyist for distorting his work to arrive at that inflated value. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the cap-and-trade program by 2020 would average about $175 annually per household, and that associated savings would reduce the federal deficit by about $19 billion over the next decade. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences details other high economic costs of inadequate environmental legislation, such as reduced streamflow, rainfall, and crop yields. Yet Congress has refused to act on the matter.

Also, Sen. Inhofe seems to have left some important items out of his balance sheet, such as the true cost of using fossil fuels. The true cost of a resource should include repairing damage caused by its use and disposing of the waste. We are in effect subsidizing the fossil fuel industry by allowing them to freely discharge their wastes into the environment. Some of the “true costs” of fossil fuel use, such as health and environmental costs can be estimated. Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank and one of the world’s top economists, has used the results from formal economic models to examine the potential cost of failure to limit our carbon emissions. He estimates that the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the cost of mitigation and damages could rise to 20% of GDP or more in the future – and we would run the additional risk of an environmental catastrophe.

Taking 5% of the US GDP for 2010, would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. As to health costs, the American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school. They estimate the economic benefits of reduced exposure to particulates alone could reach as much as $281 billion annually. Those two add up to about $1.08 trillion. The calculations do not include all the environmental and health costs, but they do show about how much we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industries by ignoring the damage to people’s health and the environment.

Sen. Inhofe, in his Rachel Maddow interview, stated that the cost of cap and trade would be $30-$40 billion annually. That is about 1/30 of what the environmental and health costs might eventually be. Then, it is rather hard to put a value on those premature deaths or the added risk of environmental catastrophes. The number of billion-dollar weather disasters has increased fivefold over the last 30 years, and insurance giants such as Suisse Re now consider man-made global warming real, and a risk factor in setting insurance rates. Increased insurance rates will be an additional out of pocket cost, which could easily offset the $175 the CBO estimated that cap and trade would cost.

Scientists: To get around the strong consensus of scientists, the book claims there is a global conspiracy of liberal scientists bent on creating a world government, that climate science is a religion, that climate scientists are in it for the money, and that Climategate proves climate scientists are dishonest. None of those claims are supported by verifiable evidence. Most scientists are good citizens, conservative in their statements and actions. Most are religious, with stewardship and concern for their fellow man being part of their religion. The Presbyterian church, where Senator Inhofe claims membership, stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.”

 The book calls climate scientists “alarmists” in a derogatory sense, but many are becoming alarmed. Research shows that the Earth’s climate is changing because of our emissions of CO2, yet Congress has not acted to solve the problem. Scientists were criticized for considering the problem catastrophic, but they realize our carbon emissions will have an affect for 100 years or more into the future and inaction will threaten our food and water supply,increase the risk of severe weather events, and a possibly lead to an environmental catastrophe. Remember what happened at Pitcher, Oklahoma because lead mining was considered harmless.

Sen. Inhofe often calls those who disagree with him “liberals”, but the meaning of liberal and conservative seem to be flexible. During the American Revolution, it was the liberals who wanted to create a democracy and conservatives who thought that King George had a divine right to rule. Sen. Inhofe uses “liberals” to describe environmentalists and others who want to preserve the earth – and uses “conservatives” for those who want to conserve power and profits.

He describes Rachel Maddow as one of his favorite liberals, but that may change. In his book he said “Rachel’s segment was one of the last major efforts to go after me just days before I landed in Copenhagen and declared vindication.” However in his recent interview on Rachel’s show, she showed the clip. Nowhere in the clip does it mention Copenhagen or climate change. Rather than apologize, he said he couldn’t remember everything he said in the 350 pages of fine print in the book, raising questions about how much of the book he actually wrote. Apparently liberal can also mean “pesky”.

Big Oil: Sen. Inhofe tells some good stories of the old days in the Oklahoma oilfields, but back then Tulsa was the Oil Capital of the World and our domestic oil producers were a different breed from today’s multinational oil companies. They have little loyalty to the United States and little concern for our citizens or the environment. They have created some of the greatest man-made environmental disasters and resisted compensating their victims fairly. After the furor over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP’s CEO commented “I want my life back”, but he could not give back the 11 lives lost because of his decisions. Although he promised to compensate Americans damaged by the oil spill, BP appointed a lawyer to disperse the funds, who made many of the victims “take it or leave it” offers. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Mobil went all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid paying the $5 billion in damages owed the native Alaskans. Koch oil was charged in Oklahoma of cheating Native Americans and the government out $5 billion in oil royalties. They settled the case out of court for a 10th of the $5 billion, with no admission of wrongdoing. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Last year, the world’s 5 largest oil companies received $4 billion in tax break subsidies. Yet, they reported $171 billion in profits, while most US businesses and citizens struggled with financial losses, in part caused by the steep rise in fuel prices. Sen. Inhofe says his goal is “energy self-sufficiency” for the United States, yet last year the leading US export was fuels, so Big Oil companies are selling American oil abroad, creating a shortage in the United States that is driving up prices. Increasing their profits is their main goal, even though carbon emissions may cause a man-made environmental disaster much greater than oil spills. To defend their profits, these companies are now the major contributors to the science denial machine that Sen. Inhofe defends in his book.

Heartland Foundation: Sen. Inhofe was able to poke fun at himself when he said” Nature strikes back”, referring to a serious illness he contacted while swimming in a lake contaminated with toxic blue-green algae, whose growth was fueled by water pollution and the heat wave and Oklahoma. The illness caused him to miss the meeting of the Heartland Institute where he was to be a keynote speaker. His relation to the Heartland Institute is troubling. The Heartland Institute, once a major source of propaganda designed to prove there was no link between smoking, cancer, and lung disease, has now turned its considerable experience and resources into producing propaganda disputing the link between carbon emissions and global warming. Big Oil provides much of the funding for the Heartland Institute, and other similar “conservative” think tanks, who channel millions of dollars into the denial of science. The Heartland Institute is a gathering place for Big Oil’s lobbyists, loyal politicians, and paid skeptics. Many of those are the sources of information for Sen. Inhofe’s book. How accurate is that information likely to be?

Skeptics:  Science values its skeptics as they make science strong by pointing out areas that need more investigation, and they sometimes making valuable contributions to science. When Richard Muller questioned NASA’s temperature records, he evaluated all 6 billion pieces of weather station data, and came to the conclusion that the temperature record was accurate. When O’Donnell doubted Steig’s work showing Antarctica was warming, he re-analyzed the data and found that indeed Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, was getting warmer.

Skeptics are expected to follow the methodologies and the ethics of science, to subject their work to review by their peers, and to divulge conflicts of interest. Many of those Sen. Inhofe praises as “climate skeptics” do not meet those criteria. They profit from being skeptical and, when research shows them wrong, they continue to repeat their skeptical arguments anyway. An example is Anthony Watts, who started the Surface Station Project to examine the data from weather stations, which he claimed had errors. The AGU took his skepticism seriously and did a thorough study on the weather stations, finding the data was reliable. They had offered Watts a chance to participate in the research, but he missed his chance to be a scientist when he refused. And though the question has been answered, Mr. Watts is still repeating the same criticisms – and collecting substantial donations to continue his Surface Station Project. There are many skeptics like Mr. Watts, who receives generous grants from think tanks, not for fundamental research, but to come up with ideas to cast doubt on the IPCC, climate research, and the work of legitimate scientists. Many of the paid skeptics appear in Sen. Inhofe’s book as his sources for information, quotes, and references.

Vindication: In this chapter of the book, Sen. Inhofe claims vindication, but it is hard to imagine sufficient vindication for displaying a picture of Al Gore naked. Sen. Inhofe does claim he is vindicated by the Climategate e-mails. Hackers broke into the computers of England’s Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and stole 10 years of e-mails exchanged between the scientists. Quotes from the stolen e-mails were taken out of context, distorted, and released to media sources with claims the CRU scientists engaged in illegal and unethical acts. As of today, eight independent formal investigations have been completed and none have found any scientific misconduct by the scientists involved. The incident was dubbed “Climategate” , but it was in no way like Watergate. In Wategate, the thieves were caught and punished and those who masterminded the plot were publicly disgraced. In Climategate, the thieves have been hailed by some skeptics as heroes – and the victims of the theft have been vilified.  It seems strange that Scotland Yard is searching for the hackers, while Sen. Inhofe is gleefully helping spread the misinformation. So, rather than being like Watergate, the e-mail scandal was actually more like Stargate, fictional fantasy. The accusations of wrongdoing by some of the skeptical scientists, made before the matter could be investigated, were particularly egregious as scientist’s ethical codes say that:” Public comments on scientific matters should be made with care and precision, without unsubstantiated, exaggerated, or premature statements.”

Winning: Sen. Inhofe claims he is winning, but he can’t be talking about the scientific debate. All the world’s major scientific organizations think he is losing, as do 97 – 98% of the climate scientists, and 83% of American voters.  A 2011 Stanford poll found that 83% of Americans say that global warming is happening with 88% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans saying it is the result of human action. Attacking scientists may prove to be contrary to the Republican party’s best interest. While polls find scientist’s trustworthiness is  highly rated , with 84% having a favorable view of scientists, Congress’ approval has now dropped to around 9%. This may be indicative of the public’s dissatisfaction with the partisanship and gridlock in Congress, occurring for reasons well on display in this book.

Although some members of Congress and some of the public may listen to Sen. Inhofe, nature doesn’t. No matter how much he claims “hoax”, research shows the climate is changing in response to man’s activities. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, the temperature of the Earth is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, the probability of severe weather events is increasing, and weather-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more costly. It’s time we examine more closely who is actually winning by ignoring science.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Gaming the Peer Review System: Part 2. Exploiting Loopholes

Fri ,03/02/2012

There is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the peer review system to publish a biased climate science paper.

The Review Process: When a paper is submitted to a journal for publication, the editor removes the name of the author and sends the manuscript to several experts in the area, usually three, for review. The editor keeps the names of the reviewers confidential. If an error is found, the reviewer’s comments are returned to the author with suggestions for corrections. It is a good system for ensuring the quality of research publications, but even then papers are sometimes published that contains errors. The reviewers may miss an error, a biased editor may publish the paper in spite of flaws, or authors may exploit loopholes in a journal’s rules to get a paper published. Some journals allow the author to suggest names of reviewers and the editor often picks reviewers from the list. Most scientists submit names of reliable reviewers as it is an embarrassment to have errors found in their paper after publication. However, even if the papers are properly reviewed, the practice can bring accusations of “pal” review. Since reviewer’s names are kept confidential by the editor, it is difficult to know for sure whether that may have happened. However, there is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the system by suggesting a set of reviewers that shared their bias. See what you think.

The paper: Last July 25th, Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell authored a paper in the rather specialized technical journal, Remote Sensing, titled “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“.  The paper claimed “The sensitivity of the climate system to an imposed radiative imbalance remains the largest source of uncertainty in projections of future anthropogenic climate change. Here we present further evidence that this uncertainty from an observational perspective is largely due to the masking of the radiative feedback signal by internal radiative forcing, probably due to natural cloud variations.”  It seems that only an expert in climatology would know what that means or what its implications were, but in three days a sensationalized version of the paper appeared on internet sites, in major business magazines, and in news articles in major newspapers. Millions of people likely read about the paper.

The Publicity: The renewed public interest in science should have made climate scientists pleased; however, they were not. Beneath the technical language is a claim that the climate sensitivity to CO2 has been misinterpreted by climate scientists because of natural cloud variations. Were it true, it would mean that natural forces, not man, were responsible for much of the observed global warming. That idea had been examined before and found to be inconsistent with the evidence, but the idea is one that some climate skeptics have been promoting. And, they are part of a well-funded pipeline that carries misinformation about climate science to major news outlets before all the facts can be known.

Forbes: One main branch of the misinformation pipeline runs through the Heartland Institute, where James Taylor is listed as a senior fellow. James Taylor once wrote articles for the tobacco industry suggesting that secondhand smoke was not harmful, and he has now turned his talents to denying the ties between rising CO2 levels and global warming. Inexplicably, James Taylor has been hired by Forbes magazine to write on energy and environmental topics. James Taylor picked up on Spencer’s paper and wrote an article for Forbes titled, New NASA Data Blows Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism. Not only was the title inaccurate and misleading, but the article was clearly an opinion article, miscategorized as news.  The editors of Forbes might not have known that Spencer’s “NASA Data” was the same data that climate scientists use to reach a very different conclusion, but perhaps they should have noticed that no reasonable news story would describe climate scientists as “alarmists” 15 times. The business community considers legislation that would reduce our carbon emissions to be anti-business, and business newspapers such as Investors Business Daily, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes often are biased toward the skeptic’s position. The bias shows up in story selection, opinions miscategorized as news, a disproportionate number of skeptics articles on opinion pages, and  in sensationalized headlines. From Forbes, the article was picked up as a news story by other business magazines, Yahoo! News, MSNBC, and skeptic’s blog sites, which had a field day with the article. It is sad that millions will have read the distorted article, but few will ever read the climate scientist’s rebuttal. The article will soon sink into obscurity,  but it will have accomplished it’s purpose, which was to spread doubt about climate change.

Reproducibility: Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is not the only requirement for a paper to become accepted as part of the science literature. The research must stand up to the scrutiny of other experts in the field and it must be reproducible by other scientists with comparable knowledge and skill. Spencer’s paper reached the news media before climate scientists had a chance to respond, but they soon found a number of obvious errors in the paper. Trenberth and Fasullo summed it up:”The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave. The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper.”  Given time, A.E. Dessler analyzed Spencer’s paper in detail and published a rebuttal. The abstract in Geophysical Review Letters reports the key points of his paper:

  • Clouds are not causing climate change;
  • Observations are not in disagreement with models on this point;
  • Previous work on this is flawed;  ( referring specifically to Spencer’s paper in Remote Sensing).

Clearly, Spencer’s paper had serious methodological flaws and was not reproducible. How did the paper get through Remote Sensing’s peer review process? The answer would likely not have been found, except for the publicity.

The Catastrophe: The editor of Remote Sensing, who had been trying to build the reputation of the Journal, considered the publicity a catastrophe. The instructions in Remote Sensing asks authors to suggest five reviewers, and it is possible that Spencer could choose five skeptics.  The editor would not have to pick from those, but apparently in this case he did.  In the next issue of Remote Sensing, the editor, Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, resigned and issued a public apology for this article saying, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate skeptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements.” “The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. “ And he concluded, “But, as the case presents itself now, the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate sceptic notions of the authors.”

© 2012 J.C. Moore

 

Aristotle's Contribution to Science, Education, and Physics

Tue ,28/12/2010

Aristotle thought that Nature could best be understood by observation and reason – and that all  knowledge should be open to examination and subject to reason.

Science Education has shown a renewed interest in Aristotle’s works. (1) Today, theories in science are often based on abstract and mathematical models of the world.  Students sometimes use the theories and equations without understanding how they were developed, their limitations, or even what problems they address. The development of an idea from Aristotle to the present would make physics more interesting and understandable. (2)  Aristotle’s works are reconstructions from fragmentary notes. He had the most rudimentary of scientific equipment, his measurements were not quantitative; and he considered only things that were observable with the eye. Ignoring these limitations has caused some to distort the significance of his work, sometimes to the point of considering Aristotle an impediment to the advancement of science. However, we should not project the framework of contemporary science on Aristotle’s work – but we should read his works and examine his Natural Philosophy in the context of his times. (3)

Scientific Method: In ancient times, events in Nature had been explained as the actions of the gods. The early Greek philosophers  questioned the role of the gods as the cause of events and by the fifth century B.C. the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had separated philosophy from theology. But, if the gods were not the cause of events, what was? Philosophers advanced explanations based on philosophical principles and mathematical forms. Aristotle found that unsatisfactory. He decided the principles of nature could be found within nature and could be discovered using careful observation and inductive reasoning. Observations must be capable of being observed by the senses and should include the four causes: the composition, the shape (or form), the motion (or change), and the end result (or purpose). Identifying the four causes insured a thorough understanding of the event. Chance or spontaneity were not considered causes. He thought all things in Nature should be open to examination and subject to reason – and he set about applying his methods to all knowledge.

Aristotle founded a school in Athens at the Lyceum which provided the world’s first comprehensive study of human knowledge from the perspective of natural philosophy. His lectures followed a pattern that formed the basis of the scientific method. They included a statement of the idea or problem, the precise definition of terms, a statement of what he and other scholars thought about the matter, the observations, arguments based on how well the ideas agreed with observation, and finally what could be concluded. His lectures notes are important as they not only show clearly his reasoning but they preserve many of the ideas of his contemporaries. (4, 5)

Physics: In his work,  Physics, (6) Aristotle examined the nature of matter, space, time, and motion. He had few tools for experimentation and could not measure time or speeds. He would not allow invisible forces so his reasoning did not include gravity. Things fell to Earth and the moon circled the Earth because that was their nature. He proved that infinite linear motion and voids could not exist on Earth. Without those, he could not escape the complexities of the real world or fully understand inertia. In spite of his limitations, Aristotle made some remarkable contributions to physics and laid the groundwork for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. He reasoned that infinite velocities could not exist, that time and movement are continuous and inseparable, and that time was even flowing, infinite, and the same everywhere at once. These are all true and a part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Some consider that Aristotle’s greatest contribution to physics was his description of time.

Reading Aristotle reminds one of reading Einstein. He takes the simplest of observations and in it discovers fundamental truths. Force is a push or a pull. A horse can pull a cart and the cart pulls back on the horse and when the horse stops, the cart stops.  Rest, then is the natural state of matter and the mover is acted on by that which it moves. These ideas became part of Newton’s Laws. He observed that there was both static and kinetic friction that opposed motion by studying shiphaulers. A hundred men could pull a ship but one man could not. Furthermore, he observed that the power needed to keep the ship moving depended on the force required and the speed. That is like the definition of power used today and, incidentally, something that Newton got wrong.  Aristotle examined objects falling in fluids and realized friction existed there also. He found that the speed of objects increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This is now a part of  Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity. He also considered what would happen if the fluid became thinner and thinner but rejected the conclusion as that would lead to a vacuum and an infinite speed, both which he considered impossibilities. Galileo allowed those impossibilities and is credited with discovering kinematics.

Cosmology: We sometimes forget that Aristotle proved the Earth was a sphere. He observed that the shadow of the Earth on the moon during an eclipse was an arc. That was not conclusive as a disk might give the same shadow. The phases of the Moon and its appearance during eclipses show it to be a sphere and the Earth might be also. As one walks toward the horizon, the horizon falls away; and, as one walks North or South, different stars appear. These are as if one is looking out from a sphere. All things made of Earth fall to Earth in such a way as to be as near the Earth as possible. A sphere is the shape that allows this as it is the shape with the smallest surface for a given volume. All things considered, the Earth must be a sphere. Interestingly, an extension of that last argument is used today to explain the erosion of mountains, surface tension, the shape of droplets, and why the moons, planets, and stars are spheres.

Aristotle concluded that since all things fall toward the center of the Earth or move round the Earth, that the Earth must be the center of the Universe. The Moon and planets move around the Earth in circular orbits but must move in circles within circles to explain the variance observed in their orbits. The stars are fixed spheres that rotate around the Earth and the Universe must be finite else the stars at the outer edge would have to move at infinite speed. Aristotle was aware that if the heavenly bodies were made of matter, that they would fly off like a rock from a sling. He therefore added to the elements a fifth element, aether, to compose the heavenly bodies. Aether could not be observed on Earth but objects composed of it could move forever in circles without friction or flying away. (7) Perhaps Aristotle should have stopped with the moon, but the planets and stars were there and needed explaining. In spite of his model’s imperfections, Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and understood by reason. Aristotle’s model of the Universe lasted almost 20 centuries without significant modification and was so compelling that Renaissance philosophers and theologians built it into church doctrine.

Scientific Revolution: However, Aristotle’s model did not fit well with new observations made by 15th century scientists. Copernicus realized that the planetary motions would be simpler and better explained if the Sun were the center of the universe. Tycho Brahe’s careful observations of planetary motions supported the Copernican model. Galileo used the first telescope to observe that Jupiter had moons that revolved around Jupiter and not the Earth. This was convincing evidence and Galileo championed a revision of Aristotle’s model. There was much resistance to the acceptance of the heliocentric model and Galileo was threatened with a charge of heresy for promoting the idea. Some people now consider Aristotle’s  ideas as an impediment to the advancement of science. However, the impediment was not Aristotle’s ideas – but that Aristotle’s model of the universe had become woven into the doctrine of the Church.

Galileo’s kinematics was also in conflict with Aristotle’s work. Galileo’s experiment with falling bodies is considered as one of the ten greatest experiments of all time. He showed that a small weight fell from the Tower of Pisa at the same rate as one ten times as heavy. This was considered by some to be a triumph of Galileo’s kinematics over the simple empiricism of Aristotle. That was not, however, the whole story. Aristotle had not only examined objects falling in air but also in liquids. He found that the rate of fall in liquids increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This idea is consistent with Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity in fluids. Aristotle even had considered the case of a fluid with no thickness (a vacuum), but rejected the possibility since the speed would become infinite. However, Galileo’s experiment was performed in air and, while correct in a vacuum, Galileo’s mechanics were not exactly correct in air. Had Galileo dropped his objects from a much greater height, he would have found that the heavy object would reach the ground half again as fast as the small object. This is observable in hailstones where a large stone will strike the ground at almost twice the speed of a small stone. Galileo’s mechanics are only valid in a vacuum and even then would allow the velocity to eventually become infinite, which conflicts with Einstein’s relativity.  No one has thought to criticize Galileo for that.

Scientific Progress: Many thought, and still think, that Galileo’s work was the final overthrow of Aristotelian physics and the start of a revolution allowing science to advance. That is not the case. It is just the normal progress of science that models and theories are revised as better observations and understanding occur. The Revolution was not so much an overthrow of Aristotelian Physics as it was in moving from the observable to the imaginable – and in again separating science from theology and philosophy. It is ironic that Galileo was accused of heresy for questioning the theories of a man who thought everything should be open to question and reason.

(1)  ERIC. http://www.eric.ed.gov A search of the database shows 78 papers in the last three decades are about the use of Aristotle’s ideas in teaching.

(2)  Stinner, A. (1994). The Story of Force: from Aristotle to Einstein. Phys. Educ., 29, 77-85.

(3)  Lombardi, O. (1999). Aristotelian Physics in the Contest of Teaching Science: A Historical-Philosophical  Approach. Science and Education, 8, 217-239.

(4)  Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western  World. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949

(5)  Ross, W. D. Aristotle. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co. LTD. 1949

(6) Aristotle, Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at
    http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/physics.html
(7) Aristotle, On the Heavens. Translated by J. L. Stocks.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at
    http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/heavens.html

Note: This article was originally written as the physical science
contribution to Aristotle's Enduring Contribution to Biology,
Physics,and Poetics by Surendra Singh, J.C. Moore, and Andrew Tadie.
It was published as Aristotle on Teaching Science  at the Seventh
International Conference on Teacher Education, New Delhi, India (2008)

The full article is available here.

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore

Science Literacy and Religious Beliefs

Wed ,11/08/2010

Scientific literacy cannot be measured by a litmus test such as belief in the Big Bang or evolution.

Every two years the National Science Foundation produces a report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which surveys the public’s attitudes toward science. (1) The report found for instance, that the public’s opinion of scientists ranks at the top of 23 other occupations and there is broad support for public funding of science research.  In spite of that, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, is unhappy because a section of the 2010 report about the public’s  science literacy was omitted.

In a Scientific American article, he responds:

“And every two years we relearn the sad fact that U.S. adults are less willing to accept evolution and the big bang as factual than adults in other industrial countries. Except for this time. Was there suddenly a quantum leap in U.S. science literacy? Sadly, no. Rather the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were ‘flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.’ In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.”

However, the National Science Board was right that the section  confused knowledge and beliefs. For example, there is evidence for the Big Bang theory and many people know about it, but they have not incorporated it into their beliefs.  Only physicists and mathematicians would likely know what a singularity is, let alone believe the universe arose from one. Then, there is the problem of how the singularity came to be. Likewise, many people know of the adaptation of species to their environment such as resistance of viruses and bacteria to antibiotics and of insects to DDT. They may also be aware of our ancestors such as Luci and Ardi and know of the evolution of the horse. However, if you insist that the spontaneous generation of life is part of evolution, it may be rejected.

Dr Krauss is missing something important.  Aristotle established science as a method for understanding nature by using observation and reason. It is not a body of facts to be memorized and believed. As scientists gather more evidence, what we now regard as fact may be replaced with better ideas. We should not make “accepting evolution and the big bang as factual” a litmus test for science literacy. Just as scientists think religion should not be dogmatic, scientists should also refrain from dogmatism. Insisting people accept scientific theories which conflict with their religious beliefs  just makes them more likely to mistrust science on issues where it really matters.

As a practical matter, it is not likely that someone’s mind can be changed by claiming their beliefs are wrong or that they are based on mythology. Science teachers must deal with students who already have a belief system established. Their strategy should be to present science as a method that uses observation and reason to understand the physical world. Teachers must focus on the background knowledge and the evidence, and hope that at some point the student would see any conflicts and try to resolve them.

1)http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c7/c7h.htm

2) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=faith-and-foolishness

Aristotle's Lessons from the Past

Tue ,11/08/2009

“Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and reason.” 

In ancient times, nature had been explained as the actions of the gods. The early Greek philosophers questioned the role of the gods as the cause of events and by the fifth century B.C. the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had separated philosophy from theology.

But, if the gods were not the cause of events, what was?  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) thought the principles governing nature could be found within nature and could be discovered using careful observation and reasoning.  His reasoning followed a pattern familiar to students today as the scientific method: a statement of the problem, the definition of terms, a review of what he and other scholars thought, a comparison of the ideas to  observations , and finally what could be concluded.

Aristotle thought all things should be open to examination and subject to reason and he applied his methods to many areas of human knowledge. Aristotle made major contributions to biology, physics, philosophy, ethics, logic, poetics, education, and citizenship that are still valuable today. (Durant and Ross, 1949) Most importantly, Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and reason. May posts on this site honor Aristotle and his method.

1. Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western World. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949

2. Ross, W. D. Aristotle. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co. LTD. 1949