Friday, July 28, 2006

Politics and science

Dropped in on both the Prometheus and Climate Audit websites to see what their respondents were saying about the House hearings and the NAS and Wegman reports that those hearings initiated.

A couple of posts caught my eye. The first presented a succinct point. A previous comment had stated:

" is all about the broader issue of whether or not GW is anthropogenic or not. On this front the scientific battle has been over for quite some time, thus there is no moral equivalency in this political debate."

And the response was:

Oh, really? According to the NASA GISS surface data, the total warming from 1885 to 2005 was approximately 1.0 degree Celsius:

How much of that temperature change was anthropogenic, and how much was not anthropogenic?

Which seems to me to pretty much summarize the issues: those who believe in global warming see those who don't as ignorant skeptics. Those who are skeptical just don't understand how data such as that quoted above can be ignored or invalidated.

Which leads me to the second post, where Roger Pielke jr. had this response on the politicization of science:

1. Politicization of science is inevitable and desirable.

2. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to politicize science.

3. Pathological politicized science includes stealth issue advocacy when a scientist claims to be discussing only science but is using the science to advance a particular agenda.

4. There is nothing wrong with straight out advocacy for a particular agenda -- that is democracy at work -- so long as it is recognized that such advocacy goes well beyond science.

5. There can be a problem when all or most scientists engage in straight out advocacy. What can be lost is new and innovative options. So I recommend that some, hopefully authoritative groups like the NRC or IPCC, might play the role of honest broker of policy options -- presenting a broad spectrum of choices and their relationship with the state of the science.

Global warming shares with all other ecomyths the defining characteristic that the underlying science often is obscured, manipulated, cherry-picked and/or misunderstood by those who employ it in the advocacy of their chosen politics. What rankles most academics and environmentalists is when business (especially BIG business) is seen to finance "wrong" science. What offends others, is when academics and government officials fail to recognize that their own activities are equally as culpable.

In my classes, I challenge my students to distinguish between advocacy and bias. Its clear from reviewing the climate blogsphere that many commentators would also benefit from giving this point some added reflection.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Wegman Report

The Wegman report to the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce is now available as a PDF here and with a short two page summary here.

The report illustrates how science can be manipulated and that the peer-review process is not a guarantee of either precision nor accuracy in scientific findings.

An argument can be made that the academic "system" of peer-review, grants and refereed journals would eventually have flushed the truth out. It is indisputable, however, that in the case of the hockey stick and the promotion of global warming, this system was instrumental in the promotion of a falsehood and a push a "consensus" that was less about unanimity than it was intimidation for any who would question the orthodoxy.

Luckily, since Galileo's time, technology has changed and there now flourishes a community of bloggers who question and post and resist when told they should just desist and accept whatever those with influence determine to be axiomatic.

Are all blogs useful, right and/or accurate? No they are not. But at least on global warming they have provided a great service and who knows, maybe they will cause those in the mainstream to reflect just a little and be more aware of how their science is reported and used in the politics of the real world.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Have You Hugged a Hummer Today?

A commentary by Shikha Dalmia on the Reason Foundation website is certain to provoke a reaction. Some will dismiss the comments out of hand, some will try to argue the numbers used, while others will actually read for themselves and witness another ecomyth bite the dust.

The commentary discusses the 'cradle to grave' costs of various cars and its tag line is the finding that a Hummer is less environmentally damaging than a hybrid vehicle (including a Toyota Prius).

Environmentalists love to preach about "full cost accounting" and how we should run our economy on its principles. I agree. And here are the numbers on automobiles: stop selling hybrids and both the economy and the environment will be better off.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dioxin: exposing another ecomyth

Here is a good summary of the latest National Academy of Sciences review of dioxin, long touted as the standard for carcinogenic pollutants by environmentalists. Seems the science does not sustain the hysteria.

The effects of pollution on human health are difficult to measure as they are tempered by the dose/response relationship: simply put, how much are we exposed to, in what concentration and for how long. Environmentalists have made concerted efforts to ban and/or control all manner of substances, such as lawn pesticides, and when challenged about the veracity of their science, there has often been a reach for the ace card: "we don't want another dioxin" or "its just as bad as dioxin". Dioxin was the gold standard for environmentalist's claim of cancer causing pollutants. Mistakenly it seems.

Question: how long before the myth dies? Or will it persist and still be embedded in children's textbooks for years to come, despite the scientific evidence to the contrary?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Adjective creep: when its more than just semantics

Here is a really nice summary of the hockey stick debate and the fallout from the report of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce. What is clear is that science took a back seat to its politicisation both by vested interests and the media.

What happened with the hockey stick is an excellent example of 'adjective creep', which Freese refers to as the process by which the likely, but implausible, continues to be asserted.

It all confirms what Goethe wrote: 'nothing is worse than active ignorance'.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

When common sense isn't

Two articles that illustrate very different topics but a common problem. The first deals with pesticide regulation, the second with garbage recycling. What unifies them is the blind application of axiomatic constructs and the authoritative imposition of regulations.
Miller looks at some of the more pernicious activity of the UN and the results of its regulatory decisions wherein useful products are prohibited without provision of suitable alternatives and/or sufficient scientific rationale.
Lyons looks at the latest case of recycling enforcement and takes the opportunity to question the utility and validity of garbage recycling.
Both essays tackle issues that are well-established components of environmentalist dogma: all pesticides are bad, waste is bad and that authoritarian actions are both justified and essential to the removal of either scourge. What the essays do is question the thinking behind the dogma and suggest that common sense is not the same as political correctness, mass advocacy nor regulatory fiat. Indeed, the only problem with common sense might be that it is not all that common at all.

Misled again: The Hockey Stick climate

The latest update from McIntyre and McKitrick on the NAS report on the hockey stick and its import. This is a nice and easy summary that puts the issue into context and summarizes the key issues, particularly as they relate to the next IPCC report.

Also, here is a new PDF from Iain Murray summarizing some common global warming questions.

Both of these are an update to my previous posts on global warming. As far as eco-myths go, this is still the most popular and prevalent. But all eco-myths are subject to a discernible issue-attention cycle and it is only a question of when, and not if, global warming will pass onto the environmental backburner once the costs of its exploitation begin to outweigh its utility as a driver of public fear.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The pervasiveness of corruption

On the same say as the death of Kenneth Lay, Enron's founder and leading symbol of the evils of Western capitalism, Peter Schaefer has a well-considered piece on corruption and its continuance in the developing world. The key is the absence of law. Free democracy is not just about elections. In most instances the elected government is just another form of autocracy: an elite extracting its toll on the country. The reason for this failure is the absence of a functional judicial system. In the presence of state failure, law enforcement is the law of force and that law always is bought and paid for by those who can benefit the most.

A few months ago, a group of my students approached me and asked my thoughts on a petition being circulated concerning the situation in Dafur. The petition targeted the Canadian government and requested that it act to intervene and prevent further genocide in Dafur. While I was pleased to see Canadian university students wanting to become engaged in political action of any sort, my question to them was "what do you want/think the Canadian government can do"?

As Schaefer points out, upwards of 85% of member UN countries are failed, corrupt states. The world will not truly progress and consist of free functional, practising democracies until the basics of justice prevail over the prevaricates of politics. One advantage of a globalized world is the increased ability to expose those who act to hinder world passage towards justice.

Sadly, while large portions of the world's media vilify George Bush, the very medium we have for education and exposure is being utilised to obfuscate and indoctrinate. This is not about George Bush or any one individual: it is about our willingness and desire as a global society to address individual justice or pander to elite games of politics.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Faith or fear?

Faith is the 'assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen' (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, faith is believing that things that haven't yet happened, that haven't yet been seen, will in fact be good. Fear is the opposite. Fear is believing that things that haven't yet happened, that haven't yet been seen, will in fact be bad. Same emotional well, opposite belief. Faith or fear: we get to choose. So why are so many people pre-disposed to fear what is new and as yet unknown? Why do so many have such apparent frailty in their faith?

Ecomyths like all aspects of political dogma, prey both on people's apathy and their fear. Is it ignorance or laziness that pre-disposes people to fear the unknown? "I don't know, I don't care and I'm too scared to find out". In those conditions, people fall for the first semblance of authoritative action, especially one that appears to convey a sense of collective acceptance, whether or not the action is in fact warranted or will alter the situation it addresses.

A recent discussion by Frank Furedi illustrates how the politics of fear are interwoven between different policy fields and how the latest manifestation of Malthusianism is attempting to ride the terrorism bandwagon.

Doubtless someone, somewhere is preparing a grant submission entitled "Global warming and its effects on terrorism". Sadly, it would probably not only get funded but its existence vigorously defended.

Rather than peddling fear, we have to find ways to re-enforce people's natural faith capacities and negate the activities that "educate" people away from their ability to have and express faith. Empowerment should be about assisting people with their own lives, not about exercising power over them.