Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ward Churchill and Satan

Colorado University Professor Ward Churchill, who applauded the destruction of the Twin Towers, apparently supports American soldiers killing their officers. Churchill later said he was sorry that working-class people died in 9/11; as a Native American studies professor who even fakes being Native American himself, I wonder if he'll amend his statement when he discovers that some Native Americans serving in the military are officers.

My theory is that when evil right-wing radio hosts wake up in the morning, they pray, "thank you my Lord Satan, thank you, for the gift of this man, Ward Churchill." Either that or they pay him (just kidding, Ward, I'm sure you're pure).

Meanwhile, the US Army has learned from the Bush Administration when it comes to measuring recruiting goals: the trick is to move the goalposts.

keywords: politics, Iraq

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Newest Tangled Bank is out

Tangled Bank #31, a collection of recent science blog postings, is out. Lots of good stuff this time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Exaggerated reaction to harassment

Congressional Energy Committee Chairman and oil industry shill Joe Barton has sent harassing letters to climate scientists working on global warming, trying to get financial information and implying they've done shoddy work or are hiding bad data and methods. The left blogosphere is worked up about the harassment (see here), but I think it (the reaction) should be moderated. There are reasonable components of the otherwise-unreasonable requests, and they should get a response.

Providing limited financial data, and either answers to questions that do not take much time, or simply pointing Barton to the already-available answers should be the reaction. I wrote about it here:

that even oil industry shills like Barton have the right to request data, if and when the request is reasonable. To the extent that it’s currently available, Mann can just say “Hello? It’s right here, Congressman, right in front of you,” while politely saying “bite me” to the unreasonable portion. I also think a restricted request for funding information is reasonable, but not the fishing expedition Barton is on.

Not many people seem to agree with me.

I think it's very important to hold the global warming denialists accountable for their work, and accountability is a two-way street. Easy for me to say when Barton uses accountability to hide his harassment (I'm not likely to be a target), but the good guys have to react responsibly to provocation, just like good guys do.

UPDATE: Nosenada sees both sides but rather than splitting out the reasonable/unreasonable questions, seems to conclude that overall it's unreasonable. That seems reasonable to me.

UPDATE 2: I took a second look at this question Barton posed:

3. Regarding all such work involving federal grants or funding support under which you were a recipient of funding or principal investigator, provide all agreements relating to those underlying grants or funding, including, but not limited to, any provisions, adjustments, or exceptions made in the agreements relating to the dissemination and sharing of research results.

I first thought the question just makes sure the scientists disclosed information as required, and was only harassing in requiring the information on all previous climate work, as opposed to a single study. There are two ways in which this is dangerous though - first, looking through all previous work for a possible mistake is equivalent to the punitive IRS tax audits Nixon visited on his enemies. A significant difference is that responding to this is voluntary, while responding to tax audits is not, but the parallel is there. Second, providing this information is a road map for Bush Administration goons to put pressure on various governmental staff members to make sure the scientists never get research funding again.

Sounds pretty bad, but determining what level of harassing intent exists in the minds of the people who drafted these requests is hard to tell. They were clearly drafted by lawyers who know to cast as wide a net as possible, regardless of intent. Also, the scientists can choose to only respond to reasonable requests. Overall, I'm seeing more cause for concern, but I still think it's more about scoring PR points that actual attempts at oppression.

keywords: science, global warming, politics

Monday, June 27, 2005

They don't like betting on global warming at the FreeRepublic

Well, that didn't last long. About 90 minutes ago I posted this.
So far it's been very hard for me or anyone else to find global warming denialists who are willing to bet money that they're right.

So, it's off the FreeRepublic for me, which is about as conservative a forum as I can find. I posted this:

A lot of people posting here don't think global warming is more likely than cooling over the next few decades. Maybe some people think cooling is more likely.

I'm interested in publicizing a charity bet over global warming, found at

I think global warming will happen, and so I set up a bet that pays off to the skeptic position if the globe heats at half the rate that scientists expect, and pays off to the mainstream opinion if it heats at more than half the rate. Proceeds go the charity of the winners' choice. Anyone want to take up the bet? It's for charity!

We'll see what happens, if anything. I may have to post a few more times to attract attention.

I had posted here right after setting up the reply on FreeRepublic. It's already gone, and my FreeRepublic account has been suspended/banned (tragedy, I know). Talk about insulating themselves from reality.

keywords: science, global warming, bet

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Scientology and stomach-stapling

Those two items have nothing in common that I know of; they're just the subject of two interesting websites.

First is "Another Look at Scientology" an independent, "moderate" critic of Scientology. I discovered the site while searching for information on Scientology's attitude towards homosexuality (short answer: mild hostility, not too different from mainline religions). The site author thinks that Scientology critics have made a cult of being opponents of the religion, but he's still willing to criticize Scientology itself. Seems like a good source of information on one heck of a strange religion.

Second is the stomach-stapling, which seems to be coming up repeatedly in various news sites I've read over the last week. I think it's possibly a good idea for the small set of extremely obese people who use it, but Alas a Blog says it's more example of societal conformance. The lack of fat acceptance has a price in terms of a 1% fatality rate for these operations. OTOH, these patients do not just have a cosmetic issue, their lives are already in danger at their level of obesity. My opinion is that beauty isn't just a societal issue, it's a personal one in terms of how much we (I) individually choose to go with the flow of whatever I find attractive due to what society tells me I should. Not that I've gotten very far from societal standards, though.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Replacing" the US with the UN in Iraq

My most trusted Iraq expert, Juan Cole, is a bitter opponent of the Bush Administration but has also opposed a near-term US withdrawal as a recipe for disaster. Lately though, he's been considering "replacing" the US with the UN in Iraq as something that could be feasible and beneficial.

I keep the word "replacing" in quotes because scenarios he discussed kept a significant US military presence in Iraq, so it's not a real withdrawal. The politically-infeasible component is having the US troops under UN control - not even a Democratic president would support that or be able to get it through Congress. I don't have a problem with it, I'm just pointing out facts. Elsewhere in his blog, Cole reprints various criticisms of the idea: that the UN is nearly as distrusted in Iraq as the US (it won't be greeted with flowers), that Iraqi racism will cause serious problems with Third World peacekeepers, and that many countries angry at the US will refuse to provide peacekeeping troops on a dangerous mission.

My opinion still favors something I thought Kerry should have said last summer - a split US/UN military command. Withdraw the US troops from Kurdish areas, Shiite areas, and the Syrian border, and let the UN handle those. Concentrate US troops in the Sunni provinces, and bring in additional troops. I disagree with the argument there aren't additional troops - there are additional troops doing worthwhile things in South Korea and Europe, but the Iraq work is more important - pull the troops out of these other areas.

If there is a UN force capable of handling the entire country, I'd favor a complete withdrawal. I don't think there is one.

(Can't resist adding this side-note: College Republicans very enthusiastic about the Iraq war, and not so enthusiastic about enlisting.)

keywords: politics, Iraq

Friday, June 24, 2005

Prometheus and public access to publicly-funded weather information

The science policy website Prometheus has posted some provoking and useful information on global warming, but I'm not sure where they're going with a post that accepts the idea that government-developed weather information should be withheld from the public in some cases because it competes "unfairly" with private weather services.

The two background links that I can read in the post (don't have access to the book) are both squarely in the camp of protecting the financial interests of private meteorologists. For other viewpoints, try this:

National Weather Service Employees Organization Vows to Fight S.786

Alert: Protect Public Weather Data

Here comes the rain again
(shows Senator Santorum is trying to help the financial interest of a powerful friend and donor)

The Prometheus post wants to fine-tune the concept, but I can't see any justification for it, except for the unlikely possibility that federal funding comes directly from private meteorologists.

keywords: science

Thursday, June 23, 2005


The CIA believes Iraq is now a training ground for foreign terrorists who will eventually leave Iraq with their newfound skills and connections.

The next time Americans are killed by terrorists who spent time in Iraq, reporters need to remember to ask Bush if he takes responsibility for the consequences.

(Of course this is ignoring the thousands of Americans and others who are dying in Iraq now because of Bush's stupidity, but the point will be driven home when people are killed elsewhere for the same reason.)

keywords: politics, Iraq, Bush

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I'm a LongBettor on global warming

Or at least a LongPredictor. is a charity site where you can make up a bet or take up someone else's bet about the future. It solves the problem of guaranteeing that someone you don't know who bets against you will actually pay up, except it does so by requiring you both forward the money to the Long Bets Foundation, which then gives it to the charity of the winner's choice. So much for me making money off of global warming denialists.

But, it does give me the chance to quote myself (somebody's got to do it). Here's my bet:

"I predict that global warming denialists such as MIT professor Richard Lindzen will be shown to be wrong over the next 20 years as global warming continues. Specifically, I believe the scientific consensus that temperatures are likely to increase by .3 degrees Celsius over the next 20 is more accurate than the Lindzen/denialist position that temperatures are as likely to decrease as increase. Choosing a prediction that is halfway between the consensus and the denialist viewpoints, I predict that temperatures will increase by at least .15 degrees Celsius from 2005 to 2025. This bet is open to anyone who wants to accept it."

The idea is to choose the midpoint between my position and a denialist's position; this seems like a fair one. Now I just need someone to take me up on it - until then, I'm not a bettor, just a predictor.

keywords: science, global warming, bet

Bats and E.T.

Carl Zimmer has a number of good science posts lately, with my favorite being this one about how some bats have become dumber through evolution. Actually their brain-to-body mass ratio has shrunk, but one suspects it will now take them longer to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Biologists and those interested in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence have debated whether evolution towards intelligence is just a fluke here on earth, or something that's likely to happen on other planets with complex life. My amateur impression is that becoming smarter is one of several directions that species branch into. Some primitive mammals got big, some got very small, some evolved to swim, others to climb trees, to glide, or to fly, and some got smarter. Once a species start in one direction, another species might branch off either further in that direction or go in reverse. Fish evolved into amphibians and reptiles living on dry land, and now sea turtles live almost their entire lives in the water. Primitive bats were probably smarter than their earliest reptile ancestors, and now some bats are dumber.

This isn't completely random - becoming smarter is one of several survival strategies animals can use, and competition within and between species could push towards a gradual increase in intelligence. Even if it were random, though, given enough radiation of one species into several species exploiting different survival strategies, we can expect some of those species to get increasingly intelligent over time, both here and on other planets.

I think E.T. is out there, somewhere.

keywords: science, bats

Monday, June 20, 2005

Autism, mercury, and vaccinations

Two science bloggers I respect, Pharyngula and Orac, say the idea that mercury in vaccinations causes autism is garbage.

I'm unconvinced for either side. Orac's best point is that mercury was removed 10 years ago from vaccines in Canada and Denmark, and he says rates haven't plunged there. However, he doesn't cite any studies that tried to carefully analyze whether the removal made any difference. Certainly the removal didn't cause rates to plunge, that would be obvious, but if it caused a minor decrease in incidence of autism and maybe a less-minor decrease in severity, we might not know it without careful studies.

Orac says the massive increase in autism is an increase in diagnosis, not an increase in incidence. That concept is highly controversial, as you can see just from clicking his links. I need further consensus before I'll agree that either side is right.

All in all, this is an interesting test case of the precautionary principle. I don't believe that any imagined connection to a harm is sufficient to invoke the precautionary principle and stop an action from occurring until it has been proven safe. The question is how much evidence do you need of how severe a harm before you invoke the principle. Mercury in vaccines is right on the edge of sufficient evidence I think, and it'll be interesting to watch the evidence develop in one direction or another.

UPDATE: more shoes drop: Majikthise, another good science blog, doubts the mercury-vaccine-autism connection. Some well-written comments to the post suggest otherwise though, including the statement that Canada and Denmark had used very little mercury in vaccines prior to 1995 anyway (no source given for the claim, however). Wampum, another good blog, weighs in on the other side. Debate will have to go on...

UPDATE 2: Majikthise has yet another good post on the thimerosal issue. Even though she's doubtful, her summary lays out grounds for concern IMHO. Nosenada notes the conflict-of-interest issue that's been left out of the discussion (and he links to me here - obviously that's an important post!)

UPDATE 3: NYTimes weighs in, clearly favoring the "no connection to autism" side. Most relevant paragraph:

"In one of the most comprehensive studies, a 2003 report by C.D.C. scientists examined the medical records of more than 125,000 children born in the United States from 1991 to 1999. It found no difference in autism rates among children exposed to various amounts of thimerosal."

I think it's clear that thimerosal is not THE sole cause of increased autism, and that researchers like Dr. Geier (criticized in the article and elsewhere) have no credibility. I don't think that's the end of the matter though, especially where exposure may affect other developmental disabilities, which could be evidence of a slight effect on autism.

keywords: science, mercury, precautionary principle

Friday, June 17, 2005

Alan Greenspan should work at a coffeehouse

Greenspan, June 2005:

"The apparent froth in housing markets may have spilled over into mortgage markets," Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, said while testifying to Congress last week. "The dramatic increase in the prevalence of interest-only loans, as well as the introduction of other relatively exotic forms of adjustable-rate mortgages, are developments of particular concern."

Greenspan, February 2004 (via Brad DeLong):

"American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home."

Ask not from whom the froth bubbles, it bubbles from thee.

Lattes, anyone?

keywords: economics, politics

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Willing to kill innocent Americans

The NY Times reports that following a successful case proving tobacco companies conspired to hide the risks of smoking, a high-level Bush Administration official ordered the government lawyers to reduce the requested damages from $130 billion to $10 billion, money that would be used to for future stop-smoking campaigns. The official ordering the change, Robert D. McCallum, is a close friend of President Bush, and McCallum's prior work was at a law firm representing R. J. Reynolds, one of the tobacco companies being sued. There's no question in my mind McCallum is helping the opposing party in this case at the expense of his own client - the US government and the American people.

McCallum personally and those above him in the chain of command will be responsible for the deaths of more innocent Americans that Bin Laden. And I do mean innocent, from second-hand smoke, fetal death, and smoking-caused fires.

Their pretense at morality is gag-inducing.

UPDATE: Pretty amazing demonstration of Lakoff's concepts over in the comments to a Volokh Conspiracy post on the same subject. Commenters there see an ethical violation OF THE HIGHEST ORDER, they say - that someone leaked the internal memos to the media about their boss. As for the strong possibility that McCallum betrayed his client, his country, of billions of dollars and is potentially responsible for thousands of deaths, that just bounces right off their mindsets and is dismissed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Global warming betting concept is spreading, the premier global warming blog, has a post on betting. I really like this comment:

"The auction market does not depend upon classical efficient market theory as much as it depends upon people's natural caution -- the fact that losing hurts more than winning gives pleasure. This tends to tone down "wild" claims that normally take precedence either in a group of similarly-minded people or in the race to be noticed by the media."

I think that's an important reason why betting is valuable in affecting the debate - in other words, "put up or shut up."

Science policy blog Prometheus has a post. I think he misses the point about the value it has in affecting public dialogue, however.

And at sci.environment, we may actually have a bet agreement, although it's only for $25 and the denialist hasn't acknowledged that his bet offer has been accepted.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Those evil environmentalists

Did you know that one of the founders of the prominent organization Environmental Defense, Charles Wurster, said when it was pointed out to him that DDT saved lives of millions,

"so what? People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them and this is as good a way as any."

and he also said when asked how killing people (from DDT replacement chemicals) could be less important that saving birds,

It doesn't really make a lot of difference because the organo phosphate acts locally and only kill (sic) farm workers and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.

Astounding, but the LIBERAL MEDIA refuses to cover this scandal. Fortunately, however, right-wing bloggers like Tim Blair are on the case, repeating these quotes over and over and over.

However, it's not true. (Just in case anyone is convinced that the disgruntled former employee is telling the truth, the reporter who was supposed to have heard the statement has never been identified, and the alleged reporter never published the statement.)

I guess the self-correcting right-wing blogs will fix this though, pronto.

Prozac politics

A speculation from a friend - does the fact that so many Americans take drugs that keep them from getting upset have an effect on our politics? Maybe the "opiate of the masses" can be taken to be a near-literal term.

On the other hand, depressed people may be less motivated, so maybe the anti-depressants have a positive effect on political participation. Hard to say.

(Thanks Neilie!)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

New journalism technique

I think the rest of journalism should imitate The Daily Show: when a major institution/corporation refuses to do an interview, put a bag of dog poop in front of one of their buildings and set it on fire.

You can watch selections from The Daily Show on their website, and the "Union Jacked" segment is one of the funniest I've seen. They don't make it easy to locate, but if you click here, you should be able to find a link near the beginning that will open a new window with the segment (fast internet connection needed).

Saturday, June 11, 2005

"Adults should not try to influence children with their personal conscience."

The quote above is from a school district superintendent angered when a middle school guidance counselor reciting the Pledge of Allegiance changed the "under God" phrase to "under your belief system."

And I thought it was the conservatives who accused liberals of being afraid to teach ethics.

My suggestion is for someone reciting the Pledge to children to drop the "under God" and replace it with "under your or your parents' belief system." I think that will make it clear that anyone attacking the change thinks the role of the state is not just to control children's beliefs, which they might like, but also to supersede the parents' role in instructing their children. Might be a little tougher politically.

(via Washington Monthly)

keywords: politics

Friday, June 10, 2005

Score one-half for The Governator

Seems that contrary to media reports, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did NOT fill in a road pothole that had been created by road crews for the express purpose of giving him a media event. As the correction notes, however, he did a bad job with the (authentic) pothole that he filled. Score one for not staging the event, take away half for doing a bad job.

Facilitating betting over global warming

I'm happy to bet famous or semi-famous global warming denialists solely based on their word that they will pay up if they lose, but I think the "put up or shut up" argument can apply to a lot more people, especially since no one famous is accepting my bets or others'. The problem here is getting some guarantee that people who make wild claims against global warming will actually pay up.

So, a potential solution: a third party holds the money for the bet and pays out to the winner. Someone trusted by the denialist and someone whom I'm willing to hold my side of the bet, even if I don't necessarily know if I can trust the person: prominent global warming denialists or skeptics, like Rush Limbaugh, Richard Lindzen, and Senator James Inhofe, or institutions like Reason magazine or the Science & Environmental Policy Project. Or someone else by mutual agreement. I don't know if these people or institutions would be willing to hold the bets, but it's an attempt to make this work. (And if anyone has a better idea for facilitating bets, I'd love to hear about it.)

To recap the bets I'm willing to make:

That temperatures will not drop significantly 10 years after the anomalously-hot 1998 El Nino year (Limited time only! Buy now before it's too late!)

That temperatures will increase ten years from now, that a three-year running average temperature in the future will be warmer than the 1992-1994 period, and that temperatures will be higher 20 years from now (imitating this bet, this bet, and this bet). I'll offer 2:1 odds in favor of whoever's betting me for the first two bets, and 3:1 odds for the third bet. Anyone who thinks the odds of warming are only 50-50 should accept these bets.

My own, higher-risk bet offer: that over the next three years, the averaged temperature increase will be at least half the amount predicted by the mainstream consensus. The mainstream consensus predicts in the next few decades that temperatures will rise by .1 to .2 degrees Celsius per decade (with potential acceleration in later decades). Picking .15 Celsius as the middle position, cutting it in half to represent the bet, and dividing by 3/10 to represent the three year bet period, gives the bet position as 0.0225 Celsius as the averaged increase. This offer is higher-risk because short-term temperatures will vary greatly, but if I make multiple bets over the years, it should work out fine for me. And again, if you think temperatures aren't likely to increase, this should be an attractive offer.

Okay, anyone who's interested, please get in touch! Or if you're believe global warming is likely and know of people who don't, please send them my way.

keywords: science, global warming, bet

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Things I don't like about my Prius

1. Pretty big blind spot on the right passenger side. I think it's an effect of the aerodynamic design, but I nearly got in trouble before I realized it was bigger than my Honda Accord. Dealt with this problem by cranking the right side mirror way out, and by turning my head, hard, whenever I need to change lanes.

2. It's got good acceleration EXCEPT for the first half-second when you floor the accelerator, when very little happens. That half-second delay can be a little disconcerting if you decide to make a quick left turn.

3. Once, in 12,000 miles of driving that included multiple descents from the California Sierras, I felt the brakes start to get soft. I think the brakes might be slightly less robust than my Honda because it can use regenerative braking, but on a steep country road with 1,500 feet of continuous descent following an earlier descent, the battery can't take any more charge from the regenerative braking. On highway descents and any roads where the descent occasionally levels out, no problem.

4. I didn't want silver, I wanted blue, green, or the red. I thought it was stupid to wait longer just for a different color though.

Not too much to complain about, I think. But I have to complain about something...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Model living wills - now with organ donation!

One good thing to come out of the Terri Schiavo controverys was a lot of us getting off our butts and finally making out living wills, including me. Below is one model that I took from the Pennsylvania Medical Society website and modified it slightly to facilitate organ donation, in case anyone wants to use it:

To my family, my friends, my physicians and all others
who may be interested:
I, Brian Andrew Schmidt, request that I be kept
informed of my medical condition. Whenever possible I
want to participate in decisions regarding my medical
treatment, including whether any measure should be
taken to prolong my life. If my physicians determine
that I am incapable of making or communicating my own
health care decisions, this directive should be used
to ascertain my decisions and desires.
In the event my physicians determine, to a reasonable
degree of medical certainty, that I have a terminal
condition or that I am permanently unconscious, I
direct that I not be provided medical treatment that
merely will serve to prolong my dying or continue my
unconscious state. In such an event, I do want those
measures that will keep me comfortable and relieve
pain, even if they will render me unconscious or
hasten my death.
I am providing the following specific instructions to
help my physicians and proxies understand my desires.
These instructions are not meant to preclude measures
that would provide comfort or relieve pain or would
otherwise serve a purpose other than to prolong my
dying or continue my unconscious state.
I do not want tube feeding or any other artificial or
invasive form of nutrition (food) or hydration
I consent to the use of my body for organ donation or
scientific research.  My body can be kept alive by
whatever means necessary for a reasonable period for
the purpose of organ donation or for scientific use.

So the last paragraph was mine - it puts some wriggle room in the document, but given my family, I don't see that as a problem. If you want to give less discretion, you could remove "reasonable period" and insert "up to one week" or whatever time period you want.

Don't forget to add signature lines and proxy designations, also found at the Penn Medical Society website.

I think this is fine for a healthy adult - if you're meticulous or want more detail, there's also the "Five Wishes" document, but you have to pay $5 to get it. Or heck, hire a lawyer - if money is no object.

Welcome, Chris Mooney readers

The bets I'm willing to make on global warming are here. My attempt to bet with a right-wing radio host is here, and climatologist James Annan's most recent attempts to arrange bets with global warming denialists are here.

Thanks for stopping by!


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Wikipedia and global warming betting

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia with the amazing function that anyone can edit it by posting new entries or editing existing ones. For example, two years ago I created the first entry for Denali National Park, where I used to work. My entry was a four-sentence post with no links to other subjects. Now it's four paragraphs, forty-plus links, two pictures and a stats column, developed over the years by a dozen people whom I know nothing about.

Richard Lindzen is the most prominent global warming denialist, one of the few with scientific credibility, and he has declined to accept a reasonable bet over global warming. He also has an entry in Wikipedia. I've now modified the entry to include the global warming bet issue. Another little step to get the word out. The added section reads:

Attempted betting on global warming, 2004-2005

The November 10, 2004 online version of Reason magazine reported that Lindzen is "willing to take bets that global average temperatures in 20 years will in fact be lower than they are now."[15] Climatologist James Annan,[16] who has offered multiple bets that global temperatures will increase,[17] contacted Lindzen to arrange a bet.[18] Annan offered to pay 2:1 odds in Lindzen's favor if temperatures declined, but Lindzen would only accept a bet if the payout was 50:1 or better in his favor, so no bet occurred.

We'll see what happens with this - Lindzen's entry in Wikipedia appears to be defended by global warming denialists, but they'd have to be pretty bold to remove a straight factual addition like this.

UPDATE: corrected the odds that Annan offerred from 3:1 to 2:1.

keywords: science, global warming, bet

Sunday, June 05, 2005

May 2005 Iraq casualties snapshot

Avg. daily military fatality rate (Americans and others): 2.84. April was 1.73, March 1.29, May 2004 was 2.71.

Iraqi monthly miliary/police fatalities: 270, April 199, March 200, no stats for May 2004.

Comments: the Iraqi fatality rate doesn't seem sustainable, if you add seriously wounded and assume only a portion of the 100,000 Iraqis that Bush keeps talking about are actually deployable. A job that has a 3% annual death rate?

I'll try to remember to do this each month.

keywords: Iraq

Benny Peiser and Ward Churchill

I've been wondering how serious are Benny Peiser's dishonest actions as an academic, when he falsely claimed to have analyzed the same set of abstracts as a previous study on global warming.

Ward Churchill might be an interesting test case. Churchill is the well-known idiot professor from Colorado University who praised the World Trade Center bombings (he later said it was bad that working-class people had died there too). He's now in trouble for various misdeeds, including a false claim in his work that the US Army deliberately sent smallpox-infected blankets to the Mandan Indians in 1837. He has no basis for this claim, and the sources he cites directly contradict the claim.

What Peiser has done is worse than this, in my opinion - he has made a dishonest claim about his own scholarship in order to damage the reputation of another scientist and promote his own reputation, something worse than a false historical claim. Colorado University is now investigating Churchill for this and other problems (plagiarism, the worst thing you can do as an academic). How CU treats Churchill over this particular issue should set the minimum standard for how Peiser should be treated.

(hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy)

keywords: science, global warming, Peiser

Thursday, June 02, 2005

HOWTO call right-wing radio and argue about global warming

This post is also a HOWNOTTO argue about global warming on right wing radio, but it was just my first time, and I'll tell you what I did wrong so you won't make the same mistake.

Key thing to remember: every time the right wing host says something stupid and wrong about global warming, challenge him (it's almost always a "him") to a bet with real money. I did this once and got him to back off, and then missed my next chance to either make him look ridiculous or make some money off of him. And if you don't feel like betting, tell him to pick up on the bets available on the web - better still, tell him to come here and bet with me.

The other key thing to remember: eventually the right-winger will come up with something you don't have the immediate answer to, because there's all kinds of bogus crud out there that they'll pick up and proclaim as God's truth. When that happens, repeat the strongest point you've made and challenge him to give enough identifying information about whatever garbage he's repeating so the listeners can go out and research its validity on their own. The more strongly it refutes global warming, the more likely it's complete garbage.

So, the story: I was driving to the gym and switched the radio from Air America to the San Francisco Bay Area right-wing radio, KSFO 960. The local host, Brian Sussman, was making fun of using tree rings to understand past climate, then said no one had thermometers before 100 years ago (should've bet him on that stupid statement too), then said very little good data exists for the past 100 years except in the US, and then said the US data actually shows global cooling, not warming. I suspect every part of his statement is wrong, but it sounds like someone who's claiming global warming isn't happening and won't happen. Then, he gave the call-in number and switched to commercials. It was a sign!

I called and explained to the guy answering that I was calling about the global warming issue. The guy asked what my take was, and I said I think Brian's wrong and I want to make a bet with him on it. Partial mistake there - I shouldn't have mentioned the bet, if I just said he's wrong, Brian may not have been ready to backtrack when the guy answering presumably told him what I would be saying.

Several minutes later, the commercials end and I'm on the air, with Brian politely saying he has a caller who disagrees with him. I say I think he's wrong, that global warming is happening, that there are a number of bets floating around on the Internet about warming and that I'd be interested in betting him about it. NOW, Brian says that the best data actually shows some global warming is happening, that the earth has warmed 0.3 degrees Celsius in the last century (I think it's actually .5 to .6 C). Note the change in tune? Partial victory in that change should have been obvious to listeners, but I should also have drilled it in and said "five minutes ago you said the best data showed global cooling, but now faced with a bet you change and you're conceding it's warming. How can your listeners trust you?"

We then moved on to whether the warming was caused by humans. I cited the Oreskes study in Science magazine. Brian said it had been refuted. I said the refutation was by Benny Peiser who had been proven wrong (I should've added "dishonest). Brian said satellite data showed cooling, not warming.

This is where I blew it, because I know the updated satellite data shows warming, not cooling. I should've gotten him to repeat the statement and then challenge him to a second bet over whether it's accurate. And, I should've said if he believes the satellite data shows cooling then he should be willing to accept my first bet about global warming happening in the future. Instead, I just said listeners should look up satellite measurements in Wikipedia, and they'll find the measurements show warming.

Finally, he started talking about a survey of climatologists that showed no consensus on human-caused global warming. I said he must be referring to the survey of climatologists that actually went to a lot of non-climatogist skeptics. He asked me what percentage of climatologists I thought believed in global warming. I said based on the Oreskes study, 98 percent (I should've said 99 percent). He said no, it's 9.4 percent. I challenged him to tell me what study he's referring to now, and he said it was a survey of 500 German climatologists. He finally kind of got me here, because I had a vague memory of that survey and that it was bogus but I couldn't remember why. (UPDATE: it's the same survey I originally talked about that got sent to non-scientists - refutation here.) I think I started talking about Oreskes again, and he interrupted and said environmentalists can't be taken seriously when they deny science, and then the line went dead - he had cut me off. When I got the radio on, he was talking to some dittohead about how great nuclear power is.

Finishing this HOWTO, most people probably don't know as many counter-arguments to the garbage that the denialists dredge up, but you don't need to. For that German survey, I should've said it's pretty clear from anyone who looks beyond the right-wing fantasy media that there's a consensus on anthropogenic global warming, and that he should give us enough information to look up his survey because I expect it's fatally flawed. Same answer would apply to any other piece of dreck you might come across in a debate with the right-wingers. And get back to basics - when they say something you know is wrong, like cooling is as likely as warming, or anything else you know is ridiculous, challenge them to a bet.

keywords: science, global warming, Peiser, bet

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Take 30 seconds to annoy the Bush Administration

I normally skip the various Internet petitions, but this one is worth 30 seconds: Congressman John Conyers is looking for 100,000 signatures on a petition he'll personally deliver to the White House about the "Downing Street Memo", a British governmental memo revealing some inconvenient facts about the Bush Administration fixing intelligence in 2002 on WMDs and Al Qaeda in Iraq in order to facilitate the invasion. I don't expect Bush to care about the 100,000 number, but it may help with media as well as with giving the Democrats more willingness to fight.

The link above gives some basic info, but click here to read the letter/petition and fill out the form if you want to be a signatory.

(Thanks Neilie for the tip!)

keywords: Iraq