Thursday, August 31, 2006

Volokh Correction #13 - legitimate scientists not the same as legitimate science

Jim Lindgren at the Volokhs gets global warming wrong - mostly. I would agree with him that global warming denialism isn't quite the same level of fraud as denying the harm from cigarettes, but I'd say that it's close to the same, and getting closer every year.

The distinction I'd make is between stating no legitimate opposing view exists regarding human-caused warming, versus stating that none of the people denying warming are legitimate scientists. Most of the "scientists" denying warming are bought-and-paid-for ideologues, like Patrick Michaels. But denialists do have a few legitimate scientists like Richard Lindzen. The legitimate category is getting smaller, older, and more waffle-y each year, but it's still there. However, just because this tiny group has done legitimate science on other climate issues doesn't mean we have to continue to give them credibility on warming, when their stubborness has long passed the point of reason. This is the main point that Lindgren misses.

What else - he thinks one of the denialists deserves a chance to speak out. Not in the context of a short television segment - that would give too much exposure to a position held by less than one percent of the scientists. On a miniseries about global warming, they can have a short piece.

Lindgren probably screwed up the "warming causes more hurricanes right now" argument since no scientists say that (UPDATE: too strong a statement on my part - see comments. Main focus though is on severity, not number). Satellites weren't missing large storms 30 years ago - I doubt a large storm has gone unreported since the 1950s, maybe earlier. He repeats canards about enviros making bad predictions in the past - presumably he believes the ozone hole and air quality are magically fixing themselves, so past predictions of disaster were just plain wrong. Then more canards about how expensive global warming will be to fix and all the benefits associated with upsetting the planet's climate (the last one is particularly ridiculous).

Finally, the annoying "science isn't consensus" argument - policy arguments that don't rely on consensus and bet the farm on outlier positions are just stupid. This isn't science we're talking about, it's what we should do about what we understand, as best we understand it.

Not Lindgren's best work.

UPDATE: Lindgren posted again, focusing mostly on minor issues. The main reason to prepare for more Category 5 storms in the future is because computer models and theory anticipate them happening, not because of the historical record.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Modest decreases in the four glaciers we measured

I've been meaning to write a last post about measuring glaciers at Denali National Park. A ridiculous post, by a global warming denialist who won't put his money where his mouth is, did have the function of reminding me that I need to write it.

The denialist noted that some glaciers weren't retreating and thinks that disproves global warming. If he had read more than the headline of the article he linked to, he would have realized that climate change can also increase snowfall in some places, and even cause cooling in some places, so it's no surprise that some glaciers would advance.

Most glaciers are retreating though, including all four glaciers we measured this summer. What surprised me though was how little they retreated - the bottom elevations of the glaciers were 100 to 300 feet higher than the ones shown on our topographic maps, which date to the 1950s. If these had been giant glaciers, that level of retreat would be meaningless, but these glaciers were relatively small (two-three miles long, roughly). Still I was surprised at how little retreat had occurred in fifty years.

The only thing I could add is that in the six years I worked at Denali, precipitation was far above the historical average. If that stayed the case, it's not hard to see how the extra snowfall could partially balance out the extra warmth.

Anyway, it should be interesting someday to find out what the overall trend is for all the Denali glaciers.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Putting your life where your mouth is

Via Talking Points Memo, a proposal to submit pledge forms to politicians opposed to embryonic stem cell research, where they promise not to use any treatment derived from such research:

“Because of my strong opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research, I hereby pledge that should I, at any point in the future, develop diabetes, cancer, spinal-cord injuries or Parkinson’s, among other diseases, I will refuse any and all treatments derived from such research, at home or abroad, even if it costs me my life. Signed, ______”

Makes my bet offers look really tame. I think it's a fair thing to ask of them though, especially the ones that deny the medical value of stem cell research. It could also be modified easily for those politicians that want to pretend the Bush policy of researching old stem cell lines is okay.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bush's war in Iraq has killed more Americans than 9/11

Well, it happened - counting up the numbers from this list of foreign civilian contractors killed in Iraq, as of August 17th, 137 American civilians died there. As of August 22d, a total of 2,613 American soldiers died there, giving an American death total of 2,750. According to wikipedia, the total American death toll on 9/11 was 2,738 (I can't find a better source than wikipedia, would love a reference somewhere else). Sometime in November, the US soldier death toll alone will exceed our losses on 9/11. Karl Rove is just hoping that won't happen until a day or two after the election.

I'd want some reaction from our Accountability President and his allies in Congress running for re-election, but I doubt it we'll get it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Income inequality: this year's pre-tax is last year's post-tax

Much discussion at Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum and elsewhere on the role of Republican leadership in increasing income inequality. Liberal economists agree that Republican tax policies have made post-tax incomes far more unequal compared to Democrats, but disagree over whether Republican policies are an important driver in economics in increasing pre-tax income inequality.

I've read much of the discussion, but I haven't seen it mentioned that previous years' increased post-tax income inequality will increase asset inequality, resulting in increased inequality in pre-tax interest income. Maybe I'm missing something, but tax policy should have strong pre-tax income effects in subsequent years. I think there's a good case to be made that Republican policies have wide-ranging negative effects. That's why they want to distract us with a permanent war.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dear Senator James "Global Warming Is a Hoax" Inhofe

(The following is an email I sent last week to the Tulsa World newspaper, and I then forwarded it on to Senator Inhofe. I'll be sure to post in the unlikely event that I get a response.)

Subject: Senator Inhofe - put your money where your mouth is on global warming

To the Editors:

I have an open challenge to Senator Inhofe: he has
repeatedly said global warming is “the greatest hoax
ever perpetrated on the American people.” I suggest
that Senator Inhofe put his money where his mouth is.

He also said, “I believe that the balance of the
evidence offers strong proof that natural variability
is the overwhelming factor influencing climate.” In
other words, temperature changes are a 50-50 coin
toss. I think the odds are different, and we can bet
on it.

There’s a charitable website called,
where bettors donate their bet money to a foundation
that ultimately donates the two bettors’ money to the
charity chosen by the winner. I challenge Senator
Inhofe to bet over global warming - I even have a bet
waiting for him at If
temperatures go down or even just go up slightly, my
money will go to a conservative charity of his choice.
I’ll even sweeten the pot – if I win, I’ll make sure
the money goes to environmental protection in
Oklahoma. Given how strongly he’s spoken out on this
issue, I sure hope he won’t run away now that he has a
chance to be personally invested in the outcome.

-Brian Schmidt

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Rotten Fleece Award for Professor Bainbridge

Professor Bainbridge is one of my Readable Rightie bloggers, but he flubbed it by criticizing the idea of fertlizing elephants with frozen mammoth sperm to create hybrid animals. Bainbridge did a poor job of reading the article he linked to, first of all - it's a Japanese scientist, not a British scientist, and it's only a speculative idea with no plans to spend actual money.

His main problem though is imitating the stupid Golden Fleece Awards given by former Senator William Proxmire, generally to berate tiny government spending items that were often science projects, projects that Proxmire didn't understand and didn't want explained to him.

Bainbridge plunges himself into the same trap. If this idea were feasible (I highly doubt it, but Bainbridge isn't focusing on that), then there would tremendous scientific interest in a mammoth-elephant hybrid. Anything about its behavior, physiology, or metabolism that differed from a typical elephant would be instructive.

And then you start your generational cross-breeding. You fertilize a female half-mammoth with mammoth sperm and get three-quarter mammoth descendents, an even better model to study. After not too many decades, we'll have essentially recreated an extinct species. I think that's interesting, to say the least.

Bainbridge imitated Proxmire better than he planned. Both of them deserve the Rotten Fleece Award.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Under-reporting civilian casualties in Iraq

The New York Times reports over 3,400 violent deaths for Iraqi civilians in July, using Iraqi government data. The site I've been using for monthly updates gave an estimate of 1060, based on news media reports. That's a huge difference, and it looks like the larger number is more accurate.

The news media approach to casualty counting was widely criticized by conservatives early on during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Then President Bush used their figures when throwing out a guesstimate of civilian casualties several months ago. Now it looks like a significant undercount.

At least there's some corroboration in trends. The Times says July was 9% worse than June and twice as bad as January. My source says July was almost 50% worse than June and almost twice as bad as January.

Lacking a better standard source for information, I'll stick with what I've got in future updates, but it will likely be even more of an undercount if things continue to deteriorate.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A valid exception to the "Godwin's Law" rule

The "Godwin's Law" rule in Internet debate, that you should not analogize your opponents' beliefs with Nazi beliefs, should have one exception - when your opponents' beliefs are actually based on Nazi beliefs. Maybe we should call it the Yoo Exception to Godwin's Law.

Scott Horton at Balkinization makes an intriguing argument that the philosophical basis for both the Unitary Executive theory and the legal right to torture opponents in disregard for international law can be traced to a leading Nazi theorist, Carl Schmitt. The parallels are very clear, Schmitt took a brief respite from his anti-semitism to help the neo-conservative Ubermensch, Leo Straus, and Schmitt's translated work is available to the neoconservative field. John Yoo, the pro-torture law professor from UC Berkeley, could well have drawn from that source when he provided legal cover for disregarding the Geneva Conventions as a Bush Administration lawyer.

It's an interesting argument, but hard to prove (I suppose one could start by asking Yoo and seeing what he says). If Yoo's earlier work dealt with this stuff, that might make it easier to find the connections. I'd love to learn if the Yoo Exception applies here.

In other news, the Bush Administration dragged its feet on explosives detection, including liquid explosives detection.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth comes in third

Yesterday, "An Inconvenient Truth" became the third most popular documentary in American history. The figures for yesterday haven't been released yet, but it was $30,000 short of passing "Bowling for Columbine" from the day before, and making over $70,000 each weekday.

It's not far from the end of its American run and will probably top out at $23-24 million domestically, something a little smaller than that overseas, and make double or triple the figure in DVD sales and rentals. The movie cost $1 million to make.

Conservatives did everything they could to label the movie a failure. Their attempts are as persuasive as their arguments that global warming is a hoax.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Trouble at Tradesports and at

Via Chris Masse, we find that the betting/prediction market Tradesports is applying formalistic rules to resolve a bet over North Korea in a way directly contrary to common sense. Tradesports offers all kinds of predictions that people can bet over (unfortunately, nothing on global warming that I know about). They offered a bet over whether North Korea would launch a missile prior to July 30 and refused to pay, because the bet terms said the launch had to be confirmed by the US Dept. of Defense, which has refused to comment on the launch. So even though everyone knows what happened, Tradesports refuses to pay, which is not going to help prediction markets go anywhere.

This isn't quite as bad, but there are also some problems at, a charity betting site where both bettors donate their money to Longbets, and Longbets eventually gives the money to a destination charity chosen by the bet winner. I have a bet there about global warming, somebody challenged me, and then never responded when I followed up multiple times to negotiate the bet. The same guy posted his own bet prediction about a forthcoming ice age, I challenged him, and heard nothing. I asked Longbets for help and heard nothing. The Discussion section of the website appears to be broken, and while predictions have been made, no bets have been agreed on since 2004. Longbets provides a great service through their site, in my opinion, but they need to put time in on maintenance by removing challegers and bettors who aren't willing to actually negotiate their bets.

My bet opponent, James W. Walter, appears to be an extremely rich 9/11 conspiracy theorist. You'd think he could afford to follow through on his betting if he's also offerring $1 million to anyone who can prove 9/11 wasn't a conspiracy (and exactly how do you prove that, anyway?).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Steve McIntyre wants to bet over global warming proxies

Over at ClimateAudit, the issue of betting over global warming came under discussion in a comment thread. McIntyre eventually stepped in, not to bet about global warming itself but over using tree ring data as proxies for assessing historical temperatures when instrumental records weren’t available:

So I’ll make a counter-proposal and I’d be prepared to bet in size and one where the results can be determined.

Do any of the warmers want to bet that European tree rings in the very warm year of 2003 did not show very wide rings such as predicted by the MBH assumption of a linear relationship between temperature and ring width?

Or that Sheep Mountain bristle ring widths in the period 1990-2005 were as wide or wider than projected by a linear model - we can define the model, but essentially it’s the linear assumption of MBH.

I’ll bet either.

McIntyre is one of the people challenging the MBH study in 1998 that recreated global temperatures over the last 1000 years. Personally, I don't really care about that debate - a single 1998 study doesn't determine whether anthropogenic global warming is happening. I also don't know what Steve M.'s position is on AGW, although his comments on the thread suggest he's one of the skeptics claiming there's a natural warming. If he thinks temps should decline anytime soon, he should be interested in betting me over temps.

But he wants to bet over proxies. I don't know enough to judge the fairness or importance of his bet. If it's a continued rehashing of that 1998 study, his bet offer is unimportant to the climate debate. If it concerns the validity of later reconstructions, then it may have some importance for one (just one) of the lines of evidence supporting AGW, and people who are involved in that field might want to consider it.

Finally, Steve M claims I "quickly withdrew when it came to betting against me on proxies." No, I withdrew because I'd been accused of hijacking a comment thread to a post that was unrelated to betting. I'm very happy to negotiate terms over a bet with Steve M. or someone else regarding a bet over global warming. As for tree ring proxy measurements, I'm just highlighting it here in case anyone else is interested.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Heresy! I disagree with

Actually, it's just a single comment by Realclimate blogger Gavin Schmidt, but I'll play it up. He contrasts environmental group funding of research to industry funding, and says "environmental groups do not have a vested interest in the exsitence of global warming - there are of course many other environmental problems they could be (and are) dealing with - but they do not stand to gain personally if global warming is more serious."

Well, I think enviros like myself do have a strong interest in emphasizing global warming and other environmental ills - it helps promote related causes we espouse and promotes the general importance of the work we're doing. OTOH, I do agree with his follow-on that "Making an equal-and-opposite comparison [between industry and enviros] is not valid."

The two differences are first, the benefits of exaggeration our position are less to enviros than industry - for us, the environmental importance is just helpful to other stuff we do, while to (some in) industry, global warming concerns threaten their core business model. Second, the costs of exaggeration are higher to us - our credibility is what we sell to our customer/supporters, while coal and oil is what industry sells - damaging their own credibility on environmental issues will not harm them much overall.

Finally, it's easier for us to walk away from an unimportant environmental issue than it is for industry to abandon coal power. I think concerns about global warming and concerns about electromagnetic fields started about the same time. The former has had much more verification in subsequent research, and that's the one that gets much more research.

So there are differences between the quality of what we and industry say, but people still have to be careful about what the "angels" are saying, and why they say it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Proportionality, Volokhs, and Lebanon

The Volokh Conspiracy presumably decided they needed a balance against intellectual heft, and added David Bernstein to the group blog (Todd Zywicki wasn't posting enough). Bernstein writes absolutely predictable posts about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but he almost wrote an interesting post describing a moral question before screwing it up.

He uses a hypothetical to ask what level of enemy civilian casualties should change your military tactics to minimize those civilian casualties, when the changed tactics endanger your own soldiers. That's an interesting question, but then the screwup:

"Assume also the the target is sufficiently important that even one hundred deaths on the other side would be considered "proportionate" under whatever standard you use for such things." (Bernstein's hypo imagined the change in tactics would cost two soldiers on the friendly side). If you add that proviso, there's no reason to ask the question - you've already reached the conclusion.

Anyway, I don't know what's proportionate under the laws of war, and I highly doubt it's defined, but it's the standard a non-pacifist has to go by. As someone who started off uncharacteristically favoring the Israeli position in the latest blowup, I'm seeing that it's also the standard that Israel is demolishing.

To answer Bernstein's question, my intuition is that somewhere past ten civilian deaths to save two of your soldiers, then you have to draw the line - anything more makes a mockery of "proportionate".

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hurra Torpedo

Via Deltoid, possibly the best music video ever made - a remake of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (caution, not entirely worksafe). You can just feel the passion.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Greenspan haunting the housing bubble

Kevin Drum draws attention to adjustable rate mortgages that are now skyrocketing after the three-year initial rate freeze is ending (ARMs didn't become popular until several years ago). He makes a similar point to one I made last year, that Allan Greenspan was encouraging people to use ARMs two years ago to prop up the economy, when the rates could only go up. Unsophisticated home buyers are now facing 30-50% increases in mortgage payments. Greenspan long ago stopped deserving the adulation he was given.

So people who can no longer afford their mortgages can just sell their homes and move to a cheaper place, as long as home prices keep rising. If they don't, people won't be able to cover their mortgages through home sales, with foreclosures and bankruptcies being the next step. Get a lot of that happening, and we might see housing prices move down quickly.

Thanks Alan - you're as helpful as you were with the stock market.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Get your cellulosic ethanol info fix

The Oil Drum has two good posts on cellulosic ethanol, here and here (especially the first one). They support my sense that corn-based ethanol is either a crock or of only minor help in terms of energy output versus energy needed to make it, and that cellulosic ethanol may be far oversold. I guess we'll find out about the latter, maybe I'm wrong.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

July 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate (nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis): 1.55. June was 2.1, May 2.55, and July 2005 was 1.87. Overall daily average to date is 2.28, down 0.02. Total US dead as of today: 2582.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 215. June was 132, May was 149, and July 2005 was 304. Total dead: 5117.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1060. June was 738, May was 979, and July 2005 was 518. To-date total since March 2005: 11,495. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others, but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Civilian deaths are the second-worst ever. US deaths continue a modest decrease. has published a three-year restrospective for the period ending in March, and I've read the first part of it. Summary is that Year 2 was much worse than Year 1 for Americans, while Year 3 was moderately better than Year 2. Iraqi civilian casualties seem worse in Year 3, and current data looks worse yet.

If you include American civilian deaths in Iraq, I expect the number of Americans who died in Iraq will exceed the 2,800 who died on 9/11 sometime in the next month or two. Two-three months after that, American military fatalities alone will exceed the 9/11 total.