Friday, February 26, 2010

Fun and games with Roger Pielke Jr. at the NY Times

(UPDATE:  as I mentioned in a previous post, I'll be mostly offline for the next few weeks, and will have to see if anything interesting develops.)

Here's my original post about Roger's disturbing vagueness in describing Hansen's support for sequestration from biomass power, used in order to validate Roger's support for open air chemical capture.

Roger accuses me of lying about his definition of open air capture, which he claims to have clearly mentioned as including biological means.  His proof is something written ten months after my critique.

It's there in the comments to that post, and may get played out in a Dot Earth post and comments.  Here's what I wrote to Dot Earth:

Roger Pielke Jr. (#32) is disturbed when I mention (#29) how he misinformed people about Hansen's position on open air carbon capture (supporting sequestration from biomass plants), in relation to Roger's support for chemical versions of open air carbon capture. I think I gave a pretty decent summary in the comment, and at the quotes of Roger's own work at the link. 
As for his defense that he has expressly defined open air capture to include biological means, he defends by linking to something he wrote in December 2009. My critique was written in February 2009 about a paper Roger published in the same month, where Roger describes air capture as that "which refers to the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the ambient air. Air capture has received remarkably little attention in debates on policy responses to climate change, but this seems to be changing (e.g., Jones, 2008). By contrast, the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from power plants has received considerable attention (e.g., IPCC,2005)".
He does indeed once mention Hansen's specific idea that Roger somewhat disjointedly ties to his own definition (although Roger fails to understand Hansen's proposal for sequestration), and I disclosed that in my February 2009 documentation. Two other uses of Hansen by Roger in that paper and a linked FAQ kept Hansen's support as a vague generalization not linked to biomass power plants, and even this one more specific mention fails to indicate that it is all that the reference supports, not the chemical capture idea that is Roger's interest.
So is Roger misinforming his readers in the actual paper that I critiqued? The question is whether someone who failed to go and read the Hansen reference would have the idea that the reference is supportive of chemical capture. That's how Roger's work appears to me to be read. If Hansen is supportive, it's not shown by the reference Roger provided in the paper I critiqued, and Roger's time travel to a definition that he wrote ten months later (or to any other external source) does not rescue that paper from misinforming people.
Similarly, someone who read Roger's comment #32 above and didn't carefully compare references would likely think that Roger had pointed to something that I had concealed in Roger's paper that I was critiquing, rather than Roger quoting a totally different paper written long after my critique. These nested levels of misinformation indicate the challenge involved in dealing with his work. I confess that I can rarely keep up with him.

Maybe I'm the one who's losing perspective.  I welcome that advice in a comment or an email if so.

UPDATE:  The comment above hasn't been posted yet to Dot Earth, but I hope it will be (UPDATED UPDATE:  it's up, as is Eli's comment).  And I shouldn't throw out the baby with the Pielkeian bathwater - sequestration may prove too expensive to use even concentrated sources like power plants, but maybe not.  Hansen's idea is intriguing.  Roger's idea is much less so but like geoengineering, something we may have to consider.  The main problem I have with Roger's paper is the misleading way it describes Hansen's position.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Housekeeping - no posting for a few weeks, comment moderation turned on

I will be off and not blogging for a few weeks, and the blog's getting attacked by comment spammers.  I've turned on comment moderation.  Friday might be the last day I can put up new posts or check for comments until after mid-March, so comments you submit might take a while, but they will eventually show up.  Sorry for the inconvenience, I'm beginning to regret the shift away from Haloscan.

Two climate shorts - Phil Jones joins Tautology Club, and a new blog debuts

1.  Refer to this XKCD comic on Tautology Club.  Climatologist Phil Jones got a little sloppy and joined the Club when he said this to the BBC:

Of course, if the MWP [Medieval Warm Period] was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented.

Tautologies like that are a waste of space, but that's a minor sin.   BBC should've pressed him on it, but they were halfway into Tautology Club themselves through the preceding question asking if the MWP was global then does it become the precedent.  The geographic reach of the MWP is one of the major unresolved questions about that period.

Of course, the mortal sin is from lying rightwing journalists whose lines are parroted elsewhere, and twist the tautology into an admission that the MWP "may have been" warmer than today.

2.  A new enviro blog from some friends, particularly relevant to Californians and Bay Area folks, called Green/the New IPO.  Good stuff about climate change evasion by the California GOP, among other issues.  Also on the same target is how California's AB32 law to fight climate change, the one now being targeted by the bad guys, is crucial in the fight against California's significant air pollution problems.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yoo and Bybee escape from justice isn't entirely complete

I've been reading various reactions to the overruling by the Department of Justice of the recommendation to refer pro-torture Professor John Yoo and Appellate Judge Jay Bybee to bar association disciplinary committees (the hundreds of pages of info can be found here, and the first two links at that cite are the most important).  Basically the argument is that the failure to provide objective and reasonable advice is insufficient grounds for sanctions.  DOJ concludes that the legal arguments for torture are nonsense, but Yoo actually believed it, and Bybee didn't bother to look at it very closely and some other folks told him it was okay.  Balkin explains that reasoning in all its glory.

Three points:

1.  I've only skimmed the DOJ memo, but what I've seen fails to focus on the duty to respond to arguments contrary to the attorney's conclusion.  This is the key issue in my opinion.  It doesn't matter whether Yoo thinks he's right - he failed to discuss precedent that limits the power of the president, even in wartime.  Even if he thinks that precedent isn't controlling, any lawyer worthy of practicing has to respond to the best contrary arguments.  As for Bybee, he's either in charge or he isn't.  A lawyer of all people has to know the consequences of signing something.

2.  As for the "you're all forgetting the atmosphere of 9-11" issue, you can forget that argument.  The memos were from August 2002, eleven months later.  There's enough time for people to think clearly again after a year, plenty of reasons by then to know that America hadn't been brought to its knees, and to know that we clearly weren't facing a threat as significant as we had several times before in conventional wars against great industrial powers.

3.  It's not over, entirely. Jonathan Zasloff points out that the Pennsylvania and Utah bar associations don't need a referral from DOJ - they can act independently, and they should given the information in front of them.  Similarly, UC Berkeley can independently use the information to determine whether someone acting this incompetently, crazily, or dishonestly meets the standard of a law professor.  I can't say I'm extremely hopeful of this happening, but the option exists.

UPDATE:  Kudos to Mike Potemra for fighting torture in the web pages of the National Review, of all places.  Posts like that help me believe that there's still hope.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nuclear power is a bargaining chip. You don't just give away your bargaining chip.

There are only two things that Republican congressmembers actually want that also could play a part of an effort to fight climate change.  One of them - capturing and sequestering CO2 and other pollutants from coal - isn't an optional bargaining chip.  We don't know if it will work adequately and cost effectively, and we do need to know exactly that, so funding research and pilot projects has to happen.

The other Republican desire is for nuclear power.  While I think nuclear power could play an expanded role in countries that already have it, it's at most a limited solution and not one with such expansion potential that a year or two of delay is a problem.

Given that most Republicans have been incredibly irresponsible on climate change, it's clear that they should not be rewarded with help for their nuclear power corporations.  Thanks primarily to Republicans and secondarily to those on the left who won't support cap-and-trade, the chances for comprehensive climate legislation are dimming, and they will only get worse from fall elections through January 2013 (unless the EPA steps in and saves us all).  If we can't get a comprehensive bill, then an energy bill is possible, and this is where the Republicans shouldn't be rewarded.  I could see giving them a taste with modest support and additional research, but that's all.

These $54 billion loan guarantees to nuclear industry that Obama is pushing are more than a taste.  They're not the long-term deals that Republicans want either, but they're more than Republicans deserve.

Some interesting discussion at the link above on this issue, but I have some questions about loan guarantees in general - they seem to be a classic Republican Party idea that corporate profits belong to stockholders while corporate losses should be paid off by taxpayers.  Given that half of previous nuclear power plant proposals were started but never finished, there seems to be a large chance of defaults.  I also think it would be possible to structure the parent company/subsidiary relationship so the parent company makes money even if the project collapses by charging interim expenses to the subsidiary.  So the parent company profits, subsidiary goes poof in a paper bankruptcy, banks gets their money back plus interest, and taxpayers pay everyone for no result.  Just guessing on that one worry.  And loan guarantees should have include some upside for government, maybe a profit participation.

Maybe I just need to learn more about this financing stuff.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wall Street Journal uses POV fork to gives denialists an uncontradicted platform

(Sorry about the incomprehensible notes I accidentally published here earlier - I will now attempt a real post.)

Wikipedia prohibits content forks and Point of View (POV) forks in its articles, but the Wall Street Journal news section seems to think those techniques make the writing easier.  Content forks are multiple articles on the same subject, and POV forks are attempts to avoid the neutral viewpoint requirement of wiki by creating an article that just focuses on one side of an issue.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal has an article called "Controversies Create Opening for Critics" about climate change denialists and their attacks on the IPCC.  I can only guess the refusal to discuss the mainstream position and counterarguments to critics is because the article is about the critics.  It contains the uncontradicted lies that claims about effects on African agriculture and Amazonian rainforests were found to not have a scientific basis.  The only "defense" of the IPCC is from Bjorn Lomborg of all people, who says warming is real but we shouldn't cut emissions.

A paragraph on the frivolous Texas lawsuit against the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger Americans actually performed journalism by talking to both sides of the issue.  Too bad the rest of the article doesn't.

The remainder is expositions on the beautiful denialist theories of Christy, Lindzen, Soon, and Kukla (last one's new to me) on how they're right and everyone else is wrong.  Nothing at all is written about how their theories have gained no support and why they haven't.  An article that wouldn't make it through wiki sails the Journal.

Many denialists I debate on blogs have an open contempt for wikipedia, so much so that they refuse to go there to get the linked references that wiki provides.  I think neutrality and reality are the real problems they have with it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hello, Telegraph? Ice climbs return each year unless there's climate change

Stoat does the main work here:  the Telegraph says the IPCC claimed that mountain ice has reduced over time but cited dodgy sources:  a climbing magazine article and a dissertation about ice-climbing.  Stoat notes that the claim (not claims) is a single line in a table that lists multiple observed effects to the cryosphere, and expressly focusses on the loss of ice climbs.  Those two sources are actually pretty good sources for understanding ice climbs.

I'll add two other pieces of info that indicate the Telegraph doesn't know much about ice-climbing and apparently didn't seek out much information:  first, it says that modern climbers wouldn't know if ice climbs from 100 years ago had disappeared.  In fact, climbers are pretty good at tracking the history of climbing routes, especially first ascents.  If a route used to exist 100 years ago and now is gone, there's an excellent chance that local climbers would know about it.

Second, the Telegraph says unnamed "experts" say "loss of ice climbs are a poor indicator of a reduction in mountain ice as climbers can knock ice down and damage ice falls with their axes and crampons."  One would like to know who these experts are and exactly what they said.  Yes it's true that climbers can damage and make unclimbable certain routes for a time period, but the ice will return each year unless global warming keeps that from happening.

Ice climbs typically follow waterfalls or cliff seeps that freeze up in the wintertime.  There's no way that climber damage to ice in one winter will keep the climb from returning in the next winter.  Actually a lot of ice should return multiple times in the same winter as the seeps and waterfalls continue to flow.  Increased usage by ice climbers might increase the amount of time that a climb is unclimbable during a season, but it won't eliminate the route.  Warming temps, on the other hand, can eliminate the ice permanently.

I'm not an ice-climber, by the way, I do snow and rock instead.  But I know something of the sport and equipment and have seen it done.  I think the Telegraph has got a few ice screws loose here in its effort to push a political viewpoint.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

NY Times' missed opportunity on "How Christian Were the Founders"?

I've been kind of curious about the whole "America began as a Christian nation therefore it must now be considered a Christian nation and it is proper to acknowledge and support Christian dominance in society and government to exclusion and detriment of secular and non-Christian beliefs" concept.  I should probably disclose that I see some possible flaws in the reasoning even if the beginning-as-Christian is true.  But what about the whole assertion without providing evidence that American was founded as a Christian nation?

Unfortunately, the extremely long NY Times Magazine article on this, won't tell you much.  It bumbles around in Texas school textbooks politics and general politics before getting to a wishy-washy claim, also without much evidence, that America was less religious than the Christian fundamentalists claim but more driven by religion than textbooks acknowledge.  The thousands of words never even got around to discussing Christianity's negative and positive effects on slavery, treatment of Native Americans and women, and on foreign policy.

Worst of all, the article failed to provide a metric to use in analyzing how Christian was America in the 18th Century.  I can give two possibilities:  what percent of Americans were Christian back then, or what (subjectively defined) ratio of the intellectual firepower behind America's founding was from Christians.  It's also necessary to define Christian.  Fundamentalists are pretty clear on what that means today:  a set of beliefs about Jesus Christ as the only son of God born of a virgin and killed by men, who rose from the dead after the third day, and whom each Christian must personally accept as his or her Savior.  The fundies get a little fuzzy in applying this definition to 18th Century Americans, but let's be consistent.

As to what percent of the population was Christian, I don't know, but I'm sure it's far less than the nearly everyone, as fundamentalists seem to think is the case.  I would guess over 50% were Christian but not more than 90%, maybe much less.  You have three significant groups to consider:  first, Native Americans east of the Mississippi.  There were still a lot of them in 1776 and many/most weren't Christian.  Second, African and African-American slaves, many of whom were forcibly brought from non-Christian Africa or were the first generation born in the New World, and many weren't Christian as the fundamentalists would define them.  I'd guess nearly none of the slaves brought from Africa were Christian, and half of their children weren't either.  Slaves formed a declining percentage of US population over time.  In 1790 they were just less than 20% of the population, so they would have been more in 1776.  What's unclear is how many were the first or second generation from Africa, although over 600,000 slaves total were brought to North America, mostly in the 18th Century.

The third group would be Jews and other whites who failed to personally accept all tenets of fundamentalist Christianity.  I think saying 5% of all whites fell in this category would be a low estimate.  The three groups together has to be over 10% of the population, maybe much more.

The other metric, looking at the specific Founding Fathers, is a lot trickier.  While all of them were influenced by and generally accepted philosophies that had Christian origins, the ones who could qualify for membership in a fudamentalist Christian church would be a much smaller percent.

It would be interesting for someone to put some time into measuring either of these metrics - say, the time that the NY Times put into writing its article.  I think its clear though that the percent that were Christian by either metric doesn't approach, say, the percent of climatologists constituting a consensus on climate change.  A large non-Christian component of American society was there from the beginning, and deserves its own place in society.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sandwich theory says I should say something nice about Dana Milbank and his global warming column

You're supposed to sandwich your critique with praise on either ends to make it more palatable.  So, I actually liked some of Milbank's previous attempts at humor back when he was doing video.

Now, I'll try to summarize the pain from reading through Milbank's I-blame-Algore-and-climatologists-for-denialist-lies:

Paragraph 1:  Al Gore's crusade is inconvenienced by the snow.

Par. 2, Par. 3, Par. 4, Par. 5:  quotes of wingnuts attacking global warming and Al Gore because of snow.

Par. 6:  first acknowledgment of science, that the snow isn't even mildly contrary evidence to climate change theory.  Newspaper readership drops off the further down you go in a column so putting truth after five paragraphs of misdirection isn't helpful.

Par. 7 and 8:  incoherence.  This stuff is bad enough to quote.  "some rough justice in the conservatives' cheap shots. In Washington's blizzards, the greens were hoisted by their own petard.

For years, climate-change activists have argued by anecdote to make their case. Gore, in his famous slide shows, ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought and the spread of mosquitoes, pine beetles and disease. It's not that Gore is wrong about these things. The problem is that his storm stories have conditioned people to expect an endless worldwide heat wave, when in fact the changes so far are subtle."

So it's not that Gore was wrong or misleading,* it's that somebody interpreted climate change to mean no more snow, and therefore Milbank finds that greens have hoisted themselves on petards.  That makes lots of sense.

I'll interrupt this nonsense for someone who handled the issue much better, Repower America and Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

(Not sure if the video works here - if not, it's at the link.)  Skip to minute 3:30 for the good stuff and a minute later for a comparison about Al Gore that contrasts strongly with Milbank blaming Gore for people's misinterpretation.  Note that Stewart leads off, before the clips of denialists on Fox, with a comparison of them to children that keeps the denialists from getting free advertising.

Okay, back to nonsense. Paragraph 9:  Milbank uses Heritage Foundation as a source of what some enviro, any enviro anywhere, has said about the effects of climate, with the assumption that everything said was inaccurate.  The shrinking feral sheep thing, by the way, really is an effect of localized climate change.  And some (inconclusive) evidence ties climate change to more El Ninos, and El Nino is definitely the cause of the lack of snow in Vancouver and the likely cause of all the snow on the East Coast.  But yes, I will concede that some one or even more than one person out of 6 billion on the planet has indeed overstated the effects of climate change.

Continuing.  Paragraph 10:  filler.  Paragraph 11 and 12 are precious:  "Scientific arguments, too, are problematic. In a conference call arranged Thursday by the liberal Center for American Progress to refute the snow antics of Inhofe et al., the center's Joe Romm made the well-worn statements that 'the overwhelming weight of the scientific literature' points to human-caused warming and that doubters 'don't understand the science.'
The science is overwhelming -- but not definitive. Romm's claim was inadvertently shot down by his partner on the call, the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters, who confessed that "there's a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system" and not enough years of measurements to know exactly what's going on. 'Unfortunately we don't have that data so we are forced to make decisions based on inadequate data.' 

Sounds like Masters is just saying we can't nail down the exact connection between AGW and any one weather incident.  That doesn't contradict or shoot down climate science, which of course is about general climate and not specific weather incidents.  A little too complex for Milbank to understand, however.  I blame Masters for not gearing the info down sufficiently to Milbanks' level.

But wait, there's more!  Par. 13:  "....there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years."

Funny how critiques of one scientist, Phil Jones, and his unsuccessful attempt to exclude two bad papers from consideration by the IPCC becomes "scientists" generally, as well as being magnified to being an overstatement of the threat.  The latest "numerous errors" are mostly poor citation jobs, not actually errors (or in the case of current damages from climate change and risks of Amazonian droughts, areas where the IPCC is likely correct but not completely proven).  Milbank couldn't be bothered with providing a link to back up his claims of numerous errors, which apparently reached him from through the ether.

Paragraphs 14 through 16:  standard Village conventional wisdom, which is to forget talking about climate change, and talk about clean energy jobs.  Milbank improves his batting average here from generally wrong to possibly right.  What he fails to understand is that it's a shame to have to downgrade emphasis of the main issue of climate change.  Maybe if people like him were more accurate, that wouldn't be necessary.  He also misses what effect hot weather has on short-term changes in political views, or the wisdom of Al Gore's suggestion to move the next major climate conference to summer in Mexico City.

In summary, I did enjoy some of the political humor videos that Milbank produced.

*I think Gore can be accused of some relatively minor cases of cherrypicking studies, but Milbank is attacking the generally true statements as being misinterpreted by somebody.  Not sure who, maybe it's Milbank.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Supporting Tibet and West Bank embargoes

American politics has a ridiculously low tolerance of criticism of Israel, so much so that Sarah Palin got away with saying we shouldn't be allowed to "second-guess" the policies of a foreign nation.  It seems like the mainstream tolerates almost no criticism, so what there is comes from looney-tune antisemitism on the far right and ridiculous claims on the left that Israel is exactly like the former South Africa.

The left does have a point when it comes to the occupied West Bank, that Israel has an apartheid policy there.  The comparison to Tibet seems pretty valid to me as well - while the West Bank occupation was provoked and Tibet wasn't, at least the Chinese give the petty rights of citizenship in a dictatorship to Tibetans.

Left-wing radio here in the Bay Area had an Israeli activist talking about how we should boycott companies and products involved in the West Bank occupation (more info here).  I wouldn't support a broad boycott of everything Israeli or everything Chinese, but a boycott related to their illegal occupations sounds proper and well-targeted, even if it's mostly symbolic.

In related news, Matt Yglesias points to the hissy fit rightwingers threw when Jimmy Carter labeled Israeli politics in the West Bank as "apartheid" and notes that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak has just used the same term.  It would be helpful if conservatives could stop having the vapors and drop some of their political correctness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tim Lambert to debate some British denialist

Tim Lambert is debating a Mr. Monckton this Friday - not clear whether the debate will be put online.  I hope so, it would be interesting to watch.  I think cutting edge research scientists haven't done well debating PR types who are willing to lie or deceive.  Tim's climate expertise isn't cutting edge research, it's in refuting climate denialists and their garbage at his website.  The question is whether he can translate the excellent work he does in blogs into the soundbites you need for a debate here.

Tim gets tons of advice in the comments at the link above and again here.  I strongly disagree with the commenters who say Tim should carefully explain the science.  Much more promising are suggestions to use an honest version of the Gish Gallop, something I called the Behar Canter.  A reasonable alternative would be to take one or two attack points against Monckton and don't give up when he won't answer or lies (but be ready to move on if he makes some kind of maybe-it's-a-problem acknowledgment).

The only general argument I'd make is this one, "a take away theme in the debate. Mainstream scientists look at aggregate data to make their case. Skeptics use local and anecdotal data to sow doubt."

UPDATE:  Couldn't get the live video to work.  Hopefully it'll be available some time.  Comments here suggest Tim went with the straight science approach.  I think maybe even more important than the tactic is repetition.  Monckton gets a lot of practice, so I hope Tim has repeat opportunities to get the same.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Cal GOP candidates for governor promise not to fight climate change

It might not seem strange in general for powerful Republicans to wage war against science by promising not to fight climate change, but it's a little different for Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman to do so in the Republican primary for governor.  These are two moderate Republicans running against each other, with no strong conservative rival, both promising to suspend California's main climate change law, AB32, which had been signed and has continued support of our moderate Republican governor.  I even voted for Poizner for statewide office over an uninspired hack that the Democrats nominated.  Maybe I should've gone for the hack.

More info about their stupidities here.  AFAIK they're not denying climate change but just refusing to do anything about it.  State laws like AB32 might be less important if we get strong federal action, but we shouldn't count on it, and the existence of state laws will make those states' congressional reps more interested in broader nationwide action.  This isn't a minor sideshow.  While it will be exceedingly difficult for a non-movie star Republican to win the governor's race, nothing is impossible.

At least as important as all this is a proposed voter initiative (see above link) to fool voters into suspending AB32 until California unemployment drops back to 2006 levels, which could be many years in the future.  It's a pretty clever design by evil people who know they can't just kill the law outright, so we'll have to watch it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A real American version of Question Time

I was as happy as many others in seeing Obama ask Republicans to let cameras in to his Q and A period with them, and to see the Republicans agree to it.  I've written in support of the idea of an American version of Question Time before, and now there's a bipartisan/nonpartisan group organizing to make it happen (sign the petition!).  I think there's a real chance for it - usually it's the opposition party that wants to question the president, but now we have a president who's pretty confident, so maybe both will go for it.

Nate Silver posted his own ideas on how it could work.  My opinion is there should be two types of question time.  One type emphasizes accountability - this would be a more formal process, more like what parliamentary systems do and what Obama did with the Repubs.  The other would emphasize cooperation and policy development under potential bipartisan conditions - this wouldn't even be done at Congress, but with the president sitting down in informal but televised situations to talk to one or two Republicans to give them a chance to convince him that he should adopt a policy of theirs.

The question time with the Republicans was formal, but emphasized bipartisanship and cooperation.  I don't think they need to combine it that way.  There's nothing wrong with the Republicans trying (and failing) to critique Obama, and other circumstances would give better situations to work on cooperative ideas.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

CEI requests a significant percent of all records produced by NASA

Yes, I think that's a little unreasonable of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and of Chris Horner at CEI (via Dot Earth).  As I've mentioned before, I've both filed FOIA-type requests (the California law equivalents) and responded to them.  The two major requests that I filed were attempts to demonstrate legal violations by the agencies.  We were right both times, and neither required this type of abusive fishing expeditions.

Here's just one part of the request:

1. of all records, documents, internal communications, and other relevant covered
material created by, provided to, received, and or sent by an official or employee
of NASA including but not limited to NASSA GISS, that in any way relate to the,
receipt, handling, processing, or disposition of “Freedom of Information Act,” or
“FOIA” requests;

This request doesn't just mean "give us any FOIA request NASA has received" (since Jan 2000, a slight limitation put on it later in the letter), it means give every document that was ever copied and produced in response to any FOIA request that was previously received.  For every FOIA request in the past ten years that produced thousands of documents and tens of thousands of pages of response, they just asked for each one of those searches to be repeated and copied and given to them.

NASA doesn't really have to give all the records requested by this piece of dreck, if I'm remembering my somewhat dated FOIA law correctly, but it shows the lack of care for taxpayer resources by the makers of the request, and total abuse of taxpayer dollars for other parts of the request that fall, barely, within the legal limit.

The quoted excerpt above is part 1 of a seven-part request.  Parts 2 and possibly 7 are also abusive.  Parts 3 through 6 may be okay, but will require extensive review by scientists and by FOIA officers.  I don't know how many more of these are coming from CEI, but at a certain point, enough is enough.

Might also be worthwhile to mention that once, to avoid a similar fishing expedition and waste of California taxpayer money, we contacted a California agency outside of the FOIA-type process we have here and went through voluntarily-provided documents and information that helped us limit our ultimate request.  I've generally followed a similar practice of asking for information informally first, or offering to negotiate ways to limit the burden of an information request.

CEI just wants to spend taxpayer money.

UPDATE:  Eli points out in the comments that copying costs shouldn't be waived.  CEI's claim to be a scientific organization is a sad joke, and as an educational institution it's just ironic.  CEI should have to pay for anything it gets.

Bonus blogging:  take the Risk Intelligence Test, which estimates whether you can accurately predict the likelihood that you're right or wrong about a factual issue.  I scored 85, apparently "very high", slightly underconfident in my answers.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Obama re-reverses on space policy, and I'm glad

In February 2008, Obama was expressing doubt about the Bush plan for manned spaceflight that would replace the Space Shuttle, the Constellation/Ares/Orion program, and suggested delaying it in order to pay for increased funding for science and education.  Some months after that, competing with Hillary Clinton and then John McCain for Florida voters, he reversed and supported the Bush plan, with all the money it entailed in Florida expenditures (and Alabama and Texas, but they weren't in play).

Now Obama has re-reversed and even gone beyond where he was before, cancelling the over-budget and delayed Constellation program entirely.  He didn't kill the manned space program (although that would've been fine with me), but instead will contract out the "space taxi" business to get astronauts to the space station, extend the station's life from 2016 to 2020, and redirect money to research on more advanced heavy lift vehicles that could ultimately get humans out of low-Earth orbit, although not in this decade.

To get the best details currently available, read the pdf (especially page 4).  None of this is guaranteed, by the way, because existing programs will use their pet congressional reps to fight back.  Killing Constellation is good.  Extending the space station lifespan is bad but probably necessary politically and diplomatically.  The slight increase in space station budget to do some actual science is good but only if we're keeping the station.  Switching parts of the manned program to advanced research creates some real-world utility.  There's also $3b of that funding for robotic exploration as precursors of manned flight, which could be a good way to sneak actual science into otherwise wasted money.

Science does well, with earth climate observation getting funding it needs, as does research on green aviation.  Rightwingers who deny climate change are attacking the funding for climate science, without noticing the contradiction in their attempt to shut down science that they claim will ultimately vindicate them.

They say they're fully funding the Hubble replacement, Juno robotic mission to Jupiter, and already-planned future missions to Mars and Europa.  Nothing too surprising - robotic scientific missions have done well (at least in comparison to the manned program).

Then there's my hobbyhorse, the Terrestrial Planet Finder space telescope whose budget was zeroed out by the Bushies in order to fund the manned space program.  Because this mission could detect atmospheric spectra on habitable planets on other starts that could provide pretty-conclusive evidence of life elsewhere.  So just a potential, partial answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Unfortunately, no answer as to whether TPF is coming back.  Page 16 of that pdf I linked to says a new decadal survey will determine astrophysics priorities, which will apparently be released in mid-2010.

We'll see what happens.  Meanwhile, I plan to revolutionize everything with a Facebook group I just established called "Launch the Terrestrial Planet Finder Space Telescope!"  I'm sure this will make it a lock in the future budget.