Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Applying the Chilean fiscal model to California state budgets

I've been meaning to blog about this idea for a while:  the Chilean counter-cyclical fiscal strategy could be used at the state level here in California and elsewhere.  The very simple idea is to run a governmental surplus in good times and a deficit in bad times, so the governmental spending reduces overheated economic bubbles and helps speed recovery from recessions.  They also used independent panels of experts to make sure the government isn't just skewing forecasts so it can spend as it desired.

As the link mentions, the panels correctly determined that copper exports were driven up by a bubble and saved the money, which came in very handy when the price collapsed.  So much for the excuses by many Bush-era policymakers that you can never tell if you're in a bubble until it collapses - you can tell (like the gold price bubble we're experiencing now), you just can't predict exactly when it will collapse.

I think the idea would work better if it begins implementation during a non-recession time period, but I'm not sure that's absolutely required.  It would also be interesting whether local level governments could apply it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Roger Pielke Jr. incorrectly ties flawed Inhofe list to a good study of climate researchers

(UPDATE:  Roger Pielke Jr. asserts I've got it all wrong - see his post starting around comment 89.  He did help clarify one minor point about the Inhofe list that I'm inserting below, but other than that I stand by everything I said here, as well as my posts about misinformation he's given on open-air capture and ocean sequestration.)

(Background on the good PNAS study here - it found that only a tiny number of active climate researchers are unconvinced about human caused climate change, and that the unconvinced ones don't produce as much work nor are cited by others as much as the mainstream scientists).

I'll cut RP Jr. more slack than I otherwise would, because it's his father being categorized as on the losing side of scientific history, and I'd have trouble maintaining perspective myself in that situation.  However, he still needs to be factually accurate, and he isn't when says this:

 "What qualifies one to be on the [PNAS study] APHS10 list of skeptics, which I'll just call the "black list"? ....In fact, it turns out that you don't even have to sign an open letter or argue against immediate cuts for emissions. You can simply appear unwillingly on Senator James Inhofe's list."

Actually, no.  Inhofe and Marc Morano compiled a list of climate denialists that's as flawed as everything else that the denialists put out, and it included climate believers with the skeptics.  RP Jr uses the inclusion of the Inhofe list to discredit the PNAS study, but the PNAS study didn't use the Inhofe list.

Three of us tried to get this clarified/corrected in the comments to Roger's post, with little effect.  He says that the study links to one of the co-author's website who relies on the Inhofe list, which provides legitimacy to a flawed (apparently broader) list.  He won't fix his post, so far.

Incidentally, he hasn't shown where the PNAS author Jim Prall relies on the Inhofe list, so the entire critique could be wrong.  (UPDATE:  Roger's additional comments did help with this at least - Prall uses Inhofe's list here, but never used it as the sole source of information on a skeptic, and again it wasn't used in the PNAS study as Roger says it was.)

Moving on from the Inhofe thing, the whole claim that it's "blacklisting" to point out a viewpoint is held by a tiny and mostly undistinguished group means that Pielke Jr. and the other critics object to an attempt to determine the state of scientific opinion.  I could imagine this type of analysis could apply very usefully to wholly unrelated scientific questions, but apparently Pielke Jr wouldn't want that to happen.

Finally, an interesting choice of tactics here - during the whole stolen climate emails thing, some people wanted to focus on the privacy invasion and illegal theft, which I thought would be viewed as an attempt to distract people from the content when the content wasn't that bad.  Here, denialists and unhelpful types like Pielke Jr. are ignoring the PNAS study content and screaming about blacklists.  Maybe it's like the lawyer's saying that if you can't pound any arguments in your favor, pound the table instead.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saying "genetically modified foods are bad for health" does show epistemic closure

I'll disagree with John Quiggin on this one.  He seems to think the statement, GMO foods are unhealthy, is too broad to be refutable, and therefore people who believe the statement aren't showing epistemic closure.  The problem is that AFAIK there's no evidence to support the statement, so people who are convinced of it in the absence of evidence are showing a certain close-mindedness that's evidence of epistemic closure.  I guess I should hasten to add that I'm no close follower of the field, and I do vaguely recall concerns that gene transfer from allergenic species to non-allergenic species could be dangerous to some people, but there's almost nothing to back up the statement.

There are more valid reasons to be concerned about GMO foods, especially contamination of wild varietals, but the health issue isn't a good one.  Nothing like the level of closure that we see on the right, but it's still there.

UPDATE:  See the comments - John says we may not be in disagreement on the broader allegation over whether GMO foods are unhealthy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In a world where John Hawkins actually makes sense

Via Sadly No, I came across an intramural battle among rightwingers where the semi-famous Debbie Schlussel accuses many other conservative bloggers of being anti-semitic, none of whom seem to belong to the authentic Pat Buchanan branch of conservative anti-semitism.  One of the accused, climate-denying, bet-dodging, completely ridiculous John Hawkins, posted a response that accurately accuses Schlussel of insanity.

I feel like an anthropologist watching two alien cultures fight it out.  Weird.  There have been plenty of dustups on the left, especially during the Democratic primary battles, but they don't seem to be quite this personal.

The other interesting thing is that it seems pretty clear that one side's correct - the non-Schlussel side.  The right has shown zero capacity to see the truth when it comes to science, so it'll be interesting to see if Schlussel proves the right incapable of detecting truth in any controversy.

Strange to read the genius John Hawkins, whom I've been glad to ignore for a few years, and suddenly start agreeing with what he says for more than a half-sentence in a row.

I'll just finish by noting that Sadly No and the commenters there seem to completely miss that there are right and wrong sides in that particular battle.  They could try being a tiny bit less partisan on the left.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Visual proof that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation

I hate it when I have a good idea and then find out someone's already done a better version of the idea.  This happened with my idea of taking a picture with an infared camera of a fire extinguisher discharging CO2, which I figured should basically look like a black plume.

Jeff S., a friend whose PhD in spectroscopy gives him a knowledge base nearing that of my own derived from watching nature documentaries, clarified that the idea required a heat source and that the CO2 be in between the heat source and the camera.  Various details about camera operation and the frequencies it uses could also affect the outcome.  But the principle should work, and I thought it could be an effective educational tool.

And then, Jeff found that BBC's already done it:

(If the embed doesn't work, you can watch it on Youtube.)

More info here, and a NOVA documentary apparently does something similar (I'll provide an update when I watch it).

What could still be useful is a photo instead of a video, not to mention one that's in the public domain so we could put it up on wikipedia.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More on Intrade and the skewed Climate Bet

(Original post here.  Summary:  people trying to criticize Al Gore set up a skewed bet against him on Intrade, which they are in the process of losing anyway.)

As current global temperatures continue being awful, the Intrade bet between exaggerated warming trends for a ridiculously short 3-year period and no warming clearly supports the high end warming at a 3:1 market ratio right now.  A while after my first post on this subject, I contacted Andreas Grafe, one of the people who set up the bet and who works with climate denialist Scott Armstrong.

To Grafe's credit, he did respond to my first email.  He says he never had an opinion on the climate issue and just wanted to set up a prediction market as part of his academic work on those markets.  He also points out that Armstrong would only expect a slightly greater than 50% chance of winning based on a short time frame, and mentions a longer ten-year time frame on an imaginary-money market (Hubdub) that has now shut down.

However.  No response to my pointing out that the IPCC didn't predict a short term rise of .03C/year in 1990, or the differences with modern IPCC predictions.  He did say that they wanted but couldn't get a ten year period from Intrade, but I think and said that a three year period is so short to be virtually useless.  Never heard back from my second email.

I'd hope that after the Climatebet crowing over "winning" the first 20 months of their bet, that Grafe would distance himself from their nonsense.  Maybe he did a little bit, but if he wants to help with useful prediction markets, he needs something better than this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Spilling on the BP oil spill

Random comments:

*Many people might not realize that in hazardous businesses, it usually doesn't even matter if the entity causing the accident was negligent - instead, strict liability applies to require responsibility of anyone who chooses to engage in the type of action where safety may be impossible to guarantee.  Oil companies use their political power to mess up the law, however.

*Lifting the $75m liability cap needs to happen ASAP.  While I think lifting the cap will probably avoid restrictions on ex post facto laws, I'm not 100% convinced.  However, I'm pretty close to 100% convinced that any oil damage occurring after the cap is lifted, from either new oil being emitted or from the spread of existing spilled oil, will be subject to the new law and different cap.  (Worth noting the cap only applies to regular negligence, not gross negligence, and I think there's a pretty good argument for gross negligence here.)

*Anyone who thinks there should be a new cap at $10b is saying the public should be held responsible for damage the spiller causes to the environment that exceeds the cap.

*Contrary to William, I think the pressure not to distribute dividends is legit when that money might be needed to fix the environment and compensate the people who've been wronged.  My suggestion - put the money in escrow to be released with a later dividend if it's not needed.  The stock price should then adjust to reflect the probability that BP won't need to dip into the dividend escrow to pay off its liabilities.

*It's a tougher argument, but also contrary to William, I think there's a legitimate claim that BP should pay for some or all of the costs of the drilling moratorium.  The argument is strongest for costs/lost wages at rigs run by the companies involved in causing the current spill.  The current disaster also makes the potential consequences of a similar disaster elsewhere so much worse that there's a decent argument that the current disaster truly caused the need for a moratorium.  Finally, an ethical argument (not really a legal one, though) - the weak regulations are a result of BP's lobbying, in part, so it doesn't have much cause to say it shouldn't have to pay for a moratorium while the weak regulations are fixed.

*Pretty telling that a developing nation like Brazil required safeguards that the US considered optional.  Pretty strong case demonstrating regulatory capture in the US.

*Without any sophisticated analysis to back it up, I think two years in is the point at which a new administration bears more responsibility for institutional failure than the old one does.  So I still award Bush more blame than Obama for the terrible regulation.  I suppose this doesn't quite fit with how I view responsibility for 9-11, but I'm willing to give some blame in that case to Clinton, while awarding special and majority discredit to Bush for not reacting to obvious warning signs.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More record global heat for May, Jan-May, and a new 12-month record. Maybe the ostriches might even feel it on their beaks beneath the sand.

See Climate Progress for the rundown (GISS tied record for May, longer time periods are records, snow and ice covers are terrible etc.).  I'll just add that UAH satellite records are getting very close to their 13 month running average high, and I think they'll beat it in 2-3 months.

Per my posts on previous months, the scientific relevance is how the trends fit into the giant mountain of evidence of human-caused change.  The news peg is important too to get people to pay attention.

Slightly-related new fact for me:  "the tree rings that diverge from the instrumental record are not all tree ring datasets, but rather a subset of tree ring datasets. In particular, the divergence problem applies to the Briffa 2000dataset taken from trees close to the Arctic Circle. Other tree ring datasets don’t show the same divergence issue"

I thought the leading explanation for why tree rings in recent decades didn't match temperature records was that they were affected by the increased CO2.  I'm not sure exactly how that works if not all trees were affected - maybe Briffa's Arctic species were especially sensitive to CO2.

UPDATE:  Skeptical Science lists potential causes for the divergence and doesn't mention CO2.  Hmmm.  I know I've seen it described that way though.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Projecting global trends from small sample sizes

Here are global trends I've detected, based on admittedly small sample sizes:

1. The emergence of househusband-politicians (sample N=3, possibly 4)

2. Older mothers can't emotionally separate from their juvenile/young adult children as readily as younger mothers (sample N=2, one of them a chimp).

This is still more statistically valid than anything the climate denialists post at Watts Up.

With that profundity, little/no posting for the next week or so.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

University of Virginia shows how many ways Cuccinelli doesn't have a case

Eli Rabett links to University of Virginia's decision to fight back against the denialist idiot state Attorney General's effort to harass the university and climate researchers (context here, the basic idea is to demand every document produced by researcher Michael Mann to see if they can claim a mistake equals fraud). It's just a petition asking the court to tell Cuccinelli to jump in a lake, and full briefing arguments will have to wait. Several things stand out, though.

As Eli had noticed elsewhere, four of the five grants used as the basis of the document demand weren't from the state but from the feds, so the university says the state fraudulent claim law is inapplicable. The fifth, state-funded grant was awarded in 2001, two years before the state law came into effect. Also, the investigative demand failed to state the nature of the conduct constituting the alleged violations of false claim (fraud) law, as required by the law.

The problems listed above may by themselves be enough to let UVa prevail, and they're certainly proof of embarrassing legal work by an incompetent hack (especially that last one). They may be fixable, though. If the federal grants "passed through" UVa instead of being a direct grant to Mann, then the state might be able claim an ownership interest in those grants. If the unversity-funded grant lasted longer than two years, the state might be able to claim the "fraud" occurred when the state law was in effect. Finally, the AG office could red-facedly reissue the demand that meets the letter of the law by stating what conduct constituted fraud.

I've left out the two best reasons for shutting down Cuccinelli, though. The investigative demand can only be issued if the AG has "reason to believe" that UVa has information relevant to a potential fraud, and the demand cannot be so broad as to be burdensome. Cuccinelli has no basis to believe that fraud has been committed and couldn't articulate a basis for fraud when asked. Demanding virtually every document Mann produced, in addition to being burdensome, is evidence that the AG doesn't have a claim and instead is on a fishing expedition to find something.

Cuccinelli might curl up and quit at this point, or he might fight it out. I don't know Virginia legal procedures, but the petition might already be assigned to a particular judge, so they can try and figure out what that judge is likely to do. Best case scenario is the judge/appellate judges write scathing decisions shutting Cuccinelli down for using his political power to harass scientific and political viewpoints he dislikes. Those opinions would be Exhibit 1 in an ethics complaint filed with the Virgina Bar Association. Get this joker disbarred.

UPDATE: Another potential consequence is for UVa to ask the presiding judge to sanction the AG for the frivolous investigative demand, and to repay UVa's attorney fees. Easier to get than an ethics action and embarrassing to the AG, but quite as consequential (UPDATED UPDATE: meant to write "not quite as consequential").