Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Can you spot a “Delayer 1000”?

Great article over on grist, Please stop calling them ‘skeptics’. It is the third in a series of articles specifically targeting mass media treatment of people who deny global warming (Part 1 and Part 2).

The gist of the grist story (aren’t I clever) is that calling these people global warming skeptics is actually beneficial to their cause. It makes them seem rational and reasonable and not some kind of tree-hugging alarmist. The term implies a wait and see approach. Of course, these people have made up their minds and it isn’t determined by the evidence.

However trying to brand them as global warming deniers hasn’t taken off. It’s probably because the media in general finds that it too closely resembles holocaust denier which can make a journalist a little gunshy. And quite frankly some of these so called skeptics don’t outright deny that global warming is real, so the label simply doesn’t apply. And if the media can’t use a single label then they won’t use it.

The author proposes a “third-way”. He advocates for global warming “delayer”. Since that is the more appropriate term and applies to the commonality of all different brands of global warming skeptics. There are those that acknowledge that global warming is real but that it’s either natural or we don’t have the technology to actually do anything about it. There are, of couse, those that deny that global warming is even a real thing but just some fabricated thing that liberals want to use to control mankind or scientists concocted to get federal research dollars. I think the Jews might be involved in some of these conspiracies somewhere as well but I could be wrong.

The author, Joseph Romm, actually would like to expand the term to “delayer-1000”, the 1000 indicates the level of concentration of CO2 (1,000 parts per million) that will be in our atmosphere by 2020 if current trends continue. Therefore, people like James “Dinosaur Farts” Inhofe and Michael “hasn’t written a decent book since Jurassic Park” Crichton are really global warming “delayer-1000’s”. Of course, a term like that begs for a definition. This seems like a good idea because the definition can begin to put these numbers, and more importantly what it means, into the public consciousness.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the series of articles, “delayer-1000” just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the way Global Warming Skeptic does. I also wonder if a science writer at a newspaper or magazine will want to constantly be defining what “delayer – 1000” means. I guess that depends on how quickly that meme takes hold.

Filed under: Environment, , , , , , ,

Who was Frederick Seitz and why would I care?

I kept seeing these new items popup…

…and never quite connected the dots. When I took a moment to actually read one of the articles I realized now why that name seemed familiar. He was the guy who conned rounded up a number of other global warming skeptics and got them to sign a petition stating that global warming was not only not caused by man but that it isn’t even happening.

I remember looking into this guy a number of years back and found out that he was employed by RJ Reynolds to dispute that smoking does not cause 80-90% of all lung cancers. Oops he picked the wrong side of that debate. But it’s interesting that a doctor would be so misinformed. What’s that? Oh he wasn’t a doctor he was a physicist? Okay that seems a bit of an odd choice of an expert to pick for your medical review committee.

Actually that seems a bit odd that your leading scientist in your list of scientists who deny global warming isn’t even a climatologist or related field. I distinctly remember something smelling fishy about that whole publicity stunt.

Filed under: Environment, , , ,

Collapse, A Review

Cross-posted at Freethought Fort Wayne.

I have finally completed Jared Diamond‘s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Once again Jared Diamond has created a compelling and epic work detailing the reasons civilizations, modern and ancient, have chosen to collapse. Chosen being the operative word. The author details compelling reasons why societies have made choices that have direct and long-term negative impacts to the health of their societies.

I could blog endlessly about the stories and lessons that could be mined from this book. To spare everyone that grief I’ll simply highlight some of the… uh… highlights.

  • Montana, what are the lessons that can be drawn from the mining industry that has been the source of environmental problems practically in our backyard? And why are the executives of Pegasus Gold bastards.
  • Easter Island, What really happened to the original inhabitants of Easter Islands. Hint: It doesn’t involve alien astronauts (I’m looking at you von Daniken).
  • Vikings in Greenland, why were the Vikings able to last for centuries in Greenland and then “suddenly” disappeared. And perhaps more importantly why have the Inuit been so much more successful, sort of.
  • The Genocide in Rwanda, what were the underlying causes of the Rwandan genocide, primarily perpetrated by the Hutu on the Tutsi. What would explain the Hutu on Hutu killings?
  • Hispaniola, Why do the Dominican’s owe much of their stability, environmental good fortune and higher economic status to a brutal dictator? Why do the poverty-stricken and environmentally devastated Haitians owe their misfortune to French democracy?
  • “Mining” Australia, what are the consequences of British values on Australian soil. And what’s up with all those damn rabbits.

In addition to the previous stories are others that include, China, Japan, Indonesia, the Mayans and the Anasazi. Surprisingly the common threads that the author seems to tease from the history books and the clarity of hindsight are issues that modern man faces today. Climate change, intervention from outside societies and, perhaps most importantly, environmental mismanagement.

He goes on to detail in the last 100 pages or so the Practical Lessons that can be learned and immediately applied to this modern world. Mr. Diamond does an awesome job of applying the practical lessons directly to the stories he’s woven throughout the book. I could list out some of the reasons he comes up with but they lose their impact if they are not delivered to the reader within their proper historical context.

It’s easy to view this book (especially after this review) in a pessimistic light. And quite frankly there are a number of reasons why you should have a pessimistic outlook when you see some of the same disastrous choices being made today (ah-Bush-choo!). But Jared Diamond remains optimistic. He sees shafts of light, not only from “bottom-up” NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Forest Stewardship Council but also from “top-down” initiatives being instituted by governments who recognize the value of their environmental (and renewable) assets, such as the Dutch polders and off the top of my head the quotas imposed on crab fishing in the Bering Sea (most famous as the location of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch series).

If you pick up this book you will read about Chevron’s Kutubu oil fields in Papua New Guinea and their absolutely amazing and minimal environmental impact. It’s even more starkly contrasted with the environmental devastation of the Indonesian government’s Salawati Island oil fields off the coast of New Guinea. What you will hopefully learn from this book is that Chevron (the big evil oil company with an impeccable environmental record) is very much aware that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It took Exxon years to recover their former standing with consumers after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. When you have a choice to purchase gas from Texaco or Exxon people still to this day will pick Texaco because Exxon “was that company that killed all those poor birds and poisoned those penguins”.  In fact, Exxon was recently in the news again because of that accident from literally 2 decades ago, the PR (and 2.5 Billion dollars in punitive damages, yes billion) from that one oil spill is still being felt today.

The question is who do you boycott when a lumber company clear cuts hundreds of acres of lumber from old growth forests? Whose products do you avoid when a mine in Montana declares bankruptcy to avoid the exorbitant environmental remediation necessary to prevent the abandoned mine from poisoning an entire watershed? I don’t know either. Those are commodities that are in everyday products. You don’t boycott your cellphone because it has copper in it. Do you not buy a book shelf at Home Depot because it might be from one of these lumber companies. These are obviously rhetorical questions because we all know we don’t because we don’t have that direct connection between those companies and your choices as consumers.

I want to leave those who read my review with the biggest take-away lesson for myself. There are things you and I can do to begin to apply social and economic pressures to industries. When you purchase lumber look for wood marked with the Forest Stewardship Council’s seal, for example. Find products that have some assurance that they are being harvested, cut, fished, bred and grown in a sustainable way. This will protect our fisheries, forests and future.

Filed under: Environment, Reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Encyclopedia of Life is… um.. alive!!!

I have been waiting for quite some time, May of 2007 to be exact, for this but the Encyclopedia of Life is now online with it’s first 30,000 species. Although it looks like I’ll have to wait a bit longer since the site seems to be overwhelmed right now, which I suppose is a good sign.

For those who don’t know what the EOL is here is my short blurb from last year about the site.

[ The Encyclopedia of Life] will attempt to compile a complete list of all known species (about 1.8 million, yowza) and estimate it will take 10 years to complete. After all the known species are compiled they will open it up to extinct species (such as dinosaurs).

 There are some fundamental differences between Wikipedia and the EOL. Wikipedia is open to all to contribute whereas “the key detail and science parts of the [EOL] will be compiled and reviewed by experts.” They are both similar in that they will be free to anyone to use and contribute.

However, there are 2 cool features that really separate this project apart. The first is will allow the information contained on a given species to be “graded” into multiple level and will allow school-age children (and me) access to less technical scientific data and researchers, biologists and graduate students (not me) a much greater level of detail. Check out the polar bear example to see this in action. The second will allow anybody to contribute sightings, photos or video, to any given species.

Filed under: Environment, Internet, Science, ,

Takes one to know one

I recently posted my thoughts on the Epidemiology of Global Climate Change. In that post I detailed 3 arguments global warming skeptics often employ to prove why global warming isn’t real.  I addressed in the previous entry the more important question regarding not only why global warming is real but that man is the cause. I would like to take a moment and quickly dispatch one of the other arguments. It turned out to be relatively easy once I spent a moment to think it through. I will reiterate the position,

1) I’m (the Skeptigator) not a climatologist and therefore unqualified to make any reasonable judgment on my the validity of climate science, which is true.

On its face this seems like a fairly substantial argument. This argument itself is a logical fallacy, actually you could group it into a number of them but the most relevant to this post is the “Unstated Major Premise“. The unstated premise here is that the global warming denier (who is usually not a climatologist themselves) is rejecting out of hand the science of global warming. I am simply supporting the position of the experts, the denier is actually making the implied statement, “I am fully qualified to reject all of the evidence for global warming” however this statement is implied in their accusation against you. Hence the very clever title to this post.

The science behind global warming while admittedly not as concrete as say gravity or evolution there is still a preponderance of evidence in suppport of a anthropogenic (man-made) cause of global warming.

So the next time someone accuses you of not being qualified simply say to them, “I know I am but what are you”

Filed under: Environment, , ,

More Junk in the Vertebrate Trunk

I apologize for the lame title but it made me laugh, and I think we all realize how important that is.

Here’s another article, “Junk” RNA May Have Played Role in Vertebrate Evolution, that details recent research that finds that formerly designated “Junk” RNA (similar to “Junk” DNA but different) may have actually assisted in the evolution of vertebrate species from their invertebrate pre-cursors.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the term “Junk” DNA or RNA is such an arrogant, self-damaging statement that it literally irritates me. Now I will say I see the term Junk DNA is now being used with quotes, perhaps this is the beginning of the move away from the term, also all of the quotes from the scientist do not use the term Junk DNA so perhaps my irritation should be directed at the journalist instead, however the meme has been started and it will take time for it to end.

Filed under: Environment, Evolution, , , ,

CO2 Weight Translation

Because I’m a nerd I found this article, What is the weight ratio of CO2 released to fuel burned, over at Sciam interesting. It’s part of their Ask An Expert series.

Thus, the weight ratio of CO2 produced per octane molecule burned is 352/114, or roughly 3 to 1.

The only problem with this little factoid is that I can’t translate this into my reality (let’s assume I don’t understand chemistry so well, you know, for the sake of argument). So I googled this little factoid out of a page on the EPA’s website, Emission Facts: Average Carbon Dioxide Emissions resulting from Gasoline and Diesel Fuel.

CO2 emissions from a gallon of gasoline = 2,421 grams x 0.99 x (44/12) = 8,788 grams = 8.8 kg/gallon = 19.4 pounds/gallon

CO2 emissions from a gallon of diesel = 2,778 grams x 0.99 x (44/12) = 10,084 grams = 10.1 kg/gallon = 22.2 pounds/gallon

And before you think diesel is still evil remember that it is more fuel efficient than gasoline. So while you may be polluting more per gallon you are still going much further per gallon, I’ve read but can’t seem to find right now that using gasoline and diesel engines in comparable vehicles that the diesel equipped vehicle will get on average 10-15% in increased MPG over it’s gasoline counterpart.

Here’s some more goodies on converting gas/diesel to CO2 from wikipedia, including a write up of the new EPA CAFE standards for evaluating fuel efficiency in model year 2008 and newer vehicles.

I know Consumer Reports has been a big advocate in trying to change the CAFE rating process to more accurately reflect today’s driving conditions. Here’s a recent article on their blog regarding what it would really take to get the U.S. to 35 mpg. Keep at it guys.

Filed under: Environment, , , , , ,

The Epidemiology of Global Climate Change

I am first going to admit to 3 things. I am not a doctor, I am not a climatologist and I know you can’t have an epidemiology (see definition) of global climate change. Oh and the book Conjuring Science (see Brain Food) inspired me to write this post.

I have been having a number of discussions regarding Global Warming with someone who I very much wish could see past their conservative politics and actually appreciate the considerable scientific evidence. Personally I think he disagrees with the policy recommendations that many global climate change “believers” propose and therefore rejects the science of global climate change. Obviously this is backwards but nonetheless his position.

I searched for sometime to come up with a good way to explain why I personally accept global climate change. He has put forth a number of different reasons why global warming isn’t real (Milankovitch cycles, delayed CO2 forcing) but there are a few statements that I think are the most common and the most credible accusations to the average Joe,

  1. I’m (the Skeptigator) not a climatologist and therefore unqualified to make any reasonable judgment on my the validity of climate science, which is true.
  2. He brings up Global Cooling and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb as recent examples of science having it wrong and therefore what makes Global Climate change as a scientific position that much better than those.
  3. His last allegation is that if you follow the money, those scientists who say global warming is real get funding, those who don’t are marginalized within the scientific community and therefore do not get the funding. This creates a disparity in the ability of believers finding evidence and deniers not being able to have the resources to find evidence.

As I have time and as I become confident that my rebuttals are logically sound and easily explained to a non-believer I will post them. What I would like to do is explain my rebuttal to the first allegation.

Let me first say that this claim is probably some kind of logical fallacy, probably some variation of the Argument from Authority, meaning if I were some kind of authority I therefore could be believed to be speaking the truth but since I’m not therefore I am not speaking the truth. This might not be correct but let’s be realistic even if it were true pointing out logical fallacies really carry any weight for a normal person. I can’t say, “That’s an Argument from Authority logical fallacy and therefore I don’t have to dignify your statement with a response.”

Anyway, perhaps the best analogy is the science behind smoking and your health. Put simply, we know that smoking is bad for your health by the same methods that we know that global warming is caused by mankind. Let me be clear I don’t know anyone that denies that the Earth is warming anymore, the argument usually lies in whether mankind is the cause (and what we should do about it, but let’s figure out how to accept responsibility first and then work from there).

There are 2 primary methods for doing studies regarding the effects of smoking on health. There are empirical methods (or replicatable demonstrations) for determining causation and there are statistical methods for determining causation. Well, first and foremost you really can’t use replicatable demonstrations since you can’t take one person and clone them and then make one smoke and one not smoke and then see which one got lung cancer or emphysema. Not only is this scientifically impossible it’s probably ethically wrong even if it were. So we are stuck using admittedly an inferior way of knowing something by using epidemiological-statistical methods.

Epidemiological-statistical methods can never give you 100% certainty they can only give you varying confidence levels. A particular study by the EPA will come to the conclusion that second-hand smoke is detrimental to your health with a confidence level of 95% (p <.05). What does that mean? It means that the scientists are pretty damn sure that the results of their study show that the net effect is detrimental to your health. In fact, when it comes to this kind of study having a p-value less than or equal to .05 is about as certain as you are ever going to get.

There are enough studies out there that the preponderance of the evidence/results of these studies show that a staggering 87% of all lung cancer in the U.S. is the direct result of smoking. These studies had to use epidemiological methods for determining that smoking/tobacco use were the single largest contributing factor to the development of lung cancer. If you control for age, weight, sex, ethnicity, income, access to healthcare, work environments and whatever else they do science finds over and over again that smoking is the key factor.

What does this have to do with global warming? You guessed it. We can’t rely on empirical methods alone for determining causation of global warming for several reasons. First and foremost, the time scales involved are too great for humanity to be able to make any reasonable, direct observations, second the scope of observing planetary changes and interactions to the climate in real-time is beyond our current technology. So what are we left with? Our understanding of small-scale, regional effects on weather and lots of statistical data. We know that when you remove most of the trees from a large tropical island there is marked decrease in rainfall. Why is that? It’s because the removal of those trees has interfered with the natural cycling of water from ground to atmosphere. This example is a good demonstration of the kind of man-made interference that has local effects that can be understood and more importantly it reveals important mechanisms of how our planet works.

We can analyze all of this statistical data (with computer models, simulations) and begin to make predictions about what should be happening in the future and validate those predictions against what should have happened in the past. We can continue to refine these models as our understanding of different variables increases. Obviously this is an oversimplification of the process involved but the basic idea is there. Over time we have slowly “controlled” for factors as we were able to measure them, understand their impact and interactions in a very complex system. We have gotten to a point that the evidence is significant enough that the IPCC not only released a consensus report on the reality of global warming but gave a 90% confidence level that mankind is responsible for that warming. What gets lost in translation for many people is that a scientific consensus is a significant thing and that a 90% confidence is pretty damn confident. To put that in perspective, I’m mixing sciences here, many studies regarding the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke have confidence levels of 80-85%. Is long-term exposure to second-hand smoke detrimental to your health? Who knows? But we are 90% sure that mankind is responsible for global warming.

Do I personally think a lot of the rhetoric surrounding global climate change and the imminent disaster to mankind is alarmist? Yes. I personally think people are turned off by all the doom and gloom that surrounds global climate change. The opposing viewpoints are too often given equal weight in the media and too often the talking heads from either side are the worst kind of caricatures, you have the “poor gas in the lake it don’t matter” deniers on one end and the “shit in a bucket and smoke eat grass” hippies on the other.

I think if people could accept that we are the cause of Global Climate Change we can begin to make some concrete changes NOW for our future. Let’s do it now while the cost of those changes is small. Should gas be artificially jacked up to $10.00/gallon? No that’s stupid. Let’s do some reasonable things. Start replacing the most commonly used light bulbs in your house with CFLs. The new 2008 EPA CAFE standards in the U.S. are a good start, let’s keep raising the bar. There’s a whole bunch of common sense things that can be done now. I’ll have to compile a list of things sometime.

Filed under: Environment, Health, , , , , , ,

I could have sworn it was cellphones…

Recent research indicates that one contributing factor to the mysterious colony-collapse disorder (CCD) of bee populations may be a virus (IAPV and first identified in Israel) spread from Australia.

This is a great article because it details the painstaking process that many researchers are going through in order to identify the cause (or causes) for CCD.

One comment though, one of the experiments involved reestablishing a healthy colony after irradiating a bee hive with gamma rays. Wouldn’t that create Incredible Honey Bee Hulks?

 … oh wait…

I just checked my Comic Book Science Journal and the bees have to be IN the hive and THEN subjected to gamma rays.

My bad.

 Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Environment, , ,

Alan Wiseman on Jon Stewart

Previous to the Colbert Report last nightJon Stewart had Alan Wiseman, author of The World Without Us, as a guest. I will repost when the video shows up on the Mother Load.

 Also check out the link to the book’s website, there are a bit corny “Your house without you” animation and better but too short “New York Without us” slideshow.

Filed under: Environment, Internet, , , , , ,


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