Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tu Quoque or John Quiggin Does the Dozens

Over at Crooked Timber (and on his own blog for the Southerners out there) John Quiggin disposes of the argument that left and right pick the science they like, an argument that the right tosses out like used preservatives

But, far more often their response takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, “you’re another”. That is, they seek to argue that the left is just as tribalist and anti-science as the right. Favored examples of alleged left tribalism included any rhetoric directed at rightwing billionaires ( Murdoch, the Kochs and so on). The standard examples of alleged left anti-science are GMOs, nuclear power and anti-vaxerism, but it is also sometimes claimed that US Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to be creationists.
Allow Eli to restate his position on GMOs, he eats the shit, as does about everyone on God's green Earth.  More details about the position of the blog on GMO's can be found here, and might be summed up as go forward but be observant, which is also our position on nuclear.  As to the anti-vaxers, well, Eli will leave that to Respectful Insolence.

There is, in fact, rather useful research that shows that opposition to GMOs is spread across the political spectrum, and if anything, best correlates to sex (nononono ... not the absence thereof, but the fact that guys will shove any piece of pizza they can find into their mouths, women, not so much).

Quiggin points out that tu quoque, or as your mom put it, because your buddy does it, doesn't mean you have to be stupid.
 I’ll argue over the fold that these examples don’t work. What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it. What passes for political argument is simply a matter of scoring debating points for your side and demolishing those of the others. So, anyone who uses tu quoque as a defence, rather than seeking to dissuade their own side from tribalist and anti-science rhetoric, deserves no more respect than the tribalists and science deniers themselves, who at least have the defence of ignorance.
Go read.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Predictions test

I'm a little delayed on this, but the Keystone decision probably won't happen until after November elections. In that case we'll see whether my prediction that it will go down, if delayed that long, gets verified. Roger Pielke Jr's prediction of approval in February 2013 just keeps getting wronger.

The best political outcome for Democrats is to never approve or disapprove the pipeline, but there's got to be a limit to delay (I think). Still, delay's a partial victory, and it's that much more time for the Canadians to come to their senses and elect a non-idiot as PM.

Not much sense in the first link to Bill McKibben being upset about the delay, unless he figures it's not really about the pipeline at all but about organizing a movement to either build on a victory or to lead the charge against a wrong decision. Hard to organize a movement over some governmental thing that just keeps being nebulous.

I still think that no matter what, this will be part of the 2016 presidential election.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fate of the World - PowerFlip 2036

Dano writes to Eli

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” – Blaise Pascal

Two things the bunnies may have noticed about recent denialist complaining: the recycling of the “models can’t predict” talking point has grown quite loud, assertive and certain, and of course the increase in noise of the “no warming since 1998” talking point. We’re not here at the bar, sharing a carrot juice, to give these serious consideration - except for background to the following, in the context of head bunny Eli’s revealing recent posts about RP Jr/Revkin, and why denialists deny.

First a little background for the journey.

Bunnies may have read Michael Mann’s recent SciAm article about the climate danger threshold. Basically, he calculated when the tipping point would be depending on likely Equilibrium Climate Sensitivities (ECS). The headline of this SciAm piece said it would be the year 2036 – in many of your lifetimes. A good chance not mine, but maybe yours. Mann also said that if the Faux Pause is robust and continues, the tipping point/threshold is extended ~10 years.

As the chorus of voices saying ‘we should do something’ grows louder, getting close on dates (‘by when’) is important (and perhaps the motivation behind the increasing number of disinformation transmissions about “models can’t predict”).

Recently Eli shared with us some of the interesting backgrounds of a couple dwellers in the Wegmanesque Web of so-called “honest brokers”, who want you to believe we shouldn’t rush into things let we upset the delicate confidence of the rentier class job creators. As the bunnies know, the longer we wait the greater the future costs (and less hit to profits next quarter). The last press releases on costs if we start now are a mere annual reductions of global GDP of 1.7% in 2030 and 4.8% in 2100 compared to a baseline growth of 300 to 900% in the century.

This amounts to an annualized cost of 0.06% compared to baseline growth of 1.6 to 3% per year.  In other words, the cost, IF WE START NOW, is in the noise (cue collective gasp from the usual suspects) – this doesn’t comport with the soothing sounds from the honest brokers. And having a date in the near future makes honest brokering seem specious. But golly, maybe it’s too late anyways and so all our money should go into adaptation. So what to believe?

Well, maybe first we should have a better dialogue on what are these ‘thresholds’ or ‘tipping points’ or ‘inflection points’, depending on your discipline – I say “tipping points” in ecological contexts or “a-ha moments” if talking about social diffusion.

What is a tipping point in ecology/society? It is merely this: a point that indicates a change of state to a new state or condition. A “flip” in state, if you will, to a new state. A new system takes over, with new drivers and new outcomes. That’s it.

Depending on the system, that “point” might have a time scale of a year, a day, a decade. The important thing is that there will be a new state, with new drivers, new energy flows, new reactions to disturbance. Biota – living things – now have to react to new inputs, new flows, new  changes in nutrient cycling for which they may or may not be adapted (or have the ability to adapt to).

Since there has been no large-scale state change since the end of the last ice age, human societies have no record to draw on for guidance on how to go forth in this new state (or, also a possibility, transitional state). Doubly troubling – the climate’s temperature has been quite steady since stabilizing after the last glaciation, a rarity in the global record as we understand it.

Is this a “catastrophe” and should the denialists start screaming CAGW!! or what? We don’t know. We’ve never done this before. Risk managers, generals, and some leaders might not like the chance that society as we know it – constructed on $trillions of sunk costs – might change on large scales and some of that investment in society will be literally sunk.

To me, most importantly, we’ve never grown food in a system that’s flipped to a new state – and nested in other systems that may or may not flip, further increasing uncertainty and fostering emergent conditions (that’s ecologyspeak for ‘surprise”). This article on the challenges to adapt food systems to human population and diminished terrestrial resources in 2050 seems to me to have an undercurrent of system brittleness to it, and doesn’t really mention climate disruption to a realistic degree. Pile on the fact that we’ve only just begun to urbanize and we are nowhere close to figuring out how to get along and trade fairly with one another, and the challenges are daunting.

But that is not to say this is a “catastrophe”. There will be monumental changes. There will be risk. And loss. And disruption. And less – there will likely be much less if the population sustains only a small hit. We will have a hard landing or a soft landing, but that depends upon us. Can we actually learn to get along with each other in order to continue after the disruptions?

Maybe the denialists deny because they know they do not get along well with those outside their tribe and they will have to after the tipping point. I won’t give them that much credit for thinking it through, though, and will stick with: denialists deny to protect their self-identity.

One other thing: two interesting recent articles were published in the wake of all this recent publishing and posturing, about our ability to conceptualize and face what’s coming. One from an old, hard environmental activist and one from an environmental history `professor, both saying about the same thing. More pop psychology, anyone? Me, I’ll have another carrot juice from that bartender with the very shiny fur. Mmmmmmm.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Paul Krugman on WGIII

Posted without comment

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong?
Oh, wait.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Academics at Public Universities Win Big Time

ATI vs. Rector was the case where the American Traditions Institute sued UVa to gain access to Michael Mann's Emails.  In a surprising (to Eli) and sensible decision, the Virginia Supreme Court came down with a major decision for academics at public universities

One of the issues in the case was whether UVa and by extension Michael Mann had a proprietary interest in the matters discussed in the Emails.  Given that the Virginia FOIA law specifically exempts proprietary materials and that ATI claimed that proprietary implied the possibility of profit, this would have opened the doors to further mischief.

The door just slammed, at least in VA (emphasis added)

We reject ATI's narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of "proprietary" because it is not consistent with the General Assembly's intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression. This broader notion of competitive disadvantage is the overarching principle guiding application of the exemption.
and they quoted from a brief filed by the UVa Vice Provost John Simon
If U.S. scientists at public institutions lose the ability to protect their communications with faculty at other institutions, their ability to collaborate will be gravely harmed. The result will be a loss of scientific and creative opportunities for faculty at institutions in states which have not established protections under state FOIAs for such communications. . . .
For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia, compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century . . . .
Scientists at private institutions such as Duke, where I previously worked, that are not subject to state freedom of information statutes, will not feel that it is possible to continue collaborations with scientists at public institutions if doing [s]o means that every email or other written communication discussing data, preliminary results, drafts of papers, review of grant proposals, or other related activities is subject to public release under a state FOIA in contravention of scholarly norms and expectations of privacy and confidentiality. . . . Compelled disclosure [in this case] will also impair recruitment and retention of faculty . . . .
I can state unequivocally that recruitment of faculty to an institution like the University of Virginia will be deeply harmed if such faculty must fear that their unpublished communications with the scientific collaborators and scholarly colleagues are subject to involuntary public disclosure. We will also lose key faculty to recruitments from other institutions – such as Duke, if their continued work at University of Virginia will render their communications involuntarily public.
This is indeed a major decision which may stop much of the pursuit of climate scientists by industry, think tanks and denialists.  Eli thanks ATI for bringing this about.  Also thanks to UVa, the lawyers representing UVa, Michael Mann, who has taken a brave decision to fight his pursuers (Hi Steve) and Prof. Mann's lawyers.

Science incompetence doesn't bother me

William decided not to waste making a comment when he could write a post instead speculating on why the denialati do what they do, and I've decided to do the same.

He thinks they're incompetent at the science so they deny it fluffily and therefore never reach the subject of climate policy, which has a broad ideological range of potential solutions that might actually work.

The reason I disagree with that is that unlike William or my cobloggers Eli and John, I'm not a competent scientist and I'm okay with that. I can more-or-less understand the occasional paper I read - discussion sections aren't that hard to follow generally. I don't understand them enough to judge their accuracy or have any insights of my own, but I don't need to and neither would the denialists. An individual, cutting-edge study shouldn't matter to the non-scientist anyway - it's the consensus or lack thereof that can plug into policy analyses.

Being amazingly competent with the science is not so much of an issue - I can disagree with Ray Pierrehumbert on whether regulating methane is important, or with Hansen's ridiculous opposition to cap-and-trade. I'm not arguing with them about the science but about the best political method for solving the problem.

What's bothering the denialists is a lot of things but I think the most important is they can't admit the hippies were right and are right. They believe this all about making them feel guilty and they don't want to feel guilty so therefore this isn't happening. The economic issues making people psychologically incapable of persuasion are there for some denialists or people they know. The economic issues are also important for some factions of their tribe and that has a reinforcing effect, but I think it's ideology that drives it more. The fact that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is completely unacceptable to the conservative side of the spectrum just says a lot about the mental closure and tribal affiliation (I buy some of what Dan Kahan says, just not the whole store).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Frontiers - The Amway Analogy

Amway is an American institution, one of the first and most profitable of the multi-level marketing schemes, where what is really being sold is participation in the scheme not so much the products and the focus is on motivation, but not only motivation to sell, motivation to recruit new sales people, and the payoff is a cut of what the new sales people sell as they order through you.  It is not illegal, but MLM exploits the newbies at the bottom who have to buy their stock and are not always able to sell it as explained at the Skeptic's Dictionary
An Amway customer is not just buying a detergent, but is recruited into being a minister of a faith with a complicated bookkeeping scheme. Why not just go to your local store and buy soap, you ask? Because the agent is someone you know, or who knows someone you know, who's invited you over for coffee to tell you about a great opportunity. Odds are good that you'll either buy something out of politeness or a genuine need for soap or vitamins, etc. Perhaps you will become an agent yourself. Either way, the agent (distributor) who sold you the soap or vitamins makes money. If you become an agent (distributor) then part of every sale you make goes to your recruiter. The new recruit is drawn into the system not primarily by the attractiveness of selling Amway products door to door, but by the opportunity to sell Amway itself to others who, hopefully, will do the same. The products seem secondary to the process of recruitment. Yet, the distributors will learn to talk about little else than the product and its "quality." What justifies MLM schemes is the high quality of their products. What entices the recruit, however, is likely to be the attractiveness of making money from others' sales, not the products themselves.
 Today at Resource Crisis Ugo Bardi pops the cork on Frontiers, describing their business model
Once an editor, I discovered the peculiar structure of the Frontiers system. It is a giant pyramidal scheme where each journal has sub-journals (called "specialties" in Frontiers' jargon). The pyramid extends to the people involved with the scientific editing: it starts with "chief editors" who supervise "chief specialty editors", who supervise "associate editors", who supervise "reviewers". Since each steps involves a growth of a factor 10-20 in the number of people, you can see that each journal of the Frontiers series may involve a few thousand scientists. The whole system may count, probably, tens of thousands of scientists. 
This is the classic multi-level marketing scheme but with a devious twist, because the "chief editors"  (maybe, where the money stops is not clear) the "chief specialty editors"  the "associate editors" and the "reviewers" are working for the titles and glory and the contribution that they are making to Frontiers, not the money that the Frontiers journals charge for open publication, which means for all the services, whatever they are, of publication.   Ugo continues
But my impression is that the pyramidal structure of Frontiers was not created just for speed; it had a a marketing objective. Surely, involving so many scientists in the process creates an atmosphere of participation which encourages them to submit their papers to the journal and this is where the publisher makes money, of course. I cannot prove that the structure of Frontiers was conceived in these terms from the beginning, but, apparently, they are not alien to use aggressive promoting tactics for their business
The beauty of this scheme is shown by what Stephan Lewandowsky wrote when the second retraction statement was issued by Frontiers towards the beginning of the current unpleasantness,
Although there has been considerable media attention, the authors have made few public comments since the paper was retracted. I have continued to serve as a co-editor of a forthcoming special issue of Frontiers, I accepted a reviewing assignment for that journal, and I currently have another paper in press with Frontiers. After the retraction, I was approached by several Frontiers editors and authors who were dismayed at the journal’s decision. In all instances I pointed out that I continued to serve as author, reviewer, and co-editor for Frontiers.
Stephan was (Eli trusts the blinders are off now) a motivated Frontiers editor.  But wait, there is more, Frontiers generates papers and publishing charges by motivating the lower depths of the chain to publish with Frontiers and the upper levels to push their friends to.  One of the ways Frontiers does this is by selling itself as the scientists' journal, their thing, but Frontiers also raises money through the Frontiers Research Foundation which raises substantial funds to "supplement" the publishing charges.


UPDATE:  In the comments John Mashey points to Frontiers' fee schedule which has, toward the bottom, this very Amway statement "Frontiers awards annual honoraria to field and specialty chief editors at threshold levels of success of their journals."

Sweeter still

This explains the over the top way that Frontiers has been handling the Recursive Fury Affair.  If the better parts of the editor network decide that they don't want to donate time and papers to Frontiers, Frontiers is dead, just another fly by night open access publisher begging for papers (paid of course).

UPDATE:  Title changed based on MT's wordsmithing