Exciting Way to Learn About Science

The Team America Rocketry Challenge has a contest for college scholarships and, by participating, you can learn a great deal about science and have a lot of fun. I loved shooting off rockets as a boy. However, you’ll have to act fast as the deadline to sign up to participate is in ten days.

President Obama has supported this along with another science challenge for students recently and I want to congratulate him for doing so. It is vitally important to improve America’s standing in science and math knowledge among our young people.

Degenerating Discourse in Climate Science

I want to thank Dr. John Knox for bringing the harassment of climate scientist Dr. Katherine Hayhoe to my attention.

Dr. Hayhoe, of Texas Tech University, is a mainstream climate scientist — by all accounts an honest and ethical researcher — who has been on the defensive due to vulgar attacks from people who do not agree with her. Apparently, all of this started because of something to do with a book by Newt Gingrich (I have not delved into this part of the controversy).

There is far, far too much of this nonsense — from both sides — involving climate science. While there is nothing wrong respectfully with challenging people’s scientific conclusions (that is how science advances), there is everything wrong with personal insults and attacks. It needs to stop.

Let’s stick to science!

Thanks, again, John.

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"Open Access to Environmental Data" Would Be a "Perversion"

Last Wednesday, I wrote about the evasion of Freedom of Information laws and other shenanigans by the usual cadre of pro-global warming advocates under the guise of science. In the posting, I wrote:

Is this the behavior of people who are confident in their position?

So, I’m not surprised that this nonsense continues — as recently as last week.

Steve McIntyre, who I think is worthy of a Pulitizer Prize for his investigative reporting, documents more attempts to hide data and keep the work of the pro-global warming International Panel on Climate Change secret.

As I said in the original posting: The replication of scientific results is an absolutely essential part of the scientific method. If results are not reproducible, they are not science.

While I disagreed with some of the early results of the IPCC’s fifteen years ago, I respected the process. It has since devolved into a largely closed advocacy group that uses sloppy science to achieve its results. My expectations for their newest report — due out later this year — are extremely low.

Two Sides Talking Past Each Other

Two new laws have just taken effect with regard to evolution and schools:

The theory of evolution has become a flashpoint for religious conservatives, many of whom argue that the idea of life evolving over billions of years clashes with Biblical beliefs. Republican State Rep. Gary Hopper, who with his Republican district mate John Burt introduced HB 1457, told the Concord Monitor that the theory of evolution teaches students that life is nothing but an accident.

“I want to introduce children to the idea that they have a purpose for being here,” Hopper told the newspaper.

By request, we covered this topic — the trumped up ‘conflict’ between religion and science — on this blog a little less than two months ago. If this topic interests you, please read my thoughts and the subject. The bottom line is that there is no genuine conflict between religion and science.

From where I sit, political action groups — on both sides — like to hype the supposed conflict for their own purposes.

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The National Association of Scholars Takes on Climategate…

…and they get it just right. It begins,

Climategate, both 1 and 2, are textbook cases of gross lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance.

Author H. Sterling Burnett goes on to say,

Climategate parts one and two are a series of leaked e-mails from arguably the most prominent researchers promoting the idea that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. The e-mails show the scientists involved to be violating their professional ethics with the result that climate science in particular and science as an institution more generally is brought into question. 
The first group of e-mails released in 2009 showed scientists attempting to suppress or alter inconvenient data, destroying raw data so that others would be unable to analyze it, using tricks to change reported outcomes, conspiring to avoid legally required disclosure of taxpayer-funded data, and trying to suppress dissent by undermining the peer review process.  On the latter point the researchers involved threatened to boycott and get editors fired at journals publishing findings questioning the urgency of the climate crisis. 

before he goes on to examine a number of the Climategate emails themselves, he wraps up his piece with,

To be clear, these e-mails do not disprove that humans are causing potentially catastrophic global warming. Whether or not humans are or are not, in fact, causing or contributing to dangerous climate change, the only thing clear that emerges from the Climategate e-mails is that the scientists claiming that “the science is settled” and that there is “consensus” among scientists that humankind are acting as planet killers, can’t be trusted, nor can their research be pointed to as solid proof of anthropogenic global warming. 

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Please read the whole thing.

As I have said numerous times on this blog, I am appalled at the excuses, rationalizations, and the “nothing to see here, move along” attitude of mainstream science toward Climategate. It is corruption of science at its worst.

What I Believe Regarding Climate Science

A relatively new reader of this blog (see comments under “Meat Eater” post) requested that I state my views on climate science and I am happy to do so.

For people new to climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an agency of the United Nations charged with making recommendations about what to do about climate change. Climate change is a given in their charter and mission statement. Because this is the “official” climate change body, I’m using their predictions to represent the pro-GW warming case. The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
As background, temperatures were at least as warm as they are today both 1,000 and 2,000 years ago during the Medieval and Roman warm periods, respectively. There is nothing unprecedented in today’s temperatures.
Based on the best scientific evidence I have reviewed, human beings – on balance – warm the planet. The magnitude of the warming is less than the IPCC believes.
Yes, there is a “greenhouse effect” where additional concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses trap earth’s outgoing radiation and, through a physical process, heat the planet. However, the effect is logarithmic as indicated in the graph below:
click to enlarge, from WattsUpWithThat
To better visualize a logarithmic effect, consider a hot tub. If you wished to trap the heat of the water, you might put a cover with an inch of insulation over it. That would trap the heat. If you wanted to trap more and more heat, you might but a second and third inch of insulation over the water. However, by the time you put a 20th inch of insulation, there would be little additional heat trapping. The same is true with CO2 as indicated on the graph. Additional CO2 concentrations produce less additional warming. 
Using this graph, we would expect an additional 1.1°C of warming as CO2 concentrations continue to double from their 1950’s values. Almost no one believes that would be a major problem. Indeed, it is likely that a small amount of additional warming is a net benefit to mankind. Even the IPCC acknowledges this.
“The message I have for climate deniers is this: you are endangering humankind,” Boxer said during a press conference in the Capitol.
                   – Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Dec. 6, 2011
So, from where does the concern about catastrophic global warming, such as the comment above,  originate?
The IPCC, in its reports to date, chooses not to quantify the known cooling effect of volcanoes. They do not attempt to quantify the potential cooling effect of cosmic rays. They assume (without much evidence) the sun will not bring about cooling temperatures. Finally, they assume that the net effects of clouds, atmospheric particles, and all other effects cause additional warming, a process they call “positive feedback.” From these assumptions, they predict much larger temperature rises than 1.1°C. Obviously, I disagree with these assumptions.
During the 1990’s these larger warming estimates looked good. You frequently saw graphs like this in newspapers. The IPCC predicted continued rapid warming. It took a great deal of courage to be a “skeptic.”
However, since 2000, you rarely see the temperature graph because it has certainly not turned out the way the IPCC forecast.
There is a more important metric of earth’s temperature which is ocean heat content (water can hold much more heat than air). Ocean heat content has been flat along with temperatures over the last ten years. This clearly indicates the computer models used by the IPCC are too warm and/or the omission of these other factors (volcanoes, etc.) are critical errors. 
The bottom line: If solar and cosmic ray effects stay constant, we will have about 1°C of additional warming. That is a small net problem and does not justify either major or urgent efforts. 
My bigger concern than global warming is that there are indications there could be significant cooling due to what appears to be a cooling sun. That would be a major problem for mankind due to shorter growing seasons and less agricultural productivity. Ironically, if the sun is indeed cooling, then the additional CO2 in the atmosphere would be of great benefit as it would both lessen the amount of cooling and it enhances agricultural productivity.
Finally, there is no persuasive scientific evidence that storms+droughts+cold+heat+hurricanes, etc., etc., are getting worse due to global warming.
An excellent global warming FAQ written by a meteorologist and statistician is here

And the #1 Posting Is…

…to conclude the celebration of the two year anniversary of this blog, the all-time champion posting is:

Nuclear Power in Perspective. This posting was linked to by numerous other bloggers and news sources. I think it stands up well as one of my goals is to help focus people on real dangers rather than the ones our society seems to focus on (i.e., TSA).

New generation nuclear power has tremendous potential while being extremely safe. We should not let this opportunity pass us by due to overblown fears of the word, “nuclear.”

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Christmas Gifts for Budding Scientists

I have often lamented the state of science education for children.

So, for the Christmas 2011 season, I am going to provide some suggestions for Christmas gifts for the budding scientist in your family.

While not a directly educational toy, it does show the principle of compressing gas and it is fun. It will get the kids outside (and I don’t mean just boys).  This one gets a thumbs-up from me.

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"The Authors Use a Disinformation Approach to Present Their View"

says meteorologist and climatologist Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. commenting on yet another advocacy piece masquerading as a scientific paper in the October issue of Physics Today.


Like the AMS Bulletin’s recent paper on religion and global warming, these commentaries (which is really what they are) should be in the Letters to the Editor or Op-Ed sections of these journals. They should not be in the “papers” section because they have nothing to do with the science itself.

I’m all for people expressing their opinions. But, opinion pieces should me accurately labeled as such.

Today’s Silly Science

Science news from Europe:

“I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.
“Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they could get into serious legal bother.
EU regulations, which aim to uphold food standards across member states, are frequently criticised.
Rules banning bent bananas and curved cucumbers were scrapped in 2008 after causing international ridicule.

More, click here.

Hat tip: Instapundit

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The False Conflict Between Science and Religion

The October, 2011, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published an article, “Making the Climate a Part of the Human World,” by Simon Donner. Dr. Donner is a geographer at the University of British Columbia. The peer-reviewed article contends there is a conflict between religion and the science behind human-caused global warming. In the words of the author, “In these [religious] belief systems, humans may indirectly influence the climate through communication with the divine [i.e., prayer for rain], but they cannot directly influence the climate”[humans cannot intentionally or inadvertently modify the climate, i.e., cannot cause global warming]. [Note: Bracketed comments are mine.]

I encountered that same sentiment as a guest on a radio program this past summer.  To both Dr. Donner and one of the hosts of the program, this supposed religious conflict accounts for unbelief in catastrophic global warming.

I have a one-word reply: Nonsense.

Ever wonder why there are hospitals with names like St. John’s, Beth Israel, or Baptist College of Health Sciences? Or, great universities with names like Notre Dame (Latin for “Our Lady,” the Mother of Jesus)?  It is because Judeo-Christian culture is in fact pro-science.

The Catechism (official beliefs) of the Catholic Church states,

“Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God.”

The Baptist Standard (February, 2009) states,
 
More than 900 congregations in the United States and elsewhere were signed up for Evolution Weekend 2009, an annual event that began with a letter-writing campaign in 2004.

That summer, the school board in Grantsburg, Wis., passed a policy requiring that all theories of origins be taught in the district schools. A Christian minister penned a short response letter saying the dichotomy between science and religion was false.

Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Science at Butler University, worked with about 200 clergy across Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution.

Both religion and science strive for the same goal: Truth. The difference is in techniques and subjects examined. As stated above in both the Catechism and the Standard, authentic science never conflicts with the faith. For example, this blogger believes the passage in Genesis where God says, “Let there be light” refers to the same event as astronomy’s “Big Bang.” Not only don’t they conflict, did you know that the Big Bang was first proposed by a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaitre at the Catholic University of Louvain?

Just as there is no conflict between creation (“let there be light”) and science (the Big Bang) at the beginning of the universe, there is no intrinsic conflict between evolution and religion as the universe unfolded. God just as easily could have imbued creation with the chemical matter and physical laws that lead to the evolution of the species as He could have created each species individually.

Does man affect the climate? Absolutely. Human effects at a local level are well known and accepted. The global scale is where things get much more difficult: Solar, volcano, aerosols (tiny particles in the atmosphere), cosmic rays, whether changes in cloud cover cause net warming or cooling are all tremendous uncertainties. 


Regardless of what one’s opinion of global warming might be, what does a discussion of religion have to do with it? True science demands concrete proof as defined by the Scientific Method. The catastrophic global warming hypothesis falls short of the level of proof required which, I fear, is why these irrelevant side issues keep coming up. 

My conclusion: Science and society would be better served if atmospheric scientists focused on the science to the exclusion of these side issues. If believers in catastrophic global warming want to convince people of the correctness of their case they should start, for example, by explaining why neither the IPCC’s reports nor their multiple forecast models anticipated the current dozen years without global warming.

Come up with solid, reproducible answers and open-minded skeptics like me are far more likely re-evaluate our positions than by producing and publishing papers of dubious pertinence.

(c) 2011, Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

This Week’s Silly Science Study

When you see this photo, from the online Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue, what do you think of?

Apparently, it is news to science that you did not immediately think of her mind.

This from a new peer-reviewed research paper:
Past research, feminist theory and parental admonishments all have long suggested that when men see a woman wearing little or nothing, they focus on her body and think less of her mind. 

Aren’t you glad your tax dollars paid for the research to come to that shocking conclusion?

Without Heretics, Science Would Not Progress

The Wall Street Journal tackles a subject we’ve talked about on this blog a number of times. This topic is especially important given the concerns about global cooling (see posting below):

The list of scientific heretics who were persecuted for their radical ideas but eventually proved right keeps getting longer. Last month, Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of quasicrystals, having spent much of his career being told he was wrong.

“I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying,” he recalled, adding that the doyen of chemistry, the late Linus Pauling, had denounced the theory with the words: “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”

The Australian medical scientist Barry Marshall, who hypothesized that a bacterial infection causes stomach ulcers, received similar treatment and was taken seriously only when he deliberately infected himself, then cured himself with antibiotics in 1984. Eventually, he too won the Nobel Prize.

Drs. Shechtman and Marshall are on a distinguished list. Galileo, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein all had to run the gauntlet of conventional wisdom in the scientific establishment. For a profession whose very product is new knowledge, science seems strangely resistant to novelty.


That last sentence really rings true.  The author of this piece closes his article with this:


Perhaps it’s at least worth guessing which of today’s heretics will eventually win a Nobel Prize. How about the Dane Henrik Svensmark? In 1997, he suggested that the sun’s magnetic field affects the earth’s climate—by shielding the atmosphere against cosmic rays, which would otherwise create or thicken clouds and thereby cool the surface. So, he reasoned, a large part of the natural fluctuations in the climate over recent millennia might reflect variation in solar activity.

Dr. Svensmark is treated as a heretic mainly because his theory is thought to hinder the effort to convince people that recent climatic variation is largely manmade, not natural, so there is a bias toward resisting his idea. That does not make it right, but some promising recent experiments at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) raise the probability that Dr. Svensmark might yet prove to be a Shechtman.