Forum OpenACS Q&A: nominated for Webby-Awards

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Wow, has just been nominated for a webby award:

That's great news and kudos to the team!

Maybe Bruno can post a news on

Posted by Jonathan Ellis on
what?  they're still presenting those things? :P
Posted by Mike Sisk on

Speaking of Greenpeace, have y'all seen the 404 page? It's great!

Check it out at a page that doesn't exist like

Posted by Jonathan Ellis on
too bad greenpeace is a bunch of nutcases. :P

"Safe nuclear power is a myth."


Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
:) True, but they seem to have their IT house in order.  Ironic, isn't it?
Posted by Bruno Mattarollo on

First of all, thanks to the people that congratulated us and helped us make it a site that would deserve a nomination in the Webby awards!

This is a call that we are making in regard to the nomination...

The Webby Academy has nominated as one of the five best activist sites on the web! If you don't know the Webbies, they're the Oscars of the website world, and this is a great honour for all 128,000 of us cyberactivists.

There are two ways to win: direct selection by the Academy, and the popular vote in the "Peoples Choice" competition. We're shamelessly asking you to vote for the Greenpeace site for a number of reasons. For one, more cyberactivists: a Webby win would bring more people to the site, more cyberactivists into the fold, and lend more weight to every campaign we run. Secondly, everyone who stood up against the invasion of Iraq is feeling deflated when we see the horrors of a war we all feel we were powerless to stop. But don't let anyone tell you that the peace activists lost. Activism has built a base that's simply not going to go away, and its deepest concerns, far more to do with US unilateralist ambitions and the concept of "preventive" war than Iraq, have simply been confirmed. It's more important now than ever to show that activism can win, and peace is the real "People's Choice."

You can cast your vote at:

I am posting the previous shameless call in here as well because, as you know, the web site is running on OpenACS and winning this award would bring significant exposure for OpenACS! So, go ahead and cast your vote! :-)

Posted by Patrick Giagnocavo on
I'd sooner shut down my OpenACS business and go work for a .Net company than reward a proto-Communist organization that supports/supported Saddam Hussein.

Too bad you didn't run the "Iraq body count" counter when SH was in power - it would be spinning like a top.  Why didn't you?

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Sweet! We have a fascist in the community!

Patrick, why didn't you say you cared so much about the Iraqi people when Saddam was in power? Did your militia leadership have a gag order on you?

Btw, global warming is real.


Posted by Simon Carstensen on

Two things. Firstly, you've got your concepts wrong. What Greenpeace has to do with communism, I don't know. You should read up on what communism actually _is_. Whether you like communism or not, it's good knowledge to have. You should also look into who actually supported Saddam in the first place, the US.

Secondly, you should just keep your opinion on war and Greenpeace to yourself since  this has to do with an OpenACS website being nominated, and not whether we should support Greenpeace. The fact that an OpenACS-site has been awarded is wonderful. Whether you agree with what Greenpeace stands for, is not really important.

Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
Patrick, Tally, can you do me the favour and continue the war discussion somewhere else.

IMHO it's great that Greenpeace has been nominated for the webby and if they feel they can win with the statement above, that's fine. Furthermore it is okay that they post it here, for reference. I don't think Bruno's intention was to convert the community or act as a spokesman for it.

In general, it would be great if the community would adhere to the self imposed rules of not talking about politics here.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Dunno about not talking politics. The Israeli in me won't allow for separating between the outside world and everything else. But I will certainly try to be more cordial.

Politics are part of life, and certainly part of open source. Is it cool to blast into Microsoft but not into US, Iraqi or any other government?

We can certainly try and be more civil, but avoiding beliefs and philosophies certainly aren't the free and open source way.

Patrick and I get along fine. We chat quite a bit on the IRC channel. This may be a quick flame war, but I think we're big boys. So we disagree here. I think we'll still happily work together on OACS and any other project we want to do.

That is for sure the free and open source way.


Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Just so he doesn't feel all alone: I side with Patrick. (More or less, I'm not quite blunt and emphatic about it, after all...)

Btw, Talli, you're wrong, not only is global warming an utter crock, but measures to "fix" it are likely to be extremely counterproductive.

(That link will have to do, as I couldn't find any others quickly. More or less, we have absolutely no idea which way the climate is really going, but from the historical record it's rather more likely to go into a global ice age, which would be disastrous, than get warmer, which would be no problem at all, even beneficial. Really understanding which way the climate is going to go could be critical to the future of civilization, and thus the human race. And right now we don't know. But we do know enough to know that the gloom and doom "global warming" theories are BS. Spending $billions on the Kyoto protocols rather than pumping that money into research to actually figure out what we should do is insane. But real research is hard work, and doesn't pay bureaucrats to fly around the world and tell us what to do at our expense, etc. etc.)

But much more importantly, this is all far, far off topic. Greenpeace uses OpenACS, Greenpeace is a well known and effective international organization, and Greenpeace has been an excellent memeber of the OpenACS community. So in OpenACS terms, Greenpeace is good. Thus the smilies next to Jonathan's and my comments above.

Even if we lived in some bizzaro alternate universe where Greenpeace was murdering millions (like the national socialist and communist governments of the last hundred years), it would still be be hard to construe Greenpeace's use of OpenACS as somehow drastically improving their ability to wreak evil on the world. So to the truly politically devoted, to any cause, rest at ease - you are not collaborating with the enemy here, any enemy.

So Patrick, Talli, please shut up. I'm sure there's code or docs or whatever that could use writing somewhere. Open Source is good, OpenACS is good, and organizations that do a lot to help OpenACS, like Greenpeace, are also good - and that's all I care about for our purposes here in this forum.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Andrew, as far as shutting up, well... I take massive issue with that. Greenpeace posted a provocative note, Patrick posted something more provocative, and then I responded. No hard feelings. Patrick and I are cool with each other on this. So we disagree. No problem.

If anything, you should have taken your own advice since the thread had ended for all intents and purposes.

Also, when referencing things that are "crocks" please give links to people other than reactionary weirdos who like to comment on things from greenhouse gases to very weird and racist socio-biological theories. It makes your argument look weak.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Ah, ok, let me count the number of "arguments" the learned and astute Talli Somekh has made in this thread which are not either childish ad-hominem attacks, or obviously irrelevant straw-man arguments. Oh, gosh, the number seems to be, zero! I am most impressed by your obvious dedication to knowledge, candor, and clear thinking. Oh yes.
Posted by Talli Somekh on
True enough, but at least I was funny. And between me, you and Lyndon Larouche, I didn't tell anyone to shut up.

Anyway, someone say nazi and finish this thread.


Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
More off-topic stuff, but of a different nature: This should be of interest regardless of one's politics, but does have some implications for understanding aspects of human politics:

From this page:

And Harry Erwin comments on the Mid East Policy as Fantasy paper:

An interesting paper. One issue is that I'm not sure anyone can claim they see the world as it really is. Mammals seem to live in an internal model that is updated asynchronously based on sensory data, and they choose their behavior based on that model, not on their sensations. This is particularly clear in bats, where we see the Wiederorientierung phenomenon: bats flying in a familiar area often seem to ignore sensory afference and instead depend almost exclusively on their memory of the area. First reported by Möhres and Öttingen-Spielberg in 1949, it describes two states: 1. Erstorientierung-when bats first encounter a novel situation. 2. Wiederorientierung-when bats fly in a familiar space. It was observed in the behavior of a bat that was accustomed to roosting in a cage in a room. The researchers rotated the cage and eventually removed it, and noted that the bat continued to behave as if the cage were in its normal position until forced to reorient. This suggests that bats use and maintain a world model that is only modified if circumstances force it to.

Rawson and Griffin investigated this further (see Griffin, Listening in the dark, the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men, Yale, 1958, and Griffin, "Cognitive aspects of echolocation," in Nachtigall and Moore, ed., Animal Sonar: Processes and Performance, Plenum Press , 1988). . Asked whether the bats even made cries at all. . Experiment involved placing and moving obstacles in a flight room. . Answer: the bat still made echolocation cries, but seemed to ignore the resulting returns. Maintenance of congruence between the internal model and the environment is asynchronous, low-rate, effortful, and involves a 'dialog' (Griffin) between the animal and its environment. There is also evidence from human psychology for similar ideas (see Walter J Freeman, 1995, Societies of Brains, LEA). The concept that brains are isolated from the objective world is called epistemological (not metaphysical!) solipsism.

Why do I mention epistemological solipsism? Because it implies _everyone_ lives in an internal model in more or less incomplete agreement with objective reality. The interpretations of 9/11 as a martyrdom and as a war by terrorists are both descriptions of internal models in incomplete congruence with reality. Objectively, it was an event involving the deaths of thousands, made 'meaningful' only by those internal models of how things 'really' work.

I seem to recall that Dr. Erwin told a simpler and more impressive version of that story elsewhere: Apparently, you can remove a bat's usual perch while it is out of the room, and when it returns, despite constant echo-location cries, it will proceed to "land" on the non-existant perch and then (and only then) abrubtly re-evaluate the faulty relationship between its model of the world and the real world, while falling towards the floor... (I don't know if the type of bat or any other factors matter, etc.)

Supposedly, all mammals' brains work in basically that way. Interesting implications, no? When I first read that it shed light on many aspects of human behavior I'd seen or read about.

Based largely on the above, I have an utterly speculative and untested theory which says that: Our internal models of "how the world works" are unlikely to be substantially revised and improved except in the face of either, one, major external stress (think Marine Boot Camp), or two, concerted, sustained, and substantial conscious effort on our part.

I further suggest that the first criteria certainly does not hold in this forum, and that the second is unlikely to as well - for any of us.


Posted by Mike Sisk on
I still think it's a cool 404 page...

BTW, before devoting my life to the mysteries of the Unix operating system I was an environmental geologist. And although I don't have much time to read 'em I still get a stack of scientific journals and it seems that the peer-review scientific community does indeed agree that global warming is real.

Now, the real question: Is global warming a man-made phenomenon or a natural climate change? The jury is still out but seems to be leaning toward the man-made part from what I can gather.

Either way, it's really messing with some folks. Philip wrote about some of this during his trip to Alaska this past summer. Other folks in the Pacific are find their islands disappearing as sea-level rises and they're more exposed to storm-surge. Glaciers all over the world are receding.

Of course, by the time we really know if global warming is "real" or not (and its real cause) it'll be too late to do much about it.

Now, about bats: I studied a lot of Karst topography and limestone petrology in school. I spent lots of time underground mapping caves and spent one summer as a cave guide at a commercial cave. Maybe these studies had different bats, but those I observed didn't behave like this.

Most bats roosted in the same general area but not necessarily the same perch every night. And they knew if something changed and didn't attempt to land if the surface didn't have an appropriately rough surface to attach to (we tested this indirectly). Sometimes they'd miss and fall but quickly recover. Interesting stuff, but at the time I didn't pay much attention to the biology and instead focused on the geologic aspects. I do know big steaming piles of bat guano were a pain to crawl through....

Posted by Randy Ferrer on

One issue is that I'm not sure anyone can claim they see the world as it really is. Well, it's human nature or rather a side effect inherent in our languages to claim that our view of the world is "the way it is". Korzybski postulated that this is an effect of confusing the language with the territory. This view, which was later refined by Bateson and other Cyberneticians expresses that the only thing that the mind is capable of holding is a "map of the territory". Unfortunately too often we confuse the map for the territory. So in effect we conflict and fence with the depiction - the map.

It is indeed unfortunate that we rarely ask how the 'thing' we describe differs from the word(s) used to describe it. But what motivation is there to get people to really question their models of reality? From the governments point of view of maintaining a "manageable society" - none. Politicians and their rhetoric love group words like liberation, equality, cooperate and these words are rubbed together endlessly - but what is really meant?? One example of this is provided by Hampden-Turner. If you consider an ideological dispute in which one party says -"I'm an individualist therefore I must fight collectivism", while another party answers - "As a Cooperatist I must fight selfishness". They each speak as though enbodiments of these ideas are going to trip of each others tongues to beat the other into submission. But there is neither "substance nor essence" to the individuality and Cooperation is no "sacred object inhabiting the soul". All that there is, is a pattern of generally agreed upon differences which we have identified with codes. In Hampden-Turner's words - "The word 'cooperative' and a living cooperative community have a structural relationship similar to one inch to one mile on a road map, save that ideological maps are rarely as reliable!" So if the Individualist and Cooperatist question their models, they might find that indeed the individualst can cooperate while the Cooperatist may find that indeed competition is truly wonderful and both may find that they can accomodate their mind maps to include the others territory. Not a good scenario for many government administrations...

As the mind continues to codify and classify objects, it becomes increasingly important to question the very logic that is used to engage in codifying and classifying our 'reality'. Othewise, as Korzybski and Bateson pointed out, the mind itself divides into "exclusive fragments", we confuse the word with the thing, the mapper with the mapped and this leads to the belief that the mind must contain no 'contradiction'.

Nevitt Sanford and Bateson postulated the theory of Schismogenesis which says that there is a growing split in the structure of human interaction and the ideas communicated. As we look at much of what is happening in todays world, I have to concede that they are indeed right and anyone that is at all concerned with humanity can hardly afford to look away. Andrew points out that other Mammals have their own internal models of reality formed by whatever their sensory abilities might be e.g. bats. We are limited by nature to forming a map of reality as well by our own perceptive apparatus and our need to classify and codify the world we live in."The interpretations of 9/11 as a martyrdom and as a war by terrorists are both descriptions of internal models in incomplete congruence with reality. Objectively, it was an event involving the deaths of thousands, made 'meaningful' only by those internal models of how things 'really' work."Much of the Arab world holds a view that for them is congruent with reality as well. This is a perfect example of the growing split between human interactions and what actually gets communicated as concepts/ideas. The issue is not so much the "incongruence with reality" but rather with the fragmentary, exclusive nature of the ideologies expressed.

What does it take to get people to challenge the logic used to map the world? This is a tough one. I have seen people make major change due to extreme stress conditions as well as from seemingly (for us) minor events. I think that the issue of what causes change is as complex as the human mind is. I don't think you can reduce it down to a couple of options. On the one hand #1 implies that we don't have a choice and therefore must either seek out or wait for destiny to bring something in our direction which will "change" us. The other seems to imply a lack of will or morality. Is "change" even the best word to use here? I'm thinking out loud here, but I can't help but wonder the role of education in all of this.

Mike - I agree that the 404 page is really cool... Well, its interesting how this thread went from the Webby awards Greenpeace nomination to a discussion on epistemology, bats, human politics and cybernetics. :-)) I think while all this is off-topic, it does show what an intesting and diverse bunch our OACS community really is. I'm fairly new to this community, but I'm really enjoying being a part. I really look forward to increasing participation and interaction with everyone here. :-))

Posted by Bob Smith on
Whether or not we can see the world as it is, it seems we often choose to see the world as we wish it were. Despite being educated in science, math, logic, and engineering, we are swayed by business, personal, and political goals, and subvert objective reasoning in favor of emotional responses. Whether this is because we are not capable, because we are too lazy, or because we are being dishonest, is not always clear.

An example brings together bats and global warming (or efforts to do something about it, whether it exists or not). In efforts to promote “green” or “clean” energy, TVA acknowledged it negatively impacts bat populations by operating a wind power plant (1). Despite this problem and others, TVA continues to advertise their Green Power Switch program as being good for the environment. They use other overly optimistic (i.e. misleading) arguments for this purpose (2). TVA was also willing to support relatively dangerous technologies under this program (3). Basically, TVA, a government corporation, is willing to sell the public power from any source if the public will buy it (4). First they choose a goal (like selling “green” power); then they gather marketing materials to support the goal.

If TVA, an arm of the same US government that brings us education standards, chooses not to (or cannot) see the world as it is (eg. does not develop and use objective standards for comparing and developing power sources), then who will?

I also agree the 404-page is cool, but Greenpeace is another organization that apparently chooses to view the world as they wish it were, and then gathers marketing materials to support their conclusions, especially regarding benefits and disadvantages of nuclear power versus other power sources.

  1. Chapter 4 of Environmental Assessment
  2. Claim that $8 per month of Green Power provides the environmental benefits of planting an acre of trees
  3. Dangers of Regenesys Energy Storage
  4. Talk on TVA Public Power Research Initiatives
    Answer to question of why nuclear was not considered "renewable" (answer: marketing surveys).
    Anda A. Ray, Director
    Public Power Institute
    Tennessee Valley Authority
    Presented February 20, 2002

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Bob, yes, I fear I am straying into dangerous political grounds again, but it's a basic litmus test question: Ask a self-described "environmentalist" what he thinks of: 1) Nuclear power. 2) Space access and development. If he's against both, then he almost certainly has no real idea what he's talking about and isn't worth wasting much of your time listening to.

(Only IMNSHO, no warranty included, all caveats apply, etc. etc.)

There are probably many other similar litmus test items for quickly ferreting out the symptoms of "choosing to see the world as you wish it were, rather than as it is", but those are two I'm aware of.

Posted by Danielle Hickie on
Ask a self-described "environmentalist" ... I think I can dig one up somewhere...

1) Like all things, nuclear power is an idea which is manifested by the nuclear industry. And an industry has many facets, and many responsibilities. Nuclear power, the fifties dream of endless free power, creates nuclear waste. As an environmentalist, I find the idea of toxic waste that is impossible to store, irresponsible to dump, with a half life of (I think) 25 thousand years worth thinking about. Much of this nuclear waste will remain hazardous for thousands or even millions of years, leaving a poisonous legacy to future generations. Luckily, we're only making 10 000 tonnes a year of the stuff, world wide.

Safe nuclear power? Try looking at Mayak, in the Russian Urals. Oooh, I feel safer already. Here is the Greenpeace site: But as environmentalists, what would they know? How about Amnesty:

But don't waste your time listening to me...

2) Space and development. Hmmm. Those pesky environmentalists are forever harping on and on about the space program aren't they? Mmmm. Walking around with placards, I'd say. Why would we be against that? There are a few more pressing problems right here on earth, for anyone to bother throwing comments at space programs.
Maybe somebody has, *sigh*. But thats a weird view you have of environmentalists there. We're not an anti-technology bunch of luddites. (We are using OpenACS for example). We just don't want the technology we use to solve our problems to be radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

Caveat: All misspellings and opinions mine.

22: rant: ON (response to 1)
Posted by Todd Gillespie on
Hi Andrew. I'm an environmentalist who lobbies for regulation allowing the spread of modern CANDU-style reactors. The anti-nuke hysteria is very depressing, you are correct. But I think it's more depressing for me than you.

My ideal energy system would be fusion reactors performing electrolosis on their wastewater to generate hydrogen fuel, which is shipped out along the liquid/gas transport economy existing today (with minor modifications), to be used in fuel cells with 85% - 90% efficiency conversion back into electricity. It would be nice.... the near infinite energy supply of nuclear, no waste, a fuel transfer system we are already acquainted with, vehicles with greater range than ones with internal combustion engines, and no propping up third-world dictators for easy access to vital energy sources. The tech for everything but the fusion is already there, and the system can work with fission with the addition of higher security needs and long-term waste disposal. Only industrial inertia holds it back.

And that's some serious inertia... 683 billion USD of inertia per year, just from the top 5 oil & car companies in the US alone (bring in the non-US companies to knock it into the $1.2T range. Source: Fortune500). With that much at stake, do you think it's possible that these very powerful companies, and their well-connected friends in government, might seek to warp the debate? Just maybe?

Let's ignore global warming for now. What about the more directly observable outcomes? Air pollution doesn't just make pretty sunsets, it also kills people. Rather a lot of people, 3 million per year globally according to WHO, more than 3 times the number of people killed in auto accidents. (Within the US, the two numbers are roughly equivalent, 50k - 60k. Same as the total US casualties in Vietnam.) Let's assume you don't die from the air pollution, and neither do your children or your elderly relatives. Do you jog? Bike? Notice the difference in air quality on an ozone alert day? Feel your lungs burning? Notice how you can only run twice as far? Here in Texas, the official state response is "you don't need to be outside". When did we trade away our enjoyment of the outdoors? What did we get for it?

I liked this one:
Orange County could save $349 million a year in health care costs if stricter standards for airborne particulate matter were imposed. Source: The American Lung Association (Los Angeles Times November 20, 1997)
That in one county. Turns out, last week Alcoa lost in court and will spend $330 mil to fit their largest plant with scrubbers. It's the largest pollution source in Texas and affects 3 major cities. $330 mil in capital expenses, amortized out over a decade, and affecting dozens of counties, sounds like a hell of a good deal.

I would add something about political stability for access to oil, but it seems you can buy access for $200BN, albeit for a few years...

Why do you feel the need to vigorously defend the current system? When you say "Spending $billions on the Kyoto protocols rather than pumping that money into research to actually figure out what we should do is insane.", do you even know what you're talking about? Those billions give incentives to restructure operations to reduce pollution - aka less waste - aka higher efficiency! There is a long-term savings, by all players, by making something currently free, pollution, have value -- it financially motivates everyone to get creative. Do you watch the pollution trading markets? Have you seen how the integration of free-market capitalism and government pollution controls have halved the world sulfer dioxide emissions in just 10 years? The Kyoto protocol is not hemp designs and tofu recipes -- it is a hardcore capitalist document for sponsoring innovation.

We are shifting to a new energy economy. Step back 300 years and look at the pattern: from wood to coal in the 18th century, from coal to oil at the beginning of the 20th. Each time, the dependence on the old fuel had created an economic disaster: Europe was decades away from total deforestation in the former, in the latter coal had made cities hostile to human life. (The London fog would trap the soot & sulfer and kill hundreds in a night.) On each shift, the pollution-per-person plummeted, available energy soared, health improved, and whole new industries were developed.

In the long run, environmentalism is a net win for everyone.

23: rant: STILL ON (response to 1)
Posted by Todd Gillespie on
Danielle: 10,000 tons is bullshit because it's politically generated.  If the US recinded a 1978 executive order and allowed for waster refinement once again, there would be substantially less.  And the majority of that weight isn't even actual spent fuel - it's largely associated materials  that have been contaminated by their time in a high-neutron environment.  They decay out in only a few years.  Anyway, if you're in the market for 10,000 tons of waste, head out to your local landfill to see a few 100,000 tons of consumer waste leaking heavy metals into your water table.  Or to ye old coal-firing electric plant and check out the mountains of ash leaching hydroxides.  Everything we do generates waste, and unless we suddenly become non-corporeal beings, we're going to continue to do so.  With that in mind, I'm all for the 7 orders-of-magnitude energy-per-unit-mass increase nuclear provides over any chemical reaction.  And knock it off with the Chernobyl crap.  The Soviets didn't respect the environment or the health of their people, and they paid the price.  Bad as it's getting in the USA, we're still much better off in accountability.  Start showing me mutant French (76% of their energy) and Belgians (50%) and I'll start believing you.

Disclaim as you like, the anti-nuke crowd <i>is</i> anti-technology.  Which pisses me off to an exceptional degree, as most of the successes of the environmentalist movement are largely about using superior technology for higher efficiency and lower waste.  Don't tell me to find better tech and then cut me off at the knees, on the word of a crowd dominated by people who wouldn't stick it out through college physics.

On space & development: I think any environmentalist should remember Apollo fondly, both for the technology payout of the effort, and for the first view of the whole world at once.  Humans now have an actual picture of the entire world in their minds -- this is something that no human has ever had before the 1960s.  And I think the widespread personal ability to conceptualize about the whole earth has pushed the growing understanding of the environment.

Also, we need a new frontier.  Societies change fastest when some people get to escape & try something new; the results of those prototypes filter back into the parent societies.  It's chaotic, but it's history.

Posted by Danielle Hickie on
Hi Todd, You made some pretty good arguments there in support of environmentalism. I guess on many points we actually see eye to eye. :) Your second post did make me do a little more research though. The I re-read your argument about nuclear power, and I noticed we had a few points of disagreement. I thought I'd talk about it a little more, not because I have any antagonistic thoughts towards you, rather I am keen to clarify where we don't cross over. So...

If the US recinded a 1978 executive order and allowed for waster refinement once again, there would be substantially less waste. How much less? 10 000 tonnes a year less? What about the stockpiles of waste from the last couple of decades? And are you only talking about US waste? What about the rest of the world? And what part should the industry play in regulating its own waste and taking responsibility for its actions? I guess its ok to have, say 5 thousand tonnes instead of ten. A year.

Then you go on to say "consumer waste is also bad". Yes, I agree. Still doesn't excuse nuclear waste. I also agree everything we do creates waste; waste exists, it always has, so nuclear waste is ok? No. The answer is that as a society we must take responsibility for the practices and processes that produce waste. This has started to happen for consumer waste, and its a good sign. But you CAN'T get rid of nuclear waste.

The Chernobyl crap... ah this was my favourite bit. The USA is more accountable. Good. Hope it's still accountable in 25 thousand years. Even the mighty USA can't get rid of nuclear waste safely. But I'm not attacking the USA. I disagree with the entire nuclear industry. Which is, by the way, unbelievably subsidized. Chronic escalation of construction costs coupled with high operation and maintenance costs have meant cost overruns of 100 billion dollars in the United States alone. (Figures released by the U.S. Department of Energy). This is not 'power too cheap to meter'. It has real costs for the whole community. And let's just say that even first world countries are not invulnerable. The last big publicaly known accident happened in Tokaimura/Japan, 30 September 1999.

In a fuel fabrication plant, two workers mixed too large an amount of liquid uranium solution in a container, violating elementary safety regulations. A nuclear chain reaction started, highly radioactive fission products were released. Two of the three workers that received very high radiation doses died after months of radiation sickness. Over 400 local people were exposed to high levels of radiation.

And then you go on to say "Well, other people do it,"; the French and the Belgium. Erhmmm.... And a few taunts of 'most of you guys don't have college physics'.

Let me reply by quoting Dr. John Gofman , Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology in the University of California at Berkeley, and Lecturer at the Department of Medicine, University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco:

"The ordinary man-in-the-street can look at the amount of radioactivity that would be produced in a full-scale nuclear industry and realize that containing such toxins to 99.9999% perfection day in, day out, year in, and year out - when one considers all the possible human and machine fallibilities - is impossible"

Do I really need a college physics to do a bit of thinking and come to the conclusion that the sweet promise of nuclear energy leaves a really sour aftertaste, and all things considered, it's a fruit better left unpicked?

25: OT: Nuclear Power (response to 24)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
I think I have to second Todd on most of his points. According to the European Physists Society, 436 nuclear power plants have been in operation, producing 17% of worldwide electricity. In western Europe 151 produce even 43% of the electricity needed. I was searching for nice numbers how much emissions will be produced if Europe was to switch to fossile fuels for its 151 reactors, but could not find any. And if someone does, please have a look at the environmental costs involved with the digging of the fuel out of the earth, the sustainability of this source of energy (how long will it last), transportation costs (including the costs for e.g. building the pipelines aso. asf.). Compare these to the total costs for a nuclear power source.

So, Danielle proved to a certain degree that nuclear power has a lot of hazardeous risks involved and most people are able to see them. I agree with the risks part. What I don't understand though is how some environmentalists, that should be knowledgable about the risks involved with nuclear power, try to sabotage the transportation of this high risk material in order to make a point. I mean, what happens, if they damage the train track (which they do), the train derails, many more things happen to actually break the containers (as stated before, there is no guarantee). Luckily they seem to be smart enough not to break into a nuclear power plant and try to shut it down (scary idea....).

One further notion I found interesting. When asked, where most of the environmentalist demonstrating against nuclear power got their energy from it was most of the time the cheapest provider for energy, that (naturally) relied on nearly 100% nuclear power. Let me state that at least in Germany you can choose your energy source and a lot of "environmental friendly" tariffs are offered as well.

What are alternatives (as switiching off the nuclear power plants would leave Europe in a considerably worse condition than India is at the moment, with it's frequent power cuts in the summer).

- Solar energy at the moment involves a lot of power in generating the solar panels so, unless there is a major breakthrough, the total impact on the environment is still not good.
- Offshore wind mills. According to a study I read, one park (I think it was 250) of these mills could replace a small power plant. Though I have no idea about the impact of these on the ecosystem of the region installed and how this compares to other forms of energy.
- Water dams. From an environmental point of view, bad as it floods the land upriver, from a sailors point of view, great. Switzerland relies mainly on hydro power. Maybe that's why the America's cup is in Geneva now :).
- Use less energy.
- Find new techologies.

IMHO, the best shot we have are the last two. Countries need to investigate how to safe energy without reducing the standards of living. And please do it fast, I don't want to imagine second and third world countries energy needs in the future (with a roughly equal amount of living standard). And as Todd pointed the alternatives are knocking at the door.

Til that day we will see discussions and demonstrations and quite a lot of money beeing spend on complaining about nuclear power. I wonder how much money is spend on this (starting with the money GP is investing into this campaign and stopping at the money involved to securely transport the nuclear wast across Europe due to these demonstrations). Wouldn't that money easily finance research in the area of lower power consumption and search for new energies, instead of beeing burned away?

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Note that "Use less energy" is never going to work in the long run. It is a critical period (think "war time") delaying strategy at best.

You want to make most of the earth beautiful and pristine? It's easy, all you have to do, is make everybody on Earth, everybody, at least as wealthy as Americans are today. And that's going to take energy, lots and lots of cheap energy. Therefore, see also technology R&D, and especially space access and development.

(Note that I strongly suspect that world-wide wealth is the only way a pristine earth is going to happen. That is, other than mass murder, human species die off, and/or crushingly repressive Stalinesque regimes - all of which I presume are out of bounds for rational consideration by all participating here. One more way might be some bizarro new world-wide "green" religion, but barring mind control drugs that seems astonishingly unlikely - perhaps less likely than us all being killed by an asteroid.)

Overpopulation? On the large scale, the only proven method of birth control is wealth. (Sorry no reference. But there are historical studies looking back centuries, and good economic arguments for why the observed results, that as societies get wealthier they have fewer children, make sense.) See above.

And heh, I've never tried crunching all the numbers myself (although for what it's worth I was trained as a chemical engineer, so I probably could if I really had to, and had the time), but my understanding is it's usually possible to make just about any manufacturing process clean and non-polluting - it's just a question of how much energy it's going to take. Often the answer is, "a very large amount". See cheap energy above.

Btw, Todd, Malte, in particular, I salute you.

Recent reasons for possible optimism:

Posted by Mike Sisk on
You want to make most of the earth beautiful and pristine? It's easy, all you have to do, is make everybody on Earth, everybody, at least as wealthy as Americans are today.
Won't happen. Can't happen. The Earth can't support the whole world living at the level of the average Amercian. The US represents less than 5% of the world's population yet consumes more than 50% of the world's resources (the exact percentage is debatable, but it's certainly quite high).

It's not just energy* either; fresh water is a big problem. And solid waste disposal. My last job in the geo field was in southern California working on landfills -- huge problem that most folks don't think about.

Imagine if every family in China (or Africa) had 2 cars (aveaging 15 mpg) and ate at McDonalds every day. There is no way the earth (or the economy) can support this.

There is no magic bullet that'll solve the environmental problem. And Amercians ain't going to give up their standard of living (or SUVs), either. This is a problem.

*   It's interesting to note, with one exception, that nearly all our forms of energy production are basically stored sunlight. The energy in fossil fuels is released by breaking down chains of molecules put in place by the sun (a long time ago). Solar is obvious. Wind power is generated by heating of the atmosphere (mostly) and is very hazardous to birds. Hydro power is solar power in that the sun allows evaporation of water into the atmosphere so precipitation can take place -- thus moving the water from a lower elevation to a higher so we can extract its energy. Geothermal? Hard to say -- it's a mix of heat from radiogenic decay, heat from gravity, and left-over heat from the formation of the solar system.

Nuclear power is the exception. And in the long run (as it looks now) the only viable means of energy production -- risky as it is -- for the future. Fusion looks better that fission, but it's still has a long way to go to be viable and it still generates intense radiation.

Ansel Adams was a proponent of nuclear power for these reasons (and for the lack of air-born emissions that interfer with photography) and really took a beating about it from his environmental friends.

Posted by Peter Marklund on
"Won't happen. Can't happen. The Earth can't support the whole world living at the level of the average Amercian."

I think this is an overly pessimistic stance. No matter if people are far right conservatives, neo-liberals, or Greenpeace activists, we all want a high quality standard of living (this does not necessarily imply owning three polluting SUVs btw) and a clean environment and I think there are encouraging signs in this direction.

The environment *is* being improved in much of the western world. Even more importantly, major parts of the third world are reaching our standard of living and are starting to care about the environment as well. Food on the table will always be a higher priority for the poor than any abstract greenhouse problems with no immediate impact on their everyday life.

There have been predictions about natural resources (oil, minerals, etc) running out on numerous occasions in the last century and each time they have been proven wrong.

Let's see in 20-30 years time from now if the world isn't better off than it is today. I'm willing to bet that it will be.

Posted by Brian Fenton on
I don't have anything to add this debate on environmental issues, but I'd like to comment at a meta level about the nature of discourse and the high levels of quality found in this forum. Spiral Dynamics talks about levels of human development and uses simple colours to describe stages of evolution (blue: conformist, fundamentalist, ethnocentric, traditional; orange: excellence, achievement, progress, modern; green: postmodern, multicultural, sensitive, pluralistic; yellow: systemic, flexible, flowing. Summarised nicely by consciousness studies and philosophy author Ken Wilber in an essay he wrote on the Iraq situation (see What is interesting about Spiral Dynamics is that there are considered to be 2 "tiers" of awareness. The vast majority of humans are considered to be at the first tier of growth (I probably am at this level too, try as I might to grow! :-) ) - these include blue, orange and green. What the Spiral Dynamics theorists have said is that there is a huge leap from first tier to second tier (yellow and turquoise levels), the key difference between the 2 tiers being that people who operate on the first tier imagine their values to be the only correct values whereas second tier humans understand the importance of all value systems (by recognising the partial truth in each of them).

I've just been reading about this lately, so it was fascinating to see it in action, to see the divisiveness of comments coming from blue (Jonathan and Patrick), orange (Andrew's first comment), green (Talli, Danielle) where there was a certain digging in of heels over stances. Contrast that with 2nd tier comments from Mike, Randy, Todd and Malte who were open to what everyone else had to say and flexible in their stance. It's wonderful to see such a high quality of world-centric, inclusive thinkers in this forum. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - it's in the nature of open source software development to attract more world-centric people. Well done, everybody!

PS, Jonathan, Patrick, Andrew, Talli and Danielle: please don't take this as a personal colouring of you. I was referring specifically to your comments as being blue, orange, etc., not to you as people!

Posted by Staffan Hansson on
Brian, I'm curious, what's the color of the guy who wrote this?
Posted by Brian Fenton on
Staffan, it's one thing to describe a comment or a stance as blue or green, but I wouldn't dream of classifying another human being in such a crude manner Your article certainly has green elements - whether it goes beyond that into being integral in its approach... I'm not knowledgeable enough of the area to comment. Maybe these Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach would be useful in determining where it sits.

As for the author's colour? Maybe only he can tell us that....

Posted by Staffan Hansson on
I'm white. That is, all colors of the spectrum.
Posted by Danielle Hickie on
Err.... yes. This thread in particular has garnered some interesting comments. However.... You seem to 'reward' people for being fence sitters. Lets face it - apathy is almost a form of religion these days. It takes a bit of oomph to actually believe in anything. It only takes a little bit of charm to seem to agree with everyone.

I enjoy stirring people who use the words 'proto-communists' as much humanity has always enjoyed a good stoush. Where would we be today if the great leaders and politicians of the past all held hands and began everything with "Well, yes, good point there, mmm, I quite see, everyone here is so VALID, its uplifting."

The middle way is not always the right way. That said, yeah I agree that there were some really interesing posts on this thread! In my next life I intend on going up a tier and lording over you minor colours, but for now I'll stick to singing Kermits song "It isn't easy being Green".

Posted by Bob Smith on
Well, I tried to shut up and let you guys get back to work, but you just wouldn’t let me. :-)

As for Gofman, I previously read some of his stuff on reactor safety. He has some good points, but I think he is a bit extreme or purist on some arguments like voluntary versus involuntary exposures (unless you want to also shut down most industries using similar arguments).

Too many people fall for the Limits to Growth, zero-feedback, exponential growth models. There are other views. The earth does seem to be supporting much of the world living at incomes similar to America's. If some do it by using less energy, then they're demonstrating it's possible to be more energy-efficient, and that should give hope for the rest of the world. I tend to agree with Thomas Friedman's view that the real economic problem with most places is their business infrastructures are still using the economic equivalent of ms-dos 1.0.

On solid waste and landfills, most materials come out of holes in the ground, so there should be plenty of room to put wastes back into holes in the ground. Mass is conserved although volume may be increased some. The problem with the hazardous portions of those wastes is they don't all decay away like radioactive wastes.

I also liked the "stored sunlight" analogy until I read about possibility of "abiotic" formation of petroleum. I don't know if that's a crackpot idea or not. As for geothermal energy, I'm fairly comfortable with Hollenbach's recent work on a Deep-Earth reactor possibly being involved.

On Mayak and polluted sites, an interesting exercise to put things in perspective regarding nuclear waste problems versus other pollution problems is to look at some of the EPA superfund sites. Even in states with problems related to nuclear weapons production, those sites have mostly chemical problems, and there more sites with primarily chemical problems that are unrelated to nuclear (although some are other defense-related). Looking at power plants in Scorecard is also illustrative.

Every power source has advantages and disadvantages; we need to do the best we can with what we've got, and not put too many artificial barriers in our way. Most of our sources (coal, oil and gas) spew their leftovers directly into the air, but nuclear does the best we can to keep it bottled up as long as possible. But nothing raises donations like the fear of a meltdown...

Anybody checked prices on solar panel systems lately?!

-- Another environmentalist for nuclear power

Posted by Brian Fenton on

That's one of my favourite songs! I also loved "Halfway down the Stairs" sung by Kermit's nephew, Robin. ;-)

That's exactly the point of integral thinking: to remove fences. Taking a reactionary stance only builds fences. Why does seeing both sides of the argument make somebody apathetic? Maybe it's easier to label somebody we disagree with than sit with the uncomfortable notion there may be some truth in what they're saying and that maybe we don't have the full picture. Far easier to write them off as a 'proto-communist' or 'dope-smoking hippy' or 'gas-guzzling fatcat'. We have it here in my own country (Ireland) for more years than anyone cares to remember.

Again Ken Wilber puts it better than I can (he's referring to the Iraq war here):
"just remember: if you are green, you are against the war. but if you are against the war, you are not necessarily green. there are second-tier reasons not to go to war. but there are also second-tier reasons to go to war. green doesn't have a choice--it won't go. second tier has a choice, so weigh the evidence carefully. second tier might indeed recommend war, it might not. but you can check and see if you are "merely" green by asking under what conditions you would recommend war. if you can't think of any, ahem, welcome to green. still, the issue is enormously complicated, even through integral lens, so again, weigh the evidence carefully.

the problem with this discussion at large is that it is entirely first-tier. blue says bomb the hell out of the evil ones; orange says, okay, but hurry, because it's hurting the stock market; green says, no way, let's be loving. first tier has such a hard time seeing big pictures, so it moves around within the partial value structures that define it".

Posted by Talli Somekh on
I don't know if I would necessarily label myself as an environmentalist. I don't know enough about the problem, nor am I particularly active on environmental issues. However, I am extremely involved in what is referred to as the "peace movement", and I must admit that the concept of nuclear proliferation is quite scary.

The discussion here regarding nuclear power has been (pardon my Johnny Cochran impersonation) rather simplistic, positivistic and at times fetishistic over the role that technology can play in solving the world's problems.

Theoretically, nuclear power could be a big step towards solving our power issues, but the same can be said of multi-tier web architectures that are written in strongly typed object oriented languages with excellent XML integration. They both sound like great ideas, but no one's been able to implement them without screwing the pooch once or twice.

The step between having a working power reactor and turning that into a "weapon of mass destruction" seems to be one that is relatively small. The argument can be that turning it into weapons grade plutonium might take some work and then figuring out a way to deliver it may also be complicated, but we all learned what a couple dozen creative guys with box cutters were able to achieve.

Consider the current fun we are having with North Korea (Google news). Things may have turned out different had Saddam been able to threaten us with a "sea of fire" (Pyongyang's words, not mine.) What would the geo-political landscape look like if the standard solution to energy in the developing world were to just build another reactor?

Further, for many countries, the development of nuclear energy programs are not to provide their population with cheap, useable power but quite explicitly to develop nuclear weapons. The most obvious, of course, is Israel, who to my knowledge has yet to even admit it has nuclear capability.

So while I'm hopeful that the reliance on fossil fuels will lessen in the the near future, I'm not as hopeful reliance will switch to nuclear power for no other reason than I am not inclined to see Bush's "pre-emptive strike" policy come into effect. Again.

Also, Brian, I know someone who uses the Spiral Dynamics principles quite often and quite well. I don't know so much about Ken Wilbur, other than seeing his books on the shelf at the bookstore.

But I think that he and you are applying those principles way off the mark. To argue that taking a strong position against or for the war is on some kind of lower level of consciousness is, well, weird to say the least.

If I were an Iraqi (which I am, btw, my family having left in the fifties), would I be simply on the first level for wanting the war to take place and quickly in order to get rid of Saddam once and for all? Or perhaps the opposite, for no war to take place so that I wouldn't have to deal with all the destruction that war's implicity require? Or perhaps if I'm an American and I simply don't like the fact that schools are suffering massive budget cutbacks while we invest billions of dollars in an unpopular war?

When I am confronted by such a question, I usually refer to the important work by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, "A letter from a Birmingham Jail.". King wrote this letter while in jail during the civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The letter is in response to 8 Birmingham clergymen who asked that the demonstrations end and that a return to "common sense":

When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

King's response was the Letter, which he wrote on the margins of a newspaper until he was finally given proper writing papers (not by his jailers, btw). In the Letter, he describes why he has been moved to demonstrate and commit civil disobedience. For me, the most powerful paragraph is this one:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Whether a stance on the war in Iraq has as much moral clarity as the civil rights movement in the American South is certainly questionable. But I would certainly hope that Mr Wilbur wouldn't consider Dr King thoughts here to be "green."


Posted by Brian Fenton on
I'd never read that letter by Martin Luther King before.... my God, it left a lump in my throat. Magnificent...

When I quoted Wilber on the war, I wasn't trying to make a statement about the war and I certainly was not
trying to "argue that taking a strong position against or for the war is on some kind of lower level of consciousness".
I'm not even sure how you could have come to that conclusion from either my quote or the linked article.
I was simply quoting Wilber's statement that "first tier has such a hard time seeing big pictures, so it moves around within the partial value structures that define it".

The simple point is that a first tier stance is one that tends to polarise other stances, which makes it an inflexible one.

This is complex stuff and extremely difficult (for me) to summarise. Even the colours are very loose handles for fuzzy ranges of a spectrum - they're not discrete, exact points.

And no, I doubt very much that the writer of that inspiring, heart-rending scintillating letter could be considered first tier. The tolerance and breadth of his vision and his sheer love of his fellow man is nothing short of inspirational. As he says himself, he is an "extremist for love". Now THAT is an integral vision.

And Talli, your thoughtful and considered posting was a worthy example of all those good 2nd tier things I praised in my first posting. Thanks for responding. I'm aware I was being very judgemental "colouring" people's remarks in the first place.

There's just one thing that puzzles me though... who's Lyndon Larouche? ;-)

Posted by Mike Sisk on

Gotta keep this going...

I also liked the "stored sunlight" analogy until I read about possibility of "abiotic" formation of petroleum. I don't know if that's a crackpot idea or not. As for geothermal energy, I'm fairly comfortable with Hollenbach's recent work on a Deep-Earth reactor possibly being involved.
The primordial oil theory has been around for a while but there is no evidence to support it. A project in Sweden was started a few years back to drill down to prove the existence of this primordial oil but when nothing was found the project was quietly ended. There is a lot of evidence to support the oil-as-stored-sunlight model, not the least being that oil is always found in sedimentary rock of an age that we know supported an abundance of life.

Anyone ever hear of fossil natural fission reactors? Yes, these do exist. These are real nuclear reactors that occured in uranium deposits and nuclear fission occured naturally. Do a google search on "Oklo Natural Fission Reactors" and you'll get more info.

As of 20 years ago the theory on the formation of the earth involved the initial accretion of the planet from material collected in an eddy of the accretion disk around the proto-sun. The impact of matter created energy that heated the earth and compression of the matter as size (and gravity) increased created more. At this stage the earth is a homogenous mixture of stuff -- no oceans, mountains, or anything -- mostly a big half melted rock. Then radio-active decay adds heat until the melting point of iron is reached. Now the process of planetary differentiation takes place as all the iron sinks to the center of the mass releasing huge amounts of energy as gravitational energy is converted to heat. Lighter elements rise to the top as the heavy elements sink. Give it 5 billion or so years to cool down and here we are.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Hehe, more off topic stuff: The text of an interesting talk by Michael Crichton, largely on environmentalism.

I gather Michael Crichton is unaware of Meher Baba and His Universal Message.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Am I safe in assuming the Michael Crichton is unaware that the  mechanism by which DDT interferes with the formation of a bird's egg's shell is well understood?  That the actual chemical reactions are understood?  Reproducible in the laboratory?  That beyond correlation we've got the causation nailed down?

Yes, the early hypothesis as to *how* DDT caused bird mortality was wrong.  It is not unusual in science for a hypothesis put forth to explain observed data to be wrong.  But the base of the hypothesis - that the correlation of bird mortality with the introduction and rapid rise in usage of DDT was too strong to be coincidence alone - has since been proven correct.

Beyond doubt.  This is a non-issue in science.

Here's the quote from Crichton's essay:

"I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway".

The entire essay doesn't contain a single original thought, I hope you're smart enough to see that.  Each of the arguments he presents is part of the standard sermon preached by those who would have us ignore science unless science tells us we can do whatever we want without doing any environmental harm whatsoever.

Tch tch.  His science fiction's formulaic and free of originality as well.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Man, he really presented this talk just last September?  Is he really that ignorant?  "second hand smoke causes no harm" ... wow, all those medical researchers are practicing the religion of environmentalism.  It's not even an environmental issue, it's a public health issue, can't he even properly classify the stuff he's plagiarizing from

And gosh, just who recently has publicly stated that the supposed anomalies between satellite and and ground-based temperature datasets have now been reconciled, and um um um guess what those missing higher temperatures in the higher troposphere aren't missing after all?  And that he's satisfied with the predictative behavior of the most recent climate models?  John Christy, and if you don't know the name then you're not fit to step on the playing field.

Crichton's either a fool or dishonest, you can take your pick.

Posted by Don Baccus on
And oh my God, earlier in this thread you posted a link to Jerry Pournelle as an authoritative source on global warming?

My oh my oh my.

Just tell us you believe every word on the site and be done with it, OK?

Posted by Don Baccus on
Look at this crap on Pournelle's site:

"In the early Eighties, climate alarmists warned us of the coming Ice Age, but it was hard for them to make a plausible case that socialism could prevent it happening, or that Big Brother could help us much when our homes and businesses were buried under a mile of ice. The very same people then switched to claims of global warming, which let them argue that the world was doomed unless individual liberty were curtailed and capitalist societies were subjected to draconian penalties."

We'll start with a simple, factual area.

A handful of scientists argued that we may be entering a new Ice Age a couple of decades ago.  This hypothesis *never* gained any traction within the professional community of climatologists.

The scientists who proposed that increases in CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gasses might lead to global warming weren't "the same people".  Initially their hypothesis was greeted with the same lack of enthusiasm as had greeted the pronouncements of the Ice Age folks.  But then more and more researchers got involved.  And slowly the idea gained credibility.  Not because of political beliefs but as a result of scientific research.  Unlike *real* junk science like, say, cold fusion in mason jars blessed by Mormon elders.

Global warming is an observed fact.  Just ask John Christy, who not many years ago said it was not.  After asking him, tell him that the fact that he's swung 'round to agreing with the consensus opinion of the professional community of climatologists makes him a socialist who is working to curtail capitalist societies.

And listen to this man, who is not only a NASA researcher but a politically conservative fundamentalist Southern Baptist, laugh in your face.

Good grief.  The crap people read in an effort to educate themselves.  You think Pounelle's more credible than the National Academy of Science?  You really think that?

Posted by Mike Sisk on
Just to add fuel to the fire...

That's a pretty disturbing speech. Crichton seems to be a pretty sharp fellow -- he should know better.

My biggest beef with the speech is that he implies that a scientific citation in a leading journal or panel means that whatever point of view is published is scientific fact. That's just not true; especially when it comes to climatic models which are exceeding complex and change often as new supercomputers and models become available.

All it means when you have a paper published in Nature or Science is that it passed peer-review and reflects a profound insight. It could very well turn out to be wrong.

I could probably provide 10 major citations for every one of Crighton's that support a different position.

If the study he quoted about global warming is the one I think it is, it's because the soil has already absorbed so much CO2 during the 20th century that it'll continue out-gassing for some time to come -- even if we cut 100% now. Of course, if we don't cut CO2 emissions it'll be worse later on.

It shouldn't be necessary to point out that a science fiction author probably isn't the best source for scientific insight.

Posted by Jonathan Ellis on
Too bad Crichton got some facts wrong, because his point -- that science takes a back seat to rhetoric in the modern enviro movement -- is a valid one. Bjorn Lomborg has written a pretty impressive book on the subject. (See also his critiques page.)
Posted by Talli Somekh on
Actually, Lomborg is considered a farce in this area, too. Check out what real scientists, statisticians and climatoligists say about his oorly researched and polemical work.


Posted by Jonathan Ellis on
Yes, that's what I thought you'd say...

character assassination aside, I'd rather read what someone without an axe to grind said.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Wow, the Economist says that environmentalism is an anti-growth, leftist conspiracy?!?! Why that can't be!

I better go back and spend the next few weeks rereading Ayn Rand to remind myself of what true literature is, not to mention Objectivism!


Posted by Mike Sisk on
I bought Lomborg's book after reading a blistering review of it in one of the geoscience journals. It's been awhile since I read the book or the review -- and while I can't remember the exact details of this particular  debate -- at least in this instance I'd have to say Lomborg was way, way off base. If the parts of his book dealing with things I know about where that far off I can only assume his "research" in those areas I know nothing about might be pretty far out, too. Based on reviews I've read, this seems to be true.

IMHO, you'll do better talking to and reading about what real scientist think about issues rather than reading op-ed pieces in the popular press like those mentioned above.

OTOH, I have to agree that environmental science has a lot of crackpots -- on both sides -- and "facts" are often, if not routinely, stretched to the breaking point to fit a particular argument. To a public accustomed to "Reality TV" and Jerry Springer this seems to be an acceptable practice. But I digress...

(Check out Lawrence Krauss' essay "Scientific Ignorance as a Way of Life " that was presented at an AAAS meeting in Feb. 2003 -- do a google search -- he has the lecture in MP3 format available for download)

Posted by Patrick Giagnocavo on
One basis  for the prediction of global warming are the mathematical models run on the various supercomputers, such as the Earth Simulator in Japan.

However, none of the computer models, even the ones run on the biggest and fastest machines, are accurate.  Period.  This is not a fact (and it is a fact) that is mentioned.

Why are they not accurate?

Because they are not able to accurately model the effect that temperature changes have on the oceans of the world, which just happen to cover 75% of the earth's surface. No one, not the folks at Woods Hole, at NASA, etc. understands "how the ocean works" well enough to model its behavior.

Global warming has been a farce since the mid-80s at least.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Don, you sure can be annoying sometimes. I posted the link to Crichton's talk without comment precisely because I didn't have the time nor inclinitation to track down and evaluate much of the details he gave, but did find his main point of great interest and relevance. (Jonathan did a good job on why above.) You need not ascribe stupidity nor foolishness to me because of that.

Talli, if you were actually as smart as you seem to like to think you are you'd be less obtusely condescending and snide. At least Don tries to stick in substantial helpings of real facts and relevant argument.

I'm not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV, so just one point: My understanding is that it's a known scientific fact, not open to any reasonable doubt whatesoever, proven via many indepent tree ring studies and correlated with various other temperature records, that over recorded history, the climate used to be both substantially warmer and substantially colder than it is now. If as far as we know a warmer climate didn't cause disaster during the "medieval climate optimum" - and we know it didn't - then a similarly warmer climate now probably isn't going to cause disaster either.

Seems to me we basically don't know squat about how the climate really works right now. And since this is one of various fairly serious risks to the human civilization and species, we should learn, fast. But deciding what your answers are going to be before you do the science generally doesn't help.

We need more honest science, less politicization of science. Crackpots are generally not a problem, their results are unreproducable and thus shown to be worthless. Ignoring whether or not there are any results at all to try to reproduce, that's a problem! That's what happens when scientists prostitute their scientific integrity to further political ends, and that is of real concern.

Patrick is correct, the "global warming" movement is a farce and has been for a long time. The various gloom and doom models have all been junk. None of them could correctly reproduce any known period of climactic history given the initial conditions, so why the heck would you think they can accurately predict the future? On the real world side, yeah, things seem to have gotten warmer this century. So what? Far as anybody can tell we're still a lot cooler than other periods in the historical record. (Then add in all the rest of the arguments, accusations of junk science, etc., etc.)

Isn't it interesting though, that some folks above whose smarts I otherwise respect seem convinced of just the opposite? Of course none of us can read everything and at least partly by necesssity, we do filter our own inputs in ways keeping with our current internal models...

Try to keep that in mind folks, I do try to remind myself. I strongly doubt that any of us, even, [cough], myself are the "enlightened ones" who achieved all their most opinions and beliefs solely through calm, unbiased, rational analysis, unlike the many other blind sheep around them. Sorry, far as I know, the human animal just ain't built that way.

(Of course I personally just happened to lucky enough to be indoctrinated the right way... [grin] Possibly a pernicious by-product of the particular reading I did as a kid...)

There is real, empirical, verifiable truth in the world, and science is our means to determine it. But doing so is hard. Spin, lies, and accusations of heresy are all easier - and must be avoided and guarded against, preferably a whole lot better than they seem to be right now.

Posted by Tom Jackson on

Weird. Why are scientific arguments used to combat philisophical ideals? While science cannot know the future with accuracy, we could probably figure out the cost of burning fuel, environmental damage done by oil spills, etc. and the future cost of materials made from petroleum once that resource is scarce. We could add an appropriate tax. If phased in over five years or so, our economy would have time to change. We might sell less gas and oil, but probably more of other items. If our economy cannot change (evolve) that fast, who expects that sensitive ecosystems could evolve at even 1/10 that speed?

Nature is represented not by equilibrium, but by transition points, such as phase changes in something as simple as water. You can add a lot of heat at 99.9deg C with no noticable change. However suddenly a dramatic change occurs and you get steam. Or, maybe more important, you can add heat at 0deg C for quite a while until you get water. A tiny bit of melting could cause enormous quantities of ice to plunge into the oceans, raising sea levels overnight.

I don't think more evidence is the key to changing behavior, because the side that wants evidence for global warming will _always_ say they want more. This is their basic philosophy: more is better. Until the fallacy of this philosophy is shown, no amount of evidence will ever be enough. If global warming is ever proven, the arugment will just move on to "and is that a bad thing?"

But what has to be understood is that an argument is not taking place. You can talk to a wall all day long, but it isn't going to turn into a door.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Btw, I hadn't been aware that the involvement of DDT and brittle bird's egg shells was so well established, including the mechanism and all, so thanks for that tidbit Don.
Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
I'm not sure what you're getting at, Tom.

Heh, I was just getting a kick out of re-posting an interesting link I stumbled on to what had I think has been the longest off-topic, somewhat random, flame-filled, yet still kind interesting and worth reading thread I can remember seeing anywhere. Seems I sparked a bit more than I expected in this last round.

Even learned a few things myself. (Like, Crichton seems to not properly check his facts before public talks, seriously downgrade as future possible source of information. Too bad.)

And heck, as long as I'm posting links found on SF authors' websites, talk a look at David Brin's Eye of the Needle Foundation idea. Talli, with your focus on non-prophets you might find that very interesting, actually. I thought it was the most inspiringly optimistic thing I'd read in quite a while, myself.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
Oops, "non-profits", that should be. (And the mistake wasn't even intentional!)
Posted by Don Baccus on
Well, Patrick, glad to hear you're such a font of knowledge.

Could you please explain to us why you're more qualified than the committee appointed by the National Academy of Sciences to review our state of knowledge regarding global warming a couple of years ago?

This committee was formed at the request of the Bush administration, who came to office believing, as you and Andrew state, that global warming is a "crock" or "farce".

The committee included NASA researcher John Christy, once poster boy for the "global warming is a crock" crowd, based on  his interpretation of satellite data that was once touted as not only contradicting ground data but also touted by the Right as being "more accurate".  Well ... ignoring for the moment that his original published paper had an embarassing computational error in it ... it turns out not to be true.

As Christy and the other National Academy of Sciences committee members reported to the Bush administration:

1. data measured on the ground is accurate.
2. global warming is real.
3. anthropogenic sources of so-called "greenhouse gases" are contributing to that warming.

Now who am I to believe?  Patrick?  Andrew, who above says "I am no scientist"?  Or a committee that includes the leading critic within the profession who himself signed on to the statement I summarize above?

Andrew - if I seem annoying it is because I'm genuinely annoyed at people who will on the one hand cite a science fiction writer (Jerry Pournelle) as an authoritative source on global warming (I assume that's why you linked to him in your "crock" statement made months ago), while ignoring real scientists like those appointed by the National Academy of Sciences.

As a member of an Open Source software project you're probably aware that your activities have been described by some as being "communistic" and "anti-American".  Are you?  I'm not.  I would think this would cause warning alarms to sound off when you read a source like Pournelle's page that implies scientists studying climate change are only interested in establishing a socialist form of government in this country.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Andrew, in regard to DDT there are at least two mechanisms at work.

In diurnal raptors DDT interferes with the laying down of calcium as the egg passes through the ovary.  This cause the eggshell to be thin - doesn't cause brittleness.  The thinness means that the eggshell is weaker than normal, and if thin enough the weight of the brooding parent (birds must warm their eggs for the embryo to develop) will crush it.

Since the ban on DDT, PCBs etc we've seen a steady recovery in terms of eggshell thinness in raptors.  Studies I've seen indicate shells in the 95%-ish percent of normal range (IIRC, it's been years since I've looked).  Normal thickness is established by measuring eggs collected in the 19th century by naturalists for museum collections.

The second mechanism answers an interesting question, which is the correlation with DDT levels and egg mortality in certain species in which the eggshells are NOT thinned.

Believe it or not, biologists actually look into these things, don't blindly indict compounds like DDT because they're Rabid Leftist Environmentalists or whatever it is folks believe.

In turns out in these species (I forget which order, but it's not Falconiformes, i.e. not hawks, eagles, falcons and friends) the deposition of calcium by the ovary is indeed interfered with, but takes a different form.  Eggs are of roughly normal thickness, but investigation by electron scanning microscope has shown that the structure is somewhat "ropy" or "fibrous" rather than a smooth, impervious layer of calcium.  The spaces between these fibrous calcium deposits are large enough for water molecules to pass through, which causes the egg white to dry out and the embryo to die.

It yet other orders of birds it appears that the changes in calcium deposition (while real) are relatively innocuous.

I'm just scratching the surface here.  I'm posting this in part because I think that many who blindly accept the pronouncements of sources like have NO IDEA as to how deeply phenomena of this sort have been studied, and NO IDEA as to how well-established they are in our current body of scientific knowledge.

Are some environmentalists ignorant of science?  Sure.  Are some critics of environmentalism ignorant of science?  Proof by example: Michael Crichton.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Jonathon, as far as Lomborg goes I'm only qualified to discuss his conclusions regarding biodiversity (unlike Lomborg himself - a political scientist - or the Economist - written by journalists - I'm aware of and openly admit to having limited expertise in the subjects covered by his book).

But E.O. Wilson - considered by most professionals to be the leading biologist of our time - knows a hell of a lot more about the subject than I do, so I'll satisfy myself with a link to a piece he and a few colleagues wrote in response to Lomborg's analysis.

Much as I state above ... on what basis should I assume that the writers of the Economist, or a Danish political scientist, know more about biodiversity than a man like E.O. Wilson?

On what rational basis would I choose to believe that? I'm always amazed by how willingly people are to dismiss principles of science established by decades of peer-reviewed research after they read a popular book written by a non-scientist.

If there are bits of E.O. Wilson's rebuttal you don't understand feel free to post questions here and I'll do my best to clarify (I have no idea if you have a background in biology).

Posted by Don Baccus on
(I actually meant calcium carbonate, not calcium per se, when describing DDT's effects on bird's ovaries above)
Posted by Don Baccus on
Tom says:
If global warming is ever proven, the arugment will just move on to "and is that a bad thing?"'
Actually the science poster child types on the right so beloved by The Economist and The Wall Street Journal and other publications moved to that argument some years ago, having given up on the earlier "it ain't happening" line.

That's one reason why I'm suprised by comments such as those made by Andrew and Patrick. The sources of scientific skepticism I would assume they draw upon have already given up the "it's a crock" argument.

Fred Singer's a good example (he's funded by the petroleum industry and is not a professional, working climatologist, but gets a lot of ink). His spin for the past three-four years has been that global warming is indeed real, but that it will be in the lower range predicted by models and that it will be good for us. He puts forth all sorts of hand-waving arguments as to why this is true.

John Christy takes a similar stand, saying we should just ignore the issue because it might well be good for us. Unlike Singer, though, he doesn't claim that science backs up his position. I have a lot of respect for Christy because he very openly admits that he bases his opinion as to what we should do on his fundamentalist Christian beliefs - he believes in the apocaplypse, etc - and his conservative political principles. In other words, in interviews I've read at least, he's made a clear distinction between his views as a scientist (global warming is real, anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases do contribute) and the views he holds based on his personal beliefs. He is, as far as I can tell, a man of integrity even if I disagree with his political and religious views.

Do the naysayers here have any idea as to the scope of change being seen by biologists over the last three decades? Changes in migration timing? Timing in breeding seasons? Timing in flowering, in the sprouting of seed? This, to me, is one of the great ironies. While there are people who still claim that "global warming is a crock" biologists just shrug their shoulders and research issues like "is the decline in reproductive success of a certain insectivorous species of bird due to the fact that their insect prey have shifted their breeding season by a month while the bird species in question has shifted only by a week as a response to climate change?" (sorry, I forget the species in question).

To some degree the debate's a bit like the debate over evolution. While some still insist that evolution doesn't happen, over the past several decades the entire field of biology has been reconstructed with evolution as the very foundation on which it rests.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Andrew, in regard to this quote:
My understanding is that it's a known scientific fact, not open to any reasonable doubt whatesoever, proven via many indepent tree ring studies and correlated with various other temperature records, that over recorded history, the climate used to be both substantially warmer and substantially colder than it is now. If as far as we know a warmer climate didn't cause disaster during the "medieval climate optimum" - and we know it didn't - then a similarly warmer climate now probably isn't going to cause disaster either.
the concern of biologists and ecologists (meaning the science of studying ecosystem, i.e. communities of organisms, not "PopEco") is not simply with the endpoints.

It is with the pace of climate change. The very records you cite make it clear that the pace we're seeing is abormally rapid.

And from a practical, management point of view we're far more locked into a pattern of land allocation and use than was true during, say, medieval times. This potentially has a huge impact on our ability to mitigate through management because in much of the world, conservation strategy has been based on the creation of conservation reserves (in our country National Parks and to some extent National Forests, wildlife refuges, and the like). Typically these are surrounded by private lands devoted to intense agricultural use or, in a surprisingly large number of cases, heavy urban or suburban use.

And, as mentioned above, from a practical, management point of view (if one is a conservation biologist) the whole debate over climate change is moot. We've been seeing the effects on the ground for a couple of decades now and conservation biologists aren't asking "what if", they're working on "what can we do to mitigate?".

Posted by Patrick Giagnocavo on
Don, you have posted many paragraphs, but have not even attempted to refute the point I made, which is that current climate models, modeled on even the most expensive (400 million USD for the Earth Simulator) and fastest supercomputers, are not and cannot be accurate.

Is it reasonable to suppose that you cannot refute the point I have made about these climate models' accuracy?

Will you acknowledge that the fact I posted (not some well-regarded scientists' opinion) is true?

(An aside: Concerning well-regarded scientists and their opinions, I have but two words:  "Freud" (since discredited) and "Phrenology".  Both were quite well-regarded by the leading thinkers of their day.  )

Posted by Don Baccus on
"(An aside: Concerning well-regarded scientists and their opinions, I have but two words:  "Freud" (since discredited) and "Phrenology".  Both were quite well-regarded by the leading thinkers of their day.  )"

Neither would meet the definition of modern science, so what you've done is to raise a strawman and then knock it down.

As far as models go ... they do a very good job of replicating  events when fed past data, and as I mentioned above, John Christy - a real scientist rather than a second-rate software hack not worthy of tying my shoestrings much less kiss my feet (since you do argue from authority, and from authority only, I am compelled to point out that in this the software engineering realm, at least, I have a pedigree that makes your achievements look trivial) - has professed himself satisfied with the current state of modelling.

The ironic thing about your line of reasoning - "models can't be accurate" - is *exactly* why climatologists urge caution.

We can't predict what is going to happen as surface temperatures climb, therefore we ought to consider slowing down the pace of this particular experiment.

And, of course, you are further implying that the whole global warming gig is an artifact of inaccurate models.

Which is false. There's tons of observed data that document recent warming, and models must fit that data to be credible.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Patrick - it is interesting that your own political and ideological beliefs are so strongly held that you out-of-hand reject science that doesn't correlate with them.

That's sad, IMO.  A rational person should look at the world objectively, as free as possible from ideological tainting.

And you fail that test, miserably.

My heart goes out to you.

Posted by Don Baccus on
So, in answer to my question as to why I should accept your judgement rather than a select committee of the National Academy of Sciences, your argument is that "phrenology was wrong"?

Nothing to do with personal creditials?  Just the fact that certain assumed facts in the past have been proven false in today's world?  I'm to assume that today's scientists are as screwed up as the non-scientists who worked in the non-scientific past?

Phrenology was never a science, so your bringing this up demonstrates nothing more than an ignorance of science.  The fact that you mention phrenology at all is rather amazing, since it was never science-based.

Here is *my* argument against science: it doesn't always agree with Tarot cards or my horoscope.  Therefore, science must be suspect, just as it is because modern thinking doesn't jive with phrenology.

Surely you're aware that modern standards of peer-review, repeatable experimental results, and the like weren't in place in the days of phrenology?

And psychiatry - Freud - is not science.  It is medicine.  And though the two field meet, they are not identical.

You really don't know much about science, do you?

Posted by Don Baccus on
Actually re-reading Patrick's two posts major posts on the subject, I see he's under a rather strange miscomprehension.

He thinks that the whole global warming debate centers around models, which are inherently inaccuracy in their ability to predict the future despite the fact that they are able to closely model the past, which strangely gives him comfort, while the same inaccuracy not so strangely makes working scientists feel uncomfortable.  Professional scientists worry because of the uncertainty in the models, while Patrick seems to think that uncertainty in models means we can safely ignore observed data.  But ... the observered data is real, and the observed data is no longer in debate, and that's been true for some time now.  This includes Christy's satellite data and the supposed weather balloon mystery data.

The fact is that global warming - like evolution and speciation - is an observed fact.  And no working scientist in the field doubts that anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gasses are contributing to that warming (just as most believe there's  a good chance we're seeing a natural signature as well, the professional debate centers around how much each source contributes, the professional debate isn't around whether it is black or white but rather over which shade of grey).

I'm not interested in carrying on a political debate, here, but it is a pity that folks like Patrick can't be as honest as Fred Singer (and Singer's threshold of honesty is at basement level) or Christy (who hold himself to a higher standard, thankfully).  I don't personally have a problem with people who are honest enough to accept science and to then say "I think we can safely ignore this data, because I don't think it will hurt us".  Lying about the underlying science itself, though ... shameful.  And Patrick is taking a position that is no longer supported by those scientists who because of contract or belief have long been skeptics.

In short, Patrick, you're either a fool or a liar, and frankly I don't care which.  I will continue to learn science from scientists - not Patrick, no matter how much your ego has inflated your personal opinion.  You are not God.  You are Patrick.  You are not Son of God ... you are Patrick.  You're not even a core member of the OpenACS project, nor are you qualified ...

Posted by Talli Somekh on
To add some substance on top of my comments (and you're right to call me on that Andrew), the argument that because we cannot explain the dynamics within a rigorous framework does *not* necessarily suggest that the theory is wrong - just that given our current data it is the most effective theoretical argument available.

That is to say, the fact that we cannot predict an occurence does not mean that we cannot develop working theories that elucidate the underlying issues.

As Don says, the models that have been built do a fairly good job at describing phenomena based on past data. That means our job is to take data and turn it into empirical evidence for a particular theory.

What has occured to date is that frameworks have been built, data has been submitted to them and the evidence that was generated was enough to convince those whose *responsibility* it is to be skeptical that global warming does in fact exist and it is due to human environmental abuse.

In my experience, climatologists, biologists, activists, etc, are not so invested in the idea that Earth is doomed that they will support global warming in the face of bad science.

For a more complete discussion of this issue, please read this article by a former professor of mine whose focus is on philosophy of science and engineering epistemology (he's in the philosophy faculty at Tufts but is actually the most famous and respected engineer on the faculty there - in his "professional life" he is one of the world's most famous experts in turbo engines). The book he reviews is precisely about the burden of proof in the debate over the causes of the hole in the Ozone layer.

Here's a quick quote:

"Standards of evidence when risk is central can be very different from standards of evidence in either comparatively finished science or science in the early stages of theory construction

These differing standards can be a serious source of continuing confusion in disputes over such matters as ozone depletion. Indeed, they clearly have been so in respect to global warming. A consensus among scientists can form because the evidence strongly supports the promise of a theory. Those who think that their vested interests may be adversely affected by policies based on this evidence can always invoke the standard of finished science to argue for delay. And all the while the policy question is best viewed as a balance of risks against gains, given currently available information."



To further support Don's thesis that not everyone who argues we are facing an environmental crisis is a raving leftist. EO Wilson, in fact, is quite controversial given his socio-biological theories which to many on the Left sound dangerously racist.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
ahem. i should have said, "on turbo engines". Not sure how much time someone can remain an expert on anything if they choose to take a "spin" through a turbo engine...


Posted by Patrick Giagnocavo on
When one side in a debate feels the need to resort to personal attacks, they have lost the argument.
Posted by Don Baccus on
Talli ... I know nothing of E.O. Wilson's politics, so your comment's interesting.

I find myself exasperated by the way American conservatives judge science through the ideological lens.  It's very ironic that conservationists and environmentalists are automatically labelled "leftist" today, and that any scientist whose work is cited in support of conservation or environmental protection is automatically assumed to be ideologically driven.

The Clean Air Act was passed by a Republican President.  Big labor (and their liberal representatives) fought it.

The Clean Water Act was passed by a Republican President.  Big labor fought it.

Labor fought enforcement of the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Protection Act, and the protections for old-growth forest lands that flowed from that enforcement, back in the 1980s.  Both of these acts were passed by a Republican President ...

The National Park system was established with the creation of Yellowstone by a Republican President, U.S. Grant.

The National Wildlife Refuge system was established by (altogether, now!) a Republican President, the noted proto-communist Teddy Roosevelt.

Oregon's land use planning laws, considered the most progressive in the country, were proposed by and passed due to the strong efforts of two conservative Republican farmers  who happened to serve in our state legislature, and was signed by a Republican governor.  It was supported by that noted communist front organization, The Grange.

The National Wildlife Federation endorsed Reagan for two terms.

I could go on but my fingers are getting tired.

Posted by Don Baccus on
I apologize for my personal attacks, Patrick.

However you claim to be better able to judge the state of climate science than a select committee of experts chosen by the National Academy of Science.

The basis for your claim of superior judgement is threefold:

1. Phrenology was wrong.
2. Freud was wrong.
3. Don said unkind things about you.

If this is the best you can do, your credentials are weak.  In my ever so humble opinion, of course.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
btw, I think one would be hard pressed to get many students of psychology to say that Freud was ""discredited." I think they would say many of his theories were off base, they would also say that he is father of modern psycho-therapy and the "science" of dealing with the human psyche

That is, while we no longer employ his particular tactics for dealing with the psyche, he pointed us in the correct direction.

As a result, if we are to say that Freud has been discredited, we'd have to add Newton to the list (take a look at Book 2 of the Principia - it's an attempt to establish a formula for fluid dynamics, something we still don't have), Darwin (I imagine the theory of evolution is far more accurate now than it was in the Origin of Species) and every scientist from now to eternity who posits a theory that must face the test of empirical evidence.

A more appropriate example to support Andrew and Patrick's position is to point at Ptolemy, who described the motion of planets with alarming accuracy, good enough to be the standard celestial model for 1000 years. The only problem, of course, was that he had Earth as the center of the universe.

This is an example of building a model that provides results that are misleadingly positive. That is, the empirical evidence that is generated from the data is strong enough to convince the scientific community that the theory from which the evidence was generated is the most reasonable available.

Of course, since Copernicus, no one believes that the Earth is the center of the Universe, not even the Catholic church! (although that took a little while longer...)

It may very well be that the Church of Environmentalism is as wrong as pre-17th century science and all we need are revolutionary thinkers like Copernicus, Huygens and Newton to change our understanding.

However, the level of science that we have achieved, the accuracy of our models and the imminent danger the theory presents have all proven to be accurate, and pressing, enough that reasonable decisions can be made using them.


Posted by Jeff Davis on
> I could go on but my fingers are getting tired.

thank god.

Not that I disagree at all with your politics but I am hoping everyone's fingers get tired soon since I don't think either side here is that interested in changing their views.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Jeff, I kind of like OT threads like this. While the flame war and ad hominem attacks sometimes get out of hand, it gives the community some personality, and provides a massive amount of information for both sides.

Dunno if anyone's political perspectives will change, at least from those participating, but I'm quite sure there are those who are learning quite a bit... me included.


Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
I have to second Talli here. Discussions like these are very interesting and show that within the community we have a diverse background, from which we can learn quite interesting things, myself included.

Can google find this thread, I guess it would attract quite a diverse crowd, that may even end up trying out OpenACS.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Hmmm...I don't view science politically, which I suppose is one reason some of the views expressed in this thread annoy me to such a great degree.

If the scientific tide ran against the global warming hypothesis I'd be the first to point it out.

I never believed the Ice Age alarmists for the very reason that they could gain no traction among their professional community.  Nor did my conservation activist friends, for the community of conservation activists I run with are mostly biologists who look to science for answers.

And like most of my old conservation activist friends, I very much miss the days when there was broad bipartisan support for science-based conservation and environmental protection. Along with bipartisan opposition - one goes with the other.

Posted by Andrei Popov on
BTW, have you read "Fallen Angels" by by Michael F Flynn, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle?  I know it is Pournelle again -- but one has a right to doubt, does not one?  And (while possibly very absurd) some of the conclusion are quite sad (yet very environmentally friendly).

Pournelle may not be more credible than NAS, but it does not make NAS an ultimate truth, does it?  I have trouble buying extremist statments coming from both sides -- environmental and industrial all the same.

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Andrei, the NAS is *not* extremist.

here is a short note about what it's history:

The National Academy of Sciences was born in the travail of the Civil War. The Act of Incorporation, signed by President Lincoln on March 3, 1863, established service to the nation as its dominant purpose. The act also named 50 charter members.

Over the years, the National Academy of Sciences has broadened its services to the government. During World War I it became apparent that the limited membership -- then numbering only about 150 -- could not keep up with the volume of requests for advice regarding military preparedness. In 1916 the Academy established the National Research Council at the request of President Wilson to recruit specialists from the larger scientific and technological communities to participate in that work.

Recognizing the value of scientific advice to the nation in times of peace as well as war, Wilson issued an executive order at the close of World War I asking the Academy of perpetuate the National Research Council. Subsequent executive orders, by President Eisenhower in 1956 and President Bush in 1993, have affirmed the importance of the National Research Council and further broadened its charter.

Under the authority of its charter, the National Academy of Sciences established the National Academy of Engineering in 1964 and the Institute of Medicine in 1970. Much like the National Academy of Sciences, each of these organizations consists of members elected by peers in recognition of distinguished achievement in their respective fields. The National Academy of Sciences includes about 1,800 members, the National Academy of Engineering about 1,900, and the Institute of Medicine about 1,200. All three organizations also elect foreign associates.

so, no, maybe it's not the *ultimate* truth... but sure ain't radical or extremist.


Posted by Andrei Popov on

>  Andrei, the NAS is *not* extremist.

I am not saying it is.  'Extremist' referred more to the gloom/doom scenarios, sort of like what (ehm, here goes a non-Republican) Al Gore would portray.

I can't call myself a big expert on much of what was so vigorously disscussed in this thread, I just tend to be relatively more agnostic...

Posted by Don Baccus on
The National Academy of Sciences represents the Scientific Establshment in the United States.  It is the United States equivalent to the United Kingdom's Royal Society.

Jerry Pournelle is a science fiction writer who is open about his politically conservative bias.

If you needed open heart surgery, who would you pick to operate on you?  Jerry Pournelle or a surgeon?

If you needed advice about the state of science, who would you ask?  Jerry Pournelle or a panel of experts drawn from the membership of the National Academy of Sciences?

I would have to question the intellectual honesty of anyone who would answer "a surgeon" to the first question and "Jerry Pournelle" to the second ...

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Al Gore? Extremist?

Lord, you're even farther off than i thought.

It's healthy to be skeptical, certainly. But according to those in the know, this stuff is pretty gloomy/doomy...


Posted by Don Baccus on
Well, at this point in discourse (in our community) there's no reason to discuss whether or not it is "gloomy/doomy".

The issue regarding global warming is whether or not the observed data is real (and Christy, the Big White Conservative  Fundamentalist Christian Hope, has RECANTED) and whether or not anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gasses play a role in pushing the data into its observed data (again, the Big White Conservative Fundamentalist Christian Hope, John Christy, has recanted).

Given the fact that you can't find a credible working professional to disagree with the observed data ... it just seems weird to argue otherwise.

Now the subsequent political issues ... should we try to mitigate?  Will it be good for humankind?  Bad for humankind?  Is very much up for debate and when discussing policy decisions, political views are very much pertinent.

But I just can't see how someone reading a thermometer accurately can be deemed "proto-communist" just because he or she doesn't lie about what they see ...

Posted by Patrick Giagnocavo on
Post after post has been made, and still Don avoids the question:  are the climate models accurate?

The FACT is that they are not.  This fact is not something that depends on my scientific or software coding prowess, Don. It is simply an immutable fact.

Unless John Christy has "recanted" since his May 13, 2003 written testimony before the US Congress, he is in full agreement with me concerning the accuracy of climate models.

The Google-cache link I have is:

For some reason I am not able to load the original site (and thus am using the cached copy).

Don, do you have a link later than May 13, 2003 from John Christy that refutes this?

Posted by Talli Somekh on
Patrick, my two posts were written with your question directly in mind. Allow me to, once again, quote from the article, "An Instance of the Fingerpost" which is a review of The Ozone Layer: A Philosophy of Science Perspective by Maureen Christie:

A consensus among scientists can form because the evidence strongly supports the promise of a theory. Those who think that their vested interests may be adversely affected by policies based on this evidence can always invoke the standard of finished science to argue for delay. And all the while the policy question is best viewed as a balance of risks against gains, given currently available information.

To paraphrase:

You're right, we don't have exact models. But given all that we know the best argument is that ozone depletion and global warming are real, and unless we do something soon we'll all be living on houseboats and wearing SPF300.

But to diverge from the environmental question for a moment, let's test your reasoning quickly. Do you think that AIDS is caused by HIV?

The evidence that links the two, AFAIK, is entirely based on extremely persuasive correlations, not on a perfect (computation or otherwise) understanding of the human body and the immune system. (Stan, Vinod and all you other MDs please pipe up if I'm off base.)

Perhaps a better question, though, is to step even further back and ask whether you believe that AIDS (however it is caused) is sexually transmittable?

That is, let's assume that we haven't identified HIV yet. *However*, we do know that the correlation between unprotected sex with those who have AIDS and eventually contracting the disease oneself (regardless of hetero- or homo- sexual relations) is very high.

What do you think are the proper precautions? There are three scenariios from my perspective:

  1. Don't have sex
  2. Have protected sex
  3. Have sex without protection

Remember, we know nothing other than evidence that unprotected sex comes with a high potential for contracting AIDS. The question I have of you is do you think that even though we don't know where AIDS comes from, we have enough evidence that one shouldn't have protected sex?

Your response may be that equating the two questions is not appropriate because the potential quantitative loss in wearing a condom is exponentially (and nothing like) less than the potential quantitative loss if something like Kyoto were implemented to curb global warming (which we don't understand).

My response, though, is that the potential quantitative loss of *not* making drastic changes in anthropogenic waste production is exponentially greater than any quantitative (economic, for instance) loss we may suffer in the short run. And, further, there's the evidence to prove it! And the evidence is good enough to convince 104 out of 178 living Nobel laurettes in the sciences!

In science, there is a whole bunch of shit that we don't understand. Gravity is one. We have a fairly effective model for most cases, but we're still working on something that is true across all of its applications. But we have enough data and enough evidence that shows we are right more often than we are wrong. Further, we have a good idea where to continue looking to come up with the unified theory.

This is how science is performed, and how the evidenciary arguments for global warming have convinced the vast majority of scientists in the world.

So, in summary, please don't bring up computational model argument anymore. It really isn't a new or interesting point. It just betrays a misunderstanding of scientific process.


Posted by Talli Somekh on
Patrick, it also seems that a study in Science was published providing satellite data as evidence for global warming and disputing Christy's position. It was published, though, the same week that Christy gave the congressional presentation. Here is an article about it (the article does come from an environmental group, though).

Here's a relevant quote:

In the research published in the May 2 issue of "Science," scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Birmingham found that temperatures in the troposphere rose "by roughly 0.1 degrees C per decade relative to the corresponding ... data, which show little net change."

Furthermore, the group compared this change with those predicted by the Department of Energy Parallel Climate Model, and found that the model predictions and the actual satellite observations were compatible. "We note two important points," the authors write. "First, claimed inconsistencies between satellite estimates of tropospheric temperature changes and either model results or surface temperature trends depend critically on which satellite data set is used. These inconsistencies are minimized with the RSS data.

"Second, our identification of a model-predicted stratospheric temperature fingerprint is robust to satellite data uncertainties.

"Take together, these points strengthen the case for a pronounced human influence on global climate."

and, to be more clear about the relevance of this...

Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and one of the authors of a paper published in Science on the subject said, "This is an interesting area because of the political/policy situation. Among the skeptics who say that there are no human influences on the environment, and therefore we shouldn't do anything about it, one of the pillars of their arguments is the Christy and Spencer data set. They say these data are manifestly better than anything else. It is much harder now to say that, because there are two different data sets out there."


Posted by Don Baccus on
Patrick...John Christy was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel created at the request of the Bush administration, as I mentioned above.

As I also mentioned above, he was a signatory to the UNAMINOUS statement that global warming is real, that ground data is as accurate as satellite data, and that there is almost certainly an anthropogenic component to that warming.

So he's surely recanted in the sense that he no longer argues that his data explodes the "farce" of global warming.

That was part of the point of putting him on the committee.  Shit or get off the pot.

A little background...when Christy first published his data, it was claimed by some that the lower temperatures he saw in the troposphere proved that ground data was innaccurate and that the supposed record of warming was simply an artifact of measurement.

That's why the second part of the NAS committee statement is important.  Christy and a slew of other people have been examining the ground data, methodology in correction for known innaccuracies (city "heat island" effects), etc.  The conclusion: the data's good.

Likewise Christy's satellite data has been closely scrutinized.  Please realze that the NASA satellites in question do NOT directly measure temperature.  Rather, data  collected for an entirely different purpose is massaged by using a (dare I say it?) model to indirectly compute temperatures in the troposphere.

There has been some conflicting data from other sources, Talli's pointed out one paper published in Science.

Regardless ... the ground data's been scrutinized in so many ways by so many people that I think it is safe to say that the NAS is correct in their assessment.

Christy says that uncertainty in the models is reason to not take any action despite the committee's findings - and again, he signed on to the statement, and when interviewed afterwards did not recant - that the warming already seen is likely in part due to anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gasses.

Now ... he's also on record as saying that we shouldn't do anything about it even if the models are spot-on perfect and he bases that opinion on his religious and political beliefs combined with a belief that warming temperatures will be a good thing (without any scientific basis for that argument).

Others suggest that given the uncertainty it might be wise to begin mitigation efforts today.  And, no, this doesn't mean a return to the stone age.  British Petroleum is working to cut its greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily (their scientists and management accepted the scientific consensus some yeaars ago) and has yet to suffer financially.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Actually Christy may not've served on the NAS committee that came to the conclusion that there is almost certainly an anthropogenic component to observed warming.

Here's a statement he recently made regarding a National Research Council committee he served on (I have a hard time keeping all these councils and academies and the like straight :)

"Our panel was asked to settle some of the puzzling inconsistencies that have helped spur the controversy over global warming in the first place. Many in the scientific community were troubled by an apparent incongruity between two different sets of temperature data. Surface-temperature measurements indicate that the Earth has warmed. But data collected by satellites and balloon-borne instruments since 1979 indicate little, if any, warming of the upper atmosphere.

After reviewing the data, we found that despite these differences in temperature data, the Earth has indeed warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century. In fact, surface temperatures in the past two decades have risen at a rate substantially greater than average for the past 100 years. These are important findings, to be sure. But we also need to be aware that although the Earth's surface temperature has increased substantially in the past 20 years, that increase may not necessarily be representative of any long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The differences between the surface and upper-air data are probably due to a combination of factors. For example, depletion of ozone in the stratosphere may have cooled the atmosphere without affecting the surface temperature. And the debris that entered the atmosphere when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 also produced cooling, which was probably more pronounced in the satellite measurements than in those recorded at the Earth's surface. When these factors are taken into account in atmospheric models, the simulated trends agree more closely with the temperature observations, although some discrepancies remain.

So we know that despite differences in the two sets of temperature data, the Earth's surface is in fact warming. Our panel did not address whether greenhouse gases have led to the temperature increases of the past two decades."

What he's not saying here is that this is a huge retreat from his earlier position, that surface warming was not real, merely an artifact of the data, and that his satellite data PROVED it wasn't real.

He is also accepting the probability that some of the hypotheses put forward to explain the discrepency, such as the several year cooling effect of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption (important because the satellite data only goes back about tweny years, with half the dataset impacted by the eruption) .

So he's been forced to make a partial, not total, retreat from his earlier position.

Someone - a scientist, but not climatologist - recently told me Christy's balloon data that supposedly contradicts the Science paper above has itself been shot down but I've not checked it out ... I wouldn't be terribly surprised, though, because his first published methodology for indirectly computing temperatures in the atmosphere using his satellite data included a very embarassing error.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Ahhh ... there was a conference late in October entitled "Reconciling Vertical Temperature Trends Workshop", which will result in an NCDC (more alphabet soup) report sometime in the future.

I did skim one paper in which the RSS folk responsible for the Science paper above compared their results with Christy's.

What's very interesting is they're using data from the same satellites ... the RSS folk conclude that the difference comes from how they merge datasets from different NOAA satellites and it's almost all due to a single one, NOAA-9.

The conference also examined the weather balloon data, so I'm sure this conference is the one referenced by the person who e-mailed me the information.

Apparently the conclusion didn't help Christy's case any.  It will be interesting to read the report when it comes out.

Posted by Don Baccus on
OK, here's a synopsis ...

"Reconciling Vertical Temperature Trends Workshop October 27-29, 2003". Some of the skeptics who have posted on this topic might do well to study the presentations available there. Among other things, the whole idea of urban heat islands is completely debunked (maybe the surface temps are not so "deeply flawed" after all). Also of interest are the many expositions on the complexity of the distribution of vertical temperature changes and the degree to which there are very large and persistant differences on regional and hemispheric bases. You get very different results if you look at the atmosphere/surface anomalies in the tropics versus in the northern hemisphere, etc. So the idea of a single-valued difference expands into a whole spectrum of differences, depending on where you look for your non-surface data. The idea that there is an alternative set of non-surface measurements to be taken as opposed to the surface measurements is a myth. What does exist is a whole array of non-surface measurements which could be used - but the theory does not exist today to tell you which one to use, and how it should relate to corresponding surface temperatures. As far as the expected relation between surface and atmospheric temps, one presenter (Trenberth) went so far as to say "Given that global mean surface temperature anomalies are dominated by continental land areas in the NH, while global “satellite temperature” anomalies are dominated by the Tropical regions, why should we expect a relationship at all"?

(BTW "NH" in this context means "Northern Hemisphere", which is where the majority of the world's landmass lies, not "New Hampshire" which is really tiny :)