Thursday, December 28, 2006

Top Ten Websites for Informed Skeptics

Everyone likes a good top 10 list to reflect on the past year: here, courtesy of the excellent junkscience website, are the "Top 10 Junk Science Moments for 2006".

Steven Milloy runs the junkscience website and people either appreciate what he does or seriously dislike him: it all depends on their ideology. What I like about the site is that it stays current, has links that allow you to read original source material for yourself, he adds some interpretive commentary and he scans information from a wide range of locations.

For this reason, junkscience tops the inaugural ecomyths list of "Top Ten Websites for Informed Skeptics".

The Top Ten are:
  1. Junkscience: as described above, daily updates, comments, extensive coverage and an excellent index.
  2. Climate Audit: precise focus but very instrumental in the dismantling of the hockey stick and its role in the promotion of global warming; good list of frequent posters, some pointed debates and, above all, an emphasis on good science.
  3. Tech Central: good commentary, extensive coverage, well indexed and with excellent writing; all posts refer you to original source materials and extended reading; well researched.
  4. Spiked: topical, provocative and timely with an excellent slew of regular contributors. Well written.
  5. Prometheus: the best science policy blog out there; good site for policy debates and to drop in on invective between contrasting posters from different perspective. Why doesn't science always make for good policy? This blog gives a glimpse of the complexities faced in transferring what we know (and don't know) into what we think (and don't think) that we want.
  6. Ferraris for All: Daniel Ben-Ami's blog that focuses on the economics of environmentalism
  7. The Commons Blog: extensive listing of dynamist websites, extensive index and recent articles; very comprehensive.
  8. Cafe Hayek: site that views contemporary issues from a free market perspective in the tradition of Hayek
  9. EnviroSpin Watch: excellent writing and framing of environmental issues from the perspective of political ecology; posts a less frequent than they used to be but Phillip Stott is always worth reading and quoting.
  10. Reason: the online version of the magazine for free minds and free markets which seeks to avoid simplistic left and right political polarization by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity, including many issues that incorporate ecomyths.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

Thank you to everyone who has visited my site this year: I wish you and your family the very best wishes for a wonderful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

what models tell us: and what they don't

Sorry to disappoint but this post is about climate modelling and not an expose of Tyra Banks' latest exposition.

One of the problems with the politicisation of science is that projections, forecasts and guestimates produced by climate models are seized upon and exploited to suit whatever political policy directive its advocates cherish. This leads to a mis-construction of the science and a perpetuation of ecomyth fears: thus the claims that climate change will cause, and/or exacerbate, (insert flavour of the month fear here).

These statements make for great media copy, are easily reduced to simple headlines and a generally quite useful to those wishing to use scare tactics as a component of a wider political strategy to "save" the planet.

In general, climate models are limited by two things: the quality of the data, causal relationships and feedbacks built into the model (i.e. the model itself), and; the application of the model. It is this second point where the models reflect the ideology of those using them in that models are applied to today's problems and issues without regard to systemic changes outside of the modelled variables.
As this succinct discussion points out:
  1. climate change will likely prove unimportant to many of the phenomena identified by modellers as being impacted by climate change, and
  2. a global model of climate impacts has little chance of telling us what the biggest impacts will be.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Tis the Season in Darfur

Depression, anger, frustration: take your pick of emotional reactions to this latest update on the genocide in Dafur. Before Dafur was Rwanda, and before Rwanda, were the killing fields of Cambodia.

For all those intellectuals with a distaste for armed conflict and for all those critics of US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, my question is:what is your solution for Dafur?

The UN has proved itself to be both gutless and militarily incapable of any meaningful intervention. Whenever the West (well not the whole West, mostly just the US, Britain and Australia) step in with troops, they are roundly criticized as having ulterior motives (imperialism, globalization, Americanism, capitalism, oil) -- but I don't see any other faction stepping into the breach. Where is the coalition of peace-seeking Muslim nations bringing Sudan's rogue regime to heed? When will Africa police itself? Or is Dafur and its 2 million odd people "expendable"? And for what? What principle guides the central government of Sudan that so legitimizes its adoption of genocide as a tactic? What lesson for the improvement of humanity is it sending the rest of the world to inspire and guide our progress?

Now I have not read the Koran but I feel fairly confident that as it is a book about God's love that what is being practiced in Dafur is not what that good book says. Yet, I am unaware of any backlash amongst sound-thinking Islamists that has been vehement enough to suppress and/or curtail the genocide in Dafur. A genocide that has not unfolded rapidly in a few days, but slowly, inexorably over the better part of a decade.

No, no the world can not say "we didn't know" on this one. They can only say "we didn't care enough" and certainly not enough to intervene.

The true reason we as a species are not sustainable has nothing to do with climate nor technological impacts: it is deeply fixed in our inability to grasp and sanctify our own humanity.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Perspectives on debt

Two articles from spiked that have some profound points on debt from at quite different scales.

The first looks at personal debt and consumerism in the developed world, pre-Christmas and in preparation for the annual guilt trip foisted on people about the commercialization of Christmas. It concludes that what critics dislike is not really debt at all but the whole idea of mass popular consumption itself.

I must confess I am bemused by this and by the fixation some intellectuals have with "over-consumption". I still have not seen an effective definition for what constitutes over-consumption, other than it reflects purchases beyond the level the commentator can afford and thus must be excessive. The problem is of course, that all moralists want equality but they want it with those who have more than them and not those who have less.

The second article looks at debt at an international level and ponders the impact of China stepping in to fill the void created by western adherence to moral clauses in its contemporary aid programs to Africa. No simple answers but a very thoughtful discussion that calls into question how we balance geo-politics, human development and our own sense of principle: all of which can be (and often are) in conflict with one another, if not in direct contradiction of each other. Should the West abandon its adherence to democratic principle and the "fight" against corruption? Not necessarily. But one does hope that the fight is genuine and not mere rhetoric and political expediency fueled by media moments and celebrity endorsements.

Problems such as international debt and poverty are tremendously nuanced and context specific. They are vexing political problems and, as such, subject to the vagaries of political expediency and prevarication. Moreover, while these characteristics often are the key aspects in their perpetuation, they also are the only available means of resolution. It is a conundrum that our increasing scientific knowledge and improved technology does not equip us to resolve. What is needed is wisdom and leadership: two commodities for which there has never been a surplus.

for those who want scientific evidence

A report here on new research from Antarctica which indicates that:
  1. temperatures have been a lot warmer previously than now
  2. the ice shelves did not collapse during the warmer Holocene
  3. the "fragile" ecosystem survived quite intact
Facts that have a significant bearing on our contemporary examination of climate trands and their likely import.

Sometimes we have to recognize that "the more we know the more we realize how much more there is to know", get some perspective, some humility and remain open minded, rather than prescribing to close-minded dogma and politically correct consensus.

global convergence

One of the enduring myths of globalization is that it is exacerbating the gap between rich and poor, the global have's and the have-not's. For many critics the defining weakness of globalization and its inherent constituent (capitalism) is that it is primarily a mechanism for the rich to get richer and the poor, poorer.

The latest is a series of reports to debunk this myth comes courtesy of a World Bank report issued today. In his summary of the report, Peron points out that the World Bank's projections are condsidered to be "fairly impervious to all but the most severe and sustained shocks". At the same time the report indicates that "the possibility exists that the world will be even better than envisioned... thanks possibly to unanticipated technological improvements, more innovation in business processes that allow for an acceleration of globalization and widespread adoptions of good policies within countries."

Yes these are projections but they are based on the empirical data from the past 25 years: the period in which advances in information technology have created the present era of globalization. Clearly, globalization is leading to global convergence in income and an all-round increase in wealth. I'm not sure I see the problem (moral or practical) with that.

Another instance where those pesky empirical data refute the myths critics want to use to frame discussion and direct public policy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rethinking storm vulnerability

An excellent discussion that sadly (predictably?) went unpublished by the mainstream media. Not only does it dispel some of the hype around global warming, its non-publication reveals much about the media's propensity for only focussing on bad news. At the same time, the authors seek to put the emphasis within storm preparedness on real issues: socio-economic vulnerability and poor land use planning.

Monday, December 11, 2006

climate change update

Today's post highlights four articles on various aspects of climate change. Collectively they offer some hope and optimism that common sense may yet resist the overwhelming indoctrination of global warming dogma.

Solomon presents the send in his series of profiles of climate skeptics with the case of Christopher Landsea who resigned as lead author of the IPCC section on climate change and hurricanes after the IPCC pre-empted his report with a staged media event intended to capitalise on public sentiment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Not only did the IPCC lose the services of a world-renowned expert, they compromised the integrity of the science they claimed to be using and they revealed much about their strategy relative to making a case for global warming irrespective of the facts. IN the IPCC world, the end does justify the means.

The second article is an update from Senator Inhofe that summarise the expected reduction in predicted climate changes contained within the upcoming fourth IPCC report due this Spring. For Inhofe, this is vindication of his stance on climate change and is presented, I suspect, as a media ploy to offset the expected shift within the Senate environment committee now that the Democrats will both control and direct its focus for the next couple of years. Its politics and highlights how the game is played in Washington but also has several good links.

The third article I want to point out today comes from a web-exclusive comment in Canada's Globe and Mail, which is a newspaper renowned for its promotion of the standard global warming dogma. Surprisingly, then the post is a general public primer on how carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and that those with environmental sensitivities could better expend their energies opposing real issues. Quite refreshing but still not enough to get me to subscribe.

And last, but not least, is the latest update on the World Climate Report website, which underscores the previous existence of extended warm periods prior to the present global warming scare. Present temperatures are neither unprecedented nor alarming when viewed in historical context. That's science. Everything else is ideology.

The biggest problem is convincing advocates of global warming that their perceptions are coloured by their ideology when they view themselves either as planetary saviours (and thus with the "correct" ideology) or as dispassionate scientists without any ideology ( but they do have views on the certitude of science, the infallibility of scientific method,religion, politics, cultural diversity, gender roles and a myriad of other constructs that form their ideology despite their lack of willingness to confront or acknowledge it).

Friday, December 08, 2006

unlocking frozen capital

One of the distressing aspects of environmental development is how much effort academics and others expend on criticism compared to the creative aspects of providing workable alternatives. Perhaps it is a product of the predominant research model -- get external funds, study problem, highlight need for ongoing funds to continue studies -- and perhaps it is a by-product of academic elitism, but censure and "constructive criticism" are endemic within both the journal literature and blogsphere related to environment and development. So it is refreshing to read an article that seeks some creativity at how pervasive poverty can be alleviated through direct empowerment of the poor themselves.

Micro-markets: not a place for big government nor big agencies nor celebrity endorsement and photo opportunities, but a potentially definitive blueprint for the real fight on poverty.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sorting out the science

Here is a common sense article that focuses on nutrition but is applicable to many issues where science is used to sway public opinion, such as environmental issues. It concludes with this advice:

  • What can we do about making food decisions? How can a reasonable person make a judgment about what to do?
  1. Do not expect perfection. This is an often neglected phenomenon of science. Absolute clarity on any issue is rare. Tolerate some ambiguity.
  2. Some things, particularly about food and nutrition, are still unknown. We've accomplished a lot, but a great deal needs still to be learned. Time often resolves the issues. What seems confusing now may be very clear in 10 years.
  3. Use your good judgment. Radical food changes are rarely necessary but sometimes changes in food behaviour seem reasonable and can be justified. My grandmother was a wise woman and so was my mother, but they were not always right. I don't think I could survive a regular diet of what was standard in my grandmother's home.
  4. Be skeptical. Wisdom is uncommon. Absolute wisdom is rare.
  5. Don't overuse any single food or food group. Exercise. And don't believe everything you read.
I especially endorse the sentiments on wisdom and not believing everything you read/hear. The problem with common sense is that its not that common. Subsequently, we have a culture that celebrates the cult of the expert. The problem being, that many claim expertise but few really have it. The imposition of authority often is an admission that the expertise that is claimed does not have enough robustness to withstand scrutiny.

Can British Wine Grapes Resolve A Global Warming Question?

When asked to speak about my views on global warming, I often commence by speaking about vineyards in England and the fact that they are recorded in the Doomsday book of 1075, disappear after 1315 and then see a resurgence in the 1970s.

Climate is warmer today but not any warmer than it had been 1000 years ago when there were no cars, no big cities and no anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Climate change: yes, and it is science. Global warming: no, and its all politics. The most elementary evidence being the existence and otherwise of a wine industry in England.

Here is a nice commentary that summarizes the information and even cites the uber-AGW blog, realclimate, which is suitable irony (and possibly the one and only time that site can mentioned in this blog).

Scientifically, the existence of the medieval warm period indicates that climate varies on a cyclical basis. Add to this the fact that mean temperatures over the past 100 years have risen by only 0.6C +/- 0.2C. Where is Armageddon in that? Are we modifying the climate? Yes, but the degree of change and the rate of that change do not equate with any doomsday scenario and there is every reason to believe that increases in temperatures in the coming "warm period" will be as advantageous to humanity as in the last such occurrence.

Oh, I know that marks me as an optimist. But as George Bernanos stated 'Hope is a risk that must be run'.