Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Multi-tasking

Today's an exciting day here at the Virtualpolitik corporate headquarters, because the Energy and Commerce Committee actually finally had a hearing about climate change, instead of sex on the Internet. Hooray!

People who believe in "anthropogenic" climate change were even allowed to speak for once, although the naysayers were there in force. Because I'm run a writing program, I talk about good writing with scientists a lot, who emphasize the importance of clarity in data presentation, and I have to say there was a marked contrast between the camps of presenters. Pro-administration people used some of the most obfuscatory jargon I've ever heard in a Congressional hearing, while administration opponents generally submitted short, pithy, to-the-point messages that used bullet points, italics, and underlining to good effect.

My favorite witness (where "favorite" doesn't mean "good") was Mr. Stephen McIntyre who uttered some of the most convoluted sentences I've ever heard in my academic career. I'm not a university snob since I believe that "open source" participation that includes expert amateurs is healthy for institutions of higher education, but I have to point out that the man holds no graduate degrees in anything and thus can hardly be considered a legitimate scientific authority or a representative of a professional community. Apparently that doesn't stop McIntyre from putting out his Climate Audit blog on a regular basis, which inspired a rival blog from working climate scientists called Real Climate.

McIntyre was critical of something called the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which actually has a kid's page in which youngsters are taught not to worry about all kinds of natural disasters, which is strange given their message that the public needs to be more concerned about climate change. For example, consider the following gem from the site: "England, May 1950: All the feathers were plucked off of several chickens by the fierce winds of a tornado. Don't worry! The chickens survived!"

The Energy and Commerce Committee also covered the timeline for radioactive waste disposal at Yucca Mountain in another hearing the same day. Enjoy the submerged Yucca Mountain mascot from the federal program's youth zone. "Yucca Mountain Johnny" now has his own Wikipedia entry.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous John A said...

I'm not a university snob since I believe that "open source" participation that includes expert amateurs is healthy for institutions of higher education, but I have to point out that the man holds no graduate degrees in anything and thus can hardly be considered a legitimate scientific authority or a representative of a professional community.

Two comments:

1. Yes, you're a snob and
2. McIntyre is (or was) a mathematics genius in his youth, with an excellent backgrounding in statistics.

I don't recall Steve McIntyre ever claiming to be representative of a professional community or ever needing to be a such a member. Come to think of it, some of the best science ever done came from people who were not part of a "professional community", like um, Einstein circa 1905?

Apparently that doesn't stop McIntyre from putting out his Climate Audit blog on a regular basis, which inspired a rival blog from working climate scientists called Real Climate.


Actually, it was the other way around. RealClimate was setup before ClimateAudit for the express purpose of defending Michael Mann from the (entirely true) allegations by Stephen McIntyre that his famous Hockey Stick was a mathematical pile of shit with no statistical skill whatsoever.

You might have noticed that no-one at all at that congressional hearing even tried to defend it. Not a Democrat, nor a scientist, nobody. You might wonder why this graphic that so dominated the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC TAR that nobody bothers to defend anymore...

Fortunately the reader of your blog is spared from the trauma of being informed about this or any other issue in climate science by your opaque prose. It's rather like RealClimate except not as deliberately snide as RealClimate.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Hi John,

Wow! I followed your link and found out that you were from ClimateAudit! Cool! (Or warm, actually.)

4:35 PM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

And, of course, in addition to being the clerk who processed the patent of the triangular Toblerone, Einstein earned a Ph.D. and published within the scholarly community during his "Miracle Year," so I'd argue that it's not really an apt analogy to your boss.

Am I getting warmer?

4:48 PM  
Anonymous John A said...

And, of course, in addition to being the clerk who processed the patent of the triangular Toblerone, Einstein earned a Ph.D. and published within the scholarly community during his "Miracle Year," so I'd argue that it's not really an apt analogy to your boss.

Einstein got his PhD in 1907 which was two years later. He was not holding an academic position in 1905 being a third class patent clerk at the time. I find myself wondering why such an "amateur" should have been allowed to publish against such strong scientific consensuses as Newtonian mechanics and the absoluteness of space and time.

Einstein certinly published in academic journals in 1905, as Steve McIntyre did in 2003 and 2005 (Geophysical Research Letters amongst others).

It's a curious fact that neither Geophysical Research letters, nor an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences, nor various professionals such as Edward Wegman, thought to reprove Steve McIntyre for his lack of graduate degrees, since he has a degree in mathematics and clearly knows more about statistics than the people he was criticizing.

Perhaps its easier to take potshots from the top of the Ivory Tower rather than getting to grips with the statistics of multiproxy studies in the way Steve McIntyre has. And the pay's the same.

By the way, he's not my boss for the simple reason that he does not pay me.

1:16 PM  

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