Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to be a Denialist

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) "We knew they were cooking the science to support the flawed UN IPCC agenda."
  1. Allege that there's a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
  2. Use fake experts to support your story.
  3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
  4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
  5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
  6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist "both sides" must be heard and cry censorship when "dissenting" arguments or experts are rejected.
(Martin McKee, The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blow Smoke in Her Face and She'll Follow You Anywhere

The Tobacco Industry is fighting back after they were finally taken to task by Congress for killing Americans and lying about it. It is estimated that the tobacco industry spends some $15 billion per year advertising its products. More and more, Big Tobacco is focusing its advertising dollars, product design and placement on teenagers, with the aim of getting them hooked early. They are even creating tobacco products that are easily concealed in schools and at home. And they're coming up with smokeless products. Camel, for instance, is test marketing tobacco sticks, strips, and orbs. The orbs look a lot like Tic Tacs mints, while the sticks resemble toothpicks, and the strips are much like Listerine breath mint strips. One tobacco lobbyist felt pretty good about this because, in his words, it really reduces the effects of second-hand smoke.

"All my friends are doing it."
The perfume they used? Chanel #5 @ $300/oz. What they smell like? Tobacco smoke.
Do these young women think they look sexy with smoke spewing out of the mouths? Isn't it just a bit absurd really? But tobacco company advertising has for years tried to convince us that smoking is cool and sexy.

"Blow smoke in her face and she'll follow you anywhere."
The Industry doesn't use models like these to advertise their products.
Ronnie smokes 'em. Shouldn't you?

Maybe Ronnie will send some to you for Christmas
Nicotine is not addictive. I swear.
Smoking is stupid, and blowing smoke out of one's face looks stupid, even if it's an electric cigarette. I mean, what's that smoke coming out of your face?

And how about chewing tobacco? Sticking that stuff between your cheek and gum. Yuke! Seeing all that spitting by ball players is bad enough, but believe me, you don't want to see the pictures of people's ruined teeth, jaw, and most of their face. Ugh!

Baseball banned tobacco use in the minor leagues in 1993,
but it is still common in the majors.
"...men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call. I knew Spaniards on this island of Española who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it." (as recorded by Bartolome de las Casas, sent by Columbus into the interior of Cuba, circa 1500).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Last Century of Wild Seafood

by Richard Black, BBC
Factory Trawler
There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study. Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers says fishery decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine biodiversity. But a greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks.

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.

“This century is the last century of wild seafood. What we're highlighting is there is a finite number of stocks; we have gone through one-third, and we are going to get through the rest," said Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project. He added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."

This is a vast piece of research, incorporating scientists from many institutions in Europe and the Americas, and drawing on four distinctly different kinds of data. Catch records from the open sea give a picture of declining fish stocks.

In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield. Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are not bringing the world's fleets bigger returns - in fact, the global catch fell by 13% between 1994 and 2003.

Historical records from coastal zones in North America, Europe and Australia also show declining yields, in step with declining species diversity; these are yields not just of fish, but of other kinds of seafood too.

Zones of biodiversity loss also tended to see more beach closures, more blooms of potentially harmful algae, and more coastal flooding.

Experiments performed in small, relatively contained ecosystems show that reductions in diversity tend to bring reductions in the size and robustness of local fish stocks. This implies that loss of biodiversity is driving the declines in fish stocks seen in the large-scale studies.

The final part of the jigsaw is data from areas where fishing has been banned or heavily restricted. These show that protection brings back biodiversity within the zone, and restores populations of fish just outside.

"The image I use to explain why biodiversity is so important is that marine life is a bit like a house of cards," said Dr Worm. "All parts of it are integral to the structure; if you remove parts, particularly at the bottom, it's detrimental to everything on top and threatens the whole structure. "

And we're learning that in the oceans, species are very strongly linked to each other - probably more so than on land."

What the study does not do is attribute damage to individual activities such as over-fishing, pollution or habitat loss; instead it paints a picture of the cumulative harm done across the board. Even so, a key implication of the research is that more of the oceans should be protected.

But the extent of protection is not the only issue, according to Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the global marine programme at IUCN, the World Conservation Union. "The benefits of marine-protected areas are quite clear in a few cases; there's no doubt that protecting areas leads to a lot more fish and larger fish, and less vulnerability," he said. "But you also have to have good management of marine parks and good management of fisheries. Clearly, fishing should not wreck the ecosystem, bottom trawling being a good example of something which does wreck the ecosystem." But, he said, the concept of protecting fish stocks by protecting biodiversity does make sense. "This is a good compelling case; we should protect biodiversity, and it does pay off even in simple monetary terms through fisheries yield."

Protecting stocks demands the political will to act on scientific advice - something which Boris Worm finds lacking in Europe, where politicians have ignored recommendations to halt the iconic North Sea cod fishery year after year. Without a ban, scientists fear the North Sea stocks could follow the Grand Banks cod of eastern Canada into apparently terminal decline. "I'm just amazed, it's very irrational," he said. "You have scientific consensus and nothing moves. It's a sad example; and what happened in Canada should be such a warning, because now it's collapsed it's not coming back."

"So long, you've run out of all the fish."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Attack on the Pentagon, September 11, 2001

I was working at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Science & Technology Intelligence when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. The event completely changed my work focus and I soon found myself working out of a special compartmented information facility, a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”), in the basement of the Pentagon helping to plan Operation Iraqi Freedom. I saw the damage to the Pentagon first hand.
When I returned to PNNL, I worked on counter terrorism. We briefed a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for our region -- JTTFs were set up as a result of what were seen as intelligence failures in preventing 9/11 -- and worked with an FBI office in Seattle to help them shift from after-the-fact crime assessment to forward-looking attack prevention. I worked with our counterintelligence/counter terrorism group doing threat assessments.
Back in the PNNL SCIF, I saw playing cards showing the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government posted on the cork board. These cards were called “personality identification playing cards.” We turned them upside down as the individuals were captured or killed. You can now buy these cards on eBay (but some of the decks for sale are not the original cards).

After my temporary duty at the Pentagon, my focus at PNNL shifted from intelligence analysis of major powers, to the far more difficult assessment of non-state actors. We quickly learned that an over dependence on technical means for intelligence collection (e.g., imagery) wouldn't cut it in the new threat environment.

I think the world changed dramatically after 9/11 -- mine certainly did.

"As the United States heads toward the sixth year of the global war on terror, representing violent nonstate actors (VNSA) as a system remains elusive to all but a few pockets of the Department of Defense." (Maj. Tara A. Leweling, 2006)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blowing Smoke About Clouds

by Pericles
Originally posted to Pericles on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 07:51 AM PDT.
Also republished by Science Matters, SciTech, and Community Spotlight. 

Cloud formation over Amon Basin, Kennewick, Washington
Last week an International Business Times headline brought me up short: "Alarmists Got it Wrong, Humans Not Responsible for Climate Change: CERN".
"Wow," I thought. "CERN. Not some Exxon-funded stooge. CERN, where the real scientists are. There's the CERN logo right in the article. I'd better read this and rethink my opinion on climate change."
I read the article and I learned a lot. But not about science, about propaganda. Hijacking the well-deserved prestige of a scientific organization like CERN is easier than I thought.
Occasionally you need to know some science to spot the BS in a newspaper science article, but most of the time you just need some common sense. Start with: Does the content of the article justify the headline?
Not this time. The article discusses new research about cloud formation that CERN scientists recently published in Nature (another one of the biggest names in science). But nobody at CERN is quoted saying, "Humans aren't responsible for climate change."
In fact, the article doesn't quote anybody from CERN (or Nature). Who, then? Lawrence Solomon, David Whitehouse, and Nigel Calder. If you're just skimming, you might assume at least one of them represents CERN, but they don't.
Who are they? In the Age of Google, that's an easy question.
  • Solomon is the author of The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud; And those who are too fearful to do so.
  • Whitehouse is from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, described by SourceWatch as "a United Kingdom group opposing action to mitigate climate change". Funded by ... they won't say.
  • Calder (according to Wikipedia) is "a long-standing skeptic of global warming" who "participated in the polemic film The Great Global Warming Swindle."
So a more accurate headline would be: "Global-Warming Skeptics Claim New CERN Research Vindicates Them".
Well, of course they claim that. But then any real journalist would have to ask: Does it?
Journalism -- even journalism about rocket science -- is not rocket science: Punch "CERN cloud experiment results" into Google, and in seconds you'll be looking at the CERN press release and its supporting press briefing. Spend a few minutes chasing links, and you'll see the lead author of the Nature article (Jasper Kirkby) quoted in Scientific Computing, Live Science, and -- oh, look at this! -- Nature News, which is put out by the same people who publish Nature.
So it isn't hard to find sources closer to the action than Solomon, Whitehouse, and Calder. Do any of them say "Humans are not responsible for climate change"? No. So what is this experiment and what does it really show?
CERN made a cloud chamber that simulates Earth's atmosphere, and tried to figure out where atmospheric aerosols -- tiny particles that cloud droplets form around -- come from. They discovered that previous theories only accounted for a small fraction of the aerosols observed in the atmosphere. They could account for more when they added cosmic rays to their simulation, but they still couldn't form a complete theory.
The CERN press release quotes Kirkby:
“It was a big surprise to find that aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere isn’t due to sulphuric acid, water and ammonia alone. Now it’s vitally important to discover which additional vapors are involved, whether they are largely natural or of human origin, and how they influence clouds.”
The press briefing concludes:
“This result leaves open the possibility that cosmic rays could also influence climate. However,  it is premature to conclude that cosmic rays have a significant influence on climate until the additional nucleating vapours have been identified, their ion enhancement measured, and the ultimate effects on clouds have been confirmed.”
Nothing in the press release quantifies this possibility. Kirkby told Nature News: "At the moment, [our research] actually says nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate, but it's a very important first step."
Live Science also talked to Kirkby:
“The research doesn't call into question the basic science of greenhouse gas warming, Kirkby emphasized, but rather refines one facet of the research. ... "It's part of the jigsaw puzzle, and you could say it adds to the understanding of the big picture," he said. "But it in no way disproves the other pieces."
None of that stops Solomon from claiming (in the Financial Post -- again published with no comment from the actual researchers) that, “The science is now all-but-settled on global warming, convincing new evidence demonstrates, but Al Gore, the IPCC and other global warming doomsayers won’t be celebrating. The new findings point to cosmic rays and the sun — not human activities — as the dominant controller of climate on Earth.”
Discover's Bad Astronomy blog responds:
“There’s only one problem: that’s completely wrong. In reality the study shows nothing of the sort.”
BA goes on to explain why you shouldn't expect any future research to support Solomon either:
“The problem here is two fold: there doesn’t appear to be a large variation in Earth’s temperatures with solar activity, and also that temperatures are rising extremely rapidly in the past 100 years, when solar activity has been relatively normal.”
So, who do you think the conservative media outlets go with: science publications that have done the legwork and talked to the CERN researchers, or a long-time global-warming denier who makes unsupported claims in an opinion piece in a financial newspaper?
Do you have to ask?
Fox Business Channel's Tobin Smith:
“We can report tonight the science of climate change is now all but settled. Yes friends and neighbors, and the global warming alarmists have been dealt a wee bit of a blow, right? CERN, C-E-R-N, one of the world's largest and most prestigious centers for scientific research, has concluded that it's the sun's rays, not human activity, which controls the earth's climate. Now, that, of course, is horrible news for the greenies who've used, you know, for years questionable science to justify more and more regulations against fossil fuels like coal and oil, all the while arguing for more and more for the renewable energy sources they just love so dearly. So are the greens prepared to back down now that the science has proved them wrong?”
Media Matters collects similar statements from CBN, the Washington Times, and Investor's Business Daily -- all clearly repeating Solomon's interpretation rather than CERN's.
So this is what you need to hijack the well-deserved prestige of a research organization like CERN and a journal like Nature:
  • three zero-credibility cranks to "interpret" the research by making stuff up,
  • two newspapers willing to ignore anybody connected to the research, and instead source their articles to the cranks,
  • an echo chamber of news outlets willing to accept the first two papers as reliable sources, do no independent checking, and instead let false claims grow in the telling,
  • opinion leaders in the echo chamber who shift the onus away from the cranks onto their opponents: What's wrong with those greenies, that they still hold out now that they've been proven wrong?
Result? Rank-and-file conservatives hear the same message from multiple directions. When they confidently tell their friends and  co-workers that CERN has proved Al Gore wrong, people who get their news from the New York Times know nothing about it -- because an accurate assessment of these tentative results was not deemed sufficiently newsworthy. And the conservative nods knowingly: It's that liberal media, constantly suppressing anything that doesn't fit its biased worldview.