more doom and gloom

Independent Online Edition > Jim Hansen spreads the word that the world will actually end in ice. Somebody inform Robert Frost*.


Someday the Sun Will Go Out and the World Will End (but Don't Tell Anyone) - New York Times

I even kept the headline from a NYTimes.com commentary by Dennis Overbye for today's post, I hope he doesn't mind [LINK]. The commentary is about important people being interested in science. The focus is on astronomy, which is Overbye's general beat. Yes, this is related to the NASA scandal, and yes, I seem to be a NYTimes.com sycophant more and more these days (don't worry, they'll drop the ball soon, and I'll be all over them like birdshot on a Texas lawyer), but I really do think this scandal has brought a lot of issues out into the open again. Of course, the most obvious issue is this administration's apparent neglect and even scorn for modern science, but there are other issues here, like the more general topic of what governmental organizations (e.g., NASA) are allowed to do independent of the very government that is funding them, and what the relationship should be between these kinds of organizations and the general public, for whom the organizations ultimately work.

Overbye brings up some important points about astronomers staying in the wings of the political stage while, for example, Kansas stopped teaching about the big bang in science classrooms. What? Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but we all know that Kansas has some serious troubles (see this BOOK and the Flying Spaghetti Monster). He touches on George Deutsch ordering NASA web sites to add "theory" after any mention of "big bang." Then he moves on to a less egregious offense at NASA: a sentence about observations of a white dwarf being similar to our sun's fate being removed from a new release.

The statement wasn't removed for being political or policy related, as it is common knowledge that our sun will die in about 5,000,000,000 years. Instead it was removed because it was too much "gloom and doom" to give the public. Never mind that it's true. Do governments, or scientists working for the government, need to sugar-coat findings for the public? What would this mean for avian flu stories? Is it inevitable that a pandemic will occur, and we're just being told about less gloomy scenarios? Is the public so spoiled, or so dumb, that we can no longer trust them to deal with hard realities?

Despite my innate cynicism, I don't think the American public has fallen that far yet. It is mysterious to me why the government and media seem to pander to the least curious, and intellectually laziest among us. A bad analogy: it's like keeping a population happy by slipping some sedatives into the water supply. I'll make it more extended: what happens when we find out the sedative is actually toxic? Maybe I took it too far. Well, that's what blogs are for.


Australia copies everything the USA does

Now the aussies are up to it. Well, at least there are some stories being spread about climate scientists (at CSIRO) being censored by the government. If I had to take a stance based on what I've read, it sounds like this case is less severe than the NASA scandal from a couple weeks ago, but serious in its own right. It sounds like the CSIRO scientists wanted to talk about climate mitigation, which could be interpretted as "policy." That is what the governments seem to think scientists should keep their noses out of. Of course, in a field like climate science, at least in the last few years and presumably for the next 10-50 years, the scientists are doing work that should directly influence policy. Further, the science has been coming down on the side of actively fighting climate change, and policies don't seem to be following. So what are climate scientistis to do? If the science has clear implications, yet the government is unwilling to take the science at face value and act, it seems important to take the science to the people, and let that populace drive policy.

Here's the links:

[LINK, smh.com.au]

[LINK, The Australian]


this story got much more play than I thought it would

Yet another WaPo article about Jim Hansen and censorship in climate science, [LINK]. That guy who had been making trouble at NASA, the 24-year-old nearly-graduated-from-college George Deutsch resigned last week, by the way. Although it was techically over lying on his resume, clearly he was forced out under the enormous pressure this issue with Hansen has put on NASA. An especially great quote from Deutsch is the linked article:
"'Anyone perceived to be a Republican, a Bush supporter or a Christian is singled out and labeled a threat to their views. I encourage anyone interested in this story to consider the other side, to consider Dr. Hansen' s true motivations and to consider the dangerous implications of only hearing out one side of the global warming debate,' Deutsch said."

Yes, consider it.


roundup time

I was considering writing a longer post than normal about how badly the current administration has treated science. It's a topic that keeps coming up, and now there are even books about the topic [e.g., The Republican War On Science]. I got as far as writing down some notes, which I may go back to in the future, but for now I think Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post has done a quick review [LINK]. Actually, only about the first half of the column, which is really more of a list of links, is specifically about science, and not all of that is about climate science, but there seems to be a strong case that GWB and his buddies don't value science when it doesn't help them out directly, and that prejudice is present in other areas, as important as national security, as well.

Another WaPo article, this one by Juliet Eilperin, discusses the possibility of a climate change "tipping point" [LINK]. It gets into the James Hansen/NASA story toward the end.


UW scientists subtract stratosphere, find global warming

There's a study in Nature about using microwave measurements of temperature in the atmosphere to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between temperature change at the surface and in the upper troposphere (about 11 km up). The problem is that everything we know about physics tells us that there should be commensurate warming, but the measurements haven't really born that out. According to this study, it is the cooling of the stratosphere (predicted in a global warming scenario and observed) that is contaminating the measurements. Some folks at UW made a statistical relationship, and then subtracted the upper level signature from the temperature, and lo and behold, global warming. [LINK] There are critics of the method, and that is good. But since there seems to be mounting evidence that observations really do show the kind of warming expected, we can give this study the slight advantage over skeptics. I expect we'll hear about similar studies doing slightly different things and getting basically the same results in the next year or two, which along with new observations will pretty much seal the deal.


maybe now we'll grow an exoskeleton

There's an interesting review in National Geographic by James Owen [LINK] about evidence that early human species probably evolved along with changing regional climate in Africa. The studies cited tie the evolutionary stages of humans to changes in rainfall and vegetation in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. The idea seems pretty straightforward. As the climate dried out, tropical vegetation gave way to grasslands, making the ability to run an advantage in finding food and staying alive. Then a series of climate shifts made eastern Africa wetter and drier over a few millennia, which made early humans adapt several times. That favors bigger brains that can cope with a variety of climates, as well as a host of other physiological traits that may have helped early humans.

This kind of study shows some of the potential for very multidisciplinary studies among biology, geology, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and even including anthropology, etc. It warms my heart.