Archive for July, 2008

Adaptation Policies for Biodiversity: Facilitated Dispersal

July 18th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and colleagues have an important article on “Assisted Colonization and Rapid Climate Change” in this week’s issue of Science (pdf). The author’s argue:

Rapid climatic change has already caused changes to the distributions of many plants and animals, leading to severe range contractions and the extinction of some species (1, 2). The geographic ranges of many species are moving toward the poles or to higher altitudes in response to shifts in the habitats to which these species have adapted over relatively longer periods (1-4). It already appears that some species are unable to disperse or adapt fast enough to keep up with the high rates of climate change (5, 6). These organisms face increased extinction risk, and, as a result, whole ecosystems, such as cloud forests and coral reefs, may cease to function in their current form (7-9).

Current conservation practices may not be enough to avert species losses in the face of mid- to upper-level climate projections (>3°C) (10), because the extensive clearing and destruction of natural habitats by humans disrupts processes that underpin species dispersal and establishment. Therefore, resource managers and policy-makers must contemplate moving species to sites where they do not currently occur or have not been known to occur in recent history. This strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches.

The strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches due to the numerous risks associated with the introduction of invasive species. The authors fully acknowledge these risks.

The world is littered with examples where moving species beyond their current range into natural and agricultural landscapes has had negative impacts. Understandably, notions of deliberately moving species are regarded with suspicion. Our contrary view is that an increased understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of some species allows us to identify low-risk situations where the benefits of such “assisted colonization’” can be realized and adverse outcomes minimized…

…One of the most serious risks associated with assisted colonization is the potential for creating new pest problems at the target site. Introduced organisms can also carry diseases and parasites or can alter the genetic structure and breeding systems of local populations…

…In addition to the ecological risks, socioeconomic concerns must be considered in decisions to move threatened species. Financial or human safety constraints, for example, may make a species’ introduction undesirable. It is likely to be unacceptable to move threatened large carnivores or toxic plants into regions that are important for grazing livestock…

These risks do not invalidate the authors’ major point. If we want to conserve current biodiversity in a changing climate, we will likely need creative alternatives to current conservation approaches. Facilitated dispersal of species is one option that deserves consideration in specific conservation contexts. However, it is far from a silver bullet.

Too Many Atmospheric Scientists . . . Surprise, Surprise

July 15th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In the current issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society John Knox concludes (PDF):

. . . if the projections are accurate: the number of undergraduate meteorology degree recipients will increasingly exceed the number of meteorology employment opportunities into the next decade. Thus, given recent trends and future projections, the growth of the U.S. undergraduate meteorology population is potentially unsustainable in terms of bachelor’s degree–level employment within meteorology.

With respect to the job market for meteorologists he finds another solid indication of a glut:

Meteorology graduates’ salaries in this national database are much closer to those in the traditionally glutted and underpaid humanities fields than to salaries for graduates with computer science, physics, geology, or mathematics degrees.

Knox indicates that this situation has developed because the atmospheric sciences community has ignored the demand side of the equation when pressing for an ever increasing supply of students, and may foreshadow a similar glut at the graduate level:

the quantitative results of this article can be construed to indicate that we have entered
a period of chronic oversupply of undergraduate meteorologists. This oversupply has arguably come about because the mechanisms that generate interest in our field (e.g., unprecedented media emphasis on weather) are mostly uncoupled to the mechanisms of demand. Media coverage of weather and climate topics can inspire throngs of students to pursue meteorology as a career; it is specifically cited by UNC Charlotte meteorologists as a reason for their program’s spectacular growth (www.charlotte.
com/274/story/103334.html). But widespread media attention does not magically create future employment opportunities for these students within meteorology. If, in turn, this situation translates into a future boom in graduate school enrollments and Ph.D. production, the current parlous state of “grantsmanship” in our science as described by the critiques of Carlson (2006) and Roulston (2006) would seem tame by comparison.

In the same issue, Jeff Rosenfield, Editor-in-Chief of BAMS editorializes (not online, at p. 773) that he was “surprised” by the data. He should not have been. In 2002 I engaged in a series of exchanges on the pages of BAMS on exactly this question in response to a paper by Vali, Anthes, et al. warning of a shortage of PhD atmospheric scientists. They argued that one solution was to boost the undergraduate ranks in the atmospheric sciences:

we as a community should seek ways to increase the number of qualified applicants. Because the number of atmospheric scientists required under any reasonable scenario is small compared to the total number of students in undergraduate education, a modest increase in the effort to recruit students from other disciplines could have a major impact in a relatively short period of time.

In response, I argued that any discussion of a shortfall in supply of atmospheric sciences professionals needed also to be accompanied by some understanding of the market demand for people trained with this expertise, something that Vali , Anthes, et al. neglected to discuss, and Knox identifies as a root factor in the present mismatch of supply and demand. I argued that the atmospheric sciences were risking committing the exact same mistake made by the NSF when it proclaimed a looming shortage of scientists in the 1990s. I concluded:

The science and technology community generally experienced loss of credibility in the 1990s when a number of prominent figures claimed a looming shortage of scientists. Leaders in the atmospheric sciences are in a position to use experience to avoid such errors in future assessments of the labor market. In particular, considerable care must be taken in raising expectations of potential students and policymakers about the future prospects for employment.

In reply, Vali and Anthes dismissed the importance of any consideration of demand, raised the “idealistic” vision of the free pursuit of knowledge, and ended with a jingoistic appeal to the need for more native U.S. scientists. To this I rejoined that there was indeed data available that portended a potential oversupply of atmospheric scientists, and this data was ignored at some risk. No one should be surprised at the current labor market situation for atmospheric scientists.

Now it turns out that the community faces an oversupply of undergraduates, depressed salaries, and a potential loss of credibility. Of course, the entirely predictable next step in this situation will be for the atmospheric sciences community to bemoan the fact that research budgets have not kept pace with the supply of trained atmospheric scientists, and call for an increase in federal R&D to create new opportunities. And in this way, the politics of science funding go round and round.

Replications of our Normalized Hurricane Damage Work

July 14th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This post highlights two discussion papers that have successfully replicated our normalized hurricane damage analyses using different approaches and datasets. Interestingly, both papers claim a trend in losses after normalization, but do some only by using a subset of the data – starting in 1950 in the first case and 1971 and the second case. Our dataset shows the same trends when arbitrarily selecting these shorter time frames, however, as we reported, we found no trends in the entire dataset.

If you’d just like the bottom line, here it is:

I am happy to report that Nordhaus (2006) and Schmidt et al. (2008) offer strong confirmatory evidence in support of the analysis that we have presented on adjusting U.S. hurricane losses over time. What do these studies say about the debate over hurricanes and climate change? Well, almost nothing (despite the unsuccessful effort by Schmidt et al. to reach for such a connection). There is no long-term trend in the landfall behavior of U.S. hurricanes, so it is only logical that there would also be no long-term trends in normalized damage as a function of storm behavior. Those looking for insight on this debate will need to look elsewhere. If it is to be found, such a linkage will be found in the geophysical data long before it shows up in the damage data, as we asserted at our Hohenkammer workshop.

Please read on if you are interested in the details.


Accountability and Federally Funded Research – Not Mutually Exculsive

July 10th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Among the many different old, ill-formed, and just plain inaccurate tenets found in science and technology policy rhetoric is the notion that accountability for federal research funds only means one thing: an overly simplistic metric of dollars per discovery (much, much easier said than done). The most recent example of this can be found in the August 2008 issue of Seed magazine. In an interview found on pages 22 and 24 of that issue (titled “Foundation Building,” not yet available online), Dr. Colwell notes, in response to a question about difficulties in building support for curiosity-driven basic research, answered:

Well, I didn’t really get the question, “How many discoveries are you going to make this year if we give you the money?” but there was an implication too often that they wanted to have some sort of accountability. That is, if you spent x number of dollars, you would get y number of discoveries. Fortunately good sense and intelligence prevailed.

Accountability is a good thing, particularly accountability where taxpayer money is involved. But the way Colwell defines accountability forces her to speak of it as though it is a bad thing. Not a great example of good sense. And not an isolated incident.

So, agreeing that a measure of dollars per discovery is an ineffective measure of the impact of research spending (and probably a difficult metric to capture), how should we consider accountability for federal research money?


Climate Science and National Interests

July 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Indian government has put out a climate change action plan (PDF) that places economic development and adaptation ahead of mitigation (sound familiar?). The report was endorsed by IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri:

[Pachauri] said that India has realised the climate change threat. India’s climate change action plan recently released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a “good policy document” and needs to be implemented.

Interesting, the report’s views of climate science are at odds with that presented by the IPCC.

The Indian climate change action plan states of observed climate changes in India (p. 15):

No firm link between the documented [climate] changes described below and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established.

For example, the Indian report states of the melting of Himalayan glaciers (p. 15):

The available monitoring data on Himalayan glaciers indicates while some recession of glaciers has occurred in some Himalayan regions in recent years, the trend is not consistent across the entire mountain chain. It is accordingly, too early to establish long-term trends or their causation, in respect of which there are several hypotheses.

By contrast, the IPCC (WG II Ch. 10 p. 493)says of Himalayan glacier melt:

The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be
attributed primarily to the global warming due to increase in
anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.

Imagine the reaction if the U.S. (or British or German or Australian . . .) government put out a report placing economic growth ahead of mitigation while contradicting the science of the IPCC. Dr. Pachauri’s endorsement of a report that contradicts the IPCC indicates that issues of science and national interests are apparently universal.

Governance as Usual: Film at 11

July 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I have long considered Andy Revkin of the New York Times to be the dean of reporters covering climate science. But there is one issue that I think he consistently gets wrong, and that is his coverage of the politics of internal bureaucratic-politician conflicts. His story in today’s NYT is a good example.

Andy writes, breathlessly:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s office was involved in removing statements on health risks posed by global warming from a draft of a health official’s Senate testimony last year, a former senior government environmental official said on Tuesday.

Watergate this is not. In fact, the editing of testimony probably occurs just about every time that an employee of the executive branch is set to testify before Congress, and this has been standard operating procedure for decades. The more significant the issue the higher up the chain of command the review takes place. The procedure is clearly outlined in OMB Circular-21 (PDF):

Unless a specific exemption is approved by OMB, materials subject to OMB clearance include:

• All budget justifications and budget-related oversight materials;
• Testimony before and letters to congressional committees;
• Written responses to congressional inquiries or other materials for the record; . . .

Now if you or I were in a decision making position in the Executive Branch we might make decisions about what to allow in testimony differently than those in the current administration. But make no mistake, such decisions are under the discretion of the administration. Federal employees who don’t like those decisions are free to go public or even resign (both occurred in this case).

A spat between elected and career officials may or may not be significant, as they happen all the time. My problem with the track record of coverage of such disputes on climate change by the NYT is that it they have been very misleading about what the news is in such situations. The headline reads: “Cheney’s Office Said to Edit Draft Testimony” suggesting that there is something improper or perhaps even illegal about the editing of testimony in the Executive Office of the President. There is not.

Revkin and I have disagreed on this same issue before. At the time I called the NYT coverage of Bush officials editing Bush Administration documents a “manufactured controversy” and I think that statement applies to today’s revelations as well.

Here are the comments I left on Andy’s blog, to which, perhaps understandably, he reacted a bit snippily:


This is a “dog bites man” story in the form of “pit bull bites man”. It is red meat for those who do not like pit bulls, but at the same time, everyone knows that pit bulls bite.

Can you name a presidential administration in which senior officials did not play a role in shaping testimony on important issues? This is a loaded question, because of course you cannot.

I’m no fan of Bush or Cheney, or their approach to climate, but at the same time I think that it is only appropriate to present to your readers an accurate sense of how policy making actually works. In this case, Marburger’s explanation [cited on Andy's blog] is exactly correct.

It is perfectly fair for people to disagree with the actions taken by the Bush Administration on this testimony, but was it improper or even illegal? No, not even close.

Science does not dictate particular policies, and presidential administration’s have wide latitude in what information they present and how they present it. This is spelled out in OMB Circular 22: r/s22.pdf

Dog bites man is not news.

[ANDY REVKIN says: Roger, maybe you forgot to read the entire 2004 story, which made the points you’re making now.]

— Posted by Roger Pielke, Jr.

The IPCC, Scientific Advice and Advocacy

July 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For some time the leadership of the IPCC have sought to use the institution’s authority to promote a specific political agenda in the climate debate. The comments made yesterday by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, place the organization in opposition to the G8 leaders position on climate change:

RK Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on Tuesday slammed developed countries for asking India and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions while they themselves had not taken strong steps to cut down pollution.

“India can not be held for any emission control. They (developed countries) should get off the back of India and China,” Pachauri told reporters here.

“We are an expanding economy. How can we levy a cap when millions are living with deprivation? To impose any cap (on India) at a time when others (industrialised countries) are saying that they will reach the 1990 level of emission by 2025 is hazardous,” Pachauri said.

He said countries like the US and Canada should accept their responsibilities and show leadership in reducing green house gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

Pachauri said millions of Indian do not have access to electricity and their per capita income is much less. At this point, you cannot ask a country to “stop developing”.

Who does Dr. Pachauri speak for as head of the “policy neutral” IPCC?

It is as if the head of the CIA (or any other intelligence agency) decided to publicly criticize the government of Iran (or other country). Such behavior would seriously call into question the ability of the intelligence agency to perform its duties, which depend upon an ability to leave advocacy to other agencies. The United States has a Department of State responsible for international relations. The CIA collects intelligence in support of decision makers. These agencies have different roles in the policy process — hoenst broker and issue advocate.

The IPCC seems to want to both gather intelligence and decide what to do based on that intelligence. This is not a recipe for effective expert advice. Leaders in many areas would not stand for this conflation of advice and advocacy, so why does it continue to occur in the climate arena with little comment?

Adam Briggle on The Honest Broker

July 7th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Adam Briggle, of the University of Twente in the Netherlands (and a graduate of our Environmental Studies graduate program), has a thoughtful review of The Honest Broker in the current issue of Social Studies of Science. he has some very positive things to say:

Scientists and those in the business of science policy should read this book and consider its message carefully, because it has the potential to both bolster the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise and improve policy making. STS and social studies of science scholars are likely to find his argument familiar, but Pielke has developed such an incisive framework that even these audiences will find new and valuable contributions. Furthermore, his book is exemplary in its clear, jargon-free accessibility, which makes it an excellent pedagogical tool for initiating students into issues of science and society.

What U.S Competitiveness Crisis?

July 7th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For some time we have noted the tendency of some in the S&T community to claim that a crisis exists in United States Competitiveness, with the solution being large and immediate government investments in R&D budgets. Others, including Paul Krugman and Amar Bhidé argue that the notion of “competitiveness” is itself incoherent placing claims of a crisis on dubious claims.

A new report out by The Rand Corporation, titled U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology (PDF), seeks to shed some light on this debate, asking : “So, who is right? Is U.S. leadership in S&T in jeopardy?”

The answer they come up with is “No”:

The United States continues to lead the world in science and technology. . .

Taken in concert, these statistics suggest that the United States is still a premier performer in S&T and grew faster in many measures of S&T prowess than did Japan and Europe. Developing nations such as China, India, and South Korea, though starting from a small base, showed rapid growth in S&T, and, if that growth continues, the United States should expect its share of world S&T output to diminish.

High growth in R&D expenditures, triadic patents, and S&E employment, combined with low unemployment of S&E workers, suggest that the United States has not been losing S&E positions to other countries through outsourcing and offshoring.

It is an interesting report and a valuable contribution to the debate. My view of the long series of claims that the U.S. is experiencing a competitiveness crisis reflect a flawed understanding of data and analysis in this area, a willingness to exploit jingoistic rhetoric for political gain, or a crass effort to boost R&D budgets based on an argument that sells well in Washington. The reality is probably a combination of all three.

But even if the U.S. is not experiencing a competitiveness crisis, complacency is not really an option. The Rand report makes a number of sensible suggestions:

* Establish a permanent commitment 􀁴􀀁 to a funded, chartered entity responsible for periodically monitoring, critically reviewing, and analyzing U.S. S&T performance and the condition of the S&E workforce.

* Facilitate the temporary and indefinite stay of foreigners who
graduated in S&E from U.S. universities . . .

* Facilitate the immigration of highly skilled labor, in particular
in S&E, to ensure that the benefits of expanded innovation,
including spillovers, accrue to the United States and to ensure
the United States remains competitive in research and innovation.

* Increase capacity to learn from science centers in Europe, Japan,
China, India, and other countries to benefit from scientific and
technological advances made elsewhere.

* Continue to improve K–12 􀁴􀀁 education in general and S&T education
in particular, as human capital is a main driver of economic
growth and well-being.

Did US Agricultural Policy Lead to the Mad Cow Disease Epidemic?

July 5th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I discuss this question in the context of the need for an independent, authoritative perspective on technology assessment in my latest column for Bridges.