Archive for May, 2007

Policy Research? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Policy Research

May 7th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

From today’s New York Times a tale of incredible myopia all too common in the Bush Administration:

When Jon Oberg, a Department of Education researcher, warned in 2003 that student lending companies were improperly collecting hundreds of millions in federal subsidies and suggested how to correct the problem, his supervisor told him to work on something else.

The department “does not have an intramural program of research on postsecondary education finance,” the supervisor, Grover Whitehurst, a political appointee, wrote in a November 2003 e-mail message to Mr. Oberg, a civil servant who was soon to retire. “In the 18 months you have remaining, I will expect your time and talents to be directed primarily to our business of conceptualizing, competing and monitoring research grants.”

For three more years, the vast overpayments continued. Education Secretary Rod Paige and his successor, Margaret Spellings, argued repeatedly that under existing law they were powerless to stop the payments and that it was Congress that needed to act. Then this past January, the department largely shut off the subsidies by sending a simple letter to lenders — the very measure Mr. Oberg had urged in 2003.

Hans von Storch on The Honest Broker

May 5th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Hans von Storch interprets The Honest Broker in the context of the climate debate in the Swiss newspaper Berner Zeitung. The review is in German. Info on The Honest Broker can be found here.

Proxmire alive and well reports Enquirer

May 4th, 2007

Posted by: admin

There was a minor storm in the science community over the past couple of days as two Republican House members offered amendments (here’s one, here’s the other) to the NSF authorization bill (H.R. 1867) to strip funding for existing projects.

This kind of debate has been going on for decades, really since the beginning of post-WWII science policy, but it’s important to revisit the issue. Should Congress step in for peer-review panels of experts in determining project funding? Maybe. It’s an open values question that we are constantly rehashing, and for good reason. Elected politicians should constantly question how the taxpayer’s money is spent. That’s their job. But should individual Members perhaps read past the title and abstract of a project they object to when speaking on the House floor? Probably.

The latest iteration of this long-running fight is covered well by Jeffery Brainard in a Chronicle of Higher Ed story posted today.

You Must be a Creationist

May 4th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Academic blogging is an interesting medium. On the one hand it “flattens” the world of communication and facilitates the public engagement of experts with everyone else. But it also has some strong negatives, on display this week over at Chris Mooney’s blog.

Chris, and fellow blogger American University’s Matt Nisbet, recently wrote two pieces for Science and The Washington Post, in which they engaged in a little Science Studies 101, pointing out that how issues are framed influences how they are received. Seems pretty straightforward. But in their piece they suggested, correctly in my view, that how some atheists advance their agenda on the back of science may actually backfire in political debates. For their trouble Chris and Matt have been lambasted by the agitprop blogosphere.

One particularly clueless commentator — a professor with a Harvard degree — went so far as to suggest that Mooney and Nisbet are in fact creationists! This strategy of allowing absolutely no nuance is the main tool in the agitprop toolbox. Why else would Matt and Chris criticize Richard Dawkins unless they are really creationists at heart?! Such drivel is extremely irritating, as Chris and Matt’s reactions indicate and there is really no effective response to it. Here at Prometheus I routinely hear from trolls and others with bad intent and that I must be a Republican (or a Republican sympathizer) since I have advanced some views that some Republicans think make sense. (Outside the blogosphere actually convincing people of the merits of your arguments is viewed in a positive light!;-)

The issue, not surprisingly, is one of framing. The professor alleging the creationist in Mooney and Nisbet describes religious people as his “enemies” suggesting that we are at war with them. Mooney for his part disavows such nonsense:

“Attack”? Those are your words.

“Enemies”? Those are also your words.

I don’t see it that way.

We were trying to make a very serious point about how scientists need to rethink communication strategies. We saw Dawkins as a prominent example to use. He is, after all, prominent.

In political debates the agitprop partisans always have the upper hand, as they can level personal attacks, misrepresent your work, make mountains out of molehills, and nanny-nanny-boo-boo call you names all day long. For academic bloggers who don’t want to themselves become mindless partisans there are only a few choices, develop a thick skin or get out of the fray. David Brooks’ column yesterday on how to handle such people is worth a read (of course, my citing it must be an indicateion my conservative tendencies;-):

. . . they’ll never be open-minded toward you. But the other three-quarters are honorable, intelligent people. If you treat these people with respect, and find places where you can work together, they will teach you things and make you more effective. If you treat them the way you treat the partisans, they’ll turn into partisans and destroy you.

So here at Promethues, until the blogging negatives outweigh the positives, we will stomach those with ill-intent and simply correct the record when necessary and let nonsense stand on its own. The good news, for Matt and Chris and others who find themselves under attack from people who seek to distract from the substance of their arguments is that their arguments must be pretty strong on their merits to attract such passionate attention. So Matt and Chris, keep up the good work, and don’t get too exercised about the noise. Not much you can do about that!

Review of Useless Arithmetic

May 4th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In the current issue of Nature I review Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future by Orrin Pilkey & Linda Pilkey-Jarvis. Here is my review in PDF. The book’s home page can be found here.

I’m Outta Here . . .

May 3rd, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Only sort of . . . Nature has set up a new blog on climate science and policy and the opportunity to join a blog community of people with very diverse views has proven too good to pass up.

The new blog is call Climate Feedback. It has just gone live with a new post by yours truly on climate variability and trends, plus posts by Hans von Storch and Eduadro Zorita on how the scientific process worked in the case of the “hockey stick”. Kevin Vranes will also be blogging there.

As the website gets up to full speed I plan on concentrating my climate-related posts at the Nature blog and more general science policy stuff here. We’ll see how it goes.

Have a look!

New Landsea Paper in EOS

May 3rd, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Chris Landsea has shared his just-out paper from EOS (PDF) and send the following capsule summary:

The link between the frequency of tropical cyclones [hurricanes and tropical storms] and anthropogenic global warming has become an emerging focus. However, an analysis of the data shows that improved monitoring in recent years is responsible for most, if not all, of the observed trend in increasing frequency of tropical cyclones.

Comments, criticisms, alternative perspectives welcomed!

Bob Ward Responds – Swindle Letter

May 2nd, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In fairness to Bob Ward, lead author of the “Swindle Letter” we thought it important to highlight comments that he submitted under that thread. -Ed.]

Click through for his comments . . .


A preview of things to come

May 2nd, 2007

Posted by: admin

In case you were one of those optimists thinking that the change in Congressional control meant a coming slew of passed legislation dealing with GHGs, or that January 2009 means welcome to the new era of GHG regulations or even clear sailing for logical no regrets policies that address oil dependence and carbon mitigation, you got a nice preview today of battles to come.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources, now chaired by Senator Bingaman of New Mexico, tried to hold an easy combined markup on four bills that deal with biofuels (S.987), energy efficiency (S.1115) and carbon CCS (S.962 and S.731). There was apparently a “divisive” roadblock in that the coal-state Senators wanted a new mandate on coal-derived transportation fuels (apparently they think we should be adding more CO2 to the atmosphere per VMT rather than less). There was a tentative deal to allay that issue until the bill package went to the floor, where it could be debated by the full Senate, but the deal broke down in a rather nasty way and forced a party-line vote, with some Dems voting against the coal fuels amendment that they otherwise supported. Ah, the era of bipartisan cooperation to solve our nation’s most pressing problems…. (CQ story here) (And if you think the politicking on this was constrained to the ENR hearing room, see the players deployed to lobby in this story.)

That this package could not pass easily, with the contentious issues worked out before markup, is certainly a sign that meaningful climate mitigation legislation is going to be bloody and a long time in coming. It also illustrates some of the messy compromises that will come with climate legislation, some of which may actually increase carbon emissions. Sure, CO2 could be captured at the coal-to-synfuel plant, thus preventing the extra CO2 that coal synfuel production emits from hitting the atmosphere and leaving a zero-sum between burning synfuel or gasoline. But with a liquefied coal mandate sitting alongside a biofuels mandate who actually thinks that in the end a requirement for capturing CO2 at the coal synfuels production site is going to happen? With all the people who want to make it and want to use it (i.e. the military), the economic pressures on not driving up the price by requiring carbon CCS are already clear.

taking options off the table….

May 1st, 2007

Posted by: admin

Interesting exchange between Bill Maher and Sheryl Crow and Laurie David. Or not. I saw it on the NEI Nuclear Notes blog, so you can go there to get the exchange, or see it on youtube. Basically the upshot that NEI reports is yes yes yes we need to cut GHG emissions but no no no way do we need nuclear to do that.

What’s interesting to me is not the content but the tone of the conversation. Listen to Crow adamantly cut off Maher from bringing nuclear into the discussion. We want to talk about low-carb energy but we don’t want you to talk about nuclear. When Crow stalls out on giving good reasons to disavow nuclear David comes in with a little misdirection, laying fuel economy standards down as a step to be taken to avoid bringing nuclear into the picture.

I’ll give Crow/David the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t have the time or the prep to really get into the hidden subsidy issues that make nuclear a more expensive option than it appears. But for being so concerned about GHGs, a staunchly anti-nuclear stance — taking a major GHG reduction option off the table — is curious.

The non-idealist reality is that all options need to be on the table, and all options — including nuclear — need to be honestly accounted for. Hidden subsidies of nuclear, including insurance issues (the U.S. government insures nuclear plants because private companies won’t — Price-Anderson was just renewed through 2025), should be compared to the true cost of solutions like wind, which currently gets a generous PTC to keep it competitive.

Wind and solar are not viable options for baseload power, which is what coal provides. What we should be talking about is replacing the dirty, old baseload coal plants with nuclear plants while also bringing renewables online. And while David is right that [aggressive] efficiency and waste issues would make a big dent in demand, thinking that we’re going to solve our energy supply issues through efficiency gains shows a pretty deep misunderstanding of the way incentives and the market works here. You can wait and wait for efficiency gains to significantly reduce GHG emissions and you’re going to be waiting for a very long time.

Beyond the sound bites, fairly thorough studies on the competing economics (and other issues) of nuclear, coal and renewables are here and here.