Archive for October, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs. U.S. Hurricane Damage – Part 2

October 24th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In the comments of our first post on this subject FSU’s Jim Elsner, a widely respected hurricane expert, pointed us to a forthcoming paper (here in PDF) in which he and colleagues looked at the relationship of Atlantic SSTs and U.S. hurricane damage. In the paper Elsner et al. make the following claim:

Using the preseason Atlantic SST, we are able to explain 13% of the variation in the logarithm of loss values exceeding $100 mn using an ordinary least squares regression model. The relationship is positive indicating that warmer Atlantic SSTs are associated with larger losses as expected. The rank correlation between the amount of loss (exceeding $100 mn) and the May-June Atlantic SST is +0.31 (P-value = 0.0086) over all years in the dataset and is +0.37 (P-value = 0.0267) over the shorter 1950–2005 period.

I’ve looked at our dataset and find nothing remotely close like these numbers. Here is my analysis for 1950-2005:


What Does the Historical Relationship of Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature and U.S. Hurricane Damage Portend for the Future?

October 22nd, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Every four years the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) holds a workshop that brings together forecasters and researchers from around the world who focus on tropical cyclones (which are called “hurricanes” in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific). The sixth such workshop is taking place in Costa Rica at the end of November and in preparation for that workshop experts in a wide range of issues related to tropical cyclones have prepared number of background reports (links found below). Supported by an all-star international team, I was in charge of preparing a background report on “Factors Contributing to Human and Economic Losses.” The WMO has now posted these background papers online. In this post I’d like to discuss one aspect of our report – the relationship of Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and U.S. hurricane damage.

In particular, our report presents two different perspectives on the relationship of SSTs and damage. One perspective, mine, is that there is absolutely nothing in the historical record that suggests a relationship between SSTs and damage. Such a relationship may materialize in the future, but one cannot use the past to project such a relationship, it must be based on some other considerations. A second perspective is presented by my friend and colleague Eberhard Faust of Munich Re. He argues that there is “remarkable evidence for global warming effects on losses.” Because we disagree on this issue, in our report we presented our two different perspectives.

Our two perspectives are presented on pp. 548-550 (Pielke) and pp. 551-555 (Faust) of our report (available here in PDF), and are together in a final section titled “Differing views of the role of global warming on losses” which falls at the very end of our 23 page report at pp. 547-555. The brevity of these two analyses is such that it might make for a very good case study for students to examine in a course in statistics or atmospheric sciences. Which analysis is more compelling and why?


Frank Laird on Teaching of Evolution

October 20th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Frank Laird, of the University of Denver and a faculty affiliate of our Center, has a thought-provoking essay on the teaching of evolution over at the CSPO website titled, “Total Truth and the Ongoing Controversy Over the Teaching of Evolution.” Here is how he starts:

The 2005 legal decision in Dover, PA, and the elections for the Kansas State Board of Education, are only the most visible recent skirmishes in the controversy over teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools. Discussions of this controversy mix and sometimes confuse three distinct and separate, though related, processes: what teachers teach, what students learn, and what citizens believe. In a recent Pew poll (2005, pp. 1-2), 42% of Americans said they believed “that life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.” Proponents of teaching evolution often point to such data as evidence that evolution needs stronger support in the classroom to ward off anti-science trends in society.

However, thinking that you can change what citizens believe by changing what teachers teach is too big a conceptual leap. While there is certainly a relationship between teaching, learning, and belief, it is by no means simple or linear. By separating those processes out we can better understand them. The study of what citizens believe is a huge social question. Scholars have compiled huge amounts of polling data on what citizens believe, though interpreting that data comes with problems, such as assuming that belief is measured by response to questions instead of processes that get citizens to reflect and deliberate on questions. But in any case we know more about what people believe that why they believe it. While formal high school education may have some influence, so will family background, religious affiliation, occupation, race, income, and a host of unquantifiable cultural beliefs and ways of sorting true from false claims, what Sheila Jasanoff has called civic epistemology (Jasanoff 2005).

The second process, what students learn in biology class is a pedagogical question, one that those who study science teaching and learning are most qualified to answer. Anyone who teaches knows that there is not a simple relationship between what teachers teach and what students learn. Does discussing intelligent design (ID) lead to students learning less or more about evolution?

This Perspective focuses on what teachers teach. This in fact is the nub of the evolution controversy and viewing it as an institutional question can help to clarify the issues surrounding it. Strengthening the institutions that govern what teachers teach is both politically more feasible and ethically more defensible than trying to change what citizens believe.

Read the whole thing here.

What Just Ain’t So

October 18th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I review William Sweet’s Kicking the Carbon Habit in this week’s Nature. Here is a link to the full review (in PDF).

Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop Report

October 17th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last May, Peter Hoeppe of Munich Re and I organized a workshop to bring together a diverse group of international experts in the fields of climatology and disaster research. The general questions to be answered at the workshop were:

* What factors account for increasing costs of weather related disasters in recent decades?

* What are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

We are happy to release our final workshop report. From the workshop home page you can download PDFs of:

*The entire report (8 mb)
*Executive Summary
*Summary Report
*Individual participant white papers from:

* C. Bals
* L. Bouwer
* R. Brázdil
* H. Brooks
* I. Burton
* R. Crompton et al.
* A. Dlugolecki
* P. Epstein
* E. Faust et al.
* I. Goklany
* H. Grenier
* B. R. Gurjar et al.
* J. Helminen
* S. Jun
* C. Kemfert and K. Schumacher
* T. Knutson
* R. Muir-Wood et al.
* R. Pielke, Jr.
* S. Raghavan
* G. Tetzlaff
* E. Tompkins
* H. von Storch and R. Weisse
* Q. Ye
* R. Zapata-Marti

The workshop’s major sponsors were Munich Re and the U.S. National Science Foundation, with contributing sponsorship from the GKSS Institute for Coastal Research and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Café Scientifique Tonite in Denver

October 17th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Café Scientifique
Tuesday 17 October 2006 6:30PM
Wynkoop Brewery Mercantile Room
1634 18th Street Denver, CO 80202


Roger A. Pielke, Jr. , Professor of Environmental Studies and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, CU, Boulder

Scientists have choices about the roles that they play in today’s controversial political debates such as on global warming, genetically modified foods, and the Plan B emergency contraception just to name a few. Should scientists ever become advocates for certain policy choices? Is it possible to separate personal moral beliefs from professional scientific findings? Where can politicians get unbiased scientific information? Is the current administration any worse than others in ‘cherry-picking’ scientific facts? A recent article in the National Journal went so far as to suggest that far from being victims of politicization, the scientific community “is itself contributing to the polarization that afflicts America’s political culture.” Is this really true? Roger Pielke, Jr. will discuss these questions and more, which are addressed in his forthcoming book on the choices scientists have in policy and politics and how they impact the scientific enterprise as whole.

Facts, Values, and Scientists in Policy Debates

October 16th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Politics, according to famed political scientist David Easton, is about “the authoritative allocation of social values.” Values refer to desired outcomes which include both the substance of policy and the procedures used to achieve outcomes. For instance, good health is an example of valued substantive outcome. Public participation in the making of policy is and example of a valued procedural outcome. Politics is necessary because people, as individuals and collections of individuals, have different conceptions about what substantive and procedural outcomes, or what rankings of outcomes, are desirable in society.

From this perspective consider this view of the relationship of science and values, written last week by Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, in The Chronicle of Higher Education:


We Are Hiring! Two Faculty Positions!

October 12th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Please share this far and wide!

Two Assistant/Associate Faculty Positions in Science and Technology Policy Research, CIRES, University of Colorado at Boulder

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder announces that it is recruiting for two faculty positions at the assistant/associate (with tenure) level in science and technology policy research with a focus on decision making under uncertainty. One position would be rostered in the Graduate School and within the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the parent Institute of the Policy Center. Departmental affiliation for this position is open. The second position will be rostered in the College of Arts & Sciences in its Environmental Studies Program with a formal affiliation with CIRES and the Policy Center. We are particularly interested in candidates with strong interdisciplinary interests and the ability to teach graduate and undergraduate courses in science and technology policy and/or science and technology studies. Area of research specialization and disciplinary background are open. Required qualifications are a PhD in a cognate field. A major commitment to and demonstrated excellence in research and the ability to secure external research funding are expected, as well as commitment to excellence in teaching at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

Applicants should send letter of interest, curriculum vitae, evidence of teaching effectiveness, and three names for letters of reference to Karen Dempsey, CIRES Human Resources via email: Questions can be sent to Prof. Roger Pielke Jr., Chair, Search Committee for Science and Technology Policy Research:
Review of completed applications will begin December 1, 2006 and continue until the position is filled. For more information about CIRES, see, and the Science and Technology Policy Center /

The University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.

Expertise in Biodiversity Governance

October 12th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in an excellent workshop on the role of expertise in biodiversity governance. The workshop was an exercise in the design of a new science-policy organization/institution. The workshop was titled “International Science-Policy Interfaces for Biodiversity Governance” and was held at the UFZ Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. At the workshop participants produced a set of consensus recommendations for the role of an institution that would provide expert advice in the international arena of biodiversity policy.

The main motivation for the workshop is a current consultation seeking such recommendations, called IMoSEB, organized by the French government. You can find our workshop recommendations here in PDF, and also below in HTML. Your comments on the recommendations and the more general challenge of exert advice in the area of biodiversity would be welcomed.


A Collective Research Project

October 11th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In an earlier thread this week, I made a plea for people to recognize the symbolic weight carried by the phrase “climate change denial.” The conversation has been quite interesting.

As an exercise in research on symbolic politics, I’d like to use this thread to see if we can collectively track the exact origins of the phrases “climate change denial” and “climate change deniers”. (Thanks to those of you who got this started on the nearlier thread!) Please use the comment section here for this research challenge. Please use the earlier thread for continued discussions of the broader issue. Let’s see what we can learn together.