Archive for December, 2004

IPCC-FCCC Issues at COP 10

December 15th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) performs an invaluable service by providing daily updates from the meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. This week the IISD is providing daily updates from COP-10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The IISD’s report of a briefing of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change held on Tuesday, 14 December 2004, raises some interesting issues.

First, the report notes that in his presentation, “Rajendra Pauchari (sic), IPCC Chairman, described IPCC’s mandate, noting that its main purpose is to provide comprehensive scientific assessments that are relevant to policy makers without being prescriptive.” The notion of “relevant, but not prescriptive” is not a clearly defined concept in the IPCC, and it seems to mean in practice that the IPCC will lend support to those policies that it deems important and ignore others, without providing any transparency to this process to outside observers. This is not policy neutral, close to being policy prescriptive, and may or may not be policy relevant. We have discussed this challenge here. The IPCC needs some help thinking about and shaping its role in climate policy.


State of Fear Part II

December 14th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Continuing our discussion below Dan Sarewitz writes:

Scientists get hysterical whenever anyone questions their authority, pokes fun at them, doesn’t take them seriously. They also tend to be incredibly ignorant about the processes by which political debates get played out, public opinion gets formed, etc. And they are apparently oblivious about the connections between their own work as scientists, and their value commitments as citizens and human beings. When the problem of climate change gets overblown or distorted in movies or by environmental groups, are the same scientists who are freaking out about Crichton’s goofy book decrying distortions in the other direction? There seems to be no awareness (or at least no acknowledgement) that the reason Crichton’s book is galling is not because he distorts the science (if this were the case, almost every science fiction book would create collective apoplexy), but because the scientist-critics don’t like his politics. From this perspective, Crichton and his scientist-critics both labor under the same fallacy: that science dictates action in the world. It doesn’t.

State of Fear

December 14th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Tom Yulsman writes:

Michael Crichton’s new book, “State of Fear,” is a lampoon of environmentalists and a crusade against climate change science. According to Andy Revkin in today’s New York Times, one environmental group in the book “sends agents in Prius hybrid cars to kill foes with bites from blue-ringed octopuses carried in sandwich bags.” (Maybe I should try this during my next faculty meeting!)

Climate scientists concerned about the impact of the book are probably damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they ignore Crichton, his evidently anti-science message wins — through the sheer power of his celebrity. If they publiclly rebut him on the merits of the case, they further publicize the book (already second on Amazon’s best seller list). And he wins again because of his celebrity.

So, any opinions about “State of Fear” and how scientists should respond to it?

— Tom Yulsman, Center for Environmental Journalism

Roger Pielke responds:


O’Keefe to Leave NASA

December 13th, 2004

Posted by: admin

A number of papers reported the impending resignation of Sean O’Keefe from NASA this weekend.

His resignation comes on the heels of a difficult week, with the release of a NRC report advocating a shuttle mission to Hubble and a study reporting costs of $2 billion for a robotic Hubble servicing. Roger has discussed the NRC report here on Prometheus. Unlike the NRC, the second study by the Aerospace Corporation includes a number of alternatives for Hubble, including a robotic mission, deorbit and use of instruments on another telescope, and a manned mission. The full-report is not available online, but if it does appear I’ll be sure to post it here.

Mr. O’Keefe has been steadfast in his determination that no shuttle mission to Hubble should be flown, saying in June,

“Some have observed that this analysis is flawed. This might well be, but it is the analysis I’ve conducted and the judgment I’ve reached based on a very close, regular review of the Return to Flight challenges currently underway. Others may reach a different conclusion and harbor a different opinion, but none who have offered opposing views will be responsible for the outcome.”

This suggests that the new Adminstrator may, in fact, reach a different conclusion. Reports suggest Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish as a likely successor.

Administrator O’Keefe will certainly be remembered for his role in the Hubble debate. In addition, his watch has included the destruction of Columbia and Return to Flight, a large increase in the NASA space science and manned budget, and a new committment to send humans to the Moon and Mars. What are your comments on O’Keefe’s departure?

Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy

December 13th, 2004

Posted by: admin

January 10-11, 2005

Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy is an international conference that brings together leading experts to examine how processes for creating and organizing knowledge interact with information technology, business strategy, and changing social and economic conditions. The conference is designed to broaden and deepen common understanding of how difficult-to-measure knowledge resources drive an increasingly virtualized economy and to assess prospects for advancing and regenerating knowledge infrastructure, institutions, and policies.


Board On Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

December 10th, 2004

Posted by: admin

The National Academies
Polar Research Board

The Board on Atmospheric Sciences & Climate (BASC) and the Polar Research Board (PRB) are seeking individuals with strong scientific expertise and an interest in applying science in the policy arena for three openings: Program Officer, Postdoctoral Research Associate, and Research Associate. The Program Officer (or Study Director) is responsible for all aspects of implementation of the Board’s work – designing studies, working with agencies and committees of experts, analyzing complex issues, and preparing reports. The Postdoctoral
Research Associate provides scientific and technical support to committees and staff and assists in all aspects of the study process. The Research Associate conducts research on a wide variety of topics, analyzes data, prepares summaries of literature, and assists in all other aspects of the committee process. This is a dynamic work environment – the National Academies’ staff of more than 1000 people address all the issues in today’s headlines and more, from stem cell research to alternative energy sources to climate change.


NYT on NRC HST Report

December 10th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The New York Times noted yesterday,

“After six months of study conducted at Congress’s request, the committee of 21 experts said that a robotic mission would hold too many uncertainties, that it would probably be ready too late to extend the telescope’s life and that it might actually damage the instrument… Astronomers said they were delighted by the experts’ findings.”

Surely The New York Times can do better than simply invoking the generic term “experts”. How about noting the following (and yes, this is an underscore of a point made yesterday):

“… what I’d like to focus on is the characterization of the NRC panel as “outside experts” and the role of NRC in making recommendations to government agencies.

First lets consider the issue of “outside experts.” Presumably, a fair interpretation of the phrase “outside expert” means in this context that the members of the NRC panel are outside of NASA or not subject to benefiting from the decision NASA makes on Hubble. But despite their significant influence on policy, the media (or anyone else for that matter) rarely looks at NRC panels for any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Of course, the NRC has an internal process that looks at personal financial conflicts of interest (such as owning stock in a company that benefits from a NRC recommendation), but often members of a NRC panel are recipients of government funding for research in areas that they are making recommendations.


Two Points on the NRC Hubble Study

December 9th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The NRC study released yesterday on the Hubble Space Telescope concludes:

“The Committee finds that the difference between the risk faced by the crew of a single shuttle mission to ISS – already accepted by NASA and the nation – and the risk faced by the crew of a single shuttle servicing mission to HST, is very small. Given the intrinsic value of a serviced Hubble, and the high likelihood of success for a shuttle servicing mission, the committee judges that such a mission is worth the risk.”

Two quick observations:

First, this report shows the tension between the human space flight program and space science. After almost a half-century of marriage between human space flight and space science, perhaps it is time to consider a divorce?

Second, the NRC decided to advocate a single policy option that best fits the clear bias of the committee. No attempt at honest brokering here. As I wrote here last July,

“My point is not that these people [on the NRC Hubble Committee] are unqualified (they are an impressive bunch), but that they can hardly be characterized as “outside experts.” Almost all have very close ties to NASA or Hubble, including creating, using, or supporting Hubble.

One way to deal with actual or perceived conflicts would be to have the NRC panel take on the task of clarifying alternatives rather than advocating a single option over others.

Given that many of the members of the panel have at least the appearance of predispositions to preserve Hubble, it would seem that the NRC would be better served by having its panel present and evaluate the full suite of options open to NASA, rather than taking an advocacy position on a single option. At the very least it is time that the media takes a more critical eye on the composition of NRC panels who, with very little scrutiny, provide guidance that influences policy making.”

Confusion, Consensus and Robust Policy Options

December 8th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

“Consensus science can provide only an illusion of certainty. When consensus is substituted for a diversity of perspectives, it may in fact unnecessarily constrain decision-makers’ options.”

Naomi Oreskes, a scholar who I have a lot of respect for, caused a stir last week when she published an article in Science making the shocking claim that the consensus reflected in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) appears to reflect, well, a consensus.

Like others, I think that it is clear Oreskes’ claim that there are no papers in the climate literature that disagree with the consensus is simply wrong. In fact, logically, this would have to be the case. The word “consensus” means “the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned”. Most is not all. The word “unanimity” means, “having the agreement and consent of all.” I have seen in email traffic a claim made that there are some 11,000+ articles on “climate change” referenced in the ISI database, and of these about 10% somehow contradict the consensus position.

But so what?


Research as Climate Policy

December 7th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

From an article in Voice of America News is this telling quote from U.S. Senior Climate Negotiator Harlan Watson:

“The United States has been criticized for not ratifying the protocol, but the climate negotiator says U.S. environmental efforts should not be scorned by other nations. “I challenge them to match us,” he said. “As they say, we spend more on science and technology than anyone else in the world by far.” He adds that the United States has spent roughly $23 billion on climate change science since 1990, more than the rest of the world combined.”

Last year Dan Sarewitz and I wrote of this approach to climate change,

“Our position, based on the experience of the past 13 years, is that although the current and proposed climate research agenda has little potential to meet the information needs of decisionmakers, it has a significant potential to reinforce a political situation characterized, above all, by continued lack of action. The situation persists not only because the current research-based approach supports those happy with the present political gridlock, but more uncomfortably, because the primary beneficiaries of this situation include scientists themselves. Things are unlikely to change for the better unless the climate research community adopts a leadership role that places societal responsibility above professional self-interest.”

What would this mean?

First and foremost it would mean abandoning the justification frequently advanced for climate change science that continued investments in climate research will lead to reduced uncertainty which will enable decision making.

Instead climate research has great, and largely untapped, potential to contribute to an expansion of climate policy options available for decision makers’ consideration. On climate change, policy makers don’t need more information, they need more choice.