Archive for August, 2006

Hurricanes and Global Warming: All You Need to Know

August 19th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The current issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) has a lengthy commentary (PDF) by Judy Curry, Peter Webster, and Greg Holland offering their opinions on a wide range of subjects related to the recent debate over hurricanes and global warming. Beyond lengthy criticism of (see also Curry’s extended comments at Real Climate) the media, meteorologists, engineers, NOAA, NWS, Bill Gray, the AMS, the tropical storms list-serv, and the private sector (Did I miss anyone? How did I escape mention? ;-) ), Curry et al. do tell those interested in an appropriate representation of the current debate all we need to know.

In the article, Curry et al. state clearly that the science of hurricanes-climate change is contested and differing expectations for what the future holds based on competing hypotheses won’t be resolved for at least a decade:

In summary, the central hypothesis and subhypotheses
cannot be invalidated by the available evidence. We anticipate that it may take a decade for the observations to clarify the situation as to whether the hypothesis has predictive ability. In short, time will tell.

This echoes what we wrote in 2005 in BAMS (PDF):

. . .the state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

At last year’s AMS meeting Webster and Curry presented an earlier version of this paper and cited Bertrand Russell on skepticism (also cited by RealClimate here):

There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. . . Nevertheless, the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

The issue of hurricanes and global warming is clearly is in Russell’s category (2), and according to Curry et al. will remain there for at least a decade. What this means is that (a) those who claim that science has demonstrated no linkage between hurricanes and global warming and (b) those who claim that science has demonstrated a linkage are both misrepresenting the available science. We should expect scientists in competing camps to argue strenuously for their own perspective. This is what Curry et al. have done as well as those scientists holding a different view. But for those of us not participating in the science, picking sides reflects factors that go well beyond the science. As we wrote in BAMS in 2006 (PDF), “we should not make the mistake of confusing interesting hypotheses with conclusive research results.” And as Rick Anthes has written, “it will be a number of years—perhaps many—before we know the relationships between climate change and the various characteristics of tropical cyclones.”

The good news is that policy related to hurricanes is in no way dependent upon resolving this ongoing debate, as Curry, Webster, Holland, and seven of their colleagues from various camps in the debate have wisely recognized.

As we have said all along, (1) the debate is contested, and will remain so for the the indefinite future, and (2) the debate is not relevant to policy actions related to hurricanes. And that is all you need to know.

Is IPCC AR4 an Advocacy Document?

August 17th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The IPCC claims that it is “policy relevant, but policy neutral.” What this phrase actually means is clear as mud. According to various statements by its chairman Rajendra Pachauri over the past few years (e.g., link), one might be excused for thinking that the IPCC is really an advocacy document clothed in the language of science. Mr. Pachauri’s most recent comments about the report in a Reuters news report today do nothing to dispel that view:

The IPCC review, grouping over 2,000 scientists who advise the United Nations, is published in February and is expected to show stronger evidence for climate change and man’s part in it.

“I think the conditions are just right for this report to make a perceptible impact,” said IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. “I think there’s enough observed evidence now that certainly will influence the policymakers.”

“I’ve just come back from one of the small mountain states of India, and they regard the melting of the glaciers as the most important problem they’re facing. Their entire water supply gets completely distorted.”

Talks this year on extending the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol on curbing emissions beyond 2012 could also focus action.

“There is a bit of shadow boxing going on, each group of countries is waiting for what the others are going to do,” said Pachauri. “My feeling is that in the next year and a half things will accelerate and perhaps you will see some action.”

If the IPCC is being prepared with a goal of making a “perceptible impact” and “influencing policymakers” then no matter what the IPCC says, it is certainly not “policy neutral.” Its leadership clearly has a political agenda and it would be appropriate to include that agenda in the report, rather than hiding it behind science. Using science to advance a political agenda, but not openly acknowledging that agenda, is a form of stealth issue advocacy and a recipe for the pathological politicization of climate science. Stealth issue advocacy will severely limit the contributions of the IPCC to debate over climate policy. As an alternative approach, the IPCC should openly discuss a wide range of policy options, rather than perpetuating the continuing, fairly obvious fiction that it is “policy neutral.”

If “Science of Science Policy” is the answer, then what is the question?

August 14th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In June, the Bush Administration issued guidance (PDF) for R&D in the FY 2008 federal budget, observing,

The combination of finite resources, the commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and a multitude of new research opportunities requires careful attention to funding priorities and wise choices by agency managers.

OK, then, what does it mean for people who make decisions about science funding to make “wise choices”? The memo continues, explaining that “wise choices” refers to R&D programs that advance national goals through agency missions and priorities. In other words, R&D investments are a means to other ends:


The Ever Increasing R&D Budget

August 10th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

It is budget time, and with it comes the annual ritual of members of the science and technology community complaining about their fortunes in the budget process. The relative fortunes of different research communities does wax and wane. For instance, biomedical research saw an unprecedented doubling in its budget in the late-1990s/early 2000s, and a ever-so-slight downturn since then (see PDF). NASA, NSF, and DOE’s Office of Science are up dramatically this year, after years of small increases, declines, or static budgets.

But when viewed as a whole the R&D community has a track record of perhaps unprecedented success in arguing its case for federal funding. While it is true that aggregate R&D expenditures have tended to track overall trends in federal discretionary spending (see this essay), R&D has achieved a long-term growth in the portion of discretionary spending that it receives. This means that R&D is necessarily fairing better than some other parts of the federal budget.

Consider the following data (sources: here):

By President, the percentage of federal discretionary spending deveoted to R&D:

Reagan 12.5%
Bush I 13.3%
Clinton 13.6%
Bush II 13.7%

By Control of the House, the percentage of federal discretionary spending deveoted to R&D since 1982:

Democrats: 12.8%
Republicans: 13.7%

This data suggests to me first that the S&T lobby has been incredibly successful in increasing the portion of the federal deveoted to R&D. Second, there has been strong bipartisan support for R&D across presidents and congresses. the difference between Ds and Rs in the House I attrbute more to the long-term trend of increasing successes by the S&T lobby arguing for more funding, rather than any partisan signal. It just so happens that Rs have been in control more recently. Finally, for those wanting to discuss not simply the aggregate R&D budget, but what the R&D budget is meant for … well, that would require asking “So what?” rather than “How much?” (on this point see Sarewitz PDF). And this is a question that the field of science and technology policy is uniquely suited to address.

James Van Allen: 1914-2006

August 10th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

James Van Allen has died. Here is a provocative excerpt from one of his most recent writings on space policy:


How to Make Your Opponent’s Work Considerably Easier

August 9th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Can someone reading this blog who is plugged in to advising environmental organizations let them know that invoking hurricane impacts generally and Katrina specifically as reasons for greenhouse gas mitigation is not really helping their cause?

Comments like this from Environmental Defense, an organization with an impressive track record of environmental advocacy, often make me wonder if environmental groups are actually looking to give their opponents a justified basis for criticism:


A Pielke and Pielke Special

August 8th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Over at my father’s blog we have collaborated on a post titled, “Big Time Gambling With Multi-Decadal Global Climate Model Predictions.” The whole thing is posted below. Feel free to comment here or there, we’ll both read comments on each other’s blog.


The Politics and Economics of Offshore Outsourcing

August 8th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Anyone wanting to understand the debate over outsourcing should have a look at this paper by former Bush insider Greg Mankiw and Philip Swagel:

The Politics and Economics of Offshore Outsourcing
NBER Working Paper No. 12398
Issued in July 2006
link (free to .gov and universities that subscribe to NBER, follow link titled “Information for subscribers and others expecting no-cost downloads”)

Abstract: This paper reviews the political uproar over offshore outsourcing connected with the release of the Economic Report of the President (ERP) in February 2004, examines the differing ways in which economists and non-economists talk about offshore outsourcing, and assesses the empirical evidence on the importance of offshore outsourcing in accounting for the weak labor market from 2001 to 2004. Even with important gaps in the data, the empirical literature is able to conclude that offshore outsourcing is unlikely to have accounted for a meaningful part of the job losses in the recent downturn or contributed much to the slow labor market rebound. The empirical evidence to date, while still tentative, actually suggests that increased employment in the overseas affiliates of U.S. multinationals is associated with more employment in the U.S. parent rather than less.

Beyond the Mug’s Game

August 8th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Steven Popper and his colleagues at the RAND Corporation have a thoughtful perspective on computer models and their uses in decision making, which he describes in a letter in this week’s Economist:


Hurricanes, Catastrophe Models, and Global Warming

August 7th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday’s Boston Globe had an interesting article about catastrophe models in the insurance industry in the context of uncertainties about hurricanes and global warming. The article raises a number of unanswered questions. Here are a few excerpts and a few of my reactions: