Archive for February, 2009

Have Progressives Lost Their Moral Compass?

February 26th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I have seen some ugly, ugly things this week. Some of them have focused on me for views that I have, but others involve people I know and respect. People who know better, or should know better, are engaging in tactics that can only be described as bullying, strong arming, character assassination, threatening, and McCarthy-esque. Most of these people characterize themselves as progressives. Below is how the Center for American Progress defines a progressive. Have some progressives lost their moral compass, or is it the case that all is fair in love, war, and politics?

Nisbet on Framing Climate Policy

February 26th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Matt Nisbet has a thoughtful article on framing climate policy in the current issue of Environment. It asks what sorts of frames are more likely to lead to collective action on climate change. If there is a flaw in the article it is the assumption that people who most fervently express concern about climate change actually want collective action on climate change. Some of the things I’ve read and heard this week from self-described climate activists indicate that partisan warfare resulting in the denigration, diminishment, and even career destruction of their perceived ideological “enemies” may be a higher priority for some than any sort compromise on practical action.

Here is an excerpt from Nisbet:

U.S. presidents, especially newly elected ones, are often given discretion to pursue their preferred legislative priorities. Yet research shows that presidential popularity is not enough to pass policy initiatives. The efforts of recent administrations to pass health care, welfare, or immigration reforms have depended on generating widespread public support and mobilization while effectively countering the communication efforts of opponents of these reforms.1 When these conditions are not met, as in health care and immigration reforms, presidents have suffered major policy defeats.

There is no reason to suspect that climate change policy will be any different, especially given the long history of partisan gridlock in U.S. politics. In the context of two wars and an economic crisis, absent a shift in the polls and a surge in input from a diversity of constituents, it is unlikely over the next four years that a strong majority in Congress will accept the political risks needed to pass meaningful policy actions such as a cap-and-trade bill, carbon tax, or new international climate treaty.

More importantly, democratic principles are at stake. Policies to address climate change will bear directly on the future of Americans, impacting their pocketbooks, lifestyles, and local communities. These decisions are therefore too significant to leave to just elected officials and experts; citizens need to be actively involved.

Reframing the relevance of climate change in ways that connect to a broader coalition of Americans—and repeatedly communicating these new meanings through a variety of trusted media sources and opinion leaders—can generate the level of public engagement required for policy action. Successfully reframing climate change means remaining true to the underlying science of the issue, while applying research from communication and other fields to tailor messages to the existing attitudes, values, and perceptions of different audiences, making the complex policy debate understandable, relevant, and personally important.2 This approach to public outreach, however, will require a more careful understanding of U.S. citizens’ views of climate change as well as a reexamination of the assumptions that have traditionally informed climate change communication efforts.

Studies Suggest Open Access Leads to More Citations

February 25th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The Scientist reports on a recent study (registration required) that suggests that open access journal articles will receive more citations than articles not available through open access.  Before you consign this to the dustbin of the obvious, not all studies have indicated such a correlation.  But the study at the focus of this article covered 26 million articles from 8 thousand journals over the course of seven years.  This comprehensive study noted an overall increase in citations of 8 percent, but significant variation across fields and countries.  Open access leads to much higher increases in citations in poorer countries, and fields with a culture of pre-print databases and personal archives did not show as high an increase in citations compared to fields like the biomedical sciences.  Expect this study to show up in future fights over the NIH open access requirements.

Spiked-Online on My Aston University Talk

February 25th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

At Spiked-Online Ben Pile has a nice summary and analysis of my talk at Aston University a few weeks ago on the UK Climate Change Act. In the article he interviews Julia King, Vice Chancellor at Aston and also a member of the UK Climate Change Committee. King has some very interesting comments.

Meantime, as far as progress being made on meeting the targets the Guardian has this vignette in its Eco Soundings column today:

The government has just 11 years to deliver on the ambitious renewable energy and climate change targets, so everyone was delighted when the Department of Energy and Climate Change was set up five months ago as “a joined-up department working on energy and climate change”. Oh yes? Eco Soundings phoned DECC last week and eventually got through to a person who answered: “Department for, er, energy and climate control”. From there we were passed to someone else who said “Hello, department for business”, who passed us on to a recorded message which started “If you want to report a dead bird, press one …”

Interview with Brad Johnson, Center for American Progress

February 25th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Brad Johnson, of the Center for American Progress, contacted me to ask if he could ask a few questions. The Center for American Progress is a Washington, DC think tank that describes its mission as follows (emphasis in original):

CAP is designed to provide long-term leadership and support to the progressive movement. Our ability to develop thoughtful policy proposals and engage in the war of ideas with conservatives is unique and effective.

Here is my interview with Brad:

1. When you told John Tierney you’re an “Obamite,” what did you mean?

The Urban Dictionary defines an “Obamite” as:

One who supports Barack Obama in his Quest for change.

I strongly support Barack Obama, did so during the campaign, and will continue doing so. His election was a great moment not just for the United States, but for people everywhere.

2. How regular is your correspondence with Marc Morano?

I suppose you are referring to the email from Mark Morano (a staffer for Senator James Inhofe, R-OK) that you “exposed” as representing a list of “climate denial jokers” (cute!). Looking back over my email records, it appears that I was asked in January, 2008 by Mark Morano if he could periodically send me an email newsletter. I replied “Sure.” As a blogger and policy analyst I am on many (too many) email lists, and I am happy to receive all of these emails from many different groups and perspectives, as they collectively give me a sense of what people are thinking and reading, as well as giving me pointers to information that I might not otherwise see. Our Center has an email list which we use to send around a Briefing every few months (sign up here). Such lists are part of the process of communication, so I am quite happy to receive Marc Morano’s emails.

3. Are there other “Obamites” who participate in discussions with Inhofe’s staffers like you do?

I am not sure what “discussions” you are referring to, but if you are asking if there are other people who support Barack Obama who receive emails from Mark Morano, then I am pretty sure that the answer is “yes.” Morano did not ask me who I voted for or support when he asked if he could send me emails, so I don’t think that is a criteria to receive them. If your question is whether or not Senator Inhofe’s staff participate in discussions with people who support Barack Obama, then the answer is of course they do. I’d wager that Senator Inhofe’s staff talks with many Democrats on a daily basis. In fact, Republican and Democrats often participate in discussions together, and sometimes these discussions include Independents.

As far as your line of questions so far, they are evocative of how, in the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy went after people he thought associated with Communists. Here is an excerpt from one of McCarthy’s congressional hearings, this one with Aaron Copland:

McCARTHY. — Mr. Copland, have you ever been a Communist?

COPLAND. — No, I have not been a Communist in the past and I am not now a Communist.

Q. Have you ever been a Communist sympathizer?

A. I am not sure that I would be able to say what you mean by the word ‘’sympathizer.” From my impression of it I have never thought of myself as a Communist sympathizer.

Q. You did not.

A. I did not.

Q. Did you ever attend any Communist meetings?

A. I never attended any specific Communist Party function of any kind.

Q. Did you ever attend a Communist meeting?

A. I am afraid I don’t know how you define a Communist meeting.

Q. A meeting you knew then or now had been called by the Communist Party and sponsored by the Communist Party.

A. Not that I would know of. No.

Q. Did you ever attend a meeting of which a major or sizable number of those in attendance were Communists?

A. Not to my knowledge.

Q. Were you ever solicited to join the Communist Party?

A. No.

Q. Did anyone ever discuss with you the possibility of your joining the communist Party?

A. Not that I recall.

Q. I know that every man has a different type of memory, so we can’t ask you to evaluate your memory. Would it seem logical that were you asked to join the Communist Party, you would remember?

A. If I had been asked to? Not unless it had some significance in my mind.

Q. So your answer at this time is that you can’t say definitely whether you have been asked to join the Communist Party or not?

A. No.

Q. Are any of your close friends Communists?

A. Not to my knowledge.

Q. Do you know any members of the Communist Party who are Communists?

A. I don’t know any member of the Communist Party, as far as I know.

4. John Tierney asks: ” Can these scientists be honest brokers?” Do you believe Drs. Chu and Holdren are dishonest?

I believe that Drs. Chu and Holdren are scientists with remarkable records of achievement who are to be admired for taking on the challenging task of public service. I do not think they are dishonest. It is possible to differ with people’s views on policy and decisions while at the same time respecting them as individuals.

More basically, your question indicates a misunderstanding about the title of my book, The Honest Broker. The honest broker is not characterized simply by honesty (I argue that all four categories need to be honest), but by a willingness to present a range of options for decision. This is why I argue in the book that the honest broker role is best filled by a group of people (e.g., a committee) rather than an individual.

5. Do you identify yourself as a political scientist?

I have a Ph.D. in political science with specialization fields of public policy, American politics, and quantitative methods. I am currently a Professor of Environmental Studies. My expertise is in science and technology policy. So calling me a “political scientist,” “professor of environmental studies,” “expert in science and technology policy” are all fair.

Here is how I identify myself on my web page:

By some combination of nature and nurture I am an unreformed pragmatist, an unabashed policy wonk, and trained as a policy scientist.

6. John Tierney wrote: “To bolster their case, they’re prone to exaggerate their expertise (like enumerating the catastrophes that would occur if their policies aren’t adopted), while denigrating their political opponents as “unqualified” or “unscientific.”” Do you yourself believe Dr. Chu and Holdren are exaggerating their expertise?

I discuss John Holdren’s role in the debate over The Skeptical Environmentalist in Chapter 8 of The Honest Broker. I argue that scientists (on all sides of political debates) tend to engage in battles over science as a proxy for open debate over policy options. This dynamic intensifies incentives to cherrypick or selectively present information, which includes emphasizing the most (or least) extreme possibilities, and sometimes going beyond what can be legitimately supported. People then argue over the science as a proxy for what they really care about. Recently, I questioned several assertions made by Steven Chu about the future of cities and agriculture in California (discussed more below).

7. On “The Skeptical Environmentalist”: Do you believe that TSE does not contain significant scientific errors of the types discussed by Holdren at al.?

For about five years I used The Skeptical Environmentalist (TSE) by Bjorn Lomborg as a text in my graduate seminar, “Policy, Science and the Environment.” The assignment that I gave to the students, who were divided up into groups, was to evaluate one of Lomborg’s chapters in direct comparison to an alternative interpretation of the same issue. For the most part, this exercise revealed that the debates over TSE mostly revolved not over specific facts, but the presentation and interpretation of those facts. In many cases both Lomborg and his opponents got data from the exact same sources (often the UN or other international bodies).

Ultimately, the question of whether or not things are getting better or worse depends upon how one defines what it means to be “better” or “worse”. Similarly, even if people agree on the question of better or worse they might disagree on the reasons for that trend. Virtually all of the debate over TSE is a debate about politics, with the political questions displaced onto questions of science. And most of the questions of science are irrelevant to the larger policy questions, except as a basis for asserting who has authority in the political debate. In this debate we typically see people question views on science in order to impeach an opponent’s political perspective.

8. Do you believe Dr. Chu misrepresented the science in his LAT interview or otherwise deserves criticism for it?

Dr. Chu is of course entitled to his own opinions on how the future climate will evolve and how climate changes will interact with society leading to impacts. But I think that as a prominent public official he should be very careful offering up scenarios that are “worst case” or, less charitably, not supported by relevant research. Just as easily as one could challenge the future habitability of California, one could say that California will do just fine under some scenarios of future climate change and societal response, and after saying so find some bit of literature that ostensibly supports such claims. That sort of presentation would be equally misrepresenting the science. In this case Dr. Chu engaged in a bit of hyperbole — unnecessarily in my view.

Conflicts of Interest – Not Just for Journal Writers

February 24th, 2009

Posted by: admin

ScienceInsider writes about the encouragement of PLoS Medicine to require conflict of interest disclosures from its editors as well as its writers.  In an editorial, the journal describes possible sources of bias, which go beyond considerations of financial interest, to include things such as “publication bias, outcome reporting bias, financial and non-financial competing interests, sponsors’ control of study data and publication, and restrictions on access to data and materials.”  Not only are editors challenged with determine possible bias in the articles they deal with, but whether or not their own biases may influence the choices of the journal.  The ScienceInsider piece makes a great point in noting that PLoS Medicine hasn’t cornered the market on assertive conflict of interest policies, and other journals are dealing with the issue, or at least in discussions to do so.

Worth noting in the editorial is the inclusion of research from advocacy organizations.

“Robust journal policies regarding non-commercial competing interests…will at least require declaration of any interests that might influence reporting or review, and that would be influenced—negatively or positively—by publication. Such interests might include personal relationships or professional interactions with authors, editors, or reviewers, and strongly held political or religious views that relate to the work under consideration.”

The editors give an example about their death penalty views when dealing with an article about lethal injection.  While it’s important to investigate sources to ferret out possible bias, with journals this is not always that easy to do.  Policies that address biases beyond financial considerations help address this challenge.

John Tierney on The Honest Broker

February 24th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

John Tierney of the New York Times has a column and a blog posting up on The Honest Broker. I’ve agreed to answer reader questions over at his blog. If you are a first time visitor to our site, welcome. You can learn more about The Honest Broker here.

Also, anyone interested in a copy of my air capture paper can find it here in PDF and a FAQ page here.

Broadband and Measurement

February 23rd, 2009

Posted by: admin

In a sort-of follow-up to my post on the deficit, I offer this New York Times Bits blog post on a study indicating that contrary to the hue and cry about the United States falling behind in broadband deployment,  the U.S. is actually number one.  As you might expect, it’s because the measurement is not of connectivity speed, nor is it of the percentage of homes with broadband.  In these areas the U.S. does rank behind other countries.  But with the “Connectivity Scorecard” devised by the researcher behind the study, the U.S. ranks number one, as its consumers, businesses and government supposedly are more efficient in the use of its broadband.

While conflicting budget numbers are a problem mostly because they can hide the nature of the nation’s financial health, these conflicting broadband measures try and hide a values or policy discussion behind numbers.  If you find a study saying U.S. is number one in broadband, then you don’t worry about it and you certainly have little motivation to have a debate over what the nation should expect from broadband.  Use the numbers as part of that debate, not as replacements for it.

Gore Pulls CRED Data From Talk

February 23rd, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Andy Revkin at the New York Times asked Al Gore’s office for their comments on Gore’s use of data from CRED in Belgium in recent versions of his talk to illustrate the impacts of human-caused climate change on disasters. In response, Gore’s office has said that they will pull the slide, as it does not have a scientific foundation.

Kudos to Al Gore who has demonstrated a commitment to scientific accuracy in his presentation. However there are still some issues with their response. Here is how Gore’s office responded to Revkin as related at Dot Earth (please visit their for embedded links):

I can confirm that historically, we used Munich Re and Swiss Re data for the slide show. This can be confirmed using a hard copy of An Inconvenient Truth. (It is cited if you cannot recall from the film which is now several years old!). We became aware of the CRED database from its use by Charles Blow in the New York Times (May 31, 2008). So, it’s a very new addition.

We have found that Munich Re and other insurers and their science experts have made the attribution. I’m referring you particularly to their floods section/report [link, link] Both of these were published in a series entitled “Weather catastrophes and climate change-Is there still hope for us.”

We appreciate that you have pointed out the issues with the CRED database and will make the switch back to the data we used previously to ensure that there is no confusion either with regards to the data or attribution.

As to climate change and its impacts on storms and floods, the IPCC and NOAA among many other top scientific groups have indicated that climate change will result in more extreme weather events, including heat waves, wildfires, storms and floods. As the result of briefings from top scientists, Vice President Gore believes that we are beginning to see evidence of that now.

Switching from the CRED dataset to Munich Re (and Swiss Re) data does not solve the basic problem. As we found in an expert workshop organized in 2006 with Munich Re — The Munich Re dataset has exactly the same problems as the CRED dataset. Attribution of the role of greenhouse gas driven climate change in the increasing economic costs of disasters has yet to occur. So using a different dataset does not address the underlying problem.

So when Al Gore’s office says . . .

We have found that Munich Re and other insurers and their science experts have made the attribution.

. . . they are either cherry picking the selective views of a few people or simply mistaken. The scientific workshop that I co-organized with Peter Hoeppe of Munich Re concluded the following, with unanimous agreement among participants (PDF):

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions.

We also published this view in Science:

Bouwer, L.M., Crompton, R.P., Faust, E., Höppe, P., and Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Confronting Disaster Losses, Science, Vol. 318, November 2, p. 753. (PDF).

So while Gore’s office was right to pull the CRED information from their talk as lacking a scientific basis, the continuing reliance on data from Munich Re does not solve the basic issue, which is that attribution of the increasing toll of disasters to human-caused climate change remains speculative at best and not supported by science. To the contrary, increasing societal exposure and growing wealth in vulnerable locations are the overwhelming drivers of the increasing losses, a conclusion well supported by many studies. Here is a test to see how far Gore is willing to go in maintaining standards of accuracy in his talk.

Now that Gore has admitted that including the slide based on CRED data was a mistake, it raises a more fundamental: How could it be that Al Gore presented obviously misleading information before a large audience of the world’s best scientists, which was then amplified in a press release by AAAS, and none of these scientists spoke up?

Comparative Treatment Research Program Part of Stimulus

February 22nd, 2009

Posted by: admin

Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog reports on a research program in the stimulus package that will compare how different medical treatments address various ailments.  The overall goal appears to be addressing rising health care costs, which explains why some of the opposition to this program comes from those concerned that it will lead to rationed care.  The project will be guided by a 15-member council and will coordinate its work with the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.  Other countries, including England, France and Denmark, conduct similar research, but how their research outcomes affect treatment or health care varies.