Archive for September, 2006

Some Weekend Fun

September 29th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Just so we don’t take ourselves too seriously around here.

Scientists forming a 527 but will it be relevant?

September 28th, 2006

Posted by: admin

“A number of America’s leading scientists” have started a 527 called Scientists & Engineers for America which was covered by the NY Times today.

Their raison d’entrée is, “…electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.”

Good: a group of concerned citizens banding together to advocate their issue.

Bad: Despite a stated aim to be nonpartisan, the group’s very birth is a response to partisan politics, which makes it political by default.

The bad doesn’t necessarily outweigh the good for SEforA, but it does illustrate what will be its biggest challenge. The challenge won’t be affecting races or having an impact on the process, but on becoming staunchly nonpartisan and burnishing time and again its nonpartisan credentials. If it can successfully manage that, then SEforA can become relevant and salient, partnering with politicians from both parties. If not, then SEforA will become a de facto Democrat advocacy group, ignored by the Republicans whenever they are in power. Unfortunately the origins of SEforA speak to its partisan upbringing by using two Clinton Administration science advisors as headliners and using language that sounds like it came straight from Chris Mooney’s book and the UCS report: “…when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research.”

Here’s hoping that SEforA works immediately toward nonpartisanship, realizing that they will have some work to do in convincing Republicans that their early, seemingly inherent links to the Democratic Party are nonbinding.

Latest Bridges Column

September 28th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The latest issue of Bridges a publication of the Office of Science and Technology of the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC, is now online. As always Bridges provides a wide range of interesting and stimulating essays and discussions. In particular, Stefan Kalt’s column on Heidegger and technology is especially interesting.

My column in this issue is titled “Self-Segregation of Scientists by Political Predispositions” and can be found online here and as a podcast here (and regular Prometheus readers will see that it draws on several earlier discussions on our blog – thanks to all who contributed!). My essay ends with some specific recommendations for scientists — I think along the lines specifically asked for by Judy Curry recently in the comments. As always, we welcome your feedback and comments.

Inconvenient Truth Panel Discussion at the University of Colorado

September 28th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For locals:

Al Gore’s global warming movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, will be shown on Thursday, September 28 at 7 and 9:15 pm in the Muenzinger Auditorium on the CU-Boulder campus. The Energy Initiative is sponsoring a panel titled “An Inconvenient Truth: Assessing the Science and Policy Implications” immediately following the 7 pm showing in Muenzinger Room E0046. Panelists include Roger Pielke, Jr. and Lisa Dilling of CIRES, Brian Toon of LASP, and Jim White of Environmental Studies.

Admission for the movie: $5 general, $4 w/UCB student ID. Call 303-492-1531 for more info.

There is no charge for the panel discussion and you do not need to have seen the movie beforehand to attend.

Caught in a Lie

September 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

There is an old political maxim that it is not the event but the cover-up that gets politicians in trouble. The issue of a two-page NOAA fact sheet and the decision by leadership in NOAA and/or its parent agency, Department of Commerce, to prevent its release is yet another lesson in Politics 101.

The figure below shows a recent version of the NOAA “fact sheet.” (Note that I have received multiple copies from independent sources, several of whom — but not all — who asked me not to post. Several, but not all, of the documents have different dates, but the differences are not substantive. I present a screen shot of a version so as not to inadvertantly reveal where it came from.)


The document is clearly prepared for public dissemination. It includes the following text that I have circled:

The purpose of this document is to respond to frequently asked questions on the topic of Atlantic hurricanes and climate. This document reflects the current state of the science, which is based on official data sets and results presented in peer-reviewed publications. It does not contain any statements of policy or positions of NOAA, the Department of Commerce or the U.S. Government.

This is obviously not a statment one would find on an internal document. The second page includes the statement at the bottom “Visit us on the web at” Surely not a request made to employees.

Compare this to how Nature yesterday (here) reported NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher’s description of the document.

When asked about the document, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told Nature that it was simply an internal exercise designed to get researchers to respect each other’s points of view. He said it could not be released because the agency cannot take an official position on a field of science that is changing so rapidly.

An internal exercise? Bush Administration appointees it seems can make plenty of smoke appear even when there is no fire.

Revealed! NOAA’s Mystery Hurricane Report

September 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here is in its entirety is the NOAA “report” discussed in Nature yesterday. It is in fact titled a “fact sheet” and looks more like a set of talking points than a consensus report. I do not have the figures being referred to in the text. There is absolutely nothing new or surprising in the fact sheet. Why NOAA or DOC officials would not want this released is beyond me. Have a look.


NOAA’s Mystery Hurricane Report

September 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to Nature today last spring NOAA convened an internal seven-person team to prepare a consensus report for public release on hurricanes and global warming. According to press reports (e.g., here), the near final report’s release was halted in May by (a) Department of Commerce political appointee(s).

I’d like to get the facts straight on this, as they are quite unclear in the media. I’d welcome hearing from anyone with firsthand knowledge of these events. We’d be happy to post a copy of the report as well, anonymity guaranteed.

As far as the science of hurricanes, it is safe to conclude that the mystery report has to be a synthesis of recent work that is publicly available, rather than any new science. What is more troubling to me is how the political ham-handedness (if not worse) of NOAA and its Bush Adminstration handlers works against effective hurricane policy and climate policy. Consider the following statement for the AP news report:

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

The reality, as documented in numerous papers and disucssions here and elsewhere, is that greenhouse gases cannot be an effective tool of hurricane policy. So long as advocates against action on greenhouse gases inside the Administration pretend that there is a linkage between future energy policies and future hurricane impacts by micromanaging information on hurricanes, people unfamiliar with the current state of hurricane science and policy, or those looking for a political bludgeon, will easily conclude something like the following:

“There must be a big connection between changes in energy policies and future hurricane impacts, or else why would the Bush Administration try to supress information? Becuase if there is no evidence of a future connection then NOAA and Bush officials must just be stupid by acting as if there is, right?”

I am quite familiar with recent debates on hurricanes, and frequent readers know that I believe that there is an honest, unsettled debate going on. My own research shows that any action on energy policies cannot have a discernible effect on hurricane impacts as far as the eye can see, so you can guess how I’d answer that last question.

To Limit Choice or Expand Choice?

September 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In a paper out yesterday, NASA’s Jim Hansen recognizes the difference between a scientist serving as an issue advocate versus as an honest broker of policy alternatives when he writes (PDF):

Inference of imminent dangerous climate change may stimulate discussion of “engineering fixes” to reduce global warming. The notion of such a “fix” is itself dangerous if it diminishes efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, yet it also would be irresponsible not to consider all ways to minimize climate change.

So which is it? Dangerous or irresponsible? Should scientists openly discuss all ways to minimize climate change, including little-mentioned technologies like air capture? Or should scientists seek to limit research agendas in order to take some options off the table and privledge others in political debate?

It can’t be both ways at the same time. Should scientists seek to limit choice or expand choice?

Follow Up on Royal Society Letter

September 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week we discussed a letter from the Royal Society to ExxonMobil. The interesting discussion that followed focused on the role of scientists in general and national academies specifically in contested political issues that involve science. The issue continues to devleop. Apparently, according to Benny Peiser, the author of the Royal Society letter to ExxonMobil is no longer employed by the Royal Society. The Royal Soceity has not said anything publicly that I am aware of — eagle-eyed readers please share what you learn.

David Whitehouse, formerly with the BBC, has shared another letter with Benny Peiser, which Benny included in his CCNet mailing list today. I have reproduced Dr. Whitehouse’s letter below which provides an overview and analysis of the events of the past week.


Thoughts on an Immediate Freeze on Carbon Dioxide Emissions

September 25th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I discussed Al Gore’s call for an “immediate freeze” on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. I dismissed this as being in the realm of fantasy, but the notion of freezing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions motivated me to investigate the issue a bit further. The following data and analyses report what I’ve learned.