Archive for February, 2005

House Juggles Science Spending

February 17th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a plan put forward by Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) that makes major changes to the House budget process. Under the new plan, the House has rearranged the jurisdictions of its subcommittees, consolidating 13 subcommittees to 10. Among the changes, a large portion of federal science funding now falls under one subcommittee: Science, State, Justice, and Commerce.

This subcommittee will oversee science appropriations for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and NIST. Defense, NIH, and Department of Energy science funding remain separate.

Using AAAS estimates of the President’s FY 2006 budget, the new subcommittee will oversee approximately 30% of $57.1 billion in non-defense R&D funding. NIH and DoE make up most of the remainder with 49% and 15% respectively.

The new subcommittee will oversee a total budget of over $55 billion. A look at last year’s funding shows appropriations of $20.4 billion for Justice, $8.5 billion for State, and $6.9 billion for Commerce. NASA and NSF contribute another $22 billion.

This reorganization frees NASA and the NSF from their former home in the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies subcommittee. Instead of the VA and HUD, these agencies will now compete for funding with groups such as the FBI, DEA, and State Department. The Department of Commerce labs, which AAAS estimates will fund about $1 billion in R&D in FY 2006, will now compete directly with the much larger budgets of NASA and NSF.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Senate members “want changes kept to a minimum” bringing up the possibility that the Senate will keep the previous 13 subcommittees. Asymmetrical appropriations bills could cause havoc come October as the House and Senate try to reconcile their spending bills. The Post also reports that the Senate is not likely to make a final decision until after the President’s Day recess.

The ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey (D-WI) has responded to the changes saying, the proposal “is not aimed at improving efficiency. It is simply payback” for Majority Leader Tom Delay to boost spending on NASA.

A reorganization of this magnitude will have effects on a number of areas, not just science. But from the narrow perspective of science funding, the changes appear to generally reduce downward pressure on R&D budgets. Whether or not the changes lead to better R&D outcomes is an entirely different question.

Frankenfood or Fearmongering?

February 16th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

FOSEP, the Forum on Science, Ethics and Policy, is hosted by the Office of Research at the University of Washington, and run by a dedicated group of University of Washington graduate students. They recently sponsored a talk by Michael Rodemeyer of the Pew Initiative on Agricultural Biotechnology on genetically modified foods. The talk is now available online.

Talk details:


McIntyre on Climate Science Policy

February 14th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here at Prometheus we don’t do hockey sticks. (Astute readers will find one oblique reference to it in this paper – PDF.) However, the debate over the hockey stick is worth our attention not only for what it says about the state of climate science and politics, but also because it is significant for how we think about climate science policy. Climate science policy refers to those decisions that we make about climate science, including priorities for research and processes of scientific assessment and evaluation.

Steven McIntyre has posted his thoughts on climate science policy arising from his experiences with taking on the hockey stick. He writes,

“IPCC proponents place great emphasis on the merit of articles that have been “peer reviewed” by a journal. However, as a form of due diligence, journal peer review in the multiproxy climate field is remarkably cursory, as compared with the due diligence of business processes. Peer review for climate publications, even by eminent journals like Nature or Science, is typically a quick unpaid read by two (or sometimes three) knowledgeable persons, usually close colleagues of the author. It is unheard of for a peer reviewer to actually check the data and calculations.”

This observation has also been made in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in a 2000 commentary by Ron Errico, who writes,


Methane Policy

February 14th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In The New Republic Gregg Easterbrook describes (subscription required) the Bush Administration’s “Methane to Markets” partnership (EPA site). Easterbrook argues that the Bush Administration has not gotten enough credit in the media for this program, which he characterizes as being as significant as successful implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. He suggests,

“The press corps is pretending the anti-methane initiative does not exist in order to avoid inconvenient complications of the Black Hat versus White Hat narrative it has settled into regarding global warming. In this narrative, the White House is completely ignoring building scientific evidence of artificially triggered climate change; everything Bush does is wicked; everything the enlightened Euros do is noble. The narrative is simple and easy to follow–plus, it’s pretty easy to get supporting quotes from Democratic politicians and enviros. The drawback to the narrative is that it isn’t true. But why should that stop the nation’s reporters and editorialists?”

Easterbrook also observes, “That Bush is not doing enough regarding the greenhouse effect is a different and plausible complaint.”


Long Live Mode 1 Science – Or Not

February 11th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

An editorial in this week’s science by Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, indicates not only that science is changing, but that change may here to stay. Specifically, Leshner writes, “…the relationship between science and society is undergoing significant stress. Some members of the public are finding certain lines of scientific research and their outcomes disquieting, while others challenge the kind of science taught in schools. This disaffection and shift in attitudes predict a more difficult and intrusive relationship between science and society than we’ve enjoyed in the recent past.”

What might we expect of the relationship of science and society? First a bit of background:

Helga Nowotny, Peter Scott and Michael Gibbons write that the role of science in society has changed dramatically over the past decade, a transition they characterize as moving from “Mode 1” science to “Mode 2 science,”

“The old paradigm of scientific discovery (‘Mode 1’) characterised by the hegemony of disciplinary science, with its strong sense of an internal hierarchy between the disciplines and driven by the autonomy of scientists and their host institutions, the universities, was being superseded – although not replaced- by a new paradigm of knowledge production (‘Mode 2’) which was socially distributed, application-oriented, trans-disciplinary and subject to multiple accountabilities.


Space Shuttle Costs

February 10th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The table below shows the costs of the Space Shuttle program from its inception through 2003 (in 2003 $). The data come from a paper of mine in 1994 (1971-1993) and the Gehman report on the Columbia accident (1994-2003). The data show that the space shuttle program has cost $145 billion over its existence and about $112 billion since the program became operational. The average cost/flight has been about $1.3 billion over the life of the program and about $750 million over its most recent five years of operations.

According to the FY2006 NASA budget request the Space Shuttle program is expected to cost (in millions of 2004 $) through 2010:


The Cherry Pick

February 9th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last year I wrote “ … the cherry pick — the careful selection of information to buttress a particular predetermined perspective while ignoring other information that does not. In other words, take the best and leave the rest.”

And in an examination of the misuse of science by the Bush I and Clinton Administrations I wrote, “When making an argument people often selectively choose or present information that makes their case look as strong as possible. Not only is this an effective tactic in argumentation; because there are (a) a diversity of perspectives on facts, and (b) many valid ways to understand “facts,” cherry picking is inescapable.”

Along these lines the team at RealClimate has a great post that describes some of the pitfalls of cherry picking: “… for some critics, any argument will do – regardless of its coherence with the argument they had before, or the one they will pick next.”

Dan Sarewitz argues that “…when cause-and-effect relations are not simple or well-established, all uses of facts are selective. Since there is no way to “add up” all the facts relevant to a complex problem like global change to yield a “complete” picture of “the problem,” choices must be made. Particular sets of facts may stand out as particularly compelling, coherent, and useful in the context of one set of values and interests, yet in another appear irrelevant to the point of triviality.”

But what the folks at RealClimate remind us is that if you are cherry picking, be careful, because if you are not careful, the resulting bowl of fruit might also contain some apples and oranges.

Letter in TNR

February 9th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The New Republic printed a letter in its 14 February 2005 issue responding to an article in TNR that Dan Sarewitz and I had last month on climate change and disasters following numerous claims that the Indian Ocean tsunami should motivate action on climate change. Here is the letter:

“In their article on the Indian Ocean tsunami’s “real cause,” Daniel Sarewitz and Roger A. Pielke Jr. did a good job of severing the perceived connection between global warming and all natural disasters (“Rising Tide,” January 17). They failed, however, to provide the simplest and most damaging critique to the argument that the Indian Ocean tragedy is somehow linked to global warming: Tsunamis have practically nothing to do with the atmosphere. They usually result from undersea seismic activity, though collapsing landforms and glaciers can cause them, too. A 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra will produce a tsunami regardless of the atmospheric temperature or composition.

Daniel J. Smith
Iowa City, Iowa”

We did not see fit to make the point that global warming did not cause the tsunami because everyone (in their right mind) knows that (except perhaps the genius at TNR who came up with the subtitle to the article!). Our focus was on the more interesting and difficult challenge of evaluating policy options available to prepare for future disasters.

A New Blog on Science Policy

February 8th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A new blog has just come online, The Post-Normal Times. It is run by an impressive and diverse group. It is worth a bookmark. Here is how they desribe themselves:

“Who We Are”
Controversial public policy decisions that affect many people are unlikely to be accepted unless they are justified, somehow, by those who make them. Often, this is done by invoking some form of authority. For example, in a senate hearing, James Watt – former US Secretary of the Interior – once invoked the rapture when he said “after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back” to explain why he was giving away public lands. Others invoke science, which is at its best when, like Galileo, it challenges existing beliefs, and debunks myths, and, also like Galileo, gets corrected when wrong, as was his theory of the tides. At its worst, science provides support for decisions that have already been made, resting on hubris and on myths that must also be debunked, such as the delusion – also attributed to Galileo – that given enough resources, it can explain all things and provide certainty. It is also important to recognize that science is just one of many ways of understanding a world in which changes are increasingly a consequence of human beliefs and behavior. The capacity to respond to complex problems rests on an understanding of this changing context, without which scientific explanations and technical solutions are likely to be irrelevant no matter how precise.


Climate Science and Politics, but not IPCC

February 8th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I have received some comments asking whether or not I think that IPCC scientists should simply remain mute on issues of climate science or politics. The answer is “no” – in my view IPCC scientists should feel free to speak out as they see fit, but they should be careful when using the authority of the IPCC to establish their credentials. A good example of a scientist speaking out who did not rely on his IPCC credential appeared in The Washington Post on Sunday. The Post contained an article on recent drought in the western United States, including some very strong claims that it has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Here is an excerpt:

“Jonathan Overpeck, who directs the university- and government-funded Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, said current drought and weather disruptions signal what is to come over the next century. Twenty-five years ago, he said, scientists produced computer models of the drought that Arizona is now experiencing. “It’s going to get warmer, we’re going to have more people, and we’re going to have more droughts more frequently and in harsher terms,” Overpeck said. “We should be at the forefront of demanding action on global warming because we’re at the forefront of the impacts of global warming. . . . In the West we’re seeing what’s happening now.””

The statements by Overpeck are quite similar to those made by Kevin Trenberth on hurricanes and discussed at length in the Prometheus archives. But there is one important difference. Like Trenberth, Overpeck is also a Coordinating Lead Author for the IPCC’s fourth assessment report, but Overpeck (or the Post) does not rely on this connection to establish his credentials. Hence, in this case there is no ambiguity about whether or not Overpeck is speaking for the IPCC or himself. I have no complaint on Overpeck making these assertions.

(For more on climate and drought in the U.S. Southwest see this report from Overpeck’s group at Arizona.)