Archive for September, 2004


September 30th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Mephistos is an international graduate student conference in the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science, Technology and Medicine. The purpose of the conference is to stimulate open discussion among graduate students. The graduate community at Brown University, in association with the Committee on Science & Technology Studies, is proud to host the twenty-third annual edition of the event, which will be held on March 5-6, 2005.

The 2005 Mephistos Organizing Committee welcomes proposals for individual papers from graduate students interested in the topics named above and/or the interdisciplinary field of Science & Technology Studies (STS). Please submit all of the following by email to Tanya Sheehan, Chair of the Organizing Committee, at

* Cover letter including your name, institutional affiliation (department and college/university), title of proposed paper, complete mailing address, and telephone number(s)
* One-page abstract of the proposed paper (200-300 words-MS Word attachment preferred)
* Curriculum vitae (no more than 3 pages-MS Word attachment preferred)

Only complete submissions received by December 1, 2004 will be considered. Letters of acceptance will be emailed to applicants no later than January 1, 2005. Please keep in mind that Mephistos conference papers are expected to be formal presentations of 20 minutes in length. The 2005 Organizing Committee plans to continue the conference’s long tradition of providing modest travel grants to each of the conference speakers.

For further information, please consult the conference website or contact

Hurricanes and Climate Change: On Asking the Wrong Question

September 29th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today’s New York Times editorializes on hurricanes and global warming, a popular topic these days.

“Mr. McCain, a co-sponsor with Senator Joseph Lieberman of a bill to impose mandatory caps on industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, also ventured where few politicians have dared to go, drawing a link between this calamitous hurricane season and climate change. This is not farfetched: because hurricanes draw their intensity from the heat in ocean waters, and because the oceans (like the rest of the world) are gradually getting warmer, a growing number of reputable scientists say hurricanes are likely to grow in intensity and destructive power, if not frequency.”

Most everyone’s attention is focused on the question, “Will global warming lead to more and/or more intense hurricanes?” and, just as implied in the Times editorial, the answer to the question is received as a proxy for support or opposition to efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. But this is the wrong question. A more appropriate question in the context of policy is the following, “When compared to other available options, how effective are greenhouse gas regulations as a means to modulate future impacts associated with hurricanes (given that the future incidence of hurricanes may indeed be affected by greenhouse gases)?”

This question is almost never asked or answered. In 2000 with colleagues Bobbie Klein and Dan Sarewitz I sought to address this question in our research and we published the following paper:


This Rise of Commercial Space

September 29th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Scaled Composits has met an important milestone today, successfully reaching an altitude of 100km. A second attempt set for October 4th will give the team a chance to win the $10 million dollar Ansari X Prize.

Meanwhile, this week saw Scaled Composits and Virgin enter a commercial development agreement, under the moniker Virgin Galactic. Book your sub-orbital commercial flight now; snacks will probably not be served, and Apollo 13 will not be shown in-flight.

At the same time, NASA is recovering from damage at the Kennedy Space Center from Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. The large Vehicle Assembly Building took damage, but the remaining orbiter fleet was unscathed.

It is Not About Science

September 28th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Last week’s Science magazine contains an essay by David Baltimore, president of Cal Tech, titled “Science and the Bush Administration” (subscription required). In the essay Baltimore writes that the recent attention being paid to the misuse of science has had some positive benefits: “…it looks as though the criticism from individual scientists and from the UCS has been influential in causing the administration to be more honest about the underlying science. We should welcome this new posture.”

But Baltimore expresses frustration that even with the apparent improvement in the use of science: “Nevertheless, although the realities of the science may be better accepted, the policy implications are still being ignored. Our goal now should be to have the policies track the science.”

Baltimore’s statement reflects the view that certain political outcomes are compelled by specific scientific findings. But, believe it or not, among the issues that Baltimore expresses concern about – AIDS, climate change, stem cells – current controversies are really about politics and not about science. Baltimore appears to come very close to recognizing this very point when he writes:


Intern Positions

September 27th, 2004

Posted by: admin


Explore a career in international security and nonproliferation through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Nonproliferation Graduate Program (NGP). Interns work within NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation on programs designed to detect, prevent, and reverse the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while mitigating the risks from nuclear operations.

Administered by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA, the
12 to 14 month, full-time intern program provides students with specialized training and practical experience on projects and initiatives that contribute to a safer world. In addition to gaining valuable experience working with federal government programs, interns have opportunities to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Energy, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations, and other government agencies.

Deadline for the 2005 program is Oct. 31. For more information see

Non-Results in Clinical Trials and Beyond

September 27th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week’s Economist reports on a major change in the oversight of clinical trials. To date, not all clinical trials have been reported, which means that inconclusive results can be hidden and successful trials highlighted. Why does this matter? Consider what happens when studies are evaluated using the typical 95% threshold of statistical significance, this means that 1 in 20 results, on average, will be spurious just by chance. So when testing the effects of a new drug, with enough clinical trials, there will inevitably be a statistically significant positive result at some point, even if the drug is ineffective. Hence the importance of knowing the results of all clinical trials related to a particular drug.

The Economist notes:
“Legislation is in the works in both houses of America’s Congress to reform the reporting of trials. In particular, Chris Dodd, Tim Johnson and Edward Kennedy, three Democratic senators, are expected to propose, within the next week or two, a law that would increase compliance with existing requirements to post trial data to It would probably adopt a proposal made by the AMA that registration in a central database be a requirement for the approval of human trials, as well as introducing new requirements to include trial results in the database.”

(For another view see the PhRMA www site here.)

There is no shortage of criticisms of methods used to assess the significance of a finding, whether the effects of a drug or any other cause-effect relationship.


Position in Risk Assessment

September 23rd, 2004

Posted by: admin

Swiss Re is searching for a candidate with strong credentials in flood/water resource management/mathematics/probabilistic modeling to work in its New York based Catastrophe Natural Hazards team. The candidate would work on and initiate projects relating to flood hazard and related risk evaluation throughout the Americas.

We are looking for a highly motivated individual who can work in a team environment as well as individually. This as a great opportunity for someone interested in applying his or her skills within the private sector. Next to a strong scientific base, the candidate is expected to have superior data management skills as well as good knowledge of geographical or statistical software packages (GIS).


Fellowships from the National Academies

September 22nd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The contribution of science, technology, and engineering to the formulation and implementation of U.S. government domestic and foreign policy has long been recognized as a critical element in good governance. Without an accurate, timely understanding of rapidly advancing science and technology issues, it is increasingly difficult to identify and establish sound governmental policy that meet the needs of modern societies.

In recognition of this, the National Academies sponsors the “Jefferson Science Fellows” (JSF) program to establish a new model for engaging the American academic science, technology, and engineering communities in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy. The program is administered by the National Academies, philanthropic foundations, and the U.S. Department of State. Nominations are due October 1, 2004. Complete program information is available here.

The National Academies’ “Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Internship Program” is also accepting applications from graduate and postdoctoral students for its 2005 sessions. The program is designed to engage science, engineering, medical, veterinary, business, and law students in the analysis and creation of public policy and familiarize them with the interactions of science, technology and government. There is a rolling application deadline for seasonal application periods. For complete information visit here.

More information about both programs, including detailed guidelines, eligibility requirements, and placement/research specifics, is also available from The National Academies, Fellowships Office, 500 Fifth Street NW, GR 322A, Washington, DC 20001; (202) 334-2872.

Brian Drain

September 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Something tells me that issues associated with the mobility of skill ed workers in science and engineering require a bit more nuance. Perhaps instead of “brain drain” those thinking about “brain circulation” are onto something. Consider the following:

Scientists and policy makers in the United States are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Canada are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in South Africa are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Indonesia are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers across Africa are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Argentina are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers across Europe are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Pakistan are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Japan are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers across Asia are worried about a “brain drain.”

Scientists and policy makers in Australia are worried about a “brain drain.”

Has anyone looked in Antarctica for all of these brains?

Climate Models, Climate Politics

September 20th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

An article (registration required) in the New Scientist from this past summer highlights how politicized the practice of climate modeling has become (thanks to John Fleck for the link). The article focuses on how understandings of climate models have become more complex as models become more sophisticated. Here are the story’s last two paragraphs:

“Some climate scientists find these new figures disturbing not just for what they suggest about the atmosphere’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases, but also because they undermine existing predictions. Uncertainty about those predictions is stopping politicians from acting to halt global warming. So, they argue, even suggesting that the model results are less certain could be politically dangerous.

But other climate scientists fear creating a spurious certainty about climate change. Since we don’t know what the future holds, they say, we shouldn’t claim to know. These people see the predictions of climate models as less like a weather forecast and more like a bookmaker setting odds for a high-stakes horse race. There are no “dead certainties”. They say that humanity has to act prudently and hedge its bets about future climate change in the absence of certainty. We will, they argue, never be able to see through the clouds, and politicians will just have to accept that.”

An opinion in today’s Tech Central Station by Anthony Lupo shows how climate models are used to political effect: