Archive for the ‘From the Editor’s Perch’ Category

From the Editor’s Perch

April 30, 2015


The Road Not Travelled

 I’ve learned with age “never to say never”.  But this road (far) less travelled has reached its end.  The last posting was February 25, 2015.  And it is now April 30, 2015.  Over two months without a post, and what have I been doing?

Well, besides all of the backwash of life, I’ve been writing poems.  They seem to fit in the little crevices life allows.  It takes only a few moments to scratch down a phrase and stuff it a pocket.  Then, when the safe harbor of a few free hours is reached, poetry assembly can take place.  There is a certain enjoyment that a good poem contains that a blog post doesn’t.   I can’t say I’ve sat down and read over my past blog posts at all.   (Excepting those concerning my son.)  However, I do enjoy mulling over a poem I’ve written and liked enough to store.  In fact, I pour over them fondly now and then.  And doing so – especially, if I’m down in the dumps – makes me feel better.  I’m reminded of the New Yorker cartoon where the artist is settled back with his bowl of popcorn as if to watch the TV for the evening – but instead of a TV, it’s his painting that he is enjoying.  That’s how it is with a poem for me.  They are a bit of my life I continue to enjoy.

Checking back, this blog was begun March 9, 2010 with the caption “Hello world!”  That’s a pretty good summation of the joy and trepidation every blogger has felt setting out, I would guess.  Here is this whole world beckoning, without an intermediary to be seen.  No gatekeepers.  No editors.  No business or financial razor wire to cut through.  No deadlines.  No restrictions.  And I’m typing the first phrase of the rest of my life.

Ironically, rather than a blog releasing my views to the world, as I had anticipated – it has rather been like isolating myself on an island and sending a message off in a bottle, hoping that someone will discover it, and then respond.  Both have been shown to be very problematic events.

Like most ‘ground-breaking’ endeavors we try, even if we succeed, we find that there are real reasons for the way tradition operated.   Life is quite complex.  We form opinions without full understanding.  Older people maintain this is why they have become more conservative with age.  Younger people maintain it’s because we’re old, and that we should be polite and move to the side.  (I’m sorry.  You will have to wait until I’m dead.)

Blogging has provided opportunities for a small number of the millions out there to make a name for themselves.  And it has provided the opportunity for a much vaster number to write and post their thoughts and opinions.  I’m all in favor.  But, as for myself, I’ve found the fishing here to be quite poor after trying every bait imaginable.  So, time to pull in the pole and flip a line into the water elsewhere.

The irony is of course, that I’ve decided in retrospect, it’s the traditional modes of publication which look to promise the best results.  A traditional publishing model handles the business, the editing, the promotion and audience accrual and maintenance, that a blogger must handle all by themselves.   You may select the audience you would like to reach by submitting to the journal or press which has that sort of reader.  And you know that there is one there.  You needn’t carry the whole enterprise; you’re no longer a one man band.  Publishers have a stable of like minded writers to share in the heavy creative lifting.  The only problem being to find the right publisher and to present yourself as such a good opportunity, they will bite.

The irony is that in hindsight the personal blogging, which at first looked to be so active, proved to be passive in actual practice.  While what looked to be a quite passive tack, that is, submitting to various journals in hope of attracting their patronage – looks now to be the active pursuit.  Here I am now, as the hunter, setting my traps for the best looking journals, following their habits and reading their scat.   But, I don’t feel too bad about it.  As Santayana said: “Even our world is a contradiction of what it is trying to be.”

So, as to the future, what I intend doing is the writing and publishing of poems through traditional journals and lines of acceptance.  This blog has helped me formulate the belief that the poem and prose are quite differing ways of expressing oneself: the former quite relational, while the latter (prose) is quite hierarchical.  The audience for hierarchy (power) has always been greatest.  It’s clear, practical and focused.  But I think poetry has too long allowed itself to be cowed and kept barefoot and pregnant, when it could have brought its particular brand of argument to the table and formulated a better, or at least complimentary vision to the great debates and questions of the times.  These are the sorts of poems I intend to write – and to publish.  In other words, I am taking the last step from the stepping stones my blog has created, to the other bank where I am now planting my feet.

Look for me on the horizon!  – Carl Nelson / Schn00dles




From the Editor’s Perch

February 23, 2015

Global Warning

Global Warning


First it was Global Warming, and the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.

The seas didn’t rise.  The Maldives are still there.

And Global Warming is now Climate Change.

Then a Great Shelf of Ice was supposed to dislodge from a Melting Antarctica,

fall into the water, and…  the Seas Were Going to Rise and Drown Us.


A little back story:  After fears in the 1970s of Global Cooling had abated,

Y2K was going to destroy civilization in the year 2000,

and then Second Hand Smoke was going to kill us.

But from there on out, the playbill got a lot more crowded,

as various performers realized  something  a lot of us fully allow

both In and Out of Government, and On Both Sides of the Question.

And that is that “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”.


So next up, and coming soon!  are melting methane beds, from deep within a dying ocean…

expect a cold vortex pushing south, down from Canada, in between

summertime projections of starving, drought-stricken farmers moving up from the south,

a flood of undocumented aliens carrying ebola,

(insert where appropriate: the dissolution of our shorelines and possibly Manhattan)

ISIS fanatics running rampant across all of the mid-East, and thence to disseminate by air to everywhere where they might find you, and an atomically armed Iran.


Exacerbating the crumbling financial picture from within the European Union,

either Greece, Italy, Spain, or all three could default.  Or Germany – that economic engine – could pull out altogether leaving the whole European Consortium to collapse like a circus tent.

The High Pressure Fracking for oil in the Fly-over States, which could possibly destroy all potable water,

is also challenging the dominance of the former oil-rich countries, who came about their oil too easily,

putting their regimes in jeopardy creating more and more instability,

in a soon to be nuclear armed Near East.

While the newly created, well-paying blue collar jobs and cheaper oil in the heartland

is fuelling the rush to more fracking, even cheaper oil, and ever more CO2,

plus a lot more money-enhanced Bubbas , exacerbating the chances, Climate Change Will Occur, as it always has in the past, or that we will Be in Denial all the while we have our air conditioners turned up high.

So maybe yes, at least, to that.


“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 causes Global Warming.”

This is what we are told, even by the President.

What was actually determined was that,

“97 out of 100 scientists believe excess C02 contributes to Global Warming.”


So, say the Doubters, “Just me being alive contributes to Global Warming, as does my friend’s pug dog’s farts.”

“And the President contributes to Global Warming every time he speaks!”

And probably much moreso than me.  Nevertheless,

by the President’s measure, I’d guess we could say that he personally has caused Global Warming.

And that 97 out of 100 scientists would agree on this.

Fair enough.


Picture from Google Images

What’s Happening in Obscurity

November 16, 2014

Deep In the Woods

Editor’s note:  Wordpress has really screwed the pooch, as far as I am concerned.  They’ve taken a format I could work with and changed it to suit their needs somehow… but it doesn’t suit mine.  I can’t post a coherent article with the software snafu they’ve created.  How programmers can be so high-handed has unhinged me since I’ve had my first computer… and left me screaming )(*%*^((*&!!!!!  Why do mass murders never strike out against programmers?  It seems such an obvious public service.   Sigh….  Goodbye world.

From the Editor’s Perch

October 3, 2014
I Promise to Keep All Speculation Under 25 MPH

I Promise to Keep All Speculation Under 25 MPH

Rampant Speculations


Perhaps Poets describe this best, because they seem to rock the mental boat more often than most.  But it seems we live upon a raft of assumptions floating upon a reality that is often quite fluid.


At one time we assumed the earth was flat and that the sun passed overhead of us and that the Gods and Angels would from time to time visit.   Now we assume the earth is round, that we orbit around the sun, and have our suspicions that those odd creatures which visit us from time to time might be aliens, or government agents or most likely the hobgoblin of susceptible minds.  Our assumptions about the Creation have changed.  Assumptions about our place in the Universe has changed.  Enter quantum mechanics and our assumptions about physical laws have changed.  But as to these odd manifestations who visit us; largely only the names have changed.


In John A Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, which is largely an examination of paranormal experiences in and around West Virginia in the early 60s, he points out the various assumptions concerning reported paranormal experiences.  He details the parallels in descriptions of meetings with Angels, Demons, Gods, Aliens and Men in Black, down through the ages and across cultures.  And he speculates that it makes more sense to think that these representatives of another world might have happened through what he imagines as portals to another dimension than as aliens who have travelled light years through space.  He speculates that this might explain their presence in tales of the obscure down through history.  That it might explain their purported foreknowledge of events coupled with a rather bumbling understanding of our ways.


In effect he is speculating that it makes more sense to attribute events to imperfections in the fabric delimiting one dimension from another, than to aliens with such supernatural intelligence as to travel light years from their homes and then to appear clumsy, inept, incommunicative and without a discernible purpose when they finally arrive.  They appear more to want to study us, than to harm us.  Which is what one might expect of some creature who has found themselves suddenly adrift in a strange world.


After all, there is hardly anything more common to our lives’ experience than imperfections.  Imperfections and deterioration seem to be the natural nature and course of events.  What Keel seems to be suggesting is that there might also be imperfections in the natural laws confining one Universe from Another.


And if we have imperfections in natural laws, might this most likely be due to deterioration.  After all, life’s battle is largely one against the forces of deterioration.  So why should Platonic Ideals not be victims of wear and tear like everything else in the Universe?  For example, has the force of gravity always been thus – or is it a remnant of a much more coherent and enveloping (shiny and newer!) physical law?


We look back and theorize what must have been and what must have occurred to create what we have now.  But isn’t that assuming the same natural laws?  What if the past were created under physical laws which may have functioned quite differently prior to their deterioration.  If we understood what those laws might have been, might the historical record make more sense, or arrange itself quite differently?  Is there a physical law we might hypothesize to explain concordances which currently appear random?  What might be the next physical law to deteriorate?  Can we find evidence of the deterioration of physical laws currently, either nearby or in deep space?   What would happen to a traveler who has passed into a region where a further deterioration of a physical law has occurred?  Would their ship be rendered useless?  Would they die?  Would they have strange powers?  Would it create a hell of a problem, or just a tiny one – say, if they kept their speed down below 25 mph?


We make a lot of assumptions when we peer into the past.  And then we extend those same assumptions into the future.  Is anything else in Nature so confined by the present as our mental capabilities?  It doesn’t seem so.

Photo by Tin Tin Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch

September 26, 2014

The Climate Change Business

 dead horse4

If you’ve ever bought a product, especially one for which you have a quite specific need, you’ve probably found that the information a manufacturer offers about their product can be less than full disclosure.   For example, the manufacturer will seldom tell you what the product won’t do.  They will seldom tell you the problems their product might cause.  They will seldom tell you all of the limitations of their product.  In short, they fail to mention their product’s shortcomings.   It’s up to you to do the full diligence.

This is also the case with the Climate Change Business.  I say ‘business’, because nearly all of the experts who chime in about this matter earn their living from it.  I also say “business” because like any other organization, their business model is protected by self-serving disclosures.

This gives the Climate Change Customer a tremendous advantage.  All the promotional material is there for the taking.  The graphs and charts and expert testimony has all been prepared.   You are given tested responses for the common challenges, and given tested rejoinders.   And you join a wide population of like-minded customers, with the current customer privileges of being the possessor of an ‘informed opinion’, who is bathing in the correct consensus.  It also comes with the right to jeer.

While accomplishing due diligence is not easy to do.

When Global Warming was first raised as an issue quite some years ago, there was one reporter at the Seattle Times who seemed willing to cover the opposing view.  He was a business reporter and from time to time would report on the issue of Global Warming and cover an occasional Climate Warming debate hosted by business interests.   He disappeared, and likewise the coverage.

For a time later, a large part of the brouhaha involved melting icecaps and rising sea levels.   Sea level areas of the world were soon to be inundated.   Mass migration and population disruption were widely predicted.  A lawsuit was begun involving the Maldives (plaintiffs vs. the carbon dioxide producers of the world) – a nation of islands in the Indian Ocean, whose existence was threatened by the anticipated rising sea levels.  What happened?

Well, you wouldn’t know from following the news.  But while doing my ‘due diligence’ on other Warming matters, it was noted that the suit had been quietly dropped as the threatened sea level change had not occurred.

Later on, what was referred to throughout the news as Global Warming became referred to as Climate Change.  Who decided this?  It’s easier to say why.  Apparently the alarming ‘scientific’ models of global temperature rise over the first decade of the 21st century hadn’t occurred.  The acknowledgement of this in the news was a contested ripple, while the alarmists sights moved elsewhere.

Global inundation was back in the news!  Apparently the reason the Globe had not warmed as predicted was because the heat had been absorbed by the oceans.  This was causing melting of the icecaps.  And ‘scientists’ now  feared that a huge shelf of ice in Antarctica was being undermined by warming waters and would soon break off, falling into the sea and causing massive flooding in the lower lying regions bordering the oceans.

Recently I was wondering why I had not heard more of this projected catastrophe, when the answer became apparent while doing more due diligence upon a scientific finding of ‘alarming’ shrinkage of the Greenland icepack.   I was told in no uncertain terms that this was a solid scientific finding which was true and irrefutable, and was a definite alarming indicator.

Well everything is irrefutable, if you don’t attempt to refute it.  While doing my due diligence upon this matter, it was revealed to me why I had not heard anymore recently about the Soon to Collapse Antarctic Ice Shelf.  Apparently it has been found that whereas the ice in the northern hemisphere appears to be retreating – the ice in the Antarctic region is doing the opposite.

So, the Climate Alarmists and the media quietly move on.  Currently it appears that the Climate Change Alarmists have gotten fed up with waiting for the global climate to demonstrate what they clearly see to be true.  They are taking to the streets.  400,000 of them recently marched in New York.  (Leaving their trash behind, thank you.)  You get enough people marching and Global Climate Change of Dire Prediction will occur!  This is how science is done currently.

Next, we’ll be using political activism to change the sex of gerbils.

Beating a dead horse.  When does it get tiring?

Illustration from Google Images.


From the Editor’s Perch

September 24, 2014
How Soon Will We All Be Underwater?

How Soon Will We All Be Underwater?

So where does Schn00dle stand on the Climate Change Debate?  This article, published 4 days ago in the Wall Street Journal, best summarizes my current belief.

Climate Science Is Not Settled

The idea that “Climate science is settled” runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.

My training as a computational physicist—together with a 40-year career of scientific research, advising and management in academia, government and the private sector—has afforded me an extended, up-close perspective on climate science. Detailed technical discussions during the past year with leading climate scientists have given me an even better sense of what we know, and don’t know, about climate. I have come to appreciate the daunting scientific challenge of answering the questions that policy makers and the public are asking.

The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Related Video

Tens of thousands of people marched in New York City Sunday to raise awareness and demand action on climate change ahead of Tuesday’s United Nations Climate Summit. Photo: AP

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, “How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?” Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure.

But—here’s the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

A second challenge to “knowing” future climate is today’s poor understanding of the oceans. The oceans, which change over decades and centuries, hold most of the climate’s heat and strongly influence the atmosphere. Unfortunately, precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.

A third fundamental challenge arises from feedbacks that can dramatically amplify or mute the climate’s response to human and natural influences. One important feedback, which is thought to approximately double the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide, involves water vapor, clouds and temperature.

Scientists measure the sea level of the Ross Sea in Antarctica. National Geographic/Getty Images

But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available.

Beyond these observational challenges are those posed by the complex computer models used to project future climate. These massive programs attempt to describe the dynamics and interactions of the various components of the Earth system—the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, the ice and the biosphere of living things. While some parts of the models rely on well-tested physical laws, other parts involve technically informed estimation. Computer modeling of complex systems is as much an art as a science.

For instance, global climate models describe the Earth on a grid that is currently limited by computer capabilities to a resolution of no finer than 60 miles. (The distance from New York City to Washington, D.C., is thus covered by only four grid cells.) But processes such as cloud formation, turbulence and rain all happen on much smaller scales. These critical processes then appear in the model only through adjustable assumptions that specify, for example, how the average cloud cover depends on a grid box’s average temperature and humidity. In a given model, dozens of such assumptions must be adjusted (“tuned,” in the jargon of modelers) to reproduce both current observations and imperfectly known historical records.

We often hear that there is a “scientific consensus” about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue.

There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. Pictured, an estuary in Patgonia. Gallery Stock

For the latest IPCC report (September 2013), its Working Group I, which focuses on physical science, uses an ensemble of some 55 different models. Although most of these models are tuned to reproduce the gross features of the Earth’s climate, the marked differences in their details and projections reflect all of the limitations that I have described. For example:

• The models differ in their descriptions of the past century’s global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time. Such mismatches are also present in many other basic climate factors, including rainfall, which is fundamental to the atmosphere’s energy balance. As a result, the models give widely varying descriptions of the climate’s inner workings. Since they disagree so markedly, no more than one of them can be right.

• Although the Earth’s average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.

Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.

• The models roughly describe the shrinking extent of Arctic sea ice observed over the past two decades, but they fail to describe the comparable growth of Antarctic sea ice, which is now at a record high.

• The models predict that the lower atmosphere in the tropics will absorb much of the heat of the warming atmosphere. But that “hot spot” has not been confidently observed, casting doubt on our understanding of the crucial feedback of water vapor on temperature.

• Even though the human influence on climate was much smaller in the past, the models do not account for the fact that the rate of global sea-level rise 70 years ago was as large as what we observe today—about one foot per century.

• A crucial measure of our knowledge of feedbacks is climate sensitivity—that is, the warming induced by a hypothetical doubling of carbon-dioxide concentration. Today’s best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars.

These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not “minor” issues to be “cleaned up” by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research.

Yet a public official reading only the IPCC’s “Summary for Policy Makers” would gain little sense of the extent or implications of these deficiencies. These are fundamental challenges to our understanding of human impacts on the climate, and they should not be dismissed with the mantra that “climate science is settled.”

While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it. This decidedly unsettled state highlights what should be obvious: Understanding climate, at the level of detail relevant to human influences, is a very, very difficult problem.

We can and should take steps to make climate projections more useful over time. An international commitment to a sustained global climate observation system would generate an ever-lengthening record of more precise observations. And increasingly powerful computers can allow a better understanding of the uncertainties in our models, finer model grids and more sophisticated descriptions of the processes that occur within them. The science is urgent, since we could be caught flat-footed if our understanding does not improve more rapidly than the climate itself changes.

A transparent rigor would also be a welcome development, especially given the momentous political and policy decisions at stake. That could be supported by regular, independent, “red team” reviews to stress-test and challenge the projections by focusing on their deficiencies and uncertainties; that would certainly be the best practice of the scientific method. But because the natural climate changes over decades, it will take many years to get the data needed to confidently isolate and quantify the effects of human influences.

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.

Society’s choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction. There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures.

But climate strategies beyond such “no regrets” efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness, so nonscientific factors inevitably enter the decision. These include our tolerance for risk and the priorities that we assign to economic development, poverty reduction, environmental quality, and intergenerational and geographical equity.

Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about “believing” or “denying” the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity’s deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.

Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist ofBPBP.LN -0.83% where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.

From the Editor’s Perch

September 22, 2014

To help give some perspective on that huge bandwagon of Climate Change doomsayers currently parading down  Sixth Avenue in New York City – I am copying this eloquent speech on the follies foisted upon us by consensus science delivered by Michael Crichton in 2003.  Sadly, he is gone, but his words gain new momentum. – Editor

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

“Aliens Cause Global Warming”

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science—namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics—a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values—international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be a very good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

But let’s look at how it came to pass.

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

Where N* is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses—just so we’re clear—are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

One way to chart the cooling of enthusiasm is to review popular works on the subject. In 1964, at the height of SETI enthusiasm, Walter Sullivan of the NY Times wrote an exciting book about life in the universe entitled WE ARE NOT ALONE. By 1995, when Paul Davis wrote a book on the same subject, he titled it ARE WE ALONE? (Since 1981, there have in fact been four books titled ARE WE ALONE.) More recently we have seen the rise of the so-called “Rare Earth” theory which suggests that we may, in fact, be all alone. Again, there is no evidence either way.

Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not among astrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologists were harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI was a “study without a subject,” and it remains so to the present day.

But scientists in general have been indulgent toward SETI, viewing it either with bemused tolerance, or with indifference. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s kind of fun. If people want to look, let them. Only a curmudgeon would speak harshly of SETI. It wasn’t worth the bother.

And of course it is true that untestable theories may have heuristic value. Of course extraterrestrials are a good way to teach science to kids. But that does not relieve us of the obligation to see the Drake equation clearly for what it is—pure speculation in quasi-scientific trappings.

The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage—similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example—meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter.

In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences reported on “Long-Term Worldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations” but the report estimated the effect of dust from nuclear blasts to be relatively minor. In 1979, the Office of Technology Assessment issued a report on “The Effects of Nuclear War” and stated that nuclear war could perhaps produce irreversible adverse consequences on the environment. However, because the scientific processes involved were poorly understood, the report stated it was not possible to estimate the probable magnitude of such damage.

Three years later, in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Sciences commissioned a report entitled “The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon,” which attempted to quantify the effect of smoke from burning forests and cities. The authors speculated that there would be so much smoke that a large cloud over the northern hemisphere would reduce incoming sunlight below the level required for photosynthesis, and that this would last for weeks or even longer.

The following year, five scientists including Richard Turco and Carl Sagan published a paper in Science called “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions.” This was the so-called TTAPS report, which attempted to quantify more rigorously the atmospheric effects, with the added credibility to be gained from an actual computer model of climate.

At the heart of the TTAPS undertaking was another equation, never specifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:

Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr Pe… etc

(The amount of tropospheric dust=# warheads x size warheads x warhead detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burn duration x Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity x Particle endurance … and so on.)

The similarity to the Drake equation is striking. As with the Drake equation, none of the variables can be determined. None at all. The TTAPS study addressed this problem in part by mapping out different wartime scenarios and assigning numbers to some of the variables, but even so, the remaining variables were—and are—simply unknowable. Nobody knows how much smoke will be generated when cities burn, creating particles of what kind, and for how long. No one knows the effect of local weather conditions on the amount of particles that will be injected into the troposphere. No one knows how long the particles will remain in the troposphere. And so on.

And remember, this is only four years after the OTA study concluded that the underlying scientific processes were so poorly known that no estimates could be reliably made. Nevertheless, the TTAPS study not only made those estimates, but concluded they were catastrophic.

According to Sagan and his coworkers, even a limited 5,000 megaton nuclear exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35 degrees Centigrade, and this change would last for three months. The greatest volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperatures somewhere between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed global temperatures by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change three times greater than any ice age. One might expect it to be the subject of some dispute.

But Sagan and his coworkers were prepared, for nuclear winter was from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign. The first announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan in the Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized, high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear war was held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, the most famous and media-savvy scientists of their generation. Sagan appeared on the Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times. Following the conference, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so on. The formal papers in Science came months later.

This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold.

The real nature of the conference is indicated by these artists’ renderings of the the effect of nuclear winter.

I cannot help but quote the caption for figure 5: “Shown here is a tranquil scene in the north woods. A beaver has just completed its dam, two black bears forage for food, a swallow-tailed butterfly flutters in the foreground, a loon swims quietly by, and a kingfisher searches for a tasty fish.” Hard science if ever there was.

At the conference in Washington, during the question period, Ehrlich was reminded that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were quoted as saying nothing would grow there for 75 years, but in fact melons were growing the next year. So, he was asked, how accurate were these findings now?

Ehrlich answered by saying “I think they are extremely robust. Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places. What we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group of scientists…”

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let’s review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor—southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result—despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology—until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy? The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

But back to our main subject.

What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was a meaningless formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. It was political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance.

Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can be found in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman was characteristically blunt, saying, “I really don’t think these guys know what they’re talking about,” other prominent scientists were noticeably reticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying, “It’s an absolutely atrocious piece of science, but who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?” And Victor Weisskopf said, “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.” The nuclear winter team followed up the publication of such comments with letters to the editors denying that these statements were ever made, though the scientists since then have subsequently confirmed their views.

At the time, there was a concerted desire on the part of lots of people to avoid nuclear war. If nuclear winter looked awful, why investigate too closely? Who wanted to disagree? Only people like Edward Teller, the “father of the H bomb.”

Teller said, “While it is generally recognized that details are still uncertain and deserve much more study, Dr. Sagan nevertheless has taken the position that the whole scenario is so robust that there can be little doubt about its main conclusions.” Yet for most people, the fact that nuclear winter was a scenario riddled with uncertainties did not seem to be relevant.

I say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.

That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn clearly—and defended.

What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, its robust scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor of Nature, repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, Stephen Schneider, one of the leading figures in the climate model, began to speak of “nuclear autumn.” It just didn’t have the same ring.

A final media embarrassment came in 1991, when Carl Sagan predicted on Nightline that Kuwaiti oil fires would produce a nuclear winter effect, causing a “year without a summer,” and endangering crops around the world. Sagan stressed this outcome was so likely that “it should affect the war plans.” None of it happened.

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second-hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it “impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun”, and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.” The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science … there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second-hand smoke brings … a whole host of health problems.” Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science—or non-science—is the handmaiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” in quotation marks—suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done.

When did “skeptic” become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.” But now large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world—increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs.

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system—no one is sure—these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS? None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future.

They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it.

I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever going to happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago. In 1990, climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows for sure.

But it is impossible to ignore how closely the history of global warming fits on the previous template for nuclear winter. Just as the earliest studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties were so great that probabilities could never be known, so, too the first pronouncements on global warming argued strong limits on what could be determined with certainty about climate change. The 1995 IPCC draft report said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It also said, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes.” Those statements were removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on climate.”

What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this contentious area.

The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t.

In trying to think about how these questions can be resolved, it occurs to me that in the progression from SETI to nuclear winter to second-hand smoke to global warming, we have one clear message, and that is that we can expect more and more problems of public policy dealing with technical issues in the future—problems of ever greater seriousness, where people care passionately on all sides.

And at the moment we have no mechanism to get good answers. So I will propose one.

Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research—or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore what seriousness we must address this.

I believe that as we come to the end of this litany, some of you may be saying, well what is the big deal, really. So we made a few mistakes. So a few scientists have overstated their cases and have egg on their faces. So what.

Well, I’ll tell you.

In recent years, much has been said about the post modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct. We can take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press. The past president of the AAAS wondered aloud how Cambridge could have ever “published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review.” (But of course the manuscript did pass peer review by three earth scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and all recommended publication.) But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new McCarthyism—coming from scientists?

Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not facts. The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.” It was a poor display featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.” Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we have come to?

When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given only a page and a half. When he said it wasn’t enough, he put the critics’ essays on his web page and answered them in detail. Scientific American threatened copyright infringement and made him take the pages down.

Further attacks since have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That’s why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That’s why the facts don’t matter. That’s why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He’s a heretic.

Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just never thought I’d see the Scientific American in the role of mother church.

Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively separate science from policy. The late Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that “Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference—science and the nation will suffer.” Personally, I don’t worry about the nation. But I do worry about science.

Thank you very much.”  – Michael Crichton

Photo snatched from Google Images


From the Editor’s Perch…

September 2, 2014


Question Rebellion


It has been found that when blind-from-birth persons have had their sight restored by operative means, they don’t automatically ‘see’ like you or I.  These newly sighted people have to learn what the various colors and shades of light coming in through their eyes mean.  They must walk around and explore the world in order to recognize what a ‘chair’ is, for example.  Then, they can understand what a chair ‘looks like’.  It seems experience of the world is necessary before we can understand what the perceptions we have mean.


It has been widely recognized that as people age, they generally become more conservative.  It has also been noted, in this recent article “Why Won’t They Listen?” by William Saletan in the New York Times, (which is a review of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt), that “Conservatism thrives because it fits how people think, and that’s what validates it.”  Minds are like eyes.  They must ‘learn’ to ‘think’.  They must learn to ‘see’ what is there.


Saletan goes on to note that whereas Conservatives tend to base their convictions on 6 moral foundations (including faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order), Liberals “focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression” (my italics).  Because of this, he goes on to note, Conservatives most often can understand what Liberals are arguing (because of their wider moral stance), but Liberals often cannot make sense of Conservatives (because of their narrower moral stance).


In my own world I’ve often heard liberals scorn the ‘hypocrisy of Conservatives’.   They would do better to scorn the hypocrisy of thought – or of reality in toto.  A true evaluation usually contains a dark side.  Nearly any effort suffers ‘unintended consequences’.  Liberals seem especially poor at discerning this.  They are like actors who cannot grasp the subtext.  They seem to prefer living in a world where if there is a problem hole, filling the hole will solve the problem.   In the real world something caused the hole, and will cause there to be a hole again.  This is what Conservatives would like to discuss with them.  But a Liberal will say, “You say you hate holes, but here you are, refusing to fill them.”  To which a Conservative might answer, “Filling the hole will not make it go away.”  This dumbfounds the Liberal.  ‘How can filling a hole NOT make it go away?  A child could understand this!’



In lieu of gathered wisdom, Liberals often dismiss Conservatism as representing a particularly nasty side of humanity.  Rarely a day goes by that I do not hear the grumbling of some Liberal that they are just giving up on talking to any more idiotic, brutal, blind, closed-minded, and greedy, Neanderthal Conservatives.   And if I am lucky enough, within the same day, to meet with a fellow Conservative, I’m mostly likely to see a shake of the head, whenever they speak of Liberals with chagrin, and a response somewhat of the retort, “They are like children!”.


Living as a ‘declared’ Conservative can be lonely, isolating and quite trying experience, rather like a beleaguered parent.   You feel like a piece of hanging meat being pestered by flies.



And trying to get on in a world where there are people, who would fashion themselves as Progressives  – shopping for their politics at the only the best stores – this is the Conservatives burden.  ‘Progressive’  is a name brand which declares its own infallibility.  Progressives walk around in designer thoughts, bemoaning all of the unwashed; while swearing at the odd Conservative as if stubbing their toe on a chair they cannot comprehend and spilling their Kool Aid.  They don’t care that you don’t agree with what they think – or drink.  What offends them is that you can’t recognize extremely fine fashion when you see it.


But we Conservatives DO recognize fashion.  We just feel that life requires practical, tested measures.


A Conservative might hope Liberals would take advice from their own ecological laments and realize culture is a profoundly complex thing best left to grow organically; that culture is an accretion of collected individual wisdom best tended within a wisely structured environment of what lawyers call ‘natural law’, and is not something to be corrected and rearranged at intellectual whim.  That you can kill things this way; completely destroy a habitat.  (As Ronald Reagan noted, civilization is fragile as an eggshell.)  But they don’t.  They keep importing their intellectual kudzu and disseminating it as far as able.  As Saletan points out in his article, they destroy ‘moral capital’.


After a day of trying to get through to these modern day knuckleheads, a Conservative can be sorely tempted to wander off by themselves for awhile, sit on a rock and pray.

Pictures taken from Google Images






From the Editor’s Perch

August 16, 2014
Native Ad in The Atlantic

Native Ad in The Atlantic


 Is Native Advertising a New Way of Gaining Balanced News?

A friend’s blog recently posted this humorous commentary by John Oliver on “Native Advertising”:

“Native Advertising” are pieces of advertising commentary placed with the body of a newspaper or magazine and graphically sculpted to resemble the normal stories surrounding it (with a small disclaimer).  

This piece made me wonder if perhaps a new way of gaining ‘balanced’ coverage isn’t evolving.  As I noted in my comment: “I think this tendency has a benefit especially in a climate of polarized media where the published news is slanted and selected so as to please their subscribers. How else could Chevron get its views across clearly in a publication such as the New York Times? It solves a multitude of problems at once: The NYTimes does not alienate it’s audience. Chevron gets its views made. The business model supports continuing news, as always.”

Native Advertising in the Slate

Native Advertising in the Slate

Groups with opposing views could pay to have these views published in their opponents’ news organs.  Is this a win, win with more balanced news for everyone?

Images from Google

From the Editor’s Perch…

July 31, 2014
Seattle and Environs

Seattle and Environs

In the Big Cities There’s Really Only One Game in Town, and It’s Out of Town


A criticism lobbed by the inhabitants of our large cities of our country’s rural areas and small towns is that they are ‘provincial’.  And ‘provincials’ are seen as uneducated and unsophisticated people who have the speech and narrow, limited attitudes of rustics and small town Babbitts.  This is seen as a bad thing.  And in some respects I’d suppose it is.


However, there is at least one respect in which small town life is refreshing.  I’ve lived in Seattle for many years, and now I live in rural Belpre Ohio, a small town across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia.  Most people here are as they pretend to be.  Your waitress is a waitress.  Your bank teller is a bank teller.  The electrician, garbage collector, lock repairman, heating and air conditioning fellow, the insurance salesman, the nurse, and on and on are who they pretend to be.  And so far I’ve found them to be quite competent, solid and hard working.


I was talking over our policies with my insurance salesman who has his office a couple blocks away just the other day.  He’s a younger fellow, smart, good looking, and working out of a small cottage converted to business use which is on the main thoroughfare.  He had always lived in a small town and was wondering if he shouldn’t try living in a big city for a while, and asked me what I thought the differences were.  Off the top of my head I said, “Well, they’re probably more ambitious.”  But I was ruminating more on this after leaving his office, when it occurred to me, that a most interesting difference was that the people in large cities see themselves as acting on a world stage.  They see their concerns as world concerns.  They see themselves as arbitrating the path of civilization, the future of our planet.  Their concerns are big and important… usual crucial.  So they can get pretty hot about them.  In this small town I’ve moved to, the concerns are much more human-sized.  (Though they can still get hot about them.)


A problem I’d had in the big city was that probably all of the people I knew were not on a world stage.  They discussed things as if we were.  But actually the world stage for whatever issue we were discussing was usually New York or Washington D. C.  or some other world capital where the actual Mandarins of opinion worked and thrived.  My personal experience was not a credible currency for argument.  What was credible and powerful in conversation was information, opinion – and especially attitude – as disseminated by these Mandarins… all of the talking heads out there in the media.  So, though important conversations on the face of them seemed to be between the people you were speaking with, they were actually discussions over the digressions of various mandarins.  This is tedious once you begin to recognize the mandarins.  You’ve heard all the moves and countermoves.  It is also suffocatingly pedantic.  In this respect, the blogosphere is a recent help.   You send me your link.  I’ll send you my link.  We save each other the waste of a lot of hot air – the inaccuracies of interpretation.  And neither of us read it.


In the big city the waiter is not a waiter, (they’re actors, artists!), the salesman is not a salesman (he’s a promoter), the tech fellow is not a tech fellow (he’s an entrepreneur), your teacher is writing a book…  Not many Americans in big cities.  They are World Citizens.  In the big cities married people are not really married (in the traditional sense), nor are they really religious, nor are they really the sex they appear to be (either through clothing or desire)…


Everybody is a big potato in the big city!  No small potatoes there.  I used to complain to my wife that, “I wish many of my artist friends would just admit that we are small potatoes.  Maybe we will become big potatoes some day.  But if we could just admit that right now we are small potatoes – maybe we could have a satisfying conversation.”  But up and onwards the whole system goes in its ambitious, progressive frenzy.


In the big cities there is really only one game in town, and it’s out of town.  In the provinces there’s really only one game in town, and it’s right here.  There’s the big difference.

Belpre Ohio1

Photos by Google Images


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