Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy end of the decade!

Wow.   Time really does fly.  If I didn't know better, I'd personally swear that it was still 1997 if I didn't vaguely remember celebrating a new millennium popping up at some point in the not so distant past.  So, maybe it's 2002?

Anyway, enough about my inability to keep track of what year it is.  What can we expect to see in the years ahead?  Do we expect Obama to be re-elected?  Do we expect actual progress, whether in regards to the current healthcare bill actually changing things for the better, or in terms of greater acceptance of different sexualities?  Do we expect the economy to finally become stable again?  And do we expect more one-man terrorist attacks like the Fort Hood shooter and this recent failed attempt by a Nigerian man on an airplane?  And do we expect the internet to take an even greater role in our current society, while popular culture at large becomes ever more banal and inane?

I don't know what I personally think about any of that.  Except for popular culture.  I know in my hear tof hearts that popular culture will never become more banal or inane than it is right now.  This is because it is simply not possible, as there is no conceivable way to churn out more prettied-up, unoriginal and essentially meaningless drivel than we are currently being subjected to.  And you better goddamn hope that I am right about that one, because I simply cannot imagine the horrors that will need to be unleashed to make things worse.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The E-mails!: A Global Warming Soap Opera

Sorry.  Been in a coma for a month.  (That's my story and I'm sticking to it...)

Anyway, global warming.  I haven't been keeping track of when this whole hacked e-mail debacle began, but I fairly certain that it happened around the same time that merry hordes across the internet and the media began to huff and puff about how some profound revelation was made by exposing these e-mails.  Oh, how my imagination would churn, trying to imagine what possible thing could have cast doubts on the science of global warming just in e-mails.  Oh, how I tried to entertain the notion that the right-wing chortling and cries of victory were at least slightly appropriate responses and connected to reality in some fashion.  Oh, how I gave them far more credit than they have earned.

Here is a good explanation of why their triumphalism at this point is completely ridiculous:

(Via Pharyngula)

It seems that the two (TWO!) e-mails that these people are whipped up into a frenzy about don't even say what they claim it to say.  Even if it did, these are goddamn e-mails!  The only way it could possibly undermine the actual science of global warming is if you could actually find that the deceptive attempts to "hide the decline" were successful and affected the scientific literature in some substantial way.  Even if you were to take the e-mails at their most conniving, sinister interpretation rather than as playful statistical jargon, you still have to deal with the fact that it is only two (TWO!) e-mails, and that they are goddamn e-mails and not actual scientific papers.  If the results of their actual research were somehow fradulent, other research would be able contradict it with their own data and make it irrelevant.  So, what it comes down to is assuming a vast conspiracy in the scientific community based entirely on an interpretation of two e-mails that sound like they vaguely might be talking about intentionally altering data.  Though I am sure you need a healthy dose of anti-science bias and/or paranoia to sow those particular seeds.

Oh yeah, and in case it wasn't clear from the video why the "decline" in tree ring data needed to be hidden
Penn State scientist Michael Mann "said his trick, or 'trick of the trade,' for the Nature chart was to combine data from tree-ring measurements, which record world temperatures from 1,000 years ago until 1960, with actual temperature readings for 1961 through 1998" because "scientists have discovered that, for temperatures since 1960, tree rings have not been a reliable indicator." Jones has also stated that it is "well known" that tree ring data "does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960,"
Also note on that webpage that the mainstream media is actually lending this idiocy some credence, assuming that the euphoria and hysteria over the e-mails actually have enough basis in reality to merit mentioning the completely irrational reasons for said euphoria and hysteria.  Seriously, what is wrong with this country?

I'll end by laughing at a relatively meek excerpt on the issue from the Washington Post (via Media Matters):
The e-mails don't say that: They don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie or a swindle.
But they do raise hard questions. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method? Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?

Clue #1:  If the back-and-forth you are talking about is e-mails, then I'm not sure what scientific method you are talking about.  If the back-and-forth you are talking about are some unknown, nameless folks who have evidence contrary to the prominent scientists doing alleged squelching, one would think that it wouldn't matter because the squelched folks still have evidence.  Having a back-and-forth with someone with no evidence to support their opinion is not the scientific method.  Preventing a back-and-forth from occurring with someone who has evidence supporting their opinion is only delaying the inevitable if adhering to the scientific method (because that evidence will just be found by someone else eventually).
Clue #2:  All science is pretty damn messy in general, and by far messier than most people believe.  It's not necessarily the scientists' fault that the general public isn't aware of this; it's more the fault of the public for not being either acquainted first-hand with scientific research, or at least passingly familiar with the basic philosophy of science and how it applies practically.  They simply have an overly idealistic view of how science works.  The question is whether the science behind the idea of global warming is messier than the science behind other established scientific concepts. 
And it's going to take a hell of a lot more than two stolen and misinterpreted e-mails to make such a question a particularly serious one.