Category Archives: English

Top 11 reasons to be cheerful about the Costa Concordia salvage operation

Yes! There’s some silver lining in watching the initial stages of the giant Costa Concordia salvage operation…

11. Expect a vast increase in tourism as treasure hunters will flock to the area when the ship’s gone

10. Everybody knows now about Giglio island

9. The sea looked spectacularly beautiful on TV, metal parts aside

8. Plenty of thriving sea life attached itself to a million different artificial reefs for a year

7. It’s a marvel of Italian engineering (in the field of marine rescue). Navigation skills might need a review.

6. Everybody knows their way around the Costa upper-deck leisure bits (useful if they have the temerity of trying themselves)

5. Something meaningful at last, in the 24h news cycle

4. At least it wasn’t Titanic-size

3. Dismantling to come – you will soon be able to get your own Costa Concordia original plastic seat on eBay

2. Stuff under the mud will still turn up in 2,000 years’ time telling people then the way we were now (due to series of misunderstandings, statues will be erected and babies named after hero Capt. Schettino)

And the top reason is…

1. Widespread discovery there’s more to life than Candy Crush

Whatever happens to old Climate Scientists?

They hang on awaiting vindication of their idea, that’s what happens…

George Kukla (born 1930) …became [in 1972] a central figure in convincing the United States government to take the dangers of climate change seriously. Kukla and geologist, Robert Matthews of Brown University, convened a historic conference, themed: “The Present Interglacial: How and When will it End?” Kukla and Matthews then highlighted the dangers of global cooling in Science magazine and, to President Richard Nixon.

The Nixon administration reacted swiftly to their letter, which described calamities such as killer frosts, lower food production and floods, to come. By February 1973, the State Department had established a Panel on the Present Interglacial, which advised Drs. Kukla and Matthews that it “was seized of the matter” and numerous other government agencies were soon included.

Kukla was co-author of a chapter in the book “Natural Climate Variability on Decade to Century Time Scales” published by the National Research Council.

Kukla believes all glacial periods in Earth’s history began with global warming (understood as an increase of area-weighted average global mean temperature). He believes Earth’s recent warming is mostly natural and will ultimately lead to a new ice age.

An interestingly but flawed report of what was going in 1972 is available via Google Books.

BBC Archives confirm Global Cooling as scientific ‘orthodoxy’ of the early 1970s

Who knew? In 1999, long before selling its soul to climate catastrophism, the BBC had no problem in letting its listeners know that scientists in the 1970s were convinced about Global Cooling. And that contemporary scientist-activists about Warming are just recycling arguments used agains Cooling.

From the BBC Reith Lectures of 1999, RUNAWAY WORLD by Prof Anthony Giddens; Lecture 2 – RISK – HONG KONG

Or consider where we stand with world climate change. Most scientists well versed in the field believe that global warming is occurring and that measures should be taken against it. Yet only about 25 or so years ago, orthodox scientific opinion was that the world was in a phase of global cooling. Much the same evidence that was deployed to support the hypothesis of global cooling is now brought into play to bolster that of global warming – heat waves, cold spells, unusual types of weather. Is global warming occurring, and does it have human origins? Probably – but we won’t, and can’t, be completely sure until it is too late.

In these circumstances, there is a new moral climate of politics, marked by a push-and-pull between accusations of scaremongering on the one hand, and of cover-ups on the other. If anyone – government official, scientific expert or researcher – takes a given risk seriously, he or she must proclaim it. It must be widely publicised because people must be persuaded that the risk is real – a fuss must be made about it. Yet if a fuss is indeed created and the risk turns out to be minimal, those involved will be accused of scaremongering.

Giddens’ solution is not complicated really, the total opposite of many’s attempts at shutting down debate by proclaiming “scientists say”:

We cannot simply ‘accept’ the findings which scientists produce, if only because scientists so frequently disagree with one another, particularly in situations of manufactured risk. And everyone now recognises the essentially sceptical character of science. Whenever someone decides what to eat, what to have for breakfast, whether to drink decaffeinated or ordinary coffee, that person takes a decision in the context of conflicting and changeable scientific and technological information.

Giddens (now Baron Giddens) is a sociologist, obviously from an era when sociology didn’t just produce a Lew.



A Mole of Bytes (updated, seven years later…) (aka How to record the Universe)

(original published on May 22, 2006 – [updates in square brackets])

Is computing rapidly turning itself into a hi-tech version of Howard Stern’s famous “Who Wants to be a Turkish Billionaire?” ?

My son asked me [seven years ago, so he was four] to explain what is a “Gigabyte”. I tried to describe the meaning of a little bit more than a billion tiny little things hidden in a PC. But then I stopped quickly: how was I going to clarify the meaning of having 40 of those “gigabytes” in my laptop’s hard drive alone [500 since 2011]? And 200 of them in my desktop computer [1,024 since 2013 – but I also have a 4TB external HDD]. And a thousand of them (a terabyte) in the latest high-spec PC [you can buy a 8TB internal HDD in 2013].

And at current growth rates, hard-disk capacity is increasing 10-fold every 5 years [note that the actual figures have turned up to be very near that rate]. It is perfectly clear then that by the time he’s 19 in 2021, we will have to cope with the impossibility of comprehending what we’ve got, and silly-sounding terms like petabytes (well, it sounds like 8-bit flatulence in Italian anyway).

From there onwards it’s going to be exabytes in 2035, zettabytes in 2050 and I’ll be turning 100 literally in yoda-yoda-land (yottabytes, some million billion billion bytes that will grace our computers in the middle of the 2060)

There is however no need for all this aggravation…let’s learn from Chemistry and dear old Avogadro Constant. So here’s my proposal:

1. Dig the Giga, Tera, Peta, Etcetc-bytes asap

2. Define a Mole of Bytes as 6.023×10ˆ23 of them

3. Resize the capacities now. Say, a 100 Gigabyte disk becomes a mere 166 femtoMole. To sport even 100 Terabytes of storage area, will only mean less than 200 picoMoles of Bytes.

This will surely give some renewed perspective to the whole business of visualizing trends in computing, and show that there is a long long way ahead before we can declare ourselves satisfied with our computational powers.

[for those with a mathematical disposition: 1 mole of bytes would contain more than 11.2 trillion blu-ray discs, corresponding (at 9h/disc) to 11.5 billion years of HDTV recording, the entire history of the universe. Alternatively, it would contain around 2 hours of HDTV recording from cameras spaced apart so that each of them would cover 10 square meters, or 110 square feet of the Earth’s surface, oceans included. If the capacity increase rate is sustained, the first disks with a mole of bytes will be shipped around the year 2067]


National Geographic Sep 2013 – what kind of house would want it in?

John M. Fahey, Jr.
President and CEO
National Geographic Society
1145 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-4688

London, Sep 10, 2013

Dear Mr Fahey

As an expiring subscriber let me convey the profound dismay in regards to the inane publication you have the opportunity to direct. With a little thank you though, for some aspects of the September 2013 “rising seas” issue are unlikely what you expected them to be.

After decades of uninterrupted reading I gave up a few months ago, having seen the Magazine slide (fall) from its geography mission to open, fear-based “environmental” advocacy (with a lowercase “e”). It seemed and still seems there is no low you would avoid to reach in order to describe the planet or mostly cute species as either ultimately doomed or irremediably ruined: by evil humans, obviously, including one suspects all of your readers.

I stopped reading the magazine with my son, as there was simply too much to skip over what looked liked unwarranted alarmism. Who in their right mind would want to teach their children how intrinsically ‘evil’ they have been found to be (on a scientific basis!!) just because they are humans.

I was actually ready to send you back the September 2013 “rising sea” issue because, as they say, enough is sometimes enough.

An inundated New York City with a half-submerged Statue of Liberty did look more than enough. Is that something likely to happen? When? Did I really want my son to consider the possibility that our very civilization were going to cause such a major disaster by burning fossil fuels (by living, that is)? And didn’t such a picture look exactly what British leftist think-tank IPPR described in 2006 as “Climate (insert a four-letter word starting with P and ending in ORN here)”, the gratuitous depiction of apocalyptic climate-change related visions of the future? A depiction that titillates the worst parts of the readers, increases circulation and ultimately convinces people there is nothing one could possibly do to care for the environment.

In summary: had the National Geographic gone either completely insane or dishonest?

Then I looked at the front-cover a little better. And it actually said “NO ICE”. It’s almost invisible, but it’s there under the large-font cover title. So the Statue of Liberty would be half-submerged if there were no ice at all on the planet? Interesting. But not alarming at all, in fact: because suddenly it was not a matter of dishonesty; rather, as I said, of inanity.

Say, how long before there is no ice in the world? The inside pages tell us. It’s 5,000 years. Let’s just imagine we can make such a prediction for sure. 5,000 years, that is the seventy-first century. How’s that supposed to be today’s problem? Who would be silly enough to even remotely consider what the issues of the year 7000 will be?

Imagine people of 5,000 years ago, thinking about the internet and globalization? Me neither. Most of them had seen no agriculture yet, there was the third Pharaoh ever, and the first version of Troy was getting founded (source: Wikipedia). Them for us and us for them, we might as well be talking about alien worlds.

Perhaps rising seas will affect the 60th century? Or the 50th? Or even the 30th? Once again, imagine people of the year 1013AD, what could have they remotely done to understand/help us of 2013AD? Stop burning wood? Bury horse waste at sea? Repent for their sins? Obviously, it would all have been pointless. They had no idea about polluted rivers, nuclear waste storage, abandoned plastics. Come to think, even the people of 1973 would have only a rough idea about the issues of 2013, apart from a troublesome Middle East.

So the underlying message of your submerged Statue of Liberty is, in fact, a mix of “don’t care too much about it” and “someone else’s problem”. Well, what can I say, thanks! That’s a good message for the children, at last: “stop fearing the future”. Should be told to them as matter of course, no? Even if, I surmise, it’s not the message you wanted to convey, as it went from insane, to inane.

With that in mind I can now sit and enjoy in peace one of my last National Geographic issues. Look, there is even a map of the world as it would be were there no ice. And it’s an amazingly small area of some continents’ coasts that would disappear (that is, become bountiful, shallow seas). Poor Africa for once will be spared. Oh the boredom of it. Get those flying cars of the 55th century to move a little inland, will you.

Do we need to endanger the well-being of seven billion humans for that? Do we need to spread psychological terror among children with scary stories presented as established facts?

Those people of the 71st century better get used to their world, whatever it is. Just like the people of 3000BC. Is there any other way? Let’s do likewise. It’s called Geography. Not that it appears much anymore in “National Geographic”, alas!

Perhaps one day you will stop wasting time in planetary smut…do let me know if that happens, I’ll resubscribe at once!

(signed, with address)

BBC from Trust to Ofcom…not one minute too soon!

(comment published at BBC Watch)

As the guy who beat the BBC at 28Gate i am convinced all that put any trust in the BBC should have their head checked. For example, that list is still not officially confirmed, despite the perps having been caught red-handed with it. More, somebody took the time to make it disappear from the Wayback Machine, further confirming how institutionally corrupt the BBC is.

It’s not anybody’s fault, of course, rather the natural evolution for an organisation that lives on public money without being answerable to anybody but itself. An internal mafia quickly develops, with all the managerial positions filled by those deemed more trustworthy by whomever is in charge of distributing/dissipating the monies. The structure feeds on itself, and will do anything and everything to prevent people from looking in.

So I am not as pessimistic now as JunkkMale…true, with OFCOM it would still be a fairly promiscuous affair. But at the very least, not incestuous any longer. The OFCOM guy, whatever his past, will have to answer to something else than the BBC, therefore breaking the mafia loop.

How to get Bully Scholarship Edition working on Windows 8 Pro

  1. Put the CD in
  2. Open the Properties of “setup.exe”
  3. Under Compatibility select “Windows Vista SP 2”
  4. Install the game
  5. Reboot the PC
  6. Download patch 1.2, run the executable
  7. Reboot the PC

Science and Politics: Giving Up the Delusion

The delusion, that is, that Science can be somehow shielded from Politics.

Science is big and needs public money. Public money distribution is dictated by policy. Policies depend on politics. Therefore science depends on politics.

Therefore science is bound to be politicized. In the US it will forever slide between all-Dems and all-GOP according to contemporary mores.

In the UK, Science will remain forever prisoner of the Establishment. In Italy, it will be allowed to do whatever doesn’t hurt whoever is in charge of the “control room”.

The only way out is to make Science become the Fourth Branch of Government.

A BBC Dream come true!

Curiosity about Curiosity to last for TEN MORE DAYS!!

This just in from Carolyn Porco:

Folks: The only thing I’ve been able to pry out of the Curiosity team is that an announcement will be made on Dec 4 in SF at the AGU meeting

At the BBC it is mostly a matter of (lost) trust

(comment originally left at the LSE “Polis” blog)

[Charlie Beckett] speaks of a “systematic problem of leadership and accountability at the BBC“. I don’t understand how such a problem wouldn’t translate in mistrust by the public?

I have personally experienced the BBC’s willingness to distort its news reporting. Just [on Friday], we’ve learnt of a pensioner having to argue for a very simple FOI request against _six_ lawyers fielded by the BBC exactly to avoid “accountability”.

I have learned to trust very little of the statements expressed by BBC journos. They’re invariably wrong, late and/or half-blind to the news. Plus on an insane competition with Sky News regarding which outlet can broadcast the more scare.

To this foreigner this story reminds of the demise of the Empire, to which everybody kept swearing allegiance even as it could no longer possibly exist. But don’t lose hope, the Corporation will circle the wagons and continue to fail pretending nobody’s noticing.

Lance Armstrong To Be Reinstated As Tour de France Winner (in 2082)

Everybody knows that, whatever the USADA will try to say, Lance Armstrong will remain the winner of seven Tours de France. Only thing, he might have to wait a long while before the hypocrisy surrounding doping will finally disappear.

From Jim Thorpe’s Wikipedia entry:

In 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Athletes who received money prizes for competitions, were sports teachers or had competed previously against professionals, were not considered amateurs and were barred from competition.

In late January 1913, the Worcester Telegram published a story announcing that Thorpe had played professional baseball, and other U.S. newspapers followed up the story. Thorpe had indeed played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay; reportedly as little as US $2 ($50 today) per game and as much as $35 ($873 today) per week. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally but most used aliases, unlike Thorpe.

Although the public didn’t seem to care much about Thorpe’s past, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and especially its secretary James Edward Sullivan, took the case very seriously. Thorpe wrote a letter to Sullivan, in which he admitted playing professional baseball:

…”I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names….”

His letter didn’t help. The AAU decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively and asked the International Olympic Commission (IOC) to do the same. Later that year, the IOC unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals and awards and declare him a professional.

Although Thorpe had played for money, the AAU and IOC did not follow the rules for disqualification. The rulebook for the 1912 Olympics stated that protests had to be made “within” 30 days from the closing ceremonies of the games. The first newspaper reports did not appear until January 1913, about six months after the Stockholm Games had concluded. There is also some evidence that Thorpe’s amateur status had been questioned long before the Olympics, but the AAU had ignored the issue until being confronted with it in 1913.

And what happened then seventy years later (and 30 years after Thorpe’s death in 1953)?

Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. US Olympic officials, including former teammate and later president of the IOC Avery Brundage, rebuffed several attempts, with Brundage once saying, “Ignorance is no excuse.” Most persistent were the author Robert Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon. They succeeded in having the AAU and United States Olympic Committee overturn its decision and restore Thorpe’s amateur status prior to 1913.

In 1982, Wheeler and Ridlon established the Jim Thorpe Foundation and gained support from the U.S. Congress. Armed with this support and evidence from 1912 proving that Thorpe’s disqualification had occurred after the 30-day time period allowed by Olympics rules, they succeeded in making the case to the IOC. In October 1982, the IOC Executive Committee approved Thorpe’s reinstatement. In an unusual ruling, they declared that Thorpe was co-champion with Bie and Wieslander, although both of these athletes had always said they considered Thorpe to be the only champion. In a ceremony on January 18, 1983, the IOC presented two of Thorpe’s children, Gale and Bill, with commemorative medals. Thorpe’s original medals had been held in museums, but they had been stolen and have never been recovered.

As reported by the New York Times in 1975, the passing of Brundage in the same year didn’t hurt Thorpe’s case. Likewise, on Oct 22, 1974 the word “AMATEUR” in the meanwhile had finally been “scrubbed from the Olympic lexicon as the 75th session of the International Olympic Committee opens […] with the avowed intention of eradicating hypocrisy(my emphasis).

Don’t Blame Harry! Blame The Genes! And Aiscophilia…

Naked Harry in The Sun? Just another ordinary episode in the Windsor’s unrecognised genetic disease: Aiscophilia, the predisposition for getting oneself entangled in a scandal.

Remember? Harry the Nazi in 2005, the violent serial urinating cousin head of the House of Hanover, Edward the abdicating King of 1936, Albert Victor “the dissipated” grandchild of Queen Victoria. Prince Andrew linked to sex predator in 2011. And Philip too (third cousin to Elizabeth, after all).

Nothing new to report, really. Unless anybody spots a Nazi tattoo on Harry’s…


Extending Ben Goldacre’s Appeal To Authority to real life

Bishop Hill has a post quoting Ben Goldacre’s “appeal to authority”:

“you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust”

That statement misses a crucial point. It should be extended as:

“you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust” AS LONG AS THEY APPEAR TRUSTWORTHY.

Because the Authority has to regain its authority every single time.

Otherwise it’s just a sell-out of the brain, sheepishly sticking eg to the opinion of the Royal Society no matter how stupid that opinion might become in the future.

“It is very difficult to induce lawmakers to pass laws for the benefit of the unborn who have no votes”

Major Leonard Darwin, speaking at the Second International Eugenics Congress, at the AMNH around September 25, 1921:

“It is very difficult to induce lawmakers to pass laws for the benefit of the unborn who have no votes”

From the same session:

“Dr Davenport said that the study of eugenics must progress until proofs of its contentions are piled high and have impressed the general community, before political action becomes a possibility”


The Italian Football’s Six-Year (quasi) Rule

1970- Italy in World Cup final (lost to Brazil)

1976- missing (European Championship in Yugoslavia, but had a completely different format than today’s)

1978, 1980 – see below

1982- Italy in World Cup final (won against Germany)

1988- Italy in European Championship semi-final (lost to the USSR)

1990  – see below

1994- Italy in World Cup final (lost to Brazil)

2000- Italy in European Championship final (lost to France)

2006- Italy in World Cup final (won against France)

2012- Italy in European Championship final

Outside the rule, Italy reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1978 (finished fourth having lost the Netherlands and Brazil); the European Championship semi-finals in 1980 (finished fourth having lost to Czechoslovakia); the World Cup semi-finals in 1990 (finished fourth having lost to Argentina and then won against England).


Negative Thinking and Tipping Points

A comment I just wrote at Bishop Hill (Jun 20, 2012 at 12:16 AM), answering a researcher on the topic of tipping points and climate change:

Doug – thanks for the reply. I can feel some major fundamental disagreements on the approach.

(I do hope you appreciate frankness, and rest assured I am not trying to convince you of anything!)

1. You say you don’t know much about positive tipping points. Like with Adam Corner’s psychosocial studies only of skeptics, this doesn’t sound like the wisest way towards understanding tipping points in general and independently from their “policy value”.

2. You say you “would expect a policy maker to take in information from a large number of sources on this”. But you’re aware the policy maker will never hear about positive tipping points, from anybody at all. This removes value to the advice and information you yourself provide, sort of telling a ship’s captain to steer away from the continent port-side whilst the two of you don’t notice the island approaching from starboard.

3. You are of the opinion that “there is a strong argument that an abrupt change in climate would likely affect social and ecological systems negatively”. Not really. I can see the problem from a Development Studies perspective thanks to some University-level studies of mine in that respect. There is an approach there called “Vulnerability Analysis”, where poverty is defined in terms of number and size of one’s vulnerabilities. Abrupt change of any sort of course will affect negatively the most vulnerable, simply because almost everything affects negatively the most vulnerable. Imagine somebody starving for a week, even eating food will become a risky activity for them.

This tells us nothing about the negativity of the change. OTOH the effect of the change on the less-vulnerable will depend on what kinds of vulnerability they suffer from. A priori, it is impossible to tell if change and even abrupt change will be overall negative or positive.

For example the invention of the internal combustion engine has been an abrupt, enormous effect on societies everywhere, but who would say it has been negative in general? And like there is no such a thing as a “system” of people that is mostly tuned to a particular environment (travel from Iceland to Senegal to see how flexible human societies are), just as well what happened at Krakatoa means “systems” of the wild can recover in amazing fashions.

Therefore, there cannot be any “strong argument” of the kind you describe. Perhaps there is a diffuse opinion that change=bad and abrupt change=awful, but it is an opinion, not a scientific finding.

4. Your final statement is perfectly logical but conveys a curious, illogical message. You say, “if there was a really large change in some aspect of the climate over, say, the next decade (anthropogenic or not), and climate science hadn’t at least warned about it, you would rightfully be angry”. Perhaps me, but surely whoever is paying for climate change research.

This is some form of recursive logic.

(a) Somebody finances climate change research with the aim of understanding if there is change in the pipeline and of what kind. This makes sense.

(b) Researchers whose job is to work about climate change with the aim of etc etc, in the face of obvious, enormous difficulties in providing what’s been requested think about how best to fulfil their duty. This makes sense.

(c) As the duty is to be able to warn in advance of changes, those researchers arrive at the conclusion that, if anything happens and they didn’t warn about it, they will be seen as a failure at their job/profession. This makes sense.

(d) Therefore, those researchers make sure they describe all the possibile negativities, so that nobody will be able to say, “you didn’t warn us about this”. This makes sense.

However, the end result is that the researchers don’t focus any longer on understanding if there is change in the pipeline and of what kind, but mostly on figuring out all the bad things that might happen, and assigning each a probability.

This makes no sense. The information finally provided risks reading like plain-language Nostradamus prophecies with informed risk estimates attached to them. If we did the same exercise about health risks in the home, there would be a law against entering bathrooms and kitchens.

First they came for the lead

First they came for the lead,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t want to breathe lead.
Then they came for the gas mileage,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t want to breathe exhaust fumes.
Then they came for the particulates,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t want to breathe particulates.
Then they came for my car
and there was nothing left for me
but to live a sad, miserable, poor, unhealthy, freedom-deprived “green” life.

In Italy (presumably, elsewhere too) unleaded gasoline comes from green nozzles. The color was chosen at the time to indicate it was an environmentally friendly kind of gasoline. Try explaining that to a contemporary greenie??

How The Media Pollute Science – The Deepwater Horizon Example

American Scientist“‘s latest Science in the News Weekly points to the popularity of an insightful, harshly titled piece at Wired: “How Science Failed During the Gulf Oil Disaster” by Christopher Reddy (April 20, 2012), that is also a good way to explore how the media industry ends up polluting science almost beyond recognition.

Reddy concludes that “most of these problems are avoidable” (longer excerpts at the bottom of this post). I do not think he has grasped the magnitude of the problem.

The press pack only wants to “provide immediate, definitive information“, that is uncertainty-free. They of course end up distributing simplified, fact-free news and spreading unnecessary fears.

Scientists are in the meanwhile:

  • pestered by the media
  • “lured” by the limelight
  • pressured in forgetting uncertainty
  • ignored unless there is anything worrying to humans or wildlife in their reports
  • reprimanded if they don’t publish soon enough
  • openly invited to get rid of peer-review for the sake of quickness of decision

In the background, scientific freedom turns into parody, as “tenure decisions” loom hard. And therefore what can we expect the scientists to do? Of course they will end up:

  • deemphasizing uncertainty
  • playing for the audience
  • screaming loud about anything that might be considered remotely toxic
  • hurrying their articles to be printed
  • pretending to be always and invariably 100% correct.

Sounds familiar?


Extracts from Reddy’s article:

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, many scientists, including me, stepped outside of the Ivory Tower to study what was an unprecedented — and unintended — environmental experiment. We succeeded in gathering mountains of data, learning all sorts of new things, and advancing science.

But we also failed.

Academic scientists chose the research that most interested us, rather than what may have been most important to responding to the immediate disaster. We failed to grasp the mechanics of the media

[…] on land, the press just kept calling

[…] Our academic training did not prepare us for the media attention we received, and sometimes liked too much. We did not recognize that the media’s mission to provide immediate, definitive information about unfolding events to an anxious public can limit its ability to be comprehensive and complex. Academia provides us the luxury to move slowly with the goal of perfection. So we had problems explaining uncertainties, and we did not understand the ramifications of our statements to the media.

Time, more than anything else, separated us. The media has hours to make a deadline. We have five to eight years to get tenure.

An example of how this played out was the reporting of oil plumes flowing from the well deep underwater.

Oil generally floats, so in the early days of the spill, scientists were startled to find high levels of hydrocarbons deep in the Gulf and relayed their findings to the media. The scientists hypothesized that high pressure at the depth where the leak occurred was causing some hydrocarbons to flow horizontally away from the well, rather than up to the surface.

The resulting news reports gave the impression that rivers of oil were flowing at the bottom of the sea, potentially killing shrimp and fish that supported the local economy and harming the ecosystem. Government responders and industry had to respond to the press about the plumes, rather then focusing on higher priorities such as capping the well. And the public had to respond to these reports, too. I recall one Gulf resident asking me if he should sell his house and move away.

Many academics, including me, were hard on the scientists who reported the presence of plumes. We thought they had veered from the standards of good science. Their findings were not peer-reviewed. In their communications with the public, they seemed susceptible to the lure of limelight.

[…] A month after the well was capped, we published a study in the journal Science confirming a subsurface plume more than a mile wide and 600 feet high that flowed for miles from the Macondo well at a depth of 3,600 feet. However, this plume was not a river of oil, but rather a layer in the ocean that was enriched in hydrocarbons. Water samples taken from within the plume were crystal clear.

We had just mapped an underwater plume with a one-of-a-kind underwater vehicle carrying a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer. It could be the greatest scientific contribution of my career. But the media wasn’t that interested. They were more concerned with whether the plume was toxic.

We were confused and said to them, “You need to know where the plume is before you can consider harmful effects.” It seemed so simple to us, but it was only newsworthy if the plume, at that time, could harm marine life or the environment.

[…] when I was the academic liaison at the oil spill’s headquarters the following month, I learned that those on the front line weren’t impressed by the publication of a paper a month after the crisis was over. Crisis responders often must make decisions on the spot, with imperfect information, even if it is risky.

During a crisis, “peer review is the biggest problem with academia” Juliette Kayyem, who was an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Deepwater Horizon and teaches crisis response at Harvard, told me.

But to release unvetted data is a leap of faith. I observed a very talented junior scientist struggle with this. He was afraid he might be not be 100 percent correct, word would get out, and it would affect his tenure decision. […]

Mooney’s Folly (in two steps)

Just read the “Conclusions” of Mooney’s book on Amazon. He has obviously gone way out of his competency and freely speaks of things he can’t possibly understand. As far as I am concerned, anybody who believes it possible to measure Liberals and Conservatives has an infantilistic view of “measure” and of “politics”.

Think about it…there are decades of studies about the meaning of “political spectrum” and everybody agrees even the usage of two axes isn’t really good enough. There comes Mooney though, and we’re back to a single axis, left and right, and we should throw all that previous work away? Unlikely.

The pages about “conservatism and the amygdala” will surely be read in the future, in comedy sketches though, like we read today about the scientist who couldn’t believe the flight abilities of the bumblebee.

Anyway, the icing on the cake is the fact that the Conclusions aren’t that idiotic really, and Mooney says he now admires “conservatives”, and goes as far as to recommend “conservatives” and “liberals” “need be operating together“. Well, Brainy Boy, that’s not achieved really by calling your book “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality“, is it??

Open-pool to be opened at Amun…

Open-pool to be opened at Amundsen-Scott South Pole base thanks to #globalwarming – #af

Google Maps for 8-bit Nintendo…

Google Maps for 8-bit Nintendo

Twitter Updates for 2012-04-01

Mercury’s South Pole: The Movi…

Mercury’s South Pole: The Movie (with several candidate ice-carrying permanently dark crater floors) #space #astro

“First proof of a person’s inc…

“First proof of a person’s incapacity to achieve is their endeavoring to fix the stigma of failure on others.” – B.R.Hayden @pigtownjohnwtch

“Global Weirding” indicates ho…

“Global Weirding” indicates how much #climate alarmism has had to run away from science into gossip and anecdotal non-evidence. #agw

Olbermann has a point. Firing-…

Olbermann has a point. Firing-related press release should be full of praise, so loser gets out of the way. #CurrentTV

NASA full of global warming sk…

NASA full of global warming skeptics (after they retire) – Scientific research ain’t free obviously. #agw #climate

The public use of Twitter whil…

The public use of Twitter whilst the brains are disengaged should be discouraged @ross_abbey

Twitter Updates for 2012-03-31