Beam Me Cold, Scotty

Fact: we already know how to teleport single ions of calcium and beryllium.

Fact: such “teleportation” means the transfer of quantum states between ion A and ion B, so that at the end of the transfer B becomes for all intents and purposes identical to what A was at the beginning of the transfer.

Fact: we already know how to make groups of atoms behave as one quantum entity, by cooling them very near absolute zero until they become a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).

Vision: all we need to make Star-Trek-like teleportation a reality then, it’s finding a way to cool a person into a BEC, transfer its quantum state into just the right BEC far away, and then heat this back as the teleported copy of the original person.

In the meanwhile, let’s wait for a few confirmatory experiments…

My Correction Printed on the New York Review of Books

I had sent a rather longer letter on March 15 but I appreciate their honesty in recognizing their mistake.

The New York Review of Books
Volume 54, Number 8 · May 10, 2007
Letter – CORRECTIONS By The Editors – In response to Warning on Warming (March 15, 2007)

In Bill McKibben’s “Warning on Warming” [NYR, March 15], the caption to the two photographs of the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, taken in 1928 and 2004 should have said that most of the glacier visible in the 1928 photograph had melted by 2004. Today the glacier still covers over eight hundred square kilometers.

Controversy-free Scientific American

On the Scientific American (SciAm) web site, George Musser has recently posted a blog “Please Stop Talking About the Global Warming Consensus“.

IMNSHO Musser is on the right path to an “undestanding” of the huge issue caused by Holier-Than-Thou attitudes used by environmental activists to effectively undermine their own work and aims (alas, just as by a lot of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)-concerned climate scientists).

The last thing the AGW debate needs now is any hint of debate-stifling.

============

Anyway, the above reminded me of my main criticism of SciAm: namely, how hard it is to find the magazine putting forward non-conformist scientific views.

One wonders if the Editors are pursuing the misguided goal of trying to prop up Science against the Forces of Obscurantism, and in the process anything not smelling of 100% scientific mainstream is left out in the cold.

If anybody wants to know a couple of articles that should have been on SciAm, here they are:

(1) Terry L. Hunt, “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island“, American Scientist, September-October 2006

New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization’s collapse

(2) Richard Seager, “The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate“, American Scientist, July-August 2006

The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth

(3) Carl Wunsch, “The Myth of Gulf Stream Shutdown” (expanded from a Letter by Wunsch published on The Economist)

Obviously one could simply get a subscription to American Scientist but that’s besides the point. My question is: have the SciAm people (the Editors that is) become simply too buttoned up? Is SciAm in danger of drowning in a sea of “consensus”?

Gulf Stream Myths

Myth #1: The Gulf Stream will fail if a massive outpour of freshwater will come out of Greenland glaciers due to increasing temperatures.

Answer: No, it most definitely will not. As explained by Carl Wunsch, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the MIT in Cambridge, Mass. (USA), in a letter published on The Economist:

The Gulf Stream is a wind-driven phenomenon (as explained in a famous 1948 paper by Henry Stommel). […] Shut-off would imply repeal of the law of conservation of angular momentum […] focusing on near-impossible Gulf Stream failure is an unproductive distraction

Myth #2: The Gulf Stream is responsible for the milder weather in the United Kingdom and part of Northern Europe than North American regions at similar latitudes.

Answer: No, it most definitely does not. As explained by Richard Seager, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an article published on American Scientist:

That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is […] nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.

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Seager’s comments are particularly telling on how current Climatology is self-destroying by way of catastrophism:

Pretty much everything we had found could have been concluded on the basis of results that were already available […]

All Battisti and I did was put these pieces of evidence together and add in a few more illustrative numerical experiments. Why hadn’t anyone done that before? […] The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.

Prozac for the Climate People

or “The Unholy Alliance of Climatologists and Newsmedia

An additional positive-feedback mechanism in the realm of Catastrophic Climate Change may have gone un-noticed so far.

Look for example at the WMO Statement on the Status of the global Climate in 2006: “persistent extreme heat”, “heat waves”, “record temperatures”, “long-term drought”, “moderate-to-exceptional drought”, “severe drought conditions”, “heavy precipitation and flooding”, “heavy rainfall”, “historic flooding”, “deadly typhoons”, “ozone depletion”, “sea-ice decline”.

One is left shocked-and-awed by such a display of gloom. Even words such as “mild” and desert-area rainfall sounds ominous in the context of the WMO statement.

But wait: where is the list of places where conditions were OK or even good throughout the year, and so went un-reported?

Where is the mention for example of the end of long-term drought in most of the Sahel area, south of the Sahara desert?

In truth, that WMO statement does not report on the “Status of the global Climate”.

It reports on the “Status of everything that was unusual with the global Climate”: very useful indeed, but not to understand the overall picture.

It’s newspapers and magazines that need that kind of stuff. They know they don’t sell on good news. They live off a steady stream of bad news to get as many readers as possible.

And who can be better at providing that than present-day Climatologists?

Yet another unhealthy incentive for people to get noticed by predicting disasters.

===============

ADDENDUM

A couple of articles on LiveScience point to similar problems in the reporting of Medical studies

A Third of Medical Studies are Wrong

[…] Ioannidis said scientists and editors should avoid “giving selective attention only to the most promising or exciting results” and should make the public more aware of the limitations of science.[…] “We all need to start thinking more critically.”

============

Media Omit Basic Facts in Medical Reports

[…] Journalists sometimes go to these conferences looking for the interesting nuggets and a chance to report on potential breakthroughs before the competition. But the media often omit basic facts in stories they report from professional medical conferences, a new study concludes. […] “Readers should approach the news with a healthy skepticism,” Schwartz suggested.

Interpreting the Climate Change Predictions – Free Guide

Your Free Guide on How to Interpret Climate Change Predictions

(written with the unaware “help” of Friends of the Earth’s International Climate Campaigner, Catherine Pearce)

“This report will show with unquestionable certainty that we are to blame for the last 50 years of warming”

Translation: “All the stuff we have been whinging about so far was not based on evidence strong enough. Sorry we didn’t tell you that before. Anyway, we are trying our luck again”.

“The recorded changes in our climate, which had been predicted to start many years from now are already upon us”

Translation: “Who needs them models anyway? Whatever they predict for the future, we’ll be able to find it right here and now, no matter the blatant contradiction”.

” – and with some bleak predictions to come.”

Translation: “Train yourself by scaring little children if you want to work for us”.

“We can no longer afford to ignore growing and compelling warnings from the world’s leading experts.”

Translation: “Years and years of work have so far come to nothing as they have been completely ignored by the real world. Once again, we are trying our luck , blissfully unaware of the possibility that there is something inherently wrong with our data, our interpretation of the data, and/or our whole way of trying to bring this forward by corralling scientists, cajoling people and burying dissent”.

Climate Change Calamities’ (paper) Climax

Jim Hansen is a renowned scientist and top NASA manager, apparently animated by reasonable objectives such as avoiding waste of resources and taking care of the natural world.

Why would he then have to resort to images of doom and gloom as in The Threat to the Planet” (The New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006)?

The article is a remorseless barrage of wanton destruction. We learn that animals are abandoning their roaming areas, migrating without a choice towards natural barriers ready to “spell doom” on their species. “For all foreseeable human generations”, the world “will be a far more desolate place”.

We should ready ourselves to ice sheets beginning to “collapse”, seas rising half a yard per decade, and “repeated [urban] retreats from transitory shorelines” translating into a “calamity for hundreds of cities […] far larger than New Orleans”.

If we don’t mend our ways, there will be a “sea level rise of eighty feet”, “global chaos” and (who would have guessed?) “fewer resources”.

As much as 60 percent, and no fewer than 20 percent of “today’s species” are going to go the way of the Dodo.

Remarkably, all available space is devoted to global warming calamities. Even if it were to happen as catastrophically as portrayed, surely we (and Dr Hansen) should be able to predict something good coming out of Climate Change, somewhere, for example, concerning areas such as northern Canada, northern Siberia and some of the present deserts?.

The disasters described by Dr Hansen are indeed so encompassing and overwhelming to fall squarely in what has been labelled “Climate Porn” by left-wing UK think-tank the IPPR (see my my article Saying No to ‘Climate Porn’?”, TCS Daily, Aug 16 2006).

The climax (pun intended) is reached when Dr Hansen writes that “if CO2 emissions are not limited […] all bets are off”.

Is the article’s very title seriously suggesting that Earth itself is under threat?

Not even the darkest forecasts can be used to make current climate change equivalent to, say, a 10-km size asteroid slamming against our planet: but I may be wrong.

I know Jim Hansen is one of many writing so dramatically about climate change. Without moving very far, similar questions could be posed to another article on The New York Review of Books, Tim Flannery’s “Endgame” (August 11, 2005).

In that case, alongside the usual “changes in sea levels, weather patterns, and the fate of many species” we are told that “continuing to burn coal […] is a threat to existence itself”.

Cue Paul and Anne Ehrlich writing about “ecological suicide in our time” (“One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future”, Island Press/Shearwater 2004).

For his part, Dr Hansen’s efforts to find ways to prevent the gloomy future so spectacularly depicted must be commended.

Anyway, he definitely loses this reader when the text verges toward close-minded paranoia.

Dr Hansen complains that in the media, “fringe ‘contrarians’ supported by the fossil fuel industry” are given “equal time” to express their skepticism (since when has Science progressed on consensus rather than real-world data?).

He then laments that fellow scientists are presenting climate change too “clinically” (before and after making plenty of citations from other catastrophists).

Finally, he states that somehow only climate change catastrophists such as Al Gore will be able to give the public “the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests” (of energy companies, above all).

One would hope for a more convincing set of arguments from a distinguished scientist, especially if Dr Hansen truly believes that the end of the world as we know it is near but we can still make a difference.

His forays into titillating catastrophism can only increase one’s skepticism, sounding as they do like the claims of some millenarian cult (a point recognised by the IPPR in the report mentioned above).

Faced with such a long list of absurdities, one is practically forced to put into question the very basis of Dr Hansen’s concerns.

Let’s ask ourselves then, are we really witnessing any significant change to the climate, caused by human activities?

Personally, I will be persuaded when and if “change” will be more meaningful and incontrovertible than melting glaciers, strong hurricanes, hot summers, cold winters (and one may add, wet water).

How about finding instead the one weather pattern changed anywhere in the world due to global warming?

Literally anything would do: recurring hurricane seasons in the South Atlantic; an alteration of prevailing regional winds in the Mediterranean; a different monsoon path; or any other stable weather pattern settling into a new status.

There is no report of any so far.

Remaining unconvinced of the upcoming perils of climate change and global warming, am I a “fringe contrarian”? Perhaps (but then I have no relationship whatsoever with the fossil fuel industry and energy companies apart than as paying customer).

But is it really too much to ask to leave catastrophism to the propagandists, and to keep a scientific debate focused on the real world?

Global Warming: Science, Politics and Deimocracy

Contemporary apocalyptic fashionable undertones in the area of Climate Change are pointing us away from Democracy, the power of The People, and towards Deimocracy, the power of Fear.

—————————–

(1) Disaster Talking

We are showered with news of doom: AIDS and SARS epidemics, Terrorisms and Wars on Terror, Overpopulation, Immigrants in hordes, Global Warming: calamities ultimately “explained” as of our own making

It will be news, a day without news of species candidate for extinction, the planet destined to burn up, and our lifestyles destroyed by al-Qaeda or a virus, because we are not enough green, and/or not energy savers, and/or virtuous

That’s the zeitgeist, the Spirit of (Our) Time for Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, forecasting floods, droughts, hurricanes, cold and heath-waves, hunger and misery (locusts included) to governments and individuals, whose culpable inertia is apparently enriching Big Bad Oil Corporations while sullying the Earth

It is a “language of disaster” that belongs also to:

  • Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist reporting only the scariest predictions
  • Tim Flannery, the Australian of the Year 2007, a scientist who believes that coal-burning will bring humanity to an end
  • Jared Diamond, the former-skeptic now converted to Paul Ehrlich’s unflinching pessimism to accuse the enslaved, decimated inhabitants of Easter Island of consumerism and ecocide; and to many more

Is it really necessary to force people to “duck” under ever more monstrous Terrors to protect the environment from technological growth, ourselves from terrorism, our species from overpopulation?

Since when has Fear become the only instrument of persuasion?

Is this because a “stupid electorate” is easily manipulated by the titillation of tragedy and disaster, or perhaps even by the millenarian attitude that permeated as expected the end of the last Millennium (Nostradamus prophecies, Y2K, etc.)?

But then, Democracy itself would be alien or absurd

Or is this because reaction can be elicited by hitting us hard before problems do?

That means considering our species to be “Homo Insanus”, not “Homo Sapiens”, “wise man”. Given the choice, it sounds definitely better to entrust us then to the “Politics of the Day After”, chasing the front pages of newspapers (standard practice for more than one politician…)

(2) Deimocracy

Actually, the suspicion is that this “Empowerment of Fear Itself” otherwise called Deimocracy (from the Greek: deimos “terror, dread”) is a way to propel new forms of social engineering by inoculating us with the idea that in such dire straits, our only hope to survive cataclysmic planetary changes is to accept exceptional, anti-freedom measures

Al Gore’s solution is for “leaders” to corral unwilling voters, whatever their opinion, into accepting coercive measures.

Sir Nicholas Stern in the meanwhile came up with yet another gloomy report, telling in no uncertain terms to spend some 20 billions today not to have to spend 200 billions or more in 100 or 150 years’ time (never mind the dubiously low discount rate and the continuous need to “explain” and “clarify” that he wasn’t talking about our lifetimes)

In a society where “science” and now “economics” foretell our future, we are told to follow their recommendations… or else!

The UK’s Royal Society recently reprimanded evil Exxon, guilty of financing “anti-environmentalist lobbies” belittling the risks of Climate Change (actually: some associations publicly saying that Climate Change will not happen, or will not be catastrophic)

The fallacy of judging anybody not following the Global Warming line as “anti-environmentalist” shows the Royal Society as less eager of defending Science against manipulation, than of taking Climate Change as an article of faith

(3) Global Warming as a new Religion

Millenarian Global Warming is indeed assuming the character of a cult, as repeatedly pointed out by Michael Crichton.

British newspaper The Guardian’s editorialist George Monbiot writes that (on Climate Change), “He (Monbiot) Is Watching Us”. Margo Kingston remarks on the Australian Daily Briefing that those Global Warming “deniers” are guilty of a Crime against Humanity. Others have suggested a Nuremberg-style trial.

If we do not stop to produce carbon dioxide within ten years, the world will be gone, some say. Others tell sinners that without repentance, they will not be among the 144 thousand saved in the Apocalypse. Spot the difference.

And in a Market of the Indulgences Al Gore pays to plant trees to compensate for the jet-setting he undertakes to instruct us… to fly less! (Is it time for SUV owners to grow trees on the bonnet?)

(4) Skepticism: the Root of Science

Mystical visions of doom are obviously not on par level with forecasts by obviously bright intellects such Hansen’s and Flannery’s. And yet, one can be just as seriously skeptical of their conclusions, in the ways of Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims of catastrophes must be backed by extraordinary evidence

Science is indeed a collection of “theories”, models of reality as objective and as complete as possible. The task of the scientist is to (boringly) expand on such models or to (Nobel-prize-winningly) refute them and put forward new, more precise models.

Truly there is no such a thing as “democratic science”, weighing the number of papers going in different directions. It is instead like a boiling ocean where competing models fight to reach the surface through the grinding by mechanisms such as “peer review” by experts (usually without authors’ names to avoid “subjective” interference, e.g. of “bad blood”)

Nonetheless, the infrastructure of Science feeds on reputation. No editor of scientific publication, no manager of research fund will want to look gullible: it is then obviously more difficult to publish anything against the “current consensus”, and easier to receive funds to repeat established experiments

With Science pushed and pulled in incompatible directions, the scientific debate cannot be closed: otherwise, it is not scientific. And its infinite detail will never be fully shown in scientific publications or accompanying press releases

(5) From Science to Politics

In politics the situation is radically different. Politics can not simply abandon one model for another, to “try out” something else. Social effects are not negligible, and it will be difficult to carry along the electorate at every turn: impressions, however subjective they may be, do count.

Translating Science into Politics therefore creates four problems: Technicism; Manipulation; Inaction and Causal Monomania

Technicism is the misinterpretation of scientific research as the “end word” on a topic: like eugenics, fashionable and admired cause of several million human deaths

In Manipulation, politicians pick and choose the most convenient scientific results: as in the 1920 US’s immigration policies discriminating against Southern Europeans for scientific, unassailable reasons (alleged inferior IQs)

Inaction is when Governments do nothing against clear forecasts by scientists and engineers. Just as predicted by many experts, New Orleans’ badly-financed and badly-constructed levees, built to withstand the direct hit of a category-3 hurricane, failed even if category-3 Katrina actually missed the city

Finally, in Causal Monomania an issue is fogged by explaining everything with a single reason: Global Warming, of course, where catastrophist propaganda couples with alarmist Deimocracy to deny political space to all opponents: whilst in the scientific arena, almost every work is bound to “rediscover” the same thing: how bad we are, and how bad Climate Change is going to be

In Al Gore’s movie, glaciers retreat, floods devastate, the natural world dies: all of that, because of Global Warming.

There is no “smoking gun” available, no hurricane called “Climate Change”: yet, this fact is not important because, in the subculture of Global Warming, every atmospheric phenomenon is obviously caused by our misbehavior

Read this recent quote from “Cultural responses to aridity in the Middle Holocene and increased social complexity” (Nick Brooks, Quaternary International 151 (2006) 29-49):

In today’s globalizing world, traditional livelihoods are under pressure from economic liberalization, monetization of local economies and development programmes based largely on western models.

Words of truth perhaps but… they can relate to social complexity and aridity in the Middle Holocene only for people that consider contemporary Climate Change induced by human activity as an all-encompassing Monster, the root of every trouble, to be stopped also by means of disseminating irrelevant, yet negative and unrelenting mentions of it

Compare that effort to the lukewarm attitude towards preventing the one disaster that will occur with absolute certainty: our planet being hit by a small asteroid or comet

(6) Climate Change and Propaganda

Climate Change monomania details upcoming destructions to restrict individuals’ freedoms. Moreover, it is a propaganda device for politicians to hide their shortcomings

If every problem derives from Climate Change, and all effective solutions are global, what can we ever pretend from a single Nation?

Take Australia, experiencing its n-th consecutive year of “drought” (presented of course as a sign of Climate Change): and yet, during Sydney’s rainy September ‘06, local newspapers debated the absence of adequate facilities to collect rainwater. Never mind the subsidies received by farmers despite the obvious unsuitability of their farms.

And never mind the fact that Dorothea Mackellar could remember Australia as the “sunburnt country […] of droughts and flooding rains“…in 1904!

What is the real issue: “Climate Change” or “Incompetence”? Shall we really revolutionize our lifestyles and spend billions to stop emitting CO2, in order to save the Australian Government (or any other) from their own ineptitude?

(7) The End of Environmentalism?

A bigger danger exists. What if the foretold disasters fail to happen? Politicians will not be able to justify themselves by “passing the buck” to the scientists.

If the political debate could be encapsulated by the scientific discourse, we would just accept a Technocracy (again, renouncing Democracy): an untenable solution as the idea that professionals, experts, scientists do make mistakes is part of popular mythology

Large communication problems exist between Science and the non-scientific public. Actually, by putting themselves in-between scientists and the general population, catastrophists are risking to prevent the public from properly perceiving the real threats and risks

When too many a prediction will fail, people will wrongly but understandably start to think that rhinos are not in extinction danger; that there are many Siberian tigers around; and that pollution running amok is no problem.

Fear-mongering Environmentalism may indeed be sanctioning the End of Environmentalism (a point recently made by no less a commentator than Nicholas D Kristof of the New York Times)

(8) Defending the Environment – Take Two

A serious environmentalist debate must rise above simplistic policies and propaganda. Many are the priorities to handle, and difficult to manage: there is no solution in monomaniac pseudo-scientific Deimocratic shortcuts

Meaningful environment conservation is something less sexy and un-titillating, pivoted around analyses and counter-analyses of our ideals, objectives and priorities, in a system where scientific research is analyzed within its context, before being applied in the political field.

It is based on defining objectives as solution to problems, not just as desperate resorts against the End of the World

Are houses cleaned because it is the right thing to do, or just since otherwise people could be at risk of SARS or the Black Plague?

Are Human Rights to be protected for their intrinsic value, or only if and when the alternative is Genocide?

Shouldn’t oil be better employed to build plastics than burned for heating and transportation with accompanying toxic fumes?

Of course: and not just to avoid droughts, fires and a one-way trip to the Gehenna

(9) Rejecting Deimocracy

Gore, Hansen and the others may even be right on the subject of Global Warming: however, their methods of propaganda and political action must be rejected in principle.

The real risk is to accept the worst of all possible worlds, where Science is contaminated by ideology and Politics stifles debate, with little freedom and scarce if any analysis of priorities.

Will one day somebody coin the slogan “Breath less, Emanate less carbon dioxide”?

Let’s be free instead: Long Live Democracy!

And let’s firmly distance ourselves from the “Politics of Fright”. Down with Deimocracy!

Back To Basics On Global Warming

What is the actual evidence for Global Warming? With all the noise coming out this week in the media, it is interesting to go back to the basics, i.e. to the actual measurements 

———–

The Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) has published temperature times series from 1850 to 2006

These are average global temperature “anomalies” (i.e. amounts above or below the 1961-90 average). Of particular interest the HadCRUT3v series, as it is presented as the most accurate. Uncertainties are in the order of +-0.05C (4 times as much in the XIX century)

If you plot those values, it makes for an impressive graph, with the hockey stick shape and all that. However, a better look at the most recent figures reveals:

1995: 0.27
1996: 0.138
1997: 0.347
1998: 0.526
1999: 0.302
2000: 0.277
2001: 0.406
2002: 0.455
2003: 0.465
2004: 0.444
2005: 0.475
2006: 0.422

  1. Even if it is true that 2006 has been among the warmest years, the maximum happened in 1998. Its temperature hasn’t been even remotely reached since
  2. Since 2001, values have not varied more than the accuracy of the data. In other words, there hasn’t been much of a change
  3. If one stops claiming that temperatures have changed when the figures vary less than the accuracy, the resulting graph is much smoother, with a possible asymptote at 0.3C or 0.4C

All in all there is little or no indication that we are experiencing unprecedentedly increasing temperatures. I am aware that 2007 has been forecast as “the warmest ever”, and it will be interesting to find out if the temperature stability of the past six years will be broken either upwards or downwards

And of course the most one can reasonably say is that “it’s too early to tell“. If only Mainstream Climatology would accept such a simple wisdom!!

———–

What about the 2,500 scientists working for the UN at the IPCC? Well, it is not my fault if they have decided to sell their science to politics. If hundreds of bureaucrats can have a saying on the interpretation of Climate Change data, so can anybody else

———–

What about other evidence of Climate Change such as melting glaciers? The basic tenet of the IPCC is that so-called Greenhouse Gases generated by human activity are responsible for increases in temperatures, and these in turn are changing the climate. So it does all depend indeed on temperatures first.

Somebody, someday will realize that Climate is made of more than just Temperature

The Sad State of Climate Science

(my final comment in the online debate “Climate Change Challenge” instigated by the UK NERC “Natural Environment Research Council”)

Proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) have to rely also on models as evidence, depend in part on “attribution-by-exclusion”, show little tolerance of scepticism and let political representatives mingle in their field of work

Not really signs that AGW is a “strong” scientific theory

And now for the details:

1- Scepticism

Colin Prentice (CP) in #355: “There isn’t any contradiction. Of course, ‘sceptics’ can say what they like”

Leaving aside attacks to individuals and institutions, NERC imply scepticism of AGW is not valid and anti-scientific, as per text (A) “…there are STILL sceptics who dispute the data… If you don’t BELIEVE the science…” (my emphasis)

But CP writes in #351 “Without sceptisism, there would be no science! I would defend your right to be sceptical!”

If that is true, considering also that “the best evidence comes from a combination of models and observations” (CP, #265), shouldn’t we _expect_ plenty of valid scepticism of AGW?

Therefore, (A) should change to “…there are OF COURSE sceptics who dispute the data…”

2- Attribution-by-exclusion

CP in #355: “The GHG explanation for climate change is not attributed ‘by exclusion'”

Steve Schulin #362 answers that

But my point is that a scientific discipline should abhor attribution-by-exclusion as a matter of principle: unless anybody here wants to support Intelligent Design as “science”

3- Science and Government

AGW is unique as it mysteriously has to go through an “Inter_GOVERNMENTAL_ Panel”

In the words of Associated Press (Jan 23), the upcoming IPCC report is written and reviewed by 1,200 scientists and then “edited by bureaucrats from 154 countries”

Note that the IPCC report is not just a policy document: it collates and presents the science of AGW

If I were a climate scientist I’d find the whole setup upsetting and humiliating. I wonder what “bureaucrats” had to say about evolution or
particle physics

What makes people lose their cool?

Nothing makes people lose their composure as much as Global Warming

It is now the turn of Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer, a very funny, knowledgeable, interesting blogger that in fact has posted an entry about the importance of critical thinking, and of being able to concentrate oneself on the things that matter, instead of the latest scare stories

 …only to follow it up with TWO entries about “global warming”, “it’s too late”, “Exxon Mobil is evil”

Let’s apply Phil’s critical thinking here. No one in the US has died of climate change, and yet we hear about it all the time. Sure, it’s a threat, but not nearly a big one as regular climate

Catastrophilia at the NYRB

The juxtaposition in the Nov 16 issue of the New York Review of Books, of Bill McKibben’s “How Close to Catastrophe?” with Garry Wills’ “A Country Ruled by Faith” is deeply telling of the fashionable status of catastrophism in a varied set of social and cultural strata, from evangelical right-wingers to climate-concerned scientists

Wills laments the influence on the White House of “premillennial lack of concern for the earth’s fate as Jesus’ coming nears” and the related support of the Iraq War as “a focal point of end-time events” (in the words of evangelical writer Tim LaHaye)

For his part, McKibben may not expecting “Jesus’ coming” any time soon, but, ironically, he is really onto big thoughts about “end-time events“: perhaps of a climatic rather than theological variety; “scientific” rather than faith-based

Still, the language used by McKibben is remarkably similar to any Millennial cult’s

We are repeatedly lead towards believing in James Lovelock’s dire predictions for Earth to become a red desert. Ice is melting faster, and if we don’t do something by 2015, we will find ourselves crossing “a threshold” and creating “a different planet

Lest the reader misses any of the points, McKibben writes with conviction that “a wave large enough to break civilization is forming

Is that the same person that ends the article by suggesting that what “we need most badly is the technology of community—the knowledge about how to cooperate to get things done“?

One only wishes McKibben would practice as he preaches, and stop using the language of fear, to substitute it with a deeper appreciation and respect, also for the community of his readers

ps There is one factual error. McKibben writes about a “homeostasis” that somehow has managed to keep the planet’s “temperature, at a relatively stable level“. What stable temperatures? Global temperatures have been swinging widely for billions of years, and just a few thousand years ago ice sheets were covering plenty of the Northern Emisphere

God’s Many Dices (I) – The Science of Parallel Universes

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is
(Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)

By considering the implications of contemporary Science and in particular of the Cosmology of Parallel Universes, it is now possible to build an all-encompassing Model of Reality

From solid scientific bases, such a Model may be able to move Science itself beyond the “Realm of the Whats” and into the “Region of the Whys”: providing clues not only for what is out there, but also for the reasons why things are the way they are

Not only can we say that All-There-Is (let’s call it the Cosmos) is far larger and more diverse than we have ever fathomed. We can even work out elegant explanations on scientific conundrums like:

  1. Why our Universe is so very well “tuned” for life, and especially for intelligent life to exist
  2. Why is Mathematics such a powerful tool in our scientific investigations
  3. And why against a microscopic world driven by probabilistic quantum mechanics, there is the macroscopic deterministic-like tangible reality of our day-to-day experience

———-

Parallel Universes” is the title of a thought-provoking Scientific American article (now a Special Report) written by Max Tegmark, currently working at the Dept. of Physics at the MIT in Cambridge, MATegmark’s Parallel Universes are not meant to be fifth-dimensional ghosts lying next to us, metaphysical threats that can be visited by opening the wrong door as in overdone horror sci-fi movies

In fact, Tegmark writes that the most logical deduction from all known cosmological observations is that Parallel Universes are just “out there”, albeit exceptionally far

In this respect, the Cosmos becomes the set of all Parallel Universes, plus the empty space in-between

Some of those “Parallel Universes” are identical copies of ours. Some are more or less similar to what we experience. Others are barely alike our Universe, others still less and less so

Present-day theories and observations “predict” 3 or 4 types of mutually compatible “Multiverses” (i.e., collections of “Parallel Universes”):

  • Level I – Universes with different initial conditions
  • Level II – Universes with different physical constants and particles
  • Level III – The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Level IV – Universes with different physical laws

In some Universe, a copy of me has never completed writing this article (for great joy of the readers, no doubt). In other Parallel Universes, neither I nor you exist, and there are completely different subatomic particles, physical laws, even mathematical structures

Tegmark defines “Level I Multiverse” as the collection of “Hubble Volumes” similar to the one we inhabit, composed of the same stuff and following the same laws of physics

Only, as the initial conditions were different, the history of each Universe differs. Still, the “simplest and most popular cosmological model predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about (10 to the power of 28, or 10^28) meters away”

Such a number, the result of a straightforward computation based on the size and composition of the known Universe, means that there is a massive 10 billions of billions of billions of meters between each of us and a doppelganger sharing the same history (at least so far)

On the other hand, that’s “just” 25 times as far as the radius of our own Universe (the so-called “Hubble Volume”)

Much farther away: another solar system and, say, a 100-light-year radius of space completely identical to ours (10^92 meters); and an entire Universe practically indistinguishable from ours, with all the galaxies and stars and planets and people, all in the same position (10^118 meters)

Remarkably, the “currently popular theory of chaotic eternal inflation” predicts also the existence of a “Level II Multiverse”, a collection of Level I’s (like “gas pockets in a rising loaf of bread”) each with its own set of “nature fundamentals

Within Level II, some Level I Multiverses will have extra spacetime dimensions, some will be made of different elementary particles, some will be built around different physics constants

Perhaps somewhere out there, there really is the Liquid Space of Species 8472, from the TV series Star Trek Voyager. But that’s still not all in this fascinatingly game towards increasingly weirder levels of Multiverses

Tegmark describes as out there, on the edge of anybody’s wildest imagination, “all mathematical structures exist as well

This is the “Level IV Multiverse“: and its existence may help us clarify the so-called Miracle of Mathematics

In the 1960’s paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” Nobel Prize E. P. Wigner has extensively written about such a “miracle”, describing the unease of the scientist when realizing how “the mathematical formulation of the physicist’s often crude experience leads in an uncanny number of cases to an amazingly accurate description of a large class of phenomena

A clear example is in the theory of gravitation, extremely simple in its formulae and yet capable to account for the behavior of an enormous number and variety of planets, stars and galaxies

In a large Level IV Multiverse, if there are enough Level II Multiverses each with its own mathematics, then one or more of them will be bound to possess a coincidence between mathematics and physics as strong as the one we experience

At the same time, in some place far, far away, there is a completely different mathematics at play. And so if our Earth’s orbit is an graceful, regular ellipse, the path followed by another Earth in another Universe will resemble the work of a madman

———-

The Level III Multiverse deserves particular attention

Prof. Tegmark describes Level III as the standard “Many-Worlds” interpretation of Quantum Physics

“Many-Worlds” is an attempt at reconciling the probabilistic behavior predicted by Quantum Physics for microscopic particles with the deterministic working of the day-to-day macroscopic environment

In the famous example of Schroedinger’s Cat, a (macroscopic) feline is locked in an opaque box next to a weapon triggered by the nuclear decay of a (microscopic) atom

(Disclaimer: No animal has been harmed during the writing of this article)

In the box, the cat is somehow alive and dead. The atom’s decay is described statistically as a quantum phenomenon. The so-called “wave function” of the cat-weapon-atom system, provides a measure of the probability for either event (“cat alive” and “cat dead”), will have to “collapse” to a single outcome when the box is opened, and the cat can be seen alive or dead, not a collection of probabilities

In the Many-Worlds interpretation, that is explained by postulating that our Universe is “branching” into a Universe (A) where the cat is alive, and another (B) where the cat is dead. By hearing the meowing, we observe that we have somehow landed in A (an identical copy of us will of course mourn the unfortunate mammal in B)

Now, this is ridicule even more than most Models of the Cosmos. With a “branching” for anything happening to each atom and subatomic particle, the number of copies will have to increase exponentially trillions of trillions times a second (perhaps made by some Humongous Celestial Photocopier forever replicating Universes?)

———-

Thankfully, we can get out of that physical cul-de-sac by considering that all possible Universes already exist at Levels I and II Level, rather than having them perpetually xeroxed at Level III

Tegmark reports indeed equivalence between the Level III Multiverse (the probabilistic cosmos of quantum physics) and the Level I/II Multiverse (Parallel Universes with different initial conditions, physical constants and particles)

Tegmark goes on to say that Level III “adds nothing new

That is not strictly true: it adds a lot:. It means that the number of Parallel Universes is gargantuan: because for the Level I/II-Level III equivalence to work, all the possible “wave function collapses” of every particle of our Universe have to be happening somewhere, sometime in the Level I/II Multiverse

And so the Multiverse is extraordinarily big and contains a huge number and a very large variety of Universes. And the Cosmos is not deterministic: it only appears as such to our limited experience, lacking the ability to “see” what happens in other Universes.

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), but with a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen

———-

In this respect my only negative comment about Prof. Tegmark’s text’s is the cavalier usage of the term “infinite”The number of Level I/II Parallel Universe is giant, enormous, hard-to-describe, colossal, etc. etc. But needs not be “infinite

Tegmark himself acknowledges as much, when he writes “The estimate [that we have twins in galaxies on average 10^28) meters away] merely [assumes] that space is infinite (or at least sufficiently large)” (my emphasis)

For example, to us puny human beings, measuring in the region of 2 meters / 6 feet a finite space with a radius of, say, 10^(one million) meters would behave as infinite for all intents and purposes without possessing any of the logical impossibilities of the “infinite

Infinite” carries a baggage of apparent impossibilities: for example, “infinite” is as large as “two infinites” and “half a infinite”. An infinite space cannot expand as it always occupies by definition its own maximum volume. Etc etc

French authors Luminet and Lachieze-Rey appear to make a big fuss about precisely the same point in “L’Univers Chiffonné” (Fayard, 2001)

As “infinite” has historically been a dangerous word for discussions, and arguments about its nature risk overshadowing the actual gist of an article or book, we should refrain from using that word at all cost apart from the exceptional circumstances when it is strictly necessary

———-

The existence of a very large number of Parallel Universe has several interesting upshots

As Tegmark writes, when seen through the Quantum Physics’s lenses of “Many-Worlds” the Levels I Multiverse may explain Time, as “a never ending slide from one already-existing state to another”: like an unending jumping from one Universe to another, and so on and so forth

In other words, if there are enough Universes out there, there will be a Universe “T+1” with a copy of you, one second in your future: so instead of imagining yourself traveling forward in time one second per second, “the passage of Time” could just mean yourself “in Universe T+1

Tegmark explains also how a very large number of Parallel Universes can help us confine the (in)famous Anthropic Principle to the annals of irrelevant philosophy

Our Universe is “fine tuned”: even tiny changes to one physical constant or another would make our very existence next to impossible

This is called the “Goldilocks Enigma”, after the fairy tale about a girl entering the house of the three bears. Why are the Universe’s characteristics not too warm, not too cold, and just about right?

Past answers included the self-referential “Anthropic Principle”, stating more or less that the Universe is like it is because otherwise we wouldn’t have been here to talk about it: a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating “you’re a loser

Tegmark elegantly prefers taking a different route

Within a Level II Multiverse, inside our particular Level I Multiverse our particular Hubble Volume does harbour life because there’s lots (really lots) of other Hubble Volumes out there, in many Level I Multiverses: and one (or more) of them is bound to be just about right for life as we know it

This is a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating that “not all participants to a competition can be winners

Goldilocks may have just had to taste three soups before finding one not too warm, and not too cold. In our case, the Cosmos may need to have 3 trillion Universes, or many more, before getting it “right” for humans to exist: but the underlying principle is the same

———-

What is there to prevent all that from happening? Is all of the above just too large, too complex, too un-necessary, or even not elegant enough?(a) Are all those Parallel Universes an ugly waste of space and time?Years ago people argued against there being a galaxy of stars, as the absolutely vast majority of them do not provide heat or illumination to any human whatsoever

Tegmark also asks, “What precisely would nature be wasting?

In fact, if there are huge quantities of Hubble Volumes (“Universes”) at Level I and II, there is no reason why there would not be huge quantities of universes at Level IV

Furthermore, the Level IV Multiverse is truly an esthetically pleasing Cosmos, even from a strictly philosophical point of view

We have learned that our planet is not the Center of the Universe. Apart from being able to harbor life, Earth is a run-of-the-mill planet in an average star in a not-so-special galaxy, belonging to an ordinary Local Group gravitationally linked to a Supergroup like many others, in a corner of the Universe that is not extraordinary at all

Let’s call that the “Banality Principle”, with us since at least since the times of Copernicus (banality “with life”, obviously)

And in the Cosmos of the Levels I, II and IV, isn’t our own very Universe just one of many, sporting one of many possible sets of initial conditions, elementary particles, physical laws, mathematical structures, in a virtually unbound escalation of the very same “Banality (with life) Principle”?

(Is there anything then beyond Level IV? I bet there is. But our imagination is silent about it, at least for now)

(b) Would a Cosmos made of all those Parallel Universes be just too complex to comprehend?

Tegmark replies that more often than not there is far less complexity in defining a set with a general overarching rule, rather than a particular item of that set with a precise description: “complexity increases when we restrict our attention to one particular element in an ensemble

Consider in fact a description of the Cosmos, “All-There-Is” as the Level IV Multiverse: there are many sets of physical laws and mathematics, each at work in its own Level II Multiverse, all expressed following a large variety of different initial conditions in a large number of Hubble Volumes (Level I Multiverse)

That’s 38 words

A description of our own Hubble Volume, with all its physical constants having particular values, and all the galaxies and stars and human beings placed in a particular position, etc etc would be definitely much, much longer than 38 words

And a Cosmos made up of a single Hubble Volume is complicated indeed

The simplest and arguably the most elegant theory involves Parallel Universes by default” – writes Tegmark. “To deny the existence of those universes, one needs to complicate the theory by adding experimentally unsupported processes and ad hoc postulates” (like finite space)

And finally, “Our judgement therefore comes down to which we find more wasteful and inelegant: many worlds or many words” (my emphasis)

(c) Is all the above just too weird?

Illuminatingly, Tegmark responds “[…] what did we expect? When we ask a profound question about the nature of reality, do we not expect an answer that sounds strange?

(d) Are all those Universes just too far away to care?

I am not sure that remains a relevant question against a Model that provides new insights into the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics and Einstein’s dice-playing Divinity

Anyway, it is true that spatial distances even to the nearest Parallel Universe are too large to comprehend, let alone traverse or even use to communicate anything.

Or are they? There is a phenomenon called “Quantum Entanglement” or (by Einstein) “action at a distance”. If you get two particles A and B to share the same quantum state, by observing A it is possible to know the state of B: actually, the state of B is “instantaneously” determined by the observation of the state of A, no matter how far separated they are

Now, if we only could demonstrate entanglement between two or more Parallel Universes…

———-

Anyway, we need now not limit ourselves to pure science…what are the philosophical consequences of a Cosmos made of a humongous number of Parallel Universes?

An Indirect Way For The Sun To Influence Earth’s Climate

The old idea that cosmic rays influence climate on Earth by increasing cloud cover is finally being proven

Exploding Stars Influence Climate Of Earth” (from Spacedaily)

[…] The data revealed that electrons released by cosmic rays act as catalysts, which significantly accelerate the formation of stable, ultra-small clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules which are building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei. A vast numbers of such microscopic droplets appeared, floating in the air in the reaction chamber […]

It is known that low-altitude clouds have an overall cooling effect on the Earth’s surface. Hence, variations in cloud cover caused by cosmic rays can change the surface temperature. The existence of such a cosmic connection to Earth’s climate might thus help to explain past and present variations in Earth’s climate. […]

What makes this all the more powerful, is that it could expand the role of the Sun in the shaping of Earth’s climate, as it can be used to link Solar magnetic activity (i.e. the number of sunspots) to the heating and cooling of our planet

Interestingly, during the 20th Century, the Sun’s magnetic field which shields Earth from cosmic rays more than doubled, thereby reducing the average influx of cosmic rays.

The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century. However, until now, there has been no experimental evidence of how the causal mechanism linking cosmic rays and cloud formation may work […]

Likewise, when the solar magnetic field was weak during the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715), winters were definitely harsher

Mars, the OAP Planet

MARS, the International Journal of  Mars Science and Exploration, has just published two articles by Donald Rapp about the hurdles still to be clarified before sending astronauts to the Fourth Planet: “Mars life support systems” and “Radiation effects and shielding requirements in human missions to the moon and Mars

The latter article contains sobering statements about the current status of space-travel technology (my emphasis):

For Mars missions, we conjecture a 400-day round trip transit to and from Mars, and about 560 days on the surface. The [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] dose equivalent with 15 g/cm2 of aluminum shielding during Solar Minimum is about double the allowable annual dose for each leg of the trip to and from Mars. If a major [Solar Particles Event] occurred during a transit, the crew would receive a sufficient dose to reduce their life expectancy by more than the 3% limit. […]

On the surface of Mars, the accumulated [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] exceeds the annual allowable [amount]. For a 560-day stay on Mars [it] would exceed the career allowable dose for most females and younger males.

May Richard Branson live looooooooong then (and prosper)!

Asteroids and Global Warming

No, I am not going to suggest that Global Warming will cause huge meteors to fall from the sky (but I am sure somebody somewhere is just blogging about that…)

Here instead a letter I have just sent to The Economist on risk mitigation, global warming and asteroids:

Dear Editors

In “Dismal Calculations” (inside The Survey on Climate Change, Sep 7th 2006) you write that “Global warming poses a serious risk, and the costs of mitigation are not so large as to be politically unthinkable. Mitigation is better done gradually than swiftly, because the faster it is done, the more it will cost” but then conclude that “the economics of the subject are too uncertain for policymakers to lean heavily upon them

Well, there is at least one topic where there is a serious risk, a risk that is far more certain and whose economical consequences are well accepted in a consensus far larger than global warming’s. That topic is the destruction that will be caused by an asteroid 20 meters or larger hitting our planet 

One would expect people making the case for mitigating global warming because of its potentially serious consequences, to be even more active and more concerned about setting up a planetary defence system to protect us all from the killer space rocks that we know for sure are going to hurtle our way

Why talk only about mitigating global warming then? Is it because it gives its proponents a chance to enact their own dreams of social engineering?

Epigenetics: The Next Big Thing in Science

Familiarize yourself with this word: Epigenetics

It basically says you’re not just the product of your genes. Or even of your genes and your environment

Your mother may have cuddled you early on out of trouble (on deep into it) for the rest of your life (as reported on The Economist  [subscription may be necessary])

Theoretically, your great-grandmother (or much less likely, great-grandfather) may have been exposed to something that slightly changed their cells’ environment, and you are now paying the consequences…even without any changes to your genes

But that is nothing compared to the possibilities that may open if epigenetics is well understood. We could soon get tumors switched off with a relatively simple cellular-level intervention, rather than cumbersome DNA modifications

And by simply changing a few chemicals in a just-fertilized human egg, we will be able to program a genius as the identical twin of a fool

What Trouble with Pluto?

There is one thing I can’t understand in the ongoing “what’s a planet” saga (now set to demote Pluto, Ceres and anything else apart from the 8 pre-1930 classical planets)

Say, if the previous proposal had been accepted and we were presented with 12 planets: what was wrong with that?

The New York Times went as far as to define it an “abomination

Let me rephrase that: in-between bombings, volcanic eruptions and Dick Cheney’s declarations about anti-Iraq-war campaigners being al-Qaeda complicits, the NYT editors have found the space&time to say that to expand the definition of “planet” is an “abomination culturally

Edwin Hubble discovered in 1923-24 that unfathomable numbers of Galaxies populate the Universe. Did he ever have to think that having more than a handful of Galaxies would have been any kind of “abomination“?

————–

On the other hand there is something we are going to miss if there are only 8 planets in our System. Simply, there will be fewer targets to reach.

————–

As for the current proposal, it is way too elaborate and so it defeats itself.

For example if a planet is “by far the largest body in its local population“, and “the local population is the collection of the objects that cross or close approach the orbit of the body in consideration“, I can imagine plenty of objects beyond Neptune whose orbit does not cross or close approach much of anything else (what is in fact the meaning of “close“?)

Also, what is wrong with Ceres, that is way larger than any other asteroid, and moves in an orbit with little inclination and eccentricity?

————–

Finally, that proposal depends on the current theories on the formation of the Solar System. Do we really have to change the definition of “planet” every time we improve our science?

How to run a successful political campaign

Recommendations For How to Run a Successful Political Campaign

As extracted from a lecture given at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 by UK parliamentarian Lembit Oepik:

The main gist appeared to be (a) get yourself prepared, (b) learn how to communicate, and most important of all (c) do not act like a True Believer, treating with disdain anybody not yet married to the cause

  • Be an expert
  • Describe a danger or issue that people understand
  • Do it with a smile
  • Don’t involve yourself in other issues
  • Keep in mind the ultimate goal: be ready for when the danger materializes
  • Clarify from the start your assumptions, the barriers on the path to success, and what organization you are going to need
  • Politically, the main goal is establishing a Task Force to get the Government to take ownership of the problem.
  • Facts and responsibilities must be clearly established. “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself
  • Prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand
  • Question yourself: why would a Government care?
  • Write to your MP asking for something to be done
  • Understand the letter will be passed to a “researcher”. Write it so as to help the researcher find the necessary information
  • For the Media, prepare a handful of established pictures and stick to those, so you won’t have to describe the basics of your problem again and again
  • Get ready for a long wait for “next big push”, when the campaign runs out of steam

——————

Lembit Oepik has been the LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales since 1997

Officially, his lecture at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 was on the cheerful topic of “We are all going to die

Self-styled profile provided at the lecture included age, Estonian parents escapees from Stalin, a birth in Northern Ireland (admittedly, not the wisest choice for emigrating a place to), a degree, a long-standing passion for Astronomy, and being a risk taker.

His grandfather was Ernst Julius Oepik, who did NEOs NEOs (Near Earth Objects, i.e. asteroids and comets flying close to our planet)work in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was particularly unfashionable.

Lembit Oepik wanted to get the UK government interested in NEOs.

He started by asking himself why would a Government care, so that they’d take seriously the threat of an asteroid smashing against our planet

Cynically, Governments won’t be interested in “extinction level events” wiping out most of humanity: if that were to be announced, all the Government would think of is that they will not lose next election.

It’s all different with relatively small impacts: a 300m-diameter asteroid could cause catastrophic effects on the economy or social cohesion, without killing billions of people. The Government would be left with the job of patching things up together again.

How to establish then a Campaign to defend ourselves against NEOs? Oepik and his team defined their Assumptions (date is early 1999)

1. A future impact is a certainty
2. It can definitely destroy civilization without wiping out humanity
3. We are taking care of lower risks already, incidents and disaster with far easier consequences
4. The threat from NEOs is not taken seriously
5. There is no sign of any Government working on this.

(Three interesting facts as an aside:
(i) If the Tunguska asteroid or comet of 1908 had hit a few hours later, say, just on top of Westminster Abbey (similar latitude), most of London would have been wiped out
(ii) A 15-km asteroid would be enough to kill up to 90% of humanity. That would leave alive a still sizable 600 millions of us)
(iii) Whatever solution we come up about the threat of NEOs, it may still not be enough. An asteroid zipping on the other side of the solar system that gets aimed at us as if straight from the Sun, would be invisible in the glare of the stellar light, and detected (if at all) when it’s way too late)

Then Oepik listed the Barriers:

1. Governments follow “fashion”
2. Governments think about elections, voters’ fears and anything that can hurt them
3. On a human timescale, hugely-disastrous NEO collisions against our planet are rare an event. If we would be living for 100,000 years, we would witness a couple of terrible impacts. We can only expect a Tunguska event every 100 years.
4. Space is not as fashionable nowadays as in 1969

The Campaign was then organized around:

a) Goal
b) Core Proposition
c) Timetable
d) Team
e) Political Strategy
f) Media Strategy

Goal: Create a NEO task force to investigate the threat and publish a Government report with recommendations for actions

Core proposition: Present the effort for tracking NEOs as an insurance policy (comes down to around 10€ per citizen). Computations were based on actuarial risks: insurance experts can calculate the short- and long-term costs of action and inaction, for countries and insurance companies. This is easy then to compare with impact devastation, and with other risks

Timetable: Relevant Ministerial Department contacted in March 99; Parliamentary debate in April 99; Task Force established in December 99; Report published in December 2000; Actions from 2001 onwards

(Actually, finding the right department has been a challenge in itself. Oepik run into a bit of luck as the long-standing Minister for DTI (Lord Sainsbury) was personally interested)

Political strategy: Make NEO threats a public talking point. Establish facts and responsibilities. And “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself

It is also important to prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand, making sure the Government spokesman on the floor is aware of what request is going to be submitted.

Media strategy: Elicit press interest. Scare tactics are Ok in this case as the upcoming disaster is a certainty. “Near misses” by NEOs must be publicized, along with the effects they would have had had they stricken our planet.

The aim is to balance the politicians’ neglect and the media’s sensationalism, sometimes destructive irony and sarcasm.

(Oepik saw himself described alternatively as the Savior, or the Destroyer of Planet Earth, when the asteroid sporting his grandfather’s name was mistakenly thought approaching our planet)

A handful of established pictures are very helpful, as after they are distributed through the popular press, they can easily be used in the future to recall the whole issue in the minds of the readers without having to explain the whole problem all over again.

(In another case of hard luck, a “miracle” happened in the midst of Oepik’s efforts, and 2 movies came out of Hollywood on the topic of NEO threats: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, the latter with Bruce Willis. It became much easier to get the media interested)

Situation now: The Task Force was established without much of a problem, and included topmost scientists. As a positive sign of strength, Oepik himself did not have to be a member of it.

After a year, the Task Force came out with 14 recommendations. Only one of them has been implemented: the Government has pushed for NEO threats to be considered as facts, with regular coverage by the media.

Oepik is now waiting for the opportunity for “next big push”, something to get the remaining 13 recommendations back on top of the Government’s priorities.

He is also asking everybody interested in the issue to write to their own MP asking for all recommendations to be implemented asap

The evening ended with a Q&A session. Oepik re-asserted his conviction that scare tactics are in this case justified, as chances of dying because of an asteroid impact are superior to those winning the UK lottery. He wasn’t clear however on how he planned to differentiate his campaign from others also using scare tactics.

Finally, Oepik strongly recommended not getting oneself embroiled in other, even similar campaigns, so as not to lose focus

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
To: editors@sciam.com
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-“war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science
 

Inaccurate reporting on the National Geographic Magazine

Just got acknowledgement from the National Geographic Society of some inaccuracy I have found on one of the articles published on their famous Magazine

The article is Gretel Ehrlich's "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", published in January 2006

Ms. Ehrlich writes: "[…] By the time the light fades about 11 p.m., we head toward shore […] About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief — in a few hours the sun will swing east again.[…]"

In fact, from the context of the article we know the above must have happened on the 19th or 20th of March ("[…] March 21, the vernal equinox and our fourth day on the sea ice […]"). So near the spring equinox, when as we all know there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness on the entire globe (Greenland included).

This puts into doubt the midnight fading sun reported above

————-

To check the actual situation, I used the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's tool, that can be used online starting from Weatherimages.org

I entered the location for Qaanaaq (the town where Ms. Ehrlich was reporting from) as Longitude W 69deg 00min, Latitude N 77deg 40m

I assumed also that Qaanaaq, like the rest of Greenland, uses GMT-2 as its time zone

These are the results

Saturday 19 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:56
Sunrise                   08:36
Sun transit               14:44
Sunset                    20:55
End civil twilight        22:38

Sunday 20 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:39
Sunrise                   08:21
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:54
End civil twilight        22:38

Friday 19 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:46
Sunrise                   08:26
Sun transit               14:36
Sunset                    20:49
End civil twilight        22:32

Saturday 20 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:37
Sunrise                   08:19
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:56
End civil twilight        22:40

——————- 

From the above it can be argued that, contrarily to what reported by Ms.Ehrlich:

  1. The light faded to below-twilight levels between 20 and 30 minutes before 11pm
  2. Accordingly, about midnight the sun was not visible, instead than being "a red horb hanging at the horizon"
  3. Nights were not brief (they were lasting between 11h20m and 11h40m)

Notably, conditions as reported by Ms. Ehrlich can be experienced in Qaanaaq around April 12

Monday 12 April 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Sunrise                   05:03
Sun transit               14:29
Sunset                    00:04 on following day

And it is not a problem of time zones. With the Sun transiting at 2h30pm, Qaanaaq's clock appears to be already 2 hours ahead of the local solar time

———-

In summary, Ms.Ehrlich has incorrectly reported seeing a sunset much later than when it happened

This would be a minor accident in any magazine other than the National Geographic. However, as that publication is presumed to be a factual reporting of what happens in the world exactly as it happens, one can only hope that their editorial processes will be improved to catch elementary mistakes like the one above

Climate change in the Solar System: Earth, Mars…and now Jupiter!

(first published on May 5, 2006)

After doomed Earth, populated by evil sinners driving devilish gas guzzlers, and Mars, where "deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near the south pole have shrunk for three summers in a row", here comes more evidence for Climate Change

This time's Jupiter!

Possible explanations:

1. Ghoulish oil companies have been making a larger mess of the Solar System then previously thought

2. There's lots of SUVs around, and I mean LOTS

3. Hot air from major scientific and political institutions talking about upcoming disasters, has been contaminating ever larger portions of the interplanetary space

4. There is a climate change clique with mental health problems, and they see evidence of global warming everywhere, including pictures of Jupiter and crop circles

5. All those NASA probes to the planets were launched mainly to carry millions of tons of CO2 and give Martians and Jupiters a good heath haze

or

6. Current warming trends on planet Earth are related not much if at all to human activity

Feel free to pick the one you find more likely

New Evidence about Climate Change

Climate Change & The Skeptics Society – first impressions

The Skeptics Society has just held its Environmental Wars conference, to "debate about whether human activity is actually changing the climate of the planet"

Best links to get information about the conference appear so far to be:

Flipping Point, an article on Pasadena Weekly

The Skeptics Conference section of the DeSmogBlog

Jonathan H Adler's "The Environmental Wars" Conference on his The Commons blog

————–

As a long-time Climate Change skeptic, I can only be glad to see that no less a skeptic than Michael Shermer had been unwilling to jump on the CC bandwagon, until a few weeks ago. So there is no need to provide evidence that I am not paid by evil Oil companies to air my views: especially when I doubt the more catastrophical claims

In any case: having literally read it all, my impression is that the debate remains as polarized as ever, with each side seeing what they want.

At the end of the day, it may go down to a communications issue.

Some people simply refuse to be cajoled into intellectual submission by scare stories and depictions of upcoming disasters.

Some other people think those disasters are coming but are failing to identify how to communicate it without resorting to “the end of the world is nigh…repent!”.

And so, after realizing their message is not being heard as expected, the latter group try to coherce the former a little stronger, with several insults thrown in the process

So here's my plea to all Climate-Change-is-awful-let's-act-now People: Please change your ways at communicating. This is no way to conduct an intelligent debate. And it is no way to obtain results

If you guys and gals really believe to be right, find a way to get things done.

And stop asserting that "the debate is over". It doesn't work, either.

Grant Lotteries to Nurture Innovation

Wouldn't it make much more sense if scientific/development/other kinds of grants would be partially allocated via an open-to-everybody lottery?

I am talking about setting aside, say, 10% of the yearly budget and get it assigned on the basis of a lottery, instead than around policy guidelines

Such a lottery would be open to any applicant for whatever project, no matter how "logical" or "mainstream". I would only make restrictions against past winners that obviously mishandled the money

Why that? On the one hand, current "rational", "impersonal" committee-based decision-making processes can only encourage conformism.

And naturally so: if every decision must be carefully weighed and justified, committees will prefer to finance stuff that is well-accepted, and almost sure to show something in return for the expenditure

In other words, anything that is solidly within the limits of our collective knowledge.

Current grant application selections are also too biased in favour of those good at writing them, rather than good at conducting the research

One should finally not forget that a considerable percentage of the work financed, turns up to be a waste of time and money, either as it is a mere repeat of previous research/activity or simply a failure

Hopefully nobody in their right mind really believes that a Government's every expenditure is completely justified?

By setting up a Grant Lottery, we can recognize that an uncertain potential for discovery is better than a certain waste.

Otherwise, we will keep missing the possibility to courageously innovate beyond the boundaries of the tried-and-tested.

The Omnology Manifesto

Thanks to the coaching of fellow Ecademist Dave Kirby I have been inspired to find the definition of my take on knowledge, the universe and, yes, everything

Howard Bloom is the author of the Omnology Manifesto:

We are blessed with a richness of specializations, but cursed with a paucity of panoptic disciplines-categories of knowledge that concentrate on seeing the pattern that emerges when one views all the sciences at once. Hence we need a field dedicated to the panoramic, an academic base for the promiscuously curious, a discipline whose mandate is best summed up in a paraphrase of the poet Andrew Marvel: "Let us roll all our strength and all Our knowledge up into one ball, And tear our visions with rough strife Thorough the iron gates of life." Omnology is a science, but one dedicated to the biggest picture conceivable by the minds of its practitioners. Omnology will use every conceptual tool available-and some not yet invented but inventible-to leapfrog over disciplinary barriers, stitching together the patchwork quilt of science and all the rest that humans can yet know. If one omnologist is able to perceive the relationship between pop songs, ancient Egyptian graffiti, Shirley MacLaine's mysticism, neurobiology, and the origins of the cosmos, so be it. If another uses mathematics to probe traffic patterns, the behavior of insect colonies, and the manner in which galaxies cluster in swarms, wonderful. And if another uses introspection to uncover hidden passions and relate them to research in chemistry, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts, she, too, has a treasured place on the wild frontiers of scientific truth-the terra incognita at the heartland of omnology. Let me close with the words of yet another poet, William Blake, on the ultimate goal of omnology: To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

Purists might object to the term's mixed etimology, but alas Cosmology and Ecumenology were already taken