Unsettled Science

Sixteen prominent scientists give a little bit of perspective to the “we must hand our future over to faceless bureaucrats because the earth is burning up” global warming religion.

The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today [emphasis added]. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

Choral Singing Technique, Or, You Aren’t Leaving the House Wearing That, Young Lady

I sing in a small choir; we sang two Advent concerts last weekend.

When I sing in a choir, I hold my music folder almost horizontal just about at neck level, much like a waiter holding a tray. This has several advantages over holding it lower or at a greater angle. First, the sound of my voice can move freely past my folder and out into the hall, as opposed to bouncing off my folder back to my body. The audience can see my face better and if I am trying to emote in some way they’ll catch it better than if I’m looking down. But most important, I can focus on the notes in my music while at the same time keeping the conductor in the upper part of my peripheral vision. I can also glance very quickly between the conductor and my music. This lets me follow the conductor’s beat and direction while still reading my music.

Something strange happened at our first concert last weekend. As I was singing, a twinkling light began to appear and disappear in the blur of my peripheral vision just over the conductor’s left shoulder. I managed to keep singing and during some long held notes tried to figure out what was going on.

There was a gentleman in the audience who happened to appear just to the left of the conductor from where I was standing who was dressed for the season. He was wearing a bright red beret, an impressive set of sideburns and mustachios, and a red-and-black shirt with a bright red tie. He was evidently a nervous sort, because he kept picking up his program, reading it, and putting it down. Whenever he put it down, he revealed the flashing red and blue LED lights on his tie pin.

Just a tiny bit distracting when you’re trying to focus on an inherently multitasking effort — reading your music, watching the conductor, listening to your section, listening to the other sections. Oh, and singing too.

Mr. LED caused a triggered a lot of hilarity in the choir room afterwards, but as I was thinking about what would possess someone to wear such an ornament at all, let alone at a choir concert, it ocurred to me that this situation has some bearing on my future — a future that’s a decade or so away, but something I’ve thought about a bit.

You see, I have a two-year-old daughter.

Let’s set up the beginning of an analogy here. It is certainly within Mr. LED’s rights to wear all the (literally) flashy bling he wants, and no one would dispute it. It would have been impolite and uncharitable to ask him to leave, and obviously immoral and illegal to do violence to his person in response to his insensitivity to the distraction he was causing. But he was still causing a distraction, significantly degrading my and the other choir members’ powers of concentration, and causing not a little annoyance and frustration.

You see where I’m going here. Before my daughter is a teenager, I’m going to have to talk to her about the fact that although she has (or will have, once she’s no longer a minor) the right to wear anything she wants, it might actually be insensitive of her to do so.

It is obviously impolite to stare at or comment about a scantily-dressed female, and the pathetic loser who would make wardrobe an excuse for assault should feel the full force of the law.

However, she will need to be aware that her style of dress will have an immediate effect on any present male’s powers of concentration, and, for the well-socialized at least, cause not a little annoyance and frustration.

I read a fascinating article just this morning that talks about a recent study that found that when people (of either sex) see a scantily-dressed person, there is a reduction of activity in the region of the brain that is dedicated to modeling other peoples’ agency as independent thinking beings.

So it’s not a bad upbringing or choices that cause men to objectify women who show skin (and vice versa!). It’s a basic biological fact.

That is not to say that this fact is desirable! My poor eyesight is a basic biological fact too, but that didn’t stop me from wearing clumsy technological prostheses to compensate for it, and finally getting a doctor to cut the front part of each eyeball off and used a high-powered laser to burn layers of corneal tissue away.

This basic biological fact is actually detrimental, because it causes us to undervalue others’ abilities. If you are interviewing a prospective employee, for example, you need to evaluate them in a realistic fashion, not with half your brain shut down!

Let’s Try for some Reading Comprehension, Folks

Elon Musk recently commented on the global warming debate with comments along the eminently reasonable lines of:

If you ask a scientist if they’re sure that human activity is causing climate change, they should say no, because we can’t be sure. But if you ask them if we should continue pumping trillions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, they should also say no, because we’re essentially running an experiment whose end result we don’t know. So we should lean towards sustainable energy production and consumption. We don’t need to cause people immediate suffering in their economic lives, but we’ll need sustainable energy in the future, so why not start in that direction now?

Note the refreshing lack of alarmism.

Dude on Google+ commented with a list of links to why current models that predict global warming are deficient in several areas. This is actually orthogonal to the entire point Elon’s statement and my reaction to it.

Herewith my response (it’s been a slow morning and I had a little snark to burn off):

Dude, lighten up. If you had bothered to do a little googling instead of mindless knee-jerking, you’d realize that you are in fact preaching to the choir. I have read through the CRU source code, you know.

A few problems with your comment:

First, you have wilfully ignored the actual, you know, CONTENT of my post, viz: the perspicacious reader reader must infer that Svensmark et al. are just as Kuhnian-ly challenged as Briffa, Mann, et al. And most crucially, my statement that there is no pressing reason for immediate economic hardship does seem to have a TINY BIT OF RELEVANCE to the concept of “opportunity costs”. LEARN TO READ before you waste your own time and mine in mindlessly regurgitating talking points that don’t actually address what I wrote.

Second, burning hydrocarbons for power is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID even if there is no effect from atmospheric CO2, because they are far better employed as feedstock for plastics.

Third, burning hydrocarbons SMELL BAD and are a HEALTH HAZARD. Or have you never met anyone in your obviously sheltered existence with asthma?

Fourth, hydrocarbons are going to run out sometime in geological time anyway, so why not get in on the market early? If we as a civilization are ever going to level up on the Kardashev scale, hydrocarbons are just not going to cut it.

Fifth, you seem to have misapprehended a just slightly important bit of context: Elon Musk wants to LIVE ON MARS. Last I heard, there’s not a whole lot of oil on Mars. If you want to freeze on Titan just so you can have your precious hydrocarbons, go right ahead.

Sixth, living in a stinky blue cloud of 19th-century tech is JUST NOT VERY GEEKY. I’ll be exploring the solar system in my polywell runabout — fuelled by a bottle of water and a cup of Borax — while you’re dying choking on the vomitous excrescences of your Victorian explodey-machine.

Seventh, I am by political inclination a minarchist, and hydrocarbon power tends to incentivize natural monopoly and hierarchical control, whether by cartels, multinational corporations or increasingly overreaching governments. I am in favour of the devolution of all kinds of power, whether political or physical.

So to sum up, in the future, please try to hold yourself back with the small-minded knee-jerk reactions to people and topics you obviously have never actually bothered to actually, you know, INVESTIGATE. Instead, please try to decide on the actual MERITS of the PARTICULAR SITUATION, viz. a particular post by a particular person, as opposed to lapping up and regurgitating the context-less self-serving propaganda of your favoured political team.

Even if everyone you link to is actually correct — and as I note above, I am in fact inclined to think that they are — their conclusions ARE NOT THE SUM TOTAL OF ALL FACTORS. There’s a bigger picture, dude. Try to keep that in mind in the future.

Anti-Vaccination = Pure Fraud

Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin of the anti-vaxxers. Turns out that the original study linking vaccinations to autism was not merely shoddy or erroneous, but out and out fraud:

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”