Explain the data with possibly ten different reasons or just one

10 Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change
[Via Skeptical Science]

The NOAA State of the Climate 2009 report is an excellent summary of the many lines of evidence that global warming is happening. Acknowledging the fact that the planet is warming leads to the all important question – what’s causing global warming? To answer this, here is a summary of the empirical evidence that answer this question. Many different observations find a distinct human fingerprint on climate change:

10 Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change

To get a closer look, click on the pic above to get a high-rez 1024×768 version (you’re all welcome to use this graphic in your Powerpoint presentations). Or to dig even deeper, here’s more info on each indicator (including links to the original data or peer-reviewed research):

  1. Humans are currently emitting around 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (CDIAC). Of course, it could be coincidence that CO2 levels are rising so sharply at the same time so let’s look at more evidence that we’re responsible for the rise in CO2 levels.
  2. When we measure the type of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere, we observe more of the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels (Manning 2006).
  3. This is corroborated by measurements of oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen levels are falling in line with the amount of carbon dioxide rising, just as you’d expect from fossil fuel burning which takes oxygen out of the air to create carbon dioxide (Manning 2006).
  4. Further independent evidence that humans are raising CO2 levels comes from measurements of carbon found in coral records going back several centuries. These find a recent sharp rise in the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels (Pelejero 2005).
  5. So we know humans are raising CO2 levels. What’s the effect? Satellites measure less heat escaping out to space, at the particular wavelengths that CO2 absorbs heat, thus finding “direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in the Earth’s greenhouse effect”. (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007).
  6. If less heat is escaping to space, where is it going? Back to the Earth’s surface. Surface measurements confirm this, observing more downward infrared radiation (Philipona 2004, Wang 2009). A closer look at the downward radiation finds more heat returning at CO2 wavelengths, leading to the conclusion that “this experimental data should effectively end the argument by skeptics that no experimental evidence exists for the connection between greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere and global warming.” (Evans 2006).
  7. If an increased greenhouse effect is causing global warming, we should see certain patterns in the warming. For example, the planet should warm faster at night than during the day. This is indeed being observed (Braganza 2004, Alexander 2006).
  8. Another distinctive pattern of greenhouse warming is cooling in the upper atmosphere, otherwise known as the stratosphere. This is exactly what’s happening (Jones 2003).
  9. With the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) warming and the upper atmosphere (the stratophere) cooling, another consequence is the boundary between the troposphere and stratophere, otherwise known as the tropopause, should rise as a consequence of greenhouse warming. This has been observed (Santer 2003).
  10. An even higher layer of the atmosphere, the ionosphere, is expected to cool and contract in response to greenhouse warming. This has been observed by satellites (Laštovi?ka 2006).

Science isn’t a house of cards, ready to topple if you remove one line of evidence. Instead, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. As the body of evidence builds, we get a clearer picture of what’s driving our climate. We now have many lines of evidence all pointing to a single, consistent answer – the main driver of global warming is rising carbon dioxide levels from our fossil fuel burning.

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Numbers 1, 2 and 5 were the ones to really convince me that humans were the ones involved. The additional 7 all bolstered the human fingerprint on climate change. There are also more than just 10 but these are the easiest to discuss.

Many denialists will have to come up with multiple theories – perhaps 10 – to explain all these data, data that can be explained by scientists with one theory. As Feynman said:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists.

The denialists continue to construct a Cargo Cult World yet here are 10 easy bits of data for them to deal with. Perhaps they can build something that will actually fly.

The best proposal that fits all the data is that human actions result in the warming of the earth.. Our continuing inactions will simply not help matters at all.

A single graphic demonstrating how scientists percieve climate change and the public

Visually depicting the disconnect between climate scientists, media and the public
[Via Skeptical Science]

Matthew Glover at Renegade Conservatory Guy has created a telling visual on the disconnect between the scientific consensus on global warming, how the media portray the science and subsequent public opinion:

As there’s plenty of detail, there’s also a PDF version of the graphic (the above graphic also links directly to the PDF). The PDF also includes hyperlinks to the peer-reviewed papers where Matthew got his figures. While the graphic is quite simple and clear in how it presents the data, there’s plenty of meat in there to chew over. Discuss…

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Seems pretty clear that the media are doing an inadequate job explaining the facts as understood by scientists to the public. Almost makes one wonder why the media is doing such a bad job educating the public? Because at one time the Fourth Branch was almost an equal with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of our government. Now it is as seemingly corrupt and uninterested in the needs of the public as the other three branches have become.

Sometimes I wish George Carlin was still alive and we could ask him if this is still his viewpoint – NSFW since it is George Carlin. It is not really very funny but not meant to be, I think.

One of the best presentations of climate change data in 10 minutes

Video: Everything you wanted to know about climate science in under 10 minutes
[Via Climate Progress]

James Powell, Executive Director, National Physical Science Consortium, has produced an excellent YouTube video summarizing the evidence for anthropogenic global warming

Powell is a former college and museum president. “President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, both appointed Powell to the National Science Board, where he served for 12 years.”

Great for sending to any sceptics you may know:

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Powell brings together a tremendous amount of the best figures showing the huge amount of data regarding climate change, all of it demonstrating a warmer world, one caused by humans.

He also makes the point that for this not to be the case, there must be several completely unknown processes that overturn the completely known processes that explain the data. There is just too much data from too many different places. It can not easily be simply denied. Believing in things for which there is no physical proof seems to be how many people approach climate change.

Denying the facts in order to foster make-believe will only result in a society which is completely unable to deal with the coming changes.

Starcraft II trials [Updated]

starcraft by ~deiby

My son has been looking forward to Starcraft II coming out. He was downloading the trial version yesterday. 7 GBytes!! It was not only taking forever but was preventing us from doing much also.

So, when he left last night to play indoor soccer, I stopped his download and left him an early birthday present – the full version of Starcraft that I was planning on giving him anyway in a couple of days.

Well, he was very excited but that excitement has turned into the sort of debacle that I have not had in quite a while – the game specifications are too powerful for his Macbook.

I had checked online and, even though his laptop is a few years old, It plays the other Blizzard game – World of Warcraft – okay. And I found lots of examples of the Starcraft II beta running on his model Macbook. So I thought there would be no problem.

But the final release does not support his laptop. It will load and he gets the audio but the video is just hosed. HIs laptop simply does not have the video performance.

So, I tried it on my wife’s Macbook, which is pretty much the same but with a slightly better – but still unsupported – video section. It runs. Not with all the bells and whistles but it runs.

Then I loaded it on my backup laptop – a 17 inch Macbook Pro which has a separate video card and lots of performance. It is about 3 years old but was top of the line then.

The sucker heats up like an oven but it works and he is busily playing it with a thick towel on his lap. Time to get a lap cooler with fans.

I guess his laptop may be getting to the end of its lifetime. Time to look at some refurbished Macs, I guess.

[UPDATE: I do not mean that I am looking at a new computer for my son because it won't play a game. Usually, at least with Macs, you know when it has reached its end of day-to-day usage when it starts getting too slow to run up-to-date software. Games are just the first thing to pop up. Next, it will be something really important, like a video for a class or something.The laptop is almost 4 years old so I was expecting something like this. Just hoping it can make it maybe one more year. BUt Apple does have noce deals on refurbished machines.]

Do they really understand their business?

telephone by zigazou76

It’s even worse than it appears
[Via Doc Searls Weblog]

The Common Errors of Telecom CEOs, by Rudolf van der Berg, is required reading for anybody who cares about the future of the Internet, and whose hands it’s in.

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These all hit things right on the head. The telecoms – at least in America – just do not seem to really understand their business model.

Or, more likely, they understand completely, as they control enough of the regulatory apparatus enough to make sure that they never really have to compete. That could explain why the US is so far behind much of the rest of the world in broadband communications.

We’d probably still be using the phone pictured above if they had their way.

Why I have waited

Apple looking into iOS 4 problems on iPhone 3G

[Via AppleInsider]

After numerous reports of problems, Apple is investigating the performance of the iPhone 3G when running iOS 4.

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iOS4 puts some pretty heavy pressure on the hardware, hardware that is weaker on the iPhone 3G than 4. I heard about some problems with speed earlier to I have not updated the OS for my 3G, even though iTunes keeps reminding me.

I hope Apple does something. Then I might update.

Messages to my mother Ia

I had a couple of followups to my message to my mom about deflation, since it seems to be on a lot of people’s mind. I sent these on to her also, so I’ll include them as an addendum to the previous post.


http://www.kansascity.com/2010/07/26/2109337/optimistic-consumers-can-save.html

Has some numbers. Same upshot as me – only by boosting consumer confidence. This can really only be done by getting the people with jobs to spend money now. Which means they need to have jobs and feel comfortable that they will have one in the future.

Also, here is a great Forbes article about deflation that just came out:

http://blogs.forbes.com/investor/2010/07/27/deflation-dissected/

He backs me up about the deflationary aspects of reducing government spending. The worst thing the government could do during deflation is to stop spending.

Lacy Hunt, in another article, talked about what we might do. He said we need a technological breakthrough. We broke the Deflation after the Civil War by a tremendous number of such (railroads, McCormick reapers, etc., telegraph). New technology might work if it can create jobs.

But normal companies just do not create enough jobs in deflationary periods.

Oh and he mentions something I am also coming around to. Just as the Republicans and Conservative Democrats are pushing cutting spending, which would be suicide during deflationary times, liberal Democrats want to allow the Bush tax cuts to go away. During normal times, I would be for this. Just as I would be for more responsible spending. You worry about debt during good times. Which is what we did in the 90s. The best economic times of the last 30 years. We actually had no deficit spending and reduced our government’s debt.

But during a deflation, any sort of tax raise of almost any kind will make things worse (see what I mean about solving deflation. Too much debt may be a problem but raising taxes or reducing spending will actually have no positive effect in deflationary times and would most likely be harmful.) So keeping the Bush tax cuts around for a while longer would be fine, as long as we do not also try to reduce spending.

The only thing worthwhile the government can do during deflation is to spend money creating jobs, not to simply stimulate the economy indirectly (as the guy said in the first article – the multiplier effect of a normal economy does not hold during deflation). They need to do anything to boost consumer confidence in order to break the deflationary cycle. Having a job is task number 1.

The party that solely focusses on jobs programs will be on the right track. But it will require some real education of the population. And it may require about faces of politicians (such as spending for NASA, etc.) which is never very likely.

I am not really very hopeful that we will actually do the right thing until after it is too late to prevent.These changes may not happen at all until our policies provoke real deflation. That is, America is much better dealing with emergencies after they have happened. There is still too much political capital on both sides to ignore the deflation warnings and keep pushing their current views, views from either party that will only make things worse.

That is why Krugman, and others, pushed so much last year for the stimulus program to not only be bigger but to really only focus on jobs, not lowering taxes. He may turn out to be very prescient but no one in politics really listened to him. The Dems used the money for Keynesian type stimulus and the Republicans got their tax cuts, and the final package was too small to stop what might be coming.

I’ve been hoping so much for the last year that Krugman was wrong, that he was a doomsayer and it would be okay. I have become more and more convinced that the political policies of both parties will drive us directly into the arms of deflation.

The key is doing anything and everything to create jobs directly, not relying on the invisible hand to do it. That will only happen when we return to economically normal times.


I also found a couple of recent articles – all from this week – that discuss deflation, stimulus and/or unemployment. Seems that it is on everyone’s minds.

Paul Krugman Permanently High Unemployment

Brad deLong David Altig Says That Our Cyclical Unemployment Has Started to Turn Structural

Mark Thoma The Cost of Convenient Optimism

NYT In Study, 2 Economists Say Intervention Helped Avert a 2nd Depression (without the stimulus, we would already be in a deflationary spiral)

Messages to my mother I

My mother is a disruptive innovator, like me. She has a wide range of connections across many communities, is not afraid of new things – she has had a Mac for over 20 years, makes her opinion known – thus the disruptive, and loves letting other people know about new information she gets.

So she sends me links to interesting stuff she reads all the time. Oh and we tend to vote for different political parties, so our world views are different but, as any creative person knows, you learn the most from people who see the world differently.

Anyway, I end up writing these long emails back to her. They often have a reasonable amount of research in them. So I thought I’d kill a couple of birds with one stone and repurpose them for my blog, removing all the personal stuff like endearments. I’ll do some editing and mash together several emails if there is a thread.

Here we go.


She sent me this article from the Houston Chronicle. I replied:

He is talking about deflation.

A subject very dear to my heart (so sorry of I get a little didactic) and one that I’ve written about this many times over the last decade: https://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/scary-graph/

https://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/2003/06/24/wed-25-jun-2003-033038-gmt/ (from Robert Reich)

https://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/2002/08/21/thu-22-aug-2002-004006-gmt/ (from 2002)

Deflation sounds great (prices dropping) but is horrible. People do not have jobs so there is reduced spending. There is little economic action because no one is spending. Since money is worth more in the future than now, no one (either consumers or companies) spends anything.

My take home – the government needs to spend money not for Keynsian reasons (nothing they do, whether it is stimulus or lowering taxes will work while some things can be detrimental) but to keep people employed. They are the employer of last resort. If the jobless level comes down, people will be ready to spend money. They will have more money to spend. Only if they feel confident to spend money will we be able to live through the deflationary cycle. So, do whatever is necessary to directly create jobs, to keep people employed, even if they have to create new public works programs to do it.

And continue doing that until we get out of the deflationary spiral (at which point, we should no longer need the support of the government to create jobs).

The columnist is being a little misleading, making it sound like Keynsian economics – which states that the government can stimulate the economy by lowering interest rates (monetary policy) or by stimulus (fiscal policy) – does not work at all and that we have been lied to for decades. Not true. What the economist talks about is a very specific type of economy – deflation (and realize that during deflation, supply side economics will not work either. It is the demand side that is the problem).

If we are entering a deflationary period, we are in trouble because NOTHING we know to do will change the economy except time, which is what the economist said in other articles. Not cutting taxes. Not cutting the deficit. No sending stimulus checks to people. No one really knows what to do except wait for people to start buying again. What needs to happen during deflation is that the debt needs to be reduced but it can not be because the economy is not producing enough revenue. (By the way, the same thing happens with companies. They lower the price of goods in order to raise revenues to pay off debt. But revenues do not increase so they lower things more. And so on. Why it is called deflation.)

During deflationary periods, neither monetary nor fiscal policies will be effective. In fact, nothing the government nor corporations can do will be effective at changing things unless they change people’s perceptions. The only known solution is time, time for people to start spending again.

Deflation is the thing I fear most because we have no known way to deal with it. Cutting taxes will not fix it and raising government spending will not fix it. There is no policy that either party can do at the government level to solve the problem.

And there is little corporations can do to fix it either. We know this because Japan has been dealing with deflation for almost 20 years. They have tried everything, both tax cutting and government spending. Nada.

During a deflationary period, debt, which can be great during inflation, is now bad. Anyone holding any debt at all can be in trouble. The problem is that to pay down debt requites greater revenues, which are not forthcoming, for the government or for companies.

It is not that Keynesian economics does not or has not worked in the past. It has done wonderfully during normal, inflationary, or depression eras. It will not help much during deflationary times. During deflation, money gets more valuable as time goes on (opposite of inflation). So, no one with money spends any of it because it will be worth more later. Anyone holding debt (bonds at first but eventually stocks) will be in trouble. That is one reason why Getty made out like a bandit. During the deflation of the early 30s, he had cash when no one else did.

Apple is in great shape because of their huge amount of cash. Everyone else is toast. If deflation hits, time to stuff the mattresses. Even gold will not be useful.

Deflation is the worst possible thing. And no one wants to really face it. Everyone hopes it will not materialize.Both political parties are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “LA.LA.LA!” So the Democrats pray that Keynsian economics will work and the Republicans still pray that reducing taxes/debt will work. They both may be whistling in the dark here. Neither policy will have any effect.

Krugman has been worried about this for quite some time. Interesting to see other economists feel similarly. The only thing that has ever gotten an economy out of deflation is time.

Why? Because it really gets down to human emotions. People really do not care as much about inflation or deflation as long as they have jobs. Deflation only gets broken when people feel comfortable enough to spend money again. And that only happens when they have jobs with an income that supports them. Get them jobs and we

So remember that while government spending can not alter the deflationary spiral, it can provide a buffer for people living in those times. This is, for me, a key reason for government spending. Not for some Keynsian or ivory tower reason. It will keep people employed while we wait this out. The government is the employer of last resort. Lowering taxes in a deflationary period will not accomplish this. Because the money returned will not be spent. It will be socked away because in deflation, money is worth more next year than today. It will not create jobs.

Many major programs of the New Deal were not really implemented simply because of the macroeconomic effects. They were to provide jobs directly. I may not like the war in Afghanistan but it is keeping a lot of people employed.  I’d prefer the government spend the money on developing green energy than war – technological breakthroughs that create new industries provide new jobs – but the thing is to keep people employed. For example, in a normal economy, it would be worth letting the private sector deal with a space program but now the NASA needs to make sure all those jobs are still around.

We can deal with deflation if people are working, just as we dealt with inflation. Without jobs, there is no good news for either political party.

Do not watch if spiders or spider-like creatures give you nightmares

Hairy carpet of daddy long-legs form “mossy patches” on trees
[Via Boing Boing]

Happy Smurf Day sez, “I ran across these weird mossy patches on some trees near the border of Mexico and Arizona. Upon closer inspection they turned out to be thousands of spiders clustered together.”

Indeed they are. I love spiders, really and truly I do, but SQUICKSQUICKSQUICK.

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Of course, as a scientist, I want to know what they are doing there in the first place? Keeping warm? Sex? Eating? Just hanging out?

Posted in Science. Tags: . 3 Comments »

A movie catalog for the iPad [UPDATED]

Delicious Monster’s Delicious Library has been my goto program to keep track of DVDs, books and CDs. I can scan in the items using the incorporated barcode scanner and the program does the rest, linking to Amazon to give me all the information about the item.

And I have a lot of items. So, I’ve been waiting for them to come out with something for the iPad (there is an app for the iPhone but it really does not take advantage of the iPads features.) Until they do, I’ve discovered an app that may come close – Movies HD.

It has a lot of the features I want and will allow me to check on things while out shopping. For instance, Barnes and Noble is having a 50% off Criterion Collection movies until August 2. I have a lot of them and would love to fill in spaces. I hope to be able to whip out my iPad and, using Movies HD, make sure I know which ones I already have.

So, I am now moving over my Delicious Library files to the iPad. There is a nice FAQ that details how to do this. I have gotten about 10% of the library moved over. I’ll update later how it worked.

[UPDATE: Okay, it took a while but everything looks like it got moved over. It looks very handy, with a CoverFlow view included along with the normal bookshelf view. I've noticed a couple of small glitches – all of them have the same purchase date (Jan 22, 1970) that I may have to figure out. But I can easily touch the SEEN spot to let the app know I have seen a DVD. I can then filter for ones that I have not seen. I'm going to have a little fun with this.]

When copyright law destroys the very art it is meant to protect

Copyright Finally Getting Around To Destroying Player Piano Music… One Century Late
[Via Techdirt]

If you’re a student of copyright history, you know that the 1909 Copyright Act in the US was driven in large part due to fear over a new-fangled technology that was going to make copying music so easy that musicians wouldn’t be able to make any money any more. Yes, that’s right, that dastardly player piano, with its automated paper piano rolls that could play songs without musicians. The fear was so great that lots of lobbying was done of Congress, leading to the 1909 Copyright Act, which brought about compulsory licensing on mechanical rights. Of course, within about a decade, the infatuation with the player piano was gone, but compulsory mechanical rights were stuck in US law and no one ever thought to question if they were really needed.

I’m reminded of this bit of history thanks to this story, brought to my attention by Glyn Moody, about how Jon “Maddog” Hall wanted to try to preserve some deteriorating piano rolls, but discovered (much to his annoyance) that copyright may be getting in the way. He points out that many old player piano rolls are deteriorating, and the small group of remaining collectors are hoping to preserve the music by digitizing them. Easier said than done… turns out that Hall got confused about the difference between the copyright on the composition and the copyright on the performance, and his attempt to save a more modern recording of a public domain song — even though that piano roll was deteriorating — was not allowed. After contacting one company that still makes piano rolls, he was told that he was better off not preserving the rolls in his collection:

We ended up agreeing that if I made an mp3 recording of less than 30 seconds, off an old roll, from a company that was completely out of business, kept it completely for my own use and locked up so no one else could hear it, that I probably would not be sued. He also begged me not to use any of his company rolls in this task, as he really did not want to have to sue me. I thanked him for his time.

It only took 100 years, but it looks like copyright law in the US is finally doing what it originally intended to do: destroying piano rolls.

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People who want to preserve older materials from degradation are prevented by the very process that is supposed to allow them to actually be part of the public space – copyright. A purpose of copyright is to encourage artists to release their works for others to enjoy while getting some financial recompense for a limited time.

But now we have items that are close to a century old that may not be saved by anyone because of copyright. Does that make sense at all? How is 80-100 years for something that can no longer actually be used be a finite time? Will the same thing happen 80 years from now when someone wants to take an old videogame for a machine that is no longer being made and save it? You bet, if things continue.

Another in a long line of copyright screwups, mainly perpetrated by people hoping to make a buck since the original artists are long dead. Another example of where corporations have distorted our commonweal.

[I'm still bitter because the best documentary on Hollywood's silent era, Hollywood by Kevin Brownlow, may never be seen again. Copyright issues for almost every single movie in the documentary prevent it from being updated from videotape. Everyone wants their own piece of the pie – when the right people can even be found – requiring negotiations that make it simply impossible to continue. So when someone wants to rescue this great work from degradation by converting it to a modern format, they will be prevented or have to do it on the black market, like some sort of scene from Fahrenheit 451. Thus the principles of copyright have been twisted, resulting in the lose of innovations. We can all thank Disney and Sonny Bono for that.]

When the narrative is more important than facts we get a Cargo Cult World

cargo cult by buridan (cargo cult materials)
On the incivility of atheists: “Tom Johnson” and Exhibit A
[Via Why Evolution Is True]

If you’ve not heard of the “Tom Johnson” affair, or aren’t interested in it, you’ll want to skip this post, which I offer simply to bring some clarity to a confusing situation.

On October 22 of last year, Chris Mooney put up a post at The Intersection called “Counterproductive attacks on religion—exhibit A.” The “exhibit” was an excerpt from an earlier comment on that website by someone named “Tom Johnson.” Johnson claimed that he was a biologist who had gone to “conservation events” (that is, outreach meetings designed to educate people about conservation), and that atheists had behaved very badly at these events, yelling and screaming at religious people for their faith and thereby turning them off. Mooney elevated Johnson’s comment to a full post to buttress Mooney’s frequent assertion that “new atheists,” through their stridency, thoughtlessness, and lack of respect for others, were hurting their cause by driving people away from science.

“Tom Johnson” said he was a scientist working at a large, well-known research university. The fact that he would not fully identify himself, or reveal details about the “conservation event,” excited a good deal of speculation and rancor at various websites. The situation was further exacerbated when it turned out that “Tom Johnson” had also created an anonymous website called “You’re Not Helping,” which excoriated various atheist bloggers, including myself, for their counterproductive messages. “Johnson” was then caught engaging in “sock-puppetry” (making mutually supportive comments under a variety of names) on not only his own website, but on other blogs like The Intersection and even here. Chastened, he took down the You’re Not Helping website and confessed to sock-puppetry.

All of this led to an explosion of interest, acrimony, and accusation among several websites. One post, at The Buddha is Not Serious, is followed by 826 comments! Despite “Tom Johnson’s” confession and apology, questions remain. Who is he? Under how many names did he post, and who are these sock puppets? How much truth was there in his description of the “conservation event” that became Mooney’s “Exhibit A”?

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This is a really good breakdown of the Tom Johnson incident which also demonstrates Ken Layne’s great comment We can fact-check your ass!

Part of the problem, as we also saw last week with the Sherrod blowup, is that many people do not want to check the facts. There is a narrative they want to push or to believe and they will take the story, facts be damned. Confirmation bias is the first refuge of the misguided and misled.

Many rationalists and scientists work very hard against this well-known form of bias. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman 1974

Feynman spoke those words at a commencement address in a speech called Cargo Cult Science. It discusses the sorts of magical thinking everyone wants to believe in but for which there is no evidence except our wishes.

In other words, they are lies. And he details how scientific integrity requires one to try and ignore the lies, to realize that as humans, all researchers are predisposed to believe something is true simply because they want it to be.

To get at the truth of Nature, scientists have to work hard to see through the lies in our own narratives. Science has produced a series of processes – from peer review to falsification – that help prevent the lies of our nature to corrupt the truth of Nature.

Feynman said:

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

Many other human enterprises have no such ethic. They have no such integrity. In fact, lying seldom diminishes their reputation in the least.

Technology makes it easier to do the fact checking but also much easier to create the lies in order to strengthen an incorrect, misleading narrative. And a lot of people want to believe that incorrect, misleading narrative rather than the truth.

That is why denialism has so many practitioners. False narratives – lies and lullabies, bedtime sand just-so tories – provide the comfort that the real world does not.

They prefer a Cargo Cult World, one that is pushed by people and organizations with their own agenda. One where a simulacrum of reality is presented but where things are really all smoke and mirrors.

Lies still travel half way around the world before the truth even has its boots on (which is usually attributed to Mark Twain but was said by Charles Spurgeon in 1855 when, during a sermon he said “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” But, of course, the Mark Twain mistruth goes on because the narrative of Mark Twain makes more sense since few today have heard of Spurgeon.)

We can all fall prey to the seductive Siren call of a Cargo Cult World but some of us work very hard to recognize the falsehoods underlying it and strive to deal with the Real World.

I really hope that those of us focussed on the real world will not lose out to those who want to live in a world of fantasy and lies. Because, no matter how hard those people in the South Pacific tried the wooden airplanes they built never did fly. A Coke bottle is just a container for a liquid, not a boon from Above.

The real world wins in the end and we all need to recognize that.

Cleaning out my newsfeeds

I use NetNewswire to collect RSS newsfeeds for me to follow, which now number just a couple shy of 500.

There is no way I could follow all those websites by visiting manually. But using a great newsreader like NetNewswire allos me to rapidly examine thousands of posts and then to comment on a few of them for my own work.

Right now I have almost 28,000 posts that are unread. Almost half of those come from news sites, such as the Seattle Times (2600), BBC (2500), NYT (1600). I do not read them every day, as most of the articles I would find important also get filtered into some of my specific feeds, dealing with high tech, science, politics, climate, etc. I skim the main feeds about once a week to to see if anything fell through the cracks.

Many sites I read daily. Almost all get checked at least once a week. And every so often I have to clean house, deleting newsfeeds that are no longer being updated. I do that about once a quarter and today is the day.


It is now legal to break copyrightt-protection in a wide range of instances

New gov’t rules allow unapproved iPhone apps: Owners of the iPhone will be able to break electronic locks on their devices in order to download applications that have not been approved by Apple. The government is making that legal under new rules announced Monday.”

[Via MacSurfer's Apple]

Owners of the iPhone will be able to legally break electronic locks on their devices in order to download software applications that haven’t been approved by Apple Inc., according to new government rules announced Monday.

[More]

I did not really ever hear of anyone being charged with jailbreaking an iPhone. The story buries the lead. Here are the really important changes that can affect a ton of people:

• allow owners of used cell phones to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers.

• allow people to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws.

• allow college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.

• allow computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced.

Using clips from DVDs that have been cracked is an important, non-enfringing use that we now have. Some interesting videos have been taken down from YouTube simply because the copyright-protection scheme had been broken.

And what about the first one? Does this mean that it would officially be okay to move the iPhone to Verizon? Or to move any phone to any other carrier rather than relying purely on the wireless carriers to provide the phone?

What about breaking security because the hardware no longer exists to play it? Video game simulators often rely on the old code from old games but getting that code has relied on breaking copyright.

I imagine there will be some interesting fallout from these new rules.

Big Name Authors Realize Their Old Contracts Don’t Cover eBooks; Route Around Old Publishers To Release New Versions

books by stephmcg

Big Name Authors Realize Their Old Contracts Don’t Cover eBooks; Route Around Old Publishers To Release New Versions
[Via Techdirt]

Late last year, we wrote about a legal fight, where Random House was fighting some of its authors who claimed that their old publishing contracts did not cover ebooks. Those authors wanted to go off and publish ebooks via other partners (or even directly themselves). Random House tried to claim that even though the contracts didn’t specifically cover ebooks, that it was more or less implied. The problem, of course, was that Random House had already lost a case about this very issue years back. So, this April, the company was forced to concede with the one author they were fighting — though it claimed this was an “exception.”

Except some other big name, old time authors know better. They’ve been realizing that they could be free to take their ebook versions elsewhere, and now they’re doing exactly that. A bunch of really well known authors, working via their agents, have decided to route around their publishers and offer some of the most popular books of all time as ebooks directly on Amazon’s Kindle, without going through a publishing house. Among the books released through this effort are works from Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Vladimir Nabokov, Hunter S Thompson, John Updike, William Burroughs and Saul Bellow along with many others. Basically, some of the biggest names in literature from the 20th century.

[More]

This only works for a subset of authors, those who gained popularity before the publishers realized digital books were a necessary part of any contract. These guys fell through the loophole but will be ble to serve as a nice demonstration of what is possible for an established author if they can go directly to their audience.

Another instance of how digital makes it easier for an artist to reach their audience, even as it makes it possible to create copies of the art. I think that it is likely that reaching a much wider audience will have positive effects over the negative effects of free copies. 7-% royalties vs 25% could do that.

We shall see.

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