Assorted Links

Assorted Links

Thanks to Casey Manion.

Who is the Smartest Person Who Believes Climate Change Fear-Mongering?

A few days ago I read about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s response to a shareholder complaint about sustainability programs:

At a shareholders meeting on Friday, CEO Tim Cook angrily defended Apple’s environmentally-friendly practices against a request from the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) to drop those practices if they ever became unprofitable.

I support the practices Cook defended. But the incident was summarized by a headline writer like this: “Tim Cook tells off climate change deniers.” I am a climate change denier in the sense that I don’t believe that there is persuasive evidence that humans are dangerously warming the planet.

The headline — not what actually happened — reminded me of something surprising and puzzling I noticed soon after I became an assistant professor at Berkeley. I attended several colloquium talks — hour-long talks about research, usually by a visitor, a professor from somewhere else — every week. Now and then the speaker would omit essential information. Such as what the y axis was. Or what the points were. The missing information made it impossible to understand what the speaker was saying.

I didn’t expect graduate students to interrupt to ask for the missing info but surely, I thought, one of the five or eight professors in the room would. We all need to know this, I thought. Yet none of them spoke up. I cannot think of a single example of a professor speaking up when this happened (except me). Even now I am unsure why this happened (and no doubt still happens). Maybe it reflects insecurity.

I mention climate change on this blog because it is interesting that so many intelligent supposedly independent-thinking people actually believe, or claim to believe, that humans are dangerously warming the planet. The evidence for the supposedly undeniable claim (“97% of scientists agree!”) is indistinguishable from zero. Of course journalists, such as Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker and Bill McKibben (a former journalist), are often English majors and intimidated by scientists. I don’t expect them to question what scientists say, although questioning authority is half their job. Of course actual climate scientists do not dissent, for fear of career damage. It is when smart people who are not journalists or climate scientists take this stuff seriously that I am impressed. Just as I was impressed by Berkeley professors who did nothing when they didn’t understand what they were being told.

It seems to me that the smarter you are the more easily you can see that climate change fear-mongering is nonsense. There must be some other important human quality (conformity? religiosity? diffidence? status-seeking? fear of failure?) that interferes with intelligence in non-trivial ways. To try to figure out what the quality is, I ask: who is the smartest person you know who believes global warming fear-mongering? Does that person do other extreme or unusual things? These might shed light on what the intelligence-opposing personality trait is.

People talk about intelligence quite often (“you’re so smart!” “she’s very bright”). Many people, including me, think it matters. There are tests for it. But this other trait, which can negate intelligence and therefore is just as important…not so much. In my experience, not at all. My fellow Berkeley professors were very smart. But they were also something else, much less apparent.

Assorted Links

  • A very common knee surgery ($14 billion per year spent on it in America) turns out to be no better than sham surgery in many cases. Plainly this supports critics of medicine who say there is overtreatment. To be fair there is good news: 1. At least this particular operation wasn’t contraindicated by high school biology.  2. The study was done and published. 3. And publicized widely enough to influence practice.
  • Heart guidelines based on fake research probably killed tens of thousands of people. Making useless knee surgery look good.
  • “The time you’re taking to help this girl, you could be …” A great talk by Jessica Alexander about ten years working for NGOs. Her book is Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid.
  • On EconTalk, Judith Curry, the climatologist, makes the excellent point that it is weird to call someone who believes climate questions are more complex than portrayed a “denier”. In every other use of the term, a denier is someone who avoids recognizing complexity, i.e., the opposite. On the other side of the ledger, Curry makes an elementary physics mistake when she says that as an ice cube floating in your drink melts, the water level of your drink rises. (It stays the same.)

Thanks to Allan Jackson.

Assorted Links

  • Dangers of Splenda. Never use it in baked goods.
  • Overdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder. “So many medical professionals benefit from overprescribing that it is difficult to find a neutral source of information. . . . The F.D.A. has cited every major A.D.H.D. drug, including the stimulants Adderall, Concerta, Focalin and Vyvanse, for false and misleading advertising since 2000, some of them multiple times.”
  • David Suzuki, prominent environmentalist, former genetics professor, founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, once voted the greatest living Canadian, is asked a question about climate change that turns out to be surprisingly hard.
  • Confucius Peace Prize. Awarded to Putin because Russia makes China look good?
  • Top 10 retractions of 2013. There is a website for retractions (Retraction Watch) but no website for discoveries that could have been made but weren’t, except maybe this blog. I’m not joking. I am far more alarmed by lack of progress than retractions.

Thanks to Dave Lull.

Assorted Links

Assorted Links

Thanks to Jeff Winkler and Tom George.

Assorted Links

  • Walking after a meal improves blood sugar
  • A look at QSers. “Some of the most societally redefining concepts now emerge from edge-thinkers, who are increasingly visible, organized, and effective, in part due to the Web. Even so, whenever I spoke to them or read their blogs, at some point I always wondered, why?”
  • Steve McIntyre vindicated. RealClimate says: “That is the most disquieting legacy of Steve McIntyre and ClimateAudit [McIntyre’s blog]. The real Yamal deception is their attempt to damage public confidence in science by making speculative and scandalous claims about the actions and motivations of scientists while cloaking them in a pretense of advancing scientific knowledge.” A comment on ClimateAudit: “It’s quite obvious that in 2009 and again in 2011, you shamelessly plagiarised Briffa 2013.”

Thanks to Jazi Zilber and Phil Alexander.

Assorted Links

  • natural acne remedies
  • A mainstream climate scientist has doubts. “We’re facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius (0.45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 10 years. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the increase over the last 15 years was just 0.06 degrees Celsius (0.11 degrees Fahrenheit) — a value very close to zero. This is a serious scientific problem.” What would Bill McKibben say?
  • Personal Experiments, a research site where you can sign up for experiments.
  • Trouble at GSK Shanghai. The defenses of the accused strike me as plausible.
  • Sleep disturbance in a hospital. “Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., I did not go more than an hour without some kind of interruption.” As ridiculous as cutting off part of the immune system because of too many infections (tonsillectomies) and the view that acne has nothing to do with diet.

Thanks to Dave Lull.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Dave Lull and Ashish Mukharji.

The Climategate Leaker Speaks

The person who assembled and disseminated the Climategate emails has now explained his or her actions:

The first glimpses I got behind the scenes did little to [increase] my trust in the state of climate science — on the contrary. I found myself in front of a choice that just might have a global impact.

Briefly put, when I had to balance the interests of my own safety, privacy\career of a few scientists, and the well-being of billions of people living in the coming several decades, the first two weren’t the decisive concern.

It was me or nobody, now or never. Combination of several rather improbable prerequisites just wouldn’t occur again for anyone else in the foreseeable future. The circus was about to arrive in Copenhagen. Later on it could be too late.

Most would agree that climate science has already directed where humanity puts its capability, innovation, mental and material “might”. The scale will grow ever grander in the coming decades if things go according to script. We’re dealing with $trillions and potentially drastic influence on practically everyone.

Wealth of the surrounding society tends to draw the major brushstrokes of a newborn’s future life. It makes a huge difference whether humanity uses its assets to achieve progress, or whether it strives to stop and reverse it, essentially sacrificing the less fortunate to the climate gods.

We can’t pour trillions in this massive hole-digging-and-filling-up endeavor and pretend it’s not away from something and someone else.

If the economy of a region, a country, a city, etc. deteriorates, what happens among the poorest? Does that usually improve their prospects? No, they will take the hardest hit. No amount of magical climate thinking can turn this one upside-down.

It’s easy for many of us in the western world to accept a tiny green inconvenience and then wallow in that righteous feeling, surrounded by our “clean” technology and energy that is only slightly more expensive if adequately subsidized.

Those millions and billions already struggling with malnutrition, sickness, violence, illiteracy, etc. don’t have that luxury. The price of “climate protection” with its cumulative and collateral effects is bound to destroy and debilitate in great numbers, for decades and generations.

Conversely, a “game-changer” could have a beneficial effect encompassing a similar scope.

If I had a chance to accomplish even a fraction of that, I’d have to try. I couldn’t morally afford inaction. Even if I risked everything, would never get personal compensation, and could probably never talk about it with anyone.

I took what I deemed the most defensible course of action, and would do it again (although with slight alterations — trying to publish something truthful on RealClimate was clearly too grandiose of a plan ;-).

Even if I have it all wrong and these scientists had some good reason to mislead us (instead of making a strong case with real data) I think disseminating the truth is still the safest bet by far.

From my point of view, the best thing about the Climategate emails is that they were more evidence that mainstream thinking about something can be grossly wrong — that a “crazy” position can be right. My self-experimentation taught me this over and over (e.g., the Shangri-La Diet).

Assorted Links

“The Most Influential Tree in the World”

The title comes from Andrew Montford’s new book Hiding the Decline (copy given me by author) about Climategate. From an introductory section:

When the figures were published the extraordinary lack of data underlying the blade of the Yamal hockey stick caused a minor sensation. In fact the high point at the end of the graph was shown to have been based on only four trees, and only one of these had the hockey stick shape. McIntyre dubbed it ‘the most influential tree in the world’.

Most of Hiding the Decline is about the inquiries that followed Climategate. I enjoyed reading about smug powerful people making fools of themselves and the fairy-tale-like consternation created by two unlikely events: 1. A non-scientist (Steve McIntyre) gets involved in the global warming debate. As in a fairy tale, McIntyre is free to speak the truth. In particular, he is free to question. Professional climate scientists cannot speak the truth for fear of career damage. 2. The release of the Climategate emails. As in a fairy tale, a sudden burst of truth about bad behavior previously hidden. Continue reading ““The Most Influential Tree in the World””

Assorted Links

Thanks to Patrick Vlaskovits.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Adam Clemens, Melissa McEwen, and Navanit Arakeri.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda and Alex Blackwood.

Assorted Links

Thanks to David Cramer.

Assorted Links

  • A good example of how misleading drug-company-sponsored analyses of drug trials can be. Independent reanalysis by Daniel Coyne, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, reached opposite conclusions. Good work, Coyne.
  • Coke contains a carcinogen.
  • “I used sunflower seeds to lose weight.” Someone else used them to reduce addictions. The link between the Shangri-La Diet and reduction of non-food addictions (smoking, coffee) fascinates me. People start SLD to lose weight and say they become less addicted to smoking, coffee drinking, and so on. One possibility is that by reducing hunger, SLD reduces discomfort. Addictions gain strength from discomfort, often resemble self-medication.
  • Steve McIntyre replies to Gavin Schmidt’s claim that McIntyre’s beliefs resemble “classic conspiracy theory”. I used to watch a lot of football — when the 49ers won most of their games. (I am a classic fairweather fan.) I get a similar pleasure reading Steve McIntyre’s posts as I did from watching 49er games.
  • Congratulations, UCLA press office! A study that measured the effect of omega-3 by comparing two groups of rats — one gets omega-3, the other doesn’t — is called a study about the evils of fructose (both groups got a high-fructose diet). I am surprised the scientists involved didn’t object to this misrepresentation. The study supposedly shows — according to the press office — that fructose is bad because performance went down when the rats were switched from standard lab chow to a high-fructose diet. Let’s say you start with a diet (standard lab chow) that has a barely adequate amount of omega-3. You feed both groups lab chow for several months. Then you do an experiment in which both groups get 60% of their calories from the lab chow and 40% of their calories from a diet that contains no omega-3. Performance is likely to decline due to insufficient omega-3 no matter what the new diet contains.

Thanks to Tim Beneke.