Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dr Heidi: “Scientist”

“Dr. Cullen, a climatologist with a doctorate from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University” gets interviewed by a self styled ‘science’ reporter for the NY Times.

I found the interview revealing: it looks very much like a poor attempt at damage control. (Emphasis mine unless otherwise noted)

Extract 1:
Q: How did the Weather Channel executives know of you?

A: I think they’d been asking around. They were hunting for a Ph.D. scientist who could explain the science behind climate news. As it happened, my doctoral thesis has a lot of relevance to current affairs. Part of it involved looking at how to use climate information to manage water resources in the Middle East. It’s often said that the next war in the Middle East will be fought over water.

For my thesis, I studied droughts and the collapse of the first Mesopotamian empire — the Akkadian civilization. I was able to show that a megadrought at roughly 2200 B.C. played a role in its demise. I found the proof by examining the sediment cores of ancient mud. When one looked at the mud from the period around the Akkadian collapse, one found a huge spike in the mineral dolomite. That substance is an indicator of drought.
Here’s a tip to those who aspire to be thought of as “scientists”. Scientists understand the difference between ‘indications’ and ‘data’ . They also know the difference between ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’. They never confuse any two of the aforementioned. And they never fail to establish bounds around their assertions or hypotheses. I’ve read the paper(PDF here) (co)authored by Dr. Cullen.

While the paper presents evidence of correlation in time between drought and collapse, there is no “proof” per se as far as I can divine*. I see lots of (quite proper) weasel words and caveats. So I would also remind Dr. Cullen that scientists can tell the difference between ‘correlation’ and ‘cause’. It appears Dr Cullen knew the difference when she authored the paper, but it isn't clear she remembers it now.

*My Caveat: I concede the obvious and non-paper-worthy observation that droughts, in all likelihood, do not make anything easier on any society or culture. Duh.

Extract 2.

Q: What’s the point of knowing this?

A: Because until recently, historians, anthropologists and archaeologists were reluctant to say that civilizations could collapse because of nature. The prevailing theories were that civilizations collapsed because of political, military or medical reasons — plagues. Climate was often factored out.

And yet, indifference to the power of nature is civilization’s Achilles’ heel. I think the events around Hurricane Katrina reminded us that Mother Nature is something we haven’t yet conquered.

Now, I am far more ancient than Dr. Cullen, and even I learned in school that ‘nature’ was a major factor in the disappearance of the Anasazi (although we kids just knew them as ‘cliff dwellers’ back then). Perhaps Dr. Cullen is using the term ‘recently’ in terms of a geologic scale?

I only ask, because a quick side trip to the JSTOR archives confirms my childhood memories: in scientific journals, climate/drought shows up repeatedly in the 1940s as one possible factor in the depopulation of cliff dwellings. By the 1970’s, the number of papers published identifying climate/drought as a PRIME factor was growing.

Extract 3.

Q: Rush Limbaugh accused you of Stalinism. Did you suggest that meteorologists who doubt global warming should be fired?

A: I didn’t exactly say that. I was talking about the American Meteorological Society’s seal of approval. I was saying the A.M.S. should test applicants on climate change as part of their certification process. They test on other aspects of weather science.
Wow. Leading and inflammatory question aside, Dr Cullen is doing a little Three Card Monte with the truth in her response. What she wrote (link in original):
"I'd like to take that suggestion a step further. If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming.
Using the Reasonable Man approach to his statement, what else could “confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists” mean other than “confer employability”?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Consensus Seekers Gone Normal

Instapundit links to an editorial by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. In her Washington Post piece, titled 'Partisans Gone Wild' Slaughter laments a lack of “bipartisanship” in the US. When I read her name, I immediately remembered my first experience with Dr. Slaughter’s intellect: she was participating in a roundtable discussion with Victor Davis Hanson and Stephen Steadman on the topic of ‘Preemptive War’ (video and audio links here). It is well worth watching the whole program.

Steadman’s main contribution to the discussion was to make Slaughter seem less obviously outrageous than her arguments would seem on their own. Taking away the outlier Steadman, and dealing only with arguments of Victor Davis Hanson and Anne-Marie Slaughter, it became apparent that Slaughter was incapable of differentiating between the functioning of the real and some other hypothetical organization called the United Nations.

Slaughter essentially asserts that we as a Nation we MUST gain legitimacy for our actions by always making even more attempts to gain UN imprimatur for our actions than we did in our current situation, even though she obliquely acknowledges the uselessness of doing so. Hanson, succinctly disabuses her of that silly notion.

After watching and hearing her on this subject, I concluded that Ms. Slaughter was incapable of deciding when and where to make a stand on anything, much less doing so with any reasonable chance of success: She would seek bipartisan consensus and cooperation from a free range steamroller before she would see the need to simply step out of its way and take control of it.

With the Slaughters of this world, it seems the only principle to stand on is to not stand for anything: to always keep moving the line in the sand.

As to Consensus and Bipartisianship: she is the "girl who cried wolf" too many times.

Update 2008 Hrs: Fixed obvious cut and paste errors

Friday, July 27, 2007

Walk Forrest!... Walk!

or: "A Teachable Moment"

Sort of an "Anti-War" Field Trip I Guess...

Two young Americans march across the country to make a statement. I wonder if they will learn anything? The money quote:

Casale and Israel had hoped that others who opposed the war in Iraq would join them on their 3,000-mile walk from San Francisco to Washington. But since starting off May 21, it's usually just been the two of them.

Do you think they just might pause to wonder 'why'?

It will be interesting to see if the extra press amplifies their message down the home stretch. I keep thinking of the cross-country running scenes in Forrest Gump.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pentagon Gives Word to Power: Senator Clinton Outraged

Hillary & Co. are in a snit over hearing unpleasant truths.

[Note: I've been quiet on the 'blogging' front for a while for a lot of reasons, the least of which is I'm preparing for my final post(s) on the Air Force's self-destruction. But this was just waaay too much to let go.]

The Offense: A response from Undersecretary of Defense (Policy) Edelman to a demand by Senator Clinton that we start planning and prepare for our defeat:
"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia,..."
The article further relays that Edelman:
...added that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.''
A Clinton rep (Philippe Reines) provided these comments in response to Edelman's factual statements:

"Redeploying out of Iraq with the same combination of arrogance and incompetence with which the Bush administration deployed our young men and women into Iraq is completely unacceptable, and our troops deserve far better,''

Now, there are two basic problems with the Clintonian outrage:

First, Edelman's points were factual. Reines comment was inflammatory.

Second, since according to the article, Edelman's response was 'leaked', it follows that Edelman responded in private. If Edelman and DoD wanted the correspondence to remain private, it kind of points to who might find the most benefit from having Edleman's response 'leaked' doesn't it?

Hmmmm. Who might find it most beneficial to leak Edelman's letter?

(Hint: The initials are HRC, though no doubt someone will find time to credit the genius of Karl Rove making it look like a Hillary stunt.)

Sidebar: "Now here is how you could morph Edelman's comments into something more inappropriate:

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States [with the same combination of arrogance and incompetence demonstrated by Congress in 1975,] will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia,''

Gee, even that isn't too bad.....I suppose because it is still factual.

(Notice I didn't even comment on Kerry's two cents in the article: he STILL doesn't matter)