Monday, November 30, 2009

This Week in Palinology: Book Signee's Speak, America Groans

For a blogger like me, always looking for the scientifically comical and idiotic about which to write, Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time she, or her sycophantic followers, open their mouths, blogworthy idiocy belches forth. I couldn't keep up with the woman during the 2008 election, and I fear for my fingers if she has the audacity to run in 2012. She is without peer.

But I've decided one Palin post a week is plenty, so here is the first of what will undoubtedly be many Palinology posts. So cringe along with the rest of thinking America as Palin book signees speak, babbling nonsensically about czars, common sense, realness, atomic bombs and all that.

Here's a great description of Palin, and explanation of why she is more popular with men than women:

It's very simple why women don't like her as much as men. Women saw through Sarah Palin and we saw through her quickly. Men are literal and are more likely to say what they mean and mean what they say. Women are more nuanced and better able to persuade and manipulate others with their words. So it's quite natural for us to be able to look below the surface of another woman's words and grasp the intentions behind them.

Sarah Palin is the peppy cheerleader in high school all the boys thought was so sweet but the girls knew was really a vicious shrew. She's the new girl in the office who wears tight shirts and three-inch heels, is super-friendly to her male superiors, ignores the other women, and gets promoted sooner than her more capable and hard working peers. She's the outgoing PTA mom all of the other women are scared to cross because they will find themselves put on the worst committees. Only a woman knows how to give another woman a sweet smile and at the same time cut her down to size with an artfully crafted "compliment" without male observers having a clue about what just happened. It's like a dog whistle.

And what would a Palin post be without some wisdom from the Grand Dame herself:

I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the, um, the, ah -- kind of spineless -- a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with elite Ivy League education and -- fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private-sector, free-enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

No, it doesn't have to be you, whatever "it" one can glean from that babble. Qualified to be President? She's not qualified to be the president's aid.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Perino: No Terrorist Attacks During Bush's Term

You have to watch this to believe it: Dana Perino actually says there was not a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term. Even worse, neither Sean Hannity nor Stuart Varney who were in the clip with her noticed or corrected her. This is akin to making a speech circa 1869 and claiming there hadn't been any war in the last 8 years. It is quite possibly the most untrue, inexcusable statement in the history of American politics. And of course it happened on Fox. Shocker.

Now to be fair, it's possible that Ms. Perino meant something else, and simply misspoke. After all, I think it's clear Barak Obama doesn't think there are 57 states, nor does Sarah Palin think Canada and Russia are in Alaska, because both misspoke when they said so. So if Dana Perino comes forward clearly correcting herself, I'll note it. Until then, she stands accused of shameful propagandizing.

The AGW Denialist Mindset Examined

More discussion at fivethirtyeight on the hacked global warming emails reveals the standard denialist mindset:

Your blog arguments basically boil down to the scam artists are following a standard scientific protocol which lay people are too stupid to understand. Bull feces.

Yeah, believe it or not, specialisits in scientific areas know a great deal more about them than does Joe the Plumber, or you, and in the hands of untrained or unscrupulous people (see below) they can be easily misrepresented or misunderstood. I know that offends your egalitarian ideologies, but tough noogies, reality doesn't care what you think. Every argument the AGW deniers put forth validates this hypothesis, and your ignorant rants are no exception. To wit:

The "idiots" to which Mann is referring are Steve McIntyre - the mathematician at Climate Audit, and Ross McKitrick, the economics professor

First, note the good counseler's assumption of facts not in evidence. Mann did not refer to McIntyre or McKitrick as idiots, not did I. I merely posed an obvious and plausible interpretation of Mann's words that was not the least bit conspiratorial. I never said it was an exhaustive list.

Another far more plausible interpretation of Mann's words is that people with an ax to grind, or cranks working outside their fields, might misuse and misrepresent the data and commentary to their own ends. McIntyre and McKitrick are perfect examples. We see this all the time in the evolution denial of the Intelligent Designers. The modus operandi of the AGW deniers is identical, and often involves the exact same people.

BTW, do you accept the Modern Theory of Evolution? How about that HIV causes AIDS. Just curious. Hey, no complaining that these are off-topic. The party that supports so much AGW denialism is also the party that thinks it is so important to be judged by the company you keep. So pardon us if we find it necessary to toss the flat earthers, creationists and germ theory deniers in your face once in while to remind people that's the company you keep.

Here he runs completely off the rails:

There appear to be three varieties of responses to my posts on the email evidence of fraud: (1) attorneys are evil,

Not even remotely true. What people said was that attorney's a) are not trained in science and scientific protocals, and b) attorney's are paid to defend the side that hires them, not to seek truth. That's not a criticism at all. In fact, it is a position I wholeheartedly support as critical to every defendant getting a full hearing. It's one of the things that makes our country great. It's just not the sort of mindset I'd want studying scientific ideas. Reality is not a negotiable entity. It is what it is.

2) lay people are too stupid to understand the manmade global warming religion (MGWR) and should rely upon their priests like Jones and Mann,

Again, not remotely accurate. The point was, and remains, that global warming science, like any science or complicated intellectual profession, is going to have protocals, behavior, and information that will be unintelligible, or badly misundestood, by laymen. That an attorney would attempt this argument, given that law is one of the best examples of such a field, reveals the political nature of this argument. This intellectual egalitarianism, the same promoted by Sarah Palin and embodied in Joe The Plumber, is politically necessary for their agenda to succeed. Acknowledge the superior understanding of science by scientists and you find yourself on the wrong end of every political position favored by those whose support you so desperately need - all those angry twits clinging to their guns and religion and wondering what happened to "their" America. So one must absolutely deny the connection between study and understanding. Thereby can being a Harvard Graduate be presented as a negative character trait.

3) allegations without evidence that the science behind the MGWR is overwhelming and proven.

It is a simple fact, easy to look up, that a near unanimity of the world's scientific organizations support the AGW hypothesis, and there is zero evidence of any sort of conspiracy. The conpiracy theory is also completely implausible, because if the motive is money, any scientist supposedly on the dole could make far more with book deals and speaking engagements, and with far less effort. This, btw, is what dooms most any conspiracy theory based on greed - there is simply too much money to be made being the one guy that goes against the grain. It is cartel economics, and cartels cannot exist in an arena with traits like those of the scientific community.

The first two slanders are the product of deficient upbringing and do not merit a reply.

In other words, these attack basic ideological assumptions I make about the world, and I am therefore unwilling to give due consideration to the possibility that they are correct. Now consider that he may also have, as an ideological assumption about the world, the view that it was put here for man to enjoy by God, and there is no way we could destroy it or make it uninhabitable for us, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shocker: Palin's a Creationist

In case you missed it, Sarah Palin now jons Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and others in the GOP in denial of the reality of evolution:

For those of you not up to speed, saying you believe in microevolution but not macroevolution is like saying you believe I can walk across the house, but can't walk across the street, without bothering to identify what exactly is the barrier preventing me from doing so. It's ignorance or dishonesty at best, lunacy at worst.

Palin's now officially a loon as well as an ignoramus. Her allegiance to the ideas of her witch-hunter minister takes away any benefit of the doubt. BTW, wasn't there a major party who was all about judging people by their associations recently?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

College Football and Free Markets

As the logic-defying, anti-fair-competition college football bowl season approaches for one more frustratingly dissatisfying end to the year, it is worth noting to all of those who have called for a national championship playoff (like they have in every single other sport, including lower level football), that this mess of a non-system has been produced by none other than a free market. No government forced this process to be what it is. No law rigged the game so that schools from small conferences like Boise State, TCU, and Cincinnati would be disqualified from the national title game before it started*. You all want free, unfettered, laissez-faire capitalism? Well look what it got us.

College football, I'd argue, is a natural monopoly, as are most of the major sports leagues. Competition in the form of alternative leagues or systems does not increase the quality of the product, it reduces it. But as a monopoly, it cannot be allowed to function according to market principles, or something like the bowl system is what we are going to get. Once certain entities, like the Big Ten and PAC-10 get enough power within the system, they will arrange things to their benefit, not to the benefit of all. A playoff, which would be better for everyone overall, is kept from happening because those with the biggest share of the pie under the current system refuse to change. An oligarchy of the major conferences has cut off a disproportionate share of the pie for themselves, and the remaining conferences and teams have no power to stop them. This is inevitable in such a situation, and as such, requires more government regulation than an ordinary market.

We should support any efforts on the part of politicians to bring a playoff to college football by breaking up the monopolistic stranglehold of the antiquated bowl system. This is one of the things government is for. IANAL, but I suspect there is merit via anti-trust laws to force a system that, at a bare minimum, gives equal opportunity to every competitor to reach the championship game.

In the meantime, fans should do the only thing they can to help facilitate this change: boycott the bowls. Go ahead and watch the conference championship games, and the national title game (a one game playoff is better than none). But as for the rest, they are nothing more than exhibition games, for money and recruiting and little else. We should place no more importance on them than we do NFL preseason games. Don't buy tickets, and if you must watch them on TV, DVR them so you can zoom through the commercials and cut off the value of that funding. This annual travesty must end.


*When the BCS system forced the computer ratings to not use point spreads in their analysis, it effectively made them a measure of strength of schedule only. No more could a team with a weak schedule make up for it by consistently winning impressively. Winning by 1 point and winning by 50 points make no difference now to the computers. Thus, a team in a weak conference, like Boise State, cannot possibly earn the top spot in the computer ratings, even if they beat everyone 100-0. they are 7th now in the computers, and that is as high as they could possibly get.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Analysis of the Hacked Global Warming E-mails

I'm sure everyone has heard about the hacked emails of the scientists are RealClimate and the University of East Anglia, and the charges that they reveal some sort of conspiracy to manufacture a crisis and hide the truth. However, the emails I've seen do nothing of the sort. They simply show ignorance of the process of analyzing and presenting data on complicated subjects, and attempt to portray out-of-context quotes in a manner that belies their actual meaning. As an actuary who deals with this sort of thing all the time, I recognize the language well. Let's go through some examples touted by a commenter here as smoking guns:

"I’ve attached a cleaned-up and commented version of the matlab code that I wrote for doing the Mann and Jones (2003) composites. I did this knowing that Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future, so best to clean up the code and provide to some of my close colleagues in case they want to test it, etc. Please feel free to use this code for your own internal purposes, but don’t pass it along where it may get into the hands of the wrong people."

I must say, after the intro to this as clear documentation as fraud, I was very let down. What exactly is the issue here: cleaning up code, testing it, anticipating criticisms, preparing for same, sharing information. All part and parcel of data analysis and presentation. I can only guess that the problem is with the last sentence, which the conspiratorial-minded might automatically assume means "hide the truth from all but those in on the scam". In actuality, it's far more likely to mean something like "don't let morons who won't understand what they are looking at get ahold of this, or we'll be answering stupid assed ignorant questions til the cows come home, and we won't get anything productive done." Contrary to the worldview of the Palinists, some subjects are far too complicated for untrained laymen, and data analysis is one of them. Making sure one's data is properly limited and presented properly is par for the course. It's no evidence of anything except people doing their job.

"Perhaps we'll do a simple update to the Yamal post, e.g. linking Keith/s new page--Gavin t? As to the issues of robustness, particularly w.r.t. inclusion of the Yamal series, we actually emphasized that (including the Osborn and Briffa '06 sensitivity test) in our original post! As we all know, this isn't about truth at all, its about plausibly deniable accusations."

All I can say about this one is that it doesn't do much for the charge that conservatives have no sense of humor. Anyone who can't see that last sentence is sarcastic is seriously deluded. It's no surprise that the preceding context is left out, it no doubt makes that even more clear than it already is.

"Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC [] Rein any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we’ll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include."

Again, I ask, "where's the beef?" Surely no rightwinger is going to claim that moderating a site is ipso facto evidence of dishonesty, given that conservative sites that heavily moderate dwarf those of the left by an order of magnitude. There's nothing here to indicate fraud or suppression of data. Now of course if one is already convinced that is the case, then it will look damning, but otherwise it looks like nothing more than a discussion of how to handle responding to comments, and being careful to properly screen them. I could see myself saying the exact same things.

"The Korttajarvi record was oriented in the reconstruction in the way that McIntyre said. I took a look at the original reference – the temperature proxy we looked at is x-ray density, which the author interprets to be inversely related to temperature. We had higher values as warmer in the reconstruction, so it looks to me like we got it wrong, unless we decided to reinterpret the record which I don’t remember. Darrell, does this sound right to you?"

This one is even more of a mystery to me. This looks like a standard (and rather dull) discussion of results and modelling of data. I can only surmise that this is considered revealing by those who are completely ignorant of the process of guess and test that is the core of science.

"I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."

As has been explained in many places already, "trick" in this context means "useful technique", not "deception". Another word that springs to mind is "reach".

"The skeptics seem to be building up a head of steam here! ... The IPCC comes in for a lot of stick. Leave it to you to delete as appropriate! Cheers Phil
PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!"


"If FOIA does ever get used by anyone, there is also IPR to consider as well. Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people, so I will be hiding behind them."

I know this may come as a shock to people who don't work in information-related, politically controversial, regulated fields, but all this FOIA stuff is easy to explain: no one, at any job that deals with complicated subject matter, willingly gives up all of their data. It makes life harder, even when you are 100% correct and proper. Overzealous regulators, politicians, or activists, will misrepresent or outright lie about what the data is/says, and you get stuck cleaning up the mess. This fiasco over what we are seeing is really nothing is a perfect example! This is just creationist quote mining techniques applied to global warming.

"The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."

I find it amusing that scientists are on the one hand condemned for supposedly thinking they know everything, and then when they make qualifying statements about their limited knowledge, or openly admit when data is missing or contradictory, they are expected to pretend that means they know nothing. What is this quote but such an admission, in a very limited sense? Again, there is no there there.

All these emails prove is that scientists are human. The deniers and their ilk see all this as damning because they begin with the assumption that there is some sort of fraud going on, so to them anything like screening of comments is automatically assumed to be to keep the truth out, rather than, say, keeping morons and trolls from dragging the discussion down. Let's also keep in mind that this all comes as far back as 12 years ago, from a second-rate university better known for its literary programs than its science. It's akin to arguing that we should reject evolution because some researchers somewhere said doubtful things about it and their analysis of it. That doesn't change all the evidence. Bottom line, there is nothing here that will persuade the ideologically unencumbered or the statistically educated. Sadly, that isn't who they are playing to.

I found the Realclimate response very well written, and I'll close with what I thought was the crux of the issue as they put it:

"More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking."

Indeed, none of it should be. The deniers would have us believe they've scored big points because they've shown scientists have all the same foibles as everyone else: biases, self-interests, emotional attachment to ideas, and a desire to avoid conflict. What they don't understand is that the scientific community has always assumed this to be the case, which is why they so emphasize public publishing of data and research, so others can have at one's biases. So in the end, the AGW deniers have proved only one thing: they don't understand science in the abstract, or the modern scientific enterprise as practiced.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The GOP Sinks further into Insanity: 52% think ACORN Stole the Election

According to a new poll 52% of Republicans think ACORN stole the election for Obama. Apparently the GOPers are slipping on their math, as this would require each ACORN registered voter to vote about 10 times, and in the right states, to make up the nearly 10 million vote margin that was Obama's victory. The GOP has once again demonstrated that it has become everything it used to criticize the left for being: whining losers chanting "woulda shoulda coulda" instead of dealing with reality.

One commenter over at Ed Brayton's blog illustrated the new GOP attitude perfectly:

Perhaps they Shanghaied people and compelled them to vote for Obama. I don't know and neither do you. I am just a guy asking questions. And there is no such thing as a dumb question. Is there?

There they are, the articles of faith among the new Republicans:

1) Treating speculation as evidence
2) Assuming everyone shares their ignorance
3) Claiming dishonest partisan political gamesmanship is merely "asking questions"
4) Reliance on grade-school platitudes as insulation against criticism and identification of their stupidity

And they wonder why they've driven those of us with educations from the party in droves. Can they sink any lower?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Texas Freethought Convention: It's a Miracle!

The Texas Freethought Convention was held this past weekend in San Antonio. There were over 200 attendees (twice last years' inaugural figure), quite varied racially, and by age, to hear talks and commentary by:

FFRF president Dan Barker
Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis
Kathleen Johnson, VP of American Atheists and investigator of the Fort Hood shootings
Stuart Bechman, President of AAI
Clare Wuellner of the Center for Inquiry

It was an energized and excited group, miraculously (via "no morality is possible without gods" arguments) conflict, and crime free. It's an amazingly easy result for those of us without the immoral impulses so many Christians brag of needing their god-belief to quelch.

There were many great t-shirt slogans and comments by the speakers, which I'll be blogging periodically. One of my favorites came from Bechman, which I paraphrase, in response to the argument that atheism needs to not be so negative:

That sounds strange coming from people whose religion has 10 Commandments all starting with "Thou shalt not...". We need "Thou Shalts".

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jon Stewart on Fox News and Glenn Beck

Watch this brilliant video by Jon Stewart exposing the fake news process on Fox News (speculate on the opinion shows, then report that speculation as news on the news shows), and the cowardice of politicians (and frankly most Americans) to call it like it is.

Then here he is showing how insane the Foxiest of the Fox Friends, Glenn Beck, is.

Honestly, I don't see how the Republicans hold onto anyone with an IQ over 120. It's gotten to where they are so ridiculous they can't be parodied. Well, for those of us less talented than Stewart anyway.