Saturday, November 19, 2011

Summary on climate

Judy Curry comments on a new IPCC report: natural variability accounts for a lot of change that is observed; er, possibly all?

I think we're getting closer to an agreement by reasonable people that very little is known about the climate of the entire world.

1. Man-made CO2 has gone up--obviously, but probably it is retained in the atmosphere in a way that can be quantified. This was a discovery that took a lot of work, and I believe it was made before the boomers took over the field.

2. There was probably a medieval warming period over much of the globe, comparable to the 20th century. Again, a pre-boomer discovery. Obviously any such warming period would have nothing to do with man-made CO2.

3. A simple high school experiment can demonstrate that with an attempted simulation of the earth's atmosphere, if you increase CO2, the temp goes up. It is not clear that this has ever happened--even once--in the real world. In other words, even before man-made CO2, did CO2 itself ever directly cause a temperature increase net of other contributing factors? Gore's famous graphic, based on Greenland ice cores, shows the opposite--first temp increase, then CO2 increase.

4. The period since 1850 has been possibly the best period ever for human life on earth--at least in a material sense. We live longer--usually the gold standard for measuring the health of a population. Contrary to predictions when I was in high school, we produce enough food for the population. Classic local pollution from factories and vehicles gets better with increasing wealth. Big, non-local environmental scares have tended to be bullshit: acid rain, widespread species extinction, forest extinction/monoculture, global warming. Maybe CFCs/ozone was not bullshit, I'm not sure.

5. Has anything both significant and bad happened even in co-relation with man-made CO2? If not, of course there is no cause and effect.

6. Environmental initiatives have tended to be a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Biofuels is the worst--converting food-producing land to fuel-producing land, increasing scarcity and starvation among the very poorest people on earth.

7. Anything new that has been added to this field by the boomers is largely bullshit.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Duke and Waterloo

Inspired by a review in the Spectator, I've read my first novel by Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army. It is the story of a love affair involving a colonel in the personal staff of the Duke of Wellington, but it goes into great detail about the preparations for the Battle of Waterloo, as well as the battle itself.

One great Wellington line I had not encountered before (I believe he has lent more quotations to the world than any other British PM; Disraeli is second): "Oh! I think very little of soldiers running away at times .... The steadiest troops will occasionally do so--but it is a serious matter if they do not come back." (paperback p. 274)

Heyer is clearly trying to do a somewhat updated Jane Austen; the lady in the case is clearly unsuitable for a proper gentleman: she is a bit wild, a flirt, likely to shock decent opinion by appearing worse than she is, willing to break hearts, even to come between a man and his wife. Yet the hero proposes to her more than once; in between she repents some of her actions, but predicts that something similar will happen again. Maybe Heyer agrees with Austen that this is not the best marriage--that the husband will be to some extent a victim--but Heyer suggests that decent women such as Judth, Lady Worth can be won over to the courage and the fundamentally good heart of the infamous Barbara. Certainly Barbara seems a better person in the end than the apparently quiet, even mousy Miss Lucy Devenish--one might think a Jane Austen-style heroine based on Mansfield Park in particular.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Early man

I love reading about early man, the divergence from Neanderthals and apes, etc. From the New Yorker:

Even now, at least thirty thousand years after the fact, the signal is discernible: all non-Africans, from the New Guineans to the French to the Han Chinese, carry somewhere between one and four per cent Neanderthal DNA.

From the archeological record, it’s inferred that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or western Asia and spread out from there, stopping when they reached water or some other significant obstacle. (During the ice ages, sea levels were a lot lower than they are now, so there was no English Channel to cross.) This is one of the most basic ways modern humans differ from Neanderthals and, in Pääbo’s view, also one of the most intriguing. By about forty-five thousand years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo erectus “spread like many other mammals in the Old World,” Pääbo told me. “They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.” If the defining characteristic of modern humans is this sort of Faustian restlessness, then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene. Several times, he told me that he thought it should be possible to identify the basis for this “madness” by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA.

Over the decades, many theories have been offered to explain what caused the demise of the Neanderthals, ranging from climate change to simple bad luck. In recent years, though, it’s become increasingly clear that, as Pääbo put it to me, “their bad luck was us.” Again and again, the archeological evidence in Europe indicates, once modern humans showed up in a region where Neanderthals were living, the Neanderthals in that region vanished. Perhaps the Neanderthals were actively pursued, or perhaps they were just outcompeted. The Neanderthals’ “bad luck” is presumably the same misfortune that the hobbits and the Denisovans encountered, and similar to the tragedy suffered by the giant marsupials that once browsed Australia, and the varied megafauna that used to inhabit North America, and the moas that lived in New Zealand. And it is precisely the same bad luck that has brought so many species—including every one of the great apes—to the edge of oblivion today.
“To me, the mystery is not the extinction of the Neanderthals,” Jean-Jacques Hublin, the director of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s department of human evolution, told me. “To me the mystery is what makes modern humans such a successful group that they have been replacing not just the Neanderthals but everything. We don’t have much evidence that the Neanderthals or other archaic humans ever led to an extinction of a species of mammal or anything else. For modern humans, there are hundreds of examples, and we do it very well.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quotes "peer" "review"

Why is it possible that peer-reviewed research turns out to be bullshit? Because no one actually checks it.

Here's another one.

See also here.

UPDATE: More here and here.