Archive for February, 2010


Ripping “The Ethicist” to Hell

February 25, 2010

Looking for amusement? Read this developing string of responses to Randy Cohen’s infinitely inane column “The Ethicist.”

Carry on.


New Developments in CES Hack

February 25, 2010

Here’s an update on the centuries-old CES (or Cogito Ergo Sum) hack. For those out of the loop, about 170 years ago, a critical letter written by one of the grandpappys of metaphysics and epistemology, René Descartes, was stolen from the archives of Paris’s Institute de France. It suddenly popped up in the godforsaken state of Pennsylvania. All of this could’ve been settled decades ago with an appropriately-targeted FOIA request, but instead Emerson and his henchmen at Haverford are now scrambling to repair the damage.


Honest or Broken?

February 24, 2010

Roger will surely be pleased to see that the New Scientist has published an editorial suggesting that “Honesty is the best policy for climate scientists.” Given the language, the editorial could’ve been written by Roger himself.

Honesty, of course, is the best policy. Where Roger likes to offer the pragmatic argument for honesty — and shucks, there sure has been a lot of political crap floating to the surface to demonstrate his point — I tend to emphasize slightly different, non-pragmatic reasons for advocating honesty. Namely, I think we have an obligation not to be dishonest, even if it won’t end up badly for us.

(One issue that this raises, of course, is whether there was ever actually any substantial dishonesty afoot in the IPCC. I don’t want to go there.)

Rather, the editors at New Scientist make some provocative claims about environmentalists.

FOR many environmentalists, all human influence on the planet is bad. Many natural scientists implicitly share this outlook. This is not unscientific, but it can create the impression that greens and environmental scientists are authoritarian tree-huggers who value nature above people. That doesn’t play well with mainstream society, as the apparent backlash against climate science reveals.

I couldn’t agree more, though I disagree with the reasoning. Just as it is not the case that honesty is the best policy because dishonest practices may have negative political outcomes, so too is it not the case that holding the above-outlined position is wrong because it doesn’t play well with mainstream society.

The view that the planet is good, and that human interference is somehow bad, is just a naive environmentalist view. That’s what makes the view problematic. Sure, lots of people hold it, but let’s face it, there are a lot of unreflective environmentalists, just as there are a lot of unreflective anti-environmentalists. That it doesn’t play well is no reason to reject the view. There are better reasons to reject it. What makes the view wrong is its romanticism about nature. I’ll be kicking this theme around quite a bit over the next few months, but I thought I’d point out that the planet can actually be quite hostile. View a few pictures like these to remember that.


Spindly Man with Annoying Bow Tie Takes on Weather Hack with Annoying Logic

February 23, 2010

Or, climate ain’t weather (and climatology ain’t meteorology) redux

This week our good pal Max Boykoff appeared at the AAAS to argue that the media overstate the case of climate skeptics. You can read about that event here, in the local Boulder rag.

Meanwhile, in the High Country News, Tom Yulsman offers a response to a recent WSJ article critical of emissions reductions policies in Boulder. Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor responds to Yulsman and the WSJ in the comments. (h/t to Roger).

Finally, Bill Nye the Famous Nerdy Guy was pitted against the venerable meteorologist Joe Bastardi. Of interest here (to my students in particular), Nye calls out Bastardi on his use of the red herring. For my money, Nye has a far superior argument, though I wish he hadn’t raised the question of who has something to gain.


Binding Treaty

February 22, 2010

Someone asked recently whether anyone would actually seek a binding treaty in Cancún. The answer? Yes. The US will:

The State Department has pledged to pursue a binding treaty covering “all major economies” during this year’s climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, according to a letter released today by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.


Sunday Chores

February 21, 2010

Need a reason to keep your house tidy? Well, today’s your lucky day. On this fine Sunday evening I leave you with the following thought, brought to you straight from the 1950s.

Atomic tests at the Nevada Proving Grounds (later the Nevada Test Site) show effects on well-kept homes, homes filled with trash and combustibles, and homes…

(Embed doesn’t seem to be working, so check it out here:


Color Me Terrified

February 20, 2010

The New York Times has an Op-Ed today on cows genetically-modified to experience less suffering.

We are most likely stuck with factory farms, given that they produce most of the beef and pork Americans consume. But it is still possible to reduce the animals’ discomfort — through neuroscience. Recent advances suggest it may soon be possible to genetically engineer livestock so that they suffer much less.

Among the many things that such an innovation suggests to me, it also strikes me as at least one counter-example to Singer’s argument. The way I see it, massive factory farms present a significant ethical problem even if the animals are modified in such a way that they stand mindlessly penned in their quarters, oblivious to their impending fate. It’s not the pain that’s doing the work, it’s what we do that matters.