Voice of America on Rachel Carson

March 14, 2010

Broadcast from March 13, 2010; transcript and link to MP3 version of the broadcast, here.

A few minor errors, but overall a good history of Rachel Carson and DDT.

Great animation: “The Chesnut Tree”

March 14, 2010

Wonderful film from 2007, by Hyun-min Lee.  I found it on PBS World this weekend, and then found a YouTube version.

Watch it with your young children.


How will you celebrate James Madison’s birthday? What happened to James Madison Week at JMU

March 14, 2010

James Madison joined the world on March 16, 1751.  Tuesday is the 259th anniversary of his birth.

James Madison University, appropriately, made hoopla during the whole week in 2009.  What about this year?

Exhibit: Creating the United States”James Madison, David Edwin engraving after Thomas Sully Portrait - Library of Congress

David Edwin (1776–1841). James Madison, President of the United States. Engraving after painting by Thomas Sully. Philadelphia: W.H. Morgan, ca.1809–1817. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (107.01.00)

The Culpepper, Virginia, Star-Exponent, said there will be celebrations at Montpelier, Madison’s mountaintop home a short distance from Charlottesville.

James Madison’s Orange County home offers free admission all day Tuesday in honor of the fourth president’s 259th birthday.

Born 1751 at Port Conway in King George while on a visit to his grandmother, Madison was raised at Montpelier, the oldest of 12 children. He is buried on the grounds of his lifelong home in the family cemetery, site of a special ceremony in honor of his birthday March 16 at 1:30 p.m.

Former Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickock will deliver remarks at the cemetery along with Quantico Marine Corps Base Chief of Staff Col. Thompson Gerke, who will lay a wreath on the fourth president’s grave on behalf of President Barack Obama. Numerous other groups will also honor Madison by placing wreaths on his grave Tuesday.

The U.S. Marine Corps has a long-standing tradition of attending the annual birthday ceremony because of Madison’s connection to the naval force’s founding. As Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, Madison recommended sending a squadron of naval ships to fight pirates off the coast of Africa, ultimately leading to their demise by 1805.

As president, Madison again called on the Marines to lead the nation during the War of 1812.

Nice of the Marines to show.  Nice of President Obama to send a wreath.  Maybe we can understand why Republicans wish to avoid any celebration of Madison.


Warming and science denialists stuck with political egg on their predictions

March 14, 2010

If they are honorable people, they wish they could take it back.

John Hinderaker at Powerline, November 23, 2009:

At the end of 2008, the scientists at East Anglia predicted that 2009 would be one of the warmest years on record:

On December 30, climate scientists from the UK Met Office and the University of East Anglia projected 2009 will be one of the top five warmest years on record. Average global temperatures for 2009 are predicted to be 0.4∞C above the 1961-1990 average of 14 ∫ C. A multiyear forecast using a Met Office climate model indicates a rapid return of global temperature to the long-term warming trend, with an increasing probability of record temperatures after 2009.

We know now that the alarmists’ prediction for 2009 didn’t come true. What’s interesting is that in January of this year, another climate alarmist named Mike MacCracken wrote to Phil Jones and another East Anglia climatologist, saying that their predicted warming may not occur . . .

Hinderaker quoting Anthony Watts’ chest thumping at Watts Up With That. In November, with cool weather in the local forecasts, they thought that 2009 would turn out to be a cold year, climate wise, and so they were demanding that climate scientists retract predictions and claims based on the data at hand.  Watts was averaging his thermometer readings before they thermometers had been read.


Here’s what actually happened:

NASA, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2010

2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.

Global warming map from NASA, showing the decade 2000 to 2009

From NASA: "This map shows the 10-year average (2000-2009) temperature anomaly relative to the 1951-1980 mean. The largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. (Image credit: NASA/GISS)"

I’ve been hunting for retractions from Powerline and WUWT, but haven’t found them yet.  Has anyone else seen the retractions from these guys, for accuracy’s sake, for the record?  Hinderaker blogged the issue as recently as February 2, but mistook the continued warmness as a ‘lack of additional warming.’  Really.  Hinderaker’s consistency in error is profound, with six or more posts on the issue since November 23, and not one noting his glaring error, each one assuming his error does not exist.  It is a consistency striven for only by hobgoblins of no mind.

Hinderaker said in that November post:

Climate science is in its infancy, and every proposition is controversial. What climate scientists like those at East Anglia don’t know dwarfs what they do know. They can produce a model for every occasion, but are the models any good? If so, which one? One thing we know for sure is that they don’t generate reliable predictions. In every scientific field other than global warming, a scientific hypothesis that generates false predictions is considered disproved. When it comes to global warming, however, there is no such thing as falsification. Which is the ultimate evidence that the alarmist scientists are engaged in a political enterprise, not a scientific one.

Really?  Political commentary on climate science is in its infancy, and every proposition is controversial, even those that should not be. What ill-informed and sometimes ignorant, belligerent pundits  like those at Powerline and Watts Up don’t know dwarfs what they do know. They can’t produce a model for any occasion, but they will ask as if they had anything to add other than heckling, “are the models any good? If so, which one?” One thing we know for sure is that they don’t generate accuracy in reporting or trustworthy claims. In every scientific field other than global warming, a scientific hypothesis that generates false predictions is considered disproved. When it comes to global warming’s critics and outright denialists, however, there is no such thing as falsification. There is, so far,  no such thing as an honorable confession of error, either.  In political commentary, anyone who makes a prediction in late November that is exactly wrong when the numbers are tallied two months later, should have the grace to make a concession speech.  These ravings, and failure to strive for accuracy when error is apparent, provide ultimate evidence that the contrarians and denialists are not scientists, and are engaged in a political enterprise, not a scientific one.  Hinderaker and Watts give their readers voodoo science at its most voodoo.  They could not fail to know what they post is hoax, even if they were sucked in at first.

Even if they read this and understand it’s true and accurate, I’ll wager you won’t see any errata notices from either Watts or Hinderaker.

More, I’ll wager no one would take such a wager, not even their defenders.

Do all climate contrarians all take their marching orders from the faxes and e-mails from the GOP National Committee?

Not one of the contrarian’s work could survive half the scrutiny Phil Jones or Michael Mann has had since their server was broken into.

P.S.: These guys at Powerline have a very twisted streak, you know?

Steve [Hayward] is also the author of the annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators. The fourteenth edition of the Index was published in April by the Pacific Research Institute to coincide with Earth Day and Lenin’s birthday; it is accessible in PDF here.”

Why is the Pacific Research Institute timing a report to coincide with Lenin’s birthday?  Why would Hinderaker even joke about it?  No scientist is checking that date.  No Democrat is.  It’s like these guys study the old communists and fascists, not as a learning exercise to find mistakes to avoid as Santayana urged, but to steal the methods of the Stalinists and fascists. More snark than sense, more snark than science, at Powerline and the Pacific Research Institute.

Ask others to join the campaign for accurate science:

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Typewriter of the moment: Helen Keller

March 14, 2010

Helen Keller at her typewriter, with Polly Thompson,  1933 - American Foundation for the Blind

Helen Keller at her typewriter, with Polly Thompson, 1933 - American Foundation for the Blind photo

Caption from the American Foundation for the Blind:  “This photograph, taken in their home, shows Helen and Polly in front of two large windows. The light is bright outside, and the curtains on the windows are pulled back. Helen is sitting at her typewriter, describing something with her hands to Polly, who is leaning towards her, smiling. Helen has on a dark dress with small light flowers and white trim on the neck and cuffs. Polly is wearing a long black dress, with a white pearl necklace.”

Moral of the photo:  “So don’t tell me you can’t do it.”  “So don’t tell me you don’t have time to write.”  “If Helen Keller could write books on a typewriter — she who could neither see nor hear — I don’t want any excuse from you that has the word ‘can’t’ in it.”

What moral, or other rant, would you propose?

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Quote of the moment: Bertrand Russell, on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, 64 years prescient

March 14, 2010

Lord Bertrand Russell in a BBC Radio studio

Lord Bertrand Russell in a BBC Radio studio,circa 1940 – BBC Radio 4 image

The trouble with the world
is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent
are full of doubt.

– Bertrand Russell, The Triumph of Stupidity in Mortals and Others: Bertrand Russell’s American Essays, 1931-1935 (Routledge, 1998), p. 28

With these words Russell stated, in 1935, a phenomenon observed and chronicled by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, in research at Cornell University, published in 1999 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Unskilled and unaware of it:  How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments” reported on research they had conducted on subjects at Cornell.  The effect they observed is generally called, after them, the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  According to the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of the participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)

In other words,

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

Thus, the Dunning-Kruger effect explains the existence and arguments of creationists, climate change denialists, Tea Baggers and birthers, and the actions of the right-wing historical revisionist faction of the Texas State Board of Education, and provides Monty Python’s Flying Circus with volumes of new material each month, should they ever care to revive the program.


Tip of the old scrub brush to Mal Adapted, commenting at Open Mind.

Broadcast the news:

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