Researchers determine that sustainability is now a science; Occupy Wall Street's sustainability committee plays house; Harvard looks to hire someone who can "cultivate an understanding of food"; and a debate asks whether the campus sustainability movement detracts from the better purposes of higher education.
An article in the Guardian this weekend tells about a Berkeley physics professor, Richard Muller, who has assembled a team of scientists for an initiative he calls the Berkeley Earth project. His goal is to do research on climate change by essentially starting over and creating new models from scratch. He intends to use different methods than the ones that have already been used to produce findings currently hailed as evidence for global warming. Muller acknowledges that as of now, there is still no consensus on the state of warming, and that the skeptics have made legitimate criticisms of the methods used in research so far. He seeks to produce results untainted by political influence and, according to the Guardian, is strictly interested in scientific accuracy. "Science has its weaknesses and it doesn't have a stranglehold on the truth, but it has a way of approaching technical issues that is a closer approximation of truth than any other method we have," he said.
Environmentalist ideology in the guise of sustainability is everywhere. It is pap. The words sustainability, conservation and conservatism are linked. They suggest protection of the status quo. Until the Progressive era Americans were not concerned with conservation because they assumed that progress would make life better. Sustaining the status quo paled beside a glowing manifest destiny. Perhaps today's progressive interest in sustainability is an admission that the left is not progressive but conservative.
Last week Peter Wood, by discipline an anthropologist, was one of the first to analyze the implications of the American Anthropological Association's proposal to define "science" out of anthropology. He wrote:
Absent its scientific basis, anthropology would be little more than colorful travel literature (travelogues) occasionally mixed up with political hucksterism and theoretical obscurantism. But anthropology has never been only a science, and it ought to be sufficiently broad-minded to embrace the poetics of culture and some of its music as well.
After Peter published his piece on the story, it was covered by Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of blogs, including Nature.com, picked it up.
One of the most depressing articles I’ve ever read in my entire life describes the problem American students face when pondering a career in science. For years, the conventional wisdom was that our education system was failing to properly educate our children in STEM subjects (science, tech, engineering, and math). However, this article in Miller-McCune directly challenges this assumption. The authors contend that the real problem facing American students is a lack of careers in science. The case they make is compelling: Although the number of graduates receiving Ph.D.’s has increased, the number of job opportunities has not kept pace. This trend is particularly noticeable in academia, where young Ph.D.’s spend years as post-docs, with only a small chance of ever landing a permanent position as a professor. Indeed, the average age of a scientist who earns his first independent NIH grant– a huge milestone in the medical science field– has risen from a researcher’s late 20s/early 30s to the ripe old age of 42. One of the biggest causes indicated in this article is the flood of foreigners who are willing to take post-doc positions. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that a massive increase in labor supply will both eat up opportunities and drive down salaries. Post-doc positions, which were once viewed as prestigious, are now treated as temporary, cheap labor. With such a dismal prospect for career advancement and compensation, it’s no wonder that American students would rather get an MBA or MD… or to forgo higher education altogether.
If you follow the comment threads in places where anything concerning science is being discussed, you've probably noticed how little it takes to get some posters really apoplectic about the dangers to scientific inquiry posed by "fundamentalists," "creationists" or other assorted religious cranks and yahoos. Interestingly enough, virtually all of the science reportage I'm referring to isn't even remotely connected to the religion/science controversy. Nevertheless, the discussion doesn't get very far before someone weighs in with dark warnings about the fate of Galileo, the Scopes trial and McCarthyism [not scientific, I know but it gets in there anyway], along with much less decorous references to "bigots," "Christofascists," or "witch burners." Such dangerous people do exist, but it's pretty hard to find any of them on most college campuses. So why is it necessary to do battle with them when they don't even show up? More than that: even if no one says anything about religious belief at all in these venues, it's not the least unusual to encounter unprovoked, stern admonitions about the incompatibility of science and faith. Curious, to say the least. In this light, I'm hoping that something productive will come from a new initiative sponsored by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, a Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER), the subject of this piece today at Inside Higher Ed. One purpose will be to "facilitate communication" between science and religious belief, since the two are so often seen as mutually exclusive, and some commenters have already jumped in to insist that it must ever be so. Hopefully though, the tone of the "dialogue" can at least become a bit more civil, particularly on the part of those who so often mount a stiff defense when no one attacks.
Today's New York Times features John Tierney's followup to his piece last week about attempts to legislate "gender equity," which he concludes will never work: a mixture of innate biological factors and individual career choices, rather than a "glass ceiling" or deliberate discrminination account for the statistical disparities between men and women in fields such as physics or mechanical engineering. Tierney cites a solid body of research to bolster his conclusion - including the stellar work of our friend Christina Sommers - but the comments thread indicates that, where this subject is concerned, ideology still reigns supreme for many others. The gap can be explained by "gender bias," case closed. Unfortunately, Congress seems to be listening to the ideologues at the moment.
John Tierney has an interesting piece in today's New York Times about the ongoing controversy over what an "equitable" proportion of female faculty in scientific fields such as physics, aeronautics or engineering might be. His title - "Daring to Discuss Women in Science" - indicates how politically radioactive that subject continues to be, although perhaps we can take heart from the fact that it's appearing in the Times. Given the ubiquitous presumption that male/female statistical disparities are attributable to entrenched "bias," Tierney asks whether the "gender equity" legislation just passed by the House of Representatives would be amenable to at least considering some pretty solid evidence that other factors may be at work as well. Echoing the seminal work of Christina Sommers which we noted here last week, he observes that in any case, we're talking about a relatively small number of people, since most of us, male or female, aren't especially talented in the hard sciences, and tend to fall in the middle of most statistical measurements. A small number of men, however, score both much lower AND much higher than the comparable number of women in mathematically oriented scientific fields such as those noted above. If this is true, then perhaps we cannot continue to assume that social factors alone account for differences in the ratios between men and women. In any case, it's striking that male/female disparities are much more pronounced in a number of other fields, such as English Literature, psychology, veterinary science and special education, but aren't attracting the solicitude of Congress or "gender equity" activists on campus. Go figure. Be that as it may, it's fine with us if you want to discuss "women in science" at this page, so feel free to let us know what you think. We won't try to prevent you from getting tenure or seek to have you sacked from your job as a college president.
Several weeks ago, NAS President Peter Wood took note here of the inquiries by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had announced his intention look into the use of reasearch funds granted by the Commonwealth to controversial Penn State climatologist Michale Mann. In light of the so-called "climategate" revelations last Fall, Cuccinelli declared that there were sufficient grounds to justify an investigation of Mann's grant proposal to determine whether or not he had used fraudulent data in applying for public funding to underwrite his research . A firestorm of controversy arose, complete with grim comparisons to the trial of Galileo, the burning of witches and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. When Peter offered tentative and carefully qualified support for Cuccinelli's inquiries, a spirited discussion arose among our regular readers as well. The issue is still very much alive, and Slate carried a piece the other day by its senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger, who argue there that academic freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. We've never bought this position, and have elaborated our view of academic freedom frequently, as Peter did in this explication last year. We continue to believe that the AAUP's 1915 declaration holds up very well: academic freedom certainly covers the right of scholars to defend and advocate positions within their fields, even though these may run counter to the established wisdom, if they believe their research leads them to such conclusions. But academic freedom, in this understanding, does not entitle a scholar to hold court in the classroom on current political trends, the outcome of the world series or his part-time job as a bowling alley repair specialist. If he teaches at a public university, he can step out into the common area where the First Amendment protects his right to declare himself on these matters and just about any others as well. But neither the First Amendment nor academic freedom entitle any researcher, scientific or otherwise, to unscrutinized and unaccountable public funding. We've certainly yielded to no one in our own defense of traditional academic freedom, and we'll continue to stick to our guns. At the moment, though, the issue seems highly confused, and I hope I've been able to at least clarify our position on it.
As the House of Representatives approaches a vote on the America Competes Reathorization Act, our long-time friend Christina Sommers takes note of an obscure section tucked deeply within the bill which could have major consequences for academic searches in the sciences or engineering. On the face of it, the act seems like a good thing, intended to maintain an American competitive advantage in the burgeoning global economy. But take a look, Sommers tells us, at that unheralded little section the, "Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Science and Engineering Amendment." If that provision becomes law as seems likely, Sommers argues, we can expect to see an explosion of "gender bias" and "gender equity" workshops intended to redress the "underutilization" of women in aeronautics, physics and mathematics, under the aggressive leadership, no less, of the White House Office of Science and Technology. "Gender Equity" in the sciences, of course, has long been chief among the perpetual discontents of academic feminists, a remaining citadel of entrenched sexism and male domination. Now, it seems, they are about to add substantial federal clout to their arsenal.
James Delingpole, in the Telegraph, recently noted:
Climategate just got much, much bigger. And all thanks to the Russians who, with perfect timing, dropped this bombshell just as the world’s leaders are gathering in Copenhagen to discuss ways of carbon-taxing us all back to the dark ages.
The Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) reported that the Hadley Center for Climate Change had probably tampered with Russian-climate data:
The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory ... Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.
Read why Joseph D'Aleo, a former professor of climatology, calls this "paint-by-numbers science."
By now, most of the world has heard of "Climategate"-- the e-mail scandal surrounding the Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in the UK. (If you are unfamiliar with the story, you can catch up with this Wikipedia article.) In short, hackers broke into the university's e-mail system and posted on the internet private communications between climate researchers, and the e-mails are far from flattering. Besides gloating over the death of a climate change skeptic, the e-mails show concerted efforts by the researchers to manipulate temperature data, to block public access to their data, and (perhaps most disturbingly) to exclude skeptical or critical researchers from the peer review process. While it may be too early to describe this behavior as "scientific fraud," it is certainly appropriate to label it "unethical." The New York Times's John Tierney wrote an excellent piece about this scandal and its implications for climate change advocates. Tierney points out that the climate researchers involved became "so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate[d] their certitude -- and ultimately undermine[d] their own cause." What this situation also reveals is that scientists who become public policy advocates can lose the most important characteristic they have: objectivity. Scientists must accept data for what it is, not what they wish it to be. Scientists must deal with contradictory data, not ignore it. And most importantly, scientists must be transparent with their research and the conclusions they draw, not secretive. However, these ethical principles become far more difficult to uphold when scientists become activists. To be sure, "Climategate" does not disprove global climate change, but it absolutely raises the suspicions of a general public who is often leery of science to begin with. Furthermore, scandals such as this damage not only the researchers involved but the entire scientific endeavor itself. Scientists who become public policy advocates must walk a fine line. Unfortunately, the researchers at East Anglia crossed that line.
The mania over "diversity" (that is, preferences for certain people whose ancestry puts them into an "underrepresented" category) has swept through most of American higher education. It's bad enough when, say, English departments fret that they aren't adequately "modeling diversity," but far more worrisome when medical schools do. In this Pope Center article today, I write about this disturbing phenomenon.
I wonder what’s going on with Google and Climategate? Specifically, I mean why doesn’t the premier mega-search resource’s suggestion function work when you enter “Climategate?” Enter “Global Warming,” for example and you’ll instantly get at least a dozon suggestions; same thing with “Climate Change.” But with “Climategate – even though it records many more hits than the other two – nada, nyet, nichts, nihil, nothin’. Is this a coincidence? Maybe. But maybe Google thinks it doesn’t need to be too helpful for those global warming deniers, either. You have to wonder.
I got this email from the National Teach-In for Global Warming as part of an "Education for Sustainability" listserv to which I subscribe:
Dear Colleagues and Friends, The hacked e-mails from climate scientists have energized the denialist community: one of the most jaw-dropping comments came from “Superfreakonomics” co-author Steven Dubner who told Fox News that “scientists were “colluding” with Al Gore in “distorting evidence.” He insisted that “you can’t read these emails and feel that the IPCC’s or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher.” Now you too can help “hide the decline”. No, not a (non-existent) decline in the global temperature data, but a decline in the voices of people who understand the science. As educators, many of us are stunned that a few private e-mails are somehow calling into question three decades of peer-reviewed research by thousands of the world’s top scientists. Nevertheless, because you and I are not speaking out, but the deniers are, it is happening, and we have the obligation to set the record straight. What can you do? 1. Help us organize statewide conference calls with your US Senate offices this spring. We need to get 500 people on the line each from Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Nevada and 46 other states—to have a real conversation with Senate staff about real issues. The Bard Center for Environmental Policy will do all the work setting up the calls, but we need your help getting the word out. To learn more, give me a call at 845-758-8067, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. 2. Call your US Senate Office today (find the numbers here) and let them know that these e-mails have in no way undermined the scientific case of global warming, and that the planet is in fact heating up just as scientists have predicted. A great Peter Sinclair video explaining the issue is here. 3. Send in letter on the e-mails to the editor, or write an op-ed for your regional paper. Next Wednesday, December 16th, I will be calling into on The National Climate Seminar live from Copenhagen. While it is clear that “a grand deal” will not emerge in the next two weeks, I will be discussing whether a binding international agreement appears possible to emerge by next year’s meetings in Mexico, and what that might look like. Join us at 3 PM eastern—call in info is here. Finally: please support young people’s efforts in Copenhagen— take the daily student opinion poll POPCOP15: see the letter from Dickinson College letter below. And see the note as well about a cool Copenhagen curriculum, Citizen Climate, for high school students from the Will Steger Foundation. Thanks for the work you are doing. Professor Eban Goodstein Director, National Teach-In on Global Warming
In admirable contrast with the U.S. MSM -- which to its great shame has barely (if at all) covered the momentous climate-change, leaked e-mails scandal -- the Sunday Times (UK) recently ran a highly informed and balanced account of the story. The whole piece is well worth reading but what especially intrigued me was the tale of how the determined "leaker" disseminated his or her e-mails hoard:
The storm began with just four cryptic words. “A miracle has happened,” announced a contributor to Climate Audit, a website devoted to criticising the science of climate change. “RC” said nothing more — but included a web link that took anyone who clicked on it to another site, Real Climate [where the e-mails were to be found] ... It was a powerful and controversial mix — far too powerful for some. Real Climate is a website designed for scientists who share Jones’s belief in man-made climate change. Within hours the file had been stripped from the site. Several hours later, however, it reappeared — this time on an obscure Russian server. Soon it had been copied to a host of other servers, first in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and then Europe and America. What’s more, the anonymous poster was determined not to be stymied again. He or she posted comments on climate-sceptic blogs, detailing a dozen of the best emails and offering web links to the rest.
Some savvy hacking-job, wouldn't you say?
Charlie Martin skewers "Fraud Denier" warmist Phil Plait for calling the global warming e-mails a "non-event." Here's Martin's emphatic refutation at Discover, which appears to be a scientific "insiders" blogsite (bracketed comments mine):
Phil, this is really shameful. If you think there was no attempt to silence scientists with differing ideas, call up Roger Pielke (either of them [father or son]). Have a look at Hans von Storch’s web page.As for fraud, I don’t believe that Hansen, Mann, Jones, and Schmidt [all involved in the e-mails scandal] have been holding secret Climate SMERSH meetings to plan a conscious fraud. It’s much more insidious than that: they simply decided on the Right Explanation for the general warming trend (that nobody I know of questions [there are those that do]), and then apparently ensured the “corrections” and splices matches [sic] that Right Explanation. They didn’t massage the data, they waterboarded it into submission. They then conspired to prevent people, even people like Pielke Sr who believed in general in both the warming and anthropogenicity, but who believed in other mechanisms for the anthropogenic forcings, from being published. Oddly, when we look at the data, we find that the corrections dominate the raw data signal, and constitute most or all of the temperature change that was then published as a “result.” On the FOIA front, they clearly conspired (in 20 emails rather than 2) to find ways to prevent their data from being released. Jones even requested certain emails be deleted after they were requested via FOIA. So, I suppose if you think manipulating data, misconduct in peer review, and what appear to have been multiple felonies are nothing, I can’t argue [but, of course, he is doing just that]. But this isn’t climate science, this is climate scientology.
This is a guest article from Alex Berezow, a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology at the University of Washington. The opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Association of Scholars. Remember when President Obama said that he was going to “restore science to its rightful place”? Apparently, that statement needed to be translated from the vagaries of “hope and change” to modern English: Right-wing anti-science policies are out; left-wing anti-science policies are in. To Mr. Obama’s credit, he has extended federal dollars to fund embryonic stem cell research far beyond what President Bush allowed. However, that executive order marks both the beginning and the end of his love affair with sound science. For starters, President Obama appointed Cass Sunstein as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Mr. Sunstein believes that all recreational hunting should be banned. He also believes that meat consumption should be phased out in the United States, and he holds the unique belief that animals should have the right to sue humans in court. Naturally, the animal would be represented by a human lawyer—a policy other than that would just be silly. But who exactly would represent the animals in court is unclear at this point. Dr. Doolittle might be available, though. All satire aside, with someone this disconnected from reality working in the White House, one wonders what impact he could have on the ability of scientists to conduct biomedical animal research. Also, remember Mr. Obama’s obsession with creating green technology jobs as a way of leading us out of the recession? According to a report described by George Will in his Washington Post column, Spain’s massive subsidization of renewable energy has cost that country 110,000 jobs. Far from helping Spain’s economic crisis, this foolish subsidization appears to have contributed to its mind-blowing 19.3% unemployment rate. As if this weren’t bad enough, a fantastic op/ed by Joel Frezza brought up several more examples of “junk science” coming from the White House, a few of which I’ll summarize and expand upon. Firstly, the administration has given in to unsubstantiated claims by the Left that certain vaccine components are unsafe, despite the fact that studies have proven the claims to be false. (For instance, medical experts like Jim Carrey insist vaccines cause autism.) Unbelievably, the Obama Administration has ignored the research findings of modern medicine and issued a decree that our nation’s swine flu vaccines should have lower amounts of thimerosal. (Thimerosal is the preservative erroneously believed to cause autism.) This last-minute decision has caused backups at the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccine, and it has contributed to the swine flu vaccine shortage. Additionally, the Obama Administration has neglected to remove a federal ban on the use of certain adjuvants (immune-stimulating chemicals) which can help stretch limited vaccine supplies. This, too, has contributed to the national flu vaccine shortage. Mr. Frezza goes on to describe how the Obama Administration is asking for areas of Alaska to be deemed “critical habitat” for polar bears. This move could severely limit the ability to drill for oil and gas in the region, in a time when our nation is in desperate need of energy sources. It appears that, once again, Mr. Obama has caved to propaganda-spewing environmentalists who have ignored recent evidence indicating that polar bear populations are increasing. In fact, polar bear researcher Mitch Taylor claims that of the 19 populations of polar bears, only two have exhibited declining numbers. As a side issue, it’s also interesting to note that people like Captain Planet (Al Gore) who refer to polar bears as “endangered” don’t even have their facts straight: Polar bears are officially listed as “vulnerable”—an entirely different conservation status. This status is given to animals which may become endangered if conditions don’t change. Arguably, however, conditions are changing because their population has been increasing. Finally, Mr. Frezza points out the economically ludicrous and scientifically unsound subsidization of biofuels. Liberals see the subsidization of biofuels as killing two birds with one stone: Fixing the planet and helping out America’s farmers. However, science has something entirely different to say about biofuels. The production of biofuels emits nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas. The planet, unfortunately, doesn’t find it very funny, since nitrous oxide is a much more potent contributor to the greenhouse effect than is carbon dioxide. As The Economist points out in this article, a policy meant to make things better is merely an expensive way of making things worse. Honestly, this list could go on and on. What is so infuriating is the fact that Mr. Obama self-righteously proclaimed to be the protector of science, when the truth is that he simply replaced Mr. Bush’s special interests with his own. In what has to be the most stunning broken promise in Mr. Obama’s presidency, instead of “restoring science,” he has simply resorted to “politics as usual.”
My friends at NAS.org have posted on the “Climate Conspiracy” that broke when hackers revealed global warming scientists had apparently manipulated data, organized attacks on skeptics, and much more. Surprise, surprise. The timing couldn’t be worse for those who would cripple economies with the plaintive cry: “Do as we say or we all die!” Worldwide there is growing skepticism about the benefits of micromanaging every aspect of daily life while measuring “carbon footprints.” The Wall Street Journal even contributed to this Nanny Project with a long piece measuring the carbon footprint of various common products. I was relieved to see that beer had the lowest carbon footprint. How far have we gone when we decide whether or not it is “good for the planet” to drink beer? Now we must ask: Did German scientists manipulate the beer data to preserve their national beverage? (I'm kidding). It's a good cause (beer drinking) but who studies this stuff? And when is enough enough? To read more, click here.
Dr. Tim Ball has written an article in the November 21 Canada Free Press in which he calls leading climatologists "frauds." He bases this on computer-based information obtained by someone who hacked into the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit server. The pro-anthropogenic climate change media, such as Associated Press and the Washington Post, emphasize the ethical issues associated with the hacking of the computers but downplay the implications for the credibility of pro-anthropogenic academics. The damage seems to be more serious than the Post yet admits. In his Canada Free Press article Ball raises questions not only about the credibility of climatological research but of the academic peer review process generally. Given widespread public interest in this topic, increased public scrutiny of peer review and of university research may be a collateral effect of the scandal. Concerning the peer review process generally Ball writes:
I was always suspicious about why peer review was such a big deal. Now all my suspicions are confirmed. The emails reveal how they controlled the process, including manipulating some of the major journals like Science and Nature. We know the editor of the Journal of Climate, Andrew Weaver, was one of the “community”. They organized lists of reviewers when required making sure they gave the editor only favorable names. They threatened to isolate and marginalize one editor who they believed was recalcitrant.
We may ask whether this kind of bias exists elsewhere in universities. If climate change has been politicized, what about studies like labor relations, law, sociology and economics?
Many professors in the humanities and social sciences have been taking heat for years about the quality and integrity - in particular, the tendentiousness - of their research and teaching. But, now, along comes the worldwide airing of data obtained by a hacker implicating a major group of UK university scientists in what seems to be deliberate fraud -- a long and systematic effort to manipulate data to "hide the decline" in temperatures. Charlie Martin at Pajamas Media speculates where these revelations, if confirmed, may lead:
If these files are eventually corroborated and verified, it is a bombshell indeed — evidence that there has been a literal conspiracy to push the anthropogenic climate change agenda far beyond the science. It will mean the end of some scientific careers, and it might even mean those careers [sic] will end in jail.
The trustees of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), reports the Jerusalem Post, have unanimously voted against severing ties with Israeli universities, and no one rose to argue in favor of the corrosive proposal. Good sense and respect for openness to diverse views prevailed. Had the outcome of this vote been different, a dangerous precedent would have been set for all academe. Kudos to the trustees.