“Sea no evil”

Posted June 5th, 2012 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Interfaces of science and policy
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Apparently expecting the future to be like the past, last week, North Carolina GOP legislators circulated a bill  that begged for and just received the Colbert Report treatment. The bill not only dictates that estimates of sea-level-rise (SLR) are to be based only on historical trends, post 1900, and may not take into account scenarios of accelerated rates of SLR. It also forbids state public entities from making policies based on any estimates not produced by the only state agency authorized by the bill to make them – the NC Division of Coastal Management, which may only do so at the request of the Coastal Resources Commission, using said method. Eli the Rabett sniffed out the back story, with lots of links – with more added in the comments.

The bill, apparently based on the advice of one John Droz, was prepared in response to a report of a state science panel that recommended adoption of a 1 meter (39”) rise in sea level by 2100 for purposes of policy and planning. Droz, a retired real estate developer with a degree in physics, and not a single peer-reviewed publication on climate or any other topic, and science advisor to an NC-20 (an advocacy group representing coastal counties) “says he consulted with 30 sea-level experts, most of them not named”  in his critique of the science panel estimates. Which is not how science works.

As a consequence of this “fight against sea level rise predictions”, if the bill were to pass, state agencies would be unable to plan for and respond to actual sea level rise, even when using federal funds. According to the Charlotte Observer, a $5 million federally/FEMA funded study being carried out by the NC Division of Emergency Management, would only be able to report a projected range of SLR from 3.9 to 15.6 inches rather than 1 meter.

Which will lead to even higher costs as the state attempts to stabilize beaches already eroding as a result of coastal development patterns.

[Long promised and long overdue post revisiting Post-Normal Science in Post-Normal Times, coming soon….]


Perry actually says something correct, but deeply misleading

Posted August 20th, 2011 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Category 5 Spin

PinocchioRick Perry has been getting dinged for making the allegation that “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Finding him to be willfully ignoring if not ignorant of the facts, and to be making false accusations based on little evidence, even the Washington Post Fact Checker gives him the maximum rating of four Pinocchios – and provides the facts so I don’t have to. Never mind that Perry himself has accepted $11 million from oil and gas companies – who also happen to be his top contributors. Not at all surprising. But I would be pleasantly surprised if clearing any of that up actually makes any difference in the beliefs of the Republican base, who only seem to hear what they want to hear.

What actually caught my attention was Perry’s less commented on reference to “man-made global warming” as a “scientific theory that has not been proven” – which is actually correct, because science doesn’t actually prove anything to be true. It can only falsify or disconfirm a hypothesis, and provide “levels of confidence” in its findings. The statement could just be careless and sloppy, or could be a very convenient way to call for postponing action on climate change indefinitely no matter what the science says, without appearing to oppose science or action.

Either way, I’m giving it a fifth Pinocchio because it is either based on, or takes advantage of a general misconception of what science can deliver, not to mention deep anxieties about the future in what have become post-normal times. Therefore it is more deeply misleading than a mere misrepresentation of facts. If there were a more general understanding that uncertainty is part of life, and that science is not a crystal ball, I suspect fewer people would be taken in by the arguments of the “skeptics”, whose arguments tend to hype uncertainties to make the case against taking action in response to human-induced climate change. As well as downplay, ignore or misrepresent multiple lines of evidence that all point in the same direction. The focus of public discourse could then actually be on whether and how to address human-induced climate change rather than whether it is happening.

Acceptance of uncertainty of course leads to many more questions as to: the implications of various kinds of uncertainty for decision-making, stakeholder participation in science-based decisions, and evaluating the quality of scientific information when there are cranks at the table, who are more interested in disrupting the process than in reaching a decision that is in the public interest. And why the double standard for acting with uncertain information when it comes to climate and other environmental sciences? Uncertainty does not seem to stop most people from following medical advice or investing in the stock market. I will come back to all of this in my promised and long-overdue forthcoming post, in which I revisit the basics of post-normal science as context for commenting on the recent conference of the Heartland Institute, and on the puzzling turn taken by Jerry Ravetz. To those who asked me to comment on these – my apologies for the delay – it is a topic that really merits a full article that I have not had the time to write, but I have not dropped it.

New normal or post-normal?

Posted February 8th, 2011 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Living in Post-Normal Times

After explaining what a normal climate is, Heidi Cullen asks whether there actually is a normal climate at all, given that each of the past three decades has been hotter than the previous one, with 2000-2009 being the hottest on record. But nevertheless, she goes on to refer to the “new normals”, defined as a region’s weather averaged over 30 years, which are updated at the end of each decade. These show that “on average, conditions were about 3.6 F warmer from 2001-2010 than from 1971-1980.” As it will likely take a long time before we actually reach a new normal, it seems like it is time for a new term to characterize this interim period.

Again, Welcome to Post-Normal Times! And note that I am no longer the only one using the term. Since Zia Sardar published his article in the journal Futures, characterizing it as a time of Chaos, Contradictions and Complexity, several others have written rejoinders that generally accept and elaborate on the premise, and on what might be necessary to achieve a new normal.

In a somewhat different context, even Joe Romm says that “these are Post Normal Times” and that we are now in a Post Normal Climate. His post was in response to Cuccinelli’s fishing expedition – i.e., a Civil Investigative Demand from the Attorney General of Virginia, which suggests that Michael Mann might have committed fraud for not disclosing the Post-Normal nature of climate science in a grant application, and conceding to operating in an environment of uncertainty. As if there ever were certainty in anything other than death and taxes, let alone science, and demonstrating that Cuccinelli has either unrealistic expectations of science and/or does not have a clue as to what he is talking about. Nevermind his attempt to criminalize the normal practice of science now pending in a circuit court.

Cuccinelli is not alone is spreading confusion around the concept of Post-Normal Science, at least as I understood the concept when I embraced it. However, I chose Post-Normal Times as the theme for this blog so as to shift the focus from a wonky discussion of science philosophy to the policy context.

This blog has been MIA as controversy has swirled around the concept of Post-Normal Science, beginning with Jerry’s posts last year at WUWT, which gave me a bad case of writer’s block, Judith Curry’s engagement of climate deniers as an extension of the peer review process, and continuing with the recent Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate. The latter has the Policy Lass wondering if PNS is tailor-made for the denialist crowd, and has Deep Climate wondering if the PNS concept has been hijacked altogether. Full-time work over the past two years took the oxygen out of this blog, just as climate deniers are paralyzing the policy process and sucking the oxygen away from finding solutions. I’m still here but comments on PNS and Lisbon etc are going to have to be a separate post, coming next.

“Science” catfight?

Posted April 7th, 2010 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Other Stuff
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Stephen Colbert continues with the climate vs weather theme, in a “science catfight” between meteorologists – aka, TV weathermen, and climatologists. If it doesn’t make any sense thats ok. You can just pick whatever side confirms your beliefs. This is made for TV drama. But in the irony department, note that the American Meteorological Society sides with the 31% of meteorologists who believe that global warming is primarily human induced, as do 90% of climatologists.

It would be interesting to find out more about the differences in educational background and employment of the meteorologists who do and don’t attribute global warming to humans. Perhaps the latter were all students of Bill Gray who are more interested in flying into hurricanes, chasing storms, and reporting directly from their path – which keeps eyeballs glued to the television. It has been awhile since I read it but for more in depth perspective on differences between these two camps, see Chris Mooney’s book, Storm World. Stephen also observed that, the percentage of Americans who trust TV weathermen, about 56%, is roughly the same as the percentage who voted for Al Gore.