Optimism Friday: Leadership and Solutions on Global Warming Email Print

I am writing this partly out of some things that have been floating through my mind for some time and partly in response to Scottage's pessimistic article on Global Warming. My premise is simple. Our lack of a response to the immanent cirsis of Global Warming is not due to a lack of solutions or technology or ability to deal with it. We still have a chance to face the problem and ensure a better future for our children. What we lack is leadership.

Republicans believe America is Weak

This is the message that Republicans tell you all the time. We are too weak to maintain our traditional freedoms in the face of terrorism. We are too weak to condemn and eschew torture. We are too weak to maintain our levees. We are too weak to handle the truth from our politicians. We are too weak to run our own ports. We even appear too weak to keep up technologically with Osama bin Laden's media men, according to Rumsfeld!

But where we hear this message the most is when it comes with facing the impending crisis known as Global Warming. Although a handful of deniers remain loudly vocal, more than 95% of climate scientists agree that global warming is in full swing, that our energy policies are primarily to blame, and that we had better get busy DOING SOMETHING about it if we don't want the consequences to be beyond our control. Though many details are still debated, Global Warming is so solidly supported as a scientific theory that even Bush eventually had to publicly admit its truth. And our addiction to oil is so clearly a major contributing factor to Global Warming that even Bush has had to publicly admit it. If you want to read more about the overwhelming evidence for Global Warming (as well as some discussion of the foolishness of its deniers), please read this and this as well as the information on the Union of Concerned Scientists website. And for one of the most authoritative and respected discussion boards on Global Warming, including the latest science and controversies, please go to Real Climate, which is put together by Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York who was cited by Scientific American as one of the 50 Research Leaders of 2004.

But, the Republicans tell us that we are too weak to do anything about Global Warming and we just have to sit back and hope for the best. We just are victims who can't do anything to avert disaster. That is the message given to America by the Republicans.

BULL! I say the Republicans are WRONG. America is fully capable of facing the crisis of Global Warming. All we need is LEADERSHIP, which is one thing the Republicans are completely unable to give us.

Here is what we know: Global Warming is happening and our energy policies are contributing to the problem. Our cities are polluted and our energy policies are contributing to the problem. Our trade deficit is growing rapidly and our energy policies are a large part of this deficit. Terrorism is in large part funded by oil profits and the major oil producing nations of the Middle East are also the major sources of support for al Qaeda. And our energy policies are contributing to the problem of terrorism.

A REAL leader would come right out and say we can and will change our energy policies to in one broad stroke help address ALL of these problems. What does alternative energy mean? It means STRENGTH for America. What does energy independence mean? It means STRENGTH for America.

Other nations are doing it. Australia looks to solar. Patagonia (Argentina) looks to wind. Brazil looks to biofuels from sugar. Sweden looks to biofuels from its forests. What about America? What ever happened to our technological edge, our American ingenuity? Instead of acting, our leaders are denying that we have the strength to do anything.

It takes strength and leadership to get the ball rolling, but the rewards of making the change are highly encouraging. Alternative energy means LOCAL and AMERICAN solutions to these problems. Alternative energy means each region of the US discovers its own best energy source--solar, geothermal, wind, biofuels, etc. America has the diversity of climate and resources to take advantage of pretty much EVERY alternative energy source. This would mean AMERICAN jobs, stronger communities, energy independence, cleaner air, a MUCH smaller or eliminated trade deficit, and a direct and real response to global warming. It is so obviously advantageous that it seems the height of insanity that it isn't being done! What we face now is so inferior to what we would face if we made the change that I do not understand why we cling to our current energy policies. Companies already exist that are invested in every single alternative energy resource in America. Companies like US Energy Systems, Inc., focused on geothermal, and Native Energy, which is a Native American owned and operated business that builds wind generation projects. Other companies (publicly traded ones) can be found HERE.  Distribution companies, like Green Mountain Energy are offering alternative energy choices that you can use as YOUR energy source for YOUR home. In New York, even ConEd has a Green Energy option for powering your home that Joy and I have opted into. Hybrid cars that get 50 mpg are already available (I have experienced this in a Prius). So the solutions already exist and you and I can individually choose them. What is lacking is the national leadership to lead our entire nation on a saner, better path.

Energy Independence for a STRONG America, a STRONG economy and a STRONG environment. Alternative energy for our future and our children's future. Alternative energy for a BETTER future. Don't listen to the Republicans. America is strong and America can do what it takes to assure our children's future. Challenge your politicians, local, state and Federal, to become LEADERS in the fight to keep America strong for our children.


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Google brought me to your postings here during my frequent browsing on Global Warming. Of what must be hundreds of articles I have read on the subject, your post on 1/31/06 is the first I can recall to appeal to scientific principles. Kudos for your defense of theories in science and your reference to scientific models, even though only in the context of climatology. However, you have made some basic mistakes that lead you to the wrong conclusions.

1.    You said, "A theory is as good as it gets in science." And you said, "A theory is never definitively and forever proven." The first is false, and the second is a tautology.

Science is objective knowledge contained in models which have predictive power. Generally science recognizes four grades of model. In order of increasing predictive power, they are Conjectures, Hypotheses, Theories, and Laws. Conjectures contain no significant, quantitative prediction, and may not fit all the data; Hypotheses do both, postulate one or more significant predictions, but none has been validated; Theories are Hypotheses that contain some validated, significant predictions, but some consequences remain unvalidated; Laws are Theories that have been exhaustively validated.  

A Theory is doomed by definition never to be definitively and forever proven. When it is at last exhaustively validated, it becomes instead a scientific Law.

Kudos for referencing Newtonian vs. Einsteinian Mechanics. However, Newtonian Mechanics is not as you say "flawed". It is still Law, still taught, and overstating the extent of its application would be most difficult. In keeping with the principles of science, Einstein caused the domain of Newtonian Mechanics to be restricted to non-relativistic applications. Relativistic Mechanics are far too cumbersome to replace Newtonian Mechanics unnecessarily, insuring the unending application of Newton's Laws.

Contrary to your explanation, a Theory is not as good as it gets in science. A Law is.

2.    You said, "There are people who deny the existence of global warming. Or, more exactly, they play an odd game of denial where they start [by] denying the existence of global warming, then say that even if it does exist it isn't caused by carbon dioxide and even if it is caused by carbon dioxide it is not caused by people." Also, you said, "global warming is an observed reality", and you referred to the "global warming hypothesis".

In your articles, you use the term "global warming" ambiguously to create strawman opposition and to exaggerate the state of climatology. You also seem unsure of the difference between a fact and a model (here you add more confusion by using the terms theory and hypothesis in place of model).

There are two different scientific things at work here: global warming as measured and derived from measurements throughout the geological history of the earth. Then there is the model that recent global warming is caused by man. The first, I'll call Global Warming (GW), and it is fact, or at least a collection of facts. It comprises measurements which can be compared with scientific standards. It contains no cause and effect.

The second is popularly called Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), and posits a cause for the GW effect. It is a model, and is arguably no better than a conjecture drawn principally from observations of Venus and a little physics on greenhouse (GH) gasses.

3.    You assert in a paragraph or two that GH gasses are known to be the cause of recent warming because, you shout, both are ACCELARATING so VERY CLOSELY CORRELATE. You say, "This is the famous `hockey stick' graph."

Those OBSERVATIONS are false for two reasons. The correlation is between CO2 and temperatures, and not between all GH gasses and temperatures. You omit the overwhelmingly most abundant GH gas: water vapor. Secondly, the "hockey stick" graph has been severely challenged as being nothing but a climatologist's embarrassing data processing error. For believers in AGW, the hockey stick effect was simply too good not to be true.

4.    You defend against the omission of water vapor in the correlation your cite, and even in the global climate models (GCMs). You do so by alleging that the critics claim "that water vapor is ignored in global warming studies ... is false."  

Whether water vapor is studied somewhere tangential to the GCMs is irrelevant. The GCMs, which are the only source of quantitative temperature increases due to CO2 emissions (or any other source), apparently do not model water vapor.

Secondly, your shouted correlation is not between temperature and all GH gasses. That correlation omits water vapor. The GH gas conjecture is not just the CO2 gas conjecture.

6.    In your 1/15/06 post, your said, "So where are the greenhouse gasses coming from? There is NO natural source that can be identified."

This is a transparent attempt to say that the GH gasses today must be manmade. The attempt is misleading on two counts. First, your accounting doesn't include water vapor. Second, the geological record for at least 400,000 years shows a correlation between CO2 and a surrogate for temperature. The source for that GH gas may not have been identified, but regardless it was natural. A challenge for the climatologists in order to validate their GCMs is to account for the natural CO2 cycle.

6.    You claim, "the hypothesis of global warming is a solid scientific theory because it has been successfully predictive."

This is false. First, having a GCM predict GW is insufficient. It must predict AGW. The model must first be shown to reproduce the known record within its domain. It must then predict the climate with and without the human influence, showing quantitatively and to a specified confidence level the extent of the influence of manmade CO2 over natural causes.

Ideally, this GCM would be able to reproduce the entire geological record, including the four or more major ice ages. Short of that, it should be able to reproduce a credible record over the last 40 million years, that is since the last and until the next ice age, plus the interglacial cycles.

If the domain of the GCM, like any model, is too short and the number of variables is made sufficiently large, the GCM can reproduce the record in its domain perfectly, yet still have no predictive power at all.

No known GCM is up to this task.

7.    You repeatedly appeal to a consensus of "scientists", as when you refer to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Center for Science Education, and 90% of climate scientists or climatologists. You also refer to what "scientific experts ... believe", what "climatologists believe", and a passive "more serious impacts than previously believed".

This is not science. No part of science involves a vote, or any kind of consensus. Furthermore science does not include any belief system. Such appeals correlate with junk science. Nor is science about peer review or credentials.

At one time, every great idea was held by one person, alone, and against the conventional wisdom. You mentioned Newton and Einstein. They were alone when they made their great contributions.

What counts in science is a model of predictive value.

You have failed to establish even an outline of credibility for AGW. The rest of your articles are vulgar political diatribes. The nation is blessed to have the George W. Bush reject the Kyoto Accords, whatever his reason might be.

by drrocket on 03/21/2006 04:16:15 PM EST

Thank you for reading my series of articles so carefully. Not surprisingly, I disagree on several accounts.

Laws are not really any more solid than theories. Newtonian phyisics is still just a collection of theories, whether we call them laws or not. Newtonian physics is unable to explain the orbit of Mercury, for example. It required Einsteinian physics to do so. That is, I maintain, a flaw in Newtonian physics. "Law" is a convenient way of referring to a VERY well tested theory.

As for how I refer to things, well, that varies from diary to diary. In my more action oriented ones, like this one suggesting we need LEADERSHIP to strengthen our nation and Bush lacks that leadership, I left aside the scientific details. But I do make many of those distinctions, and make them carefully, in the earlier diaries.

You claim that the study of water vapor has so far only been tangential to global warming research. That is absolutely false. Water vapor is one of the MOST studied aspects in current research. Your statement may have once been true, but not for a long time. I can only assume you are making an indirect reference to the work of   Richard Lindzen, who has made several claims regarding water vapor and global warming. His theories have largely been disproven using the very cloud and water vapor studies you are suggesting don't exist. People on BOTH sides have studied water vapor and generally (so far) those studies have supported the theory that human activities are causing global warming through CO2 emissions.

And you claim that the AGW theory is only conjecture based on observations of Venus and a little physics. That is also not true. Observations of Earth and Mars also contribute to standared greenhouse models which, contrary to what you say, include BOTH water vapor and CO2 as well as other greenhouse gasses. The AGW theory is based also on the extremely close correlation between the rise in green house gasses (predominantly CO2 but also methan and others), the rise of human industry, and the rise in temperature. These correlations are compelling. But, as with all correlations, they need something else to imply causation. THAT is where the planetary science and physics observations come in. I outlined this exact though process in another diary. You have some very compelling correlations with some well established physics backing it up. That makes an excellent theory.

The theory then was used to predict various things. The AGW theory, establised more than a decade ago, has predicted much of what has been happening now.

Your statements are well made. But they are deceptive. The fact that an overwhelming number of climatologists believe AGW is happening is BASED ON the robustness of the theory. It isn't a vote. It is a bunch of people studying something and becoming convinced based on the evidence. A vote? No one said anything about that. These are the experts and 95% of them have reviewed the data, routinely read the literature, and are convinced that you are wrong.

For the record let me restate that I am a biologist, not a climatologist. I keep up on the global warming literature and my wife is a climatologist. I know enough that I could help a co-worker of my wife's vet her dissertation talk, though I only understood abuot half of it. So my qualifications are as a scientist (so I know full well how science works and how to judge research) as someone who reads the global warming literature (so I know the gist of current research) and as someone who rubs shoulders with many of the people DOING the research.

For the record, what expertise do you bring. For all I know you are closer to the real research than I am.

Read the Progressive Democrat

by mole333 on 03/22/2006 07:12:51 AM EST


I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of your response. Thanks.

1.    You dismiss Laws as very well tested theories. I would think as a biologist you would be more respectful of the difference between these terms as in Mendelian Laws versus the Theory of Evolution. Science should never overplay its hand. Both evolutionary scientists and AGW climatologists routinely do.

We speak of the Laws of Probability, but within the context of the Theory of Probability. Sometimes we walk a fine line.

2.    You incorrectly said, "You claim that the study of water vapor has so far only been tangential to global warming research."

What I said instead was, "Whether water vapor is studied somewhere tangential to the GCMs is irrelevant."

The GCMs are wholly inadequate without water vapor. It is the GCMs that yield the prediction of AGW, and so it is the GCMs which must account for water vapor. I'm sure it has been studied extensively, it just hasn't been put in the models apparently.

Our climate has been rather benign for most of the millennium. It is stable because of closed loop mechanisms. Water vapor and cloud cover is just one, though maybe the main one, of those mechanisms. Open loop modeling is worthless except as a starting point.

3.    I must standby my assessment that AGW is a mere conjecture.

4.    Climatology is in a most primitive state. I have learned from Lindzen, but have not relied on him. I rely on a thermodynamic perspective of how the earth warms in the chain starting with the Sun, passed through clouds, absorbed at the surface, stored in the ocean and distributed by the currents, and the atmospheric responses (cyclones, rain, clouds, winds, and of course, temperature). I demand these be well modeled in any GCM suitable for public policy.

What I do find useful is the greenhouse gas analysis, as in
http://www.geocraft.com/WVF ossils/greenhouse_data.html .
It is far more useful than conjectures, including AGW.

5.    You say, "correlations are compelling. But ... they need something else to imply causation."

Correlations can indeed be compelling, but as you say, they only imply causation. What scientists should be studying is the cross-correlation function. Statisticians, who are not scientists, rely on correlation coefficients. The function gives lead/lag and periodicity information. It helps sort out possible causes from possible effects. Correlation coefficients can't do that.

The strong visual correlation between CO2 and temperature surrogates over the past 400,000 years, coupled with the almost trivial, calculated effect of CO2 compared to H2O, leads to the suspicion that temperature causes the release of CO2. The source of the CO2 is officially unknown, but that it is likely sea water (again) is gaining recognition. The release is easy to model; the collection is more challenging.

I would demand that GCMs model the CO2 cycle if they are going be used to predict the effects of manmade CO2. However absent that, CO2 is a low order phenomenon in climate on the grand scale.

6.    You insist, "The AGW theory ... has predicted much of what has been happening now."

To predict Global Warming is merely to add another fact to a collection of facts. To predict AGW is quite a different thing.

The advocates of AGW may not take credit for another factual piece of GW, correlated or not. They must produce a model, a Global Climate Model, that can reproduce some useful, contiguous piece of GW history, make some novel prediction with it, and show that the prediction came true (it could be prospective or retrospective). Then they may exercise the GCM to see what it says the climate is going to be in the future, or to add some (manmade) CO2, but to compare the results. They must show that the modeled increase in global temperature is not due to natural causes to a high probability, at least 80%, better 95%.

The AGW conjecture can take no credit for predicting sunrise.

7.    You claim robustness for the AGW theory. Without a prediction from a validated model whatever is claimed for AGW is dangerous and irresponsible.

8.    The publishing business is in the doldrums. That includes scientific publication. The latter is choking to death on proprietary science, shielded by peer review and its cousin, credential vetting. AGW is only one example. These publishing criteria have created a backlog of pent up energy to drive the Internet.

Reputable scientists are coming to realize their work is not recognized until it is made freely available over the `net. If your paper is available only for a fee, I will ignore it and your publisher (a jab at JAMA.)

Peer review is part of the academic model for science. Another tenet of academic science is that the knowledge be public. (Not so industrial science.) It is not public if it is available only for a fee. Pure science, at least, is not that kind of commodity.  

We need to keep the government out of the Internet, and we need to expose proprietary science, not reproduce its processes.

Let's keep the Internet open to the exchange of ideas. References can help, of course. So feel free to quote me, and I you.

Let's make peer review an on-going, public process. Criticize my ideas, but don't rely on my credentials and I won't yours. Let's make it egalitarian.

So I decline your invitation to advertise my credentials. BTW, they're spectacular. But I don't want anyone to rely on them. I want a free exchange of ideas so that I can hone my models, not conform them to what 90% of anything believes. Nor do I want to be included in the majority.

Also I don't want to get sucked into any jargon. I want to write for the layman, not the specialist. Warning: he who controls the vocabulary controls the argument.

by drrocket on 03/22/2006 12:20:12 PM EST

I agree with you on tone. Most of the people I refer to as "Global Warming Deniers" get nasty quickly. I have experienced that with people who have commented on some of my Political Cortex diaries, mostly privately. Some even turned out to work for the coal industry, though they were not up front about it.

You want free exchange of ideas? It is there. I refer you to Real Climate where top scientists have a free exchange of ideas. As to peer review, well, I am aware of its plusses and minuses as someone who has both reviewed and been reviewed. I have yet to hear a better alternative that would also maintain scientific integrity.

But one thing I think is critical in a free exchange of ideas is to know the biases and the background of the person you are talking with. Hence my being up front about who I am and where I am coming from. The internet is full of scams, lies and deceptions. Of course even peer reviewed science is as well, but to a far lesser degree. You don't get a hundred peer reviewed scientific equivalents a day of the Nigeria Scam the way one does on the internet. Now, one could argue that I could be lying in my claims of who I am. From what I have found people have had little trouble confirming what I say about myself, but it is true that you can't 100% trust what people say about themselves on the internet. So, I could argue your approach is as reasonable. But...I can't help but be suspicious of someone who isn't up front about who they are.

I have reviewed, as a scientifically literate dillitente but not a specialist, both sides of the global warming debate. To me, one side's approach is much, MUCH more convincing, more scientific in their approach and reasoning, and more consistent in what they say than the other side. I have neverr automatically taken one side or the other in science. I have been skeptical of my own results as well as the results of people I work with. My experience has been that the claims of global warming deniers just don't hold water (no pun intended!). They shift their arguements and deny things that, from all I can tell from my own reading of the literature, are well supported. And they often, in the end, attack the current scientific world itself. Now, I am an insider of sorts in that world. I am well aware of its problems and its strong points. One thing that is very clear to me is that ideas that overturn the majority opinion, IF WELL SUPPORTED are very successful. The bacterial theory of ulcers. The prion theory. Even, in a much lesser way, some of the work I have participated in has overturned majority opinion. Sure, there is initial resistence, and that can sometimes be excessively dogmatic. But if the data is good, and if your conclusions based on that data are good, people become convinced.

"90%" isn't just a majority. It is overwhelming. And it isn't just popularity. It is based on a consideration of the data. INCLUDING the data by "skeptics." And within that 90% who agree that humans are causing global warming, there is CONSIDERABLE disagreement on various details. They are not afraid to disagree. They are not afraid to go against eachother. But the consensus has grown, even in the face of government opposition, threats to funding and censorship. Your dismissal of the "90%" ("95%" according to many I talk to...but I am sure that is not a scientifically determined number!) makes no sense to me.

Discussions I have with global warming deniers (they refer to themselves as skeptics, of course) really remind me of discussions I have with people who deny evolution.

Speaking of which, your "Mendelian Laws" are by no means more robust than the "Theory of Evolution." In fact, the Mendelian Laws only work under highly specific circumstances. They were a great explanation and led to greater advances, but I would not put them above the theory of Evolution which is more widely applicable and has far greater explanatory power. And, quite honestly, Mendel himself probably fudged his data. It is so clean that, as my Genetics prof put it, either he was extremely lucky, or he had his gardener helping him out a bit.

Read the Progressive Democrat

by mole333 on 03/22/2006 03:40:29 PM EST

And for the record, as I said before, INCLUSION of water vapor and clouds is what was used to disprove some of the very claims that you make (or, probably, earlier forms such as Lindzen's first theory). My wife's study of clouds seems to in no way contradict AGW. And the dissertation presentation I just heard discussed cloud and water vapor effects in the Arctic, comparing models and observations, and her data suggest that if anything water vapor has the reverse role you are suggesting. More specifically, most clouds play little role but clouds at a certain layer play a major role. I cannot do justice because I am not a specialist. But her work was EXTENSIVE and showed considerable agreement with current AGW models (or even shows a MORE dramatic effect).

Read the Progressive Democrat

by mole333 on 03/22/2006 03:46:21 PM EST


By free exchange of ideas, I was thinking of a dialog, and not so much jumping into a pool like RealClimate. I'm a little sensitive to format, and wasn't willing to post here until I was convinced that even an unregistered reader could easily browse the full set of comments. That seems to be a problem at RealClimate.

As to your wife's work, congratulations to her. But I would snidely remark, her dissertation had better not contradict AGW! (Unless she's matriculating at the U. of Calgary.)

I had a bad experience trying to get an article published on a thing called the coherence function. It is horribly behaved (noise divided by noise), yet was being used by the UCLA Brain Research Institute to prove their research. My paper was vetted by a committee of professors at UCLA, but IEEE refused publication. They had it reviewed by one man, whom I deduced to be an unsurpassed pillar in the field, and who happened to be a paid consultant for BRI on this very problem. A UCLA professor, an MD, heard about my submittal, and wrote me a note challenging me to meet him in the parking lot. I declined, and that was my last attempt to publish.

Peer review is used to protect the rice bowls of well placed, tenured academics. Don't get me wrong, there's a similar thing in industry. Personally, papers aren't worth much unless they are critical and novel.

Your writings had a twinkling of light in your reliance on scientific principles. Now you indicate a disagreement on the merits of Laws vs. Theories. I would drop the effort but for one little item in your latest. You remark how, to use my terms, the domain of Mendelian Laws has shrunk. I claim that is a hallmark of scientific models. In the face of falsifying evidence, they are either refuted, or contracted. So it was with Newton Laws, post-Einstein.

Whether you know weather is not as relevant as whether you know science. I would like to expand your model of science itself, and have you put AGW as we know it to the test.

I can't be very encouraged by your claimed choosing between AGW or Not AGW. The question to me is what rank to give to the AGW model. I don't think science is about which result pleases us most.

Evolution the Model must remain a theory until biologists remove any references to natural selection or to a direction. That's not hard to do; it just hasn't been done. By giving Evolution the Facts a cause with a sense of direction or a desire for a best result, they are creating Evolution the God. This is obviously ill advised politically. More importantly, it is prohibited in science. A model of the real world must not invoke a supernatural force. It can rely on no sense of a better species or a will to go in that direction. The scientists can, though, postulate a best criterion, and see if that holds true. In my view, the Theory of Evolution is not about survival of the fittest but of survival of the most prolific, net. It can also support the notion of greater complexity because DNA stores inactive strands. In my view, Evolution the Model is mathematical.

I feel that I have been butting heads on water vapor effects. My main point doesn't seem to be getting through. It is that the very same GCM used to predict manmade CO2 is going to increase the earth's temperature by T degrees per year must account for the CO2 cycle and water vapor. It's no good to say that some other laboratory or climatologist has studied water vapor to decide its significance.

Let me restate my concern about CO2. For all we know, the correlation between CO2 and atmospheric temperature is that temperature increase causes the release of CO2. My candidate for where this is happens is the ocean. I would look for a closed loop process that causes a certain distribution between free CO2 and dissolved CO2. And in that closed loop model, I would expect to find the addition of manmade CO2 to be frustrated by the process. Even if we wanted to warm the planet, say because of an impending ice age, we couldn't reasonably do it by smudge pots.

As to your wife's study of cloud cover, was that just over the Arctic? What could be the significance of the reflectance of clouds over an ice cap? Polar bear skin cancer? The effect of cloud reflectance should be of the utmost importance -- over the blue seas.

Every science needs to be guided by the principles of science, but alas, they are taught nowhere.

by drrocket on 03/22/2006 06:31:24 PM EST

Remove natural selection and directionality from the theory of evolution? Ummm...I think our discussion may be over here. Removing directionality is a straw man because evolution does not imply any direction other than what natural selection gives it, and that is situational. Mutation is random and slection depends on shifting environmental conditions.

Removing natural selection from evolution is like removing water vapor from climatology. It removes a fundamental aspect of the research. That is why natural selectio and water vapor are included in their respective studies.

All I can say is that the above comment damages your credibility in my eyes, for what it is worth. Your comments on CO2 and water vapor have struck me as being quite divergent from all I have read and heard from experts, but sufficiently outside of my field that I am willing to consider your view. But I am sufficiently versed in evolution to know that suggesting the removal of directionality misunderstands evolution, and suggesting the removal of natural selection essentially denies the basis of the theory. I am sorry, but I think you are dead wrong on those comments.

I am not sure that you intend this, but your comments on anonimity, your past scietific experiences, and your concerns about participating in a forum like Real Science suggest to the reader (at least to me) that you are a disgruntled scientist who has had some problems and blames others (rightly or wrongly, I cannot judge) for your problems. You seem angry and frightened of the field and are lashing out safely from a position of anonimity. I may be completely wrong about this, but it is how you seem to be presenting itself.

My experiences and observations of how science works suggests to me that people who are shut out from mainstream science are seldom being discriminated against for their ideas, but rather fail to prove their ideas. There are ample examples of people who had ideas far outside the common dogma who, while young and unestablished or later when more established, have proven their case and gone on to fame and even to Nobel Prizes. Prions, retroviruses, bacterial causation of ulcers, etc. are such cases. I do not find the internal censorship you suggest. Rather, in some cases like climate, I find EXTERNAL censorship, coming from the government, and it acts to suppress the ideas you oppose. The government seems to agree with your estimation of AGW and seem to have tried to suppress the free exchange of ideas on the subject.

I suspect we are not going to come to any resolutions here. Your suggesting the removal of natural selection from evolution by and large makes me reluctant to discuss science with you. It reflects, from the extensive amount I have studied the subject, a rather erroneous idea. Sorry, but I don't know if this discussion is likely to get anywhere.

Read the Progressive Democrat

by mole333 on 03/23/2006 07:10:05 AM EST


There goes your reasonable tone. You've taken off your scientist's lab coat. You're defrocked. You're naked.

You've closed your mind, and switched back to your hateful political mode, complete with an ad hominem attack. You have no basis to suggest I am either "shut out from the mainstream" or "a disgruntled scientist". You should apologize.

1.    You erred twice to say, "evolution does not imply any direction other than what natural selection gives it".

First, you admit that natural selection implies a direction.

Second, you imply something I did not say to correct it. What I did say was that the Theory of Evolution implies a direction. It is natural selection where that error lies. My position was not that evolution implies a direction. A scientist must be precise in his use of the language.

Here's what Campbell says in his college text, Biology, 2d Ed., 1990, Chapter 21: How Populations Evolve, pp. 454-55.

>Modes of Natural Selection

>Natural selection can affect the frequency of a heritable characteristic in a population in three different ways, depending on which phenotypes in a varying population are favored. These three modes of selection are called stabilizing selection, directional selection, and diversifying selection. ...

>Stabilizing selection acts against extreme phenotypes and favors the more intermediate variants. The trend is toward reduced phenotypic variation and greater prevalence of phenotypes best suited to a relatively stable environment. ...

>Directional selection is most common during periods of environmental change or when members of a species migrate to some new habitat with different environmental conditions. Directional selection shifts the frequency curve for variations in some phenotypic trait in one direction of the other by favoring relatively rare individuals that deviate from the average for that trait.

So this prominent biologist asserts here that natural selection sometimes favors variants "best suited to a relatively stable environment". This appears to give natural selection a knowledge that some existing variant is well suited to a stable environment, and further that natural selection wants the suitability to be best by unrevealed criteria.

What is best to Natural Selection? The swiftest? Strongest? Heaviest? Longest lived? Prettiest? This is the heart of the weakness in the Theory of Evolution. Words like best, fit, fittest, or any such comparatives are subjective. Science is an objective branch of knowledge. A biologist needs to go through Campbell's Biology and replace every subjective word or concept with an objective one.

Another problem with the Theory of Evolution in these paragraphs is temporal confusion, leading to a misread of cause and effect. That future environmental conditions affect present genetic material is unrealizable. That past conditions have is realizable.

Biologists need to turn the problem around at every opportunity. They need to account for the different distributions as an effect from the past variability of the environment.

Campbell asserts that placing a species in a different environment, one way or another, will cause natural selection to alter the statistical distribution of phenotypes. Thus, natural selection seems aware of the environment of individuals.

Do you not see that this is bizarre? As a practitioner or teacher of biology, do you not see these citations as overreaching and an exaltation of natural selection?

Campbell has better definitions of natural selection in other parts of his text, though none is sufficient. He might have caught his error here but for his use of the passive voice: "phenotypes ... are favored". Who or what is the actor here? It carelessly turns out to be Natural Selection. There is a simpler, more elegant, objective model.

If the first paragraph beginning "Natural selection can affect the frequency ..." had started instead, "The environment can affect the frequency ...", and adjusted the rest accordingly, the passage would have been on its way to a better theory. But as shown in Campbell, biologists don't treat natural selection as a synonym for the environment, and instead treat it as a separate will to anthropomorphize it.

2.    These claims by biologists are far afield of what we mean by random. When the environment is stable, the Theory above says natural selection produces a greater number of phenotypes best suited to a stable environment. On the other hand, when the environment changes, a change in genotype frequency occurs to help adaptation.

So natural selection seems to possess a will. It wants species to adapt to a stable environment, and knows when environmental stability occurs to bias the mix. It seems to want species to survive upcoming environment changes, so it alters the statistical distribution of alleles in anticipation. And natural selection has a sense of "best". That is awesome!

How does natural selection know that a change in the environment is going to be the last for a long time? Natural selection is omniscient. This is not science, it is prescience.

If I relocate a pride of lions to a new environment they have never experienced, how soon do you think we could measure a change in the frequency of genotypes or phenotypes? Does natural selection work immediately? Or, is it not nice to fool mother nature?

Passages like those cited allow the reader to infer that biologists deify natural selection. That is prohibited in science. Such an invention should be called Supernatural Selection.

In random selection, DNA is ignorant of the environment. DNA doesn't care whether the species or even the individual survives or not. It often mutates to produce fatal individuals or variants. The mutation of DNA can be like a virus that kills its host.

Similar kinds of mutations will occur with the same frequency regardless of the environment. Mutations will also occur at the same rate if we change the environment, providing we don't change some direct cause of mutations, like the cosmic ray flux. There should be no modality of natural selection.

What the Theory of Evolution lacks is a model for adaptation, based on thoughtless mutations, that works equally well in a stable or in a changing environment. Not having it is a sufficient reason for the Model to remain a Theory and not yet a Law.

The Theory of Evolution should insert no actor between the environment and the distribution of alleles. It errs to add Natural Selection as a separate force. The environment affects the distribution, and it does so because life, to exist at all, must vary genetically in every possible way. Life must be blindly experimental. This should be the refined definition of natural selection.

Which form survives, that is, what was "best" in the old vernacular, is the form that is most prolific, net. Mathematics then takes hold because the resources of the environment are finite, and because every experimental form must have the capacity to populate without limit. The new natural selection is nothing but crowding. These are affirmed in Campbell, but in one place highly qualified.

By most "prolific, net" I observe the elephant. The "best" form is not just the one that produces the most offspring, but the one that produces the most offspring that survive to reproduce. In the elephant, the herd survives because of the wisdom of the grandfather elephants, well beyond reproductive years. Knowledge is the key to survival; sex alone is not. The Theory of Evolution needs to shift from subjective to objective values, from survival of the fittest to Survival of the Most Prolific - Net.

Now, back to mole333: If you cannot through reason hold models to scientific standards, you cannot judge the quality of the Theory of Evolution, your chosen field, or (Anthropogenic) Global Warming, which you use as camouflage for political diatribes.

3.    I invited you to argue based on reason alone. That is why I chose not to debate credentials. Instead, you assumed me qualified to blindly accept my argument, at least provisionally.

Then because I trod on your Evolution rice bowl, you label me disgruntled and out of the mainstream. By in the mainstream, you mean accepting conventional thinking, notwithstanding its irrationality.

By being in the mainstream, you mean deference to political correctness. I distance myself from James Hansen's overwhelming majority. Regardless of peer opinion and curricula vitae, science entails the practice of reason, skepticism, and criticism.

You have simply abandoned reason. That is not being a scientist.

4.    As to censorship coming from the government, you seem to be talking about the gagging of Hansen.

Hansen is lucky he wasn't fired for disobedience and for being a malcontent. He works for the government, and owes allegiance to the one who pays him. He is not entitled to academic freedom, unless, unlikely as it might be, it's in his job description. There is no free exchange of ideas here.

In fact, I submit no employee is entitled to assume academic freedom. The concept is quite flawed. Retire or resign, then you get academic freedom.

Nor is Hansen entitled to maintain a public policy of his own. His government and employer is opposed to the socialist Kyoto Accords, and rejects the ill-conceived theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

If Hansen had worked for me, I would have first reassigned him so he could get some sorely needed scientific training. If that didn't take, I would have demoted him for lack of scientific acumen. In no way, in his present frame of reference, should he be supervising junior scientists.

Hansen champions AGW with all the trimmings, a political position, not a scientific one. That is sufficient to qualify him as the poster boy for the 90% of scientists who are true believers. Nothing more.


by drrocket on 03/23/2006 03:55:15 PM EST

I thought a little push would bring you out. You, of course, hinted at yourself when you said something like "America is blessed to have Bush." But I let that slide.

First off, I did not say who you were. I said how you were presenting yourself. I specifically stated that I did not know the truth of it. I stand by how you were coming off.

Second, your comments on natural selection seem to have a complete misunderstanding of the subject. Darwin himself stated things very clearly and  you might want to go back and review what it means. THere is now "knowlege" in natural selection or forethought or any of these things. It is nothing more than the sum of selective forces put on an individual from the environmental conditions, competing species, competiion within the species, etc. It is the one of the least controversial aspect of modern biology.

Finally, you let your facade slip. Well, I pushed a little. But you were quick to take offense because I you knew your weaknesses. But throwing around words like "socialist" and implying that Hansen is the only scientist to be threatened by the Federal government for not toeing the line show your own biases. One reason to be up front, my friend. You come with biases as do I. Let's be honest about them. You have revealed yourself to be a Republican apologist, whatever other credentials you have. Admit it.

I find your defense of scientific censorship also shows your hand:

Retire or resign, then you get academic freedom.

Nor is Hansen entitled to maintain a public policy of his own. His government and employer is opposed to the socialist Kyoto Accords, and rejects the ill-conceived theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

THAT, my friend, is non-scientific. It is, in fact, stiffling of science and potentially First Amendment rights.

I am a Democrat. That is up front. But I am also a scientist. We still don't know where you are coming from. But we can guess.

Now if you see this as shifting the discussion away from science it is because you yourself, from the start, revealed a political, pro-Bush agenda. In the end, your misunderstanding of evolution, yet insistance upon your view, makes it hard to discuss science with you.

And just a word: no, I didn't let my reasonable tone slip. I am using the same tone I would to a scientist who was making serious errors in a scientific presentation but insiting that he is right. I am calling you on your misunderstanding of evolution. I can't do that on warming. You seem quite wrong and biased, but I am not expert enough to catch you on it. When you shifted to evolution, you shifted to a field I have read up on enormously, though it is not my specialty.

On this site I have a series of evolution diaries. They could be a place to start if you want to learn about the subject. But your statements on natural selection basically are a straw man because you are claiming that natural selection implies things that it does not.

Read the Progressive Democrat

by mole333 on 03/23/2006 04:37:22 PM EST