Category Archives: Science

Not Your Ordinary Global Warming Skeptic

I’m nobody.  So, when I question Global Warming, who cares? 

However, what do you say when a man with a PhD from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Instute, a man who won a Nobel Prize and an Oliver E. Buckley Prize, questions it?  That man is Ivar Giaever, and he recently resigned from the American Physical Society because they have declared that their official position is that the evidence for manmade climate change is incontrovertible.  Giaever had previously said that it is clear that the mean termperature of the earth has been amazingly stable and that Global Warming has become a new religion.  He doesn’t believe that science is done by committee vote but by evidence and testing.  He doesn’t believe that scientists should close their minds to dissent or to further discussion of a question.  If scientists can discuss the way a multi-verse behaves, then why can’t they discuss why or if temperatures on earth are rising dramatically?

Giaever pointed out that it doesn’t really matter how many people believe something is true.  It matters whether they are correct or incorrect.  (Seeing that he is an atheist, he almost has to think that way, since the majority of people on earth believe in God or in gods.)

He is hardly a nutty American conservative Christian.  He is Norwegian and is an avowed atheist.  His dissent does not prove that other scientists are wrong on the question, but it does give somebody like me a sense that I could be right in my skepticism.

What do you make of the fact that Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus of the School of Natural Sciences is skeptical?  So is Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.  And Patrick Michaels, who is a retired professor of environmental studies at the University of Virginia.  Add Petr Chylek to the list–a researcher at Los Alamos.  And Philip Stott, Professor Emeritus of Biogeology at the University of London.  Then there’s Tim Patterson, a paleoclimatologist at Carleton University in Canada.

They are not all total skeptics, but each of them has expressed doubt about one or more aspects of the Climate Change consensus.  It is enough to make me wonder.  How about you?

You can ignore people like me when we bring up our skepticism.  What do we know?  But you cannot claim that only non-scientists are skeptics–unless you want to question the credentials of the people I listed and the thirty or more other scientists that somebody took the time to list on Wikipedia–all notable scientists with degrees and positions at universities or research centers.

Play Those Games

I don’t understand it completely, but it is very interesting.  Some video game players have helped scientists to figure out the structure of a particular protein in the HIV.  Who know that those skills might actually serve a useful purpose?

Satellite Data and Global Warming

We all know that the atmosphere traps heat and keeps the earth warm.  I remember learning it in school and reading about it in various newspaper and magazine articles.   Do you also know that a certain amount of heat escapes from the atmosphere?  If it didn’t, we would be in big trouble.

A former NASA scientist has carefully studied data about the loss of heat from the atmosphere, and in his peer-reviewed article, he shows that the amount of heat loss is greater than predicted by global warming models.  Of course, he has not disproven that global warming is occurring, but he has called one of the theory’s tenets into question.

This is not me saying that I disbelieve the theory just for kicks.  This is an expert relying on scientific data.

 

One of the Rich

As I have written before, my family and I are just above the so-called poverty line, so although a person who makes $180,000 a year is not filthy rich, he is a lot richer than I am. Given that the person I speak of has also made another million or so on the side, he is way, way richer than I am. The person I speak of is a scientist in a government sponsored job. In other words, every person who pays income tax, directly or indirectly, is paying him. (Even those who pay no income tax, like me, pay it indirectly because we purchase things from people who pay it, and it is undoubtedly part of the price that we pay.)

His name is James Hansen, and he works for NASA at the Goddard Space Institute. On top of his quite nice salary that taxpayers fund, he has made a lot of money on the side–in ways that some people think are in violation of federal regulations. That part remains to be seen, but it is clear to me that what he has done is unethical in the general sense of the word. He apparently has used his position in a government agency to make extra money, to advocate a position that he is being paid to advocate, and to advance an agenda that makes many of his backers wealthy, too.  And it just so happens that his agenda is quite controversial and is not accepted by all of the taxpayers who fund his work.

I find it disgusting, deplorable, and despicable.  Yuck, yuck, yuck!  And I woudl dislike it even if he was being paid by some oil company to oppose the global warming movement.  In other words, I am against this sort of thing in principle–not because of my personal views on what Hansen has been advocating.

This situation is a straightforward and clearcut example of why I believe in the separation of business and state.  Climate research should be conducted and funded solely by private individuals and groups who have an interest in it.  Any adovocacy or promotion of a certain approach to climate should likewise be done privately.  Otherwise you run the huge risk that people will do what could easily be construed as taking bribes.  And, as I wrote above, I don’t care if the cause is something I believe in.  I want the government out of it.

If it is as important as people say it is, then people will support research on Climate Change.  They will support efforts to reverse it.  The govenrment, that is, the state, won’t have to.  If people are not in favor of support climate change research and propaganda, then the government should not do so.  “We the people” are actually the government.  Our representatives are supposed to–imagine it–represent us.

Since I wrote about Ayn Rand in the post below this one, let me make one thing perfectly clear.  In recent discussions I have had, it seems that many people would assume that Rand would applaud this man, Hansen, because of the large amount of money that he made for himself.  Not at all!  She would be appalled.  She believed, like me, that the government should have no involvement with business–either for good or ill.  She would certainly admire Hansen if he made a lot of money as a research scientist working for a private foundation or private business, especially if his work also happened to contribute something good to the world (think:  Harold Roark in The Fountainhead and Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged).  But she would not admire somebody living off public money and using his public position to further enrich himself.  Such a man is the antithesis of Roark or Rearden.

I think this leads me to another point.  Based on what I have written, it would seem that I object to the existence of NASA in the first place.  Actually, I do.  The work of NASA could have been done by private organizations and individuals.  You might say, “But private people do not have the great resources that the government has.”  I would first say, “Huh?”  First, the government is you and me, ultimately–”we the people. . . .”  Second, all the resources (or nearly all) that the “government” invested in NASA came from private people and private businesses.  Our government leaders don’t have a magic money machine or a big pile of money hidden under the Capitol building.  They get money by taxing us.  Therefore, all the money that has been poured into NASA could just as easily have been donated to a private space foundation or have been earned by a private space exploration company.

It’s the same money.  The same money that the government spent on space exploration was the money that once was in the hands of all of us.  So, it might have been nice for our leaders to let us decide if we wanted to spend our money on a space program or not.  If there was overwhelming support for such a program, it would have happened anyway, without the state’s involvement.  Just as there is a movie industry and a sports industry that does not depend on the state to exist and to thrive.

Breakthrough in Mirgaine Research

Nobody knows what causes migraine, but it has long been known that it is a hereditary conditions–genes play at least a part in it.  Scientists have recently discovered three gene variations that appear to be linked to migraine.  This new find does not appear to be the entire story, but it is a significant breakthrough.

Maybe someday gene therapy will be able to cure migraine disease–or at least alleviate the symptoms, which can be devastating.

While I’m on the subject, if you deal with a person who suffers from migraine disease, please be understanding.  It is not just a bad headache.  During migraine episodes, some people lose their vision or have blurry vision, some people vomit serially, some people (like me) get so dizzy that they can hardly stand up.  It can be debilitating.

Those people who get the classic migraine headache sometimes have pain that they rate at a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1-10.  Some of them describe it as feeling like a knife has been plunged into their head or like a vice is being squeezed as tightly as possible around their head.  So please do not just say, “Oh, you have a bad headache?  I get headaches sometimes.”  Migraine pain is worse than most headache pain and is usually not just pain but a set of horrible symptoms.  Most migraineurs would definitely be glad to trade with people who get tension headaches, although they would never wish their suffering on anyone else.

Fad Diet Danger

A old friend of mine just had surgery to correct a problem that his doctor blames on his diet.  My friend was on one of those fad diets.  If I said the name of it, you would recognize it.  Apparently he was not getting enough fiber from what he was eating.  It caused a fissure in his intestinal tract.

I don’t know why people go on those diets.  Oh, I understand the motivation to lose weight, although I think that some people are too concerned about it.  What I mean is that I do not understand why people go on those diets, given the amount of information available about how to live a healthy life.

The key to good nutrition, as we all learned in elementary school, is to eat a variety of foods that contain all the necessary nutrients–proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins.  And fiber, which is not a nutrient per se.  The digestive system doesn’t function well without enough fiber.  I thought that everyone’s mother told them that.  I thought that everyone learned it in health class in school.

If anyone reading this wants to lose weight or get healthier, please avoid those trendy diets that actually endanger your health.  If you are the kind of person who needs to follow a plan, libraries and doctor’s offices usually have brochures with good diet plans that won’t put you at risk of health problems.

Or you can do what you already know to do–eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean meat.  Small amounts of fat and sugar are okay, especially if you exercise regularly.

More important than reducing the amount that you eat is eating only those foods that are good for you and eating them in the proper balance.  Even more important is doing some sort of exercise, even if it is just walking.  Exercise keeps your metabolism rate up and keeps your heart healthy.  It burns any excess fat that your body is carrying.

But stay away from “programs” that are meant to make the author rich but not to make or keep people healthy.  I’m not saying that there are not good health programs out there, but if you want to go on one, find out which ones are proven to work and that are safe.

Don’t end up in the operating room like my friend, please.

Jack Kevorkian is Dead

In some press reports they have called him an advocate for euthanasia, in others he has been called a euthanasia activist, and one comment I read said that people wanted to imprison him just as people always want to punish the messenger for a message that they do not like.

Make no mistake about it; Jack Kevorkian was not just an advocate or an activist or a messenger.  He killed people.  There is no disputing or debating it.  He made no bones about it, and he even had one of his assisted “suicides” recorded and televised.  Kevorkian was a murderer in the eyes of the law, and–even if he never had been convicted–he was a murderer in fact.

For me it is simple.  If a person wants to kill himself or herself, they certainly can do it.  I have known people who have done so.  I feel nothing but compassion for people who feel driven to take such drastic measures.  I made one serious attempt at suicide myself and was rescued.  You don’t really need somebody to assist you in committing suicide, and if you ask somebody to, they have a moral obligation to try to alleviate your suffering without complying with your request to kill them.

A doctor, of all people, should be the last person to kill somebody.  First, a doctor has vowed not to do harm to a patient.  Second, a doctor’s focus is supposed to be on treating illness, not on killing the ill person.  Third, a doctor knows better than anyone how to alleviate pain and suffering through the use of medicine.  Fourth, a doctor should also know that the same patient who is despondent and wants to die one day might bounce back and want to live as long as possible the very next day.

I am not happy that Jack Kevorkian is dead.  I will not speculate on where his soul ended up.  That’s up to God.  I do find it ironic that the man who killed, according to him, at least 130 people has died at quite an advanced age of heart and kidney ailments.  Whey didn’t he get somebody to kill him sooner?  I wonder.  Why was life so precious to him when it was his own life but so expendable to him when it was somebody else’s life?

Do people have a right to die?  I suppose that they do, depending on what is meant by the question.  I believe that people have the right to refuse medical treatment, even if refusing it will hasten their death.  I also believe that people have the right to request treatments that will alleviate suffering, even if such treatments will indirectly hasten their death.

However, saying that people have the right to choose whatever medical treatments they do or do not want is not the same as saying that a third party should administer poison to them for the sole purpose of killing them directly.  Neither should anybody “counsel” a dying or suffering person that they should take their life.  Those who care for a dying or terribly sick person should encourage them and help them find a reason to go on living and to go on fighting.  They should find every way possible to improve their quality of life and to make them feel as comfortable as possible.  Anything else is at least irresponsible and probably, in most cases, downright evil.

 

Where Did the Car Come From?

     Okay, here goes.  The purpose of this post is to suggest an experiment that would test the hypthesis that things that are designed have certain characteristics, namely pattern and irreducible complexity.  I’ll add one more characteristic that I left out in my earlier comment:  functionality.  Forget, irreducible complexity; things that were designed simply work, while undesigned things generally don’t.

     Keep in mind that I am not trying to prove that God exists or that God created the world.  I am merely trying to demonstrate something about things that are designed in contrast to things that are not designed.

     Before getting to the experiment, let me say that it is actually even simpler than the experiment I propose.  If you see a pen sitting on the desk, as I do now, you just assume that somebody designed it and put it together according to a design.  One reason that this idea escapes most people, is that we just take it for granted all the time, every moment of the day.  We don’t stop to think about it, and the pen will still function, even if we don’t acknowledge the fact that somebody designed it.

     Now for the experiment. . .

     Imagine a Ford Mustang, my favorite car.  Now imagine that all the parts of that Mustang are separated and put in a pile.  Then imagine that all the parts of an identical Mustang are separated and put in another pile.

     Person A will start to assemble the parts of the first pile, using the drawings made by the designers and engineers of the car.  Person B will start to assemble the parts by grabbing them at random and attaching them to each other in a random way.  In other words, he will give no thought to which end each part is to be attached to the next part or at how many points it is to be attached.

     Person A will not only put the parts together in a certain way, but in a certain order.  That is because certain parts must be in place before other parts can be put in place.  At a certain point select parts of the car will function, if only minimally, but the entire car will not function until a certain number of parts are all in place.  A few of the parts are superfluous to the basic function of the car, but even they have their purpose.  For example, the car can run just fine without seats, but there is a reason that the seats are there.

     There is irreducible complexity.  The car has a radio, but it will not function without a battery.  Without the battery to power it, the radio is useless.  It adds nothing to the car.  But without the engine and the alternator there to recharge the battery, it would go dead in a few hours and the radio is useless again.  So you need the engine to charge the battey, and you need the battery to power the radio.  The engine, conversely, depends on the battery in our modern Mustang to get started.  It is possible to get the engine going another way, but the designer chose to have it normally start with power provided by the battery.  Oh, and you need a starter and a few other little parts.

     I probably do not need to comment on the mess that Person B ends up with.  It will be a miracle if it functions at all.  It will have no symmetry and no dsicernible patterns.  Oh, there might be a small pattern here and there, since the laws of probability dictate that occaionally three or four pieces will go together in a way that is patterned.  Maybe the four wheels will end up at four equidistant points from each other, but probably not.  Besides the wheel consists of many smaller pieces, and so what would correspond to the four wheels of the completed Mustang would be scattered throughout the freakish collection of parts that Person B assembled.

     Parts of the second assemblage might function, if you can call it function, since to function, the car should move forward and carry passengers and cargo.  The random conglomeration of parts could not really do all that.

     Anybody looking at the two resultant machines would have no difficulty picking out the one that was designed.  He or she would be puzzled by Person B’s “car.” 

     Please note the fatal flaws in this experiment.  The first fatal flaw is that the parts already existed for Person A and Person B to assemble.  Each part already shows design and had to have been made by somebody at some point.  The second fatal flaw is that even though the second set of parts was assembled randomly, it was still assembled by somebody.  But wait!  I said that I was not trying to prove that God exists or that God created the world, so I will go no further.

Science in the Classroom

     Apparently a few science teachers in the public schools still have the courage to teach their classes that the world was created and that species did not evolve.   While I disagree with their approach I admire their bravery.  It is hard to stand for what you believe in with the type of pressure that is exerted on public school teachers to do what the state tells them to do.  I personally think that kids should be taught all viewpoints on the subject, and I would teach it that way if I were teaching science in a public school in America.

     I want to address a few items from the linked article.

  • Michael Berkman:  “Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, . . .”

     I know from experience that it is not from lack of knowledge that people are creationists.  Some of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of evolution are creationists.  In fact, I have observed that most people who accept evolution know hardly anything about it except that most scientists say that it is so.

  • Francis Eberle:  “. . .that there are teachers. . .who are not teaching some of the core tenets of science, . . .”

     I did not know that science had core tenets.  I thought that science was an attempt to discover laws through observation and experimentation.  If it has tenets, then it must be more like a religion.  In that case, it has no place in the public school.

  • All major federal court cases in the United States over the past 40 years, in which local citizens or others have tried to get creationism (or its more recent rubric Intelligent Design) into the science classrooms, have failed, the researchers pointed out.

     Ah, so now courts are supposed to rule on scientific theories!  I thought that science was done by observation and experimentation.  It’s not only true that science should not be done by court judges, but it is true that courts should not be determining truths about reality and the workings of the university.

  • Eberle:  “We haven’t done a good enough job with making people understand what is science and what isn’t.”

     So one scientific view is science but a different scientific view is not? 

  • Berkman:  “Extra evolution courses would encourage teachers to embrace evolutionary biology, and make it easier to teach confidently.”

     So, evolution is something to be embraced.  It sounds like they want to re-educate science teachers.  It sounds like brainwashing.  If it is a fact, it should simply be accepted.  It need not be embraced like a religious doctrine.

  • Randy Moore:   “Scientists think if teachers just take a class they will accept it, but many simply reject it.”

     Exactly.

Hurricane Season 2010

     Since I started this blog I have written several times about the predicted increase in hurricane frequency and intensity.  I distinctly remember climatologists saying, after Katrina in 2005, that we could expect more of the same and even worse.  I, therefore, have kept track of the hurricanes each year to see if that prediction comes true.  Someone has been kind enough to post the data on Wikipedia, which makes it easy for an interested amateur like me to find it. 

     I figure that I will give climatologists the benefit of the doubt.  If they really can predict the number and the severity of tropical storms every year and if they really can predict a longterm trend in hurricane activity, then they probably know what they are talking about when it comes to temperature changes.

     Someone recently pointed out that 2010 was a bad year in regard to hurricane activity.  That is true enough, but a few other facts should be considered.

     There still has not been a year to match 2005, I certainly hope that there never is.  There were 7 major hurricanes in 2005, including the monstrous Katrina.  Since then things have been rather calm.  Here are the numbers of major hurricanes each year since then:

  • 2006     2
  • 2007     2
  • 2008     5
  • 2009     2
  • 2010     5

     And so, although 2010 was bad, the prediction that we were in for more and more disasters like Katrina has not turned out to be true.  But there’s more. . .

     There were quite a few years that were as bad as or worse than 2010 when it comes to the number of major hurricanes:

  • 1999     5
  • 1996     6
  • 1995     5
  • 1969     5
  • 1964     6
  • 1961     7
  • 1958     5
  • 1955     6
  • 1951     5
  • 1950     8
  • 1933     5
  • 1926     6
  • 1916     5
  • 1893     5

     What should we conclude?  Well, I conclude that in regard to major hurricanes there are, from time to time, seasons in which there are five or more.  It’s that simple.  Therefore, in regard to that measure, 2010 was nowhere near unique in weather history.

     Even though 2010 was a bad year for hurricanes, the remarkable thing is that the hurricane seasons in 2006 and 2009 were very mild.  In fact, they were the calmest years since 1997.  In other words there has been no positive correlation between the years since Katrina and the frequency or intensity of hurricanes.

     Some people point out that, by one measure, 2010 was the third worst year for hurricanes. 

Most Named Tropical Storms

  • 1st  2005   28
  • 2nd  1933  21
  • 3rd  1887   19
  • 3rd  1995  19
  • 3rd  2010  19
  • 4th  1969  18

It needs to be noted that in regard to the number of named storms, 2010 tied for third place, and it was only a little ahead of the fourth-place season.  So, as bad as it was, it does not demonstrate that tropical storm activity is steadily increasing.  There were as many tropical storms in 2010 as there were 15 years earlier and 123 years earlier.  And there were not as many in 2010 as there were 77 years earlier.

     Some people point out that, by another measure, 2010 was the second worst year for hurricanes. 

Most Hurricanes in All

  • 1st  2005   15
  • 2nd  1969   12
  • 2nd  2010   12
  • 3rd  1887   11
  • 3rd  1950   11
  • 3rd  1995   11

So, 2010 tied with a season that occurred 41 years ago, and it was barely ahead of seasons that occurred 15 years ago, 60 years ago, and 123 years ago.

     There just hasn’t been a steady increase in the number of named tropical storms, the number of hurricanes, or the number of major hurricanes.  It has fluctuated a lot, with 2005 just happening to be the worst year of all.