Sunday, July 30, 2006

60 minutes show on james hanson

"In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public.
- James Hanson"
...And on NOAA's policy of press releases and public announcements being filtered through public relations, often resulting in rewriting science results and leaving out phrases such as "climate change":
Thomas Delworth... said the policy means Americans have only "a partial sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate change. "American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we're doing," he said.
(I had to find a way to fit that quote I found from the Washington Post into my post because I actually hung out with and worked with Tom Delworth for a while when I was up in Princeton.)

I've already written several posts (here and here and here and here for example) about how our government is dangerously misrepresenting and censoring science.

James Hanson is the premiere U.S. climate scientist and the same NASA scientist that was in the news last winter because he spoke up when NASA public relations officials attempted to censor his research. In particular, he was told not to report on his work that showed if we do not begin to curb CO2 emissions within 10 years, global warming is in danger of running away from us. He is so concerned about the state of the environment and the consequences of our inaction that he has chosen to oppose the system and speak the truth he finds in his science, loudly and publicly.

I just now finally got to see the rerun of Jim Hanson being interviewed on 60 Minutes.

Very good interview.
Thank you, Jim Hanson, for speaking out.

In a statement issued February 18 [2004], more than 60 highly respected American scientists, including 20 Nobel Prize winners, blasted the Bush administration for suppressing and manipulating scientific evidence in order to promote a predetermined agenda. Entitled “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking,” the statement charges: “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions.”

I'm still waiting for the public outcry.

fancypants schmancypants

Here's a study to check out.

That's a link to a study recently completed by the National Center for Education Statistics, a research section of the U.S. Department of Education. The study compared the ability in math and reading of 4th and 8th grade students in public schools to private schools. We all know the conventional wisdom that private schools score better in general. But this study was done to look at the ability to educate when on a level playing field; i.e., to compare public school apples with private school apples, to look at the performance of kids of similar ethnic background, income level, etc.

The results were released by the federal government with no comment, on a Friday afternoon, in an attempt to guarantee it would get no news coverage.

Wanna guess what the results showed? (hint, I wasn't surprised at the results)

No discernable difference in student achievement, when the results are analyzed to account for race, income and social background!! Except the fundamental christian private schools which showed a significantly lower level of achievement in math than public schools. So guess what?! Our public schools aren't as bad as the media keeps touting, or as believed by conventional wisdom!! They are doing a fine job educating our students! What have I been saying for so long about this subject? OK, I'll stop the gloating. It's just that I've never believed the quality of education was any better in private schools than in public ones.

But guess which federal government is apparently not too happy with the results? I suppose it didn't prove what they wanted it to prove, so they are sweeping the results under the carpet.

Why, you ask, would our beloved government not be happy to show that our good old public schools are just as good or better than Fancypants Private Academy? According to the opinion piece in our local paper the secretary of education recently announced a school voucher program (one hundred million dollars, by the way). And this program to shuttle taxpayer money to private schools seems a little silly now, doesn't it, since the government's own study shows there is no advantage to sending kids to Fancypants Academy?

OK, ok, before anyone gets upset with me, let me confess. "Fancypants Academy" is just my way of being a little silly. We all make good and thoughtful choices for our kids, and I've got several friends who are sending their children to private schools for very valid and good reasons. So please take my fancypants as it is meant - in a fun spirit. My real beef is with the constant dissing on public schools by the governemnt, by the media, by well-meaning everyday folks, when they really don't deserve it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

there's something quite unbalanced about this

Since I'm an atmospheric scientist, lots of my friends and family turn to me when they hear something confusing in the news about global warming and they want to know what I think about it.

Side note here!
While the words "global" and "atmosphere" and "chemistry" all show up in my resume, I'm not a climate scientist. If you want to talk about why our current chemical theory can't explain measurements of HOx and NOx compounds taken from an aircraft whilst flying over various parts of the earth, I'm your woman. My specialty is not climate, though I have a little technical knowledge in that area.

Another side story!
As evidenced above, GADS scientists are annoying. Have you ever heard a scientist talk without a disclaimer? Or in definites? I noticed this failing once when I took tiny baby Q to one of his monthly well-baby checkups. I could NOT answer in a definite.
Doc: "Has he been exposed to any lead?"
Me: "Umm..Not that I'm aware of."
I was unable to utter the word "No" without a caveat. This is exactly why it is so hard for scientists to talk to the media.


Al Gore has a new movie out, An Inconvenient Truth, which is a documentary on global climate change. Rotten tomatoes gives it surprisingly high marks for entertainment value, i.e., it's pretty well done cinematically speaking.
Reviews on the science in it from climate scientists have also been very good.

I'm afraid to go see it. I'm afraid of the knots it will trigger in my stomach. I suppose that's the entire point of the title, however. It's the truth, and it's QUITE inconvenient for us to have to grapple with as a species with the power to affect the world.

In fact, it is so inconvenient that the science behind global warming has come under attack both by our administration (don't get me started), and by the media.

And this pisses me off because it's totally undeserved. Folks.

There really is a lot of scientific consensus when it comes to global warming. The observations are clear in telling us that the earth is warming and that carbon dioxide is increasing. It's also well-established that the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere has the effect of increasing the temperature of the earth. The building blocks are indisputable.

Where the supposed controversy comes in is mostly whether the increase of CO2 is the largest thing that's causing the temperature rise, or if it's within what we expect from natural causes. And under that umbrella come things like attacks on whether we are including all the feedbacks in our analyses, and whether we're interpreting the data in the most correct way, and directly on models scientists use (this, in particular pisses me off because the folks launching the attacks have no idea about HOW these models are used. Misrepresentation, misrepresentation, misrepresentation. A typical approach by a scientist is to blanket the spread of expectations, so you run simulations with very aggressive scenarios and very moderate scenarios and assume reality is somewhere inbetween. So beware when you see folks holding up one model result and trumpeting about how "off" its predictions are. Bleah.)

The media feels it must present "balanced" viewpoints to be fair, but it ends up doing anything but that. If you present both sides of an argument, giving them equal weight, when in reality the weighting is something like, say, 99.5% versus .05%, is that really reflecting any kind of reality? This is the problem we're facing.

I could go on forever and bore most of you to tears by posting things on very specific science points, but that's not why I have this blog. I don't mean for it to be a place to debate science. In fact, that kind of site already exists. Let me lead you to a website called Real Climate, which is run by a group of respected climate scientists who are attempting to correct much of the misinterpretation of climate science for the public. They have very precisely and clearly addressed most of the issues that you'll hear about. Use their search tool to find posts relevent to your questions. It's a great site. Pass it on. Please!

By the way, there is indeed scientific consensus that global warming is occurring because humans are burning fossil fuels. We're not sure how fast it's going to happen or the magnitude of it, but the world is going to be a much different place, climate-wise, in another few decades than it would have been without human intervention.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

cleanliness may be next to godliness...

but messiness is da bomb.

My son, Q, is in a science and math camp this week, which is about 5 minutes from where I work, and 35 minutes from where I live. One of his good friends and another boy from this area are all taking it together, so we parents are doing the "divide and conquer" carpooling approach. Since DH and I work down there in those parts, we are officially designated the "take home" ride. It works out perfectly. Logistically speaking, that is. I work my 8 hour summer day (only 3 days a week!!!! Don't feel sorry for me!!!) and after my 8 hours of hard labor staring at the computer, arguing with my team mates, drinking diet cokes, and rubbing my head in frustration, I take my lively, awake self with no backaches whatsoever over to the campus at 4:30 sharp to pick up these three delightful, intelligent, and oh-so-well-behaved young men. What's the saying? Two out of three ain't bad?

Delightful and Intelligent. Yes. (though delightful may be debatable).

Oh-so-well-behaved? Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor after I roll in fits of laughter.


For those of you not familiar with internet lingo, "Oh. My. God."

OK, you readers with kids - you'll know what I mean. You know how it's simple to change your own babies' diapers, but changing the diapers of any other kid makes you gag? Well, the same logic may be applied to 10 year old boy behavior.

After 25 minutes of hearing every possible permutation of some physics computer program that apparently allows you to knock the heads and limbs off of unsuspecting block-people with anchored or unachored rectangular items or balls with some given velocity, I was forced to listen to the most inane arguments ever to be heard on the face of the earth. Then. Boy C, had the audacity to exclaim, "Boy, your van is REALLY REALLY messy!." (I bit my tongue and turned up the CD player.)
"I mean, GROSS! LOOK at all this trash!" (BTW, you know, I did attempt to take out the stale cheetoes and french fries before I went to get them. What does he expect? So there is a cupholder full of chrystalized syrup from a McDonalds breakfast someone ate a few years ago. With a plastic giraffe drowning in it. Get over it.)

Q jumped to my defense and started a heated argument about how cleanliness was boring. That messiness gives you interesting things to look at and keeps life fun. (I swear I'm not making this up - he came up with all of this on the fly and totally on his own. I love my son). Boy C wasn't buying it. "Well. *I* prefer for things to be neat and clean."

I delivered him home safely, I really did. And after stopping the throwing of balloons, the screaming, and the tears that commenced in the last 5 minutes before arrival, I forgot that my plan was to throw him out of the van into his perfectly manicured house at a speed of 25 mph as I sprayed gravel all over his perfectly manicured lawn.

But thank the heavens there's another week and a half left of this camp, so I'm sure I'll get my opportunity after all. Praise the gods of physics.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

a flip of the coin and a loss of ourselves

I have a good friend who is having a masectomy on Thursday. She is one of these people who has her feet firmly on the ground and always gives the impression that she is in control of herself and can manage herself successfully through any fire. I know a lot of this is a massive front. How can this kind of thing not knock you on off your feet, at least for a while?

But this operation - this "cure". Does the end justify the means?

In this case, of course it does. How can you view a life-saving operation as anything but good? At this point, her prognosis is good - we'll know more after her surgery on Thursday. So the most likely scenario is that this will take care of the cancer and she'll go on to keep raising her son and daughter (exactly the same ages as my two, who, incidently, are great friends). She'll keep living her life with her wonderful husband and raising and showing her llamas and she'll keep being a good friend to old friends and new acquaintences.

But she'll be minus an important part of herself. I've been feeling claustraphobic in my own body as a result of thinking of this too much. We don't have a lot of options. We're given this one body, this one life, and if it gets screwed up, whether by choice or by chance, well, that's pretty much it, isn't it? How must it feel to lose a hand? An arm? A leg? A breast? You can have a facsimile put in its place that will look normal to the outside world, but an essential part of yourself is gone. What *are* the essential parts of ourselves? I know that our personality, or souls, for those of you of religious persuasions, is the heart of who we are. But our bodies are the physical manifestations of who we are. I can't help but feel sad for the loss my friend is about to undergo, and the losses of all these kids over in the middle east who are losing arms and legs and hands and eyesight.

It *is* claustraphobic to realize how limited we really are. I got into an argument with my friend B many years ago when I thought I had cancer. I argued how fragile life was and he argued how resilient it was. Is it possible that we are both right?

You will get no great insight from this post. I'm just rambling, and I realize that. I guess I'm grieving with my friend, and trying to understand what she is about to go through. I'm also realizing that by a simple flip of a coin, this is something I, or we all, could go through in the future.

You can't fight the current. It's actually very peaceful to give in to it and let it carry you and the ones you love wherever it may.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

religious culture

One of the things we did a lot of in Austria was to tour churches and cathedrals. It's kind of the law, isn't it? -that when you're in Europe, you must see all those amazing churches. They were beautiful buildings, of course, with all their spendor and ornateness and history. Q was quite taken with the story of Jesus. We explained it all to him and answered his questions, and he was both horrified and fascinated. He enjoyed finding paintings of the crosses and showing me the scars in Jesus' feet and side and the two robbers that were crucified next to him. I think my children must understand the story of christianity if they are to operate well in this country.

Anyway, as a result of all this religious stuff, I was noticing how religion fit into everyday Austrian life. Aye currumba. If you think America has too much religion in our government, you haven't been to Europe. Austria is an extremely catholic nation. Religion is taught as regular classes in their public schools, and you are required to register in the schools as a Catholic or a Protestant (as far as I know, those are the only 2 choices). Churches dominate every town, from physically sitting atop the highest point as a defense outpost, to having bells ringing the hours (especially at 6 am, which is supposedly done in order to awaken the laborers who work the farms, but because I am NOT a farm worker, I was not all that impressed with this particular tradition). The greeting I heard from every person I ran across was "Gruess Got" ('groos-got') which means God's Greetings. (Actually, to attempt to pass as a local, you needed to slur it into "'sgot" or something equally indecipherable. The town festivals we went to were literally church (kirche) festivals.

Yet, it was much less imposing to me than religion here in America, and I spent much time wondering why. An obvious answer is that I was much more open minded in Europe and was eager to experience their culture and was therefore much more tolerant. But that isn't the full answer.

I think I got my answer when I was driving home from work yesterday, and found myself behind a van with one of those religous bumper stickers like "Jesus is my co-pilot" or "I don't question YOUR existance -God". I don't even remember what it was. I just remember the feeling of the in-your-face attitude, and I suddenly realized that was the difference. For me, at least, I detect a thread of hatefulness interspersed into American religous culture. It has turned into a game of "me versus you" with a sprinkling of enough immaturity and competitiveness to make it mainstream to tout your religion on bumper stickers and t-shirts.
"Red Sox."
"Ohio State."

It seems to have become less of a spiritual choice than a game.
"Good versus Evil. On at 7. Sponsored by Budweiser, and god."

This makes me sad. I am happy without a supernatural being, but I understand and respect those that are guided by their belief in a god. Spirituality is a very personal, and a very individual experience. It is upsetting to me that here in America, the personal flavor has exploded into a competition.

There are many things that I love about this country, and while I adored Europe, I am still happy to be American. But there are many warts that I wish we didn't have.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

home again home again


We're back in the U.S.
Let me know if you want to see the photos...

Awesome time...lots of things to think about that I'll be putting in my blog soon.

For now, I'm concentrating on recovering from jet lag and getting back to real life.

Auf Wiedersehen!