Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NASA Climate Calculation Error

My brother sent me this week a copy of an article in the NY Sun that was hard for me to believe. It seemed incredible, and I figured there must be some mistake. So I looked it up. And, there appears to be no mistake.

First, the article, titled An Inconvenient Truth. Seems that NASA climate research department publishes temperature data, and has been for the last few years pointing out that each year in the 2000's has been very hot in the US in comparison to the last millennium. This was big news in January of this year, when they reported that 2006 had been the hottest year in the US of the previous 112 years (see, for example, this Washington Post article).

Turns out that the numbers were wrong. Earlier this month, Steve McIntyre, a climate researcher in Toronto, got suspicious about the numbers because of some peculiar anomalies that showed up out of the blue in 2000. He did some checking, some reverse engineering, and determined that the US numbers had been significantly off since 2000 (which, in some way that I don't understand, affects previous numbers as well). About a week later, NASA acknowledged the change and quietly adjusted their numbers.

I've been digging into this this morning to find more detailed information, and I'll pass along what I've discovered.

Anthony Watts has the best technical summary of the situation I've found. (Steve McIntyre's site is down, possibly because of a DOS attack.)

Roger Pielke also has a writeup, and the comments section has quite a bit of opinion and links to other information.

If you're interested in the raw data, here's an archived copy of the data before the update, and a direct link to the updated data. Note that you won't find any mention of the update on the NASA site itself.

The RealClimate blog has a post from Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA, arguing that the differences are statistically insignificant and not worth mentioning.

So, what do I think?

Well, in the first place, it seems that the bulk of the comments on the Watts and Pielke blogs are taking this form: "See, global warming is disproven, because temperatures aren't rising! No hockey stick!" Well, not really. I mean, it's not like before this adjustment, NASA was saying that 1998 or 2006 were huge amounts hotter than 1934. They were pretty much in a dead heat even then. So, this doesn't seem to "disprove" anything.

On the other hand, there a number of responses that take this form: "If they can't see this type of problem, how reliable is the rest of their data"? I think there's some validity there. This isn't the first time that McIntyre has found data and calculation problems in widely-accepted (and widely propagandized) climate numbers. Every time something like this happens, my confidence in the reliability of the scientific research drops a bit.

I'm not convinced by Gavin Schmidt. I agree with him that the change in 1998 is statistically insignificant. However, it seems to me that the changes from 2000-2006 are much more noticeable. Quoting Gavin: "The net effect of the change was to reduce mean US anomalies by about 0.15 ÂșC for the years 2000-2006." Over a tenth of a degree is extremely significant for short-term climate change. Those sorts of changes have been used very recently (as I pointed out in my Washington Post example) to raise concerns of accelerating changes and impending doom. More than a tenth of a degree difference? That changes the picture in a big way.

It is worth mentioning that these are only US numbers, and they don't seem to make any significant difference in the global numbers.

But I would feel quite a bit better about the scientific honesty of the NASA scientists if they would publicly and prominently acknowledge this flaw in their numbers, and try to explain how they could make such a ridiculous mistake and not catch it for 7 years. Their dismissive attitude makes sense to me only from a political perspective, trying to control the media presentation of the information... and that does not make me confident about the impartiality of their science.

It also surprises me that the purportedly ultra-effective Bush administration politics-overriding-science machine wasn't able to catch this one and use it. Strangely, it seems that NASA (which, I believe, is part of the Bush administration) isn't taking the correct conservative political line here. Interesting.


Immigration Enforcement... is it Progress?

Earlier this year, Bush worked very hard to broker a compromise solution with Congress to pass broad legislation that would rework the way we approach the problem of illegal immigration on a number of different fronts. That effort failed... regretfully, in my opinion.

In discussions about that bill, more than one conservative of my acquaintance said that we simply needed to enforce the laws already on the books, rather than coming up with new laws to ignore.

It appears that the Bush administration has decided to take precisely that approach. According to this AP story, the National Guard troops and increased border resources are having a significant impact on illegal immigration. Deportations are up, and fewer illegals are attempting to get in.

(Side note: that story includes one of my pet peeves in this whole discussion... referring to illegal immigrants simply as "immigrants". "Migrants also say they feel Americans are increasingly hostile toward immigrants." No, we're not hostile toward immigrants who follow the rules!)

In general, I think this is good news. On the other hand, this part of the story gives me pause:

While some migrants try to set up new lives, others are caught between two worlds. Salvador Perez still has a pregnant wife and three small children in Bakersfield, Calif., where he worked on a pistachio ranch before he was deported. He's tried to cross the rocky, snake-infested mountains near Tecate three times this summer to get back to them, but failed each time.

I hate the idea of separating families like that. Yet, I don't think we can simply make "get married and have a kid" the automatic no-deportation card. I'm not sure how best to handle that situation. I think Bush's plan was a solid step in the right direction, and was probably better than simpy enforcing the law as it stands... but I figure enforcing the law is better than pretending it doesn't exist.

President Bush is now implementing another step of his enforcement plan, one that is allowed by current law. He was hoping for an upgrade to the ID system used by our immigration department, but lawmakers didn't approve that. So, in the interim, he is going to start enforcing valid Social Security numbers. It's possible to get a forged SS number, but it's much more easy to just make one up and hope nobody notices. It appears nobody has been bothering to notice. Now, Bush is intending to use that enforcement power to put pressure on employers to find legal workers.

I will be very interested to see how effective that is. If it is truly able to cut off much of the financial incentive for illegal immigration by making jobs for illegals harder to come by, that could be the most powerful step in preventing illegal immigration that we've seen yet.

And, when American employers who have been happily utilizing cheap illegal labor find themselves in a serious pinch, there might be a little more political will directed toward implementing a much-needed temporary worker program, so that those workers can come to America legally, and get paid for their work above-board.

These seem like positive developments to me. What do you think?


Monday, August 13, 2007

Child Custody Criteria

Eugene Volokh (somewhat) recently made a series of posts on the use of beliefs and speech as criteria in child custody trials which I found interesting.

In "Want Custody of Your Quarter-Korean Seven-Year-Old? Better Enroll Her in Martial Arts Class", Eugene criticizes the implicit use of "connection to ethnic heritage" as a criteria, and subsequently addresses whether judicial discussion of facts are an endorsement of their relevance.

The case where a mother's open paganism was treated as one of the reasons to deny her custody is followed by a hypothetical in which the discrimination is against Christianity: "To Those Who Defend Family Court Decisions That Discriminate Based on Parents' Religion".

Eugene then posts about an actual case related to his previous hypothetical: "Make Sure That There Is Nothing in the Religious Upbringing or Teaching That the Minor Child Is Exposed to That Can Be Considered Homophobic":

A Christian mother is appealing a judge's decision that prohibits her from teaching her daughter that homosexuality is wrong.

Cheryl Clark, who left a lesbian relationship in 2000 after converting to Christianity, was ordered by Denver County Circuit Judge John Coughlin to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic."
That order was reversed on appeal with the caveat that it could be reimposed if "the child's emotional development [would be] significantly impaired". The post ends by considering racist beliefs and speech.

Eugene summarizes his position in Child Custody Decisions and the Constitution, and provides greater detail in his May 2006 NYU article: "Parent-Child Speech And Child Custody Speech Restrictions (pdf)", part of which he condensed into a blog post: Why Parents in Split Families Shouldn't Lose Their First Amendment Rights To Talk to Their Children.

As I understand it, Eugene argues that Constitutionally protected speech and beliefs should not be considered in custody battles, and that there is not sufficient cause to treat a split family differently in that regard than one that is intact. He admits that cases exist where this may be less than ideal for the child, but argues that, as in some non-custody cases, maintaining our freedoms is worth that risk, and that serious and imminent harm to the child can still be avoided.

There's a lot of material there (including some interesting comments) and I certainly don't expect you to wade through it all (I haven't), but I'm curious what your thoughts are regarding court judgements on better or worse speech, beliefs, religions, and even sexual behavior, as it relates to child rearing, morality training, and custody battles.

To me, these criteria can be relevant, but the variability in our culture makes me wonder whether judges should be trusted to employ them at their own discretion, or even whether it would be feasible or Constitutional to compromise and codify some agreeable framework for judicial use.

What do you think?


Update (Aug 21): Eugene continues with: Wife's "Anti-American Sentiments" (and Perhaps Anti-Semitic Sentiments), which considers a custody case involving a wife's Muslim extremism. He also refers back to a previous post about a judge who gave an order prohibiting a paroled father from discussing with his child any issues pertaining to his religion: Parent-Child Jihadist Speech.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Power of Marketing

While reading sports news today, I came across a post on a blog called Playbooks & Profits that covers issues related to sports marketing. The post was highlighting an AP piece that relates to the power of marketing, particularly on very young children. I found it... frightening.

Basically, researchers took a bunch of preschoolers and gave them a taste test. They bought some McDonald's food and some other food (carrots, milk), and gave each child the same food item on two sides. One side had McDonald's packaging, the other side did not. The kids were asked which food tasted better. The McDonald's-packaged food won resoundingly... even on baby carrots!

Being a parent of three 6-and-under children myself, this is a shocking reminder of the power of marketing on young minds. I'm glad that I don't let my kids watch TV commercials. They watch videos (we skip the previews), and sometimes the local public broadcasting station. The very few occasions when we have watched a kid's show on the networks, I mute the commercials (in spite of their loud complaints).

Good marketing, I think, has more power than we (or at least I) tend to give it credit for.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kill Vick

I was glad to read somebody else commenting on the hypocrisy of Vick's treatment by the media/society at large, relative to how we treat those who raise hogs and other farm animals.

Regarding the history of blood sport and animals, cockfighting was outlawed in my state just this last year. There are those who are suing saying this is a violation of the Treaty of Hidalgo. While I'm not sure about that, there is a definite difference in how blood sport is treated in hispanic culture vs. the US culture (e.g., bull fighting). There is still one state where cockfighting is legal. Is a chicken somehow less worthy of "humane" treatment than a dog?

My family is considering getting a market goat. I will likely butcher it myself if we do. The standard method of dispatch for a goat or pig: shooting it in the head with a gun. If I did that to my dog, I would be in violation of local laws. Ridiculous. When my dog got injured and the vet quotes were outrageous for making him better, local vets quoted me nearly $100 to put him down. The pound will do it for free, but then I can't adopt for several years. It shouldn't be this complicated to kill a sick/injured animal.

I won't go into too much detail regarding animal rights, mostly because I'm still learning and working through what I think about all this. It just seems to me that society is replete with hypocrisy regarding the treatment of animals. It should be clear to anybody that dogs and cats get treated far better than market animals. As a society, we do things every day to market animals that are illegal to do to pets. When I say we do them, I don't necessarily mean that any given individual interacts with animals. If we had to raise and butcher our own meat, societal attitudes would drastically change regarding animal treatment. However, nearly everybody buys meat at the supermarket that is grown on a farm somewhere where these illegal-if-it-were-a-pet actions take place.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Candidate Trait Bias

The NY Times's July 22, 2007 "Week In Review" focused on the relationship between religion and politics, and particularly Mitt Romney's Mormonism, in an article by Michael Luo titled "God ’08: Whose, and How Much, Will Voters Accept?".

Mrs. Van Steenis wanted Mr. Romney to say where the Book of Mormon would figure in his decision making as president.

“Where would the Bible be?” she asked. “Would it be above the Book of the Mormon, or would it be beneath it?”

Although the Constitution bars any religious test for office, if polls are to be believed, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, faces a serious obstacle to winning the presidency because of his faith. Surveys show a substantial percentage of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, or for that matter a Muslim or an atheist. But how rigid is that sentiment?
I found the article to be particularly fascinating because it includes a chart summarizing a Pew Research Center survey which asked respondents whether they were more or less likely to support a candidate based upon individual traits, such as: Doesn't believe in God, Never held elected office, In his/her 70s, Homosexual, Muslim, No college education, Used drugs in past, Had extramarital affair, Taken antidepressants, Mormon, Has been a minister, Smokes cigarettes, Long-time Washington politician, Hispanic, etc.

For example, I find it interesting that there is 60% net support for belief in God, but 10% net opposition to having been a minister. Similarly, the article highlights belief in God but, considering the ranking of Muslim and Mormon, it actually seems to be a rather weak trait by itself and perhaps only significant by association with other more relevant qualities.

I think the chart is also a bit deceptive, which the last question in the blockquote above highlights. How much weight do we give each of these traits? I'd be interested to learn if there's a survey in which respondents attempt the difficult task of weighting them.

Does the fact that the "Constitution bars any religious test for office" imply a broader moral imperative for voters to ignore religion in evaluating a candidate? Do you think the article suggests this?

More generally, do you think the trait biases evident in the survey are justifiable or are they representative of the unjust prejudices in our society? For example, how much of the support (4%) and opposition (14%) to a Hispanic candidate represents racism versus, for example, the expectation of a correlation between being Hispanic and specific views on immigration? Or does the latter count as racism as well?

(hat tip to Andrew Jackson at RedBlueChristian)

God's Politics

Last month, Mark Daniels made a pledge at RedBlueChristian and at his own blog, "A Pledge I Wish Every Christian Leader Would Make":

I promise not to endorse any political candidate, platform, or party in the 2008 election cycle. I promise instead to use my influence and my recognized position of leader to pursue the mission of the Church, making disciples for Jesus Christ.
I left some questions at RedBlueChristian in the hope of gaining a better understanding of Daniels's position. Essentially, I can see why Christian leaders might not want to opine on various matters, particularly as it impacts their scope of appeal and their responsibility to faithfully represent God, but I disputed the idea that all Christian leaders should not publicly voice political opinions.

Daniels states that "When we hold Jesus captive to particular philosophies, parties, or candidates, we're really guilty of a kind of idolatry in which we make Jesus over into our image." But how should we separate this kind of "idolatry" from other divergent understandings of God's will, Biblical interpretations, and moral applications in general?

Daniels also advises that "By all means, Christians should be involved in the political process. We should also pray that God will show us how we should behave and believe politically." But Christians just shouldn't look to their pastors for moral guidance on this particular subject?

A blogger named Pastor_Jeff joins in the pledge, though I wonder by his later comments whether he isn't admiting a public political philosophy but falling short of endorsing a candidate or party.

David M. Smith, a Christian blogger I've enjoyed reading recently, questions the slogan employed by Daniels that "God is not a Democrat or a Republican". In "God is not...or is He?", David comments upon the central issue of morality in religion and politics.

Back in July 2006, MarkC also posted about "Obama on Religion in Politics", in which Obama eloquently addressed this issue concerning separating Church and State in light of their shared moral core.

What do you think? How should religious leaders treat the moral issues in politics, and why?