Archive for May, 2004

Reducing Uncertainty: Good Luck

May 31st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For a while now there has been a debate going on about how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change out to project forward into time economic growth. Such projections are important for developing scenarios of carbon emissions that are used as input to climate models. The debate involves differences between market exchange rates (e.g., $1 = 1.26 Euro) and what is called Purchasing Power Parity, e.g., a Big Mac = $2.90 in the U.S. but only $1.26 in China. (On these differences see this article.)

This week The Economist reminds us why this debate matters for the issue of climate change.

“The IPCC’s forecasts of global output are based on national GDP converted to dollars using market exchange rates. They also bravely assume that most of the gap in average income between rich and poor countries will be closed by the end of this century, even while the rich continue to get richer. Because using market exchange rates overstates the initial gap in average income between rich and poor countries, this results in improbably high projections of GDP growth in developing countries, much faster than has ever been achieved before. As a result, the IPCC’s projections of future carbon emissions, on this basis alone, are probably overstated.


A New Essay on Climate Policy

May 28th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I have a new essay online about climate policy that uses The Day After Tomorrow as a point of departure. The essay, titled L’Apocalisse Prossima Ventura, appears in a new Italian science magazine called Darwin (note: I serve on its editorial board). We have online both the published version in Italian and the original text in English. Here are a few excerpts:

“Contemporary climate policy debate is dominated by two issues: the Kyoto Protocol and climate science. This is problematic for several reasons. First, no matter how debate over the Kyoto Protocol is resolved – either in its failure or in its implementation – the subsequent challenge of reducing greenhouse emissions will remain much the same under either scenario. And second, as debate over climate policy often takes place under the guise of science, the scientific debate on climate change has become irrevocably politicized, even as a scientific consensus has emerged that human activity does indeed affect the climate. Both the politicization and the existing scientific consensus suggest that a political consensus is unlikely to emerge from new scientific findings.

If we are to improve policies in the context of climate change, this means that our thinking about climate change necessarily needs to evolve. Evolution in our thinking is difficult because all sides of the current climate debate have become very comfortable with the familiarity of debating the Kyoto Protocol and debating the science. As in a long-running stage production, the participants know their roles, they are familiar with their rhetoric, and their opponents are predictable and play to their stereotypes. And more troubling, many of the current participants also benefit mightily from the status quo, whether they are advocates or scientists. Consequently, change is uncomfortable. It is no exaggeration to observe that in the status quo of contemporary debate over climate policy a consensus already exists. But if the issue is to become more than symbolic, then change we must, because today’s climate policy debate is going nowhere soon.”

Read the whole thing:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2004: L’Apocalisse Prossima Ventura (Italian Version). Darwin, May, 52-59. (Also available in English.)

Using and Misusing Science

May 28th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The case of Brandon Mayfield, the Portland, Oregon lawyer arrested then exonerated by the FBI for allegedly participating in the Madrid bombings carries with it some important lessons for using science in decision making.

David Feige, public defender in the South Bronx and a Soros media fellow, distills some of these lessons in a column for Slate.

Among those lessons:

Certainty does not equal accuracy.
Consensus does not equal truth.
Never forget underlying assumptions.
Science does not equal decision making.
Science in fact over-determines decisions. (Sorry for the jargon, for an explanation, see my post on Excess of Objectivity.)

An excerpt from Feige’s column:

“But one of the most frightening consequences of the Mayfield incident is the bureau’s attempt to explain away Mayfield’s total misidentification by blaming it on a bad digital print. The reality is that it’s not the print that’s bad, it’s the science…

How many [finger prints] constitute a match? The rather unscientific answer is, it depends. Some police departments require 10, others 12, some are satisfied with eight. This lack of uniformity can mean that one agency (the FBI, say) may declare a print match while another (the Spanish National Police, say) says no. Ultimately, as Simon Cole, the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification explains—and the FBI acknowledges—the decision to declare a match is a subjective one, based on the totality of the circumstances and the examiner’s knowledge and experience.

Those subjective decisions mean that that the government can profess certainty and still be dead wrong. Without agreement on essential baseline standards, fingerprinting will remain a practice rather than a science. Make no mistake about it, fingerprints are valuable forensic evidence, based on unique biometric data. But when the evaluation of that data rests on a because-I said-so analysis, the door is wide open for injustice. And as Brandon Mayfield’s case amply demonstrates, taking the government’s say-so as definitive simply isn’t enough. And when psudeoscience is turned loose in the context of the war on terror, the results may well terrify.”

Scientist Shortage?

May 27th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Daniel S. Greenberg, longtime observer of science policy, cuts to the chase in an op-ed last week in The Washington Post:

“There’s no shortage of scientists and there’s no impending crisis. The American scientific enterprise is thriving, and will continue to thrive, with its traditional mix of foreign and home-grown talent — regardless of the worry-mongers who periodically sound false alarms.”

Read the whole thing here .

Op-ed on Kyoto

May 26th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I am trying to place an op-ed on Russia’s pseudo-decision to participate in the Kyoto Protocol process. If I don’t place it soon I’ll post it here next week. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt:

“In Russia’s decision to participate in the Kyoto process, and the political calculus behind its decision, lies a critical lesson for the Bush Administration. Consider this fact: if President Bush in 2001 had, instead of pulling out of the Kyoto process, simply committed the United States to participate and then did nothing else differently since that time, then the United States would be closer to meeting its Kyoto targets than Ireland, Spain, Austria, Portugal, and about even with Denmark.

In a May 11 speech to a climate change conference in Brussels, Harlan L. Watson, Senior Climate Negotiator in the State Department underscored the U.S. commitment to reducing the growth of emissions and to international collaboration, but expressed concern that the U.S. commitment had been misunderstood. Rather than being seen by the international community as a pariah, by committing to participate in the Kyoto process the U.S. might be able negotiate, as Russia so effectively has, for other outcomes it desires in the international arena. Ironically, expressing support for the Kyoto process but not taking dramatic action to implement it is the exact climate policy pursued by the Administration of Bill Clinton whose approach to climate change is substantively very similar to the approach of the Bush Administration. But the two administration’s approaches to climate politics could not be more different.

Of course, success in politics does not necessarily mean good policy will result. The challenge of climate will be with us for the foreseeable future no matter what happens with the Kyoto Protocol…”

For any opinion page editors with an interest in the whole, riveting piece, I’ll part with it cheap:

Book Review

May 26th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Robert Lee Holtz of the Los Angeles Times reviews a new book in American Scientist titled “Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?” by Sheldon Krimsky. Here is an excerpt from the review:

“Many scientists, particularly those doing biomedical research, are no longer looking solely for the truth—they are also seeking their fortunes. And when the pursuit of commercial advantage compromises scientific integrity, the public safety and public trust suffer.

As arbiters of technical disputes, scientists in America contribute almost as much to public policy, regulation and law as to basic research. For example, they regularly testify in front of legislators, who are now grappling with cloning, genomics and stem cell biology. Advances already on the horizon promise a control over human biology and behavior that makes today’s innovations seem primitive. Yet it is becoming increasingly hard for Congress, the courts, the general public and the media to find knowledgeable scientists without any financial stake in a biomedical controversy or regulatory debate.

That difficulty is what so concerns Sheldon Krimsky, a policy analyst at Tufts University who for two decades has been one of the country’s leading experts on the consequences of the commercialization of science. Krimsky has distilled a professional lifetime of experience as a skeptical scholar of the changing scientific culture into a new book, Science in the Private Interest. Shrewd, unsparing and never shrill, this book ought to be obligatory reading for anyone who values the role that science plays in the political life of the United States.”

The whole review is here.

Hiding Behind Science

May 25th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Dan Sarewitz, director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University (and a visiting scholar at our Center here at the University of Colorado) authored a provocative op-ed in Newsday yesterday titled Hiding Behind Science. Here is an excerpt:

“We all know that the current White House thinks that protecting embryos is more important than protecting the environment and that the profitability of chemical companies should take precedence over the potability of drinking water. No surprise here. But even if the manipulation of science at the hands of the Bush government is more egregious than in previous administrations, the real problem is the illusion that these controversies can and should be resolved scientifically, and by scientists…

… the problem with these attacks on the Bush administration is that they hide behind the sanctity of science to advance an agenda that is itself political. What we do, or don’t do, about global warming (or stem cell research, regulation of toxic chemicals, protection of endangered species . . .) will be a reflection of how we choose among competing values, and making such choices is not the job of science, but of democratic politics. Science can alert us to problems, and can help us understand how to achieve our goals once we have decided them; but the goals themselves can emerge only from a political process in which science should have no special privilege.

But neither the Bush administration nor its scientific critics want to give up on the pretense that these controversies are about science. To do so would be to abandon the high ground created when one can claim to have ‘the facts’ on one’s side. The resulting charade, where everyone pretends that science can save us from politics, undermines science by turning it into nothing more than ammunition for opposing ideologies. Even more dangerously, it damages democracy by concealing what is really at stake – our values and our interests – behind a veil of technical language and competing expertise.”

Read the whole thing here.

Politicization of Science: Getting the History Straight

May 24th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week during debate in the House of Representatives over an amendment to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the politicization of science Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said:

“Under our watch, science is being subverted to promote political and ideological goals. Advisory goals are being stripped of scientific experts and seeded with industry representatives and ideologues. Reports are being censored and data is being manipulated to promote the administration’s political and ideological objectives. This is a dangerous, dangerous precedent. This did not happen with President Bush, Sr., it did not happen with President Clinton, it did not happen with President Reagan, it did not happen with Republican or Democratic Presidents the way that it is happening today under this very politicized, very partisan, very ideologically driven White House.”

There are indeed good reasons to take issue with the use of science in the administration of George W. Bush, such as in the case of the issues being tracked by Congressman Henry Waxman. However, the misuse of science by presidential administrations did not start in 2001.

To gain a sense of perspective of the history on this issue, and to investigate claims such as those made by Congressman Brown, students in my “Maymester” (between spring and summer sessions) course titled “The Use, Misuse, and Abuse of Science in Policy and Politics” are finalizing this week reports on the misuse of science in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. We will post the reports here as soon as they are ready. It is safe to say that the issues of the politicization of science go beyond the present administration and thus deserve a considered, bipartisan response. Such a bipartisan response, as I have written in Ogmius last fall, has yet to emerge . Consider that the amendment offered last week to establish a bipartisan commission on the politicization of science was defeated along partisan lines. Stay tuned for our report.

The Value of Collaboration

May 24th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

An interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “William A. Tozier, a consultant in Ann Arbor, Mich., who specializes in machine learning and artificial-intelligence research … auctioned off his services as a co-author on eBay, with the promise of helping the highest bidder write a scientific paper for publication.”

In response, “Jose Burillo, an associate professor of mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, in Spain, entered a fake, inflated bid of more than $1,000 in hopes of stopping the auction.” Burillo says in the article: “Nobody should pay anybody for writing or collaborating on a scientific project. This could open the door to many unethical problems … If you’re collaborating, then nobody should pay. If one of them is paying, then that’s not collaborating.”

Burillo’s comments raise some difficult questions, and seem to me to go too far. For example, the U.S. government pays about $130 billion a year for research, much of it collaborative. Researchers approach and are approached to participate in grant proposals in exchange, yes, for being paid, either in salary, other research support, consulting, or in the prestige of being associated with the PI . Undoubtedly many researchers would publish more and better papers with the assistance of a writing consultant on hand (and many have benefited from such services). Of course, if that consultant is paid for by a group with a clear interest in the paper’s outcome, such as a drug company in a pharmaceutical trial, there could be a clear conflict of interest. As in other areas of possible conflict of interest, the scientific community should expect full disclosure in cases of collaborations for hire.

A good place to find information on such ethical issues in the conduct of research is

Mixed Messages on GMOs

May 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This week the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization issued a report that said “Biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture in developing countries, but so far only farmers in a few developing countries are reaping these benefits.” In a press release FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf said:

“Neither the private nor the public sector has invested significantly in new genetic technologies for the so-called ‘orphan crops’ such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and tef that are critical for the food supply and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Other barriers that prevent the poor from accessing and fully benefiting from modern biotechnology include inadequate regulatory procedures, complex intellectual property issues, poorly functioning markets and seed delivery systems, and weak domestic plant breeding capacity.”

On May 10, Monsanto announced that it was shelving for the time being its plans to develop genetically modified wheat. In a press release Carl Casale, executive vice president of Monsanto said: