Archive for December, 2004

Prometheus Office Pool, 2005

December 30th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

1) When the president’s FY 2006 budget is released it will show for NSF (a) a significant cut of 5%, (b) funding increase at the inflation rate, (c) a large increase on the way to a doubling, (d) a cut equal to the overall decline in discretionary spending

2) In 2005 a decision will be made about the Hubble Space Telescope to, (a) be serviced by a robot, (b) be serviced by a shuttle mission, (c) fall into the ocean with no repair mission, (d) put off the decision until 2006

3) When overall FY 2006 federal spending for R&D turns out to show a lower rate of increase (or even a decrease) from recent years members of the scientific community will, (a) break tradition and increasingly take on one another’s programs as a source of funds, (b) criticize the president and congress for punishing scientists for their advocacy in the 2004 election, (c) look increasingly to academic earmarks, (d) make louder pronouncements about a pending shortage of scientists

4) California’s Proposition 71 will be (a) rocked by scandal, (b) hailed for early therapeutic breakthroughs, (c) rarely in the news outside of California, (d) emulated by biotech interests in other states


Basic Research in USDA?

December 29th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

As prospects for growth most every part of the federal budget look dim, including science, scientists and policy makers are looking to game the system to come out ahead in the sub-zero-sum budget game. A good example can be found in the efforts over the past years (or decades, depending on how one measures such things) to create an institutional home for basic research in USDA.

A group of scientists proposed in a report (PDF) last summer that the USDA create a National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) modeled on NIH and NSF. NIFA would focus on fundamental research that may or may not confer practical benefits, so long as it advances knowledge. The proposal recommends funding focused on external peer-reviewed grants, growing to $1 billion/year after five years and a governance structure of scientists and for scientists. One of the justifications given for creating a NIFA is the tradition of earmarking (PDF) USDA research funds, which means that politicians not scientists determine who gets funded. The report recommends that NIFA funding should be “new” money – it should not come from existing USDA or science programs. R&D at USDA totals $2.4 billion in 2005, and USDA was one of only a few agencies to see a substantial increase in 2005 (for analysis see the AAAS (PDF)).

In November, four senators introduced a bill last month to create the NIFA. It seems that the Senators are under the impression that the fundamental research will lead to direct economic and health benefits to the country. Who knows if NIFA will succeed politically in 2005, but it does seem clear that if implemented, NIFA will face some challenges connecting its basic research aims with expectations of relevance, not unlike NSF and NIH. Its champions will be well served to develop a more sophisticated talking point than the following: “”We’re not totally naïve. We recognize that everything depends on budget, and budgets are very tight. On the other hand, I would argue that agriculture is terribly important to our country, everything from balancing trade, to protecting our environment, to food safety and anti-terrorism.”

For an excellent background on research in USDA, see this 1981 OTA report, An Assessment of the United States Food and Agricultural Research System.

We should expect to see more institutional innovation (compare Proposition 71) as budgets for science are expected to be much tighter in the coming years than they were over the past decade. Such innovations can serve as valuable laboratories to learn about different strategies for supporting science to serve public objectives. If it is well conceived (which it does not seem to be at present), NIPA could be a positive innovation for conducting societally-relevant agricultural research.

Shadow Boxing on Climate

December 27th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I am amazed by the recent attention being paid to the issue of a scientific consensus on climate change. Naomi Oreskes wrote an article a few weeks back in Science, claiming that a literature review shows that a central statement of consensus reported in the IPCC is indeed a consensus. Since that article was published, debate and discussion (see here and here) has taken place on, among other things, whether it is in fact a unanimous perspective rather than the overwhelming view of most scientists.

Yesterday Oreskes published an op-ed in the Washington Post repeating her arguments. She writes,

“There is a scientific consensus on the fact that Earth’s climate is heating up and human activities are part of the reason. We need to stop repeating nonsense about the uncertainty of global warming and start talking seriously about the right approach to address it. The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program, the IPCC is charged with evaluating the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. In its most recent assessment, the IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities: “Human activities . . . are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents . . . that absorb or scatter radiant energy. . . . [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.””

I agree 100% with her assertion that we need to “… start talking seriously about the right approach to address it.” But I have a hard time identifying those at the focus of Oreskes’ complaint. Who is it that objects to the IPCC consensus statement? And if these people can be found (one place to look first is climate-related blogs) why do they matter from a policy perspective? I can identify a few influential people who do not seem to be among the dissenters with respect to the IPCC statement Oreskes focuses on.

Bjorn Lomborg: “There is no doubt that global warming is happening or that it is important. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels will increase Earth’s temperature. That is likely to have an overall negative effect.”


Happy Holidays!!

December 23rd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Happy Holidays to All Prometheus Readers!  We’ll be back in action next week.  Meantime, a Thursday whip:

Obstacles to emissions reductions and alternative energy.  In addition to spending time looking at global legal frameworks and regimes, it may be worth also looking at policies at a slightly smaller scale.  NPR has a cautionary tale, listen here.

Living with uncertainty, part 1.  On the apparent health risks associated with painkillers, Gina Kolata has an excellent article in yesterday’s New York Times on the tradeoffs and uncertainties associated with developing and using new drugs.  She relates the view of Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, a cancer surgeon at Harvard, “science simply does not and can not have all the answers. Every drug has risks and benefits, and often it is impossible to know all of them even after a drug is being sold. But that does not mean that drugs are bad or that federal regulators are lax.  ”It’s muddy,” Dr. Bresalier said. “Even people who are experts don’t have the answers.””

Living with uncertainty, part 2.  Yesterday we learned that a recount of the election results  for governor in Washington now show a 10 vote margin for the Democratic candidate.  Consider this commentary from a few weeks ago, “The difference between Rossi and Gregoire is now less than 0.0015 percent — 1,372,484 votes for Rossi, 1,372,442 votes for Gregoire. If this were a 100-yard dash, Rossi’s lead would be slightly more than a millimeter… [Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed] said “said he expects to get an accurate and solid count back from the counties in a hand recount, but there’s an inherent variability in election results, which he called “99.9 percent accurate.””  You do the math.

Are universities special?  When it comes to protecting their patent rights, maybe not says an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.  “Through legal maneuvering, Columbia [University won a new patent in 2002 with similar claims as the old ones. Soon, Columbia demanded more royalties — until 2019 — from various companies. Many balked… The Columbia case has added fuel to the debate over how aggressive universities should be in securing and protecting patents. Some argue that giving universities free rein to grab patent riches can damage academic values such as open inquiry and stifle basic research, since university scientists typically patent early-stage discoveries… Columbia and its defenders say the university is being unfairly maligned for doing what all patent holders are legally entitled to do.”  The article requires a subscription to view:  B. Wysocki, Jr. Columbia’s Pursuit Of Patent Riches Angers Companies As University Seeks to Extend A $600 Million Bonanza, Biotechs Refuse to Pay Up Debate Over Academic Values, The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2004; Page A1.

What is climate change?

December 22nd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In 2003 I made an argument that the FCCC definition of climate change is an obstacle to action.  A short version of this argument was published here (the longer version in press as part of special issue in ESP):

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2004: What is Climate Change?, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer, 1-4.

Considerable evidence for this perspective can be found in the summary report from the IISD on COP-10, which includes the following telling excerpt:

“Least developed countries – some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – failed for the second consecutive year to secure a decision for full-cost funding of adaptation through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). All financial resources for the LDC Fund are channeled through the GEF. The problems encountered by the LDC Fund shed light on the core problem of addressing adaptation in the context of the UNFCCC. Adaptation is an integral part of development, and as such, no project directed at adaptation will fall squarely within the scope of the UNFCCC, but will rather have components that include other aspects of development, such as disaster preparedness, water management, desertification prevention, or biodiversity protection. This problem was highlighted with great honesty by a GEF project director who said that when projects fall under many categories, rather than being easily adopted due to their clear synergies and multiple benefits, they become more complex and difficult to approve due to a series of successive revisions needed by different focal areas.


National Post Op-Ed

December 22nd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yestreday’s National Post, a Canadian newspaper, carried an op-ed by Terence Corcoran that discussed my 20 December 2004 post on Misuse of Science by UNEP.

A few quick reactions to his discussion:

Mr. Corcoran overall does a nice job relating our perspective, though he is clearly opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, calling it a “giant dead albatross.”  From my perspective, while Kyoto or any extensions are not effective tools for modulating the future impacts of climate, there are good reasons why emissions reductions make sense (read this article) and why Kyoto may be politically attractive for the United States (read this post).

He gets my perspective slightly wrong when he says that I am talking about “weather assertions.”  My post was not about the frequency of extreme weather events per se, but about trends in the economic impacts associated with extreme weather events.  The distinction may seem subtle, but it is absolutely essential to understanding long-term trends.  Even so, as recently as the IPCC’s Second Assessment report the scientific community was unable to identify any global trends in the incidence of extreme weather events.  But even if there are trends and projections showing an increase (or even a decrease!) in such events, the impacts associated with them both historically and in the future are dominated by social and demographic trends and not climate per se.  In other words, expect the economic costs associated with weather extremes to increase dramatically in coming decades no matter what the climate does.

One point should be made clear.  Our work on the impacts of extreme events does not lend support to or opposition to Kyoto Protocol, or any other policy related to emissions reductions.  It only becomes relevant to this debate when those advocating for the Kyoto Protocol make allegations about past and future weather impacts that are completely contrary to our findings.  Our work then becomes a valuable resource to cite for those who are opposed to the Kyoto Protocol.  But thi would not occur if UNEP and others would properly justify their arguments in the first place.  Meantime, our job is to call ‘em as we see ‘em and hope that this can be a constructive contribution to better aligning arguments made on all sides in political advocacy with the robust finding from our research.

This Just In

December 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), to be held February, 2005 in Washington, DC, has organized a session titled,” Framing Science: Has Politics Taken Over the Direction of Scientific Research?”

News flash for the NASW – politics took over the direction of scientific research long ago when the federal government and the scientific community decided respectively to devote and accept large amounts of public money for research. The allocation of taxpayer dollars is a political process – politics has long been in charge of shaping the direction of scientific research. And most folks would say that when it comes to the expenditure of public monies, political accountability is a good thing. If the NASW wants to do a good job with topics of science and politics, it needs to frame the issue accurately, which in this case I don’t think it has.

The panel the NASW looks quite interesting, and potentially valuable, but they have to set it up right first. Here is how the NASW describes the panel:

“An overwhelming amount of scientific research in the United States has long engaged in an intricate dance with politics. Now, however, political views are forcing more drastic changes than ever in the work federally funded scientists can—and cannot—do, observers charge. Has the presidential science advisor’s role changed? To what extent is politics manipulating the direction of scientific research these days? And how is the current political climate affecting journalists, PIOs, and other science writers?

Laura van Dam, NASW President-Elect and Freelance Editor/Writer

Joanne Silberner, Health-Policy Correspondent, National Public Radio

Rita Colwell, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of Maryland and Former Director, National Science Foundation

John H. Marburger III, Director, United States Office of Science and Technology Policy

Congressman Henry Waxman (invited), Ranking Minority Member, House Government Reform Committee; Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce”

For information on the Conference see here.

Misuse of Science by UNEP

December 20th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a press release last week that clearly misuses science to advance a political agenda. On what basis do I make this claim? The UNEP press release contains assertions that are squarely contradicted by a substantial body of research colleagues and I have published in the peer-reviewed literature. The misuse of science here is unambiguous.

UNEP is linking the economic impacts of extreme weather in 2004 to human caused climate change and then suggesting that emissions reductions are central to reducing those impacts.

Our research (a concise introductory summary can be found here) clearly shows that a connection between emissions reductions, which may indeed be worth pursuing for other reasons, and future economic impacts related to climate is all but nonexistent. How can this be? Trends in the growth in impacts related to extreme events are dominated overwhelmingly by growing population and wealth in places exposed to weather events, and not trends in the events themselves. We simply cannot modulate future damages via emissions reductions. Instead it is necessary to focus on the reduction of damages by reducing vulnerability, a strategy long-advocated within the hazards community.

Here is what UNEP says in the press release:


A Friday Whip

December 17th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Washington Post yesterday reported, “Almost one-fifth of the Food and Drug Administration scientists surveyed two years ago as part of an official review said they had been pressured to recommend approval of a new drug despite reservations about its safety, effectiveness or quality.” This seems to be a case an extreme misuse of science. This is a case worth watching closely.

The NRC released a report yesterday on “radiative forcing” of climate change. Among other interesting content, not only does the report through down some touch challenges for IPCC WGI, it raises a difficult (and ironic) policy quandary – what are the policy implications if action to reduce GHGs actually results in a magnification of climate change impacts (pp. 113-114)?

A new blog has appeared, Real Climate, which promises to restrict discussion “to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.” This is an experiment worth watching (and we are). Its recent focus on Myron Ebell, Michael Crichton, and on areas of climate science that are politically controversial suggest that thus far this particular experiment offers plenty of support for recent a recent thesis of Dan Sarewitz: namely how science makes environmental controversies worse.

David Dickson discusses low-tech versus high-tech approaches to meeting the challenges of malaria – vaccines versus bednets, provides an excellent case study of the challenges faced in a wide range of issues.

Tremors in political perspectives seem to be shaking the foundations of some long-held beliefs on climate change, a sign of foundation-shaking earthquakes ahead? For example, over at the conservative-leaning Tech Central Station there are signs in its coverage of COP10 that while their opposition to the Kyoto remains steadfast, their justifications are shifting in striking fashion. Meanwhile, on the other side a essay titled “The Death of Environmentalism” focuses mainly on climate change and has evoked a passionate defense of the status quo. We may be entering an era where the most interesting debates are enviro vs. enviro and skeptic vs. skeptic. Stay tuned …

So much to blog, so little time ….

Uncertainty and Decision Making

December 16th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In many areas of decision making a claim is often made that “reducing uncertainties” are a prerequisite for decision making to occur. Hence, on an issue like climate change we see tens of billions of dollars invested into research justified primarily by a goal of reducing uncertainties to foster decision making. We also see a very public debate, enjoined by scientists, to try to scrub the world clean of any of the last vestiges of lingering uncertainty among the populace (for example, see here). And even the IPCC chairman sees its mission as being “reducing uncertainties.”

All of the focus and allocation of resources to reducing uncertainties raises what I would think ought to be several basic questions:

Is there evidence that reduction of uncertainty actually compels policy action?

Does funding of research actually lead to reduced uncertainty?

Is action impossible is the face of uncertainty?

I’d suggest that the answer to each of these questions is clearly “No”, and there is ample research, theory and experience to back this up (see the end of this post for some links to this literature). But let me illustrate this with an example focused on the 2004 election.