Academic Honesty

Shrinking polar icecaps (and credibility),” by Gaijinbiker, Riding Sun,, 31 January 2005.

You’re exactly right,” by Dan, Riding Sun,, 31 January 2005.

A new report on global warming is out. I’m not a climate scientist, and people who I respect are on boths sides of the debate — often in surprising way. But the article is a joke.

Gaijinbiker explains:

When you measure the same thing twice, you don’t expect the second result to be double the first. If it is, that’s a clue that your measurements are worthless. If the second try is 100% higher, perhaps a third try would yield results 100% lower — that is, zero.

My response?

You’re exactly right.

For my graduate degree (Computer Science) I had to build a model simulation large-scale systems. Results had to be consistent with itself and the real world. 100% variation is a failure — or more academically, a field for future research — not a conclusion.

But it doesn’t end there. In the original post, Gaijinbiker points out another problem

Also notable is that the article mentions only the report’s “worst-case” scenario. How likely is that scenario to occur? Ten percent? One percent? .00001 percent? And what are the other scenarios like? How likely are they? Are there any where the earth actually gets cooler?

It would be nice to know.

However, Mr. Connor apparently sees his purpose as terrifying Britons into immediate and unwarranted action, rather than skeptically assessing the most drastic outcome of a single new study.

Again, exactly right.

I’m not an expert on simulation design or criticism, but the guys on my committee where. If I would have presented, as my results, the most extreme outcome I’d be laughed out of the room, if not asked to leave the university.

The results of a simulation are taken. They are explained, and areas that seem particularly weak or interesting become “future research.” I was lucky to complete my studies under very experienced and knowldgeable professors. They taught me the pitfalls of simulation building, and how a simulation can be perverted for personal or political gain (one had been contracted to simulate how to “win” a thermonuclear exchange using equipment from only one military contractor — single-source the apocalypse!).

At best, the press coverage of this is biased and inaccurate. Alternatively, the scientists involved are shockingly unprofessional. At worst, they are academically dishonest.

3 thoughts on “Academic Honesty”

  1. Actually, the problem here is one you've lamented unrelatedly on occasion. Just like “Bush Nominee Blocked by Dems.” draws more reader attention than “Democrats Question Gonsales' Record” headlines and articles like “We're all going to drown!” get more reader attention than “We should start looking at this global warming thing.”

    This study was well-funded, well-thought-out, and well-equipped. Some very serious software and intelligence went into this. Other news resources are being careful to point out the possiblities of natural warming cycles, etc. Most likely, the one you're reading was not.

    I'll say again that doing something has to be better than doing nothing. But as long as doing something affects the bottom line of people who already have enough money, Limbaugh, tdaxp and Enron will continue to question the character, credentials or agenda of anyone who might not like to see the Gulf Stream shut down or masses of microscopic sea life (the bottom of the food chain, fyi) die off. Accepting the Kyoto Protocol might hamper economic growth in some industries slightly. But it's not going to bankrupt anyone. A massive crash in the fishing industry, the logging industry of Europe, or worldwide famine would do major damage to humankind, and _everyone's_ checkbook.

    I don't want to go back to living in trees. I like the efficiencies of modern life, but I'm certainly not hurting driving an efficient automobile and leaving the thermostat down a few degrees.

    Putting your head in the sand isn't going to do anyone any good. Wouldn't you rather always wonder if you were wrong than find out the hard way?

    Maybe the Right only cares about the lives of the unborn and the anguish of the gay male. Their compassion apparently doesn't include people who like to breathe or eat food.

  2. Aaron,

    Do you have links to other reports of the study?

    Is doing something better than doing nothing? That's what FDR thought, and that led him to ruin the economy. With Social Security democrats accuse Bush of the same thing, with the same possible effects.

    Accepting (and actually implementings, and not just leaving it a paper law) Kyoto would harm all industries slightly. It would bankrupt others.

    Is the loggin industry a significant portion of European GDP? I doubt it.

  3. What part of the European economy that is is irrelevant. We're talking about cats sleeping with dogs here, Dan. If we stall the Gulf Stream, we completely and irrevocably change how our environment works. And I'm not talking “it's 38 in Calgary instead of the average 36, ooh, scary” I'm talking about complete destruction of humanity because of famine. I'm talking about massive die-offs of phytoplankton, which fish and whales and a score of other things eat. If fish and whales die off, major areas of the world now have very little food. That doesn't just inconvenience my seafood-loving girlfiriend. It starves large portions of the world population.

    FDR didn't ruin the economy. Rampant speculation and heavy borrowing to finance risky investment ruined the economy. I still eagerly await the day when you provide for me some kind of proof that FDR ruined anything but our international contest to see who could have the highest unemployment rate in the world. During the depression, no one was hiring. No one had money. No one could purchase. No one could manufacture. Have Archie tell you about the Depression. People weren't complaining that FDR was ruining the markets. They were praising the fact that his WPA money was putting food in their stomachs. The Free Market cannot fix catastrophe, and I'd really like to see it proven otherwise… Unfortunately, I'd have to return the favor to the Right and completely question any computer simulation or study that would prove you right, as it doesn't align with my pre-disposed beliefs.

    It's all well and good that people want to make money. There's nothing wrong with that. But limited short-term success at the expense of long-term stability isn't a sustainable model. LaOT talks pretty heavily about that in South America. The farmers were so desperate to make a few dollars to feed their families, they were cutting down trees on their limited property. And pretty soon, they're out of trees on their property. Then what?

    I'm trying to figure out where in the propaganda of public schooling you decided that profit and growth was more important than survival. To get rich is glorious, but to leave a lasting civilization, rather than be another footnote in geological time, I think is ever more important.

    I don't think the sky is falling like some of the left. I don't think we've done irreversible damange. Yet. I think that we're taking ride out to the edge, though. Our world is too interconnected. Systems rely on each other without even knowing it. If we monkey up natural atmospheric patterns or oceanic currents, perhaps we cause a severe drought in South America or SE Asia. Millions of people who barely get by farming the staple crops that the world consumes lose their incomes. Possibly their lives. I don't get sad when someone cuts down a tree. That is a convenient myth that the Right has perpetrated for a long time now, along with the misuse of the word “liberal” to mean something negative, when it is in fact anything but. I worry when we cut down mass swaths of forest, because we just lowered our capacity to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere. CO2 is poison. I don't see anyone producing these scrubber devices commercially. They don't make any money. So to hell with the future. We'll get ours now and take it with us.

    I'll provide links to the study later. I'm in class, but they're in my browser history on my laptop at the hotel.

  4. The study utilized a SETI@home-style aggregation of computation to provide models for what will happen when CO2 levels double. This is not a question of “if” but “when”. The history of CO2 levels is measurable by pulling up cores of Arctic ice. If you have Excel, here is that data. A linear regression model shows the rampup and the projected date of occurrance. It's not 100% accurate, but your math abilities should tell you that even if it's not the day the predict, it's an inevitability for some point.

    (Effect of climate change on food web)

    (Weather pattern changes due to climate change)

    I get your side, Dan. People want to do better financially. Our country is better off environmentally than many others. Our standard of living is amazing compared to a world average. I'm not giving up my hardwood floors or walking to work. But we need to take a serious look at our actions' impact on the environment and realize that we may not be able to consume consume consume. Business may be good, but it might not last. Does immediate profit trump long-term sustainability?

    The Protocol asks us to go to 7% below 1990 levels. Was the polluting industry so poorly off in 1990? If we go back to that level, who will we bankrupt? I think Microsoft, GE, SBC and Wal-Mart will survive just fine. DuPont is already feeling the heat of public scrutiny of their practices. Who would we hurt by forcing Ford & brothers to increase fuel efficiency and limit emissions?

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