Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Nice Example of Scientific Ignorance

Someone in an online discussion posted a link to what was claimed to be an experimental demonstration of global warming by a young student. It was presented by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Clean Air Conservancy.

The experiment consisted of filling one jar with CO2 and one with ordinary air, illuminating both with heat lamps, and observing the temperature. The temperature in the jar with CO2 went up more. The experimental design was imperfect, since the lamps might have differed a little in intensity or placement, but that's not a serious criticism given the age of the experimenter.

The real problem is that the experiment does not demonstrate the greenhouse effect. That effect depends on selective absorption, on the fact that CO2 is more transparent to the short wave length light coming down from the sun than to the long wave length light coming up from the Earth. The experiment showed that CO2 was less transparent than ordinary air to long wave length light but provided no evidence at all of its transparency to short wave length light, hence no evidence in support of the greenhouse effect. To do it right, it should have been repeated using a source of short wave length light such as sunlight. If that didn't heat the bottle with the CO2 more than the other bottle, that would have provided evidence of selective absorption, hence support for the claim that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

My conclusion is that the people who webbed the video were ignorant of the science they claimed to be demonstrating. The student who did the experiment was equally ignorant, which suggests, but does not prove, that whoever taught him was as well. The case of the student or the Clean Air Conservancy isn't all that surprising, but it is a little disturbing that the Cleveland Museum of Natural History would post a video based on a complete misunderstanding of the science it purports to demonstrate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drought and Bias (Mine)

It has been raining pretty heavily for a while now in California, where I live. That ought to be good news, but one would not know it by the news stories I see. They typically say two things:

1. The heavy rains may lead to flooding, mud slides, and similar problems. 

2. The drought is not over. 

My initial reaction to that pattern, in part due to spending too much time arguing climate issues online, was that the news media were pushing the orthodox line—climate change is bad—by focusing on the bad features of current weather and dismissing the fact that the increased rain signaled the end of a serious three year drought. My wife offered a different, and probably more nearly correct, interpretation. The claim that the drought is not over, taken as a statement about the weather, is false, since rainfall appears (casual observation—I have not seen comparative data) to be back up to at least its normal level. But it is an accurate description of the implications for humans. Three years of drought have left reservoirs very low and it will take more than a few weeks of rain to refill them. 

The claim that the drought is not over, in her view, is designed not to reinforce climate worries but to persuade people to hold down their use of water, since the less is consumed the faster the reservoirs will refill.

Will 2014 be the Hottest Year Ever?

Lots of people have claimed it will be and they could be correct, but there are two obvious problems:

1. The year is not over yet.

2. "Hottest year ever" is not well defined. There are a number of different published temperature series, calculated in different ways. "Hottest year" looks a lot less striking if it turns out to be true by only one measure out of five or six.

The series I mostly use in climate arguments is one from NASA, not because I have any reason to think it better than others but because it is one that I found conveniently webbed as numbers, not just as a graph. It shows 2010 as the hottest year so far. Just for fun, I added up the temperatures for the first eleven months of 2010 and 2014. Currently, 2010 is ahead by about  .01 degree C. 

But December of 2010 was relatively cool, so it would not be surprising if 2014 inched past the record in its final month. Or not.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Criticism of the IPCC from a Competent Source

I just came across an interesting piece online which quotes extensively from testimony by a prominent scientist critiquing the IPCC. It provides a good rebuttal to those who imagine that the only critics are ignorant and/or venal people who believe in a vast conspiracy of climate scientists. 

Testimony by Daniel Botkin

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Announcing a Cover Contest

My previous post attracted a lot of comments, along with a couple of cover designs. So I have decided to issue an invitation to anyone who wants to propose a cover for the third edition of The Machinery of Freedom. It should include the title, the subtitle ("Guide to a Radical Capitalism") and my name. Including "Third edition" is optional, but probably a good idea.

The prize consists of a signed copy of every book of mine that I can get a copy of, which I think means everything with the possible exception of Price Theory. And credit to the artist in the book, if he wants it.

Here are the suggestions so far. I've trimmed the list by removing ones where the artist has offered a revised version I like better:




























(possibly title page rather than cover?)













This is fun.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Which Cover Should I Use for the Third Edition of Machinery?

At this point, the only significant work left to be done in producing a POD hardcover of the third edition is adding an index, which the Kindle doesn't have (or need, since it's searchable). And, of course, fixing all the problems that I won't discover until I have a proof copy.

That raises the question of a cover. One possibility is the cover currently on the Kindle page, which was contributed by my agent, where from I don't know. Another is the cover of the Spanish translation with the text changed to English, assuming I can get permission to use it. Which do people here think is better? Other suggestions?

Kindle Cover

Spanish Translation Cover

Here's a third possibility, from someone reading this post on FaceBook

Friday, December 12, 2014

Climate and Elite Opinion

I have spent a good deal of time observing and participating in arguments about global warming. One striking point that I have not seen discussed is the sharp divergence between elite opinion and mass opinion.

Elite opinion, the New York Times, official statements by various scientific organizations and the like, views global warming as a dire threat, one that requires drastic and immediate action to prevent. Mass opinion, not only in the U.S. but, according to at least one poll I saw, world wide, puts it very far down in the list of what people are concerned about, perhaps tenth or twentieth. This pattern is reflected in the online discussions, where people concerned about warming mostly base their arguments on some version of "everyone who is anyone agrees with me." Their picture of the situation, pretty clearly, is one in which the truth is perfectly clear and it is only uneducated fundamentalists or people in the pay of the oil companies who can disagree.

My reasons for questioning part of that picture, not the fact of warming due to human actions but the likely consequences, I have discussed in past posts here. My general skepticism of elite opinion comes from many past disagreements with it, most notably on political and economic issues. My point here, however, is not about whether the elite view is right or wrong but about the relation between the elite view and the mass view in different countries.

Among western developed countries, Australia appears least supportive of action against warming, Germany most, the U.S. in between. Germany has been involved in a very high profile effort to push down its output of CO2. The current Australian government, so far as I can make out, has mostly rejected calls for anything along similar lines. In the U.S., the President is strongly in favor of climate action, the Congress reluctant to support it, with the result that the administration has been trying to implement its views by regulatory action instead of legislation.

After a summer in Australia many years ago, I concluded two things about the country. One was that it had a larger variety of flavored potato chips than anywhere else in the world, including all the British versions and all the U.S. versions. The second, possibly related, was that Australia had a full range of social classes built almost entirely out of an originally working class population. One implication, consistent with at least casual observation, is that Australians have less respect for their betters, their social superiors, their elite, than any other population on the globe. 

Germany, I think, represents the opposite pattern. The U.S. is somewhere in between. Unlike European countries, the U.S. never had a system with well defined social classes, the sort of system where there was a close correlation between how much money someone had, how much education he had, and how he spoke. One result is that Americans are  less inclined to see all political issues as my class vs your class than Europeans (I must confess that my view of Europeans is heavily weighted towards Great Britain, as the only European country whose language I am fluent in). Another, I think, is that Americans have less respect for their elite.

If I am correct—I am far from expert in the various societies and may be misinterpreting them—there is a pattern. Countries where the elite is more influential are more likely to take costly actions aimed at reducing global warming.

At a final tangent, I recently came across an online post, based in part on another post by a blogger I think very highly of, which nicely stated one of my reservations about arguments for the current elite view of warming.