When Science Becomes A Casualty Of Politics

Cathy Young has some thoughts, but she makes the same mistake that many in the media do when discussing the issue:

I will freely admit that I don’t have enough knowledge of science or familiarity with the scientific method to be able to come to a truly informed conclusion at to which version of “ClimateGate” is right. Neither, I suspect, do some 95 percent (or, more likely, 99 percent) of people who have spoken out on the issue, on either side. That means they are likely to go with their political instincts and listen to those “experts” who reflect their own preconceived opinions. Conservatives and libertarians, who see the crusade against global warming as an attack on capitalism and freedom, are very likely to think that the hacked emails are devastating to the case for human-made global warming; liberals and leftists, who see global warming denial as an attempt to protect greed and unbridled consumption, are very likely to think that the only real scandal is the deniers’ shameless manipulation of public opinion in an attempt to discredit solid science.

It’s always the “hacked” (as opposed to released by a whistleblower) “emails,” which while quite disturbing enough, are not the smoking cannon that has shown what these people are doing as non science. It’s the bogus models and made-up data, and the inside look at them provided by Harry_Read_Me.txt.

Jim Lindgren has a useful challenge to the defenders of these people:

…if I were Professor Mann’s dean at Penn State, I would try to determine whether he has fully shared his data, metadata, and computer code. To the extent that he hasn’t already, I would try to make him do so – at least for his most important or most controversial articles in recent years. And, for reason #3 above, I wouldn’t take Mann’s word for it. I’d call his critics and ask them to name the few most important Mann papers for which the data and computer code are needed for replication.

If Mann is still withholding the data and code necessary for replication, I’d ask him to replicate his most important or most controversial recent work (certainly not everything) and to release the data and code so that others might do so. If Mann couldn’t replicate his own work, I would ask him to announce that fact to the scientific community, so that serious scientists would know whether his work is replicable.

Thus, if I were Professor Mann’s dean, probably the only power I’d use would be to further the scientific enterprise. And even that would not be necessary if ethical standards were higher in the subfield of paleoclimatology.

Unfortunately, the subfield seems to have devolved into a religious cult, attracting second raters.

Why Not Just Fund The Program Of Record?

Chris Kraft weighs in with a “common sense approach”:

NASA should essentially stay the course that has been pursued for the past several years. It makes good common sense to preserve and continue the use of the present NASA assets. Specifically, NASA should:

* Continue to operate the space shuttle until a suitable replacement is available, and initiate a study to consider a modernization program aimed primarily at reducing the operating costs.
* Operate and maintain the international space station until it ceases to be economically reasonable and scientifically productive.
* Continue to push forward with orderly haste to accomplish the goals set forth by the Constellation program.
* Initiate an aggressive research and development program aimed at the technology required to make space exploration to Mars and other deep-space objectives rational and affordable.
* Estimate a realistic set of budget requirements for the total NASA program based on the above goals and the other elements and goals of the agency.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain how much this would cost (it would cost billions to get the lines started again to keep Shuttle flying alone, even ignoring the orbiter-aging issues), or where the money would come from. Without doing any analysis, I’m guessing that it would require a doubling of the current HSF budget, or on the order of an additional ten billion dollars per year, for a system that will continue to cost billions per mission.

Jon Goff, on the other hand, explains why Kraft’s proposal is a non-starter, and fiscally insane:

Where I come from, we tend to think that getting a heck of a lot less while paying a heck of a lot more is usually the sign of a sucker. I just wish that a few space pundits and public figures didn’t keep enabling Senator Shelby and his ilk from hijacking NASA’s budget to enrich his campaign contributors at the rest of our expense.

Unfortunately, it’s more than a few. He also has a good question for Chris Kraft and other America bashers:

Why does Congress trust Russian commercial space more than American commercial space, btw?

Obviously, Russians are much better than American entrepreneurs and businesses. The latter can’t be entrusted with the vital duty of spending billions of dollars per flight on unsafe vehicles to protect jobs in key states and congressional districts.

Good News

I hadn’t noticed this from last Thursday:

According to insiders, the White House is looking at four options, each of which would scrap Ares I, dramatically revise Constellation and start new programs allowing commercial space companies to carry humans to the space station. All would be blocked by the latest move by Congress.

Emphasis mine. If the insiders are right, we’re approaching the end of our long national space-policy nightmare. Oh, and as for Congress blocking it? They can do that, I suppose, but it won’t save Ares I. It will just keep any other option from being implemented. NASA (via the administration) will decide what its new plans are. Congress can oppose them, but it can’t force a different direction. And most of Congress, other than the Alabama delegation, doesn’t give a damn.

[Update a while later]

Bobby Block has the latest on the battle at the Orlando Sentinel. This is interesting (if a little depressing):

Last week, Boeing executives, including the company’s vice president for Space Exploration Vice President and General Manager, Brewster Shaw, a former astronaut, called on their employees “to share their excitement and commitment to human space flight — and the Constellation project and Ares program — with their elected officials” through a company-assisted letter-writing effort.

It is the first time that a company has called on its workforce to try to fight to save NASA’s embattled Constellation moon rocket program.

“Now more than ever, it is extremely important that everyone become involved in this conversation,” Shaw wrote in a message to employees last Thursday.

What they’re trying to save, of course, are the upper stage and avionics ring contracts. My question is, how seriously would they expect a Congressperson to take a letter from someone whose contract is at stake? It’s one thing to get a letter from an uninvolved but interested citizen — it’s another to get one from a Boeing employee. I’d be inclined to ignore it myself, particularly given the knowledge that it was at the behest of management. I’m not sure this is a great PR play.

Of course, it could be that they’re just following orders:

Gabrielle Giffords, the head of the House subcommittee with NASA oversight and the wife of NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, says she urged aerospace leaders to get their employees to write the President over the summer, but said only six letters were written.

…Boeing spokesman Ed Memi said that the company recently decided that a big push to back Constellation by its employees was a good move now.

Well, we can see why…


Kudos To Management

The Tehachapi news has the most detailed story yet of the actions taken by Stu Witt and others to ensure the safety of everyone at the party in Mojave. This video shows the main tent actually being blown down. Glad I got out in time. The earlier video of the partying wasn’t taken in that tent, but in one of the smaller domes, in which belongings had been checked, and where much of it was (at least temporarily) lost in the rush to evacuate.

Common Sense

…backed up by real math and science, instead of ideology. Thoughts on Kyopenhagen and Climaquiddick from Bjorn Lomborg:

…let’s say we index 1990 global emissions at 100. If there were no Kyoto at all, the 2010 level would have been 142.7.

With full Kyoto implementation, it would have been 133. In fact, the actual outcome of Kyoto is likely to be a 2010 level of 142.2 ― virtually the same as if we had done nothing at all. Given 12 years of continuous talks and praise for Kyoto, this is not much of an accomplishment.

The Kyoto Protocol did not fail because any one nation let the rest of the world down. It failed because making quick, drastic cuts in carbon emissions is extremely expensive.

Whether or not Copenhagen is declared a political victory, that inescapable fact of economic life will once again prevail ― and grand promises will once again go unfulfilled.

Fortunately, reality will still prevail, despite the speechifying and bloviating.

Another Obama Promise With An Expiration Date

What happened to the Space Council?

I find it hard to get worked up about it. As Dwayne notes, the history of the utility of a space council isn’t encouraging. If civil space were important, we wouldn’t need one, and since it isn’t, one can understand why the White House doesn’t want to have one more clamoring voice at the table.

Also, Jeff Foust has a more detailed report of last Monday’s events in Mojave, and a book review of The Extraterrestrial Imperative. Other people have told me that it doesn’t do justice to Ehricke’s work and legacy.

Emily Bazelon’s Problem

Emily Bazelon isn’t aware of the depth of the irony of her piece at Slate, that describes her apathy to space (which she defines as “astronomy”):

The other night, my boys curled up on the couch with my husband and went to the moon. They were enthralled by a grainy video of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 shaky descent onto the pitted lunar sand. “Mom, the Eagle has landed!” they shouted in unison. “Come watch!” I was in the kitchen, reading Elizabeth Weil’s New York Times Magazine story on the perils of trying to improve a companionate marriage.

She and Liz Weil are soulmates. Liz spent many months hanging around Rotary Rocket in the late 1990s (I had dinner with her once in Tehachapi), doing research for a book that was roundly panned by everyone actually involved. For instance, see Tom Brosz’ review. It was quite clear that she had little interest in space herself, but was treating the thing as more of an anthropological expedition — a Diane Fosse “space engineers in the mist” sort of deal. Emily goes on:

I sat down, put the magazine aside, and tried to care about the moon, the planets, the stars, the galaxy. I concentrated on the astronauts and Sputnik and the race with the Soviet Union from JFK to Nixon. But I was interrupted by a stingy voice in my head: Just think what we could do on this planet with all the time and energy we spend trying to reach other ones. I know, I know: It’s anti-science, anti-American, anti-imagination. But I am incorrigibly, constitutionally earthbound. I have never willingly studied a single page of astronomy. My knowledge of the planets begins and ends with My Very Elderly Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pillows (except, no more P, as Simon has informed me). I relish stories about NASA boondoggles for confirming my suspicion that the agency is a budget sinkhole.

Well, the agency (at least the human spaceflight part of it) is largely a budget sinkhole. We certainly don’t get value commensurate with the costs. It doesn’t have to be, but because most people are, like Emily, not that interested in space, at least as done by NASA, politicians are free to do whatever they want with its budget, so much of it ends up being simple pork. That’s just Public Choice 101. If Emily and others actually cared, perhaps NASA might have to do more useful things with the money.

But her ignorance extends far beyond simple astronomy. For someone who seems to revel in the fact that NASA wastes its money, like much of the public, she is profoundly unaware of how much (or relatively, little) money it actually is:

Simon has been asking for a periscope. He also says that when he grows up, he’s going to be an astronomer and an astronaut. I mentioned biologist as an alternative a few times. But then I stopped. Now I tell him that I can’t wait for him to teach me all about the solar system. Maybe he’ll be a rebel astronomer, and someday reform NASA, or call for an end to manned space missions so that the money can be used to fix Social Security? A mother can dream.

If she thinks that ending human spaceflight would be more than spitting in a hurricane with regard to the Social Security budget, she is innumerate beyond belief. You could either double, or zero, the NASA budget, and either way it would barely be a rounding error in SS, or the rest of the federal budget in general. I wish that more people thought that space was important, and that it was about more than astronomy. I also wish that people would think and care more about how, not whether NASA was spending the money. But as long as they’re so ignorant as to think that NASA, wasteful or not, has anything to do with the deficit, or the failure to solve intractable social problems (we saw an excellent example of this during the presidential campaign, when candidate Obama’s first space policy was written by an education staffer who thought that we could use the NASA budget for more education funding), we’re unlikely to get better space policy, or policy in general.

Hiding The Decline At Google?

I got this email (I’ll keep the emailer anonymous unless (s)he notifies me otherwise):

It’s very disturbing how Google is behaving with regard to Climategate/Climaquiddick. I put both of those in my custom news page. For a while, it steadfastly refused to update Climaquiddick, and then it began to update Climategate only with stories attacking climate change skeptics. I could find many more stories on Yahoo, most of which were alarmed at the fraud which seems to be occurring.

Then when I logged in today, Google News had deleted those two categories from my custom section. When I reestablished them, they brought up only a few of the old, outdated original stories plus a few newer attack stories.

Web searches on Climaquiddick yielded only 72,600 hits on Google and 84,300 on Bing, but 565,000 on Yahoo. None of them will autocomplete the word “Climaquiddick.” They won’t autocomplete “Climategate” either, but Yahoo alone will suggest “climate gate.”

Does everyone in Silicon Valley think that pretending information doesn’t exist will make it so? If so, how much can we trust the technology they produce?

I think that there are going to be huge reverberations of untrust throughout many areas of authority resulting from this. As was pointed out early on, it’s not just a scientific scandal, it’s a journalistic one.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!