By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project
Re-Blogged From WUWT
Quote of the Week: “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.” – William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
Number of the Week: ZERO – $0
Red Team Vs Blue Team: Various organizations, such as the military, cybersecurity, etc. use a red team vs blue team conflict where the blue team uses the conventional thinking and tactics of the organization and the red team tries to break and / or exploit weaknesses in the conventional approach. Over the past several years there has been an effort to establish such a mental conflict to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of the approach used by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its followers. Thus far the effort has failed, and Washington is geared to the election cycle, making it unlikely such an approach will be used until after the elections, if ever.
In discussing COVID-19 for the Global Warming Policy Forum, Benny Peiser states:
“The evident divisions and contradictory results published in thousands of new studies in recent weeks (and the conflicting scientific advice provided to governments) is causing growing confusion, anger and disarray both within the scientific community and the general public.
“Scientific models and predictions based on widely differing assumptions are exposed as fatally flawed as never before. As a result, institutional science is hemorrhaging trust around the world while the way research is conducted and published is facing an existential crisis. In many ways, the coronavirus crisis has triggered the biggest crisis of science in modern history.
“In light of this evident disarray, calls for a radical reform of quality control of scientific methods and claims and the introduction of institutional Red Teaming are gaining ground. In a compelling article in the journal Nature, Professor Daniël Lakens sets out the arguments for a radically new way to conduct quality-control of scientific research and its methods.”
In the opening of the article published by Nature, Lakens states:
“As researchers rush to find the best ways to quell the COVID-19 crisis, they want to get results out ultra-fast. Preprints — public but unvetted studies — are getting lots of attention. But even their advocates are seeing a problem. To keep up the speed of research and reduce sloppiness, scientists must find ways to build criticism into the process.
“Finding ways to prove ourselves wrong is a scientific ideal, but it is rarely scientific practice. Openness to critiques is nowhere near as widespread as researchers like to think. Scientists rarely implement procedures to receive and incorporate pushback. Most formal mechanisms are tied to the peer-review and publishing system. With preprints, the boldest peers will still criticize the work, but only after mistakes are made and often, widely disseminated. [Boldface added]
After giving specific examples of demonstrated flaws in estimates, Lakens states:
“It is time to adopt a ‘red team’ approach in science that integrates criticism into each step of the research process. A red team is a designated ‘devil’s advocate’ charged to find holes and errors in ongoing work and to challenge dominant assumptions, with the goal of improving project quality. The team has a role similar to that of ‘white-hat hackers’ hired in the software industry to identify security flaws before they can be discovered and exploited by malefactors. Similarly, teams of scientists should engage with red teams at each phase of a research project and incorporate their criticism. The logic is similar to the Registered Report publication system — in which protocols are reviewed before the results are known — except that criticism is not organized by journals. Ideally, there is a larger amount of speedier communication between researchers and their red team than peer review allows, resulting in higher-quality preprints and submissions for publication.
“Even scientists who invite criticism from a red team acknowledge that it is difficult not to become defensive. The best time for scrutiny is before you have fallen in love with your results. And the more important the claims, the more scrutiny they deserve. The scientific process needs to incorporate methods to include ‘severe’ tests that will prove us wrong when we really are wrong. [Boldface added.]
After giving an example of researchers ignoring red team criticisms, Lakens goes on to state:
“This shows that assembling a red team isn’t enough: research teams need to commit to addressing criticism from the outset. Sometimes, this is straightforward — items on checklists are absent from a proposal, or an independent statistical analysis yields different results, for example. Usually, it will be less clear whether criticism merits changing a protocol or including a caveat. The key is that, when results are presented, the team transparently communicates the criticism that the red team raised. (Perhaps incorporated criticism could be listed in the methods section of a paper, and unincorporated criticism in the limitations.) This will show how severely a claim has been tested.
“Pushback on each step of a research project should be recognized as valuable quality control and adherence to scientific values. Ideally, a research team could recruit their own red team from group members not immediately involved in the project.”
This entire approach is very useful not only for the current health crisis, but to help prevent government funded research organizations from becoming ossified – management failing to respond to reported problems until they result in a disaster, such as the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
Personal Attacks: Contrary to the views expressed above that scientists need to recognize, indeed invite, criticism, in a video, electrical engineer Terry Gannon reviews the extensive accusations or insinuations made against Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysicist Willie Soon who published a paper disputing the IPCC claim that human carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause of global warming, now called climate change. Soon asserted that solar variation is the principal cause.
The main accusations began in February 2015 with articles in the New York Times and other papers repeating assertions by Kert Davies, a former Greenpeace Research Director, claiming Soon had received direct funding from Exxon of over a million dollars to deny that CO2 emissions are the primary cause of climate change. Harvard-Smithsonian investigated and found no documented evidence that such direct payments were made. If those engineering the attacks had some, they should have provided it.
Such is the plight of those challenging the accepted dogma of climate science. As a professor Haapala had in graduate school said: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach the teachers.” To which one can add an additional level: Those who cannot do anything, smear those who can. Willie Soon is a recipient of the Fredrick Seitz Memorial Award for exceptional courage in the quest for knowledge and a member of SEPP’s board of directors. See links under Communicating Better to the Public – Go Personal.
A Natural Experiment: The sun may be conducting a natural experiment. Physicist Nicola Scafetta has postulated that variations in the orbits and alignment of the heavy planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune can cause changes in the sun, in 2019 Stefani, et al, postulated that the alignment of Venus, Earth and Jupiter influence the solar magnetic field, thus governing the solar cycle. Professor Fritz Vahrenholt’s Monthly Solar Report explains the concept more simply:
“’The agreement is amazingly accurate: we see a complete parallelism with the planets over 90 cycles,’ explains Frank Stefani, one of the authors of the publication published in Solar Physics. Just as the gravitational pull of the Moon causes the tides on Earth, planets could move the hot plasma on the surface of the Sun. But the effect of a simple gravitational force is too weak to significantly disturb the flow in the Sun’s interior, so the temporal coincidence has long been ignored.”
“Now the researchers assume that the layers of the plasma are subject to a Taylor instability. The Taylor instability is known from the behavior of liquids of different densities at their interface (we know the turbulence that occurs when milk is poured into a cup of tea). Taylor instability is sensitive to even very small forces. A small burst of energy is enough for the polarity of the solar magnetic field to swing back and forth every 11 years. The necessary impulse for this could be provided by the tidal action of the planets – and thus ultimately determine the rhythm in which the sun’s magnetic field reverses its polarity.
“The tidal forces of the planets could have other effects on the Sun in addition to their role as pace-setter for the 11-year cycle. For example, it would be conceivable that they could change the stratification of the plasma in the boundary area between the inner radiation zone and the outer convection zone of the Sun, the tachocline, in such a way that the magnetic flux could be more easily dissipated.
“Under these conditions, the strength of the activity cycles could also change, just as the ‘Maunder Minimum’ once caused a significant decrease in solar activity over a longer period, the researchers write on the Helmholtz Center website. It is an unusual idea that the activity of the sun is controlled by the planets, including the earth itself. This sounds like astrology – but it is the latest in solar research.”
To this we add the Svensmark hypothesis that a dormant sun will allow more high-energy cosmic rays to hit the atmosphere, thus increase cloudiness. Now we have the possibility that the earth may be entering a cooling phase, though it will take several solar cycles before any conclusions can be drawn. It will be interesting to see the effects on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and other natural variability occurring in the oceans. See links under Science: Is the Sun Rising? and Commentary: Is the Sun Rising?
Confusion: In recent weeks, many environmental commentators have confused falling human CO2 emissions with falling levels of CO2. In addition, they have confused falling levels of visible pollutants such as nitrous oxide (NO2) with falling levels of CO2, which is invisible. Roy Spencer has a post explaining why what is claimed to be happening is not happening. His summary states:
“Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue to increase with no sign of the global economic slowdown in response to the spread of COVID-19. This is because the estimated reductions in CO2 emissions (around -11% globally during 2020) is too small a reduction to be noticed against a background of large natural variability. The reduction in economic activity would have to be 4 times larger than 11% to halt the rise in atmospheric CO2.”
He then goes into a clear explanation of his findings and concludes:
“That relatively small 11% reduction also illustrates how dependent humanity is on energy, since the economic disruption is leading to U.S. unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Everything that humans do requires access to abundant and affordable energy, and even the current economic downturn is not enough to substantially reduce global CO2 emissions.”
To its credit, NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory answers the question: “Can we see a change in the CO2 record because of COVID-19?” in a similar fashion. The variation in CO2 from stopping a great deal of human activity is too small when compared with natural variation to be able to “see” it. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/covid2.html
Solid Model and Solid Data: As those who follow the COVID-19 controversy may realize, to create models that give realistic results requires both a solid, well tested model and solid, realistic data fitting the issue. No matter how good the model, if the data are inappropriate, the results are poor. Contrary to what is implied in the Quote-of-the-Week, expressing issues in numbers does not necessarily mean expressing understanding. The critical question is: How good are the numbers (measurements) in defining the issue?
According to Worldometers, the current (May 16, 2020, midnight GMT) world-wide death rate from COVID-19 is 40.1 per million, the USA rate is 272 per million; yet the rate for China is 3, for India 2, Bangladesh 2; Indonesia 4; Philippines 7; Malaysia 3; Thailand 0.8, and so on. While in Spain it is 590; UK 508; Italy 525; France 423; Belgium 777; Netherlands 331; and so on. Using such numbers, the unscrupulous researcher could argue that it is clear that the virus was engineered to infect those of European descent, leaving Asians largely unharmed.
No matter how good the infection model may be, using data from China would not be appropriate for the US. Yet, all too frequently modelers use inappropriate data and produce inappropriate results they claim to be meaningful. This is an all too common problem in climate modeling. Surface data are used in most models cited by the IPCC, including US models, to claim that warming is from atmospheric CO2. Yet, the most appropriate data, atmospheric temperature trends are ignored. Such errors in use of data should not be tolerated in climate science any more than in medical research. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy, Health, Energy, and Climate, and https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
Age – The Hidden Problem: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports “Provisional COVID-19 Death Counts by Sex, Age, and State.” TWTW accessed the tables on May 13, and the reports covered the period February 1 to May 9, 2020.
The total deaths from COVID-19 were 54,861. Of the total 17,478 (32%) were 85 or older; 14,930 (27%) were 75 to 84; 11, 524 (21%) were 65 to 74; 6,725 (12%) were 55 to 64; 2.772 (5%) were 45 to 54, and subsequent groups were 2%; 1% and 0%. It is clear from the best data available that for COVID-19, 80% of those who have died were 65 or older; 92% 55 or older.
Generally, those who are dying in large numbers are past the prime income years and employment advancement years. Those who are in their prime income and advancement years have low risk. A proper policy question should be: are economic lockdowns, which penalize wage earners in their high earning and advancement years, justified; when so few are threatened? TWTW has not seen this policy issue discussed. See links under Science, Policy, and Evidence, Articles # 2 & #3, and https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Provisional-COVID-19-Death-Counts-by-Sex-Age-and-S/9bhg-hcku
SEPP’S APRIL FOOLS AWARD
Since 2012, SEPP conducted an annual vote for the recipient of the coveted trophy, The Jackson, a lump of coal. Readers are asked to nominate and vote for who they think is most deserving, following these criteria:
- The nominee has advanced, or proposes to advance, significant expansion of governmental power, regulation, or control over the public or significant sections of the general economy.
- The nominee does so by declaring such measures are necessary to protect public health, welfare, or the environment.
- The nominee declares that physical science supports such measures.
- The physical science supporting the measures is flimsy at best, and possibly non-existent.
The eight past recipients, Lisa Jackson (12), Barrack Obama (13), John Kerry (14), Ernest Moniz (15), Michael Mann (16), Christiana Figueres (17), Jerry Brown (18), and AOC (19) are not eligible. Generally, the committee that makes the selection prefers a candidate with a national or international presence. The voting will close on June 30. Please send your nominee and a brief reason why the person is qualified for the honor to Ken@SEPP.org. Thank you.
Number of the Week: ZERO – $0: According to press accounts and tweets, when asked by columnist Jonah Goldberg about the cost of the Green New Deal (GND), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded: “’Totally get it if you’ve never bothered to read the legislation you’re commenting so authoritatively on,” She continued by noting that the GND is a “non-binding resolution of values” and “costs us $0 if passed.
Regardless of the accuracy of the report: given that the proponents of the Green New Deal fail to distinguish between electricity generation that is dispatchable (reliable) and nondispatchable (unreliable) and promote unreliable generation, one can respond that Zero is the value of the critical thinking that has gone into the Green New Deal. See links under The Political Games Continue and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Solar and Wind, and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Energy – Storage
1. How WHO Lost Its Way
The U.N. agency was more effective when its mandate was limited.
Editorial, WSJ, May 15, 2020
TWTW Summary: The editorial states:
“Some change inevitably will come to the World Health Organization (WHO) after its deadly failures during the Covid-19 pandemic. But real reform will require more than technocratic tweaks, and member states should focus on fundamental questions about the agency’s purpose.
“In 1948 the first World Health Assembly declared WHO’s mission as ‘the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.’ Despite the lofty rhetoric, donor countries initially envisioned a more limited role for WHO, which focused on controlling and preventing the spread of epidemic disease. It made sense for a global body to coordinate the response to germs that don’t recognize borders. Working through WHO, wealthy countries funded and implemented health campaigns in poorer countries to fight diseases like smallpox and river blindness.
“This ‘vertical’ focus on discrete diseases led to some success. Malaria was relatively well-understood and treatable, with methods to reduce spread, when WHO launched the Global Malaria Eradication Programme in 1955. The initiative helped eliminate the disease in 15 countries over the next 15 years. In India cases fell to fewer than a million in 1968 from 110 million in 1955. By 1970 the number of people living in malaria-infested regions shrunk by one billion.
[SEPP Comment: Then, in 1972 without strong physical evidence, the US EPA banned the most effective way of reducing malaria, using DDT.]
“The agency’s vertical approach slowly gave way to a horizontal one, as WHO began dealing with all aspects of health. In 1979 the United Nations General Assembly endorsed ‘health for all’ and ‘primary health care’ as WHO’s new goals. This expanded the organization’s mandate, and the mission creep has continued.
‘WHO would no longer focus primarily on disease-specific programs, but would now promote health ‘development’ more broadly by improving health systems, building infrastructure, and fighting chronic diseases,’ according to a 2009 article by Roger Bate and Karen Porter of the American Enterprise Institute. ‘WHO expanded into many highly politicized areas where it had less technical ability, managerial competence, or experience, duplicating the efforts of other organizations.’
“The agency developed a clear preference for top-down, statist solutions. Officials often showed disdain for the private economy, especially large pharmaceutical firms. And Donald Trump isn’t the first American leader irked by WHO. As the organization encouraged countries to create their own domestic pharmaceutical industries—an unrealistic, even dangerous proposal for many developing countries—the U.S. withheld funding in 1985.
“Today, amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, the agency finds time to tweet about mental health, domestic violence, obesity and the need for government-run health care. WHO officials defend their expansive goals by arguing that infectious diseases like Covid-19 can’t be defeated if countries lack adequate health-care systems. That’s true, but this is a job for national health departments—not an international organization.
“WHO mandarins naturally try to expand their writ, but ultimately member states are responsible for the organization’s direction. Only about 17% of WHO’s 2018-19 funding came from assessed contributions. About 77% of the agency’s budget was voluntary donations for specific programs. Rather than pour money and effort into preparing for a pandemic—an unpredictable event—countries and private donors funded a dizzying range of other projects. Only about 15% of WHO funding is dedicated to pandemic response, says the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer.
“Covid-19 is the most serious challenge WHO has faced, and this should prompt a review of its purpose. The Trump Administration could find sympathetic ears in the World Health Assembly that meets Monday if it pushes to remove programs like ‘integrated people-centered health services’ from WHO’s agenda. The organization should return to its roots and focus on preventing and countering outbreaks of infectious diseases.
The editorial concludes that if changes are not made, the US should restrict its funding of WHO.
2. Notable & Quotable: Nate Silver
‘Not providing context on the increase in testing is such a basic error.’
WSJ, May 10, 2020
“Not providing context on the increase in [coronavirus] testing is such a basic error, and has been so widespread, that it’s revealing about the media’s goals. It’s more interested in telling plausibly-true stories (“narratives”) that sound smart to its audience than in accuracy/truth per se. That doesn’t mean it’s just making stuff up or engaging in fake news. On the contrary, the facts it relays are generally accurate in isolation. But the problems are in how facts are strung together and emphasized. . . . BTW, Trump has figured this out! By focusing on case counts, the media creates disincentives to do more testing because it makes the numbers look superficially worse.”
3. The Numerical Language of Covid-19: A Primer
Understanding terms like R0, R and herd immunity is vital to understanding spread of pandemic
By Jo Craven McGinty, WSJ, May 15, 2020
The article goes through details on the lack of information for key statistics used in the models. Key comments include:
R is the number infected, or R0 minus the percentage immune. Which can not be estimated ahead of time and calculated afterwards.
“Understanding the difference helps policy makers appreciate how to calculate risk and allocate resources as a pandemic unfolds. Mixing them up distorts reality.”
“R0 (pronounced “R naught”) is a pathogen’s basic reproduction number and represents the number of new infections caused, on average, by a single contagious person. It anticipates a worst-case scenario that assumes the entire population is susceptible, well-mixed and taking no precautions to mitigate the spread of the disease.”
“‘We focus on R0 at the beginning to tell us how bad this could possibly be,’ said Matthew Ferrari, an associate professor of biology who specializes in quantitative epidemiology at Pennsylvania State University. ‘It’s a really powerful number for planning and preparedness.’”
“The R0 of the new coronavirus, according to estimates by epidemiologists at Imperial College London, is 1.5 to 3.5.
“If a pathogen’s basic reproduction number is less than one, a pandemic won’t take off. If the number is greater than one, an outbreak has the potential to grow exponentially until it reaches pandemic proportions.
“But in reality, once people become aware that a deadly pathogen is spreading, their behavior changes, and so does the disease’s rate of transmission.”