The Week That Was: October 10, 2020
By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project
Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
Quote of the Week: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”— Richard Feynman, Theoretical physicist, co-recipient Nobel Prize in Physics.
Number of the Week: US$3,660 billion [$3.66 Trillion]
Guess and Test – and Re-Test: Writing in the Wall Street Journal, journalist Matt Ridley, author of books such as How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom (2020) and The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010), had an outstanding, long essay titled:
“What the Pandemic Has Taught Us About Science
“The scientific method remains the best way to solve many problems, but bias, overconfidence and politics can sometimes lead scientists astray.”
The essay opens with:
“The Covid-19 pandemic has stretched the bond between the public and the scientific profession as never before. Scientists have been revealed to be neither omniscient demigods whose opinions automatically outweigh all political disagreement, nor unscrupulous fraudsters pursuing a political agenda under a cloak of impartiality. Somewhere between the two lies the truth: Science is a flawed and all too human affair, but it can generate timeless truths, and reliable practical guidance, in a way that other approaches cannot.
“In a lecture at Cornell University in 1964, the physicist Richard Feynman defined the scientific method. First, you guess, he said, to a ripple of laughter. Then you compute the consequences of your guess. Then you compare those consequences with the evidence from observations or experiments. ‘If [your guess] disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make a difference how beautiful the guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is…it’s wrong.’
“So, when people started falling ill last winter with a respiratory illness, some scientists guessed that a novel coronavirus was responsible. The evidence proved them right. Some guessed it had come from an animal sold in the Wuhan wildlife market. The evidence proved them wrong. Some guessed vaccines could be developed that would prevent infection. The jury is still out.
“Seeing science as a game of guess-and-test clarifies what has been happening these past months. Science is not about pronouncing with certainty on the known facts of the world; it is about exploring the unknown by testing guesses, some of which prove wrong.
“In general, science is much better at telling you about the past and the present than the future.
Bad practice can corrupt all stages of the process. Some scientists fall so in love with their guesses that they fail to test them against evidence. They just compute the consequences and stop there. Mathematical models are elaborate, formal guesses, and there has been a disturbing tendency in recent years to describe their output with words like data, result, or outcome. They are nothing of the sort.”
The essay is strongly endorsed by Judith Curry who posted large sections on her web site, which has been re-posted by Charles Rotter on Watts Up With That. Since it is readily available, TWTW will not discuss it extensively. Ridley summed an important point with:
“This year has driven home as never before the message that there is no such thing as ‘the science’; there are different scientific views.”
The Right Climate Stuff Team emphasized the importance of what they learned in the Apollo Missions – the need to test and re-test assumptions (guesses) particularly as new data emerges. Unfortunately, many once rigorous scientific organizations and government agencies are so entrenched with their groupthink and so beholden to their political sponsors, that TWTW believes that the title of Ridley’s essay is too optimistic. It should read:
What the Pandemic Has Taught Us about Science, but Bureaucratic Scientists Will Not Learn.
See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
Groupthink and Climate Change: In discussing the new book Climate Change: The Facts 2020 which she co-edited with Peter Ridd, Australian Jennifer Marohasy gives an outstanding example of bureaucratic groupthink that prevents many government sponsored scientists from exploring new ideas and correctly employing the scientific method. [Physicist Peter Ridd was dismissed from his position at James Cook University for challenging the claims that the Great Barrier Reef was dying.] Marohasy writes in her blog:
“I met with Oscar Alves, who heads the team at the Australian Bureau that is meant to be developing methods for seasonal rainfall prediction. That was back in August 2011, when I was so excited about the potential to forecast monthly rainfall using AI. [Artificial Intelligence]
“Oscar Alves told me that accurate monthly rainfall forecasting is essentially impossible, and that he wasn’t interested in AI because it would require him to learn something new. We really are a civilization in decline in the West, and our government bureaucracies promote meteorologists based on their attachment to carbon dioxide rather than their enthusiasm for accurate and skillful weather and climate forecasts. This is not the situation at all in countries like Indonesia and China where they know that carbon dioxide is mostly irrelevant.
“Oscar Alves’s boss, Andrew Johnson, the current head of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, seems to understand very little about mathematics or meteorology. At the recent Royal Commission into bushfires where Andrew Johnson was an expert witness, he commented that parts of Australia had experienced a rapid decline in rainfall. We might assume he was referring to the south-east of Australia because vast areas of Eucalyptus forest burnt in the south-east this last summer. Yet if we consider the official statistics from his own office, from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, for this region, we see that annual rainfall is variable and that while the 1950s and 1970s were wetter than recent years – there is no evidence of long-term decline in rainfall. In fact, whichever way the statistics are scrutinised, there is no evidence for a decline in rainfall – in the south-east of Australia, for the summer period, or even considering the data for all of Australia for all months since 1900. This is explained by me in chapter 15, that is about the history of bushfires in Australia since 1851.”
To many bureaucrats it is much easier to blame carbon dioxide (CO2) than to learn new methods and mathematics. In describing the review of the book (abbreviated as CCTF2020) by Graham Lloyd in The Weekend Australian, Marohasy writes:
“Graham Lloyd has read the book – all 20 chapters – and he understands the importance of the three chapters by the atmospheric physicists Richard Lindzen, Henrik Svensmark and Peter Ridd. Graham understands that they provide a new perspective on established research that has been difficult for the mainstream climate change establishment to understand, let alone accept.
“Graham Lloyd, he understands that Peter Ridd’s important chapter in CCTF2020 builds on the pioneering work of Joanne Simpson, and that Richard Lindzen destroyed the hard core of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) theory twenty years ago; that was in Lindzen’s seminal paper on the relationship between high altitude cirrus cloud cover and carbon dioxide. There is no role for carbon dioxide in Henrick Svensmark’s theory of how the climate changes (chapter 10), and Svensmark, like Lindzen, is obsessed with clouds.
“In CCTF2020 Richard Lindzen writes about cirrus clouds, Henrik Svensmark about cumulus clouds, and the chapter by Peter Ridd is all about my favourite clouds which are cumulonimbus. Peter Ridd and I are both from tropical Australia and we love the drama of watching thunderstorms. [Caption under a diagram of various types of clouds.]
“I’ve been saying for so long now that it is not good enough to just disprove CAGW theory, we need to have an alternative theory. I’m hoping that CCTF2020 is the beginning of some public discussion about this. Geoffrey Duffy’s chapter on water vapour (chapter 11) is also important in terms of understanding the basics of weather and climate on planet Earth.
“The history of science suggests that new theories are usually supported by new tools. (Galileo and Kepler, for example, were obsessed with telescopes.)”
The term “obsessed” may be a bit strong, but it is certainly clear the current climate models are failing to describe what is occurring in the atmosphere, thus are unsuitable for long-term forecasts. Marohasy emphasizes that the Chinese and Indonesian meteorologists are using artificial intelligence and mathematics to describe the concept of cycles to further advance weather and climate prediction. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
No Such Thing: According to its web site:
“The Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences (CERES) is a multi-disciplinary and independent research group. The aims of CERES are to address important issues in the fields of environmental and earth sciences. The group strives to foster original and timely scientific understanding, in addition to re-examining old analyses with fresh insights. We hope to illuminate, enhance, and resolve new and open issues.”
The journal Energies just published an evaluation of global climate expenditures covering 2011 to 2018 written by members of CERES and other researchers. Based on numbers supplied by CERES, from 2011 to 2018, the world spent over $2 Trillion on wind and solar power and only one-tenth that on adapting to extreme weather events, which have been occurring before the evolution of humans.
In an essay posted on its web site, CERES states there is no such thing as clean energy and the essay goes through some of the problems created by governments attempting to shift from reliable sources of electricity to unreliable solar, wind and other types. This huge effort is hurting the poor the most. These damages are largely ignored by those who calculate the misleading statistic, the social cost of carbon. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://www.ceres-science.com/index.html
Are US Blackouts Inevitable? Last week, TWTW discussed one of the great myths of economics: that in The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith defended capitalism. The term was not invented until 90 years later by Karl Marx. Instead, Adam Smith attacked an economic system prevailing in Western Europe. The belief that nations can become wealthy by favoring some merchants and manufacturers over others – mainly by promoting exports and taxing imports. Instead, Smith argued that such policies enrich the few at the expense of the many. Smith argued that competition, no matter how disruptive it is, benefits the general public because it continually provides more goods at lower costs.
Over 150 years later Austrian – American economist Joseph Schumpeter called this dynamic process “creative destruction,” how the new is constantly replacing the old. Economic progress is not gradual and peaceful, but sometimes disjointed and unpleasant. Schumpeter addressed the notion that competition leads to monopoly and oligopoly (a few manufacturers working together). According to Schumpeter, with creative destruction these monopolies and oligopolies are temporary, industrial firms cannot survive unless they continue to innovate. The turmoil in the Dow Jones industrials illustrates this: where is Xerox today?
With a long career in General Electric, Donn Dears has addressed many of the key issues in electric power generation, transmission, and use (consumption). As such, he understands what is needed “behind the wall” for a switch to turn on the lights – knowledge severely lacking by many who wish to change our energy future. In 2015, Dears wrote “Nothing to Fear: A Bright Future for Fossil Fuels – The story of fossil fuels and climate change.”
Now, Dears states there is something to fear – how politicians and others who misunderstand the role of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect in climate change are damaging our energy future. In his new book, “The Looming Energy Crisis: Are Blackouts Inevitable?” Dears explains how politicians and bureaucrats, either knowingly or unknowingly, are changing the electric grid in ways destructive to the reliable supply of electric power. The blackouts experienced in California and South Australia are an example of what is coming. A secondary title to the book could be: How Public Subsidies Are Increasing the Costs of Electricity to the Public.
After a review of the US electricity system, with parts under the control of Federal regulators and parts independent of them except for interstate transmission, Dears describes how regulators are altering the auction system to favor wind and solar power [the following will focus on wind]. These alterations are in addition to the mandates by some states that utilities must take wind power under the false notion it is “clean.”
The parts directly under control of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are the areas under a regional transmission organization (RTO) or independent systems operator (ISO) to coordinate regional transmission of power – the Grid. States that are not in an ISO or RTO are directly controlled by their state utility regulators. Unfortunately, FERC has politically motivated commissioners who put their ideological beliefs above the obligation to deliver safe, reliable power at lowest possible cost to the public.
As exposed by Dears, there are several major weaknesses in the system: 1) daily auctions using a market clearing price and 2) no guarantee of future delivery. The daily auctions sound competitive, but one must realize that the major costs of wind, the capital costs, are subsidized by the Federal government, the public. As long as the wind is blowing and the weather is fine, there is little cost associated with wind delivering power. Relying on daily weather forecasts, industrial wind organizations can bid extremely low to deliver power for the next day.
The rub is that industrial wind will receive the highest price the system operator (ISO or RTO) determines necessary to clear the market, the market clearing price. That price is determined by the last bidder needed to provide the electricity needed for the following day, which is usually the highest price accepted by the system operator. Thus, that price can be far more than industrial wind needs to earn a reasonable profit. Some economists would label the difference as “surplus profits” or “unfair profits.”
If the forecast is no wind or too much wind for the next day, industrial wind will not bid and the consumer is out of luck. The ISO or RTO must obtain what electrical power may be available for the day whatever the cost. The net effect is that industrial wind is low bidding when weather is favorable, and driving out reliable sources of electricity, while making major, subsidized profits. Further, industrial wind is not required to provide needed backup or storage if the wind fails. Recently, similar problems arose in California with solar power, which cannot deliver when the sun is going down. Essentially, the auction market as now executed results in reliable producers priced out when weather if favorable for wind, and much needed reliable producers must bid much higher prices to keep operating when weather is unfavorable for wind. The public does not benefit from favorable weather and is punished from poor weather.
Those versed in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations may say that the system is a type of Mercantilism, where those responsible for regulation manipulate the system in favor of certain industries. It does not meet Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction because the creative part is not there. There is no real creative innovation in wind power except bigger – more rare earths, more carbon fiber for blades, more concrete and steel for foundations, etc. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy, Communicating Better to the Public – Make things up, and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Solar and Wind.
Greening of Africa: By ever expanding the projected increase in temperatures from increasing CO2, climate modelers and many climate “experts” have demonstrated that they do not understand the changing Greenhouse Effect, which can be described by a logarithmic function relating concentration of a greenhouse gas with temperature. One can crudely generalize and say it is self-limiting – increasing concentration results in lessening impact of the last amounts.
Similarly, it appears that many modelers who calculate the “social costs of carbon” do not understand photosynthesis and the importance of carbon dioxide in causing plant life to flourish. CO2 Science presents a new report on change in African Vegetation since 1982:
“And so it is that, despite increasing in population by 850 million persons and being subjected to the many ecosystem pressures a population increase of that size can cause, and notwithstanding numerous ominous climate-related projections of ecosystem demise from global warming, across large regions of Africa vegetative productivity today has reached the highest values ever observed in the satellite record. And this great greening of Africa has largely been brought about by the very factor alarmists say should be causing a demise — rising atmospheric CO2!”
See links under Review of Recent Scientific Articles by CO2 Science
Number of the Week: US $3,660 billion [$3.66 Trillion]: The above described report by The Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences (CERES) contains the statement:
“The world spent US $3,660 billion on climate change projects over the eight-year period 2011–2018. A total of 55% of this sum was spent on solar and wind energy, while only 5% was spent on adapting to the impacts of extreme weather events.”
See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
Why Won’t the Media Listen to These Scientists?
Prize-winning biologists vs. compelling narratives
By James Freeman, WSJ, Oct 6, 2020
TWTW Summary: The author begins:
“This week dozens of esteemed medical experts with blue-chip academic credentials published a warning about the destructive policies adopted to address Covid-19. Since the Sunday publication of this “Great Barrington Declaration” more than a thousand biological scientists and more than 1,500 medical practitioners have added their names to the petition. Yet it’s been almost entirely ignored by the media outlets that spend much of their days presenting themselves as obedient to science.
“Maybe this is because the accomplished group of scientists behind the declaration is refusing to obey political narratives. According to the petition:
“Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.
“The scientists go on to note that the poor are ‘disproportionately harmed’ by current policies and that for children, ‘COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.’ They add that the best approach ‘is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.’
“This means that those ‘who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,’ including attending schools, going to restaurants, participating in sports and even gathering at public events. Meanwhile attention should be focused on protecting those most at risk. According to the scientists:
“…nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent [polymerase chain reaction] testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.
“Imagine if places like New York and New Jersey had followed this plan, instead of squandering vast resources locking down low-risk populations while failing to prioritize the protection of the elderly. Somehow Gov. Phil Murphy (D., N.J.) has largely avoided media censure even though, adjusting for population, the residents of his state have suffered more Covid deaths than anywhere else in the country. Yes, New York has suffered the most Covid deaths overall. But on a per capita basis, New Jersey has been even worse.”
The author discusses specific failures in nursing homes in New Jersey, then concludes
“Can we please listen to the scientists now? Media pundits were appalled when President Trump said in a Monday video, ‘I learned so much about Coronavirus. And one thing that’s for certain, don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.’
“Epidemiologist Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School and declaration co-author, appeared on Fox News Monday and offered this critique of the president’s remarks:
“‘Can I say about the overall message? That’s exactly what I learned about public health, what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to sow panic. You’re supposed to reassure, give accurate information about risks, trust people to make good judgments on their own behalf. The president did that, I think, tonight, don’t you think?
“‘… It is accurate and consistent with the data that COVID is not a death sentence. And I think we’ve created this idea in the public mind that it is something so unique and so deadly that we should utterly end all normal existence as a result of it. That’s not right.
“‘We can have a much better way, protect the vulnerable, shield them for a short period of time until we reach a level where there’s population immunity and then for the rest of the world, let us live our lives. And for folks who are vulnerable, who, you know, if your life is meaningless without hugging your grandchildren, you have to balance risk and everything we do in our lives.’”
To TWTW the above is a clear example that when data (evidence) changes, scientific and bureaucratic thinking must change accordingly. See the section on Guess and Test – and Re-Test under This Week, above.