Climate debate; philosophy; and combined arms

View 715 Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I will be spending the day on Legend of Black Ship Island. I have been saving some mail for longer and better treatment, but this seems a reasonable time to bring them up. Alas, my contributions will be brief, but the matters are important.


I proposed this as a rational argument for a skeptical position on AGW in another conference, and asked for comments. A physicist who often strongly supports the consensus position replied:

Let me propose some terminology, to make it a little easier to discuss the argument. The people opposing the anthropogenic theory of global warming can be divided into three distinct categories:


*policy critics


"Skeptics" are asking legitimate questions about the science.

"Policy critics" criticize the policies proposed in response to global warming, for economic or political reasons.

"Deniers" deny anthropogenic global warming, period, end of discussion.

I’ve notice that, although deniers always claim that they are in fact "skeptics," deniers and skpetics are in fact complete opposites. The key feature of deniers is that they are not even slightly skeptical of any arguments against global warming: they are completely credulous of any argument, no matter how trivially it can be shown to be baseless, that opposes global warming.

Reading through this particular presentation of Lindzen, he starts out by saying that the greenhouse effect is real, and anthropogenic gasses contribute to it exactly as much as non-anthropogenic gasses; he just disputes what the radiative response function is. So I’ll put him in the category of "skeptics" rather than deniers.

In fact, he pretty much dismisses the deniers:

"Unfortunately, denial of the facts on the left [that the greenhouse effect is real], has made the public presentation of the science by those promoting alarm much easier. They merely have to defend the trivially true points on the left; declare that it is only a matter of well- known physics; and relegate the real basis for alarm to a peripheral footnote – even as they slyly acknowledge that this basis is subject to great uncertainty."

So, let’s ignore his loaded vocabulary here (words like "those promoting alarm" and "real basis for alarm" and "sly.") Here’s what he just said:

1. The greenhouse effect is real. It’s well-known physics.

2. By denying this, the deniers are not merely muddying the waters, they are discrediting actual skepticism by turning their case into one that is disdained by real scientists because they are defending propositions that are "trivially" not true).

3. The real scientists (the ones he calls "alarmists"), on the other hand, acknowledge uncertainty.

OK, once we’ve deleted his slanted vocabulary, I’ll agree with these statements.

At no point does he use the words "hoax," "fraud," or "scam," or support people who use those terms. Good for him. Maybe he could call up the rest of the deniers and tell them "hey, just because you disagree with the scientists, that doesn’t mean that they are frauds."

With that said, the presentation shown is one-sided; he presents a case for a value on the low side of the IPCC estimate, and makes no attempt to show any part of the arguments for higher values of the radiative forcing response function. Not unusual, if you see this as a presentation of one side of a debate, but one should never draw conclusions in a debate before hearing the other side.

I then said “And this is the response ?” which brought this reply:

I’m not sure if I understand the question. This is *my* response; I wouldn’t say it is "the" response.

Lindzen’s arguments, of course, has been pretty well addressed; it’s not hard to find good technical analyses if you look for them. I find it a little disconcerting that his conclusions have remained the same but the analysis he uses to support the conclusions keep changing; this (to me, at least) looks uncomfortably like the signature of an analysis crafted to support a pre-existing conclusion, rather than a conclusion that results from a careful analysis.

On the other hand, he does use actual science in his arguments, he agrees on the basic physics (that the greenhouse effect actually does exist, and human-generated greenhouse gasses are part of it) and only disagrees on the magnitude of the response function. And, most notably, he doesn’t accuse scientists who come to different conclusions of "hoax", or "swindle", or "fraud."

So even if he cherry-picks data rather egregiously, I’m good with him.

A good article about Lindzen in _Seed_ a couple of years back, if you’re interested:

My problem is that I still have no answer to questions I asked forty years ago regarding the global warming controversy.

I said then that what we knew was well known: that in historical times the Earth has been both warmer and colder than it is now. It was warmer in Viking times until about 1300 after which the Earth began to cool. Since 1800 the Earth’s temperature has risen about a degree a century. About 1900 Arrhenius did some back of the envelope predictions of what would happen if CO2 levels doubled. Since 1900 the Earth’s temperature seems to have risen at about the rate that it had previously been rising: that is, there is warming, but there has been warming from 1800 when the Hudson and Thames froze solid enough to walk across, and the rate of warming doesn’t seem to have greatly increased so far as we can measure given the accuracy of the data. Some of the warming may well be due to CO2 but there doesn’t seem to be cause for alarm. We do need to continue to study this and develop better measurement tools.

A Bayesian analysis would conclude that it is better to invest in ways to reduce uncertainty than to spend resources on the predictions of the models; there is just too much uncertainty.

I also concluded long ago that cooling was still a possible threat: that the return of the glaciers requires energy to transport the water vapor to the cold areas where it can fall as snow, and this can have a runaway effect. That needs to be watched.

Regarding science and cherry picking: I would have thought that the experimentum crucis was the essence of science, and that’s certainly cherry picking. As I said long ago in my essay on the Voodoo Sciences, novelist need plausibility, lawyers need evidence, but scientists need data and hypotheses that explain all the data: one contrary result (cherry picking) is important. Look at the controversy over whether or not they have found faster than light neutrinos. No one supposes that if we are certain of FTL particles this will not force a revolutionary change in our standard models in physics. It won’t be dismissed as cherry picking.

As to Lindzen not having changed his conclusions over the years, I think I could easily say the same thing about many of the AGW believers. What I find alarming is that Lindzen asks questions about the models and their predictions, and concludes that there is not enough evidence to justify panic: that the best evidence is that the increasing CO2 is not a justification for alarm, and particularly not enough quality evidence to justify spending $Trillions on revising the entire industrial economy. What I get is a sociological discussion about the quality of the debate, and a discussion of Lindzen. I would not think that is a rational scientific discussion.

My conclusion is that Lindzen has the better of it: he has challenged the models and the data, and I do not believe he has been answered.


Relevant to the subject of cherry picking in science

Dark Matter, Vacuum Energy, and Aristotle’s Aether

Aristotle’s aether was not Lorenz luminiferous aether and so was no disproven by M&M. Here is an interesting comparison of the properties of Dark Matter, Vacuum Energy, and Aristotle’s Aether:

or in this article


Philosophy as I understood it when I was young seems relevant to today’s fundamental questions, but it does not seem often to be discussed by today’s philosophers. I am grateful for my education in philosophy of science from Gustav Bergmann at the University of Iowa when I was an undergraduate, and to the Christian Brothers for my high school introduction to Aristotle. And to Mike Flynn for continuing to remind us that we do not want to lose sight of the relevance of some of the old questions.



Regarding the A-10, I’m reminded of the Stuka. At the outset of WW II, it was the best close-support aircraft on either side. It was regularly in the news. By the end of the war it had disappeared from the news, just as it had disappeared from the sky. It couldn’t survive in skies with high-performance fighters. It had neither speed, armor, nor armament to outfight the P-51 or the P-38.

I think the same would be true of the A-10 in a war against a "peer" power like Russia or China. It wouldn’t survive against their front-line fighters.

Having said that, the A-10 has been extremely successful in wars against non-peer powers. One of the most effective aircraft used in Vietnam was the A-1 Skyraider, originally developed during WW II as a carrier aircraft. It would not have survived in a sky full of MiG-19s, but it didn’t have to. There weren’t any over South Vietnam. the A-10 is now doing the job the A-1 formerly did.

We may have to fight a "peer" power some day, although I hope not. We are very likely to have to fight non-peer powers in the future, just as we have for the past fifty years. Getting rid of the A-10 because it can’t outfight Chinese J-10 would be foolish. They should be kept around for when they’re suitable, not eliminated from the inventory.

Joseph P. Martino

But no one ever supposed that the A-10 would operate without air superiority, as no one ever supposed that the A-10 would be useful in performing the air superiority mission. I was on the Boeing TFX design team, and we went through that analysis: the kind of airplane that wins dogfights is not the airplane you need for close support of the ground army, or for that matter for local battle area interdiction missions. As it happens the P-47 was useful for both, but its major value was for interdiction. Trainbusting recce/strike missions by the P-47 were a major factor in the conquest of Europe, although the P-47 was designed as an escort fighter. The P-51 with the Rolls Royce supercharged engine proved better at that mission.

The Army neither wants nor can perform the air superiority mission in a peer power war. That’s the job of the Air Force, and USAF is pretty good at it: the spectaculars of dogfighting, and the more decisive but more prosaic mission of taking out the hornet’s nests. You don’t really get rid of hornets by swatting one hornet at a time, but you sure do need a capability for escorting the guy with the Flit through a swarm of hornets. Air superiority takes a combined arms approach just as winning ground forces are those with combined arms capabilities. Give the A-10 to the Army, and give the local interdiction mission to the Army, and leave air superiority to the Air Force.

History has shown that combined arms armies have generally been victorious. That would seem to apply to the air superiority campaign as well. The Warthog is important in ground campaigns, and might well perform the equivalent of the heavy cavalry charge at just the right time in battle – provided that there is air superiority so that the A-10 can perform its mission. 


How to delete your Google Browsing History before new policy

With just a week to go before Google changes to its new privacy policy that allows it to gather, store and use personal information, users have a last chance to delete their Google Browsing History, along with any damning information therein.

Tech News Daily reports that once Google’s new unified privacy policy takes effect all data already collected about you, including search queries, sites visited, age, gender and location will be gathered and assigned to your online identity represented by your Gmail and YouTube accounts. After the policy takes effect you are not allowed to opt out without abandoning Google altogether. But now before the policy takes effect, you have the option of deleting your Google Web History by modifying your settings so that Google is unable to associate data collected about you with your Gmail or YouTube accounts.

Read more:






Recovering; and some interesting places to visit.

View 715 Monday, February 27, 2012

I got the final version of Legend of Black Ship Island this morning, and I’ve been working on it all day, which pretty well used up my time. It’s a good story, but I’ve been so bunged up with this bronchitis that I haven’t had a chance to do a real final edit. It’s publishable now, but I can improve it, mostly by inserting a few details here and there. Avalon is a fascinating place, and some of the interactions with the ecology can be complicated.

Tomorrow will be an informative election.



I have found a bunch of open tabs, mostly prompted by mail, which lead to places you may find interesting. I have to clear some of them out because Firefox gets giddy if there are too many open tabs, so I’m just going to dump them. None of them take long to open, and while some of you will find different ones interesting, they were all interesting enough that I kept them open with the idea of writing something about them. I probably won’t get to.

Sing, O Muse, the Wrath of Michelle: Spengler said this before the election.

Spengler speculates on what Richelieu would have made of our wars in the Middle East.

An interesting compilation. One day I may add to it. I need to do an essay on contraception and abortion but it is a delicate subject and requires time.

I mentioned this one before, but it is the best summary of the skeptical position on AGW that I know of, and I recommend it.

Another climate change exposition: we’re freezing.–Cycle-25-need-worry-NASA-scientists-right-Thames-freezing-again.html

I have pointed to this one before on why we are getting rid of the Warthog. I have mail warning me about the site, but I know nothing about it, and the source is irrelevant: the argument is well made.

I won’t close this tab. It needs discussion. But it’s worth looking at if the subject interests you.

Ditto for this|newe|2-22-2012|new_on_the_economist

And all of that ought to be enough. I’ll be back in form in a few days. I am recovering. And I’v a mountain of work to do.






A rational critique of man made global warming

View 715 Sunday, February 26, 2012

It has been a long day, and it does seem I am recovering from this upper respiratory infection that seems to be going around. We managed church this morning, and Roberta sang in the choir, and after we went with friends to breakfast, and while it was all tiring I managed it; We even had a walk later. With Sable it’s pretty hard not to take a walk. She considers that an entitlement. Then we discovered that we were out of dog food and I had to go out again. Sable wondered where I was going, and she had an idea where it might be, so I took her along. It’s her favorite place. When we get to the Petco parking area she goes mad to get out of the car. Literally her favorite place. Inside she picked out an enormous bone and talked me into buying it for her. When I was a kid you’d get those for a quarter for a soup bone, but in modern times it’s not likely that any store around here ever sees such bones. This was huge, and will last her for a while, and it’s good for her teeth.

And then it was time for the Oscars. No real surprises on the awards, and none I disagreed with. Clooney and Streep certainly deserved theirs, and of the nominees I have seen I’d have voted for The Artist. But it all exhausted me, and I didn’t get these notes written up.


I strongly recommend as about the best rational discussion of CO2 and climate I have seen. It’s reasonably technical but not overly so; and it asks questions. I particularly invite those who believe in AGW to read it and send me your comments.


I actually know that Clooney didn’t win the best actor award, and I thought he dshould have. IN fact I thought that so thoroughly that I seem to have made myself think he had. That’s an odd trick for memory to play on me.




Proscription, habeas corpus, Warthogs and career paths ,etc.

Mail 714 Saturday, February 25, 2012


Even the liberal media is concerned –

I’m surprised at a couple of the articles that have been published in the local alternative weekly paper. The paper leans heavily to the left, but at least one of their columnists is taking a hard look at the current administration’s record. Here are two well-researched, well-written articles that are critical of President Obama and the current administration. The first scares the heck out of me. The second only surprises me because the right hasn’t picked up on it.

Letters at 3AM: It Came From the White House Obama and a majority of Democratic legislators support the NDAA, allowing the arrest of U.S. citizens without a warrant

"Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noticed that to subject American citizens to arrest without warrant and to detain us without trial violates the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution. Feinstein proposed to specifically exempt American citizens from the NDAA’s arrest policy.

Her clarification of the NDAA passed the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. That’s as bipartisan as it gets, even in good times. In these times, passage of Feinstein’s clarification was a miracle of agreement.

Yet in the NDAA’s final version, as signed by President Obama, American citizens are not exempt. How did that happen?"

Letters at 3AM: Obama, Nukes, and Us

President Barack Obama fudges the truth of his nuclear policies

–Gary P.

We also have proscription lists – lists of people including American citizens who shall be killed on sight if there is no way to apprehend them, or perhaps even if there is — bin Laden was apparently given no chance to surrender. Now of course soldiers in the field are allowed and encouraged to kill hostiles on sight, but that’s not quite the same thing as sending snipers in gillie suits or drones with Hellfire missiles to seek them out.

Courts still have the writ of habeas corpus, which demands that anyone holding someone against their will be required to produce that person and tell the court why it is legal to detain him. (If you don’t really believe that in the English language the male pronoun includes the female, feel free to change that to “detain him or her” or better, substitute Damon Knight’s ‘yeye’.) The question becomes whether it is a proper and sufficient return to the writ to state that yeye is being held pursuant to the NDAA act, yeye having been placed on the list of enemies of the people or whatever designation the NDAA gives them.

I haven’t done an extensive search on this. Snopes gives the statement that the military can arrest anyone without trial or warrant a “mixed” rating meaning partially true, but isn’t clear as to what parts are not true. Snopes seems to be relying on a signing statement by President Obama stating that it isn’t his intention to hold people indefinitely without trial. He did not say that they couldn’t be arrested and held; and he did not specify how long they might be held. Nor did he say anything about response to a writ of habeas corpus. Of course for a writ to be issued a judge has to know that someone is being held, and who holds that person.

Even the Daily Kos isn’t sure what the act authorizes.

I expect we’ll find out soon enough.


The white house’s e-petitions

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I thought you might be interested in this technical innovation the White House has put together:

You’ve heard of e-petitions, right? The white house actually put e-petition software on their own web site. If enough people sign the petition, they promise a response of some kind. Essentially it’s the same thing as a letter to the White House, updated to the digital age.


Brian P.

I wonder what kind of petitions they get or allow to be displayed?


Boffins build blood-swimming medical microbot,


Fantastic Voyage — a blood-swimming medical microbot:

I just added ‘microbot’ to my spellcheck dictionary.


Now that is fascinating. We should hear more about this soon.


Subject: Follow up to Himalayan glaciers have lost no ice in the past 10 years, new study reveal

Some previous estimates of ice loss <> in the high Asia mountains had predicted up to 50 billion tons of melting ice annually, said Wahr, who is also a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Instead, results from GRACE pin the estimated ice loss from those peaks — including ranges like the Himalayas and the nearby Pamir and Tien Shan — at only about 4 billion tons of ice annually.

Bristol University glaciologist Jonathan Bamber, who was not part of the research team, told the Guardian that such a level of melting was practically insignificant.

"The very unexpected result was the negligible mass loss from high mountain Asia, which is not significantly different from zero," he told the Guardian.


“According to GRACE data published in the study, total sea level <> rise from all land-based ice on Earth including Greenland <> and Antarctica was roughly 1.5 millimeters per year annually or about one-half inch total, from 2003 to 2010, Wahr said.”

It occurs to me with the above statement from the article that using the sample data below, over a one hundred year time span the total rise in sea level would amount to a little over 7 inches. This would hardly cause the catastrophic scenario the AGW alarmists are predicting in which coastal communities would be several feet under water.

The usual back of the envelope assumption is that the seas have been rising about a foot a century for a long time. Since the Ice Age some of the land formerly covered by glaciers has been rising. Obviously the presence of sea ice in the Arctic will have little effect on sea levels, although water density is affected by temperature of course.

The size of local glaciers in high and cold places is mostly affected by the amount of precipitation. In dry years there isn’t any snow and the sun still shines. In wet years with lots of snow glaciers grow. The snows of Kilimanjaro have been shrinking but there has been drought in that area.


Scientists Reply on Global Warming

The interest generated by our Wall Street Journal op-ed of Jan. 27, "No Need to Panic about Global Warming," is gratifying but so extensive that we will limit our response to the letter to the editor the Journal published on Feb. 1, 2012 by Kevin Trenberth and 37 other signatories, and to the Feb. 6 letter by Robert Byer, President of the American Physical Society. (We, of course, thank the writers of supportive letters.)

We agree with Mr. Trenberth et al. that expertise is important in medical care, as it is in any matter of importance to humans or our environment. Consider then that by eliminating fossil fuels, the recipient of medical care (all of us) is being asked to submit to what amounts to an economic heart transplant. According to most patient bills of rights, the patient has a strong say in the treatment decision. Natural questions from the patient are whether a heart transplant is really needed, and how successful the diagnostic team has been in the past.


Why The Generals Hate The A-10

Nice summary:

It’s ugly. It’s lumbering and it’s old. But the A-10 Warthog almost certainly remains the best performing airplane in the Air Force’s fleet. The 30-year-old attack plane is safe, efficient, durable and cheap. GI’s call it the friend of the grunt, because it flies low, showers lethal covering fire and greatly reduces the risk of friendly fire deaths and civilian casualties.

While the high-tech fighters and attack helicopters faltered in desert winds, smoke-clotted skies and in icy temperatures, the A-10 proved a workhorse in Gulf War I, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the latest war on Iraq.

Naturally, the Air Force brass now wants to junk it.

And now the Air Force plan is to replace the inexpensive, durable, effective A-10 with the F-35????

It amazes me that the Army hasn’t taken back control of their own destiny and regained control of the close air support role. The Air Force doesn’t want to do it, they just want the $ associated with the mission.

John Harlow

The close support and interdiction missions should belong to the Army. The problem is that aviation is not a good career path for Army officers. It’s one reason why warrant officers are employed as helicopter pilots. The Luftwaffe solved this somewhat by allowing them to have ground units, but that doesn’t work very well either. Being a hot helicopter pilot doesn’t make one a good field grade officer. The Air Force has always had the myth that good pilots can learn command, and they have career paths for boffins, but it has always been a problem.

Some of the essence of the difficulty is shown – not deliberately – in the movie Command Decision with Clark Gable (there’s more in the actual novel it was based on).



Dr. Pournelle,

I must agree with your earmark comments, and add that the ability for a weapons program to find at least one congressional champion is a key darwinian challenge for any system. Without a tame congresscritter, the contractors I’ve been involved with can’t build weapons systems that we _do_ know how to build. Grooming, care, and feeding of such champions becomes more important (measured in time and effort expended), in many cases, than the development and implementation of the technical aspect of the system. It is also easy to cross the somewhat arbitrary line between legitimate sales/support and illegal influence. Just my observations, mind you, but they seem in line with your own and the Iron Law.

Glad you are recuperating. Our own recoveries from a similar ailment have also been slow, but eventually successful (this is one of the first good day’s I’ve had in a month).

Looking forward to the new book…and combing the web for advance sales.


Congress must control spending. That means it can’t fund everything the executive branch – including the generals – wants. On the other hand sometimes the executive branch, and especially the generals, are just plain wrong in rejecting some projects. The earmark system is flawed and can lead to waste, but it’s better than having no Congressional control at all.

Legend of Black Ship Island will be up sometime next week I think.


Extraordinary Korean War Vet,


A friend sent me the link below. He commented. “That one did not go in the direction I thought it would. Almost stopped it at the beginning of Fanfare for the Common Man, as I thought it would be a lengthy slide show, but held on. Glad I did. Not a widely known gent, but obviously a deep soul. Thanks.”


The vid is 12 minutes. It is about Tibor Rubin, a Hungarian concentration camp survivor who came to the US and ended up in the Pusan pocket. He was left behind as his company retreated to impede the NK’s. He held out for a few days, came back to US lines, and after a number of patrols was captured. Since he was an experienced prison camp survivor, he helped others. At about 9 minutes he tells about how he fed a man “goat shit,” telling him they were pills but also telling his patient “You have to help yourself.” Finally in 2005 he got his MOH. Nice short piece. Worth watching – and I usually don’t watch vids.



Subject: We probably didn’t need an added incentive to get into space.

There could probably be volumes printed about this … Robert Heinlein would probably not be shocked.


Bunny inspectors?


SUBJ: Movie recommendation

Dear Jerry,

Just watched an excellent, nay, out-STAND-ing movie that I think you would thoroughly enjoy. The movie’s title is "Longitude" and is about the British Royal Navy’s search to find a way to reliably calculate longitude in the 1700′s.

The story is fascinating. Its an historical drama. The movie contains military history, technical invention and innovation, politics, faith, betrayal and triumph all in an English historical setting. It also deals closely with government prizes, which you have been discussing lately. The movie contains both 18th-century and 20th-century components. It is well-written, well-made and well-told.

For an unabashed Anglophile movies and history nut (like me), it doesn’t get any better.

Netflix has it, although I found it at my local library too.




Instruments made of ice.

The fleeting nature of these instruments makes the all the more beguiling.


Andrew McCann


Oath of Fealty –

Hi Jerry,

There’s also an iBook edition, which I’d picked up as my ‘emergency read’ for plane trips. During my last delay, I too was recaptured by the story – it’s one of my favorites, and definitely holds up well.



Thanks for the kind words. I am really quite fond of Oath of Fealty. It was the second novel Niven and I began, but we put it aside to do Inferno and Lucifer’s Hammer.


A Feast for the Eyes: Favorite Pictures of EPOD for 2011




Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE