Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial

The Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry was the first African American regiment formed in the US Civil War.  Lead by Robert Gould Shaw the regiment endured heavy casualties and fought with valor. Shaw was killed in the attack on Fort Wagner South Carolina in 1863.  Sgt William Carney was the first African American to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in that fight.

Dedicated in 1897, the monument was created by August St. Gaudens and paid for by private donations.  The relief shows Shaw and the troopers marching off to a war that would free their countrymen from chattel slavery.  It sits opposite the State House on Beacon Street in Boston.

At the dedication
The military units present began to march past the Memorial, led by 65 veterans of the 54th Regiment. Some of the officers wore their Civil War uniforms, but most of the enlisted men were in their best frock coats. Black veterans from the 55th Massachusetts and the 5th Cavalry were also present. Among the men of the 54th, Sergeant Carney carried the American Flag. The sight of him elicited cheers from the onlookers who knew of his exploits. The 54th veterans laid a large wreath of Lilies of the Valley before the monument. All of this deeply moved Saint-Gaudens:

"Many of them were bent and crippled, many with white heads, some with bouquets... The impression of those old soldiers, passing the very spot where they left for the war so many years before, thrills me even as I write these words. They faced and saluted the relief, with the music playing 'John Brown's Body'…. They seemed as if returning from the war, the troops of bronze marching in the opposite direction, the direction in which they had left for the front, and the young men there represented now showing these veterans the vigor and hope of youth. It was a consecration."

Monday, August 07, 2017

Making the Elephant Dance as Performed by Ned Nikolov and Karl Zeller

As John von Neuman put it
With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.
and, as fate would happen, along comes Ned Nikolov and Karl Zellner with "New Insights on the Physical Nature of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect Deduced from an Empirical Planetary Temperature Model".  It's basically 22 pages of word salad and Eli may later return to pointing out some of the more amusing light fingered moves, but here the Bunny will only provide a small amuse bouche with the "interesting" exercise in fitting five numbers with four free parameters, two unphysical constants and a free choice of fitting form.

So briefly, what goes on is to fit the five average surface temperatures of five plants or moons (Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Titan and Triton.  Wait you say, that's six, not five, but they leave Titan out of the mix because  (Eli told you this would be yummy) to an arbitrary functional form

y = a exp(bx) + c exp(dx)

Wait you say again, ok, that is four parameters and the functional form plucked out of thin air, but what is x and y.  That's kind of interesting and more than a bit light fingered but you have to watch the moving cup.  The independent variable is a ratio of pressures (Ps/Pr).  Ps is the pressure at the surface, Pr, well that's interesting, Pr starts out as the "minimum air pressure required for the existence of a liquid solvent at the surface, hereto called a reference pressure (Pr)" but about a page further on it morphs into 
For a reference pressure, we used the gas-liquid-solid triple point of water, i.e., Pr=611.73Pa [38] defining a baric threshold, below which water can only exists in a solid/vapor phase and not in a liquid form. The results of our analysis are not sensitive to the particular choice of a reference pressure value; hence, the selection of Pr is a matter of convention.
The alert out there have noticed that the minimum air pressure required for the existence of a liquid solvent at the surface kind of depends on the temperature of the surface, and would vary widely from planet to planet. Of course worry bunnies like Eli might ask:  What liquid?  Water exists as water on the surface of the Earth, if there was any as steam at Venus and as ice at all the others if it exists there at all.  For Venus maybe CO2, but at the surface of Venus CO2 is a supercritical fluid and you can't tell the difference between liquid and gas.  At Titan, there are oceans, but oceans of methane, so any useful Pr is going to be wildly different for all of these bodies and, in the case of the Mars, and Triton some pretty fancy liquids are going to be needed.

Selection of water as the solvent of choice is then both arbitrary and unphysical.  But why do Nikolov and Zeller insist on using it? Turns out their elephantine trunk waving depends on using dimensionless variables, but restricting Pr to an inappropriate value independent of the planet is equivalent to stripping the units off of the surface pressure Ps.

How about y.  y is defined as the ratio (Ts/Tr) with some really serious trickery buried in TrTr is defined as a reference temperature,
the planet's mean surface temperature in the absence of an atmosphere or an atmospheric greenhouse effect.
At this point no bunny should be surprised to find that that ain't quite that.  Whoa.  Where that come from.  Old timers may remember Eli's old friends Gerlich and Tscheuschner who were also in the business of trying to falsify the greenhouse effect, by as was pointed out, not understanding what the greenhouse effect was.  As Science of Doom put it
 Gerlich & Tscheuschner have written an amazing paper which had the appearance of physics yet failed to address any real climate science.
Eli and several distinguished bunnies had a run at G&T, but, of course, as such things go, the majicians never give up, and one may anticipate a visit from Nikolov and Zeller too.  Good times to be had.

Anyhow, one of the results was a nice arXiv article by Arthur Smith explaining how the surface temperature of a rotating planet varies with the rotational period and the heat content of the surface, which for the earth is basically that of water.

The parameter λ for the Earth is 0.04 and describes the ratio of the energy absorbed from the sun in a day to the heat capacity of the surface.  The effective temperature is the temperature determined by emission from  the surface on a non-rotating body needed to maintain thermal equilibrium.  Depending on your model Arthur showed, as was well known, that the average temperature of the surface of a rotating planet without greenhouse gases has to be less than the effective temperature.

Nikolov and Zeller reproduced Smith's results in another paper with one very strange twist.  In their model  they insist that every planet without an atmosphere will have the same surface as the moon.  (Basically λ =20 in the figure above.)  Using the bare moon Tr now Tna, is, again arbitrary, but let's go ahead and look at the fit which is all John von Neuman told you it would be

Further hand waving ensues.  Nikolov and Zellner will soon be here to entertain you.  Eli warns the bunnies they are indefatigable and will tell you to read the paper.  Eli's advice is if you want some laughs go ahead.  Scott Denning has been trapped into the endless circle, so be sure to take some survival rations for him.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The face of a champion

Context (link here if the video doesn't work, just scroll down):

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Tyler Cowen and defensive innovation: reasonable idea, problematic execution

Tyler Cowen has an interesting point about "defensive innovation" meant to prevent future problems, wherein he describes climate change as a future problem and Tesla as a defensive innovator that solves the future problem without necessarily improving human lives over baseline conditions.

It's a reasonable point viewed in isolation, that we may overestimate how technology improves lives over the baseline condition when it just solves problems we anticipate. The problem is overplaying the point. One example is Cowen referencing a cure to Alzheimer's as a defensive innovation - yes it's true that Alzheimer's will likely become far worse of an affliction as our population ages in the next few decades. OTOH, it's already a tremendous problem today - as an economist, Cowen should appreciate the tremendous, current economic cost in treatment and decreased earnings from Alzheimer's today, let alone the negative utility from human suffering (and to be fair, he doesn't completely ignore this).

Climate change is a comparable example - for one thing, it's already harming us. For another, environmental impacts are rarely unique - the pollution that causes climate change has many other negative impacts on health and the environment.

A thought experiment:  compare a modestly optimistic future for our Earth in the year 2050 relative to Earth 2 in another universe, exactly like ours except some quirk in physics or technology keeps greenhouse gases from building up in their atmosphere. Earth 2 will be still be using coal and petroleum in 2050, with resulting air quality health impacts and devastated environment from mining and spills. They'll talk about switching to wind and solar, but those technologies will be expensive because Earth 2 hadn't spent many decades subsidizing research in those fields. Earth 2 will also be poorer than us because fossil fuel energy there will be more expensive than cheap renewables here.

Other than the climate impacts, Earth 2 will be worse than Earth. Climate mitigation is making Earth a better place.

One final point - from a policy perspective, it doesn't matter whether an innovation is defensive or an improvement over current conditions. If it fixes a problem in the future at an acceptable cost, then it doesn't matter whether that problem exists in the present or just in the future - you should still fix it. Climate change exists in the present, but regardless, the future catastrophe is well worth preventing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Eli Responds to Gerlich and Tscheuschner

Sometimes Eli gets the feeling he was created for Twitter.  In answer to the old question of how a cooler atmosphere with greenhouse gases can warm the surface

Extended remarks from John Tyndall in 1859, who put it better
[T]he atmosphere admits of the entrance of the solar heat, but checks its exit; and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet.

Original Climateball

Andy Dessler set off a bit of a tweetstorm asking where the definition of climate sensitivity as 2xCO2 came from.

Turns out the answer is Arrhenius in 1896
but, to meander to the point of this post for another reason Eli was guided to an old favorite, Through the Looking Glass, and the Original Climateball dialog between Alice and Humpty Dumpty.  To just pull a few lines out of the mouth of the egg:
'You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Humpty Dumpty. 'How many days are there in a year?'

'Three hundred and sixty-five,' said Alice.

'And how many birthdays have you?'


'And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five what remains?'

'Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.'

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. 'I'd rather see that done on paper,' he said.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Issues with bat/wind turbine study, worse reporting, and awful Op-Editing

(Maybe worth emphasizing this is Brian writing, not Eli or John.)

A new study gives some reason to believe that wind turbines have secondary effects on bat mortality compared to other anthropogenic factors like intentional killing, accidents, and the imported fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome. You'd have trouble knowing that though after reading the bad reporting in Scientific American and worse Op-Editing by a Manhattan Institute 'scholar'. To be fair to the secondary reports, the study itself could've done a better job discussing its results.

Disclaimer time! I'm not a scientist, let a alone a bat specialist, maybe I'm off. Regardless, said specialists probably will get something useful from the study, but it's broader public effect isn't so great.

So, problems with the study:

1. It is not a study of bat mortality. It's a study of Mass Mortality Events (ten bodies or more). If you don't know the relationship between MMEs and overall mortality (and apparently we don't), then you don't know the importance of MME causes to bat conservation. Aside from one throwaway sentence (that many bat species are gregarious and therefore likely to have MMEs) this issue isn't discussed. There's also no discussion of habitat destruction except when the destruction creates MMEs, when habitat destruction is likely far more important than any other factor.

2. Actually, it's not a study of MMEs, it's a study of reported MMEs. In other words, nobody went out and did transects in places with bats to survey for MMEs - this study just looks at reports of MMEs however they came to be, creating a significant bias because what gets reported is not even an attempt at a random survey of MMEs. This is not well-acknowledged in the study, with an important exception saying wind turbine reports are biased higher because of mandatory reporting requirements that don't exist for other causes. Subsequent reporting on this study by others omits this disclaimer.

3. Worst of all IMHO is they included qualitative reports of MMEs (i.e. reports of "many" dead bats) and they did not adjust measured mortality quantitatively for the number of deaths in each MME. So a MME of 10 bats counts equally in their study with one killing 10,000 bats (and they acknowledge some MMEs at that level and higher). I think this is worst of all because it seems like something they could actually fix, while the first two problems are limitations they couldn't fix but could have acknowledged more readily.

Related to this last flaw of what MMEs were considered is that they excluded MME reports of food markets and of bat imports. My cynical take is they excluded those categories because they'd overwhelm the others and highlight the problem of selection bias for reported MMEs. They say they excluded food market reports because it's been studied elsewhere, an explanation that doesn't make sense when surveying relative causes of mortality.

Disclaimer time again! I didn't read the supplements which might give some defense against my criticism, but they weren't attached to the Google Scholar link. I supposed I could've been more industrious and contacted the authors, but I also think these flaws should've been addressed in the study itself.

Anyway, some props to the study for disclosing its limitations even if they could've highlighted them and done things differently. Below are the key category results IMO - they disclose and then ignore the figures in parentheses, we will do the opposite (and note the study includes other categories that aren't relevant to this post):

Category                          Total MMEs (and order of magnitude for maximum number carcasses in single events per category)

Intentional killing           205 (10x5)
Accidental                         66 (10x4)
Wind turbines                  281 (10x2)
White Nose Syndrome   266 (10x4)

What I take from this is that of these four categories, wind turbines kill the fewest bats - by two or more orders of magnitude. Contrast this with the study abstract that says

 Collisions with wind turbines and white-nose syndrome are now the leading causes of reported MMEs in bats.

Scientific American takes that to mean

wind turbines are, by far, the largest cause of mass bat mortality around the world

And Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute:

wind turbines are now the largest cause of mass bat mortality. 

People who don't read the original study (Bryce doesn't even link to it) are unlikely to catch the importance of the qualifier "mass," or that they're measuring events and not the numbers of bats killed in mass events. Even with all that, Scientific American's "by far" is completely wrong. Bryce gets many other things wrong or exaggerated in his anti-wind jeremiad.

One wrinkle to this is that the study shows a large change in MMEs since 2000, with far fewer of other categories while nearly-identical, large numbers of MMEs occur from wind turbines and White Nose Syndrome (maybe 37% of events from turbines and 36% from WNS). That still doesn't change the fact that WNS kills bats by two orders of magnitude more, nor that there's a reporting bias to show more wind turbine MMEs.

I'm not rejecting that turbines killing bats are a concern (my idea btw is to put high-frequency, very short distance sonar warning noisemakers on problematic turbines), just how it's being discussed. The study does mention climate change as a future and present-day impact on bats. Bryce somehow omits that.

What this all needs is perspective.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

How is A not B?

As part of another post not finished, Ethon took a look over at the nameless one's twitter feed where he has posted a talk.  Now, not to be snarky, but it appears that the nameless one has really put his hand on the problem with discussing climate change, and, it is summarized in one slide, to which Eli asks how is A not B

This may not be the point that the nameless one was trying to make, prescribing more interchange amongst the sides, but Eli asks who blocks more honest bunnies than the nameless one?

And why was he not struck by the contrast?  Also for Fernbach et al.