Sunday, July 17, 2016

President Mike Pence? De facto President Corey Lewandowski?

If Trump wins, he might not play president for four years. Much more so than in the case of other candidates, we have multiple reasons why:

  • He might quit, getting bored with doing actual work and angry at the criticism dished at him while Rome burns. I'm sure he could find multiple parties to blame for his quitting.
  • Even if he doesn't officially quit, he may withdraw from day-to-day presidenting and let someone else do all the work. He's already decided he'd act more like a Board Chairman than a CEO, suggesting a lighter workload, and he might take it farther. It's also not hard to imagine him getting mad at how his businesses are being run by his kids and reinsert himself in the latest Trump University And Steakhouse dustup, despite promises to stay away from the businesses.
  • The 70-year-old candidate has refused to release any medical records beyond a sycophantic half-page letter from his doctor claiming he'd be "the healthiest individual elected to the presidency." That's an obvious lie (c.f. both Bushes and Obama) which puts the letter's brief assertions of good health in question. For all we know, he could keel over at any time.
  • He could get impeached and removed, or quit to avoid the inevitable. It's hard but not impossible to imagine a Republican House doing this (Trump may not have thought through the implications of making Pence his Veep). Alternatively, two years of chaos leads to a change election in 2018 like the 2006 wave, and then he's gone. Most likely series of events leading to impeachment, btw: Trump gets someone to do something illegal for him on the promise of a pardon, Trump tries to get out issuing the pardon but is manipulated to issue it, and the world finds out the real reason for the pardon.
  • He may trust his judgment of security over that of the Secret Service, and get himself shot.

The risk of someone else running the show is yet another factor in the dumpster fire that is the Trump candidacy. As hard as it is to realize that someone worse than George Bush may become president, we don't know who may actually run the country instead of Trump at some point in the next four years. It could be someone worse yet.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Post Modern Views of Science

A couple of days ago, Eli went off and ranted about an old philosopher, James Blachowicz, and his take on science, which to Eli was, well, given the history of this thing, Eli pretty much thought that Prof. Blachowicz was eating magic mushrooms.

Given the placement in the New York Times, not surprisingly, there were a few other comments, and not surprisingly (to Eli, Eli being always right) they pretty much agreed with Eli

Jerry Coyn, writing under the Rommian title of "Is this the worst popular philosophy piece ever? A philosopher argues that science is no more reliable than philosophy at finding truth" and pretty much concludes that it was

If the NYT can publish tripe like this, perhaps it’s time for someone to pull a Sokal-like stunt, writing a bogus philosophical analysis of science and submitting it to The Stone. But perhaps that’s exactly what Blachowicz has done!
Ethan Siegel in Forbes discusses how Blachowicz' understanding of Kepler (and Galileo) is, to put it softly, lacking and Derek Lowe at Science also has a few words.

For a while now, Eli has been pushing the idea that science is characterized by coherence, consilience and consensus.

The Red Queen can hold any number of contradictory thoughts in her mind before breakfast but that only leads to confusion and is deadly for understanding. The Wikipedia has a useful description of consilience and why it is necessary for reaching a scientific consensus
evidence from independent, unrelated sources can "converge" to strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own. Most established scientific knowledge is supported by a convergence of evidence: if not, the evidence is comparatively weak, and there will not likely be a strong scientific consensus.
Kuhn pointed out that the consensus was very hard to change for good reasons, because a lot of evidence (consilience) had to be gathered and linked (coherence) to establish the consensus. That the consensus could be changed on very rare occasions is irrelevant because the overthrow (e.g. Relativity, QM) extended a strong consensus into new areas where it really had never previously been tested.  New science EXTENDS old science.

The tough part of this is that one has to have a strong understanding of the various threads which establish the consensus to appreciate the consensus and its strength.  Many do not.

They interpret the ability to modify the consensus as meaning that nothing can be certain, and if it cannot be certain then all statements are equally valid.  Einstein and Kuhn are frequently invoked.

For example, some, not to be named, but including philosophers and lawyers and liberal arts types claim that it is equally true to claim that the Sun revolves around the Earth as visa versa.

As to the Earth and the Sun, if you believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, you basically don't believe in Newtonian gravity or the laws of motion.  There is some nonsense that should not go unchallenged, but that takes time.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mike Pence. I remember that name....

UPDATE: others are also doing blasts from the past, turns out we should know him as Mike "Smoking Doesn't Kill" Pence.


Here it is, from my old blog back in 2009:

 

Mike Pence: skeptical of warming, but "reducing CO2 would be a good thing"

 

There's not much point in reducing CO2 unless anthropogenic climate change is real - it has no other negative impacts.*

Pence is the third-highest Republican Congressman in the House, considered a rising star, and appears to simply be stupid. His latest anti-climate change, plus refusal to acknowledge evolution is here. Yglesias has more on him not being very bright here, here(author of the Republican budget plan with no numbers attached to it), and especially here (couldn't understand the economic concept of moral hazard, even when explained to him).

While a party led by stupid people will be easier to beat, it can still cause a lot of damage in the American political system.

*I highly doubt this Republican party genius even knows about ocean acidification, and if he does, he just groups it into his climate change skepticism.

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Interestingly, I just came across this statement from Yglesias yesterday saying he was too hard on Pence way back when, and that Congressmembers are institutionally driven to spend time on anything except learning the subject matter. I'm not buying it - they can and should know basics about the areas they specialize in, and if Pence can't understand a subject like moral hazard when explained to him, that's pretty bad.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Scientific Method and the Philosopher Is Stoned


Have the bunnies ever noticed that in the dog days of summer, when nothing is happening, and even when it is, there always emerges an article on there is no such thing as science, or science is nothing special.  Well, the New York Times has done the usual and dredged up flem from another old philosopher who would enjoy a day in the sunday papers.  It agrees with the editor's stoned high school fantasies about science, a subject that they hated, just hated.  Amongst their other bad habits, editors and journalists are saps for post modernist denigration of science.  They don't quite understand why others value something they never understood, or tried to, and they want some of that.

A bunny, or at least Willard, might start with the ontology but at times it is easier to say what is not and why.  For example take the writing of a poem, something that the author of the article under consideration, James Blachowicz, did.  He relates how a poet, Stephan Spender, described the process of creating a poem, how Spender begins with a first draft, how he then evaluates the draft as to whether it expresses what he wanted to express and whether the form was pleasing to him.  The poet then modifies the draft to optimize the two criteria.

Blachowicz claims that this editing process is similar to "those associated with scientific investigation", and he generalizes his guff to wondering whether there is such a thing as a scientific method.  Eli, were he not such an understanding bunny, would think this is clear evidence of  confusion, of course it is hard to be more understanding than some such at ATTP who is, IEHO, too willing to excuse fuzzy thoughts.  But, dear bunnies let us forge forward.

Could a poem be a work of science?  What would poets be required to do?  The first criteria would be not whether the poem expressed what the poetry team wanted to express but that it accurately described the emotion that they were trying to describe, the second, that the poem was consistent with related poems that had been accepted by the poetry community.  If not, the poet would have to explain why.  A pleasing thing to a good poetry team would be if the poets could say, although there was some inconsistency with past work, how theirs extended and enlarged understanding of the emotions under consideration.  Of course, a terse and powerful poem that captured the source of many emotions would be meet with a stronger positive reception.

In other words, poetry would be characterized by consistency, consensus and consilience, which it is not.  No loss to poetry, but then again poetry is not science although some comes close.

Now Eli is fond of a good argument, meaning one that leads to careful thought, but Blachowicz goes three year old, segueing into a disputation about "justice" and "courage" and how neither can be defined although everybunny knows what they are.  Well sorry, justice and courage are social constructs, and the definition varies with time and place.  To think about Blachowicz' example

When Socrates asked “What is justice?” there was never any doubt that his listeners knew what the word “justice” meant. This is confirmed by the fact that Socrates and his listeners could agree on examples of justice. Defining justice, on the other hand — that is, being able to explain what it was conceptually that all these examples had in common — was something else altogether.
is to fall right down the Rabett hole.  People and societies do not agree on what justice is.  On the other hand electrons, climate sensitivity, DNA,  these all have definitions that scientists agree on, although they may disagree about the numerical values of some and try and improve the precision and accuracy of others.  It is the agreement on definitions and other basics that allows scientists to talk to each other.  Agreeing to definitions, such as what is a meter, what is a kilogram and so forth are the charge of scientific organizations such as IUPAC.  Eli wonders if philosophers have similar mechanism for agreeing on the meaning of justice.  He suspects not, but then again, IEHO this entire section of Blachowicz' writing is simply a confusion, a smoke screen.

For what you ask, well for a comment on Kepler's studies of the orbit of Mars.  Long and short, Kepler determined after much work that the orbit was an ellipse, after rejecting a circle and then an oval.  For those interested, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has many of the papers on Kepler's notes which are extensive.  But where did the idea of a circle come from, as some of the commenters on Blachowicz' piece note, it came from philosophers, and in their case from the kind of esthetic argument that Blachowicz uses.  Kepler was not happy about that
My first error, was to suppose that the path of the planet is a perfect circle, a supposition that was all the more noxious a thief of time the more it was endowed with the authority of all philosophers, and the more convenient it was for metaphysics in particular.”
Kepler tried an oval, but it did not work very well, and then an ellipse which did.  Blachowicz sees this in a pecular light
Kepler could have hammered out a patchwork equation that would have represented the oval orbit of Mars. It would have fit the facts better than the earlier circle hypothesis. But it would have failed to meet the second criterion that all such explanation requires: that it be simple, with a single explanatory principle devoid of tacked-on ad hoc exceptions, analogous to the case of courage as acting in the face of great fear, except for running away, tying one’s shoelace and yelling profanities.
Simplicity is nice, but not necessary, this argument fails on the same ad hoc esthetic basis as the circle, indeed, except for the simplest situations there are often multiple principles at work which must be teased apart and Blachowicz himself describes one.

But why, as the saying goes, does science work?  Blachowicz' answer is
If scientific method is only one form of a general method employed in all human inquiry, how is it that the results of science are more reliable than what is provided by these other forms? I think the answer is that science deals with highly quantified variables and that it is the precision of its results that supplies this reliability. But make no mistake: Quantified precision is not to be confused with a superior method of thinking.
Which, make no mistake, IEHO is a mistake.  Scientific results are not all highly quantified, indeed many are not quantified at all.  Consider anatomy if you will.  What science and the scientific method provide, as Kepler showed, is insistence on checking either the scientists own results, or the results of others.  This is, as it were, close to the viewpoint of Popper.  Of course, again IEHO, Kuhn does a better job of describing how scientists work, their method as it were.  The scientific method does not require quantified precision (though that is often good), it does require careful checking of any result and a delineation of the conditions under which the result is to be trusted.

Weird rhetoric behind "believe me" and "finding out what is going on"

 
Someone who made better use of rhetoric

One small benefit from the Trump phenomenon is better sensitivity to the same tricks, regardless of the speaker's tribal affiliation. I listened to a prominent speaker on my side of the environmental fence the other day, and was struck by how much he sounded like Trump, liberally interspersing his comments with "believe me," "I'm telling you" and similar. I'm not sure I would've noticed if it hadn't been for how often Trump would say those phrases, followed by outrageous assertions with no evidence to back it up. I eventually figured out that those words, "I'm telling you" are the support the speaker is giving for the factual assertion that follows.

So whenever you hear a speaker say "believe me" you are likely about to hear a conclusory assertion offered with no proof other than the credibility of the speaker. That's not always a bad thing - maybe the person's an expert and it's better to get many quick opinions rather than one deep backgrounder - but it's helpful to know that's all you're getting. And it's a rhetorical trick when used by a speaker you sympathize with - you think you've been told something and don't notice you've been offered no proof.

So, thanks Trump for the realization. In the case of my speaker, he was making predictions about the future, notoriously the hardest of predictions, based on "I'm telling you". I'm not giving it a lot of weight.

The other weird Trumpian rhetoric is saying we should ban Muslim immigration until we "figure out what is going on." What does that mean - could one possibly come up with a more vague metric for determining policy? What part of terrorism is Trump saying that we don't understand?

Of course someone could get a PhD in comparative studies of terrorism and not fully understand the subject, but that's not what Trump is talking about. This phrasing means to take vaguely formed fears and hate, or even a multitude of specifically formed fears and hate in the minds of listeners, and fit it all into something that pretends to be policy. As for "what's going on," Trump is letting people fill that void with whatever's in their minds, specific or vague, and think that Trump is saying the exact same thing. It's even trickier and more poisonous than figuring out what people want to hear and saying it back to them.

I'm sure it's been called out somewhere, but what's going on is cheap rhetorical manipulation.


UPDATE:  thought I'd add that Trump also often appends "believe me" to the end of an assertion about something he's going to do or an outcome that's going to be achieved, when he'd have no legal ability to do what he claimed and the outcome is pie in the sky. Democratic presidential candidates aren't free of this either on climate change, talking way too much about policies that require repeated 60-vote majorities in the Senate and a majority in the House, but obviously there's no comparison. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Gretchen Carlson to solve climate change

Mr. Smooth may have gone too far

After Gretchen Carlson accused and sued Fox News Chief Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, six more women have come forward to say the same. That appears not to be the end of the accusations.

This may be enough to end a long-running feud between Rupert Murdoch's sons and Ailes, with Ailes getting kicked out. He appears to be the primary reason behind the terrible coverage of climate change at Fox News. Rupert Murdoch himself wasn't great but is much less involved in Fox operations in recent years, and the rest of Fox, run by his sons, is much better on climate.

Converting one of the primary news sources for conservatives into an accurate news source on climate could be extremely helpful. It's too bad what Ailes made these women go through. Maybe not entirely surprising though that someone who's unethical about his news coverage would be unethical in other ways.

Have One On Eli

Ms. Rabett's favorite

Monday, July 04, 2016

Today's Congress passes a stronger environmental law than in the 1970s

So that's not supposed to happen. The 1970s were the heydays of passing environmental laws, when Republicans made something of an effort to be second-best to Democrats on environmental issues.  The idea that today's Republican Party, of all the Republican Parties, would do something more sensible than it did 40 years ago seems impossible. Still that's what the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act represents as a major improvement over the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, in large part by gradually ending the "grandfathering" of chemicals in existend prior to TSCA's enactment.

This improvement is partly because it's measured against the baseline of TSCA which was one of the weakest of the major environmental laws to pass in the 70s. That may have something to do with it being one of the later ones, by which point industry had started to catch on that these laws could have a meaningful impact on their business, and moved in to keep TSCA from doing the same. Still, the craziest Republican Party in modern history improved upon it. Why?

Environmental Defense Fund's Insider Podcast is helpful. They point out two reasons:  first that TSCA is so clearly inadequate that states began experimenting with their own regulatory controls - a mishmash of systems that did not enthuse chemical manufacturers. Second, to put it indelicately, is that cancer also kills powerful Republicans and their relatives. When a cancer has no obvious explanation, Republicans also wonder if living in at most lightly-regulated chemical soup could be problematic.

How much this translates to hope for climate change is unclear. State regulation does follow a parallel path, and one of the things enviros gave up to get the new law was easy state regulation, it's now pre-empted except through a waiver process. That may be a price for climate legislation in Congress, should it ever happen.

Perceptibly affecting powerful Republicans isn't as clear - they're already affected but don't perceive it. Maybe sea level rise will do it for coastal state Republicans, a few hurricanes from now.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Reduction of Oxidation: Not So Easy


The historical root of chemistry is metallurgical, the creation of metals from ores.  This process is called reduction of the ore, and the trick to doing it was discovered early on, to heat the ore as high as possible after mixing it with charcoal.  The achievable final temperature at the time pretty much determined whether the locals were living in the copper, bronze or iron age.  There are nice video demonstrations on line. 

The charcoal is transformed into carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide depending on the conditions in the furnace.  This is pretty much how most metals are produced today, except that instead of charcoal, coke is used.

Coke is what happens to coal when you heat it but do not provide enough oxygen to form CO2 or CO.  This drives a conversion of the carbonaceous components of the coal to carbon and dries out any water content.  A detailed description of the process can be found at steel. org, but for practical reasons coke can be thought of as plain carbon or if you wish plain carbon with a bit of stone and other seasonings.

http://image.slidesharecdn.com/productionofironandsteel-150427080734-conversion-gate01/95/production-of-iron-and-steel-17-638.jpg?cb=1430122364
In any case, the point is that bunnies need coal to make iron and just about any metal they can think of, and that reduction of the ore to metal requires oxidation of the coke to CO2.  Even electrolysis of bauxite (Al2O3) to aluminum requires using graphite electrodes, which, guess what, during the electrolysis process, are oxidized to CO2.

Which, in the usual Rabett Run way brings Eli to the point of all this.  According to the EIA, 2012 production of coal is about 8.7 billion short tons. In real units that is 7.9 x 1012 kg or, if a bunny prefers 7.9 109 tonne.

The amount of metallurgical coke produced in 2012 was about 0.7 billion short tons, but given the wastage from coke production, 2/3 of a ton of coke is produced from a ton of coal.  Multiplying, dividing and so forth (hopefully correctly, this comes out to about a billion short tons or  0.9 109 tonne.

Bottom line is that about 1/8th of the current coal mined is used for metal refining and this is still quite a bit, making it harder to reach zero CO2 emissions. 

Eli apologizes for this Sunday sadness.