March for Science, Boston, 22 April 2017

Cold and wet. A very typical Massachusetts day in Spring.

But great …

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, being carbon dioxide, Buckminster Fuller, Earth Day, Environmental Protection Agency, Hyper Anthropocene, Minsky moment, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, Principles of Planetary Climate, science, science education, scientific publishing, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Spaceship Earth, Stephen Schneider, Svante Arrhenius, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, WHOI, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, XKCD | Leave a comment

“You don’t have that option.”

Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think he’s awesome. Marvelous. I saw him in Boston. He and I did not get off well, at the start, because of my being awestruck, and feeling very awkward, and the short time we had in his meeting us backstage in Boston. I regret that, but I could not be other than what I was.

But he is someone I will and do always admire, and follow. He knows how to challenge and communicate.

He’s great.

And he would be the first to challenge that.

Because of Science. And its values. “Prove it,” I think he’d say.

This is much better than Religion, although those are my feelings and thoughts, not Dr Tyson’s.

“This is Science. It’s not something to toy with.”

All this is about people, and the human situation. Science is a means of getting beyond that.

“Recognize what Science is, and allow it to be and what it can be in the service of civilization.”

March for Science, Saturday, 22nd April 2017. Earth Day. I will be marching in Boston. And I will be doing it as a member of:

And, I believe, citizen scientists have a big role to play in the Science of now and of the future. And, yes, that’s a very real thing.

Update, 2017-04-21

It seems fitting to have another image of the Pale Blue Dot here, taken by JPL’s Cassini at Saturn, on 12th April 2017.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Bayesian, citizen data, citizen science, Climate Lab Book, Earth Day, ecological services, ecology, environment, Hyper Anthropocene, Neill deGrasse Tyson, Principles of Planetary Climate, rationality, Ray Pierrehumbert, reason, reasonableness, religion, science, science education, Science magazine, scientific publishing, secularism, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, United States, XKCD | Leave a comment

“Hadoop is NOT ‘Big Data’ is NOT Analytics”

Arun Krishnan, CEO & Founder at \mathbf{n!}\, Analytical Sciences comments on this serious problem with the field. Short excerpt:

… A person who is able to write code using Hadoop and the associated frameworks is not necessarily someone who can understand the underlying patterns in that data and come up with actionable insights. That is what a data scientist is supposed to do. Again, data scientists might not be able to write the code to convert “Big Data” into “actionable” data. That’s what a Hadoop practitioner does. These are very distinct job descriptions.

While the term analytics has become a catch-all phrase used across the entire value chain, I personally prefer to use it more for the job of actually working with the data to get analytical insights. That separates out upstream and downstream elements of the entire data mining workflow.

I have repeatedly observed practitioners and especially managers who treat — or would very much like to treat — tools and techniques from this area as if they were Magical Boxes, to which you can send arbitrary data and obtain wonderful results, like the elixir of the Alchemists. There is also a cynical aspect to the attitude of some managers — some seem indoctrinated by the old “Internet time“ and “agile sprint” notions — that if something does not show tangible and substantial progress over the short term (on the order of a week or two), there is something fundamentally wrong with the process. Sure, progress needs to be shown and reportable, but some problems, especially those involving data which are not obviously meaningful (*), demand a deep familiarization with the data and good deal of data cleansing (**). This is hard, especially when the data are large. And not all worthwhile problems can be solved in two weeks, even for a corporation. Consider the project and planning timelines which a Walt Disney Company does for their parks or a energy company like DONG does for their offshore wind projects.

This is unfortunate, and it is more than simply a matter of personal style. Projects which proceed with the magical thinking that the right tool or algorithm is going to solve all their issues typically fail, after expending large resources on computing assets, data licenses, and labor. When they do, they give analytics and “Big Data” a tarnished reputation, especially among upper management who blame and distrust new things rather than incompetent engineers or, perhaps, engineers without the integrity of explaining to their management that these tools have promise, but the project schedules for venturing into new sources of data are long, and best done with a very small team for the first portion.

In fact, one severe failing of the current suite of “Big Data” tools I see is that, while they are strong on certain modeling algorithms, and representational devices like Python panadas-esque and R-esque data frames, they offer little in the way of advanced data cleaning tools, ones which can marshall clusters to completely rewrite data in order for it to be useful for analysis and machine learning.

(*) Data which are obviously meaningful consist of self-evident records like purchasing transactions, or, as is increasingly less common, have records and fields documented carefully in a data dictionary. These have fallen out of fashion because of the NoSQL movement and I applaud the desire to push analysis and data sources beyond structured data offerings. However, just because an analytical can parse unstructured text does not mean it somehow automatically recovers meaning from that text. Indeed, what you have now, instead of structured data, is a problem in natural language processing, for which there are, indeed, excellent tools available, like Python’s nltk. But few people who embrace NoSQL know or use this kind of thing.

It is even harder to know what to do with semi-structured textual data, such as the headers of IETF RFC 2616. In these cases, while there is official guidance, there is no effective enforcement mechanism and, so, instances of these headers are, by the criteria of the RFC, malformed, even if there dialects in Internet communities which are self-consistent and practiced in breach of the RFC. The trouble is that, here, there is no computable definition of malformed, so what is meaningful is something which needs to be learned from the corpora available. This is not an easy task, and may be dependent not only upon the communities in question, but upon geographic origins and takeup, as well as Internet protocol and netblocks.

(**) There are plenty of examples of these in the single thread, single core world. There is, for instance, an open source version called OpenRefine.

Posted in alchemy, American Statistical Association, artificial intelligence, big data, data science, engineering, Internet, jibber jabber, machine learning, natural language processing, NLTK, sociology, superstition | Leave a comment

Global blinding, or Nature’s revenge against meteorologists who deny climate disruption

Given climate disruption due to radiative forcing from excess atmospheric CO2, which is a premise of this blog, it is only reasonable to wonder about, speculate, hypothesize, and posit that eventually the amount of this forcing and the feedbacks in terms of latent water vapor, latent heat, and excess energy in atmosphere begin to change the rules which both meteorological education and meteorological forecasting experience have learned over time. Whenever this occurs, and it seems it eventually must, forecasting skill of meteorologists will deteriorate, and this deterioration should be detectable.

I call this, for want of a better term, global blinding, and, whatever it is called, it will have consequences. These will be in preparedness for extreme events, for crop forecasts, for extended supply chains, and for retail markets, as well as for day-ahead forecasts for renewable energy. Until now, this has been a reasonable proposition and suspicion, albeit backed by Physics.

But today, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Association published a paper by Professor Kerry Emanuel of MIT titled “Will global warming make hurricane forecasting more difficult?” which documents, at least to my knowledge, the first instance of this global blinding, the inability to forecast at what might be the most important moment, at landfall, the onslaught a hurricane poses for a coast, due to global climate change and the radiative forcing to which I refer. Professor Emanuel is one of if not the worldwide expert on tropical storms.

This is deliciously ironic, for there is a small population of meteorologists who have made it their standard practice to deny climate disruption and humanity’s part in it. Unfortunately, there is a much larger population of meteorologists who understand the science, and whose skills are being also obsolesced by Nature, or, rather, what we are doing to its climate in our collective, and completely foolhardy experiment to see if we can survive burning all the the fossil fuels reasonably available on Earth.

But, to me, it entirely makes sense. Given the collective paleoclimatological evidence from the Paleogene, and a little knowledge of nonlinear dynamical systems, it seems strange to think that anyone who understands these matters would think their heuristics and experience would continue to apply in a world which is no longer as stable as it once was.

Posted in Accuweather, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, climate, climate business, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, climate justice, dynamical systems, Eaarth, environment, evidence, forecasting, games of chance, geophysics, global blinding, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, Kerry Emanuel, meteorological models, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, nonlinear systems, notes, oceanic eddies, oceanography, radiative forcing, Ricky Rood, science, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, theoretical physics | Leave a comment

The 1793 Fugitive Slave Act and Sanctuary Cities for Slaves in the United States

Interesting piece, from WBUR’s Cognescenti, about the town of Lowell, MA choosing to be a sanctuary city for slaves — in defiance of a standing federal law. That was followed in 1850 by the Fugitive Slave Law, which subjected state and local officials a then onerous $1,000 fine for failing to return a fugitive slave, and private citizens who aided fugitive slaves were potentially subject to 6 months in prison. Note how Massachusetts responded:

In 1855, in defiance of an updated federal Fugitive Slave Act that heavily favored slave holders, the Massachusetts state Legislature passed the Personal Liberty Act that guaranteed runaways various protections, including the right to a jury trial. The Act also made it difficult — and costly — for slave owners to prove their case in court. The slave-owning South was incensed.

Even if this and other laws like it were eventually ruled unconstitutional (in Priggs v. Pennsylvania), these were practices of civil disobedience mounted at the state and city level.

There is informal discussion available advocating that there is a legal category of being a citizen of a state in the United States but not of the United States federal government. See also. I do not know the legal depth, if any, of these arguments. I do know that certain states, including Massachusetts, have home rule provisions, but I do not think these have anything to do with their relationship to the central government.

(Please note that I am not an attorney and nothing written here should be taken as any kind of legal advice or counsel.)

See also a related article in Portside, and at The Atlantic. Note also articles from William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator.

Reverend Theodore Parker was charged with inciting an abolitionist riot in defiance of federal law. Reverend Parker wrote to President Millard Fillmore:

There hangs in my study … the gun my grandfather fought with at the battle of Lexington… and also the musket he captured from a British soldier on that day. If I would not peril my property, my liberty, nay my life to keep my parishioners out of slavery, then I should throw away these trophies, and should think I was the son of some coward and not a brave man’s child.

Reverend Parker was acquitted.

There’s also this, from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

IV.–The people of this Commonwealth have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not, or may not hereafter, be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America, in Congress assembled.

I added some emphasis there, but that’s pretty in-your-face to the federal government.

Or how about these?

VII.–Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; Therefore the people alone have an incontestible, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it.

XXIV.–Laws made to punish for actions done before the existence of such laws, and which have not been declared crimes by preceding laws, are unjust, oppressive, and inconsistent with the fundamental principles of a free government.

XXV.–No subject ought, in any case, or in any time, to be declared guilty of treason or felony by the legislature.

Of course that Constitution has a lot of odd parts, at least by today’s standards, e.g., Articles I, II, and III of selfsame Declaration of Rights of Inhabitants of the Commonwealth, but note this part of Chapter I, Section II, Article II:

… And to remove all doubts concerning the meaning of the word “inhabitant” in this constitution, every person shall be considered as an inhabitant, for the purpose of electing and being elected into any office, or place within this State, in that town, district, or plantation, where he dwelleth, or hath his home.

Posted in Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts, rights of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, United States, United States Constitution | Leave a comment

Taking advantage of the natural skepticism and integrity of scientists and their co-workers, and their commitment to scientific process

I’ve seen this. One can seldom discuss or debate a science denier, whether at (my) presentations at UUAC Sherborn or in many places online, without their employing moving the goalposts or, when they fail to response to an explanation, trotting out another objection. They also do it only in very public fora, whether major media outlets, like the New York Times or the Washington Post or on Ars Technica, not well known publicly, but where many skilled people in computing and information technology hang out. They never do it here, at my blog, possibly because of my track record in dealing with comments like that, and possibly because I just don’t get the traffic.

I think the same is true of publications in peer-reviewed science, touching upon climate. Groups are funded to advance various climate zombies in new guises, and this depletes and distracts efforts by climate scientists and their students who need to respond. It’s very interesting when, if one can, follow the funding sources for these efforts. The publications are seldom in major journals.

Of course now, with the new anti-scholar administration, the attack on funding sources is direct. I’m sure that not only will divisions and organizations having to do with Earth-based sciences within agencies be shut down, but grants for science pertaining to these fields will be forcibly cut.

But I never thought it would be otherwise,, and that’s why in part I have been so focussed on doing what’s needed.

Of course, now it’s necessary to turn attention, once more, away from the activities which are not likely to pay off in the near future, and back to doing sound science, despite what the Champions of Ignorance decide and achieve. I don’t need a grant to do what I do. I am not beholden to anyone for tenure. I work for industry, and they like me.

In your ear, West Wing, Pruitt, and Perry.

Sure, it’s their fault, primarily. But, too, I continue to blame each and every American who voted for them, and their pathological addiction to magical thinking. Quoting Dr Stenger from there:

You cannot use scare tactics with people, who won’t listen. Americans are narcissistic; to make changes, they have to see the advantages individually.

And I quote my personal assessment:

… Individualism in the United States has … triumphed over most other cultural values, at least since the 1980s. The icon of modern individualism is the so-called “smart phone”, and the iconic smart phone is the chic, sleek iPhone. It has extended to the point that some Americans feel if they cannot understand something technical immediately, it is the explainer’s fault or the fault of the material, and, so, they should not invest the effort trying to understand it. I personally trace this idea to a form of “magical thinking” where, since the theology of the Great Awakenings, “all that matters” is the relationship of the individual with a Personal, Divine Savior, and all understanding is unimportant except that relationship. I don’t want to pick on Personal Divine Saviors. People who place New Age crystals or Wicca preeminent are just as misguided. No doubt this practice by individuals distorts original meaning, but the effect is to bless the “gut feel” as being the paramount means of decision, whether in personal lives or polity, or choice of television program. The idea of extended preparation, the long study, the careful training is relegated to the Old Way, or extremely exceptional, or to unimportance in the “real world”. In this world, TV series and sports rule.

The notion extends to business as well, even technical fields, such as in many Web-based businesses where the ideal product is one which demands but an incremental change and brings large profits. Sure, it is sensible to pursue these when they arrive. But it is foolish and unrealistic to think most products will be of this kind, in the same manner that Garrison Keillor’s residents of Lake Wobegon believe “… all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Most products demand cultivation. Most technical products have, historically, demanded investment, development in proprietary circles, and ultimately release. Financial products may be an exception, but I won’t speculate upon the relationship between those and the movement to demand the same of technical companies.

Whether Americans believe it or not, this tendency to magical thinking or “wishful thinking” or “the triumph of hope over evidence” (*) puts them at a big disadvantage compared to people and countries that do not indulge in this. They think, for instance, that their military is better than anyone’s. Perhaps it is, but to the degree it relies upon technological prowess, that is a standard and a capability which is time-wasting. As the United States painfully learned in the 1950s, without a deep commitment to unfettered scientific research (**), such a lead leaves. And if another country captures it, they can counter us with less. We, as a country, used to believe in “military force multipliers.” I’m sure many professional military still do. But as the Ignorant New Champions of the country get to play out their wet dreams, these are very much at risk.

(*) Indeed, as you’ll from this blog’s description, opposing this is the primary purpose of my blog here.

(**) The sciences are both mutually interdependent and simply do not work well if they are directed. Findings in seemingly unrelated fields support and advance findings in others. I work on Internet data professionally, yet I find the biggest source of results and software and helpful work comes from biostatistics and ecology. Science is pretty much fumbling around in the dark, not so much to pursue things which will produce new products, or new drugs, or new technologies — although there’s more of the latter than the former two — as it is doing things to get a maximal return of insight and knowledge from as little investment as possible. This is not easy, and I daresay it doesn’t always work out as expected. Sometimes that’s a great thing.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, bridge to nowhere, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, climate disruption, climate economics, climate zombies, Daniel Kahneman, destructive economic development, engineering, ethics, evidence, force multiplier, George Sughihara, Humans have a lot to answer for, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, military inferiority, Minsky moment, organizational failures, Our Children's Trust, rationality, reasonableness, science, science denier, selfishness, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the stack of lies, the tragedy of our present civilization, United States | Leave a comment

Dedicated to Messrs Trump and Pruitt

Gentlemen: With appreciation for your plan to discourage all visitors to the United States. I applaud your determination.

Let’s go back to the 1950s, shall we?

Posted in ecology, pollution | Leave a comment

Is the answer to the democratization of Science doing more Citizen Science?

I have been following, with keen interest, the post and comment thread pertaining to “Democratising science” at the blog I monitor daily, … and Then There’s Physics. I think the core subject being discussed is a little different from my interest, but it’s all the same big ball of thread. I posted a very long, historically-oriented comment there, wondering and somewhat rhetorically asking what has changed in the United States to make its relationship with Science appear so different?

I write this hear to spare ATTP the need to moderating that additional discussion and because, frankly, it belongs here as a major and different new thesis.

I got into Science as an amateur. Sure, I had a big advantage, because my dad was a Professor of Chemistry at a small liberal arts college in New England. That gave me a mindset, somewhat offset by my parents’ fierce conservative Catholic views, and access to resources, such as a computer I could learn to program in FORTRAN while in Sixth Grade. Both the inevitable conflict between Science and conservative Catholicism and the access to computing dominated my life, in its search for values, and in the perspective I’ve had about almost everything.

But there was Astronomy, my first scientific love. It was neat: You could do it on your own, with a telescope, or someone else’s, and cameras, and even binoculars, and what you learned and gathered and saw was limited by your patience, in New England, your tolerance of cold winter nights with clear skies, and the book-learning you did about the sky, the stars, the constellations, the Main Sequence, spherical trigonometry, the Equation of Time, magazines, and from fellow enthusiasts, skywatchers, stories of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, telescope builders, and the similarly inclined. For those of us who found Mathematics intriguing, there was the inklings and draw of the mysterious Calculus. It was incredibly empowering for a young person, a nerd, to be able to understand these patterns in a Universe, most of which was so far away.

And then, NASA, and the exploration of near Earth space, and the Moon, and Mars, and spacecraft, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena …. I got reports about Surveyor III, complete with how these experiments were designed, how the arm spaces were mapped for sampling, how resistance and density in the soils of the Moon was measured by monitoring the back-EMF in the robotic arm used to trench on the surface, how non-orthogonal coordinate systems were natural, and not that intimidating.

And now, way off most people’s radar screens, there is this thing called citizen science. It’s this hobbyist science and the kinds of lyceum-oriented science I wrote about in my comment at ATTP, and it is turned into a real thing. That oughtn’t be surprising. Guy Stewart Callendar was a citizen scientist, even if he was a trained steam mechanisms engineer. Facts are, some people want to do science, and are willing to pay for the privilege and training. Some just devote their spare time, skills, and mind. In any case, it is a serious thing, despite some prejudice shown it by some professionals.

Now, I’m a practicing statistician. Professionally I work for Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, MA. My formal training is that of a software engineer (more than simply a title, with Dijkstra and Meyer as heroes), steeped in numerical analysis and quantitative methods, and that of a test engineer, by professional circumstance. That role led me to re-embrace and indulge in Statistics, which eventually became my life. Predominantly, although not entirely self-taught, I have served many clients and, if I were to identify what I do that brings them the most value, I’d say it is rigorous and unflinching integrity in sources and methods, as well as some facility with picking up applicable if new methods, and teaching their use.

However, outside of work, my biggest scientific and technical efforts lie in the support of furthering this citizen science, whether at the Azimuth Project, which, for other that the Azimuth Data Backup effort has been fairly peripheral, or trying to understand the fresh water hydrology of the Town of Sharon, Massachusetts, using time series of precipitation, well levels, water depths, and water flows in a clutch of areas streams. I have been grossly remiss in my pursuit of the latter, both to that project and to myself. It has not been without reason: Struggling to advocate for sensible energy policy in Massachusetts, educate locally on climate risk and disruption, helping to lead others in this direction, arguing for the moral imperative that climate mitigation deeply is.

But I am wrapping things up, and doing Science and Statistics in its support is the only sane thing I can do to respond to the utter craziness of policy erupting like the pus of a breached boil from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To the degree it pertains to my comment at ATTP, this article neatly sums up both, I think, the opportunities and the issues which might impeded democratization as a practical matter. Clearly, assessing and filtering results from the efforts of citizen scientists is valuable and even essential statistical effort and project, and everything I do from the data collected in support of Sharon’s water concerns is intended to further the efficacy of such contributions. But the deliberate and considered evaluation of methods for assessing citizen science inevitably draws attention, as Kosmala, Wiggins, Swanson, and Simmons point out in their article, to the variability and measurable subjectivity of professional scientific assessments, especially in the field. Part of the difficulty is that, for whatever reason, field scientists generally do not see the necessity of calibrating themselves, even if some of these have been done and reported.

Sure, professional science is indispensable, and the results from the hugely interdisciplinary field of Climate Science are indisputable, an “emerging scientific truth,” as Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson refers to them. But here are some observations:

  • A lot of Science is best learnt by doing, not merely studying.
  • Scientists teaching and working in the field is probably the best symbolic and practical way of breaking down barriers between concepts of Science as Ivory Tower, and Science as relating to Everybody.
  • The funding scene is such that, if citizen science can be exploited for scientific gain, everyone wins.
  • The prejudice in peer reviewed journals against research based upon data collected from teams of citizen scientists really needs to be revisited and highlighted. Sure, there’s every reason to be skeptical, and Statistics offers ways of assessing that. But don’t flinch if we statisticians ask the same from the professionals.
  • A person does not need to believe in something to be skilled in collecting useful and pertinent data. Accordingly, there’s a role for nearly everyone in the scientific enterprise, no matter what their views.
  • Science is a Big Tent. In fact, it’s probably the biggest tent there is. Doing it breaks down barriers. Doing it gives perspective. Doing it can be an almost Buddhist exercise.

So, my answer to scientific democratization is doing more citizen science, and encouraging the re-creation of lyceums and popular scientific societies.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, astronomy, astrophysics, biology, citizen data, citizen science, citizenship, data science, ecology, education, environment, evidence, life purpose, local self reliance, marine biology, mathematics, mathematics education, maths, moral leadership, new forms of scientific peer review, open source scientific software, science, science education, statistics, the green century, the right to know | Leave a comment

`Letter to Lamar Smith’

On Ed Hawkins’ blog.

The Committee on Science, Space & Technology of the US House of Representatives conducts regular evidence hearings on various science topics. On Wednesday 29th March, there is a hearing on “Climate science: assumptions, policy implications, and the scientific method”. The following letter, summarising the scientific findings of Fyfe et al. (2016) and Karl et al. (2015), has been submitted as evidence to this hearing.

The broader context is that the Committee Chairman, Mr. Lamar Smith, has previously discussed the findings of Fyfe et al. (of which I was a co-author), claiming: “A new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Nature, confirms the halt in global warming”. This statement is incorrect, and motivated the clarification on what Fyfe et al. actually says.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, anemic data, anomaly detection, Anthropocene, Ben Santer, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, BEST, carbon dioxide, changepoint detection, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, Climate Lab Book, climate zombies, dependent data, environment, fossil fuel divestment, geophysics, global warming, greenhouse gases, Humans have a lot to answer for, Hyper Anthropocene, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, meteorology, MIchael Mann, Our Children's Trust, physics, science, smoothing, statistical dependence, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, time series | Leave a comment

Chesterton’s fence, ecological sensitivity, and the disruption of ecological services

Hat tip to Matt Levine for introducing me to the term Chesteron’s fence:

Chesterton’s fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. …

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

[from G. K. Chesterton‘s 1929 book The Thing, in the chapter entitled “The Drift from Domesticity”].

That’s from Wikipedia. I think Mr Levine’s use of it is the flip of what it actually means.

To summarize: Put very simply: don’t destroy what you don’t understand.”

This sounds good, almost like the Precautionary Principle, but there are two points worth quibbling about:

  • What is the standard to achieve “understanding” sufficient to enable destruction of the fence? How does that get judged? Clearly, the answer is that it needs to be quantitatively done. That’s what math is for. I don’t think asking a bunch of people their opinion is a good way, which is why I dislike justifying climate change science using an opinion poll among scientists. Climate disruption is real because it’s very basic physics. Period.
  • The parable presumes that an overt action is the only way something can be destroyed. If water is slowly but constantly added to a tub, even if the tub has a huge capacity, it will someday overtop and flood, and the repercussions of that flood are not directly attributable to an event or action or decision to achieve those repercussions.

There’s a section I like from a textbook by M. W. Hirsch and S. Smale (Differential Equations, Dynamical Systems, and Linear Algebra, Academic Press, 1974), in their discussion of dynamical systems relating to competing species (Chapter 12, Section 3):

Note that both populations are positive at p. Suppose that some unusual event occurs, not accounted for by our model, and the state of the ecology changes suddenly from v_{0} to v_{1}. Such an event might be introduction of a new pesticide, importation of additional members of one of the species, a forest fire, or the like. Mathematically the event is a jump from the basin of p to that of (0, b).

Such a change, even though quite small, is an ecological catastrophe. For the trajectory of v_{1} has quite a different fate: it goes to (0, b) and the x species is wiped out!

Of course in practical ecology one rarely has Fig. H to work with. Without it, the change from v_{0} to v_{1} does not seem very different from the insignificant change from v_{0} to a state near v_{2}, which also goes to p. The moral is clear: in the absence of comprehensive knowledge, a deliberate change in the ecology, even an apparently minor one, is a very risky proposition.

[From page 273, emphasis added.]

That’s figure “Fig. H” from Hirsch and Smale, 1974, page 272. Explanatory annotations in red and green added by author of this blog. Click on image to see a larger figure, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.

A critical and pertinent point to this idea and the overflowing tub model mentioned above is strong evidence for systematic disruption of ecological services due to global environmental and climatic change which, in the words of author Raúl Ochoa-Hueso, “… higher-trophic-level organisms being more sensitive to disturbance due to more complex links with other ecosystem constituents.” Higher-trophic-level organisms is ecology-speak for creatures like us. Value of these services are known to be signficant, if imprecisely. While additional work is recommended, the practice has advanced sufficiently to be the basis of management policy. (If that link ever goes dead, you can retrieve a copy of the report here.) What’s clear, however, is that loudly blundering into the woods, stomping on everything in the way is rather unwise.

That’s from xkcd. I’ve referenced their work before.

Posted in dynamic generalized linear models, dynamical systems, ecological services, ecology, Ecology Action, mathematics, mathematics education, maths, XKCD | Leave a comment

The first really scary really stupid anti-science prospect from the Trumpistas

They want to shut down and defund DSCOVR:

DSCOVR’s cameras are intended to monitor changes in earth’s climate and weather patterns, from ozone and aerosols to temperature and deforestation. One of the scientists involved in developing the satellite told Air and Space Magazine that it would “be like having a thermometer for the whole planet.”

The Deep Space Climate Observatory is an American satellite that sits in a special orbit between the earth and the sun, about 1.5 million kilometers away from us. That distance allows it to capture unique images of the entire earth. Today, US president Donald Trump said he wants to shut down those cameras.

DSCOVR, as it is known, will still have a mission: Giving an early warning of solar weather events that could potentially cause damage back on earth, like power outages or interrupted communications.

But the satellite’s two other observation tools, one a camera that takes images across 10 different levels of the visual spectrum, the other a radiometer to measure radiation on earth, will apparently be shut off. (NASA hasn’t responded to a question about how, exactly, that would work.)

What you can see right now.

Their data portal.

This is nefarious because it is a step towards deliberately blinding the United States to data which could be used to monitor climate status, effectively destroying an incredibly expensive asset which takes essentially no money to operate. The only reason this kind of action would be pursued is entirely ideological. The resource is globally important, but it is so important that others will step in and provide the information, except, by all rights, they should sell that information to us.

I am not at all surprised, but I hoped this bunch of bumpkin yahoos would not go this far. And, despite protestations to the contrary, I blame this entirely on Americans who voted for and continue to support 45.

Postscript, 2017-03-17, 09:38 EDT

Upon further consideration, this attempt to shut down EPIC on DSCOVR is not as scary as it is just rock-dumb stupid.

First, DSCOVR cost $340 million to design, build, and launch, so, essentially, the Trumpistas are tossing that into the landfill. Moreover, it’s not like the science will stop. It’ll continue to be done by other countries, as mentioned above, and, as it turns out, by the United States, but using the much more expensive method of obtaining the same data by flying aircraft to collect it. The instrument costs less than $1 million a year to operate, extract and interpret the data, and archive it for public consumption.

Second, by looking to surgically remove this specific instrument, the Trumpistas and their allies like Imhofe have acknowledged not only the significance of climate change but the human responsibility for it. In fact, this action on its own, setting aside for the moment the many others this administration is pursuing, suggests the fossil fuel allies of Trump are terrified that their investments and time are at significant risk, and they are completely desperate to blind, interfere, and make difficult not only the climate science enterprise, but when, as Dr Stephen Chu says, “The [climate] s___ starts hitting the fan,” the ease with which fingers will be pointed at the fossil fuel industry, and people like Imhofe, not to mention Trump and company.

So, this is a kind of a victory … Somebody let the drunk junior high kids into the NASA control room, and they are going to trash the place. And, as I wrote above, it’s those somebodies who are responsible for this.

What does Trump think scientists are going to do? Beg?

Ah, yes, making America dumber again. Remember how they paid off in the 1950s with Sputnik? “Go ahead: Make my day.”

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, anti-science, astronomy, astrophysics, civilization, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, energy flux, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, obfuscating data, oceanography, radiative forcing, risk, science, science denier, Spaceship Earth, the problem of evil, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

Proud to be a member of the American Meteorological Society

(Click image to see a larger figure, and use your browser Back Button to return to blog.)

Here is the link to the AMETSOC official statement, cited in the letter. AMETSOC is hardly the only such professional scientific organization to do so.

I am also a proud member of the American Statistical Association, in fact, and of ESA and AAAS as well.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, atmosphere, being carbon dioxide, Bill Nye, Carbon Worshipers, climate, climate change, climate disruption, climate education, Climate Lab Book, David Archer, Donald Trump, ecology, environment, environmental law, geophysics, global warming, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, meteorological models, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, Our Children's Trust, Principles of Planetary Climate, Ray Pierrehumbert, science, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, The Weather Channel, The Weather Company | Leave a comment

Papers of the day

Tehran, Iran; Texas and Maryland, USA; Finland and Norway. Helsinki, Finland, Ospoo, Finland, and Oslo, Norway. Well, one out of three isn’t too bad.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, approximate Bayesian computation, Bayesian, civilization, computation, denial, education, engineering, evidence, free flow of labor, physics, science, science education, statistics | Leave a comment

Yes, I will be marching for Science in Boston

Like many, including Eli Rabett, I will be marching for Science in April, on Earth Day. My march will be part of the Boston march.


Because Science has been and is my life, and it always has been, and there is little else, apart from my relationships with those I love, which provides me as much meaning and purpose. No religion has ever provided that meaning, and no religion ever can.

And because it needs support.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, astronomy, astrophysics, Carl Sagan, climate, Climate Lab Book, ecology, Eli Rabett, engineering, fluid dynamics, geophysics, hydrology, marine biology, meteorology, physics, population biology, Principles of Planetary Climate, reason, science, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, theoretical physics, thermodynamics, WHOI, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, XKCD | Leave a comment

“Greenland, CO2, and more worries” (Jim White, 2017)

Posted in climate, climate disruption, dynamical systems, Hyper Anthropocene, Jim White | Leave a comment

A repost of some Laughin’ Fool Blues.

Link | Posted on by | Leave a comment

What I’m reading …


Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, ecology, economics, environment, ethics, evidence, humanism, Hyper Anthropocene, indigenous peoples, science, science education | Leave a comment

“Oh no, not again” (from ATTP)

Response to a paper by Hermann Harde, from Ken Rice at And Then There’s Physics.

Dr Rice cites two other responses as well:

I’ll add one of my own. Eli Rabett addressed Harde’s claims backin 2011. Moreover, Professor Ray Pierrehumbert himself posted a comment there regarding Harde’s work, on 3 May 2011, saying:

As David Benson kindly explains, all is explained in Chapter 4 of Principles of Planetary climate. I’ll also add (for people who want the 6-page version) that my Physics Today article is all the refutation Harde needs. The fact that the AIRS observed spectra of Earth’s outgoing radiation exactly matches the computation done by the line-by-line code (which in turn validates the band-averaged codes used in GCMs) makes it impossible that Harde’s calculation can be right. If he thinks he has a case, he has to show that he can reproduce the AIRS spectra — also the similar CO2 features one sees in the Mars TES observations, etc.


The Harde paper and work confuse what you’d see if you were riding on a particular CO2 molecule with what’s the average CO2 concentration in atmosphere and other reservoirs. One might go out of atmosphere to a reservoir, but there’s another from that or another reservoir to take its place. It makes several other mistakes as Drs Rice and Schmidt indicate. Can’t get a handle on any of this without looking at the entire Carbon Cycle. Harde has a picture of the reservoirs in his paper, but makes a mistake in his equation “(8).” I don’t think he cares. His major point is to rebutt IPCC assertions, not illuminate science. The IPCC does not do original science. Harde’s criticisms should have been directed at the original works from which these IPCC presentations were derived. Had he done so, his paper would probably not have been accepted, because those original works have long been accepted and used. We’ll see what happens with his paper in the sequel, but it’s somewhat of a mystery how this stuff gets out there, or why. (Well, maybe the why is not so difficult to understand …)


The above is a reproduction of Figure 3 from C. Le Quéré, et al, “Global Carbon Budget 2016,” Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 8, 605–649, 2016.

This kind of thing is why, unfortunately or not, the general public cannot be expected to understand these questions without a good grounding in science and what are, perhaps, the less popular fields, like physics and some maths. The courtroom or Congressional committee techniques of stacking up supposed experts does not work here(*).

(*) Actually, some statisticians have found courtrooms to be wanting as means of ascertaining truth, too.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, atmosphere, being carbon dioxide, Carbon Cycle, carbon dioxide, chemistry, climate, climate disruption, climate education, Climate Lab Book, David Archer, diffusion, diffusion processes, fossil fuels, geophysics, Global Carbon Project, greenhouse gases, ignorance, physics, Principles of Planetary Climate, Ray Pierrehumbert, science, science education | Leave a comment

On engaging with science denial

(Updated, Tuesday, 21st February 2017)

I have, over time, engaged with quite a few science deniers, primarily on the issue of abrupt climate change, its human origin, and options for curtailing it. Note I specify abrupt climate change because, while climate does change over the long eons of geological history, what is of interest to humanity is major change on the scale of generations of people. That rate of change is rare in geologic history, even if it has happened before.

I also engage with people who misrepresent renewables energy technology, principally wind and solar, but that matter is a concern for elsewhere. Readers of this blog have seen plenty of my opinion and writings about that.

Ironically, the job of dealing with climate and science deniers has gotten much easier of late, because, simply, they are so ridiculous and adamant, possibly because they feel empowered by the Ignoramus-in-Chief occupying the West Wing and his minions.


First, they have transitioned and moderated their opinions. While there are some who continue to proclaim that there is no climate change occurring, this is an increasingly rare opinion. It is increasingly rare, because it is increasingly indefensible, even over the short term. People can believe their eyes.

Second, denier opinions have then transformed to: (1) climate changes on its own over time, and this time is judge another one of those; (2) it is changing, but there is no credible evidence people have anything to do with it; (3) it is changing but it will be good for us; and (4), per Rex Tillerson, it is changing, and the change will do harm, but we need lots of (fossil fuel) energy, so we’ll just need to deal with it as “an engineering problem.” Whichever.

Third, there is the set of people who misdirect, claiming that none of the, in their words, so-called science can be trusted, because the outcome is the necessity of a “command economy,” and that is unacceptable, so the science cannot be true. Apart from the fact that this is a rhetorical fallacy called argumentum ad consequentiam, or “appeal to consequences,” it is not at all clear that a “command economy” is the proper tool for dealing with mitigating climate change. Steep carbon taxes seem to be favored by economists, and these are probably more efficient.

Fourth, recommendations by scientists regarding the urgency of mitigating climate change through emissions reductions have been ignored (in the United States) for fifty years. The United States and the world has continued to emit during that time. Indeed, emissions have greatly increased. Consequences of emissions are beginning to be felt. Our scientific understanding of the processes have been improved. Nevertheless, in the United States, in both major political parties, climate change and its consequences is not taken with the seriousness and severity it deserves to be taken. So, there are and will be consequences. Despite other serious problems posed by the Trump administration, it is unlikely a Clinton administration would have done anything seriously enough to achieve where the United States needs to go on climate change mitigation through emissions reduction, if only because she would have had a hostile Congress.

So, while I will point out facts about climate change to science deniers, and point out the costs of both inaction, and of trying to reverse the situation should they be wrong (*), in the end I declare something similar to the following:

You are doing the experiment, so it does not matter whether you believe the outcome will be one way or not. I know what the outcome will be, as do most scientists, but if you don’t accept it, that’s really not my problem. What is your problem is to consider that, if you are wrong, who will help you fix it, how will you fix it, and where will you get the astronomical sums of money needed to pay for the fix? If you shut down climate science, and funding for scientists, at NASA, EPA, and NOAA, and elsewhere, you’ll be pushing this talent and knowledge out of the country or into private industry. You’ll have no touchstone for where you are, and, if/when things begin to happen, you’ll not know why, or how to begin to address it, in the short term or the long term.

(The text below was updated with a footnote.)

So, I say, go ahead: I do not care. You’ll see soon enough what your denial of scientific reality will lead you. And, I’ll laugh and laugh at your loss of wealth, and the harm that will come to you and your children and your companies (**). And I’ll cry for the millions of innocents who are harmed by your folly and evil and greed, even if they had nothing to do with the cause. That’s okay: I am not a Christian or a theist. I am a physical materialist. I associate with a Unitarian Universalist congregation, which “Stands on the side of love,” but, as the Reverend Fred small says, loving sometimes means being justifiably very angry. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote and spoke, “Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none.”

Justice is not simply something that history arcs towards. It is written into the very fabric of the physical universe. And violations of balance, of sustainability, of fairness bring with them their own penalties. Natural justice will be seen. It will be violent. It will be overwhelming. It will be completely and entirely deserved.

So, go on. You bore me with your foolishness.


(*) And, no, there is no technology in the future that can improve this, even if it reduces the costs of removing CO2 from atmosphere by a thousand times, Mr Tillerson.

(**) (Update, 21st February 2017) When I have written “I’ll laugh and laugh at your loss of wealth, and the harm that will come to you and your children and your companies” elsewhere, I have been criticized for being heartless and too absorbed in this issue to have perspective, or be willing to discuss this. I feel I have plenty of justification for my attitude and remark, especially here, where I follow that with “I’ll cry for the millions of innocents who are harmed by your folly and evil and greed, even if they had nothing to do with the cause.” However, readers should know that, to people familiar with the scale of the excess energies involved, driven by the excess 4-5 W/m2 that atmospheric greenhouse gases are providing, should not underestimate the severity and scale of the threat. That position might be considered “alarmist” by some, but by some fraction of the scientists who know these matters, it is isn’t extreme enough, because the standard telling discounts innumerable feedbacks which each have the potential of amplifying forcing, and causing it to run away. There is a big feedback, well known, already: Water vapor. A warmer atmosphere holds more, and water vapor is itself an extremely potent greenhouse gas, even if it condenses when it reaches sufficient height and sufficiently low temperatures, unlike, for instance CO2

As for the “laugh and laugh” part, well before the Age of Trump, particularly during the Age of Tillerson at Exxon, when Exxon was (still?) funding climate denial, climate scientists were receiving death threats and threats against their families. A reader need only read the comments section at Amazon for Stephen Schneider’s Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate or especially Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines and the material in these books to see the level of hatred and violence and threat marshalled against normally mild-mannered, intellectual geophysicists and glaciologists. This is why the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was founded.

When Trump was elected, I saw science deniers write comments about how all scientists having anything to do with climate research would be rounded p and convicted en masse of treason. At least I am only laughing. But readers and deniers should know that, as in the case of use of nuclear weapons, the primary segment of the population which will be hurt by all of this will be children. This is why James Hansen is so supportive of Our Children’s Trust. And all this, despite availability of easy-to-read and clear online documents detailing how this all was discovered and how long ago, or a history of the science.

I have considered this all a long time, and I am increasingly of the conviction that climate disruption as a concept not only challenges many Americans on economic and political grounds, that is, what they imagine will be needed to address the global problem were it, to them, real, but that they are running away from guilt. Embracing the reality and threat of climate change means their comfort and wealth is primarily the cause of the upcoming suffering and pain of the rest of the globe, and that is simply inconsistent with their world view and the view of themselves.

Unfortunately, however way you look at it, this is correct and true.

While I and my family have benefitted from all this as well, readers of this blog know that we are doing everything possible to rectify our hurt of the climate, from having a zero Carbon house, to selling our Disney Vacation Club membership because we cannot see flying for something as frivolous as vacation to be warranted, as well as having some concern about the near-to-mid-term value of those properties, primarily because of salt water intrusion in Florida. We campaign and push our neighbors, our towns, to work towards lowering their emissions — hopefully someday zeroing them. And we work to prepare them for the consequences of climate disruption which will be here sooner than many imagine.

It is my fervent hope that we can limit the damage to what we’ve bought into as of today. But we’ve known 50 years, certainly 20-30 years, and have, as a globe and as the American people, done very little. There is quite little to expect rationally. Sure, renewables will eventually dominate. But we are treading on Nature’s schedule, not the schedule of economies. And there is a chunk of climate damage committed to and is irreversible, with much, much more to come if we do not rapidly go to zero emissions.

It does not help when people frame climate science as some kind of political movement. And, if they do, I will, as I wrote, laugh at them when they personally suffer from their foolishness, for the same reason why one laughs at a schlemiel. (Think George Constanza.) Because those who do, are.

Posted in Anthropocene, climate change, climate disruption, Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, climate zombies, denial, George Constanza, Hyper Anthropocene, liberal climate deniers, MIchael Mann, personal purity, Stephen Schneider | 1 Comment

Important update on my relationship with Dana-Farber and its Jimmy Fund Walk

See an important update.

No more walk.

I completely misjudged them.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A new feature: Technical publications of the week

I’m beginning a new style of column, called technical publications of the week. While I can’t promise these will be weekly, I will, from time to time, highlight technical publications I’ve recently read which I consider to be noteworthy. I am going to read them all again.

My professional emphasis, recently, for Akamai Technologies, has been on the plethora of adaptions of random projection methods (see also), generally based upon direct application of the Johnson-Lindenstrauss lemma or its several improvements. Many of these are collected under the rubric of locality sensitive hashing or LSH.

A first paper is called Earthquake detection through computationally efficient similarity search, and is by C. E. Yoon, O. O’Reilly, K. J. Bergen, and G. C. Beroza, and appeared in 2015 in Science Advances. It also has supporting online material. Using a technique for audio fingerprinting by Baluja and Covell, the authors develop fingerprints for earthquakes and convert these to signatures using LSH. These were used to assess classification accuracy of uncatalogued and catalogued earthquakes relative to a manually identified set for the Calaveras Fault in California, comparing performance to that obtained through the well-known but slower and more computationally expensive technique of autocorrelation, as well as the catalogue.

Yoon, O’Reilly, Bergen, and Beroza report very promising results, despite the great reduction in computation needed. Of greater interest to me is fitting the LSH into a larger signal processing task, including prefiltering and then interpreting results afterwards. They document the progress of a canonical data science project, offering the finished product, but strongly suggesting the pitfalls and backtracking they needed to undertake to bring it to success. That kind of experience is instructive for both students of data science, and the managers that expect results from these investigations.

Second, two papers applying LSH to health-related time series, with nice discussion of engineering tradeoffs for these applications:

Third, a paper, C. Luo, A. Shrivastava, “SSH (Sketch, Shingle, & Hash) for indexing massive-scale time series,” NIPS Time Series Workshop 2016, which offers an LSH-derived technique for preconditioning problems of time series comparison and lookups using dynamic time warping resulting in a net improvement of speed.

Fourth, not a paper, but an interview, from Dr Stephen Chu:

Posted in Anthropocene, big data, climate change, climate disruption, data science, data streams, earthquakes, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, Locality Sensitive Hashing, LSH, MinHash, numerical algorithms, numerical analysis, random projections, seismology, subspace projection methods, SVD, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets | 1 Comment

Zeke Hausfather regarding Baselines and Buoys

Zeke Hausfather at And Then There’s Physics regarding Baselines and Buoys.


Posted in American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, anomaly detection, Anthropocene, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, BEST, climate, climate data, climate zombies, denial, geophysics, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, NOAA, oceanography | Leave a comment

Ductless Minisplits in Blizzard, 2017-02-09

(Updated, 11th February 2017, 16:15 EST)

We heat and cool our home with Fujitsu `ductless minisplit` air source heat pumps. But this is New England, and it’s winter. A common question is how do they do under winter conditions?

Well, today we are treated to the increasingly rare Massachusetts blizzard, a nor’easter:
(You can see much larger versions of these images by clicking on them,
 then using your browser Back Button to return to this blog.


The storm producing this looks like this in EarthWinds:

It’s fed by excessively warm and moist conditions off the Northeast coast, themselves due to radiative forcing from fossil fuel emissions:

We have three minisplits. They are working fine. During a blizzard a little care needs to be taken to be sure snow does not pile up and cover the fan or the vanes which do the heat exchange, and sometimes these need to be brushed off. However, if the splits are operating at full, their built-in defrost does a pretty good job of taking care of this. They’ll continue to operate down to about -15℃ whereupon the heat pump will simply shut down. Below -12℃, efficiency drops markedly. This is a rare event, and is becoming increasingly rare. Right now, it’s about -8℃.

Should that occur, we crank up our now-off-and-orphaned oil furnace for the short time we need it, and shut it down when reasonable temperatures return.

And, should power from the grid go off — the power we’ve sent them during generation by our solar panels for the remainder of the year — our backup emergency propane generator kicks in, and can power essential elements of our house, including the oil furnace, but not the minisplits. Again that is a very rare event.

The generator (above) also needs snow kept clear from it.

By the way, here’s another shot of our beloved Rock Meadow Brook marsh, replete with Canada Geese, sheltering, and occasionally erupting in a burst of honks.




Update, 2017-02-11, 16:15 EST

The photos above were taken just at the beginning of the blizzard. It’s good to have an after-the-fact set to compare, and to illustrate a feature of the Fujitsu minisplits. Here they are in their post-blizzard conditions.


Now, the heat exchange on the ductless minisplits happens when air passes over a fine array of thin fins at the backs of the units. The fans in the front draw air across the fins, and either heat is dumped into the air, for cooling, or extracted from the air for heating, as now. The feature of air source heat pump technology is that this heat can be extracted down to the -15℃ temperature mentioned above. All air temperature have some heat in the air, and it has nothing at all to do with differential temperature between the interior of the house and the outside.

However, in the case of inclement frosty weather, it is possible for snow to build up on these fins, interfering with their ability to exchange heat. Accordingly, because the Fujitsu units are designed to operate under such conditions, when it is present, they undergo a periodic defrost. You can see such frost on the fins of minisplit number 3:


I was fortunate enough to be outside when a defrost began on unit 3, and you can see the ice melting and puddling below the unit here:
Click on the image to see a close-up. (Use your browser Back Button to return to the blog.)

Minisplits 1 and 2 had already gone through such a defrost, and their fins were clear:




Naturally, this costs energy — electrical energy — but over the year it is not needed very often, and, so, the efficiency of the heat pumps, averaged over the year, remains a big win. Here’s a report from Sisler Builders in Vermont regarding their experiences.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Anthropocene, atmosphere, attribution, being carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide, CleanTechnica, climate, climate change, climate disruption, demand-side solutions, efficiency, global warming, Hyper Anthropocene, marginal energy sources, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, meteorological models, meteorology, National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, New England, NOAA, nor'easters, oceanic eddies, oceanography, open data, open source scientific software, risk, the right to know, water vapor | Leave a comment

Net energy consumption at Westwood Studios, after solar generation, with zero Carbon house, and, now, Chevy Volt

I don’t have time to offer much in the way of explanation or comments here, but here’s the status of consumption per day, in Kilowatt-hours.

Update: I should have provided some context.


(Click on image to see a larger figure, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

Note that Eversource still owes us money:

And we’ve also earned by selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (“SRECs”):

SRECs, by the way, were conceived by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Update, 2017-02-09: Google Earth images our solar panels

This is from May of 2016.


Posted in adaptation, American Solar Energy Society, Anthropocene, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, bridge to somewhere, Buckminster Fuller, clean disruption, CleanTechnica, decentralized electric power generation, decentralized energy, demand-side solutions, distributed generation, efficiency, electricity, electricity markets, energy utilities, green tech, Hermann Scheer, Hyper Anthropocene, investment in wind and solar energy, ISO-NE, local generation, local self reliance, microgrids, Sankey diagram, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the energy of the people, the green century, the value of financial assets, Tony Seba, zero carbon | Leave a comment


Painted signage on the side of a delivery truck parked outside a neighbor’s home deliverying oil made me curious about this, so I checked out their Web site.

Here is what I found:
(To see larger figure, click on image and user browser Back Button to return to blog.)

I have heavily censored the image from the page to leave out the company name and trademarked references to products, and I will not provide a direct link to the Web site.

Note in particular the need for a reader of the page to be careful and critical with its statements:

  • “A mixture of heating oil and biofuels …” While the proportion is not specified, the advert later appeals to the language of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Biofuels Act to suggest there is 5% biofuel in this product. A search on the Web for the product, which unfortunately I cannot link, again to protect a trademark, indicates there are three grades of this product, and the highest grade has no more than 20% biofuel.
  • “… [I]s chock full of benefits! … [M]ade from soybeans (and other renewable resources) …” Blather.
  • It … significantly reduces particulates and greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Sorry, this is a flat out lie. It’s oil. It cannot. Even natural gas is cleaner.
  • “… [I]s extremely pleased to deliver this environmentally-friendly product to you.” No doubt.

What’s next? Environmentally friendly DDT?

Posted in Anthropocene, being carbon dioxide, biofuels, bridge to nowhere, carbon dioxide, clean disruption, CleanTechnica, climate business, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, economics, energy, environment, false advertising, fossil fuels, global warming, greenhouse gases, greenwashing, Hyper Anthropocene, regulatory capture, rhetoric, sociology, supply chains, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

`Environmental science in a post-truth world’ (Lubchenco and Kammen)

Jane Lubchenco is a Professor at Oregon State University, and was administrator of the U.S. NOAA from 2009 through 2013, the U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean at the State Department from 2014 to 2016, and the president of the Ecological Society of America from 1992 to 1993. She recently wrote about her current perspectives on environmental science. Here are excerpts.

… Just when, thanks in part to US leadership, the world finally began to make tangible progress in addressing climate change, the US elected a President who labeled climate change a hoax and whose Cabinet nominees leave little doubt that climate denial will continue. Equally problematic are the blatant disregard of facts and lack of respect for others and for civil discourse that were painfully evident in the US elections and around the world. So pervasive was the dismissal of “truth” that the Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 “Word of the Year”, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”

[T]ake heart! I believe we can rise to this occasion with the boldness, energy, and creativity it demands. Not in a knee-jerk fashion, but one that responds to some of the underlying causes of our current dilemma. We must engage more vigorously with society to address the intertwined environmental and social problems that many have ignored, to find solutions, and to help create a better world. We must truly listen to and address the reasons why a post-truth world has emerged.But we cannot do so from lofty perches above society; we must be more integrated into society. It is no longer sufficient for scientists in academia, government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or industry to conduct business as usual. Today’s challenges demand an all-hands-on-deck approach wherein scientists serve society in a fashion that responds to societal needs and is embedded in everyday lives. Humility, transparency, and respect must characterize our interactions.

Dan Kammen of U.C. Berkeley says more along these lines:

Posted in Akaike Information Criterion, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, being carbon dioxide, Buckminster Fuller, climate, climate change, coastal communities, coasts, ecological services, ecology, environment, environmental law, evidence, global warming, Humans have a lot to answer for, Hyper Anthropocene, ignorance, Jane Lubchenco, marine biology, mass extinctions, population biology, population dynamics, quantitative biology, quantitative ecology, risk, science, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, T'kun Olam, temporal myopia, the tragedy of our present civilization | Leave a comment

A letter to 45

I received a link to this letter regarding the 27th January 2017 White House Executive Order on visas and immigration from the American Meteorological Society. I am also a member of the American Statistical Association, the Ecological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Except for the IEEE, which is still trying to figure out what to do, each of these organizations signed this letter. [Added 2017-02-02.] The IEEE issued a separate statement later.

See below.






Update, 2017-02-02

And, the IEEE chimes in:

IEEE President Karen Bartleson today released the following statement in response to concerns expressed by IEEE members around the world:

“IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Incorporated, believes that governments of all countries must recognize that, in a world of increasing global connectivity, science and engineering are fundamental enterprises, for which openness, international collaboration, and the free flow of ideas and talented individuals are essential to advancement.

“Every country benefits from attracting, and competing for, the best and brightest scientists and engineers from around the world to study, teach, conduct and collaborate on research, innovate new technologies, and start commercial endeavors. Science and engineering lead to enhancements in quality of life and ultimately build economic prosperity and security. All countries should develop and maintain immigration and visa policies that encourage, facilitate, and protect the ability of people, from around the world, to engage in these types of science and engineering activities.

“Diversity is an important and valued strength; IEEE is committed to the realization and maintenance of an environment in which scientists and engineers, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or nationality, have the right to pursue their careers without discrimination. Science, engineering — and humanity — prosper where there is freedom of movement, association, and communication.”

Posted in Adam Smith, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, citizenship, compassion, criminal justice, Donald Trump, economics, education, evidence, fear uncertainty and doubt, free flow of labor, Joseph Schumpeter, politics, the value of financial assets | Leave a comment

`Message from Sally Yates to Justice Department lawyers before she was fired’

The story.

On January 27, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries. The order has now been challenged in a number of jurisdictions. As the Acting Attorney General, it is my ultimate responsibility to determine the position of the Department of Justice in these actions. My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just. Similarly, in litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful. Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired on 30th January 2017. I applaud her.

Posted in atheism, Donald Trump, dump Trump, ethical ideals, justice, secularism, UU, UU Humanists | Leave a comment

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, in association with ClimateMirror

(Updated the afternoon of 31st May 2017.)

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, operating in association with ClimateMirror, is being funded via the Kickstarter available at this link.

Give what you can. Thanks!

See our goal statement.

This is all about The Right to Know.


More coverage at Climate Denial Crock of the Week.


Why 2.0.

Why 3.0.

Update, 2017-01-20, 14:59 EST

All references to `climate change’ have been removed from the Web site of The White House.

Update, 2017-01-20, 18:11 EST


Also see an article in MIT’s Technology Review.

Update, 2017-01-20, 21:19 EST

An article in The New York Times.

Update, 2017-01-25, 0102 EST

“Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources”

We are now in active Internet information war.

Update, from 0400, 25th January 2017

From Reuters (hat tip to Benjamin Rose):

Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website, two agency employees told Reuters, the latest move by the newly minted leadership to erase ex-President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.

The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA’s communications team to remove the website’s climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.

The sources asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

A Trump administration official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The order comes as Trump’s administration has moved to curb the flow of information from several government agencies who oversee environmental issues since last week, in actions that appeared designed to tighten control and discourage dissenting views.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

The page includes links to the EPA’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, which contains emissions data from individual industrial facilities as well as the multiagency Climate Change Indicators report, which describes trends related to the causes and effects of climate change.

Update, 2017-01-25, 14:45 EST: We mattered

EPA staff told to ‘stand down’ on axing climate page

See also the reports of an underground EPA.

(Click image for a larger picture. Use browser Back Button to return to blog.)
Hat tip to Climate Denial Crock of the Week for image.

Update, 2017-01-03

We have our first evidence of Web site alteration, at the EPA.

Also, here are links to some recent articles about this effort and its context:

Hat tip to Professor John Baez.

Update, 2017-05-31

Astronomer Elizabeth Griffin offers another set of reasons why old data should be rescued, including citing modern processes for loss which have little to do with having Reactionaries in power.

Posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, citizen science, civilization, climate, climate change, climate data, climate disruption, climate education, climate justice, Climate Lab Book, cynicism, denial, Donald Trump, education, EIA, ethics, evidence, fear uncertainty and doubt, forecasting, fossil fuels, Global Carbon Project, global warming, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, NASA, NOAA, open data, open source scientific software, rationality, reason, reasonableness, risk, science, science denier, science education, smart data, statistics, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, UU, ``The tide is risin'/And so are we'' | 3 Comments

Gas leaks along the pathway of the newly built West Roxbury Lateral transmission line

(This blog post was updated 19th January 2017 with a correction to the interpretation of the leak data. The correction was offered by Professor Phillips. The blog author is responsible for the original misunderstanding. Apologies for any inconvenience.)

The West Roxbury Lateral (“WRL”) has long been the subject of protest, opposition, and conflict regarding the roles of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, in providing electrical energy and heat to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Well, Professor Nathan Phillips of Boston University who has had a major role mapping natural gas leaks in pipes in Boston has recently imaged a portion of the newly built WRL, this part at its entry into the Town of Dedham. He has produced the following image, and released it on Twitter:

(Click on image to see a larger picture, and use your browser Back Button to return to blog.)

Note the figure does not show the amounts quantitatively, but clearly as the pipeline goes on to the east, the baseline leakage tracing its path is “normal.” The leaky section clearly is not.

Professor Phillips submitted the following comment regarding this data:

I just have one clarification, which is that we aren’t making the claim that the WRL pipeline itself is leaking, but that there are leaks along its route, likely from the existing low pressure distribution system. But we don’t know for sure. The issue is that there is new pavement and sidewalks overlying old leaking pipes – a huge wasted opportunity and already, a new roadway is punctured by patches.

And he offered this record of the data gathering:

This is the route of a brand new transmission pipeline, which only went into service a month ago or less. As Professor Phillips says this was a “missed opportunity“ because, while the trench was open, the companies should have taken the opportunity to repair existing pipelines.

Posted in anomaly detection, Anthropocene, bridge to nowhere, corporate litigation on damage from fossil fuel emissions, energy utilities, environment, ethics, evidence, explosive methane, fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil fuels, gas pipeline leaks, greenhouse gases, Hyper Anthropocene, methane, Nathan Phillips, natural gas, networks, pipelines, public utility commissions, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, ``The tide is risin'/And so are we'' | Leave a comment