Nathan Wolfe’s jungle search for viruses | Video on TED.com (Why it’s important to beat H1N1, now)

November 29, 2009

Here’s Nathan Wolfe explaining how viruses work, quickly and at a high enough level to be entertaining, and explaining why we need to worry about H1N1.

more about “Nathan Wolfe’s jungle search for viru…“, posted with vodpod

Wolfe also explained a lot at the TED Blog:

Take us back a step or two: How did swine flu enter into the human population?

Swine flu has been known since at least the early part of the 20th century, since the 1930s. It was originally a virus of bird origin — all influenza viruses were originally bird viruses — and it probably spread to humans before it was in pigs.

Now, we still haven’t received definitive information on the underlying genetics of this particular virus. But initial reports suggest that it may be what’s known as a “mosaic virus,” which includes components of swine influenzas, bird influenzas and human influenzas. A cosmopolitan virus like that wouldn’t be unprecedented. (Editor’s Note: see Joe DeRisi’s 2006 TEDTalk for more on state-of-the-art virus detection.)

But in any case, this is a virus that appears to come from pigs, and pigs in close proximity spread the flu in much the same way that humans do — coughing, sneezing, and so on. The virus probably initially entered into human populations through people who work with livestock.

Is swine flu here to stay?

Whether this particular virus will sustain itself and become a permanent part of the human landscape is unclear, but that’s certainly what we’re watching for. As it is, the virus may just disappear because of the weather; summers aren’t good for flu viruses.

So this heat wave is working in our favor?

It might be. The virus has had a good start, from the flu perspective, considering that this is really the end of the season. But the unseasonably hot weather may bode poorly for this virus’ potential to establish itself definitively and cause a pandemic. Had this happened in September or October, it would be much more concerning.

Having said that, it’s not impossible that a virus like this might “go into hiding” — in the southern hemisphere or the tropics — and might come to light again next year. So there will be a lot of discussion about expanding the fall flu vaccine to try to control it next cycle.

Is it really possible for us to prevent future outbreaks like this?

Yes, I believe it is. We spend tons of money trying to predict complex phenomena like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. There’s no reason to believe that a pandemic is harder to predict than a tsunami. And we’d be foolish not to include forecasting and prevention as part of our overall portfolio to fight these pandemics.

More resources:

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Time to start making huge stone heads

November 29, 2009

Well, maybe not yet.

But consider Jared Diamond’s 1997 essay in Discover:

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?

Among the most riveting mysteries of human history are those posed by vanished civilizations. Everyone who has seen the abandoned buildings of the Khmer, the Maya, or the Anasazi is immediately moved to ask the same question: Why did the societies that erected those structures disappear?

Diamond’s essay appears in different, and longer form (as I recall) as a chapter in his book Collapse.  That book is all about why civilizations collapse.

A lot of it boils down to wasting of resources.  Easter Island had not always been the grass-only rock with just a couple of thousand people clinging to a desperate existence, as Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen found it on Easter Sunday, 1722 (April 5).  When the ancestors of the tiny population found the island, it had forests, and probably animals, and rich enough resources to support a larger population.

Until they deforested it, hunted to near extinction every animal that couldn’t escape, and caused the collapse of their own civilization.

Is this an analogy for what humans are doing to the planet now with pollution, especially atmospheric-warming air pollution?

Diamond concluded his essay:

I suspect, though, that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper. After all, there are those hundreds of abandoned statues to consider. The forest the islanders depended on for rollers and rope didn’t simply disappear one day-it vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation. Our Pacific Northwest loggers are only the latest in a long line of loggers to cry, “Jobs over trees!” The changes in forest cover from year to year would have been hard to detect: yes, this year we cleared those woods over there, but trees are starting to grow back again on this abandoned garden site here. Only older people, recollecting their childhoods decades earlier, could have recognized a difference. Their children could no more have comprehended their parents’ tales than my eight-year-old sons today can comprehend my wife’s and my tales of what Los Angeles was like 30 years ago.

Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.

By now the meaning of Easter Island for us should be chillingly obvious. Easter Island is Earth writ small. Today, again, a rising population confronts shrinking resources. We too have no emigration valve, because all human societies are linked by international transport, and we can no more escape into space than the Easter Islanders could flee into the ocean. If we continue to follow our present course, we shall have exhausted the world’s major fisheries, tropical rain forests, fossil fuels, and much of our soil by the time my sons reach my current age.

Resources:

Jared Diamond in a 2003 appearance at TED:


No health insurance: Can you look this man in the eye and tell him you want to let him die?

November 29, 2009

Our National Conscience, Nicholas Kristof asked the question in his column a week ago:  Are we going to let John die?

45,000 Americans die each year because of a lack of health insurance.  What do you think:  Should we allow John to die?

Which system saves John’s life, “socialism,” or “free enterprise?”

Here, you can help:

UPDATE: Several readers have asked how they can help or if there is a fund to help John. There isn’t any such fund, but with John and Esther’s permission I’m posting their mailing address: John and Esther Brodniak, 770 W Main St., Sheridan, OR 97378.

Check Kristof’s blog for more details, and nearly 400 comments.

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Starlings of climate change denial do about-face on data-corruption and fraud

November 29, 2009

Funny.  Zumwalt never complained when the data-corruption and fraud were all on the denialists’ side.

I am reminded that, as of the end of November 2009, there are incredibly few science papers (see CCPO’s note) — meaning papers based on research, published in peer-review journals — which make any case contrary to global warming occurring, nor even against the link that much of current warming is caused by human activities.

Under softball rules, the game would have been called against denialists long ago.  Now they want to claim victory on a disqualification, when they violated that rule with gusto through the entire game so far?


Good excuse to get to Houston: QWERTY, a typewriter exhibt at the Museum of Printing History

November 28, 2009

Well, yeah, its that kind of quirky museum you love — one topic, so you know the kind of history you’re going to get.

And this particular subtopic?  Just right square in the middle of the road — that is, up my alley!

QWERTY Exhibit at the Museum of Printing History, Houston

QWERTY Exhibit at the Museum of Printing History, Houston

QWERTY: A Typewriter Retrospective

October 8, 2009– March 20, 2010 Typewriters inhabit a special place in the American psyche. No longer in widespread use, typewriters have been outsourced by the desktop computer, although they maintain a special air of nostalgia. Americans remember their junior high typing class, while many of today’s youngsters have never set eyes on such a machine. Tucked away in closets and in office corners, many typewriters are still occasionally put to good use. In addition to being beautiful specimens of design, who can forget the characteristic music of taps and bells created by a manual typewriter? From the collection of the Museum of Printing History.

More details on the Museum:

The Museum of Printing History
1324 W. Clay Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Hours:
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuesday – Saturday
713-522-4652
Free admission for self-guided tours


Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

November 28, 2009

More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

1911 cartoon from a New York paper shows the owners dressed in dollar bills, holding shut the door that barred the safe exit of so many women during the fire. Courtesy UMKC Famous Trials site; New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.


Obama’s well-qualified cabinet: Conservatives hoaxed by “J. P. Morgan” chart that verifies prejudices

November 26, 2009

Barack Obama’s cabinet is highly qualified on almost every score.  It’s the first cabinet to feature someone who has already received a Nobel prize in the field (Teddy Roosevelt as head of his own cabinet excepted).  Obama pulled highly qualified people from a lot of important positions, from both major parties, and from across the nation.

Conservatives, religiously believing Obama’s administration cannot be allowed to succeed, erupted in bluster this past week when a chart mysteriously cited to an unfound (by me) “J. P. Morgan study” claimed Obama’s cabinet has less that 10% who have private sector experience[See updates at bottom of post.]

“No business people!” the bloggers splutter.  “However can the government function?”

Chart claiming to be from J. P. Morgan, hoaxing experience of Obama cabinet, underestimating by 7 times

Chart claimed by American Enterprise Institute to be from J. P. Morgan, hoaxing experience data of Obama cabinet, underestimating by 700%

Gullibles rarely ask good questions, so we don’t need to bother with an answer to the question, if it’s a stupid question.  And in order to determine whether it’s a stupid question, we ought to ask whether the chart has any resemblance to reality.

According to the White House website:

The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.

Six others have “cabinet-rank” status:  White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, OMB Director Peter Orzag, U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer.

Vice President, plus 15 executive department heads, plus six others:  22 people.

If only 10% had private sector experience, that would be 2.2 of them.  Each of the 22 people comprises about 4.5% of the cabinet.  Two of them with private experience would be 9% of the cabinet.  Three with private experience would reveal the chart to be in error.  Would it be possible to create a cabinet of 22 people and have only two of them with private experience?

The bullshit detectors in the bloggers’ minds should have been clanging like crazy when they saw that chart.

No one has cited any methodology for the chart, so I figure it was created on a napkin by interns for the American Enterprise Institute at lunch, and it took off before anyone could check the claims made for accuracy.  I’m a bit reluctant to blame it on J. P. Morgan, but maybe AEI can provide the interpleader to pin the blame on that private sector organization — which would be one more demonstration that private sector experience may not be all that AEI tries to crack it up to be.  Before counting, I guessed that Obama’s cabinet has more like 50% with private sector experience; it turns out to be more like 80%.  So the question now becomes, how and why did the chart originator discount real private-sector experience?

The “J. P. Morgan” chart from AEI is a hoax.  Here’s the cabinet, listed in succession order, with their private sector experience; members were listed from the White House website; biographical data were taken from Wikipedia, supplemented by official departmental biographies:

  • Vice President Joe Biden – Private experience:  Yes.  4.5% of the cabinet.  Biden’s father worked in the private sector his entire life — unsuccessfully for a critical period.  Biden attended a private university’s law school (Syracuse), and operated a successful-because-of-property-management law practice for three years before winning election to the U.S. Senate.  (I regard a campaign as a private business, too — and Biden’s first campaign was masterful entrepreneurship.)
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – Private experience:  Yes, significant.  9% of the cabinet.  Extremely successful private practice lawyer in Arkansas for the Rose Law Firm, one of the “Top 100 Lawyers” in a classically dog-eat-dog business.
  • Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner – Private experience:  Yes, significant.  13.6% of the cabinet (The chart’s error is established in the first three people checked — surely no one bothered to make a serious count of the cabinet in compiling the chart.) Geithner traveled with world with his Ford Foundation-employed father.  He graduated from private universities, with an A.B. from Dartmouth and an M.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins.  Starting his career, he worked three years in the private sector with Kissinger Associates.  After significant positions at Treasury and State Departments, he again ventured into the private sector with the Council on Foreign Relations; from there he moved to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — in what is at worst a semi-public organization.  Running a Federal Reserve Branch is among the most intensive jobs one can have in private sector economics and management.   If an analyst at a bank named after J. P. Morgan didn’t understand that, one wonders just what the person does understand.
  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – Private sector experience:  Yes, at high levels.  18% of the cabinet.  Bob Gates spent a career with the Central Intelligence Agency, finally as Director of Central Intelligence, an executive level position with no equal in private enterprise.  He retired in 1993, and then worked in a variety of university positions, and joined several different corporate boards; in 1999 he was appointed interim Dean of the George W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, and was appointed President of Texas A&M in 2002, where he served until his appointment as Secretary of Defense in 2006.
  • Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr – Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  23% of the cabinet, total.  After a sterling career in the Justice Department, as a Ronald Reagan appointment to be a federal judge, as a U.S. Attorney, and again at the Justice Department, Holder spent eight years representing high profile private clients at Covington  &  Burling in Washington, D.C.  His clients included the National Football League, the giant pharmaceutical company Merck, and Chiquita Brands, a U.S. company with extensive international business.
  • Secretary of Interior Kenneth L. Salazar – Private sector experience: Yes.  27% of Obama cabinet.  Besides a distinguished career in government, as advisor and Cabinet Member with Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, Salazar was a successful private-practice attorney from 1981 to 1985, and then again from 1994 to 1998 when he won election as Colorado’s Attorney General.  As Senator, Salazar maintained a good voting record for a Republican business-supporting senator; Salazar is a Democrat.  Salazar’s family is in ranching, and he is usually listed as a “rancher from Colorado,” with life experience in the ranching business at least equal to that of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner.
  • Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack - Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  32% of Obama cabinet.  Vilsack spent 23 years in private practice as an attorney, 1975 to 1998, while holding not-full-time elective offices such as mayor and state representative.  He joined government as Governor of Iowa in 1998, and except for two years, has been in employed in government since then.
  • Secretary of Commerce Gary F. Locke – Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  36% of Obama cabinet.  As near as I can determine, Locke was in private law practice from 1975 through his election as Executive in King County in 1993 (is that a full-time position?).  He was elected Governor of Washington in 1996.  After leaving office in 2005, he again worked in private practice with Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, until 2009.  22 years in private practice, three years as Executive of King County, eight years as Governor of Washington.
  • Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis – Private sector experience:  Yes, but I consider it insignificant.  36% of Obama cabinet with private sector experience, 4.5% without.  Solis’s father was a Teamster and union organizer who contracted lead poisoning on the job; her mother was an assembly line worker for Mattel Toys.  She overachieved in high school and ignored her counselor’s advice to avoid college, and earned degrees from Cal Poly-Pomona and USC.  She held a variety of posts in federal government before returning to California to work for education and win election to the California House and California Senate, and then to Congress.
  • Secretary of  Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius – Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  41% of Obama cabinet with private sector experience, 4.5% without.  Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius worked in the private sector for 12 years, at least nine years as director and lobbyist for the Kansas Association for Justice (then Kansas Trial Lawyers Association).  One might understand why the American Enterprise Institute would not count as “business experience” a career built on reining in insurance companies, as Sebelius did as a lobbyist and then elected Kansas Insurance Commissioner.
  • Secretary of  Housing and Urban Development Shaun L.S. Donovan – Private sector experience:  Yes, only 4 years, but significant because it bugs AEI analysts so much.  45% of cabinet with private sector experience, 4.5% without.  With multiple degrees from Harvard University in architecture and public administration, Donovan was Deputy Assistant Secretary of HUD for Multifamily Housing during the Clinton Administration; and he was Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).  In the private sector, he worked for the Community Preservation Corporation, a non-profit in New York City, and he worked for a while finding sources to lend to people to buy “affordable housing” in the city, a task perhaps equal to wringing blood from a block of granite.
  • Secretary of  Transportation Raymond L. LaHood – Private sector experience:  No (not significant); school teacher at Holy Family School in Peoria, Illinois.  [As a teacher, I'm not sure that teaching should count as government experience, but it's not really private sector stuff, either.  Education isn't as wasteful as for-profit groups.]  45% of cabinet with private sector experience, 9% without.  Ironically, it is the Republican former Representative who pulls down the private sector experience percentage in the Obama cabinet.
  • Secretary of Energy Steven Chu – Private sector experience:  Yes, extremely significant.  50% of cabinet with private sector experience, 9% without.  Chu worked at Bell Labs, where he and his several co-workers carried out his Nobel Prize-winning laser cooling work, from 1978 to 1987.  Having won a Nobel for private sector work, I think we can count his private sector experience as important.  Chu also headed the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is seeded by a government contract to a university but must operate as a very highly-regulated business.  (I’ll wager Chu is counted as “no private sector experience,” which demonstrates the poverty of methodology of the so-called “J. P. Morgan” study AEI claims.)
  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  55% of cabinet with private sector experience, 9% without.  Duncan earned Academic All-American honors in basketball at Harvard.  His private sector is among the more unusual of any cabinet member’s, and more competitive.  Duncan played professional basketball: “From 1987 to 1991, Duncan played professional basketball in Australia with the Eastside Spectres of the [Australian] National Basketball League, and while there, worked with children who were wards of the state. He also played with the Rhode Island Gulls and tried out for the New Jersey Jammers.”  Since leaving basketball he’s worked in education, about four years in a private company aiming to improve education.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki – Private sector experience:  Yes, but to give AEI and “Morgan” a chance, we won’t count it.  55% of cabinet with private sector experience, 13.6% without.  Shinseki is a retired, four-star general in the army, a former Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  While Shinseki served on the boards of a half-dozen corporations, all of that service was in the six years between his official retirement and his appointment as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Janet A. Napolitano - Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  59% of cabinet with private sector experience, 13.6% without.  After a brilliant turn in law school at the University of Virginia, and a clerking appointment with a federal judge, Napolitano joined the distinguished Phoenix firm Lewis & Roca, where she practiced privately for nine years before Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. Attorney for Arizona.  AEI probably doesn’t want to count her private sector experience because, among other irritations to them, she was the attorney-advisor to Prof. Anita Hill during her questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • White House Chief of Staff Rahm I. Emanuel – Private sector experience:  Yes, significant.  64% of cabinet with private sector experience, 13.6% without.  Emanuel’s major private sector experience is short, but spectacular.  “After serving as an advisor to Bill Clinton, in 1998 Emanuel resigned from his position in the Clinton administration and became an investment banker at Wasserstein Perella (now Dresdner Kleinwort), where he worked until 2002. In 1999, he became a managing director at the firm’s Chicago office. Emanuel made $16.2 million in his two-and-a-half-year stint as a banker, according to Congressional disclosures. At Wasserstein Perella, he worked on eight deals, including the acquisition by Commonwealth Edison of Peco Energy and the purchase by GTCR Golder Rauner of the SecurityLink home security unit from SBC Communications.”  J. P. Morgan and AEI wish that Emanuel had not had such smashing success is such a short time.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson – Private sector experience:  No, significant.  64% of cabinet with private sector experience, 18% without.  Despite a brilliant career cleaning up environmental messes, with EPA and the New Jersey State government, Jackson has negligible private sector experience.  She was a brilliant student, valedictorian in high school and honors graduate in chemical engineering.
  • Office of Management & Budget Director Peter R. Orszag – Private sector experience:  Yes, short but significant.  68% of cabinet with private sector experience, 18% without.  Orszag is the youngest member of the cabinet, but he had a brilliant academic career (Princeton, London School for Economics) and a series of tough assignments in the Clinton Administration.  During the Bush years he founded an economic consulting firm, and sold it, and worked with McKinsey and Company, mostly on health care financing (he’s a member of the National Institute of Medicine in the National Academies of Science).
  • U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ronald Kirk – Private sector experience:  Yes, long and significant.  73% of cabinet with private sector experience, 18% without.  Son of a postal worker, Ron Kirk used academic achievement to get through law school.  He practiced privately for 13 years, interspersed with a bit of political work, before being appointed Texas Secretary of State in 1994 — the office that most businesses have most of their state regulatory action with.  About a year later he ran for and won election as Mayor of Dallas, considered a major business post in Texas.  Re-elected by a huge margin in 1999, he resigned to run for the U.S. Senate in 2002.  After losing (to John Cornyn), Price took positions with Dallas and then Houston law firms representing big businesses, especially in government arenas.
  • U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice – Private sector experience:  Yes.  77% of cabinet with private sector experience, 18% without.  Rice was a consultant with McKinsey and Co., sort of the ne plus ultra of private sectorness, for a while before beginning her climb to U.N Ambassador.
  • Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer – Private sector experience:  Yes, but academic.  We won’t count it to make AEI out to be less of a sucker.  77% of cabinet with private sector experience, 23% without significant private sector experience.  Dr. Romer’s chief appointments have been academic, and at a public university, though her education was entirely private.  A specialist in the Great Depression and economic data gathering, she’s highly considered by her colleagues, and is a past-president of the American Economic Association.

All totaled, Obama’s cabinet is one of the certifiably most brainy, most successful and most decorated of any president at any time.  His cabinet brings extensive and extremely successful private sector experience coupled with outstanding and considerable successful experience in government and elective politics.

AEI’s claim that the cabinet lacks private sector experience is astoundingly in error, with 77% of the 22 members showing private sector experience — according to the bizarre chart, putting Obama’s cabinet in the premiere levels of private sector experience.  The chart looks more and more like a hoax that AEI fell sucker to — and so did others (von Mises Institute, Wall Street Blips, League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Volokh Conspiracy, Econlib).

Others bitten by Barnum’s Law:

  • Coyote Blog — stepped right into the punch:  “Ever get that feeling like the Obama White House doesn’t have a clue as to what it takes to actually run a business, make investments, hire people, sell a product, etc?”
  • Say Anthing
  • [Update -- when did this guy erupt?] The Daily Mush, mushing the name of the author here, among nearly almost everything else.

Important update:  Thanks to the comment of Jake, below, I found this article in Forbes, by J. P. Morgan Michael Cembalest, chief investment officer for J. P. Morgan. In notes to the article Cembalest reports on his methodology:

A variety of sources were consulted for this analysis, including the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. In the rankings, I did not include prior private-sector experience for the following positions: Postmaster General; Navy; War; Health, Education & Welfare; Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security. In the rankings, private-sector experience at a law firm counts for a 33% score, which I think is very generous. My wife strongly suggested raising this to 50%, but I refused.

Cembalest doesn’t reveal much.  Does he include all cabinet-level posts outside the few he excluded?  Why did he exclude Navy and War, but not Defense?  Why would he exclude Homeland Security, with such obvious and extensive hits on private enterprise (think airlines and rail and ships)?  If no Homeland Security, why not exclude Transportation, too?

I’m particularly perturbed by his exclusion of lawyers.  If lawyers are excluded, why not investment bankers?  Lawyers are more directly engages in day-to-day competitive enterprise — and certainly most lawyers have more experience in hiring, firing, and as a commenter notes, “product placement” and advertising, than investment bankers.

In the end, Cembalest doesn’t provide enough details of his methdology, but we can see it’s a quick-and-very-dirty count, not much different from a SWAG.  I’m dying to see how Cembalest dealt with Energy Secretary Chu’s winning a Nobel from his work at Bell Labs, a bastion and symbol of private enterprise power and strength — or rather, how I suspect it was discounted in Cembalest’s counting.  And I wonder how his method dealt with the academic careers of George P. Shultz and Henry Kissinger, and the law career of James P. Baker III.  [end of update]

Update #2, March 16, 2010: I failed to post this last fall, for which I owe an apology to you, Dear Reader, and to Michael Cembalest.

About a week after I posted this I got a late afternoon call from Michael Cembalest.  It was a courtesy call.  He said he was striking the chart and the post from his website and recalling the newsletter.  We had a pleasant discussion, he explaining that it was originally, as he had said in Forbes, a Thanksgiving dinner table conversation.  He wrote about it on a slow investment week, meant to be a humorous barb to thought.  The experience and outlook of cabinet secretaries is indeed a good topic of conversation (how different would history have been had Herbert Hoover had anyone other than the filthy rich Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of Treasury, someone who hurt with the Depression and might not have had the personal wealth to survive any downturn no matter how long).  Mr. Cembalest explained that he had intended to count only those secretaries with a dog in the jobs fight — so Sec. of State Clinton wouldn’t count, for example — but he agreed that any methodology should be more clear than he indicated, and not so dodgy as it had become in internet discussions.

At that point, he felt, any serious point was irretrievable.  So he took the post down.

I’ve left this one up because I think it had spread too far by that time to call it back.  See the stories of Mencken’s hoax about putting a bathtub in the White House, and you may understand my reasoning.

Astounding update, July 23, 2010: Neil Boortz spread the hoax on his blog this morning. There is no end to a hoax, once, it’s out of the bag.

Help the truth catch up to the hoax:

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Yeah, it’s ironic (hacked e-mails and global warming)

November 26, 2009

James’s Empty Blog:

It is hard to miss the irony in people eagerly poring through illegally-obtained private email, looking for ethical breaches by the writers! I’m sure we can all imagine the outrage if one of the emails revealed that a scientist had hacked into one of the sceptics’ computers and was reading all their correspondence. So a bit of perspective is called for here.

James Is A Scientist (IANAS), and he has much good stuff to say (read some of the other posts about the hacked e-mails while you’re there) — but you gotta wonder about a blog that follows such a post with this:

Prawns, Jules Berry

Prawns not in their native habitat. Probably Tastimus deliciousus

Tip of the old scrub brush to Stoat.


Mau-mauing the gullibles: Sirkin on DDT (again)

November 26, 2009

The hard core uneducables who make of the hard knot at the center of the anti-science and anti-environmental movement just refuses to jettison their adored myths about science, regardless how many times those myths are shown to be false.

It’s a religious exercise with them, and their faith in error and bad applications of science won’t be shaken.

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers? Claiming Ruckelshaus an enemy of Africans and Rachel Carson a mass murderer is the new Radical Chic, and constant writing about it the new Mau-mauing.

Natalie Sirkin writes screeds for newspapers in Connecticut, I understand from an odd blog that collects these misdeeds, Don Pesci’s Connecticut Commentary:  Red Notes from a Blue State.

(Pesci has a particular fetish for DDT myths, and Sirkin’s been there, too.  He’s hard-core — no amount of information can sway him.)

Sirkin’s latest screed is “Myths for Fun and Profit,” and includes as one of the myths DDT’s ban in the U.S.  Her complaint is badly worded, but from the brief and grossly wrong explanation, we can see she thinks that DDT shouldn’t have been banned, and that map and calendar challenged, she thinks the ban on using DDT on cotton in the U.S. in 1972 somehow led to a rise in malaria in Africa in the 1980s. (Mosquitoes don’t travel that far, generally, either across the ocean from the U.S. to Africa, nor in time, from 1972 to 1980, nor the other way around.)

Sirkin wrote:

8….DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. “It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,” concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it. Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.

Why, these irrational policy errors?

So I responded:

Banning DDT from agricultural use was an extremely rational act, as vouched for by the summary judgment against the DDT manufacturers in both of the cases brought against EPA for the ban, and as vouched for by the removal of the bald eagle and brown pelican from the Endangered Species List.

Sirkin wrote:  “DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. ‘It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,’ concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it.”

EPA relabeled DDT in 1972, not 1971, effectively banning the use of DDT on cotton.  Under that rule, DDT could be available to fight malaria in the U.S., and DDT was manufactured in the U.S. for export to anyone who wished to use it.  There has never been a ban on using DDT to fight malaria.

But DDT ceased to work well against malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the 1960s.  Africans are not stupid.  Had DDT been a panacea, I’m sure they would have used it.

But while I worry about your implicit denigration of Africans and Asians in suggesting they are somehow incapable of deciding for themselves to use an effective weapon against disease, I am more concerned at your erroneous characterization of DDT’s value.  The National Academy of Sciences made an editing error, so part of your error is understandable.  DDT was never credited with saving 500 million lives.  During the entire time DDT has been available to fight malaria, from 1946 to today, the death rate worldwide from malaria has never exceeded 4 million a year, and since the 1960s the death rate has been about a million year.  At 4 million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 125 years prior to now.  Insecticidal properties of the stuff were discovered only in 1939, 70 years ago.

At about a million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 500 years.

Clearly there was an error in math, or confusion in citations.  About 500 million people are afflicted with malaria annually, noted earlier in that NAS book, which is where I think the 500 million figure came from.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment.  That 1970 publication by the National Academy of Sciences was an evaluation of chemicals in the environment.  That sentence crediting DDT with saving so many lives, erroneous as it was, was in a call to ban DDT as quickly as possible, and to increase research to find alternatives to DDT in order to get DDT use completely stopped.

NAS recognized the value of DDT, but said it was too dangerous to keep using.

Don’t cite NAS’s credit to DDT without noting they said we must stop using it, because its dangers outweigh the benefits.

You can find a more thorough discussion of the NAS report at this blog. [You should go see, Dear Reader -- neither Sirkin nor Pesci will likely ever bother.]

Sirkin wrote:
“Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.”

With the great assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and continued efforts of the World Health Organization, several African nations have cut malaria rates by 50% to 85% with the use of bednets and “integrated vector management” (IVM), usually known as integrated pest management (IPM) in the U.S.

Anyone who reads Carson’s astoundingly accurate book knows that she did not call for a ban on DDT, but instead called for the use of an integrated program of pest management.  Had we listened to Rachel Carson in 1962, we could have saved several million children from death, in Africa, from malaria alone.  It is scurrilous, calumnous, and inaccurate to the point of sin to blame Rachel Carson for deaths caused by failure to listen to her and heed her words.

Ruckelshaus acted with full knowledge of the National Academy of Science’s calling for an end to DDT use due to its harms, known and then unknown.  It is foolish to blame people for acting with hard evidence and careful, rational thought.  It’s particularly ungraceful to then accuse them of acting irrationally.

I doubt that either Pesci or Sirkin will ever change their tune.  They’d have to concede that science works, that scientists are not all evil, and that sometimes environmentalists, and even liberals, get things right.  More importantly, they’d have to concede they erred — and that would be like Baum’s Wicked Witch of the West taking a shower.


Few posts lately: I apologize

November 25, 2009

Posting’s been much slower than events warrant, lately.  Difficulties at work, and a six-week bout with allergies of unknown origins haven’t helped.

A visit with the allergist yesterday offers some hope — I’ve been symptom free now for almost 24 hours, for the first time since early October.

Before next Monday I hope to catch up a bit on the follies at the Texas State Board of Education, and other educational events around Texas.  While I’ve been itchy and swelling, the denialists haven’t gotten any smarter or nicer.

One horrible thought:  I may be allergic to stupidity in public policy.  The timing of the main attacks coincides with several rounds of recent raving excrement from government officers.  Avoiding contact with the offending stuff is not possible, then, in a moral world.


150 years ago, a book that changed history: Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

November 25, 2009

150 years ago today Charles Darwin’s “big book,” On the Origin of Species, was first published.  The entire publication run of more than a thousand copies sold out within a few days, making it a certified best-seller of its day.

A rare copy of the first edition, found in the loo of an old house, sold at auction at Christie’s for US$172,000.

Olivia Judson’s already got her day-after blog post up at the New York Times site, talking about a key issue in evolution:  Extinction.  She already blogged on the importance of the Big Book.

And the “Origin” changed everything. Before the “Origin,” the diversity of life could only be catalogued and described; afterwards, it could be explained and understood. Before the “Origin,” species were generally seen as fixed entities, the special creations of a deity; afterwards, they became connected together on a great family tree that stretches back, across billions of years, to the dawn of life. Perhaps most importantly, the “Origin” changed our view of ourselves. It made us as much a part of nature as hummingbirds and bumblebees (or humble-bees, as Darwin called them); we, too, acquired a family tree with a host of remarkable and distinguished ancestors.

The reason the “Origin” was so powerful, compelling and persuasive, the reason Darwin succeeded while his predecessors failed, is that in it he does not just describe how evolution by natural selection works. He presents an enormous body of evidence culled from every field of biology then known. He discusses subjects as diverse as pigeon breeding in Ancient Egypt, the rudimentary eyes of cave fish, the nest-building instincts of honeybees, the evolving size of gooseberries (they’ve been getting bigger), wingless beetles on the island of Madeira and algae in New Zealand. One moment, he’s considering fossil animals like brachiopods (which had hinged shells like clams, but with a different axis of symmetry); the next, he’s discussing the accessibility of nectar in clover flowers to different species of bee.

At the same time, he uses every form of evidence at his disposal: he observes, argues, compares, infers and describes the results of experiments he has read about, or in many cases, personally conducted. For example, one of Darwin’s observations is that the inhabitants of islands resemble — but differ subtly from — those of the nearest continents. So: birds and bushes on islands off the coast of South America resemble South American birds and bushes; islands near Africa are populated by recognizably African forms.

Of course you –you cognescenti, you — know Judson is the wit behind Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, a thoroughly delightful, funny and scientifically accurate book.  Which brings to my mind this question:  Why are scientists, and especially evolutionary scientists, so funny and charming, in stark contrast to the dull proles of creationism?

And, were he not ill at the time, can you imagine what a fantastic dinner guest Charles Darwin himself would be?

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Meanwhile, at PBS, NOVA already featured “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” earlier this year.  NOVA research Gaia Remerowski alerts us to a coming production, “What Darwin Never Knew,” featuring progress made in evolutionary development, “evo-devo.”   Science marches on.

Remerowski illustrated her post with Darwin’s quick, hand drawing of a “tree of life,” a drawing that has become iconic in biology circles — like the one to your right.  This one comes from the website of “Speaking of Faith,” another PBS production that featured Darwin earlier this year.  SOF offered an online tour of some of the work of Darwin, too — other drawings from Darwin’s own hand.  Nice exhibit.

Our country’s advocates for good science education, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) carried Origin Day greetings and a rundown of a dozen projects commemorating the 150th year of the book, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Happy Origin Day, indeed.


The unbearable lightness of Palin groupies

November 24, 2009

I’m not sure what to make of this.  No amount of dopeslapping or head:desk banging is going to help these people get a clue.

And while I haven’t read Sarah Palin’s book, I’ll wager they won’t get a clue there, either.  Listening to the interviews one wonders whether they would be able to read Palin’s book.  Most of the kids who work hard to fail my classes look like geniuses next to these people.

And then a horrifying thought bubbles up:  Dear God, these people might actually vote!  They probably view Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” sequences with astonished looks and great confusion.  They can’t tell what’s wrong with the answers, and they miss the humor.

I found this piece at Canadian Cynic (from whom I stole the headline) — he confessed he could only stand just under two minutes of this torture.

For Palin groupies, here are a couple of issues to consider while watching this video:

  1. While it’s done by New Left Media, it’s astonishing that anyone could find so many babbling idiots at one gathering, anywhere in America.  This was Ohio?   Yeah, Columbus; I know people in Columbus.  I fear for their lives, now.
  2. Palin has never made any particular defense of the First Amendment, nor of any of the five freedoms it enumerates.  When people say she stands for “freedom to speak,” or “freedom of religion,” they are making stuff up.
  3. “Realness” is not a policy.
  4. Tax cutting isn’t generally a great policy when people aren’t making enough to pay any taxes at all.  Tax cutting contributed to our current mess.
  5. Socialism is not “giving away money.”
  6. Obama’s two books do not portray Marxism in a good light.  They don’t mention Marxism as a potential path for any American, anywhere.
  7. “Czar” is a shorter word for a headline than “Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” or “Special Assistant to the President for Energy Policy.”  People who are called “czars” by headline writers do not have any special powers beyond being right when they speak to the president (among many other advisors).  The real power is held by agency heads, like the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Treasury.  The President’s Cabinet is not a wooden device in which he keeps his dinnerware.
  8. One may always question motives, but on the issue of Obama’s “liking” the military, consider:  He’s appointed many former military people to important positions, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, to get good advice from people who know the military well; Obama is the only president since Johnson, maybe since Lincoln, to go meet victims of war as their caskets come back to their families; Obama is the only sitting president ever to visit the graves of victims of a current conflict at Arlington National CemeteryThe lives and welfare of our men and women in uniform has been a singular focus of this president.
  9. Talk of martial law?  Not from Obama.  Not in the administration.  Not in any agency.  Not in Congress.  Only in wingnut dens.
  10. Illegal aliens cannot be naturalized under current law.  No illegal aliens are being naturalized.  When found, they are being deported.
  11. Obama is an American citizen; even the courts are getting testy about that, tossing the crazy lawsuits out with harsh comments for people who are so gullibly dumb.
  12. It’s 700 miles from Sarah Palin’s home to the nearest point in Russia.  “Seeing Russia from the backyard” is a figure of speech, and not accurate in any way.
  13. The Governor of Alaska is not the first defense against any attack from a foreign nation on the U.S., coming through Alaska.  The U.S. Air Force has jurisdiction, and still patrols that area, along with satellite and radar surveillance.  In an attack, the official role of the Governor of Alaska is to duck and stay out of the way.
  14. The Governor of Alaska has no special security clearance that no other governor has.  I’m not sure that any governor has a security clearance as governor.
  15. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is not a player in the protection of polar bears, nor any other animal on listed as threatened or endangered.
  16. No proposal is before Congress to change current law on “partial birth” abortion.  Since there is a law on the topic, it would take a new law, passed by Congress, to change current law.  Obama can’t touch it without Congressional action.  (This is basic civics, you know?)
  17. Are you afraid of what’s happening in America?  After you listen to these yahoos, you may have cause to fear what would happen if their views were to carry an election.

Are people still lining up for lobotomies?  Do they directly from the operating table to a Sarah Palin book signing?

We can hope New Left Media edited out all the cogent, intelligent remarks.  I have this nagging fear that they didn’t have to edit at all.

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Purloined CRU e-mails on climate science: One scientist pleads for accuracy

November 24, 2009

Here is what he said.  Edward Cook, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ancient trees and how to learn from them (Dendrochronology),  wrote to Michael Mann, both men scientists involved in making their science understandable and available to the public and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Both men thought their communication would be private, probably forever.  When no one is looking, this is what they say to one another:

From: Edward Cook <drdendro@xxxxxxxxx.xxx>
To: “Michael E. Mann” <mann@xxxxxxxxx.xxx>
Subject: Re: hockey stick
Date: Wed, 2 May 2001 15:25:41 -0400
Cc: tom crowley <tom@xxxxxxxxx.xxx>, esper@xxxxxxxxx.xxx, Jonathan Overpeck <jto@u.arizona.edu>, Keith Briffa <k.briffa@xxxxxxxxx.xxx>, mhughes@xxxxxxxxx.xxx, rbradley@xxxxxxxxx.xxx, p.jones@xxxxxxxxx.xxx, srutherford@xxxxxxxxx.xxx

Hi Mike,

No problem. I am quite happy to work this stuff through in a careful way and am happy to discuss it all with you. I certainly don’t want the work to be viewed as an attack on previous work such as yours. Unfortunately, this global change stuff is so politicized by both sides of the issue that it is difficult to do the science in a dispassionate environment. I ran into the same problem in the acid rain/forest decline debate that raged in the 1980s. At one point, I was simultaneous accused of being a raving tree hugger and in the pocket of the coal industry. I have always said that I don’t care what answer is found as long as it is the truth or at least bloody close to it.

Cheers,

Ed

This note appeared at the end of a rough-and-tumble debate over what data can be trusted, the motives of scientists involved, and how to make the best use of data collected, clear and unclear, in order to make an accurate portrayal of what is happening in our atmosphere.

I’ll wager no critic of these scientists bothered to quote this one today, nor will they.  In toto, the purloined e-mails show a devotion to science, and the requisite devotion to accuracy and ethical behaviors.  But in a political debate where television weathermen feel compelled to demonize scientists to promote their political beliefs, who can afford to look at the big picture?

My apologies to Dr. Cook for the purloining of the e-mail (though of course I had no role in the hacking); my appreciation to Dr. Cook for standing up for what’s right, damn the critics, when he th0ught no one was looking.

That’s the definition of character, isn’t it?

E-mail this:

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U.S. Rhodes Scholars, 2009

November 23, 2009

Rhodes Trust’s American branch announced the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships in 2009′s competition.  List of winners and press release below – congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to all the finalists, each of whom probably deserved to win.

American Rhodes Scholars-elect for 2010
(Subject to ratification by the Rhodes Trustees after acceptance by one of the colleges of Oxford University)

District 1

Maine, Bowdoin College
Mr. William J. Oppenheim III
112 Rosebrook Road
New Canaan, Connecticut 06840

New Jersey, Brown University
Mr. Zohar Atkins
9 Melrose Place
Montclair, New Jersey 07042

District 2

Connecticut, Wesleyan University
Mr. Russell A. Perkins
1583 Ashland Avenue
Evanston, Illinois 60201

Massachusetts, Yale University
Mr. Matthew L. Baum
90 Jensen Road
Watertown, Massachusetts 02472

District 3

New York, Swarthmore College
Mr. Mark Dlugash
16 North Chatsworth Avenue, Apt. 210
Larchmont, New York 10538

New York, United States Military Academy
Ms. Alexandra P. Rosenberg
10 Liberty Street, Apt. 43B
New York, New York 10005

District 4

Delaware, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ms. Caroline J. Huang
10 Rising Road
Newark, Delaware 19711

Pennsylvania, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Mr. Henry L. Spelman
10 Woodbrook Lane
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081

District 5

Maryland/DC, University of Virginia
Mr. Tyler S. Spencer
3408 Dent Place, NW
Washington, DC 20007

North Carolina, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ms. Ugwechi W. Amadi
113 Tulip Tree Drive
Camden, North Carolina 27921

District 6

Georgia, Harvard College
Ms. Grace Tiao
5162 Sunset Trail
Marietta, Georgia 30068

Virginia, College of William and Mary
Ms. Kira C. Allman
5223 Blockade Reach
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185

District 7

Alabama, Auburn University
Mr. Jordan D. Anderson
5602 Club Lane
Roanoke, Virginia 24018

Florida, Harvard College
Ms. Roxanne E. Bras
602 Trumpet Place
Celebration, Florida 34747

District 8

Texas, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Ms. Elizabeth B. Longino
3243 Greenbrier Drive
Dallas, Texas 75225

Texas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mr. Steven Mo
418 Chickory Wood Court
Pearland, Texas 77584

District 9

Indiana, Harvard College
Mr. Darryl W. Finkton
4335 Shady View Drive, Apt. 2C
Indianapolis, Indiana 46226

Kentucky, University of Louisville
Ms. Monica L. Marks
99 East Star Hill Road
Rush, Kentucky 41168

District 10

Illinois, Stanford University
Mr. Daniel D. Shih
2710 Yorkshire Court
Aurora, Illinois 60502

Michigan, Harvard College
Ms. Jean A. Junior
2303 Somerset Boulevard
Troy, Michigan 48084

District 11

Iowa, University of Chicago
Ms. Stephanie A. Bell
3725 Greenbranch Drive
West Des Moines, Iowa 50265

Wisconsin, Harvard College
Ms. Eva Z. Lam
935 North 31st Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208

District 12

Kansas, University of Pittsburgh
Ms. Eleanor M. Ott
1520 Crescent Road
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

Missouri, Truman State University
Mr. Andrew J. McCall
13204 Tablerock Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63122

District 13

Colorado, Regis University
Mr. William D. Gohl
5345 Whip Trail
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80917

New Mexico, University of Arizona
Ms. Justine O. Schluntz
9203 Night Sky Lane NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87122

District 14

Montana, Columbia University
Mr. Raphael J.C. Graybill
401 4th Avenue North
Great Falls, Montana 59401

Washington, United States Military Academy
Ms. Elizabeth A. Betterbed
933 Gway Drive
Fox Island, Washington 98333

District 15

California, Princeton University
Mr. Henry R. Barmeier
13499 Chalet Clotilde Drive
Saratoga, California 95070

California, Yale University
Mr. Geoffrey C. Shaw
460 Bella Vista
Belvedere, California 94920

District 16

California, University of California-Los Angeles
Ms. Elizaveta Fouksman
3821 Hamilton Way
Emerald Hills, California 94062

California, United States Air Force Academy
Ms. Brittany L. Morreale
4128 Via Nievel
Palos Verdes Estates, California 90274

The press release:

WASHINGTON, DC/November 21, 2009 – Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, today announced the names of the thirty-two American men and women chosen as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States. Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, and may allow funding in some instances for four years. Mr. Gerson called the Rhodes Scholarships, “the oldest and best known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates.” They were created in 1902 by the Will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; those elected today will enter Oxford in October 2010.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by their college or university. Over 1500 students each year seek their institution’s endorsement; this year, 805 were endorsed by 326 different colleges and universities.

TRUSTEES
The Rt Hon Lord Waldegrave of North Hill (Chairman) The Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG Miss Rosalind Hedley-Miller
The Rt Hon Lord Fellowes GCB GCVO QSO Mr Julian Ogilvie Thompson Professor John Bell
Mr Thomas W Seaman Professor Sir John Vickers Mr Michael McCaffery
WARDEN & SECRETARY TO THE TRUSTEES
Dr Donald Markwell

Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interview. Gerson said, “applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes. These criteria are high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an effective and positive contribution throughout the world. In Rhodes’ words, his Scholars should ‘esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.’”

Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are legally resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. The district committees met separately, on Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21, in cities across the country. Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes Scholars from the candidates of the state or states within the district. Two-hundred sixteen applicants from 97 different colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition, including 16 that had never before had a student win a Rhodes Scholarship. Gerson also reported, “in most years, we elect a winner from a college that had never before had a Rhodes Scholar, even after more than a century. This year we are pleased to announce a first-time winner from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.”

The thirty-two Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group of Scholars chosen from fourteen other jurisdictions around the world. In addition to the thirty-two Americans, Scholars are also selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (South Africa, plus Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Approximately 80 Scholars are selected worldwide each year, including several non-U.S. Scholars who have attended American colleges and universities.

With the elections announced today, 3,196 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 310 colleges and universities. Since 1976, women have been eligible to apply and 424 American women have now won the coveted scholarship. More than 1,800 American Rhodes Scholars are living in all parts of the U. S. and abroad.

The value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending on the academic field and the degree (B.A., master’s, doctoral) chosen. The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university fees, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford as well as during vacations, and transportation to and from England. Mr. Gerson estimates that the total value of the Scholarship averages approximately US$50,000 per year, or up to as much as US$175,000 for Scholars who remain in Oxford for four years.

The full list of the newly elected United States Rhodes Scholars, with the states from which they were chosen, their home addresses, and their American colleges or universities, follows. Brief biographies follow the list.

For further information, please contact:
Elliot F. Gerson
American Secretary
The Rhodes Trust
8229 Boone Boulevard, Suite 240
Vienna, Virginia 22182
(703) 821-5960

On Sunday, November 22, Mr. Gerson may be reached for press and other calls at 202-288-1195 or amsec@rhodesscholar.org, except between noon and 6:30 PM Eastern time. Joyce Knight of the American’s Secretary’s Office will be able to provide details on how to reach Scholars-elect, and may be reached Sunday at any time at 703-380-7980. Beginning Monday, November 23, questions can be directed to the Rhodes Trust office in Vienna, Virginia, at 703-821-5960, or to Mr. Gerson at amsec@rhodesscholar.org.

Short biographical sketches of each of the scholarship recipients can be found at the Rhodes Trust site.

WASHINGTON, DC/November 21, 2009 – Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the
Rhodes Trust, today announced the names of the thirty-two American men and women
chosen as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States. Rhodes Scholarships provide all
expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, and may
allow funding in some instances for four years. Mr. Gerson called the Rhodes Scholarships,
“the oldest and best known award for international study, and arguably the most famous
academic award available to American college graduates.” They were created in 1902 by
the Will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer. The first class
of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; those elected today will enter Oxford
in October 2010.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by
their college or university. Over 1500 students each year seek their institution’s
endorsement; this year, 805 were endorsed by 326 different colleges and universities.
TRUSTEES
The Rt Hon Lord Waldegrave of North Hill (Chairman) The Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG Miss Rosalind Hedley-Miller
The Rt Hon Lord Fellowes GCB GCVO QSO Mr Julian Ogilvie Thompson Professor John Bell
Mr Thomas W Seaman Professor Sir John Vickers Mr Michael McCaffery
WARDEN & SECRETARY TO THE TRUSTEES
Dr Donald Markwell
NEWS RELEASE — THE RHODES TRUST — Page 2
Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to
appear before them for interview. Gerson said, “applicants are chosen on the basis of the
criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes. These criteria are high academic achievement,
integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership,
and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes
that the Rhodes Scholars would make an effective and positive contribution throughout the
world. In Rhodes’ words, his Scholars should ‘esteem the performance of public duties as
their highest aim.’”
Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are legally
resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. The district committees
met separately, on Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21, in cities across the country.
Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes Scholars from the candidates
of the state or states within the district. Two-hundred sixteen applicants from 97 different
colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition, including 16 that had
never before had a student win a Rhodes Scholarship. Gerson also reported, “in most years,
we elect a winner from a college that had never before had a Rhodes Scholar, even after
more than a century. This year we are pleased to announce a first-time winner from Truman
State University in Kirksville, Missouri.”
The thirty-two Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international
group of Scholars chosen from fourteen other jurisdictions around the world. In addition to
the thirty-two Americans, Scholars are also selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the
nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya,
New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (South Africa, plus Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi,
Namibia and Swaziland), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Approximately 80 Scholars are selected
worldwide each year, including several non-U.S. Scholars who have attended American
colleges and universities.
NEWS RELEASE — THE RHODES TRUST — Page 3
With the elections announced today, 3,196 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships,
representing 310 colleges and universities. Since 1976, women have been eligible to apply
and 424 American women have now won the coveted scholarship. More than 1,800
American Rhodes Scholars are living in all parts of the U. S. and abroad.
The value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending on the academic field and the
degree (B.A., master’s, doctoral) chosen. The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university
fees, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford as well as
during vacations, and transportation to and from England. Mr. Gerson estimates that the
total value of the Scholarship averages approximately US$50,000 per year, or up to as much
as US$175,000 for Scholars who remain in Oxford for four years.
The full list of the newly elected United States Rhodes Scholars, with the states from which
they were chosen, their home addresses, and their American colleges or universities,
follows. Brief biographies follow the list.
For further information, please contact:
Elliot F. Gerson
American Secretary
The Rhodes Trust
8229 Boone Boulevard, Suite 240
Vienna, Virginia 22182
(703) 821-5960
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Smoking guns in the CRU stolen e-mails: A real tale of real ethics in science

November 22, 2009

Climate skeptics fear that some climate scientists have cooked their data in order to produce a pre-ordained outcome from their research.  Many of these people are excited this weekend at the public release of e-mails purloined from Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in England, from one of the leading climate research labs.  Every crank science and crackpot political site has a story touting the end of research on global warming.

Sure enough, with just a few minutes of searching the e-mails, I found references to ethical breaches in cooking of data, and a discussion about how to talk about  the data and the issue in public.

The paper involved is this one:

David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearsona and S. Fred Singer, “A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CLIMATOLOGY, Int. J. Climatol. (2007).  Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/joc.1651

Unless you follow this issue closely, you probably don’t see the problem with publicizing the ethical breaches scientists thought they saw in this paper and its publication.  Also, if you are a “skeptic” who is chronically apoplectic over Al Gore’s success in informing people about climate change and winning prizes and making money, you may be thrilled that there is a scientist anywhere worried about ethical lapses by scientists involved in this controversy, and you can’t wait to see them brought to justice (cooking data is a federal crime in the U.S., if done with federal research money).

[Yes, I think there are ethical questions about publishing anything from these e-mails, let alone links so the viewing public can read them completely.  However, since much of this material has already been cherry picked and quote mined by political activists who hope to stop action to mediate and stop global warming, I think a good case can be made that, to be fair, we should look at the entire collection to see what they really reveal.  There may be criminal liability for some of the disclosures I'm discussing here -- but that liability does not fall on the scientists who have been unfairly impugned in the last few days.  The liability falls instead on the critics of warming.  Let's be fair.  In  a fair fight, truth wins.]

So, hold your high-fives and “I-told-you-sos” until you look at the data, at the information found.

One of the e-mails is quite explicit:

I think the scientific fraud committed by Douglass needs to be exposed. His co-authors may be innocent bystanders, but I doubt it.

Fraud?  Right there in front of everyone?  In the climate debate?

In the end, the scientists in the discussion determined not to hold a press conference to announce a finding of fraud, but instead to hunker down and work on publishing datasets that would contradict the alleged fraudulent paper, and establish their case with data instead of invective and press conferences.

They even declined to rush to inform the public of the fraud after a lengthy series of attempts to duplicate the results with well-known, accurate methods on accepted data:

Bottom line: Douglass et al. claim that “In all cases UAH and RSS satellite trends are inconsistent with model trends.” (page 6, lines 61-62). This claim is categorically wrong. In fact, based on our results, one could justifiably claim that THERE IS ONLY ONE CASE in which model T2LT and T2 trends are inconsistent with UAH and RSS results! These guys screwed up big time. [emphasis added by MFB]

Anthony Watts and others may be justified in asking that the scientists who wrote this fraudulent paper should be summarily dismissed, and in questioning why other scientists dallied in exposing the fraud.

But there is this to consider:  The paper in question is a paper critical of warming hypotheses, and it was co-authored by at least a couple of the most strident critics of Al Gore, James Hansen, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The smoking gun was used to shoot down a hasty effort to brand climate-change critics as unprofessional and wrong.  The smoking gun was used to enforce the hard ethical rules of science:  Don’t speak until your data allow a fair conclusion.

The smoking gun e-mails show correct and careful behavior by the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report, but unethical behavior by the critics whose backers, we might assume, stole the e-mails in the first place, and published them without understanding the depth of moral character demonstrated by most scientists in the conduct of their professions.

Now, I have not analyzed every possible permutation of this thread, only those with the title shown.  I used the “Alleged CRU e-mails — searchable” cited by Anthony Watts and others.  I stumbled into the thread discussing the paper by “Douglass, et al.”  I then did a search for e-mails discussing “Douglass,” and limited it to the thread on this point.  I suspect there are other e-mails in that thread in which Douglass’s name is wholly missing, and which did not turn up  in the search.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Fred Singer is a leading denialist, one of the organizers of the political campaign to blunt the publication and discussion of evidence of global warming and what to do about it.  The Douglass, et al. paper under discussion was a key component of the denialists’ campaign in 2007.  The purloined e-mails point to unethical behaviors by the scientists on the anti-warming side, the so-called “skeptics.”

So, from a quick dive into the data we learn:

  1. Climate scientists talk like Boy Scouts trying to impress a Board of Review.
  2. Climate scientists are extremely careful with data.
  3. When they think no one is looking, climate scientists behave ethically.
  4. When they think have found a piece of fraud, climate scientists are careful to recheck their numbers several times and in several ways before saying anything.
  5. Instead of holding a press conference, climate scientists like to keep the fisticuffs in the confines of juried journals.
  6. Climate “skeptics” are full of themselves, and probably wrongly accuse climate scientists of fixing data.
  7. Fraud in climate science may occur, but generally on the side of those who argue against warming or who advocate inaction as a response.
  8. The claims of smoking guns that negate the case for doing something about global warming are most likely hoaxes.

Here are the texts I looked at:

Update, November 25, 2009: Be sure to check out these posts, at George Monbiot’s blog in the comments, at Stoat,  and here at the Bathtub. This is the best judgment on the affair, I think, from Our Kingdom at Open DemocracyRespect to any climate-deniers who invest all their pension funds in seashore hotels in the Maldives… otherwise, they should step aside, and let the work of saving the future begin.”

Smoke this:

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