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Greenhouse gas basics

September 30, 2019

Robert Walker has put together a good page on the basics of greenhouse gases and the physics of planetary warming. I suspect many who travel to that page will quickly veer away because it is physics. Not advanced physics. Anyone who has had their first year of physics and chemistry, as typically taught to freshmen in American colleges, and to advanced high school students, will have no problem reading and comprehending that. They will understand why an energy flow diagram makes sense, where a temperature flow would not. They know what molecular spectra are, and will have seen a bit about blackbody radiation. And having had calculus, the math prerequisite for those science courses, they are accustomed to thinking about rate problems.

Most people never take those courses. Quite early in life, we choose different paths. Those who become adept at multiple instruments by the time they can drink legally are the music nerds. Most don’t. Some become science nerds. Most don’t. Each to their own way.

What puzzles me, though, is I frequently see comments in internet discussion from people who call global warming a hoax. Or who say they have studied it and think the climate scientists have it all wrong. And you probe a little bit, and it turns out they often are not science nerds. They never have studied physics. They don’t know molecular spectra from cherry mash. (Both of which are important to my favorite botanist.)

That’s not to say all science nerds have a common view of global warming. Any more than all guitarists agree on technique. But why does an individual who never has studied physics think they they understand what is, at bottom, a physics problem? That would be much like me playing a guitar at a party, despite the fact that I’m not musically inclined, and never have played a stringed instrument!

No doubt, enough alcohol causes some to imagine they magically have acquired musical talent they never before had. Does the internet cause people to imagine they have math and physics competence, despite never studying those? It is a puzzle to me. And yes, there is a similar question regarding chemistry, for those who want to opine on vaccination.

Of course, it is possible to expose a hoax and to think about hoaxes, without knowing the underlying subject matter of relevance. But there is no reason to think that global warming is a hoax.


Yes, the globe is warming

September 26, 2019

It’s not surprising that many people believe the earth’s surface data is a hoax, given that the right-wing media push that conspiracy theory, and the number of people who think that listening or reading that makes them more knowledgeable rather than more ignorant. Ethan Siegel wrote a post last week, discussing the reality. There are several independent temperature data sets. Hadcrut is maintained by the Hadley Center in the UK. NOAA, of course. Berkeley Earth surface temperature (Best). That work no doubt requires hundreds of scientists and technical workers. Thousands, over the decades. The notion that they all are in on a hoax is nonsense. They get better of the years, as they deploy more thermometers in more places to higher standards. Each group with its own. The graph right has several of those curves. The globe’s warming is real.

Watergate was a different time

September 25, 2019

The Republicans who supported Nixon virtually until the end believed he was not as dishonest as the accusations made him. The end came quickly, when that belief no longer was sustainable.

We live in a different time. What the hard right learned in the decades since was never to let process get in the way of politics. Trump was the first individual to enter national politics blatant in his lies, teaching his followers that they should take him seriously, not literally, offering his own duplicity as a mechanism to defeat their shared enemies. When he trolls the liberals, his base cheers. That he lies in doing so doesn’t give them the least pause. The Republicans will have a simple response to any impeachment by the House: “We really don’t care — do you?” And so long as they hold one-third of the Senate, the impeachment will die on the vine. Another great troll! The few Republicans who might have qualms will seem antiquated.

Trump will not be brought down by process and rules, because those are part of what his base aims to destroy. He will not be brought down by his own lies because his base doesn’t see those as a problem. Americans who wondered how people in foreign nations could support openly corrupt leaders now get to see that at home. Trump is less the problem than he is a symptom, a man for his time.

I don’t know that the House has much choice in the matter. If they failed to pursue impeachment, that also would be a large spurning of the current rules and process. Eventually, though, some politicians may be brave enough to point out what becomes ever more obvious. Our democracy is broken. There is no path to restoring what once was. The way forward is not to pretend that the old forms still have life. They were killed. Not by Trump, but by the movement he rides.

Red vs blue

September 24, 2019

Brookings takes a peek at the economics of America’s increasing polarization, looking at how Congressional districts have changed over the last decade. The results are greater than I would have guessed. Democratic districts have surged ahead of Republican districts in economic productivity, in median household income, and in the fraction of workers in professional and digital services. Compared to Republican districts, they have more people with bachelors degrees, more who are foreign born, more who live in urban areas, and more who aren’t white. And those fractions have increased significantly in Democratic districts but not in Republican districts.

Republican districts have seen an increase in their fraction of workers in agriculture and manufacturing, and stagnating productivity and wages. They have seen a small dip in the fraction of population that is foreign born, and an increase in the elderly.

Those charts deserve more data points. (More are in the article than the two above.) Still, they tell a remarkable story. Republicans preen themselves that they are the ones who are astute about economics. Yet they cannot make the economy work in their own districts. Nor do they have any explanation for that failure. The demographic trends in those districts do not bode well. Urban areas that mix the educated, the young, and the foreign born are the cauldrons of economic innovation. Admittedly, some of that might reflect change in which districts are Republican rather than demographic change in a fixed set of districts. Nonetheless, I fear that continued economic decline in Republican districts, the right-wing media’s continued stirring of resentment against minorities and the foreign born and the richer liberals, and the Republican party turning that into practice paints an ugly future for American politics.

Ernie Buttler sells Snoopy’s

September 23, 2019

The founder of Snoopy’s is selling the well-known Padre Island restaurant. Photo is from this story about its survival after Harvey.

Exporting corruption

September 20, 2019

The sad thing about the Ukraine scandal is that America’s corrupt government now is actively exporting that corruption abroad. From four months back, this article chases some of the right-wing bogosity around that. Biden does a right thing, pledging a wall between government and family business if he is elected.

Update #1: Explaining Trump’s related lies about Biden, that the right-wing media no doubt will repeat.

Update #2: Chait points out the substance of the Ukraine scandal was known already. Which questions whether it is the topic of the whistle blower.

Update #3: Jonah Goldberg states the obvious.

Ob disclaimer: I have a bet against Biden becoming the Democratic nominee in prediction markets.


September 19, 2019

The Scholar’s Stage has a post arguing(!) that most reasoning is post hoc justification, not actually the true reason for the claim argued. True reasons, of course, are not the reasons someone offers, but the conditions that actually determine belief and that point to what would lead to a change in belief. The post ends by suggesting any argument should begin with finding those:

The first step in any serious argument, any argument with real consequences, should be this. Each side should lay out their case—and then explain, in equal detail, what would make them determine that their case is wrong.

Read the comments, which point out some of the limits of true reasons.

Fivethirtyeight discusses some research suggesting that Americans are becoming more secular in part because of right-wing politics. In essence, young Americans see modern Republican behavior, associate that with the Christian religion, and repulsed, run away from religion:

Within the past few years, Margolis and several other prominent political scientists have concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity. People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted. Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people.

While I understand the repulsion, I would prefer that people run away from religion because it teaches a bunch of nonsense, regardless of any sect’s political affinity.