Mann vindicated yet again; no tampering with hockey stick graph

The NSF Inspector General closed out the investigation of Michael Mann, central focus of the ClimateGate manufactroversy, after finding no malfeasance. This brings the total “vindications” up to at least seven. From the report:

As part of our investigation, we attempted to determine if data fabrication or falsification may have occurred and interviewed the subject, critics, and disciplinary experts in coming to our conclusions. As a result of our interviews we concluded:

1. The subject did not directly receive NSF research funding as a Principal Investigator until late 2001 or 2002.
2. The Subject’s data is documented and available to researchers.
3. There are several concerns raised about the quality of the statistical analysis techniques that were used in the Subject’s research.
4. There is no specific evidence that the Subject falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct.
5. There was concern about how extensively the Subject’s research had influenced the debate in the overall research field.

[...]

To recommend a finding of research misconduct, the preponderance of the evidence must show that with culpable intent the Subject committed an act that meets the definition of research misconduct (in this case, data fabrication or data falsification).

The research in question was originally completed over 10 years ago. Although the Subject’s data is still available and still the focus of significant critical examination, no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the Subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.

Climate denialists will, completely within their character parameters, not give a shit. They’re not in the business of “facts”, they’re selling a fully antiscientific conspiracy theory that only grows stronger in the face of facts to the contrary. The next sentence of the report goes on to suggest that the only debate in the matter is whether the statistical methods used were appropriate, which is a wildly different conversation from the one we were having up until now. But the denialists are, frankly, famous for latching onto a single, easily misunderstood sentence.

From The Backfire Effect:

The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies.

That about sums it up.

The most horrible part about this is, while we do have facts to back up our claims, we are vulnerable to the same “you’re just experiencing the Backfire Effect” accusation — in much the same way as people who understand that the Earth is round might be vulnerable to such accusations from a flat-Earther. I mean, we’re also vulnerable to accusations of being polka-dotted unicorns with a penchant for human flesh, while we’re itemizing things that people could accuse us of if facts are thrown right out the window. But we’re vulnerable all the same, and I expect the first antiscience troll (who will no doubt show up first over at Greg Laden’s) will accuse us of being mired in our ideologies and accusations of malfeasance by some ever-widening conspiracy.

Only, it’s far more galling when, despite the lack of evidence for these accusations of malfeasance, they just keep on coming, repeated ad nauseam, because “malfeasance” is almost transparently the modus operandi of the folks who’d rather destroy the planet to make a buck. Attack your opponents’ strength, and all that. Explains why when we point out denialists’ weakness in whom they’re supporting (the oil industry), they counter by questioning the money-making intentions of people who write books about this stuff. They attack our strength in our lacking money as a motivating factor, by claiming we’re just trying to make a quick buck. Somehow. As though the pay scales between book authorship or scientific study grants, and owning a fucking oil company, are even remotely competitive.

This is the vector that this fight will take. We must expect that we are no longer able to simply sway people with mere facts; not when the lies are shouted from the rooftops and the truth merely whispered apologetically under the din of the denialists. We need to change our tactic — to not allow them to shout us down, to refuse to allow the media to bury the “corrections” to their anti-science hitpieces in the middle of their obits page. We need to hold the information gatekeepers responsible for the misinformation and the lies that are propagated. Our species’ future is at stake.

Jack Layton, 61, falls to cancer

Jack Layton abdicated leadership of the NDP less than a month ago to tend to the cancer that he once fought back. Today, that cancer has finally claimed him.

“We deeply regret to inform you that the Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones,” the statement read.

Details about funeral arrangements will be forthcoming, it said. The family released a letter from Layton to Canadians just after noon.

Layton’s death comes less than a month after he announced to the country that he was fighting a new form of cancer and was taking time off for treatment. Layton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2009 and underwent treatment for it. He continued working throughout that time and also battled a broken hip earlier this year. Layton used a cane for much of his time on the campaign trail this spring as he led the NDP to a historic victory on May 2.

The man brought the New Democratic Party from also-rans into the position of Official Opposition to the Harper government in one single historic election. And he did it just months before succumbing to his fate. I am gratified that Mr. Layton got to see such a great personal achievement come to fruition before he died, and am saddened that the political discourse will be the poorer for his passing.

Update: Mea culpa. He succumbed to a new form of cancer unrelated to his previous bout with prostate cancer. I can’t find any further details as to the specifics immediately, but the situation is no less tragic.

Update 2: Jack Layton wrote a final address knowing that his time was running out. Blockquoted in full below the fold.

[Read more...]

A good man needs some help.

DuWayne Brayton has asked that I help spread the word regarding his recent request for reading materials on how to deal with some problems he’s having with his developmentally difficult children. I’m more than happy to help, given that the majority of the books on his Amazon wish list are ~$10, and he’s been a stalwart ally in issues that I’ve considered important in the past, so this is but reciprocation.

Though money is extremely tight at the moment, we are scraping by. But there is a need, or at least something akin to a need that isn’t being met nearly so well as I would like. That would be books. Specifically, that would be books that are either references that are most useful to have around permanently and activity (mostly science) books that would also be more useful to have permanently. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to borrow books, but there are just some books that would be better to keep around.

Because of Caleb’s (nine year old) emotional issues, coupled with attention deficit problems that are in the range of as extreme as it can get, he is in a educational situation that is more behavior/social functioning focused, than academically focused. He is getting some reading, writing and math, but science and history/social studies are virtually non-existent.

Because of all that, I would like to invite anyone who can afford (mostly) ten bucks or less, to order something for us off my Amazon wishlist for the boys. For the most part they are boys that are directly intended for the boys, with some others that are books on parenting children with the sorts of problems that Caleb has. I am also going to be adding books to help children deal with the loss of a parent. Though I would assume their mother is still alive, she is no longer a part of their lives and I am not sure she will ever be. This has me delving into extremely unfamiliar territory.

I’m sure you know DuWayne from the comment threads around here or over at Greg Laden’s. He’s been struggling to raise his kids alone while trying to get a degree on the side, and he’s been doing, frankly, far better than I imagine I could in the same situation. I’ve gifted him with one of the books on coping, and if you check out the page, you’ll see not only what books he considers a high priority, but what books are already purchased (as they’ll turn to “Add to cart” rather than “Give as a gift”). That way you won’t have to worry about accidentally giving him something he already has.

I don’t like to ask for charity too often — I really try not to make a habit of begging. When I do, though, I try to maximize the good it will do. Given DuWayne’s situation, giving him the gift of information will cost you hardly a thing at $10 per book, and will benefit him and his children immeasurably. If you can, please help him.

Fox makes fun of scientists, NASA, and climate realists in one fell swoop

Fox News gets it wrong, on purpose, again. I know, I’m shocked too. They breathlessly title this article Aliens Could Attack Earth to End Global Warming, NASA Scientist Frets — having obviously been edited from “NASA Scientist Claims” (check the URL) because that was insufficient sneering.

First, let’s make this clear — the panel was asked to come up with scenarios why aliens might attack us. They were asked to come up with “neutral”, “unintentional harm” and “intentional harm” scenarios wherein we make first contact with aliens. Among the reasons aliens might decide to attack us are: 1) to enslave us, 2) to eat us, and 3) to strike preemptively before we wreck their shit.

Extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) “could attack and kill us, enslave us, or potentially even eat us. ETI could attack us out of selfishness or out of a more altruistic desire to protect the galaxy from us. We might be a threat to the galaxy just as we are a threat to our home planet,” it warns.

One such scenario is the stuff of many a Hollywood blockbuster, a “standard fight-to-win conflict: a war of the worlds.” But another might resonate more with fans of Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient truth.”

It speculates that aliens, worried we might inflict the damage done to our own planet on others, might “seek to preemptively destroy our civilization in order to protect other civilizations from us.”

The reason they might clue in to our presence to begin with? Well, we’re kinda in the process of wrecking our own environment, in ways that might be detectable from light years away via the same methods that we’re using right now to figure things out about exoplanets’ atmospheres. The fact that once, we had very little CO2 in the atmosphere, and now we’ve got a lot more (like double!), might be a big old warning flag to these extraterrestrials that something is happening on our planet and it might be worth checking it out. They might realize that we’ve entered the industrial age but haven’t matured past rampant capitalism, and that has arrested our ability to actually do something about having destroyed our only life support system. They might well be concerned that we’re spacefaring, and that we might spread our self-destructive habits to other niches in the cosmic neighborhood, maybe even threatening their own planet with our backward and self-centered ways.

But the scientists were asked to come up with sci-fi scenarios why they might attack us. This ain’t “oh those crazy liberals think we’d better stop that imaginary global warming that Al Gore invented or else some aliens will wipe us out”. This ain’t about the conservative ideals of profit-first, sustainability-never. This is speculation based on a specific request made of these scientists and it’s not all that far-fetched given that our own level of technology allows us to determine things about planets that are hundreds of light years away that might just tip us off that something big was changing on those planets too. This is barely science fiction. And yet Fox News takes the opportunity to craft the perfect headline, the one that’ll make sure us crazy liberals are laughed at for our crazy ideas.

There’s nothing objectionable about the study you’re sneering so hard at, Fox. I’d advise you stop sneering soon or your collective faces might freeze like that.

Chemical Party

I never took chemistry in school. Everything I’ve learned, what little bit I’ve actually retained anyway, I’ve learned through self-directed teaching or tangential points in various blog posts — and I generally have trouble with such fuzzy, organic stuff. And I’ll tell you, if all of these facts of fundamental chemistry were presented in this way, I’d be paying more attention.

Poor Neon. I don’t know why she’s so dejected that her guy went after Carbon — that leather hat is like a Hydrogen magnet. I suppose it’s more because she and Carbon have no chemistry, than because she and Hydrogen have no chemistry.

Hat tip to ex-coworker and occasional reader Lillian via Facebook.

The Fate of Dennis Markuze

An update on the strange case of “Dave Mabus” and his one-man crusade against atheists, scientists and journalists:

The Montreal man who had been wanted by police for allegedly making online death threats against people all over the world appeared in court on Friday to face 16 charges.

Known online as “David Mabus”, Dennis Markuze of St. Laurent has been charged with uttering death threats and for criminally harassing seven victims.

Two charges were laid against him Wednesday — and an additional 14 were added on Friday.

Markuze has been sent for a 30-day psychological evaluation at Montreal’s Pinel Institute and will appear in court again on Sept. 19.

Emphasis mine.

Regardless of what some attention-seekers on this blog and elsewhere have argued, Dennis Markuze’s actions have been, if performed by a rational actor, quite illegal. If he is not a rational actor, then I sincerely hope that he gets the help he needs. Thank goodness this is finally happening. Seventeen years is far too long to be nursing a delusion and an obsessive fixation like the one he’s been dealing with. We are only too lucky that nobody came to any harm.

For a thorough anthology of Dennis Markuze’s one-man war, check at Skeptical Software Tools, where Tim Farley’s built an unparalleled monument to Markuze’s fixation.

Epic Rap Battles of History: Gandalf vs Dumbledore

THIS. FUCKING THIS.

“You shall not pass!”

Okay, they’re taking liberties with the “history” part of the name, but I’m still loving every second of this one. There’s also Shakespeare vs Seuss, but that’s a bit iffy. Thing 1 and Thing 2 deserves to be seen, of course, but it’s just not a fantastic payoff compared to Gandalf schooling Dumbledore.

Hat tip to Clifton, who is apparently our resident emissary to the Epic Rap Battles of History by NicePeter.

Mock The Movie: Atom Age Vampire

Lifted from The JAYFK:

Last week, we kicked-off Mock The Movie with the SyFy Original MovieSands of Oblivion‘.  Participating smart-ass science fiction and horror movie lovers took to twitter and shared their snarky comments with the tag #mtm.  This week, we’ll be enjoying Atom Age Vampire!

This 1960′s gem has a damsel in distress, a mad scientist, and vampirism caused by science!!!  Could we ask for anything more? This is a movie dying to be mocked!

Here are the new Mock The Movie details:

  1. Start following @MockTM on twitter.
  2. Start watching Atom Age Vampire this Thursday, August 18th, at 9PM EST.  You can find it on HuluAchive Classic Movies or Google Videos.
  3. Once you’ve got Atom Age Vampire going, tweet your snarky comments to@MockTM.  Directing our tweets to @MockTM will keep our followers from being overwhelmed with our snark!

Atom Age Vampire this Thursday at 9PM EST.  It’s a date!

I’m participating in this movie. In fact, I built and will be running the twitter bot tomorrow night that will automatically retweet the “chosen ones” that get followed by @MockTM. Come one come all! It will be epic.

Well, as epic as “watching a crappy movie and snarking at it” can get. Which, for the record, is pretty damned epic.

It’s geek to me too

Stephanie Zvan posted her Science Online 2011 panel over at her blog, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind you of it, since I was at the panel as the live-tweeter. You can see me on the video in the front row sporting my screaming green Scicurious t-shirt and seriously lacking in the hair department.

It’s All Geek to Me from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

The audio quality is a bit iffy, but the subject matter is spot-on. How do you folks communicate in geeky ways?

Abiogenesis, chirality and narrowing down the alternatives

In the great “mythmaking” that is the scientific process, discovering things about events long lost to history is done a little bit differently than the method might suggest in more mundane circumstances. We develop plausible hypotheses regarding events like the abiogenesis event that occurred here on Earth, and then test them rigorously attempting to falsify each one in turn. Like Sherlock Holmes, or Dr. House, we’ll get to the kernel of the matter by eliminating all the alternatives until we are left with but one plausible truth. We know we’re on the right track when predictions about certain aspects of the theory are demonstrable in laboratories.

We may never learn the exact nature of the exact abiogenesis event that led to us (among multiple possible such events) any more than we’ll know the exact daily routine, shape, facial features, birthday or date of death of the single individual last common ancestor (among multiple possible last common ancestors of that ancestor’s species) between us and chimpanzees, but we know (by genetic and fossil evidence) that we are not that far removed. This should not matter in the investigation of how it could have happened — despite the fact that there are many theories about the event of abiogenesis. We know the first chemicals breached that fuzzy boundary between “mere chemical reaction” and “self-perpetuating chemical reaction” — in other words, between non-life and life — so we know abiogenesis had to happen somewhere. If it didn’t happen here, and we got here by panspermia, then it happened elsewhere in the universe first, but it happened once at the very least.

New research has been very promising as of late with regard to the greatest mystery our planet yet holds, potentially unlocking each of the sub-mysteries one at a time with plausible answers. One of these sub-mysteries involves the chirality of all life on Earth — every amino acid this planet uses as its biological Lego can exist in a right-handed or a left-handed form and would spontaneously form either one at identical odds, but every speck of life on this planet uses only the left-handed version. With our ever-improving knowledge of the early environment of the planet, we’ve discovered that aspartic acid trends sinistral, creating left-handed versions in large quantities in a crystalline structure under those conditions. This certainly does not confirm the theory, but it provides a good hypothetical “seed” that explains how the amino acids that form us all tended to be left-handed.

There’s also the question of why those simple building blocks like aspartic acid might have influenced the other amino acids that self-generated in the environment to follow suit in their chirality. So, scientists built on the earlier result and introduced the left-handed acids into an environment with equal proportion left- and right-handed amino acids, and found the left ones crystallized much like the aspartic acid crystal in the earlier experiment.

“These amino acids changed how the reactions work and allowed only the naturally occurring RNA precursors to be generated in a stable form,” said Hein. “In the end, we showed that an amazingly simple result emerged from some very complex and interconnected chemistry.”
The natural enantiomer of the RNA precursor molecules formed a crystal structure visible to the naked eye. The crystals are stable and avoid normal chemical breakdown. They can exist until the conditions are right for them to change into RNA.

This experiment had every possibility of falsifying the earlier hypothesis but it did not. More research will either disprove both these hypotheses, or confirm them repeatedly over many iterations until our confidence level has increased so that they’re the best plausible explanations. Or, who knows? Perhaps we’ll one day unearth some new evidence, and we’ll need a better explanation to incorporate that new knowledge.

That’s how science works.