ArtSunday: LIterature

Nature in Focus: Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson

Once upon a time readers actually wanted to learn from books…

Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson (image courtesy Goodreads)

After a spate of book reviews for new found writer friends, this essay takes a look at a book from the 2014 reading list Sharp Eyes: A Rambler’s Calendar of Fifty-two Weeks Among Insects, Birds, and Flowers  is a series of descriptions and discussions of weekly nature walks. It’s one of those wonderful late 19th century “educational” works that does its best to disguise itself as entertainment.

The book is an interesting relic of the late 19th century’s “naturalist” movement inspired, in part at least, by Henry David Thoreau. Naturalist, illustrator, and writer William Hamilton Gibson offers his observations of the New England woods around his Connecticut home. Sharp Eyes is heavy with mini-lectures in botany and entomology (one wishes for more about birds since those are for this reader the most interesting chapters) but Gibson writes in the literary journalist style of late 19th century American magazine work, so even the most tedious science lessons are larded with references to poetry and philosophy that leaven the scientific descriptions and explanations…. Continue reading

Kids today aren’t like we were

You know how schools sometimes have assemblies where outside speakers or entertainers put on a show for an hour? Right.

Well, when I was in first grade my school, Wallburg Elementary in sleepy little Wallburg, NC, had a musician come in. I don’t remember much about the show, except for this one thing. He said he was going to do something amazing. Then he draped a blanket over the piano, put on a pair of boxing gloves, sat down and went to town on a rag of some sort.

Holy hell! How did he DO THAT?! Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Japan and the whaling court ruling: not a great victory, but better than expected

Several months ago we posted about in interesting case in front of The International Court of Justice at The Hague—about whaling. Specifically the Australian government had petitioned the court to prevent Japan from whaling in waters designated as a protection area for whales by the Australian government in the Southern Ocean. Japan has been continuing its whaling practices for several decades under the guise of “scientific research” in spite of a formal ban on whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Well, yesterday the International Court of Justice, in a strong opinion that probably surprised even the most ardent supporters of Australia’s suit, essentially called bullshit on Japan’s policies. Continue reading

In an alternate universe, life sucks for Manchester United but is AWESOME for me

Speculative journalism and Quantum Mechanics provide us all with a vision for a better life.

The other day I was lamenting to one of my online sports groups that the place would be a lot more fun if we had a couple of vocal Manchester United supporters on board. Normally I don’t long for the company of muppets, but this year is special for us Manc haters. See, the once-mighty Red Devils, having seen legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retire over the summer, find themselves in a really disappointing mess under new head man David Moyes. Disappointing for United fans, that is – the rest of the world can’t stop laughing.

Manchester’s supporters have gotten accustomed to winning, and not winning isn’t settling well. As sports fans everywhere know, few things on Earth are bitchier and whinier and altogether more entertaining than the entitled backers of a dynasty run aground. Hence my longing for the wailing of Mancs on the list. (The place hasn’t been totally unrewarding, I should note. We do have a couple of Arsenal fans, and they’re generally easy enough to stir up, especially after a 6-0 pasting at the hands of my beloved Chelsea.)

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: Poisoning discussion is easier than countering climate science

If you can’t dispute the facts, attacking your opponent may distort the debate before it even starts.

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

For more posts in this series, please click here.

Debates can be difficult. This is especially true when you’re arguing against subjects that are nearly indisputable, such as evolution or industrial climate disruption (aka climate change). When faced with this situation, it is nearly always easier to create a distraction than it is to argue with either the science or the data underlying it. If the distraction is successful, then you don’t even have to debate the science or data at all – you get to focus on something that you choose and that may be totally unrelated to the argument at hand.

In discussions of climate disruption there are a number of common distractions. For example, the term “catastrophic global warming” is a straw man – a claim that scientists don’t actually make that’s easier to debate than the actual nature of climate change and model projections. Similarly, the argument that the supposedly missing tropospheric hot spot disproves greenhouse gas-driven climate disruption is another straw man, in this case because it’s not the hot spot that demonstrates greenhouse gases, but rather the heating in the troposphere and the cooling in the stratosphere.

Sometimes, however, deniers of industrial climate disruption try to derail any discussion of climate science before it even starts. One way they do this is by using a tactic and logical fallacy known as “poisoning the well,” and it’s the focus of today’s Climate Illogic. Continue reading

CATEGORY: TunesDay

From The Raveonettes to Belle & Sebastian? Streaming music algorithms shouldn’t suck this badly…

Predicting bands a user is going to like isn’t easy. But surely Spotify, Pandora and iTunes can do better than this.

I’m a freak for new music. Always have been. In a given day I’m usually listening to whatever cool stuff I have discovered recently, backtracking and catching up on bands I haven’t listened to lately, and trying to find new artists to fall in love with and suggest to my friends.

Finding new music is a different challenge than it used to be. Once upon a time you could turn on the radio and hear the latest and greatest. It’s been a long time since that worked, though – now radio is the last place you look for cool tuneage. Continue reading

Taylor_Heartland_NCA

Roy Spencer calls climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis”

Roy Spencer’s rant on climate change “deniers” vs. “global warming Nazis” indicates that his signature achievements are in the past.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

There was a point when climate scientist Roy Spencer was widely respected for essentially inventing the method that scientists use to measure the Earth’s temperature from satellites. But since the early 1990s, Spencer’s reputation has suffered a number of self-inflicted injuries. For example, Spencer’s evangelical faith has led him to reject evolution in favor of intelligent design. And he’s been quick to conclude that global warming is overblown while only reluctantly accepting corrections that have nearly always shown his conclusions were biased cold. In short, Spencer has demonstrated that he is no longer able to separate his biases from his science.

But Spencer’s post calling climate experts and global warming activists “global warming Nazis” in response to being called a “denier” of global warming indicates that Spencer – who has been called to testify before Congress at least three times – has finally gone completely off the rails. Continue reading

New study says your memory is lying to you

The brain updates memories to make them more relevant and useful. It isn’t trying to accurately remember what happened. So, what do you remember that’s wrong?

Science has long known that human memory is far less reliable than most people imagine. For fun, Google [memory not reliable] and when you get a few spare minutes work your way through the 89,300,000 results that pop up.

I first encountered this body of research – not all of it, of course – as an undergrad at Wake Forest in Dr. Jerry Burger’s Intro to Psychology class, and then we studied it a bit more when I later took him for Social Psych. Utterly fascinating was the research on eyewitness memory in criminal investigations. We all imagine that if we’re sitting in a room watching a lecture and a guy bursts in and beats up the professor, we could probably give an accurate enough description and pick him out of a lineup a few minutes later, but it turns out that this isn’t the case nearly as often as you’d imagine. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Bill Nye’s science vs. creationism “debate” with Ken Ham – some random thoughts

Some musings on the creationism debate between science educator Bill Nye and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham.

I didn’t watch last night’s debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Creationism Museum co-founder Ken Ham for two reasons. First, I had more important things to do, like kissing my kids goodnight, painting my basement, cuddling with the cats, making my wife’s coffee, and getting a good night’s sleep. Second, I’m generally against scientists debating non-scientists on scientific subjects. Most scientists don’t have the personality or the training to do well in a debate setting, even when they’re right. A non-scientist with training in debate and rhetoric could take the position that the sky isn’t blue and still win the debate against an untrained scientist.

I was even more against Nye debating a creationist, not just because he’s a scientist debating science with a non-scientist. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

New Facebook app update demands unreasonable privacy access – The Tech Curmudgeon

The Borg meet the One App in the Facebook app’s latest privacy permissions.

Internet and Social MediaThe Tech Curmudgeon has got a Facebook app on his smartphone, probably like nearly everyone else in the English-speaking world. But the Tech Curmudgeon hasn’t updated it to the latest app, and he won’t. In fact, when his current version of the Facebook app stops working, the Tech Curmudgeon will purge the app from his phone entirely rather than update to the next version. And when his phone finally dies and the Tech Curmudgeon has to get a new one, he’ll probably purge the Facebook app from that one too, all because Facebook’s recent update has asked for permissions no one in their right mind would give Facebook. Continue reading

And now, let’s get 2014 started: Benjamin Bratton’s epic anti-TED Talk TED Talk

TEDx: It’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” for the Techoliterati crowd.

Happy New Year, a few hours early, from the staff of Scholars & Rogues. Have fun tonight, but please be careful. Big holiday occasions are amateur night and we don’t want you getting run over by drunken idiots. It goes without saying that we don’t want you being drunken idiots.

That said, I’m going to ask you to take ten minutes to read this (or watch video, which is below). It’s Benjamin Bratton’s TEDx Talk in San Diego a couple weeks ago, where he was apparently invited by TED to stomp the balls off everything they do and stand for. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: don’t be distracted by irrational assertions of global warming catastrophe and crisis

“Global warming crisis” and “catastrophic global warming” are common straw man arguments.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

There are a couple of terms commonly used by climate disruption deniers (those who deny that industrial climate disruption1 is derived from widely accepted scientific laws) that are nearly always attempts to distract the reader (aka “red herrings”). These terms often are used specifically because they appear to be both relevant and reasonable, but are actually neither. Instead, these terms are logical errors, specifically “straw men” logical fallacies.

These terms are “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” as well as their variants. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Faux Pause: climate contrarians lose favorite talking point

by Greg Laden

In an ongoing effort to discredit mainstream climate science, climate contrarians have incorrectly asserted that there is a “pause” in the rate of global warming. This was never true,  but now, it is even less true.

CATEGORY: ClimateGreg Laden teaches anthropology at Century College and blogs for National Geographic Scienceblogs.com. He is a long time resident of the Twin Cities and has written extensively on matters of climate change and other areas of science.

To any objective observer, the Earth is now a world warmed. The decade 2001-2010 was the hottest decade on record, and every single month since March 1985 has been warmer than the 20th century average.   Continue reading

Screen capture of Heartland email using AMS logo.

Heartland Institute email distorts American Meteorological Society study, admits it’s all about “spin”

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Abstract: The Heartland Institute sent an email that inaccurately reported the results of a study into the scientific consensus about the nature of global warming. The American Meteorological Society objected to the deceptive nature of the email, and so Heartland’s President Joseph Bast defended the email. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, both the email and Bast chose instead to distort the study’s findings, quote mine, and ignore inconvenient results in the service of an admitted desire to fool the public into disbelieving that climate change is real, human caused, and likely to be harmful.

On November 26, the Heartland Institute sent a direct marketing email that distorted the results of a study investigating the level and strength of scientific consensus about industrial climate disruption among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In addition to the spam-like tracking features embedded in the email, it also prominently featured the seal of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and was only identified as coming from Heartland in the footer. Following a public complaint by Keith L. Seitter, the Executive Director of the AMS, Heartland President Joseph Bast published a defense of the email in which Bast claimed that everything in the email was true, that Heartland had done nothing wrong, and more or less told Seitter to quit complaining.

Given Heartland’s long history of deception, dishonesty, and hypocrisy with respect to industrial climate disruption, S&R compared the claims made in the email and by Bast in his defense with the actual study (“Meteorologists’s views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members,” hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). S&R found that the email and Bast’s blog both fail to accurately describe the results of Stenhouse et al 2013 in multiple ways. Both distort the study’s finding on the scientific consensus among AMS members, both caricature the study’s findings on how political ideology is related to thinking that global warming is happening, the email excises a critical part of a quote and Bast defends the quote mining, and both fail to mention that Stenhouse et al 2013 replicates another study into the scientific consensus. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

James Taylor of Heartland Institute twists new AMS study to cast doubt upon industrial climate disruption consensus

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

Abstract: James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute has published a Forbes blog in which he distorts the results of a new Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society study. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, Taylor chose to distort the study using logic errors, dishonest and misattributed quotes, and even lying about the study’s methodology. Taylor’s blog represents yet another example in a long history of twisting surveys and studies in a failed attempt to manufacture doubt the scientific consensus about global warming.

On November 20, 2013, James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute published a blog at Forbes where he discussed a new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled “Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members” by Neil Stenhouse and nine other co-authors (hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). Stenhouse et al 2013 found, among other things, that 93% of the most knowledgeable climate experts think that climate disruption has occurred over the last 150 years and that human activity is part of the cause.

Rather than focusing on the main points of study, Taylor instead focused on a secondary conclusion (that only 52% of all respondents think that the last 150 years of climate disruption are “mostly” caused by human activity), failed to provide any of the study’s context for that conclusion, and in the process distorted the study’s results in an attempt to manufacture doubt about the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding industrial climate disruption1. Continue reading

Google

SEO: Google’s Hummingbird algorithm from a content strategist’s perspective

Marketing and Search aren’t different things anymore, if they ever were.

Google recently implemented their new “Hummingbird” organic search algorithm, perhaps the company’s most significant overhaul in more than a decade. Thomas Claburn at Information Week explains that Hummingbird is an expansion of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which was

“introduced last year as a way to help its search engine understand the relationships between concepts rather than simply matching keywords in documents. The Knowledge Graph structures data, so that a search for, say, Marie Curie, returns facts about her contributions to science, her life, her family and other related information, not all of which are necessarily contained in the same document.” Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Daily Caller gets it wrong on global warming spending

Michael Bastasch’s shallow and oversimplified reading of federal spending for climate disruption vs. border security misleads his audience.

CATEGORY: ClimateAn article in the Daily Caller on October 28 incorrectly claimed that the federal government was spending twice as much to address industrial climate disruption as it was spending on border security. In the process, the author of the article, Michael Bastasch, misrepresented both the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget and the federal climate change expenditures for 2013. Continue reading

PowerPoint is making us dumber and damaging our businesses

Yes, PowerPoint sucks. Here’s why, plus some suggestions about how to fix the problem.

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall. – Edward Tufte Continue reading

Slut-shaming quantified: science catches up with female power

CATEGORY: RaceGenderFellow Scrogue Russ Wellen called our attention to an article in the New York Times, “A Cold War Fought by Women,” about research by Dr. Sarah Hrdy that quantifies female competition and aggression. Not surprisingly, Dr. Hrdy and her colleagues conclude that it exists and, importantly from a scientific standpoint, it can be measured through experiments that can be replicated. Continue reading