Climate Illogic: Appealing to history to predict the future is often illogical

When the conditions today are significantly different from conditions in the past, relying on the past to predict the present or the future is an illogical appeal to history.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

EPICA ice core data (image source: antarcticglaciers.org)

There are a lot of illogical arguments made by climate disruption deniers (those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of industrial climate disruption). One of the most common illogical arguments is that increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) today can’t cause global warming because CO2 increased after global warming had already started when previous ice ages were ending. This argument sounds reasonable, but it’s actually a logical fallacy known as a “predictive appeal to history” (also known as an “appeal to tradition“). It’s the wrong same argument as “we’ve always done it this way, so we have to keep doing this way.”

To illustrate the issue with this argument, let’s look at an apocryphal story told by Richard Quinnell to engineers:

In the early 1940s, so the story goes, the Army wanted a dependable supply of llama dung, as required by specifications for treating the leather used in airplane seats. Submarine attacks made shipping from South America unreliable, so the Army attempted to establish a herd of llamas in New Jersey. Only after the attempt failed did anyone question the specification.

Subsequent research revealed that the US Army had copied a British Army specification dating back to Great Britain’s era of colonial expansion. The original specification applied to saddle leather. Great Britain’s pressing need for cavalry to patrol its many colonies meant bring together raw recruits, untrained horses, and new saddles. The leather smell made the horses skittish and unmanageable. Treating the saddle leather with llama dung imparted an odor that calmed the horses. The treatment, therefore, became part of the leather’s specification, which remained unchanged for a century.

The moral of the story is that, since airplanes don’t need to be calmed down, the llama dung was unnecessary. Something had changed that rendered the historical knowledge irrelevant. Continue reading

At what point can a citizen defend himself against an assault by a police officer?

Or, for that matter, what about a good Samaritan coming to the aid of a victim being beaten by someone who turns out to be a police officer?

I came across the following video from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showing what appears to be a police officer assaulting, for no obvious reason, a member of the public. And at the moment, the victim of this assault has been charged with several crimes, yet the officer has not.

The officer is white. The victim, Anthony Promvongsa, is a Loatian-American.

This, following so closely on the heels of the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez in the killing of Philando Castile and a recent visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, has got me thinking more about the relationship of the public to law enforcement. Specifically, at what point is a member of the public allowed to defend him- or herself against an assault by a police officer? Continue reading

Climate Science for Everyone: How do scientists measure the temperature of the Earth?

To read other articles in this series, click here.

Figure 1: Weather station (image credit: Blundells.org)

Before we answer the question in the title above, I’m first going to ask and answer a different question: how do you measure the temperature of a glass of water?

I’m guessing that most people will answer the question with some variation of “use a thermometer.” Stick a digital or glass thermometer into the cup, measure the digital reading or look at the colored bar inside the glass, and write down the number. Done, right?

Wrong.

We didn’t measure the temperature of the cup of water at all. We measured the temperature of the water that was next to the thermometer at a time just before we looked at the thermometer. But when we put the thermometer into the water, that act changed the temperature slightly as energy flowed between the thermometer and the water.

We can try again, of course. Let’s put the thermometer into the water again and let it sit for a little while, until we think that the probe and the temperature of the water have equalized, write down the number, and we’ve got it, right?

Nope, I’m afraid not. We’re still only measuring the temperature of the water that’s next to the thermometer. Continue reading

Donald’s long history of doing things just because he can

Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do that thing.

Trump meets Comey at an Oval Office reception (Image Credit: Andrew Harrer / POOL / EPA)

In case you missed it, the Washington Post broke a story about Donald revealing classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. In response, Donald tweeted that he has the “absolute right” to share classified information with anyone he likes.

Donald is right. The President is the ultimate authority when it comes to deciding what to share or not. If the President wants to burn an intelligence source (resulting in the imprisonment or death of that source), the President has the authority to do so. If the President wants to publish detailed notes describing exactly how an intelligence agency does gathers their intelligence, the President can do so. There are only two checks on the President’s ability to do this. The first is the President’s advisors convincing the President not to share sensitive information. The second is the Congress’ Constitutional authority to impeach, find the President guilty of treason or other crimes, and remove him from office.

Ultimately, though, this is an issue of what a President can do, vs. what a President should do. And that’s the problem with Donald – so far as I can tell, he’s never bothered asking himself whether he should do something. If Donald could, Donald did. Continue reading

Dear Donald, the FBI needs to enforce federal law not resurrect the spirit of J. Edgar Hoover

Dear Donald,

Two nights ago, after firing now former FBI director James Comey, you tweeted the following:

With all due respect, Donald, what the FBI needs is someone who will enforce federal law. I’m not even sure what you mean by the “spirit and prestige” as it applies to the FBI. Are you talking about the good old days, like when J. Edgar Hoover was in charge and the FBI illegally hunted down communists, both real and imagined? Or the good old days when J. Edgar Hoover was in charge and had agents infiltrate the civil rights movement? Or the good old days when the FBI infiltrated various governments within Latin America?

Law enforcement isn’t often prestigious, Donald, locally or federally. And frankly, given you embedded a slavishly loyal racist as your Attorney General, the FBI needs a director who will be independent of you. Continue reading

What’s wrong with this clickbait Washington Post headline?

I’ve been seeing this headline for days now and it bother me a lot:

‘Heart-wrenching and incomprehensible’: 18 fraternity members charged in Penn State hazing death

First, a little background. On February 4, 2017, 19-year Timothy Piazza fell down the stairs at the Pennsylvania State University Beta Theta Pi house during a pledge celebration party after drinking excessively. Instead of taking their injured pledge to the hospital, his fraternity brothers put him on a couch for 12 hours while they debated what to do with him and continued to drink. Continue reading

American vs. unAmerican values, according to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution

Border and airport security are today’s hot-button Fourth Amendment issues, but whether body scanners and demanding cell phone access is unAmerican remains to be determined by the courts.

For other articles on unAmerican values, click here

Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, the United States of America would not exist. As such, the values laid out in these two documents are, by definition, American values. And any values held in opposition to the values in these documents are, again by definition, unAmerican.

The Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Image credit: REUTERS/Christian Charisius (GERMANY – Tags: TRANSPORT SCI TECH)

A person and their property may not be searched without probable cause. This right is regularly pushed against by law enforcement for reasons of public safety, and the courts regularly have to address what qualifies as probable cause and under what conditions this applies. For example, is it an unreasonable search to force an airline passenger to submit to a metal detector or millimeter wave scan? Is it unreasonable to pat down a passenger whom is shown to have something on their person or who refuses to pass through a scanner? Continue reading

Donald’s “judge shopping” anti-liberal dog whistle tweets (Updated)

Update: I got two terms confused, “judge shopping” vs. “jurisdictional arbitrage.” I’ve updated the paragraph accordingly

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of California stopped implementation of Donald’s executive order to eliminate money for sanctuary cities because it was likely unconstitutional. The case was heard by California because it had been brought by the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, both located in California.

And yet this is what Donald tweeted:

What part of “US District Court judge” did you not understand, Donald? Sure, if you sue, you’ll go through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, before you get to the Supreme Court, but you haven’t done that yet. Continue reading

SVR this week means Science Video Roundup

Title: SVR means Science Video Roundup this week

Saturday Video Roundup this week is all science videos.

First, Neil DeGrasse Tyson on science as a method to discover truth and how that truth is true whether you believe it or not.


Continue reading

There is more to experiencing life than mere sight

Try this: stop, close your eyes, and focus on your other senses instead. You might discover a world beyond your eyes that you haven’t payed enough attention to.

Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

“Your eyes can deceive you – don’t trust them” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

We experience the world so much through our eyes. Poets and philosophers have talked about our eyes being windows into our souls, about a picture – perceived via our vision – being worth a thousand words. Those of us who are able to see normally (or with minimal correction to our vision) too often pity the blind and nearly blind for being unable to experience the beauty of a sunset or appreciate the artistry of a painting.

But Obi-Wan’s wisdom is known to anyone who has studied how easily our brains can be tricked by visual illusions. Our eyes can be deceived. As amazing a product of evolution eyesight is, it isn’t perfect by any means. And while it’s possible to have a profound experience looking at a photograph or inspecting a microbe through a microscope, we have other senses. And it’s possible to have profound experiences that are driven by our other senses as well.

Over the years, I’ve had profound experiences that had little or nothing to do with my vision. Not always good experiences, but there’s nothing in the definition of “profound” that requires the experience to be a good or pleasant one. Continue reading

Imperial Stormtroopers are precise in exactly which galaxy far, far away?

Image credit: Knowyourmeme.com

If you have ever watched the original Star Trek TV series, you know that anyone on an away team wearing a red shirt was doomed to die. Except Scotty – Scotty is invincible.

And if you’ve seen the original three Star Wars movies (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi), you’ll know that Stormtroopers can not hit anything. Combine these two foibles and you get the SF fanboy/girl joke at right.

Which brings me to my point. Continue reading

Gorsuch should be the Democrats’ deserved pound of flesh

Neil Gorsuch and Merrick Garland (image credit: CNN)

If I was a US Senator, here’s what I would do about the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Democrats filibustering his vote, and the possibility of rule changes.

First, I’d let Gorsuch’s nomination fail. If it took a filibuster by the Democrats to kill it, so be it. After what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley did to Merrick Garland’s nomination, the Democrats have a right to their pound of flesh. They’ve earned it. They deserve it. And if it takes a filibuster against Gorsuch to give them their pound of flesh, so be it.

Second, I’d tell Donald that I was going to let Democrats have their pound of flesh and to get his second choice option ready to submit, because he is going to need his backup nominee. Continue reading

American vs. unAmerican values, according to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

When it comes to the Second Amendment, only the extreme positions of banning all firearms or allowing unrestricted access to all firearms are unAmerican.

The Second Amendment (image credit: tenthamendmentcenter.com)

For other articles on unAmerican values, click here

Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, the United States of America would not exist. As such, the values laid out in these two documents are, by definition, American values. And any values held in opposition to the values in these documents are, again by definition, unAmerican.

The Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Due to the unclear wording of the Second Amendment and the presence of an unexpected comma, the Second Amendment’s intent is vague. Until 2007, the Supreme Court had held that the Second Amendment applied to only the collective ownership of firearms of militias, most commonly understood to be the National Guards of the various states. In the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court overturned this long history and held that the Second Amendment defined an individual right to possess firearms. Heller also held that the right was not unlimited, although exactly what limits are permissible has not yet been tested at the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, however, the confusing language and sentence structure of the Second Amendment means that Americans can hold a variety of opinions about firearms and still be aligned with American values. Continue reading

Tesla is insanely overvalued vis-a-vis Ford and GM

Tesla logo

Every once in a while I’m reminded in stark terms why I’m not a market trader, why I don’t consider even the most sacrosanct economic “laws” as nothing more than generic guidelines, and why the market should always be treated as if it’s almost, but not quite as rational as a rabid, starving badger suffering from mad cow disease. Today’s example is this: Tesla shares break $300 for the first time, closing in on GM’s market cap.

In no way is Telsa anywhere near as valuable as Ford or GM. Last quarter, Telsa sold 25,418 vehicles. Ford, on the other hand, sold nearly 10x that many in March alone. And GM? They sold 203,133 vehicles in March. Continue reading

American vs. unAmerican values, according to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

Values that run contrary to the Constitution of the United States of America are, by definition, unAmerican values. Let’s consider the rights defined by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment (image credit: Odyssey Online)

For a discussion of unAmerican values pertaining to the Declaration of Independence, click here.

Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, the United States would not exist. As such, the values laid out in these two documents are, by definition, American values. And any values held in opposition to the values in these documents are, again by definition, unAmerican.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. It is not now and has never been a Christian nation. Anyone who wants the United States to be run in strict adherence to Christian morality – or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Wiccan morality – is advocating for an unAmerican position. Similarly, requiring prayer in a public school is also unAmerican. Continue reading

Obamacare repeal exposes House Republicans’ policy nakedness (update #2)

After seven years of political games without having to govern, House Republicans are damned if they repeal Obamacare, and damned if they don’t.

(Image credit: The Nation)

Updated: Added WaPo link and quote at the bottom.

Update #2: Paul Ryan pulls the AHCA. See CNN link and details at the bottom.

So the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare), the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was supposed to go to a vote yesterday. That didn’t happen. So the AHCA is being debated on the House floor and voted on today instead. After Donald threatened to “walk away” from repealing Obamacare if the House couldn’t pass the bill today. And after the Congressional Budget Office re-scored the amended bill as still costing 24 million people their health insurance and reducing the deficit by less than half of what the introduced bill did ($150 billion over 10 years for the amended bill vs. 334 billion originally).

The wonderful thing is that, no matter what the House Republicans do today, they lose. Either they overreach and risk losing their seats in 2018, or they fail to deliver on their “repeal and replace Obamacare” campaign promises and risk losing their seats in 2018. Either way, they lose. Continue reading

Donald’s “America First” budget puts Americans dead last

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

This is the America First budget. In fact, we wrote it using the president’s own words. We went through his speeches. We went through articles that have been written about his policies … and we turned those policies into numbers. (from NPR)

That’s what Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said while briefing reporters on Donald’s proposed budget.

America first.

How does eliminating the healthcare of 24 million people put America first?

How does eliminating funding for the Independent Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial chemical accidents and ensures the safety of the public, put America first?

How does eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which ensures universal access and helps fund non-profit, community television and radio stations around the country, put America first?

How does defunding the organization that helps train and pay for minorities to access civil rights lawyers, the Legal Services Corporation, put America first? Continue reading

The Congressional Budget Office scores Trumpcare: immoral

Obamacare gave 23 million people medical insurance; Trumpcare will strip it away from 24 million.

Congressional Budget Office logo

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Trumpcare will cost 24 million people their health insurance, with 14 million of those losses coming next year (assuming Trumpcare passes this year).

As the end of 2016, Obamacare lowered the uninsured rate from right before Obamacare took effect to 10.9%. That’s about 23 million more people with health insurance.

Medicaid (the medical insurance program for the poor) would be cut by $880 billion over the next 10 years. That reverses the tax increase levied on the wealthy to pay for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and the CBO estimates that Trumpcare will result in 14 million poor people losing Medicaid over the next 10 years. 14 million people.

I’ve been happily paying higher taxes without complaint for years so that my income could subsidize health insurance for people who couldn’t afford it – like friends and former coworkers who had been out of work and either had to self-insure for an insane amount of money or go without insurance and pray they didn’t get sick. It was the moral thing to do in 2013, and it still is. Continue reading

Nearly everything you need to know about TrumpCare

Trumpcare (image credit: NotionsCapitol)

TrumpCare’s first draft was written in secret. Obamacare was written largely in the public view.

TrumpCare was written over the course of a few weeks. Obamacare was written over the course of four months.

When drafting Trumpcare, Republicans didn’t get public input from doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, or patients’ advocacy groups. Democrats held public hearings with doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and advocacy groups to get their input on early drafts.

TrumpCare was introduced to the House before the Congressional Budget Office had a chance to estimate how much money TrumpCare would save or cost, or how many people would lose their insurance. Obamacare went through multiple revisions, most of which were reviewed by the CBO. Continue reading

Large cuts to NOAA research, satellite operations will degrade weather forecasting and military preparedness

Donald’s proposed deep cuts to NOAA satellite operations will make weather forecasting less reliable and run counter to Donald’s goal of “rebuilding” the military.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

According to the Washington Post, Donald is considering deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of his proposed budget. The anonymous sources upon which the Post based their article cautioned that the exact details of which programs would get cut and by how much would likely change, but the relative magnitudes of the reported cuts provide some insight into Donald’s thinking:

Based on these numbers, we can surmise that Donald doesn’t want to impact weather forecasting (which is important to literally everyone), wants to maintain the fishing industry, but wants to cut most climate science and government-funded research out of NOAA. The problem is that it’s not going to work. Continue reading