Perspective: It’s Not a War on Science

17966156_647081865488137_7517680791825620468_o Perspective: It’s Not a War on Science by Clark A. Miller puts forward the thesis that

What appears to be a war on science by the current Congress and president is, in fact, no such thing. Fundamentally, it is a war on government2. To be more specific, it is a war on a form of government with which science has become deeply aligned and allied over the past century. To the disparate wings of the conservative movement that believe that US strength lies in its economic freedoms, its individual liberties, and its business enterprises, one truth binds them all: the federal government has become far too powerful.

ATTP has some trouble with this idea, but I recognised – and largely agreed with – it immeadiately1. Naturally enough my attempts to put forward that viewpoint (see the comments) was not an outstanding success, as I knew full well they would not be. It is an Iron Law that, just as any discussion of GW with denialists will end up with the Climatic Research Unit email controversy, so any attempt to discuss regulation or government overreach with the committed left will end up with our children working in mines.

So the main point I’ll try to make – without, of course, any hope of success – is that just as the “right wing” doesn’t believe the “left wing” when they argue for “evidence based policy” – they simply read that as “you want more government control, run by bureaucrats you’ll aim to appoint” – the “left wing” doesn’t believe the “right wing” when they rail against over regulation and government over reach. They simply read that as “tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare”. The two sides are quite different of course: the left is right about the science, when it comes to GW; but hopelessly illiterate when it comes to economics.


* Marching for science?
* The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression
* Is The Economist left- or right-wing? – a self-assessment.
* Over-regulated America – the Economist.
* Of course big business loves regulation – me
* Lawnmowing licenses: Crony capitalism in action


1. I don’t agree with everything he said, and he does get a bit lost in the middle. People can never resist over-elaborating what should be relatively simple arguments. And of course some of the denialists have become anti-science. Don’t get bogged down in detail.

2. Belated support comes from Nature: Beware the anti-science label; ht RS

Waterfalls in Antarctica

I’m not quite sure what to make of this1, but it seems interesting, and the video is lovely.

There are two papers: Antarctic ice shelf potentially stabilized by export of meltwater in surface river by Robin E. Bell et al., Nature 544, 344–348 (20 April 2017) doi:10.1038/nature22048:

Meltwater stored in ponds and crevasses can weaken and fracture ice shelves… However, surface rivers forming on ice shelves could potentially export stored meltwater and prevent its destructive effects. Here we present evidence for persistent active drainage networks… on the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica that export a large fraction of the ice shelf’s meltwater into the ocean. We find that active drainage has exported water off the ice surface through waterfalls and dolines for more than a century…

and Widespread movement of meltwater onto and across Antarctic ice shelves Jonathan Kingslake et al., Nature 544, 349–352 (20 April 2017) doi:10.1038/nature22049:

Surface meltwater drains across ice sheets… Numerical models of the Antarctic Ice Sheet that incorporate meltwater’s impact on ice shelves, but ignore the movement of water across the ice surface… we have little understanding of Antarctic-wide surface hydrology or how it will evolve. Here we show widespread drainage of meltwater across the surface of the ice sheet through surface streams and ponds (hereafter ‘surface drainage’) as far south as 85° S and as high as 1,300 metres above sea level. Our findings are based on satellite imagery from 1973 onwards and aerial photography from 1947 onwards. Surface drainage has persisted for decades, transporting water up to 120 kilometres from grounded ice onto and across ice shelves, feeding vast melt ponds up to 80 kilometres long.

Perhaps I’m not really doing my job of interpretation here. Never mind.


1. Nat Geo has a suitably cautious story. Or you may prefer CS Monitor.

2. Female, BTW.


* Constraining the mass balance of East Antarctica by Alba Martín-Español, Jonathan L. Bamber and Andrew Zammit-Mangion.

Marching for science?

I didn’t march for science; I was busy running the Head of the Cam (in something of a turn-up for the books, Nines won, in only a tiny fraction over 9 mins, a good time; Jesus were three seconds slower and in a welcome return to form Caius were only a second slower than that; it promises well for the summer). But my daughter went down to London for other reasons and got caught up which is where my pic comes from. But what am I to think of it all? Being English, and generally rather curmudgeonly, I can hardly be enthusiastic; but I can’t bring myself to be quite on RS’s side. I think maybe ATTP’s take suits me. Or, as usual, I’m happy to go with Gavin. The seems supportable enough: The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest. The last clause is slightly iffy though.

Why is it iffy? Well, if you ask the economists, they will tell you that the most economically efficient solution to CO2 emissions is a carbon tax. There’s a consensus on it, roughly as strong as the scientific consensus on GW. But the Obama adminstration was no closer that the Trump one to imposing a carbon tax. And yet no-one marched for it against Obama. Why not? Well, I think because “evidence based policies in the public interest” doesn’t quite mean the noble sentiments it pretends to; it’s actually code for “policies that we like”. And you don’t have to look too hard to see a party political theme: as the Graun says: many protesters excoriated the president with signs that likened him to a dangerous orange toxin or disparaged his now defunct university. Or try this pic from the Graun’s best-ten gallery. I know, I carefully selected it.

But everyone is blogging the MFS, mostly better than me. Instead, let’s broaden the topic to the Crisis of Western Civ(ilisation) by David Brooks (who he? Incidentally, I am unable to understand how anyone bemoaning the downfall of civilisation could possibly write it as “Civ”, unless he is thinking of Sid Meier, which seems unlikely; or is an unusually self-conscious barbarian). What somewhat surprises me is that this is news. People have been bemoaning the downfall of Western Civilisation since forever, but perhaps they do now have a point. We have got grossly fat, as a civilisation. Here’s a recent example, from CIP. We’re too rich. We can afford to make too many mistakes. The vital error-correcting function of natural selection – killing off stupid ideas – doesn’t function well any more. People can afford to vote for a bozo like Trump, because meh we’ll survive somehow. The idiot village Turks vote themselves a dictator. But I’m distracting myself, the people I’m worrying about are the intellectuals. It isn’t quite that they’ve lost faith in the Liberal project; it’s just that they take it too much for granted, assume it is so strong that they can piss around. Have you read “The Road to Serfdom”?

Update: evidence-based policy

Looking at wiki’s page on evidence based policy it is clearly very thin indeed. Most of the text seems to be based around overseas aid, rather than applications to “home” policy. It seems to have been used as a buzzword by the Blair govt; but did they pass the test? Clearly not: the Iraq war was the antithesis of evidence-based policy, policy-based evidence. There’s a brief nod to the Australian tariff board which is odd, I think, because I don’t see them recommending zero tariffs.

Update: Why I marched for science by Jon Butterworth

From the Graun.

One reason I think this march is needed is because there is a worrying trend at the moment toward isolationism and nationalism… Science and international collaboration are what we need to survive; to avoid killing ourselves, or each other, by accident or on purpose… But there is a danger than it leads to science being ignored, or taken for granted. That’s another reason today’s march is a good thing.Science will not make moral and political choices for us, or tell us what our goals should be.

This is a much smaller, but much more defensible, set of claims.


* The ice stupas of Ladakh: solving water crisis in the high desert of Himalaya
* Best #MarchforScience Posters – QS
* Abbott’s Stents In India – Price Caps Mean Products Disappear From The Market – Timmy
* Why March for Science? Because when it is attacked, only the elite benefit by Lucky Tran in the Graun is crap. You can’t substitute passion for thought. That’s what Trump is doing.
* Bart is in favour
* Brian in San Francisco
* We want to clear up a few things about what the March for Science stands for – mission creep; courtest of RS

The politics edition

17861804_10208277712079798_6959968742351560083_n I find myself unable to resist the calls to comment on the surprise calling of an UK election. But while here I’ll comment on Trump, too.

Theresa May seeks snap election to take UK through Brexit

[Update: this post was hopelessly wrong although, as one commentator was kind enough to say, it appeared perfectly sensible at the time. Follow the trail forward in time if you like: The politics edition, pre-election special and The politics edition, post-election special.]

Says everyone, including the FT, which adds things like The pound rose on expectations that Mrs May would win a much increased Commons majority, allowing her to sideline implacable Eurosceptics in her Conservative party and ensure a phased Brexit concluding with a UK/EU free-trade deal. Polls predict a heavy defeat for the opposition Labour party, which has been in disarray under the leadership of leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 says she needs to lose a vote of confidence, or get 2/3 of parliament to agree; she will get the latter3 which means that no-one will be able to complain that she promised not to seek an early election, since everyone else at least officially wants one too1. Via Timmy I find current poll figures:

* Conservatives: 44% (up 1 since Guardian/ICM two weeks ago)
* Labour: 26% (up 1)
* Ukip: 11% (no change)
* Lib Dems: 10% (down 1)
* Greens: 4% (no change)

What will happen? Labour will do badly, obviously; though Corbyn, trapped in his deranged world, is obliged to welcome an early election. Their loss will presumably trigger a new leadership contest allowing Corbyn to go back to being the back-bencher he always was. But, by then it will be too late to have any influence on the course of Brexit. The UKIP, nominally well placed to benefit, are (as Timmy points out) in a pretty poor state having recently indulged in another round of self-inflicted wounds (and perhaps that helps explain the timing). The Lib Dems are the obvious home for anyone pro-European. But, but: at the moment it is hard to take them seriously. Perhaps they’ll manage to pull themselves together for the campaign and impress? That would be good2. And the Greens too.

And so, inevitably, the prediction is for a Tory win and increased majority. TM sez

We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result. Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back. And as we look to the future, the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe… That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world. This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it… In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union… And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way… Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the government’s negotiating position in Europe… So we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.

Which is all fairly believable and will definitely Do. It is clear what strategy she has decided on. Quite how this can be reconciled with her pre-referendum weak-pro-remain stance I don’t know; perhaps she is just as much of an opportunist as Boris, but more competent; probably that question doesn’t matter.

I’m still very doubtful that the idiots on our side will be capable of talking to the idiots on the EU side and stitching up a useful deal within two years; given EU speeds, this seems implausible. So the most likely outcome must be exit with no deal, but then again there’s always the British muddle-through and the Euro-fudge, so who knows?

Anyway, it is clear that I have nothing beyond the obvious to say on the subject, so feel free to add your more valuable thoughts.

Trump the Killer

As played by Neil Young. Well it was all terribly exciting, wasn’t it? At least briefly. With a brief reprise. I’m looking forward to the third act in North Korea. Slightly more seriously: I think he has lucked out on this particular one or two, which (I’m prepared to be generous and guess, accidentally) serves as a useful distraction from his previous failures.

What about the Frogs?

Votez Macron.

And the Turks?

The idiots in the villages have voted themselves a dictator. Shades of the Commies.


1. Various people – such as the NS – will point out that she said, though not very firmly, that she wouldn’t call an early election. This will not gain any traction, because she is a pol, and no-one expects pols to keep to their promises, especially when expressed as weakly as she did.

2. As the Lib Dems themselves say, we will seize this chance. In any general election air war, the media want two sides. And, far more importantly, the voters want a real choice. They will be presented with three other parties all offering the same, pro-Brexit message… We will be the only party calling to keep Britain in the single market.

3. She did: The SNP wimped out.


* The Crucible of the Application Process by Dillon Bowen