You did it, friend. You helped discover the cure for cancer. Pretty big deal, that. Just imagine: Within 20 years, leukemia and lymphoma could end up being nothing more than trendy baby names - alongside yours.
Understandably, your first impulse might be to share your discovery. Tell the world! But not so fast, professor. Your holier-than-thou plan for sainthood has one big flaw: that fancy little cure of yours is worth a pretty little penny. And divulging that cure before someone can patent it is likely to land you in a prison cell for crimes against economic disparity. Quarterly profits are people too, you know. And the reality is whether you want to be a saint or not, the economic considerations that govern academic research in the United States almost give one no choice but to be a scoundrel.
It doesn’t matter if you start out working for a university. Scientists are given two choices for getting their research funded, academia or not: go to work for the Pentagon or start making something you can patent. And the government and its corporations want it that way.
Of the $140bn in research and development funding requested by President Barack Obama for 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than half goes through the Department of Defense; less than $30bn through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That invariably leads to a shift in resources, with scientists going to where the money is: instead of finding ways to cure, finding high-tech ways to kill or otherwise aid the war effort. Researchers at the University of Arizona, for instance, received a $1.5m grant to “adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives”, which speaks rather well to the US government’s priorities and the toll it takes on research that has the general public in mind. [READ]
Analysis of climate change modelling for past 15 years reveal accurate forecasts of rising global temperatures
The debate around the accuracy of climate modelling and forecasting has been especially intense recently, due to suggestions that forecasts have exaggerated the warming observed so far – and therefore also the level warming that can be expected in the future. But the new research casts serious doubts on these claims, and should give a boost to confidence in scientific predictions of climate change.
The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience, explores the performance of a climate forecast based on data up to 1996 by comparing it with the actual temperatures observed since. The results show that scientists accurately predicted the warming experienced in the past decade, relative to the decade to 1996, to within a few hundredths of a degree.
The forecast, published in 1999 by Myles Allen and colleagues at Oxford University, was one of the first to combine complex computer simulations of the climate system with adjustments based on historical observations to produce both a most likely global mean warming and a range of uncertainty. It predicted that the decade ending in December 2012 would be a quarter of degree warmer than the decade ending in August 1996 – and this proved almost precisely correct.
The study is the first of its kind because reviewing a climate forecast meaningfully requires at least 15 years of observations to compare against. Assessments based on shorter periods are prone to being misleading due to natural short-term variability in the climate.
I devoured Lord Stern’s now famous report six years ago (has it been that long!?). At the time Stern’s report was very controversial. It focused primarily on the economic impacts from climate, and had included some incredibly high numbers. It was widely thought to be out-of-touch with reality - that his numbers were wildly overestimated and his analysis of the models was flawed. True, this reception has softened somewhat over the years.
Now Stern says he didn’t go far enough.
Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”
The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”
He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.
“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable. Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry. It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands. We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the cost would be terrible – all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years. But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.Bill McKibben
According to IEA projections, the U.S. will overtake Russia as the world’s top gas producer by 2015 and will pass Saudi Arabia as the No. 1 global oil producer by 2017. By 2035 the U.S. is likely to be energy self-sufficient and an exporter of oil and liquefied natural gas. Experts are only now beginning to absorb a gusher of geopolitical consequences.
Just when it seemed America’s global influence might be ebbing, the world’s leading military and economic power was adding unconventional energy weapons to its arsenal. The Obama administration – confronting fiscal cliffs, Middle Eastern conflagrations and China’s rise — is only now beginning to understand how to leverage this energy windfall as the president shifts his efforts from re-election to historic legacy.
Those who have despaired about American decline – either relative or absolute — in a world where less democratic and benevolent powers are rising, now hope for an American comeback. Those less inclined toward U.S. leadership worry that this fossil-fuel blessing might reverse the tide toward a more politically humble and environmentally conscious America.
Kempe wants to talk about the billions of dollars in investment and tax revenues this oil boom will give the US, and about the 3 million jobs it will create. He wants to talk about the US not having to be the gatekeeper in the Gulf any more, and about Arab or Chinese consternation when they realize that fact.
What he doesn’t want to talk about is the basic math of climate change. Hauling all that oil and gas out fo the ground may well be worth $27 trillion to Big Energy, but it means 2,795 gigatons of released carbon, more than enough to take the world past every tipping point and into “extinction event” territory. Kempe doesn’t want to talk about the billions who will die a century from now, the vast cost of international and national insecurity caused by the upheavals climate change will bring, or the millions of Americans who will over the next few decades lose their livelihood as the Southwest dries up for a thousand years.
For the sake of a few decades of profit and power, those in charge of the nation are willing to sacrifice everything that comes afterwards.
The Iowa Climate Statement updates the 2010 report, reflecting the year’s lingering drought and the belief that it signifies what many scientists have predicted — increasing instability in weather patterns will lead to extremes during both wet and dry years.
Iowa has experienced such extremes in recent years; in 2008, flooding caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it the worst disaster in the state’s history.
More broadly, this year’s drought brought about parched croplands, reducing corn yields across the nation’s Grain Belt, from South Dakota to Indiana. And last month’s Superstorm Sandy — a combination of a hurricane, a wintry storm and a blast of arctic air — devastated parts of the Eastern seaboard and killed more than 100 people.
The report was signed by 138 scientists and researchers from 27 Iowa colleges and universities. They said they wanted to release the updated report now while the drought is still fresh in the public’s mind.
A string of researchers (Aaron S. Kesselheim, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Christopher T. Robertson, Ph.D., J.D., Jessica A. Myers, Ph.D., Susannah L. Rose, Ph.D., Victoria Gillet, B.A., Kathryn M. Ross, M.B.E., Robert J. Glynn, Ph.D., Steven Joffe, M.D., and Jerry Avorn, M.D.) ran tests to determine whether researchers discount research based upon whether it was funded by industry.
The conclusion published today in the New England Journal of Medicine is: they do — regardless of the merit of the underlying research. That is, regardless of how rigorous the underlying work is, the fact it has industry funding leads doctors to be less confident about the results.
This is an important result. It is also an encouraging result. (Al)Most (all) in industry who fund research believe they are funding “the truth.” If the fact of their funding the research leads people to doubt “the truth,” that might lead them to fund the research differently — a donation to neutral funding entity, e.g.
Or put differently: if industry funding is viewed as corrupting, then this research demonstrates: corruption doesn’t pay.
[You’ve] no doubt come across the famous Bush administration quote, since attributed to Karl Rove, making light of what “we” - he and other masters of the universe - derisively referred to as the “reality-based community”. Rove defined this community (mostly composed of supposedly left-wing journalists, academics, scientists and activists) as being composed of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality… That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do”.
Rove’s remarks, as the allusion to empire indicates, were made in reference to the foreign wars and occupations launched by the Bush administration. But in fact, they perfectly capture the way domestic policy was administered under Bush as well, a dynamic that has sadly continued well into the Obama administration where, despite early promises to base policy more on science and the public interest ideology and corporate greed continue to dominate most every aspect of his administration’s governance.
There are several reasons behind this dynamic. The first has to do with the immense power industries such as the chemical, petroleum, agribusiness and tobacco industries, have had for more than a century to shape public opinion and knowledge in a manner that directly contradicts science. As David Michaels showed in his 2008 book Doubt is Their Product, about the power of the tobacco industry to sew confusion over the extent of the danger posed by cigarettes to the health of smokers, when immensely wealthy and political powerful corporations have unlimited funds to discredit mainstream scientific consensus it produces a level of cognitive dissonance among the public.
When faced with such contradictions, the majority will more often than not turn against, or at least ignore, science rather than turning against the corporations trying to fool them, at least for a while. Corporations are selling them products which, at least in the short term, make them feel good or make their lives easier, while scientists are invariably demanding that people make exceedingly difficult changes to most every facet of their lives (what they eat, smoke, drink, drive, wear, use in their homes) or face personal and collective disaster. Until disaster is staring them in the face, most people would rather ignore reality and continue with negative [++]
U.S. government scientists have disclosed the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has melted to its smallest size ever, potentially signaling that the “worst-case scenario” of global warming is becoming a reality. The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the NASA space agency say the Arctic sea ice has dwindled to some 27,000 square miles less than the previous record set in 2007. The ice will likely continue to melt with several weeks of summer weather still to come. In a statement, government scientists said the melting of the Arctic sea ice “is considered a strong signal of long-term climate warming.” Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Michael Mann, the author of a major 2001 report on climate change and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said: “This is an example that points more to the worst-case scenario side of things. There are a number of areas where in fact climate change seems to be proceeding faster and with a greater magnitude than what the models predicted.”
We are all saddened when we look at the world and see what few accomplishments we have made, compared to what we feel are the potentialities of human beings. People in the past, in the nightmare of their times, had dreams for the future. And now that the future has materialized we see that in many ways the dreams have been surpassed, but in still more ways many of our dreams of today are very much the dreams of people of the past. … people — I mean the average person, the great majority of people, the enormous majority of people — are woefully, pitifully, absolutely ignorant of the science of the world that they live in, and they can stay that way … And an interesting question of the relation of science to modern society is just that — why is it possible for people to stay so woefully ignorant and yet reasonably happy in modern society when so much knowledge is unavailable to them?