Monthly Archives: October 2011

Appropriations bill promising $1 billion cut will increase spending by more than $9 billion according to one senator

A Senate appropriations bill promising a $1 billion cut will actually increase spending by more than $9 billion, according to one senator.

It just cannot be contended that this is serious work toward reducing our deficit. It just cannot be.


An investigation has concluded that a fired Dutch researcher falsified data on dozens of papers

Why even peer-reviewed research must always be questioned: An investigation has concluded that a fired Dutch researcher falsified data on dozens of papers.

[Diederik] Stapel’s work encompassed a broad range of attention-catching topics, including the influence of power on moral thinking and the reaction of psychologists to a plagiarism scandal. The committee, which interviewed dozens of Stapel’s former students, postdoctoral researchers, co-authors, and colleagues, found that Stapel alone was responsible for the fraud. The panel reported that he would discuss in detail experimental designs, including drafting questionnaires, and would then claim to conduct the experiments at high schools and universities with which he had special arrangements. The experiments, however, never took place, the universities concluded. Stapel made up the datasets, which he then gave the student or collaborator for analysis, investigators allege. In other instances, the report says, he told colleagues that he had an old dataset lying around that he hadn’t yet had a chance to analyze. When Stapel did conduct actual experiments, the committee found evidence that he manipulated the results.

I’m not sure which is worst about this scandal, that Stapel’s dishonesty has tainted the PhD’s of 21 innocent students, or that none of his fellow researchers ever had the brains, skepticism, or mental muscle to challenge his results.

Stapel’s fabrications weren’t particularly sophisticated, the committee says, and on careful inspection many of the datasets have improbable effect sizes and other statistical irregularities. His colleagues, when they failed to replicate the results, tended to blame themselves, the report says. Among Stapel’s colleagues, the description of data as too good to be true “was a heartfelt compliment to his skill and creativity,” the report says.

Update: I’d like to add one more addendum to this story, (covered today by Nature with its own long article). Unlike the climate field, where the scientists circled the wagons and protected the scientists who committed the frauds with whitewashed investigations, the field of social psychology and the scientists in the Netherlands have been refreshingly blunt and forthright in trying to clear the air by tracking down all Stapel’s corrupt papers. For this at least they deserve kudos.


The long minimum continues

Though it has been very clear for the past few months that the sun has finally transitioned from solar minimum and begun its ramp up to solar maximum, that ramp up has also been very slow and wimpy.

On October 9, 2011 the scientists at Physikalisch- Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos (PMOD) posted an updated summary of the satellite data that has been carefully measuring the variation of the sun’s total solar irradiance since 1978. The graph below, which can be found here [pdf], brings that data up through the present. (I had posted the previous update about a year ago.)

Total solar irradiance

I have added a brown line to illustrate how deep the recently ended solar minimum was, compared to previous minimums. Note also that this most recent minimum would also be far below the minimum prior to 1975. I have also added a blue line to show that the sun has only very recently finally brightened enough to finally exceed the previous minimum. All told, the sun remained dimmer than the previous minimum for over five years!
» Read more


They should Occupy Prison

They should Occupy Prison.

I haven’t commented much on the Occupy Wall Street movement, mostly because I’ve been too busy moving. However, though I fully support their right to demonstrate and protest, I find the contrasts between these protests and the Tea Party protests to be striking. The differences are even highlighted in their names. “Occupy Wall Street” implies a right to impose its will on others, to take over without permission other people’s property. “The Tea Party,” though inspired by an equally illegal act of stealing British tea and destroying it, now implies the much more benign activity of a gathering to express one’s opinion. And the Tea Party protests proved this by the fact that to this date no tea party protester has been arrested, and no laws broken. In fact, the only documented violence at any tea party event that I have found was committed by opponents of that movement.

As to what these movements believe in, I readily admit that I am in agreement with the Tea Party ideas of smaller government and fiscal responsibility. I will also say that I oppose the calls for socialism and even communism from some Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Nonetheless, there are many in this latter movement who are expressing the same kind of rage and frustration at the recent partnership between big business and big government that led to bad policy, unaffordable bailouts, a collapsing housing market, and a suffocating economy that have been similarly expressed by many Tea Party protesters.

The protests of both groups are merely a reflection of the anger that ordinary people feel about the failure of both government and business to act responsibly and with some common sense in these last years.


Herman Cain speaks out about NASA and space

Herman Cain speaks out about NASA and space:

When President Obama decided to cut, it put the United States in a position that we don’t like. We don’t like to have to thumb-ride with the Russians when we were the first ones and the leaders in space technology. It’s not just about getting to the moon and outer space. The space program inspires other technological advances to business and the economy. In the Cain presidency, it will be reversed back to where it should be.

As much as I might like Cain for some things, I could not help cringing when I read these words. They suggest a great deal of ignorance about what the Obama administration has done, a willingness on Cain’s part to pander to his audience (speaking as he was at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville), and a desire by this self-declared fiscal conservative to spend lots more money for a big government space program at a time when the federal government is broke.

I’d rather have Cain take a more thoughtful approach. Alas, this is a campaign. Moreover, whoever ends up as president after this election will probably be less important than the make-up of the next Congress. It is that part of the 2012 election that really counts.


Another global warming scientist is accused of hiding the decline

The lead scientist in a recent climate study has been accused of hiding the fact that the global temperature has been flat for more than a dozen years.

The new study, led by Richard Muller, had taken raw land data and re-analyzed it in an attempt to clear up the doubts caused by the climategate scandal. In an announcement last week, Muller claimed that their work had proven that the climate had been warming continuously since 1950.

Now, another climate scientist, Judith Curry, has accused Muller of failing to point out that his same re-analysis had also shown that climate temperatures have been totally flat for the past 13 years, even as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise. As Curry told the Daily Mail, “This is nowhere near what the climate models were predicting. Whatever it is that’s going on here, it doesn’t look like it’s being dominated by CO2.”

Curry is also accusing Muller of going to the press to spin the results in favor of global warming, before the research was complete.
» Read more


Humans do it quickly

Marshall Islands

A team of scientists from Japan have found evidence that the human settlement of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean occurred almost immediately after those islands emerged from beneath the sea. Though it had been previously believed that a thousand years had to pass until these newly emerged islands had developed sufficient vegetation for humans to occupy them, the evidence from this study shows that humans not only showed up almost immediately, they acted to vegetate the island themselves in order to make it habitable.

The scientists drilled four cores just off the western shore of Laura Island, the largest island of Majuro Atoll, as well as thirteen trenches on that same island, in order to determine when the island first emerged from under the sea. They also excavated a well-preserved bank at the center of Laura Island to study the human occupation of the island.

What they found was that the Atoll emerged from underwater approximately 2000 years ago, triggered by a fall in sea level. More surprising, the first evidence of human settlement appeared to occur at almost the same time.
» Read more


Apollo astronaut has been forced to return camera to NASA

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell has been forced to return to NASA the camera he used on the Moon.

[He had been allowed to keep the camera after his return in accordance with] a practice within the 1970’s astronaut office that allowed the Apollo astronauts to keep equipment that hadn’t been intended to return from the moon so long as the items did not exceed weight limitations and were approved by management.


Chile’s powerful Cerro Hudson volcano is threatening to erupt

Chile’s powerful Cerro Hudson volcano has come back to life and is threatening a major eruption.

Patagonians are worried. Many remember Mount Hudson’s catastrophic eruptions of 1971 and 1991. The latter eruption was one of the most violent registered eruptions in Chile, and lasted for five months. At its peak it turned day into night, making the banks of nearby Huemules, Cupquelan and Ibáñez Rivers collapse with ash. Many areas in the region are still covered with ash, pumice and other volcanic rocks. “These are the characteristics of this highly explosive volcano,” said Juan Cayupi, a volcanologist at the National Emergency Office.


LHC’s first year’s hunt for the Higgs is ending

The first year’s hunt by the Large Hadron Collider for the Higgs particle is ending.

Vivek Sharma of the University of California, San Diego, who heads the search for the Higgs at [one experiment], points out that results . . . have already ruled out, with a confidence of 2 sigma, a Higgs mass of between about 145 and 400 gigaelectronvolts, and that the LHC’s predecessor, the Large Electron Positron collider, ruled out a Higgs mass below about 114 gigaelectronvolts. So the Higgs, if it exists, almost certainly lies in the gap between the two. According to Sharma, the extra data to be collected in 2012 once proton-proton collisions resume in March will allow the CERN scientists to “either find the Higgs in this mass range, or wipe it out”.

If the Higgs particle turns out not to exist, it will mean that physicists will have to go back to the drawing board to explain all the phenomenon seen in the subatomic world.


NASA Inspector General Paul Martin Is Not Going to Comment About An Abused Elderly Woman in Botched Moon Rock Sting

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin has refused to comment on his office’s abuse of an elderly woman during botched moon rock sting.

Due to the fact that Inspector Generals are independent of the agency they “inspect” (this is actually a very good thing) NASA management has near zero ability to affect the behavior of the IG’s office – or publicly comment on it. Paul Martin is apparently quite comfortable with not explaining to taxpayers (he works for them too) why an elderly woman was roughed up and detained by half a dozen police officers with weapons and then released – with no charges filed after 5 months. That is his call to make. Alas, only a truly insensitive creep would think that it was O.K. not to at least express regret that this situation happened to a small, elderly woman the way that it did. But Martin is tone deaf and oblivious to the real world aspects of what his office does.


Astronomers have proposed that the cloud of dust that surrounds about 50% of the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies comes from destroyed planets

Science better than fiction: Astronomers have proposed that the cloud of dust surrounding about 50% of the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies comes from planets that were ripped apart and smashed by that black hole.

Collisions between these rocky objects would occur at colossal speeds as large as 1000 km per second, continuously shattering and fragmenting the objects, until eventually they end up as microscopic dust. Dr. Nayakshin points out that this harsh environment – radiation and frequent collisions – would make the planets orbiting supermassive black holes sterile, even before they are destroyed. “Too bad for life on these planets”, he says, “but on the other hand the dust created in this way blocks much of the harmful radiation from reaching the rest of the host galaxy. This in turn may make it easier for life to prosper elsewhere in the rest of the central region of the galaxy.”


Obama Administration Pushing for Solar Projects on Public Lands

Coming to a state near you (until the project goes bankrupt and leaves behind a financial and environmental ruin): The Obama administration this week identified seventeen sites in six Western states, all on public land, as prime locations for solar energy projects.

To me, the best indication that something is not quite right with this proposal is that the solar industry itself has doubts.

Environmental groups hailed the announcement, but the solar industry was guarded in its response. Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he had “some significant areas of concern” about the solar energy zones@ Flexibility in project siting and access to transmission were crucial to financing and development of utility-scale solar power plants, Resch said, adding that he was optimistic a balanced approach could be found.

You would think the solar industry would be thrilled to get this support from the government. That they have reservations is a serious red flag.


Two hacker attacks of American climate satellites in the past four years

A congressional report today revealed that two American climate satellites were attacked by hackers in the past four years.

In October 2007 and July 2008, a NASA-managed Landsat-7 satellite experienced 12 or more minutes of interference, and a Terra AM-1 satellite was disrupted for two minutes in June 2008 and again that October for nine minutes, according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s analysis of the annual report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report says the hackers gained access to the satellites — both are used for Earth climate and terrain monitoring — through the Svalbard Satellite Station in Spitsbergen, Norway. It’s believed the attackers may have hijacked the Internet connection at the Norway ground station to interfere with the operation of the satellites.

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