Saturday, August 18, 2012

Conducting fish studies: Times have changed

Time was that the humane treatment of animals didn't really extend to fish. As part of a bit of background reading to assess the possibility of conducting an updated fish survey of Third Sister Lake, I found only one article on the topic of fish in this lake, and it was published in 1942.

The very first sentence of the introduction reads:
The complete removal of fish from Third Sister Lake was not carried out for the primary purpose of making a fish population analysis but rather as part of a general investigation on the existing relationship between the fish and fish-food organisms in this lake.
The author continues by clinically describing the process:
The destruction of the fish population was accomplished by means of rotenone (Derris root) which was supplemented by netting-and angling during the 3 weeks previous to poisoning. The actual poisoning process and its effect on the fish and other organisms found in the lakes described by the authors elsewhere in this volume.

The first poisoning operation was carried out on May 6, 1941, before the spawning season and before the aquatic vegetation was extensive enough to hamper the recovery of fish ... Because the first poisoning did not kill all the fish, a second application was made on August 18 and 19 when water temperatures were more favorable. Only a very few adult fish were recovered along with many thousand bluegill and pumpkinseed fry. These were not included in the population total. After that time, however no fish were seen in the lake until June, 1942,when a few long-eared sunfish entered the lake, presumably via the outlet during high water. We believe that the poisoning was 100 per cent effective in the removal of fish in August.
In other words, they poisoned the lake and then collected the fish that floated up to the surface. The first time wasn't good enough to clear the lake, and so they did another application, but didn't include those fish in the survey. Oh, and by the way, no fish were seen until the summer of the following year; likely up-migration from the connecting stream.

Still, the 1941 survey did a few things, such as provide a good estimate of total fish biomass in Third Sister Lake as well as providing a date certain from when there were absolutely no fish in the lake.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kids react to: Where's Matt

Just in case it wasn't obvious, I really like the "Where is Matt" videos.

I also like the Fine Brothers' series of videos called "Kids React". This is the latest one: Kids React to Where is Matt?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Today in 1961: Defection of Conrad Schuman

I remember seeing this photo when I was a kid, just when I was learning what the Berlin Wall was. I saw that tangle of barbed wire and I remember thinking, "that's not a wall."

I remember listening to the news, watching the TV, and seeing the big color images in the International Herald Tribune when the Berlin Wall was being dismantled - just a few years after having learned what it was.

About a month ago, Iconic Photos wrote up a short article about the above photo, taken on August 15, 1961:

August 15 1961. It was two days after East Germany sealed off its border with the Berlin Wall. The 19-year old Hans Conrad Schumann was guarding the construction of Berlin Wall, then in its third day of construction, at the corner of Ruppinerstraße and Bernauerstraße.

At that stage of construction, the Berlin Wall was only a low barbed wire fence. For hours, the nervous young non-commissioned officer paced back and forth, his Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, smoking one cigarette after another. Around 4 p.m., as the people on the western side shouted Komm rüber! (“come over”), Schumann jumped the barbed wire and was driven away at high speeds by an awaiting West Berlin police car.
The site also discusses some photographic points, pieced together from interviews with the photographer, Peter Leibing, and also discuss what happened with Conrad Schuman afterward. They also post the original, uncropped, photo.

Head on over to Iconic Photos to see more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Video: Comparative video of Japanese trains

Regional and local trains and trolleys (1969)

The promotional video of the Japanese bullet train (1975)

Thanks to my friend for linking to this video. EXCELLENT STUFF!

And now, today, the new local trains are still running (unlike most of the US):

Regional trains also do continued service to rural towns:

And a more updated ride on the Japanese bullet train (traversing the length of Japan's main island in less than one day, all in highly ordered and precise comfort):

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stopping by MIA on a mid-August Evening

Whose flights these are I don't really know.
They're taking off for international points, though;
People all see me stopping here
To watch my gadgets fill up to go.

My little laptop must think it queer
To stop here with my own gate so near
Between Starbucks and Sushi-make
The darkening evening of mid-year.

It needs some time for the wi-fi to take
Like my laptop thinks there's some mistake.
Concourse sounds through my head sweep
Noises and announcements of raucous make.

Miami International is hardly lovely or deep,
But I have promises (and a flight) to keep,
And thousands of miles to go before I sleep,
And thousands of miles to go before I sleep.

(Apologies to Robert Frost.)

Monday Musing: Vacation hiatus

While I'm on vacation during these waning days of August, I won't be updating the blog too often. If you've noticed, since the start of 2012, I've updated the blog posting rate to about one per day. This usually allows me to write up a lot of what I'm navel-gazing about (although Facebook comments do usually "take care" of my need to do some non-work writing, too).

Hopefully, I'll get to 300 posts this year, and perhaps some of these upcoming posts will return to topics of interest related to my research. (Maybe.)


(We'll see.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Of pets and sleep

For the past 2.5 weeks, I've been house-sitting and pet-sitting for some friends. They have one usually energetic dog and three cats. I've not been able to sleep much past 6:30 on any given day, and when I don't wake up on time, I learn that I have to pay for my tardiness in food delivery by coming down to dog-shredded papers.

Happily, the dog is quite friendly (at least to me; to some of my other friends, he's been frightened and aggressive), and tugs me to go on walks. When he runs after the basketball, he is like a wild dog on the African savannah. When he plays tug-o-war, he's a growling, energetic, head-tossing tugger. When he chases after the cats, he's like a still-large puppy. And when he puts his head on my lap to sleep on the couch at night as I'm watching some BBC America, he's finally dog-tired and calm.

As a partial contrast, the cats are happy to rush downstairs for food; happy to come up to me to try and get some attention when I'm plating their morning and evening repasts; and then off back upstairs or their perches once they finish eating.

It's almost like this picture is correct:

Almost, but not really.

Am I a "cat lover"? No; not a lover.

Am I a "dog lover"? Again, not a lover.

However, I do like cats and dogs. I do like the companionship and humor they provide, but I don't think that I'll ever be a true dog or cat lover, and - knowing the kind of life that I live - it's unlikely that I'll become a pet owner any time soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: Hottest July in recorded US history

By now, you might have read the stories about July 2012 being the hottest in recorded US history. If not, here's a news story on that point:
U.S. scientists say July was the hottest month ever recorded in the Lower 48 states, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. They say climate change is a factor. And even less a surprise: The U.S. this year keeps setting records for weather extremes, based on the precise calculations that include drought, heavy rainfall, unusual temperatures, and storms. The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees (25 Celsius). That breaks the old record from July 1936 by 0.2 degree, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Records go back to 1895. "It's a pretty significant increase over the last record," said climate scientist Jake Crouch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center In the past, skeptics of global warming have pointed to the Dust Bowl to argue that recent heat is not unprecedented. But Crouch said this shows that the current year "is out and beyond those Dust Bowl years. We're rivaling and beating them consistently from month to month."
What's worse is that this is not a single year anomaly, but a continuing trend over the past two decades.

This is troubling for many, many, many reasons, including the very "small" one of continued life on this planet.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Photo: Cycling and the Olympic Derny

I was watching Team GB's win in the Olympic Track Cycling and noticed that there was an older man riding ahead of the pack, acting as a pace bike. He was riding something that looked like a motorized or electric-powered bike, and he would pull out of the race when the racers have 600 meters left in their race (and when the racers have gotten to 30 mph).

What is that bike? I asked myself. Well, it's a derny, and this particular style of racing is called keirin (not to be confused with kirin or Keiron). Learning from the NYTimes article ("Leader but Never the Winner") that this is an ICE-motorized bicycle
One of the more incongruous sights at the Olympics has been Peter Deary, who drives the derny, a two-stroke motorized bicycle that leads the riders in the keirin race.... His cycle looks more like the one ridden by the Wicked Witch of the West than a track racer’s sleek model. His pedaling speed is glacial.
made me wonder what the lead cyclist must be thinking while breathing in the fumes as s/he races to ride in the slipstream of the slowly accelerating derny. While it is only for 5.5 times around the velodrome track, following so close to a two-stroke engine has got to have some sort of health impact on the lead rider, right?

There is a bit of inaccuracy in the reporting of whether the Olympics derny is electric. According to the Telegraph, the derny used in the 2012 Olympics is electric:
The faintly comical sight of a man on what appears to be a white battery-powered bicycle should not distract from the high stakes and high drama of track cycling’s keirin race.

In Olympic competition, the pace rider is mounted on an electric motor-assisted pedal bike, known as a derny.
I think that the Telegraph might be wrong, since, even in the Telegraph's own story, the derny appears to be sporting something that really looks like an internal combustion engine, and this evidence is further supported by the BBC story about Peter Dearny, which states:
He rides a two-stroke throttle-controlled petrol engine bike during the event, which originated as a betting race in Japan.
Oh, well... To me, this model of derny looks pretty jaunty (and would likely be a great addition to many a steampunk's set of accoutrements), and the incongruity of its lines and stylings (and obvious weight) - along with the incongruity of its OAP sitting astride it in decidedly non-sporting uniform and helmet - make it a colorful addition to the Olympics. However, I'd personally like to see an electric derney for the Rio games in 2016 (like the Optibike in the Boulder Velodrome; change the stylings to make it look more like the classical Derny).

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Some disturbing stats

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Larry M. Bartels and Lynn Vavreck describe the results of polling on prospective voters' viewpoints on social topics. The piece "Meet the Undecided" is pretty interesting to read, but I want to focus on some points that are - to me - somewhat disturbing.

From the article:
Undecided Republicans are twice as likely as other Republicans to say they favor gay marriage (40 percent), twice as likely to express positive or neutral attitudes toward African-Americans (31 percent), and only half as likely to deny the existence of global warming (23 percent). Only 42 percent  favor repealing Obamacare (compared with 78 percent of other Republicans).
Why is this disturbing to me? Well, let's "unpack" those numbers by looking at what these mean for people who state that they are "decided Republicans" by rewriting the paragraph and extrapolating the numbers based on the estimates and factors of difference listed above:
Among decided Republicans, 20 percent favor gay marriage, 15.5 percent express positive or neutral attitudes toward African-Americans, 46 percent deny the existence of global warming, and 78 percent favor repealing Obamacare.
... or to put it another way:
Among decided Republicans, 80 percent oppose gay marriage, 84.5 percent express negative attitudes toward African-Americans, 54 percent deny the existence of global warming, and 78 percent favor repealing Obamacare.
That's disturbing for a number of reasons. It's disturbing because decided Republicans appear to be taking a reactionary stance on things that are definitely not in the best interest of their Party, let alone governance.

With successive court cases striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (which denies federal civil benefits for same-sex couples and doesn't recognize any sort of civil marriage or civil union), with successive state supreme courts finding that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional, with increasing numbers of people saying that they support same sex marriage (and that marriage is a civil matter), these "decided Republicans" are standing on the opposing side of history.

With the realization that the United States is moving increasingly toward a majority-minority country (i.e., a country in which no one racial group makes up 51% of the population), having so many people continue to have negative attitudes toward one of the largest racial minority group - and the one with which the current President associates himself - is only a recipe for increased racialized politics from the party. Even if they officially might not have an explicitly racial platform, having - as a base of their party - a group that overwhelmingly holds negative viewpoints of one of the largest racial minority groups will undoubtedly color their policy decisions. Combine this with results from Gallup back in 2008 concerning mixed-race marriages (something that will undoubtedly also become more common in years and decades to come), and you get a level of confirmation about conservative and Republican positions against black-white marriage: in 2011, conservatives and Republicans were against black-white marriages at rates of 22% and 23%, respectively; the highest rates in any cross-tab of the sample.

With the increasing scientific consensus (consensus among scientists as well as consensus in the data) about the existence of global warming having reached near unanimity almost a decade ago, the scientific community has already moved on to other, more interesting questions, like "when" and "how much" and "what to do" about the problems of global warming. Scientists have - for the vast majority - already also recognized that human action is the cause of the very real - and very recordable and visible - climate change that is currently happening. Having a major part of one of the two major parties running this country made up of people who not only don't believe that humans are causing global warming, but also don't believe the global warming is happening at all (even though July 2012 is the warmest July in US history) is troubling to say the least. It's troubling not only because of the massive cognitive dissonance and conspiracy theories that one has to buy into in order to actually continue to believe that there is a global scientific and governmental conspiracy all aimed at shutting down American production and creativity, but it's further troubling that a major party has - as its ravenously voting base - a basic position that acts as a litmus test for scientists (saying, effectively, that the scientists won't be trusted if they report on the near-unanimous consensus that climate change is happening and having some major impacts on the country). It is finally majorly concerning that the base of one party is getting officials elected that will likely not take actions based on scientific forecasts and predictions of global warming, which will then have major down-the-road impacts on the country that they were elected to protect and serve.

With the recognition that the Affordable Care Act is a political ball, it's still crazy to me that the base of the GOP constantly espouse how much they hate a law that his heavily based on the very popular and highly effective bill that their Presidential nominee proposed and passed while he was governor in Massachusetts. It's further crazy that - when the heart of the ACA was declared constitutional - they preferred to play a long game of reality denial, finger-pointing, and imprecatory prayer against SCOTUS. It's also mind-blowing to me that they defend Israel's health care - which goes much farther in directions that they state to dislike about the ACA - while simultaneously calling the ACA a step too far. With the recognition that the United States was the only country in the OECD with no federal mandate for health care provision for the populace, with the recognition in 2008 that the health care system in the United States was bankrupting thousands of Americans, with the recognition that health insurance companies produce their own "death panels" and decisions to ration care, with the recognition that employer-based health insurance literally cannot help Americans when the number of full-time jobs shrank between 2007 and 2009, with the recognition that the employer-provided health insurance produced a series of perverse incentives for both employers (e.g., preferring to employ more part-time workers with no health insurance than  to employ fewer full-time workers with health care) and insurance companies (e.g., being allowed to exclude pre-existing conditions - that might have been covered before a lapse in insurance - when someone joins a new healthcare plan), it's still amazing to me that people are so entrenched against this bill; and the entrenchment and negativity are based - for much of the rhetoric - on things that are either complete hyperbole (recall "death panels"?) or have yet to be determined (since they haven't been implemented yet).

Finally, it's worrying, because - of the 10,000 surveyed - the undecideds comprised only 592 people, or just 5.9% of the surveyed group. This means that almost everyone in the survey who was going to vote Republican are included in those disturbing statistics above. This further means that - if the survey is representative of the US public - most Americans who know that they are going to vote Republican are likely to share the statistics above. What's worrying - disturbing in fact - is that (if the survey is representative of the US public), 84.5% of Republicans have a negative view of African-Americans (including people like the President and the Attorney General), 80% of Republicans want to exclude LGBTs from the government-recognized institution of marriage, 78% of Republicans want to repeal a healthcare coverage law that is based on a successful program initiated by their Presidential nominee (and praised in Israel), and 54% of Republicans don't believe that global warming is even occurring (let alone want to admit that humans are its cause), preferring (perhaps) to ignore scientists and science and (perhaps) preferring to believe in unproven, unscientific, and baseless conspiracy theories about Agenda 21, a one-world government, and a world-wide scientific conspiracy.

That's what's worrying.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: Bar charts and the art of obfuscation

This isn't the first time that I've written about the lying-with-charts that FOXNews perpetrates. Back in December, 2011, there was a similar kerfuffle about lying-with-charts, but that time it was a line chart and it was with the unemployment rate. This time, I was drawn to this highly misleading (although technically accurate) bar chart from FOXNews (via Flowing Data):

As Nathan Yau correctly points out:
The value axis starts at 34 percent instead of zero, which you don't do with bar charts, because length is the visual cue. That is to say, when you look at this chart, you compare how high each bar is. Fox News might as well have started the vertical axis at 34.9 percent. That would've been more dramatic.
And that's true; with a bar chart in which the y-axis goes to zero, you see what a tax expiration would actually look like, in the context of the change in question:

Of course, I would argue that Nathan Yau's point is too specific. Having a bar chart go to zero may make a significant difference appear miniscule or hide the context of the difference. For example, when doing a comparison of the difference in average maximum temperatures (in Fahrenheit) in July 2011 vs. July 2012, the point of 0°F is not a useful starting point:

Arguably, it's not a useful starting point for visualization, because most people wouldn't associate Ann Arbor July temperatures with zero degrees Fahrenheit. The chart is not much improved when we change the scale to Centigrade, either:

In both cases, the magnitude of difference between 2011 and 2012 are actually the same amount of heat. However, both cases are problematic for two reasons:
  1. For accuracy of presentation: neither Fahrenheit nor Centigrade are absolute scales; neither value of zero (0) is actually representative of absolute zero.
  2. For conceptual interpretation: starting at neither 0°F nor 0°C actually depict an observable enough difference in value to be discernible in the context of summer temperatures.
In this case, these two problems act against each other. In order to follow the dictum of Nathan Yau above (that a bar graph ought to start from zero), you would have to convert the values into Kelvin, which would result in a chart like this:

Oh, look: no change; or (to paraphrase Yau), "With a difference of [6.1 K], the change doesn't look so crazy." But to people living through the summer of 2012, the 6.1K increase did appear significantly hotter than what they remembered from the previous year. In terms of a summer comparison, it looked a lot more like the difference of:

Here, with the cut-off at 70°F, the difference between 2011 and 2012 is far more easy for people to interpret as a large increase between 2011 and 2012. However, it is also deceptive because it isn't accurate. We could make the argument that it shows the context of the difference; that the magnitude of difference between an average high temperature of 98°F in 2012 was far hotter than the average high temperature of 87°F in 2011. However, that's a weak argument to make, since it is contextual and potentially subject to the context of how each person may feel or perceive the temperature difference. In other words, it's the same base logic as to what FOXNews tried to do with their graph: to arbitrarily magnify the context of the change, instead of showing the overall context.

What we need is something to compare the 2012 July temperatures in which you have an absolute zero scale (so as to have good accuracy) but still show the difference in terms that make the difference visually significant.

Well, looking back in the record in Weatherunderground for July average high temperatures at the KARB weather station, we can take the average of all the records going back to 1999 (which is the first year that has July average high temperatures), and then compare 2011 and 2012 by subtracting the 1999-2010 average (12 year temperature average = 79.25°F) from their value (thus showing a difference based on an absolute zero score):

(N.B. If I had 30 years of temperature data, then I would have used that entire record. As it stands, however, I can only use the 1999-2010 data, because that is the only data available for the KARB station. In any case, it is important to ensure that you have as much relevant data as possible so that you can make an average against which you can compare.)

Now we have something that matches the double requirement of accuracy (having the graph go to zero; and having that zero be an absolute zero value) and having visual impact of a significant difference (showing that the 2012 temperature was more than twice the deviation from average than 2011).

Going back the the original, misleading FOXNews graph, it becomes clear that their chart neither shows the information accurately nor does it show it in context. If FOXNews wants to make a credible graph that shows the comparative difference between the current and expected 2013 tax rates, they need to do it based on an absolute-zero scale, and that scale needs to be representative of the longer perspective. Looking at the Historical Top Tax Rates, we can make comparisons of the expected 2013 rates against any relevant period we want. For example, if we make the comparison against all the data available (i.e., 1913-2010), then we get:

Wow! The graph shows that we are currently at a significantly low tax rate compared to the 1913-2010 average (59%), and raising the top rate from 36% to 39.6% would actually keep the rate far below the long-term top tax rate.

But maybe you think that 1913-2010 is way too long of a period. After all, it encompassed World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In other words, it includes many things that aren't directly relevant to today's tax-payers. Well, then let's take as relevant the rates since 1980 (i.e., since the election of Ronald Reagan, and a period in time that is significant for the vast majority of people who will be paying taxes in 2013, since people born in 1980 will now be working/looking for work). Well, this is what the graph would look like:

True, the change is far more dramatic, but the message still remains the same: the January 1, 2013 tax rate for the top income earners will be lower than the average tax rate for top income earners since 1980 (40.18%). In other words, top income earners will still be paying a rate that is below the average rate of the Reagan-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush-Obama period.

No wonder FOXNews didn't run with these graphs...

UPDATE (2012-08-08): According to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, July 2012 was the hottest July in US history (via PhysOrg):
The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees (25 Celsius). That breaks the old record from July 1936, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Records go back to 1895.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Tuesday Video: Micro Mini-Coopers used for discus, javelin, shot, and hammer retreival

The Olympic games have implemented remote controlled quarter-scale Mini Coopers to retrieve thrown (and putted) field items: javelins, discuses, shots, and hammers. Just to be clear: the electric Minis don't actually pick up these items; the items must be picked up and placed in the vehicles by an official. The electric Mini "merely" runs the items from the field to the athletes, thusly:

While this does cut down on the amount of running about that officials will have to do (while simultaneously injecting a bit of nationalistic humor and marketing), the fact that officials are still on the field (for measuring, marking, and picking up the thrown items), they can still get hit:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Monday Musing: Can we pre-empt the mis-use of a scientific study?

Just in case you have been out of touch with the social interplay between the science of global warming, the science of the impacts of global warming, and the American public perception of global warming, let me just make the understatement that the American public aren't scientists, and - if the "debates" over intelligent design/creationism and evolution back in 2005 (and the out-fall from the court case) are any thing to go by - it might be important to make sure that the scientific definition of theory be made absolutely clear and absolutely evident in all cases. Give people who are predisposed to believe a particular narrative, and they'll do it. (Everyone, including yours truly. I'll admit it, because I'm only human.) Therefore, when I see an article entitled "Climate warming refuted as reason for plant shifts in high-profile 2008 study," I'm interested for both content and social implication reasons.

Looking through the study, I found that the title is misleading. In fact, the study an in-depth review of a previous study about one species of plant in one location, showing that climate change was likely not the reason for why this one species in this one location actually showed the impacts that it did. Indeed, the PhysOrg article actually points out that the authors aren't saying that climate change doesn't influence plant shifts:
“I want to be clear that I’m not saying climate change isn’t happening or having effects,” Schwilk said. “I study it all the time. But we’re trying to have people be more explicit about describing the mechanisms and causes of plant shifts, because I suspect there may be a bias toward automatically assuming climate change as the reason.
You see there? One of the two authors is explicitly saying that he does believe that climate change does influence plant-shift patterns, and that - like many good scientists - he wants to ensure that people look more closely at the interlinkages and not rely too heavily on simple models.

In short, on the social implication side, this study isn't actually one that debates the theory of global warming or even the theory of plant shift due to global warming. It is - to reiterate - a report that investigates one report about one plant species in one location. Therefore, if you see this study being cited in the future as proof against climate change not having an impact on plant species, then know that the person telling you this is feeding you a falsehood. Don't bite.

Full PloS ONE article here.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Taboos of Science

SciShow recently did a video about some of the taboos in science:

For a long, long, long time, the science of human sexual intercourse was also taboo. Really bad. Many of us now know of (or have heard of) the Kinsey Report. Some more of us might well have seen Kinsey. There has been a lot of additional scientific research into human sexual intercourse, continuing to (quietly) dismantle the taboo of researching sex. There are even journals like the Journal of Sex Research that present research on findings of human sexual intercourse. Still, though, in many cultures (including many in the so-called "enlightened" and "liberal" countries of the "West"), the scientific study of human sexual intercourse remains a taboo (even though it is an activity that almost every adult will do at some point during their lives). A recent book by Mary Roach - Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex - provides an interesting and humorously written account of the history of human sex and science.

In fact, Mary Roach has written several books that touch on topics that are somewhat taboo in science (or at least somewhat taboo in the social perspective of what science is doing), these are - including Bonk - Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and (somewhat less controversial in topic matter; at least socially so) Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

There are many types of social taboos, too, that have been raised through time, and Gribben does a great job of wending the way through Western science (primarily from 1542, but he does delve back in time to explore the "roots" of certain areas of science) in his highly readable account: The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors. Through this, we discover that there are many times when scientific theories have been postulated that then get overturned by the work of (often) one (often) man, even though the reality of the time may have been a little bit more of a battle field of ideas. (Indeed, he makes allusions to this when he describes why Newton wrote the line that included the now-famous phrase, "standing on the shoulders of giants".) Still, Gribben - possibly due to his not wanting to focus too much on processes of change through history - didn't focus on the what Thomas Kuhn wrote (not so eloquently) about in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; namely that changes a scientific paradigm involves a certain amount of addressing topics that may be taboo within the scientific community (but not necessarily taboo in general society, since the implications of such changes are not readily apparent or readily understandable).

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: What stuff encourages bike commuting?

I have been seeing many studies and surveys about the importance of cycling infrastructure, such as having enough bike lanes and having enough bike parking. Other studies have cited the need for making bike lanes protected from cars or to provide bike "highways" through cities. Further studies have made recommendations about signage (e.g., why do cyclists run STOP signs?), and still others have made recommendations about training (for drivers, cyclists, and enforcement).

Fewer have made comments about addressing the local cycling culture, probably taking a "if you built it they will come approach", but I argue that providing a variety of easy-and-comfortable-to-ride bikes will be a necessity for encouraging people to ride a bike instead of taking the often far-more-comfortable car. Indeed, if you go to most bike shops in the US, you'd be hard pressed to find a commuter bike that doesn't look like a more upright mountain bike. Where are the electric bikes? Where are the classical "everyday bikes" that are so common almost everywhere else in the world, save for North America? Furthermore, with so few "everyday bikes" around, the majority of what people see on the roads are either road bikes or mountain bikes (or things that look like either of these, but tend to be set up for the rider to sit more upright). ... or folding bikes.

I also wrote about the need to condition people into thinking that cycling is an equivalent option, which is a behavioral approach to complement the calls for adding public biking infrastructure (bike lanes, bike parking, changing speed limits, cycling highways, etc.) as well as a behavioral approach among cyclists to incorporate cycling into their normal daily routine (from choosing where to live to what to ride and when to ride). As a person who specifically chose not to have a bike and not to ride the bus (except when necessary), I have conditioned myself to the normalcy of riding.

However, in a recent blog post over at Scientific American, Scott Huler reviews a survey article about the importance of including showers as part of the "if you build it they will come" mentality:
The research is good and sensible — Buehler sampled the commuting behavior of several thousand D.C. residents and found that if you have free parking and other driving amenities at your place of work you’re 70 percent less likely to commute by bike. And what would make you almost FIVE TIMES as likely to commute by bike? A place to park the bike, a locker — and a shower.
Huler also describes how the incentives to increase bicycle commuting should not be thought of as a single thing, but as a series of multi-layered choices. The presence of free car parking should not be taken as granted; requiring payment for parking will also contribute to cycling (especially if bike parking is free). Furthermore, parking is another thing that an employer might be able to control (along with the availability of showers at work):
Remember that bike lanes also make a difference — and that employers making the counterintuitive move of NOT providing free parking also helps. And you can see, as Jaffe sums up: “Bicycle commuting is a complex behavior that needs multiple layers of policy encouragement to thrive.” And remember — that’s just like all commuting, which is complex behavior affected by multiple layers of policy. All our policies for the past half-century have favored automobile commuting, so we shouldn’t be surprised that’s what most of us do. And changing policies and priorities doesn’t mean cars are wrong or that cycling requires public subsidy or management to thrive. Just that if we want different results, we have to take different actions.
Pretty useful to remember.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Frightful Friday: WHAT did Senator Inhofe just say?

On August 1, Senator Inhofe made a statement before the opening of the senate session on “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures.” As usual, it was full of WTF!?! statements, which I'll try to highlight below with [inserted commentary].

I must say it feels like we're back to the good old days. [Well, if by "good old days" you mean the days when you were a boy, then I'll just have to take your word for it; after all you're decades older than me.]  It may be hard to believe, but it was in February of 2009, during the height of the global warming alarmist movement, that this committee last held a hearing on global warming science. [Oh, wait, by "good old days" you were meaning 2009? I see: you were trying to be snide back there.] Back then we heard promises from the Obama administration of a clean energy revolution with green jobs propped up [I don't recall the Obama administration saying that green jobs would be "propped up"; still, you say "to-MAY-to" and I say, "you're an opportunistic liar".] by billions in taxpayer dollars to companies like Solyndra [By your statement of "companies like Solyndra", do you mean companies that are pursuing renewable energy production or energy-production companies that are getting government assistance? If the former, then your claim amounts to a statement that the stimulus disbursed money to companies, one of which received a little more than $500 million and failed, and others that haven't failed. If the latter, then your claim ought to include oil and gas companies, who get massive tax breaks in addition to government subsidies and payments. If you didn't mean either, then you're a lazy ass.].

What came of all those promises? [We're still waiting on them. You cannot assess the solidity of a company by what happens three years after a bill is passed, especially since some of those funds are still being released.] The global warming movement has completely collapsed and cap-and-trade is dead and gone. [Have you looked at your home state of Oklahoma and seen the record-high temperatures that are well outside of "natural variation"? True, the Republican idea of cap-and-trade was killed by Republicans. You're right about that part.]

I suspect a look back over the past three years will be a little painful for my friends on the other side. ["Painful" because it's clear where your obstructionism has led us into a situation that makes America even more reliant upon a single form of electricity generation while simultaneously doing everything in your power to negate the scientific results of an increasing number of climatologists, atmospheric scientists, and physicists? Yeah, I'm in pain, too, just thinking about the arrogance and sheer gall of your actions.] In 2009 with a Democratic President, and overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, global warming alarmists were on top of the world [Hey, "Mountain", it's not always about you, it's not always about the United States, and it's not always about politics in the United States. Remember how much people listened to you when you tried to tell people at the UN meeting in 2009 about the conspiracy? Remember how much they listened to you? Oh, wait... they didn't. Also, as I'm sure you are well aware, the "overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate" were not "overwhelming", even though they were majorities. You know this, I know this, and saying otherwise is just lying.] - they thought they would finally reach their goal of an international agreement [Wouldn't that have been nice?] that would eliminate fossil fuels. [Who said "eliminate fossil fuels"? Again, you're lying through your word choice. And it's blatantly obvious.] Yet the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill didn't happen. [You are, for the second time, absolutely correct on this point: the bill that would curb fossil fuel use, not kill it; cap-and-trade (which you recognize as cap-and-trade, because you called it so) isn't about eliminating fossil fuels, just like cap-and-trade of SOx and NOx isn't about eliminating these pollutants, but about managing them through markets, but you know this, and so the only reason I can imagine about why you wrote what you did is to make a rhetorical point through what amounts to a lie. Furthermore, you know exactly why Waxman-Markey didn't pass: filibuster!; something that would have been impossible if there was - to use your own false words - and "overwhelming Democratic majorit[y] in the ... Senate."

Of course, what drove the collapse of the global warming movement was that the science of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was finally exposed. [No it didn't, and you're an ass for continuing to think that this is true. Ever wonder why people screw up their eyes or laugh at the mention of your name? It's because they don't listen to you; your "conclusions" are about as rooted in facts as those of a Holocaust denier.] For years I had warned that the United Nations was a political body, not a scientific body [Maybe because the press already knew that the UN wasn't a scientific body, but an intergovernmental body that has many scientists working for them? Seriously, what is the point of your statement here?] - and finally the mainstream media took notice [Media sources are your evidence that people listen to you? Okay...]:

Just how unpopular is the global warming movement now? The Washington Post recently published a poll revealing that Americans no longer worry about global warming [This is a non sequitur answer to the question you stated.] and one of the reasons is because they don't trust the scientists' motivations [Which is a massive mischaracterization - maybe even a lie - about what was actually reported. Under question 21, in response to a question about motivations of scientists who report that global warming is real and/or say that it's man-made, 53% said that these scientists were doing so based on the evidence, while only 35% said that the scientists were doing so based on political or economic interests. This can hardly match the implications behind your statement.]

The IPCC has even lost the trust of the left. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times recently called for IPCC chair Pachauri to make a choice between global warming activism and leading the IPCC. [If you're talking about this Op-Ed, then you're technically correct, although a heavy bucherer of the piece.] They are also saying similar things about global warming alarmist James Hansen. [Who is this "they" of which you speak? I can play that same game, Senator: "They say that Sen. Inhofe is a bloviator." See? Can't prove it as wrong, since there is actually on one listed for you to check, and - after all - I'm not the one saying it, since I clearly used the plural third-person indicator of "they".] As David Roberts of Grist acknowledged, Hansen has "become so politicized that people tend to dismiss him." [If you had done a Google search for "become so politicized that people tend to dismiss him", you would have noted that this was written by Jess Leber at Change.Org and not by David Roberts over at Grist, so you are wrong in your attribution. Next, the context is one that is more about the credibility of scientists among scientists. Finally, this statement - in addition to the lack of evidence supporting your claim - neatly encapsulates why so many people - not just scientists - dismiss your un-scientific, completely political viewpoints about global warming.]
I'm just going to end here. He does blather on for a few more paragraphs, but just trying to keep up with the poor logic and half-truths (he never out-right lies to any one; merely hides behind the best sort of lie: the half-truth). If you want to read through the whole (undoctered, uncommented) piece yourself, have a go.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics

Building upon Tuesday's Turing Test topic, today we look at the Three Laws of Robotics, as laid out by the coiner of the very word "robotics", Isaac Asimov.

Back in the days before the Terminator films, there was Asimov and his Three Laws of Robotics.

Ah, those wonderful days of simplicity, where all intelligent robots were expected to follow these standard rules; hardwired into their very circuitry. It formed the consistent logic behind Asimov's multitudinous short stories and novels, and were my introduction into science fiction when I read Caves of Steel way back when I was 13 or so.

The rules, although useful, always seemed to me to be rather ... artificial in themselves. Especially with evidence like Terminator. To my 13-year-old brain, it was difficult to try to square the circle of how R. Daneel Olivaw (from Caves of Steel) and the Terminator could both come from a future of robotics. (I also had trouble in trying to understand how there could be "berserker" robots, courtesy of Fred Saberhagen.) I mean, why didn't terminators and/or berserkers end up killing off humanity and their Asimovian three-rules robots?

... yeah, I was involved in silly omphalskepsis from an early age. However, it turns out that I wasn't the only one (so deeply ingrained was Asimov's use of the rules of robotics), and Asimov's three rules seem to be a basis upon which people have started to think about how to ingrain morality into robots (or at least ingrain human safety into artificial intelligence):

END NOTE: On scientists and their crazy facial hair

Two very influential scientists in my formative years were Isaac Asimov and Charles Darwin (moreso than Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, etc.), and not for the reasons of the influence and presence that they had in their respective fields, but because of the strange and interesting facial hair, specifically the massive sideburns:

Charles Darwin

Isaac Asimov

I don't know why I found these two men's lambchop sideburn styles to be so captivating, but they always have done so, and it burns me that I can't grow out my own to such luxuriant lengths. Ah, well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: IS Britain finally over the idea of "empire"?

"The sun never sets on the British Empire" was something that still had a ring of cultural truth when I stepped off the plane at Edinburgh back in 1995, there in Scotland to attend my first year at St. Andrews University (quipped by many to be the "most northern English university"). Indeed, the four years that I spent at St. Andrews were - now that I think about it - a major time of change in the United Kingdom, starting with voting whether to join the "Eurozone" (the UK didn't) and ending (at least my time there) with setting up national parliaments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; devolution from "the United Kingdom", and one sort of end to one sort of empire.

It was why Eddie Izzard's sketches about the British Empire were so funny. It's why his explanation of the (amazingly fantastical in its own historical right) expansion of the Empire was met so popularly and with such humor:

It was why the end of that show was also met with hilarity, even in the UK:

Now, though, maybe, the British dream of empire is now, finally, for the most part, ended. Maybe the UK can become part of that moped-driving, "ciao"-shouting European dream. To Andrew Sullivan, the opening ceremony of London 2012 seemed to show that the UK is finally ready to give up the ghost of empire, agreeing with Simon Schama's rather chilling summary of fascist Olympic game opening-ceremony renderings, and saying:
Britain's 2012 Olympics were of the anti-fascist variety. Which is fitting, isn't it, since this tiny island nation was the lynchpin in fascism's twentieth century demise. Defeated, in part, by a sense of humor, perspective and a spot of anarchy.

Schama's piece is worth a read, and seems to be a great and chilling recounting of how we might perceive nationalism as corporatist/elitist branding for the masses while growing fat on the excesses. Or something. It does seem, however, to point to London 2012's opening ceremony as something that is definitely not chest-thumping, mindless choruses of nationalistic chants, and empty symbolism. So maybe Britain is finally getting over the idea of "empire".