Of Tempests and Teapots

July 8, 2010

Climategate, the pseudoscandal du jour of last fall, was, after all the hoopla, much ado about basically nothing. Whoops. If you’ve studied climate issues over the past few years, (and I have), this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. I was wont to defend the East Anglia researchers at the time this was breaking, as their evasiveness and lack of transparency was troubling, even to someone relatively certain of the basic validity of their results. The Russell review basically confirms my suspicions, though: right on the science, wrong on the PR. I have to admit, I enjoyed this mea culpa by lead inquisitor George Monbiot.

Climate science isn’t perfect. It’s not even very good. But the basic theme is pretty clear, and denying it at this point should seem pretty absurd. Climate policy — certainly open to debate. I personally favor a carbon tax. But the science, the part that says that manmade carbon emissions are already impacting the earth’s climate and will do so to an increasing degree as carbon builds in the atmosphere? Difficult to dispute.


The Rundown

August 15, 2007
  • Two big names have recently proposed reforming the farm subsidy system. One wants to retarget subsidies to family farms. The other wants to do away with subsidies altogether. The two people are John Stossel and John Edwards. Guess who proposed what.
  • Could Superfund survive a cost-benefit analysis? Almost definitely not. I am not sure what we should do about it.
  • Big media is out to screw the little guy. I know, that’s not really news, but on the other hand, it is.
  • Fred Kaplan weighs in on the draft at Slate.
  • Robert Samuelson calls for more clear-headed reporting on global warming, and makes the alarming and probably true assertion that we really don’t know how to solve this one. We probably shouldn’t do nothing though. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias critiques Michael Gerson’s global warming hand-wringing.

The Rundown

August 9, 2007
  • More good writing on the Minnesota Bridge Disaster by Michael O’Hare.
  • Via Crooked Timber, a good Boston Review article on the sociology of American prisons.
  • Cal Thomas, with whom I rarely agree, makes a pretty good case that we should vote for competence over ideology next year.
  • Bruce Bartlett, not exactly a tree-hugger, writes a guest entry over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog criticizing a less-than-accurate Drudge headline on global warming. A Drudge headline, shrill and wrong? Shocking, I know.
  • In other poorly written news news, Matthew Yglesias is outraged at a NYT article which doesn’t bother rebut the Administration’s charges of Democratic tax shenanigans.
  • Finally, Freakonomics hosts a high-profile discussion of street charity. Still hate the term “quorum” for these posts, though.

The Rundown

August 7, 2007
  • Tyler Cowen presents a really interesting argument about the nature of poverty, based on a book by Charles Kareli.
  • Foreign Policy‘s Mike Boyer points to the fact that Grist (and other environmental organizations) tend to ignore conservative environmentalists.
  • A pretty entertaining Freakonomics Q&A with Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh about gang life.
  • Over at Salon, Juan Cole calls the latest surge of good news on the surge “a surge of phony spin.” Surge.
  • Also at Salon, Glenn Greenwald interviews Chris Dodd. I have found myself increasingly impressed by Dodd. It’s a shame he’s such a long-shot.
  • MD Governor Martin O’Malley and DLC Chair Harold Ford argue for Democratic centrism in the WP. Steve Benen is not impressed.

The Rundown

August 3, 2007
  • The best piece I’ve seen on the I-35 Bridge Collapse. It’s just very well done.
  • New poll shows a three-way split in Iowa between the big three Dems. Oh how I love a horserace.
  • Mark Kleiman has a great anecdote about the ongoing problems in the credit market.
  • Matthew Yglesias points to a good critique of the O’Hanlon/Pollack editorial. He also conveys some interesting Romney news.
  • And finally, hell froze over as President Bush announced international climate change talks today.

“Nu-cu-lar, Honey. It’s Pronounced Nu-cu-lar.”

July 31, 2007

Matt Yglesias points to an important point about nuclear power, one I left out of my discussion last week. Specifically, he notes that nuclear requires massive government subsidies to be profitable and always has. This does add another wrinkle to the issue.

Yglesias believes that we should not be subsidizing anything but the cleanest technologies, which, on its face, doesn’t seem like a terribly unreasonable position. That is, until you consider the fact that even making pretty generous assumptions, currently wind and solar have the potential to provide, say, 35-40% of our national generation requirements. I no longer have access to academic databases, so I am having trouble finding a trustworthy article with that statistic, but I did major in environmental policy as undergrad, so take my word for it.

Nuclear gets a huge amount of electricity off of a very small amount of land. It is a strong and necessary alternative to carbon-based technologies until wind and solar become more efficient.

Whose Derangement Syndrome?

July 30, 2007

Conservatives have been attempting to spread the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” meme for years now to slander those of us who have simply had enough of this presidency botching… almost everything. I find this term incredibly distasteful, largely because the fringe voices of the right, the Coulters and Malkins, which actually manage to receive coverage on the “news” networks, are just as deranged as those on the far left.

Matthew Yglesias points to one particularly egregious example from CNN pundit Glenn Beck here. Quote:

Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government.” He continued: “You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler’s plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore’s enemy, the U.N.’s enemy: global warming.” Beck added: “Then you get the scientists — eugenics. You get the scientists — global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists who say, ‘That’s not right.’ And you must silence all dissenting voices. That’s what Hitler did.

No, that doesn’t sound the least bit crazy.

Another favorite topic for fringe nuttery is the obsession with left-wing academics. Do universities tend to lean left? Clearly, they do. Despite what the right is fond of implying, this has never appeared to me to indicate any sort of systemic bias; rather it seems to be a function of the personalities and priorities that lead a person to choose a career in the academy over other alternatives.

David French of the New York Post, that bastion of reason, is not content with this explanation. He prefers to operate from the conspiracy zone, where disgraced professor Ward Churchill, who was just fired, in case you haven’t been following along, should have been fired… faster… I guess?

French cites two polls indicating that the public is on his side. He misses a few caveats, though, in his zeal, as is apparent upon a cursory glance at this article. First, the Zogby poll is an internet poll. These polls have proven less than reliable in, for example, presidential and Congressional elections. The second poll, by the American Association of University Professors, does find institutional bias to be a problem, but not as much of a problem as a host of other issues in higher education. So perhaps French’s rage is misplaced.

One instance of where I think it is clearly misplaced is toward academic tenure. While it is undeniably true that the public at large does not support tenure, to imply that tenure only helps the left is absurd, since it applies to all professors regardless of political persuasion. Myself, I tend to think that institutions in free societies develop for good reasons. Tenure is one institution that has done so in this country. Perhaps we should reform it, loosen firing restrictions to an extent, but to do away with it altogether seems unwise.