2020-11-30

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Usenet

125035466_1640259442837036_5068309285886602215_o Once upon a time, before blogs and wiki and even before the web, there was Usenet; and on Usenet there was sci.environment. This was a loooong time ago. Punting back through Google Groups I can find stuff going back to the unimaginably distant past of 1994. Here's a link to it. My recollection is that Usenet groups were not archived; disk space was scarce in those days, and anyway Usenet was for discussion; why would you bother archive it? Things that needed archiving were kept elsewhere; for example, every now and again Robert Parson would post a link to the Ozone FAQ. Dejanews began archiving in 1995; and later got bought out by Google, which accounts for the beginnings I now see.

I turned up somewhat earlier, but I cannot now recall how early; certainly, after I joined BAs in 1990. Almost the first thing I saw was the classic "what do you mean 'we', white man?" joke, immeadiately followed in true welcome-to-Usenet style by some fool misunderstanding it and getting all huffy. 

The great virtue of Usenet was that no-one owned it and anyone could post. The great vice of Usenet was that no-one owned it and so anyone could post1. My recollection is that things got worse, particularly as internet access became more common and more fools came online, but that may just me believing in the Age of Gold, which you shouldn't, except for exceptional cases. Nonetheless, it did do away with tedious arguments about comment censorship on blogs, and I did sometimes advise people to post there during the period they ran in parallel; I gave up Usenet in 2006. 

The cast of characters in those days was rather different. When I turned up folks like Robert Grumbine, Michael Tobis were already there, and now I look at early 2005 so were Raymond Pierrehumbert, Len Evens, Carlo Izzo, Robert Parson, Rich Puchalsky, John McCarthy, Jan Schloerer, Dean Myerson, David B. Benson, Paul Farrar, Carl J Lydick, James Annan, Ian St. John, David Ball, Coby Beck, Lloyd Parker, FerdiEgb, Roger Coppock, Eric Swanson, Steve Schulin, Scott Nudds, Bruce Hamilton, Thomas Palm, H. E. Taylor, Steinn Sigurdsson, Alastair McDonald, Peter Hearnden, James B. Shearer, Josh Halpern and probably many others who I have rudely forgotten, but those are all names I recall, somewhat vaguely, and could probably divide roughly into "good", "bad" and "squonk", which latter class I've just had to invent; if it helps, JMC is put into it. For these were early days, the science of GW was unclear (do not believe the fools that tell you we knew it all in 1960, or 1970, or 1980...), most of that science was not on the web (because the web didn't exist; recall that Netscape was formed in 1994) but was "hidden" in hard to access libraries; even the 1990 IPCC report wasn't widely available. "Yeah, GW might be a thing, but I am unconvinced" wasn't an unreasonable position, for anyone unfamiliar with the science. The unambiguously "bad" were a small minority.

So quite a lot of the conversation was noobs asking noob questions and getting polite and useful replies. The rest of it, apart from pure noise, was the usual kind of global warming wars. Over time, it became obvious that something more consolidated and buildable was more useful for the general-questions aspect; Wikipedia came to fill that role.

There was also sci.geo.meteorology, which was more science-like, as you'd hope, and thus lower traffic, as you'd expect. For example, someone in 1995 asked for the BAS website, and I pointed them to our FTP, which had GTS data. There was also talk.environment, but that was even noisier than sci., and I think I ignored it.

What did we talk about? The earliest thread I can find is about what would a zero CO2 world be like? JMC wanted to tell us why we should postpone coming to a steady state in population, energy use, and flow of materials for 50 or 100 years. Hugh Easton got in early on that perennial favourite, Will polar ice melt more quickly than previously thought? There was a kinda thread on can-forcing-produce-negative-output but it didn't go terribly well. We even did solar cycle length and solar forcing; but that was before Damon and Laut.

Well, that will do. On the whole, I didn't find wading through the past particularly enlightening.

Notes


1. Late on - 2006, I see - "we" created a moderated group, see James' Announcing: Moderated global change discussion forum, and at one point JA discouraged comments at his own blog, in favour of responses there, if I recall correctly (I can find one instance of me doing similar). As a noble attempt to deal with the S/N ratio problem on sci.env, without being subject to the whim of one person's moderation, it was a bold endeavor, but I believe it failed.

Refs



2020-11-26

Coronavirus days: SCOTUS

PXL_20201112_103007048 What with Trump giving up, things were in danger of becoming dull, but happily the SCOTUS has come along to liven up our lives, by upholding the constitution1, in particular the "free exercise" clause of the first amendment. Which I think is beautifully crafted, so I'll quote the whole thing: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Bold for the FE clause, obvs, is not in the original.

You might thing that the "Congress" in that limits the clause to the Feds, but this is not so, by the incorporation doctrine; for "Congress", read "any layer of govt". 

People make the most basic of errors in reporting on this2. The NYT, which really should know better, asserts that "In an unsigned opinion, the majority said Mr. Cuomo’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion". But that's not true. Instead, it has said that the applicants "have shown that their First Amendment claims are likely to prevail". This is, after all, but an injunction, not a judgement. It merely prevents NY from "enforcing Executive Order 202.68’s 10- and 25-person occupancy limits on applicant pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought". This is the court doing the bare minimum it can, whilst having regard to the constitution; and reserving the right to change it's mind later. Doubtless they hope that the lower courts will decide, and it won't come back to them, now they've fired this warning shot.

The facts of the case are generally agreed, except for how restricted the religious were, in comparison to comparable secular institutions. Here the concept of "essential" businesses comes in, and NY (and the dissents) rely rather heavily on the literal use of the word essential. If this word could be clearly used and had a clear meaning that might work; but it can't and it doesn't: businesses are things that sell things or services, and one persons essential is another's frippery; as Gorsuch notes, "acupuncturists, and liquor stores" are on the essential list. The religious also note, and I don't see NY denying, that large stores had no attendance limits imposed on them. The imposed limits made no concessions to the size of the building, and this seems like a simple error on NY's part, as the ruling makes clear: "Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue". If NY offers any explanation for why it refuses to do this, I missed it. And I really really hate it when da govt behaves unreasonably and refuses to explain itself.

Although the case turns on FE, I'd also take more seriously "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"; ideally laws should simply not mention religion; they should be written in a general way ("any building may only have x people per y square meters of floor area...").

The dissent leans on the religious being treated no more harshly than, say, lecture theatres or cinemas. And there's a question there: do you compare the treatment of the religious to those you're treating most harshly, or those you're treating least harshly, or those you think are most comparable, in some sense. G deals with this by asserting that if you create a "favoured" class - the so-called essential - then you must compare the religious to that. This is, incidentally, admitting that the FE clause isn't absolute; that the state may override it if essential; and that deference is due to the executive; but this is nothing new.

Roberts says that the case is moot - as it technically is at this point - because the religious are not currently afflicted by the zones; and therefore would deny relief, whilst admitting that if things change, they could come back. That seems like a combination of an attempt to keep the peace of his polarised court, and a laudable attempt to avoiding ruling where no ruling is needed. Although "keeping lawyers out of USAnian life" is a ship that has sailed.

Overall, I think this represents the court giving a rap over the knuckles to arbitrary govt, and I approve of that. If your response is "but this will lead to super-spreading" then you've failed to notice that all agree that it is currently moot.

Other people's opinions

Brian: I'm shocked at how conservative judges have manipulated the law but shouldn't be. Power to quarantine is a fundamental power of govt dating centuries. Right not to be quarantined is an unenumerated right wholly invented by conservatives, in the last year. My reply: That seems mad. You may not like the decision but it could be reasonably argued either way.

So, the main point: Brian errs, I am certain, by regarding the judgement as outside the bounds of reason. I happen to think it was right, but had it gone the other way, it would have been merely a different and not unreasonable interpretation. Secondary: Brian is here trying to win the argument by "stealing" words. There is no "Right not to be quarantined" and no-one has suggested there is any such right; instead, there is a right to liberty and freedom from unreasonable govt interference, and the quarantine is just an aspect of that. "Power to quarantine" is somewhat dubious; this rests less on anything explicit and mostly on people-have-done-that-before; like, for example, interning Japanese-ancestry folk during WWI.

Cuomo speaks

There's been a fair amount of complaints in the UK about the govt not showing proper respect for court judgements, and I think complaints about Trump, too; so what about Cuomo. I think he fails: the NYT quotes him saying "You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making... We know who [Trump] appointed to the court. We know their ideology".

Follow-ups

Christian school in Kentucky asks justices to intervene in dispute over in-person classes at religious schools looks to be taking the piss: this is a case where the state has closed public and private elementary, middle, and high schools and the religious want a pass. I think they'll lose, and that they should.

Notes

1. Yes yes I know, I'm being provocative, this is the broad-brush intro, read on for the details.

2. A hostage to fortune if there ever was one. Go on, do your worst.

Refs

BLACK MONOLITH STUNS UTAH XENOCLIMATOLOGISTS

* The Pivotal Justice in the Supreme Court Decision? by  Pierre Lemieux. The "The" point is one I thought about then decided to ignore, as uninteresting. But the last para is worth copying: An observation of a different sort is that all three Justices nominated by outgoing president Donald Trump voted to defend freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is a good point in his favor—although he himself, to say the least, did not demonstrate strong preferences for the free-speech protections in the same amendment. The Supreme Court decision also suggests that conservative judges are often more likely to protect individual liberties than “liberal” ones, even if caveats are in order, including regarding Justice Roberts in this case. We are told that Trump consulted the Federalist Society on judicial nominations instead of relying on his empty and dangerous intuitions. One wishes he had done the same on trade and other economic matters.

Hire people who give a shit

2020-11-18

Coronavirus days: does science help?

covid-again I can't answer that, but the Economist has a recent article Are governments following the science on covid-19? Which has a chart of how much a country's scientists think that policymakers have followed scientific advice. Scraping the numbers for the "agree or strongly agree" line (using "disagree or strongly disagree" produces much the same), I can compare that to deaths-per-million. The Economist itself doesn't attempt any quantification, contenting itself with The countries hit hardest by the pandemic have been those where policymakers have strayed furthest from scientific recommendations. In Brazil, for example, most researchers believe expert advice has been disregarded. In America, which appears at the bottom of the Frontiers ranking, Donald Trump has dismissed his public-health advisers as “idiots”, mocked face masks and suggested that the disease might be treated with injections of disinfectant.

So there is a relationship, and it even goes in the right direction: more scienceyness gets you fewer deaths. But the scatter is large and the relationship looks weak (I threw in an Excel regression line).

Refs


* Speaking of science, the Graun's relentless negativity is notable: "For all its bluster, the UK will continue to be a customer of others’ innovations, not an inventor of its own". What, we're going to invent and innovate nothing? FFS. Of course we're not got to invent everything whatever our idiot gov says, but going to the opposite extreme is cretinous.

Climate change doesn’t work like that?

IMG_20201104_223215_500 ATTP, in Climate change doesn’t work like that, makes the conventional "the streets will be yards deep in horse shit" mistake: "On our current trajectory1, atmospheric CO2 will remain above 400ppm for thousands of years, and won’t return to pre-industrial levels for 100s of thousands of years". 

Of course, this is only true if nature takes it's course, which (assuming our industrial civilisation survives the next 100 years, which in itself seems very likely) is very unlikely. If we get that far, pulling CO2 out of the air is very likely to be possible in 100 years, and almost undoubtedly possible in 1000 years; so speculations as to CO2 levels thousands of years into the future that ignore human influence are pointless.

Notes


1. Of course he doesn't mean "current trajectory"; if we follow that, CO2 will continue increasing from our emissions; he means, "even if we stop emitting in ~2050 and then allow levels to naturally decline" I think.

2020-11-03

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: the GW wars

50540415507_74b10d7c15_o After the intro, the next step really ought to be the development from there. But, perhaps the wars of ~2010 are of more interest; they are for at least one other person, hence this post; and they also seem to be of more interest to me, in that I can be bothered to write about them a bit. From my viewpoint, of course; if you're expecting self-criticism, look elsewhere. There is very little to say that is new; but the material is getting hard to find.

If you look at my talk page, you'll find the case of 2010, Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Climate change, which ran June to October. If you're wondering what I thought about it, you can read my talk page, trawl through my responses at the case, or read what I wrote at the time, They make a wasteland and call it peace; having just re-read that, I haven't changed my mind.

Preceeding, and somewhat overlapping with that, was Wikipedia:General sanctions/Climate change probation/RFC. This was a sort-of attempt to handle the problem within the community, rather than via Arbcomm. It didn't work - we ended up with an Arbcomm case - for a variety of reasons, mostly the entrenched disagreements, but also because of Admin fuckwittery. It is perhaps unfair to single out anyone in particular since the problem was widespread; The Wordsmith and I think Lar spring to mind; but it was a long time ago and I'm afraid I haven't kept the burning flame of animosity as bright as I might have hoped.

Not directly relevant to GW, but affecting my wiki-reputation and so indirectly relevant, was 2009's Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Cold fusion 2, which is the one that got me de-sysopped. I wrote something about that in Up before the beak again; that, too, demonstrated Arbcomm's stupidity, in failing to realise that Abd was a useless twat. Preceeding that was another case, which is hard to interpret unless you know that Giano has a lot of influential friends.

Before that, so long ago that I found it hard to find, was Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute. That was a much smaller issue mostly caused by two denialists; it featured the Great Edit War over the Greenhouse Effect article. That case was also poorly handled, though it improved in Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute 2 when the revert parole on me was declared a mistake and removed; thnx Stephan. See-also Connolley has done such amazing work...

Returning back to 2010 post Arbcomm, what was the result? Apart from the regrettable scorched-earth stuff, it was a Victory for Science, in that the articles remained sane. There's a long-standing question of why the denialists and nutters fared so badly; not really understanding the science didn't help them, of course; but the exact mechanism or process by which this works out is obscure.

Refs

Wikipedia as soap opera - 2005

No-one understands wiki, part n+1

A child’s garden of wikipedia, part II

Wikipedia: the dim and distant history of NPOV