Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In Honor of Upcoming Earth Day: Science and Political Science

 “Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue,” the scholar Tom Nichols writes in his timely new book, “The Death of Expertise.” “To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”  --"The Death of Expertise Explores How Ignorance Became a Virtue", book review by Michiko Kaukutani in the NY Times.

A couple things made me want to write a short essay on science v political science, one in the Legislature and one in the New Mexican. Here are the two issues.

I worked quite a bit with Stephanie Garcia-Richards on HB-50 this term. As anyone who has followed the North Mesa Mutts knows, I was extremely critical of the bill she pre-filed and worked to craft a bill that would not be so polarizing. By the time a less onerous bill was introduced, it was too late to make any difference. But the science issue was the skewing of data by making invalid comparisons. Everytown and to some degree our representative claimed that states with universal background check laws have a roughly 50% lower rate of domestic violence homicides and shootings of police.  But even the sympathetic Politifact only gave that a rating of "half-true" and glossed over critical issues.

Politifact considered "background checks" in 14 states, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. But this comparison is false on its face.  These fourteen states differ in sociology, gun ownership rates, and in having quite different sets of gun laws (for a review of state gun laws, go here). All but two have extremely restrictive gun laws. For example, permits to purchase and heavy restrictions on handgun ownership are present in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York, most of which have "may issue" handgun permitting laws (i.e., a law enforcement official can deny a permit application not on the basis of an applicant's qualifications but on a poorly defined law enforcement opinion of your suitability). A Firearms Owner Identification Card is required in Illinois. Etc. Finally, the before/after study of  gun laws v gun crime in Connecticut involved the imposition of both a background check and permit to purchase system.

So the idea that these states only differ from other states in having or not having universal background check laws is simply untrue and indeed, falsely insinuates that any differences in homicide rates are due to background checks.  Even a partial reading of the literature (which is all I had time for this year) suggests that a background check law like suggested by HB50 may have a small but measurable effect on gun violence by putting one more roadblock between prohibited persons and guns. It would be a roadblock, not a wall.

Another bit of political science was played by former Los Alamos resident Tony Heller in a recent New Mexican article. But his article is weak. After disputing the value of using polls of scientists to decide topics regarding climate change, Tony tells us that "...There are tens of thousands of scientists who agree with (EPA Secretary Scott) Pruitt’s questions about human impact...". So really. Do we decide these things on poll v poll? Do we even know the credentials of who was polled?

The real issue where we can likely get consensus in the geophysical/geochemical community is that doubling or tripling CO2 in the atmosphere will affect climate. The question is how much, and what are the costs of mitigation. On that topic, in a recent paper on the uncertainty of climate calculations and the resulting effects on mitigation, Yoichi Kava, Mitsutsune Yamaguchi, and Keigo Akimoto review the present state of uncertainty on climate sensitivity to CO2 and note that in going from AR4 to AR5 the consensus value for equilibrium climate sensitivity to CO2 went from an estimated range of 2.0-4.5 deg C per atmospheric CO2 doubling to 1.5-4.5 deg C. Lewis and Curry put the range considerably lower (see ref in text). But its the uncertainty that kills planning. The authors show a graph of the estimated abatement costs to keep the equilibrium temperature from rising more than 2 deg C (i.e., the Paris accords) for a climate sensitivity value of 3 deg v 2.5 deg per doubling. The costs differ by an order of magnitude because the more sensitive value severely restricts our ability to continue to use fossil fuels and predicts more profound consequences if we continue "business as usual".

Figure 2 from Kava et al.

Imagine wanting to buy a house and not knowing if the total costs of home ownership were $250,000 or 2.5 million dollars. Now, imagine yourself a politician trying to decide on a path forward on climate policy using those same economic uncertainties. Small wonder that folks want to believe the version of science that fits their own interests.

The problem is, underestimating climate sensitivity could be a disaster. If climate sensitivity is on the low side, then even if we overshoot emissions the results could  be quite manageable in terms of sea level rise and other modelled changes. As Judy Curry has said on her blog, if reality conforms to the high sensitivity tail the result would likely be very high costs.  For a recent, real world example of underestimating Ma Nature, one has to only look at the Fukushima disaster. TEPCO built a 20 foot seawall because it underestimated the highest likely tsunami. Ma Nature handed the company a 45 foot tsunami. The rest is history. Imagine a disaster like that on a global scale.

There was an excellent article in today's New York Times about the Death of Expertise. We need to know the difference between facts and fiction. We may not like the reality that facts tell us, but its the real facts that matter, not the fiction. Plus, we may often have to make decisions on facts that are not known very well but nonetheless contain useful, factual information. But in so doing, science needs to be science, not politics. Kava et al say it best in closing:

"It is clear...that the impact of a mere 0.5 °C difference in climate sensitivity is of critical significance for policy objectives, which is especially significant given the large uncertainties over climate sensitivity. It is scientific community’s vital role to narrow the uncertainty range of ECS. At the same time it is critically important for policymakers in Paris to know that they are in a position to make decisions under large uncertainty of ECS."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Those Horribly Contaminated, Dangerous Stables. Right??

Sent to Daily Post.

 Having lived on North Mesa for the last sixteen years and having spent a significant amount of time running, walking the dogs, or riding the mountainbikes in, around, through, and behind the stables, I have yet to discover all the environmental degradation that Olga Chertkov is so worried about. Neither has anyone I have ever spoken to mentioned this allegedly shocking state of affairs.

Indeed, one would expect a certain amount of horse manure in a stable area and like any other activity in a rural or semirural environment, one makes allowances for where one has chosen to live. Indeed, if this is so bad, why has not the entire North Mesa community taken to torches and pitchforks at every County Council meeting? Heck, I practically needed a disguise to get home in one piece when I chaired meetings advocating roundabouts, so we know that your average Los Alamos resident will not tolerate a degradation of Our Pretty Darn Good Way of Life on the Hill.

Personally, I think suggesting that we get the stables off of North Mesa would be a terrible idea. Open space and open space activities are what make Los Alamos special and North Mesa very special in particular. The idea that we can walk out our front doors and hike or bike shared trails while hanging out with horses and horse people (as opposed to the proliferation of horse's hindquarters prevalent in many cities) is one of those important things that makes Los Alamos wonderful.

Finally, Ms. Chertkov suggests that we move the stables outside the city limits. If I recall correctly from the Sheriff's discussion, there are no city limits since this is an unincorporated county.

Leave the stables where they are. They are an integral part of the community.  Not to mention, I would prefer a little horse shit on the ground to a lot of Plutonium in the ground. Maybe we should move the lab...which, now that you mention it, pays the salaries of those who complain about a little horse shit.
Run away, run away!

Monday, February 27, 2017

For Srinivas Kuchibhotla

This shit just keeps happening unless we stop it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Biker Rally Packs the Roundhouse

One of the main points of the rally was driver accountability
Illustration from the NMMRO Facebook page
Once again, both motorized and human powered two-wheeler aficionados packed the Roundhouse yesterday. I would like to thank Annette Torrez and the Board and members of the New Mexico Motorcycle Rights Organization for making room for us in the tent, Jennifer Buntz for her work getting us invited, and to the various bicycling individuals and organizations who worked hard to make yesterday a success. These included Diane Albert and her law firm who bought the goodies, Tim Rogers who hosted a bicycling Community Cruise de Santa Fe, Tony Farrar and New Mexico Bike N Sport for hosting us, and the Bicycle Coalition and Bike ABQ for their efforts at getting people there. My apologies to anyone I forgot so far.

Following the color guard, national anthem, and invocation was the Reading of the Names of the Fallen.  Then NMMRO Chair Annette Torrez welcomed us and NMMRO Vice-Chair Raymond Gallegos discussed ongoing legislative efforts. Rick Miera, former Democratic House Floor leader, gave a guest speech followed by an excellent discussion of distracted driving by NMMRO's Tom Newell. I gave the speech for the bicycling community, discussing rider safety, SB 55 to increase penalties to distracted drivers who kill or injure, and the Complete Streets Memorials. I threw in a few caustic remarks about how the Legislature is consumed with gun bills but ignores the carnage on the streets, where NM is competing for top honors in per capita killing of bicyclists and pedestrians. Ann Overstreet followed me for BikeABQ adding key information. There were then awards to motorcyclists and clubs of the year followed by honors to fallen riders and survivors of crashes.

My wife and I were witnesses to this crash 
just east of the NM-4/NM502 junction. 
Two motorcyclists were killed in a head-on
crash with an elderly wrong-way driver on a 
55 mph divided highway 
 Bicyclists feel vulnerable and certainly we are, but on a sombre note, we must remember all those names of fallen riders that were called out by the NMMRO folks. Motorcyclists bear the brunt of two wheeled death on the streets, something I am acutely aware of when I am on the K1100RS. The combination of higher motorcycle speeds and the fact that a motorcycle is not a steel cage means when things go wrong, they can go wrong badly. If you want a bicycling example, recall the high speed crash that killed Fabio Casartelli in the Tour de France (warning: video is graphic). So Annette finally got my NMMRO membership letter yesterday. 

Thanks to all who organized and helped, and thanks to all who showed up. Yeah, its tough getting anything done at the Legislature, but unless you show up, nothing gets done at all.Here are some pics, courtesy of the NMMRO and BCNM Facebook pages.

I rode down on the big BMW, so my kit included leathers and a pretty thick wool sweater. Halfway to Santa Fe my leather jacket unzipped from the bottom because I had not fully seated the zipper around the bulky warm clothing. Not a good thing in sub-40 degree weather at 70 mph. Had to stop and deal with my own "wardrobe malfunction". That just reminds us to sweat the details when one is on two wheels rather than thinking one is safe in a two ton cage (and when you let down your guard in a two ton cage it is other people who are at risk). Stay safe out there.
The author in full rant.

Former Dem House Leader and longtime motorcycle advocate Rick Miera to the right of the mike
NMMRO Board Chair Annette Torrez on his left

Me in the sweater (lower right) figuring out what to say
Jennifer in the pinkish hat and Duke City kit (center right)
Tom Newell discussing distracted driving science

Diane Albert took this pic from the balcony, with me speaking.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Salsa La Cruz Finally Gets a Ride To Work

Some time ago, Jerry Merkey asked when I would finally get off my hind end and ride to work. That was today. The shoulder feels great. The bigger mental obstacle was just getting on the bike and off the Fat Italian Ass after several months (August 15th, to be exact) of recovery from various broken body parts and surgery. Things in January were still a tad sketchy with the shoulder and I didn't feel like hitting a patch of ice and giving Taos Orthopedic more work to do at my expense.

Proof that at least I put my bike there 
to take a picture.
Interestingly, the fact that I got off my bike to take that picture led me to see that the county put up a sign for Northbound sidepath-riding cyclists to get off and walk across the street at the north end of the bridge. There have been at least a couple crashes (one described here) and several near misses when fast bicyclists (and at least one crash at this spot involving a normal-speed cyclist) riding down-gradient on their way home from the south side of the bridge ran into traffic turning and crossing at West Road. This sign, in combination with the offramp that puts cyclists onto West Road so we can cross Diamond and get into the northbound bike lane, are good safety and convenience additions as these suggest that northbound cyclists should either merge with traffic or slow to a walking speed if staying on the sidewalk so that motorists see approaching bicyclists in time for both to react to each other without anyone kissing Mr. Pavement.

In honor of spring and the riding season fast approaching, "Let's be careful out there".
Dismounting, or at least slowing, makes sense 
when motorists are expecting pedestrian speeds

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bike Day at the Capitol

Click on the pic to get a full size version or print out.