Climategate: What Really Happened?

American public opinion on man-made climate change swung wildly in 2008 due to a fiasco known as “Climategate”. MotherJones writes an excellent article about how it was allowed to happen.

The trigger was the release of internal emails from the East Anglia University’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). They showed discussions between climate scientists who were frustrated at being abused and threatened; who were tired of lies; who wanted to fight back and make the public aware of the facts around the up-tick in carbon emissions. Industry seized on those discussions as admissions of doubt and duplicity. The result?

In November 2008, 71 percent of [US] respondents agreed that the planet is warming. Five weeks after Climategate, only 57 percent believed it.

In September 2009, RealClimate, a blog launched by Mann and other scientists to fight back against skeptics, weighed in. Several of the blog’s contributors drafted a public statement about what they saw as a pattern: “An unverified accusation of malfeasance is made based on nothing, and it is instantly ‘telegraphed’ across the denial-o-sphere while being embellished along the way to apply to…any and all scientists, even those not even tangentially related. The usual suspects become hysterical with glee that finally the ‘hoax’ has been revealed and congratulations are handed out all round…Net effect on lay people? Confusion. Net effect on science? Zip.”

A year and a half later, the question of who stole the emails and released them has never been answered. Mosher and other climate skeptics maintain that it was likely an inside job, carried out by someone at the University of East Anglia who wanted problematic science exposed. The CRU, on the other hand, maintains that it was the work of someone outside of the university—a “very professional job,” says Trevor Davies, pro-vice chancellor for research at East Anglia and the former head of the CRU.

So did the scientists do something more diabolical than gripe about critics and fret over how their research would be interpreted? Not according to seven separate inquiries on the subject, each of which found that the researchers’ work was not in question—though several concluded that their behavior was.

But none of the exonerations mattered: The scientists had lost control of the narrative.

Obama drops moon mission funding from NASA

US President Barack Obama is planning to axe the NASA funding for Constellation, the space program that would see NASA return to the Moon by 2020. They’ll put development plans for the shuttle replacement into the hands of private industry.

This is bad news.

I’ve waffled on many times in this blog about the apparent short-term wisdom but long-term foolishness of abandoning (or putting at great risk) research like this. I know that times are tough, and money is needed elsewhere. And US space funding has roller-coastered over the decades.

But this is important for the future. It was important enough that Obama made it a campaign pledge, as did John McCain. It’s important because we can’t even imagine today what might be discovered by scientists who don’t have to make profits. Here are a few historical reasons that represent only the spinoffs of the space program, to say nothing of actual space exploration:

Under the Space Act of 1958, NASA has had a mandate to share all the information it has gained with the public. Here are a few of the practical applications that have resulted from technologies and information learned by space scientists:

  • CAT scans
  • MRIs
  • Kidney dialysis machines
  • Heart defibrillator technology
  • Remote robotic surgery
  • Artificial heart pump technology
  • Physical therapy machines
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Microwave receivers used in scans for breast cancer
  • Cardiac angiography
  • Monitoring neutron activity in the brain
  • Cleaning techniques for hospital operating rooms
  • Portable x-ray technology for neonatal offices and 3rd world countries
  • Freeze-dried food
  • Water purification filters
  • ATM technology
  • Pay at the Pump satellite technology
  • Athletic shoe manufacturing technique
  • Insulation barriers for autos
  • Image-processing software for crash-testing automobiles
  • Holographic testing of communications antennas
  • Low-noise receivers
  • Cordless tools
  • A computer language used by businesses such as car repair shops, Kodak, hand-held computers, express mail
  • Aerial reconnaissance and Earth resources mapping
  • Airport baggage scanners
  • Distinction between natural space objects and satellites/warheads/rockets for defense
  • Satellite monitors for nuclear detonations
  • Hazardous gas sensors
  • Precision navigation
  • Clock synchronization
  • Ballistic missile guidance
  • Secure communications
  • Study of ozone depletion
  • Climate change studies
  • Monitoring of Earth-based storms such as hurricanes
  • Solar collectors
  • Fusion reactors
  • Space-age fabrics for divers, swimmers, hazardous material workers, and others
  • Teflon-coated fiberglass for roofing material
  • Lightweight breathing system used by firefighters
  • Atomic oxygen facility for removing unwanted material from 19th century paintings
  • FDA-adopted food safety program that has reduced salmonella cases by a factor of 2
  • Multispectral imaging methods used to read ancient Roman manuscripts buried by Mt. Vesuvius

But if you don’t want to bother, America, feel free to drop it. China will happily step in.

Scientists fighting back after government attack in the UK

Looks like I left behind a storm of public policy on science in the UK.

Professor David Nutt is the chairman of the government-sponsored Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He’s been trying to put into perspective some of the hysteria around the relative levels of harm of cannabis and ecstasy – drugs to which the UK government had softened, then recently re-hardened, their stance.

It seems that caused some public arguments that resulted in Nutt questioning the UK’s drug policy. That, in turn, got him fired from his position on the Council.

The BBC reports that senior UK academics are now urging the UK government to live by principles of scientific independence, and not to politicise the viewpoints of experts.

Of course, that paper-based collection of excrement The Daily Mail – which loves a good drugs panic – indulges in some deep moral and intellectual relativism about how those arrogant scientists don’t know everything. Unbelievably, they even break Godwin’s Law.

UK science research too tied to economic returns? or, be careful what you wish for

Back in January and February I blogged that science was being seen as key to economic recovery: MPs, including the PM, said so. I was pretty excited about that. Any excuse for more science funding is a good thing.

Well, maybe I should have been more cautious. Perhaps the linking of science and money has gone too far.

I blogged in May about a Guardian article that pointed out that researchers applying for grants must quantify the economic returns of their research. That was worrisome: science needs funding, sure, but it can’t always predict what it’s going to produce.

It’s getting worse. After the political struggle of recent weeks Gordon Brown effected some cabinet reshuffles. One of those shuffles means that theDepartment for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) – a UK organisation I’ve blogged about before and that I think a lot of – is no more. It’s been merged with the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform to form the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, headed by Peter Mandelson.

The pendulum has swung too far, I think. The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee (how many committees are there, anyway?)thinks so, too. Believing science can aid our economic recovery is one thing; making it inseparable from realising profit is quite another.

EU proposal to extend copyright: what my MEPs think

In late January I linked a Cory Doctorow article discussing an EU proposal to extend music copyright from 50 to 95 years. Mr. Doctorow thinks this would be a bad thing, as do I.

Taking a suggestion from that article, I wrote to all nine of my Members of European Parliament (easy to do from WriteToThem) and asked them to oppose this proposal on my behalf. Here’s who my MEPs are:

  • Robert Evans – Labour
  • Syed Kamall – Conservative
  • Gerard Batten – UK Independence
  • Charles Tannock – Conservative
  • John Bowis OBE – Conservative
  • Baroness Sarah Ludford – Liberal Democrat
  • Mary Honeyball – Labour
  • Jean Lambert – Green
  • Claude Moraes – Labour

Here’s what I wrote to them:

Dear Claude Moraes, Charles Tannock, Syed Kamall, Mary Honeyball, Gerard Batten, Jean Lambert, Baroness Sarah Ludford, John Bowis OBE and Robert Evans,

I am a London resident and a lover of culture and music. There’s an important issue under consideration by the EU that I need your help with. There is an event in Brussels *tomorrow* that I would like you to attend if possible.

On 27 January 2009, you have the chance to hear the facts about copyright term-extension for sound recordings in the EU. Under the terms of a proposal from Charlie McCreevy, the EU’s commissioner for the internal market and services, the EU would extend the term of copyright on existing sound recordings from 50 to 95 years.

That’s wrong, and bad for a whole host of reasons. Fifty years is already a very reasonable amount of time for copyright to hold and for music to pass into the public domain. Extending the period to 95 years will hurt music
lovers. Kids won’t be able to use older music for school projects. DJs won’t be able to use music that would normally have been public domain for remixing. Old recordings run the risk of being lost if they’re not digitised. Most artists will get just a tiny bit more money. It will only be the rights-holding record companies that benefit from such an extension.

Those companies are undoubtedly lobbying for the acceptance of this copyright-extension proposal. The event tomorrow in Brussels is to give voice to the majority and dissenting opinion, is one that I share, and one that I ask you all – as my MEPs – to please represent:
“Sound copyright: which way for the EU?”
http://soundcopyright.eventbrite.com/

To assist me you could also sign this petition:
http://www.soundcopyright.eu/blog/sign%20the%20Sound%20Copyright%20petition
and watch this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kijON_XODUk

More info is here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jan/26/cory-doctorow-copyright-law
and here:
http://www.soundcopyright.eu/blog/come-brussels-and-demand-sound-copyright

Thank you very much for your time and help.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Dickinson

So far I’ve received four responses. Here they are, in the order I received them.

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: Gerard Batten
 
Sent: 26 January 2009 15:35:33
To: ‘Tim Dickinson’

Dear Mr Dicknson,

Rest assured that I and my UKIP colleagues will vote agaisnt this
legislation.

Yours sincerely,

Gerard Batten MEP
UKIP London

Very short, and in agreement with me. Okay, I may not agree with any other policy that the isolationist, Euro-fearing, history-obsessed UKIPers have, but at least they’re representing the view I’m asking them to. Next?

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: TANNOCK Charles
Sent: 27 January 2009 08:16:32
To: Tim Dickinson

Dear Mr Dickinson,

Thank you for your email regarding the proposed term
extension Directive.

Issues surrounding copyright extension are controversial
and the level of copyright, and copyright term, are
matters that have been of importance to policymakers
over the last decade. The Conservatives have actively
followed and been involved in the debate and are of the
opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it
is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their
money and invest in the future.

We need a copyright framework that is both flexible and
accessible and the Commission proposal meets many of
these requirements. In the digital age, music is readily
available online and copyright provisions need to take
account of market changes. Extending the term of copyright to 95 years is essential if we expect performers and the music industry to carry on investing, innovating and creating and it is only right that they are given greater
protection for their investments.

In economic terms, the copyright extension would also be
beneficial. In a Price Waterhouse Report, it was shown
that an extension could boost the lagging music industry
by £3.3 Billion over the next 50 years. The extension
would also address the distortion of competition between
the United States and the EU. At a time when creative
industries based on intellectual property are generating
an increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, the current
disparity between the term of protection in the EU and
the US clearly puts British record companies and
performers at a competitive disadvantage. The extension
to 95 years would therefore help the competitiveness of
British music industry in the global marketplace.

Furthermore, a significant gap between the length of term
of protection in the EU and the US facilitates piracy,
particularly in the online environment where technology
enables recordings in Europe to be transmitted over the
Internet to countries where recordings are still in
copyright.

The extension would also improve the social situation of
performers, who have been disadvantaged by the existing
50-year term which often does not cover their lifetime.
While Composers have benefited from a term of copyright
that extended to the composer’s life and 70 years beyond,
performers have been disadvantaged but this new proposal brings parity to those involved in the music industry.

The UK has a very strong music industry and safeguards
must be put in place if we are to maintain our position
in today’s marketplace. The copyright extension is a
first step in this direction and should be supported.

Yours sincerely

Charles Bennett
Assistant

Office of Dr. Charles Tannock MEP
Conservative/London Region

European Parliament

A very long and detailed response from the Conservative, then. And it’s come from the MEPs assistant, not from himself. But he’s against my point of view. He is – surprise, surprise – taking the big-business line about attempting to secure profits for those who are likely to hold the rights to performances: the recording companies. Boo. Next?

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: KAMALL Syed
Sent: 10 February 2009 22:23:30
To: Tim Dickinson

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your email. I apologise for the delay
in replying.

While I personally share your concerns over the British
government’s and the European Commission’s proposals,
David Cameron last year announced that Conservative
Party policy is to support the extension of the
copyright term for sound recordings from fifty to
seventy years.

On the European Commission’s proposals I have contacted
my colleague Malcolm Harbour MEP who is the Conservative spokesman on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. He understands that issues surrounding copyright extension are controversial and the level of copyright, and copyright term, are matters that have been of importance to policymakers over the last decade. He has actively followed and been involved in the debate and is of the opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their money and invest in the future.

He believes that we need a copyright framework that is
both flexible and accessible and the Commission proposal
meets many of these requirements. He says that in the
digital age, music is readily available online and
copyright provisions need to take account of market
changes. He thinks that extending the term of copyright
to ninety-five years is essential if we expect performers
and the music industry to carry on investing, innovating
and creating and it is only right that they are given
greater protection for their investments.

Mr. Harbour notes that in economic terms, the copyright
extension would also be beneficial. In a Price Waterhouse
Report, it was shown that an extension could boost the
lagging music industry by £3.3 Billion over the next
fifty years. He points out that the extension would also
address the distortion of competition between the United
States and the EU. At a time when creative industries
based on intellectual property are generating an
increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, he believes that
the current disparity between the term of protection in
the EU and the US clearly puts British record companies
and performers at a competitive disadvantage. Mr. Harbour says that the extension to ninety-five years would therefore help the competitiveness of British music
industry in the global marketplace.

Furthermore, Mr. Harbour tells me that a significant gap
between the length of term of protection in the EU and
the US facilitates piracy, particularly in the online
environment where technology enables recordings in Europe to be transmitted over the Internet to countries where recordings are still in copyright.

Mr. Harbour believes that the extension would also
improve the social situation of performers, who he feels
have been disadvantaged by the existing fifty year term
which often does not cover their lifetime. He says that
while composers have benefited from a term of copyright
that extended to the composer’s life and seventy years
beyond, performers have been disadvantaged but he believes that this new proposal brings parity to those involved in the music industry.

Mr. Harbour believes that the UK has a very strong music
industry and that safeguards must be put in place if we
are to maintain our position in today’s marketplace. Mr.
Harbour feels the copyright extension is a first step in
this direction and should be supported.

However, I did meet with the Open Rights Group recently
and I will be talking to them again to see if we can make
the case for no extension.

Thanks again for having taken the time to write to me.

Best regards,

Syed

SYED KAMALL
Conservative MEP for London
http://www.syedkamall.com

Very interesting. Another Conservative MEP, and he seems to have pretty much the exact same lengthy reply that I got from the other Conservative MEP who got back to me, Dr. Tannock. There are two interesting differences, though:

1. Kamall starts off by saying that he personally disagrees with the proposal to extend copyright, but has been told to toe the party line.

2. He inserts the name of Malcolm Harbour MEP, Conservative spokesman on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, as the one who affirms the party opinion on the matter, and prefaces each statement with Harbour’s name. Boo too. Okay, next?

Re: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: JeanLambert Office
Sent: 18 February 2009 12:09:36

Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London

Dear Tim,

Thank you for writing to me about the Copyright Term Directive. I have not worked directly on this Directive, as I do not sit on the legal affairs committee. However, I have spoken to my Green Group colleagues and our legal affairs advisers.

I am pleased to inform you that we will not be supporting the extension of copyright for performers from 50 years to 95 years. While we are in favour of the principal of providing additional income to older musicians, we do not feel this Directive will accomplish this aim and are concerned about its other possible impacts.

Experts have pointed out that it could reduce access to our cultural heritage. In particular, the replaying and use of the vast broadcast archives in Europe could face new barriers, as the orphan works problem is likely to be exacerbated.

Those supporting the extension have suggested that the proposals will make a positive contribution to cultural diversity by offering incentives to record companies to digitise niche cultural works. However, by the Commission’s own admission, the record companies are likely to concentrate on reissuing high earning material. In fact, studies show that these works are more likely to be preserved once they enter the public domain than by the copyright holders themselves.

If the Commission is serious about addressing the issue of older musicians’ lack of financial security (although why it should single out this particular profession is unclear), it would be more pertinent to examine the situation of contractual terms between performers and producers, or a social insurance scheme, rather than extending the copyright term.

If you would like more information on the Green Group’s position please visit our website at: www.greens-efa.org.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Lambert MEP

Now we’re talking. Lambert gets it. There’s an acknowledgment that no one’s against ensuring performers make money. There’s the realisation that extending copyright for performances probably wouldn’t achieve that, and would probably have undesirable side effects. Well done.

It’s as good a reason as any other

I’m afraid that neither Nigel Bakhai nor Tony Lit, respectively the Liberal Democrat and Conservative contenders for the Ealing Southall parliamentary by-election on Thursday, are likely to get my vote. This is not on the issues, particularly. It’s on the fact that these two candidates have absolutely carpet-bombed our letterbox with printed material every day in the last couple of weeks. It’s all lame, negative, and much of it is made to appear (cheekily, I hope) as thought it’s some sort of fact-reporting community newspaper. The sheer oppressive volume of it is annoying and discouraging.

Also, I quite like the idea of a West London tram, which both of these candidates are against. Trams have worked really well in lots of other cities I’ve been to.

 

Free chocolate? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner

EDIT: damn, an editing/saving glitch, and I lost much of this post. Anyway, there was a political leaflet through my door today from the local Official Monster Facing Loony Party candidate who visited me last week, John Cartwright. It’s a funny leaflet.

John CARTWRIGHT

Official Monster Raving Loony Party

  • Protect Civil Liberties
  • No detention without trial
  • Stop Extraordinary Rendition
  • Repeal the oppressive and counter-productive “Anti-Terror” Laws
  • Stop Imperialist Aggression
  • Stop Interference in Somalia
  • Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Support the independence of North Korea and its right to self-defence
  • Welcome the Cultural and Economic Benefits of Immigration
  • Withdraw from the European Union
  • Free chocolate for pensioners, students and the unemployed

[on the reverse]

I am standing in this by-election so that the people of Ealing Southall constituency can have the opportunity to vote for the policies of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

I have been a candidate in 13 local elections in Croydon, the last 2 general elections in Croydon Central, and the by-election last year in Bromley & Chislehurst. I am not local to Ealing, but this lack of local experience is outweighed by the brilliance of my policies and the charisma of my personality. Southall should have an MP who will maintain the struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie, rather than a party careerist who will follow the dictates of his party’s leadership.

“The Official Monster Raving Loony Party wants to build a diverse, pluralist, and tolerant democratic society in which there is mutual respect for a wide variety of different cultures, lifestyles and viewpoints. Anybody who dares to suggest otherwise should be ruthlessly exterminated.”

Last chance for the Tripoli Six

I blogged last autumn about the sick, sad story of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been found guilty of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. It’s sick and sad because they were sentenced to death when it seems very doubtful that they are really guilty: a great deal of expert testimony says that the infections probably happened before the Bulgarians came to work there.

They have lost their last appeal, and their sentences of execution have been upheld by the Libyan supreme court. There’s a great deal of international outcry. Their last chance may be the High Judiciary Council, which reviews death penalty verdicts, and can override the supreme court. There seems to be some compensation deal in the works that may influence this.

Confused By Elections

You’ll recall that I blogged recently about a burst of political activity in Ealing, where I live, because our previous Labour MP passed away.

The political intrigue, while perhaps on a small scale, is heating up. Labour has selected a candidate who, if he wins, will be the eldest MP ever elected. Immediately after his announcement, five councillors defected to the Conservative party. A couple of the people who were standing as independents are now saying they want their supporters to vote for other parties (but it’s too late for them to come off the ballot).

There are several blogs about the by-election, some of which are linked in comments on my previous posts. If you really care, the Wikipedia page on the by-election is a pretty good summary of how we got here and who’s standing.  There are some interesting parties (you can find out more about each at the Wikipedia link):

  • Monster Raving Loony – their candidate visited me. They stand for raving loonyism. And getting out of Iraq, I think.
  • English Democrats – they want a devolved English parliament, like the Scots do
  • Respect – focus on anti-Iraq conflict and anti-privitisation
  • Green – focus no the environment
  • Christian Party – pro-life, anti-gay
  • UK Independence – anti-EU involvement

Of the three larger parties, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives seem to be focusing on the same things: keeping the streets cleaner,  more law and order, and no west London tram. The Lib Dem seems to have the most info on his web page (and he’s the one who commented on my blog, and who has a Facebook entry, oooh). The Conservative doesn’t have much on policy that I can see. The Labour site for Ealing has nothing at all that I can find.

I find Ealing streets plenty clean. I don’t think the area is crime-ridden or needs more ASBOs. And I rather like the idea of a tram: I’ve seen this work really well in lots of other cities around the world. But I’m going to have to do a lot more thinking about this one.

We got our voting cards yesterday. The vote is on July 19th. I hope it’s an interesting election.