Friday Insanity 1.26

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for half a year of insanity. Here is a grizzly bear catching salmon with some fancy footwork, Attenborough narrating.

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Posted by Tim on February 27th, 2009 • • 2 comments

News Roundup

  • Hey look, George Will has another column coming out tomorrow on climate change. Guess what, he’s digging in his heels and saying he’s absolutely right. Just like Al Gore!
  • Thomas Gillespie, professor of Geography at UCLA, has used a distance-decay model and a little common wisdom to determine Osama Bin Laden’s most likely hiding place. This reminds me of a project that is trying to create a habitat suitability model for marijuana in the Sierra Nevadas, including a viewshed parameter that would model the most difficult places to spot by small aircraft.
  • Erik Meijaard on the confusing fact that some species are invasive in one location, and endangered in their native habitat.
  • Researchers are now suggesting that all those pelican deaths in California were due to climate change.

Posted by Tim on February 26th, 2009 • • Comments Off on News Roundup

Obama’s Budget

The White House has released Obama’s proposed budget. The final budget won’t look exactly like this one, but it’s another one of those “hey look, we have a new president with a new vision” moments. On the economic front, as Robert Reich explains, the tax structure is going to get a little bit more Robin Hood-y. You can take a look at the whole thing here in a cool in-line document reader. DOI starts on page 83 of the reader (77 of the document). Technically, the budget for ’09 is about $400 million less than ’08 (about a 3% cut) and ’10 is projected to be $300 million more than ’08, but neither of those include the ~$3 billion in the stimulus.

NSF is on page 111 of the reader (105 of the document… seriously, PDFs do this, too. Why can’t the document page number be embedded in the document reader?). In this case, we’re getting a bump! An extra $800 million this year (16% increase) and another $100 million next, plus $3 billion from the stimulus. I love the sound of this: “Ensuring America’s economic competitiveness requires that we develop the future scientific and technical workforce for our universities, national labs, and companies. To help accomplish these goals, the Budget provides substantial increases for NSF’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship.” Emphasis mine. So either NSF GR Fellows are about to make a lot more money, or it’s about to get a bit less prestigious. For my sake, let’s hope it’s the latter.

Posted by Tim on February 26th, 2009 • • Comments Off on Obama’s Budget


Here’s a great write-up in Science on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON),

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a definitely bold and exciting project to create a nation-wide ecological monitoring program. The authors start with Lewis and Clark and end with kids in 2020 creating biodiversity tours of their lcoal area for classes thousands of miles away. Sick.

Lowman, M. et al. “A National Ecological Network for Research and Education.” Science. 323: 1172-1173. (doi: 10.1126/science.1166945)

Posted by Tim on February 26th, 2009 • • Comments Off on NEON

On Ecosystem Services

Here’s a good one: WWF is claiming that deforestation is behind increased levels of tiger attacks on Sumatra. So then, by the clear logic of ecosystem services, this is a great reason to

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keep the forest in tact. You approach the government, show them a chart based on the health care costs associated with all the tiger attacks, and blam – a monetary value on the forest. The Minister of Environment then gives you a funny look, picks up the phone, and instructs the local forest manager to (1) go ahead with the oil palm plantation, but (2) make sure any tigers remaining in the area are killed first. Oooooops.

Posted by Tim on February 26th, 2009 • • Comments Off on On Ecosystem Services


It should be unsurprising, though still news to me, that Tim Flannery is a long-time reviewer at

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the NY Review of Books. His most recent piece covers a new book by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler, The Superorganism.

Posted by Tim on February 25th, 2009 • • Comments Off on Books

Climate Change Lobbying

The Center for Public Integrity has put together a database of who’s been lobbying on climate change issues (both pro- and anti-).

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Who from the conservation world? Defenders of Wildlife spent over $850,000 in 2008, WCS spent $210,000, WWF $310,000 and TNC the big guy at $1.3 million. No CI?

Posted by Tim on February 25th, 2009 • • Comments Off on Climate Change Lobbying

News Roundup

Posted by Tim on February 25th, 2009 • • Comments Off on News Roundup

Advocacy and Accuracy

There’s been an ongoing conversation about Revkin’s post about Al Gore and George Will both “overstating” their case for and against climate change. On the one hand, Gore was presenting a potentially incorrect figure, that he has subsequently taken out of his talk. On the other, George Will represented a finding from the 1970s in the opposite way the authors had intended, been called out on it by the authors, and refuses to apologize (as does the Post ombudsman). In a followup, Revkin warns that “every time an overstatement is exposed, it threatens to further disengage people who are already either doubtful or misinformed.” Really? So then all those climate deniers who read Will’s column are going to concede that global warming is real? Are you insane?

Here’s how science in the public realm should work: scientists (and advocates like Gore) present evidence to

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the public. If some of that evidence is wrong, journalists and anyone else with an interest in the matter state that it’s wrong. The scientists and advocates then make a judgment about whether it’s actually wrong, and adjust their presentations accordingly. In that way, the uncertainty that is inherently involved in things like natural science (or, say, finance), is addressed. It would help if the general public were educated to the level of understanding the modern scientific process (as opposed to the dis-proving a Null that is hammered home in high school physics). But regardless of the public’s understanding, the Gore “overstatement” occurred exactly as it should.

Now consider George Will’s blatant mis-leading — no mistake, just out and out mis-representing the truth. There’s no way you read the paper he referenced and come to the conclusion he did. If you want to have a debate about something, have an honest debate. Concede when you’re wrong. Don’t lie. These seem so obvious, and yet for some reason Andy Revkin is now digging himself further into denial about the horrors of over-statement on both sides of the debate, as though there were equal interests and honest actors on both sides.

Unfortunately, environmental doomsdayers are put in an incredibly awkward position because journalists are so unwilling to present both sides of this debate honestly. There is uncertainty in climate models, but science journalists are doing a terrible job presenting the downside to the uncertainty. If we spend 1-2% of global GDP for the next 10 years on developing clean and renewable energy sources, and preventing deforestation, developing carbon-trapping technology, etc. etc., but climate modelers were wrong and global warming wasn’t going to be a problem, then we end up with a healthier planet and a stronger global economy. If we don’t do any of that, and climate modelers end up being right (and remember, the way things are going, pretty much every week we get new findings that show that, if anything, we’re underestimating the effects), then we have global catastrophe. But because those risks are so uneven, and journalists so incapable of presenting them accurately, it almost becomes necessary for advocacy groups to become shrill and over-state the dangers. It would be preferable if the world understood the ways of science, but it’s not happening. So we get Gore, somebody who’s immersed himself in climate science for decades, presenting some potentially incorrect evidence and then correcting it versus George Will, baseball guy in a bow tie, deliberately mis-leading his readers. What on earth is his motivation for doing so? I guess we’ll never know, since they’re both to blame.

Posted by Tim on February 25th, 2009 • • Comments Off on Advocacy and Accuracy

Sahara cheetah mug shots

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during the outtakes of Planet Earth??

Posted by Clare on February 24th, 2009 • • Comments Off on Sahara cheetah mug shots