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  1. “There is little disagreement that building fission based systems takes longer and costs more than building combustion systems that have waste disposal equipment that is not much more complicated than a smoke stack.”
    Actually I disagree, the “power system” goes well beyond the power plant. If you include the extraction facility (the gas well or the coal mine), the transportation facility (pipeline and tankers), and the storage facilities, the investment cost for fossil based power is not substantially lower, and could even be higher. For instance, the Sakhalin 2 project cost more than 10 billion dollar to get 9.6 million tons of LNG. That is to get 16.7 Giga Watt year of thermal power. With a conversion ratio of 50%, that is 8.3 GW Year. For 8 billion, the Chinese and Westinghouse are building 4 AP1000 with 4.4 GW capacity.
    Nuclear advocates shouldn’t get into this trap of admitting that Nuclear requires more investments. The harder oil and gas are going to get, the more investment will be needed to produce it.
    The fact that it translates into a high price, that the power producer can shift to the customer automatically should not be interpreted as an act of god. It is simply the results of bigger than expected investment costs.

  2. Charles – I agree with you, but there are different sources of finance available to very large oil/gas companies to build their extraction operations. In some cases, they are able to simply divert a portion of their enormous cash flow to the project.

  3. Since Charles quoted a price of $8B for the Chinese to build 4 AP 1000’s can anyone who spends more time on this than I do, explain to me why FPL yesterday raised their top-end estimate to build 2 AP 1000’s to $22.5B? What am I missing here? $2B versus $11.25B? How can that be?

    1. SteveK9; the raw materials cost of a nuclear plant is almost negligible. Turning concrete and steel into a power plant is done by skilled labour which is far more expensive in the US than in China. That factor alone explains a good chunk of the difference.
      Since it is the high case the rest of the difference is probably something like assuming interest rates will go up dramatically, assuming there will be regulatory or other delays, including the cost of transmission and so on.

      1. Soylent. This really doesn’t fly. Areva’s first-of-a-kind EPR in Finland with all of it’s woes with skilled labor, the supply chain, difficulties with the utility (TVO), and the regulators, is now projected to cost $5.3B Euros. This is in Europe, not China and even with the exchange rate this is not $11.5B, AND this is a 1650MW plant, not 1150MW (AP 1000).
        If it really is going to cost us $11.5B to build and AP1000, the nuclear revival is in real trouble. In this country anyway. Does anyone know cost projections for Vogtle? Maybe, it is just FPL that is off the deep end.

    2. I should also note that in the first nuclear age, in the period of high interest rates and regulatory ratcheting, the difference between the best and worst plant cost was a factor 4 for similar sized plants.

  4. I think that the fake photo of the polar bear standing on a lonely ice floe was a nice touch. What better way to accompany a letter by biologists, astrophysicists, anthropologists, etc., that presumes to lecture the world on the current state of climate science.

  5. Soylent, all, I’ve been wondering who is in charge in FPL with this amazing anouncement that the two plants will cost upwards now of $22 billion. Are they mad? What does Westinghouse and Shaw Group have to say about this. So…we know now that the man-hour project…for now (meaning it could go *down*) is upward of 20 million man-hours. This doesn’t include grid connection, cost of the hardware from Westinghouse/Shaw etc etc. That 20 million man-hours (MH) for one reactor at a $60/hr total all-in wage/benefit package (it could be lower as Florida is not a high wage state in construction) works out to about $1.2 billion dollars. They are also including the costs of the turbine/generator set, which is not part of the Westinghouse stated costs; also the huge line upgrade needed to bring the power to the ratepayer.
    But the costs ARE too high. It’s essentially $11 billion for 1100 MWs (50MWs for house power, I’m assuming). While this is still cheaper than solar/wind, etc when availability is taken into consideration, it’s still damn expensive.

  6. Rod, I recognize your concerns for the environment and don’t dismiss them nor belittle them in any way – in fact, I share them. I earnestly search for unbiased, fact-based information on the subject of AGW and know you do, too.
    At the risk of offending you (as I don’t presume to know what sources you check for verification or nullification of your concerns), would you mind commenting on Mr. Monckton’s testimony before Congress this past week? Granted, he’s not a climatologist (nor is Al Gore) but he’s also not a dummy. He’s also not jetting around the world scolding people about using carbon-based energy.
    Here’s the link: http://icecap.us/index.php/go/joes-blog/testimony_of_the_viscount_monckton_of_brenchley_before_congress_may_6_2010/
    The other issue about CO2 concentration and the heating effect is addressed here and I wonder if you’ve already seen and considered it:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/#more-17114
    You are a “numbers guy” and I thought these might bear greater weight in garnering a response due to their analytical, numerical bent. Thanks, as always, for your consideration.

    1. @Doc – I will have to take a look through the references, but in the meantime, please understand that warming is not my main concern. My main concern is that we are dumping large quantities of material into the atmosphere without any limitations – we have no science that tells us that is something that will have no effect. There may be large effects, there may be small effects, and there is even a remote chance that there will be no effect at all.
      The uncertainty bothers me. So does the fact that the people who own the atmosphere are not receiving any compensation at all from the people who are using the atmosphere as their waste dump.
      There is just something that is not very smart or very fair about that situation.

      1. If the CO2 is harmful… is the question. Other products of burning coal, I totally agree with you.

        1. @David – one of my favorite sayings is “the dose makes the poison”. The most common reason that many nukes like the saying is that it points to the idea that there is a point at which tiny doses of anything cease to cause measurable harm and actually end up doing some good. Vitamins, exercise, and radiation fall into this category.
          However, there is another way to look at that saying – in the wrong dose ANYTHING can be a poison that upsets a natural balance. We all would die without sufficient H2O; we also know very well that too much H2O can cause death and catastrophic local harm. (Just ask the people in Tennessee or the Lower Ninth Ward.)
          I sometimes compare CO2 to another natural byproduct of all living creatures. It is the “stuff” that we all discharge. At one time, human societies thought of that “stuff” as so natural that they dumped it directly into their city streets, their rivers, and lakes without any treatment at all. Eventually, some scientists figured out that too much of that stuff was causing many of those societies to choke on themselves, shortening lives and enabling the spread of serious illnesses.
          In most, not all, developed areas, that “stuff” is now carefully gathered and treated before releasing it to the environment in a controlled fashion where it causes far less damage.
          Just like that other natural “stuff” CO2 is a fertilizer in certain concentrations. However, too much of even good things is a bad thing. I have lived in a place where the concentration of CO2 would occasionally approach levels high enough so that it would begin poisoning people – causing headaches, nausea, etc. The levels in our atmosphere are far below that kind of concentration, but no matter what you think about the effect of an increasing concentration it is pretty clear that CO2 levels have increased over the past 200 years. The Earth has some natural sponges for CO2, but the rate of addition appears to be at least slightly higher than the rate of removal, leading to a positive slope.
          One more thing worth worrying about – what is the effect on the CO2 “sinks” if they approach the saturation level? When water absorbs CO2 it becomes slightly acidic; most creatures adapted to living in water have a fairly narrow range of pH at which they thrive.

          1. “One more thing worth worrying about – what is the effect on the CO2 “sinks” if they approach the saturation level? When water absorbs CO2 it becomes slightly acidic; most creatures adapted to living in water have a fairly narrow range of pH at which they thrive.”
            Yes. “Ocean acidification” sounds much scarier than “reduced ocean basicity,” doesn’t it? I don’t think that the choice of terms was an accident.
            The ocean is a base, by the way, and the amount of CO2 that would be required to make it slightly acidic (i.e., reduce its pH to less than 7) is enormous. For example, in the past two and a half centuries, it is estimated that the ocean has managed to go only 6% of the way towards being acidic on average. This 250-year change is relatively small compared to the natural spatial variation of pH in the ocean around the globe.
            As anyone who has ever maintained a fish tank knows, ocean creatures, i.e., fish, are quite adaptable:
            “Most fish will thrive in a wide range of pH, and different fish have different ideal pH requirements. … Some fish prefer pH as low as 5.5 and others prefer their pH to be over 8.5!”
            The pH of the ocean varies between 8 and 8.4.
            The only potential cause for concern is for long-lived systems, such as coral reefs; however, the uncertainties are high and research into this is still ongoing. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rather considerable bias in reporting from the major news outlets. Studies that predict disaster almost always seem to get picked up and blown out of proportion (if it bleeds, it leads, after all), whereas other studies that either provide evidence that the danger is minimal or report coral damage from something that cannot somehow be traced to AGW tend to linger in obscurity.

      2. Agreed — and the true pollution of particulates, SOx, NOx, fly ash, heavy metals etc are our shared concern.
        Please also look at the latest from Dr. Roy Spencer (www.drroyspencer.com). As I’ve mentioned before, he is quite circumspect in his analysis and pronouncements, and being a NASA guy, you will likely also appreciate his assessments.

  7. Rod, Thank you for the link, the issue and allowing us to discuss. These enlightening discussions from an impressive group of commentators immune to appeals to

    1. Firefly Power went bankrupt? They had some great technology, a sleeper hit, really, that I thought had a lot of potential. Probably still does.
      Sad they went belly-up, it appeared to be a very promising way to take an old chemistry – with a massive installed base – and push it to new heights. Heck, I was hoping to buy to test on our datacom UPS systems, so as to somewhat permanently replace the UPS batteries that we seem to constantly be recycling. They just didn’t move to market fast enough, though.

  8. Those who criticize “flawed peer review process” apparently know nothing about history of science, and claim that because something is imperfect, it is not scientific enough. Anything done by humans is imperfect by definition, hence this argument is a red herring.
    Science is clear, and we have about as much independent evidence about the age of Earth as we have about the warming effects of green house gases (GHG). We measure the change in atmosphere absorption spectrum in time, which is in excellent agreement with predictions – after all gas absorption spectra are very well known elementary physics. We measure heat imbalance of the Earth, by several independent means, and they are in quantitative agreement with each other, and with the global circulation models. We know for sure (i.e. from measurement in history) that over long term, polar caps are incompatible with CO2 levels above 350 ppm.
    Yes we cannot predict with certainty if the midwest will turn to into a permanent dust bowl within 20 or 50 years. We cannot predict how many decades or centuries will it take for the polar caps to melt. None of that however implies that our scientific knowledge is insufficient to make the decision to stop polluting the atmosphere. We also cannot measure Earth age with precision of millions of years – which does not disprove geology.

      1. Doc, first he does not address what i wrote, he looks into short term effects and draws conclusions to support his preconcieved conclusions, and most likely he will waste someone’s time to prove him wrong again. Second for myself I waste no time arguing science with someone who believes that creationism is a valid scientific theory – it is pointless and futile.

        1. Actually the flaws in Spencer’s argument were discussed at large for instance here:
          http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/spencers-folly-3/
          He makes the same mistake again, looking at short term (month to month or year to year) effects over a decade, drawing erroneous conclusions about effects which act on much longer time scales. The climate sensitivity estimate from various methods is summarized here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm
          Here is a recent paper http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n1/abs/ngeo706.html which looks into past climate response over very long time frame. Note that any such historical research naturally integrates over short term cyclical variations, which dominate Spencer’s analysis..

          1. OK, so if Spencer’s research is so demonstrably false, incorrect and wrong (and he’s an ignoramus to boot, since he holds a worldview based on a Creator to explain the unfathomable complexity of which he tries to make sense – as did B. Pascal, W. Harvey, I. Newton and scores of other notable scientists) his published work in Journal of Geophysical Research will be summarily dispatched. I look forward to reading those reviews.
            BTW, what is the probability of one amino acid forming spontaneously out of that non-living chemical “soup”?

            1. @Doc – not trying to pick a fight, but what is it about Spencer in particular that makes you such a fan? I agree that he has strong academic credentials that should not be dismissed. I also agree that he has published some peer reviewed articles that deserve to be read and understood. I am not saying that science is a completely democratic process where the majority is always right, but isn’t it pretty obvious that Spencer is actively working to promote his ideas, just as many of the folks who are more worried about the effects of CO2 than he is.
              Many of the worriers have at least as impeccable a pedigree as Spencer. There seem to be quite a few of them whose work deserves respect. This is not an appeal to authority: I am just curious about why you selected the source you did.
              BTW – I happen to agree with the notion that accident and chance CANNOT adequately explain the amazing order found in the universe. Such a theory might satisfy biologists, but it appears to violate my understanding of entropy and the laws of thermodynamics. Continuous creation seems to fit the data better.
              However, I am not of the view that humans can do whatever we want and the effects will somehow be smoothed over by some kind of all present, all knowing and all perfect being. The understanding that I have is that humans have the right of free will – which means that we have the right to make both right and wrong choices. We can destroy what we have be given; no one will stop that process but us.
              I know – I am delving into topics way off of the original, but what the heck – I know the moderator pretty well. 🙂

              1. Rod, I hope you realize that your assertion “that accident and chance CANNOT adequately explain the amazing order found in the universe” is by definition beyond science (non-testable), and actually anti-science: What is the point of inquiring if we already know the answer: god did it.
                What is more, and as an answer to Doc’s question, evolution theory describes the EVOLUTION of lifeforms, not the creation of life itself, so your question does not follow the argument. Either way, to answer your question, since 1953 (already!) we have experimental evidence that different types of amino acids were self-assembled in lab, in conditions alike in the early Earth, so the probability you ask is rather high.
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller%E2%80%93Urey_experiment
                Rod, I dont understand where is your problem with thermodynamics, Earth is not a closed system, so the argument does not apply. Now we know from quantum theory that there has to be something rather than nothing, and from cosmology we know that the total energy of the Universe is zero. If someone is interested in what we know from the science of cosmology, I recommend this popular talk by Lawrence Krauss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

                1. @ABison – again, not picking fights, but merely engaging in interesting discussion. My issue on the thermodynamics front is that entropy and second law consideration say that order does not emerge from a state of disorder and that all systems tend toward increasing disorder unless there is focused energy applied to putting them into order.
                  When an engineer digs through piles of parts or old equipment, he can see similarities of choices and trace the evolution of the product development. He does not invent theories about how the equipment came into being, he realizes that there was a lot of thought and effort behind the creation of what he sees in front of him. He may never be able to find out much about the creator, the designer, the factory, etc. that caused the part to come into being and eventually die a natural death. He does not think much about whether or not the creator foresaw all of the things that might happen to what he built before he built it.
                  He simply admires the fact of the creation, thinks about how much fun creating is and moves on to create something of his own, inspired by what he found in the excavation.
                  In other words, I am not a scientist who is fascinated by discovery, though I have a lot of respect for those who engage in that profession. I am not even a real engineer, since I never followed an ABET accredited course of instruction. I am an engineering oriented creator who is fasciated with the process of creating something new that has never before existed, building upon techniques, principles and materials that have been successfully used by invisible creators for many generations before I existed. I expect that similar creators will follow and I hope to leave them more tools, ideas, and materials than I found myself.
                  I can tell you that I do not follow any particular teacher or religion. I have no real understanding of how the creator(s) established the processes that others have discovered. I just have a lot of vague theories and ideas about the fact that there must have been (and still is) some creativity involved rather than depending on pure chance and random events. I am certainly not sure how the whole system that includes billions of other independent creators is supposed to turn out. I am not sure that whoever or whatever is supplying the basic creative force has any real idea from day to day what will happen.

                  1. Rod – thanks for explanation of your position. This is an interesting metaphor you describe. Mine is along the lines of “discovering how something works, discovering how to make it more efficient, …”. Interesting!
                    The Sun provides Earth with low entropy energy (high energy photons, such as visible light), and gives off this energy in high entropy form (many more low energy (infra-red) photons). Therefore there is plenty of entropy to go around to “feed life”. Earth also naturally focuses the accumulated energy in many forms, for instance a lightning, which seems needed to create some basic organic chemicals. Truly science does not have a good enough knowledge on origin of life – we are working on it and will get back to y’all ASAP 🙂 While our understanding is clearly incomplete, it is rather fascinating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis#Current_models

                    1. @ABison – I apparently did not adequately explain why the concept of “entropy” is one of the things that supports my understanding that there is a creative force in the universe. According to thermodynamic principles ALL things tend to move towards a state of greater disorder UNLESS there is organizing energy applied to impose the order. If the universe starts with a big bang, what provides the organizing energy that creates circulatory systems, respiration, environmental sensors and response systems, DNA, and the millions of other examples of well ordered materials that represent all life forms?
                      I also do not consider that there is such a thing as “discovering how to make it more efficient”. That process is more properly described as “designing more efficient products or systems”. It takes a great deal of thought and effort to increase order and provide more efficiency; remember, all things tend toward a state of greater disorder if left to their own devices. Human creativity is one of the sources of organizing energy, but we have only been on Earth for a small slice of the Earth’s history of becoming more and more full of examples of wonderful and impressive order. Evolution provides the observational part of the science, but there are some of us who like to think about the how and why and are comfortable with the idea that we will never fully understand the explanation. That does not make our inquiries and expansive thinking less valid or useful than what the observational scientists do.
                      It has been my personal experience that you have a good chance of finding religious people of all varieties in the field of engineering and less chance of finding them in scientific fields. Nearly ever meal I have ever eaten with organized groups of engineers starts with some kind of invocation, but that is generally not true in groups of scientists – particularly those in biology. My explanation for this rather broad gulf between two groups that the public often confuses is that engineers are designers and builders who see themselves as “created in God’s image”. Since I am not a scientist, I can only guess at how they see themselves.

                2. @ABison — I am familiar with the Miller experiment, at least in general. Please clarify for me – my understanding of amino acid chains that comprise DNA is that they can only be of either cis- or trans- versions in order to combine to form the chain. A mixture of forms would cause chaos in the linking of the ‘active’ ends of the AA.
                  With the Miller experiment, they did in fact create the amino acid(s), but the mixture was 50-50 cis and trans and they were unable to selectively extract either one. Am I mistaken? If so, I apologize.

                  1. Doc – amino acid chains form proteins: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein
                    Both chiral isomers of amino acids are used by life, though differently: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amino_acid#Isomerism
                    NB: cis/trans isomerism is a different kind of symmetry than chirality.
                    I dont think Miller/Urey tried to separate the two chiralities. They just found both chiral forms were produced in equal amounts.
                    DNA is not made from amino acids, but from nucleobases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucleobase
                    Both aminoacids and nucleobases were produced in Miller-Urey type of experiments.

              2. @Rod — I chose Spencer because he has the most recent submitted-for-publishing article addressing climate feedbacks and the discrepancy revealed by ALL of the models promoted by the UN IPCC. I could have chosen Lindzen, Soon, Idso, Christy or others but I follow Spencer more closely.
                I like his self-deprecating style, too. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. Refreshing.

    1. “Those who criticize “flawed peer review process” apparently know nothing about history of science, and claim that because something is imperfect, it is not scientific enough. Anything done by humans is imperfect by definition, hence this argument is a red herring.”
      That’s a bold statement. I have no problem with peer review being imperfect (unless it’s my own paper, of course ;-)); I just want to see a fair playing field. The layman has no idea how much power an editor has over the fate of a paper. This person chooses the reviewers (or referees), who often have their own well-known biases. Thus, there are flawed papers that sail through peer review without challenge, and there are papers that are kept out by a team of academics who are determined to bias the published literature to support their own preferred theory or world view.
      This type of thing is inevitable and in general is not very harmful in small doses. The problem occurs when there is a significant bias in which papers get passed through easily and which get consistently blocked.
      The problem with the climate-related literature is well documented in the CRU emails and elsewhere. Even without this chronology of what was going on behind the scenes, there have been enough suspicious replacements of editors and publications of articles with unusually appropriate timing (usually to discredit a paper that is critical of the AGW narrative as it is published) to make any sensible person extremely wary.
      What is probably more onerous, however, is the pressure from reviewers to include disclaimers, which are often absurdly irrelevant, in papers that even suggest reduced alarm. Thus, it is not uncommon to see an additional sentence or two stating that a paper had no intention of ruling out CO2 as the major cause for warming, even when these sentences contradict the main conclusions of the paper. Such is what is required to survive peer review in these politically correct days.
      “Science is clear, and we have about as much independent evidence about the age of Earth as we have about the warming effects of green house gases (GHG). We measure the change in atmosphere absorption spectrum in time, which is in excellent agreement with predictions – after all gas absorption spectra are very well known elementary physics.”
      Sure. The warming effect of CO2 gives 1.2 degrees Celsius per doubling of concentration in the atmosphere. Right?
      That’s what the “elementary physics” tells us. Any warming (more or less) after that is pretty much a crap shoot based on what we know, or haven’t you paid attention to the wide uncertainties given for climate sensitivity in the literature.
      “We measure heat imbalance of the Earth, by several independent means, and they are in quantitative agreement with each other, and with the global circulation models.”
      That is, after the GCM’s have been properly tuned to agree with the measurements. (By the way, GCM stands for General Circulation Model. You should at least get the lingo correct if you want to sound informed.) Although cloud parameterization presents lots of leeway to tune the models to get the “right” answer, usually the highly speculative parameterization of aerosols is used for most of the tuning. See here and here. In particular, this is quite interesting:
      However, since most models do not incorporate the aerosol indirect effects, model agreement with observations may be partly spurious. The incorporation of more detailed aerosol effects in future models could lead to inconsistencies between simulated and observed past warming, unless the effects are small or compensated by additional forcings. It is argued that parameter correlations across models are neither unexpected nor problematic if the models are interpreted as conditional on observations.
      And now for the lighter side:
      “We know for sure (i.e. from measurement in history) that over long term, polar caps are incompatible with CO2 levels above 350 ppm.”
      Which is why the southern polar cap is growing larger, I’m sure. We owe a huge debt to those ancient climatologists, who lived back in the age before polar caps, for giving us those invaluable historical measurements. 😉

      1. Brian – when someone reliably produces junk science, his work gets rejected by the peer-review. That is how review of peers works. This is the case of many complaining “skeptics”, as I have shown in the case of Spencer. These days this is a very poor excuse anyway, given the multitude of channels one can use to communicate science, and the fact that many (less prestigious but still peer reviewed) journals are quite eager to publish their stuff, if only to stir controversy and get more articles to publish refuting the original one. Nothing wrong with that – however fringe opinions have place in the process of science, but not in public policy. Similarly the well researched http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duesberg_hypothesis should be ignored in public heath policy decisions.
        Indeed models have uncertainties, so do the measurements, however these can be quantified. Knowing the errors is the basics of any research, unfortunately this aspect is widely ignored or misunderstood by non-scientists. The quantitative agreement (self-consistency) among the various independent measurements and with the models corroborates the science. There is nothing even resembling a consistent physics picture on the “skeptics” side. Indeed their persistent meta-argument behind may be “dont worry, pray to god, its all good”, independently of what their flavor of the day hypothesis consists of.
        I speak here for non-experts, hence I’m using terms in this context. Your suggestion concerning expert lingo is quite revealing however.
        If you want to understand what is happening in Antarctica (which is net ice loss at accelerating rate), please follow the references here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice.htm
        Concerning the “ancient climatologists” and their measurements, I’ll restrain from silly jokes. Here are two relevant publications, I’m sure you can find your answers here and further details in followup works:
        http://www.geo.umass.edu/faculty/deconto/deconto_nature.pdf
        http://earth.geology.yale.edu/~avf5/teaching/Files_pdf/Lear2000.pdf

        1. Well, geez, ABison it’s really difficult to take you seriously if the best you can do is simply to conflate all of your opponents with creationists and “AIDS denialists.”
          (Of course, it’s also difficult to take seriously anybody who goes by the moniker of “ABison.” Any chance you want to stand by your anonymous words?)
          Apparently, you get all of your information from internet blogs. Occasionally, however, you run across something in the literature and toss some sh** against the wall to see whether something will stick. One thing is clear, however, you know next to nothing about modeling — especially climate modeling — so please drop the condescending tone. You’re not fooling anybody.
          The entertainment of the evening, however, was to watch you condemn Roy Spencer for looking only at “short term effects” to draw conclusions that support his “preconceived conclusions” … just before you come forward with evidence for “net ice loss at accelerating rate” that spans less than 10 years and is pretty much the same length of time that Dr. Spencer used for his analysis.
          (Oooh … You fell for my trap way too easily. Thanks for the laugh. I’m sorry to see that you don’t have a sense of humor.)
          So, if you can’t do any better than that, I’m done with you. Why should I waste my time with someone who is full of puff and ad hominems, but who is without any substance.
          P.S. The letter referenced in this post was signed by less than 300 members of the NAS, a body that consists of over 2000 scientists. I’ll leave the connection between this letter and so-called “fringe opinions” as an exercise for the reader.
          P.P.S. Extra credit is awarded if the reader can figure out whether ABison thinks that this letter should have a place in public policy. 😉

  9. Doc, you are missing the point. Spencer claiming that argument from ignorance (“god did it”), is more valid than the result of scientific method. If someone claims to be a scientist, and is at the same time blatantly ignorant about scientific method, his science credentials are badly damaged, that is damaged at the very core. One can privately believe in any kind of fantasy, as long as he keeps them out of the science.
    Indeed Newton believed in all kinds of weird stuff (however certainly not in the christian god, i.e. he didnt believe in the trinity), however his believe in god cost this brilliant man the discovery of how/why the Solar system works, until Leibnitz solved the puzzle. Newton could have done it by himself, but he chosen to invoke the god-did-it when he reached the limits of his knowledge. There are countless examples alike.
    Here is a great talk by astronomer Tyson about the topic: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=124_1236732170

    1. This I do agree with, that without a foundation in empiricism – basing one’s conclusions on the observed evidence – rather than basing one’s evidence upon the conclusions, it becomes impossible to do science. Science requires absolute good faith.

    2. That Leibnitz solved the puzzle of how/why the Solar system works where Newton fell short of that understanding due, as you imply, to his belief in a ‘god’, is great news. Does he explain how it began?
      Science is based on replication of experiments, objective analysis of results and scrutiny by one’s peers. Since science can’t replicate the beginning of the universe nor the creation of a single-celled organism, there is a certain level or type of faith involved in going from that which you can’t explain or demonstrate to what you actually observe. Spencer simply recognizes there are some things he can’t explain and is comfortable enough with that realization to say “I don’t know how this all works, exactly, but I’ll keep looking.” (paraphrased) BTW, is Spencer ignorant of the scientific method?

      1. Doc – Spencer said something quite different: “I finally became convinced that the theory of creation actually had a much better scientific basis than the theory of evolution, for the creation model was actually better able to explain the physical and biological complexity in the world.” So indeed Spencer is ignorant of scientific method, as I’ll explain below.
        I repeat again: The theory of evolution is not concerned with the ORIGIN of life, but with the EVOLUTION of life. These are two very different questions. Evolution theory can be, and has been, thoroughly tested. The discovery of genetics as the language of life explained why evolution works, and the contemporary genetic mapping of species gives us very detailed picture how it happened.
        Stating that god-did-it explains nothing, cannot be tested, has zero predictive power, and has negative utility for technological advances. It only replaces interesting inquiry of “We dont know, lets find out” with the certainty of ignorance – and throughout the history it has been empowering dogma enforces who close the doors of inquiry for others.
        Leibnitz didnt need to know how the Universe began to describe how it works. Similarly we dont need to understand how the life began before we understand how it evolves.
        Now we indeed have a very good idea how the Universe began: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Big_Bang
        We need neither faith nor the feat of another Universe creation to know that i.e. the Inflation theory works. All we need are testable predictions, and the experiments to test them. Inflation was suggested as a hypothesis 30 years ago, and new measurements (by WMAP, COBE, SDSS) confirmed its predictions. Theoretical understanding of inflation, how it relates to dark energy etc, also improved during that time, so now we have quite a reliable and well understood theory. This theory is continued to be tested by next generation experiments (such as Planck observatory). Everything following Inflation is pretty much standard physics now.
        We will improve our understanding of the origins of Universe and life as long as we avoid the pitfalls god-did-it-stop-asking-questions.

        1. @ABison — I appreciate your thoroughness. I didn’t know that when a person acknowledges a faith belief that they were therefore disqualified as being a scientist. Or is that not what you are saying?

          1. If a scientists demands an untestable dogma is more valid than theories resulting from application of scientific method, then indeed his scientifically credentials are in question.

        2. @ABison – It appears to me that you do not understand that many of us do not stop asking questions just because we recognize that there is a large body of evidence that indicates focused creative force rather than simple chance. There are certainly organized religions that have been developed over the years that are aimed at halting inquisitive thoughts or independent analysis. Some religions have been tools of the powerful over the powerless. That does not mean that there are not wonderfully intelligent and questioning people who are just as concerned with the question of why somethings happened as they are with documenting and observing WHAT happened.
          Please do not disrespect others whose lenses for viewing the world and the important questions of the day are somewhat different from yours. A very large portion of the earth’s population – including some of the most educated and inquiring minds – have some kind of belief in the existence of creative forces that we simply do not yet understand. Some of them (of us) put the name of God to what they are pretty sure exists and helps them to provide some means of incomplete and imperfect understanding.
          That statement does not, by any means imply that I do not recognize that tremendous human harm has been done over the millennia in the name of organized religion. I do not understand those people who treat religion and faith as reasons for exclusion or as tools of power.

          1. Rod – thank you for your thoughtful response. I have no issues with people believing in whatever rocks their boat, as long as they don’t try to push it on me or my kids. I do myself harbor private fantasies which are out of the realm of science, but I see them as such.
            What I was arguing seems to me a different issue: when one puts these believes above the scientific method, or if one confuses these two, their realms of validity, and their role in inquiring. This is exactly what Spencer does – calling creationism a theory in the context of scientific theories, and him even considering it superior shows that he does not understand the very foundation of his craft as a scientist. It is akin to an energy expert claiming that he finally realized how green explains everything.
            Concerning the creative force, if you look at it as an emergent phenomena (which seems reasonable given the fact that everything we see or experience emerges from some (rather simple) rules at smaller scale, down to quantum fields), then it is quite synonymous to a punctuated equilibrium in feedback driven evolution, which can be understood in terms of response of a chaotic system, held together by various dynamical feedbacks, to environmental change. See this short paper for better explanation: http://rydberg.biology.colostate.edu/seminarPDFs/Grant_October_31.pdf
            And this one which discusses particular biological pathways involved: http://www.pitt.edu/~jhs/articles/Maresca_Schwartz_sudden_origins.pdf
            In this approach the creative force can be re-formulated such that it can quantified, understood, and tested by experiments. The (scientific) theory thus developed can be also applied to other areas (for instance: http://www.springerlink.com/content/gr46471lm8172471/), bringing new insights.
            It appears to me that the moment you say “belief in the existence of creative forces that we simply do not yet understand”, you axiomatically deny yourself the possibility of such understanding due to the said belief. Why I am bothered by this is best explained in the Niel Tyson’s talk I linked before.

  10. The Anti-AGW crowd may be being braver than they know. The evidence for AGW continues to build, and when all those members of the public who thought everything was OK because so many experts reassured them start to see obvious signs of AGW for themselves, they will be howling for blood.

    1. @Finrod — On both sides of the issue there exists extremes: from those who deny any influence of mankind on climate to those who believe we are headed for imminent catastrophe all because of humanity’s use of fossil fuels and releasing CO2 in amounts too large for Earth to compensate. I am not accusing you of being in the latter camp and I trust you aren’t accusing me of being in the former.
      Since 1988 is the year commonly considered the ‘start’ of the global warming concern (Hansen’s testimony before Congress), the 20 years following that would seem to be an awfully short period of time from which to draw conclusions about the course of global climate. In the 1970’s the concern was global cooling. Now Phil Jones of CRU seems to agree that warming hasn’t occurred since the late-1990’s. This is confusing to most people (based on public opinion polls, at least).
      It’s fair to say that if climate change is in fact happening to the extent that some (many?) say, and that mankind is the main cause of it, the result will not be like the scenes in “Day After Tomorrow” or other end-of-the-world movies. Agreed?

      1. @Doc – I will have to dig a bit for the references, but there were certainly people like Alvin Weinberg who were concerned about the effect of continuing massive emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere as early as the mid 1950s. I know there was some popular concern about “global cooling” in the 1970s, but I am not sure how prevalent that concern was in the scientific literature.
        As I have said before, my worry about continuing to dump about 20 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year is that it is a large enough amount to overwhelm the removal term of the natural differential equation. That unbalanced situation is leading to a gradual increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels above what it has been during the period of human habitation on earth. It is a gradual situation, not unlike gaining a pound per year, or having the temperature gradually increased in a pot of water containing a few billion “frogs”.
        Science might demand that we observe the experiment and tabulate the results before being sure what they will be. Professional worriers – aka engineers – would prefer to take the actions that they know will work to ensure that the experiment gets arrested before it progresses to a point that might be uncomfortable for us all.
        There are times when I am reminded of the Jimmy Buffett song titled “It’s My Job”. In this verse he is talking about an uncle who happens to be a banker:
        In my contract there’s this clause
        That says its my job to be worried half to death
        And that’s the thing people expect from me
        It’s my job, but without it I’d be less
        Than what I expect from me.

        The song also includes a verse about a happy street sweeper who is proud of his job of cleaning up other people’s messes.

        1. @Rod — Now I know we’re of the same vintage: Jimmy Buffett (and Kansas, Boston, Chicago – was there a band named ‘Podunck’?) As to the boiling frogs, Spencer (sorry, but just sharing his idea) makes an analogy with an uncovered pot of water on the stove; turn the heat on ‘low’; the water warms to reach a new equilibrium then stabilizes as heat input equals heat released. Not a perfect analogy but then we don’t have perfect computer models either.
          Without engineers “worrying” about construction, we’d be in poor shape. Thanks to Charles Barton, I am now familiar with Alvin Weinberg’s concerns about CO2. The practical answer to this is to build more nuclear plants – of all sizes. There are too many opportunities waiting to be accessed to have to wait for 5 or 10 years before the first ones are brought on-line.

          1. @DocForesight – the best concert I ever attended included Styx as the leading act, with Kansas as the main event. My Buffett library goes way back.
            Spencer’s uncovered pot of water analogy is not bad, however, it makes an assumption that the new equilibrium temperature is comfortable. It also begs additional questions from people like me who enjoy stretching analogies as an intellectual exercise. If the frogs inside begin to get a bit toasty and know how to turn down the burner even farther with a focused effort from inside the pot, why wouldn’t they? Why would some of the “frogs: work so hard to stop the ones in the know from doing what they already KNOW HOW TO DO and adjusting the rate of heat input? (Of course, the motivation for the “frogs” whose income depends on accepting the steady heat input can be understood, but why are they able to find any friends among the folks who have no person interest in living with higher temperatures and other negative effects of leaving the burner on?)

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