Sunday, December 13, 2009

Traveling Blues, Part 2.

Yeah, things are not going well.

Again, I was going to leave my house at 5:00 AM. At 3:00 AM, I get a call from Delta (well, a recording, anyway) letting me know my flight was canceled. I go back to bed, because I don't think thoughts at 3 in the morning.

At 5 I wake up, get ready, and call Delta. The lady over the phone (Delta's customer service was waaaayyy better than Hertz's) informs me that my flight was rescheduled for 6:15 AM. Apparently the earlier message had intended to parlay this information to me, but here's an FYI for Delta Airlines:


We rescheduled my flight for 10:30 AM. No problem, right? I went back to bed for an hour, woke up, got in my rented Kia Forte (do not want) and drove to ABQ.

About 20 miles away from the airport, I get a call from another mystery 800 number. It's Delta! The flight has been delayed. Furthermore, this will cause me to miss my connection in Salt Lake City (where the weather is bad, hence the delays). I won't get to San Fransisco until 9:00 PM (as opposed to 3:00 PM).

At least ABQ airport has free wifi. I hope I'll be able to post more updates during my painfully long layover in Utah... home of the mormons. And gross, salty lakes.

Traveling Blues, Part 1.

I'm trying as hard as I can to get to the big Fall American Geophysical Union meeting, but it hasn't gone my way so far.

Let's start with the rental car to get from Los Alamos to Albuquerque. My flight out of ABQ was supposed to be at 8:30, which means a 5:00 AM departure from Los Alamos. A rental car is key because there's no way I'm waking up my family to drive me two hours just so they can turn around and drive back. Anyway... while trying to get some other stuff done, I forgot to pick up the car at noon. I got to Hertz at 1:10PM. They close at 1:00. Swearing ensued.

I got on the line with their customer service to see if I could grab a car in Santa Fe. This proved to be a challenge, because they have several narrowly defined customer service numbers, none of which have to do with missing pick-up times. My friend, who was especially helpful while I was trying to sort this out, eventually got a phone number using the live web help (which was different than all others listed.)

I get on the horn with Hertz. I get a computer that uses voice recognition. It doesn't recognize my voice at all. If your voice recognition software doesn't understand "yes" from a mid-western white male, you've got problems. After a few minutes of this, I give an exasperated, "just give me a f***ing person!" The computer pauses, then says, "I'm sorry for the confusion. I'll put you through to an operator."

Real person fixes problem, rental car obtained. Smooth sailing, right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

"What an asshole."

I apologize for doing nothing but linking to YouTube videos, but I've found another great one while hanging around Pharyngula:

Besides being frustratingly hilarious, this video perfectly encapsulates the debate between climatologists and self-proclaimed skeptics*. Side A tries to describe the situation rationally and emphasizes the important topic: is the Earth actually warming because of human action? Side B shouts continually (volume is directly proportional to truthiness) and does not rely on evidence or reason. He depends on his ability to instill doubt in his opponent's arguments rather than building a case for his own.

The result of such ridiculous banter? The obfuscation of truth as driven by personal want. This trickles down to and confuses the non-experts, creating unnecessary obstacles for decision making. Case in point (because anecdotal evidence is the best evidence!**), my brother-in-law is a science teacher for whom I have great respect. When talking about global warming, he says that he cannot make up his mind given the arguments at the media forefront. Chalk this up as a great victory for the latter in the above video. Rather than elucidate his reasons for being a skeptic of climate change, he has muddied the waters. That's all he wants.

This tactic is seen everywhere- from the evolution "debate" to health care reform. The nay-sayers don't have arguments, they have confusion. And that's all they need to change public opinion. Reject it strongly and admonish it loudly when it is used on you, even if those employing it are doing so in support of your opinion. Instead, demand evidence and reason; it is the shortest path to the truth.

*Skeptics that rely on personal opinion and political motivators are not skeptical at all. Skeptics look for evidence to take them to the most reasonable conclusion, not arguments driven by confirmation bias that pads their pre-conceived beliefs.
**No, it's not.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Contact Sport"? I think you mean Death Match.

There's a neat review over at Newsweek on the book "Science as a Contact Sport". It is written by Stephen Schneider, the author of a famous 1960's paper that predicted global cooling. His results came from a climate predicting computer model that had an import omission in the physics simulated by the code. This omission halved the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere. This paper has been trumpeted by climate change denialists but crucified by real scientists (y'know, those who have dedicated their lives to understanding this stuff.) The book then describes how climate change scientists fight fiercely over the veracity of results coming out of the community. There's a word for this fierce, empashioned battling when a group of people are working tirelessly to expose the truth: SCIENCE.

When one produces results in a scientific field, he or she must first go through the peer review process to get these results published in a journal. This involves intense scrutiny over that scientist's work followed by alteration of said work so that the reveiwers' concerns over potential weaknesses are properly addressed. If the research cannot stand such scrutiny, it is rejected. This process takes months to years and is not for the weak of mind. You watch others take your projects, for which you have invested a great amount of time and effort, and rip them to shreds. It is an absolute necessity to push through this process because unpublished research is as useful as no research at all.

It is possible that weak, poorly derived products may slip through the process unscathed. In such cases, the paper is subject to strong rebuttals and harsh criticism from the scientific community. Even if the paper is not pulled from the journal (an extreme case for particularly bad science), its place in history will be a poorly constructed counterpoint standing against mountains of contradicting evidence. And in the scientific world, what matters is the amount of physical evidence, not the number of people, that supports a hypothesis.

All of this is lost on those who fervently assert that global climate change is a farce, a "liberal religion", a misguided opinion. In science, opinions and beliefs do not matter. They are crushed in the peer review forum. They are slaughtered in the open research market. The only thing that can stand is physical evidence. Those who irrationally follow a claim without evidence become the laughing stocks of the field.

Thunderfoot presents a far more eloquent (and entertaining) summary of how science works (about 5 minutes in):

Be sure to check out the comments in the Newsweek article. They're delightfully awful.


So, a few weeks ago, I put the blog on hiatus until "I get this damn code working." Well, since then, all of my codes have gone belly up. As such, I shall resume the blogging. I seem to have a better research success rate when I'm blogging, so we'll put that to the test.

And, as we ALL know, it's always a good idea to put it to the test!