Posts tagged ‘colorado’

The Magic Theory

Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change is the magic theory -- every bit of evidence proves it.   More rain, less rain, harder rain, drought, floods, more tornadoes, fewer tornadoes, hotter weather, colder weather, more hurricanes, fewer hurricane -- they all prove the theory.  It is the theory that it is impossible not to confirm.  Example

It will take climate scientists many months to complete studies into whether manmade global warming made the Boulder flood more likely to occur, but the amount by which this event has exceeded past events suggests that manmade warming may have played some role by making the event worse than it otherwise would have been...

An increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events is expected to take place even though annual precipitation amounts are projected to decrease in the Southwest. Colorado sits right along the dividing line between the areas where average annual precipitation is expected to increase, and the region that is expected to become drier as a result of climate change.

That may translate into more frequent, sharp swings between drought and flood, as has recently been the case. Last year, after all, was Colorado's second-driest on record, with the warmest spring and warmest summer on record, leading to an intense drought that is only just easing.

Generally one wants to point to a data trend to prove a theory, but look at that last paragraph.  Global warming is truly unique because it can be verified by there being no trend.

I hate to make this point for the five millionth time, but here goes:  It is virtually impossible (and takes far more data, by orders of magnitude, than we posses) to prove a shift in the mean of any phenomenon simply by highlighting occasional tail-of-the-distribution events.  The best way to prove a mean shift is to actually, you know, track the mean.  The problem is that the trend data lines for all these phenomenon -- droughts, wet weather, tornadoes, hurricanes -- show no trend, so the only tool supporters of the theory have at their disposal is to scream "global warming" as loud as they can every time there is a tail-of-the-distribution event.

Let's do some math:  They claim this flood was a one in one thousand year event.  That strikes me as false precision, because we have only been observing this phenomenon with any reliability for 100 years, but I will accept their figure for now.  Let's say this was indeed a one in 1000 year flood that it occurred over, say, half the area of Colorado (again a generous assumption, it was actually less that that).

Colorado is about 270,000 KM^2 so half would be 135,000 KM^2.  The land area of the world (we really should include oceans for this but we will give these folks every break) is about 150,000,000 km^2.  That means that half of Colorado is a bit less than 1/1000 of the world land area.

Our intuition tells us that a 1 in 1000 year storm is so rare that to have one means something weird or unusual or even unnatural must be going on.  But by the math above, since this storm covered 1/1000 of the land surface of the Earth, we should see one such storm on average every year somewhere in the world.  This is not some "biblical" unprecedented event - it is freaking expected, somewhere, every year.  Over the same area we should also see a 1 in 1000 year drought, a 1 in 1000 year temperature high, and a one in one thousand year temperature low -- every single damn year.  Good news if you are a newspaper and feed off of this stuff, but bad news for anyone trying to draw conclusions about the shifts in means and averages from such events.

I Called The Ward Churchill Verdict

On several occasions, I have (unpopularly) argued that Ward Churchill's firing from his tenured faculty position at the University of Colorado was unjustified, as the termination seemed to pretty clearly be due to his remarks about 9/11 rather than any academic mis-conduct.

While Colorado has tried to argue that they fired him because his academic work was weak, I have argued that it is no weaker than much of the work done by any number of high-profile racial and gender studies departments  (Duke University being just one recent example).  Racial and gender studies professors are generally evaluated based on their political activism, not their scholarship, so firing Churchill was both wrong on a first amendment basis and wrong because his statements on 9/11 were merely conforming to the standards of his chosen academic discipline.

A jury seems to agree:

A jury found on Thursday that the University of Colorado had wrongfully dismissed a professor who drew national attention for an essay in which he called some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks "little Eichmanns."...

The jurors found that Mr. Churchill's political views had been a "substantial or motivating" factor in his dismissal, and that the university had not shown that he would have been dismissed anyway.

If you don't believe me about activism trumping scholarship as a criteria for hiring racial and gender studies professors, just listen to Churchill's lawyer:

Mr. Lane, Mr. Churchill's lawyer, said his client had been a spokesman throughout his academic career for disempowered people and causes "” a trait, Mr. Lane said, that never made Mr. Churchill popular with people in power. "For 30 years, he's been telling the other side of the story," Mr. Lane said.

Missing are terms like study, research, investigation, etc -- this is activism, pure and simple.  And Colorado knew it and wanted it when they hired him, so it was wrong for them to fire him for it.

Falling Short of Standards in a Profession with No Standards

Ward Churchill's civil suit to be reinstated to his teaching post is apparently in court.  Churchill is arguing that the nominal reasons for his termination (mostly shoddy academic work) were not alone enough to have normally justified his termination, and that he was in fact fired for his remarks about 9/11.  This is an important distinction, because tenured professors can generally not be fired for exercise of first amendment rights, no matter how wacky their statements.

In a post that spawned a number of angry emails, I actually said I thought Churchill was fired improperly.  There is plenty of evidence that the Native American studies department at Colorado, and gender/racial studies departments in general, have never enforced any sort of academic rigor, and it is hypocritical to suddenly discover such rigor for this case.  Churchill has been rewarded and promoted historically for much of the same work he is nominally getting fired for now.  Further, examples are legion of heads of various elite university racial and gender studies departments who exercise the same or less academic rigor as Churchill but whom no one is criticizing.   As I mention in my earlier post, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.

Frankly, Colorado is getting exactly what they hired.  They weren't looking for a research mastermind.  They were looking for a politically correct hire to fill a void and create a department that made them look nice and progressive on paper.  And that is exactly what they got.

Update: Here is a good example of the academic standards in many racial and gender studies departments, where political activism substitutes for scholarship.  Churchill, by being slack on his research work and publishing but making high-profile and incendiary statements in public, was merely following the template of many such department heads.