Creationism Stealth Campaign in TX

The following is quoted verbatim from DailyKos:

Boy am I hoping that Republican Pat Hardy wins her primary for the District 11 seat on the Texas State Board of Education. All I know about Pat Hardy is this:

Ms. Hardy is no free-thinking liberal. She’s a rock-solid Republican and dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist who firmly believes God is behind all of creation.

But she also believes in teaching evolution in science classes. Her opponent, Dr. Barney Maddox describes evolution as

“a myth” and “a fairy tale.”

Why is this race so crucial? Well, right now seven of the fifteen members of the State Board of Education favor introducing some form of intelligent design creationism into Texas science classes. If Maddox wins, they gain the majority.

Update: Frederick Clarkson has more here.

Here’s an AP story from Feb. 23. Haven’t turned up any local coverage. I don’t know anyone in the vast district, which stretches out from day trip country near Austin all the way out to the New Mexico desert. I can’t believe this is getting so little notice in Austin (and presumably College Station). I don’t think this will do wonders for faculty recruitment. Aargh.

Systemic Inefficiency

Some fool shut down a power substation that among other customers services the Pickle was hit. Hence Ranger and Lonestar, our supercomputers, which were out of full service yesterday. Interestingly, backup power kept the building going. Those of us privileged to breathe the same air as the world’s largest computer (this month anyway) who were not actually typing at a login node didn’t notice.

The fool was duly electrocuted, but posterity will find this story of interest mostly because after his critical burns the poor fool was shipped to a hospital 80 miles a way in San Antonio, according to the brief news account.

I suppose there is a burn unit somewhere in Austin. I wonder whether his prognosis improved by this transshipment. I wonder how much energy was expended.

I suspect this all has something to do with money. Shifting responsibility from the wealthier community (Austin/Travis) to the poorer one (San Antonio/Bexar) is not to my way of thinking an obvious benefit. Putting the idiot’s life at additional risk (which, by treating him at all rather than shooting him, we presume we care about), and expending a lot of energy sending an ambulance 80 miles down the road at speed and 80 miles back at leisure makes no obvious sense to me. At what gasoline pricing does the perverse motivational structure that this story implies break down? Are we just going to be sticking Bexar County with an even larger bill next summer when gasoline is up to $4?

Fergus, Roger Sr., and James !?!

I imagine Fergus and James have this up but I discovered it via ICE who points to the informal publication on Roger Pielke Sr.’s “blog-qui-n’est-pas-un-blog-car-on-ne-peut-pas-commenter

“Is There Agreement Amongst Climate Scientists on the IPCC AR4 WG1?” I’m pretty much in agreement with ICE, so I’ll just paraphrase for those who don’t read French. Basically, a set of published authors in a preselected set of climate journals (somehow including me in the mix, a bit of a stretch I’m afraid) was asked to what extent they agree with IPCC WGI. The majority thought it just right, with about equal numbers thinking it overstated vs understated the risks, and not a single person contacted supported the “no such thing as global warming” hooey, unsurprisingly.

ICE says (if I may translate) “overall, I find the whole honest and the results unsurprising”. … “The incorrigible Pielke nevertheless presents these results as being much more diverse than commonly asserted and the failure to publish in EOS or Nature indicates a scandalous politically motivated repression of contrary opinion.”

ICE doesn’t address this lack of publication. I can’t really account for its rejection as an EOS Forum piece, entirely. It might be reasonable to avoid polling of scientists as a legitimate form of scientific inquiry. Rather it might be seen as belonging in policy journals. After all, the interesting question is how well the position of the scientific community is represented in the policy sphere; not a geophysical question at all. To be sure, Pielke says

From this experience, it is clear that the AGU EOS and Nature Precedings Editors are using their positions to suppress evidence that there is more diversity of views on climate, and the human role in altering climate, than is represented in the narrowly focused 2007 IPCC report.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how new thought patterns emerge from the online community, and how people with enough respect for truth can collaborate despite known differences of opinion. Thanks and congratulations to all involved.

Update: Joe Romm has a thoughtful opinion piece about what Fergus’s poll means up on Salon.

Please direct comments to Fergus’ blog here. Comments are off for this posting.

NYT Op-Ed: There WIll be Floods

A New York Times Op-Ed by chef Alex Prudhomme (coauthor with Julia Child) of all people:

anyone familiar with the drowning of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina will tell you this: Levees fail.

In Texas City, Tex., for instance, levees protect 50,000 residents and $6 billion worth of property, including almost 5 percent of the nation’s oil-refining capacity. Imagine the consequences, in this day of $100-a-barrel oil, if those defenses fail.

Even more vulnerable are the 1,100 miles of levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, north of San Francisco. Cobbled together 150 years ago to provide farmland, they are now part of an intricate, fragile system that supplies fresh water to California, the eighth-largest economy in the world.

Should the levee crack, be overtopped by a storm or liquefied by an earthquake, saltwater will surge inland, destroying lives, perhaps flooding Sacramento and paralyzing California.

There’s much more; read it.

I’m no expert on this matter but it seems plausible enough to me based on what we have seen lately. It seems like yet another problem with the same “don’t bother me ’til it’s too late” flavor that we’re seeing everywhere; yet another place where competent government has taken a back seat to political expediency and knee jerk tax aversion.

Here’s the mentioned list of 122 known at-risk levees according to the Army Corps ca. 1 year ago. The Texas gulf coast levees don’t make the list, but they seem pretty vulnerable to coastal settling and sea level rise. There’s also nothing here about New Orleans, so make of it what you will. It seems from the accompanying press release that this might not be intended as an exhaustive list.

La Vida Tejana


Here’s a very effective picture of a modern Texas landscape (in this case in San Antonio) via a link from a link from a comment by Dano.

This isn’t unusual. If you spend any time here in Texas you will end up somewhere that looks very much like this.

The only way to avoid it is to drive in on a back road and never enter a big city, or to stay at an airport for a few hours and fly out. Funny you never see scenes like this in the postcards. It’s both very typical and very striking, actually.

Most Texans will pass through a spot like this today and many of them will stop. I only have an 8 minute commute to work but much of it looks rather like that.

Update: The morbidly fascinated can find lots more like this at the unofficial Texas Freeway site, including my commute (US 183 through Austin) viewed mostly from below. Another very striking image is image A on the I-10 and Loop 375 intersection (El Paso) page.

Empathy Counts for More Than Reason

In another reminder that democracy and science are different games played by different rules, a recent Slashdot story links to this story on Ars Technica
The recent AAAS meeting had session devoted to understanding how the public receives and evaluates scientific information. I can’t find any primary information about it but the AT artcile itself is interesting. I’m especially interested in the report of Anne Schuchat of the CDC’s assessment:

Simply speaking from a position of authority isn’t enough, Schuchat argued. She cited surveys indicating that, for credibility assessments in areas of “low concern” (she suggested Tsunami risk in foreign countries as one example), US citizens are happy to defer to expertise, rating it as accounting for 85 percent of their assessment. When the topic shifts to areas of personal concern like family medicine, the importance of expertise vanishes. Schuchat said that it drops to where it accounts for only 15 percent of the decision, equal to a sense of honesty and openness, and far below the value of empathy, which accounts for roughly half of the decision. The message was pretty clear; for the public, how decent medical information is conveyed counts for more than the quality of the information itself.

The conclusion of the article strikes me as about right. It’s where “In It” came in.

The clear message of the session was that a command of facts is never going to be good enough to convince most segments of the public, whether they’re parents or Congress. How the information is conveyed can matter more than its content, and different forms of communication may be necessary for different audiences. As became clear in the ensuing discussion, most of the public act as consumers of information, with journalists acting as middlemen. To connect with the public, scientists have to work with the press to ensure that two things happen. Reporters have to overcome their ingrained aversion to the uncertainties of science, and have to avoid presenting uncertainties as a matter of balance that’s addressed via material from crackpots with credentials.

Framing, in other words.

The best advice is to be honest and patient, and look honest and patient while you’re doing so. Don’t attempt an advanced undergraduate lecture series every time you are asked a question. That is not how the truth will out. Remember that you have adversaries playing a very different game.

Is There a Downtown Austin?


I have had quizzical reactions from Austinites when I suggest that Austin has no downtown. It’s true that high density condos are going in, and it’s true that there is a scattering of large commercial buildings in the center of town, but bricks don’t make a downtown.

In Jane Jacobs’ terms, an urban core is a “macro-destination”, (mentioned in passing in this interesting article about suburban governance) a place where one goes to do more than one thing. When I go to downtown Chicago, or downtown Montreal or Manhattan or even Ottawa or Madison, I park the car and walk around. Often I have several destinations in mind: restaurant, theatre, grocery, bookstore.

Every time I have gone to central Austin I have driven to my destination, done one thing, and left. I suppose there has been an occasion where Momo’s and Katz’s have been combined; these are actually places I go that are in the same building; a music club and what passes in Texas for a deli style restaurant.

Recently I combined a trip to BookPeople and the Whole Foods flagship store. Those are very close on the map, but the walk between them is sufficiently unpleasant and inconvenient that I found myself driving from one vast parking lot to the other. Admittedly this makes me part of the problem. In Toronto or Montreal or even Houston there would probably be a pleasant climate controlled pedestrian tunnel linking them, but that’s asking too much. In Madison or Ottawa, the walk between them would be short and pleasant, landscaped and decorated, attractive in itself. The idea of a five minute drive being less unpleasant than an absurdly circuitous fifteen minute walk mostly through huge parking lots and a pedestrian-hostile intersection just wouldn’t come up.

I believe that Austin, like any mostly post-automotive city in America, expects this behavior. To the extent that my hypotehsis is true it means that the urban density downtown is mostly theater. It’s not a macro-destination at all, just a dense cluster of microdestinations. Not surprisingly it has traffic problems.

Yes, the summers are wretched here, but eight months out of the year the climate is delightful. A little landscaping, a little attention to human scale, and a little less attention to the convenience of vehicles would go a long way toward pulling downtown together as a destination in itself. Unlike on the bicycle front, I think Austin is working hard toward this end. I just think it has a longer way to go than it likes to think.