New Front in War on Science

October 21, 2017



Senate Republicans have launched a new attack on peer review by proposing changes to how the U.S. government funds basic research.

New legislation introduced this week by Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) would fundamentally alter how grant proposals are reviewed at every federal agency by adding public members with no expertise in the research being vetted. The bill (S.1973) would eliminate the current in-house watchdog office within the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Alexandria, Virginia, and replace it with an entity that would randomly examine proposals chosen for funding to make sure the research will “deliver value to the taxpayer.” The legislation also calls for all federal grant applications to be made public.

Paul made his case for the bill yesterday as chairperson of a Senate panel with oversight over federal spending. The hearing, titled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research,” was a platform for Paul’s claim that there’s a lot of “silly research” the government has no business funding. Paul poked fun at several grants funded by NSF—a time-honored practice going back at least 40 years, to Senator William Proxmire (D–WI) and his “Golden Fleece” awards—and complained that the problem is not “how does this happen, but why does it continue to happen?”


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Clean out your desk.

Ignoring Trump and the fossil fuel troglodytes, major companies are all moving in the direction of renewable energy – especially the most dynamic and rapidly growing tech companies that states and cities would like to attract as employers.
But if your state is not moving in the direction of sustainability, you may lose out.

Case in point, the current frenzy of cities vying to be the location of Amazon’s new “second headquarters”, and potentially tens of thousands of well paying jobs.
Jeff Bezos, above, obviously is making the point that the company wants to move on a renewable path.

Example. Here’s the video that Detroit produced, apparently, to grab Jeff Bezos attention.
You’ll notice the pans on wind turbines, (which made me go “hmmm”, as I am not aware of any turbines in metro Detroit – maybe that’s a shot across the river to Canada?) and mention of “autonomous vehicles and alternative energy”.  Big debit for Big D, I understand, is lack of comprehensive mass transit, which is still only getting started in the city, due to the (not) visionary activism of corporate giants of the century past.


A December report by Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) found that 71 of the Fortune 100 companies currently have renewable energy or sustainability targets, up from 60 companies just two years ago. Commitments among Fortune 500 companies have held steady over the past two years at 43 percent, or 215 firms.

Of the Fortune 500 companies, AEE reports that 22 have committed to powering all of their operations with renewable energy, including Wal-Mart and General Motors — the CEOs of which have been selected to join President-elect Donald Trump’s business advisory council. A total of 83 companies from around the world have now committed to going 100 percent renewable through the RE100 initiative. Google announced in December that it will meet its renewable energy target in 2017.

“We’re really encouraged by all the progress that we’ve made [on renewable energy procurement], but there’s a lot of work to do,” said Michael Terrell, energy policy lead at Google, in an interview during GreenBiz’s Verge conference last fall. “We need to meet the growing needs of our business and our industry, and also help grow the space more generally.”

Sustainability targets are good news for states. “Companies are deploying their private capital to finance projects that will bring in new jobs and tax revenue while improving the resource diversity of the grid and in some cases decreasing reliance on imported electricity,” according to the AEE paper. “But in many states, there are not clear mechanisms for companies to fulfill their commitment to procure advanced energy.”

In a changing political landscape — with a new Republican administration and Congress that’s hostile to climate action — corporations stand to play a leading role in advocating for low-carbon energy resources at the national level. Trump recently met with leaders at Apple, Facebook and Google, all of which have set a 100 percent renewable energy target. Trump is also being advised by solar and electric-vehicle champion Elon Musk, and has spoken with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, who recently launched a $1 billion cleantech and climate action fund.

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DTE Energy:

In the spring of 2016, DTE Energy broke ground on its Lapeer Solar Park, which was at the time the largest solar array east of the Mississippi River. Now that the 200,000-panel solar park is operation, solar energy makes up 7% of DTE’s renewable energy generation portfolio. Said another way, DTE’s solar projects can produce enough clean energy to power 14,000 homes.

Daily Energy Insider:

As the political winds in Washington seem to be blowing towards the increased use of coal and nuclear energy, the electric utility industry is doubling down on the power of the sun for a very simple reason.

“The cost of solar has gone way down,” noted Richard McMahon, vice president of Energy Supply and Finance at the Edison Electric Institute. The price for a kilowatt-hour of electricity on a utility scale has been cut in half from more than $4 an hour in 2010 to about $2 in 2015.

Photovoltaic panels have become cheaper to build as federal tax credits help spur the rise of solar. Solar has already achieved grid parity pricing with fossil fuels in some markets, which is drawing and holding the attention of several large utilities.

“It’s the utilities you would expect. They’re based in California, Hawaii and Arizona, but increasingly you’re seeing it in other parts of the county,” McMahon told Daily Energy Insider. Read the rest of this entry »

When you don’t like the facts, ignore them, or introduce your own “alternative facts”.

This is not new to the Trump administration – we’ve seen it before, and we know how it plays out.
Prior to and during the Reagan administration, hawkish conservative intellectuals were dissatisfied with what they viewed as the U.S.’s insufficiently bellicose posture toward the Soviet Union (and, dammit, everyone else).

Problem: Pesky CIA analysts kept pointing out the fundamental weaknesses in the Soviet economy and military, inconvenient for arguing the Soviets were an immediate threat that demanded sharply ramping up defense expenditures, murdering Nuns in Central America, and cutting taxes.
Solution: Get a bunch of paranoid, blood thirsty chicken hawks in a room and come up with an alternative view of the Soviets, one featuring more 900 foot tall robotic super soldiers with laser eye beams.

You may recognize some of the players.


United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to make speeches arguing that the Soviets were ignoring Secretary of State Henry Kissinger‘s treaties and secretly building up their weapons, with the intention of attacking the United States. Rumsfeld used his position to persuade President Ford to set up an independent inquiry. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz wanted to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.

Short version: “Team B” analysis was highly influential on the Reagan administration’s view of reality.
History’s verdictWiki again:

According to Anne Hessing Cahn (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977–1980), Team B’s analysis of weapons systems was later proven to be false. “I would say that all of it was fantasy. … if you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.”[9] The CIA director at the time, George H. W. Bush, concluded that the Team B approach set “in motion a process that lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy.”[8][14] Brookings Institution Scholar Raymond Garthoff concurred, writing that in “retrospect, and with the Team B report and records now largely declassified, it is possible to see that virtually all of Team B’s criticisms… proved to be wrong. On several important specific points it wrongly criticized and ‘corrected’ the official estimates, always in the direction of enlarging the impression of danger and threat.”[10] A top CIA analyst called Team B “a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view.”[20]

Spoiler: Soviet Union collapsed of it’s own weight in 1989.

Key point: Analysis by Intel professionals turned out to be broadly correct, “Team B” not so much.

And if you missed the hint, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and a few dozen others were the prime drivers behind to distortion and “stove piping” of raw intelligence on Iraq, that lead us in to the greatest military blunder by a global power in history, which we’ll be suffering from for generations to come.

Now, building on that success, a new, improved version of the “Team B” approach is being ginned up (this time called “Red Team”) – to apply to energy and climate change.

E&E News:

Climate skeptics have been holding closed-door meetings to identify candidates for U.S. EPA’s “red team” exercise aimed at poking holes in mainstream science and to discuss ways to prevent agency Administrator Scott Pruitt from reneging on his promise to do it. Read the rest of this entry »

China’s Big EV Bet

October 17, 2017