Can Facebook be tamed in the service of rational science debate?

State of the Planet – Columbia University:

Ask any scientist, doctor, or advocate if they would support a debate between a vaccine expert and a vaccine skeptic, and the response will overwhelmingly be, “No.” Debates present a false equivalency between the sides, they will say. For issues such as vaccination, where there is a clear scientifically proven right and wrong answer, it is not appropriate to humor those who argue for the anti-vaccination side. Anti-vaxxers are often charismatic public speakers; they draw on emotions and have no qualms presenting lies and misleading figures as fact. Scientists, on the other hand, tend not to be trained in public speaking, and they are often unfamiliar with many of the arguments anti-vaxxers present, as they have spent their careers studying real science and generally do not have time to jump down the rabbit holes of misinformation.

Live debates present significant challenges to those involved: they are not able to fact-check sources as they go, nor are they able to examine papers’ methodologies; if a paper is presented that a scientist is unfamiliar with, she or he may not have sufficient time to review it and respond appropriately; audience members hear the debaters argue, but they too are unable to follow along with the sources as they are presented.

But vaccine skeptics continue to call for debates to be held, and because very few experts are willing to indulge their requests, the debates that do take place are often accepted by well-intentioned laypeople who are unable to adequately respond to anti-vaccine arguments that come their way. That’s a problem.

Fortunately, one Facebook group has found a solution. Vaccine Talk: A Forum for Both Pro- and Anti-Vaxxersis an international evidence-based group that enforces civility between all its more than 17,000 members. Members from across the vaccine-acceptance spectrum are welcomed to join and participate, so long as they can back their claims with evidence. The group includes a range of experts, including — but not limited to — physicians and nurses, laboratory scientists, epidemiologists, lawyers, and virologists. It also includes a wide range of vaccine-hesitants, from those who are on-the-fence but leaning toward vaccination, to the hardest vaccine deniers. By requiring citations to be provided for claims, members in the audience of the discussions are able to follow along and judge for themselves the legitimacy of arguments that are made. And the group’s track record is phenomenal, with an estimated one thousand anti-vaxxers and on-the-fencers changing their minds and deciding to vaccinate since the group’s inception in 2017.

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Hung out with some local farmers last night.

Stories about guys still out planting corn, June 19th. Pretty late if you’re going for the proverbial “knee high by the 4th of July”.


A smartphone could fit in the space between James McCune’s index finger and thumb as the Illinois farmer describes the height of crops stunted by incessant rain and unseasonably cool weather.

“Corn’s not supposed to be this tall” in mid-June, McCune, who can trace his family’s farm roots as far back as 1857, said. “It’s supposed to be this tall,” as he gestures just below his waist.

Conditions and morale are so low in McCune’s area of northwestern Illinois, typically the second-biggest corn-producing state, that he organized a get-together Thursday evening at The Happy Spot, a restaurant and bar in Deer Grove, Whiteside County. About 125 farmers and others tied to the industry turned out for chicken and beer at the event, dubbed “prevent plant party,” in reference to acreage left unsown this season.

“It’s going to be a train wreck,” McCune said.

The headwinds growers are facing are multiple. Record rain has flooded Midwest streets and snarled Mississippi River traffic, crucial to delivering inputs that farmers need and a major artery in helping them ship products.

Stalled corn plantings forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut its harvest estimates in its June report, only the fourth time since 2000 that the government has taken such action in that month’s data.

McCune, and other farmers at The Happy Spot, said the report still doesn’t fully capture how bad this year’s crop will be. He says the weather allowed him to plant just 950 acres (384 hectares) of corn on the 6,000 acres he operates.

Bryan Snetcher, a third-generation farmer from Shannon, Illinois, said that while he was finally able to get his crop planted, it has been a huge battle.

The crisis is not so much in the amount of corn that will be coming in nationally, prices might rise, which actually could be a boon to some.
But individually, Farmers are hurting, and the double whammy of tariffs plus weather is already driving near record numbers into bankruptcy.

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Rob Meyer in the Atlantic:

For the past week, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, grassroots organizers, and national committee have fought over whether it would be a good idea to have a “climate-change debate.”

Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, whose presidential campaign is focused on climate change, started the fight a few weeks ago, when he demanded that Democrats devote one of their dozen scheduled primary debates to climate change—both to what it will mean domestically and internationally and to what candidates presume to do about it. Last week, the Democratic National Committee responded by telling Inslee that it wouldn’t hold a climate debate—and that if he appeared in one, it would block him from all future officially sanctioned debates.

Inslee responded with outrage, and since then the DNC has been trying to defend itself. Tom Perez, the DNC chair, has tried to justify the DNC’s decision in a few different ways. He published a Medium post titled “On Debates” earlier this week. “If we change our guidelines at the request of one candidate who has made climate change their campaign’s signature issue, how do we say no to the numerous other requests we’ve had?” he pleaded. The tone demonstrates how poorly the DNC has fared here: Almost nobody has ever published a hyper-earnest Medium post from a position of strength.

The DNC actually has a fine reason for declining Inslee’s request: Adding a single-issue climate debate would be against its rules, which it wrote to account for, and avoid, the bitterness left over from 2016. But the DNC ispretty weak here. Polls suggest that climate change is a top-tier issue for the party’s primary voters. At this point, 14 candidates have expressed some interest in a climate debate—15, if you include Joe Biden’s quick assent to the idea, captured on video by a Greenpeace activist. If five of them, including Elizabeth Warren, go rogue and hold a climate debate of their own, will the DNC really bar them from its official debates?

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Science deniers love to wax poetic about the joys of “baseload” coal fired power plants – most of which are old, creaky, and polluting as hell.

Nature, in the form of climate-fueled flooding on the Mississippi, has provided a useful test of that notion.

LaCrosse Tribune (Wisconsin):

Dairyland Power Cooperative took its coal-fired power plant in Genoa offline at the beginning of June to avoid fuel shortages caused by the lack of barges carrying coal up a flooded Mississippi River.

Instead, the La Crosse-headquartered cooperative is purchasing electricity from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc. market to make up for the power normally produced by the plant in Genoa, said Phil Moilien, Dairyland’s vice president.

MISO manages a wholesale electricity market that spans several states in the Midwest, including parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

At face value, buying power from the grid could be cheaper for Dairyland than running its coal plant.

Dairyland’s 345-megawatt coal-fired power plant is one of 17 coal plants in Wisconsin. At 50 years old, it’s the eighth oldest coal-burning power plant in the state.

Record flooding along the Mississippi River, especially in Missouri and Iowa, has delayed commercial barge traffic for months, keeping grain from moving downstream and fertilizers, cement, salt and coal from moving upstream.

Since the Genoa plant, situated along the Mississippi River, gets its coal solely by barge, Moilien said, Dairyland made the decision to temporarily halt operations “not because we are out of coal, but to ensure we have enough coal for the summer months.”

Moilien declined to say how much coal it had stockpiled from the winter, saying the amount was “proprietary.”

Dairyland, as a cooperative, is not required to share its operation and maintenance costs with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The cooperative declined to say how much it costs to generate power at its Genoa plant.

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Anti-nuke types are going to have to come to the realization that we have a storage problem with nuclear waste, and keeping it, for instance, on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, or the Great Lakes, is not a sustainable solution.

That means we all just have to agree it needs to be transported, and placed, perhaps in retrievable form someplace where a leak is at least unlikely.
Maturity required.

Or, similar question, “Why is the Green New deal?”

Answer is that, there is no legislation yet. Turns out this kind of massive program is really, really, really hard to put together.
To do it, we’re going to have to do a whole lot more than tweet-shame Nancy Pelosi – we, all of us, are going to have to get involved with the process and push from the grass-roots – because the alternative is simply too grim to consider.

The insights I got from Rob Meyer in December are still cogent.

One of the best arguments for transitioning to renewable, distributed energy, is the national security factor.
A grid that is more dispersed and diverse, that looks more like the internet, will be inherently more resilient to disruption in the age of terrorism, cyber-hacking, and extreme weather.

And the Russians. As a new piece in the New York Times shows, we are in an era where the balance of terror includes having a finger on a nation’s lightswitch.

In the article below, very telling paragraph near the end:

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.

In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

The administration declined to describe specific actions it was taking under the new authorities, which were granted separately by the White House and Congress last year to United States Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military’s offensive and defensive operations in the online world.

But in a public appearance on Tuesday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was now taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort “to say to Russia, or anybody else that’s engaged in cyberoperations against us, ‘You will pay a price.’”

Power grids have been a low-intensity battleground for years.

Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.

But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.

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