As we begin a new year, let’s look to the last for lessons learned

Summary:  Last month we looked at the big questions that 2014 might answer.  Today we look backwards, at the thousand words-plus posted daily in 2013. Let’s look not at the posts that got the most hits (shown here), those are seldom the ones that look significant a year or so later.  What posts of the past look useful or prescient when seen from this perch on the first day of 2014?

“Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.”
— Thomas Szasz in The Second Sin (1973)

World in my hand

So let’s look back at some stories that benefited readers in 2013.

  1. Change in focus
  2. Forecast: continued slow growth in the US economy
  3. Forecast: no reaction to revelations about the Security State
  4. Debunking climate activists with climate science
  5. Other stories covered
  6. What did you find useful or interesting?

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(1)  Change in focus of the FM website

In 2013 the content of the FM website shifted. As always, bulk of our content consisted of analysis of current conditions and trends. But there were fewer posts giving forecasts. My vision has clouded, perhaps from anger — eliminating one of the most valuable functions of the FM website. In exchange we provided more posts about ways to reform America (the most frequently requested subject, which turned out to be of little interest to readers).

(2) Forecast: continued slow growth in the US economy

Let’s start with the big one. I forecast continued slow growth in the US economy, as I did in 2011 and 2013. This looks correct. Results through Q3:

  • An exciting real GDP growth of 4.1% QoQ annualized in Q3, but only 2% YoY.
  • Stripping out the change in inventories, real growth was an adequate 2.5% QoQ annualized in Q3, but only a too-slow 1.7% YoY — same as in Q1 and Q2.
  • Average annualized GDP since 2H 2009: 2.3% (only repeated bouts of fiscal and monetary stimulus have kept it above the 2% “stall speed”).

This slow growth, with most of the benefit going to the rich, is perhaps the defining characteristic of the past 6 years — shaping our politics and society.

What happens in 2014? I cannot even make a good guess. I wonder if anybody can. We are in uncharted territory after five years of massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.

Department of Fear

(3)  Our reaction to revelations about the Security State

How would we react to these revelations about NSA surveillance? This was one of the few forecasts I made this year. The week that the Guardian published the first Snowden revelations I wrote The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America! (7 June 2013, with a wealth of links):

These are special days! The New America approaches as the Second Republic (under the Constitution) dies. Powerful elites are the agents. Our children are its victims. We are the cause. Our reaction to the NSA revelations will prove this to any who wish to see.

Seven months later, the revelations have been larger than most of us dreamed. Yet our reaction has been less than many of us hoped — and much as I feared: so far no reforms. Zero. A display of pusillanimity (contemptible fearfulness) which would make the Founders weep.

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As the scandal ages and we accept NSA surveillance as the new normal, I expect few reforms. See Marcy Wheeler’s look at Obama’s weak proposals.

Two posts about this are valuable even today. I recommend reading them, even re-reading them.

(4)  Debunking climate activists with climate science

Note that, as usual on the FM website, this hewed closely to consensus opinion of the relevant authorities (here, climate scientists) yet still angered people on both sides of the debate. The climate activists were incensed at mention of the data showing the pause in surface temperature warming. The “skeptics” were outraged at mention of the consensus among scientists that slowing solar activity probably would have little effect on Earth’s climate.

Despite the intense controversy and rapid progress of the climate sciences, these posts about the basics of climate change from 2012 and 2013 still look good. I read these today with astonishment. Climate is the most heavily covered subject in science during the past decade, and the public still remains ignorant of the answers to these questions.

  1. What we know about our past climate, and its causes
  2. Good news!  Global temperatures have stabilized, at least for now.
  3. What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
  4. What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming?  – part two of two
  5. When did we start global warming? See the surprising answer.,
  6. Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now. — Scientists look at the pause
  7. The slow solar cycle is getting a lot of attention. What are its effect on us?

Two posts in 2013 were especially valuable:

A Sybil
America needs a Sybil, and her prophecies

(5) Other stories covered

Readers of the FM website have been at the leading edge of coverage of many vital issues. Click these to see the posts. Some of these subjects are only now starting to get the recognition they deserve, although you read about them long ago.

(5)  What did you find useful or interesting?

Post a comment about what posts or themes you found interesting or useful.

Or what you found to be wrong, or useless.

Also, consider supporting this project. The tip jar is near the top of the right-side menu bar.

Donate button
The tip jar is on the right-side menu

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22 thoughts on “As we begin a new year, let’s look to the last for lessons learned

  1. As we begin a new year, everyone should realize that there is no pause in global warming.

    Fabius Maximus has mis-explained the Fifth IPCC Report. This is an honest mistake that is based on a misreading and, most probably, a lack of understanding of the basic mechanisms that warm and cool the planet.

    You can read the report, as FM has pointed out in earlier exchanges with me on this topic. If you do, you will see that there is no pause as explained by FM analysis of the IPCC report.

    Or, you can read another analysis of the IPCC fifth report from Mother Jones here. This directly rebuts the false position that FM has derived from the IPCC Report:

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/09/global-warming-pause-ipcc

    Here is a brief excerpt from the Mother Jones rebuttal:

    “We all expect Fox News to sow doubt about global warming. But in coverage of the IPCC report, a storyline like CBS’s seemed to show up regularly, and not just at conservative outlets. “What I find really dismaying is how much even the very scientifically informed media has bought into the false story line about a ‘pause’ in overall warming,” says Peter Frumhoff, a climate scientist and the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There were good stories as well, but there were quite a lot of “pause” stories. Indeed, in the press conference following the report’s release in Stockholm, this “pause” was the topic most asked about by journalists.

    “This has occurred despite the fact that claiming that global warming has “paused” is deeply misleading. The IPCC explained as much in its just-released report, where it noted that although the rate of warming is somewhat smaller over the last 15 years, selectively seizing on this period, from 1998-2012, basically represents a case of bad statistics.

    “After all, the year 1998 was a record temperature year, due to a strong El Niño. So by making it the first year of an analysis you’re stacking the deck. “If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend,” explains Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA who was heavily involved in producing the IPCC report. This is why climate scientists generally don’t seize on 15 year periods and make a big thing about them. (For a more thorough rebuttal of the “pause” narrative, see here.)

    “The “pause” is thus as much about media innumeracy as it is about the atmosphere. But nonetheless, to a large extent the narrative seems to have taken hold. While no comprehensive media content analyses appear to have been completed yet, we can point to at least one indicator suggesting the profusion of this narrative.”

    1. Marc,

      It is fascinating that you deny the large body of peer-reviewed research discussing the cause and duration of the “pause” (aka “hiatus”) — that I have cited. Plus their statements, and articles in the world’s major newspapers.

      Even major reports from the world’s great climate agencies — like that last year from the UK Met Office — remain invisible to you. What more can scientists say to make you listen to them?

      It is even more sad that you prefer to rely on political activists rather than climate scientists.

      This is a wonderfully clear example of how the Left and Right have become tribes, believing whatever they are told — ignoring even the clearest facts. That we see this on both sides of the political spectrum shows that it results from something afflicting Americans as a people.

      This makes us a gift to our leaders, as easily led as sheep.

      So long as this continues reform in America remains impossible.

    2. Marc’s comment is the 6 year history of the FM website in a nutshell.

      I cite clear evidence — facts and experts. Readers reply citing activists with little or no relevant expertise, and less data.

      People told us that we were winning in Afghanistan and Iraq, that Saddam had WMDs, that there was no growing inequality in America, that there would be no recession in 2008, and on and on.

      I wrote tens of thousands of words on these matters, citing thousands of links to authorities. I doubt if I changed a single mind.

      Worse, I wonder if any of the tens of thousands of readers changed their minds as the verdict of history came in on these matters. My guess: few. Very few.

      It is an illness of the mind that afflicts America.

  2. I particularly enjoy and appreciate reading the analyses of emerging trends, pretty much everything under “(5) Other stories covered”, above.
    Thanks for a great 2013! Keep pushing that leading edge!

  3. I also enjoy and appreciate your often insightful analyses. This website is an extremely valuable resource and I refer to it frequently; please keep up the good work! However, I continue to disagree with your approach to climate change analysis. As far as I can see, the quotes in the article provided by Mark are quotes from climate scientists, so I don’t see the basis for your claim that he relies on “political activists rather than climate scientists.”

    1. Nnoxks,

      Marc quotes one scientist, speaking in a political magazine.

      Peter Frumhoff is an employee of the mis-named Union of Concerned Scientists — a political advocacy group in costume (only a minority of its members are scientists). He has a relevant PhD (ecology), but his UCS bio shows no research published in peer-reviewed publications. He appears to be a political activist with scientific training, an expert of the sort found in all political debates — working on both sides. They are useful sources of information for people who like to get their information from advertising.

      http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/peter-frumhoff.html

      If you consider a quote from someone at a political advocacy group published in Mother Jones equivalent to the many citations from practicing climate scientists, peer-reviewed journals, and official publications of major climate agencies — then there is not much more for me to say.

      These comment threads are sad. Scientists are debating when the pause will end, and what will follow. Meanwhile the US public has its heads in the smog of disinformation, of the sort crippling the discussion of almost every public policy discussion.

      So long as this continues reform is, IMO, impossible.

  4. Fair enough re: Frumhoff. However, the article also quotes “Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA who was heavily involved in producing the IPCC report.” From what I can see at NASA’s website, he looks legit. In any case the views presented in the Mother Jones article are in fact shared by a large number of working climate scientists. The fundamental fact is that practicing climate scientists, peer reviewed journals, and major climate agencies have *not* changed their views in light of the reduced rate of warming over the past 15-odd years.

    The mainstream view of climate scientists remains, approximately, that continuing emissions will inevitably have the effect of warming the climate system, and that there is no reason to suppose that the resulting impacts will be small, and many reasons to suppose that they will be large. Since that view remains thus far unchanged by the recent decrease in the rate of warming, I don’t know why you keep harping on the “pause.”

    You seem to believe that the best policy re: climate is immediate efforts to reduce carbon emissions combined with massive funding for earth systems research. Good, let’s get started! Constant discussion of the “pause” is a distraction, part of the smog that cripples potential policy solutions.

    1. nnoxks,

      “The fundamental fact is that practicing climate scientists, peer reviewed journals, and major climate agencies have *not* changed their views in light of the reduced rate of warming over the past 15-odd years. ”

      That’s wildly false. Weirdly, crazy head-in-the-mud false. But typical of comments by Americans about science, as they robotically believe whatever their tribal leaders say.

      There has been massive research about climate during the past “15-odd years”, and as a result scientists have changed their views about a great many things. As shown by the differences in the various IPCC reports. I will mention just three.

      (1) Their estimates about the current effects of warming on incidence and magnitude of extreme weather events has come substantially down. As seen in the IPCC Special Report about Extreme Weather and the Fifth Assessment Report (see excerpts here).

      (2) About the pause. There was almost nothing in the literature about the odds of a decade-plus long pause in surface temperature warming until aprox 2009. Now there is a growing body about its possible causes — and estimated duration.

      (3) About solar influences on climate change: still a minority view, but now frequently mentioned as a possible driver. That’s a change from 15 years ago.

      That you prefer to get your information from Mother Jones rather than the major science agencies is sad, but probably beyond my cure. Science will move on, and eventually you will learn about it. Probably not, however, from Mother Jones.

    2. nnoks,

      A bit more detail, and another change in scientists’ opinions.

      (3) Solar influences — more detail

      The lower-than-average solar activity has been put forward as a possible contributor to the pause. As I said, still a minority opinion — but gaining more attention

      (4) Shifting the focus from the surface air temperature to the heat content of the atmosphere-ocean system

      Some climate scientists, such as the eminent Roger Pielke Sr (see Wikipedia), said this focus was inappropriate, and that…

      “The spatial pattern of ocean heat content change is the appropriate metric to assess climate system heat changes including global warming.” (source)

      For this he was smeared, and called a denier by activists. Such as by the activists at Skeptical Science (Dana Nuccitelli’s launch pad, which should be called “skeptical of science”). See this page calling him a “climate misinformed” (note that all of his quotes shown now appear correct).

      Now that the surface temperature has paused, climate scientists have realized that he was correct. And of course no retraction or apologies from activists for their smears.

    3. nnoxks,

      “However, the article also quotes Drew Shindell”

      Reading FAIL.

      I said “Marc quotes one scientist, speaking in a political magazine.” Marc does not quote Schindell, for good reason. Schindell discusses when the pause starts — not if there is a pause. Scientists differ on the starting date, which depends on the dataset used, the type of statistical analysis applied, and IF and HOW one accounts for weather during that period. Schindell:

      After all, the year 1998 was a record temperature year, due to a strong El Niño. So by making it the first year of an analysis you’re stacking the deck. “If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend,” explains Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA who was heavily involved in producing the IPCC report.

  5. As a long time reader – but now starting to post more – I like seeing how 21st century America is coming into focus. For instance you mention above the security state and the ushering in of a new America, other posts lay out the reality of 4gw or the prevalent existence of propaganda in society and politics.

    I am interested in discerning and clarifying questions like:
    What does the new playing field look like? In our nation today is there any resemblance to the Republic envisioned by leaders of the past? Is there any permeating the powers-that-be with insights that would lead us to a saner existence?

    I am interested in reform, 5 steps to fixing America (10/19/2011) was a great post. everyone voting in every election (especially mid-term or primary elections). as a well as a call to go back and read the constitution. I think we need to broaden the canon of quintessential American documents to get a sense of what is quintessentially ‘American’ in the 21st century.

    1. Pastor Ames,

      Thank you for the feedback. The posts describing problems get the hits — especially applause from the people who share the perspective (Left sees the Right’s follies and errors, and vice versa).

      The solution posts are bipartisan, requiring both sides to acknowledge faults and change. These get few hits, and mostly critical comments.

      The overwhelming consensus of comments is that we’re victims abused by the bad guys on the other side.

  6. “It is an illness of the mind that affects America.”

    The necessity of examining the nature of this “illness of the mind” seems imperative in 2014 if we are ever going to break out of our contemporary political/cultural/social paralysis and passivity.

    One way of possibly understanding this illness of the mind would be to assume that our individual minds are largely a reflection of our general culture.

    Is our culture reaching some kind of breaking point? ( as a possible indication see, for example, the recent column (Dec. 27, 2013) by Steven Pearlstein on the culture of Washington DC called “The Insiders Game: The transition from power or money to power and money.”

    Pearlstein describes how there used to be a certain reticence in the behavior of the politicos of DC (they didn’t flaunt their wealth and they, at least, verbally articulated the importance of making some kind of personal sacrifice in order to serve the public purpose).

    Instead what is accepted as appropriate behavior today, according to Pearlstein, is manipulation, celebrity and the chance to make a big score.

    Are the old cultural controls breaking down among our elites—does the way that they apparently live their own lives indicate that they no longer endorse any moral demand system which places some kind of limit on the race for status and prestige?

    Is a similar dynamic taking place among the rest of us? See, for example, the recent film “The Wolf of Wall Street” where the continual desire for easy money no matter what the cost, is depicted as going on endlessly and repeatedly among average Americans–basically duplicating the behavior of our elites.

    Does the death of a culture begin when the normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in way that remains inwardly compelling for cultural and political elites as well as for the rest of us?

    Are we experiencing a collapse of moral authority where pure desire and impulse are emerging as contenders against our failing moral demand system of reticence and constraint?

    Do we need a political/cultural movement which views revolution as a return to a new authority willing to punish the transgressive and reestablish a different moral demand system centered around, once again, what we have all long known but apparently forgotten—the central importance of what is not to be done?

  7. The recent serving of NSA-inspired news was eye opening for me. ( Summary: as of 2008, full break-in and remote access to literally every computerized device period. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0w36GAyZIA )

    I’m sure noone will care in a month, but I found it tremendously exciting, once I got over the outrage reflex.

    1. If there is a need to break into everything, then modern encryption is actually effective at concealing messages in transit.

    2. It’s all about hardware. Computer security requires the ability to scan not just your software but also your physical hardware. Forget 3D printing, the future is in sales to the paranoid:
    miniature x-ray machines, two-dimensional “scannable/verifiable” electronics, chains of trust for the software portion of the verification system, leading somewhere… outside of the US, economy-models of semiconductor manufacturing equipment (no need to go to the latest/smallest tech level, you only need to manufacture a small email appliance), non-contact methods of detecting/destroying hardware features smaller than the (a) resolution of your scanning system, (b) the feature size of your secure device. Perhaps thermal? The manufacturing method could sacrifice everything else to make this fine-detail-erasing-process possible. Encryption of displays at the optical level (with magic decoder glasses, scannable/verifiable, naturally!), something for keyboards (don’t know what yet), improved public access to RF technology… Tell me that’s not exciting! Tech jobs for everyone!

    3. where exactly is most of our non-military electronics hardware manufactured? what are the implications of that? has anyone thought this through? I bet they have!

  8. FM note — this comment refers to a different post:

    ———————

    As FM disagrees with evidence aggregated on George Washington’s Blog regarding the effects of radiation from Fukushima on the Pacific and the US, let me just leave one link to a 2012 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on the transport of radionuclides in blue fin tuna:

    Pacific bluefin tuna transport Fukushima-derived radionuclides from Japan to California“, Daniel J. Madigana, Zofia Baumannb, and Nicholas S. Fisher, PNAS, 22 June 2012

    1. Dr Alonso,

      I do not understand your comment.

      (1) I am not expressing an opinion, but posting expert analysis.

      (2). Thank you for posting the study from PNAS (I added full citation info). It is consistent with the material in this post. Why do you consider it as rebuttal? Here is one of the many paragraphs expressing the same point:

      Total radiocesium concentrations of post-Fukushima PBFT were approximately 30 times less than concentrations of naturally occurring 40K in post-Fukushima PBFT and YFT and pre-Fukushima PBFT.

      Furthermore, before the Fukushima release the dose to human consumers of fish from 137Cs was estimated to be 0.5% of that from the α-emitting 210Po (derived from the decay of 238U, naturally occurring, ubiquitous and relatively nonvarying in the oceans and its biota; not measured here) in those same fish. Thus, even though 2011 PBFT showed a 10-fold increase in radiocesium concentrations, 134Cs and 137Cs would still likely provide low doses of radioactivity relative to naturally occurring radionuclides, particularly 210Po and 40K.

      (3). What other information from Washington’s a Blog? The rest were just stories, having little or sometimes even no basis for attribution to Fukushima.

    2. Debunking another scary story from Washington’s Blog: “Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.“, Craig McClain, Deep Sea News, 4 January 2014

      Tracking the story back to the original study, which does not match the later headlines.

      Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area.

  9. FM note — this comment refers to a different post:

    ———————FM,

    Your expert analysis omitted the emission of 129-Iodine from Fukushima, as an example. That radioisotope has a very long half-life. Here is the link to the Geochemical Journal that reported the same:

    Isotopic ratio of radioactive iodine (129I/131I) released from Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident“, Yasuto Miyake et al, Geochemical Journal, vol 46 (4), 2012

    You have also downplayed ocean drift and overemphasized dilution effect.

    You have ignored the Mangano epidemiologic study on thyroid abnormalities in babies born in California post-Fukushima. Here is the link to the Open Journal of Pediatrics:

    Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown“, Joseph J. Mangano and Janette D. Sherma, Open Journal of Pediatrics, March 2013

    Where we do agree is that original sources should be read and be aware that the consequences of the disaster are significant and ongoing. Monitoring should continue

    1. Dr Alanso,

      Again I do not understand what you are attempting to say.

      In your first comment :

      • You cited an article, alleging that it showed the effects of Fukushima radiation in the oceans were greater than stated in the article in my post. This was false. The quote I provided showed that article to have the same conclusion as the one I cited.
      • You said that this was “my opinion”. I said that I am not competent to have an opinion, and was citing expert analysis.

      You second comment appears the same. I find this discouraging, but per our policy will respond. FYI, I added full citation details to your comment, and a note that your comments apply to a different post than the thread they’re on.

      (a) The Geochemical Journal article about iodine. The abstract shows that it has the same conclusion as the article cited in this post.

      The Woods Hole article:

      All of these substances can cause long-term health problems, said Buesseler, but iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days and so would be effectively gone from the environment in a matter of weeks. It was cesium-134 and cesium-137, with their half-lives of two and 30 years, respectively, which would remain in the ocean for years and decades to come.
      The Geochemical Journal:
      Iodine-131 (half-life: 8 days) is one of the most harmful radionuclides because it has the highest activity among radionuclides immediately after an accident and it causes thyroid cancer in children … Since 131I cannot be detected after several months owing to its short half-life (8 days) …

      (b) The Open Journal of Pediatrics article

      This is the authors’ second article on the subject. The first was “An unexpected mortality increase in the United States follows arrival of the radioactive plume from Fukushima: is there a correlation?“, International Journal of Health Services, 2012 (1). This was shredded in the responses submitted to IJHS — for reasons which you, as a doctor, should easily appreciate — and ignored otherwise.

      • “exposure to such extremely low doses of ionizing radiations cannot cause immediate deaths.”
      • “the cause of these deaths has not been analyzed and that there is no known mechanism for low-dose radiation to cause acute death in infants or adults. “
      • “the cities under study with the lowest radiation fallout have the highest increases of death rates in the 14 weeks following Fukushima, while the Californian cities that would have received larger doses saw a decrease in death rate growth.”
      • the reported effect might result from “the authors’ inclusion of a higher number of cities in their study before and after Fukushima (119 and 104 cities, respectively).”

      The authors’ follow-up article is in an obscure journal (for which I see no impact factor), and has been ignored. Other than a few comments noting obvious errors: stating “cubic meters” instead of square meters (at Nuclear News). Methodological errors noted by Steve Wing (Associate Professor of Epidemology, U NC) at Fukushima Voices.

      (c) “Your expert analysis omitted … You have also downplayed ocean drift and overemphasized dilution effect.”

      For the second time — I am citing expert analysis. To say otherwise is a reading FAIL.

      As for your assertion about what’s “downplayed” — I doubt you are an expert at this, either. So let’s stick with citations to actual experts.

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