Friday, August 13, 2010

Climate Conspiracy, Part II

Today's blog follows up on the Climate Conspiracy blog posted last week.  It was based on two conversations I had with a clear climate denialist.  The first entry details a discussion where the other party has direct evidence of bias in funding for climate research... that is, until I call him on it.

Today I'll provide another example.  It is interesting to note the climate denialists follow the same exact scheme as those that deny evolution or the safety of GMO food.  There always is a conspiracy, chocked full of secrets.  There are threats and intimidation, nameless figures and warped senses of victimization.

This is the second part of my discussion with James McGaha.  Again, we had a very nice conversation where I did a lot more listening than talking.  It was a private conversation, he had no idea that I'd write here about it (neither did I), but it is a good case for understanding science denialism.

During the conversation he told me that he knew someone, that must remain nameless, that has concrete evidence that will "blow the lid off of the global warming nonsense".  This alleged figure is a scientist and has this data, data that will contradict the findings of thousands of independent laboratories worldwide, upending data generated over the last three decades.

"Why doesn't he publish it, say in Science or Nature", I said.  Certainly concrete evidence that refutes a well established scientific consensus would be publishable in the best journals.

McGaha claimed that he would publish it, but is afraid of the intimidation that will come to him if he published work that does not agree with the scientific consensus.

Of course I vehemently disagreed, as top-tier journals are where you place the best data that overturn accepted paradigms.  I then had a stellar idea.

"Ask him to write up his data into a paper for Science, then send it to me.  I'll submit it with my name on it," I said.   "I'm a scientist, I can submit that work, then I'll deal with the intimidation (said with mocking sarcasm)."

It was the perfect plan. If this scientist has the data and is just afraid, then give it to a scientist that isn't.  Then when I show up in a shallow grave with a jumbo thermometer up my heiney and a Gore-Lieberman sticker across my forehead, then they can show the world how evil the conspiracy is.  If his conclusive work gets published, then he has accomplished the mission, we change the name on the report from mine to his, and he gets a Nobel Prize, or at the very least a lifetime of interviews on Fox News

Of course, my offer fell on deaf ears, probably because there is no shadowy scientist and equally vacant solid data.

It is a lot like those that cry foul in discussions of evolution.  There always are some alleged scientists that are not allowed to publish their data that prove creation or that the earth is 6000 years old.  They are afraid of intimidation or losing status or their job.  They claim a great conspiracy to suppress the real data.

In the end, there's science and there's non-science.  If we have real data, we publish it.  Real data stand up to scrutiny and are reproducible.  Real data always win.  That's why every nut living in denial of real science has to resort to the conspiracy and intimidation story, because as long as the real data are suppressed and hidden, then they don't have to ever be tested, reproduced or independently verified.

So that was my conversation with a science denialist.  We concluded by me saying, "Science is a put-up-or-shut-up business. If you have the data, show the data, confirm and retest the data, and change the way we think.... that is the way science works."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Climate Conspiracy

A panel convened at The Amazing Meeting 8 (TAM8) to discuss the skeptical coverage of climate change.

Panelist James McGaha made a number of statements that I really disagreed with.  He's a self described climate skeptic, as any good scientist should be, only he demonstrates his patent ignorance toward the scientific method and the critical consideration of evidence.

During his time on a panel, clearly as a representative of the camp that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a figment of the imagination and a liberal conspiracy, he espoused several positions that demonstrated his clear departure from the scientific method.

Multiple times he stated, "Science is wrong".   He framed this in several ways, all of which will be more comprehensively disclosed once the TAM8 videos become available.

Science is not wrong.  Science is a tool to answer questions in an objective and powerful way.  Science is not wrong.  Science just disagrees with his non-scientific conclusions, so it must be faulty.

He also claimed that federal funding agencies do not fund or publish work that is contrary to the status quo on AGW.  He said that legitimate work that contradicts AGW is unpublished.

After his talk I stood in line to talk to him.  I asked specifics, especially about the funding for those that have data supporting a non-AGW position.  He told me that is was the NSF, JPL and NASA.  I could not disagree more, as NSF especially prefers to fund quality work that expands our understanding. The work that runs counter to the consensus is considered very favorably.

I sent him an email last week and asked for a few minutes of his time.  He graciously agreed to call me.

He called and the first thing he asked was, "Are you a believer in AGW or a skeptic".

My answer was that I accept the scientific consensus and I am a skeptic.  We were off to a unproductive start.

I mostly listened for 45 minutes.  He told me that the NSF was a major dupe of the AGW system, funding only work that agreed with the consensus on AGW.   I told him that I was interlaced reasonably well with NSF and would like to know which funding initiatives were showing such bias.  I told him that I could investigate this with the Program Managers (the people that make decisions and ultimately write the checks) from the appropriate sub-disciplines at NSF.  I was going to be in Arlington at NSF headquarters, so it would be easy to knock on some doors.

He then says, "Well it was not NSF as much as JPL and NASA".  The story changes.

... more in the next blog.  It gets weirder, but more backpedaling.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

I was talking to a friend this morning.  She speaks to the vastness of space and our insignificant position relative to the universe and everything.  I thought of the Sagan's "pale blue dot".

 The tiny blue dot in the center of the bright band on the right is Earth. You ain't so cool.

The picture was taken from the Voyager spacecraft as it left our solar system in 1990.  Scientists turned the camera back toward the sun and captured an image.  The image shows our planet, our home, the place where everyone that every human that has ever lived, modestly presented as a dim tiny fleck- a pale blue dot.  This single pixel shows our position we were all there in that photo, all of us captured on that single spot of light.

It is humbling and maybe tragic, as it shows how minor we are in the true grand scale.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lipozene and the Obesity Research Institute

NOTE:  After knee surgery last week I've been subjected to a lot of television watching, fertile grounds for scams and claims that demand skeptical dissection.  There will be a few reports along this line over the coming weeks.

Lipozene. The commercials claim rapid weight loss.  They appear highly clinical and are quite persuasive. Lipozene is packaged and pitched with an implicit claim of miracle weight loss drug status. The product and the clinical claims come from the Obesity Research Institute. The Obesity Research Institute LLC is a Los Angeles based company founded in 2003 that has sold several ill-fated products such as fiber-thin and Propylene.  A quick search of the scholarly literature shows no formal published research results from the Obesity Research Institute, so this appears to be a company and not a place actively engaged in scientific research.


I was particularly drawn into the commercial when I read the blue italic print under the Lipozene name.  It says, Amorphophallus konjac, which just happens to be one of my favorite plants.  So Lipozene is just a derivative of A. konjac, actually the ground up corum (bulb). The bulb has high levels of glucomannan, a carbohydrate that swells massively when wet.  It is used as a gelling agent in some Asian cuisine. This explains the role of this compound in Lipozene.

As a diet compound glucomannans have been shown to be mildly effective in weight loss.  The most compelling data come from 1984 and the International Journal of Obesity (8(4):289-93) where Walsh and colleagues gave 1 g of glucomannan or a placebo in a double blinds study.  Over eight weeks the glucomannan group lost significantly more weight (5.5 lbs over 8 weeks).

The red flag for me is that this paper is from 1984 and there is no evidence of a successful replication or expansion of the study.  This was a dead end.  In the field of weight loss, we'd expect more labs to pile on to these findings and do their own trials.  In reality, they probably did, and didn't see the same results.  Independent replication is the Achilles Heel  of flawed or just plain wrong studies.

Other studies, mostly by Dr. Dan Gallaher's lab at the University of Minnesota, do show a positive effect of glucomannan in lowering blood lipid profiles, increasing their presence in the feces. Serum cholesterol decreases. His work spans many similar compounds and I absolutely trust these data.

But these are the best tests. Recent evidence tests glucomannan and outside of small, uncontrolled studies there is little treatment effect in weight loss.  It does appear to promote relief from constipation, lowers blood lipid profiles and probably can be regarded as safe. The mild effects in weight loss probably stem from the swelling of the compound in the gut, leading to an increased feeling of satiety in those that use it.

The problem for me comes from the fact that this is a ground up plant bulb and it can be purchased for a much lower price than from Lipozene.  Google "glucomannan" and you'll find hundreds of vendors.  Also, check for complaints against Lipozene and the Obesity Research Institute.  I won't go into detail here, but a quick check shows a history of lawsuits and unauthorized charges, at least as evidenced by the web results.

So the Obesity Research Institute straddles the scientific fence with this claim.  With a foot in reality and the other in hyperbole, they stretch the science to sell a familiar plant compound as a magic bullet for weight loss.  Testimonies abound on the web, for and against the product.  The science tells a different story.  Clearly some positive effects, but not a consistent record of promoting weight loss over placebo in well-constructed studies.