Science! Attempts to Destroy Itself

And we should help. Here we go: Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real.  Money quote:

If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.

Of course, anyone sane and conversant in the scientific method would find the idea that “much of what you understood about the universe was wrong” to be nearly a truism, and “that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what … we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk” to be a revelation on the order of “the sun rises in the East.”

These two ideas go together. While it is important – very important – to recognize that science, especially applied science, has produced a large number of very useful and valuable insights into how the world works, that’s not the same as thinking science has gotten to the bottom, or nearly to the bottom, of How Things Are. It is yet another truism that each scientific answer generates an unlimited supply of additional questions. This state of an ever-receding bottom is in addition to the metaphysical questions the answers to which are both essential to the very concept of science and outside the methods of science to answer.

Science should be a humbling exercise, the thrill of discovery balanced with the inescapable reality that there’s more to figure out than will ever be understood. While egomaniacs can be found in all areas of study, it seems there’s an overall bias: the softer the science, the more play there is for ego, the more ready people are to blow their own horn and take offense at legitimate questions.

Back to the article. There’s a useful recap of what happened in parapsychology in the late ’80s. James Randi had made a name for himself by showing, essentially, that parapsychologist are gullible rubes, or, more generously, that scientists are not trained to expect Nature to try to pull one over on them, leaving them vulnerable to frauds. With careers to consider and funding money on the table, this state of affairs must be addressed.

A raft of reforms were proposed and implemented. Experimenters were advised to be wary of the classic test for “statistical significance,” for example, since it could often be misleading. They should avail themselves of larger groups of subjects, so they’d have sufficient power to detect a real effect. They should also attempt to replicate their work, ideally in adversarial collaborations with skeptics of the paranormal, and they should analyze the data from lots of different studies all at once, including those that had never gotten published. In short, the field of parapsychology decided to adopt the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.

“the principles of solid scientific practice that had long been ignored by their mainstream academic peers.”  Let that sink in. Psychology is a field where Freud remains among the top handful of most cited sources. For those who have not had the pleasure of reading ol’ Siggy, he perfected and took to new extremes the approach of answering critics *of* his theories from *inside* his theories – typically, any attempt to point out flaws in his theorizing (and they are patent and legion) was answered by the accusation that the critic was obviously repressed. Jung counts on the same dynamic – reflexive dismissal of critics as simple unenlightened – but has vaguer, less vulgar theories and so appears nicer about it. And so, down the lineage of ‘great’ psychologists to this day.

Success in such an environment hinged more on titillating the undergrads and keeping a straight face than on anything remotely related to science.  All serious and fundamental criticism was summarily dismissed – it had to be, or we’d have never heard of these jokers, who, based on the merit of their theories alone, would hold the same intellectual position as Rosicrucians. Instead, they got paying gigs on the public teat at our great universities, and positions of influence over our young.

Not that things never changed. After Skinner and all the rat running (1), it became popular to use cook-book level statistical analysis in studies. To do this, one needs to assign numerical values to data, ignoring that much, maybe most, things that count as data in psychology do not admit of valid numerical values (on a scale of 1 to 5, how happy are you right now?). Low p-values became the ultimate validation that what you were doing was real, just like the real scientists.

Further, in order to get those p-values, it became common practice to follow many paths, ignore the ones that didn’t ‘work’ and report on those that did. This is an example of an old-style scam (not that the researchers were always aware that scamming was what they were doing – could be enthusiasm + ignorance): send a prediction to 1000 people on who will win that week’s big game – 500 predicting the home team, 500 predicting the away team. Next week, discard the 500 you got wrong, and send out 500 more to those you got right on this week’s big game – 250 predicting the home team, 250 predicting the away team. Repeat a few more times. Then send a note to the remaining people who have received an amazing string of predictions that proved right, saying you’ll send them predictions for the upcoming week for a mere $1,000. How could they resist? You’ve never been wrong before!

To Slate’s credit, this is all explained fairly well in the article.

Bern submitted a paper for publication to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the most prestigious and rigorous journal in his field. An E. J. Wagenmakers read it.

Wagenmakers finally managed to get through Bem’s paper. “I was shocked,” he says. “The paper made it clear that just by doing things the regular way, you could find just about anything.”

and:

“Clearly by the normal rules that we [used] in evaluating research, we would accept this paper,” said Lee Ross, a noted social psychologist at Stanford who served as one of Bem’s peer reviewers. “The level of proof here was ordinary. I mean that positively as well as negatively. I mean it was exactly the kind of conventional psychology analysis that [one often sees], with the same failings and concerns that most research has.”

This was all happening way back in 2010. As a result, there is a movement to tighten up research practices. The article neither mentions nor have I read elsewhere any movement to disavow all findings under the previous method, after the manner in which companies recall batches of product that have poison in them. Calling this a ‘replication crisis’ is dramatically underselling the problem: we have a ‘this is a stinking pile and needs to be shoveled out of here’ crisis. But no one in the field will say that. Instead they will say limp-wristed things like ‘these issue call some earlier findings into question.’ Right. (2)

The article, which is in general commendable and full of useful information, still attempts early on the standard ‘science is hard’ spin I’ve found so often in places like fivethirtyeight: any inclination you might have toward dismissing the entire field of psychology must be resisted, because science is hard!

The replication crisis as it’s understood today may yet prove to be a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective. It might also grow and spread in years to come, flaring from the social sciences into other disciplines, burning trails of cinder through medicine, neuroscience, and chemistry. It’s hard to see into the future. But here’s one thing we can say about the past: The final research project of Bem’s career landed like an ember in the underbrush and set his field ablaze.

Note the not so subtle inclusion of medicine, neuroscience and chemistry as other fields that might be affected by these methodological problems. These three fields do not stand in the same relationship to scientific method as the the social “sciences”. If by neuroscience the author means the wild approaches that lead to MRI studies of dead salmon, then, yes, neuroscience is in exactly the position of psychology. Medicine, on the other hand, has always been a combination of art and science, and has always had a lunatic fringe very similar to mainstream psychology in its approaches and conclusions. But medicine also has results – epidemics prevented, successful surgeries, recoveries from formerly fatal conditions – much more measurable and important. Finally, chemistry is wonderful in that it either works or it doesn’t, so that if you make a claim with any real-world implications, incompetence and fraud will soon out.

No, Slate, there’s no chance this is “a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective.” Nor is it likely to have much effect on fields where hard, objective results are routinely demanded.

There is no replication crisis. There is a this is utter BS crisis, to be resolved once people in general conclude: the social sciences are purveyors of utter BS.

Why, yes, I am a little grumpy today. Why do you ask?

  1. Long quote from Feynman’s famous and oft quoted Cal Tech commencement speech:All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on–with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

    The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the
    corridor, and still the rats could tell.

    He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

    Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat is really using–not what you think it’s using. And that is the
    experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

    I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of cargo cult science.

  2. There are, of course, people who were thrilled at Bern’s results, and accepted them with unfiltered enthusiasm:  “But for Bem’s fellow members of the Parapsychological Association, the publication marked a great success. “He brought a lot of attention to the possibility that this research can be done, and that it can be done in a mainstream establishment,” says Marilyn Schlitz, a sociolinguist who studies psi phenomena and has an appointment at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California.

Link & Roundup: Um, Yea.

A. Wesley Smith at First Things is hammering on the point I’m trying to make here about Science! in its capitalized and exclamatory expression.  I got into philosophy and the Great Books second – science was my first love. After a few years spent thumbing through every science book (we’re counting the Time-Life rah-rah Science! series as science for the purposes of this discussion – hey, I was in 4th grade) in St. Mary’s Whittier’s tiny library, I’d already more or less dimly reached the conclusion that science just can’t tell us the answers to most of the really interesting questions. (This also explains the brevity of my fling with Plato – the ‘I only know that I don’t know’ schtick gets old fast.) By the time I’d reached college, I’d honed my eye to a fine gimlet, science-claims wise.

Under the Science! category here are numerous examples of science either done or used wrongly, and most egregiously, claims made in the name of science that are not possible to make on scientific grounds even in theory – moral claims, for example. Smith’s fine essay provides the general context.

Janez Vajkard Valvasor - Bitka med Teodozijem in Evgenijem.jpg
Battle of the Fridgius River, By Johann Weikhard von Valvasor – https://share.upr.si/fhs/PUBLIC/mag-bolon/Glavan-Batagelj-Katarina.pdf, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30204617

B. Stilicho was not only more Roman than the Emperor and more Catholic than the Pope – he was evidently Klingon. Making my happy way through Lafferty’s Fall of Rome, came across a scene where Alaric, age 17, commanding about 14,000 crack Gothic troops in defence of the Emperor Theodosius from the usurper Eugenius, has spent a day fighting his bloody way through a narrow valley. He has lost 10,000 men, and reached the plains near sundown only to see a huge army in front of him. He sends a message to Stilicho, Master General of the Empire and his commander, asking if he should proceed into almost certain death, or retreat and rendezvous with the other forces.

It takes time for messengers to ride.  Alaric – 17 years old, remember – decides that in lieu of countermanding orders, he will lead his men into the fight and die. Just then, the messenger returns with Stilicho’s orders: Where Alaric stood “is as good a graveyard as any.”

Perhaps it is a good day to die.  These were manly men. Gik’tal!

(Grandfather: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

Grandson: What?

Grandfather: The eel doesn’t get her. Now, I’m explaining to you
because you look nervous.

Grandson: I wasn’t nervous. Well, maybe I was a little bit
concerned, but that’s not the same thing.)

3. As requested by absolutely no one, I’ll be doing a final California Weather 2016-2017: That was the Rain Year that Was post as soon as I’m really sure we’re done. They’re predicting more rain in a week, so – not yet. The rule, as I understand it, is that over 3 days out, the forecast strongly converges with the almanac – if you bet season average, you’d be as close as any prediction. Exceptions include the conditions we had this year, where those atmospheric rivers could be spotted a week in advance out over the Pacific, and had nowhere to go but the West Coast. With those things, the only variable seems to be timing: when, not if.

In addition to being very wet, it’s also been cooler in general. The atmospheric river thing  does draw in tropical moisture and therefore lingering tropical warmth.  But that tends more toward mitigating lows than actually pushing highs much higher, it seems – I’ll look over the data to confirm. It’s only in the last few days that temperatures reached the 80F for the first time this calendar year – we sometimes get 80 degree days even in late February and certainly in March and April, but not this year until the last days of April. Now the forecast says 90s for the next couple days – not at all unheard of for May, but high. Then, it’s back down into the 80s and 70s. 85F is the average high for summers here, with 105F and 75F not being unusual highs.

Boooooring! The only point of interest is just how variable weather really is. From year to year, California weather can be dramatically different. The climate – weather over time – is perhaps generally dry and warm, but within that generalization there’s very dry, very warm, very wet and so on. ‘Normal’ is a fairly broad range.

4. Back to the Fall of Rome: Lafferty’s asides are both edifying and hilarious. At one point, he mentions that the political and palace intrigue conducted upon Theodosius’s death was too complicated to be understood in these simpler times. He mentions that, while we have assurances that the Church will endure, that doesn’t mean all its worldly furniture can’t be made to disappear.  And so on – laugh a minute, with the fate of the world in the balance and men killing each other left and right. Read an historian once who quipped that, by modern standards, all ancient peoples were sociopathic – slaughtering each other just didn’t seem to bug them as much as one would hope.

I worry that rising above that baseline human behavior is quite anti-entropic, and as people enthusiastically kick away the cultural props from under our modern restraint, social gravity, as it were, will bring us right back down to ambient. The experiences of the 20th century, even and especially in supposedly civilized Europe, are not encouraging.

 

More Poll Results

We’ve beaten this one up before, but it rears its mindless head as if it’s never even *heard* of this blog! Is outrage! So, like people building a civilization, like Charlemagne ruling from the saddle, we are riding off to smack down the Saxons of Ignorance (nice band name!) One. More. Time:

Someone tweets (I really need to give that horrid 140 character god up) this chart from surveys done last year:

Let’s play classroom: Without even going to the Pew site, who can spot problems with this? As with all such rhetorical questions, the foregoing serves one purpose only: to reinforce the teacher’s authority by showing who the good students are – those who supply the answers the teacher wants! Oh, sorry, digression city. Moving on:

The footnote says that these scientifilicious results were obtained via a survey (using an ‘instrument’ no doubt) whereby people were asked such totally non-loaded, non-judgmental questions as: what race are you? How much money do you make? City slicker or country bumpkin? And, BTW, how many books did you read over the last year?

Suppose I’m a hipster city slicker living in Manhattan. I don’t read. But last year, there was some graphic novel all the other cool cats were talking about, so I leafed through it and looked at the pictures.

Well? Did I read one book? Why/why not? Defend your answer!

More important, does the pollster get into a discussion with the hipster over just exactly what qualifies as a ‘book’ and ‘reading’? Oddly, we can answer this: professional or well-trained pollsters do not (I’ve tried to engage pollsters – it just confuses them). The role of leading the witness is left primarily to the writers of the ‘instrument’ – the pollsters themselves see it as their high duty not to, as if their restraint will make this exercise any less ludicrous than it already is.

The same sort of issues exist for almost all the questions: I’m something like 1/32 Cherokee – well? Mixed race? Indian? White? Other? Say I graduated from barber college – is my education level high school? some college? college graduate? I live on the outskirts of the suburbs, so that my nearest neighbors on one side are farmers, but I’m 3 blocks from an art house theater and espresso bar – rural? suburban? Heck, urban?

Another layer: I’m a troublemaker. I ask myself: what degree of honesty do I owe to some schmuck who interrupted my dinner with a phone call the ultimate purpose of which is to establish the Pew Center and its supporters and sycophants as the Smart People with All the Answers? (See what I did there? The answer you get depends a lot on how you ask the question.)

So: Yep, I’m a full-blooded Inuit nuclear physicist making low 7 figures from my career as an underwear model – and I read at least 1,000 books a year from my mountain redoubt.

Prove I’m not.

Bottom line here: if we did not learn from the last election that polls are, at best. treacherously misleading when they are not out and out tools of manipulation, my little essays aren’t going to clear it up.

But those punk Saxons are asking for it.

Science! Secret Science Reform

It’s been too long since we’ve done any Science! here at YSotM. Let’s get to it!

Over at the grave and ponderous, yet jig-dancing John C Wright’s blog, a discussion broke out over Secret Science Reform:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) reintroduced a bill known as the Secret Science Reform Act that would prohibit the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Now, an appealingly innocent person, still moist aft of his auricular helices, might wonder why such a law would be needed, let alone controversial. Ha, we old guys gently guffaw. Here is what I posted there:

Eisenhower’s farewell address is remembered for his ‘military-industrial complex’ warning, a warning beloved in my youth by all opposed to any military growth or action, but strangely forgotten in the age of cruise missiles and drone strikes – at least, when it’s their guy doing the bombing. But in the very next section of that address:

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.[1]”

In less flowery terms (if only our presidents spoke even this well!): he who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s why citizens should insist on honest, open and tested science, and carry an extra dose of skepticism toward the claims of government-funded science. While privately-funded science has its risks as well, there’s just vastly more money and power and thus more temptation and opportunity for abuse with government funding.

Image result for knife to the throat movie
Funny how suddenly logical and convincing your Science! has become, now that you can kill me. Or at least, kill my career.

Some, whose good intent we will of course assume, tried to make the point that transparency, and therefore replicability, is often not possible for areas where the EPA is called upon to rule. To this I replied:

I hardly know where to start, so let’s start at the beginning: an honest man owes loyalty to the truth, and thus owes a provisional loyalty to scientific findings because the represent an honest, open, tested effort to get closer to the truth of things.

Insofar as ANY of those conditions fail – the effort is not honest, or open, or tested – an honest man owesd NO loyalty to the claims. There is too much detail involved in showing how a nonspecialist can still offer criticism and judge the validity of a claim made in the name of science to cover in a comment, but let it suffice for now to point out that a little bit of philosophical education allows an honest man to judge the overall structure and nature of any claims made in almost all science even if he may not have the technical expertise to judge the details. There are things that might be true, but require X, and things that can’t be true because of Y. Our host has often explored issues of this type.

So, calling science on a claim when a) the political climate is charged (bringing honesty into question); b) the methods are hidden; and c) your critics cannot duplicate your results is, simply, FRAUD. No, personal and financial records don’t enter into it, as others have pointed out. No, you don’t get a pass because your work is so, so important that we need to act NOW. Tyrants always need to act now.

If the EPA is doing stuff where they HAVE TO make rulings but CANNOT reveal the science behind it, then those are exactly the activities an honest man and patriot wants stopped. Now.

So, still waiting for anything like a serious argument why the EPA needs the ability to, effectively, enact laws and bring the police power of the state to bear on people without having to first back it up with actual science. Then I remember (think I might have even blogged on it) a case where a True Believer rejected technological solutions to CO2 accumulation on the grounds that then we wouldn’t need a global totalitarian government – not in those exact words, of course, but that was the gist of the nub. I’m expecting that an argument along the same lines will be made for the requirement that the EPA show its cards and submit to scientific rigor before passing bans and shutting people down – because then it would not be able to ban stuff and shut people down unless they can prove it is necessary! Oh no!

A Few Fun Links & Disaster Movie Idea

Fun if you like science and weather.

Here’s a New York Times feature on the snow in California. Cool science, great pictures. Here’s another one, with more information on Dr. Painter and his team who do all this great science geek stuff from an airplane, measuring snowpack and water content.

(Aside: Whenever I read about California in the NYT, I get this sort of Dr. Livingston vibe, as if they’ve sent civilized people out into the dangerous wild to gather intelligence on primitive but remarkably sophisticated (meaning: like New Yorkers) tribes. Not as much as I get when reading about the South – there, the vibe is more like: Surprisingly human-like Southerners may be our closest living relatives, after dolphins and Californians. But I digress…)

Observation: in these articles, it is acknowledged that only with the advent of the super high tech NASA/CalTech level gizmos Dr. Painter employs do we have any realistic idea of how much water is in them thar hills. This has only been going on for a few years. Useful records only go back to about the 1980s.Before that, we have guys with poles spot checking here and there, and then guessing about snowpack and water content over an area of thousands of square miles with variations in elevation of 10,000 feet or more – problematic, to say the least.

In the accompanying graphs, 1983 shows up as the record year, with this year close behind. (A couple more storms set to roll in this weekend, a couple more feet of snow expected, so 2017 may end up a record year after all. However, these are of the typical cold and relatively dry Gulf of Alaska variety, and not the warm and wet Pineapple Express flavor we’ve mostly gotten this year.) Yet, as that article from yesterday that Mike Flynn alerted us to, 1861 is the record year – I’ve seen 252% of ‘normal’ snowpack thrown around for that year, which must be a ‘reconstructed’ number, unless there were some pretty dedicated (and widespread) prospectors and Miwok doing science as a hobby.

Good Data is Hard to Find. I might need to get that put on a T-shirt.

Snow
Yea, there’s snow.

Believe it or not, I often edit these posts down, as – and I know you won’t believe this – I tend to ramble. A little. Yesterday, I cut a section wherein was speculated how the California water system would have to fail if we were to have another year with 1861-1862 level storms. Turns out, all we need are 2017-level storms: Melting record snowpack could flood LA Aqueduct and Owens Valley. Owens Valley, of Chinatown fame, is on the eastern slopes of the southern Sierra. Mulholland & Co pretty much drained it dry to supply water to L.A. Now, with all that beautiful snow perched in the mountains set to melt over the next six months (ski areas are planning to stay open into the summer this year), that valley – and the L.A. aqueduct that runs through it and on to L.A. – looks to get flooded.

If a 160% or so snowpack can take out much of L.A.’s water supply, imagine what a 250% snowpack and the associated rains might do. Oroville Dam, which has been dramatically in the news lately, is one of dozens of dams on dozens of reservoirs around the state. All the major ones rely on run-off from the Sierra. This year, they all filled just with rain, and are now frantically dumping water so that they have capacity for the snow melt. In a 1861-level event, all those reservoirs would be wiped out by the first few weeks of rain alone – leaving the snow melt to keep the flooding goings for a few more months.

And sewage treatment for 38 million people? Gone. No drinking water, sewage everywhere. Dead bodies will start piling up – hey! Sounds like the Enlightenment view of the Middle Ages!

There’s a pretty good disaster flick script in there – well, better than Sharknado, at least… Lonely hydrologist tries to warn everybody.  Lovely young mom in a troubled marriage lives on a small lake in the Sierra. Stupid politicians. Greedy developers. Cop and his best buddy fireman in some small farming town. 5th generation fisherman on the Bay. North Beach stripper with a heart of gold. The rains and snow start. People get trapped, dramatic rescues, tragic deaths. Rising waters push a tangled flotilla of boats and ships down to the Golden Gate, where they get stuck, restricting water flow and flooding – Berkeley! Yes!

Image result for sharknado
Hmmm. Sharks would kick it up a notch…

(Unfortunately, the parts you really want flooded are up in the hills. And nobody wants to flood the library. Fiction! We can do anything!) Silicon Valley under 10′ of water. Day of reckoning: Hydrologist surveys the damage, casts accusing eye on politicians and developers. Lessons Are Learned.

We are so, so doomed. Even without the movie.

Time to Leave California!

Mike Flynn links here to a nice write-up in SciAm about the epic California Winter of ’61 – 1861, that is. I’d noticed that, for the few places with records that go back that far, rainfall and snowpack records in California were set in the 1861-1862 rainy season. I didn’t know, until I read the article linked above, that that storm was an epic of even greater than Biblical proportions: it rained for *43* straight days and nights.

(above: typical California weather. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!)

To sum up: every 100 to 200 years or so, over the course of a few weeks, epic ‘atmospheric rivers’ flow into the West Coast, hit all those lovely mountains, and dump feet upon feet of rain, turning all those lovely rivers into raging torrents and the Central Valley into a lake, washing people, animals, farms, etc. into the Bay, flooding Sacramento (there’s alway a bright side) under 10′ of water – and so on, all up and down the coast.

OK, I give! Uncle! Public service announcement:

Do Not Move to California! We Are So, So Doomed! 

On the bright side: Sacramento gets flooded out! Uninhabitable for months! Well, OK, there are the 1.4 million people who are not politicians and courtesans who live there, so maybe not so bright. Man’s gotta dream. On a similar let-God-sort-them-out despicable fantasy don’t-really-wish-this-on-anyone vein: only part of Hollywood is in the hills – the rest is getting washed out into the Pacific! My hometown of Whittier is nicely nestled in the hills above the San Gabriel River, so it’s probably safe. But then again, so is Beverly Hills – well, you can’t have everything.

So sorry, that was mean of me. Really, I don’t wish harm on anyone – that’s why I’m warning you all to Stay Away! Don’t Do It! California is a Death Trap!!! I will be softly weeping at our fate as I try to console myself sipping fresh lemonade out in the hammock on the back lawn under the shady walnut trees in perfect 75F weather  all the rest of the spring. I promise!! It’s the least I can do. No, really.

A curious thing: all this doom and gloom only came together in the last couple decades – since 1998. Before then, the existence and nature of ‘atmospheric rivers’ and the periodic nature of the intense rain and flooding had not been known, nor had it been recognized as a basic feature of the planet’s climate – the same thing happens along the west coasts of Europe, Africa and South America, and even in the Southeast – the flooding in Tennessee a few years back was caused by atmospheric rivers arising in the Gulf of Mexico.

But wait – that means that no climate models had these mechanisms incorporated in them. Seems a rather serious omission, like omitting ocean temperatures and cycles. Hard to see how meaningful and useful predictions can be made, lacking as the models did such a dramatic and important mechanism.

At about the same time, satellites carrying the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager were for the first time providing clear and complete observations of water-vapor distributions globally. The imagery showed that water vapor tended to concentrate in long, narrow, moving corridors that extend most often from the warm, moist air of the tropics into the drier, cooler regions outside the tropics. The tentacles appeared and then fell apart on timescales from days to a couple of weeks.

The above quote tells us that the technology needed to start to understand atmospheric rivers wasn’t in place until 1998 or so. But the article elsewhere also says (as required by law, it seems) that the epic storms they sometimes cause will become worse because of global warming. Um, didn’t we just say we’d not noted their existence until less than 20 years ago, and have not even had one cycle through to study them, and that we’re not exactly sure what makes them go? An inquiring mind might want to know how, in such a sparsely populated factual environment, we could even have a hint which way changes in global temperatures would affect atmospheric river formation and intensity. Ya know?

I’m expecting 2018 or 2019, tops, as The Year California Washes Out To Sea. Why, one might ask? Well, intense weather tends to travel in packs – having one really wet year increases, it seems, the likelihood of another. And we’re due. And if we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, one should start panicking as soon as possible and not let the lack of any real evidence slow you down.

I’m getting more lemonade.