Friday, June 23, 2017

Russia, China, and cyber acts of war

I've been dumbfounded by the willingness/denialism of Republicans and of parties in other democracies to be the manipulated tools of the hostile Russian government. Apparently, rabid nationalism can be turned on and off as circumstances warrant.

OTOH, until recently I've been moderately less-exercised about what the Russians had actually done. Hostile countries steal secrets, so that level of espionage is standard activity. They also selectively release stolen secrets, leavened with lies, to weaken their opponents, so there's nothing out of line in that Russian behavior. What's out of line is that it actually contributed to their preferred candidate's success in the US, with little political blowback during the election (or afterwards).

Maybe this specific kind of election interference should be considered worse than it is normally considered as espionage, but the limited reprisal Obama has appeared to authorize seemed appropriate.

One thing that is different is the more recent news that Russian tried to do more than steal information and spread lies, but appear to have made a serious effort to hack the election systems. What I've read is that was more of a recon than an actual attempt to change the results, but it is different from everything else they did.

Everything else is normal espionage that requires a normal level of retaliation. Hacking an election to stop the elected candidate from getting office is overthrowing the American government, and it's an act of war. I think it's equivalent to an assassination attempt. Maybe it's not overtly violent, but unless you're a pacifist, there are things that are equivalent or worse than violence, and overthrowing democracy is one of them.

An act of war doesn't require a declaration of war in response, it just requires a proportionate response. Hacking the medical records of senior Russian officials and changing their medical prescriptions strikes me as a proportionate response.

I don't know if that needs to be done now (and won't anyway given that the Russian candidate now runs our country) but should be the guide for the future, and communicated to Russians for purposes of deterrence.

The one other factor that I haven't seen discussed is how Russian and Chinese behavior seem so different. China is our real, long-term rival. Putin's incompetence has used up half of the time Russia has to transform itself before oil becomes useless, and there's zero likelihood he'll now start a transition. China, on the other hand, is not engaged in these kinds of political attacks on the US, and that's interesting from a foreign policy perspective.

Seems like China is treating us a potential future enemy - its massive hacking of our systems are designed to crash those systems if it needs to in the future. Russia is treating us as a current enemy. Different tactics, requiring different responses from us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Advice From teh Communicators

An evergreen across science communication is that scientists don't know how to communicate science.  Eli has confronted this issue before at the cost of ticking (permanently) off a bunch of communicators

. . .  a whole lot of other people appear to think that scientists are lousy communicators, and indeed, a whole lot of scientists agree and there are workshops, meetings and even, shudder, blogs, devoted to self improvement, or not. This goes into the file under missing the point.

It's not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It's their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain't just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty
Well that, of course points to the communicators, who are not just journalists, and indeed some journalists are doing a good job communicating science, others, of course, not so much.  The not so much camp is dominated by the opinion communicators like Bret Stephens, like Matt King Coal Ridley, like James Didn't Read the Literature Delingpole and others.  The perversity of this is the New York Times, which hired at the same time Bret Stephens and Brad Palmer Plumer and now Lisa Friedman in addition to the esteemed Justin Gillis.  Of course what happens is the trio of reporters best stories get stepped on by the Opinion (don't have anything to do with us boss) Section's know nothings, the public hears cacophony, rolls eyes, decides nothing is settled, climate change is just a side show and moves on.

Of course, there are not just reporters, there are communications experts, the various deficit modelers and the cultural cognition folk and more.  Most of these are simply trying to cut themselves a piece of the pie.  RPJr when he was in the business was a great one for pie slicing.

ATTP has a recent comment on this based on a talk Doug McNeil gave.  And sums it up as
The environment can be difficult and challenging; we should try to say interesting things but also be careful of what we say; it should be relevant but not too complex; we should know the audience, and we should repeat the message.
As fate would have the June 2017 copy of APSNews came across Eli's mailbox (the Heartland Institute never set the Bunny so much as a cross word) and on the back page was an essay by Bill Foster, a member of the US House of Representatives and a PhD physicist who sums up science communication with this gem of advice
On the campaign trail, I learned that there is a long list of neurons that you have to deaden to convert a scientist's brain in to a politician's.  When you speak with voters, you must lead with conclusions rather than complex analysis of underlying evidence -- something that is very unnatural to a scientist.  You also have to repeat your main campaign message over and over again, since you will be lucky if a typical voter will hear you speak for a few seconds -- and those few seconds have to include your campaign message.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

0.04% Is a Lot of Molecules

An evergreen in the denial crowd is that CO2 is only a very small part of the atmosphere so how could it make a difference.

ADDED: In the comments Mark B points out that

The silliness is that it is precisely because CO2 is a very small part of atmosphere that humans are able to meaningfully change it's concentration. For example we are depleting O2 at the same rate as we are adding CO2, but the change is a negligible percentage of the normal content so only the most pedantic would dwell on it. That is, we've changed the CO2 concentration by about 45% and the O2 concentration by about 0.06%.
The short answer is that the atmosphere is very big.   Eli has a nice BOE (back of the envelope, not quite a Fermi problem but Eli would be quite pleased if others thought it in the neighborhood of same) answer

"... the estimation of rough but quantitative answers to unexpected questions about many aspects of the natural world. The method was the common and frequently amusing practice of Enrico Fermi, perhaps the most widely creative physicist of our times. Fermi delighted to think up and at once to discuss and to answer questions which drew upon deep understanding of the world, upon everyday experience, and upon the ability to make rough approximations, inspired guesses, and statistical estimates from very little data." 
 It starts by estimating the number of molecules in a m3 of air.  Well a Bunny who knew Loschmidt's number 2.7 x 1019 cm-3 or 2.7 x 1025 m-3  (which is the same thing since 1 m3 is 106 cm3 ) could start there or you could rearrange the ideal gas law
pV = nRT to n/V = p/RT
Since 1 atm is 101, 325 N/m², the gas constant R is  8.314 J K-1mol-1 and 0 C is 273 K
n/V = 101 325 N/m² /(8.314 J K-1mol-1 x 273.15 K) = 44.64 mol m-3 
which is a little surprising, since the average weight of a molecule of air is ~ 29 g or 0.029 kg so a cubic meter would weigh 1.3 kg but that is another direction.  In any case since there are 6.02 x 1023 molecules per mole that gives us Loschmidt's number again, in case a bunny has forgotten it or 2.69 x 1025 m-3.

If 400 ppm or 0.04% of that is CO2 there are  1.07 x 10 21 CO2 molecule in a cubic meter.  A useful estimate of the average distance between CO2 molecules is the inverse of the cube root. of the number density.  That is 4.5 x 10-8 m.

So how does that compare to the wavelength of light at which CO2 absorbs light in the IR.  Hmm, that's about 14 microns.  A micron is a millionth of a meter, So how many CO2 molecules are there along one wavelength of IR light where it is capable of absorbing.

About 300.

That's enough