Friday, September 16, 2005

Science News & Controversy

There is a story in today's New Scientist about the advantages of embryonic stem cells (ESC) over adult stem cell in a particular research endeavor.
Embryonic stem cells from mice can patch up damaged heart muscle in sheep. With hopes of using less controversial, adult-derived stem cells now appearing shaky, the results could pave the way for effective treatments for heart disease in people.

“It’s clear now that adult stem cells are unable to become myocardial [heart muscle] cells,” says co-author Michel Puceat at the Macromolecular Biochemistry Research Centre in Montpellier, France. “This would have been the best cell population, because they come from the patient, but there is no doubt that embryonic stem cells are much better.”
Some critics of ESC research funding continue to insist that "[t]he case against ESCs is scientific" but it seems there appears to be more and more science to contradict them.

Of course, I too am a "critic" of ESC, just as I am a critic of all government funded scientific research. Scientific research is not a proper function of the government (except possibly indirectly for war and defense purposes). The government is the agency that has a legal monopoly of force in a geographic area. Force and mind are opposites. It's really no wonder that government funded science is highly politized and thus highly suspect. Nevertheless, while we have government funded science it behooves us to disregard religious (and thus irrational) objections to specific research proposals. We may be far from having complete separation of state and science but at least the separation of state and church ought to be intact.
Another news report from New Scientist discusses a recent paper in Science magazine which claims a connection between global warming and increasingly frequent stronger hurricanes.
A massive global increase in the number of strong hurricanes over the past 35 years is being blamed on global warming, by the most detailed study yet. The US scientists warn that Katrina-strength hurricanes could become the norm.
Dr. Patrick Michaels, research professor of environmental sciences, University of Virginia has written a critique of the paper that looks quite damning to my eyes. It's true that the data the Science paper looked at, which used satellite data from 1970 shows the trend and correlation identified as can be seen from the graph below.

Figure 1. (A) the total number of category 1 storms (blue curve), the sum of categories 2 and 3 (green), and the sum of categories 4 and 5 (red) in 5-year periods. The black curve is the maximum wind speed observed globally. (B) Same as (A), except that the numbers are presented as a percentage of the total annual storm count. (taken from Dr. Michaels article -- click on graphs to see original size image [GR])

Unfortunately for the Science paper's authors, Dr. Michaels points out that the correlation appears to break down when earlier data is added to the picture.

Figure 2. Same as Figure 1, except for the analysis is for only the North Atlantic basin and begins in 1945. (taken from Dr. Michaels article -- click on graphs to see original size image [GR])
As Dr. Michaels points out:
The conclusion many draw from papers such as these is that anthropogenic global warming from the burning of fossil fuels by humans is causing more lethal storms. A closer look, though, reveals not human actions but rather natural cycles are the primary cause.
And he concludes:
While the impacts of the currently active hurricane period are being felt especially hard in the United States, there remains no scientific proof that human contributions to an enhanced greenhouse effect are the root cause.


John Opfer said...

Although it's true that tropical storms haven't become more frequent, they do seem to have increased in their destructive power, according to thisNature article.

Gideon said...

I'm happy to see you comment on my blog. I find it interesting that the abstract you linked to, as you mention, basically denies the conclusion of the Science paper when it states "work on the detection of trends in hurricane activity has focused mostly on their frequency and shows no trend."

But clearly, according to the data used in the Science paper for about the same period as the Nature paper (from 1970) there is a trend: the percentage of category 4 & 5 hurricanes has increased. It is only when earlier non-satellite data is considered that a cycle is observed and the frequency, at least in the North Atlantic, was higher in the 1960s than in the 1970s through 1990s.

If the Nature paper only considers hurricane destructiveness since the mid-1970s, it may be subject to the same criticism depending on the nature and availability of hurricane data from earlier decades.

Anonymous said...

According to the work of Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado, of the top five most destructive storms this century, only one occurred after 1950 — Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An NOAA analysis says there have been fewer Category 4 storms throughout the past 35 years than would have been expected given 20th-century averages.
Rich Lowry, Katrina Conceit, NRO - August 30, 2005