The most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences, study finds

The most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences, study finds
By Chris Mooney
Dec is 6 2017

The climate change simulations that best capture current planetary conditions are also the ones that predict the most dire levels of human-driven warming, according to a statistical study released in the journal Nature Wednesday.

The study, by Patrick Brown and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif., examined the high-powered climate change simulations, or “models,” that researchers use to project the future of the planet based on the physical equations that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and oceans.

The researchers then looked at what the models that best captured current conditions high in the atmosphere predicted was coming. Those models generally predicted a higher level of warming than models that did not capture these conditions as well.

The study adds to a growing body of bad news about how human activity is changing the planet’s climate and how dire those changes will be. But according to several outside scientists consulted by The Washington Post, while the research is well-executed and intriguing, it’s also not yet definitive.

Government’s dire climate change report blames humans

The government’s National Climate Assessment cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

“The study is interesting and concerning, but the details need more investigation,” said Ben Sanderson, a climate expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Brown and Caldeira are far from the first to study such models in a large group, but they did so with a twist.

In the past, it has been common to combine together the results of dozens of these models, and so give a range for how much the planet might warm for a given level of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. That’s the practice of the leading international climate science body, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Instead, Brown and Caldeira compared these models’ performance with recent satellite observations of the actual atmosphere and, in particular, of the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation that ultimately determines the Earth’s temperature. Then, they tried to determine which models performed better.

“We know enough about the climate system that it doesn’t necessarily make sense to throw all the models in a pool and say, we’re blind to which models might be good and which might be bad,” said Brown, a postdoc at the Carnegie Institution.

The research found the models that do the best job capturing the Earth’s actual “energy imbalance,” as the authors put it, are also the ones that simulate more warming in the planet’s future.

Under a high warming scenario in which large emissions continue throughout the century, the models as a whole give a mean warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius (or 7.74 degrees Fahrenheit), plus or minus 0.7 degrees Celsius, for the period between 2081 and 2100, the study noted. But the best models, according to this test, gave an answer of 4.8 degrees Celsius (8.64 degrees Fahrenheit), plus or minus 0.4 degrees Celsius.

Overall, the change amounted to bumping up the projected warming by about 15 percent. The researchers presented this figure to capture the findings:


Survey: two in three Trump supporters want a president who breaks the rules

Survey: two in three Trump supporters want a president who breaks the rules
The latest American Values Survey finds a deepening polarisation, as Trump diehards stay loyal but fractures appear in the Republican party
By David Smith in Washington
Dec 5 2017

The spectre of “authoritarian” leadership has been raised by a survey that shows two in three Donald Trump supporters think America needs a president willing to break rules in order to set the country right.

The eighth annual American Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) revealed fractures in the Republican party and deepening polarisation in America.

Assaults on government agencies, the judiciary and the media have been a feature of the Trump presidency, prompting critics to draw comparisons with autocrats in Africa, the Middle East and Russia. His strongest supporters do not appear to object.

Some 66% of Republicans classified by the researchers as “Always Trump” agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right”, according to a random sample of 2,019 adults.

More than half (55%) of all Republicans or Republican-leaning independents hold the same view, although Trump’s sworn opponents disagree.

Robert Jones, chief executive of the PRRI, told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday: “Among the ‘Never Trump’ camp, only 35% agree that this kind of authoritarian leader is the kind we need.”

Nearly a year into his wildly unorthodox presidency, the survey shows Trump retaining diehard loyalty but hemorrhaging support elsewhere. Just over four in 10 Americans (41%) approve of the job he is doing. A majority (54%) disapprove.

But 84% of Republicans, including more than nine in 10 “strong” Republicans, approve of the job Trump is doing as president. More than seven in 10 white evangelicals approve. Nearly a third of white evangelical Protestants say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval.

Still, around one in three Republicans say they would prefer the 2020 GOP presidential nominee be someone other than Trump. There has been speculation that moderates such as Ohio governor John Kasich could mount a challenge.

Jones said: “After a tumultuous first year in office, a significant minority of Republicans would prefer another candidate in 2020. But key Republican base groups such as white evangelical Protestants are maintaining their commitment to the president.”

If the 2018 midterm elections were held today, 44% of registered voters would support the Democrat while 37% would vote Republican.

But as the current US Senate race in Alabama involving alleged sexual abuser Roy Moore has illustrated, tribal divisions run deep. Negative views of the other party among partisans are nearly identical. A majority of Republicans (52%) say Democratic policies are so misguided they present a threat to the country; 39% believe Democratic policies are misguided but not dangerous.

Democrats hold similarly negative attitudes toward Republicans: most (54%) feel Republicans policies pose a threat to the country while 38% believe they are simply misguided.


Grow your own: the race to create body parts in the lab

Grow your own: the race to create body parts in the lab
From replacement skin to entire new organs, regenerative medicine is finally leaving its early scandals – and the controversial ‘earmouse’ – behind. Could it one day provide a cure for birth defects, blindness and diabetes?
By Hannah Devlin
Dec 5 2017

Two years ago, Hassan’s father was faced with questions that he had no good answers for. “Why do I have this disease?” his seven-year-old son asked him. “Why do I have to live this life?”

Hassan was born with a rare genetic skin condition, called epidermolysis bullosa, that causes fragile, blistering skin. His first blister appeared when he was a week old, but soon after his family fled their native Syria and arrived as refugees in Germany, things got much worse. By June 2015, Hassan was admitted to hospital, critically ill, having lost the skin from almost the entire surface of his body. “Except for his face, hands and feet, he didn’t have any skin left,” his father recalls.

Having run out of conventional treatments, his doctors were preparing to start palliative care. But, as a last resort, they contacted an Italian scientist, Michele de Luca, who had carried out genetically modified skin transplants – but on nothing approaching this scale.

In a remarkable scientific breakthrough, De Luca’s team went on to grow an entire replacement skin for Hassan. It was grafted on, like a patchwork quilt, and after spending months bandaged from head to toe, Hassan emerged effectively cured of his devastating illness. Two years on, he is well, his skin no longer blisters, he needs no medication or ointments, he plays football and, when he gets a cut, he heals normally.

“It felt like a dream for us,” the boy’s father says.

De Luca says that witnessing the recovery produced “one of the strongest emotions in my whole life … For a scientist working in this field, having these results justifies an entire career.”

It also marked a rare and long-awaited clinical success for the field of regenerative medicine, which has faced criticism for delivering just a handful of therapies after years of hype.

Scientists first succeeded in culturing human embryonic stem cells in 1998. The cells, extracted from donated IVF embryos, can divide and multiply indefinitely and morph into any other cell type in the body. The advance raised the prospect of limitless supplies of lab-grown cells – blood, liver, skin – and ultimately spare organs and body parts, grown from scratch in the laboratory. The image of the infamous “earmouse”, published a year earlier, seemed to hint that scientists were already on the brink of such capabilities. In fact, the “ear” was cow cartilage and no human cells were involved, but the seed of expectation was sown.

De Luca says that, from the start, there was an unrealistic sense of how quickly therapeutic uses would arrive, fuelling frenzied competition within the field, and people taking shortcuts or, worse, falsifying results.

Most notorious among these was Paolo Macchiarini, an Italian surgeon, who was feted as a medical superstar when he claimed in 2011 to have successfully transplanted the world’s first synthetic windpipe, a plastic scaffold seeded with a patient’s own stem cells. The remarkable story later unravelled as it emerged that seven (now eight) of the nine patients to receive the synthetic tracheas had died and, last year, Macchiarini was fired from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute for misconduct.

“The Macchiarini case was detrimental to the entire field, but we should not generalise,” says De Luca. “We don’t have to stop doing regenerative medicine, even in that specific field, because of what happened. We just have to do things properly.”

De Luca’s next project, a collaboration with scientists at Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital in London, aims to create a functioning oesophagus, the food pipe, from a pig organ that has been decellurised – a process in which all the cells and genetic material are washed away – and lined with human stem cells taken from patients.

Growing skin required scientific ingenuity, but the oesophagus also presents a substantial engineering challenge. The organ comprises a tube of smooth muscle covered by the internal skin, or epithelium. It must be rigid enough to stay open, but be able to contract to squeeze down food, and, without a blood supply, necrosis – or cell death – will set in.


The Senate GOP Accidentally Killed Some of Its Donors’ Favorite Tax Breaks

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The Senate GOP Accidentally Killed Some of Its Donors’ Favorite Tax Breaks
By Eric Levitz
Dec 4 2017

On Friday, Senate Republicans rewrote the American tax code over lunch — and passed their (partially handwritten) legislation around 2 a.m. the following morning.

Mitch McConnell never subjected his blueprint for restructuring the world’s largest economy to a single hearing. His caucus never invited experts to offer insight into the bill’s implications for housing, health care, higher education, outsourcing, or tax evasion. This haste had an upside for the Senate GOP: It allowed the party to pass deeply unpopular changes to the tax code before the public had time to learn about them.

But approaching major legislation like an Adderall-addled sophomore approaches an overdue term paper came with a minor drawback: It forced the party to pass a tax bill before they had time to read it.

In hindsight, McConnell should have asked for an extension. While Republicans were manically outlining their plans to take from the poor to give to the Trumps, they also, accidentally, nullified all of their corporate donors’ favorite deductions.

This screwup — like most of the tax plan’s oddest features — was born of a math problem. Due to arcane Senate rules, the Trump tax cuts can only add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Last Thursday, the Senate tax bill already cost about that sum, and then McConnell started making expensive promises to his few holdouts. Susan Collins wanted a $10,000 property tax deduction for Americans in high-tax states; Ron Johnson wanted a 23 percent business-income deduction for the company that his family owns. This left the Senate Majority Leader searching under the tax code’s couch cushions for new sources of revenue.

Eventually, he came upon the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT). At present, most corporations face a 35 percent (statutory) rate on their income. But by availing themselves of various tax credits and deductions, most companies can get their actual rates down far below that figure. To put a limit on just how far, the corporate AMT prevents companies from paying any less than 20 percent on their profits (or, more precisely, on the profits that they fail to hide overseas).

The GOP had originally intended to abolish the AMT. But on Friday, with the clock running out — and money running short — Senate Republicans put the AMT back into their bill. Unfortunately for McConnell, they forgot to lower the AMT after doing so.

This is a big problem. The Senate bill brings the normal corporate rate down to 20 percent — while leaving the alternative minimum rate at … 20 percent. The legislation would still allow corporations to claim a wide variety of tax credits and deductions — it just renders all them completely worthless. Companies can either take no deductions, and pay a 20 percent rate — or take lots of deductions … and pay a 20 percent rate.

With this blunder, Senate Republicans have achieved the unthinkable: They’ve written a giant corporate tax cut that many of their corporate donors do not like. As The Wall Street Journal reports:


What iPhone X tells us about Apple’s plans for AR glasses

What iPhone X tells us about Apple’s plans for AR glasses
By Darshan Shankar
Nov 22 2017

The iPhone X started shipping last week to the public and while much of the discussion about the phone focused on Face ID, Animoji and the notch, it’s far more interesting to read into what Apple is signaling for the future of iPhone with this device.

It is a glimpse at what will be possible in a few years, and what we’re seeing right now is clearly laying the foundation for Apple’s next big product: Augmented Reality glasses.

The TrueDepth sensor & FaceID is the most advanced facial detection and recognition hardware and software in the world, but what it is capable of today is not as exciting as what it will be capable of tomorrow.

The play

It’s no coincidence that ARKit launched alongside the iPhone X. Apple’s next big platform is AR so by putting it on everything from the iPhone 6 and above it’s now in millions of peoples’ hands — making it the biggest augmented reality platform in the world.

By doing this Apple is building up the content library it needs for a successful platform launch years ahead of showing the world what the device that powers it might look like and gets developers comfortable with the building blocks needed to succeed in a 3D-first world.

Building out ARKit now gives developers time to create killer apps, and some have already launched many compelling real-world demonstrations of its power, like IKEA’s Place app.

This is an unusual departure for Apple. With the iPhone and Apple Watch, SDKs and toolkits were released to developers only after the product was announced. This time, Apple is releasing ARKit a couple years before the anticipated AR glasses.

Take a second to realize the magnitude of the accomplishment here: in a fraction of a second, a tiny device in the palm of your hand can recognize who we are and map our faces onto other objects, and track our emotions.

The real-time motion capture (“mocap”) technology used to map your face in the iPhone X to create Animoji was reserved for big-budget film studios until recently (side note: Apple also owns a company that creates those exact motion effects for the Star Wars franchise).

Apple is now able to accurately map out the details of your unique face in milliseconds, and drop that onto a 3D model, or understand who you are uniquely — perfect for building out a database of people or letting you load on a face filter that makes you look like Darth Vader.

Fast forward a few years from this and put this sensor on a pair of augmented reality glasses: suddenly you can identify the people you’re talking to (or about to) at a meetup or conference.

That data, when used as a ambient data point with machine learning, could remind you: “this is Steve, you met at CES 2021, and he now works at Google” and “this is Sara, who’s birthday is today.”


The Guardian view on threats to the media: man bites watchdog

The Guardian view on threats to the media: man bites watchdog
From physical violence to commercial ruses, the media is under pressure around the world. Winning the support of readers and audiences is essential
By Editorial
Nov 30 2017

“News is what someone wants suppressed; all the rest is advertising.” That maxim is overly reductive – would a medical breakthrough make the cut? – but captures an essential truth. The instinct to share information has always been matched by the instinct to prevent its spread. Andrew Pettegree’s history The Invention of Newsdemonstrates how the sphere evolved over centuries and yet how many current issues are recognisable in its early days: from the blunt use of force by the powerful to the state’s deployment of propaganda dressed up as news and the crude pursuit of business interests.

So the pressures on news are hardly new – but they shrink or swell, and at times these swirling forces can amass to become a perfect storm. A new study says that media freedom around the world has fallen to the lowest level for at least a decade. The report by the freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, working with V-Dem, a political and social database, shows that diversity and independence is under growing threat in democracies such as Brazil and Hungary as well as authoritarian regimes such as China. “Turkish media is under immense pressure from the government, more than at any point in history,” one veteran correspondent told the Guardian. Frequently – as in Turkey, or indeed Cambodia or Poland – this tightening is part of a broader turn towards repression.

The problem is not only one of the state. Governments, officials, organised crime and other powerful interests employ measures ranging from libel suits and commercial ruses through to harsh laws and violence. When Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta, was killed by a car bomb in October it made headlines worldwide. But her case is exceptional for its geography rather than its brutality. Unesco says that on average a journalist is killed every five days for bringing information to the public. New technologies have allowed digital surveillance and brought harassment through social media – sometimes fuelled by political leaders denigrating journalists. If anyone doubts how toxic the atmosphere can become even in a country guaranteeing freedom of the press in its constitution, Walmart’s website has just removed a T-shirt (offered by a third party seller) reading “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED”.

There are other challenges too. In the US there is concern that the rightwing billionaire Koch brothers have agreed to put $650m into Meredith Corp’s purchase of Time. They have a record of huge donations to libertarian causes and groups denying climate change, and of attacking unions and workers’ rights. Meanwhile, the growth of the internet has increased competition – not only from new media organisations, but through the expansion of advocacy or plain propaganda masquerading as journalism. And Russia and China are pumping money into the global expansion of state media, promoting government messages or simply casting doubt on reports in western media. These attempts are – like other challenges – a kind of compliment, however unwelcome. They testify to the impact and necessity of journalism: the powerful will always seek to control the spread of inconvenient information.


Week 55: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.

Week 55: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.
By Amy Siskind
Dec 2 2017

This week marked further erosion to our failing democracy. Attacks on, and deconstruction of our free press is happening at an alarming rate, as conservative billionaires buy up media outlets, some of which are then precipitously shuttered. Republicans in the Senate passed a tax bill whose primary beneficiary will be people like Trump and regime members, without any debate, scoring, hearings, or even a chance for senators to read a bill which impacts one-sixth of the US economy.

This week Trump continued his bigoted attacks on marginalized communities, dividing us at home and embarrassing our country on the world stage. There was disturbing reporting on Trump’s mental health, including his continued belief in conspiracy theories. With events and his actions this week, Trump’s net approval gap (-29) matched an all-time low.

This week was the second bombshell in the Mueller probe, as Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate. Flynn’s testimony in court documents ties in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Flynn’s ongoing cooperation will likely ensnare many higher-ups, including Trump.

• Late Saturday, in retaliation for RT being told to register as a foreign agent in the US, Putin signed a law that allows the Russian government to list any foreign media operating in the country as a foreign agent.
• Late Saturday, Trump tweeted Fox News is “MUCH more important” than CNN in the US, and “CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly.”
• CNN Communications tweeted in response, “It’s not CNN’s job to represent the U.S to the world. That’s yours. Our job is to report the news.”
• Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden slammed Trump: “Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”
• On Sunday, Time Inc. was purchased by Meredith with a $650 million equity investment from the Koch brothers. A former EIC of Time Inc. added of the Koch involvement, “there is no question that it’s a media influence play.”
• On Monday, Trump tweeted attacks at CNN again: “We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted” in their coverage of Trump.
• As per Week 54, Trump’s DOJ sued to block AT&T’s pending merging with Time Warner, saying CNN would need to be spun off first. Per Week 52, Rupert Murdoch has made approaches to AT&T’s CEO to purchase CNN.
• WAPO reported Trump is obsessive in his tv-watching, including using a TiVo. On Monday when he sent the tweet, Trump did not have his daily intelligence briefing, which left him more time to watch television.