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Charitable (Mis)givings

The end of the year or start of the new year is when GG decides to catch up on annual giving to his family’s favorite charities.  He has long resisted their attempts to get a free pass to take money out of his bank account every month, but one wonders if there might be a perk–namely, a lot fewer mailings with large type on the envelope about MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL ENCLOSED or DON’T LET YOUR MEMBERSHIP EXPIRE.  There is something profoundly ironic about organizations that nominally are out there to protect the environment sending enough junk mail to give the mail carrier a hernia.

Now GG doesn’t want to forget his favorite charities when he finally pulls out the checkbook to write an annual donation, so he dutifully plops each new missive in a stack with the older ones. And now, pulling them all out and sorting them, it becomes clear that some organizations assume we all suffer from profound mailing-attention-deficit disorder, or, um, MADDer. When the stack of mail is high enough to create avalanches that launch cats up the stairs, you know some of these organizations really need to reexamine their priorities.

Here is GG’s take: the more mail a charity can send, the less it needs GG’s support. Keep putting that lowest value checkbox a full $100 over last year’s donation? Watch as GG discovers the little blank space where you can write in your own amount–which will likely be the same as last year or even lower. So, charity fund raisers, a suggestion: Don’t run your organization like a spambot.  One renewal request is plenty; if a month or two later you don’t hear back, another request is fine.  More than that? Well, I know I’ll be hearing from you again soon, so maybe I’ll just toss all the requests in the recycle bin (and yes, GG has done this with at least one annoying charity).

So who wins the title for least obnoxious? For GG, it is a three-way tie: The League To Save Lake Tahoe, Sequoia Parks Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Conservancy.  Bravo, gang: only one notice in the past year each. You get the first checks, when GG still has a positive bank balance and a more generous outlook.  Close behind were Meals on Wheel Boulder (2 notices) and Community Food Share (3 notices). And for your assumption GG is not in need of near-daily reminders that he gave you money (or apples, in Community Food Share’s case) last year, you also get links from this blog post.

The worst? How about an organization that acts as a consumer watchdog, that is always decrying misleading advertising and yet chooses to entice you to donate to them with prize drawings? Yes, it is the Consumer Reports Foundation (which is hard to pry apart from the magazine).  Maybe their idea of subtlety has been distorted by looking at so much advertising nonsense. A couple of national environmental groups are close behind.

Something you might notice: the smaller charities with very specific goals aren’t so pesky.  Larger national groups seem more eager to inundate donors with mad alerts, upcoming renewal deadlines, renewal deadlines, “did you forget to renew” pleas, donate now for matching opportunity, special opportunity, special challenge, limited time special offer, or free gift inside! So maybe you too want to notice just how much attention your mailbox gets from the charities you like. (And as a reminder, for those national groups it is certainly worth looking through sites like CharityWatch to see if the cause is as good as it seems).

Political Review of Science Is Here

Now things are getting really interesting in the U.S. government. The administration has decided that there needs to be a political review of grants coming from the Department of the Interior (DOI) so that grant moneys will “better align with the Secretary’s priorities” (The memo was obtained by the Washington Post,  which also has an article on this). (This follows a similar effort at EPA). And what might those be? Ah, there’s a detailed list, with things like “Utilizing our natural resources” and “Restoring trust with local communities”. This appears to be a new thing:

‘“Subjugating Congress’ priorities to 10 of the Secretary’s own priorities is arrogant, impractical and, in some cases, likely illegal,” said [David J.] Hayes, executive director of the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.’-Washington Post article.

Now some of these points sound perfectly fine: “Utilize science to identify best practices to manage land and water resources and adapt to changes in the environment,” for instance, though the devil is in what “changes to the environment” you are willing to anticipate. Tribes would be happy to hear that their sovereignty is to be enhanced, not that the Four Corners tribes feel that way after the reductions to Bears Ears National Monument.

Then there are things that may sound like one thing and might mean another.  For instance, “Ensure that Endangered Species Act decisions are based on strong science and thorough analysis.” Keep in mind that this document is about approving grants to external groups that do not make policy decisions. So precisely how would such a policy statement be applied to a grant application? Is a political appointee to decide whether an application to say, study the population of a potentially endangered species is “strong science” or not, perhaps overruling whatever peer-review system was in place? Is this the DOI version of the HONEST act’s intent?

And we might be leaving ambiguity behind with another point: “Ensure American Energy is available to meet our security and economic needs” sure sounds like “Drill, baby, drill.” Does this mean that U.S. Geological Survey research or grants under the National Earthquake Hazards Research Program (NEHRP) that address induced earthquakes will now be denied because they might lead to reductions in petroleum production? Frankly, this doesn’t seem very far-fetched after industry leaned on the Oklahoma government to question the role of wastewater injection in the increase in  seismicity there a few years back. Or after this administration shut down a National Academy study into health risks near surface coal mining sites.

Frankly this is a below-board effort to lobotomize the science DOI solicits. If the administration feels it is empowered to not seek scientific input or research on certain topics, they can openly change the requests for proposals. It will be interesting to see what grants or cooperative agreements get canned under this process, but the mere presence of a political check is apt to skew the grant applications that go in as scientists self-censor things they suspect won’t pass muster. Its hard enough these days to get past the scientific peer-review; adding another hurdle–one vague enough to kill almost anything–doesn’t encourage scientific inquiry. And so our government continues to turn a deaf ear to science. Good luck with that.

Making America Less Great

When President Trump signaled that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, the new President of France, Emmanuel Macron, offered to bring climate scientists to France to “make our planet great again.” He has delivered on that promise, luring 12 American climate scientists to go to France to continue their research under five year grants from the French government. [All the press reports say 13 US scientists, but GG only finds 12 with a current US affiliation and hasn’t figured out the 13th.  Maybe Camille Parmesan, a Texan who is a UK Professor? If you count that way, then several non-U.S. natives should not be counted as U.S. losses. You can count for yourself at the Science story]. Another 6 scientists come from other countries. While this upsets some French academics, who feel their higher education system needs more money (translated), the list of the 12 leaving the US–and their reasons–suggest that US science may be facing serious headwinds. This is a little different than typical grant applications in that the winners are relocating to France: this definitely represents a loss to the U.S. science community. The names of the 18 heading to France are in Science report, but GG wanted to see who was moving and what they had to say about it. Two are coming from CIRES, the research institute where GG is a Fellow, another from CU, and a fourth from Boulder’s NCAR, so the Boulder address of more than a fifth of the global haul here speaks to the visibility of the climate community here.

There are two ways to look at this list.  One is that only one tenured professor has gone for this (Derry, from Cornell) and only a couple senior research scientists, so established talent by and large remains.  Several NOAA-affiliated research scientists, including a couple of fairly senior people, will be leaving, but the rest are largely junior soft-money researchers or postdocs. So the U.S. isn’t necessarily seeing a mass migration of the very best.

But this does point out that the soft money postdoc purgatory is well stocked with capable scientists with a global profile, and these folks might never return. Worse, that so many have applied underscores the growing perception that the future of climate research in the U.S. is bleak. Freeing these researchers for five years of funding guarantees that instead of spending time writing numerous grant applications, they can focus on bigger, tougher problems than they can in the current U.S. system. If, as many in Congress like to say, STEM capability is important to the nation, then this is a warning shot across the bow that the U.S. will fall back if it continues to erode support for science.

The 12 with U.S. affiliations, with a few quotes: Read More…

Meeting Survival

Sorry to have left loyal readers in the lurch without a dose of grumpiness for awhile–been taking the show on the road the past couple of weeks.

Presently though at the Geological Society of America conference, which means it is time to try to get through one of these meetings without going either broke or insane.

Now, if you have a grant where you actually budgeted for the real cost of the meeting and you aren’t trying to stretch that money to cover two meetings and an extra week of field work, stop here.  This isn’t for you, you lucky dog.

The rest of us find ourselves in meeting hotels that are usually insanely expensive but, thanks to the group rate from the meeting organizers, are merely expensive. What is amazing is just how expensive they can be after you’ve already paid for the room: of course there is the honor bar (“honor”–yeah, right, that is why they installed a frigging weight sensor in the fridge to charge you if you lift anything out). Gotta love that $20 mini bottle of wine–nothing says desperate than drinking a small bottle of grossly overpriced hotel wine from the honor bar while alone. And there is the little place in the lobby to buy things at only slightly under honor bar prices, or the gift store with fine and tastefully lacquered beer steins with pictures of the host city on them for a mere $50. For parents, nothing says “I love you, my child” more than a $15 hotel gift store pencil case with the corporate logo on it (unless it is the little bouncy balls some of the booths in the expo give away for free).

But while the rest of the world has decided that free wifi and a complementary breakfast should be part of nearly every American hotel stay costing more than about $60, here in the land of the $250 room (if you are so lucky), there is not so much as complementary mint at the front desk (well, ok, GG sees a Dasani on the desk here with a note claiming its free–but you know what? Can you really trust that its free?). Unless the meeting has arranged free wifi, be ready to drop a sawbuck a day on an internet connection (or plan to frequent local coffee houses that will let you use their wifi for the cost of a cup of joe–sorry, in Seattle now, PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE), or join the ranks of your peers plopped on the edges of corridors in the meeting area like the street people cadging quarters outside the facility while the glom off the free meeting internet).

Heaven help you if you brought a car.  That goes double if you rented it.

Then there is the actual reason you are here: the meeting.  Younger attendees wonder why the graybeards they are trying to meet are so hard to find, and the answer is that they have strategies to avoid the meeting except near their invited talks or when there is an NSF program officer available to strong arm. They’ve learned that a four or five day meeting is enough to send the strongest to a week of recovery in a spa.

With all of that, here are GG’s suggestions for surviving a professional meeting with a minimum of financial and mental damage.

Read More…

When numbers lie

Quick pointer to a web posting about an article that gained a lot of attention (and so really good metrics) by being really bad. A good reminder that numbers of citations need not reflect any intrinsic quality.

Take me back to Ahwahnee…

A curious op-ed in the New York Times on Yosemite.  Curious because it points in one direction for a long time before suddenly screeching to a stop and pointing in another. Leveraging off of the controversy over Confederate monuments and the renaming of some park facilities necessary during a court battle, Daniel Duane recounts the sad history of Native Americans in California in general and in the valley in particular. Readers can anticipate the point: we should abandon the Euro-Americanisms in the park and revert to names the Ahwahneechee used. And indeed he reaches this point only to ask the descendants and relatives of these people what should be done.  Their recommendation: get federal recognition for the tribe and cut back on visitation. “Renaming, [Bill Leonard, a descendent of Tenaya] said, ‘is not going to make us feel any better or more important — the reality is, most of us could care less what they call things.'” You get the feeling Duane was asked by some reader or editor to ask these people about their views (much as interviews with descendants of slaves and Confederate generals have appeared) and was given an answer kind of at odds with the thrust of the piece, which he dutifully tacked on.

Anyways, the summary of injustices is fair (Duane fortunately relies on a couple of pretty appropriate references) and something more Americans should be aware of. But he kind of lets the Park Service off the hook, hiding their role behind more generic labels of “park officials” and the “federal government.” Pre-1906 management of the valley by the state allowed the Ahwahneechee to stay in the valley, and while demands for inappropriate “Indian” shows and their menial position in Yosemite Park contrasts with what should have been their place as owners and proprietors of the valley, they were at least considered to be legitimate residents of the place. Federal management systematically marginalized and removed Native Americans; that management was, after 1916, the Park Service. There is something disturbing to most Americans to realize that one of the most highly thought-of groups of public servants did in fact behave in such a manner. And it is distressing to many who call the national parks “America’s Greatest Idea” to recognize that it was prefaced on the exclusion of the peoples who had been there first.

Duane also takes a hesitant slap at John Muir, and here GG asks a bit of forgiveness for delving a bit deeper.   Read More…


Geologists have for a long, long time been telling people not to build things in certain places.  Barrier islands? They move and evolve, which means property comes and goes. Not good.  Floodplains? They, um, get flooded.  Landslides? Only if you want a mobile home with a mobile yard. Sometimes we get heard, but usually we don’t. And the more subtle stuff, like recognizing how paving large areas can make floods worse? Lots of luck there. Doesn’t matter if the communities are rich or poor, building in bad places seems a national habit.

Maybe that is changing.

Even as the national media seems to just be noting that flood insurance is encouraging building in vulnerable spots, Politico has a big story on Louisiana’s program to consider how some communities will be forced to move and how to prepare to absorb that exodus as it occurs. For the Grumpy Geophysicist, this is a moment of actual hope, a ray of sunshine in the currently clouded over world of using science to guide public policy. [If you want more darkness, consider that politicians are rewarded for disaster relief and not disaster preparedness.]

The basic point is that people don’t like getting hammered by really bad weather (you know, like floods).  And so they leave–and this isn’t typically a slow migration but instead a real wave of refugees from hurricanes or floods or other such unpleasantries. They don’t often go really far away, so neighboring communities suddenly are flooded with people. There are two main forks to preparing for this: one is to try and get the vulnerable communities to start to think about how they will evolve in the face of the next storm, and the other is for those neighboring communities to prepare for the eventual migration of their neighbors. The state is actively trying to do this kind of work.

While there are uncertainties in our future, there are a few things that will happen.  There will be sea level rise.  There will be bigger rainfall events. These are both so clearly tied to the basic physics of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere that there really is no avoiding them; the best we can do now on that side of the ledger is to try and keep the magnitudes lower than they might otherwise be (and some areas also see land subsidence, which is unrelated to global warming but also causes problems). So we need to prepare, which means surrendering land we cannot defend and defending land we dare not surrender.

That Louisiana is starting to consider this landscape triage may just mean we’ve moved off the “we will rebuild it” mantra of the past century. As the article makes clear, this won’t be easy–but it should be much better than letting the chaos of the next disaster drive change.