There are some interesting and important things happening besides the meltdown of Obama’s foreign policy. The journal Nature reports on a brand new mathematical proof about one of the major lingering issues of number theory—something known as the abc conjecture. I can’t begin to summarize the short explanation Nature offers (I imagine that among Power Line’s superb readership there is someone more astute in advance mathematics than me who might give it a try), but it involves relationships among the all-important prime numbers. But one needn’t grasp the fine points of advanced math, it seems to me, to marvel over the fact that we still confront some basic mysteries involving whole numbers. It’s almost as if . . .
Meanwhile, over on the Almanac of Environmental Trends website (where I’m waaaay behind in updating the current data sets and analysis—another fall project of mine), I’ve frequently noted the large gaps and inadequacies in our data about environmental conditions in the U.S., let alone the rest of the world. Of course, this is actually the way environmentalists like it; they have a vested interest in ignorance, and most of the major environmental groups have opposed proposals in Congress to create a Bureau of Environmental Statistics in the EPA analogous to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or the Bureau of Education Statistics in the DoE, or the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the DoJ. This is one reason I refer to the environmental movement as a backwards, intellectually brain-dead, know-nothing movement. (But don’t forget: it’s only Republicans who are against science.)
The Economist reported recently on a new effort that may remedy some of the gaps in our facts: the establishment of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). It seems that the supposedly anti-science House of Representatives committed $434 million to the project:
Eventually, 60 places across the country will be covered simultaneously. Once this network is completed, in 2016 if all goes well, 15,000 sensors will be collecting more than 500 types of data, including temperature, precipitation, air pressure, wind speed and direction, humidity, sunshine, levels of air pollutants such as ozone, the amount of various nutrients in soils and streams, and the state of an area’s vegetation and microbes.
Crucially, these instruments will take the same measurements in the same way in every place. By gathering data in this standardised way, and doing so in many places and over long periods of time, Dr Schimel hopes to achieve the statistical power needed to turn ecology from a craft into an industrial-scale enterprise. The idea is to see how ecosystems respond to changes in climate and land use, and to the arrival of new species. That will let the team develop models which can forecast the future of an ecosystem and allow policymakers to assess the likely consequences of various courses of action.
I predict this is going to put a lot of environmental scaremongers out of business, and may help place the currently dysfunctional process of assessing environmental impacts on a more firm and consistent basis. Most likely, many environmentalists will simply ignore this effort. I usually find I know a lot more about environmental data sources than most environmentalists I meet. It’s actually embarrassing sometimes.