Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gloom and Doom from the happiest country on Earth

I will say first that I find it difficult to imagine any rich modern country taking climate change more seriously, or being more eager to take concrete actions to oppose it, than does Denmark. Danish individuals, society and government, including every political party, acknowledge the reality of anthropogentic climate change and the very real dangers it poses to (very flat) Denmark and the world. Danes know that Denmark is too small for a drop in its emissions to make much of a difference, but they seem more than willing to do their part by reducing energy use, subsidizing alternative power sources (etc.) and applying what limited diplomatic influence they have. Denmark is economically comfortable enough to really invest in these things and has both a highly functional government and a populace willing to implement the policies that their leaders decide upon. I am sure there are people in Denmark who disagree, but I haven't met (or even heard of) them. Unlike most countries, they have made their emission reduction targets law (although how such a law is enforced is unclear to me).

Because of the above, not despite it, Denmark convinces me that humanity will rush headlong into global ecological disaster. I say this because if any country has the willingness and ability to implement the policies needed to avoid disaster, it is Denmark, and they are not there. For while Denmark invests in weaning itself off fossil fuels, it also invests very heavily in the fossil fuel industry, notably North Sea oil and gas exploration. The Danish government surely believes, probably correctly, that the will does not exist in the populace to give up on the profits of involvement in the scramble for hydrocarbons. So while Denmark is trying hard not to burn those fuels here in Denmark, it is trying hard to sell them to someone else who will burn them, doing every bit as much to submerge the Danish lowlands (aka Denmark). Danes know this, but like the rest of the world (I'm looking at you Canadian Tar Sands) they seem to feel  (again probably correctly) that if they don't do it someone else (Norway, UK, etc.) will.

So I can imagine a possible future in which all countries have become as convinced as Denmark is that humans are hurtling into climate disaster and need to hit the breaks, and that would be great, but I have trouble imagining that even in such a world this peculiar form of the tragedy of the commons would be escapable. As long as there is demand for fossil fuels, there will always be others who will extract and sell them because if they don't do it someone else will. And there will always be countries who, even if they fully understand the global situation, need inexpensive fuel and will burn those hydrocarbons. And as long as that is the case, no amount of individual turning down of heat and biking to work is going to make a big enough difference to matter. The problem is structural and that structure is disastrously profitable.

Unless, of course, and this is me looking for that ray of hope, other sources of energy rapidly become so much cheaper than fossil fuels that there is just not much profit to be made in extracting oil, coal or gas. In which case, we will be able to say that all those solar panels installed in the gloom of Denmark were not in vain, but were a vote of confidence and a wise subsidy for the development of alternative energy

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

And while I'm on the subject...

In contrast, last week I turned down a request to review.

I replied honestly, "Judging from the abstract, this article is on topics that I know nothing about, and both it and your journal have nothing to do with the subjects of any of my publications. I am surprised you would send it to me. Please don't waste people's time with fake peer-review."

They replied, "Could you suggest a replacement reviewer?"

I replied, "No."

Coming home now

I have been asked to review another paper. It is for a very good journal. I have published with them and thought their editorial office did a good job. It is on a topic I am very interested in and know the literature on quite well. It is a professional responsibility.

I have no time. I have a million projects and papers I am behind on. I have a bunch of papers I could get out relatively quickly if only I had the time, and I really need to get papers out. When I was a kid and my father came home late every night, I swore I would never "accept a bunch of extra work responsibilities just because my colleagues relied on me." My daughter is so damn cute and changing so fast. Every time I see her she says, "I need you Daddy, I need you!" (actually more like, "I ne-Jew Daddy, I ne-Jew!!!"). How can I ignore an adorable two year-old who not only needs me, but tells me so? I can't.

I said yes to the review, because that is what I am supposed to say. I will do it, and do it right. Sigh. But not tonight.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Revisiting the treadmill desk

I am very fond of my home-built treadmill desk, but basically never use it any more. Working at home with a toddler running around is hard enough. Working at home with a toddler attempting to run on the treadmill with me is impossible.

Now that I have had one for a while, and before I get rid of it, a few thoughts on the desirability of treadmill desks.

Pluses: I really could stand and work longer than I can sit without taking a break, and it is surely better for me to stand than to sit most of the time. When I used it for actually walking, rather than just standing, the health benefits surely increased and I found it easy to walk very slowly for hours at a time. Another, somewhat off topic, benefit is that when one needs to run one's toddler and the weather outside is Denmark, toddlers can easily be convinced to run on a treadmill for long enough to get some energy out. (Always hold the toddler's hand while she is on the treadmill so that you can prevent falls.) Before I started biking to campus, there were times when this was a useful tactic before my bedtime also.

Minuses: Achieving a deep focus on a topic is not as easy when walking on a treadmill (at least my cheep treadmill) as when sitting or even walking around. Some part of my mind always has to monitor my position on the treadmill so I don't slide off the back, and the slight bouncing makes both typing a reading a bit slower. I occasionally play a game of chess against the computer in the evening, and I can beat it at a much harder setting if I turn the treadmill off. Editing manuscripts, I inevitably end up turning the treadmill off when I get a point I really need to focus on. As a result, I rarely ended up walking, rather than standing, when doing any task that required speed or more than half a mind.

Sunday, February 02, 2014


I do not know nearly as much statistics as I would like. To put it another way, the marginal benefit of increasing my knowledge of statistics is greater than that of learning more of most other potentially relevant subjects, like chemistry or biophysics. I was therefore very pleased this last week, working with a very good collaborator, to finally understand generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) well enough to be confident that we were building and interpreting our model correctly. That it was a zero-inflated GLMM (ZIGLMM) only added to the fun. And in case you want to ask me anything about GLMM, the best I can tell you is to read lots of things by Ben Bolker,

On a potentially more useful note, finding smart capable kind people to collaborate with makes all the difference.