Photo: Lucas Foglia
Tim Ferriss is a self-made lab rat. The author and entrepreneur has been subjecting himself to audacious experiments in physical training and nutrition since high school. In perhaps the most extreme undertaking, he packed on 34 pounds of muscle while dropping 3 pounds of fat in 28 days. He recounts his adventures in a new book, The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, a title he reverse-engineered from data he collected from the clickstream and Twitterverse.
The book is a sequel of sorts to his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek. Aimed at young men curious about wealth, leisure, and foreign travel, Workweek was rejected by some 26 publishers before Crown took a chance on it. Its viral mix of anything-is-possible enthusiasm and practical productivity tips turned out to be the formula for a publishing phenomenon—it’s still riding best-seller lists more than three years after it hit bookstores.
Now, in The 4-Hour Body, Ferriss, 33, turns to an entirely different set of keywords: weight loss, muscle gain, sperm count, and female orgasm. Wired asked contributing editor Gary Wolf—cofounder of the Quantified Self, a blog about self-tracking and self-experimentation—to interrogate Ferriss about his history as an n-of-1 guinea pig, his experience with performance-enhancing drugs, and his faith in heretical recipes for radical self-improvement.
Wired: When did you start experimenting on yourself?
Tim Ferriss: When I was a competitive wrestler in high school, I was prone to overheating. So I had to find ways to dissipate heat. Manipulating hydration was really my starting point.
Wired: Did you diet a lot?
Ferriss: In my senior year, I cut from between 175 and 178 to 152 twice a week. I did it by pure dehydration. You have to be careful with that, because you can have organs fail if you go about it the wrong way. I don’t recommend it.
Wired: How did you learn about these dark arts? I mean, you’re a teenage wrestler. Did your coach clue you in?
Ferriss: No, my only help came from other wrestlers who themselves had tested the methods of previous wrestlers. When you have good data, such as pound-per-hour loss rates, you can learn quickly through trial and error. I also read a lot about electrolyte balance. I wanted to find out what was just below the threshold of life-threatening.
Wired: How far did you take it?
Ferriss: By the time I was 21, I had refined the approach, and I was using diuretics as well. I cut about 20 pounds to compete in the kickboxing nationals; then, after weighing in, I hyper-hydrated. I weighed in at 165, and the next day I stepped onto the platform at 193. It was pretty funny. My first opponent stepped onto the mat and started looking around because he thought he was on the wrong platform. He was like, this can’t be right! I won a gold medal.
Wired: Diuretics aren’t banned?
Ferriss: Yes, in many cases they are. Not only because of their weight-loss effects but also because they can mask other drugs. In any event, at the higher levels of athletics this sort of thing is the rule rather than the exception. In any sport where power, speed, or endurance is a determining factor, everyone is using drugs.
Wired: You got your start with this stuff in the ’90s, just as the shadow world of performance-enhancing drugs seemed to be hitting the mainstream. It looks like you were able to stand on the border of those two worlds.
Ferriss: There are a lot of things that can be learned from the darker corners of athletics. You have doctors who view bodybuilders as cavalier amateurs of science. And then you have the bodybuilders who view the doctors as too conservative to do anything interesting. So I’ve tried to become the middleman for putting some of those pieces together.
Wired: Aside from the diuretics, what were you into in those days?
Ferriss: The cocktail that I began experimenting with was ephedrine plus caffeine plus aspirin. Basically, you’re hitting the accelerator.
Wired: These are all over-the-counter drugs.
Ferriss: Ephedrine was for a long time. But people were using it to manufacture methamphetamine, so they started blending it with other drugs to make that harder to do. But I don’t recommend it anyway. There’s an entire generation of male strength and endurance athletes, even recreational lifters, who have never gotten off the ephedrine-caffeine-aspirin stack. The process of getting off stimulants is really horrible. I’m more cautious now. Hey, um [pulling a bottle of pills and a plastic pouch of fine powder from a paper bag], I brought you some goodies. I don’t know what the law is governing these, so let’s say I’m giving them to you for visual reference only.
Wired: OK, right.
Ferriss: God knows I don’t want to be accused of “intent to distribute.”
In the Lab With
The 4-Hour Body is a lab report on more than a decade of diet, exercise, and sexual trials that Tim Ferriss carried out on himself. Here are some highlights.
To test the effect of cholesterol consumption on his lipid profile, Ferriss adopted a diet that provided almost 100 percent of his calories from beef and mixed nuts for three weeks.
Eating 2 to 4 pounds of grass-fed meat per day.
The meat-and-nut “reverse cleanse” reduced his cholesterol levels. It also helped triple his testosterone level.
To prove that the food he ate could be turned into muscle instead of fat, he spent 28 days trying to put on as much muscle mass as possible (without using steroids).
Methodically measuring his feces volume to test how well his nutritional supplements were working.
Ferriss gained 34 pounds of lean muscle and lost 3 pounds of flab in four weeks, dropping his total body fat percentage from 16.72 to 12.23.
To determine which meals were likely to add body fat and to assess the optimal timing for food intake around athletic activities, he had a device implanted in his side that tracked his blood glucose for three to four weeks.
The protruding sensor made it hard to shower. He also had to prick his fingers 20 to 30 times a day to draw blood for parallel tests to verify the device’s output.
Lots of nutritional insight. For example, it’s best to have a “post-workout” shake 20 minutes before hitting the gym.
To see if he could undo his athletic injuries of the previous 13 years—effectively restoring his body to that of a 20-year-old—in part by injecting a cocktail of his own refined blood, insulin-like growth factor 1, and stem cell growth factors flown in from Israel.
A “stupid and completely avoidable” staph infection in his elbow, caused by a botched injection, that required emergency surgery.
It took longer than expected, but after six months, he actually reversed the effects of all his major injuries. Most of the benefit came from physical therapy, not drugs.
To find a precise and replicable method for generating orgasms in women, he enlisted the help of tantric specialists, “sex commune” instructors, and porn stars, among others.
Finding enough willing subjects to adequately test his hypotheses.
After much diligent fieldwork, he hit on a technique capable of producing orgasms lasting up to 15 minutes. He says that it’s effective more than 95 percent of the time.
Wired: [Examining the bottle.] Good old piracetam. I wrote about these so-called smart drugs in the early ’90s. I’m still skeptical.
Ferriss: The pouch is micronized resveratrol, which you can’t buy over the counter.
Wired: Where did you get it?
Ferriss: I got it directly from the manufacturer. Resveratrol is fascinating stuff. One of the best sources of information about it is the Immortality Institute. They have a forum where some people are in the 500 Club, as they call it. They’ve been taking 500 milligrams for years. It’s a really great source of data.
Wired: Do you take it?
Ferriss: Not anymore. There’s anecdotal reports of joint pain, and I ended up having incredible pain in my elbows and lesser pain in my knees.
Wired: What do you think is the most dangerous experiment that you tried for The 4-Hour Body?
Ferriss: I had a chemical cocktail injected to reverse injuries. It included BMP, bone morphogenetic protein, and there’s a risk of it fusing your vertebrae. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have included that.
Wired: There’s a long section on sexual performance in the new book, where you get hands-on instruction on what you call “facilitating” female orgasm. Why did you want to include this?
Ferriss: This book is entirely a product of polling and asking people what they want to learn about. When you try to find out about female orgasm, you get into a lot of misinformation really quickly. Separating fact from fiction is really hard. So I figured, why not just do the tests? Sex is so key to quality of life. The way it’s discussed is always vague because we live in a puritanical society. I mean, they won’t show nipples in advertisements, so they’re definitely not going to talk about the anatomy of the clitoris.
Wired: There’s a shortage of sex advice?
Ferriss: I think most of the sexual advice out there is bullshit. It’s based on a book that was influenced by a book that was influenced by a book. There’s no testing. The sex is right in the subtitle of my book, and most people jump right to that section.
Wired: Speaking of testing, I assume you market-tested the title of the book?
Ferriss: Oh yeah, with about 4,000 people, in three separate rounds. Testing is how I ended up with the title of The 4-Hour Workweek as well. That was one of about 12 titles I tested using Google AdWords. I bid on keywords or phrases associated with the book content, like “world travel,” “401K,” etc. And then the ads that were displayed had the title of the book as the headline and the subtitle as the ad text. And then I just looked at the clickthrough rates.
Wired: What was on the pages when people clicked through?
Ferriss: Nothing—just “under construction.”
Wired: I have to tell you, The 4-Hour Workweek did nothing to reduce my workweek. In fact, I took the title as pure provocation. You know, if you’d said, “Improve your work efficiency by reducing the time you spend on email,” OK, that’s more plausible—if less interesting. I read the book. I still work a lot.
Ferriss: The basic premise was gaining control of your time so that you can reduce your hours to a volume that you want. For most people, life would be boring without meaningful work.
Wired: I see the same thing in The 4-Hour Body. Lots of people want to become superhuman without putting in any effort. To be honest, when I see a title like that, I say, “Bullshit.”
Ferriss: I’d respond the same way. And it’s going to be shelved between The Five-Minute Solution and—whatever—The Four-Week Solution.
Wired: Right. I have a book I bought out of perverse admiration called The One Minute Father. I thought, I need to have that book around just to use it as an example of things I hate. But The 4-Hour Body actually isn’t like that. It’s a big, thick book full of nonobvious advice, written by somebody who’s been on a dangerous mission of self-discovery. I’m not necessarily going to follow your advice, but I’m interested in what you’ve discovered.
Ferriss: Look, the titles are just about getting people’s attention. Whether they say, “Wow, that sounds really interesting,” or “That guy’s full of shit”—as long as they pick up the book or click on the link, I don’t care.
Wired: You discuss polyphasic sleep: Rather than sleeping six to nine hours at a time, we’re supposed to take, like, 20-minute naps every four hours. Do you really think this works?
Ferriss: I have never been able to do with less than six hours a day for more than four weeks. But I know several tech CEOs who have used similar schedules for approximately a year before social needs intervened.
Wired: One of your footnotes points to an analysis that debunks polyphasic sleep. So, what’s your bottom line?
Ferriss: One of my goals is to catalyze an army of good self-experimenters; part of my job is therefore to train readers to do their own homework. Richard Feynman famously remarked, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”
Photo: Lucas Foglia
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Cory Doctorow at 6:19 AM Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010
Paul Pierson and Jacob S. Hacker's Winner-Take-All Politics is a fascinating attempt to explain the broadening gap between the rich and the poor in America. Starting with the orthodox economist's view that political action -- laws, policies and regulation -- are insufficient to explain the enormous gains made by the richest Americans and the falling away of the rest of the pack (especially the decline in the fortunes of the middle- and upper-middle-classes), Piersen and Hacker take a much closer look at the politics of wealth distribution.
What follows is a number-dense (but highly readable) fine-tooth-comb examination of the policies that effect the wealth of the super-rich -- the 1% and higher whose share of America's wealth has ballooned to kleptocratic heights since the 1970s. In this close-up view, the authors uncover the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways in which Congress tilted the playing field.
Mostly, this consists of creatively doing nothing: for example, not pegging the minimum wage to inflation, but inflation-indexing the alternative minimum tax (which means that the workforce whose labor provides wealth to the nation's CEOs take an inflationary pay-cut every year, while the middle-class find their taxes creeping up as they enter the AMT bracket thanks to inflation). Or, more simply, not passing new regulations to account for newly discovered tax loopholes such as the one that allows billionaire hedge-fund managers to pay a mere 15% tax (a lower rate than that paid by their janitors) or the notorious Silicon Valley stock-option dodge.
Of course, there's also active measures that Congress can take to widen the rich/poor gap: starving the IRS, or "rationalizing" the Alternative Minimum Tax such that the middle classes (and the merely wealthy) are taxed at a higher rate to pay for tax-cuts to pay for the hyper-rich.
Piersen and Hacker don't look at what rules (or lack thereof) changed America's finances. They also want to know how the politics of America changed to make strategic inaction and action possible -- and here their account is every bit as compelling as in their economic analysis. They trace the shift in American politics to the rise of TV-based election campaigning, which favors parties who have money for expensive media campaigns (and hence those who have access to corporate donations) over parties who can mobilize doorbell ringers (e.g. parties with the support of organized labor).
This shift is the first in a series of dominoes whose fall Piersen and Hacker detail, shifts such as the rise of an activist, super-conservative Republican party, the changes in organized evangelical protestantism, the growth of the astroturf industry and so on. For the authors, "it's the economy, stupid!" is incomplete -- "it's the economy and politics, stupid!"
This is one of those books that feels like it made me smarter, like it connected things I didn't connect before.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sending settlement letters to accused Internet movie pirates has become big business in the US this year, but a new class action lawsuit seeks to put the brakes on one of the main "settlement fraud and extortion" outfits: the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver.
Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver (DGW) is a Virginia law firm that set up shop last year as the "US Copyright Group," and it has sued the people behind 16,000 IP addresses for sharing indie films on file-sharing networks. Those accused are given the chance to settle for $1,500 or $2,500 before being sued by name, though to date no such named lawsuits have been filed.
Dmitrity Shirokov was one of those charged with sharing the video game-inspired film Far Cry, and he responded late last week to DGW's settlement letter with a lawsuit of his own. It charges DGW with racketeering, copyright misuse, unjust enrichment, and fraud, and it demands that a judge stop the "scheme" and force DGW to reimburse everyone who has settled in the case so far. In addition, Shirokov wants punitive damages.
The suit makes two key claims. First up: that DGW lied to the Copyright Office when it registered the Far Cry copyright on behalf of German filmmaker Uwe Boll. Such registrations are highly desirable; without them, a rightsholder can recover only actual damages instead of the huge statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. But registrations should be made within 90 days of "publication," and Far Cry appeared in US theaters In October 2008 and on US DVDs in April 2009. DGW did not register the copyright until January 2010, however, claiming that Far Cry had not been published in the US until November 2009.
Once the US Copyright Office granted the registration, DGW filed its lawsuits and tried to uncover the names behind the IP addresses.
"The false claims in Achte’s copyright registration and court filings share one purpose: to enable DGW/USCG to obtain the contact information of alleged infringers," says the complaint. "Using that information, Defendants have been able to make further fraudulent claims and extortionate threats directly to the proposed Class members, through their Letters and their settlement websites."
Shirokov contends the entire registration was fraudulent.
But there's a second, related issue. Even if the registration is valid, it was issued on January 19, 2010—but most of the infringement accusations predate January 19. The result, according to the complaint, is that most of the cases could only be brought for actual damages, and the Far Cry DVD was sold for no more than $26.99 (this argument would appear to ignore issues about further distribution). Yet the settlement letters to all defendants seem to demand at least $1,500.
"USCG, DGW, and [German film producer] Achte have a direct financial incentive to avoid settling claims in the amount of any actual damages Achte may have incurred, which (at some fraction of $26.99) would be more than 50 times lower than the settlement offer it has presented to members of the proposed Class," says the complaint, which then indulges in a bit of legal humor. "$26.99 is a far cry from $1,500."
The settlement letters are thus said to be misleading because they refer to huge statutory damage penalties that people might face if they don't settle up, and because they reference things like the Joel Tenenbaum $675,000 P2P verdict—but without noting that a judge has already slashed that amount as being unconstitutional. According to Shirokov, the idea is merely to scare the accused into paying up. Or, as the complaint puts it, DGW is all about "frightening and intimidating Letter recipients into hasty settlements under false pretenses."
At 96 pages, the complaint is enormous and packed full of accusations. Among them: the common complaint that DGW has no plans to bring named lawsuits at all, since "the small number of attorneys at DGW belies any claim that it honestly intends to pursue full-blown litigation against any more than a small fraction of the John Doe defendants."
The complaint, filed in Massachusetts, requests class action status and would encompass all 4,576 defendants in the Far Cry case, though it would not apply to DGW's other cases.
Brett Arends' ROI
Nov. 22, 2010, 6:59 p.m. EST
The truth about California
Commentary: Maligned state is actually saving the rest of us
By Brett Arends, MarketWatch
BOSTON (MarketWatch) — Can everyone please stop talking total nonsense about the California budget?
I know that facts and truth seem to be optional these days. I know that in the exciting new world of infinite media everyone can choose to believe whatever fantasies they want. But in the case of California, it’s getting on my nerves.
Last week Chris Whalen, the high-profile analyst at Institutional Risk Analytics, caused a stir by arguing California was going to default on its debts.
California as Lindsay Lohan
Opinion Journal's Allysia Finley argues that California is suffering from spending addiction like an out-of-control starlet.
“I think they’re going to default… I think eventually the debt will have to be haircut,” he told Henry Blodget, the former dot-com analyst and now editor of Business Insider. “I don’t think the Republican Congress is going to sign on for a bailout of California.” Default was “inevitable,” Whalen added, and suggested Sacramento might have to start issuing its own currency.
Alarming stuff. But when I e-mailed Whalen, asking him for specific calculations, none were forthcoming.
“My general comments have to do with my guess as to the impact of mounting foreclosures and flat to down GDP on state revenues,” Whalen replied.
Do the math
Your guess? These are important problems, to be sure. But do you have any actual numbers?
“Revenues fall and mandates rise to the sky,” he wrote. “You do the math.”
Er, no, actually. It’s your assertion. You do the math.
Whalen blamed the matter on Blodget.
“I am a bank analyst,” he wrote. “I have not written anything on this. My comments have taken on a life all their own… This is all Henry’s fault. Call him.”
Some prediction. Meanwhile Blodget chimed in on the e-mail exchange: “It’s a bold prediction! Don’t back down now!”
Bah. Welcome to the media world in 2010.
But this is hardly an isolated case. California bashing is everywhere these days — especially since Californians had the temerity not to vote Republican a few weeks ago.
You’ve probably heard a variant of the following storyline:
California is a basket case. The Greece of America. Decades of crazy liberalism and runaway spending have crippled the economy. Wealth creators are fleeing in droves. The people left are spending themselves into rack and ruin. They can’t balance their budget, once again, so they are asking the rest of us for a bailout. And they even voted for Jerry Brown, a Democrat! It’s time we said enough is enough. No bailout for California! And get out of their muni bonds while you can — they’re going to default.
It’s persuasive. You can hear it anywhere. But it’s total hogwash. You might just as well believe that California is inhabited by pixies from the planet Mars, or that the budget problem in Sacramento has been caused by a giant sea monster destroying downtown San Diego.
It’s not just slightly wrong. It’s almost totally wrong.
California’s a basket case? The state has one of the highest living standards in the country, yet over the past 10 years the economy has still grown much faster, per person, than the national average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, it’s up 15% — compared to 8.9% for the U.S. overall.
It’s grown faster than low tax neighbors like Arizona, Utah or New Mexico. It’s grown three times faster than Texas.
And this was from 1999 through 2009: In other words from the peak of the dot-com years through the depths of the recession. It managed this growth despite the double blows of the tech and housing busts.
Most of the states that have grown faster than California during that time are farm states, riding an incredible boom in agriculture prices.
Back in the Silicon Valley glory days, in the late 1990s, California attracted an incredible 42 cents of every venture capital dollar invested in America. Ah, those were the days — when the private sector was still willing to back California with its own money. As any conservative will tell you, that’s the real voting in the economy.
How far has California fallen from those giddy days?
According to the latest data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, in 2010 California just got a miserable, er, 50 cents of every venture capital dollar invested in America.
That’s right. Venture capitalists are putting a bigger share of their money into California today than they were in 1999. Wow. What a failed state. What a basket case. Will the last person left please turn out the lights?
Don’t expect to read about this at the far-right Manhattan Institute or the National Review. Don’t expect to read a column about it from George Will anytime soon.
Are wealth creators fleeing? I keep hearing this. Did Apple Inc. and Google Inc. just relocate to Oklahoma? Is Twitter being run from Alabama? When Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard to run Facebook full-time, did he open shop in “low cost” Utah?
During the past decade, one of the biggest reasons its residents left California was simply because of the astronomical cost of housing.
Now let’s talk about taxes. This is where the lies really earn a Ph.D — as in “piled high and deep.”
The best study of state and local tax burdens comes from the venerable Tax Foundation, an independent non-profit that’s been acting as a taxpayers’ watchdog in Washington since 1937. The Tax Foundation is non-partisan, but by the nature of what it does it leans politically to the right.
According to them, as of 2008 (the most recent year analyzed) state and local taxes in the average state came to about 9.7% of the annual state economy.
What was it in crazy, liberal, communistical, socialistical, un-American, soviet-style California?
That’s right. The burden was all of 0.8 percentage points higher than the average.
Paging Leon Trotsky!
In the late 1990s, when California was riding high, it was...10.6%. Thirty years ago, when even Meg Whitman thought it was a wonderful place to work, start a family, and hire an illegal immigrant to raise your kids, it was...10.1%.
You will occasionally hear horror stories about “public sector teachers” in places like “San Francisco” (shudder) earning, say, $100,000 a year.
I’ve never understood why it’s wrong for a teacher to earn a good salary. The same people who wouldn’t blink at the news that a Wall Street banker made $20 million anthraxing our economy is horrified that a teacher makes $100,000. But even putting that issue aside, it’s worth remembering that wages are higher in San Francisco for a very simple reason.
It costs more to live there. A lot more.
According to the authoritative ACCRA cost of living index, a $100,000 income in San Francisco will only buy you the same living standard as a $55,000 salary in places like Austin, Texas, or Little Rock, Arkansas. Do we hear horror stories about teachers in Texas earning $55,000 a year?
But if you think the lies stop there, think again. Because we haven’t even gotten to the biggest of all.
That California “bailout.”
There’s no such thing.
California bails us out. It has been bailing out the rest of America since, oh, about 1849 — before it even joined the union.
Californians are so productive that every year they send billions of dollars in surplus dollars to the rest of America. Year after year they have sent vastly more in federal taxes than they ever get back in federal spending.
California isn’t our Greece, it’s our Germany. It isn’t Little Orphan Annie. It’s Daddy Warbucks.
The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation, which tracks the data, calls this surplus a “fiscal transfer.” I call it a bailout.
The numbers are simply staggering. In the quarter century through 2005 (the most recent year for which we have data), Californians bailed out the rest of America to the tune of about $620 billion in today’s dollars. In 2005 alone it came to nearly $50 billion.
That is 30 times next year’s forecast “budget shortfall” in Sacramento. The only reason California has a budget problem at all is because they have, foolishly, spent so much money subsidizing everyone else.
If it weren’t for that, California could cut its state and local taxes by around $1,300 a person. That’s a $1,300 tax cut for every man, woman and child. Hmmm. Funny you never read about that anywhere, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, take with giant fistfuls of salt those self-serving claims of fiscal rectitude you’re apt to hear from politicians in other states, especially in the South and the West. These states haven’t balanced their own budgets with their own money in living memory. Without bailout money from states like California, New York and New Jersey, their taxes would be much higher and their citizens poorer.
But don’t expect to hear any of this from California bashers — least of all those on the right. After this November’s electoral humiliations of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, the Republican Party is putting away the kid gloves and getting out the knife.
Could California really default? Run the numbers.
State debt costs come to just $6 billion a year — a fraction of the $90 billion-plus budget. Under the state Constitution, the interest on the debt gets paid second, after the $36 billion that goes to K-12 education.
Certainly it would be foolish to be complacent. And there are serious problems with long-term budget commitments, especially for the retirement and health care benefits for teachers and other public employees. Future cost growth with have to be restrained, and presumably some planned benefits will end up being renegotiated.
But how big are these costs in California? The non-partisan Legislative Analysts’ Office in Sacramento estimates there’s a $136 billion gap in the state pension and benefits system. It may work out to more or less. But that’s the actuarial figure at the moment.
Size of the state economy? Oh, $2 trillion a year. That’s 14 times the size of this gigantic pension-fund gap.
But don’t expect any of these facts to surface when Washington starts talking about a California “bailout.” This is 2010. Inconvenient facts are optional.
November 29, 2010, 8:08 pm — Updated: 8:08 pm -->
What The T.S.A. Hasn’t Told UsBy NATE SILVER
Despite widespread anticipation of chaos at airports over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend — some of it prompted by concerns that passengers would “opt out” of new full-body scans in favor of more time-consuming pat-downs — most media accounts suggested that travel went rather smoothly instead, with few passengers declining such screenings, and short waits at most airport security stations.
Throughout the day on Wednesday — traditionally among the busiest travel days of the year — the Transportation Security Administration updated its blog with the happy statistics. “Minneapolis: Wait times are currently 5-10 mins. No incidents,” went a typical report. “Detroit: 25,000 passengers screened today, and 57 AIT opt-outs. All were screened and continued to their flights.”
I have no reason to doubt the two specific claims that the T.S.A. has made: first, that security lines at most airports were manageable (if not, I’m sure we would have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary, between tens of thousands of passengers with cellphone cameras), and second, that a relatively small number of passengers opted out of the new screening procedures.
Nevertheless, there are several things that the T.S.A. isn’t telling us — pieces of information that would seem to be critical to any comprehensive assessment of the efficacy of the new procedures.
A typical report on the T.S.A. blog read something like this:
Los Angeles: 113 AIT opt outs across LAX’s 8 terminals, which is less than 1 percent of the approximately 50,000 travelers screened at LAX today.
Here, we are told the number of opt-outs (113), as well a the overall number of passengers at Los Angeles International Airport (50,000). What we aren’t told, however, is how many of those 50,000 passengers were asked to pass through the full-body scanners — what the T.S.A. calls “advanced imaging technology” or AIT — in the first place.
At most airports that have the AIT systems in place, the news scanners are used at some terminals but not others, and are used on some passengers but not others (depending, for instance, on whether the crews on duty at the time are sufficiently trained in them). If, for instance, the scanners were only in use at one of LAX’s terminals, and then only for part of the day, perhaps only some small fraction of LAX outbound passengers passed through them, which means that the opt-out rate would have been considerably higher than what T.S.A. is implying.
This is particularly relevant given that there were anecdotal reports that the new scanners were not used over the holiday weekend at some checkpoints where they normally are (an allegation the T.S.A. has denied.) Now, these reports need to be interpreted cautiously, since some of them may have come from infrequent fliers who don’t have a good handle on whether or not the new machines are used under ordinary circumstances. Still, the T.S.A.’s data is not really worth very much without knowing how many passengers had the option of opting out — meaning, that they were asked to pass through full-body scanners than metal detectors — and how this compares to a normal day.
The other thing we don’t know is what passenger volume was like. Wait time at security check-in points is a function of essentially three things: how much capacity the T.S.A. has to handle passengers, how long it takes to screen the average passenger, and how many people are passing through the checkpoint to begin with.
Kudos to the T.S.A. if it anticipated the rush and had more staff on duty (why can’t it always be that way?). But it could also have also been that air travel volumes were lighter than anticipated — perhaps because passengers were perturbed by the new procedures and were traveling by other means (or staying at home.) It would be hard to regard the new procedures as a success if that were the case, particularly given that more people bypassing air travel for road travel means more fatalities on American highways.
We eventually will get some idea about this, since the Department of Transportation keeps relatively detailed statistics about passenger volumes. But it only comes after a lag of several months. In the meantime, we’ll have to keep in mind that if airports were less busy than expected, it may simply have meant that fewer people were flying.
I have e-mailed the T.S.A. and asked them what, if any, additional statistics they are willing to provide. While they undoubtedly did a good job in keeping traffic moving over the holiday weekend — and certainly did a good job in managing public relations over the new procedures — it would mean something much different if this was accomplished because new scanners were turned off, or if overall passenger volume was down from a typical Thanksgiving weekend. We simply don’t have any good way to assess this based on the numbers they have provided thus far.
Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
The Men Who Stole the WorldBy Lev Grossman
A decade ago, four young men changed the way the world works. They did this not with laws or guns or money but with software: they had radical, disruptive ideas, which they turned into code, which they released on the Internet for free. These four men, not one of whom finished college, laid the foundations for much of the digital-media environment we currently inhabit. Then, for all intents and purposes, they vanished.
In 1999 a Northeastern University freshman named Shawn Fanning wrote Napster, thereby pioneering peer-to-peer file sharing and a new paradigm for consuming media without the intermediary of a big studio or retailer. TIME put him on its cover, as did FORTUNE. He was 19 years old. (See the 50 Best Inventions of 2010.)
That same year, a Norwegian teenager named Jon Lech Johansen, working with two other programmers whose identities are still unknown, wrote a program that could decrypt commercial DVDs, and he became internationally infamous as "DVD Jon." He was 15.
In 1997, Justin Frankel, an 18-year-old hacker in Sedona, Ariz., wrote a free MP3 player called WinAmp, which became a fixture on Windows machines and helped mainstream the digital-music revolution. During its first 18 months in release, 15 million people downloaded it. Three years later, Frankel wrote Gnutella, a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol so decentralized that, unlike Napster, it could not be shut down. Millions of people still use it.
In 2001, Bram Cohen, then 26, wrote a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol called BitTorrent that featured an elegant new architecture optimized for handling large files. BitTorrent has become the standard for distributing big chunks of data over the Internet.
In the first half of the 2000s, TIME interviewed each of these programmers. At the time, it looked as if they were poised to dismantle the entire media-entertainment complex and bring about a digital apocalypse that would make it impossible to charge money for movies, music or TV ever again. Artists would no longer get paid for their work, and the huge entertainment conglomerates, Time Warner among them, would be bombed flat. The pirates were coming for corporate America.
"After all," we wrote in 2003, "you can't have an information economy in which all information is free." And if the apocalypse was coming, Fanning, Johansen, Frankel and Cohen were the four horsemen.
So that didn't happen. Change has come to the entertainment industry, but it's been a lot more complicated and gradual than we expected. And the story of what did happen, and what the pirate kings have done since then, is highly instructive if you want to understand what's going on in the digital world right now. Fanning, Johansen, Frankel and Cohen are all running small, legal Silicon Valley software firms. They've gotten out of the pirate business — if they were ever really in it at all.
Fanning, the only one of the four who didn't respond to requests for an interview, quit the media-apocalypse business early. In 2001, Napster shut down under the weight of lawsuits that claimed it was aiding and abetting copyright infringement. And in 2002, Fanning founded a new service, Snocap — his attempt to take file sharing legit. With the cooperation of the record companies, Snocap was going to give consumers the power to compensate the artists whose work they downloaded.
But by then, free file-sharing programs were growing virally, and consumers were high on the rush of swapping music hard drive to hard drive for nothing. They traded more than 3 billion files in August 2001 alone. Attaching dollars to those transactions proved to be impossible. It's hard to compete with free. Fanning had created a monster even he couldn't beat. (See a video about the new music biz.)
So he stopped trying. Fanning's next project was a social network for gamers called Rupture, which he sold to Electronic Arts in 2008 for something on the order of $15 million — his first serious payday. His current start-up, Path, which launched in November, is an iPhone-based photo-sharing service.
And Napster? It still exists. The brand was sold at a bankruptcy auction and then sold again, but it has never been restored to anything approaching relevance. It's currently operated by Best Buy as an also-also-ran competitor to iTunes under the slogan "More than just a music store."
The Pirate Who Wasn't
As the author of Gnutella, Justin Frankel was Fanning's rightful successor. Unlike Fanning, he got his payday early in the game. In 1999, after WinAmp hit it big, AOL bought both it and Frankel's company, Nullsoft, for something in the neighborhood of $100 million. That made Frankel a very rich 20-year-old. It also made him an AOL employee.
It wasn't a great match. With Nullsoft, Frankel's modus operandi had been to write the best software he could, then give it away for nothing. At AOL the business of selling software threatened to overwhelm the software itself. "The products that I worked on, it was very much like, We want to make this money out of this. We're doing this deal with these other companies, and so the product is going to do this as a result," he remembers. "No one cared about how users actually experienced it."
Meanwhile, Frankel was writing Gnutella in his spare time. It was a brilliant hack: unlike Napster, it was genuinely distributed, with no central server and therefore no off button for the lawyers to push. He posted it online in March 2000 with a note: "See? AOL can bring you good things!" But reinventing Napster did not endear Frankel to AOL, a huge Internet company that was trying to merge with a major media company, Time Warner, that was in the middle of suing Napster. He left AOL in 2004.
Then he did something funny: instead of glorying in the success of his creations, he walked away. He doesn't use Gnutella, and he never made a dime off it, even though 10 years later, LimeWire — the most popular Gnutella client — still claims 50 million users. "When I wrote it, it was primarily as a sort of, This is proof of what is possible. Let's not all go profit from it," he says. "So it made sense to not even have anything to do with it. It was more of a concept."
Frankel, who recently moved from San Francisco to New York City, now works full time at his company, Cockos (don't ask), which is focused on an audio-production suite called Reaper. He constantly improves it, and he stays in close touch with his customers, who number in the tens of thousands rather than the millions. "There's no goal of growing a certain amount or having an exit strategy," he says. "It's just about enjoying the process and doing the right thing." He would certainly never describe himself as the world's most dangerous geek, as Rolling Stone did in 2004. "I don't see piracy as really being that dangerous," he says. "Ultimately, people who have business models that depend on strong controls for everything — those are flawed models. And I say that as a software developer, where there's a certain level of piracy." Gnutella is ancient history to him. "Digital piracy: Has it destroyed the music industry? No. Has the music industry had to adapt? Sure, and many would say for the better. You have people focusing more on quality, smaller bands, things like that."
"As far as the big business of hits and pop music, did that suffer?" he continues. He shrugs and laughs. "I hope so." (See the all TIME 100 albums.)
Of the four horsemen, Bram Cohen is the only one who still works on the same project he started 10 years ago. He is the co-founder and chief scientist of BitTorrent, a respectable San Francisco firm that pursues commercial applications for Cohen's stunningly effective content-distribution technology.
It's a curious company: a legitimate business built on a technology that is still used to violate copyright on a grand scale. Even though BitTorrent has an installed base of something like 80 million users, it functions a lot like a start-up. A relatively small slice of what goes on on BitTorrent is legal — one recent study put it at 11%. A relatively small slice of that small slice generates income for BitTorrent. (See the all TIME 100 albums.)
Just as Fanning did with Snocap, Cohen tried to move his creation out of the realm of mass piracy and into the legit world of trading bits for money. In 2007, in what was at the time a shocking development, BitTorrent partnered with 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros. and MGM, among others, to form the Torrent Entertainment Network, offering movies, TV shows and video games for purchase and rental.
Like Fanning, Cohen learned that getting out of the piracy business is harder than it looks. "Everything about it was a disaster," he says. The Torrent Entertainment Network shut down at the end of 2008. In retrospect, you can see why it didn't work. BitTorrent isn't user-friendly enough for a mass audience, and on a deeper level it's just too efficient. It moves huge amounts of data quickly and virally. When you want to attach dollars to data, you have to slow the bit stream down, track it and control it using inelegant technologies like digital-rights management (DRM), which restricts what users can do with what they buy.
"I learned a lot of lessons from that failure," Cohen says ruefully. His strategy now is to work with people who want what he has to offer: rapid, viral digital distribution. "Instead of going to major content holders and paying them up front for the privilege of trying to leverage our channel, we're just taking the very large channel we have and going to people who are interested in doing things in a much more open manner."
So far, the interested parties include the makers of an indie film called Four Eyed Monsters and the creators of an independent TV show called Pioneer One, which to date consists of one episode, though there are a couple more on the way. It's frustrating: Cohen is sitting on a fire hose, the kind of runaway technological success story that coders dream of, and the big players don't want to play.
Why does he bother? As a coding legend, Cohen could easily find employment at a big corporation. But that's not his style. "I need a certain amount of freedom," he says. He's now working on something wholly new: a peer-to-peer system designed for streaming real-time data instead of discrete files. It's a project that could have enormous potential as a way to distribute live media, like news or sports, over the Net. He still maintains BitTorrent, but it doesn't take up that much of his time. "I kind of got it right when I first made it," he says. (Watch the TIME 100 Social Media Roundtable.)
The Easy Way Out
So what ever happened to the pirate apocalypse of yesteryear? In the U.S., piracy hasn't turned out to be quite as bad for content producers as everybody thought. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office released last April labored mightily to establish a strong link between piracy and lost sales, but the results were inconclusive.
What's striking about the pirate kings is that they've been much less successful in the straight world than they were as pirates. An anarchic worldview coupled with brilliant code doesn't travel as well as you'd think in the bean-counting world of legitimate commerce. Good code empowers users by giving them choices and options, but empowered users aren't necessarily good for business. What you need to hit it really big in legitimate commerce is an authoritarian sensibility that limits users to doing what you want them to.
Which brings us to another important reason the media apocalypse never happened: Steve Jobs. On April 28, 2003, the very day TIME published a grand excursus on the explosive growth of file sharing, Apple unveiled the iTunes Music Store. At the time, it was difficult to see why iTunes would succeed where Snocap, among many others, had failed. Because, again, how do you compete with free?
But iTunes did succeed. Apple's relentless emphasis on simple, attractive user interfaces, backed by Jobs' steely negotiating power in dealing with music studios, produced a streamlined, curated service with which you could download and transfer music with a minimum of fuss. And we did — even though it cost us money and our purchases were bogged down with DRM that constrained what we could do with them.
It turns out that there is something that can compete with free: easy. Napster, Gnutella and BitTorrent never attained the user-friendliness that Apple products have, and nobody vets the content on file-sharing networks, so while the number of files on offer is enormous, the files are rotten with ads, porn, spyware and other garbage. When Jobs offered us the easy way out, we took it. Freedom is overrated, apparently — at least where digital media are concerned. (See the top 10 Apple moments.)
It's a lesson that the youngest of the pirate kings has studied very carefully. Like Fanning, Frankel and Cohen, Jon Lech Johansen was never really a pirate at all. He didn't help crack the encryption on DVDs because he wanted to crush Hollywood. He did it because he wanted to watch movies on his computer. His computer ran the Linux operating system, and in 1999 there was no DVD-playing program for Linux. So he and his partners decided to make one, and to do that, they had to figure out how to decrypt DVDs.
When the Motion Picture Association of America found out, it complained about Johansen to the Norwegian government, which duly arrested him. He stood trial in Oslo not once but twice on hacking charges. He was acquitted both times. It turns out it's not against the law to decrypt a DVD that you bought and paid for.
But Johansen was genuinely interested in preserving what he sees as the right of consumers to do whatever they want with the digital media they buy, the same way we do with, for example, a physical book — use it repeatedly or lend it out as we choose. In 2005, Johansen moved to California, where he reverse engineered FairPlay, the DRM software Apple was using to protect its media files. By then he'd noticed how attractive the Apple user experience was, and he thought it should be possible to bring that to the wider, more chaotic world of non-Apple products. "We saw there were a lot of devices out there, and none of them worked as well as they should," says Johansen, who at the ripe age of 26 is as good a pitchman as he is a coder. "So we set out to build a system that will allow these devices to interoperate and provide consumers with a great media experience."
By "we," Johansen means his company, doubleTwist, which he co-founded in 2007. The doubleTwist software, which is free, is a kind of Rosetta stone for digital-media files: it can translate, reconcile and organize files from about 500 different devices and bring them together into one elegant interface. In June, doubleTwist introduced an Android app, and some 500,000 people have since downloaded it. Last year, doubleTwist scored a piratical coup by taking out an ad that read: "The Cure for iPhone Envy. Your iTunes library on any device. In seconds." It ran on the side of the building that houses San Francisco's flagship Apple store.
Johansen rejects any attempt to associate him with piracy. "As far as I'm concerned, it has nothing to do with me," he says. "I support fair use, which means that when you actually legally acquire content, you should have the right to use that content on any of your devices, using any application." For Johansen as for all of the pirate kings, it was always about writing good code, and what good code does is give power to the people who use it. That's the real reason the pirate apocalypse never happened. The pirates never wanted music and movies and all the rest of it to be free — at least, not in the financial sense. They wanted it to be free as in freedom.
Cities: Our journey to a smarter future
Welcome to ‘Cities: Our journey to a smarter future’, a collection of videos examining the challenges facing UK and Irish cities today.
Hear from experts and those involved in creating the change necessary to help our cities deliver the services, safety and infrastructure our citizens need.
Watch the films, share them with a friend and let us know your thoughts. Is your city ready for the challenges that lie ahead?
Select a title from the choice below to view:
In this, the first film, the vision of a Smarter City is introduced. The film centres around the city as a system of systems, with the citizen being at the heart of each of these. It is only when the different city constituents collaborate that this progress will come about.
This second film further develops the concept of smarter cities. Initially, the focus is on smarter healthcare and how as cities become increasingly populated, the way in which health and social care is administered must change. The second half of the film highlights the need for an educated workforce; in essence, smarter citizens will lead to the creation of a smarter city.
For the final film in the series, we change pace and look to the future, providing a glimpse of what promises to be a Decade of Smart in the social and economic development of the city. In 10 years' time, our cities are likely to have changed significantly. In this film, all of our contributors, along with members of the public, discuss how they see their city changing and what we can look forward to and come to expect in the future.
Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy
By FRANK RICH
Published: November 27, 2010
SO America’s latest crisis — until it wasn’t — was airport screeners touching our junk. As this long year lurches toward its end, we all agree that something has gone wrong in America, and we’re desperately casting about for a coherent explanation for our discontent, if not a scapegoat. Alas, the national consensus that the T.S.A. and full-body scans might be the source of all evil fizzled in less than a week. Most everyone got to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving without genital distress.The previous transient scapegoat was the Democrats. They were punished in yet another “wave” election — our third in a row — where voters threw Washington’s bums out. But most of the public remains bummed out nonetheless. In late October, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that only 31 percent of respondents believed that America was on the right track. When the survey asked the same question after the shellacking, the percent of optimists jumped to ... 32. Regardless of party or politics, there’s a sense a broken country can’t be fixed. Few have faith that even “wave” elections are game-changers anymore.
The larger explanations for this dysfunction are well-worn by now, from the impotence of the filibuster-bound United States Senate to the intractable polarization of an electorate divided more or less 50-50 since Bush v. Gore. Such is the bipartisanship of the funk that Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck each succeeded in bringing off well attended rallies in Washington to commiserate over the country’s political and governmental stagnation — with each rally offering its competing diagnosis.
For Stewart, the hyperpartisanship of the modern news media remains the nation’s curse. “The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems,” he told the throngs at his rally to “restore sanity,” but it “makes solving them that much harder.” At Beck’s rally to “restore honor,” the message seemed to be that America’s principal failing is a refusal to recognize that God “is our king.” If Stewart’s antidote was more civility, Beck’s was more prayer.
Stewart’s point is indisputable as far as it goes. Beck’s, not so much: If prayer hasn’t cured this highly prayerful nation by now, it may be because our body politic has long since developed an immunity to it. But both rallies, for all the commotion they generated, have already faded to the status of quirky historical footnotes. The reason is that neither addressed the elephant in the room — or the donkey. That would be big money — the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who’s in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.
The Great Depression ended the last comparable Gilded Age, of the 1920s, and brought about major reforms in American government and business. Not so the Great Recession. Last week, as the Fed’s new growth projections downsized hope for significant decline in the unemployment rate, the Commerce Department reported that corporate profits hit a record high. Those profits aren’t trickling down into new jobs or into higher salaries for those not in the executive suites. And the prospect of serious regulation of those at the top of the top — the financial sector — is even more of a fantasy in the new Congress than it was in its predecessor.
Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007. In The Times’s account of this return to conspicuous consumption, we learned of a Morgan Stanley trader, since fired for unspecified reasons, who went to costly ends to try to hire a dwarf for a Miami bachelor party prank that would require the dwarf to be handcuffed to the bachelor. If this were a metaphor — if only! — Wall Street would be the bachelor, and America the dwarf, involuntarily chained to its master’s hedonistic revels and fiscal recklessness with no prospect for escape.
As John Cassidy underscored in a definitive article titled “Who Needs Wall Street?” in The New Yorker last week, the financial sector has paid little for bringing the world to near-collapse or for receiving the taxpayers’ bailout that was denied to most small-enough-to-fail Americans. The sector still rakes in more than a fourth of American business profits, up from a seventh 25 years ago. And what is its contribution to America in exchange for this quarter-century of ever-more over-the-top rewards? “During a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot and Lipitor,” Cassidy writes, the industry reaping the highest profits and compensation is one that “doesn’t design, build or sell a tangible thing.”
It’s an industry that can buy politicians as easily as it does dwarfs, which is why government has tilted the playing field ever more in its direction for three decades. Now corporations of all kinds can buy more of Washington than before, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and to the rise of outside “nonprofit groups” that can legally front for those who prefer to donate anonymously. The money laundering at the base of Tom DeLay’s conviction by a Texas jury last week — his circumventing of the state’s post-Gilded Age law forbidding corporate campaign contributions directly to candidates — is now easily and legally doable at the national level.
There are plenty of Americans who don’t endorse Stewart’s indictment of cable news; there’s even a reasonably large group that doesn’t buy Beck’s perceived shortfall in American religiosity. But seemingly everyone is aggrieved about the hijacking of the political system by anonymous special interests. The most recent Times-CBS News poll found that an extraordinary 92 percent of Americans want full disclosure of campaign contributors — far many more than, say, believe in evolution. But they will not get their wish anytime soon. “I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle,” said David Axelrod as the Democrats prepared to play catch-up to the G.O.P.’s 2010 mastery of outside groups and clandestine corporate corporations.
The story of recent corporate political donations — which we may never learn in its entirety — is just beginning to be told. Bloomberg News reported after Election Day that the United States Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Democratic war chest included a mind-boggling $86 million contribution from the insurance lobby to fight the health care bill. The Times has identified other big chamber donors as Prudential Financial, Goldman Sachs and Chevron. These are hardly the small businesses that the chamber’s G.O.P. allies claim to be championing.
Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range. In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — “a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists” makes them “one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to frolic with lobbyists dedicated to weakening the legislation.
Such is the ethos in his own party that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, complained this month that he “couldn’t even get a vote” for his proposal for a one-time windfall profits tax on Wall Street bonuses. Republicans “obviously weren’t going to vote for it,” he told Real Clear Politics, but Democrats also demurred, “saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fund-raising.”
Roughly two-thirds of the New Democrat Coalition’s House contingent won re-election on Nov. 2. Now they’ll have more Republican allies in both houses of Congress. Tea Party populists — already being betrayed by one Senate leader, Jon Kyl, on the supposed pledge against earmarks — may soon be as disillusioned as those Democrats who had hoped Barack Obama’s economic team wouldn’t look like Wall Street.
For all the McConnell-Boehner rhetorical pandering to Tea Partiers, the health care law will not be repealed by Congress — and certainly not any provisions that benefit the G.O.P. establishment’s friends in the health care industry. Over at FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s Tea-Party-organizing group, there’s much belligerent talk of retribution against corporations seen as too friendly to Obama policies — most notably General Electric. It’s all hot air: G.E.’s political action committees gave a total of $1.6 million to politicians in both parties in 2010, and one of its former high-powered lobbyists, Dan Coats, is the newly elected Republican senator from Indiana and a probable member of the Senate Finance Committee.
America needs a rally — or, better still, a leader or two or three — to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that’s not auctioned off to the highest bidder. When it was reported just days before our election that Iran was protecting its political interests in Afghanistan’s presidential palace by giving bags of money to Hamid Karzai’s closest aide, Americans could hardly bring themselves to be outraged. At least with Karzai’s government, unlike our own, we could know for certain whose cash was in the bag.
by Kevin Peterson, President
Eco Preservation Society
In the course of conducting our research on the issues surrounding climate science and climate change, it became clear to us that the scientific community has done a poor job of explaining what we actually know and what we do not know about climate change. I have written this brief explanation to provide the non-scientific community with a simple explanation of what is clearly understood, what is probable and what we do not know for sure.
Fact: The Earth and Moon receive the exact same intensity of solar radiation.
The agreed upon average Earth Temperature is 15C (59F) The Average Moon Temperature is –153C (-247F) at night & 107C (212F) during the day.
Question: What accounts for the difference?
Answer: The Earth's Atmosphere
Qualification: 99.1% of the earth’s atmosphere is Nitrogen and Oxygen. These two gases have nearly no effect on moderating earth’s climate system. This conclusion is based on basic chemistry and these findings can be reproduced in the laboratory. In other words, if you were to put an atmosphere on the moon made up of 100% Nitrogen and Oxygen that atmosphere would have almost no effect on the temperature of the moon.
Question: How do we explain the difference between the temperature variations between the Earth and Moon if Oxygen and Nitrogen play no role in maintaining a stable climate?
Answer: Green House Gases that make up less the 1% of the atmosphere are almost entirely responsible for creating habitable climate on earth. In other words, only a very tiny portion of our atmosphere regulates temperature on earth and we are tampering with that very small band of gases. This is known as a fact!
What we do not know: We know for a fact that Green House gases moderate climate on earth. We know for a fact that Green House Gases are increasing their concentrations in the atmosphere. We know for a fact that we are playing a role in altering the composition of this band of gases in the atmosphere. What we cannot precisely quantify is exactly how much of the elevated concentrations are due to man and how much of the increase is natural. Science tells us that the probability is quite high that we are having a significant impact, but there is no way of measuring this accurately with today’s technology.
Want more proof? Compare Venus and Mercury! Venus is twice as far from the Sun as Mercury. Yet Venus is twice as hot as Mercury. Why? Green House Gases! It is beleived that Venus has roughly the same amount of Carbon as Earth. Most of Earth’s Carbon is in the ground; most of Venus’s is in the atmosphere, thus the extreme temperatures.
Should we believe or not believe? Whether one believes in climate science or not is not the right question. Climate Science is NOT a religion and it is not important one way or the other to have a faith-based position regarding Climate Science. What is important is to understand the risk and to manage that risk appropriately. This is the debate that Progressives and Conservatives should be having! Science tells us that the probabilities of catastrophic climate change are increasing daily. We need to take appropriate actions to reduce these risks, the same way we take appropriate actions to minimize any other identifiable risks (ie Terrorism, Economic Collapse, Car Accidents).
Nobody “believes” that they are going to get into a car wreck. You would never get into your car if you truly believed a car crash was immanent. Just because you don’t believe you are going to get in a wreck this week that does not mean you cancel your car insurance. People purchase insurance not because they necessarily believe that something bad is going to happen, but because they recognize that there is a level of probability that it might happen. Thus the purchase of insurance is considered a rational thing to do, even though you don’t necessarily believe that a catastrophic outcome is likely.Once we come to this common understanding, we are then in a position to have a rational conversation about Climate Change. What we need to be discussing is the probability of catastrophe and what are the appropriate things that we should be doing as a society to manage that risk.
We hope this helps with your understanding of Climate Science. We look forward to your comments.