* dENSA SPOKANE
Like MENSA, Only Thicker

Politics Not As Usual

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An idea for making politician more accountable to their home districts:

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From The Wall Street Journal Editorial Pages:

Climate Change and Open Science

By L. Gordon Crovitz

“Unequivocal.” That’s quite a claim in this skeptical era, so it’s been enlightening to watch the unraveling of the absolute certainty of global warming caused by man. Now even authors of the 2007 United Nations report that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” have backed off its key assumptions and dire warnings.

Science is having its Walter Cronkite moment. Back when news was delivered by just three television networks, Walter Cronkite could end his evening broadcast by declaring, “And that’s the way it is.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report likewise purported to proclaim the final word, in 3,000 pages that now turn out to be less scientific truth than political cover for sweeping economic regulations.

Equivocation has replaced “unequivocal” even among some of the scientists whose “Climategate” emails discussed how to suppress dissenting views via peer review and avoid complying with freedom-of-information requests for data.

Phil Jones, the University of East Anglia scientist at the center of the emails, last week acknowledged to the BBC that there hasn’t been statistically significant warming since 1995. He said there was more warming in the medieval period, before today’s allegedly man-made effects. He also said “the vast majority of climate scientists” do not believe the debate over climate change is settled. Mr. Jones continues to believe in global warming but acknowledges there’s no consensus.

Some journalistic digging into the 2007 U.N. climate change report revealed that its most quoted predictions were based on dubious sources. The IPCC now admits that its prediction that the Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035 was a mistake, based on an inaccurate citation to the World Wildlife Foundation. This advocacy group was also the basis for a claim the IPCC has backed away from—that up to 40% of the Amazon is endangered.

The IPCC report was instead crafted by scientists hand-picked by governments when leading politicians were committed to global warming. Unsurprisingly, the report claimed enough certainty to justify massive new spending and regulations.

Some in the scientific community are now trying to restore integrity to climate science. “The truth, and this is frustrating for policy makers, is that scientists’ ignorance of the climate system is enormous,” Mr. Christy wrote in the current issue of Nature. “There is still much messy, contentious, snail-paced and now, hopefully, transparent, work to do.”

Mr. Christy also makes the good point that groupthink—technically known as “informational cascades”—is a particular risk for scientists. He proposes a Wikipedia-like approach in which scientists could openly contribute and debate theories and data in real time.

The unraveling of the case for global warming has left laymen uncertain about what to believe and whom to trust. Experts usually know more than amateurs, but increasingly they get the benefit of the doubt only if they operate openly, without political or other biases.

We need scientists who apply scientific objectivity, or the closest approximation of it, and then present their information with enough transparency that people can weigh the evidence. Instead of a group of scientists anointed by the U.N. telling us what to think, the spirit of the age is that scientists need to provide open access to information on which others can make policy decisions.

The lesson of the chill of the global-warming consensus is this: Those who want to persuade others of the truth as they see it need to make their case as transparently as possible. Technology enables access to information and leads us to expect open debates, conducted honestly and in full view. This is inconvenient for those who want to claim unequivocal truth without having the evidence. But that’s the way it is.

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No (Tenured) Teacher Left Behind

The consequences of putting job protection ahead of learning.

(Review and Outlook on February 22, 2010)

Even when bad schools close, which happens all too rarely, teachers from those schools take jobs at replacement schools or are sent to work at other schools in the system. And union contracts typically allow those with seniority to bump younger colleagues from other schools, even if the younger teachers are getting better classroom results.

In New York City, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has managed to change the rules that forced principals to hire teachers from shuttered schools based strictly on seniority. But even if no school will hire these teachers, they cannot be fired and they continue to receive full salary and benefits. Mr. Klein says that maintaining this “absent teacher reserve” costs $100 million a year.

It’s not impossible to get rid of bad teachers, but it’s extremely hard and expensive. A report this month in LA Weekly noted that in the past decade the Los Angeles Unified School District “spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance.”

The result? Four were fired, two others were paid large settlements and one was reinstated. The paper also reported that 32 underperforming teachers were initially targeted for removal “but then secretly paid $50,000 by the district, on average, to leave without a fight.”

The good news is that school reformers are making progress in some areas. Charlotte, North Carolina, allows teachers to be fired for poor performance. Chicago limits the amount of time a teacher without a job can continue receiving pay and benefits. Starting next year, teachers in Houston can lose their jobs if students fall short on standardized tests. Florida and Louisiana have moved to strike last-in, first-out provisions from collective-bargaining agreements.

The Obama Administration has made teacher accountability a major theme of its education agenda. Let’s hope its Race to the Top selections reward school districts that are actively working to reform the teacher corps and change a tenure system that puts job protection ahead of learning.

wsj.com

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Events:

U.S. Senate Debate /Forum scheduled for April 22nd, at the Spokane Convention Center.  dENSA Spokane has been asked to provide candidate questions.  Send any proposals to the Acting, Acting dENSA Secretary.

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dENSA will meet at the Red Lion Tavern on Wednesday,  February 24th.

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