Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tracking the Elusive Oregon Signer

I'm updating the notes and commentary on my climate scientists/petition signers list pages, including notes on one new skeptic letter, the "Copenhagen Climate Challenge", plus one one activist statement from 1700 UK scientists, re-affirming the integrity of climate science in response to the East Anglia email break-in. (More about those in another post.)

For now, I'm updating my rationale for not attempting to address the old, well-worn "Oregon Petition" or "Petition Project of the OISM." My page on Sources now includes over a dozen links to rebuttals or debunkings of the Oregon Petition.

Up to now I had only done a small random sampling of OISM signer names; much like other such efforts, I found very few active professors, journal article authors, or much of anything of note.

Tonight I decided to try a larger OISM sample, exercising a handy perl script I've written which can compare two lists of names, finding matches even where one instance is an exact substring match of the other, or has an initial and the other has either a full name starting with that initial, or omits the initial (works in either direction). It reports a match where file A has "Public, John Q" and file B has "Public, John Quincy", "Public, John", or "Public, JQ". It's something I'd been meaning to write for some time, and it's proving very helpful in semi-automating searches and comparisons, especially between lists of names from a petition, letter or statement, versus my existing list of names I've already gathered (2300 already traced for homepage and stats; 700+ still not done, just names or name + clue.)

So I looked at the petitionproject website, decided to try the list for one large state, and landed on California (lots of universities, plenty of liberal/left ideas in the air, although the state also has a strong conservative streak as well.) Anyway it was supposed to be pseudorandom, and to give a large enough sample for a meaningful test.

The petitionproject site has 3,766 names listed under California. I copied their list into a unix text file, did a bit of massaging to get one name per line, and then counted the listed degrees: 987 PhDs, 308 MDs, 32 DVM (veterinarians). I decided to start with just the PhDs. I ran my name-comparing script, checking OISM PhDs from California against my current list of names already in my web listings from other sources (other petitions, co-authors of someone in the list, found on a department website of someone I was adding, etc.)

The script matched up the following 14 names:
Baker, Don Robert
Berry, Edwin X
Chilingar, George V
Ellsaesser, Hugh W
Gruntman, Mike
Kunc, Joseph A
Lewis, William P
Maccabee, Howard D
Nierenberg, William A
Ogren, John A
Sharp, Gary Duane
Starr, Chauncey
Stevenson, Robert E
Whitten, Robert C

Don R Baker and William P Lewis were the only two not already tagged as signers of another skeptic declaration. The rest had also signed either the Leipzig Declaration, the 2009 APS letter, Manhattan Declaration, or in two cases, several other skeptic statements.

I haven't tracked down Don R Baker yet, but I wanted to blog about my tribulations trying to sort out William P Lewis and John A Ogren.

William P Lewis
There was already a William Lewis on my list, but on checking his homepage, I found his middle initial is M. He's a Fellow of the CIRES Center in Boulder, CO. I had his homepage but no stats for him yet - to do... Meanwhile, back to William P Lewis, PhD, OISM signer. Technically, he was a 'false positive' in my name-matching script, as I had not filled in William M Lewis' middle initial previously. No matter; let's make William P Lewis, PhD a blind draw for an online search for identity and credentials.

So I tried Google Scholar with author:wp-lewis and there were 79 hits, the tops ones from an engineer in Australia (scratch that one); a doctor from USC Medical School doing tropical medicine and parasitology, top cited works dating back to the 1960s. Hmm. Right state, not exactly climate-related, and MD != PhD, though he might have both. Wait! I found this article from Arch.Ophthalmol (1961) listing the lead author as William P Lewis, PhD - an exact match. Stuff about parasite infections. The most recent work that's clearly by the same author is from 1977. The same guy as the one publishing one paper in 1992 on TB and HIV, out of USC School of Medicine? Still around in 1998 or later to sign petitions? Who knows.

But has any WP Lewis published anything at all on climate change? Well, Google Scholar on author:wp-lewis climate returns three, one by someone else, an engineer, and two by the parasitologist; one mentions "amebic infections acquired in temperate climates". The other one is paywalled; the abstract doesn't mention climate; it's mainly about diagnostic tests for amebiasis. Hmm... climate expert?

Next I did a couple of google searches, and found there is one William P Lewis, P.Eng, working in Yuba City, California in wastewater treatment. He's even published a couple of articles that show up in Google Scholar, including one on how new aerators saved 1/3 of the power consumption for their treatment plant. Good on ya, WP. Three of his papers even mention the word "climate" (ties in with hydrology, affecting water services, I guess.)

So, are any of these William P Lewises the obvious candidate for OISM petition signer? Ummm... I'm not sure. One is a PhD in parasitology at UCLA, publishing up to 1977; one is an MD at USC med school, a single paper in 1992; was the WP Lewis, PhD who wrote on parasitology in the 60's this same doctor, or perhaps his father? (there's no 'II' or 'Jr') Or no relation?

The other one in Yuba City has a P.Eng. professional designation (implying perhaps an MSc or BSc in engineering - you can get a P.Eng without a PhD.)

None of them has published any research into climate science, but then we already knew the Oregon Petition was pretty "liberal", pardon the expression, on name inclusion.

So who signed the petition, exactly: the tropical medicine prof, the 1960s opthalmologist, or the wastewater treatment engineer - or someone else entirely, who has even less of a web presence?

This took me at least 20 minutes to research, not counting the time to write up this blog entry. By contrast, a match on a real climate scientist with a teaching job at a university can typically be traced and added to my list in under two minutes. That ease is what's made it possible for me to accumulate a couple of thousand completed listings; the legitimate experts simply show up quickly in a Google search for their name. Nearly everyone doing research at a university has a homepage on the university's website, and once they've published any peer-reviewed work at all, their name will show up in Google Scholar. There, a single article on a relevant topic may provide the author's full name (if they don't limit the printout to first initial(s) only, a vexatious and outdated convention) and institutional affiliation (at the time.)

It's not uncommon for a young scientist's career path to lead through various universities and research centres, often spanning the globe. It can require a bit more reading to see if it's the same person working at two different places at different times, but it can also be interesting to see a rising star get hired away by another school or lab halfway around the world (or be forced to settle for that, perhaps?)

I've still got John A. Ogren to cover - I'll split him off into another post.

1 comment:

Anna Haynes said...

Jim, please consider adding these guys to SourceWatch, since otherwise, the info has a tendency to sink down into Google obscurity. If it's on SW, it's there for everyone to see...