Saturday, September 5, 2009

The uses and misuses of authority in writing about energy.

I have demonstrated that Amory Lovins is nor a credible expert on energy. He has repeatedly made fauty predictions. His views on efficiency conflict, with a well known hypothesis in economics, which has withstood repeated empirical tests. Lovins work appears to be intellectually sloppy with unexplained shifts in definitions. Last year David Bradish offered a five part critique of Lovins in response to Lovins paper "Nuclear Illusions." Lovings stated that he intended to respond to all five parts, yet he only responded to two. Even the two part response was deemed inadiquate by his critics. Bradish charged rgar Lovins had attempted to answer Briadish's criticisms, through mischaracterization of sources. This was a serious charge, and one which a a scholar who wished to protect his reputation would be compelled to answer. Yet Lovins never responded.

Lovins publically stated that an answer to Bradish' on Jevons paradox would be forthcoming. It never appeared. Lovins also promised a response to Bryce, also on Jevons Paradox. The promise made to respond to Brice was made two years ago, and has not been kept. Lovins promised to respond to Bradish's charge that Lovins "cherry picked" his data on nuclear cost. Lovins subsequent failure to answer this charge should discredit his authority on nuclear cost, Finally, Lovins failed to answer Bradish's charge that he had misrepresented the reliability of nuclear power plants. Lovens failure to provide promised answers to Bradish's last three posts, his failure to engage in debate over his answers to Bradish's first two posts, his failure to provide a promised response to Robert Bryce's critique, Lovins failute to answer further criticisms by Edward Geist, Brian Wang, Luke Westin and Karen Street, Ferdinand E. Banks, Charles Barton, Alexander DeVolpi, and numerous distinguished critics.

These numerous criticisms of Lovins raise serious questions about the use of Lovins statements on energy as authoritative. Alexander deVolpi summerizes case against treating Lovins as an authority.

Retired Argonne National Laboratory Physicist, Alexander DeVolpi has offered a serious critique of Amory Lovins that I believe accurately raises questions about Mr. Lovins' authority. DeVolpi, points out:
Because Lovins renders no substantive academic or acquired nuclear credentials, the analyses he presents ought to be held to a strict standard of scientific credibility, such as that described by the Daubert U.S. Supreme Court decision. . . . This is in lieu of granting him interim benefit of doubt, a courtesy often extended to individuals who have an established scientific reputation . . . In other words, I would advise treating Lovins’ renderings on nuclear issues with healthy, but not dismissive skepticism. His presentation and publications should be judged by standard scientific criteria, no more, no less.
Next Dr. DeVolpi points to Lovins' scanty educational credentials and his lack of the sort of experience that would qualify him as an expert on nuclear matters.
Although Lovins seems to have completed some courses in experimental physics at Oxford University in England, he lacks any laboratory experience in nuclear physics or engineering. His vetted degree credentials are vague enough to induce caution, caveat emptor. Such a shortcoming has not prevented him from writing numerous articles, giving many briefings, and speaking frequently about nuclear technical policy. . . . Lovins has been a widely praised proponent of the so-called “soft-energy path,” as well has having been an habitual and readily available critic of nuclear energy.

. . . expertise alleged should not be considered credible simply because of personal experience, widely publicized image, or self-declared credibility — which can be crafted as concatenating substitutes for substantive technical analysis and publication. The individual being challenged should follow the same established guidelines for scientific analysis and peer-reviewed publication as the rest of us have during our professional careers.
Having offered this preamble to the question of Lovins' authority, DeVolpi proceeded to examine Lovins' method of presentation of "what appeared to be an informative but complex analysis . . .". DeVolpi thus offers a phenomological approach to Lovins presentation by placing it into brackets, which examines what it appears to be at first in light of the accepted standards of scientific evidence which DeVolpi has suggested we apply to expert testimony. DeVolpi noted Lovins use of "extremely busy tables and graphs" which he found "difficult to sort through", and then suggested
his extrapolation from laboratory model to production product is unrealistic, being deficient in practical marketplace engineering. Faulty reasoning and extrapolation often reflect a lack of hands-on construction experience. Lovins did not put into evidence anything he actually built or was responsible for constructing, other than a viewgraph of a fancy banana greenhouse situated on his Aspen, Colorado, property.
Gareth Kane notes that when he meet Lovins

at Schumacher College, UK in 2002, Lovins did not appreciate questioning of any of his points and, when challenged, turned prickly very quickly. He also had a worrying tendency to quote chapter and verse from Natural Capitalism as if quoting from the Bible (although he did reveal himself to be an extremely talented pianist).
Kane also noted,
I for one am resistant to the ‘cult of Amory’ that surrounds him, . . .
Kane expresses a continued faith in Lovins "green Guru" status.

Writers who continue to treat Lovins as an authority, writers of treat Lovins' ponuncements as objective facts are either ignorant and lazy, or they are deliberately deceiving their readers.

The cult of Amory Lovins thus has becomes a primary cover for incompetent journalists and politicians, who haven't the slightest clue about how to fight climate change. Senior Time writer Michael Grunwald shurely should be included in this category. Grunwald has just published a discussion of nuclear power on Foreign Policy. What is unusual for a juornalist, is Grenwald's blatent hagriography of Lovins. Rod Adams reviews it here.

Does Time magazine think its readers a service when it serves up the worship of Amory Lovins on its pages?

1 comment:

LarryD said...

"Does Time magazine think [it's doing] its readers a service when it serves up the worship of Amory Lovins in its pages?"

Perhaps that depends on which definition of "service" they are using?

Plausible explanations:

1) Time is maintaining the narrative (i.e., party line) on nuclear energy, and Lovins is a reliable mouthpiece. That his "authority" is itself an artifact of the press is not matter. This will continue as long as the party line is anti-nuclear.

2) The press, like much of the "progressive movement" is filled with rampant narcissism, and they are all in a mutual admiration echo chamber. Reality, where inconvenient, is excluded.

Of course, these two explanations are not mutually exclusive.


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