Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

It's nice we are beginning to count all the energy used in a home, including heat as well as electricity. Is there still a huge propane tank behind the snow fence at the foot of RMI's driveway? ("Pay no attention to the huge propane tank behind the fence".) - Nick Pine

Amory Lovins’ negawatt revolution in California was Enron’s wet dream. - James Heartfield

My "Sent" file ...contains rather a lot of comments on Lovins. If he didn't exist, oil money would have to invent someone just like him. - G.R.L. Cowan

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." - Joseph Goebbels

In my other blog bartoncii, I documented the case of a medical scientist, who held a tenured Professorship at the medical school of a well known university. He was contacted by people who complained that a well known medical procedure they had received had triggered health problems. He devised a theory about the link he believed he existed between the procedure and the health problems. His theory was considered interesting and provocative, but unproven. Then he developed a test which he believed would prove his theory about the link between the health problem and the procedure. Eventually a well known research institution contacted him with a proposal for an exercise that would validate his test. They sent him blind samples, which he tested, and then sent the results back to the institution. Included in the samples were samples of women who had the same health problems and had not received the procedure as well as women who had received the procedure. When the institution looked at the test results, they found that the test was positive for both groups of women. Thus the test failed to link the procedure with the health problems.

The Professor was undismayed. Two years later the research institution began receiving calls from patients, physicians, and other interested parties, asking about the test, apparently assuming that the research institution had either validated the test or was offering it. The Research Institution wrote the professor twice, explaining to him that they had not validated the test, and requesting that he "refrain from any mention of [the name of the institution] patient data." In the mean time researchers from the institution had identified further problems in data that the Professor had reported to them. But far from being concerned by these findings, the professor rejected them. Indeed he had been testifying in court cases for several years, on the basis of his test findings, and he was not about to give up his forensic business.

The professor wrote a paper in support of his test. The paper was rejected by three peer reviewd professional journals, before it was published by a journal on whose editorial board the professor sat. Scientist who read the paper noted it contained numerous flaws and errors. The paper's worst problem was that its conclusions were based on outliers, only 4% of the sample. "He is basing his conclusions on the hypothesis itself," said John Butler, a University of Iowa medical researcher.

A British Medical agency similarly concluded that it was "not possible to draw any definitive conclusions from this work....".

Despite these peer judgements, the Professor filed for a patent and set up a business to market these tests. My then brother-in -law and father-in-law, respectively the Professors father and grandfather, as well as the Professor's wife were to be officers of the business. The test was advertised in a journal for civil litigators. As many as a million women were considered suitable targets for the test. The testing itself was to cost $350.

The FDA wrote a letter to the professor, warning him that it considered the test a medical device used for diagnosis. Further sale of the test would violate FDA rules, and could bring legal action against the professor and members of his family. The professor fought back with a new data set, an an application for FDA approval of his test. But an independent research project using date drawn from well over 80,000 people, provided no support for the professor's hypothesis. Without the right to use his test, and with his hypothesis discredited, the Professor's business collapsed. He was no longer a credible court witness, and he could not sell his test. Yet the Professor defiantly announced, "I kind of feel like Galileo. The Earth still moves."

The Professor's university did not see him as a second Galileo. His work had been attacked by the New England Journal of Medicine. The ABC News show 20/20 had attacked him, and Discovery Magazine, which rarely criticizes Scientists, published a long and harshly critical article on him. He had become notorious, and the University's name was always mentioned in connection with his notoriety. University authorities, not amused, locked the professor out of his own lab, and removed him from responsibility for his teaching load. It is hard to get rid of a tenured Professor, but the University sat out to do it, and eventually it gave the Professor a generous settlement to see him gone from their faculty. The now ex-professor's once promising career was ruined.

The Professor was arrogant. Rather than look for evidence that his theory was wrong, as philosophers of science would suggest, he simply dismissed that evidence when it was presented to him. His failure to accept the falsification of his theory reflected a failure to appreciated the Philosophy of science, yet his undergraduate degree was in the Philosophy of Science. How could someone who should have known better, make such a colossal blunder? It would be easy to say that he was a con man. Yet he had involved his family in his failed venture, including his father a successful scientist with a good reputation, and his grandfather, a highly idealistic humanitarian. These were not the sort of people to partner up with a con. Con men have a well known culture. They understand that they are deceiving, and have a contempt for the people who they deceive, the marks. The Professor appears to have not understood that he was engaged in a deception. His comparison of himself to Galileo seems more an ego defense than a con.

There is an explanation for the Professor's laps. He was and probably still is narcissistic. Sam Vaknin states, "Narcissists are great con-artists.  After all, they succeed in deluding themselves! As a result, very few professionals see through them."

I now want to shift to a question about what constitutes science and who should be called a scientist. By conventional definitions our Professor would have made the cut as a scientist.
Now a scientist does not cease to be a scientist when he or she makes a mistake. Indeed, Ivor Robinson, a Dallas based relativity theorist, I once was acquainted with, boasted that his most cited paper contained a notorious mathematical error, and that error was the reason for all of the citations. The error did not lessen his reputation as a scientist or a mathematician. Science is all about checking up on each other, catching errors. Scientist stay scientist by acknowledging their errors once they are caught. The Ex-Professor, as far as I know, never acknowledged his errors.

Amory Lovins' biographies inevitably describe him as a physicist. Earlier biographies even tacked on the word nuclear before the word physicist. This raises an interesting issue, what is a physicist, and who is entitled to be called a physicist. Amory Lovins never earned a degree in physics, but neither did Ivor Robinson, whose only degree was a Bachelors in Mathematics from Oxford. But Ivor became a full professor on the basis of his contributions to relativity theory. Amory Lovins never earned any degree, and unlike Professor Robinson, has never acknowledged his errors.

Of course, Lovins has enjoyed a virtually critic free ride for a long time. Everyone seemed to regard Lovins as some sort of a genius, although in retrospective, it seems possible that people mistook glibness for genius. No doubt Lovins is a very intelligent person, but how could a person that smart drop out of Harvard twice, and not finish a degree program at Oxford?

With his one time wife Hunter, Lovins shared a 1982 Mitchell Prize (for work on utility policy), a 1983 Right Livelihood Award, often called the "alternative Nobel Prize," the 1999 Lindbergh Award, and Time's 2000 Heroes for the Planet Award. In 1989 he won the Onassis Foundation's first DELPHI Prize, one of the world's top environmental awards, for their "essential contribution towards finding alternative solutions to energy problems. In 1993 he received the Nissan Prize for inventing superefficient ultralight-hybrid cars, to which ~$10 billion has been committed, and in 1999, partly for that work, the World Technology Award (Environment). He also received the 1994 regional Award of Distinction from the American Institute of Architects, its highest award for nonarchitects, and the 2000 Happold Medal of the [UK] Construction Industry Council, and of course a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship,

Other trinkets including the Heinz award, Volvo Prize, the Benjamin Franklin and Happold Medals, and the Shingo prize, did not formally require genius status. In fact it might be said that never in the course of human endeavor have so few received so much recognition from so many, and for what?

Volvo official claimed that Lovens received the Volvo prize because, “He has developed a number of path-breaking technical, economic and policy concepts and succeeded in merging theory with a wide range of practical applications. His work is transforming the way we use energy worldwide.”

At the very least Lovins has taught prize givers to talk in Lovins speak jargon, although the Volvo official failed to perfectly master Lovins vocabulary, because he did not used the fabled word efficiency.

Journalist Robert Bryce noted that Amory for a genius Lovins has on a surprisingly many number of occasions issued pronouncements on energy related issues that turned out to be wrong.  In 1976 Lovins predicted that by 2005 over 1/3 of American energy would be coming from soft, renewable sources. Lovins was off on that one. In 1984 Lovins told Business Week that “we see electricity demand ratcheting downward over the medium and long term. The long-term prospects for selling more electricity are dismal.” Lovins added, “We will never get, we suspect, to a high enough price to justify building centralized thermal power plants again. That era is over.” This statement can now only be characterized as wacky, but coming from Amory Lovins it must have sounded profound at the time. Power demand continued to rise in the United States despite Lovins prediction to the contrary. In 1976 Lovins announced that the entire American Transportation sector could be run on wasted biomass. This is far from the case in 2008, despite the creation of a tortillia shortage in Mexico by converting corn into alcohol rather than flower.

Finally, Lovins predicted that energy efficiency would lead to a great decline in the demand for energy. In this forecast Lovins brought his vision of the future directly into conflict with a basic concept of economics, Jevons' paradox, which states that increases in energy efficiency lead to increased rather than decreased energy consumption. During the period from the 1970s to the present, energy efficiency has increased in the United States, as has energy consumption.

Bryce's point on Jevons Paradox scored heavily with Lovins, who through a RMI statement has attempted to answer it by arguing  "we are observing only very small rebound effects (if any at all) in the United States. For example, we can look at household driving patterns: While total vehicle miles traveled have increased 16 percent between 1991 and 2001, there is no evidence that owners of hybrid vehicles drove twice as much just because their cars were twice as efficient." B

Thus Lovins is forced to admit that Jevons Paradox still holds but attempts to minimize it. The RMI statement was forced to conclude, "Jevons' Paradox cannot be so easily put to rest." Indeed it cannot. And Jevons paradox threatens to destroy the entire Lovins energy through efficiency construct.

Robert Bryce is not the only recent critic of Amory Lovins. Rod Adams has raised some telling questions about Lovins educational credentials. Adams found that Loving dropped out of Harvard twice, and that he had not earned a degree while he was a student at Oxford. Lovins biographies refer to an MA from Oxford, but they seldom make clear that this was what might be called a complimentary degree, since the normal earned degree that would be awarded by Oxford for a physics student would be an BSc or MSc.

I had originally intended to write a series of post about Lovins, but David Bradish of NEI Nuclear Notes has been writing a very telling series on Lovins, which is much better than anything I could write. (see here, here, here, here and here. Lovins responded to Bradish's posts on the pro-Lovins blog Gristmill. And Bradish responded to Lovins post in a comment on Lovins response.

Bradish accused Lovins of cherry picking data: "One of the problems with the way RMI put the worksheet together is that the data comes from numerous sources published in different years. RMI compares data from a 2003 MIT study, a 2007 MIT study, a 2006 one-page WADE source, and a 2005 “personal communications” data exchange (will explain below) just to name a few. Picking and choosing certain data points from many different sources just screams the word “cherry-picking.”

Bradish cited a quote from Bryce's Energy Tribune article on Lovins:
"Paul Joskow, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “My rule of thumb,” Joskow wrote me in an e-mail, “is to double his [non-nuclear] cost estimate and divide his energy saving estimate in half to get something closer to reality.”

Lovins has advised the state of California on its electrical energy policy. James Heartfield argues that Lovins advocates policies that manufacture artificial scarcity:
One of the most destructive examples of manufactured scarcity is "clean
energy" and California's "Negawatt Revolution."

In 1997 the Club of Rome collaborated with Amory Lovins of the Rocky
Mountain Institute to launch a new report Factor Four that promised to
bhalve resource useb while doubling wealth. The message was that you
could get rich saving the planet. A privileged few did indeed double
their wealth; but for the rest it was just a case of halving resources.

Immodestly, Lovins made his own California energy scheme the main
example of savings in Factor Four. His well-paid advice to the state of
California was that it was a big mistake to adopt a system that rewarded
increased electricity output with increased profits. Such a system would
naturally tend to boost output. Instead rewards for cutting energy use
were needed. Rather than getting paid for additional megawatts the
utility companies should be rewarded for saving power use: negawatts.

The impact of Lovinsb model on energy generation in California was
decisive. bAround 1980, Pacific Gas and Electricity Company was planning
to build some 10-20 power stations, according to Lovins.

"But by 1992, PG&E was planning to build no more power stations, and in
1993, it permanently dissolved its engineering and construction
division. Instead as its 1992 Annual Report pronounced, it planned to
get at least three quarters of its new power needs in the 1990s from
more efficient use by its customers."

Of course the PG&E was not getting three quarters of its new power needs
from anywhere: it had just reduced its output. But manufacturing energy
scarcity did indeed grow somebody's cash wealth: Enron's. With these
artificial caps on energy production the generating companies could
start to hike up the charges to utility companies, including PG&E, now
unable to meet its own customersb demands. Those energy companies were
owned by Enron.

Amory Lovins' negawatt revolution in California was Enron's wet dream.
Having shut down its own generation capacity, PG&E was at the mercy of
Enron's market manipulation. Buying surplus electricity on the open
market PG&E was royally fleeced, losing $12 billion. Utility bills rose
by nine times. Enron took advantage of the restricted market and cut
electricity to California. They even invented reasons to take power
plants offline while California was blacked out. Enron official joked
that they were stealing one million dollars a day from California.
The PG&E that Lovins held up as a model went bankrupt and had
to be baled out by the state of California.

California energy policy makers are still enthralled by Lovens energy theory, and as a consequence electricity in Califormia is twice as expensive as it is in the rest of the country. Pro-Lovins spear chuckers like David Roberts and Joe Romm praise California its low electricity use which they attribute to a wise policy of energy conservation, without noting that the cost for California's low energy use is paid by the long suffering rate payers of California who conservation is motivated by the most expensive electrical rates in the country.

It is clear then that Amory Lovins is not a great scientist, and indeed is not a scientist at all. He has generated data by bogus and manipulative means, at least one of his central arguments about energy, directly conflicts with Jevons Paradox, a well established and repeatedly verified concept of economics. Several major Lovins predictions have proven false. Following Amory's advice Lead PG&E into financial ruin and lead to the creation of the situation in which ENRON cheated California rate payers out of billions of dollars, and in which they continue to pay the highest electrical rates in the country.

Finally the critiques of Lovins by nuclear bloggers have repeatedly noted the weakness of Lovin's arguments. Like the ex-Professor, Lovins arguments tend to become self-referential. Thus Lovins sole source for a claim that nuclear power is in a global market collapse, was a statement that Lovins himself had published twenty years previously. What begins to emerge from behind the curtain then is Lovins' ego.

Update 6/23/08: Amory Lovins continues to take it on the chin from nuclear bloggers.  The Sovietologist argues that Lovins is an apologist for fossil fuel use.  This is a point that Rod Adams has made several times on the subject.    


DV8 2XL said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charles Barton said...
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Anonymous said...

I accidentally removed comments:

DV8 2XL has left a new comment on your post "Don't Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain":

We keep hearing how Americans can sue each other white for the oddest reasons; why hasn't someone targeted this idiot and filled against him and RMI for some of the things he has done?

Charles Barton said...

Actually it is impossible to someone for simply being an idiot or saying idiotic things. A better question is why has no one pointed out what an idiot Lovins is before.

It is clear that Lovins has lost his immunity to criticism. What starts in blogland will eventually work its way into the conventional media.


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