Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canadian fans

I love this piece in the Star: complete with photo.

There's a kind of noisy, largely male Canadian fan who is traditionally more of a hockey fan than anything else. No shirt, letters among a group of guys to spell a word, you get the idea. At the Vancouver Olympics, they were everywhere, even watching curling which was probably new to a few of them. They've been great at singing the anthem, and leading more or less appropriate cheers. When they were criticized for being too loud for curling, they cooled it a bit--at least when the Canadians were delivering rocks. For some people, these guys pretty much always represent a threat to law and order, but I think it's better to see them as determined to have a good time more or less within the rules.

I went with my son to a Blue Jays game a couple of years ago. A young guy a few rows down was rallying all the Jays support he could muster. He led us all in the wave. Let's face it, he was a couple of beers to the good. At one point he taunted opposing fans (it was an unusual game against the Cubs) in a somewhat insulting and profane manner. So security removed him. Ben and I both found this a bit excessive--he hadn't really hurt anyone, or even started a fight. Who would lead us?

My then director had a similar experience. A group of guys had their bare chests spelling out JAYS, and the guy with A was removed with very little provocation. The effect was spoiled by party-poopers.

Once during one of my bus rides home in the dark, a young man got on and again, let's face it, he'd had a few. Remarkably, he had one beer on him to which he helped himself, and as if to show his generosity, he offered me one--a can of Guinness. I politely refused, and he settled in. Within a few minutes, he was gesturing to a guy across the aisle, who had put his feet up on the seat or something. "Look at that," my new friend said, "No fuckin' respect."

150 words in the Star

Peter Gorrie wrote a column in the Toronto Star, basically saying: what a shame that the skeptics' debate about small matters has distracted people from the all-important work of combatting climate change. By the way ((with only the slightest of references to any actual debates): the science is settled.

My comment (limited to 150 words), to which I have added links:

The science isn't settled
It's understandable if such a new science has very few settled, proven conclusions about the climate of the entire globe. You should at least spell out more of the debate about both the CRU e-mails (and other documents) and the IPCC itself. The skeptics are not idiots. The temperature record has been smoothed or homogenized in ways that have never been fully explained. [UPDATE: See here and here]. The IPCC authors, on some important subjects, deliberately chose non-peer-reviewed work that supported warming over peer-reviewed work that did not. A key paper on sea level has been retracted by the original authors. The Arctic, Antarctic and remote glaciers may all be responding to local/regional conditions.

UPDATE: If I had more than 150 words, I would probably have said that the "proxy" data from before the 20th century is even more questionable than the temperature data.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Research and Public Health

Is a high-salt diet good or bad? Is it even possible to achieve a diet with a specified level of salt? (There is some evidence that almost all humans on earth have very similar levels of salt in their diets--regardless of diet). Has fast food given us a high-salt diet that is bad for us?

Amazingly, there is considerable doubt about all of these questions--the science, we might say, is unsettled--but that hasn't stopped a lot of people, including public health people in government, from pontificating, and even imposing regulations. (See also here and here).

The various food scares, most of them discredited sooner or later, have done a lot to discredit the whole idea of public health advice from government. (Then there are the viral epidemic scares--a whole different story). I think climate change is likely to end up the same way: people who claimed to be experts, giving us advice for our own good, turn out to be pursuing some other agenda.

By the way, I would just add to this piece that there is some question as to whether obesity is bad for us. Again, another story; see here and here.

Here's another example: the argument that even a residue of cigarette smoke on an adult's clothing is harmful to children has been widely promoted, and even formed the basis of government policies on adopting and fostering children.

But, er, there's no actual evidence to support the claim, and the evidence that does exist suggests it's highly unlikely.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ahmed Chalabi again

On my old blog, I posted a lot about Bush's Iraq War and, among other things, the Ahmed Chalabi connection.

Amazingly, Chalabi is back in the news again.

This would be hard to believe if it was spelled out in a paranoid thriller.

Ahmed Chalabi, who played a major role in tricking G.W. Bush into invading Iraq, is still in Iraq, manipulating the election in Iran's favour--and against the interests of the U.S. It might actually be true that he was always an Iranian agent, lobbying in Washington and fooling the fools so as to make Iraq weaker, and Iran under the mullahs stronger. Chalabi also played a role in Iran-Contra years ago.

First among these [opposing genuine democracy in Iraq] is Iran, which has a simple strategy for the coming months: Turn the elections into a bitter sectarian battle -- and thereby ensure that the next government will be led by its hard-line Shiite allies.

To an alarming extent, the campaign is succeeding. Tehran's leading agent, as both Hill and Odierno noted, is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite who in 2002 played a major role in persuading the Bush administration to go to war. Now he has managed to have hundreds of candidates eliminated from the election on the mostly bogus grounds that they were or are loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party. His targets are not just Sunni leaders but secular nationalists -- the two most important banned candidates are leading members of cross-sectarian alliances. The success of those tickets would be a triumph for Iraqi democracy -- and a huge setback for Iran.

Chalabi aims to become prime minister of the next government, which would be a disaster for Iraq and for Washington. And worse outcomes are possible. Also angling for power are Bayan Jabr, a Shiite who oversaw the interior ministry when it was infamous for torture and death squads; and Ibrahim Jaafari, who as prime minister oversaw the eruption of the sectarian war of 2006-07.

UPDATE: I should have said h/t to Atrios.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another visitor grabs a piece of the wall

The Prospect, a somewhat left-of-centre publication in the UK, offers a skeptical piece. The most telling line: when it comes to twentieth-century temperature data, "The CRU’s adjustment methodology is not disclosed." They have refused to show their work. Surely the onus is on them to do so, before anyone concludes there has been unusual warming, instead of the onus being on sceptics to disprove warming.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Re-tracing the steps of the Climate guys

Even as the edifice of global warming theory crumbles, many lay people who have been agreeing with it, even advocating for it at parties, are falling back on a position like this: I don't understand the science, but I can't see how a group of reputable scientists could all have been dishonest, in exactly the same way, over a period of years.

I'll give in to the snark for a moment and say this is a bit like a defender of the Catholic Church, not so long ago, saying it is unthinkable that priests, in any significant number, would abuse children, given their vows, etc. Or better: it is unthinkable that the Church would cover up such crimes once they were discovered, move the same bad priest from one innocent parish to another, etc.

But I digress. If you make statements that are wrong, repeatedly, for twenty years, it seems that you have displayed either dishonesty or ignorance, or a mixture of the two. When there is a big moral and political debate (if you don't agree with us, you're a bad person), then "ignorance" can certainly include a kind of moral zeal that prevents you from looking carefully at evidence.

It’s increasingly clear that 20th-century temperature data, which should be the most solid information available to climate scientists, is suspect. Weather stations are sometimes included, and sometimes not. It was necessary to subject data to certain processes—for example, to allow for the urban heat island (UHI) effect—but as data was “homogenized,” it became very difficult for anyone studying the published results to trace the connection between actual readings and published results. Willis Eschenbach has made a number of investigations of individual weather monitoring stations. How do temperatures from a given station, or a group of stations, show up in the official, never-to-be questioned data sets with trends? Is there any way of figuring out how "trends" were generated, given the raw data that is available? (See also here).

Now he has looked at Anchorage Alaska. Since World War II Anchorage has grown immensely, so any use of temperature data from there would have to account for the UHI effect--heat caused by buildings and other human artifacts, not by climate. GISS does indeed show Anchorage "homogenized"--not only not to be warming, but actually to be cooling, presumably to counteract the warming that would be real but deceptive. Oddly, the decrease appears in a graph in stair-step fashion. Then Willis looks at the closest rural station, since GISS says one way to correct for problems at an urban station is to blend results with the nearest rural one. Bizarrely, Matanuska is shown as having a huge temperature increase beginning in 1970.

Somehow the climate guys have told the computers to homogenize, and in some cases to correct for artificial warming. But somehow their programming instructions have also caused warming to be introduced in a bizarre and arbitrary way. The overall result generally shows "warming trends," but based on what?

If temperature data were all “homogenized” to make it warmer, that would look like a conspiracy to conceal the truth—flat-out lying. Instead, we have a more human situation: some results made warmer, some cooler, and some just making no sense compared to actual thermometer readings. Yet the warming trend is the one that is published, and constantly repeated by the media.

It seems most likely that climate scientists began with a somewhat rudimentary knowledge of computer programming and statistical methods. They began entering temperature data into some program or programs, to see what trends resulted. They probably produced a number of results that they have never revealed publicly—some of them showing non-warming, some of them probably showing cooling, some of them showing obviously anomalous or ridiculous results, such as a very warm place presented as cool, or whatever.

Eventually they started to produce warming trends. How exactly did they do that? Did the programs and methods that produced warming trends pass tests of statistical significance, moreso than other results that were rejected? Could the results be reproduced? These are the questions that Steve McIntyre has always focussed on, to his lasting credit.

The lying/clueless question becomes more urgent once these “warming” results are used as the basis of “peer-reviewed” papers (reviewed by very few peers), and ultimately as the basis of IPCC reports. To what extent did the climate scientists provide disclaimers that their science was still new, and conclusions were tentative? To what extent were they aware that their published warming trends were shaky at best? To what extent did they deliberately make it difficult for anyone to check their work? As time went on, it would seem that there was more and more dishonesty, as compared to moral zeal combined with clumsiness, and rushing to get into print and get more grant money and acclaim.

I’m impressed at the moments in the CRU e-mails when the big shots admit, to a few friends, that they don’t know much about what causes temperature to be as it is for a period of time. See here and here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Can't Steyn go back to covering musicals?

Mark Steyn worries that fashionable young men are taught to be ridiculously pliant and compliant when it comes to authoritarian demands from the state--especially when it comes to environmental programs that are only loosely based on science. So far so good. Then he tells a story about a young American who is harassed when he returns to his country because he is studying Arabic. He is even asked what he thinks about 9/11. Surely Steyn is going to say this is also a bunch of unacceptable fascist tricks, and good for the young man if he sought an opportunity to call bullshit on it.

No, Steyn is upset because of what the young man said about 9/11:

According to the Inquirer’s Daniel Rubin, “He said he hemmed and hawed a bit. ‘It’s a complicated question,’ he told me by phone.” However, young Nick ended up telling his captors, “It was bad. I am against it.”

My, that’s big of you.

Take it as read that the bozos at the airport called this one wrong. The problem is not that Nick George, his radical haircut notwithstanding, is a jihadist eager to self-detonate on a transatlantic flight. The problem is that he is an entirely typical American college student — one for whom 9/11 is “a complicated question.” After all, to those reared in an educational system where the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States (now back in the bestseller lists) is conventional wisdom, such a view is entirely unexceptional. It’s hardly Nick’s fault that the banal groupthink of every American campus gets you pulled over for secondary screening when you’re returning from Amman.

Let's say fascism is a kind of authoritarian populism that tends (contrary to Goldberg) to skew right rather than left: traditional elites of property, church, and military rather than new elites of secular social workers, teachers, economists and bureaucrats. The use of fascist methods should be troubling to lovers of liberty, even if they are dished out by people we have been inclined to trust. Some of the right went mad over 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, with lots of lying, cluelessness and the use of fascist tricks including torture. A huge standing military is now accepted, it seems, by virtually all Americans. The left is also capable of group think, and the use of fascist tricks to support their schemes to build bureaucracies and re-distribute income. Since the end of communism, the left is a bit less likely to kill anyone--their sentimental regard for some "authentic" radical Moslems is not as dangerous as the widespread defence of Communism was in the Cold War, and in fact the analogy between the two situations is very weak.

Steyn's brain is mush--the whole argument that the Moslems are taking over has driven him mad. It's far more true of Israel than of any European country that they are surrounded by Moslems who harbour killers. It's far more true of some European countries than it is of the United States. Even Israel is remarkably safe, and we are talking about perhaps dozens of people, worldwide, who are actually prepared to commit suicide in the course of killing Western civilians.

A Time of Wonders

There is so much going on, it may be worthwhile to note the most amazing events: peer-reviewed research indicating that:

1. The official 20th century temperature data that we have all been warned about so vociferously is probably not detecting true warming, but simply the results of urbanization, building around the thermometers, etc. To the extent that they have been aware of these issues, the climate pro's have probably found ways of selecting warming thermometers, and ignoring non-warming ones.

2. The central argument, that a certain increase in CO2 will cause a certain temperature increase, does not work mathematically.

Keven Trenberth , in the Times article referred to in #1, shows a willingness to move on: let's talk about sea level, Arctic ice, and snow cover in the northern hemisphere.
“It’s not just temperature rises that tell us the world is warming,” he said. “We also have physical changes like the fact that sea levels have risen around five inches since 1972, the Arctic icecap has declined by 40% and snow cover in the northern hemisphere has declined.”

Instead of a scientist with actual data about temperatures, proxies, and long-term trends, he's become a blowhard in a bar: how come Arctic ice is melting, if you're so smart? I don't know Kevin, I'm not an expert on this any more than you are, but I believe Arctic ice is always changeable, and no one has really established a long-term trend.

Sea level: Wikipedia has a piece on sea level and climate change, presumably written by the warmists, saying a recent increase is definitely caused by climate change, and may be as much as 3.5 mm per year over a recent decade:
"more recently at rates estimated near 2.8 ± 0.4[3] to 3.1 ± 0.7[4] mm per year (1993-2003). Current sea level rise is due significantly to global warming,[5] which will increase sea level over the coming century and longer periods.[6][7"

The article on sea level itself says: "For at least the last 100 years, sea level has been rising at an average rate of about 1.8 mm per year.[7] The majority of this rise can be attributed to the increase in temperature of the sea and the resulting thermal expansion of sea water. Additional contributions come from water sources on land such as melting snow and glaciers (see global warming).[8]"

Sea level has been going up since the last ice age, roughly 20,000 years ago, the vast majority of the increase occurred in the first 10,000 years, and: "Note that over most of geologic history, long-term average sea level has been significantly higher than today."

All of this prompted Anthony Watts to spell out what a 3 mm per year increase (Trenberth has 5 inches in 30 years = less than one fifth of an inch per year) would actually look like.

Trenberth was agonizing to his friends in October 2009, in e-mails that he thought would remain private, that they really didn't know much of anything about why climate was the way it was in a particular period such as the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Media on Climate Change

The magisterial NY Times finally acknowledges some of the debate in the UK. They pull their punches, and it's fair to say (h/t Atrios) that with the limited number of issues in the IPCC Report they refer to, and the lack of reputable scientists they could quote who insist that substantial parts of the IPCC Report are not acceptable, it is difficult from the NY Times alone to see what the fuss is about.

The AP does better. "Four mistakes have been discovered in the second [of four] report, which attempts to explain how global warming might affect daily life around the world."

"A lot of stuff in there was just not very good," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of the first report. "A chronic problem is that on the whole area of impacts, getting into the realm of social science, it is a softer science."

The second report at times relied on government reports or advocacy group reports instead of peer-reviewed research.

The problems found include:

* In the Asian chapter, five errors in a single entry on glaciers in the Himalayas say those glaciers would disappear by 2035 -- hundreds of years earlier than other information suggests -- with no research backing it up. An advocacy group was used as a source.

* A section about agriculture in northern Africa says global warming and normal climate variability could reduce crop yields. But it gets oversimplified in later summaries so that lower projected crop yields are blamed solely on climate change.

* The report says there are more weather disasters than before because of climate change and that they are costing more. But debate continues over whether increased disaster costs are because of global warming or other societal factors, such as increased development in hurricane-prone areas.

In Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, four climate change panel authors call for reform, including longtime skeptic John R. Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, who suggests the outright dumping of the panel in favor of an effort modeled after Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

They don't quite get around to describing four problems. They could have added: speculation as to whether there will be fewer people with potable water, or more people, overall, skews in the opposite way to the published source that is cited; the second-last version, which reviewers worked on, cited possible problems with drought and crop production, including tea; the last version included changes that the famous peer reviewers had no say in, making everything seem worse and more certain. And we are surely still at the beginning of such discoveries. The second out of four reports (25% of the IPCC bible) may be more or less complete nonsense.

Still, a good start.

The Toronto papers, having not really covered any of the recent climate debates in their news pages, go straight to opinion pieces. Margaret Wente has indicated that the edifice of faith in global warming is crumbling. Today Gerald Butts of the now-infamous WWF gets to remind us that the only reason the alarmist scientists are spreading alarm is that they are alarmed themselves, and "even scientists who have criticized the IPCC agree that anthropogenic climate change is both a fact and an urgent threat to the planet." Well, I would guess that there are fewer such scientists every day.

Bizarrely, the Star goes from no coverage at all to Carol Goar saying that even if all the alarm turns out to be misguided, and everything the skeptics say is true, limiting CO2 emissions is still the right thing to do. Even if the analysis is totally wrong, the recommendation remains the same? I doubt it. It's possible that there is no real shortage of oil and gas, and no real downside to burning them (at least in comparison to the alternatives, including burning coal). Shifting the world from burning coal to burning oil and gas, including oil and gas from Alberta, would be a huge improvement.

Back to good old WUWT. Jerome Ravetz investigates how we got to where we are--how actual scientists got us here.

We can begin to see what went seriously wrong when we examine what the leading practitioners of this ‘evangelical science’ of global warming (thanks to Angela Wilkinson) took to be the plain and urgent truth in their case. This was not merely that there are signs of exceptional disturbance in the ecosphere due to human influence, nor even that the climate might well be changing more rapidly now than for a very long time. Rather, they propounded, as a proven fact, Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming. There is little room for uncertainty in this thesis; it effectively needs hockey-stick behaviour in all indicators of global temperature, so that it is all due to industrialisation. Its iconic image is the steadily rising graph of CO2 concentrations over the past fifty years at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii (with the implicit assumption that CO2 had always previously been at or below that starting level). Since CO2 has long been known to be a greenhouse gas, with scientific theories quantifying its effects, the scientific case for this dangerous trend could seem to be overwhelmingly simple, direct, and conclusive.

So far, so good. Over-simplification combined with moral zeal. But why did it become so doctrinaire, even fanatical?

In retrospect, we can ask why this particular, really rather extreme view of the prospect, became the official one. It seems that several causes conspired. First, the early opposition to any claim of climate change was only partly scientific; the tactics of the opposing special interests were such as to induce the proponents to adopt a simple, forcefully argued position.

Ah, so it's partly the fault of the mean old skeptics, hurting the feelings of the noble scientists. Ravetz is also slow to suggest that the key scientists began to make tons of dough off this theory from the beginning--thanks to Thatcher among others--and this gave them a huge incentive to continue the game.

But he seems pretty sure that they have gone seriously wrong.

In the course of the development of climate-change science, all sorts of loose ends were left unresolved and sometimes unattended. Even the most fundamental quantitative parameter of all, the forcing factor relating the increase in mean temperature to a doubling of CO2, lies somewhere between 1 and 3 degrees, and is thus uncertain to within a factor of 3. The precision (at about 2%) in the statements of the ‘safe limits’ of CO2 concentration, depending on calculations with this factor, is not easily justified. Also, the predictive power of the global temperature models has been shown to depend more on the ’story line’ than anything else, the end-of century increase in temperature ranging variously from a modest one degree to a catastrophic six. And the ‘hockey stick’ picture of the past, so crucial for the strict version of the climate change story, has run into increasingly severe problems. As an example, it relied totally on a small set of deeply uncertain tree-ring data for the Medieval period, to refute the historical evidence of a warming then; but it needed to discard that sort of data for recent decades, as they showed a sudden cooling from the 1960’s onwards! In the publication, the recent data from other sources were skilfully blended in so that the change was not obvious; that was the notorious ‘Nature trick’ of the CRU e-mails.

Even worse, for the warming case to have political effect, a mere global average rise in temperature was not compelling enough. So that people could appreciate the dangers, there needed to be predictions of future climate – or even weather – in the various regions of the world. Given the gross uncertainties in even the aggregated models, regional forecasts are really beyond the limits of science. And yet they have been provided, with various degrees of precision. Those announced by the IPCC have become the most explosive.

Back to the Second Part of the IPCC Report again--the worst of the four. But Ravetz makes it clear that all the fundamental beliefs are questionable: 20th century unusually warm? How sure can anyone be of that? Warming trend in the 20th century to match, co-relate with, increase in man-made CO2? Probably not. Any bad trend at all that clearly co-relates with man-made CO2? Probably not. Even if forcing is occurring at the most likely values, is it any kind of crisis? Probably not. If the Medieval Warming Period was just as warm as the 20th century, this would be a non-man-made warming, which no contemporary described as bad thing. And so on.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Light Begins to Dawn

Genuine scientists who have been inclined to trust the climate guys are beginning to realize that something is ... not quite right. A graph that should go down, cooling, is printed as going up, warming. Not once, not twice, three times. A mistake?

Clueless? Or lying?

"Environmental" Movies

Following up on my point about boomer environmentalism ("stop killing Bambi") and kindergarten Marxism (capitalism is going to kill us somehow), I'll bring up some famous movies. In a way the environmental movement, especially in its focus on global warming, is saying: Let's give Erin Brockovich (even) more money--she's such an advocate for forcing companies to take responsibility for the harm they do to the environment. Let's bring Karen Silkwood back to life--it's terrible the way corporate interests had her killed for trying to tell the truth about the awful dangers of nuclear power. And (fictional) Michael Clayton should be made a full partner in his firm; he knows what justice is when it comes to companies corrupting our food supply and endangering innocent people.

The whole idea that as a general rule, a company would order a street murder as a solution to their problems, and that this demonstrates what capitalism is really like, is infantile. Of course there are people who kill witnesses, or arrange to have them killed, in order to make a trial or lawsuit go their way: street criminals, and sometimes more sophisticated people like lawyer Paul Bergrin. Surely it is more likely, however, that a company would use cash to make issues go away--the very tasty carrot, rather than the brutal stick. As the senior lawyer played by Sydney Pollack says in the Clayton movie, when Clayton has melodramatically suggested that their corporate client is guilty: "Is that all? I thought this case stank from the beginning." Apart from this, is it common for companies to have the kind of skeleton in the closet that makes them cornered and panicky?

And even if this does happen with some regularity--gritty reality cannot be defended--does this mean that capitalism does more harm than good--that it is just as likely to kill us as to keep on making us rich?

Wikipedia suggests that if anyone conspired to kill Karen Silkwood, it was more likely the U.S. government than the Kerr-McGee corporation. Brockovich didn't exactly have to prove, in "peer-reviewed" fashion, that the Kerr-McGee corporation had made anyone sick. She just had to prove that people were sick, and that the company had placed poison nearby. A jury was ready to do the rest. John Edwards made a big career out of suing companies that could afford to pay big lawsuits. Are his sucesses a sign that he carefully investigated the harm that doctors and hospitals had actually done? It is known, for example, that Edwards more or less invented the theory that babies suffer from cerebral palsy if they are delayed in passing through the birth canal at birth. He got at least one doctor to keep on testifying to this, but there was never a scientific basis for it, and when good evidence started to come in, it was against Edwards' theory rather than for it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Many Have Kept Up the Nonsense: But What is the Underlying View?

"Underlying philosophy" I think would be a bit too grand.

Donna Lafromboise lists the many substantial groups who have been active participants in spreading the IPCC's BS without showing enough, or any, skepticism. She includes national science academies, leading science journals, the media in general, politicians in general, and "ordinary folks like you and me." She cites the blog Climate Resistance for pointing out that "the politics came before the science": the belief that less developed societies had to be "protected" from industrialization, rather than being allowed to generate wealth from it as we have done, came before the so-called "science" proving that there was a crisis or catastrophe at hand, and governments had to take immediate action.

I would repeat myself and go further: the boomers in general suffer from a kind of "kindergarten Marxism": the belief that capitalism is going to kill us all somehow, unless drastic action is taken, and it is only a question of which of several possible sources of destruction will be the actual killer. It might be the water we drink, the air we breathe, etc. Global warming was always perfect as the biggest, scariest potential killer. To hide the pure self-interest of saying "I don't want to die," it is best to refer to a belief, no doubt genuine as far as it goes, that we have exploited nature for long enough, and we should stop killing Bambi.

Salinger, Alienation, Irony, and ?

This is almost a throw-away couple of paragraphs from Rick Salutin:

Catcher in the wry? What I found striking in the testimonials on How J.D. Salinger Changed My Life is the fact that most witnesses read The Catcher in the Rye for high- school or university classes. Novelist Andrew Pyper said his copy had “Grade 10D” scrawled inside. It was those “phony” adults in authority – i.e., teachers and profs – who glommed onto it and assigned it. What happens when the sense of alienation at the core of your authentic self results from being told to read a book that you're graded on? “Supervised alienation,” says a writer I know. Would they have even discovered the book left to their own devices? They'll never find out.

Back around the time that Holden Caulfield first appeared in print, the neo-Freudian Erik Erikson suggested that excessively early toilet training may have undermined the sense of control and autonomy among a generation of Americans, leading to paranoia about Communist subversives and alien invaders. What about the emergence of a pervasive ironic sense in a later age? Holden Caulfield wasn't ironic, he was desperately earnest. But could irony be the response of a generation that was prematurely alienated, as it were, from its own alienation?

This is almost amazingly good. Is it still true, as good old Frank magazine used to speculate, that Salutin is the highest-paid columnist at the Globe and Mail?

To greatly over-generalize: hippies teach Salinger's earnestness to the young--paradoxically, in a rigid classroom setting in which the hippies have secure government jobs, pension plans, the whole bourgeois works. This leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of younger people, who react, one would say understandably, by trying to reject earnestness as such. Voila, irony.

Yglesias says people talk about Salinger more than other novelists because they read Salinger (really Catcher in the Rye) when they are impressionable and they actually read novels. Once you leave college/university, it is not easy to encounter people who actually read novels.

My thoughts: what books do bright young people discover on their own, with little or no prodding--maybe, even more deliciously, with some disapproval--from teachers? In my day, Ayn Rand, and possibly thanks to her, a little Nietzsche. Some of the Commie stuff would come and go, but it is notoriously heavy going. Maybe some C.S. Lewis.

More recently, I'm guessing Cormac McCarthy. I really have no intentions of reading him, but I guess it is kind of violence porn. As with Peckinpah in film, there is a debate: is this an attempt to go to such an extreme of violence that a sane audience must react by saying enough, we need law and order and decency? Or does it simply stimulate a thirst for still greater and more grotesque violence? Homer has plenty of gore, quite possibly as a crowd-pleaser, but ... I think he had other things on his mind as well, and the great question wasn't: can we still be basically nice people while we develop all this facility with guns, blades, etc.?

The Twilight series has surprised a lot of intellectuals. Harry Potter, of course, but what age group?

My son read lots of things in high school, both for class and not. He became quite absorbed in Michener's Space, and I think this helped inspire him to go into engineering. As well-meaning parents, one Christmas we got him some more Michener, but he wasn't interested. (I had a friend who knocked off several huge Michener novels, one after another). He got to know the whole Dune series quite well; I was absorbed with the first Dune when I was in high school.


My son questions my earlier comment:

The IPCC report is "worse than creationism, a real war on science?"

I reply:

Because it comes more in the guise of science. The creationists, at least at their most honest, just say they're trying to keep the Bible in the picture somehow--not science, but revelation, an entirely different way of looking at things.

The IPCC Report has consistently been praised as peer-reviewed, etc. Rock solid science. If there is bullshit in there, it is worse than trying to somehow give a religious account of fossil evidence.

Many scientists have stayed out of the debate because they don't want to get caught up in politics. Very few glacier experts have spoken out about the 2035 nonsense, the tree-ring experts were not the ones who brought down the hockey stick, etc. This has left the field either abandoned, or available to be occupied by amateurs--some of them a bit nutty or eccentric, some of them making mistakes. This has helped to reinforce the idea that all the real scientists are on Gore's side.

Today the Times [actually the Telegraph] of London, which has done a pretty good job of showing where the doubts are appearing, actually had reporters (new to the story) contact the authors of the paper about five years of drought followed by heavy logging in the Amazon. No surprise: drought plus logging is bad for forests. This is cited by the IPCC as if it is of some relevance to climate change, which is not mentioned anywhere in the paper. (The IPCC also comes up with 40% of the Amazon likely to be destroyed, close to a pure fabrication). The authors now say they have no objection to the way their paper has been used by the IPCC. What does that mean? Because they are experts on drought plus logging, they are also experts on climate change? That they are flattered to be included at the grown-ups table? Do they know anything more about the link between their paper and climate change than I do? They're experts on the paper, I'm not, but beyond that? If you have a Ph.D. in one narrow field, are you an expert on everything?

I add now: Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at Leeds University who specialises in tropical forest ecology, is asked by British media to comment on the citation by the IPCC of a WWF report by Rowell and Moore, which in turn depends on a letter published in Nature: D. C. Nepstad, A. VerĂ­ssimo, A. Alencar, C. Nobre, E. Lima, P. Lefebvre, P. Schlesinger, C. Potter, P. Mountinho, E. Mendoza, M. Cochrane, V. Brooks, Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire, Nature, 1999, Vo l 398, 8 April, pp505. When quoted by the BBC, Dr. Lewis says: "The IPCC statement is basically correct but poorly written, and bizarrely referenced."

The Sunday Times has this:

In a direct quote, Lewis goes on to say: "The Nature paper is about the interactions of logging damage, fire and periodic droughts, all extremely important in understanding the vulnerability of Amazon forest to drought, but is not related to the vulnerability of these forests to reductions in rainfall." Then we get Lewis saying: "In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data."

Compare and contrast this with The Sunday Telegraph view that the IPCC had "accurately represented" the Nature paper.

Leake is clearly unconvinced, reporting that this is the third time in as many weeks that serious doubts have been raised over the IPCC's conclusions on climate change. And this weekend Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, was fighting to keep his job after a barrage of criticism – which is why The Sunday Telegraph writes a 750-word piece about his new novel.

Even the WWF takes it more seriously, saying it prided itself on the accuracy of its reports, but is investigating the latest concerns. "We have a team of people looking at this internationally," says Keith Allott, its climate change campaigner.

Scientists such as Lewis are demanding that the IPCC ban the use of reports from pressure groups. Georg Kaser, a glaciologist who was a lead author on the last IPCC report, said: "Groups like WWF are not scientists and they are not professionally trained to manage data. They may have good intentions but it opens the way to mistakes."

So again, there are cases where actual scientists are happy to have their work distorted by the IPCC--profile, recognition, potential money and travel, etc. The fact that they are experts in what they published on does not mean they are experts on whether the IPCC has used their work correctly or not.

A more bizarre case is that of Nigel Arnell. He published a refereed paper addressing the question whether global warming would cause a net, overall increase or decrease in water shortages. He reported, with huge variances in possible outcomes, that the number of people benefitting from increased water supply might actually outnumber those who suffer from a decrease. To a lay person, it seems that Arnell's paper may have been close to 100% bullshit in the first place, "refereed and peer-reviewed" or not.

But it gets more interesting. In the 2007 IPCC Report, Arnell "helped author the summary and some sections in the full report." What do we find there?

But the IPCC uses Mr. Arnell's research to give the opposite impression, by a form of single-entry book-keeping. While it dutifully tallies the numbers of people he predicts will be left with less water access, it largely ignores the greater number likely to see more water courtesy of climate change.

The IPCC's much-shorter "Summary for Policy Makers" is even more one-sided. It is riddled with warnings of warming-induced drought and—while acknowledging that a hotter Earth would bring "increased water availability" in some areas—warns that rising temperatures would leave "hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress." Nowhere does it specify that even more people would probably have more water supplies.

The IPCC also neglects to mention Mr. Arnell's baseline forecasts—that is, the number of people expected to experience greater "water stress" simply due to factors like population growth and resource use, regardless of what happens with temperatures. This leaves readers with the misleading impression that all, or nearly all, of the IPCC's predicted "water stress" increases are attributable to climate change.

These omissions were no accident. In 2006, prior to the release of the IPCC's report and the all-important policy makers' summary, Indur Goklany—at the time with the U.S. Department of the Interior—alerted the summary's authors that it was "disingenuous" to report on a warmer world's newly "water-stressed" without mentioning that "as many, if not more, may no longer be water stressed (if Arnell's analyses are to be trusted)." Mr. Goklany's advice was dismissed.

A reputable scientist, drawing on Arnell's published work, tried to call bullshit on the IPCC. The IPCC, to some extent with Arnell now wearing a different hat, ignored him. How does Arnell defend himself?

[Arnell] told your correspondent he is "happy" with the way his work was represented. He said one reason for the omissions was "space"—apparently there was a "big constraint on the number of words" in texts that total 2,823 pages. The other reason Mr. Arnell cited—which he emphasized in his 2004 paper—is that increased and decreased water stress are asymmetrical indicators, and comparing them is "misleading."

"Having a bit more [water] is not as good as having a bit less is bad," Mr. Arnell explained, though he admitted the degree of asymmetry remains undefined. That defense of IPCC accounting dissolves even faster if you examine a separate section of the IPCC's full report, which cites one of Mr. Arnell's regional breakdowns to show that Latin America will likely see more people with greater water troubles than with less. So apparently it's only misleading to tabulate the benefits of global warming when they outweigh the costs.

UPDATE: Another impressive example from Richard North. An IPCC author (Martin Parry) relying on a non-peer-reviewed source that supports the alarmist view—drought in Africa is probably caused by climate change to a significant extent--instead of his own well-known peer-reviewed research that supports uncertainty about this rather than certainty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In the case of climate change, skepticism is increasingly mainstream--at least in the U.K. (The U.K. government has committed to spending a lot of dough trying to improve the climate, or lower the speed at which the temperature goes up, or something).

It seems that there has been a hesitation on the part of glacier experts to criticize what the IPCC says about glaciers, likewise experts on China when it comes to China, experts on South Asia when it comes to the Himalayas and flooding, experts on tree rings when it comes to using tree rings as a proxy for temperature, experts on infectious disease when it comes to malaria and West Nile virus, experts on the Arctic and Antarctic, etc. Even the temperature record for the 20th century, which you would think a group of Ph.D's could get straight, may be more or less bogus. As the experts come forward, things may change quite a bit.

In Canada and the U.S. there is far less coverage of the crumbling edifice, but voters may be more skeptical than they will admit to pollsters. I thought the 2008 election in Canada was one in which anyone who said the words "green" or "climate change" was reduced to a small pile of white ash, and just a trace of vapour. That may be even more the case next time around--and for the Ontario election in the fall of 2011.