Saturday, July 31, 2010

Obama, electric cars, etc.

Lots of goodies here, from Slate. Obama is giving money to rich people to buy electric cars which are really just expensive toys. These toys will make little or no difference to the production of CO2, and they are an environmental nightmare in their own way. There is already a surplus of batteries for these things, so soon the workers who make them will be laid off--Obama the job-killer. There would be a much bigger and more positive impact on the environment and the economy to impose a tax on gas itself or on gas-guzzlers--but no politician has the guts to do it.

Bizarrely, Obama does an event about the new economy, new kinds of vehicles, etc., and the centerpiece of the event is the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. (h/t the Corner) This seems partly to be almost unbelievably poor staff work--questions once again about "smart" and "competent." When I worked for a minister I thought it was a great idea to draft letters congratulating companies for almost any success in the high-tech field: growth in sales, a successful IPO, an announcement of new technology, or anything. The Minister signed for a while, but eventually he passed back a note which said something like: what if these companies soon fail or get into some kind of trouble? Where will we be then? Always good to be thinking ahead--which I should have been doing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Update on the Gulf Oil Spill

So far, little evidence of damage caused by the Gulf oil spill. The marshes have always been vulnerable, and in fact have been disappearing by the thousands of acres per year for many years, but the spill is not likely to make much difference.

My favourite line: "LSU coastal scientist Eugene Turner has dedicated much of his career to documenting how the oil industry has ravaged Louisiana's coast with canals and pipelines, but he says the BP spill will be a comparative blip; he predicts that the oil will destroy fewer marshes than the airboats deployed to clean up the oil."

This doesn't even mention the fact that there are constant oil seeps at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the wildlife there would die without oil.

Where's the Money?

Is there more money in warning about global warming, or in being a skeptic about it? This is an easy one--there is far more money in being a "warmist."

I think this helps explain why it seems on first and even second glance that the warmists are real experts with Ph.Ds, whereas the skeptics are amateurs. The real experts know which side their bread is buttered on--and they often give support to "green" projects that are environmentally dubious, and profitable mainly because of government subsidies.

h/t Bishop Hill.

Continuing the Debate

I thought about responding to this piece in the Toronto Star, but then I decided against it. Honestly, anyone who simply repeats the warming orthodoxy now is starting to sound delusional.

Here is my response:

These authors do a serious disservice to their readers by attempting to sweep all meaningful questions about climate science under the rug.

Have the authors of the “Climategate” e-mails been exonerated? In a technical sense, yes, but the “studies” involved have been almost unbelievably cursory, not to say careless. There is obviously a great deal of money at stake for governments and universities—and there are reputations and careers at stake for scientists. It is fair to say that the establishment is doing its best to close ranks.

A large part of the e-mails has to do with the use of proxy data to estimate temperature and climate before the era of widespread use of thermometers—in other words, before about 1880. The famous “hockey stick” graph purports to show with great clarity and precision that there was little temperature increase for thousands of years before the 20th century, then a dramatic and steady increase in that century, and then an even more dramatic projected increase is shown. To say the least, many questions have been raised about the methodology behind that graph. Remarkably, its famous authors have made it a policy to refuse to share their work as much as possible. What finally made their efforts more visible was that they were trying to avoid complying with Freedom of Information legislation. The e-mails confirm these efforts; the reports that seem to exonerate the scientists do not come to grips with the issues.

The authors refer to some statements in the latest IPCC report that have already turned out to be mistaken, or may do so soon. Hilariously, most of the examples they give are statements that (they claim) understate the warming threat that is facing us. Setting aside the statement about the exact year that the Himalayas are likely to be ice-free (wrong), is it true in general that the world’s glaciers are all retreating, and in a way that correlates well to the increase in man-made CO2? No. Is it true that both poles are rapidly losing ice? No. Is there solid evidence that sea level is rising at rates beyond what one would expect from a gradual retreat from an ice age? No. Is there solid evidence that the Amazon is so sensitive to drought that 40% of the trees there could be killed by even a moderate decline in precipitation? No; apparently that statement made it into the IPCC report with no backing from the peer-reviewed literature at all. If some of the warming scenarios come true, are humans in general likely to have less access to potable water, or more? There was a peer-reviewed source that said humans with more access would outnumber those with less, but the IPCC chose to report only on those who were predicted to have less. Has there been an increase in either the frequency or severity of extreme weather events? Probably not: the IPCC chose to refer to a second-last draft of a paper saying that 20% of the increased costs of such events result from global warming, rather than the final draft which stated that no effect of global warming can be discerned.

Part of what is refreshing in the “Climategate” e-mails is that the scientists, e-mailing among friends, admit that they know very little about temperature before about one hundred years ago, they do not understand all the significant forces that are at work in shaping climate, and they don’t know whether there was a medieval warming period (at least roughly as warm as the twentieth century—and presumably not because of man-made factors) or not. I for one thought until recently that at least the twentieth century temperature record must be pretty solid, but it turns out there are significant questions even about that. We have been told that it is not a temperature increase of, say, 2 degrees Celsius per century that should concern us, but one of, say, 6 or 7 degrees. There seems to be no solid evidence of any such increase, and in fact the official warming trend seems to have levelled off (barring “warmest ever” records of a few tenths or hundredths of a degree warmer than the previous record), since 1998.

If every specific component of the official theory is at least somewhat questionable or uncertain, then I believe it is logically impossible to say with certainty that the temperature is going up in a way that sane people would worry about, and the increase is man-made. Distinguished researchers should at least acknowledge these issues in their attempts to enlighten the public.

By the way, I am not paid by big oil, and I don’t think I am in any way similar to the tobacco companies fighting off anti-smoking legislation. In any case, big oil and the banks are finding a way to make money from government “green” grants, carbon credits trading, etc.

Kerry Emanuel continues (h/t Bishop Hill) in the same vein as the Star piece-sweeping issues and questions under the rug, suggesting that only skeptics have questionable motives and agendas. He says the warmists such as himself say there is a range of possible outcomes, ranging from innocuous to catastrophic. The so-called skeptics are the narrow-minded ones, suggesting that the only possible outcome is innocuous.

I don't think the IPCC authors are known for saying: maybe the outcome will be innocuous. Distortions, gaps, silences and mistakes are all on the warming side, never on the side of "calm down, this is normal." The ranks of skeptics certainly include people who believe that temperature increase is a problem, and that man-made CO2 contributes to it. I personally think very real events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, the killing frost in Mongolia last winter, and various volcanoes, are much more of a threat than climate change, man-made or not. The climate, of course, does change constantly, and may do so in a surprising way in the next 50 to 100 years. But it doesn't seem likely.

By the way, Antarctic ice is not shrinking. That's why it's not in the news.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


First example: the way Shirley Sherrod was fired. (Yes, Breitbart was wrong to rush the edited video onto the net, and many were wrong to charge Sherrod with racism based on the edited video; I won't get into the question whether whites, as the putative winners, are ever allowed to accuse non-whites, the putative losers, of racism).

But: weren't the Obamacrats supposed to be smart and competent? Via Instapundit.

Second example: the RCMP in Western Canada not only can't find a missing couple; they don't put together the "missing vehicle"--that the RCMP had actually found--with the still missing couple. Via Colby Cosh.

Smart Canadians

More and more I find my heroes are Canadian. Here's Margaret McMillan questioning the whole notion of a world-wide Moslem threat.

While I'm at it: Rick Salutin: Americans are basically comfortable with a huge national-security apparatus, which includes more and more fascist tricks pulled on innocent people. Canadians are not as comfortable with it; we have not reacted in nearly the same way to 9/11.

I differ with Salutin on his suggestion that the majority of Americans are afraid of African-Americans, and want lots of gung ho cops around just in case. Of course the people that Americans seem willing to "leave behind" are disproportionately African-American (although there are some proud Appalachian whites among them as well); so the great debate (including the whole Sherrod episode) has to do with whether there is really racism at work or not.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I've discovered a pretty good living novelist: Hilary Mantel, possibly Irish originally, now living in England.

I haven't found her latest which may be her greatest, but the one I'm reading (Beyond Black) is about a lady who has some degree of real, non-faked communication with dead people. She can't talk to whomever she wants--it's more true that they bug her whenever they feel like it. Most of them are not very nice, but she conceals that from her customers, who typically pay for some kind of reassuring message. As she says, they weren't nice when they were alive, why would they be nicer once they're dead?

Anyway, I had just come to a piece about dogs when our Westie died.

p. 18: "Now Allison fished around in the front rows for somebody who'd lost a pet and found a woman whose terrier, on an impulse three weeks ago, had dashed out of the front door into the traffic. 'Don't you listen,' she told the woman, 'to people who tell you animals have no souls. They go on in spirit, same as we do.' Animals distressed her; not cats but just dogs: their ownerless whimper as they padded through the afterlife on the trail of their masters."
"Let her think it, that dog and master are together now; let her take comfort, since comfort's what she's paid for. Let her assume that Tiddles and his boss are together in the Beyond. Reunion is seldom so simple; and really it's better for dogs--if people could just grasp it--not to have an owner waiting for them, airside. Without a person to search for, they join up in happy packs, and within a year or two you never hear from them individually: there's just a joyful corporate barking, instead of that lost whine, the sore pads, the disconsolate drooping head of the dog following a fading scent."

The action of the novel includes the time of Princess Diana or Lady Diana's death, and there is some hilarious nasty stuff: she was thick, had bad taste in men, did badly in school except for the cup she won for being kind to her guinea pig. A few days after her death she appears to Allison, and she's already forgotten the names of her sons.

My source for books and authors is now the Spectator in London. Thanks to them I'm reading some Beryl Bainbridge. The Bottle Factory Outing: Brenda has a middle-class English upbringing, such that she can never say what she actually thinks or feels. The only time one can say "No" is when one doesn't mean it. You are hungry, but it is polite to say "No thank you" when offered food. Conversely, you must say "yes" if it is offered after you are full. Patrick the Irishman is attracted to you, but starts to realize she could never live with her hypocrisy or dishonesty, and fact concludes that despite her sexual reserve, she has engaged in some heavy petting, or something, with a man she works with. He might have guessed that in this case, once again, she simply couldn't find a polite way to say "No." Oh, and they have to plot together to dispose of a dead body, but even this doesn't bring them together.

Now I'm on to An Awfully Big Adventure: a teenage girl gets into the theatre in Liverpool--mostly behind the scenes, but with a chance at small parts. This may be modelled on Bainbridge herself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Dishonesty of Mainstream Climate Science

As Steve McIntyre regularly reminds us, it is unlikely that any of the famous climate scientists will be proven to have committed outright fraud: making deliberately false statements in order to acquire a benefit such as a grant; saying one state of affairs is true--regarding temperature or whatever--while knowing that a different, equally specific state of affairs is actually true. It is unlikely that they have published things they know to be false, while suppressing things they know to be contradictory and true. They are not hiding proof of global cooling, or even of a global steady state in regard to climate--there has probably never been such a thing.

What they have certainly done is give a misleading impression as to how much certainty is possible in their young science. Their very precise numbers and graphs are misleading, not primarily in comparison to a better set of numbers (although in some cases there probably are some), but in comparison to the genuine uncertainty that remains necessary in any statement of findings.

I keep going back to the e-mails in which leading climate scientists, in communications that they believed would never be public, admit this to each other. See here and here. It has been said on good authority that during the Oxburgh inquiry, Phil Jones said that it was probably impossible to do the 1000-year temperature reconstructions with any accuracy. See the Phil Jones interview in February.

UPDATE: See also John Christy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peer-reviewed art

Is there a group of experts somewhere who can tell for sure, possibly with new computers, cameras or forensic tools, whether a painting is by a Great Master or other famous painter or not? One might think so, and yet ....

The New Yorker has a great piece by David Grann. One expert has made his name by detecting the finger prints of an artist on a disputed painting, then matching these prints with known finger prints to prove authenticity. The article portrays him very sympathetically for the first half or so--finally, someone willing and able to bring science to a field that has been far too subjective, with people defending their potential dollars rather than the truth. But then the tide of the article turns: the finger print expert may be a con artist.

The massive question emerges: has any real progress been made from the notion that there are some people who can just tell whether a painting is by a particular artist or not?

In the nineteen-thirties, the notorious Dutch forger Han van Meegeren, who produced at least nine fake Vermeers, used a canvas from the seventeenth century that still had its original stretcher. (Like many forgers, Van Meegeren insisted that he was “driven by the psychological effect of disappointment in not being acknowledged by my fellow artists and critics.”)

The reputations of scholars have been ruined after their eye was shown to be fallible. Dr. Abraham Bredius, who in the thirties was considered the greatest authority on the Dutch Old Masters, is now remembered best for having branded a van Meegeren forgery a Vermeer masterpiece.

The public’s distrust of the cloistered art world helps to explain why a forger, or a swindler, is so often perceived as a romantic avenger, his deceptions exposing the deeper fraudulence of the establishment. When Han van Meegeren was tried for his Vermeer forgeries, in 1947, his lawyer insisted, “The art world is reeling, and experts are beginning to doubt the very basis of artistic attribution. This was precisely what the defendant was trying to achieve.” In fact, most art swindlers have no grand intellectual design; rather, they are, as Thomas Hoving once put it, “money-grubbing confidence men, delighted to cobble up something that will get by in the rush for big profits.”

When a forgery is exposed, people in the art world generally have the same reaction: how could anyone have ever been fooled by something so obviously phony, so artless? Few connoisseurs still think that Han van Meegeren’s paintings look at all like Vermeers, or even have any artistic value. Forgers usually succeed not because they are so talented but, rather, because they provide, at a moment in time, exactly what others desperately want to see. Conjurers as much as copyists, they fulfill a wish or a fantasy. And so the inconsistencies—crooked signatures, uncharacteristic brushstrokes—are ignored or explained away.

A who's who of experts can get caught up in a fad, and only a few years later, wonder how anyone could have been so stupid. The con artists hits on a way to tell people what they want to believe. Morally, it may hardly seem to be dishonest when a few words are taken as gospel by gullible fools. Perhaps the con artist is even clever or honest enough to say: There is a lot of uncertainty; my words should not be taken as gospel.

Food for thought.

Boomers as Psycho Coaches

Remember how we were told that once the boomers were in charge, there would be far fewer instances of the arbitrary abuse of authority--especially over children, who after all are presumed to be innocent and creative, capable of producing works comparable to those of Michelangelo if only they are left alone?

Why is it, then, that with the boomers more or less in charge, many children are subjected to the tyranny of screaming, apparently psychotic coaches during organized, regimented sports, constantly supervised by adults?

I suppose it's possible that the boomers are always wrong about everything.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Standard Practice in Academia?

The Penn State investigating committee looking into allegations against Dr. Michael E. Mann (not the Miami Vice guy) concludes: "Michael Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research, or other scholarly activities." h/t WUWT.

Fred Pearce, a long-time environment reporter who believes in the warming theory, says:

The evidence of scientists cutting corners, playing down uncertainties in their calculations and then covering their tracks by being secretive with data and suppressing dissent suggests a systemic problem of scientific sloppiness, collusion and endemic conflicts of interest, but not of outright fraud. (p. 241)

h/t Climate Audit.

Remarkably, these two statements may not be contradictory. Some degree of hiding or suppressing evidence, greatly over-stating the credibility of headline-making statements, distortion, selective reading etc. may be accepted in academia as the means that are necessary to climb the greasy pole. You say you are bringing certainty to a field that has been full of uncertainty. Even better, you are questioning if not overturning the certainties of the past. As long as there is a kind of plausibility to your work (see McArdle: "not obviously false"), you are golden.

Even if someone cares to (and the big wigs at Penn State certainly don't), it is difficult to prove outright fraud. Mann knew for sure that a statement he made was false? That some other, contrary statement was true? Did he know that uncertainty was still the truth when it came to climate science, and all the interesting theories were hardly more than speculation? It is more likely, at least much of the time, that he honestly thought his bullshit was no worse than most, and better than some. Once their models seemed to work for some historical eras, the climate scientists kidded themselves that they would work for all. Once they had comitted themselves to this view, and received huge funding and attention for it, reputations and careers depended on continuing to defend it.

Steve McIntyre has said repeatedly that this has been a sobering lesson to him. In mining engineering, you either have the evidence or you don't. You either demonstrate it or you don't.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Peer Review is No Panacea

Thanks, Megan McArdle (and congratulations on your recent marriage).

This is not to say that the peer review system is worthless. But it's limited. Peer review doesn't prove that a paper is right; it doesn't even prove that the paper is any good (and it may serve as a gatekeeper that shuts out good, correct papers that don't sit well with the field's current establishment for one reason or another). All it proves is that the paper has passed the most basic hurdles required to get published--that it be potentially interesting, and not obviously false. This may commend it to our attention--but not to our instant belief.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Peer" "Reviewed" "Science"

The controversy about the CRU e-mails, the terrily misleading IPCC Report AR-4, etc., has at least had the benefit of flushing out some climate scientists, and causing them to make direct statements that can be checked.

One of them, Dr. Simon Lewis, has succeeded in getting a correction/retraction from the Sunday Times for the way "Amazongate" was covered, and especially the way he was quoted. He was probably entitled to get his own remarks corrected, and the Times was right to make the correction. Unfortunately, the Times also said:

The article "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim" (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an "unsubstantiated claim" that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall.
... In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

Richard North comments: "the paper has chosen to go far beyond [what was] needed, and conceded that "the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." This simply is not true."

The IPCC AR4 Report says: "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation", and the only support given for this statement is a non-peer-reviewed paper published by the WWF.

Lewis is obviously gloating--he's received a lot of favourable media as one of those noble scientists, oppressed by nasty skeptics. So then he goes too far. While admitting that the Times reporter actually read the proposed text for publication over the phone, and got Lewis's approval, Lewis says the final text was significantly different from what was read to him. This is not true.

Then there is Daniel Nepstad. The WWF source was not peer-reviewed, but it in turn cited at least one source that was indeed peer-reviewed--but that source does not support the 40% figure. This is actually kind of hilarious. Dr. Nepstad has done work showing that if a forest suffers significant drought (not just a "slight reduction in precipitation"), followed by massive fires, the forest can be greatly reduced. Not by drought per se, and not by a slight reduction in precipitation. Nepstad now steps forward to defend Lewis and the whole IPCC regime, saying there is a peer-reviewed source somewhere that actually supports the 40% figure as written. No one can find any such source, even when he tries to put the pea under a thimble by naming a source that is now available only in Portuguese. (See also Bishop Hill). So now he says:

"North's comment reveals an important misinterpretation of the IPCC statement. He seems to be saying that IPCC is referring to droughts similar to those that have already taken place in the Amazon region. This is not true. The IPCC statement refers to reductions in precipitation BEYOND the historical pattern."

So it is not, as one might think, that any old "slight decrease in precipitation" can cause a massive die-off of the extremely tough and resilient Amazon rain forest; rather, if there is a long period of drought such as the one culminating in the year 2005, then even a small addition to this drought might (based on no historical experience or evidence) cause a massive die-off.

Dr. Nepstad is being dishonest in several different ways. This is the best they can do?

And it is of some importance to note: the original Times story was accurate: the only citation used by the IPCC was to a non-peer-reviewed source, and to this day no one has come up with a peer-reviewed source that supports the IPCC statement. This bears on one of the most high-profile aspects of the climate debate "the Amazon rain forest, lungs of the world, etc.," and is contrary to repeated claims that the IPCC refers only to peer-reviewed publications.

UPDATE July 4: Remarkably, Richard North has actually found the "published" source of the statement that "Probably 30 to 40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall." A variation of this statement--naturally, mentioning only the 40% figure--made it into IPCC AR 4, which is supposedly based entirely on peer-reviewed scientific literature. The source in this case? A web page, taken down some years ago, by an advocacy organization.

No one can really blame an advocacy group for pulling something like that out of their asses. Their only real job is to advocate for a narrow point of view, answering to (probably) a board of directors, financial donors, to a much lesser extent the public. Even the WWF picking up on it is understandable--although the WWF keeps claiming they do much higher quality work than this--or will begin to do so someday soon. For the IPCC to simply report the bullshit, with no real checking, and absolutely no trace of a peer-reviewed scientific source for the statement, is a disgrace. Nepstad kept blathering that there was such a source, but he couldn't produce it. He probably couldn't remember or figure out where the website was. North, an "amateur," a "skeptic," has figured it all out.