Saturday, May 12, 2012


I had a bad year in 2011 on some fronts (running and writing went surprisingly well), and some degree of depression was part of it. Let's just say I've been reading and thinking about it. As a kind of detour from my work on Canadian foreign policy, I encountered a book capturing the long love affair between the Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie, and the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen. In their sharing of intellectual and other interests, and in their appreciation for each other, they could hardly have been closer--they were intimate in every sense. Yet they never seem to have thought of marrying each other. When the affair began, she was married, and while they both sensed that she was more in love than he was, she made it clear that she considered divorce out of the question. Later he married a cousin--a woman he loved and respected, who helped him greatly in his career. Something very old school about the whole thing. And of course he could not be clear, as the years passed, that he loved Bowen any less than she loved him. The book consists of Ritchie's diary entries, and Bowen's letters to him. Here she is on one of the times when they are apart:
The incalculable thing is sadness--how it shoots one down. The moment one is sad one is ordinary. If you notice, nobody in Shakespeare (Shakespeare having no use for ordinary people) is ever just sad. They have moments of interesting melancholy, listening to music and referring to violets, but once there is any question of being just sad, they step right off the edge of that into one or another kind of lunacy.
pp. 120-1. See also here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric: IPCC time again

UPDATE April 8: Eschenbach has a devastating addition to his work: A fuller sample of CO2 proxies shows that CO2 kept going up over the last few thousand years, but temperature didn't. Once again there is no apparent connection between the two, a direct contradiction of Shakun et al's thesis--and it seems highly likely that Shakun et al new of this evidence, or should have known. The so-called 5th Annual Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is not expected for some time (Working Group I, "The Physical Science Basis," will issue the Summary for Policy Makers in about a year), but there is already a crescendo of news releases to support the global warming dogma. 1. Shakun et al, "Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations ...," in Nature (2102). As Anthony Watts suggests, this is an indication of some evidence that the global warming movement desperately needs: a time when first CO2 went up, then temperature, and a plausible cause and effect can be traced. Al Gore's famous graphic, based on ice cores in one region, with both CO2 and temp spiking repeatedly at about the same time, actually shows in every case temperature up first, then CO2. This new paper considers more evidence, from more regions, and suggests that in the case of the end of the last Ice Age--a very significant temperature-related event--CO2 went up first, then temperature. Of course ice cores are a proxy for temperature, not a thermometer, and before 1850 there is usually no choice but to use proxies, and then defend why they are or may be reliable. Willis Eschenbach has looked at the actual proxies used in the study.
The main curiosity about these, other than the wide variety of amounts of warming, is the different timing of the warming. In some proxies it starts in 25,000 BC, in others it starts in 15,000 BC. Sometimes the warming peaks as early as 14,000 BC, and sometimes around 5,000 BC or later. Sometimes the warming continues right up to the present.
Since there is so much variation in the warming trends, plural, there is no way to co-relate any global warming trend with global CO2. 2. Booth et al, "Aerosols implicated as a prime driver of twentieth-century North Atlantic climate variability," Nature (2012). Amato Evans:
In a paper published on Nature’s website today, Booth et al. report their use of a state-of-the-art model of Earth’s climate to demonstrate that, at least over the past century, the AMO [Atlantic multidecadal oscillation] is largely the response of the upper ocean to changes in the concentration of pollution aerosols in the atmosphere. If correct, their results imply that the influence of human activity on the Atlantic regional climate is more pervasive than previously thought.
Judy Curry:
The result of this paper is driven by the so-called aerosol indirect effect, whereby the aerosols change the physical and optical properties of clouds. The uncertainty in the aerosol indirect effect is estimated in the AR4 to be by far the most uncertain element of radiative forcing, and the estimates in AR4 neglect many of the modes of the aerosol indirect effect, notably those associated with ice clouds.
Realistic error bars on current aerosol optical depth measurements are quite large; historical error bars must be huge. The fortuitous agreement of the aerosol optical depth with temperature variability is serendipitous climate magic, almost certainly with circular reasoning buried deeply or not so deeply in the aerosol estimates.
And finally, if this paper is correct and there is no AMO other than aerosol forcing, this is going to overthrow a very substantial body of work by oceanographers on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation . At best, the period in this paper covers 2 oscillations.
Color me unconvinced by this paper. I suspect that if this paper had been submitted to J. Geophysical Research or J. Climate, it would have been rejected. In any event, a much more lengthy manuscript would have been submitted with more details, allowing people to more critically assess this. By publishing this, Nature seems to be looking for headlines, rather than promoting good science.
A final reflection: recall my previous post on Trends, change points and hypotheses. This paper is squarely in the camp of hypothesis #1, where all climate variability (other than ENSO) is externally forced. I think this view is incorrect, but it seems to be ruling the IPCC’s mode of thinking.
3. Last for today: James Hansen, Al Gore's climate Rasputin. Acting on global warming is a moral cause like abolishing slavery. For the analogy to work, there has to be something analogous to slaves, along with a realistic plan to free them. Otherwise you're just struggling to find new names to apply to people who disagree with you.

Getting sick of Twitter

I can only laugh. I'm not on Facebook or Twitter, and in some ways I want to have less to do with electronics, not more. But this is funny, from a politician who has been seeing some harsh comments, and now thinks the Twitterverse is nastier than your typical Tim Horton's crowd: "Being on Twitter is like being badgered by a drunk on a 24-hour bus ride."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Etta James

Etta James is a new discovery for me. Like everyone else, I've heard her old version of "At Last" (1960) over the years, but it didn't make me want to hear a lot more. On the weekend I picked up a $5.00 compilation by Sony/Camden. Lots of good stuff on it, including a fairly recent live version of "At Last." It is called "At Last: The Best of ...," and apparently Sony also has a compilation, confusingly enough, called "The Very Best of ...." with some but not all of the same songs. Possibly the Camden version was originally British, then re-issued in Canada. It turns out that Sony has the rights only to fairly recent material--not what fans consider classic material of Etta's Chess/Island Records/Elektra/Private Music years. It may be that the rights to some material have to be sorted out before re-issuing can occur. There are also two albums of hers called "Love Songs," one on RCA Victor, the other on MCA. Of course the compilation I got has absolutely no liner notes other than composer and copyright info. The live version of "At Last" is probably from "Burning Down the House," with the Roots Band. "My Funny Valentine," along with several other songs, is from the RCA Victor "Love Songs." By googling I gather I'm probably hearing Ronnie Buttacavoli on trumpet and flugelhorn on both "At Last" and "My Funny Valentine." All the tunes are good stuff, a bit of a mix of genres, with lots of good musicians. Songs and best info I have on albums: 1. The Blues is my business: Let's Roll. Detroit Bobby Murray on guitar? 2. If I Had Any Pride Left At All: Love's Been Rough on Me. 3. It's a Man's Man's Man's World: All the Way. 4. I've Been Loving You Too Long: Love's Been Rough on Me (1997); Love Songs (RCA Victor)(2006). 5. Try a Little Tenderness: Matriarch of the Blues (2000); Love Songs. 6. Night and Day: Love Songs. 7. Come Rain or Come Shine: Blue Gardenia; Love Songs. 8. I'll Be Seeing You: Love Songs. 9. The Very Thought of You: Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday. 10: The Man I Love: Mystery Lady; Love Songs. 11. Someone to Watch Over Me: 12. My Funny Valentine: Love Songs. 13. Cry Me a River: Blue Gardenia. 14. Strongest Weakness: Let's Roll. 15. Crawlin' King Snake: Blues to the Bone. 16. At Last (live): Burnin' Down the House.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How Climate Fears Became Exaggerated

Thanks to Michael Kelly. Michael Kelly, a professor of engineering at Cambridge specializing in electronics, has fairly recently joined the debates about global climate. As a trained scientist, coming to literature specifically on climate for the first time, he has been in a good position to say what makes sense and what does not. He first came to public notice in connection with climate almost two years ago, and then he appeared as the author of an opinion piece within the last few weeks. Kelly was a member of the “Oxburgh panel,” appointed in March 2010 “to examine important elements of the published science of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia” (quoting from the UEA news release). When this panel concluded its work (only a month later), Andrew Montford, who blogs as “Bishop Hill,” submitted a Freedom of Information request for e-mails from some of the participants, and received some material in response in June. One attachment to an e-mail from the UEA to panel members Professors Hand and Graumlich was a paper by Kelly.(For all the released documents, putting Kelly’s paper in context, see here. Kelly made it clear that he had read through some of the famous “hockey stick” publications by Keith Briffa and Phil Jones more than once, and had more and more questions as he proceeded. (For those who don’t know, the “hockey stick” purports to show that there was no significant warming for hundreds if not thousands of years before the twentieth century; that warming became significant only recently, in a way that coincided with the increase in man-made CO2; and that computer models showed an even more significant increase—indeed a potentially catastrophic one—in the near future). On his first reading of Briffa’s papers, Kelly approved of the overall approach, although there may already have been the beginnings of a niggling question:
There is no evidence, as far as I am concerned, of anything other than a straightforward scientific exercise within the confines described above [i.e. “very noisy and patchy data when several confounding factors may be at play in varying ways throughout the data”]. The papers are full of suitable qualifications about the limitations of the data and the strength of the inferences to be drawn from them. I find no evidence of blatant mal-practice. That is not to say that, working within the current paradigm, choices of data and analysis approach might be made in order to strain to get more out of the data than a dispassionate analysis might permit.
On the Jones papers, a similar “clean bill of health” was delivered, but again not exactly a ringing one:
In neither of these papers is there any overt malpractice, but one can’t eliminate the possibility of conscious or unconscious bias in the choices of data. I just do wonder if a different hypothesis was being tested whether the same approach could give a very different answer.
Kelly was very concerned at the suggestion in the Briffa papers that data must fit the model, rather than the other way around.
I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of 'computer' experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real 'real data' might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.
This was a sign of more trouble to come. There are plenty of indications that the more Kelly read, the more uneasy he became. On his second reading of Briffa: “The line between positive conclusions and the null hypothesis is very fine in my book.” This suggests that the authors, for all their efforts, may not have enough data, or may not have applied the appropriate methods, to prove anything at all. On the attempted correlation between tree growth and temperature: “Some features do correlate - others don't so where is the rigorous test of the significance of correlation or lack of it?” In the section of his paper called “Subsequent thoughts,” Kelly showed even more reservations:
An elegant theory which does not fit good experimental data is a bad theory. Here the starting data is patchy and noisy, and the choices made are in part aesthetic, or designed to help a conclusion rather than neutral. This all colours my attitude to the limited value of complex simulations that cannot by [sic] exhaustively tested against 'real' data from independent experiments that control all but one of the variables.
Whatever the faults of particular papers, Kelly is prepared to exonerate the scientists involved because the climate issue has become politically “febrile,” as he puts it. He comments on the way fairly sober scientific work, with lots of uncertainties and qualifications, has become transformed into generalizations, supposedly certain and based on a “consensus,” that must drive public policy.
Up to and throughout this exercise, I have remained puzzled how the real humility of the scientists in this area, as evident in their papers, including all these here, and the talks I have heard them give, is morphed into statements of confidence at the 95% level for public consumption through the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] process. This does not happen in other subjects of equal importance to humanity, e.g. energy futures or environmental degradation or resource depletion. I can only think it is the 'authority' appropriated by the IPCC itself that is the root cause.
This brings us to Kelly’s more recent contribution to the climate debate. He wrote a letter to the Times of London which appeared on February 28, 2012. He first explains that there is a good reason to be a “skeptic” (although not a “denier”) when it comes to the orthodox belief that warming is a significant problem, and specific remedies are required:
The interpretation of the observational science has been consistently over-egged to produce alarm. All real-world data over the past 20 years has shown the climate models to be exaggerating the likely impacts — if the models cannot account for the near term, why should I trust them in the long term?
He also expresses concern about the investment in wind turbines as a putative solution to the climate “problem”:
I am most worried by the billions of pounds being misinvested and lost as a consequence. Look out to sea at the end of 2015 and see how many windmills are not turning and you will get my point: there are already 14,000 abandoned windmills onshore in the US. Premature technology deployment is thoroughly bad engineering, and my taxes are subsidising it against my will and professional judgment.
High prices are paid for electricity from “alternative” sources, which continue to produce very little electricity, as and when it is needed, despite the high cost. This may be a poorly thought-out solution to a slight or non-existent problem. There is very widespread agreement, as Kelly said in a portion of his letter that was not printed, that “the climate has always been changing”—so only a fool would be a “denier” of that fact. There is similar agreement that there has been some warming over the past 150 years—perhaps one degree Celsius. This in itself is nothing to lose a night’s sleep over. The warming “orthodoxy” claims that we will see much more dramatic warming in the near future, and it is best to take drastic action immediately. As it has become clear that the warming trend has actually levelled off (even if the past decade is still a relatively warm one), the rhetoric has shifted to “climate change” and predictions of extreme weather events. Fortunately (or unfortunately for those wedded to a theory), there is even less evidence of any increase in extreme events (an increase in unpredictability? Was weather somehow more predictable in the past? Was anyone even trying to predict it until recently?) than there is of a significant temperature increase. Note: when I blogged about the Kelly paper earlier, I got the facts a bit wrong.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Peter Gleick

It's quite possible that Gleick is the biggest disgrace of all the MacArthur "Genius" award winners. I've barely begun to search, but God knows I haven't given up on finding other funny stuff. There's a lot of material on Gleick on Watts Up With That, etc. McIntyre has done some of his usual forensics to establish a chronology. More to come tomorrow, apparently. Gleick vs. Taylor: On January 5, Gleick wrote an opinion piece on the Forbes website; James Taylor of the Heartland Institute responded on Jan. 12; and their exchange continued in comments to the Taylor piece. Among Gleick's observations was that the people questioning climate warming orthodoxy, whom he identifies as "anti-science," are well-funded, particularly by Heartland, which keeps its donor list secret. On these specific points Taylor responds that Heartland disclosed all its donors until a few years ago, but changed its policies because some donors were being harassed. Meanwhile, there are groups on the "warming" side that are much better funded, some of them do not disclose donors, etc. Gleick vs. Lakely: On January 13, Jim Lakely of Heartland e-mailed an invitation to Gleick to take part in an upcoming Heartland conference. Lakely was a model of cordiality and welcoming of intellectual give and take. Gleick said he would consider the invitation, but one sticking point was the failure of Heartland to disclose its donors. Lakely patiently explained the situation. On Jan. 27 Gleick officially declined the invitation, and on Jan. 28 Lakely responded again--still all welcoming and polite. Gleick vs. Heartland: Quoting from McIntyre: "Around the same time [on Jan. 27] as Gleick refused Heartland's invitation, he ... sent an e-mail to an administrator at Heartland, in which Gleick impersonated a Heartland board member and changed the email destination of the Heartland board member, subsequently obtaining board documents." (Confirmation that Gleick communicated with Heartland by e-mail here). On Feb. 14, Gleick e-mailed some material related to Heartland to some key contacts, including bloggers--obviously hoping that the material would get wide exposure. Some documents, it turned out, had actually come from Heartland, and conveyed non-controversial information about their business. The names of donors were exposed, and some people were exposed who have had nothing to do with the climate controversies. Gleick, as he has subsequently confessed, acquired all of this material fraudulently. Oddly, Gleick also attached to his e-mail a public document--an IRS Form 990 for 2010, by far the longest document in the e-mail. Also in the package was a kind of overview document purporting to come from a senior person at Heartland. To a considerable extent it summarizes the material in the other, "real" Heartland documents, but it includes mistakes that no one at Heartland would make, it states facts that it would be redundant for a real Heartland document to include, or stated in a way (such as copied from Wikipedia) that would make no sense, and it shows signs of being prepared sloppily and carelessly. The content it adds is to the effect that Heartland is prepared to cherry-pick data, distort known scientific evidence, and present a deliberately slanted accounted of what they know to the public--particularly to school children. In other words, it would support an allegation that Heartland is just as ignorant, careless and dishonest as the famous "Hockey Team" of climate scientists, particularly as they appear in their own (thoroughly verified) "Climategate" e-mails. From the time it was released, several people thought it bore all the signs of being drafted by Gleick himself, based on the "real" documents he had purloined. He may have been forced into a kind of partial confession--once again, probably a stupid decision--because the blog commentary was closing in on him, and people close to him may even have warned that people who had appointed him to prestigious boards, possibly even his employer, might be questioning their allegiance. As a criminal matter, he may be charged with wire fraud over state lines, under federal law, and similar state charges. From the point of view of possible litigation, and his own reputation, the apparent faking of a document may be worse. Why would Gleick indulge in such stupid and reckless behaviour in order to smear an organization that does not conform to Gleick's smears? It seems that having sought the "real" documents, he realized that they included no smoking gun, so he added one. Heartland has never indicated that Gleick is one of the major scientists whose work they must question; they really only turned their attention to him with the Forbes exchange. The skeptic blogs and books in general have never paid Gleick much attention. Yet the fake document, which may be faked by Gleick himself, has Heartland identifying Gleick as a first-tier warmist on whom they must focus attention. He may have used a fake document in an attempt to aggrandize himself. Worse yet, from his point of view: even the warmists may never have considered him a bigshot. Mcintyre points out in a comment that Michael Mann's book came out just before Gleick "went crazy," and Mann didn't mention Gleick: "Mann’s book was released only a few days (~Feb 8) before Gleick wrote the fake memo. Not only is Gleick not a prominent figure in the book, he isn’t even mentioned. Nor is he acknowledged despite Mann’s acknowledgements extending to even the unexpected Chip Knappenburger." (See Feb. 25, 11:08 a.m.). The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) met in Vancouver from Feb. 16 to 20; it is reasonable to think Gleick was hoping to get high-visibility media coverage for the notion that Heartland was doing something improper--he succeeded--and that with that, he might become part of the discussion at AAAS--he succeeded again. Hilary Ostrov points out: "He [Gleick] certainly succeeded in generating enough blog and MSM coverage that at the AAAS Annual Meeting held in Vancouver – which just happened to end Feb. 20 – the AAAS president was sufficiently “alarmed” to echo and amplify Gleick’s 'concerns'". So the tendency to keep repeating the global warming bullshit will continue, but surely it will also continue to bleed credibility. In fairness, McIntyre consistently says he remains unpersuaded on all the major tenets of the global warming theory--he has not dismissed any of them. He thinks the famous scientists have done an unbelievably poor job of defending their work (including admitting real problems when they arise), but the wider scientific community, higher-level scientific bodies, people conducting investigations, etc. have been even worse. Honest to God: people on the internet refer to stories that make you suddenly laugh out loud: snorting coca-cola or milk up your nose, or spraying them all over your computer. This is the one for me. How do the MacArthur people see themselves? Here's then (and probably still) Program Director (in 2007), Daniel J. Socolow:
The concept of genius is far too limiting when describing MacArthur fellows. Genius is a measurement of intelligence—it’s an immensely high IQ. The people we’re looking for have razor-sharp intelligence, but they add to that a lot of other qualities, such as boldness, commitment, resilience, and persistence. We’re looking for people who are trying to come up with something new, who play at putting things together in novel ways. There’s no easy definition for that. That’s why we use somewhat messy terms like “exceptional creativity,” “outstanding talent,” “extraordinary originality,” “insight,” and “potential.” We’re intentionally ambiguous, because once we try to define what we’re looking for, we lose the power to consider many different kinds of people. For us, the possibilities are endless. That means that side by side with an economist, a geneticist, and a physicist, you can find among the MacArthur fellows a farmer, a fisherman, a blacksmith, and a nurse. There are 732 people who have been selected to date, and there are 732 different stories of the ways in which these people are creative. There is simply no single profile. The youngest MacArthur fellow was 18; the oldest was 82. Fellows come from inside and outside the academy. We keep looking, but the strongest pattern is that there is no pattern.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I got my new Sony Reader up and running, so I have some new things to read on the bus on the way to work. Something from grad school days: Leo Strauss, Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero. Strauss is responding mainly to Kojève, who defends Hegel/Marx against the ancients. Kojève keeps saying it does no good to think in isolation, one must have an effect in the world--at least partly to test the truth of one's beliefs. Work is a defining human activity, and Kojève claims the ancients showed too little awareness of this. Strauss defends the ancients--not the ordinary nobles, but the philosophers. "... the highest kind of job, or the only job that is truly human, is noble or virtuous activity, or noble or virtuous work. If one is fond of this manner of looking at things, one may say that noble work is the synthesis effected by the classics between the morality of workless nobility and the morality of ignoble work ...." A nice joke about Hegelian language in there. In Aristotle's Ethics: magnanimous man would rather be idle than seek any honours other than the greatest; just man is busy, including somewhat intellectually busy; then come the intellectual virtues. This was published in the book On Tyranny. See here. I have it from a special edition of the journal Interpretation, where efforts were made to reconcile different versions of Strauss's manuscript. See here. A few relevant letters are added in the journal, including one where Kojève says in his experience Strauss is not only a-music, but anti-music. The editor says Kojève was famous for an enormous record collection, of which he made extensive use. I'm reading a fairly old life of Cicero, and I've just started an e-book I borrowed from the public library: Paul Theroux's journey by train across China. Just before the e-reader, I went quickly through (yet another) history of World War I. It is stated there that the Americans generally made a point of removing all their dead from France or Belgium, and taking them home. They acted like Spartans, returning to the soil from which they sprang--except it is pretty evident that most Americans have only been in the New World a short time. Did other countries do this? Do other people remain as they are at home, refusing to "go native," as much as Americans do? Theroux says Australians are like this. Maybe I can learn more from a new book, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

False (?) Positives

I think Judy Curry would like to find a way to explain how the famous "hockey stick" scientists went so wrong, without accusing them of fraud. Besides, terms like "fraud" should be reserved for cases like Andrew Wakefield (vaccines allegedly causing autism) and Diederik Stapel.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another field screwed up by the boomers

Social psychology. Yes, gullibility of the media--failing to demonstrate even ordinary skepticism--is a real problem. via Instapundit.