Archive for November, 2010

BBC Falls For Ring-based Dodgy Statistics-challenged Science (Again!)

2010/11/29 1 comment

Another case of celebrity physics? Maybe so. Standards flying high, no doubt.

BBC – Beyond Parody

2010/11/28 2 comments

They looked everywhere around the world to find a counterpoint to the severe cold gripping the UK, and lo and behold, they found…Chicago!

No mention of Vancouver, of course. Or of the fact that they are making the strongest case for totally decoupling weather from climate, thereby making climate change as pointless as ever.

If these are the standards followed everywhere else at the BBC, there’s lot of “news” that ought to be reconsidered as petty propaganda pieces.


UEA News: Help Rebrand The University Of East Anglian Silly Walks!

2010/11/26 4 comments

London and Norwich, 26 Nov 2010 (MNN) – In an effort to reposition itself after the Climategate debacle, the University of East Anglian Silly Walks (aka UEA) is launching today an international competition aimed at exposing its true nature in a new spirit of transparency.

However, due to budgetary concerns and in order to lower CO2 emissions, the acronym will have to remain the same. This means the additional challenge for all budding brand experts is to come up with a more meaningful long-form for “UEA”.

Among the proposals received so far:

  • University of Eventful Archives
  • University of Expanded Animosity
  • University of Excised Adjustments
  • University of Extreme Airs
  • University of Enough Amusement
  • University of Effectively-measured-data–changing Attempts
  • University of Expert Attacks
  • University of Erased Authority
  • University of Expanded Alterations
  • University of Easy Annoyance

ps Sadly, all FOI requests to UEA for details about the above will never be fulfilled, as there was a North Korean student once at the University and any openness would be contrary to Juche.

Four Steps For A Climate Policy Beyond Scenarios And Fear

2010/11/23 4 comments

Very interesting review by Tim Lewens in the London Review of Books with (explicit) reference to a “new” way to select a rational climate policy, beyond the usual soup of running scenarios designed to deal with worst-case and in general of applying the precautionary principle in order to stifle innovation and institutionalize killjoyfulness. In summary:

  1. We should aim for “concrete recommendations that are thoroughly in accordance with precautionary thinking in remaining humble about our state of knowledge, while taking into account the full range of scientific evidence
  2. However, the precautionary principle on its own is no guidance to policy decisions when facing great complexity and uncertainty, as both action and inaction might lead to disaster
  3. Cost-benefit analysis is not much better, as it simply collapses complexity and provides “a bland expression of uncertainty” that strongly depends on the (lack of) knowledge and understanding of the system at hand
  4. Instead, the first step of a good policy is to “examine how our proposed interventions will fare under a range of different plausible scenarios for the unfolding of a complex system, picking the strategy which has a satisfactory outcome across the largest range of future scenarios
  5. The second step is to “assume that the world may not behave in a manner we expect it to, and therefore make sure that the strategy we choose can be undone or altered with reasonable ease
  6. Another problem for a good policy is to avoid falling victim of “optimism bias” (overestimating the likelihood of outcomes one favours) and “affiliation bias” (the dependency of a researcher’s results on his/her affiliation)
  7. The third step is therefore to “to be attentive to the institutional sources of the data“, in order to understand and perhaps even remove the biases from the policymaking “picture”
  8. The fourth step goes even further for the same aim, and involves “broad public participation

Very shortly: know your science, know its limits, know its biases, involve as many people as possible, pick a policy that looks best across many scenarios and can be easily changed.

Now, it is pretty easy to argue that the IPCC has failed on all fronts: by fixating on worst-case analysis thereby restricting the range of scenarios; by not assuming that the world may not behave as expected, steering quite clear of providing any sign of being humble about anything; by refusing to consider the bias of its own authors and editors, through its flawed review system; and by consistently trying to keep the public at bay, with countless elitist “summits” only good for people on expenses and/or without a day job.

It will be interesting to compare the above with whatever Roger Pielke Jr has written in “The Climate Fix” (also with “Look Inside”), a book I bought a few days ago.


And now for some quotes from Lewens’ review of “Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity and Policy” by Sandra Mitchell, 
ISBN 978 0 226 53262 (available at with the “Look Inside” feature enabled):

[…] on the important matter of what decision-makers can do to handle complexity […] Mitchell’s book is at its best. Nearly all the systems we care about – the global climate, the human body, the international financial system – exhibit the various forms of complexity she dissects.

[…] A typical reaction, displayed in many policy documents, is that when dealing with scientific uncertainty in relation to important systems, policy-makers should adopt a precautionary approach. […] Both unintentional vandalism and irresponsible dithering can lead to disaster. Those who oppose precautionary thinking often argue that it becomes incoherent or dangerous when spelled out in detail. The problem is that precautionary thinking is supposed to help in situations of uncertainty; that is, in situations where we lack knowledge, or where our knowledge is imprecise. But since decisions under such conditions tend to have the potential for grave outcomes whichever option we choose, we need guidance on how to err on the side of caution.

High-profile opponents of the precautionary principle, such as Barack Obama’s new regulation tsar, Cass Sunstein, have argued [for] a form of cost-benefit analysis as the best way to ensure that the potential costs and benefits of all courses of regulatory action – including inaction – are placed ‘on screen’.

Mitchell’s critique of cost-benefit analysis is a familiar one. It is suitable for well-understood systems, unfolding over short time periods, where we can assign probabilities with confidence. But the probability of a given outcome – financial profit, the extinction of species, an increase in sea levels, high blood pressure – in whatever system we are analysing will often vary significantly with small changes in the starting conditions, with our assumptions about the causal interactions within the system, and with variation in background conditions as the system evolves over long periods of time. Our estimates of these conditions will often be imprecise, or thoroughly conjectural, in spite of the apparent precision of the cost-benefit methodology. The question is how to turn uncertainty of this sort into trustworthy policy recommendations.

Mitchell’s stance on these matters is not new […] but her way of justifying it is particularly crisp and compelling. Simple cost-benefit analysis will tend to collapse a rich understanding of the complexity of a system into a single set of all-things-considered probability estimates for its likely end-states. In so doing, Mitchell says, we mask our grasp of complexity, and replace it with a bland expression of uncertainty.

[…] once we do acknowledge complexity, two strategies become available. First, we can examine how our proposed interventions will fare under a range of different plausible scenarios for the unfolding of a complex system, picking the strategy which has a satisfactory outcome across the largest range of future scenarios. Second, we can assume that the world may not behave in a manner we expect it to, and therefore make sure that the strategy we choose can be undone or altered with reasonable ease. The end result should be a set of concrete recommendations that are thoroughly in accordance with precautionary thinking in remaining humble about our state of knowledge, while taking into account the full range of scientific evidence.

[…] The question of how good a particular outcome would be, were it to arise, should be wholly independent of the question of how likely that outcome is. And yet it turns out that we tend to overestimate the likelihood of outcomes we favour, while underestimating the likelihood of outcomes we don’t want. This is known as ‘optimism bias’. And ‘affiliation bias’ results in (for example) the conclusions of studies on the effects of passive smoking varying according to the authors’ affiliation with the tobacco industry. Needless to say, these psychological results suggest that policy-makers need to be attentive to the institutional sources of the data they use. And this, in turn, underlines a long-standing theme of work among social scientists, who have claimed that broad public participation in risk planning may increase the quality of risk analysis. Mitchell’s stance on policy isn’t complete, but perhaps that is to be expected in a complex world.

How AGWers Endangered Humanity

2010/11/23 2 comments

Continuing in the policy of “elevating” otherwise lost comments deep in some blog post’s thread, here some insightful and quite sad thoughts by TAG at Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit. They should provide ample food for thought even to the most panicking AGW catastrophist:

In the 70s, I worked with someone who had worked in Guyana and had married a woman from there. In a coincidence with SMc, he worked for a mineral survey business. He was in charge of their electronic equipment. One day he had to go to a remote work site to repair some equipment. He and another employee flew in on a jet helicopter. The helicopter could not land at the camp but deposited them on a sandbar in the middle of the jungle river. A launch from the camp was to come out to fetch them. They helicopter landed and they unloaded their equipment. The helicopter took off and they watched it disappear into the distance. They then stood there with their equipment as if they were waiting for a bus on a sandbar in a jungle river.

They both then realized that they were not waiting for a bus. They were waiting on a sandbar in a jungle river with caiman (a form of crocodile) swimming around them. My friend’s colleague then noted that they didn’t even have a pointy stick to defend themselves.

The nub of this anecdote is that they came to that river sandbar on top of a pinnacle of technology, They were the rulers of the world with a world wide technological economy supporting them. They had no thought that they were vulnerable in any way.

The AGW issue is of the same sort. It is easy to think us to be not vulnerable when we are surrounded by the power of our technology. Yet as my friend discovered we are only as invulnerable as our technology allows and when that fails we are very vulnerable indeed.

The hockey stick scientists have produced nothing that is of assistance to policy makers. Their results have been debunked and there is little prospect that their will be any change in this. This is not good news. It does not mean that AGW is not an issue. it means that we have been denied what had been hoped to be a useful guide for policy makes so that we as a human society could chose a path to cope with possible dangers.

We might be standing on a sandbar in a jungle river with caiman swimming around us without even a pointy stick to defend ourselves. Since the science has failed, we just do not know.

Urban Dictionary’s Who’s Who In Global Warming

2010/11/23 3 comments

or…”Wonders of the English language”.

These are all from original entries in the Urban Dictionary. Don’t blame me!! :

Watts : “Someone who is a don and can get girls on the go, whenever wherever. Commonly overlooked due to his quite nature but can make big explosions”

Mann: “large, fearsome, A wicked man who encumpasses all that is evil. An individual not to be crossed dont give him boltcroppers

Schmidt: “A person who goes out of their way to view exceedingly gross and disturbing online content” (actually that’s one of the nicest definitions of “Schmidt”)

Jones: “Desire for something that may be sought irrespective of the consequences..

McIntyre: “To be humiliated in front of many people

Pielke: (isn’t defined yet)

Goddard: “God-like female, perfect in every way. Gorgeous” (???)

Briffa: “A man with excessively large eyes and toungue. Also refered to as ‘lizard man’. Usually found eating gammon on golf courses

Romm: “To completely disprove an opposing argument, and further question personal beliefs, leaving them completely without validity” – but then MoncktonThat body of the literature which Lord Christopher Monckton won’t countenance, i.e it’s content was rejected by a peer

Revkin: (isn’t defined yet)

Delingpole: (isn’t defined yet)

Monbiot: “An unthinking or insane leftist

I have a feeling that the entries “Romm”, “Monckton” and “Monbiot” are not there by chance alone…

Climate Scientists Fight Back (Minus The Climate Scientists)

2010/11/23 7 comments

Funny people, the climate scientists. One would expect, for example, that behind a website sporting a “new rapid response team of climate scientists [that] promises to connect reporters and editors with a team of experts” (in the words of The Guardian), there would be at least the one climate scientist ready to put their face where their internet connection is.

Alas, one would be wrong. For who’s organizing the Climate Rapid Response?

  • Dr. John Abraham, “Associate Professor of Thermal and Fluid Sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.[1][2] His area of research includes thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid flow, numerical simulation, and energy“(from Wikipedia)
  • Scott A. Mandia,  “Professor of Earth and Space Sciences and Assistant Chair of the Physical Sciences Department […] He received his M.S. – Meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University in 1990 and his B.S. – Meteorology from University of Lowell in 1987” (from Wikipedia)
  • Dr. Ray J. Weymann, “Staff Member Emeritus and Director Emeritus, Carnegie Observatories” (as far as I can tell, an astronomer)

As far as I can tell, the combined scientific output of the public faces of the Climate Rapid Response Team is zero. Or maybe one, by stretching things a bit.

This is not to criticize anybody, esp. Prof. Mandia, who after a couple of decades of teaching introductory climatology may know a thing or two, so to speak. But in absence of original research by its leaders, we can only expect the  Climate Rapid Response Team to be a campaigning (political) platform, not a scientific one.

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