It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, February 28, 2011

Overheard on the Intertubes

A Rich Capitalist, Tea Party Member, and Union Member sit around the table. At the center of the table sits a plate with a dozen cookies.

The Rich Capitalist takes eleven cookies, then whispers to the Tea Party Member, "Watch out for that union guy. He's got his eye on your cookie."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quotes of the Week

Getting backed up on the quote front. So here's a bunch of stuff to chew on:
Here’s a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn’t Cairo after all. Maybe it’s Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence. ... Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” ... argued ... a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society. What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

- Paul Krugman

Not all of the bullies are in schoolyards these days – quite a few have graduated to the executive suites of Corporate America. Take Charles and David Koch, two multi-billionaire brothers whose life of privilege and bloated sense of entitlement have turned them into such spoiled brats that they can't even take a joke. Last December, the Kochs' oil operations became the object of a spoof by a merry band of tricksters called Youth for Climate Truth. Not only is Koch Industries a notorious polluter and spewer of global warming gasses, but the brothers have recently been exposed as longtime secret funders of various right-wing front groups trying to debunk the very existence of climate change. The young folks made fun of this by issuing a fake news release on what appeared to be Koch Industries letterhead. It said, in essence, that the Kochsters had seen the light on global warming and henceforth would be strong environmental advocates. A pretty harmless joke. The grumpy billionaires, however, not only failed to laugh, but they quickly resorted to bullying. They've unleashed a snarling pack of lawyers to demand that the identities of those who produced the parody be given to the Kochs so they can sue them for damages. What damages? The lawsuit says the brothers want reimbursement for "costs associated with spending time and money to respond to inquiries about the fake release." Good grief – Charles and David are two of the 10 richest people in America, and they're whining about a ten dollar phone bill! What the Kochs really are trying to do, of course, is to bully their critics – make fun of us, they're saying, and we'll bury you in legal bills. By the way, these billionaire bullies have also financed front groups that attack public interest lawyers, Why? Because, say the the Kochs, These lawyers file "frivolous" lawsuits!

- Jim Hightower

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.

- Bora

A protest was held today that was bigger than anything that the Tea Party has ever done, but you wouldn’t know it if you were watching TV. There is something seriously wrong with a news gathering and reporting apparatus that devotes more live coverage to the protests in Egypt than protests in Wisconsin. Egypt was a big story, but the a fight for the very survival of the middle class should not be ignored.

- Jason Easley

"If we've learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources."

- Ronald Reagan (p 10)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not the Problem

Texans standing with Wisconsin. (click images for more detail)

Update: In case you can't make out the poster, Krugman explains.

The poster points out that Texas, a union hostile ("right to work") state, has an even bigger (yes, even per capita) budget shortfall than Wisconsin. Texas shows what we are seeing in so many states cannot have anything to do with unions.

This is among the points Krugman makes about Texas. As a new Texan and longtime Wisconsin resident, I cannot disagree with any of it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Climategate": Yet More Bupkis

NOAA Press Release Feb 24 2011:

Inspector General’s Review of Stolen Emails Confirms No Evidence of Wrong-Doing by NOAA Climate Scientists

Report is the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information

At the request of U.S. Sen. Inhofe, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails stolen in November 2009 from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and found no evidence of impropriety or reason to doubt NOAA’s handling of its climate data. The Inspector General was asked to look into how NOAA reacted to the leak and to determine if there was evidence of improper manipulation of data, failure to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures, or failure to comply with Information Quality Act and Freedom of Information Act guidelines.

“We welcome the Inspector General’s report, which is the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information,” said Mary Glackin, NOAA’s deputy under secretary for operations. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science.”

The Inspector General’s report states specifically:

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the [Global Historical Climatology Network – monthly] GHCN-M dataset.” (Page 11)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures prior to its dissemination of information.” (Page 11)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the IQA.” (Page 12)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the Shelby Amendment.” (Page 16)

The report notes a careful review of eight e-mails that it said "warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA's data,” that was completed and did not reveal reason to doubt the scientific integrity of NOAA scientists or data.

The report questions the way NOAA handled a response to four FOIA requests in 2007. The FOIA requests sought documents related to the review and comments of part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA. The requesters were directed to the IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments and responses which are online at: and

“The NOAA scientists responded in good faith to the FOIA requests based on their understanding of the request and in accordance with the legal guidance provided in 2007,” Glackin said. “NOAA’s policies, practices, and the integrity and commitment of our scientists have resulted in NOAA’s climate records being the gold-standard that our nation and the world has come to rely on for authoritative information about the climate.”

The findings in the Inspector General’s investigation are similar to the conclusions reached in a number of other independent investigations into climate data stewardship and research that were conducted by the UK House of Commons, Penn State University, the InterAcademy Council, and the National Research Council, after the release of the stolen emails All of the reports exonerated climate scientists from allegations of wrong-doing.

The report also asks NOAA to review two instances in which it transferred funds to CRU. NOAA is conducting a review of funding to the University of East Anglia and as recommended by Mr. Zinser’s letter, will be providing a report to his office. NOAA’s review to date indicates that the funding supported workshops in 2002 and 2003 that helped the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam improve their climate forecasting abilities.

The report further provides information about the review NOAA undertook of the emails, and notes that NOAA did not conduct a review of its data set as a result of the emails because it too determined that the emails did not indicated any impropriety and because its data sets and techniques are already regularly reviewed as part of ongoing quality control measures and are subject to formal peer review.

NOAA’s national and global climate data are available to the public in raw and adjusted form. The algorithms used to adjust the data sets to ensure high quality, useful records, are peer-reviewed and available to the public.

NOAA is committed to quality, scientific excellence and transparency and strives to provide the most authoritative and accurate information about the Earth’s climate, oceanic and atmospheric conditions. In the face of ongoing climate variability and climate change, this information is critical to businesses and people in all industries and communities as they plan for the future. NOAA is working to provide ever-improving regional and industry-specific climate information to meet the growing demand for this information.

The Inspector General report is available online:

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us online at or on Facebook at


Update: McIntyre's take on all this:
NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA." was not supported by the report. "The Inspector General said that there was a divergence between Solomon’s evidence and the evidence of the NOAA attorneys, the latter denied giving “legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA”, with Susan Solomon unable to provide any documentation of ever receiving such evidence.
So NOAA attorneys don't recall such advice. Or Solomon misremembers. Or there was a misunderstanding. Some sort of miscommunication about emails about who gets to see which emails about emails about the highly secret hiding a decline that wasn't a decline that was never hidden. (Upperdate via Sloop in comments: Eventual outcome re: FOIA requests to NOAA: "The requesters were directed to the IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments and responses which are online." Where the heck is the issue here?)

Ho hum. Hardly worth a footnote?

If you think not, you don't know McIntyre and his acolytes. But you are an amateur who can hardly even make a mountain out of a molehill. They can make the whole Himalayan range out of a gully.

To them, this is clearly part of the Grand Conspiracy to Willfully and With Malice Aforethought Commit Acts of Science. Or something. Anyway, something worthy of Congressional Investigation. Or Worse. (cue Ominous Trumpets)

Update via Dan Olner (promoted from comments): I don't often look at WUWT these days, but I was just over there looking at their response to the report.

It's bizarre. Inhofe and Watts appear to be saying that the report left a big, scary sword dangling over CRU: "Inspector General Finds NOAA Climategate Emails Warranted 'Further Investigation'..." - and Inhofe is going to 'follow up' on that.

Except in the (really quite short) report itself, of course, those emails are examined. They're just saying which ones they're going to look at.

I'm fascinated by this. Another commenter went out on a limb and suggested the only possible expanation was Inhofe was 'lying or stupid'. I'm wondering if it must be something different: just a massively invasive reality filter that turns any scrap around to the pre-conceived goal? I can't make sense of it otherwise.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Train Wreck

Apologies to overseas readers, but it's going to be hard for Americans to focus on the usual core issues around here for the next while, as the Tea Party Republicans seem determined to further substantially weaken the United States, by making the continuation of the budget contingent on unacceptably extreme and unconditional demands at the federal level, even though they only control one of the three branches. This comes to a head in the next two weeks but it's very hard to imagine the current configuration in DC avoiding a massive fustercluck and very hard to see what comes after.

Meanwhile the attack on unions at the state level is absolutely unconscionable. I don't think I've ever had as much sympathy for unions in my life as I do right now. Many professionals and academics are feeling that way right now, but that is not enough.

Do you suppose the deep red staters will wake up to who is really causing their misery? I suppose that is wishful thinking. Failing that it is very difficult to see how we avoid a horrible mess in the very near future.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Press and Climate: An Anti-Testimonial

Press experts continue to shrug off their responsibility for public indifference to climate change and confusion about it. Keith Kloor has an article in that vein, which I hastened to contest. I continue to be baffled as to what exactly he is trying to say. I can't say this is malicious. Even Fleck talks like this. It's just part of the journalistic subculture to believe something about journalism that the rest of us can't even understand. Admittedly, it's another tiresome merry-go-round of contradictory and mutually uncomprehending positions. If you've heard it before there is little new in the thread so far. But I thought one comment (from LCarey) was sufficiently fresh in perspective that it deserved more attention, so I am repeating it here. Emphasis added by me.

As a reasonably well-educated and literate lay person (corporate lawyer specializing in large real estate projects) I feel compelled to observe that I, on a regular basis, depend on the news media for information as to what matters I should be concerned with (economic trends, new technologies, health risks such as seasonal flu outbreaks, new medical treatments, new scientific developments, etc.).

This information heavily influences my opinions, decision-making and voting preferences. In all of these areas, I depend very heavily on reporters to evaluate, summarize and communicate accurate information — and not to simply serve as stenographers for nitwits. Thus, while I can’t look to financial reporters to provide investment advice, I do expect them to be familiar enough with their area of supposed expertise to call out or cull out information (propaganda?) that is obviously false, misleading or incomplete in light of objective evidence.

I am dumbfounded that climate science is somehow seen as some special sort of bizzaro world where what I see as the normal expectation of news consumers (factual vetting, providing context and assessing implications based on discussions with real authorities) is thrown out the window in favor of he-said/she-said. In what universe do we expect particle physicists to be personally responsible for communicating the scientific implications of their research directly to the public, and then blame the physicists if the public doesn’t “get it”? Ditto for genetic researchers, astronomers, biologists, etc.

I came late to the party regarding AGW – until 2008, the issue was on my radar as a “century away” theoretical problem — it seemed like for every “this will be a big problem” article there was a “no problemo” article. I was accordingly floored in 2008 when I had to do due diligence research for a proposed investment in renewable energy to start reading primary materials and discovering that my media derived “understanding” was grossly in error. (And yes, in an effort to evaluate “the other side of the argument”, I did wind up visiting most of the prominent internet skeptic sites and looked at materials from Singer, Lindzen, Spencer, etc. – I concluded they were virtually useless in providing accurate information.)

I conclude that the views expressed by the moderators, Dr. Curry and others as to the lack of responsibility of journalists in this arena is directly contrary to the (apparently misplaced) assumptions and expectations that lay folk such as I bring to the table – that journalists will provide factual vetting, context and implications based on information in their respective field viewed as most authoritative. If this is the case, and if the former view is correct, media are just “filling space” with random noise and are effectively useless (or worse) in helping ordinary people assess risks, make decisions and make sense of the world.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Past Performance Doesn't Predict Future Results

I actually am not a strong Malthusian, in the sense that I don't think a collapse is inevitable. I think a crash is avoidable, but only if we get down to the business of actually avoiding it.

Many people make much of the failure of Malthusian predictions in the past. I think that observation is not compelling.

It does seem foolish to predict an exact date for the collapse; we have escaped both Utopia and Oblivion nicely so far. But just like mortality, Malthusianism only has to actually operate once.

The story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf has two lessons, recall. The first is that it is not a good idea to raise a panic at the slightest provocation.

The second is that eventually there is a wolf.


On Wisconsin

Maureen Dowd Against the Web

It's not surprising that a New York Times columnist is hostile to the idea of bidirectional universal publishing. This column makes a very strong case, though. Not to minimize the example that the column focuses on (of a journalist on Twitter being astonishingly coarse about a rape) I am most interested in the way the article wraps up.

Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

Why indeed?

And who is this advocate for depth and contemplation and empathy over amusing but antisocial snark?

Maureen Dowd. Maureen Dowd. Not shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical she! Nope, the very model of deep soulful contemplation and charity! So take it from Maureen, the internet is full of people lacking in empathy and eager to score a quick nasty chuckle. Stick to the newspaper, where such behaviors are rare. Rare, and apparently highly prized.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Montana to Repeal Global Warming

There's such a thing as a harmless declaration. In a state like Texas which values its ceremonies, for instance, Rep. Shapiro has issued a declaration
WHEREAS The Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize D. Michael Tanenbaum for his many contributions to the field of dentistry; and

... WHEREAS Dr. Tenenbaum ... has practiced dentistry in the West Island since 1975; he is a founding member of the West Island Health Center [sic] in Dollard des Ormeaux and has served on the council of Presidents of the Federation of Dental Societies of Greater Montreal; ...

now therefore let it be PROCLAIMED; That the Senate of the State of Texas hereby commend D. Michael Tenenbaum on his many contributions to his community and his profession and extend to him a sincere welcome to our state; and be it further PROCLAIMED, That a copy of this Proclamation be prepared for him as an expression of esteem from the Texas Senate.
Which I suppose constitutes implicit recognition of the West Island by the Republic of Texas, which may serve us West Islanders well should we ever feel a need to secede from Quebec and form a new Jewish state by the banks of the almighty St. Lawrence. But other than that long shot eventuality, pretty harmless.

Sometimes, though, proclamations get further than you expect. One Joe Read, state representative in Montana, quickly gained notoriety for offering the following bill to his legislature:


NEW SECTION. Section 1. Public policy concerning global warming. (1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

(2) The legislature finds:

(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and

(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

(3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface.

(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

NEW SECTION. Section 2. Codification instruction. [Section 1] is intended to be codified as an integral part of Title 75, chapter 2, and the provisions of Title 75, chapter 2, apply to [section 1].

NEW SECTION. Section 3. Effective date. [This act] is effective on passage and approval.
To be sure, this is just a proclamation which has no actual substantive importance, not even a nice West Island Dentist to frame it and put in the grand entrance of his brick fortress in Dollard, just below the crystal chandelier and beside the (authentic, he has the papers to prove it!) Georges Braque print. (You know, where it used to be that Chinese thing with the birds? Now he has there a plaque from the Senate of Texas, with a regular Texas Sheriff star and everything.)

Nevertheless, Rep Shapiro gets by with a little gentle mockery from me, while Read is being much more widely critiqued. To be sure, Read is propagating some, well, not entirely true things about climate science that might be damaging to climate scientists as a class. I am not sure whether he is liable for libel under the circumstance.

Certainly it is pretty irresponsible. But I think the confused opinion he is expressing (including some hard-to-parse exception ("(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.") is his own, honestly held position. I am also certain that he is confused about science. He said in an interview with Brad Johnson:
The science is driven by grant money. It’s all on the side for writing studies that global warming is happening. There’s nothing on the side that says I wish to write a paper that global warming is not an issue. Money has been flowing into the grant purse.

If you follow the money, the science has been pushed toward where the money is coming from. The money is coming from the federal government. I believe global science is an ideal, not a true science.
Brad is to be congratulated for eliciting this quote because it reveals a great deal about what we are up against. People really don't understand the difference between think tanks and science! They think the job of a scientist is to write position papers. After all, every PhD they've ever met spends all their time writing position papers!

Joe Read (and I really hope that's pronounced "Joe Red"), I am convinced, means well. He is simply acting on the basis of trust in the media and the personal contacts that have informed his opinions. In the end, all of us need to do that to some extent. He is, in fact, being some sort of courageous with this noise; after all if he is wrong (which he is) doesn't that make him not just irresponsible but negligent?

He is innocent of being a liar, but he is not taking his job seriously enough. If he faces no consequences for this excess, the whole party system is broken, which of course, it is, and the whole society isn't taking its obligations seriously enough, which, of course, it ain't. So Joe Read will suffer no more than all the other Joe Sixpacks and Joe Reds. He will probably not suffer any real consequences from his proclamation. His outrageous proclamation, I would say.

After all, isn't repealing physical phenomena a federal matter?

It's not as if there were no precedent, though, as Peter Gleick points out. So the least we can do for Joe is to put this into historical context.

This One is Real

From Tahrir to Wisconsin

Motion to Defund IPCC Passes US House

The House passed an amendment defunding IPCC last night. This amendment is included in the House budget continuing resolution that just passed. The vote on the amendment (Luetkemeyer of Missouri Amendment No. 149): 244-179. 9 Democrats voted “yes” and 3 Republicans voted “no”.

"None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

Democrats voting "Yes":

Ross (AR)

Republicans voting "No":


Not voting:

McCarthy (NY)

Friday, February 18, 2011

A scheme is not a vision

Small World

Incompetent Spectra

Usually I like Andrew Sullivan, but his approval of this schematic disturbs me:

Only a non-scientist could come up with a taxonomy like this. We have six distinct categories and only one degree of freedom (angle); for reality to really parse like this requires an explanation.

(One could say the same for the color wheel, and in fact, I do. The psychology of color perception is a baffling business... But it happens we can see just about an octave of light which helps a bit.)

It reminds me in some vague qualitative way of Roger Pielke Jr.'s double taxonomy of scientific types, in which he obtains precisely the identical decomposition using two drastically different tactics. I'm reasonably convinced he made some effort to understand my critique but didn't manage it.

So the convenient symmetries of Sullivan's graph (no such thing as a corrupt libertarian, then?) just don't have the ring of truth. What's more, this completely misses what I consider the fundamental determinant of politics, the question I ask first, which is how much the respondent considers politics a managerial question in a quantitative physical domain. Whether such issues as energy, climate, demographics, ecosystem stability, ocean chemistry, trace toxins, and bulk trash enter into your model or not is to me the dominant question. I don't care if your solutions are "conservative" or "liberal" so much as I care whether your idea of politics addresses the fundamental engineering questions raised by a large population on a small planet.

The fact is that most participants in politics from most parties are uninterested in these matters. This makes most politicians woefully incompetent. The left-right dichotomy will not go away, and making it into a hexagon or the more familiar and more plausible two-factor spectrum (public sector and private sector "liberty")doesn't help.

The main issue right now is whether you see governance as a quantitative problem.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Google Science Communication Fellows

In an effort to foster a more open, transparent and accessible scientific dialogue, we’ve started a new effort aimed at inspiring pioneering use of technology, new media and computational thinking in the communication of science to diverse audiences. Initially, we’ll focus on communicating the science on climate change.
Well, okay, I'm a little jealous of the participants, but this is a good step.

I tried to get interested in this exact thing a few years back and they weren't talking to me. I guess they still aren't. Maybe that will change some day.

Just the same, congratulations are due to participants. I'd like to make a special shout out to Simon Donner and Andrew Dessler whom I can personally vouch for as excellent choices.

Uncertainty Writ Large

Pielke Jr 2011 "by 2100... climate change may increase the overall damage from extreme events by $84 billion or 0.015 percent of world GDP"

Romm 2009 "Scientists find “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path."

We note with little surprise that it is not the other way around, that Pielke's number is not vastly greater than Romm's.

I think what this is is not a story of who is right and who is wrong.

Now on one hand, we are comparing a total vs an annual rate, so that accounts for two orders of magnitude there. But we are still comparing 1240 trillion to something like 8.4 trillion; consider that uncertainty by comparison to the uncertainty in climate sensitivity (between 2 C and 4 C by most accounts.)

My question is this: why are those carping about uncertainty and undeveloped science aiming their fire at climate science rather than economics? I've asked it before, but it's nice to put some numbers on it. Climate science is the best constrained part of the carbon policy question. The carbon policy arguments should be completely decoupled from arguments about physical climatology until the impacts and mitigation people get their act together.

A discrepancy like this on a matter of such importance is bad enough. That the wrong discipline is getting the blame is just ridiculous.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is the large body of water forming much of the border between New York and Vermont, and extending into Quebec. To a Montrealer, it's a major feature of the neighbourhood.

The islands and peninsula in the northernmost part of the lake are especially fascinating, since despite being in the USA they are as much a part of the culture of rural Quebec as of New England or New York.

Does Lake Champlain freeze up in winter? Well, sometimes.

According to the graphic from this site, Lake Champlain failed to freeze over six times during the thirteen decades 1816-1945. In the decade 1996 - 2005 it also failed to freeze six times. That's an impressive trend.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mind the Gap

Dr. Stoat points to an interesting bit of Gapminder abuse by RPJr and a rebuttal by Stuart Saniford.

This got me to wondering how well per capita CO2 emissions predict per capita wealth. I used a lin/lin scale and focused in on the wealthy countries.

The answer: while per capita income above $15K predicts higher emissions than below $15K, above that threshhold the value of emissions as a predictor of wealth is very small. (Dot size is scaled to total population.)

There are a few outliers on the high sides, all small countries:

high income: Bermuda ($73.5K, 8.6T)
high emissions: Trinidad ($17.4 K, 32T), Aruba($26.4K, 32T), Bahrain($28.5K, 30T) Kuwait($44.4K, 36T)
high on both scales: Luxembourg ($72.7K, 24T)

Conclusion: at least a four-fold reduction in CO2 emissions in North America (with present day technology) is compatible with comparable levels of wealth and well-being.

Technical note: to restrict the focus of your Gapminder graph, click the little arrow at lower right on a live Gapminder session.

Egyptian Revolution and Climate Change

So Keith is redoubling down. He goes after Coby for suggesting that climate change is a factor in Egypt. In doing so he points approvingly to what appears to me to be a sound piece of conventional wisdom, wherein Bryan McDonald says that bad weather leading to increased food prices was a factor in the recent, amazing events in the middle east.

Well, yes. How does that refute the idea that climate change was a factor leading to that bad weather, and thus involved in those events?

It doesn't. Every word McDonald says can be true without contradicting the point made by Joe Romm and affirmed by others including myself and Coby Beck. Climate change is a factor.

Then in lawyerlike fashion Keith goes after an alternative attack. "Global warming helps end tyranny. Finally, a silver lining to runaway climate change!"

Let's get this clear: first of all, despite the very inspiring events of the last couple of weeks, Egypt is far from out of the woods yet. Secondly, the fact that this is the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, doesn't mean it was good news just because it was a bad camel. Obviously, I'd think.

Let me stipulate that Egypt is not "a climate change story" in the sense that climate change should be a primary element in the day-to-day reporting. But that is not to say it won't be an element in the history of our time. It is perfectly reasonable to raise the Egyptian story in the context of climate change even if it is unreasonable to raise climate change in the context of the Egyptian story. I am a bit baffled by Keith's adamant refusal to see that anthropogenic climate change may already be a factor in human history. It's as if climate change were in a little box by itself. But that's the exact opposite of what we are facing, because, well, because every single thing that happens in human history happens in this nitrogen/oxygen/trace gas soup that we are stirring around.

As an aside, it is interesting to consider how events might have transpired if someone less competent than Mr. Obama had been US president at the time. Via Daily Dish:
"We are witnessing a complete seismic shift in the direction of the world away from freedom," Pamela Geller told Andy Kroll at CPAC, where he says Mubarak's resignation has "barely made a ripple."
Fascinating. Practically the entire population of Egypt has stood up to the authorities at risk of life and limb to demand that their freedoms be taken away. A first in human history, I suspect.

One Step Ahead of the Shoeshine

Here's my take on the Steig vs O'Donnell business:

It's the same old story.

A more sensitive method is obtained that extracts physical reality from data; a publication is released.

Somebody nitpicks the math; with statistics this is always easy because everything is built on a prior. One can always quibble about the model. The McIntyre crowd knows how to push buttons in R and get results until they get one that excites them. That isn't statistics and it sure ain't science.

Real statisticians appear on neither side because the issues do not interest them. It's important to understand how separate the ivory towers are. The failure of statisticians to engage in climatology is often treated as climatologists' fault, but in fact it is the fault of the social structure of science. "Interdisciplinary" work is only possible if both disciplines break new ground. Nobody is interested in work that cannot be published in recognized journals in their own field.

There are very few top notch statisticians taking sides on such matters. My expectation is that they would have little trouble to reject both sides for statistical purity. Yet we may presume that there is, be it positive negative or zero, a real quantitative temperature trend in WA.

It is also the case that real climatologists make realistic tradeoffs and do reasonable tests of robustness, because they are interested in climatology. This approach is clear in Steig's review. Anti-climatologists do not appear constrained by this approach. Testing a single question using multiple approaches in practice effectively substitutes for the sort of mathematical rigor the anti-climatologists claim to prefer (a degree of rigor which is in fact impractical in the messy real world). Their avoidance of this path is indicative of their lack of serious interest in the underlying phenomenology.

Let me try to explain: suppose I am interested in getting the right answer. I am not a top-notch statistician, but I don't consult one anyway because the statistician will ask me to provide a rigorous prior which in fact I lack. I massage the data more carefully than has been done in the past, using a half dozen methods that occur to me. I also do the same with synthetic data. When I come up with something that appears robust to the sorts of phenomenology I expect across several methods, I choose one of those methods, polish it up, and publish.

Suppose to the contrary I am interested in casting doubt on the previous answer. I massage synthetic data more carefully than has been done in the past, using a half dozen methods that occur to me. I find a dataset that is consistent with observations that yields results very sensitive to observations in the method proposed by the climatologist. I drum up uncertainty and doubt.

In the O'Donnell case, he has succeeded in adding to the arsenal of methods. Steig offers an an interpretation consistent with the totality of evidence AS IF O'DONNELL WERE SERIOUS.

This constitutes an excellent test of whether O'Donnell is interested in science or in McIntyrism. The results of this test are unambiguous to say the least.

Update: I should add that I have not followed the arguments in any detail and am not in a position to critique them in detail had I done so. That is to say, I do not know how sophisticated or appropriate Steig et al's methods are. Nothing I have said here should be construed as a criticism thereof.

I only am asserting that Steig shows an interest in the result and O'Donnell shows an interest only in embarrassing Steig. In my opinion this sequence of events illustrates the methodology of McIntyre and Co with precision, and shows why there is no reason to get down and dirty with the statistical minutiae.

We should indeed be looking for better ways to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. People who would rather see such issues as chinks in the armor of an enemy are acting from malice rather than curiosity. They attack the entire scientific enterprise, not just a small corner of it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stating the Obvious

For those having a hard time with the obvious, here is a quick and excellent summary.

Not Actually Going Anywhere

I've been enjoying the accolades and kind advice, much appreciated, but you all missed my point.

"I am leaving" means I am leaving. "I am leaving I am leaving", particularly with reference to the Paul Simon song, means I ought to leave for my own health and sanity, but probably, knowing myself, I am not.

However, my online presence is going to change a bit. Expect fewer and shorter contributions for a while, while a new project is in the works.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Am Leaving I Am Leaving

willard: you are being haunted by your nightmares
the erynies
climate blogs are erinyes
yet unreal
in our minds
you could be seeking salvation from this haunting
it's a great myth
food for SF
read that

me: I am not a novelist

willard: yes, you are

me: gave up on that ages ago

willard: you like to write

me: it's always good for me to let go of ambitions
I have always had too many

willard: i'm not saying to become

me: maybe I should let go of all of them

willard: but to be
to write
for fun

me: it isn;t fun any more

willard: exactly

me: it is posturing

willard: hence my suggestion

me: it is ego tripping
everybody wants to be the important one

willard: you're quite right

me: nobody wants to pull together

willard: humans

me: bloody monkeys

willard: i'm at this crossroad, myself
this ego

me: computer people understand

willard: this posturing
is what i study

me: climate people don't

willard: yet i despise it

me: if people pull together, things get better
if people promote themselves, they get worse

willard: yes

me: that's all there is to it
it is not a very difficult concept

willard: i've circumscribed Mosher today

me: drawn a line around him?

willard: much
i have become a goon, mt
a loving troll
i wasted two days to reach that state

me: you remain opaque and I remain exhausted

willard: i'm referring to my interactions at JC's place

me: and I don;t care about Steig

willard: lots of them

me: at all

willard: me neither

me: which is Steig's point
Antarctica is warming. What does any of the rest of it matter?

willard: i got the meme

me: Curry is bizarre, but she is nevertheless paid for her troubles

willard: blogging?

me: Scientists exist and are paid for that.

willard: y

me: I am not a scientist in that sense.

willard: ok

me: My vast ambitions are stupid

willard: vanity
all is vanity

me: ok

willard: including criticizing it
you're here
do the best you can

me: I am leaving I am leaving

willard: keep your feet moving
don't do stupid moves
be well

me: In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains

willard: lol
your sensibility is touching

me: I probably will not give up, just out of habit

willard: no
but stop that passive aggro crap

me: but I think something is changing, and I don;t know exactly what

willard: and do what you feel like doing

me: well, I am not so sure what that is

willard: i'm telling us that
the point is
nobody needs us to be what we do not want to be
you can change
choose life
you'll be back
write less
write to fill you up
you need love
and you don't find it there
go find love
bring it back
spread it in your writing
the old way of seeing things work
love moves everything
including planets
well, kinda
good night, mt

me: good night

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Did You Know?

Brazenly stolen from Dylan Hendricks

In My Defense

So, Joe Romm wrote a piece suggesting that climate change may have been a precipitating event of the crises in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The question is why specifically now have the Egyptians and Tunisians rioted after decades of anti-democratic rule? Certainly one can ignore the experts and say that it is a complete coincidence that the rioting occurred as food prices hit record levels — in spite of the fact that the last time there was this kind of rioting globally food prices were at record levels, which is precisely why experts were predicting that record hide food prices would lead to riots. Now the question is, why are food prices are at record levels? Again, reality pretty much speaks for itself here. Extreme weather is a major contributing factor — and our top climate scientists say global warming has contributed.
And Keith Kloor was having none of it.
you ... have to marvel at the hubris of someone who sees a global warming angle to the Egyptian revolt.
I showed up to ask why that was hubris, and have been met by a fair amount of spluttering and no real answer. But by the end of the discussion I was being accused (you can guess by whom) of being indifferent to the suffering of Egyptians or the other causes of the problems.

In my defense I direct you to my Reader feed which since the events began has featured the following items:

Piece of the Middle East

Pakistan flood crisis as bad as African famines, UN says – ‘Humanitarian crisis of epic proportions’

Al-Jazeera's Revolution

Egypt Cut Off

Will 2011 be the next 1989?


Add Al-Jazeera English NOW!

Middle East Democracy vs American Control

The Best Egypt Protest Signs From Around The World

My blog is somewhat focused, if not as narrowly as Joe's. My Reader Feed is pretty eclectic though some of the same interests as those of this blog frequently appear. (Note that me finding something to be interesting does not necessarily mean I agree with it. Occasionally I will even link stuff I find particularly, notably awful.)

Anyway, that all said, look at the thread at Keith's and see if you can understand what the fuss is all about. It seems like there is a tremendous and irrational attachment to the idea that climate change has had no ill effects as yet though it might have some impact eventually. One wonders what might be sufficient to break that.

Update: Joe Romm's follow-up is compelling. And I'm fairly pleased with my sign-off at the link at Kloor's.