"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What we want

From the Rally for Sanity via salon.com via Vic Diesel

Willard on Curry

Slightly edited chat transcript. Several interesting points came up.
willard: hello Dr. Tobis
willard's new status message - home 2:03 PM

me: hey

willard: ...
how are you doing?

me: A bit freaked out

willard: you deserve it, you know that

me: deserve to be freaked out?

willard: yes
you should not have made two posts into one

me: agree
I did break the ice

willard: lol
that reminds me of my friend
who is still a virgin

me: got the serious people to say out loud what they have all been thinking

willard: that's not the way to break the ice
a better way is to ask questions
Judith commits the same mistake
she's not questioning the IPCC
she simply asserts that they goofed
whence all she criticizes is her own reading of what they say

me: well, the question is really what is making her tick; perhaps I shouldn't have raised it (I knew many would disapprove)
to some extent I disapprove myself

willard: i understand what you're trying to do, mt
you would sacrifice yourself to save us
JC's not worth your Christian sacrifice

me: I don't actually relish being crucified
but she's a big enough target to be worth taking a little damage

willard: i doubt it
she's a junior
she can blame her inexperience

me: she is not

willard: you know what i mean

me: she is the chairman of the atmospheric sciences department at a major university

willard: yes

me: if she were not, nobody would pay her the slightest attention

willard: i agree
but that's not the way to take down a big boss
you have to show respect
bow before the blow
you tried to beat a hand you don't know
if she can formalize what she means, you're dead

me: well 1) James agrees with me that she can't
and James is the real expert

willard: i know

me: 2) if she does I capitulate, and she adds something to the arsenal of thought
so at least there is a helpful result

willard: your reputation will take hit points

me: the chance that she has not made any error at all is zero, I think

willard: i understand
still, these are minor glitches
she's commiting the hermeneutics fallacy

me: too catholic for me
you must explain

willard: she's overinterpreting
she basically is criticizing one figure
where they don't spell out what they really mean, formally
so, yes, she's right at least for saying that it's not formalized
and perhaps a bit inconsistent
if formalizing is a problem
then she needs to offer out to do that
hence the flag
but the flag
is underspecified
what's the logic behind it?

me: worse
it is inconsistently specified

willard: Nullius in Verba says it's Bayesian

me: I haven't read NiV's position yet

willard: you still can understand what she means, can't you?

me: Not in a consistent way

willard: if you can, say so

me: As James says
"While it might be possible to reverse-engineer some semblance of sense into some of her statements regarding it, they are mutually incoherent"
that statement by James is a very good summary of what I am saying

willard: i know

me: It is not communication to use the same device to mean different things at different times
willard: facing incoherence, one has a choice
asking questions
pointing out the logical mishaps
staying respectful
if you do this like a gentleman

me: I will be ignored

willard: she can't respond by saying you're a thug
she can't ignore logical arguments for long

me: I can't be a thug. She's a department chairman. She has vastly superior powers to my own.

willard: you are rough on her

me: Yes. Rude.

willard: you are judging her
her person

me: Yes. I am afraid you are right.
I am sure she is a pleasant person.
I hate to do this.
But her behavior is so irresponsible that somebody needs to say it.
And since I have less to lose than most, it might as well be me.

willard: i understand, mt
you should call her
it's important that it gets personal
now that it is
only live voice will make you feel what's she's up about
you want to know what she's looking for, aren't you?

me: An interesting suggestion
willard: ask her

me: I do not know that she would take the call

willard: yes, she would
she's a tough one
she can manage confrontation
she won't be able to resist you
practice your texin accent and she'll understand that you mean well
no, let's not dream
at the very least, settle your different in a noble way
share your mutual concerns
you can tell her things that won't get published
Tom will be furious if you can survive this
you can't say that i don't have any argument there

me: I am not sure what objective I have in this proposed conversation

willard: 1. you mean well
2. you wish to understand her pov
3. you think that she lacks a sense of responsibility
you can't say 1-2-3 over the internetz

me: you just did

willard: chatting is not blogging

me: all I need is your permission to post the transcript

willard: you have it

me: cool.

me: I don't know whether she thinks she is serious
either a) she really thinks she is making a contribution to statistical reasoning or b) she is being cynical

willard: cross out b

me: I think a is vastly more likely
but others think otherwise

willard: she really is discovering quantified reasoning
scientists are jejeune, sometimes

me: under a we have a1) she is making some kind of sense but nobody with any basis in statistics can make any sense of it or a2) she is making no sense and thinks she is

willard: like athletes who have a big right arm
but no legs
what i mean is the breadth
of humanities
she just discovered Peirce!

me: yes, she is amazingly naive sometimes

willard: that's how i portray scientists

me: but what is her strength?

willard: she's naive
brings idealism
nobility of heart

me: ah, yes
I see what you are saying

willard: revolutionary

me: she is a Shakespearean character

willard: you have not reread Hamlet, haven't you?

me: not recently

willard: i told ya
all is there
all is in Moby Dick too
yes, she seems to believe that the IPCC is bullying away minoritarian standpoints

me: whatever truth there may be to that
and there may be some
her arguments make no sense

willard: lol
you can't criticize a nonsensical argument, michael

me: what does that mean?

willard: you can only say it makes no sense
I had to sign out at that point.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not Tories

More proof, if any were needed, that American conservatives are not conservative: they identify their opposition with the aristocracy via a (weak attempt at a) posh accent.

It's a topsy turvy world down here. You never could tell the good guys from the bad guys from day one. Hey, Lord Monckton! These are not really your friends!

I don't like this guy's politics by the way, but I love his accent. That is the strand of Texas vernacular I aspire to.

And make no mistake, this ad shows he is running mostly on a platform of talkin Tixen and bein Tixen. And catch that Texas swing fiddle in the second half! Yeehaw! Yep, we may mess up the whole world before we're done, but we shore do know how to have a good time! Now that's conservative!

Ain't it?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Mashey Gem

One big difference between the web and the old "news" media is that some stories stay current, and some bubble up later when you least expect it. I posted something on rec.food.cooking in 1994 or so about a salsa recipe heavy on the cilantro; normally I'd buy a bunch of cilantro and have no use for 80% of it until I learned how to make a red salsa adapted from an otherwise mundane little Mexican cookbook. This recipe is still floating around the net. I am sure I'll come across it again...

So somehow this RC comment from the halcyon pre-CRU-scandal days popped up in my RSS feed. I'm glad it did, because even though I remember the thread well I had forgotten this insightful story by John Mashey:
People are making an error common to those comparing science to commercial software engineering.

Research: *insight* is the primary product.
Commercial software development: the *software* is the product.

Of course, sometimes a piece of research software becomes so useful that it gets turned into a commercial product, and then the rules change.

It is fairly likely that any “advanced version control system” people use has an early ancestor or at least inspiration in PWB/UNIX Source Code Control System (1974-), which was developed by Marc Rochkind (next office) and Alan Glasser (my office-mate) with a lot of kibitzing from me and a few others.

Likewise, much of modern software engineering’s practice of using high-level scripting languages for software process automation has a 1975 root in PWB/UNIX.

It was worth a lot of money in Bell labs to pay good computer scientists to build tools like this, because we had to:

- build mission-critical systems
- support multiple versions in the field at multiple sites
- regenerate specific configurations, sometimes with site-specific patches
- run huge sets of automated tests, often with elaborate test harnesses, database loads, etc.

This is more akin to doing missile-control or avionics software, although those are somewhat worse, given that “system crash” means “crash”. However, having the US telephone system “down”, in whole or in part, was not viewed with favor either.

We (in our case, a tools department of about 30 people within a software organization of about 1000) were supporting software product engineers, not researchers. The resulting *software* was the product, and errors could of course damage databases in ways that weren’t immediately obvious, but could cause $Ms worth of direct costs.

It is easier these days, because many useful tools are widely available, whereas we had to invent many of them as we went along.

By late 1970s, most Bell Labs software product developers used such tools.

But, Bell Labs researchers? Certainly no the physicists/ chemists, etc, an usually not computing research (home of Ritchie & Thompson). That’s because people knew the difference between R & D and had decent perspective on where money should be spent and where not.

The original UNIX research guys did a terrific job making their code available [but "use at your own risk"], but they’d never add the overhead of running a large software engineering development shop. If they got a bunch of extra budget, they would *not* have spent it on people to do a lot of configuration management, they would have hired a few more PhDs to do research, and they’d have been right.

The original UNIX guys had their own priorities, and would respond far less politely than Gavin does to outsiders crashing in telling them how to do things, and their track record was good enough to let them do that, just as GISS’s is. They did listen to moderate numbers of people who convinced them that we understood what they were doing, and could actually contribute to progress.

Had some Executive Director in another division proposed to them that he send a horde of new hires over to check through every line of code in UNIX and ask them questions … that ED would have faced some hard questions from the BTL President shortly thereafter for having lost his mind.

As I’ve said before, if people want GISS to do more, help get them more budget … but I suspect they’d make the same decisions our researchers did, and spend the money the same way, and they’d likely be right. Having rummaged a bit on GISS’s website, and looked at some code, I’d say they do pretty well for an R group.

Finally, for all of those who think random “auditing” is doing useful science, one really, really should read Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science”, especially Chapter 8 ‘Wine, Jazz, and “Data Quality”‘, i.e., Jim Tozzi, the Data Quality Act, and “paralysis-by-analysis.”

When you don’t like what science says, this shows how you can slow scientists down by demanding utter perfection. Likewise, you *could* insist there never be another release of UNIX, Linux, MacOS, or Windows until *every* bug is fixed, and the code thoroughly reviewed by hordes of people with one programming course.

Note the distinction between normal scientific processes (with builtin skepticism), and the deliberate efforts to waste scientists’ time as much as possible if one fears the likely results. Cigarette companies were early leaders at this, but others learned to do it as well.
In general this relates to the common error of people putting expectations from their own professional lives onto other disciplines, including the endlessly misplaced emphasis on frequentist reasoning in climate from engineers and MDs (Crichton and McIntyre both), or the desire for tight proofs from physicists (Dyson, Laughton, even Motl). In neither group is a "balance of evidence" argument useful, but that's how most of earth science works.

While Mashey's piece is a particular gem, the whole thread is worth a revisit. I was the centrist with some sympathy for the inactivists on that one, so for those who like to cast me as a knee-jerk extremist I'd appreciate if you gave it a look.

PS - I still cannot fathom why Mashey does not have a climate blog.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Judith Curry: Born Beyond the Shark?

Judith Curry leaves only one possible argument for doubt that she has jumped the shark.

You'll need some context for this one:

Lets frame belief, disbelief, and doubt in the context of the Italian flag, that was introduced previously on the hurricane thread in which evidence for a hypothesis is represented as green, evidence against is represented as red, and the white area reflecting uncommitted belief that can be associated with uncertainty in evidence or unknowns.
Let's look at an example in the above-linked article:
Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
This statement is often used as a litmus test for belief regarding global warming, i.e. you believe this statement (consensus) or you don’t (skeptic). Very likely denotes a probability of anthropogenic influence between 90 and 99% (lets pick 95%) and I interpret most to mean between 51 and 90% (lets pick 70%), with the remainder (30%) associated with natural variability. Hence, the Italian flag analysis could represent this in the following way:

5% assigned to uncommitted belief (white),
67% assigned to anthropogenic forcing (green),
28% assigned to natural variability (red).


my personal weights for the Italian flag are:

white 40%,
green 30%,
red 30%.

My assignment allows the anthropogenic influence to be as large as 70% and as small as 30%
As I have pointed out previously, that last sentence is immensely sloppy, conflating a hypothesis (a proposition that must be either true or false) with a weighting.

Now, I believe (and haven't really made the case) that weightings are much more useful in decision making under uncertainty than are hypotheses. But that's not the issue here. The issue is that Judith Curry, in unveiling her new intellectual tool with great fanfare and off-key notes of false modesty, conflates confidence in a hypothesis with weighting.

This leads to an unambiguous contradiction.

Suppose we eliminate the white altogether, and consider only the yes and the no. I must do this because I don't understand the "uncommitted belief" idea at all. But let;s simplify. Suppose I had a measurement with a very well-characterized uncertainty of the quantity. My belief that the majority of the warming is attributable to anthropogenic influence, say, is in line with IPCC:
  • p (f < 50%) : 0.02

  • p (f > 50%) : 0.98
Suppose, to be more specific, I believed (consistent with the above) as follows:
  • p (f < 50%) : 0.02

  • p (50 % <= f < 60%) : 0.02

  • p (60 % <= f < 70%) : 0.1

  • p (70 % <= f < 80%) : 0.72

  • p (80 % <= f < 90%) : 0.1

  • p (90 % <= f <= 100%) : 0.02
Then I would be quite confident that the percentage would be in the range 60% ... 90 %. But according to Curry's mangling "My assignment allows the anthropogenic influence to be as large as 98% and as small as 98%"

In other words, a well defined uncertainty yields an inconsistent certainty.


This leaves aside how to deal with the third value in a two valued logic.

In addressing that, consider that if one believes that the odds of a proposition A is P, then according to ordinary rules the odds of not-A is assigned a value of (1oo% - P).

The desire to separate out uncertainty from "uncommitted belief" requires a good deal more serious thought than Curry has put into it. (It turns out, in fact, that a lot of people have already thought about it. Read up on frequentists vs Bayesians.)

Curry's muddle effectively demonstrates the problems with using frequentist logic in situations where an estimate is required, rather than a hypothesis tested. Suppose, to return to a favorite example, one has in view a creature and wishes to estimate whether it is a duck.

The evidence may be sufficient for a frequentist to state with confidence that the probability of the present observations in the case of a duck is P, and the probability of the present observations in the case of a not-duck is Q. In most cases (lacking a huge observational set), the sum of P and Q will be less than 1. Indeed, once there is enough evidence to make P and Q add to 1, it would be very pathologically strange not to be able to state with certainty the duckiness of the creature in question; either P will be one and Q zero or the other way round. That's essentially at the core of frequentist analysis.

I think this gap is what Curry may be trying to grapple with in her white zone, given that in earth science we often lack enough data for a compelling frequentist analysis of important questions.

Neither P nor Q is an estimate of the probability that, given the observations, one sees a duck. This depends, it turns out, on the expected rarity of ducks! Assuming you are willing to quantify your prior belief in ducks, you can make a consistent argument for the propbability space being partitioned into duck and not-duck with none of that peculiar middle ground. Now, all of this should be very old hat to people who think about uncertainty. But it appears completely unfamiliar to Curry.

Yet she unveils her muddle with great fanfare, and in doing so, presents two inconsistent views of what it means right off the bat! In the light of all this, let's consider her most recent contribution to Currian probabilistics, which begins
Historical surface temperature observations over the 20th century show a clear signal of increasing surface temperatures. Italian flag: Green 70%, White 30%, Red 0%. (Note: nobody is claiming that the temperatures have NOT increased.)
OK, is it fair to say that "Note: nobody is claiming that the temperatures have NOT increased" means that nobody claims that "Historical surface temperature observations over the 20th century show a clear signal of increasing surface temperatures"? I mean, if nobody can claim the contrary, then the signal must be clear, right? So what does that white 30% represent? Does it represent 70% "it has warmed and I can deal with it" and 30% "it has warmed and I am in denial"? Or does it represent "although nobody claims it hasn't warmed, and there is a 0% chance that it hasn't warmed, there is still a 30% chance that it hasn't NOT warmed?"

Now consider the adulation that this muddle obtains from the peanut gallery. (Note, there's plenty more where this came from, but this is from another essay in the series. Thanks to bluegrue in comments.)
Oliver Manuel: Thank you, Dr. Curry, for having the courage to question the way uncertainty has been characterized in climate assessment reports.

Gordon Ford: Excellent post. When we were young we all feared “the monster under the bed”. Many have not learned to live with monster. In the real world (such as gold mining) one learns to live with the error in the estimate exceeding the estimate.

Paskvacs, eggcorning fiercely: I’m personally in favor of letting science guys work this out all by themselves. If they end up committing suicide, so be it. Say “La V”. But, as soon as you try to ‘reasonably’ let the legal system (with any new tweaks you want add) get their greedy little hands on anything like this fiasco, you –and not the scientists– are the one committing suicide.

hunter: Very interesting. I like this concept very much.

MaxL: Thank you, Dr. Curry, for introducing the discussion of uncertainty and questioning the way it has been used in climate science.

Baa Humbug: Would it be fair to say, if the true uncertainties in the climate models were enunciated clearly, Kyoto would not have happened and Copenhagen would have been a side show attended by a handfull of people?
and finally I will quote the entire comment of one Danley Wolfe along with Curry's response
Danley Wolfe: Judith,
this is a great post. I think the phrase “(t)here can also be epistemic uncertainty about how a physical, chemical or biological process works is extremely important. Scientists suffer from “completeness fallacy” meaning they need to carry through work to some meaningful level of completion (for reasons such as need to mark progress, need to publish, need for peer recognition, need to meet deadlines for IPCC assessments, etc.). A model which lack sufficient treatment of all suspected independent variables – and their interaction is – under- ie., mis-specified. Result is that the model will tend to over-emphasize or under-emphasize attribution for the variables that are fully treated. I have long suspected this to be the case in climate modeling for global warming. There are many forcings and
some are known to be underrepresented in the modeling such as aerosols / clouds and black soot.

curryja: Danley,
very true, same goes for solar also.
Um, what?

OK. I am stretched to the limit. Somebody has to call "horseshit" here, and it might as well be me.

We have reached a point where it is impossible to judge that Curry is in touch with the science that she is supposed to be a prominent participant in. So has she lost touch, or has she never had much scientific insight to begin with? That's the only question any of this burbling raises.

Admittedly, she is very highly published. I know a couple of her students and think highly of them. On the other hand, to be honest no paper of hers has ever come across my radar in anything I've investigated. (As a dilettante, I don't contribute much to the primary literature myself, but I do read a whole lot of stuff.) I mean, could this be the stuff of some subtle neurological decay, where a formerly competent scientist starts making no more sense than the peanut gallery? After all, dedicated naysayers are still highly intelligent and scientifically competent by comparison to the lay public (that's the whole problem) even though they are actually quite ignorant and confused about the actual science. So a decline to that level of functionality would not be obvious, and if a person already had tenure, it would ordinarily go uncommented upon.

Or alternatively, is the peer review system so shabby that a person of modest intellectual accomplishments, one who, despite years of connection to the scientific community, numerous publications and promotion to a position of responsibility, is capable of such vapid, illogical, pointlessly contentious writing.

Either way it's sadly amusing to see this nonsense treated by the fan base as the breakthrough in reasoning about uncertainty that it obviously isn't.

But as far as I can see, the uncertain hypothesis raised here is

"Did Judith Curry jump the shark (green), or was she born and raised on the far side of the shark in the first place (red)?"

I think that covers all the possibilities, unfortunately, and it's either awkward or really really awkward, depending on which way it comes out.

(Note: all emphases in quotes added by me.)

Update: This post has generated some interest on a thread at Kloor's (starting with AMac lighting into me at #49) Judith Curry herself responded rather graciously, given how harsh the above was.
Well this is entertaining. MT and others seem annoyed because they think I invented uncertainty or am taking claim for it or something? Hardly. Its the Emperor’s New Clothes thing. And the fact that MT and others don’t get it (i.e. that uncertainty and allegations of overconfidence of IPCC are important things to talk about, its the naked emperor, really) just tells me how clueless some members of the community actually are.

I give MT credit for at least discussing what i say in the blog, rather than rehashing old drive by comments that I’ve made at other blogs. But i suggest he try out his arguments over at my blog, where they would receive some real dissection from some serious experts in logic, bayesian reasoning, etc. Nobody ever burns their bridges with me in terms of meaning i wouldn’t pay attention to their argument.
I replied:
I have to admit this is a surprisingly gracious response to my less-than-gracious posting. I am, in that regard at least, impressed and grateful.

I still can extract no sense from the Italian Flag arguments to date; it seems to me that there is no unifying method at all, just a sort of fig leaf for various commingled classes of rough intuitive guess.

Now, arguably that is all that IPCC is providing, and all we’re discussing is whose intuition is more reliable. If that is the case, though, that is how it should be discussed. Devices intended to illuminate should not obfuscate.

If you want to discuss uncertainty, and decision-making under uncertainty, by all means, let’s do that. (I’ve been trying to close that loop for decades, myself.)

As for the critique of models which so exercises Tom Fuller, let me withdraw it for the sake of more productive argument. If Dr. Curry wants to throw red meat to the inactivists on occasion, she should be held to account. But that only a secondary cause of my disappointment with her contributions to date.

Let’s focus on where the focus belongs, on how to think about uncertainty.

If Dr. Curry will continue to allow me to post on her site I will actually be grateful but I will nevertheless behave as an ingrate. If Dr. Curry is to make a genuinely positive contribution to the problem of how to deal with uncertainty in the high-stakes field of climate policy, she will need to proceed at least with considerably greater clarity than she has managed to date. It’s my impression that considerably greater care is needed as well.

I will continue to be an advocate for clarity and precision of thought. I hope others with some interest in uncertainty will stop yielding Dr. Curry a free pass on these matters, where she is an obvious novice.

If she actually wants to participate in a discussion of uncertainty, then it is important to do so carefully. One aspect of the problem is separating out one’s own biases from the various other sources of error, and another is careful thought along lines that are unfamiliar to most physical scientists. The casually appealing ideal of “separating politics from science” may turn out to be more subtle of a matter than it might at first appear.
I guess I was in a dreadful mood, too. The world is looking particularly messed up to me these days. (Willard has taken to calling me Doctor Doom, but I assured him that I am Victor to him.)

None of that means the Italian flag stuff made any sense, nor that Curry should continue to get a free ride. Science, in the end, is not about centrism or extremism or purity or pragmatism. Science is about reason, logic, and honest contention of ideas. I am at least provisionally convinced by this exchange that whatever else is going on, Curry honestly believes in that.

I think we should take her up on it, next time she waves that flag. I suppose we should ignore what the press or the peanut gallery thinks of her and focus on her reasoning or lack thereof.

Update: Would this posting have gotten any attention at all without the "snarky" bit at the end?

I really do think Judith Curry either jumped the shark or was never on this side of the shark. This flag stuff really looks very amateurish.

It might have been more prudent on my part not to ask the question in that way. But I did want the whole issue to get some attention, and in that I succeeded. I certainly wont apologize for this flavor of criticism to anyone who doesn't hold McIntyre to a comparable standard.

I'm impressed by the constructive spirit in which she receives this criticism. I will be more impressed if she actually addresses it. Indeed, sharks of this breed can be unjumped, as it appears Claude Allegre has just demonstrated. I'm willing to grovel on the substance if somebody can make a coherent case for it.

Anyway, if someone can't bear the sight of this sort of criticism, PDA has provided a redacted version of those parts of this article that address the uncertainty "flag".

Update: Pleased to see James in agreement.

: Fuller raises the interesting question as to whether I posted this out of scientific or political motivation (or, for that matter, out of sheer self-destructive stupidity, which I've been wondering from the start).

Here's my defense.

While there is no room for ad hominem arguments in science, what Curry is doing is apparently very far from science. Then the question of what she is doing and why becomes relevant as a political question, yes. I present a case that IFA as we have seen to date is not science.

Is she doing not-science because a) she knows it is not science and wants to fool others b) she is no longer capable of doing science or c) she was never capable of doing science?

Now, I can assure you on the basis of experience that this conversation is going on behind the scenes among actual, real scientists. The question is only whether I was right or wrong to raise it publicly, to bring it into the open.

There is no doubt I was rude within the norms of science. I stipulate that.

The credulity and adulation associated with the transparent nonsense has been a matter of some political importance. There has never been much risk that this nonsense would percolate up through scientific discussions, but there is an increasing risk that it will be forced down to science from the congressional level. So arguably it's important to raise the question, and I did so.

In this case, the contradictions are elementary enough to be accessible to a diligent political staffer. So making the case in such a way that such a staffer would be likely to come across it and work through it may be important. It's not hard to imagine this cluster of half-baked ideas making its way into the national discussion via too much credulity at the top.

Therefore, for a change Tom Fuller is right. My motivation is indeed political. I wish to defend science from an injection of nonsense from the political level. Lysenkoism never works out very well. And Lysenkoism is exactly the central risk of politicization of science.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Geoengineering Prediction ca 1992

I wrote this in June of 1992. It's nowhere near as clever as I remembered it, alas. I had been a student of climate science for about 2 years at this point. As youll see it's not without some merit, but it reminds me now of the confused nonsense on the Watts site. (Sheepish grin...) This should encourage us that people are corrigible, but that it takes a long time.

Of course, back in the old days internet musings about climate had an audience of about twenty-three souls. So it didn't matter that much. Those were the days...
Here's my prognosis for the broad historical outline of the next few
decades, as they will be remembered by the far future. I do believe
that global change issues will be the dominant feature of the coming
period. I am also confident that deliberate human intervention on a global
scale will eventually occur, and probably fairly soon.

"The end of immediate prospects for massive nuclear exchanges around 1990
combined with increasing awareness of the huge impact humanity was having
on the global environment. The first international conference on the
environmnet, held in Rio de Janiero in 1992 was a turning point.

The USA, representing the world's largest market and economy, felt immune
from external economic pressures, and found itself alone in maintaining
an economy-centered view at the conference. This, while politically useful
internally in a weak economy and a three-sided election, and also much
(though quietly) appreciated by certain economic interests in Europe, profoundly
weakened the global geopolitical position of the United States, driving the
developing nations into a much closer connection with Western Europe, as
global attention shifted from nuclear to environmental security.

Shortly thereafter, many of the rainforest nations, and notably and
quite vigorously the Brazilians and Indonesians, made major efforts
to stop the extensive burning of the rainforests. This period also coincided
with the major volcanic eruption in the Philippines, Mt. Pinatubo, in 1991,
and also with a period in which the greenhouse warming was just beginning
to accelerate to alarming proportions. This acceleration had been largely
masked by the volcanic eruption, and had also been considerably slowed
by the smoke from the enormously extensive burning of the rain forests.

The sudden lifting of these two masking phenomena around 1994, combined
with the rapid background increases in radiative forcing, led to the
Great Warming of the 90s. Agricultural failures were widespread, and
sea surface rises which had once seemed hypothetical now appeared imminent.
Extreme heat waves occurred in parts of America and China, causing much
human suffering. Demands for action were heard worldwide.

Suggestions for massive tree planting were widely implemented, but the
impact of these measures was slight. Then some wags suggested reinstating
the burning of the rainforest, and the possibility of massive deliberate
dust releases entered the public awareness. Environmental purists were
outraged, feeling that anthropogenic mitigation efforts were somehow as
immoral as negative anthropogenic impacts. This position was inadvertently
bolstered by some technophiles who claimed that economic activity should
be untrammelled by environmental concerns, and that repairs to the damage
could be implemented more efficiently and cost effectively than by limiting
the activities in the first place. (Of course, time has proven both these
positions to be drastically incorrect.)

In fact, the economic so-called conservatives ended up being a larger
impediment to the implementation of the Massive Dust Release Programme
than the so-called greens, the latter group being neutralized by the
support for dust releases by the majority of professional biologists and
ecologists who felt that the pace of warming represented an immediate and
profound threat to already highly stressed ecosystems worldwide. The
so-called conservatives resisted the loss of national sovereignty to
a worldwide institution that would be required to coordinate and regulate
the emissions due to economic activity, and to allocate the required
emissions to the appropriate geographic locations.

Nevertheless, in 2005, with the enthusiastic participation of the North
American Bloc, the World Organization of the Ocean and Atmosphere
(WOOA) was formed, the first actually sovereign instrument of world
government, with the participation of almost all countries. By 2019, the
few minor holdouts had been pressured into participating, with Kazakhstan
and Libya being the last to join.

In subsequent decades, control over climate was improved with careful
allocation of CO2 and dust emissions and sensitive salinity controls over
ocean currents. Massive ecosystem loss continued for some time, but the
climate control itself went well for about two centuries, until the source of
carbon was depleted, and suddenly the world faced the prospect of Global
Cooling, but that is a subject for a later chapter...

Here's my review from Future Me:

Main points right: recalcitrance of the US, relatively rapid emergence of climate into public and political awareness. Right on right and left wing resistance to geoengineering. Looking on target about a gradual slip into geoengineering.

Stupidly wrong, that climate control is the first step of global governance. We already had the GATT when I wrote this.

Woefully wrong that the less developed countries could or would make climate a priority. Absurdly and sadly wrong that once push came to shove anybody would gave a rat's ass about preserving ecosystems. I don't know when ecological conservation became a lost cause. It feels like a long time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some Key Papers in Climate Modeling History

A first pass at a greatest hits list; updates will not necessarily be noted as such. I had a request for key papers in the history of modeling so the emphasis leans that way. Also a few books listed.

Nominations welcome.

Peer Reviewed Primary Publications

Charney, Fjortoft & von Neumann 1950:
Numerical integration of the barotropic vorticity equation,
Tellus 2:237-254

Lorenz 1963:
Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow
J. Atmos. Sci 20:130-141

Smagorinsky 1963:
Mon. Wea. Rev., 91, 99–164.

Budyko 1969:
The effect of solar radiation variations on the climate of the Earth

Manabe & Bryan 1969:
Climate calculations with a combined ocean-atmosphere model.
J Atmos Sci 26:786

Bryan & Cox 1972:
The circulation of the world ocean a numerical study. Part I, a homogeneous model
J Phys Oceanog

Hasslelmann 1976:
Stochastic Climate Models.
Tellus 28:473-485

Arakawa & Lamb 1977:
Computational Design of the basic processes of the UCLA general circulation model. (link to abstract only)
Methods in Computational Physics 17:173-265

K Bryan 1979:
Models of the World Ocean (link to abstract only)
Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans. Vol. 3, pp. 327-338. July 1979

Hansen et al 1988:
Global climate changes as forecast by Goddard Institute for Space Studies three-dimensional model.
J. Geophys. Res.
, 93, 9341-9364, doi:10.1029/88JD00231.

Manabe & Stouffer 1988:
Two stable equilibria of a coupled ocean-atmosphere model.
J Clim 1:841

Ramanathan et al 1985:
Trace gas trends and their potential role in climate change.
J Geophys Res 90:5547-5566

Harvey 1989:
Transient Climatic Response to an Increase of Greenhouse Gases.
Climatic Change 15:15-30.

Cess et al 1990:
Intercomparison and interpretation of climate feedback processes in nineteen atmospheric general circulation models

Bryan 1991:
Poleward heat transport in the ocean: a review of a hierarchy of models of increasing resolution.
J Phys Oceanog 18:851-867

Cubasch et al 1992:
Time-dependent greenhouse warming computations with a coupled ocean-atmosphere model
Climate Dynamics 8:55-69, DOI: 10.1007/BF00209163

Hansen et al 1992:
Potential climate impact of Mount Pinatubo eruption
GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 19, NO. 2, PP. 215-218, 1992 doi:10.1029/91GL02788

Hansen et al 1998:
Climate Forcings in the Industrial Era.
PNAS vol. 95 no. 22 12753-12758

Bengtsson 1999:
From short-range barotropic modeling to extended-range global weather prediction.
Tellus 51 A-B:13-23

Lea, Allen & Hayne 2000:
Sensitivity analysis of the climate of a chaotic system.
Tellus: 52A:523-532

Hansen et al 2005:
Earth's Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications.
Science Vol. 308. no. 5727, pp. 1431 - 1435 DOI: 10.1126/science.1110252

Hack et al 2006:
Simulation of the Global Hydrological Cycle in the CCSM Community Atmosphere Model Version 3.
J Clim Volume 19, Issue 11

Schmidt et al 2006:
Present-Day Atmospheric Simulations Using GISS ModelE: Comparison to In Situ, Satellite, and Reanalysis Data.
J. Climate
, 19, 153–192.


Schneider & Dickinson 1974:
Climate Modeling
REVIEWS OF GEOPHYSICS, VOL. 12, NO. 3, PP. 447-493, 1974 doi:10.1029/RG012i003p00447

V Ramanathan, JA Coakley 1978:
Climate modeling through radiative-convective models
Reviews of Geophysics:

F Bretherton 1982:
Ocean Climate Modeling.
Prog. Oceanog 11:93-129

Claussen et al 2002:
Earth system models of intermediate complexity: closing the gap in the spectrum of climate system models
Climate Dynamics Volume 18, Number 7, 579-586, DOI:10.1007/s00382-001-0200-1

Schmidt 2007: The physics of climate modeling

Rahmstorf et al 2007: Recent Climate Observations Compared to Projections. Science 316:709 DOI: 10.1126/science.1136843


Lorenz 1967:
The nature and theory of the general circulation of the atmosphere.

Mesinger & Arakawa; 1976 (Vol 1) and 1979 (Vol 2):
Numerical Methods Used in Atmospheric Models (vol 1 is available online).
Global Atmospheric Research Programme.

Charney et al 1979: Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate.


Schmidt 2007:
The physics of climate modeling

(where multiple editions exist, I attempt to give the most recent)

Brekovskich & Goncharov 1994 (original Russian text 1982): Mechanics of Continua and Wave Dynamics

Durran 1999: Numerical Methods for Wave Equations in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics. Springer.

Haidvogel & Beckmann 1999: Numerical Ocean Circulation Modeling. Imperial College.

Randall 2000: General Circulation Model Development: Past, Present, and Future (International Geophysics)

Griffies 2004: Fundamantals of Ocean Climate Models. Princeton

McGuffie & Henderson-Sellers 2005: A Climate Modeling Primer. Wiley

Trenberth 2010: Climate System Modeling. Cambridge Press.

The Tea Party Speaks

Choice quotes from today's NYTimes:
  • “It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”
  • “This so-called climate science is just ridiculous,” said Kelly Khuri, founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s all cyclical. Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” Ms. Khuri added. “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”
  • “They’re trying to use global warming against the people,” Ms. Deaton said. “It takes way our liberty. Being a strong Christian,” she added, “I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.”

A New Kind of Candidate

Or, rather, the culmination of a trend... (via Huffington Post)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cheer Up Huh?

Boy have we lost. The Christian Science Monitor is running Watts on that obscure physicist who is the new Martin Luther.

All we get is a few witty repartees, which is easy given how witless the stuff is we is reparteein'.

In the American Scholar, Milan Ilnyckyj summarizes Laughlin thus:
"Laughlin commits an error comparable to to seeing a baby driving around on a bulldozer and saying 'There's no need to worry; that bulldozer will be just fine.' "
And at Kloor's, ThingsBreak summarizes the burgeoning pixie dust movement perfectly.
Pursuing clean energy on its own isn’t going to keep coal in the ground. What is the proposed mechanism by which the “breakthrough” scheme accomplishes this? If they don’t have one, they should just explicitly acknowledge it. If they have a mechanism, they should articulate it, so that people like me will become evangelicals for them. ...

I’m ripe for conversion, Breakthrough people. Help me help you. How, absent a price on carbon or staggeringly distorive subsidies does a clean energy fund keep coal in the ground?
Amen, brother. What we are looking at is not a position, it's a posture. It may have legs politically. These days, God only knows what doesn't. But it doesn't actually solve any problems.

The only "breakthrough" would be if some unconstrained energy source was made cheaper than coal. But we don't need any "breakthrough" for that. All we have to do is stop subsidizing dirty energy. The technology for that is already in place at the IRS and respective revenue departments in other countries. Just move the extrenalities from the general public to the user. The net economic impact is zero and those nice conservative proven market mechanisms kick in like a charm. Hello?

Hello? Are you still there?

Monday, October 18, 2010

BP's $499,999,864.72

Well, that's a rough approximation, assuming they paid for the pizza. There was a lot of pizza, but most of the half billion dollars they have earmarked for "Gulf state universities investigating topics relevant to the safety of deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico" is still unaccounted for.

(Seriously, they have only committed about 10% as yet.)

As I mentioned, last week I was privileged, by virtue of association with the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, to be invited to a presentation by two leading BP professionals. On the right you see my lousy iPhone capture of the event, proof I was there.

The fellow on the left is Dr. David Tsao, technical specialist for the Remediation Engineering & Technology group in BP's Remediation Management, serving as the Strike Team leader evaluating biological and chemical agents for the Deepwater Horizon incident and the fellow on the right is Mike Mason, VP for Base Management, who was the lead of the team capping the well. Mason is a mechanical engineer with an MBA from Purdue.

The event was billed as "BP is very interested in having a robust technical dialogue with UT JSG
professionals and students on the Gulf of Mexico spill." but mostly it was a presentation. The questions that were asked, on the whole, were not unfriendly or BP-skeptical in tone.

Both Mason and Tsao seemed very pleased with their own role in the events. Of course there is sample bias here; those are the people BP would be sending around to the universities.


Mike Mason spoke first. (Oddly, the fellow who had the unbelievably or almost unbelievably Hollywoodesque story of his escape from the Macondo platform is also called Mike Mason. This awkwardness wasn't mentioned, but came up when I started looking for a web presence for the Mike Mason, BP VP. No luck except for an amazingly terse Linked-In page. Bother.)

Between the accident on April 20 and the final capping of the well September 19 (exactly 5 months) he was in charge of a 300 person team involved in capping the well. He expressed regret for the loss of life and damage in a way that seemed just sincere enough to avoid being perfunctory. He wasn't there to grovel, he was there to brag.

He was coordinating professionals from three national labs (LANL, LLNL and Sandia) and several competitors, and NOAA, as well as 300 direct reports.

There was no great scoop here; anyone following the news from the Gulf closely last summer wouldn't have met with great astonishment. I've gotten yet another authoritative explanation of deep water drilling; the outline is always the same but the details sufficiently different that I conclude there are a LOT of details. This isn't like a drill press or even like flying a plane. Nonroutine decisions appear many times in the course of an operation, and the teams are highly skilled. In particular, knowing which density of drilling mud to use when is a tremendously nontrivial task; either too dense or too light can destroy the well at any stage. Erring on the side of too light can also damage or destroy the platform, although this is theoretically so rare as to be negligible. But everyone knows what they say about theory and practice.

(Of course, highly skilled, outdoorsy, smart, rich, redneck = about the most arrogant people on the planet. Mason didn't get into the accident in any detail, unsurprisingly, but if you listened carefully in the one slide the absolute monumental hubris, idiocy and incompetence that needed to conspire for a disaster of this magnitude was mumbled about.)

Mason talked about the ROVs (the remote control subs). Somebody claimed that manned units would have been better, but Mason said that if there were comparable manned units to go below 1200 ft, he didn;t know about them and he didn;t have them. He spoke of the difficulty of operating them, keeping their control lines straightened out being an endless nuisance among many. He spoke of three ROV units for 18 hours changing a rubber belt, for a net cost of about $600,000. (The ROV units cost $250 K per day each.)

Now that's a fan belt.

He spoke of the riser not being designed to fail or be cut. He seemed to indicate that the diamond saw had made a clean cut across the riser, which wasn't what I recall. Nobody called him on it.

In questions, Mason insisted that the total oil spill was "hopelessly underconstrained". It wasn't his bailiwick but he wasn't buying the 4.6 million barrels or the 50K barrels/hour spilled numbers that seem to be the final refereed score. The total oil captured or burned was slightly in excess of a million barrels. [Update: so somewhere between 20% and 100%. No avoiding that a lot of oil was spilled; this was a major league disaster in either case.]

Mason's most interesting point was about the balance of psychological stress. There really were no weekends for anybody until the well was capped, and the professionals he was leading were doing mostly intellectual work. Knowing when you or others around you are too tired to make a good contribution is a nontrivial managerial task.

Mason was the head of the capping team. There were three other major divisions to the disaster relief. If I got them right (I am not sure about this) they were capture, disposal, recovery and cap. Mason, an engineer, did no explicit bragging. But with all the blame floating around, he got quite a dollop of glory.


If Mason was an engineer from central casting, Tsao was the scientist from the same studio. Tall, thin, Asian, long straight black hair and black clothing, he was a striking figure, but he had a modest, midwestern demeanor. Among his first words were "I'm a northern boy", said almost apologetically. Tsao has a doctorate from Purdue in chemical engineering, with a strong biochemical focus. I didn't get the sense that he was in charge of logistics, but he did seem to be influential in the decisions about which remediation strategies to use where. Perhaps he was the guy who ended up with the f*cking booming school 101 memo.

He showed, as expected, the obligatory bird-washing pictures and avoided, as expected, the dead wildlife in a pool of petrol porn. But I don't think anyone in the room really had much truck with birdwashing. He was much more concerned with bulk ecosystem damage, and focused (as I expected) on the linear shoreline. Her said that the complex marsh geometry means that in practice there is something like 5000 miles of Louisiana shoreline. About a fifth of it was damaged to varying degrees. Sandy beaches were considered less problematic; a certain amount of mechanical scrubbing seemed adequate. He didn't say this but it's not as if Gulf beaches have never seen tarballs before.)

Perhaps the most hostile question from the audience was about the chemical agent used to break up the oil into smaller globules to hasten its bulk decay into CO2 and water. Tsao acknowledged that the substance was "toxic" in the sense that just about anything is toxic. Even water has an LD50, as people sometimes say. Toxicity is not a yes/no question but a question of degree, with the important question being the lethality and persistence of the substance. Tsao claimed that the active ingredient is a major component of Windex, and is biodegradable. You wouldn't want to drink a pint of the stuff, but you wouldn't panic about a couple of squirts getting in your swimming pool.

I found Tsao's most interesting riff by far to be about the reverse help-line tehy set up to accept suggestions from far and wide. I copied the numbers down, verbatim I think.

BP received 123,351 ideas and suggestions from the general public. Of these 86 were tested in the field and 35 actually deployed. Yet this was considered a great success, since it essentially doubled the repretoire of shoreline management strategies.

People who underestimate science and engineering and overestimate their own level of understanding should take a good look at those numbers. of 123,351 ideas, 86 were deemed interesting enough to test, and 35 of those sufficiently successful to deploy, nearly doubling the original reportory. Read that again, I'll wait. The success rate of ideas in the real world from outside the field was 35/123,351 or 0.028 % or one in 3524. And most of those were probably from people with related experience.

BP has been throwing a lot of money at the Gulf ever since April 20. This raises a lot of questions, as great quantities of money are wont to do. They've been in a difficult spot, because there really is no excuse for their massive spectacular blunder. Not only was this one of the worst accidents in history, it was one of the stupidest and most unnecessary.

Because it required so many things to go wrong, in some ways the events are reassuring. It should not be too hard to put regulations and safeguards in place to avoid that level of idiocy.

There can be no excuse for the behavior of the BP team directly responsible for the drilling operation at Macondo. But the remediation effort, despite all the understandable hostility and anger, seems to have been successful and about as well managed as something on this scale could be.

And yes, I'm still eating gulf shrimp.


Last week the responses to my attending this event seemed to indicate some interest in discussing the role of corporations in the society we have and their role in the sustainable society we need to move toward. I hinted at my position which is a bit nonstandard: I am both deeply impressed and deeply distressed at how the corporate world works. I think that BP demonstrated the most serious possible ethical lapses but followed up with impressive technical skill and in a nuanced fashion that was about as good as could be achieved under the circumstances.

I do have a project I could pitch to them. It's a fairly obvious bit of phsyical oceanography, but I have my own spin, and given the disaster in oceanography at FSU, there's no obvious candidate institution in the gulf states. Should I go for it? Would y'all hate me for it if I got it? Am I already tainted by the pizza?

Have I been greenwashed? What should BP have done differently? In particular, should they NOT fund research into oceanography?