Things I thought

Monday 23 November 2009

A Challenge

I forgot to include this in my last post.

I'm challenging any Climate Deniers who believe that the Hadley CRU e-mails show a concerted effort to manipulate data in favour of AGW to pick the e-mail they think shows, beyond all doubt, that such collusion/lying has taken place, and post a link to it here in the comments.

So far, all I have seen are examples of normal scientific practice where the reader has misunderstood the context and nature of the comments (the misreading of the "trick" e-mail being the most obvious blunder).

I look forward to seeing the incontrevertible evidence of conspiracy...

Edit: Tuesday 24th November.

People seem curiously reticent about actually picking an e-mail. I even had one commenter over at the Telegraph admit that 'none of the e-mails' showed any evidence of fraud.

So I'm upping the stakes: If you can find one, which shows beyond reasonable doubt that the Hadley scientists have been manipulating data solely to support the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming, then I will donate £50 to the charity of your choosing.

Let's be clear, though. I'm looking for that e-mail where the Hadley bunch take results they know to be accurate, and fraudulently alter them to support their hypothesis.

Edit: Friday 27th November

So far, nobody has taken me up on my challenge ("because nobody reads your shitty blog" comes the perfectly accurate reply). However, someone has asked me to clarify the conditions of success.

I will pay £50 to the charity (or church, or political campaign, as I've realised asking climate deniers to pick an actual charity they like might be a bit unfair) of your choice if you can find a evidence amongst the stolen Hadley data which shows that:

1.) Data was manipulated


2.) That manipulation made the evidence in favour of AGW appear stronger than it was in reality


3.) There was no scientific reason for the manipulation of that data.

I readily admit that these criteria are subjective. For the third one, I will go away and research whether there was a scientific reason for manipulation. If there wasn't one, you get your money.

But think about the odds you are getting! If you win, you get £50 for the charity, group or cause of your choice. What's more, you'll make me look like a complete tool - and considering what a smug, arrogant tosser I am, I have a feeling this is an even better prize than the money. If you lose, you lose nothing. Those are odds of infinity to one. I know the climate denier camp isn't great at calculating risk and probability, but even you lot must see the value there.

Good luck!

Similies are like metaphors

Imagine, if you will, that you are the world's cleverest mathematician, quantum physicist and demonologist all rolled into one. You are cleverer than a billion Einsteins, the "Einstein" being the internationally recognised unit of cleverness.

Now imagine that, one night, hunched over your self invented abacus/particle accelerator/portal to the ethereal darkness, you discover something horrifying. The logarithmic wave function of the prison of Ba'al is going to collapse, very soon, releasing Ba'al from his millenia old torment, to wreak a terrible vengeance upon the Earth. It won't be the end of the world, but it will be pretty bad: millions will die, whole cities will be destroyed, Horne and Corden will be given a third series, before their second has even aired.

Worst of all, you are the only person who has the requisite knowledge, expertise and intelligence to understand the coming catastrophe.

Fortunately, something can be done to prevent Ba'al's infinite wrath from being unleashed. Unfortunately, it's going to be quite expensive. A solid diamond superconducting altar must be built to push the prison of Ba'al back into quantum superposition, keeping him trapped for another thousand years. If everybody mucks in, you feel confident disaster can be avoided.

How do you sell this proposition to the general public, whose money and resources you need to to stop the hellspawn's merciless claws laying waste to all he surveys? They can't be expected to understand the intricacies of mathematical quantum demonology - only a handful of scientists do. So you give it to them in layman's terms. This, naturally, makes the information less accurate, which allows those opposed to the idea of giving up their diamsonds, to poke holes in your arguments. You are fighting against the economic tide.

Time is now running out. Frogs are falling from the sky, a kitten with seven heads is born, and the lion has lain down with the lamb as your models predicted. But the critics are saying there's no evidence that these signs of the coming cataclysm have anything to do with Ba'al. It's just a massive coincidence.

You have done your best, as a scientist, to convey your scientific opinion to those who need it. But it's being twisted, distorted, rejected. Mankind is heading towards a terrible disaster and you are the only one who can see it. What do you do?

In that situation, I'm guessing most of us would decide we had no option but to adopt the tactics of our critics, disingenuous and unscientific as they were. Sure, Ba'al wasn't going to devour the whole earth - at least, probably not, only a few studies suggest that his ancient hunger can only be sated by consuming the whole of creation - but perhaps suggesting that he might would finally convince people to get on and build that solid diamond altar.

And, sure, the nature of your field means that you can only be 80-90% positive that Ba'al is coming. But your critics are preying on your equivocal statements as evidence of doubt. So why not start pretending you are absolutely certain? People are bad at understanding probability in any case - that's why they play the lottery.

Finally, not all of those signs have come in quite how your model predicted. A second kitten is born, this one with only six and a half heads, causing the Sun to run a front page story declaring "Ba'alism HEAD as the dodo!". You decide that, should this happen again, you might just glue on an extra half a head.

This analogy, tortured far beyond anything that would be tolerated under the Geneva Conventions, is of course about Climate Science. E-mails between relatively prominent climate scientists have recently been stolen from the Hadley CRU by, well, who knows? The point isn't their theft (if someone on our side had done it to ExxonMobil I'd be rolling around with glee, so I'll not make any pretence to moral superiority), it is their perceived contents.

Blogs far and wide have declared that the e-mails as showing proof of collusion, cover up and malfeasance at the very top of the world of Climate Science. I, despite my best efforts, can find no such evidence. I can't claim to have read the entire body of e-m,ails, running to some ten thousand, but I have focused on those the Climate Deniers seem to think are noteworthy. In the process I have found numerous examples of data being changed and manipulated - because that particular datum is anomalous or has been gathered in an unusual/unusable way. The only example I have so far found of the Hadley crew manipulating data in an unscientific way to change its appearance was an admission that scientists had given in to "toning down" a document in order to ensure they received more funding in the future!(document number 1089318616 for those who want to look it up on the searchable database). So far, I have not seen an e-mail that provides anything like 'smoking gun' evidence of a conspiracy.

I say 'so far' because I am actually surprised by how little there is to chew on in these e-mails. As our little thought experiment at the top of the page showed, you would expect the scientists to alter and manipulate data, tweaking the presentation so the public's understanding, and from there their actions, are better aligned with objective reality. But there is little to no evidence of that happening

I had always rather assumed that the worst prophecies of the doomsayers were deliberately over-egged, that the temperature curves were sloped a little steeper than was necessary, that we had more time than the scientists suggested. Now, I'm not so sure.

If we've not been being lied to all this time, we're in serious trouble.


P.S. Any of you who like to do your own research, and who therefore clicked through to the e-mail I referenced in the main body, will hopefully have noticed that the 'document' that was toned down was a letter to a superior, not a climate research paper. It in no way supports the claim I made that scientists have toned down their findings to secure further funding. But it is a good example of the kind of deliberate misreading of these e-mails which has been undertaken by those in the Climate Denier camp all weekend.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Don't Look Directly At It

It's hard not to have a begrudging awe for The Sun newspaper. They can take a seemingly uninspiring story - "one eyed man bad at handwriting" for example, or "grieving woman upset" - and produce a multi-day blockbuster that other news outlets fall over each other to report.

The transcript of a private telephone conversation between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a bereaved housewife is breathtaking for all sorts of reasons. It throws up a huge number of questions. Why did the PM make the call? Was he advised to do it, or was this fiasco his idea? Was he actually intending to apologise? Did he feel guilty? Was it all a PR exercise? And whose first instinct, on being told they are being put through to the Prime Minister, is to reach for a tape recorder?

This is undoubtedly a scoop for The Sun: a story that, with the inclusion of the tapes, verges on journalism. The raw data - Brown's umming, erring, awkward, miserable style of speech throughout a conversation we were never meant to hear - tells us volumes about our current leadership. The Sun's breathless attempts to ring every drop of scandal and outrage from the PM's words rings false in the face of such personal failure. It is hard, in fact, not to feel sorry for him. One can feel the conversation slipping away on his behalf - Mrs Janes, at one point, complains of being 'brought down' to the level of conversing with our Premier. What on earth was he trying to achieve? Perhaps, one wonders, he has a Messiah Complex. Perhaps he believes, somehow, that just by calling this distraught woman up that he could make right the death of her son?

But as juicy and voyeuristic as this insight into the private musings and possibly unwell mind of our Prime Minister undoubtedly is, it also implies something disturbing about the climate of the country. Assuming, for a moment, that the Sun did not specifically instruct Mrs Janes to make the recording, the newspaper must still have known the recording was made illegally. There is nothing on the tape to indicate that Brown was made aware that he was being taped. While I somewhat doubt that Brown will be dragging Mrs Janes through the courts over her infringement of the data protection act (though it's hard to see how such a move could damage himany further. When things are this fucked, why not just have some fun with it?) it's worrying that our PM, along with most politicians, is held in such utter contempt by the public and media that such definitely illegal and arguably immoral behaviour isn't even questioned.

Let's not forget: this entire 'scandal' arose because the Prime Minister made the choice to send personally hand written letters to the families of the war dead. Had he chosen a less time consuming, less personal option then the mistake - and thus the scandal - would likely not have happened. Indeed, looking at the letter, and as a possessor of fantastically shit handwriting myself, I can well believe that error was one of transcription rather than, er, spelling. In any case, the entire thing feels vaguely reminiscent of the expenses scandal - the public are outraged over mistakes and infractions which they themselves are entirely guilty of. The Sun, in particular, should be the last to criticise declining standards in writing.

But, of course, The Sun, in their dark genius, have tied this in to the 'wider issue': our New Labour Government doesn't care about the armed forces! Where oh where were the Merlin Helicopters that could have safely airlifted poor Jamie to hospital, as a curiously on-message Mrs Janes asked the PM? If he were a more callous man he might have replied that the helicopters were never bought because, at £28 million a pop, the money was better spent elsewhere. On thirty new heart surgeons, for example, or over a thousand chemotherapy courses.

But the Prime Minister didn't make these arguments, perhaps aware that the 'big picture' was not this poor woman's primary concern. She wanted someone to blame, and that person was to be Gordon Brown, no matter what he said in his defence. There has never been a war in history that has been fought with 'sufficient' resources: the nature of conflict itself dictates that whatever is available will be stretched to breaking point, and beyond. Once again, the shrieking, adolescent focus of the tabloids has distracted us from reality and left us blind to the truth, almost as if we'd been staring straight into The Sun.

Post Script: My spellchecker doesn not recognise the word "Janes". How dare blogger disrespect the memory of our brave boys fighting for our blah blah blah...

Monday 9 November 2009

Lord Monckton Rubbish At Painting Houses

Below is a video of right wing pundit/terrifying psychopath Glenn Beck interviewing both Lord Monckton, the muppet-faced, climate denying Lord of the realm, and an obviously uncomfortable John Bolton, who seems to be racking his brains trying to work out how his career took him from the United Nations, where he sat beside world leaders and attempted to answer the great political questions of the hour, the the Fox studios, where he is sat beside a wailing madman answering whether Hitler's brain is stored in the UN basement.

But I digress.

Check out the question Beck asks Monckton at 7.20 or so.

Now, I don't know about you, but 51 trillion seems a tad on the high side for painting your roof. Put in context, it's roughly the GDP of planet earth. So, according to Lord Monckton, if literally everyone stopped what they were doing so we could refocus the entire productive arsenal of the global economy on getting the roofs painted white, it would take an entire year. I know manual labour probably isn't Monckton's strong suit, but this sounds a little on the pricey side. It it just me, or is it at all possible that Lord Monckton just pulls facts and figures like these out of the hole in his arse?

Yes, it's about politics

This morning, after one of my frustratingly common sleepless nights, I decided to go for a little walk and watch the sunrise.

I watched it from under a statue of a large copper horse. actually, thinking about it, it wasn't a large statue of a copper horse, it was a large copper statue of a horse. The original animal probably wasn’t made of metal. I’m guessing it was made of horse.
But I digress.
As I looked out at the lights of Windsor, the gently twinkling snake of cars on the M25, and the low key visual hum of London to the East I thought: we like this place, don’t we? I mean, Earth?

Overall, life on Earth seems pretty sweet. We have fine art, good music, great literature. We have friendships, and love, beauty. I hear series 3 of “Mad Men” is very good, and I just got an iPhone. So, on average, I would declare myself a broad supporter of civilization on Earth. As, I’m guessing, would most of you.

But scientists have been telling us, for a good while now, that Earth is ill. Very ill, in fact. If a doctor was delivering the prognosis, he would almost certainly start by saying “I don’t quite know how to tell you this” before breaking an egg of bad news all over the Gaia's pretty little face. It's not that the diagnosis is terminal, of course. if we would just start taking the medicine, we'd be fine.

Two years ago, at a Climate Summit in Bali, the powers that be postponed coming up with a final, legally binding deal on climate change until December of this year. Why December of this year? I’m guessing because, at the time, it was one of those dates that seemed so far away it might as well be never. Yet, with the monotonous predictability of linear time, the new summit is upon us. To nobody's great surprise negotiations have stalled, and a deal now looks unlikely for another year at best. If a week is a lifetime in politics, the Ministers at Copenhagen are gearing up to put off saving the world for another fifty two lifetimes.

So what’s wrong? If we’re all pretty fond of life on Earth, why are we having so much trouble saving it? One of the reasons, of course, is the cost. The stern report reckoned that effectively combating global warming could cost half a trillion dollars. Put into context, that’s about 1% of global GDP, or about half as much as the world spent on the banking bailout.

So it's actually pretty cheap. A bargain, in fact, when compared to the alternatives (which Stern estimated would cost between 5-20% of GDP a year, every year, forever). But the real problem is nobody can decide who will pick up the tab. Again and again, the debate about Carbon emissions refers back to the emerging economies of India and China, whose 2.5 billion people pollute nearly as much as we 700 million Westerners. It would, of course, be obscenely unfair if the developed world bore the economic brunt of reducing atmospheric carbon levels, simply because we gained all of the economic benefits from driving those levels up in the first place. But surely, as preposterously unfair as this is, doesn’t it make sense for the West, the rich people with the most to lose, to just buckle down and fix it ourselves? After all, when one of your housemates is late on the rent, the rest of you muck in, rather than risk getting chucked out, and settle the bill later.

So, why can’t we get a deal on climate signed? The world is on fire, and we’re idling around the garden centre, stroking our chins at the price of hoses. Why?

Perhaps because the earth is not ablaze. The earth isn’t sick. The earth is healthy. Or, if it the earth is sick, there is no cure. The world isn’t getting hotter. Or, if it is, it's not our fault. And even if it was our fault, how could you possibly know? What, really, do any of us know?

Just because the overwhelming majority of scientists agree on something doesn't make it true. It might be a ploy by climate scientists aimed at getting more money for their niche profession. After all, why does anyone go into academia if not for the Benjamins? And without ‘Climate Change’, how could Climate scientists possibly get paid? It’s not like there’s any money in predicting droughts, floods and hurricanes. Use your imaginations. Is it really that unlikely that a vast conspiracy involving hundreds of thousands of doctors, professors, researchers and other academics has spent the last 30 years conducting worthless research and falsifying the results as part of a nefarious plan to line their own pockets?
Of course, there is a little niggle with this theory. If you wanted to make money as a climate scientist, the quickest and most sure fire way of doing so would be to go and work for an energy company. Better yet, you could go and work for one of the countless think tanks who exist primarily to poke holes in the theory of anthropogenic climate change.
These think tanks, and others, have made the world of climate science a rather murky one for the layman to explore. I don’t know what to think when I hear that a volcanic eruptions produces more CO2 than all of the human beings on earth combined. Or when I hear that simple water vapour is a far more powerful Greenhouse Gas than CO2. I don’t have the time or understanding to research each and every one of the assertions thrown out b y those who doubt Climate Change is both real and manmade. And, in a highly contested environment, one in which both sides accuse the other of systematically falsifying research, how can I possibly know which side to believe.
The only method I have found, and one which reliable tells me that climate change is real, and we are doing it, is the method used by detectives the world over: follow the money. When two sides in an argument have broadly comparable views – say that Pepsi is better than Coke, or vice versa – the side with the most money tends to win. That’s why we have an advertising industry. Yet, in the controversy over climate change, in a fight between energy companies and environmentalists, the environmentalists are winning the battle for the minds of scientists. Why, if not because the science is right? Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that environmentalists don’t have money - Greenpeace has a revenue of $23 million. But the energy companies have more - ExxonMobil’s revenue is $477 Billion.
Yet there is a split, a split in the public’s view of the situation. People are deeply divided on climate change, not just what to do about it, but on whether it’s real at all. The public is split on what is fundamentally an issue of science, and when we understand why, I think we will understand why we have yet to fix the problem.
The division over whether anthropogenic global warming is real splits along political lines – the left believes in it, and the right doesn’t. The reason for this is pretty obvious. There is not a right wing solution to climate change. Even the most capitalist solutions – such as Cap and Trade – require the Government to step in and impose an artificial level on CO2 emissions, in effect to regulate the problem, before businesses can set a price for Carbon.

When an issue has a ‘market solution’ which requires direct Government interference with the Market, the right has a serious problem. Climate Change is not just an annoying, wishy-washy, lefty distraction for them. It is an existential threat to the foundations of right wing thinking. Of course, it doesn’t help that their ‘market solution’ doesn’t actually work. Governments are so given up to corruption that every instance of cap and trade that has been tried has resulted in huge cash giveaways, deals which have allowed the biggest polluters to line their pockets without reducing their emissions one jot.
The problem deepens when you realise the left are either unwilling or unable to put forward real, non-market solutions to Climate Change. Such solutions, to be effective, would require some new form of legally binding, responsive international law – “one world government” to quote the far right. Additionally, massive taxes, subsidies and takeovers of industry, particularly the energy industry, would also be necessary – “communism” to quote our lexically challenged friends once more. While I would love to see a workable solution to climate change come from the centre, or even from the right, it hasn't done so far, and time is seriously running out. We have to do something.

When a problem is fundamentally insoluble within our current political framework, when a collective problem arises in a world of ruthless individualism, and when that problem provides an existential threat not merely to our ideology, but to our existence itself, it is time to abandon the lofty, tarnished principles and do whatever works. It is time to stop worrying so much about economic growth and the absolute freedom of the wealthy. I believe we have thus far failed to solve climate change because it requires a paradigm shift in the way of the world – away from an atomised planet of isolated individuals, and towards a community. To save the world, we must first change the way it works.