Saturday, February 21, 2009


An email from Dr. David Whitehouse []

There is a good example of seeing what you want to see in climate data, cherry picking convenient data, spin and downright misrepresentation in today's media. Normally one ignores such stuff. It's obvious that when some 'media commentators', especially those without a science background and an extremist attitude, temporarily run out of strident rhetoric they turn towards the old standby of bashing 'climate change deniers' - the very phrase of which shows the bias and stupidity of their language and the unscientific nature of their outlook.

To wit, look at George Monbiot in today's Guardian. He talks of myths about climate change being promulgated in the media by manic and distorting commentators. The obvious comment about black kettles and pots comes to mind. A lot more scientific rigour is needed to support such a case and I can't decide if he is just sloppy with his figures or cavalier with them.

In proving that there is no recent standstill in global average temperatures Monbiot quotes the most recent WMO statement, but he does so selectively and not fairly, passing over their figure 2 which originates from the Met Office. Now look at this and tell me if there is no qualitative change in the data for the past ten years. To say there isn't would really make one a 'climate change denier.' Note the green data point at the end.

The WMO's figure 2 is here. Note that 2008 is tenth in the list of warmest years but that the top ten warmest years are all within each others error bars, i.e. statistically formally indistinguishable, that is (for Monbiot's benefit) unchanging.

Of course, if one then says, but look at the longer trend, over the past 50 years as quoted by Monbiot there is an obvious warming trend (which nobody denies.) But this is comparing apples and oranges. Monbiot wants to deny the past decade temperature stasis (no longer a minority view among scientists) by talking about data over a longer period and not sticking to the point. He's not the only one. In a press release the Met Office says that, "Over the past ten years global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend."

On the face of it this is true but it does not tell the whole story, far from it. The Met Office performs a cunning sleight of hand in discussing the effects of El Nino and La Nina and volcanic eruptions on global average temperatures. Then they use 'trend lines' in recent temperature data to prove the point but ignore the effect of those very factors. Ignoring volcanic eruptions in the 1990's and the strong 1998 El Nino, coupled with a judicious choice of trend line duration and no error bars presents a very misleading case, turning the statistical flatness of the global average temperature since 2001 into a slight rise.

No undergraduate student turning in a report with such a shoddy disregard for statistics and misrepresentation of data would get away with this. Monbiot moans about George Will's writing in the Washington Post. Personally I don't think there is much difference between them.

"Cryosphere Today" slips in a bit of bias too

They did at one stage feature a quote from Al Gore so, although they are broadly honest, there is no doubt where their sympathies lie. An email from a reader below:

Since last summer (when the hysteria about sea ice 'loss' was all over the news) I have been checking daily the Daily Sea Ice maps at Cryosphere Today. For the first several months the Daily Sea Ice web page contained the following two sentences below the maps:

Historic snow cover data not displayed on these images. Snow cover data is displayed only for most recent dates

On about Sept 3 or 4, 2008, the people at Cryosphere Today tucked a third sentence in between the two dealing with snow cover data to yield the following:

Historic snow cover data not displayed on these images. Sea ice concentrations less than 30% are not displayed in these images. Snow cover data is displayed only for most recent dates

The fact that Cryosphere Today had been representing all sea ice below 30% as open sea struck me as intellectually dishonest especially since the sea ice concentration legend on the upper left of each map has always shown a continuous spectrum of colors from 100% down to 0%.

A gross insult

Comment from Prof. Brignell in Britain

A greenie propaganda website has published a list of leading deniers. Why have Number Watch and its author been left out of this roll of honour? Admittedly Number Watch deals with a wide variety of nonsense in addition to global warming, but is it too much to expect some acknowledgement for the thought and effort that went into, for example, the essays?

Of course the propagandists got the story arse about face as they usually do. Marc Moreno does not send us original material. We send it to him and he kindly operates as a clearing house to keep the rest of us informed as to what others are saying. Note the ageism contained in the accusation "Others are aging scientists with strong conservative beliefs, motivating them to challenge action on global warming not because they disbelieve its existence, but because they are ideologically opposed to regulation of pollution." There are two main reasons that so many of us are old:
We were trained in the era when all scientists were taught to be sceptics (about everything) rather than believers.

We are retired and therefore not subject to blackmail within institutions that rely on handouts from state propaganda machines. Many younger scientists would speak out if they did not live in a climate of fear and the threat of careers without research grants.

It is an even more ludicrous than usual to claim that we are ideologically opposed to the regulation of pollution. Many of us were active in opposing real pollution when it was a problem (your bending author, for example, gave much time and money long ago to the cause of water purity, when our post-war rivers were a disaster area). What we do not accept is that carbon, the basis of all life on earth, is pollution.

As for having strong conservative beliefs, the political position of this site and its author has been clearly stated. Now that words like conservative and liberal have completely changed their meaning, anyone who does not conform to the authoritarian message is vilified as a conservative.

Ad hominem attacks are symptomatic of campaigners who are aware that they have lost the intellectual argument. This is a big attack by big losers.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Mathematical models do get it badly wrong

Amid all the hand-wringing about financial systems in meltdown mode, the subject of modeling hasn't gotten a lot of notice. Banks and other financial institutions employed legions of Ph.D. mathematicians and statistics specialists to model the risks those firms were assuming under a variety of scenarios. The point was to avoid taking on obligations that could put the company under. Judging by the calamity we are now living through, one would have to say those models failed miserably. They did so despite the best efforts of numerous professionals, all highly paid and with a lot of intellectual horsepower, employed specifically to head off such catastrophes.

What went wrong with the modeling? That's a subject of keen interest to engineers who must model the behavior and risks of their own complicated systems. Insights about problems with the mathematics behind financial systems come from Huybert Groenendaal, whose Ph.D. is in modeling the spread of diseases. Groenendaal is a partner and senior risk analyst with Vose Consulting LLC in Boulder, a firm that works with a wide variety of banks and other companies trying to mitigate risks. "In risk modeling, you use a lot of statistics because you want to learn from the past," says Groenendaal. "That's good if the past is like the future, but in that sense you could be getting a false sense of security."

That sense of security plays directly into what happened with banks and financial instruments based on mortgages. "It gets back to the use of historical data," says Groenendaal. "One critical assumption people had to make was that the past could predict the future. I believe in the case of mortgage products, there was too much faith in the idea that past trends would hold."

Therein lies a lesson. "In our experience, people have excessive confidence in their historical data. That problem isn't unique to the financial area," says Groenendaal. "You must be cynical and open to the idea that this time, the world could change. When we work with people on models, we warn them that models are just tools. You have to think about the assumptions you make. Models can help you make better decisions, but you must remain skeptical."

Did the quantitative analysts who came up with ineffective financial models lose their jobs in the aftermath? Groenendaal just laughs at this idea. "I have a feeling they will do fine. If you are a bank and you fire your whole risk-analysis department, I don't think that would be viewed positively," he says.

Interestingly enough, Groenendaal suggests skepticism is also in order for an equally controversial area of modeling: climate change. "Climate change is similar to financial markets in that you can't run experiments with it as you might when you are formulating theories in physics. That means your skepticism should go up," he says. We might add there is one other similarity he didn't mention: It is doubtful anyone was ever fired for screwing up a climate model.


Pro-Heathrow demo challenges Carbon Cult killjoys

Cheap flights for all

As eco warriors descend on Parliament this afternoon to protest against the expansion of Heathrow, an obscure counter demonstration will be taking place. It's quite unusual: Modern Movement will be demonstrating in favour of something, not against it: cheap travel. "What we want to counter is the small number of green campaigners who are making a lot of noise on this issue, and who are making it seem like reducing the number of people who can fly is the biggest struggle of the century," says student Alex Hochuli, who co-founded the new group. "The majority of people aspire to travel, love travelling, and want to have more of that."

Hochuli says he's against the "moralisation of flying" and points out that even if you take CO2 seriously as an catalyst for Thermageddon, flying contributes only 3 per cent of UK carbon emissions. So it's hardly worth objecting to on rational grounds. What could it be, then?

There's more than a whiff of snobbery about environmental objections to mass travel. In a TV show tonight, the toff historian Tristram Hunt (son of Lord Hunt of Chesterton, a climate modeller) mourns the age of motoring before the working class got behind the wheel. "As the working classes gained access to the motor car, they celebrated their mobility by buying up plots of land in beauty spots and coastal resorts across the south coast," he wrote on Monday. Oh no! "The historicism, aestheticism and idiosyncrasy of motoring were abandoned."

Today, plebs enjoying cheap flights cause a similar revulsion amongst the pious Green bourgeoise. Hochuli also has a sideswipe at the budget airlines for not doing enough to promote the cause of mind-broadening travel opportunities, in an interview here.

But while snobbery is a plays a large part of the eco warriors rhetoric, it can't explain it all. Try on this thought experiment. Suppose for the sake of argument that cheap flights are bad, and many internal flights are unnecessary, and instead we decided to build a Maglev train service linking British cities. What a wonderful thing that would be. Who do you think would be the first to object to it?

The anti-flying campaign reflects a deep hostility to modernity and progress. The earliest "ecological" thinking early in the 19th Century was to inspire the mystical "blood and soil" movements in Germany, which held that science was evil. From there, it's hard to escape the circular argument that anything that improves our lot is bad for the planet, and must be discouraged.


Greens: Keep Africa poor to control climate

A study in this week's Nature (Feb. 19. Summary here) reports that African forests are an important carbon sink -- and although the researchers acknowledge that they don't really understand the phenomenon, they nevertheless conclude that African forests be put off limits to development. At the end of the study, the researchers write,
African tropical forests are providing important ecosystem services by storing carbon and being a carbon sink, thereby reducing the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2. With adequate protection these forests are likely to remain large carbon stores in the longer term. Securing this service will probably require formalizing and enforcing land rights for forest dwellers, alongside payments for ecosystem services to those Estimated carbon stocks and their annual increase for African tropical forest living near forested areas. Whether remaining intact forests will continue to sequester carbon, become neutral, or become a net source of carbon in the future is highly uncertain. Improved monitoring and modelling of the tropical environment is required to better understand this trajectory.

But if Africans can't harvest and monetize their own natural resources -- as we in the West have done -- Africa is likely to stay poor and sick. Nature could have edited this study down to: "Sinks should sink Africa."



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