Saturday, June 26, 2010

A model way of conning us all

The article below by centre/Left economist Ross Gittins is about models of the Australian economy but everything said is at least as true of climate models

A new prime minister but the same old problem: the mining industry claims the resource super-profits tax would damage it and the economy, whereas the government claims it would be great for the industry and the economy.

And both sides have "independent modelling" to support their claims.

If that doesn't make you sceptical about the use of modelling in the political debate, it should. But if you need more, try this: the two seemingly diametrically opposed modelling exercises were undertaken by the same commercial firm, KPMG.

It's taking people - even those close to the political action - a long time to wake up to the truth that the use of modelling in political arguments is just a way of conning the electorate. The less you know about economic models and how they work, the more impressed you are by their seemingly authoritative results.

The economy is a highly complex mechanism, which economists don't understand all that well. When you construct a mathematical model of the economy, you end up with a hugely oversimplified version of the real thing.

Often you can't test what you'd like to test - and what the punters assume you tested - because the model isn't sophisticated enough or because the data series you'd need don't exist. You end up with a model full of "proxies" (the best substitutes you can find). You can't model shades of grey, so you make do with black and white.

In other words, you have to make lots of assumptions. Economists don't know how the economy works; they just have rival theories about how it works. So their models are based on one theory or another.

The results thrown up by models are based heavily on the assumptions used. Use this set of assumptions, get that result. Use a different set, get a different result. Tell them what results you'd like and competent modellers can find the assumptions that produce what you want.

Economists don't accept the results of someone else's modelling until they know what assumptions were used and decide whether they consider them realistic or consistent with their own prior beliefs. Ideally, they want to determine which particular assumptions are driving the results.

Honest use of modelling results highlights the key assumptions used. But that is never the way modelling results are used in the political debate. Rather, the people who paid for the modelling quote a version of the results as impressive as possible and quite unqualified. The assumptions on which the results are based are never mentioned. They're trying to con the uninitiated.

The government paid KPMG Econtech to model the long-run effects on the economy of the resource super-profits tax and the cut in the rate of company tax. The government says the results were a "reform dividend" of a 0.7 per cent increase in long-run gross domestic product and a long-run increase in real average after-tax wages of 1.1 per cent.

If the long run is 15 or 20 or 30 years (we're not told), that's a pretty modest dividend. And the key assumption? Apparently, that the changes would make the tax system more economically efficient (because economic theory says they would).

Get it? If you thought the modelling was testing whether the changes would be good for the economy, you were conned. All the modelling tells us is by how much the changes would benefit the economy if they're economically efficient as assumed . given all the other assumptions.


Some good advice that the Oxburgh inquiry ignored

Michael Kelly is Professor of Electronics at Cambridge. The paper records Professor Kelly's impressions as he reads through some CRU papers, the papers that Oxburgh was supposed to evaluate

Andrew Montford has succeeded in prying some important documents from the Oxburgh “inquiry”. These raise several important issues. The attachments here include Michael Kelly’s notes – see page 81 on.

These offer a few glimpses of sanity that were suppressed by Oxburgh in the “report”. Here is an interesting comment about IPCC (leaving aside, for now, the lack of “humility” in Jones’ exchanges with Mann):
Up to and throughout this exercise, I have remained puzzled how the real humility of the scientists in this area, as evident in their papers, including all these here, and the talks I have heard them give, is morphed into statements of confidence at the 95% level for public consumption through the IPCC process. This does not happen in other subjects of equal importance to humanity, e.g. energy futures or environmental degradation or resource depletion. I can only think it is the ‘authority’ appropriated by the IPCC itself that is the root cause.

Good question. How does this “morphing” take place, especially when the scientists in question act as Lead Authors and Coordinating Lead Authors of IPCC. Kelly continues:
(4) Our review takes place in a very febrile atmosphere. If we give a clean bill of health to what we regard as sound science without qualifying that very narrowly, we will be on the receiving end of justifiable criticism for exonerating what many people see as indefensible behaviour. Three of the five MIT scientists who commented in the week before Copenhagen on the leaked emails, (see!video/730) thought that they saw prima facie evidence of unprofessional activity.

“Receiving end of justifiable criticism”. I presume that Kelly is staying pretty quiet these days.

Kelly previously made a complaint that would not be opposed by the severest IPCC critic:
(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.

(ii) I think it is easy to see how peer review within tight networks can allow new orthodoxies to appear and get established that would not happen if papers were wrtten for and peer reviewed by a wider audience. I have seen it happen elsewhere. This finding may indeed be an important outcome of the present review.

It would have been an “important outcome of the present review” had this finding appeared in the Oxburgh “report”. Or here;
My overriding impression that this is a continuing and valiant attempt via a variety of statistical methods to find possible signals in very noisy and patchy data when several confounding factors may be at play in varying ways throughout the data. It would take an expert in statistics to comment on the appropriateness of the various techniques as they are used. The descriptions are couched within an internal language of dendrochronology, and require some patience to try and understand.

I find no evidence of blatant malpractice. That is not to say that, working within the current paradigm, choices of data and analysis approach might be made in order to strain to get more out of the data than a dispassionate analysis might permit.

The line between positive conclusions and the null hypothesis is very fine in my book.

I worry about the sheer range and the ad hoc/subjective nature of all the adjustments, homogenisations etc of the raw data from different places


Canada's mad Jap is another Greenie who doesn't like answering questions

The genial public mask is not the reality

As we walked in to Cafe Crepe, I happened to notice Dr. David Suzuki sitting alone, having a bite to eat. For three years, I have been writing letters (see below) and trying unsuccessfully to communicate with Dr. Suzuki so I thought that perhaps I could just briefly introduce myself and give him a friendly handshake to go along with my name. As politely and as respectfully as I know how, I approached Dr. Suzuki to take the liberty of introducing myself. Actually, we have met before but that was years ago at the opening ceremonies of the Kitasoo/Xais-Xais cultural center in Klemtu.

"Dr. Suzuki, I wonder if I might introduce myself," I said, or something like that. "I'm Vivian, Vivian Krause," I said. He kindly stood up to shake my hand, I believe, but my name didn't seem to ring a bell so I added, "I've been trying to write you letters." Still, he didn't seem to place my name so I added, "I have a web-site, 'Fair Questions,' " I mentioned, adding that I would really appreciate it if I could speak with him or meet with him.

Then, he placed me, or so it seemed. "You're the fish farmer," he said. I had barely begun to explain that yes, I used to work in fish farming - seven years ago - but before I could say much Dr. Suzuki looked me straight in the eye and started telling me to f**k off. Not just once. Then, suddenly, he seemed to catch himself, and quickly sat down.

I was so stunned, I was speechless (which doesn't happen very often).

Dr. Suzuki went back to eating his crepe, or whatever he was eating.

I was rather offended. My camera happened to be hanging around my neck as just minutes earlier, I had been taking photos of my daughter and her girlfriends. As it turned out, I picked up my camera and took a photo, maybe two, I won't know how many I took until I get the film developed.

At that point, Dr. Suzuki stood up again and came towards me. He seemed very angry, maybe even furious. "Look," he said, "What do you want? " he asked me, twice, I believe. He was yelling at me by this time - or so it felt. He seemed so angry that I was afraid that he was going to hit me so I started to back up - which is not very easy to do at Cafe Crepe on Granville. I told him that what I want to know is how much American money his foundation has received, how many millions, or perhaps tens of millions. U.S. tax returns that I have seen show that U.S. foundations have paid about $US 10 Million to the David Suzuki Foundation.

"Why?" he asked me, adding, "What do you care?"

I answered Dr. Suzuki's question by saying that the reason that I care is because hundreds of people have lost their jobs because of his crusade against salmon farming. That isn't the only reason that I care but it is the reason that I happened to mention. (Another reason that I care is that with his false claims about PCBs in farmed salmon, and sea lice, it seems to me that Dr. Suzuki has sold our country up the river on the safety and sustainability of salmon farming, but I didn't get into that).

The reason that I care so much about jobs is because not all of us have a house on the water in Point Grey, another property in Toronto, another one in Australia, and another one on Quadra Island, like David Suzuki. Some of us have to struggle just to pay for one home that we don't even own - let alone a university education for our kids. When I worked in salmon farming in 2002 and 2003, a woman at the Englewood fish processing plant in Beaver Cove told me, "If I don't earn it, my son doesn't play hockey." That plant has since been closed. I just can't forget about her and her son.

Dr. Suzuki then told me, "Look, I'm just here for my granddaughter's graduation." That didn't surprise me. His granddaughter has been at our home on more than one occasion. Dr. Suzuki's granddaughter and my daughter are classmates. I had no intention of upsetting his evening or ours so I asked him if perhaps I could call him next week, or if he would prefer to call me. "No," he said, sitting down, looking into his plate again as his wife arrived at the table.


I Demand a Recount!

By Kenneth P. Green

It says something about the due diligence of Warmist ideologues when they can't even get a simple enemies list right

A new "study" (and I use the term lightly), published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, attempts to counter the steady decline in the public's belief in scary climate projections by marginalizing those scientists who disagree with the "consensus" view of climate science defined by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One of the co-authors of the new study on "Expert Credibility in Climate Change" is none other than Stephen H. Schneider, the Stanford biologist who famously told Discover Magazine that, in order to prompt action on climate change, "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

The new study examines the publications and other activities related to climate science and climate policy of 1,372 climate researchers (myself included) and sorts them into two bins, one that is supposedly "convinced by the evidence" which led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude that it is "very likely" that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for "most" of the "unequivocal" warming of the Earth's average global temperature in the second half of the 20th century," and another group that is "unconvinced by the evidence." One qualifies for the "unconvinced group" by having "signed statements strongly dissenting from the views of the IPCC."

Now, I was not surprised to find that I made the "unconvinced" list. But I was surprised to find out that they think I'm Canadian (I'm not), that I still work at the Fraser Institute (I don't), and that I have only published four-count' em, four!-publications on climate change!

Apparently, the researchers didn't feel the need to do much diligence when looking for publications of the sampled population. In my case, they probed Google Scholar searching for "K. Green." As I've virtually never published under "K. Green," it's not surprising they'd come up with so little. Just searching Google Scholar with my full name of "Kenneth P. Green" would have gotten them this list of 13 climate-related publications, while searching for "Kenneth Green" associated with one of my places of employment would have gotten them this list of 113 publications, about half of which are mine. Of course, working in think tanks rather than academia, the vast majority of my publications are in the "grey literature," which Google Scholar doesn't seem to capture fully, but which the head of the IPCC recently defended for inclusion in their assessment reports-the very documents claimed to define the scientific consensus. According to my AEI bio, I've put out more than 50 publications on climate change just since 2006. Googling ""Kenneth P. Green" "climate" comes up with 179,000 hits!

So, call me a skeptic if you will, but at least give me the credit I deserve. Coming in at only 319 out of about 500 skeptics? Absurd! I demand a recount!


An attack of humility from Warmist observers of Arctic ice

More sea ice appeared than anticipated, nearing its mean level from 1979-2007. But then ice levels plummeted through May and into June. Scientists have never seen the Arctic with less ice at this time of year in the three decades they've been able to measure it, and they expect below average ice for the rest of the year.

But looking ahead, the ultimate amount of sea ice melt is hard to determine. Some trends, like the long-term warming of the Arctic and overall decreases in the thickness of sea ice, argue for very low levels of sea ice. But there are countervailing factors, too: The same weather pattern that led to higher-than-normal temperatures in the Arctic this year is also changing the circulation of sea ice, which could keep it in colder water and slow the melting.

"For this date, it's the lowest we've seen in the record, but will that pattern hold up? We don't know. The sea ice system surprises us," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The loss of summer sea ice over decades is one of the firmest predictions of climate models: Given the current patterns of fossil fuel use and the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, sea-ice-free summers in the arctic are a virtual certainty by the end of century, and possibly much sooner. As the globe heats up, the poles are disproportionately affected. Warmer temperatures melt ice, revealing the dark sea water that had previously been covered. That changes the albedo, or reflectivity, of the area, allowing it to absorb more heat. That, along with many other feedback loops makes predicting change in the Arctic immensely difficult.

In 2007, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic declined rapidly. The drop from the previous year was so precipitous that it garnered worldwide attention and media coverage. In the last couple of years, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic, measured by the amount of square miles it covers, has recovered. This series of events, which underscored the year-to-year variability of the measurement, has made researchers cautious about describing events in the Arctic.

"In hindsight, probably too much was read into 2007, and I would take some blame for that," Serreze said. "There were so many of us that were astounded by what happened, and maybe we read too much into it."


Swedes go nuke

Oh the pain!

Sweden's parliament has overturned a 30-year ban on building nuclear reactors. The legislation will allow construction of up to ten from next year to replace the ageing ones that still produce 40 per cent of the country's electricity.

The vote was passed on a majority of two, with 174 voting for and 172 against.

Efforts to combat global warming have led to a revival of interest in nuclear power. Countries such as Britain, Italy and Finland are also planning to bring new reactors on line. Opinion polls now suggest most Swedes favour keeping nuclear plants.

But the vote does not necessarily secure a future for the country's reactors. The centre-left opposition, currently running neck and neck with the ruling centre-right in polls before a September election, will rescind the new law if they win the vote, said Tomas Eneroth, Social Democratic spokesman on energy.

In 1980, Swedes voted in a referendum to phase out existing reactors by 2010. Fears of nuclear power were then heightened by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

In 1997, however, the Scandinavian country scrapped plans for a phase-out of atomic energy, citing the need for cost-effective power for its large manufacturing and processing industries.



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