Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Correlation is causation?  Don't be misled by Petr Chylek

It's sort of pesky to be a former teacher of research methods and statistics.  It means that you see huge faults in what is published as science.  Scientists very often don't observe the basic precautions that people such as I have attempted to inculcate in students.  I see it in my own field of social science research, I see it in the medical journals, I see it in climate science journals.

And one of the biggest holes that I see in published research is that the writers ignore just about the first thing you are told in any statistics course:  That correlation is not causation.  Just because two things go together in some way, does not mean one causes the other.  They may both be effects of some underlying third factor or their association might be just a random event.

Let me point out a recent example in climatology: The article "The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation as a dominant factor of oceanic influence on climate'  by  Chylek et al.  It is one of the most recent articles appearing in  "Geophysical Research Letters", a major climatology journal.  Here is the Abstract:

"A multiple linear regression analysis of global annual mean near-surface air temperature (1900-2012) using the known radiative forcing and the El Ni¤o-Southern Oscillation index as explanatory variables account for 89% of the observed temperature variance. When the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) index is added to the set of explanatory variables, the fraction of accounted for temperature variance increases to 94%. The anthropogenic effects account for about two thirds of the post-1975 global warming with one third being due to the positive phase of the AMO. In comparison, the Coupled Models Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble mean accounts for 87% of the observed global mean temperature variance. Some of the CMIP5 models mimic the AMO-like oscillation by a strong aerosol effect. These models simulate the twentieth century AMO-like cycle with correct timing in each individual simulation. An inverse structural analysis suggests that these models generally overestimate the greenhouse gases-induced warming, which is then compensated by an overestimate of anthropogenic aerosol cooling".

Note the sentence "The anthropogenic effects account for about two thirds of the post-1975 global warming with one third being due to the positive phase of the AMO"

And in the Discussion section of the article we read:  "Our analysis suggests that about two thirds of the late twentieth century warming has been due to anthropogenic influences"

So there you have it:  Global warming has been proven to be mainly  caused by "anthropogenic effects".  When a very sophisticated and careful piece of research comes to that conclusion is there any room left for climate skepticism?

I am afraid there is a very large room left.  The study is correlational:  "A multiple linear regression analysis" and you can't infer causation from correlation.  Yet the sentences I have singled out appear to do exactly that.  An unsophisticated reader would conclude that anthropogenic global warming has now been proven.

Now I feel confident that Chylek and his friends are reasonable people who would be ready to admit to what I have just charged and would say that they were just expresssing themselves in a shorthand way and that they knew from the beginning that the coincidence of temperature rise and CO2 rise in the late 20th century was no proof of anything  -- particularly in the light of the later divergence of those two variables.  But the global warming debate now involves so many people outside the scientific community that I will still charge them with carelessness in the matter.  When unsophisticated people are likely to read your words, you have a duty to make them as clear as you can.

Inhofe: Obama Wasted $120 Billion on Global Warming Which Could Buy 1400 F-35s

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday at a hearing on the Defense Department's Fiscal Year 2015 budget that President Barack Obama has wasted $120 billion on global warming over the past five years - money that would be better spent on the military.

"I've been working on this for quite some time ... In the last five years, between 2009 and 2014, the president has spent $120 billion on the environmental agenda, mostly global warming, climate and that type of thing," said Inhofe. "And in that respect, if you'll just take the amount that was not authorized by Congress -- and I'm talking about the environmental agenda, you could actually buy 1,400 F-35s."

The Navy plans to order 33 fewer F-35s than originally planned over the five years beginning fiscal year 2015, because of budgetary pressures, and the Air Force is deferring orders for four F-35 models in FY2015, Reuters reported. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the total number of F-35s might be scaled back even further if automatic budget cuts set to resume in FY 2016 are not revoked.

The FY 2015 budget cuts would reduce the military to pre-World War II levels - "the first budget to fully reflect the transition [the Defense Department] is making after 13 years of war," Hagel said, warning that the military "will assume additional risk in certain areas," including training and maintenance. Should major conflicts break out in several places at once, the military would be stretched thin, he added.

"And I think people need to understand that there's a price we're paying for all these agendas that have been rejected by Congress," Inhofe said. He told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on the weekend edition of "Washington Watch" that Obama has "denigrated our military to the point where we're not the force we were at one time."


Dems' All-Night Talkathon on Climate Change Includes Swipes at Republicans' 'Dark Money'

 Democrats control the Senate, but instead of bringing up a Democrat-sponsored climate-change bill, a few dozen of them pulled an all-nigher on the Senate floor to draw attention to the issue.

It's a clear indication that Democrats don't have the votes -- or the public support -- to pass their own climate-change legislation. And they blame the lack of bipartisanship on billionaire Republican donors and "all that dark money," as one Democrat described it.

When it was his turn to speak, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) once again mentioned the Koch brothers by name, blaming them for their alleged corrupting influence on politics.

"It's time to stop acting like those who ignore this (climate) crisis - the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress - have a valid point of view," Reid said.

This was Reid's third recent broadside at the conservative "oil barons."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told the empty Senate chamber early Tuesday morning that there used to be bipartisanship on climate change -- "until Citizens United got decided by the Supreme Court. Until all that big money came in, until all that dark money came in. Until people on the Republican side who were willing to speak up about climate change were punished and threatened so badly that they could no longer do it."

Whitehouse said the "Citizens United effect" hasn't trickled down to governors and counties as much as it has to the Washington establishment: "Here, it's different," he said. "We don't have to live in that same real world. We live in a more political world. And so people can say things that are frankly, irresponsible, untrue -- and they can get away with it longer. And the intimidation factor of that big money is worse here."

Where is the bipartisanship? Whitehouse asked around 4:30 Tuesday morning. "Well, it will be back. It will be back here. It's inevitable."

Speaking to Ronan Farrow on MSNBC on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) another climate-change believer, said, "My great fear is that both economically and politically, this nation is moving toward an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires are going to control the political life and the economic life of this nation.

"And what this supreme court case is about, and what Citizens United is all about, is saying to large corporations and billionaires, 'You can spend as much money as you want on the political process. You can buy and sell candidates. You can do everything you want to create a right-wing agenda which will benefit the wealthy at the expense of everybody else.'

"This is not what American democracy is supposed to be about," Sanders said. He said this is why he believes in public funding of elections, and it's also why Democrats are "working hard to try to overturn Citizens United."

Sanders also singled out the Koch brothers, along with Sheldon Adelson, describing them as billionaires whose wealth is increasing: "They can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns which, by and large, will benefit Republicans.

"Are there some billionaires who help Democrats? Sanders asked. "Yes, there are. But the vast majority of the money (is) going to go to right-wing extremist candidates."

Sanders said the American people "have no idea" how much time members of Congress -- both Republicans and Democrats -- spend raising money. And "the money is with wealthy people," who set the agenda for the politicians.

"So, if you're going to the wealthy to ask for campaign contributions, your political views are going to be shaped by that reality. You're not worried about the high unemployment in this country. You're not worried about the need to create millions of jobs. You're not worried about the fact that we have more people living in poverty than in any time in our history. What you're worried about are the needs of the wealthy and the powerful."

Sanders noted that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have sponsored "probably the most comprehensive climate change legislation ever introduced, which, among other things, calls for a tax on carbon, which would invest very, very substantially in energy efficiency and sustainable energy."

"But I think what we're trying to do now, in terms of tonight, is to make the American people aware that the debate about climate change really is over. That the scientific community is virtually unanimous in agreeing that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.

"So, what we're doing now is speaking to the American people, and saying, 'You have got to be involved in this process. Because if you aren't, the planet that we're going to leave to our kids and our grandchildren will be significantly less habitable than the one we have today, and will cause enormous problems at great expense in terms of trying to address.' So, we got to act now, and that's what we're trying to do."


Vladimir Putin's green allies

In many ways, both Vladimir Putin's Russia and the modern green movement are offshoots of the collapse of the Soviet empire. They remain united against the old Soviet enemy: free markets and free minds.

The global warming policy labyrinth offered obvious potential to a KGB politician who had thrived in a climate of devious hypocrisy

Few environmentalists would regard themselves as allies of Vladimir Putin. Indeed, in their stout opposition to petroleum, which the Russian president is using both as a piggy bank and a weapon for expanding his power, it might appear that they are opponents. Such a view is superficial.

In many ways, both Mr. Putin's Russia and the modern green movement are offshoots of the collapse of the Soviet empire. They remain united against the old Soviet enemy: free markets and free minds.

Petroleum has been the energy driver of economic growth and prosperity for much of the past century, but it has also fuelled tyranny: "the resource curse." Oil and gas were indeed a curse for the Soviet people for seventy years. However, the dependence of the Soviet state on petroleum revenues during a time of sagging prices in the 1980s also helped push it into collapse.

Many pundits naively believed that the collapse would lead to the spontaneous outbreak of democratic capitalism. The prospect of democracy was welcomed. Capitalism not so much. Not only was capitalism the demonized fiction on which Communism had been based, its alleged flaws were the rationalization for the vast bulk of interventionist policies that kept Western politicians in business. The latest and greatest, which was just beginning to rear its head as Communism collapsed, was man-made global warming.

The notion that capitalism might somehow have "triumphed" with the break up of the Soviet Empire was in any case as outrageous for Western left-liberal elites as the collapse of that empire was tragic for Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin ten years after the collapse, in 2000, and brought back the resource curse. He did so by exploiting the strategic error of "shock therapy," which had enabled former Soviet insiders known as "oligarchs" to grab petroleum and other resources assets. Mr. Putin used public resentment against the oligarchs to seize back control of Russian petroleum, which would fund his twin ambitions: to make Russia feared once more on the international arena, and to seize back choice parts of the old Soviet empire, an objective which he is currently pursuing in the Ukraine.

The timing of Mr. Putin's return to de facto control of oil was impeccable, as both the explosive growth of China and loose money policies in the West led to a surge in oil prices in the early years of the twenty first century. He was also helped by another less obvious ally: the environmental movement and its demonization of the carbon dioxide emissions that had driven capitalist global prosperity.

It might appear that a movement that wanted to end the age of petroleum would be antithetical to a man whose aspirations were based on petroleum. However, the global warming policy labyrinth offered obvious potential to a former Soviet secret policeman who had thrived in a climate of devious hypocrisy.

From the perspective of those behind "official" climate science and the Kyoto process, Russia's industrial collapse in the 1990s had been not so much a disaster as a model. They even offered rewards to Russia in the shape of "credits" for the reduction in greenhouse gases that went with post Soviet turmoil.

In the Alice-in-wonderland climate policy world, Russia would be able to sell its non-emissions to Western producers, who would be forced to buy them as a penalty for creating wealth under a relatively free market.

The European Union dangled membership of the World Trade Organization as another incentive to Mr. Putin to sign onto Kyoto, which Mr. Putin duly did, even though one of his most insightful former advisors, Andrei Illarionov, called it a "death pact." However, just as millionaire climate evangelists such as Al Gore, Neil Young and Tom Steyer think that lifestyle restraint is for others, so Mr. Putin no doubt grasped that Kyoto commitment was only for suckers (such as Canada).

He realized that the environmental movement's attempts to end the age of petroleum would impact only his Western rivals, first in their campaigns against private oil companies, and second in the disastrous impact of green policies in weakening Europe.

Europe has been sideswiped a couple of times since 2006 as Mr. Putin has used natural gas - of which Russia is still a significant supplier - as a weapon in the Ukraine.

The EU's initial response was to claim that what was needed was more state energy monopolization a la Gazprom, Mr. Putin's energy vanguard, and more alternative energy. After all, the main problem wasn't that the EU was importing energy from an aspiring tyrant, it was that it was emitting too much CO2.

When Russian assumed the presidency of the G8 in 2006, Mr. Putin called for a global energy strategy that was "environmentally sustainable" and castigated "energy egotism," by which he presumably meant free markets.

Fast forward seven years and Europe's alternative energy policy is in a shambles. The EU would be even more vulnerable but for a typically unanticipated example of free market ingenuity: hydraulic fracturing and the boom in shale gas.

Natural gas is much less emissions intensive than oil and coal, so you would think that any movement concerned to reduce emissions would welcome this development. But guess what: Greens are everywhere resolutely opposed to fracking, and nowhere more than in Europe.

One does not doubt that the majority of young people who chain themselves to shale gas facilities are "well-motivated" and "environmentally-concerned," but, like their peace march colleagues half a century ago, they are ultimately dupes for an authoritarian agenda, be it that of the high priests of Gaia, or Vladimir Putin.


South African scientists debunk climate change myths

("Wits" is the University of the Witwatersrand)

Wits University scientists have debunked two big myths around climate change by proving firstly, that despite predictions, tropical storms are not increasing in number. However, they are shifting, and South Africa could be at increased risk of being directly impacted by tropical cyclones within the next 40 years. Secondly, while global warming is causing frost to be less severe, late season frost is not receding as quickly as flowering is advancing, resulting in increased frost risk which will likely begin to threaten food security.

FavioAccording to Jennifer Fitchett, a PhD student in the Wits School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies (GAES), there has been an assumption that increasing sea surface temperatures caused by global warming is causing an increase in the number of tropical cyclones.

But looking at data for the south-west Indian Ocean over the past 161 years, Fitchett and co-author Professor Stefan Grab, also from GAES, confirmed the results of previous studies which have found that there has been no increase in the number of tropical cyclones and that much of the perceived change in numbers is a result of improved storm detection methods. "From 1940, there was a huge increase in observations because of aerial reconnaissance and satellite imagery," she says.

The big surprise came when Fitchett and Grab looked at where storms have been happening. As the oceans have warmed and the minimum sea surface temperature necessary for a cyclone to occur (26.5 degrees Celsius) has been moving further south, storms in the south-west Indian Ocean have been moving further south too.

Most cyclones hit Madagascar and do not continue to Mozambique, and those which hit Mozambique develop to the North of Madagascar, but in the past 66 years there have been seven storms which have developed south of Madagascar and hit Mozambique head-on. More notable is that four of them occurred in the past 20 years. "This definitely looks like the start of a trend," says Fitchett.

South Africa is already feeling the effects of this shift. The cyclones that hit southern Mozambique cause heavy rain and flooding in Limpopo. But according to Fitchett, the trend becomes even more concerning when one considers that the 26.5 degrees Celsius temperature line (isotherm) has been moving south at a rate of 0.6 degrees latitude per decade since 1850. "At current rates we could see frequent serious damage in South Africa by 2050," she says.

"This is not what we expected from climate change. We thought tropical cyclones might increase in number but we never expected them to move."

In a separate study, Fitchett and co-authors looked at different types of citrus - oranges, lemons and tangerines - in two cities in Iran, where the existence of heritage gardens meant data were easily available. They found that while global warming is causing the fruit trees to flower as much as a month earlier than 50 years ago, which is a very rapid shift, changes in late season frost are not happening nearly as quickly.

Before 1988 there were zero to three days between peak flowering and the last day of frost in Kerman, Iran; since then, the number has increased to zero to 15.

Jennifer Fitchett"The layman's assumption is that as temperatures get warmer, there will be less frost. But although the severity of the frost has decreased, the last day of frost hasn't been receding as quickly as the advances in flowering. The result is that frost events are increasingly taking place during flowering and damaging the flowers. No flowers equals no fruit," says Fitchett.

According to the study, at current rates, it will take only 70 years before it becomes a certainty that frost will occur during peak flowering in Kerman. Already, since 1988, frost has occurred during peak flowering in 41% of the years.

"Iran is a top citrus producer but they don't export and we don't yet have data on whether there has been an impact on their citrus yields. We think that if there hasn't already been a huge impact, there soon will be," says Fitchett.

South Africa also produces a lot of citrus - for local and international consumption - and the country has been experiencing similar climate warming to Iran. South African farmers are not yet recording the flowering dates of their crops which makes it hard to repeat the study locally, but according to Fitchett, the threat is of concern.

Fitchett and Grab's paper titled: A 66-year tropical cyclone record for south-east Africa: temporal trends in a global context was published in the International Journal of Climatology in February 2014 and evolved out of work Fitchett undertook during her honours degree at Wits.


Australian Green politician was a libellous liar

GREENS senator Scott Ludlam debased himself and lowered the tone of his campaign for re-election by accusing Tony Abbott of being homophobic and racist in a Senate speech, community leaders said yesterday.

The speech, which was delivered to an empty chamber on Monday but went viral on social media and has received almost half-a-million views on YouTube, accused the Prime Minister of “waving homophobia” and “racist exploitation” of the electorate.

Former Labor national president and chair of the Prime Minister’s indigenous advisory council Warren Mundine said Senator Ludlam was “full of crap”.

“Look, I know them both and they’re both pretty good guys but Scott is ramping up his election campaign and he’s playing politics,” he said.

“It’s a load of rubbish, he’s way off the board.” Mr Abbott’s personal friend Cate McGregor, who transitioned from male to female while serving in the army, defended him against claims of transphobia on social media this week.

“He has shamed many progressives, including lawyers, in his acceptance of me as well,” she wrote.  “He is my friend. And a good one.”

Mr Abbott’s sister Christine Forster, a Sydney City councillor and in a committed same-sex relationship, said her brother showed his real colours by the friends he kept across the sexuality spectrum, including the openly gay journalist — and a former mentor of Mr Abbott — Christopher Pearson, who wrote a column for The Weekend Australian.

“He was very good friends with Christopher Pearson, and his passing was a terrible loss for Tony,” she said.

“You know, it’s almost tiring having to say Tony is not a homophobe, he’s not racist.

“Scott is a Green and in that speech he was talking to Greens and it was a cheap way to get a headline.”

Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said it was unhelpful to charge Mr Abbott with homophobia when he had clear but changing views on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“Many people who oppose marriage equality do so, not out of homophobia, but out of sincerely held religious beliefs or views about the nature of marriage, and I think the Prime Minister falls into this latter category,” Mr Croome added.

“While I’d like Mr Abbott to support marriage equality I also acknowledge that he has already come a long way on the issue.”

Senator Ludlam did not respond to a request for comment.



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