Thursday, February 16, 2017

More on the Bates revelations about the NOAA paper by Tom Karl

The writer below says that the Bates revelations have one and one only important implication:  That unvalidated data was used.  In my career as a psychometrician, I too often railed against the unvalidated data often used by my fellow social scientists.  So I agree that use of unvalidated data means that the conclusions of that particular study cannot be accepted.

I don't think the problem ends there, however.  I think it unlikely that the data used CAN be validated.  The revelation about the best measurements of sea surface temperature not being used do, I think, have that implication. They imply that the data body used was constructed to defraud

It is sometimes said science is all about data… observation, measurement, experiment, measurement… But that is NOT the whole story. To ensure data is reliable and understood, we’ve developed standard units of measure, and document procedures used to obtain and record measurements. The intention is to make sure BOTH the data AND collection methods can be reliably understood and used by others. The fleshed out version of this is the scientific method, and is integral to, and indispensable in the advance of science. It works because it helps eliminate bias and protect the integrity of both data and process. Any departure from rigorous adherence to these principles may or may not adversely affect data. But it increases the risk, and introduces doubt as to the overall integrity. And any subsequent reliance on this data must not assert confidence levels beyond the weakest preceding link. For example, it would be inaccurate or dishonest to claim 100% certainty on results that can only be replicated 50% of the time.

So let’s wind forward…

There has been much suck-and-blow blather in the aftermath of the David Rose column on the whistleblower allegations by former NOAA scientist John Bates. I won’t rehash the article, other than to say Rose does seem eager to sensationalize speculative results rather than the details, but that in no way negates the seriousness of the allegations stated. What I want to discuss is the allegations and impacts. Rose is not the story. Bates is not the story. The story is the circumvention of procedures put in place to protect the integrity of the data, and hence the reputation of the NOAA. From John Bates:

Predictably, both the “consensus” and skeptic camps largely missed the mark in jumping to defend or attack positions. There were a flurry of hastily written newspaper and blog reports on “bad data“, “data manipulation“, and “data tampering“. Bates’ report didn’t say data was deliberately compromised (he mentioned a “thumb on the scale” which he later seemed to walk back), but that the presentation may have been biased, and adherence to protocol was haphazard. These of course are different things. This opened the door for the usual suspects from the other side to rush out reports showing the NOAA data was largely in agreement with other datasets, directing the discussion away from the presentation and protocol questions to “The data checks out. See? No problem.” This was cleverly, cynically, and all too accurately highlighted by Gavin Schmidt:

Let there be NO mistake: Regardless of the best efforts of Schmidt and friends to paint this as just deniers denying, if NOAA followed THEIR OWN established protocols, there would be no story.

Now the hordes of hyperactive and secure-in-their-ignorance columnists, tweeters and bloggers from the periphery join in with escalations of character attacks, dishonest misdirections, and deliberately uncharitable interpretations of innocuous statements. The Guardian chipped in with a nastily biased bit:

Referring back to the Science Insider piece…

Just one little problem: They provide no evidence that Bates said anything about being wary of skeptics. He said “people”. And as both skeptic and consensus camps have seemingly derailed in their rush to the wrong conclusion, it could easily mean either, or more likely both.

I could go on at length about the ridiculous obfuscation and mean spirited BS thrown about during any attempted discussion of the allegations (most of which have not been denied, but rather downplayed) but I’ll save that for a separate post. That’s just another distraction from the real issue at hand.

No, the issues are as Bates outlined: “Ethical standards must be maintained”. There can be no confidence in data without confidence in the procedures surrounding collection and storage of data. And persons or organizations that place no value in these procedures further erode confidence. This happens repeatedly:

  • publicly funded trustee of information gets “sloppy”

  • concern is expressed

  • those at fault are defended

  • the ‘concerned’ are attacked

  • conversation derails

  • nothing is fixed

  • rinse and repeat

  • This is damaging to public confidence in climate science in particular, and government programs in general. And rightfully so. There are many billions in public funds that need to be allocated to the best possible effect. At a minimum, these continued scandals damage public willingness to invest resources required. And potentially more damaging, errors lead to resources that could have been better spent (poverty, etc) being wasted to no benefit.

    Perhaps in this case no data was harmed. I hope not. But if we don’t take these matters seriously eventually there will be damages. And not just to a database.


    Hans Rosling: humanism by numbers

    The Swedish statistician was a powerful antidote to our Malthusian times

    Hans Rosling, the Swedish doctor and statistician who died on Tuesday, has rightly been the subject of glowing obituaries ever since. With great imagination and humour, Rosling made understanding the world through the use of statistics more enjoyable and more enlightening than perhaps anyone else. But while his ability to bring numbers to life was a great talent, the message he conveyed about the state of humanity was even more important.

    Essentially, Rosling told a story of a world in which things have been getting better for almost everyone. In making this point, Rosling wasn’t alone. Others, like Indur Goklany, Matt Ridley and Steven Pinker (and, of course, spiked), have, in various ways, pointed out the benefits of a richer, better educated and more peaceful world. Nonetheless, Rosling was certainly rowing against the stream in an age where many of the elite and influential commentators were obsessed with climate change and overpopulation. Human beings were screwing up the planet on the one hand while, on the other, billions of people were doomed to lives that would be nasty, brutish and short.

    Rosling pointed out the great strides that have been made in the past 200 years. In the early 19th century, almost everyone – apart from the very richest people on the planet – was poor and unhealthy. They had few possessions, no education and were destined to die young by modern standards. Living past 40 would be unusual. But thanks to the Industrial Revolution and continuing material progress, countries started to get richer and healthier, starting with the UK and the Netherlands, but soon spreading across Europe and America.

    As former colonies achieved independence in the decades after the Second World War, they too started to become richer. Life expectancy has shot up in developing countries and they are, for the most part, converging with the living standards and longevity of the richest developed countries. Of course, there are still plenty of places where this needs to go a lot further – particularly poor countries that are blighted by war – but the trend is clear: things are getting better.

    Moreover, Rosling was clear that it is industrialisation that we have to thank for all that. His entertaining TED talk about washing machines is a case in point. His eco-worrier students would proudly proclaim that they had forsworn the motor car for the sake of the planet. But as Rosling pointed out, every one of them still needed a washing machine. He recounted the moment in his childhood when his parents finally bought an automatic washing machine, an event so momentous that it demanded a family gathering. Just a couple of generations ago, his grandmother would have washed clothes by boiling water on a fire and scrubbing each garment by hand – still the greatest chore for billions of women around the world.

    All that labour is saved thanks to electricity, running water and the liberation that is the washing machine. And the washing machine is in turn the product of a whole host of other industries from steel mills to chemical refineries. And what comes out of washing machines, he asked? Books. When women are freed from hours of laundry, they have time to read books to their children, offering another kind of liberation: education. The most pressing question we face, therefore, is how everyone on the planet can enjoy the freedom that comes from washing machines and other labour-saving devices.

    This human-centred outlook was what made Rosling’s statistics and presentational skills matter. There are plenty of ways of making data look entertaining. Rosling’s contribution was to put that gift to the service of making the case for more development. The world’s most high-profile neo-Malthusians, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, did Rosling the greatest compliment by rubbishing his ideas, calling him ‘a confused statistician’ and claiming – as they have done for decades – that extreme poverty would be the lot of the great majority of humanity when the inevitable civilisational collapse occurs. Rosling showed that industrial and technological progress could solve the big problems facing humanity, if we didn’t do anything so stupid as to turn away from these powerful, welfare-enhancing tools.

    The Ehrlichs are back in vogue, feted by the Royal Society – supposedly the bastion of rational, scientific thought. The leader of the UK’s main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, once signed a Commons motion that claimed that ‘humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet’ and looked ‘forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the Earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again’. The most backward, misanthropic ideas are still very much mainstream. Hans Rosling was a powerful antidote to such thinking and will be greatly missed. RIP.


    Cutting carbon emissions in Mass. may increase them elsewhere

    A Baker administration plan to cut harmful greenhouse gases could have the unintended consequence of boosting carbon emissions across the rest of New England, say some environmental advocates and representatives of the energy industry.

    The plan was designed to comply with a landmark 2016 Supreme Judicial Court decision that requires specific limits on sources of greenhouse gases. But while the regulations might help the state curb emissions, they could cause electricity production to be diverted to less efficient power plants outside the state that might use more polluting energy sources, such as coal or oil, critics say.

    At a recent hearing at the state Department of Environmental Protection, Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, called the proposed rules “fundamentally flawed.”

    “While Massachusetts plants have their ability to operate severely curtailed, electricity demand will still have to be met,” said Dolan, who represents the state’s coal and natural gas industries. “So plants in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other states that are less efficient and higher emitting will run more. It just doesn’t make sense.”

    Environmental advocates acknowledge the proposed rules could, in the short term, increase emissions in neighboring states. They support the proposal overall, but are urging the state to revise the rules to make that less likely.

    State officials declined to answer questions about the rules’ potential to increase emissions in other New England states, but issued this statement:

    “Through a robust comment period and public hearings around the state, Mass. DEP looks forward to engaging with stakeholders in an effort to ensure that the final rules are thoughtfully designed and effectively implemented.”

    The rules would require power plants in Massachusetts to reduce emissions 2.5 percent each year, starting in 2018. Once they reach their annual pollution limits, they would be required to shut down.

    The regulations would also cap emissions for the state’s fleet of vehicles, other parts of the transportation sector, natural gas mains used by utilities, and gas-insulated switch gear, such as circuit breakers.

    Critics say the draft regulations would ultimately force the operator of the regional grid to draw a greater portion of its electricity from dirtier plants. ISO New England, an independent company that runs the grid, must seek power from the most efficient plants — those that provide the cheapest electricity with the least emissions — before looking elsewhere.

    When the company can no longer obtain energy from those sources to keep the lights on, it turns to the region’s remaining coal and oil plants, which pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the state must reduce emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below that threshold by 2050.

    Last May, the state’s highest court ordered the Baker administration to limit overall emissions from specific sources, such as vehicles and power plants, and set annual limits on those emissions.

    State officials say Massachusetts has already cut emissions by nearly 20 percent below 1990 levels. But environmental advocacy groups dispute that figure and say it doesn’t account for the closing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in 2019, which is likely to result in more carbon emissions from other energy sources.

    Concerns about rising emissions in New England aren’t hypothetical. In 2015, the year after the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed, the region saw emissions rise for the first time in five years.

    Environmental advocates acknowledge that whatever increase in emissions elsewhere might result from Massachusetts’ rules, it would disappear when more energy from offshore wind, hydropower, and solar facilities is brought online. And the increase, known in the industry as “leakage,” would be minor, they say. Overall, they praise the scope of the proposed rules.

    “It would be worth the possibility of a small rise in emissions, because we would be sending a clear, strong signal to the market that the future of power in Massachusetts will be clean and renewable,” said David Ismay, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation .

    Ismay and other environmental advocates are drafting suggestions for revised regulations that they say would reduce the likelihood of a rise in emissions. Their plan would create a kind of auction system that would allow power plants to trade emission allowances. That would encourage the grid to use newer, more efficient plants, such as one recently built in Salem, they say.

    The system would be similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that allows plants across the region to swap pollution allowances.

    “The leakage argument is historically something of a ‘sky is falling’ one that power companies frequently make in opposition to new climate initiatives, and was made by opponents” of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Ismay said.

    Since the initiative began in 2008, it has led to reduced emissions and lower energy prices, said Peter Shattuck, director of the clean energy initiative at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group in Boston.

    “While there may be some offsetting increases in emissions beyond Massachusetts’ border, the Commonwealth has to set its own policy course,” Shattuck said. “If we’d been looking over [our] shoulder at what other states were doing, we might never have pursued health care reform, marriage equality, or the Global Warming Solutions Act itself.”

    But power plant companies warn the proposed rules, which the state is required to issue in August, could threaten their viability in Massachusetts. Dynegy, a Houston energy company that owns nearly one-third of the state’s power plants, said the rules could force it to shutter its plants and eliminate hundreds of jobs.


    British commuters warned of air pollution risk

    Travelling by public transport exposes commuters to up to eight times as much air pollution as those who drive to work, a groundbreaking study found.

    In the latest evidence of the health risks posed by rising traffic levels, researchers found that drivers commuting in diesel cars did the most harm to the wellbeing of other travellers — producing six times as much pollution as the average bus passenger.

    The authors said that the results revealed a “violation of the core principle of environmental justice” because those who contributed most to air pollution in cities were least likely to suffer from it. People in poorer areas, who are more reliant on buses to get to work, suffer greater exposure than those in wealthier neighbourhoods, who are more likely to commute by car, according to the study by the University of Surrey.

    Air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and diesel vehicles are a large contributor to the problem, producing high levels of particulates and toxic nitrogen oxides, which can cause respiratory disease and heart attacks. Of Britain’s 5.4 million asthma sufferers, two thirds say that poor air quality makes their condition worse.

    Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is due to introduce a £10 daily “toxicity charge” on pre-2005 diesel cars in central London this year and has called for a national scrappage scheme to encourage diesel drivers to buy cleaner vehicles. The government will publish a plan in April for tackling air pollution after the previous one was ruled inadequate by the High Court.

    The latest study involved commuters wearing air pollution monitors who undertook hundreds of journeys by car, bus and Tube. Bus passengers were exposed to concentrations of particles, known as PM10, which were five times higher than those experienced by car commuters. Levels of PM2.5 fine particles, which can be more lethal as they are drawn deep into the lungs, were twice as high on buses as in cars. Bus journeys were typically 17-42 minutes longer than car journeys, meaning that bus passengers were exposed to higher levels of pollution for longer. Motorists tend to keep windows closed and are protected by filters stopping particles and dust from entering the interior. Bus passengers, by contrast, are subjected to pollution at stops when the doors are opened, often in places where queues of idling vehicles are pumping out high levels of toxic gas and particles.

    Diesel buses on average produce three times as many particles per mile as diesel cars but they typically carry 20 times as many people.

    The authors calculated that the emissions produced per person by a diesel car containing two people were six times higher than by a bus containing 40 people and travelling the same distance. Tube passengers had the shortest journeys but were exposed to eight times the level of PM10 pollution as car commuters and five times as much PM2.5 pollution.

    The researchers did not measure pollution experienced by people who walked to work but said that they could experience high exposure because of the time spent beside traffic. The study found that passengers on the Underground’s District line, whose trains have closed windows, were exposed to far lower concentrations of particles than those on trains with open windows. Particle levels were much higher on trains with open windows in deep tunnels.

    People using public transport were also exposed to more pollution than car commuters because they spent time at bus stops and at stations or walked on busy roads to complete their journeys, the study found. Levels of pollutants in the morning peak were up to 43 per cent higher than in the afternoon peak.

    Prashant Kumar, who led the study published in the journal Environment International, said: “We found that there is definitely an element of environmental injustice among those commuting in London, with those who create the most pollution having the least exposure to it.”

    Parts of southeastern England could experience high air pollution today because strongly easterly winds have swept pollutants across the Channel from the continent, the Met Office said.


    The Carbon-Tax Scam

    I have nothing but respect for former Secretaries of State Jim Baker and George Shultz, but come on, gentlemen: You’ve been snookered.

    These two esteemed gentlemen are endorsing a tax scam that would be one of the largest income-redistribution schemes in modern times. It would do considerable and lasting damage to the U.S. The justification for the tax is that it will save the planet by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but it won’t even do that.

    The Baker-Shultz plan would impose on America a carbon tax, which would be a tax on American energy consumption. Since energy is a central component of everything that America produces, it would make the cost and thus the price of everything — and I mean everything — produced in America more expensive. It is a tax that only China, India, Mexico and Russia could love.

    The tax is highly regressive, so the remedy that the two call for is a quarterly check from the Social Security Administration for every American. They call this a dividend. Somehow they have come to the conclusion that two really bad ideas paired together make for a good idea.

    So let’s get this straight: We are going to tax the producers of the economy and then give the money to people who don’t produce, and somehow this isn’t going to negatively affect the economy. If that makes sense, then why not adopt a 100 percent tax on production and then redistribute the money to everyone?

    My colleague Katie Tubb at The Heritage Foundation has noted another glaring flaw with the carbon tax. While it is true that a carbon tax is a much more efficient way to cap carbon-dioxide emissions than the mishmash of EPA regulations, renewable energy standards and subsidies for wind and solar power, there’s a strong likelihood that the carbon tax would end up not being a replacement for these economically destructive policies. Instead, it would simply be another addition to the regulations. It is naive in the extreme to think otherwise.

    I’ve been somewhat open to a carbon tax in the past. The idea of replacing our current, economically destructive tax system with something less economically destructive is attractive. But the reality is that even a carbon tax perfectly administered is a poor substitute for the strong tax and regulatory reform that is currently possible.

    But the green plan proposed by these former Reagan statesmen would not cut a single tax rate, meanwhile giving the Left a massive new tax regime. How could any conservative support this plan?

    Even worse is that the Baker-Shultz plan does close to nothing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or to lessen the threat — if one exists — of global warming. Whether or not the U.S. reduces its carbon emissions has close to zero impact on worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions. This is because China and India are building coal-burning energy plants at a frantic pace. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that new coal production in China in the next few years will create more carbon dioxide emissions than the entire energy production of Canada. India isn’t far behind.

    So it is a fairy tale that China and India and other fast-developing nations have any commitment to reducing their fossil fuel use. As Donald Trump would say, they are laughing at America behind our backs. They would be absolutely gleeful about the proposed U.S. carbon tax. Raising the cost of production for U.S. goods and services will transfer more production to China and India. We will get relatively poorer, and they will get relatively richer.

    And if you are a global-warming worrier: This carbon-tax would drive global greenhouse-gas levels up, not down. We have clean-coal regulations. None of the developing nations do. The less America produces, the worse off the planet is.

    The best way to reduce global greenhouse gases is for the U.S. to produce more of our domestic energy, not less. We have very cheap and abundant natural gas (thanks to fracking), and we should export it all over the world. The U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other nation not because of regulations or green-energy subsidies but because of shale gas. Let’s sell it to every corner of the globe, get rich and save the planet.

    The Baker-Shultz plan will do nothing to save the planet, but it will surely make America poorer.



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