Saturday, 31 May 2014

Lord Monckton has a tantrum

Toddlers are such fun. One minute they are all happy and smiling. The next minute they are chucking their toys all over the place.

Most toddlers grow up and learn to control their anger.  Most toddlers grow up and learn the rules of polite discourse.

Not all, however.  Some remain at that rude stage.  Some adults still throw their metaphorical teddies.  That's why we have anger management courses.  I think I've found a customer, though this is not a clinical diagnosis.
The camel is called Richard.  Dick is on the right.  Not sure about the camel.
Photo: WUWT

Reintroducing Christopher Monckton.

Lord Monckton has become interested in democracy.  He thinks that the unelected heir to the throne, Prince Charles, is going to take away the right to vote of the hereditary peer and unelectable Lord Monckton, and hand the reins of government to some shady organisation that will rule the world. 

I don't know if Monckton has been trying out his snake oil elixir recently but, honestly.  If half a brain cell is residing in that distinguished cranium of his and is turned on, it should be enough to work out what a load of codswallop Monckton has written.  If you really want to read it, here is an archived copy.

Monckton has some previous at dissing Prince Charles.  So when Charles opens his mouth and something unacceptable in the Monckton manor house comes out, I suppose we shouldn't expect any rational argument to emerge from the typing fingers of the one that Sou rightly calls the Potty Peer.

Charles was speaking at a conference in London called Inclusive Capitalism.  You'd have thought that Monckton liked that, since it seems to be more about freedom from intereference and not about world government but you can't please all the people all of the time.  Here is the full list of speakers.  Charles's contribution lasted a buttock numbing five minutes.  Not much time to take over the world.  Here is Reuters report on Charles's speech.

Monckton's main method of argument is to use florid language to obscure the fact that he really doesn't have anything to say but he's going to say it anyway.  Analyse these two paragraphs:
Charles’ latest speech, whether he knew it or not, was part of a concerted campaign on the part of the international classe politique to persuade the world, with the active assistance of the sycophantic Marxstream media, to agree to a binding treaty by which sovereign nations would abandon their right to set their own environmental policy and allow a vast, entirely unelected international bureaucracy to rule them all.
To all who love democracy, this prospect is terrifying. The increasing brazenness and frequency of the lies being told about the climate, from Prince Charles’ more than usually ridiculous speech to the daftly hysterical climate assessments recently issued by Mr Obama and by Britain’s oldest taxpayer-funded pressure-group, the Royal Society, shows how desperate the totalitarians are to persuade the world to let them establish for the first time a global regime of absolute power wielded by supranational institutions entirely beyond the reach of any electorate.
The first paragraph is a single, breathless sentence which has plenty of bile but no meat.  It adduces no evidence to support it.  There is nothing but the imaginations of Monckton's helical mind.  As for Marxstream media - ho, ho, can you see what this hyper-intelligent man has done there? - in Britain there is one mainstream left of centre newspaper, two quality newspapers with relatively small circulations compared to the right of centre Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, neither of which supports the science of climate change.  The BBC is by law neutral even if it does sway a little left of centre.  In an effort to maintain neutrality, it bends over backwards to include climate science deniers in discussions of climate change.

And the second paragraph?  At least there is a full stop in it.  But it still isn't much better - it is more hot air.  Perhaps Monckton is the reason the planet is warming.  There is much heat but no light in that paragraph.  "The increasing brazenness and frequency of the lies being told about the climate" - doesn't that apply to Monckton and his cronies?  The Royal Society a pressure group?  Only if you think doing science and publishing the results of science is acting as a pressure group then, marginally, yes.  But I don't think so.  The Royal Society describes itself:
The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine.
And they are open about their funding. How about the GWPF, run by Monckton's in-law, Lord Nigel Lawson.

Interestingly, a consensus on how to govern countries seems to be emerging:
The day before yesterday, one nation might adopt Fascism, another Socialism, another Communism, another theocracy, another democracy. The systems competed, and democracy prevailed. The day after tomorrow, if the unholy alliance prevails, there will be one system, and no competition.
Perhaps that's because a system that pretty much works is emerging and more countries are adopting it.  Perhaps.  Clearly Monckton is nostalgic for the days when fascism and communism murdered and starved millions.  One of the ways those systems competed was war.  Doesn't seem like Monckton has thought that one through.  What a camel!

It is hard to know what to say when someone who reckons he is rational produces such undiluted tripe as Monckton's latest tirade against Prince Charles.  Is it envy?  Is it something else?  The echo chamber of WUWT laps it up, of course, but their ability to read for understanding is weak to say the least.  Even if you accept everything Monckton says on climate, which I certainly don't, his world government argument is non-existent. 

One wonders, finally, what Monckton's attitude is to organisations established by treaty that do have political and physical power and which work above the normal democratic process, not answerable to the voters in the way that Monckton presumably would like.  Does anyone know what Monckton thinks of NATO?  I bet he's forgotten that 28 states are working together and I can't vote for any of the people who run it.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Richard Tol says something incredible

To whit, this:
Science is not a set of results. It is a set of methods. 
It's difficult to know whether he really believes this but since he said it, let's take it at face value.

No, let's rewrite it.  Which of these make sense?

Football is not about the goals.  It is about passing the ball.
Golf is not about the number of shots.  It's about the quality of your swing.
Economics is not about the results. It is about the methods. 
The answer is, none of them make sense, and for good reason.  The results of sports and academic pursuits are what matters most.  How those results are achieved needs to be fair, within the rules.

I don't know so much about the dismal science but if Tol really believes that results in science do not matter then he is a dismal scientist.  Of course results matter. So long as the method is good, within the limitations of that method, the results must matter. What else is the point of a scientific (or anything else) investigation?

Let's hypothesise, for one moment.  Richard Tol's house is burgled. The police arrive and carry out a thorough investigation.  The case goes to court.  The forensic evidence is delivered by explaining the methods used to collect it. Everyone is court is waiting for the results of the investigation but the officer in the witness box states:
Science is not a set of results. It is a set of methods. 
I'm sure Tol would see it differently.

So why say it?  Perhaps he does think science is not a set of results.  Perhaps it was a flippant remark written in a hurry, not thought through.  The recent confirmation of the Higgs boson is an example of where results clearly do matter.  In fact, from Kepler and Gilbert onwards, I can't think of any meaningful, accepted science that hasn't rested on results.  Furthermore, the results are what gets remembered well after the methods have been shunted to a footnote: the charge on an electron, the bending of light by matter, the strength of gravity.

So, sorry, Professor Tol, I think you're wrong.  Now, I know you are keen on defending yourself so feel free to come here and explain what you meant because I cannot see how you can possibly have been correct.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Matt Ridley - Times Makes A Fool Of Him

If only he had waited 24 hours, Matt Ridley might not have looked quite so stupid.  But there was a bit of the comment section of The Times to fill and the editor wanted his 500 words pronto so there was nothing he could do.  The Times waits for no man.

What Ridley produced has been proven, in some respects at least, to have been a bag of rather smelly and unpleasant wind.  The Chunderer was delivered of a bouncy pile of steaming egg on face.

The Times must have known it was taking a gamble by putting Lennart Bengtsson's whinge on its front page.  Quoting the usually unpublished referee's report on his mysteriously "supressed" paper opened up a can of worms.  The IoP, publishers of the journal that Bengtsson submitted his paper to, felt obliged to put the quote in context.  The Times and Matt Ridley now look rather stupid because when one reads the whole review, with the quote Bengtsson was relying on to prove his case that he was hard done by now in context, it is easy to see how. The paper wasn't up to standard.  That happens.  A lot.  That's what peer review is meant to do - stop substandard science appearing in print.  See Eli or Anders.

"This bullying of climate-science sceptics must end" is the headline of the Ridley piece in question.  There is a quote picked out that is, perhaps, the moral of my story:
When did demonising your opponents become so acceptable?
Well, Matt, perhaps you can tell me?  I've spent many a pleasant hour reading the arguments on threads at a variety of sites (some of which are on my blogroll for you to peruse too).  I prefer true sceptical sites over the pseudo versions because I am interested in learning the science, not learning human nature.  But I have posted on some "sceptical" sites and I have met with almost abuse when I have suggested that a commenter might be wrong.  This is small fry.

Larger fry are linked below:

The Climate Wars are clearly asymmetrical.  The science side has to play by the rules.  The deniers, well, they can do what they want.  Is that what Ridley means?

It seems that Ridley has swallowed the GWPF line (well, he would, wouldn't he - he works for them, for free) and accepts that Bengtsson was bullied.  Perhaps not.  The IoP statement doesn't suggest any bullying - merely a substandard piece of work being returned.  Happens. 

And work colleagues can change their attitudes to you based on your new bunch of friends not being to their liking.  Happens.  Bullying?  It doesn't sound like bullying.  It sounds like something a reasonable and rational human being might do.  Bengtsson doesn't bring much evidence to support his complaint about bullying.

Ridley moans:
What's going on in academia when demonising and silencing your opponents has become so acceptable?
Well, Matt.  It doesn't appear that it has.  In fact, the world will find it a near impossible task to silence someone if they want to disseminate their views, however odious they might be.  The Internet has seen to that.  And pay per publish journals sometimes don't have the greatest regard to the quality of what they publish.  And if that fails, set up your own journal.

And it would appear that Bengtsson isn't on such bad terms with his colleagues after all.

Like I said, time makes a fool of us all.  Taking a little moment to consider one's response is very handy.  Ridley has ended up with egg on his face because he took the reflex action rather than reflect.  And in using his own inflammatory language, words like "bullied", "demonising", "persecution", suggests Ridley isn't interested in pouring oil on troubled waters.  He wants to make them choppier.  After all, anyone who can say
The GWPF aims to ensure that the climate change debate is more balanced
with a straight face, isn't likely to be believed.   And have time to throw doubt on the consensus without having the guts to say so.

Since we need a laugh (I know others have included this but it bears repetition):

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Deja vu all over again - the GWPF is losing friends

Hands up all those who remember Murray Salby?

OK, hand down.

Let me remind you.  Murray Salby was a momentary favourite of the denier crowd because he was a genuine scientist who had come up with a plausible sounding but crackpot theory about climate change or not and then got the sack from his Australian university.

For a few nanoseconds the baying hounds at WattsUpWithThat and other such dens of disinformation kicked up a fuss.  Then Desmogblog found out that Salby had form, had trouble in the States and wasn't telling a coherent story.

Funnily enough, the hounds went and hid.

But now they're back. 

They've come back because Lennart Bengtson, a respected meteorologist approaching the end of his career, has reversed his decision to join the disinformation think tank, the GWPF.  His resignation letter states:
I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.

Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.
At the age of 79, he has earned the right to do what he wants.  But clearly he is concerned about his standing in the scientific community.  And that standing is through the floor. 

"Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship, etc"   Well, what a surprise.  If I had begun to build up something of a career in science and found that one of my colleagues, indeed co-authors, was joining a denier organisation, one that not only pays little heed to science but actively promotes disinformation, I would think twice about wanting to be associated with the accompanying stench of anti-science.  Colleagues withdrawing from joint authorship is a sensible action.  Scientists have ideals and one of those is the search for the truth. 

Just like Salby, the hounds think there is conspiracy afoot.  That's laughable.  I can't see this storm in a teacup lasting.  But that doesn't mean the woodwork is keeping its worms hidden at the moment.  Plenty have come out to play, commenting on Anthony Watts's conspiracy laden article (collage more like).

You can read the comments here (archived).  Read through them if you can be bothered.  We get the usual suspects spouting the usual stuff (eugenics anyone?  Lysenko - tick that one off.) and, as usual, very little critical thinking.

That sort of thing is left to real sceptics.  Sou eviscerates Watts with her usual efficiency.  Stoat has the sitting duck in his sights.  History shows us that scientists going out on a limb risk losing the respect of their colleagues and the active support of the scientific community.  What is the biggest shame is that a respected scientist seems to have been chatted up and persuaded to join an organisation that isn't what it claims it is to help lend it the respectability that it is dribbling away, especially since Richard Tol began to see demons under his bed as well. 

Perhaps this paranoia thing is catching.

In the meantime, does anyone know what has become of Murray Salby?  He doesn't seem to have many friends any more.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Damon Linker doesn't understand scientists

Nope, I'd never heard of Damon Linker either until I came across his piece in The Week on Neil DeGrasse Tyson and a comment he made about asking deep questions.  Linker's piece is archived here.

Linker begins with that worst of all allegations about a scientist - scientists don't know about the arts or humanities.  Shock, horror, probe:
Neil deGrasse Tyson may be a gifted popularizer of science, but when it comes to humanistic learning more generally, he is a philistine.
My first reaction is, so what?  Tyson's job is not art criticism or history.  He's a rather good astrophysicist.  That's what pays his mortgage.  The books, the TV, they're secondary.  We could even point to his appearance on The Big Bang Theory to point out that he's not a comedian.

But that's not the point of Linker's piece.  He wishes to take him to task because he does not ask deep, philosophical questions.  Well, Feynman didn't either:

In many ways Feynman would have resembled Linker's ideal philistine - not much educated in history or the arts.  But he enjoyed art and he enjoyed music.  I always find it strange and slightly amusing that scientists know more about the other culture than they do about science.

Linker gets tetchy that Tyson doesn't have time for deep questions:
Don't waste your time with philosophy! (And, one presumes, literature, history, the arts, or religion.) Only science will get you where you want to go! It gets results! Go for it! Hurry up! Don't be left behind! Progress awaits!
Well, probably not.  I suspect Tyson listens to music, reads novels for entertainment, watches TV - he may even watch The Big Bang Theory.  I would be pleased if Linker watches any TV science shows.  But it doesn't matter if he does.  It is possible to cite great philosophers and the contributions they have made but Linker misses the point Tyson really makes.

The point is this: to be a scientist (or artist or musician or historian or mathematician or anything else) you don't need to question the assumptions you make in doing your job. You just have to understand them.  In fact, questioning them does waste time.  It means you don't have the time for finding out how the world really is rather than how some think the world should be, or how we should find out about it.  In fact, in some fields of endeavour, pursuing the answers to those deep questions has added nothing.  I am not certain how a Marxist view of history has actually helped our understanding of the past (and I have read some Marxist interpretations of the past).  I am definitely not sure how ideas in art have improved art.

I don't think Tyson is a philistine because he can't be bothered with philosophy.  I think he is a realist.  After all, he is researching the biggest philosophical project of all: where did all of this come from?  Linker, on the other hand, is merely poking and prodding in the left overs of a party to which he was not invited.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Deniers crying in their beers

I'll give Jim Steele his due.  He is the first denier I have ever seen come up with perhaps the most important Richard Feynman quote of all:
[There is an] idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
I've crossed the first bit out because Steele doesn't use that.  You can check here (archived).  You can also see that he didn't bother with the next paragraph:
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. In summary, the idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution, not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. [Feynman quotes from here]
Perhaps there is a reason why he didn't bother with the second paragraph but it is an important one.  I can't remember ever seeing a post proposing something at WattsUpWithThat actually doing what Feynman says here.   Give alternative explanations.  But, wait, deniers can't do that because the people reading their denialist thinking might actually see that the consensus view is the right one.

And that will never do.

Steele's article is a crocodile tears exercise in whinging.  Steele is moaning about the US TV series Years Of Living Dangerously which we in the UK have yet to see, although you can see episode one at the show's website.

Deniers won't like the series.  It is aiming to tell the science of climate change through human stories.  It may not entirely succeed (I can't know from just seeing one episode) but it is important that the science is heard loud and clear.  Alongside Cosmos, the updated remake of the classic Carl Sagan series, there is a two pronged attack on anti-science.  Not surprisingly, Steele doesn't enjoy his current viewing. 

Well, tough.  We get Cosmos here in the UK and it is both excellent and something surprising.  Cosmos is rather tough on deniers.  The story of how leaded petrol became unleaded petrol is less familiar a tale of science denial than those of climate, cancer or tobacco, but it is illuminating nonetheless.  Steele and his Watts hosted clique probably didn't enjoy that episode.  Good. 

You know that Jim Steele has jumped the shark when he adduces Pastor Rick Joyner to his side.  Joyner, according to Steele,  "embodies Albert Einstein’s advice to “Never Stop Questioning.”"  That's hilarious.  Joyner is an adherent of dominion theology which aims to have government on Christian grounds according to Biblical law.  I suspect Joyner has stopped questioning that one.  For more Joyner fun, click here.

Steele's moan seems to be that the producers didn't make the TV show that Steele wanted them to make:
If the documentary wanted to educate the public about the best practices of science, they would have examined all the facts including well know water management practices. But only Pastor Joyner seemed willing explore such alternative viewpoints. The producers’ efforts would have done more good, if they had tried to enlist the pastor’s influence to promote better watershed management. But the producers seemed intent on bending over backwards to suggest recent droughts were unnatural and caused by rising CO2. But our best scientists do not support that suggestion either.
Is Steele that naïf?  Maybe so.  He has hitched his wagon to Anthony Watts so there is an element of naivety.  Steele must surely be aware that the producers made exactly the sort of programme that they wanted to make.  They have a point they want to get across, a way they want to make that point and they get on and do it.

Perhaps Jim Steele won't mind if I have a moan about Glenn Beck.  Could he not, just for once, explain that there are other explanations behind his right wing rants?  You know, he could show the other point of view.

Only kidding.  I'm not stupid enough to think that a 45 minute long episode has the time to do everything Steele would like it to do.  Besides, the majority of the people watching are taking in the human interest side.  If they want to look at the science, they can find it elsewhere.  Many of them will already be aware of the science and will have joined the consensus.  Science programmes don't draw vast audiences.  You can bet The Big Bang Theory gets more viewers (and Jim is moaning that not all nerds are like those portrayed in the series and they should introduce a character more like the nerds he used to hang around with - or perhaps....)

Interestingly, Steele questions the BEST data.  You might be aware that this was the denier funded, denier backed, denier promoted last gasp at showing there really was no climate change project that, ha, ha, showed that climate change is genuine.  Anthony Watts himself said he would accept the result whatever it said.  Until it was published, of course.
Instead of discussing all the science, the producers try to bludgeon Pastor Joyner with Christian peer pressure beginning with his daughter. Then Katherine Hayhoe visits and repeats the same simplistic arguments from episode 1. Then former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis piles on. Finally Pastor Joyner is brought to Dr. Richard Muller who has been hailed as the Koch-brothers-funded skeptic who now believes in CO2-caused warming. But the producers fail to mention that Muller’s homogenized instrumental data may suffer from the same biases illustrated in “Unwarranted Temperature Adjustments: Conspiracy or Ignorance?.” Or contrasting satellite data that shows the global average has not risen in 17 years. 
 I've removed the links.  The second one is in quotation marks and links to Steele's own site.  He needs a proof reader.  The page linked is aimed at educating students as it has three critical thinking questions (though a leading question like the first one is less critical thinking than guided study):
1. Does categorizing a weather station as rural mean human landscape changes have not increased the local temperature?
2. Why are minimum temperatuers more sensitive to local land surfaces?
3. Why would a rural station that has never changed location or instrumentation have its data adjusted?
Temperatuers, I ask you.

Remember that Feynman quote.  In trying to make a case, Steele doesn't follow Feynman.   The "contrasting satellite data that shows the global average has not risen in 17 years" is this:
A couple of things - satellite data is not the only source of information about temperatures available.  What story do the others tell?  Secondly, any trend of exactly 0.00 should ring bells.  Especially as this graph keeps growing longer and longer, just like Pinocchio's nose but the trend keeps on at 0.00.  Natural phenomena don't do that.  What's going on?  Does anyone know?

On one thing I can agree with Steele:
We are all blinded by our illusions and we can only free ourselves from those illusions by careful observations, experiments and respectful debate.
I contend he is blinded by his illusions.  He admits his Christian past but I am not sure he understands it:
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to be closer to God is religion’s equivalent of Feynman’s ideal scientist who leans over backwards to prove that he has not been fooled by clinging to a cherished belief. 
And the Golden Rule (of reciprocity) is common to every religion and older than both Christianity and Judaism. 

But back to Steele's article.  One can delight at the hypocrisy:
Accordingly climate alarmists have circled the wagons and refused to debate with climate skeptics, preferring hit pieces such as Years of Living Dangerously. 
And the deniers don't do hit pieces like, for example, Steele's one.  But there you go.  And the reason why climate scientists don't debate the deniers - you only have to see Lord Monckton's mendacious presentations to realise that all the denier has to do is sew doubt.  And science isn't settled by debates.  And debates are a game.  It isn't rocket science, Jim.

Remember that shark.  Steele's closing words sum up precisely why his analysis fails Feynman's test:
I suggest they will be better scientists if they emulated Pastor Joyner, and listen to all sides, promote more debate, and then let the truth lead us wherever it may. 
As Pastor Joyner himself says on his Facebook page:
Today, there are basically four worldviews: The Christian worldview, Islamic worldview, secular worldview, and the Marxist worldview. Each of these in their pure form is in basic conflict with the others. If you understand these worldviews, you will have a basic understanding of virtually all of the conflicts in the world today.
Just letting Jim know that Joyner doesn't have a clue.  15% of the world are Hindus.  That's 1.1 billion adherents.  Bhuddists make up more than 500 million people.  In Joyner's mind there might be four worldviews.  In mine there are dozens.  Question everything?  Yeah, right.   And Marxist worldview.  What century is he living in?

PS  Jim has a nose for these things and will probably appear in the comments.  I shall listen but anyone who takes Rick Joyner seriously needs a good argument to convince me of anything.  If you come here and say the sky is blue, I shall need to go outside and check.  As one of the comments at WUWT points out
Unfortunately Rick Joyner in other (more important areas such as Christian doctrine) is a fruitcake.

Monday, 5 May 2014

N = 1 in the search for ET

Many of you may never have heard of Adrian Berry.  For years he was the science correspondent at the London Daily Telegraph.  His Wikipedia page is a bare skeleton, but it does give the information that he, in common with Matt Ridley and Chris Monckton, is ennobled.  The wiki page does not let on that he is a climate change denier and one of the academic consultants that the GWPF has tamed so that their denial has a little bit more authority. 

Berry writes a monthly astronomy column in the Telegraph which is usually notable for its regurgitation of the traditional science facts that those mildly interested in the night sky are looking for.  Where is Saturn?  What meteor showers can be seen this month?  That sort of thing.  This month is different. 

"Why we should dread finding life on Mars" is the headline.  This precedes a little ramble about the more than 1000 exoplanets that have been found, and a note that none of them has been shown to have a trace of intelligent civilisations.  In other words, the Fermi Paradox.

The Fermi Paradox arises from Enrico Fermi's question: "Where is everyone?"  Where are all the alien civilisations?  Why haven't we found them?  Berry gives these possibilities:
Either aliens do not exist or they are extremely rare.
I don't see the answer lying in either of those possibilities.  There are other answers.  Aliens exist but did not arise on planets where creation of the things we see as civilisation arose.  Perhaps they were short of iron, or copper, or aluminium or silicon or some other limiting factor element that we take for granted. 

Anyway, Berry goes on:
The latter possibility is the most frightening. If only a tiny number of civilisations exist then some unknown fate must have obliterated the rest. But if none exist, it is much more reassuring. It shows that we successfully evolved against seemingly impossible odds.
Two things occur to me here.  Firstly, the argument about seemingly impossible odds was the theme of Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, a recommended read.  If the tape of human history were affected by nudges in evolution far back in time, we might not be here.

The second is that Berry is working with a sample size of N = 1 for his thinking.  We have no idea if any civilisations exist anywhere else.  It does not follow that "some unknown fate must have obliterated" any potential civilisations.  It does not follow that some unknown fate will not obliterate ours.  The paragraph is devoid of real content. Berry might be frightened.  I don't think may others will be.

But one who seems to be concerned at least is the Swedish born philosopher Nick Bostrom.  I hadn't heard of him or the Great Filter Hypothesis before today.  I don't think I shall spent much time thinking about either of them.  I don't have a lot of time for philosophers who seem to spend more time thinking about hypothetical futures than about realistic futures and although I might be doing Bostrom a disservice, that is what he seems to be earning his crust doing.   Perhaps I should pay them some mind.

But I see the Great Filter Hypothesis as something akin to the Anthropic Principle.  It actually adds nothing to our understanding - the idea that something unspecified prevents life turning into Galaxy wide explorers.  My answer is "So what?"  Based on a partial understanding of the N = 1 sample of species that have developed civilisation, I couldn't tell you what any other intelligent species that have developed civilisation might want to do.  I just can't.  I am not bothered about Klingons or Vogons or any other fictional species that might colour the thinking (or not) of philosophers of these things.  I think there are plenty of reasons why we might not have found a civilisation beyond our own planet.  I won't bother to list them.  The wiki page on the Fermi Paradox covers them better than I could.

Bostrom has a strange notion:
I dread finding life on Mars. That would be bad news. Bit would be good news if we find Mars to be completely sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirits.
Bully for him.  If you want to read Bostrom in the original, so to speak, then click here and here.   I find it odd that he can go from wanting there to be no life on Mars to there must be something that prevents our kind of human life spreading out across the galaxy.  The leap of logic is so great that it doesn't exist.  It is not a necessary conclusion.  There clearly does not exist a Great Filter, and for Bostrom or Berry to have stated it so baldly they must have had good reason.  In Berry's case, it is because he read Bostrom.  In Bostrom's case, I don't know, because his argument doesn't seem to get past the problem of his leap of faith.  Just because there aren't any other known civilisations doesn't mean they don't exist.  And it does not mean our civilisation (or should I says civilisations) is doomed just because of a philosophical exercise.

One of Bostrom's ideas is that it is highly probable that we are living in a great computer simulation.  Perhaps so.  I wonder if he has the answer to the question "Does it matter if we were?"

I might come across here like one of those deniers that I rail against.  I would suggest there is a difference.  I am not talking about denying empirical evidence and well tested hypotheses.  I am talking about disagreeing with the opinions of a philosopher.  Having read what they have to say, I don't accept their conclusions.  I am prepared to read more to see if they have uncovered an important truth.  However, the whole idea of extraterrestrial intelligence is, in the end, an empirical one.  The evidence will be the arbiter.  N = 1 doesn't seem a good sample size on which to proceed.

As for Adrian Berry and his climate change denial.  Try this page from his website.  Not an edifying set of books for someone wanting to find the real truth about the universe.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Nigel Lawson Speaks Sense - not really

Regular readers of my sort of blog will know that I love hypocrisy.  I love it so much that I like to shine a spotlight on it.  I just have to do it.  It is something I am drawn to.

So when WattsUpWithThat publishes a piece based on a speech by Lord Lawson, the former Nigel Lawson, now more commonly known as the father of celebrity cook and domestic goddess(TM) Nigella Lawson.  Oh, and he's known for being a prominent member of a think tank that, sadly, doesn't actually do the real thinking - do we actually know what we're talking about.

Anyway, I have to agree with one thing that Lawson says in his speech/article:
I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest.
Nope.  Those who lived through the 1980s in Britain would have come to be firmly acquainted with Lawson's relationship with controversy.  That would be the fake boom he created in the late 1980s that produced high inflation at the same time as it managed to reduced unemployment and led to crippling increases in interest rates and, you'll like this, a recession that made the early 1990s a particular misery.  So those people whose houses were repossessed as a result of the good Lord's policies have much to thank him courting controversy for.  [Conflict of interest declaration: I used to read the Daily Telegraph .]

But apart from that, all I can see in his piece (archived here) is self pity and whining.  He should learn a lesson from his daughter, when facing the might of an extremely rich man and his legal team in court, who fessed up to making a silly mistake and got on with her life with a lot more dignity. 

Anyway, character assassination aside, Lawson just whinges.
But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.
That might be because Lord Lawson is wrong.  Unlike politics, science is not about opinions but evidence.  And funnily enough, although "dissenters" moan about being insulted and threatened, I don't see their evidence.  But climate scientists certainly are insulted and threatened.  Deniers have thing skins.
Lord Lawson in command of the detail as ever

No, sorry.  Let me take it all back as Lawson does give evidence:
For example, according to the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, the global warming dissenters are, without exception, “wilfully ignorant” and in the view of the Prince of Wales we are “headless chickens”. Not that “dissenter” is a term they use. We are regularly referred to as “climate change deniers”, a phrase deliberately designed to echo “Holocaust denier” — as if questioning present policies and forecasts of the future is equivalent to casting malign doubt about a historical fact. 
Wow.  That's it.  That's the smoking gun, the best he can do to support his assertion about the  "extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification".  I take it he's forgotten the comments from the opposition benches during his time in the Commons.

Wait, there's more:
The abuse I received after appearing on the BBC’s Today programme last February was far less restrained. Both the BBC and I received an orchestrated barrage of complaints to the effect that it was an outrage that I was allowed to discuss the issue on the programme at all.
Perhaps, perhaps not.  AndThenThere'sPhysics did a good job at showing Lawson up for his BBC appearance.  And it is not enough to say, as Lawson does, that he has written a "thoroughly documented book about global warming" because that doesn't make it right, and furthermore it is odd not to say thoroughly referenced. 

The whinge goes on:
The BBC received a well-organised deluge of complaints — some of them, inevitably, from those with a vested interest in renewable energy — accusing me, among other things, of being a geriatric retired politician and not a climate scientist, and so wholly unqualified to discuss the issue.
 Well, Lord Lawson, you aren't a climate scientist and many who deny human causes of climate change are supported by the fossil fuel industry.  This gives us a stalemate of sorts.  But you do follow that logic:

I must admit I am strongly tempted to agree that, since I am not a climate scientist, I should from now on remain silent on the subject — on the clear understanding, of course, that everyone else plays by the same rules. No more statements by Ed Davey, or indeed any other politician, including Ed Milliband, Lord Deben and Al Gore. Nothing more from the Prince of Wales, or from Lord Stern. What bliss!
And there would be no comments from (take a deep breath) Lord Monckton, Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre, Roger Pielke Jr, Willis Eschenbach, Jo Nova, Roger Tallbloke, James Delingpole, Richard Tol, Mark Steyn, Bjorn Lomborg, me and dozens, if not hundreds of others.  We would be left with the thousands of climate scientists who accept the consensus on one side, and the handful (like Roy Spencer and Judith Curry - though she might hesitate) on the other.  The BBC would not be able to get much balance.  Not that there is a discussion to have a balance about.

Lawson has four questions:
First, other things being equal, how much can increased atmospheric CO2 be expected to warm the earth? (This is known to scientists as climate sensitivity, or sometimes the climate sensitivity of carbon.) This is highly uncertain, not least because clouds have an important role to play, and the science of clouds is little understood. Until recently, the majority opinion among climate scientists had been that clouds greatly amplify the basic greenhouse effect. But there is a significant minority, including some of the most eminent climate scientists, who strongly dispute this.
Note, he doesn't name any of these climate scientists.  I won't answer his question though, preferring the excellent site to do it for me. I will borrow their graphic though.  Even an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer should be able to understand this:

Second question:
Second, are other things equal, anyway? We know that, over millennia, the temperature of the earth has varied a great deal, long before the arrival of fossil fuels. To take only the past thousand years, a thousand years ago we were benefiting from the so-called medieval warm period, when temperatures are thought to have been at least as warm, if not warmer, than they are today. And during the Baroque era we were grimly suffering the cold of the so-called Little Ice Age, when the Thames frequently froze in winter and substantial ice fairs were held on it, which have been immortalised in contemporary prints.
The "it's always varied" argument.  Well, so what.  We know that conditions are different now and partly that's down to our fossil fuel habit.  It's argument number 1 at scepticalscience.  Real scientists, the ones who really do "thoroughly" document their work with lots of fiddly little references and, shock, horror, evidence, know better than Lawson.  What a surprise!

Number 3:
Third, even if the earth were to warm, so far from this necessarily being a cause for alarm, does it matter? It would, after all, be surprising if the planet were on a happy but precarious temperature knife-edge, from which any change in either direction would be a major disaster. In fact, we know that, if there were to be any future warming (and for the reasons already given, “if” is correct) there would be both benefits and what the economists call disbenefits. I shall discuss later where the balance might lie.
Funny argument this one. Lawson ought to know that were the temperature of the Earth to go down, entering another mini-Ice Age, there would be lots of problems. It wasn't all Ice Fairs and frozen Thames paintings, you know.  Crops failed, people died.  And the question assumes that all the effects of global warming are to be in raised temperatures.  Er, no.  Rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, changes in extreme weather...  The Thames Barrier opened in 1984 but was operational in 1982.  Up to 5 March this year it had closed on 174 occasions, 48 in 2014 alone.  That may or may not be the result of climate change but there are those who wonder if the Barrier may need a bigger replacement to cope with an increasingly rising sea level.
Thames Barrier

Ice Fair, seventeenth century (Museum of  London)

And at number 4:
And fourth, to the extent that there is a problem, what should we, calmly and rationally, do about it? 
Well, that's what I'd expect a policy foundation to do and Lawson doesn't really get down to answering it but goes deep into denier territory before bothering to answer it (quoting Judith Curry along the way):
The answer is — or should be — a no-brainer: adapt. I mentioned earlier that a resumption of global warming, should it occur (and of course it might) would bring both benefits and costs. The sensible course is clearly to pocket the benefits while seeking to minimise the costs. And that is all the more so since the costs, should they arise, will not be anything new: they will merely be the slight exacerbation of problems that have always afflicted mankind. 
Is that it?  It might be a bit of a problem so adapt when it happens, if it happens.  It's a bit wishy washy and, to be frank, Lawson just seems to wave a hand as if he can, in the manner of Paul Daniels (Tommy Cooper more like), bring a rabbit out of a hat.  His rabbit is a scrawny specimen:
This means measures such as flood defences and sea defences, together with water storage to minimise the adverse effects of drought, in the UK; and better storm warnings, the building of levees, and more robust construction in the tropics.
The same is equally true in the field of health. Tropical diseases — and malaria is frequently (if inaccurately) mentioned in this context — are a mortal menace in much of the developing world. It clearly makes sense to seek to eradicate these diseases — and in the case of malaria (which used to be endemic in Europe) we know perfectly well how to do it — whether or not warming might lead to an increase in the incidence of such diseases.
And the same applies to all the other possible adverse consequences of global warming. Moreover, this makes sense whatever the cause of any future warming, whether it is man-made or natural. Happily, too, as economies grow and technology develops, our ability to adapt successfully to any problems which warming may bring steadily increases. 
It doesn't convince me that Lawson has a handle on this.  We might know how to eradicate malaria but knowing and having the wherewithal to do it are different things.  The US Center For Disease Control neatly sums up the reasons why global malaria eradication hasn't happened:
The emergence of drug resistance, widespread resistance to available insecticides, wars and massive population movements, difficulties in obtaining sustained funding from donor countries, and lack of community participation made the long-term maintenance of the effort untenable. Completion of the eradication campaign was eventually abandoned. 
 But strangely, in choosing to highlight malaria, Lawson has highlighted mitigation rather than adaptation.  Prevention rather than cure.  The reason we eradicated malaria in Europe and the USA is because it is an unpleasant disease that kills people.  By eliminating it, the need for a cure, the need for adaptation is removed.  Adaptation alone makes no sense when considering global climate change.  Make better flood defences now and the communities behind those defences will be better protected now, against those floods were get now, and against those worse floods that global warming will bring.  The Thames Barrier was built because 307 people died in flooding in London in 1953 when a storm surge pushed the North Sea on land.  Adaptation would have been to have waited for the next flood and hand out sandbags.  Mitigation was to build a flood defence.

Lawson's argument for adaptation assumes that we will get better, technologically.  This is not a given.  While electronics have become better very rapidly, the physics of water isn't going to suddenly change and we aren't going to suddenly invent different pipes, or ditches. Rivers will still do what rivers have done for millennia. Roman technology and modern technology as far as controlling water are much the same.  We have powerful machines the Roman's didn't have.  But the science is always going to be the same and the engineering will still follow the properties of water.  It's a similar thing with temperature - heating and insulating buildings will follow the basic physics.

Lawson decides that his readers will not notice that he jumps a shark in this paragraph:
In particular, there is the risk that the earth may enter a new ice age. This was the fear expressed by the well-known astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle in his book Ice: The Ultimate Human Catastrophe, and there are several climate scientists today, particularly in Russia, concerned about this. It would be difficult, to say the least, to devote unlimited sums to both cooling and warming the planet at the same time.
Sir Fred Hoyle was a brilliant astronomer.  Outside of that field, he was less good. In fact, he ended his days a figure of much fun.  He authored a book claiming that Archaeopteryx, the bird/dinosaur fossil, is fake.  Not all of the fossils, just the one in the Natural History Museum in London.  The NHM put the original fossil on display to counter the publicity Hoyle was getting in 1987.  Coincidently, I was working in another London museum and needed an insect fossil identified.  The best place was the NHM.  A staff room full of palaeontologists looked at me specimen - a large robber fly preserved as a carbonaceous film on very fine grained sediment that lay on top of coarse grained rock so that it resembled an iced cake.  In the back of the specimen was a bolt and a red card arrow pointed out the insect (which was more than large enough to be seen without such help).  Puzzled as to precisely which genus of insect we were looking at, and with a specimen that looked as if it might have been painted on, one of the experts said "Don't show it to Fred Hoyle".  Much laughter ensued.  (The correct expert wasn't in the palaeontology department but in the entomology department - and he showed me drawers full of similar specimens - just goes to show that the right expert is the better source of enlightenment.)
Fred Hoyle, very bright man who got lots wrong

Hoyle published his book in 1981.  Much scientific water has passed under the Ice Age is Coming bridge since then. Hoyle thought Ice Ages were caused by large meteorite strikes, of the order of 300m, roughly every 100,000 years.  Sadly for Hoyle, the evidence for such is lacking.  And no one seriously thinks there will be an Ice Age in the next hundred years.  Global warming, on the other hand...

Lawson waffles on until he finally decides to give up arguing by using the Monckton formulation on religion:
Throughout the Western world, the two creeds that used to vie for popular support, Christianity and the atheistic belief system of Communism, are each clearly in decline. Yet people still feel the need both for the comfort and for the transcendent values that religion can provide. It is the quasi-religion of green alarmism and global salvationism, of which the climate change dogma is the prime example, which has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as little short of sacrilege.
Sorry, Nigel.  It isn't a religion or even a quasi-religion. 

But then you know from the punchline to his whole shaggy dog story that Lawson isn't really bothered about whether the science is right or not:
Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked. 
Err, no.  It's neither.  Perhaps Lawson should ask his tame bishop, on his board of trustees, what wickedness is.

As to how the WUWT echo chamber lapped it up, I'm sorry but you'll have to see for yourself.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


Tesco are dropping the execrable monthly rag What Doctor's Don't Tell You.

Time for the happy dance.

I bet it's because they have to bundle up most of the copies at the end of the month and send them back. My counting of copies in my local stores is that WDDTY doesn't fly off the shelves.