Sunday, 27 December 2015

2016 - the year ahead

With the benefit of my Mark II time machine (£14,999,999.99 buy it now, manufacturer refurbished from Ebay), I've had a little chance to peak at what the coming twelve months will bring to the world of science, as purveyed by the pseudonymous versions.


With the ongoing El Nino raising temperatures around the world, the World Meterological Association proclaims that there is no such thing as winter any longer. Children in large parts of England see no snow at all until there is a flake that lands on the office of Richard Longbloke in Leeds as he is working out which is the correct end of a scart lead to plug in to a VHS player.  He rushes to his desk top to proclaim that since there is snow, global warming must be a scam. 
Richard and friend (right) enjoying a round of golf on 4 January in Yorkshire.


The leap day confuses climate deniers the world over as temperatures continue to stay well above seasonal averages.  Lord Monckton's Sinclair calculator melts down, not just from the heat but from trying to calculate an extra day's worth of non-existent pause.  He concludes, in an article copy pasted from any he has got his valet to type over the last five years, that there has been no warming since December 2015.  It must be true.  His seaweed and pine cone say so.  

Talking of seaweed, Piers Corbyn, brother of the less charismatic Jezza, proves the law of averages correct and accidently gets the weather forecast right.  His forecast that February would see record levels of snow in England proves uncannily accurate, and the Daily Express plasters the fact on its front page.  Unfortunately, and unless you subscribe to Corbett's weather site, you wouldn't know that Corby was predicting massive snow drifts and not the fact that London hadn't seen a snowflake for an entire year.
Piers Corbyn, better looking as well as clevererer


As spring springs and the Easter Bunny loads up his whatever to deliver chocolate eggs and type II diabetes and atherosclerosis to the overfed youngsters of the Western world, deniers ask the killer question: if the world is so warm, why don't all those chocolate eggs melt before the lovely kiddies find them on their Easter Egg hunt?  Can't answer that one, can you, rotten commie fascist climate scientists?

The melting point of chocolate is 30C.  And, yes, plenty of eggs were discovered in a mushy, molten state by disappointed six year olds.  But they don't make the news.  Well, not the news fit for Fox or the loony news sites on the Internet.  
Not to be left outside


Lynne McTaggart notices that she hasn't misrepresented Richard Dawkins for ten minutes so she organises, via Facebook, an intention experiment to get his books taken off the shelves of all good bookstores around the world.  She manages to find six like minded people with nothing better to do with their brain cells than try to think the impossible.  Books fly off the shelves that day, but only because people have heard of the experiment and go to see what all the fuss is about.  Dawkins earns enough in one day to write this year's Christmas best seller The McTaggart Delusion (two pages long, and one is blank).
Someone has to write fortune cookie inserts


With temperatures hitting 50C at Wembley, the FA Cup Final, between a team of overpaid wind kickers and another team of overpaid wind kickers, is abandoned at half time when seven of the players are rushed to hospital with heat stroke.  Sepp Blatter says "I told you it was possible to play football in the mild climate of the Arabian peninsula.  This proves that England is an unsuitable place for a World Cup."

David Beckham was unavailable for comment but Piers Morgan wasn't.
An overpaid footballer at the FA Cup, according to Lord Monckton


The growing influence of Prince Charles on royal matters is revealed when the Queen's birthday honours list names Michael Mann as a new royal prince, third in line for the throne, even though he isn't royal and isn't British.  A new law is rushed through so he can sit in the House of Lords.  His first speech is, and I quote it in its entirety: "Eat ermine, Monckton".

In the small print, some honours are taken away.  Lord Ridley of Opencast Northern Failed Bank is demoted to lowly Mr Matt Ridley.  Lord Lawson reverts to Nigella Lawson and James Delingpole's English degree is revoked on the grounds that he clearly can't read.


Richard Tol, the world's greatest economist and knitwear model, writes to inform me that he hasn't been mentioned at all in this post.  I apologise for the offence to his self esteem that such neglect on my part must have caused and I have sent him a copy of the book How To Be Modest as compensation.  

In other news, Tol confirms that he has disproved the L'Oreal claim that you're worth it.
Now he's worth it


El Nino finally fizzles out and things start to get back to the new normal of being a lot hotter than it was when I was young.  The Californian drought ends when someone gets a very long pipe and connects it to a tap in Vancouver at one end and a sprinkler in San Francisco at the other.  

In Queensland, Brisbane is officially declared molten. Wildfires have engulfed half of New South Wales and Adelaide is now desert.  Lord Monckton arrives in what he descibes as mild for the time of year temperatures but needs immediate medical attention for heat stroke as the temperature inside his tweed threee piece suit reaches the flash point of bri-nylon, with paramedics fearing that his Monckton shirt(TM) will spontaneously combust.  In a press conference from this refrigerated bed, he blames communists, Barack Obama's birth certificate and an overheating battery in his Casio pocket calculator for the unfortunate incident.  He makes a fully recovery.  The calculator, however, still churns out dodgy results.
before the smoke damage


The long running libel case between Mark Steyn (pronounced Stine, not Stain) and Prince Michael Mann comes to a conclusion with the judgement that Steyn had libelled Mann and that, as everyone already knew, Mann had been exonerated by multiple investigations already.  "This is a bad day for free speech," said Anthony Watts who has banned or put on permanent moderation.  dbstealey was available for comment but it was so stupid even my fingers can't be bothered to type it out.  Go here for some of db's sock puppet comments.


Black Friday sales begin at the pay per paper journal The International Journal of the Barely Open Atmospheric Society as volume 1, issue 1 finally rolls off the presses and into all good paper recycling facilities near you.  The contents list is a veritable who's that of climate science.  Tim Ball has an interesting paper entitled "Commie Bastards Make Up Climate Science", Willis Eschenbach has a paper on something to do with cycles and Jim Steele has a brilliant article on butterflies.  It is brilliant because it consists of only four words (not counting the seven pages of references).  In fact, it is so good that I can be bothered to type it all out:
I hate Camilla Parmesan.
A Jim Steele, not that Jim Steele (because he gets snitty)


In the closing down, final edition of the International Thing of the Briefly Open Atmospherical Association, Anthony Watts squeezes out his famous paper, updated from 2012.  No one else in the world, even bottom feeding Chinese journals that will publish even Monckton's drivel, haven't published this one so the OAS vanity unit, immediately before bankruptcy, puts it out.  The world doesn't stop turning.  
borrowed from Greg Laden


As the last of the Arctic sea ice melts, Santa Claus puts out a press release explaining that the weather is so hot that he will be appearing in public in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.  In fact, he will be dividing his time in future between those two places because, frankly, although temperatures are more like central Europe now at the North Pole, the long nights in the used to be called Winter aren't worth it and he'd like to be a bit more sociable, going clubbing and late night shopping and, besides, everyone gets their presents from Amazon and Ebay these days so he's not needed.

Children everywhere go "Who?"

Josh draws an unfunny cartoon that the seven deniers left at WattsUpWithThat think is the funniest things they have seen since, whenever.  Who cares?

Have a great 2016, everyone, everywhere.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Monckton moves the goalposts again

That pause.   Remember that pause?  The one that didn't exist other than as a figment in a calculation?  Yes, Monckton's dreary monthly commentary on the non-pause was the other week but since I was busy attending to my brother and his triple heart bypass, I wasn't paying attention enough to the sad old potty peer to look.

Now my brother is on the mend, I can.  And, lo, the three unwise men of the WUWT theoverse, Anthony Watts, Bob Tisdale and Chrissy Boy Monckton, have delivered us gold, Frankie Says T-shirts and Meh.
Lord Monckton, can you hear me?

And this time Monckton has moved the start point to (drum roll.......) March 1997.

Has he stopped to consider that a real world physical thing does not depend on finding a flat line but gives you a flat line and doesn't keep moving around.

Check his inane dribblings here.

He'll have to give up this lucrative set of sequels soon. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Eight out of ten cats are correct, says Richard Tol

Professor Richard Tol has done some sums and come to the conclusion that, if you put a variety of cat meat products in front of a range of feline pets, incrementally, eighty per cent will choose one brand in particular over all the others. He revealed this information to Roger Harrabin on the BBC Radio 4 programme, I Know I Might Have Said Something Else But..., broadcast today.

 In other news, Professor Richard Tol has found 300 previously unknown climate science papers in the back of his wardrobe. He knew they must have been the ones he's been looking for as they were covered in snow and guarded by a pretty impressive lion. In other other news, Professor Richard Tol has said he was misquoted by Roger Harrabin who missed the word "gremlins" from the interview. The line in question should have read "Of course there were mistakes, gremlins, in my earlier analysis but I am such a wonderful person I couldn't possibly be wrong."

 In other, other, other news, Roger Harrabin says Richard Tol was quoted accurately, with the word gremlins included in the transcript.

 In ..... news, Richard Tol would like it to be known that he is not the same Professor Richard Tol who cannot learn from his mistakes, chases pointless arguments down a rabbit hole and doesn't like John Cook.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

It all STEMs from education, Ms Odone

I was a nerd at school. Still am. Can't remember the last time I read a novel from start to finish. Haven't been to an art gallery in decades. Don't listen to classical music. Never have.

But when I was at school I was forced to do humanities and arts. I was forced to read Shakespeare. I was forced to forced to read George Eliott and Joseph Conrad. I had Beethoven and Debussy rammed down my throat whether I was interested or not. I didn't want to do drama and I had no passion for daubing bits of paper with garish tones of pigment or shaping sloppy clay into interesting shapes.

None of that was for me. Give me a physics textbook and some equations to play with and I was a happy bunny.

And what did all that liberal arts education give me?

When I left university and finished twenty years of formal science education, I went to the non-science parts of the local library and binged. I read novels. I read history, not just the kings and queens sort, but the history of literature and art too. I ever read poetry, from Auden to Graves, Chaucer to Donne (hat tip to my friend Sheila White).  I even listened to some classical music.

Christina Odone, of the Daily Telegraph, has written an execrable piece about her daughter who has to study science because...  Well, not because the government insists and it is a ruddy good idea to have some idea about the world around you and how it functions, but because it is a feminist ideal for women to do things that men typically do and which benefit humanity in general.

The daughter seems to be some shrinking violet who cannot think for herself and just get on and learn some science.  Actually, I don't believe that. I think it is the mother who is being a bit of a bully and throwing her credentials around as a right wing commentator to make a pretty vapid point about feminism.  In doing so, she not only displays her prejudices but also her ignorance.  In Britain we have had something of an Ada Lovelace season, celebrating the mathematical talents of a woman (perish the thought, eh, Ms Odone?). We could have done the same with Rosalind Franklin's biological talent, or Dorothy Hodgkin's, and so on.

I suppose Odone looks up to the towering talents of such women as Natalie Portman, the Academy Award winning actress (Black Swan, remember?). Not only is she talented but attractive too, the latter no doubt being the important characteristic as far as Odone is concerned.  Odone has probably even seen her in films, though the boys ones, like Thor and Star Wars, might not be to her taste. Never mind. Portman is a role model,to Violet Elizabeth Botts everywhere. You can have children. You can do dressing up and pretending to be someone else. You can make pots of money and do it while being a woman as long as you stick to the arts and not mess with the laddish sciences.

Er, what's that, you say? Natalie Portman did what?  She studied for a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and published original research in a scientific journal?  Really.  She did?

So strike Natalie Portman from Odone's consciousness because she has clearly let all of womankind down by not sticking to flower arranging and making jam while her husband is out at work and studied science instead.

If she doesn't count, what about Mayim Bialik in The Big Bang Theory? She only plays a scientist, right?  Wrong she is a neuroscientist, properly qualified, PhD and all. Dr Bialik.

Lisa Kudrow of Friends has a biology degree. Teri Hatcher studied maths and engineering. See, lots of women can actually be women, be arty and be scientific too. It's easy. In fact, I reckon it is not only easy but women do the scientific thing without realising. My hairdresser teaches me science every time she cuts my hair, because she learned the science of skin and hair when she was at college learning to do perms and streaks and blow dries.

So, Christina Odone, your daughter should do science. For one thing, she will use it, even if it is assessing the right treatment for indigestion. For a second thing, you don't know if your supposedly shrinking violet daughter might actually get interested in science, just as I got interested in medieval literature, Renaissance art and Sakespeare by being allowed to experience it at school. I learned so much at school, not because I thought I might need it or my teachers did, but because my teachers allowed me to know it existed. Does a parent really want to close off their child from an understanding of the beauty of nature, the means of thinking critically about medicine, or energy, or nutrition, or evolution, or any other scientific idea? Apparently, in this case, the answer is yes. How terribly sad?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Rob Newman. That's him not understanding science, that is.

He used to be a comedian, but he fell out with his comedy partner and wrote some novels instead to while away the time and earn a crust.  Oh, for those heady days in the mid-nineties when comedy was the new rock and roll and the Mary Whitehouse Experience was cutting edge stuff.

For those that don't remember the Mary Whitehouse Experience, it was one of those rare things, a cult radio comedy series that transferred from BBC Radio 1 (the music channel) to BBC2, the more highbrow of the BBC TV channels of those days.  It was required listening and viewing.  Decide for yourself.

Be that as it may.  Newman and Baddiel became huge stars, selling out Wembley Arena and making comedy the new cliche of the day.  That was then, this is now.

For some unknown reason, Newman has been touring and is now on BBC Radio 4 with a piteously unfunny show entitled Robert Newman's Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution, a title correct in almost none of its words.  The radio version, available here (though I don't know for how long), is a series of lectures on the subject of evolution with a distinctly group selection bias and a distinctly anti-Richard Dawkins theme.  There is, however, an enormous problem.

To get a flavour of the problem, let's look at some interviews and reviews of the stage show.  First up, the venerable Daily Telegraph had a piece entitled "Robert Newman: 'The Universe Richard Dawkins Imagines Couldn't Exist For Five Seconds' (archived because of the Telegraph pay wall).  You might be able to tell just how sweeping that statement is.  And just how tiny a dent Newman puts into even his faulty understanding of Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene.

Newman says:
“Darwin’s theory of evolution has been hijacked by quite a narrow individualist philosophy that derives from Hobbes and I think it’s having a terribly negative effect. It’s giving people a very pessimistic idea of human nature. What I think Dawkins has done is brought back a particularly virulent form of original sin. He’s actually a deeply religious thinker – ‘We are born selfish therefore let us try to teach altruism’, 'If your genes are selfish, you are.' Not true." Warming to his theme, he continues: “It’s a virulent repudiation of Darwin. What Darwin says is that those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and produce the most offspring.”
Oh, dear.  We have a comedy writer straying into the arena of science and thinking they know more about science than the scientists do.  Here's what Jerry Coyne had to say on group selection:
Group selection isn’t widely accepted by evolutionists for several reasons. First, it’s not an efficient way to select for traits, like altruistic behavior, that are supposed to be detrimental to the individual but good for the group. Groups divide to form other groups much less often than organisms reproduce to form other organisms, so group selection for altruism would be unlikely to override the tendency of each group to quickly lose its altruists through natural selection favoring cheaters. Further, little evidence exists that selection on groups has promoted the evolution of any trait. Finally, other, more plausible evolutionary forces, like direct selection on individuals for reciprocal support, could have made humans prosocial. These reasons explain why only a few biologists, like [David Sloan] Wilson and E. O. Wilson (no relation), advocate group selection as the evolutionary source of cooperation.
 Jerry Coyne has recently retired as a biology professor at the University of Chicago. He has written the widely admired Why Evolution Is True and the even more admired Speciation. He has more of a clue than Robert Newman.  He has steeped a lifetime in understanding evolution.  Newman is just skimming the surface.

More Newman from the earlier piece:
I’m arguing that cooperation drives evolution as much as competition – I’m not discounting competition but cooperation is there as well. Dawkins is a reactionary thinker and he does a lot of damage. The universe he imagines couldn’t exist for five seconds. People say “It’s the law of the jungle isn’t it?” “It’s dog eat dog.” Well dogs don’t eat dogs - very rarely. Look at African hunting dogs - if they don’t share they get rolled in the dust and made to. [Peter] Kropotkin – responding to Darwin - saw how if a buffalo falls in a ditch the rest of the herd make efforts to rescue it. Contrary to what male primatologists were saying in the mid-70s about baboons, it’s not about a dominant male with his harem of submissive female. They organise around a female kinship network. If a male wants to join the group he has to know a female and even then has to serve a probationary period in which he proves his work by performing foster care – looking after offspring that are not his genetic material. You can look at sterile female ants too…”
I am not sure what Newman has been reading, but I don't think he has actually read too much modern evolutionary thinking.  Rather he has chosen, witness Kropotkin, to take an ideological viewpoint.  He wants cooperation to be the dominant driver of evolution without realising what competition means here.  There are technical scientific meanings to these terms that merge into the public consciousness with the more general meanings overlain upon them. Newman appears to take the non-scientific meanings for the scientific ones.  This clearly generates a problem.  By using non-scientific cliches, he allows the invalid thinking to dominate.

In a review in the Guardian, the ideology is even more evident. 
He starts by asking why Herbert Spencer's view of evolution ("survival of the fittest") has prevailed over Darwin's more nuanced take. It's ideology, says Newman: big business wanted to roll back the gains of postwar social democracy, and selfish-gene theory offered them scientific legitimacy. But nature is just as rich in examples of selflessness as ruthlessness. Newman is armed with dozens of them.
A reading of The Selfish Gene should demonstrate that there is no scientific support to be found there for turning back social democracy.  The change from optimistic, wide eyed society of the sixties to the more pessimistic, more cynical version of the eighties is more likely to be found in the growing environmental movement as technology and industry were found to cause problems as well as solve them. and the economic crises resulting from the oil price increases in the mid-seventies.  We may have landed on the Moon but we also caused global warming.

In The Big Issue, Newman's thesis is summarised thus:
Newman thinks that Richard Dawkins and other ‘neo-Darwinists’ are wrong: genes aren't selfish, and believing they are distorts our thinking. He insists that modern experts and the author of the Origin of Species are on his side.
The comedian has the scientific chops to refute three myths of the age: that fighting is creatures’ natural state; that women are biologically ‘domestic’; and that individual animals are just conduits for passing on genetic material. He uses baboons, vampire bats and single-celled organisms to make his case.
Dawkins’ theories celebrating competition, says Newman, are in vogue because they assist the dogma of free-market capitalism. Meanwhile, the natural world is in crisis.
 Scientific ideas are not in vogue because they are fashionable.  They stand or fall on the evidence given for them, and just because we can find plenty of examples of altruism, that doesn't mean we should dismiss the ideas that Dawkins espouses.  And those "myths", strawmen more like.

The clearest exposition of Newman's lack of scientific realism comes in an interview in the New Left Project:
The dog eat dog version of evolution which now dominates the discourse has had a disastrous effect on morale, on how we see ourselves, how we see our place in nature. It has given us what I call Anthropophobia, a fear of our own humanity.

I argue that Richard Dawkins's Cardboard Darwinism is profoundly opposed to Charles Darwin's central ideas such as the one about how we are born with 'social instincts'. Dawkins repudiates this when he writes: "We are born selfish". This doctrine derives not from Darwin but from the central dogma of the Protestant Reformation – Original Sin.
There's lots here. Disastrous effect on morale - really?  Cardboard Darwinism - I guess he doesn't even know that Dawkins is a very strong Darwinist.  I can only assume he hasn't read The Extended Phenotype, River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker, The Ancestor's Tale or The greatest Show On Earth.  Or if he has, he didn't understand a word.

But then he claims original sin comes from the central dogma of the Protestant Reformation, which happened about a thousand years after the concept became theologically founded.  Not something to inspire confidence.

Well, it's no coincidence that There Is No Such Thing As Society comes at the same moment as Selfish Gene in the UK and EO Wilson’s Sociobiology in the USA. I don't think that these things are a backlash to the sixties so much as a backlash against the spirit of ‘45 and the historically unprecedented social equality and social mobility.
But of course it could easily be a coincidence.  Dawkins Selfish Gene was based on work that had gone on through those hippy dippy sixties, and Wilson's foundation of sociobiology was his intimate understanding of ants, something he had been researching throughout the sixties.  Like I said, it was more than likely a coincidence.

In the show I argue that the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act unleashed a reaction from male primatologists, social anthropologists and biologists who sought to prove that gender roles in childcare are biologically determined. The arguments were best countered by the female primatologists who at the end of the seventies went into the Congolese jungles and discovered that, say, baboon troops are not organised around dominant alpha males but female kin networks. The nearly forty years since the publication of Selfish Gene in the UK and EO Wilson’s Sociobiology in the US have not been kind to genetic determinism, nor to the idea that DNA is destiny.
This stretches it somewhat.  And, as ever, outsiders seem to think scientific books are set in stone whereas a scientific book that lasts more than a few years is rare.  Science builds on what is already known. New discoveries are made.  Sociobiology has moved on, and many discoveries have been made.

This exchange shows there is a deep flaw in Newman's research:
                  It’s clear you have done a huge amount of research for the show. If someone wanted to                       explore the topic further which texts would you recommend they read?

                  Well, pretty much any Stephen Jay Gould essay collection, An Urchin In the Storm, say.                     Mary Midgley's The Solitary Self – Darwin and the Selfish Gene. There's some great free                     downloads on I-Tunes such as Simon Blackburn's How Are We to Think About Human                         Nature.

I shall admit ignorance of Simon Blackburn [actually, I have read some of his work without remembering until I looked him up, so it clearly didn't make much impression] but not of Gould or Midgley.  Odd that Newman should have chosen An Urchin In The Storm, the worst of all his anthologies, being a collection of book reviews.  And as for Midgley, perhaps the less said the better for someone who wrote a book called Evolution As Religion and still claims to be a philosopher.

Adam Rutherford, science broadcaster, makes a comment at New Left Project which deserves to be quoted in full:
  • As someone who has studied, researched and written about genetics and evolution for the whole of my adult life, I recognise very few of the arguments represented here. First, I don’t really understand what is meant by the ‘dog eat dog version of evolution’. Competition is certainly a powerful Darwinian force, but population genetics and the emergence of the understanding of the gene (poorly defined itself) as the central unit of selection I populations also forcefully contributes to widespread observations of altruism and cooperation throughout the biological realm. Certainly, Dawkin’s popular work focuses not around behaviour as selfishness, but the central idea that genes are replicating bits whose own behaviour in consort with others in the same organism and family, and with the environment, conspires to replicate themselves efficiently. Dawkins has made this point on countless occasions, and expressed regret that the title the Selfish Gene has been misconstrued so often, as appears to be the case here. Indeed, Midgley seems persistent in recent years in misreading Dawkins. I believe he argues strongly against biological determinism (as does pretty much every evolutionary biologist and geneticist I’ve encountered for several decades), and that an evolved ability to act differently from a biological imperative is critical to our survival.
    I am desperately unclear what point there is to be made about transposable elements, epigenetics and reverse transcription. These are Darwinian, and specific aspects of the molecular biology of inheritance, and it’s hard to see that they can be used to make a political argument about the nature of natural selection. I suspect that it is in fact a total coincidence ‘that There Is No Such Thing As Society comes at the same moment as Selfish Gene’. Most of the ideas expressed in popular form by Dawkins in 1976 and subsequently had been described at least a decade earlier by Bill Hamilton in the 60s, and indeed the emergence of modern evolutionary thought by the founders of the modern synthesis.
    I am not so naive to think that science exists in an apolitical bubble, but I think it’s very dangerous to use pure science texts to make such precise political points, when they are not inherent in the source material. I’m sure science-influenced biological deterministic arguments have been used over time, but just like nature versus nurture has not been an academic debate for several decades, it has not been a serious discussion amongst scientists for years. 
I think that rather wraps it up.  Newman is wrong but convinced he is right.  An evolution denier, a sort of natural selection lukewarmer in that he agrees with Darwin (or at least the bits he likes) and denies selection at the level of the gene.  And it is clear that the desire to accept group selection is not because Newman has assessed the scientific evidence fully but has been led by his wishes.  If only everyone got on with one another, was kind to his neighbour and not so beastly to other people, wouldn't that be wonderful.

Well, yes, of course it would.  But that isn't what cooperation and competition and selection and selfish genes and so on actually means in scientific terms.

And, in true Stephen Jay Gould fashion, I turn to my main point.  Robert Newman read English at Cambridge University.  He is an intelligent man who seems to have an inquisitive nature.  However, he seems to lack the scientific skills to be able to understand scientific debates correctly.  I am pretty certain that I couldn't make literary insights into the writings of, for example, Coleridge, or Hardy or Virginia Woolf.  It doesn't mean I can't enjoy either those authors or the writings of the critics.  But I am not in a position to cast a new theory of, say, Woolf's interior monologues.  I haven't read enough nor understood enough to be able to do so.  I would not be so arrogant to claim I could.

But Newman has done just that in a field of science that has such a large pile of evidence in its favour.  He makes the mistake of thinking that a few hundred hours of study (about the length of an couple of undergraduate science units) is the equivalent of the thousands of hours that scientists like Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Stephen Jay Gould, Steve Jones, Nick Lane, Neil Shubin and so on, have put in.  The disagreements and discussions with fellow scientists over coffee in the common room, the rejected papers with their lengthy lists of improvements from the referees' report.  

We see this all the time in the world of denial.  With a laptop and Microsoft Office, access to the Internet and a misplaced confidence in their own ability, we see plenty of non-scientists treading on the toes of scientists.  Do we see the same thing in the world of English literature?  I don't know.  Perhaps I'll do that.  Look out for my next post: William Blake's Tyger is about fish really.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Monckton Pause Update - it's got to go

Monckton has held the start of the pause as February 1997.  But it's about to go.

Monckton, about to auction off his xerox machine version here.

Cached here.

Key quote:
From next month on, the Pause will probably shorten dramatically and may disappear altogether for a time.
Sorry, your Lordship.  If it is real and not a mathematical artifact of the data that you are selecting, then it won't disappear because it has happened.  The man is, however, a scientific nonentity.

How do we know:
The Pause – politically useful though it may be to all who wish that the “official” scientific community would remember its duty of skepticism – is far less important than the growing discrepancy between the predictions of the general-circulation models and observed reality.
The Good Lord is changing his tune, just as the non-pause is going to disappear from his Casio calculator.

Good riddance, say I.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Ingenious Pursuits: Lisa Jardine

When I was looking for a title for this blog, I looked up at my bookshelf and saw the vermillion spine of one book catching my eye. Ingenious Pursuits by Lisa Jardine.  The book is an excellent history of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I recommend it highly.

But I bring it up because the author, Lisa Jardine, has passed away from cancer at the age of 71. I owe her a big debt and will try to honour it by supporting science in the face of mindless criticisms that it faces from without and sometimes from within. From the distance that the printed pages lends, she taught me much. Her father was equally inspirational, Jacob Bronowski.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Matt Ridley goes off piste again and gets a kicking

Once upon a time, there was a pretty good science writer named Matt Ridley.  He worked for a prestigious magazine and wrote some entertaining and educating popular science books. Then he wrote a book more ideological than scientific, in parts scientifically wrong. Now he has published another book and it has been reviewed in the current issue of New Scientist.  The book gets a kicking.

The kicking is not for the science but for the ideology, which the reviewer clearly does not agree with.  Put simply, Ridley argues that there is too much regulation, including a whole wealth of regulation that his bank, Northern Rock, showed did not work.  It is commonly held, amongst those that I talk to, that regulation was at fault in the 2008 crash and its wasn't because there was too much. Arguments might be made that national government should govern less, but I suspect those that argue that have little bits of protection they are not willing to give up.  I bet Ridley is the same. His bank, and by extension himself, went cap in hand to the Bank of England to get them out of the hole they had dug themselves into by selling mortgages at both ends.

I haven't read the book but John Gray has and gives Ridley a similar kicking in the Guardian. Gray's review centres around Ridley's lack of historical mouse. Ideas that look like social Darwinism so often find events showing how wrong they are. Ridley seems to want to apply natural selection as an idea to the world of human ideas but it has a simple limitation that you might think someone as brainy as Ridley would have noticed: ideas do not live or die on which one is the best idea but which one has the most powerful proponents at the time.  To an extent I am sympathetic to some of Ridley's earlier ideas. But I don't think small government works because powerful people seem to accrue more power where they can. It feels like a result of our evolution but it is nothing for which I have evidence and may easily be wrong. Confirmation bias makes it all too easy for me to go down that road but I stop myself following the logic to where it leads. Others don't, and it is those others that produce ideas that approach evil and sometimes reach it, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum.

I haven't read the book but Peter Forbes has in the Independent. He also says that Ridley has gone political in this book and the politics isn't pretty. Ridley, Forbes says, stresses the importance of evidence to science (although Ridley is a bit cavalier with evidence when it comes to climate science) yet he adduced anecdote and authorities to bolster his argument rather than evidence. Ridley, it seems, misses the effectiveness of central government in making much more peaceful societies than, say, the law enforcement of drug cartels in central and South America.  If Ridley wants to write this book, I would hope he missed reading Steven Pinker's excellent The Better Angels Of Our Nature which is an immense evidence based triumph, showing how violence has declined over the course of history.

I haven't read the book and I doubt I will. One reason is an interview in the New York Times in which Ridley recommends Andrew Mountford's book The Hockey Stick Illusion as recommended reading for the Prime Minister. This is a book the reviewer in Prospect magazine called McCarthyite and not worth reading and Chemistry World described as pedantic. You would think Ridley would know better but he has been blinkered against the real story of climate change for twenty years or so. Even The Spectator  is less keen on Ridley's thesis than one might have expected, following that magazines publication of some of his egregious articles on climate change. One line I enjoyed ridiculed Ridley's use of Nigel Lawson as a climate science authority. Ridley seems hamstrung by his desire to present a nature red in tooth and claw selection process for ideas that he misses some of the successes of ideas helped along but the very things he wrote about in The Origin Of Virtue all those years ago. Humans are both hierarchical and social, following leaders and helping one another. The best governments use those basics wisely. Science is powerful because it subverts individualism into a collective but competitive endeavour. Watson and Crick get all that credit for discovering the structure of DNA and sir paper in Nature is recalled to this day. The next paper along in the same edition was by Wilkins and Franklin and supplied details of the evidence Watson and Crick used. Here is an example of the competitive and cooperative nature of a human endeavour. Simplistic, perhaps, but real in many respects (I await comments that give me better understanding here).

Ridley's thesis is that bottom up solutions work better than top down ones through a more organic process, a more evolutionary process.  Counter examples are not hard to find.  Take, for instance, the railway system of London.  That's the mainline, overground system.  This schematic shows how wonderfully logical the termini appear.

But this is a modern version.  Following lengthy reorganisation, and omits some terminus stations and does not show the actual locations of them. This, more realistic map, shows a deeper truth.
There were extra termini at Bricklayers Arms, Cannon Street (still exists), Farringdon Street, Broad Street (no longer in existence but was right next to Liverpool Street), not to mention Fenchurch Station (the one on the British Monopoly board that no one has heard of otherwise).  There are others I haven't mentioned.  The system grew because individual companies built the lines and there was no overarching plan.  London's railway system battles that lack of planning to this day.  Lines approaching Charing Cross reach a bottleneck just where it would be advantageous for them to open out into more lanes. Hemmed in by buildings and streets, there is no room for expansion.

We should not forget that to build a railway in nineteenth century Britain, an Act of Parliament had to be sought.

Ridley's current book is his second that goes off his scientific piste and into more political snow.  The consensus of the reviews I read suggests the science is well received but the politics less so.  This is not surprising, because in the UK there is nothing similar to the US Tea Party movement and although UKIP polled well in the May General Election, there seems to be a feeling that, actually, their one shot at a breakthrough failed.  There is a temptation to chat to your own and have your opinions confirmed but Ridley ought to know better.  He has a scientific background and many of the scientists he looks up to are mainstream scientists who express the need for both a sceptical view and a careful, fact checking outlook.  But Ridley has bought heavily into a substantially right of centre worldview with regards regulation and government.  The success of Japan, for instance, demonstrates that small government can be trumped by big government.

Why did Ridley get his biology so right, in my opinion, yet his climate science so wrong?  I cannot put my finger on it but one possibility is that he is of a generation that thinks technology is the answer to everything.  Look at how his (and my) technological world has changed: we listened to large valve radios, watched black and white TV and had fixed, landline phones.  Now we carry in our pockets a miniature device that will allow us to do each of those three things, and more, wherever and whenever we wish.  In 1979, my school had a computer room which did what it said. It housed the computer.  Within a couple of years, the BBC's computer push led to computer rooms in schools which housed class sets of computers. They might have been ancient boxes of electronics from the stone age compared to what we can do now, but they revolutionised school IT in the UK.

So being optimistic that humans can change the world is something Ridley and I can point a finger at and say it happened, and for the better (in general).  But there is no evidence that such optimism will always work out.  In fact, the technological solutions to worldwide problems (ozone hole, infectious diseases, etc) also requires international cooperation and big government.  Locally based conservation groups can do much, and they do, but to make the necessary impact to solve global issues, global teamwork is essential.

But the most disappointing thing about Ridley is recent years has been his decline into the same old denialist tropes that he really should have been clever enough to avoid.  In his own self-justification, What the climate wars did for science there is much on show that betrays Ridley's slack work.  He inflates non-experts to the level of experts.  For example, our old friend Jim Steele becomes a distinguished ecologist when in fact distinguished and ecologist are hardly appropriate for someone with only a self published book on his publication list.   Steele has what appears to be a vendetta against Camille Parmesan but, unsurprisingly, Ridley takes Steele's side (even when an explanation for Parmesan's actions has been published) and cites wattsUpWithThat as support.

Unsurprisingly also, Ridley cites Lysenkoism in his whine about climate science. It looks as if Ridley has gone through the list of debunked and failed arguments at Skeptical Science and decided they look tasty when in fact they are ready to become pig swill.  Read what Ridley wrote in self justification and try not to spray your screen with coffee.  It is sometimes hard to remove from the keyboard.  For someone who has spent a lifetime working around scientists, reading scientific papers and translating them for a less scientifically literature readership, Ridley's justification is riddled (pun intended) with arguments that don't work and never will.  His audience will applaud his assertion that Tol has demolished Cook13's consensus measurement.  That Tol has failed to do so, has been shown to be a ridiculous figure in this (by asserting 300 papers that don't exist) and for pursuing it when he really should have given up, isn't mentioned and won't be.  Inconvenient that Jonathan Powell in the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer argues that Cook13 is, indeed, wrong.  Powell says the consensus is really 99% and more.  Pity the article is paywalled as it should be read by all deniers and should annoy them intensely.  The logic Powell uses is impeccable, so far as I can see.

Ridley ends his justification on a downbeat note.  Having cherry picked and misrepresented a pile of denier/realist confrontations, he says:
I dread to think what harm this episode will have done to the reputation of science in general when the dust has settled.
He is right for all the wrong reasons.  The reputation of science is being dirtied deliberately.  Now we know that Exxon sat on research about climate change while giving support for denial, one wonders how Ridley will take that on board. How did he respond to Merchants Of Doubt, both book and movie?  Ridley's one sided take on the climate debate is weird for someone who so clearly gets the science of evolution, when that side is to misrepresent evidence and mishear the debate.  That there is a debate on the science itself is odd.  That Ridley should be so clearly wrong suggests one thing and one thing only.  His recent books give the answer: he listens to his politics on this one and not what the science says.  When someone says the hockey stick graph is a scandal, you know they're wrong.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Did the BBC base Count Arthur Strong on Lord Christopher Monckton?

Significant similarities between the fictional character, Lord Christopher Monckton, and the former variety star and current subject of a BBC reality TV series, the eponymous Count Arthur Strong, have been revealed in an investigation into the well known left wing bias of the BBC.  It is so well known that we don't need to detail any of it here.

The similarities are too close to be described as anything but uncanny, though that has never stopped Lord Monckton from making a logical leap too many and allege a deliberate act.  So let's examine the evidence and, as ever, let the reader make up their own mind (though, of course, the evidence will be presented in such a way that no one will be able to do anything than accept my conclusions).

1.  The look
Monckton has been dressed in his fictional world in the tweeds and paraphenalia of the minor and not long established aristocracy.

Strong dresses in tweedy clothes befitting his aspirations to be seen as a real aristocrat but who really can only trace his dynasty in the peerage back to 1947 when his grandfather was ennobled for services to appeasement.

2  Mode of speech
Monckton's writers have given him a speaking style that means he says things that sound quite impressively intelligent but are actually gibberish. Watch this sketch from his ITV4 sketch show, The Christopher Monckton Half Hour.

Count Arthur Strong has a natural gift for talking nonsense, tripping over his words and making malapropisms, in spite of his eminence as a variety performer and actor (he narrowly lost out to Sean Connery for the role of James Bond in the early sixties).  But amongst it all he has the natural charm of someone who is descended from a long line of two preceding Count Strongs.

3 The Politics
I think it is impossible to discount this piece of evidence.  The two are identical, politcally.  Here is that evidence.  Read this spoof article from the website,, a satirical website hosted in America where the craziest and most stupid ideas are presented as if they were true.  Here, the writers behind Lord Christopher Monckton, have come up with a hilarious article that would be good enough for Punch, were Punch still a going concern.  To give you a flavour, let me quote a paragraph.  I am sure you will get the point:
The madness of the governing class has now infected even the normally quite sensible British courts. For 1,000 years, the High Court in London has been dispensing (or, depending on your point of view, dispensing with) justice. A few years back, it decided to rebrand itself the “Supreme Court.” Next year, no doubt, it will be calling itself the “Pangalactic Court.”
This normally staid and sensible body of custard-faced judges has now joined in the collective madness that is the global-warming scam. Lord Carnwath, a rabid environmentalist who has much the same opinion on climate change as Prince Charles (in a word, flaky), recently held an international conference of lawyers and judges on the theme of ganging up together to prosecute, convict and imprison scientists and researchers who, like me, commit the crime of conducting diligent scientific research and publishing the results in the learned journals from time to time.
In the future, if Lord Carbuncle gets his way, an inexpert panel of international judges will review our research and pronounce on the extent to which it conforms to the climate-communist party line he so passionately espouses. Those of us whose research dares to point out, for instance, that the data show no global warming for approaching 19 years even though one-third of man’s supposed warming influence since 1750 has occurred over the same period will be found to have committed truth-crime and we will be locked up.
Now watch this clip of Count Arthur Strong making a political speech and you will have to admit that the similarities are uncanny so close to identical as to be evidence of a conspiracy by the BBC

4  Current career
Lord Monckton's writers have given him a career of going to small halls and giving illustrated talks to bored housewives and those sheltering from the unseasonably extreme rainfall and/or heatwave.  The writers expect us to see his failure to live up to his ambition to be a scientific expert, legal expert and stand up comedian with the sympathy you normally reserve for those that have tried but failed and as still in reception class at infants school.
Strong earns his living these days, since no one will seriously employ him as an entertainer, giving talks about his heyday on stage and TV pilot shows.  You might notice that no one laughs at the jokes which fail miserably and we are asked, in the BBC reality show that follows him around with a camera crew, to be sympathetic to this rather lonely and sad character.

It is clear, then, that the BBC has based its reality series on the celebrated variety star and film and TV celebrity Count Arthur Strong on the fictional life of the bat shit crazy Lord Christopher Monckton.  Case closed.  Except to point out that "Lord Christopher Monckton" needs to be put into quotation marks.  It's what he would have wanted, if he existed.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Consensus by jury

Science, we are constantly reminded, does not proceed by consensus. And indeed it doesn't.

Science proceeds according to the evidence.  However, as more evidence accrues, it becomes clearer and clearer that the idea being tested is correct, or at least the best explanation available at the moment.  A consensus accretes around that idea and science and scientists accept that it is correct.

In the fields that I studied a little while ago, the description of the action potential in a neuron is consensus because it is extremely unlikely that the basics of the physical chemistry involved will be found to be wrong.  Perhaps in one or two animals but the basics will be correct. And those neurophysiologists who study the action of neurons, there is barely likely to be a mention of whether or not they accept the current theory of action potentials.  They just get on with improving our understanding until its polish gleams.

Our denier friends don't like the idea of consensus.  They don't like the idea that scientists either agree with the evidence or they don't.  They don't like the thought that more and more scientists cluster around and agree an understanding.  It would be weird if scientists didn't work like that.  It would be weird if they all decided to accept different ideas and no one agreed with anyone else. 

It is how our legal system works.  When tried by a jury of my peers, I expect them to assess the evidence and come to an understanding of who was responsible for the particular crime.  I expect them to come to an agreement.  After all, the evidence can only point one direction, depending upon how good the evidence is. 

A unanimous verdict of the jury is a 100% consensus.  11 to 1 is 91.67%. 10 to 2 is 83.33%. 

83.33% consensus is good enough in some trials to secure a conviction. 

I think 97% is good enough consensus to allow us to say that global warming is caused by humans.

Lynne McTaggart's Holy Implausible

She's at it again.  In a blog post entitled Holy Water, McTaggart thinks she understands what she clearly doesn't understand - science.

McTaggart has decided to take on water because it is the last refuge of the homeopath clinging to their discredited idea.  If, and it is a pleading, longing, highly optimistic if, water can be found to have a way of recording what has been dissolved in it, then perhaps, just perhaps, homeopathy is true and not just magical thinking.

So the premise is clear.  The blog post is trying to sustain the lifeless, rotting corpse of homeopathy by giving it one final jolt of the metaphorical defibrillator in the hope that you don't have to go to the next room and give the relatives the bad news.  So first off, let's establish that water is "weird".
But we’re no closer to understanding exactly how water behaves. In fact, water drives most scientists crazy.
Water is a chemical anarchist, behaving like no other liquid in nature, displaying no less than 72 weird properties – and those are just what we’ve discovered thus far.
Weird means anomalous in scientific language and scientists have a very good understanding of how those anomalous properties arise.  Besides, anomalous is just compared to something else. Water is water, hydrogen sulfide is something else and they each have their own properties.  Because water doesn't fit all the same patterns as we might have expected, does not make it weird. There is a good article on the anomalous properties of water here.

Anyone who was listening in a basic secondary school science lesson can spot what is wrong with the next paragraph.
Hot water behaves far differently than cold water; when water is heated, the molecules expand and it’s easy to compress, but when cooled they move more slowly, they shrink and they get harder to compress
 Molecules don't expand or contract.  Thermal energy makes them move more rapidly (kinetic theory is called kinetic theory for a reason).  Water has a diameter of about 2.75 angstrom (2.75 x 10e-10 metres).  Molecules just don't expand or contract.  Their increased movement produces the expansion.  If that entirely basic and easily understood fact is beyond McTaggart, what chances are there that she can understand anything more complex?

I know.  That's not a fair question.  She doesn't understand science in general. In fact, so many of her statements on science betray a distrust and dislike of science but she enjoys cloaking herself in it because it lends her nonsense a veneer of respectability.  That's why Amazon puts her books in the science section and not the made up rubbish section where they belong.

As you'll see:
Attempts to model water as the seemingly simple substance it is continue to fail. You could spend your entire career – and many scientists do – playing around with water and feel like you’re getting nowhere.
So I Googled "Modelling behavior of water" and I got 1,660,000 hits in Google Scholar which seems to me quite a few and their titles suggest that a lot of progress has been made over the years and that modeling water has enabled us to understand an awful lot about water.  You might note that I chose to search modeling behavior while McTaggart simply says modeling water.  Her command of language also seems a bit weak on this post.  The diagram below shows quite a lot about simple models of water that are, no doubt, above McTaggart's pay grade:
From, about a paper modelling aspects of the bahaviour of water, how ironic.
But all this stuff about water being odd is just the shaggy dog tale leading to this punchline:
And now we’ve learned that water does two other special things that could change everything we think about how the world works: it stores information and also broadcasts it.
And like all shaggy dog tales, there is something important to remember about them.  Something about them isn't true.

If you missed the bit that isn't true, here it is again:
And now we’ve learned that water does two other special things that could change everything we think about how the world works: it stores information and also broadcasts it.
The storage of information claim is based on the work of two Italian physicists:
Two Italian physicists at the Milan National Institute of Nuclear Research, the late Giuliano Preparata and his colleague the late Emilio Del Giudice, demonstrated mathematically that, when closely packed together, atoms and molecules exhibit collective behaviors and form what they termed 'coherent domains,’ much as a laser does.
I will let Anna V in a comment on a physics forum explain quantum coherence, especially for Lynne McTaggart, who seems to think it is something magical:
Now coherence in quantum mechanics is due to the nature of the wave functions, which describe the underlying stratum of particles and molecules. These are sinusoidal functions which means they not only have an amplitude ( a measure) but also a phase. Coherence means that the phases of the wave function are kept constant between the coherent particles. 
Can't see information being stored there.  Not in the sense that McTaggart will understand it.

Be that as it may, McTaggart uses lasers as an analogy, some vague reference to other work and then:
As other scientists went on to investigate, water molecules appear to become 'informed' in the presence of other molecules—that is, they tend to polarize around any charged molecule—storing and carrying its frequency so it can be read at a distance.
This suggests that water can act like a tape recorder, retaining and carrying information whether the original molecule is still there or not.
This means that water not only sends the signal but also amplifies it.
Oh, dear.  If it wasn't so poor so far, McTaggart has just nailed the flaw.  A sentence that begins "This suggests..." does not get to be followed by one that begins "This means..." because a suggestion is not an assertion.  It might be true, in which case the last sentence here should begin "If true, this means..."  But it doesn't and less observant readers will miss the logical fallacy.

And then Luc Montaignier. He won a Nobel for co-discovering the HIV virus.  He went seriously woo, according to Orac.  If his experiments did show that water can transmit information, they could be replicated.  If anyone knows a genuine replication, I'd be interested.  Orac points out the likely ways this is wrong, and I have no doubt many others point out some less likely ones.
Orac and friends

Lynne McTaggart employs a lot of wishful thinking.  Her intention experiments are wishful thinking wearing a comedy scientist outfit suitable for any children's fancy dress party.  She wants homeopathy to be true.  She wants water to have a memory.  She wants all those evil scientists in their sinister labs cooking up nasty medicines to be wrong.

But she isn't a scientist and isn't steeped in the deeper and wider knowledge of science, its findings and its methods.  As a result, she doesn't get one simple but extremely important point.  If a new scientific finding is labelled controversial it is for a reason. That reason is that it asks too many areas of science to reconsider themselves.  Scientists understand an incredibly substantial amount about the universe and those bits of information fit together in a tightly formed jigsaw puzzle.  If someone comes along with a new piece that doesn't seem to fit and suggests that it just needs to be hammered in to place, there will inevitably be those that look more closely at the piece and suggest why it doesn't belong in the picture that is being built up.

Unless there is a lot of jiggling of the pieces we have in place already, the memory of water and the transmission of that memory will be put in the back of the drawer with the other discredited pieces.

Note: these are no links in McTaggart's piece.  Nothing is referenced.

Monckton's pause hesitates again

I'm linking to an earlier post that gives the details but in brief, Lord Monckton has fudged his starting point for the non-pause in global warming yet again.  Now he says February 1997.  It might soon have to be February 2016 if some predictions for the current El Nino come true.

Full story at

Monckton when he was plain Christopher, from about the time he says the "pause" started (date unknown then)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Guest post from Little Jimmy Dellingpile

Wow, crickey! What an amazing week.  Not only am I now the climate expert of choice to The Sun, which is apparently a newspaper even though you can read it without your arms aching it's so small, but now I've been invited to write an occasional column for the internationally renowned science blogger, Catmando.  Whizzo.

Actually, I feel a bit of a wet bob in all this science malarkey. When I went to school, a public one to keep me away from the hoi polloi (though you don't need to be told that hoi polloi already contains the definite article), we didn't do stinks, as the masters called science, because that might mean we would actually be able to contribute anything to practical life. Instead, we studied Shakespeare who describes the medieval warm period at length, from personal experience. "Shall I compare you to a sunny day," which I think you will agree, is a perfect summary of the entire Mini Ice Age which lasted from sometime during the Renaissance until about a week ago last Tuesday, when the Thames last froze over and there was what is known as an Ice Fair. as we all know, mums go to Ice Fair.

It was at public school that I was fag to Chrissie Boy Monckton, the jazz trumpeter who later found fame as Screaming Lord Monckton, founder of the Stupid Party that was perrennial loser of deposits at hundreds of by and general elections until he decided to take up a teaching post in Australia and finally got out of wearing tight trousers.  It was while ragging with His Eminence that I learned of the global conspiracy to make ex-public school boys, like myself, the Good Lord and Christopher Bookish, look incredibly ignorant.  In fact, there has been no significant rise in the level of our scientific credibility since 1996, or 1997, or perhaps even 2001, according to Christopher. That's Lord Monckton, not the slightly plebeian Bookish.

While I mention Monckton, I should add that,me hen the balloon goes up, when the ship comes in, when the time comes, when the tree tops glisten, if I have to be in a shithole digging, there is no one I'd rather be digging shit with than my old fag-master Viscont Biscuit of Benchmark. That man knows how to shovel shit.

But I get ahead of myself. It's a long time from school until I became an expert on the climate. In fact, I had to read a lot more novels, some of them by women writers like George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, and a lot more poetry in order to become an expert in something so scientific as climate. In fact, I only have to draw the curtains in the morning to take in my fill of climate. As we know, climate always changes and always will. In fact, sometimes the climate can be chilly when I go for my cold shower at 5am and yet very mild indeed for the time of year by lunch when my butler brings me my Earl Grey and a small finger biscuit. And, to prove how wrong those so called climate scientists, who are in the pay of Big Thermometer, because it is sometimes distinctly brisk again by the time I take my afternoon scone in the drawing room in the commercial break while Countdown is on (this is the only programme I watch on the socialist Channel 4 because Monckton and I compete to see who can come up with the longest Latin word out of four vowels and five consonants. We don't bother with the numbers round because retain an accountant whose purpose is to keep track of the numbers).  And that has happened in Central England since time immemorial, or records began, whichever is longer.
Not another cat video

The thing I am proudest of is my book, Watercress: Why Environmentalistas Are Commie Bastards. It took me a couple of weekends to research because the GCSE geography kid who went to Slough library and read a few books on the red menace and showed me how to use this infra web thing (did you know there is an entire site for people who have film their cats doing humoursous thing, and other sites for pizza delivery boys to get lessons in carnal desires?) and almost all of a Thirsday afternoon to dictate to my secretary. It is my opus pistorum. At least it was the proudest thing, even more so than my series of novels about a war hero named Custard, until I became the Sun's climate expert.

And the best thing of all, I still haven't got the faintest clue about climate.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

NASA fakes science, as reported by Christopher Bookish of the Telegraph

Revealed.  NASA has faked pictures of the planet Pluto in an effort to conceal some bit of science or other that I know nothing about, can't be bothered to find out about and which I'm not really bothered about anyone were it not for the fact that it contradicts one of my deeply held ideological beliefs.  As an increasingly elderly white man, I am totally competent to give my readers my opinion on the NASA cover-up of the planet Pluto.

Amazingly, the conspiracy to cover up the true nature of the planet Pluto was let slip in a series of highly secret tweets by NASA scientist Alex Parker who is working on the ultra secret New Horizons probe that recently passed the planet Pluto, sending back images that contained no discernible detail.  Here is the raw image.
And here is the adjusted one:
It's amazing how much the image has been adjusted to make it fit in with the models of how the planet Pluto should look.  There is, obviously (so obvious I don't have to give any evidence, even if there was any but should you want to see how little there is, just search Little Jimmy Dellingpile Plutogate), a conspiracy to cover up the true nature of the planet Pluto, which was discovered by Walt Disney in 1930, and earn more grant money and Nobel Prizes for Pluto scientists.  Even our own "Professor" Brian Cox is in on the conspiracy.
TV physics geek "Professor" Brian Cox (this is the right one, isn't it?)

What the Pluto scientists want is to hide the fact that our reptilian overlords live on the planet Pluto and are working consciously with the false President Obama, David Cameron, the EU, the UN, Agenda 21, Agenda 22, Agendas 25 to 31 inclusive, the Pope (sorry, the Antichrist Francis) and the BBC. If you didn't vote for a slice of Dundee cake in May, it is still not too late to vote for Nigel Garage to get us out of the UEFA Cup and FIFA. I think he's on the X Factory or something.

In a statement tonight, Lord Lawson of Doubt said that his charitable educational organisation, the Planetary Image Monitoring Panel (PIMP), would be launching an investigation and are welcoming submissions that can confirm their uninformed speculations.  The panel will consist of Professor Sir Richard Tol (who will be searching the published literature to see if he can find any pictures that show the Planet Pluto that haven't actually been taken), Patrick Moore (though through a secretarial cock up gremlin, we appear to have booked the actor Patrick Mower rather than TV astronomer Patrick Moore, even though he died three years ago), and someone who runs a Pluto is a planet blog from a laptop in a flat in Leeds.

(Note to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph: is this enough words or do you think I should go on about asbestos, evolution or climate change again, even though I know even less about those things than I do about astronomy.  Not my fault, I didn't do science at school or at Cambridge.  I'm not even sure they did science then. I certainly don't do science now.  I know, if you need to fill up space, you could publish an unfunny cartoon by Tosh.  He's rather good at those, though not as good as Ronald Searle at drawing funny ones.)
Ronald Searle's impression of Tosh as a skoolboy

Friday, 25 September 2015

Watts and Co still don't get the word global

(Update: for a better treatment of the science go to see Sou at Hotwhopper.)

it is a cliché that Americans don't know about the rest of the world, only America.  Anthony Watts keeps trying to confirm it.

Today he aims to show how wrong Michael Mann is again.  Not that he manages.  He won't.  By using a line in an abstract he hopes to show that Mann's hockey stick is wrong because a new study shows that temperature changes over the last 750 years haven't behaved as Mann said they did.

But there's a big problem.  Can you spot it?  (Spoiler alert: it's in the title of the study).
Well?  What could the problem be for Watts but not for Mann?  Yes, my readership is intelligent enough to spot that this is a study about the Pyrenees.  Watts might be a weatherman (which we don't need in order to know which way the wind blows) but he isn't going to get past first grade on geography.

To give him a hand, here's a world map with a big arrow pointing to the Pyrennees.

Here's a close up of Europe.

That's right.  The Pyrenees are a mountain range that comprises a small part of the European landmass.  It isn't the entire globe. Handily there's a map in the paper which might have told Watts something:

Here is the full abstract from the study by Esper et al (2015) (pdf):
Substantial effort has recently been put into the development of climate reconstructions from tree-ring stable carbon isotopes, though the interpretation of long-term trends retained in such timeseries remains challenging. Here we use detrended δ13C measurements in Pinus uncinata treerings, from the Spanish Pyrenees, to reconstruct decadal variations in summer temperature back to the 13th century. The June-August temperature signal of this reconstruction is attributed using decadally as well as annually resolved, 20th century δ13C data. Results indicate that late 20th century warming has not been unique within the context of the past 750 years. Our reconstruction contains greater amplitude than previous reconstructions derived from traditional tree-ring density data, and describes particularly cool conditions during the late 19th century. Some of these differences, including early warm periods in the 14th and 17th centuries, have been retained via δ13C timeseries detrending — a novel approach in tree-ring stable isotope chronology development. The overall reduced variance in earlier studies points to an underestimation of pre-instrumental summer temperature variability derived from traditional tree-ring parameters.
I have bolded the same sentence as Watts did.  The detail is in the paper.  Here's an important paragraph:
The detrended δ13C reconstruction exhibits decadal scale summer temperature variations ranging from +1.57°C in the 1390s C.E. to –1.83°C in the 1890s C.E. (Fig. 5a). The uncertainty band accompanying this reconstruction back to ~1260 C.E., the first decade represented by three trees, shows most of the temperature variations over the past 750 years did not deviate significantly from the 1961–1990 mean, however. The uncertainty band is increasing back in time as a function of the reduced replication of earlier chronology periods. Whereas more recently reconstructed temperatures (+1.01°C from 2001–2009) have been cooler than the late 14th and 15th centuries, the difference between these periods is insignificant.
Significance?  Watts, Monckton and their mates weave a lot out of significance.  Remember that the warming since year X hasn't been significant (therefore no warming, is the implication)?  Cuts both ways.  Esper and colleagues are too good at science to get carried away by their results and make cautious claims written in the usual language of science, the language that is seemingly impenetrable to a science doubter denier like Watts.  I can only guess that he didn't really read the paper, but that's not a surprise.

Esper & al make no big claims.  They certainly do not claim Mann is wrong.  Here's the conclusion:
The Spanish Pyrenees δ13C based reconstruction presented here shows warmer and more variable growing season temperatures during the Little Ice Age than previously described (Büntgen et al., 2008; Dorado Liñán et al., 2012). Developing this reconstruction required systematically removing lower δ13C values inherent to treerings younger than 200 years, that would otherwise lower the mean chronology levels during earlier periods of the past millennium, where these younger rings dominate the reconstruction. As a consequence, earlier warm periods during the late 14th and 15th centuries appear warmer, though not statistically significant, compared to the late 20th century. 
A major constraint of the new reconstruction is the substantial difference in recent temperature trends caused by post-1850 δ13C correction procedures. The correction applied here, accounting for atmospheric 13C/12C ratio and plant physiological effects, appeared most suitable as it produced a timeseries without any trend in residuals after regressing against instrumental temperatures. However, developing objective criteria for post-1850 correction, independent of the goodness of fit with instrumental target data, are needed to establish δ13C based reconstructions as an additional proxy for studying climate variations over past millennia.
 I have bolded the last sentence because there is another story there that wasn't picked up in Anthony's piece - there is a need to reconcile the instrumental record with the C13 results because there is a mismatch.

Oh, and there is nothing about global climate.

Luke in the comments points out:
This reconstruction is based on one location so it does not represent a fundamental challenge to Mann’s global reconstruction.
Anthony replies:
Mann’s MBH 98 was heavily weighted on one proxy at one location, Sheep Mountain...So, “Luke” if Mann heavily weights a proxy in one location to make a global claim, does that make it OK for him, but not for anyone else?
No, it doesn't work like that.  Mann (pdf) used more than one location. In fact, he used 415 proxies, covering quite a lot more of the globe than Esper's study.  "Heavily weights" is a value loaded term for which there is no real evidence.  It is Watts who has over egged this pudding. And using McIntyre for your support.  Is that the sound of a barrel being scraped?  I think it is.  Is this his textbook?

 Esper 2015 does not reinstate the non-missing Medieval Warm Period, nor destroy Mann.  Instead, it is more evidence, if more were needed, of how much deniers are afraid of the evidence of global reconstructions that smooth the MWP and the Little Ice Age.   Esper 2015 reports on a relatively unconfirmed technique in a truly local situation.

All in all, the usual denier fare from Anthony Watts.  Pick a paper, use it out of its scientific context to poke a denier's demon and end up with egg on his face.  A typical day in Deniersville.