Monthly Archives: October 2010

Alarmist Tent So Small It Cannot Accomodate Judith Curry

I find it just staggering that Judith Curry, whose hypotheses about man-made global warming probably overlap those of the hard core alarmists by 80-90%, can no longer be tolerated by alarmists.  Much as the Catholic Church radicalized Martin Luther when all he initially wanted to do was reform some practices (many of which the Church later reformed), the attacks on Curry seem to be having a similar effect.

The typical response by politicians, of course, is to try to get more money from taxpayers.  California has a ballot initiative this November proposing to raise vehicle licensing fees to all its citizens in order to fund state parks.  Unfortunately, this kind of funds earmarking by ballot initiative is already threatening to bankrupt California.  One problem with this approach is that it demolishes accountability — once an unelected state agency gets dedicated funds the legislature can’t touch, there is nothing that taxpayers can do if these funds are not spent wisely short of another time-consuming ballot initiative to revoke them.

In the case of state parks, the accountability problem is even worse, as the initiatives replace park user fees, which at least enforce accountability in that users can stop visiting if park services are not up to expectations, with a no-strings-attached bureaucratic windfall.  Compounding the problem, in many states the parks organizations report to rubber-stamp boards rather than the governor or any elected official, so taxpayers have absolutely no path to enforce accountability.

The Media Bias Towards Catastrophic Fear-Mongering

Skeptics often accuse the media of being biased, arguing that a liberal bias in the media causes them to shortchange skeptical climate arguments.  But in fact, the explanation may be simpler than any political bias.  It may be just a bias and an incentive system in the media that rewards fear-mongering of all sorts.  From the WSJ:

Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.

Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Anyway, you’d think that word would get out: poisoned candy not happening. But instead, most Halloween articles to this day tell parents to feed children a big meal before they go trick-or-treating, so they won’t be tempted to eat any candy before bringing it home for inspection. As if being full has ever stopped any kid from eating free candy!

Science, or Alchemy?

In what is becoming a continuing series, here is an article by economist Don Boudreaux on how economists are fooled into hubris by their computer models.  It could have been written as easily about climate (emphasis added)

Ironically, however, one genuine sin committed by too many economists is the sin of public hubris — of posing as seers who can divine the details of the future economy, of fooling themselves and the public that economists possess greater knowledge than they really do.

In their papers and books (and now blogs), Keynesian economists model the economy with simple symbols, such as “C” for consumption spending, “I” for investment spending and “k” for the economy’s stock of capital goods such as diesel engines, steel mills and industrial chemicals.

Governments and private researchers gather data on consumer spending, on investment spending and on the market value of all the stuff called “k.” Economists plug these data into computer-based mathematical models filled with “C’s” and “I’s” and “k’s” and other symbols from alphabets both Latin and Greek. These models then spit out precise predictions.

Voila! exclaims the economist slathered in hubris. “See my multivariable model and my precise-to-several-decimal places predictions! I’m a scientist!”

In fact, he’s an alchemist. He is misled — by the intricacy of the equations on his computer screen and by the apparent concreteness of the data that he shoves into those equations — into thinking that he’s doing science. He is misled into thinking that these leaden, aggregated data from the past can be transformed into golden truths about the future.

Example of Why Climate Science is Becoming a Laughingstock

Some of you may have seen this at my other blog, where I ran it by accident, thinking I was posting here.   From the Thin Green Line, a reliable source for any absurd science that supports environmental alarmism:

Sending and receiving email makes up a full percent of a relatively green person’s annual carbon emissions, the equivalent of driving 200 miles.
Dealing with spam, however, accounts for more than a fifth of the average account holder’s electricity use. Spam makes up a shocking 80 percent of all emails sent, but most people get rid of them as fast as you can say “delete.”
So how does email stack up to snail mail? The per-message carbon cost of email is just 1/60th of the old-fashioned letter’s. But think about it — you probably send at least 60 times as many emails a year than you ever did letters.

One way to go greener then is to avoid sending a bunch of short emails and instead build a longer message before you send it.

This is simply hilarious, and reminds me of the things the engineers would fool the pointy-haired boss with in Dilbert.  Here was my response:

This is exactly the kind of garbage analysis that is making the environmental movement a laughing stock.

In computing the carbon footprint of email, the vast majority of the energy in the study was taking the amount of energy used by a PC during email use (ie checking, deleting, sending, organizing) and dividing it by the number of emails sent or processed. The number of emails is virtually irrelevant — it is the time spent on the computer that matters. So futzing around trying to craft one longer email from many shorter emails does nothing, and probably consumers more energy if it takes longer to write than the five short emails.

This is exactly the kind of peril that results from a) reacting to the press release of a study without understanding its methodology (or the underlying science) and b) focusing improvement efforts on the wrong metrics.

The way to save power is to use your computer less, and to shut it down when not in use rather than leaving it on standby.

If one wants to argue that the energy is from actually firing the bits over the web, this is absurd. Even if this had a measurable energy impact, given the very few bytes in an email, reducing your web surfing by one page a day would keep more bytes from moving than completely giving up email.

By the way, the suggestion for an email charge in the linked article is one I have made for years, though the amount is too high. A charge of even 1/100 cent per email would cost each of us about a penny per day but would cost a 10 million mail spammer $1000, probably higher than his or her expected yield from the spam.

Preference Cascades

This article is eight years old, but it was just called to my attention.  It does not once mention climate, and it is in fact about people flying flags after 9/11.  But those involved with climate issues may well recognize the situation immediately:

The muting of open patriotism after the Vietnam era may have been a case of what social scientists call “preference falsification”: One in which social pressures cause people to express sentiments that differ from those they really feel. As social scientist Timur Kuran noted in his 1995 book Private Truths, Public Lies, there are all sorts of reasons, good and bad, that lead people not to show how they truly feel. People tend to read social signals about what is approved and what is disapproved behavior and, in general, to modify their conduct accordingly. Others then rely on this behavior to draw wrong conclusions about what people think, and allow those conclusions to shape their own actions.

Oh, not always – and there are always rebels (though often social “rebels” are really just conforming to a different standard). But when patriotism began to be treated as uncool, people who wanted to be cool, or at least to seem cool, stopped demonstrating patriotism, even if they felt it.

When this happened, other people were influenced by the example. In what’s known as a “preference cascade,” the vanishing of flags and other signs of patriotism from the homes, cars and businesses of the style-setters caused a lot of other people to go along with the trend, perhaps without even fully realizing it, a trend that only strengthened with the politicization of flag displays in several 1980s political campaigns.

The result was a situation in which a lot of people’s behavior didn’t really match their beliefs, but merely their beliefs about what was considered acceptable. Such situations are unstable, since a variety of shocks can cause people to realize the difference and to suddenly feel comfortable about closing the gap.

That’s what the September 11 attacks did. This time last year, you didn’t see many American flags on cars in my faculty parking garage. The people who didn’t have them on their cars weren’t necessarily unpatriotic – but displaying a flag on one’s car was associated with particular political and social categories that aren’t especially popular on campuses. After 9/11,enough people started flying flags to make other people feel safe about doing it too. Now you can see a lot of flags on the cars in that garage. Have people become more patriotic? Maybe. But more likely they’ve just become more willing to show it.

Though it does not mention climate at all, it is the best explanation I have yet seen on why Climategate got so much run.  After all, the actual science addressed in the Climategate emails mostly was about the hockey stick, which even if you ignore how bad the science is in the analysis, really does not prove anything about the effects of anthropogenic CO2 even if it were correct.  And few of the things that were revealed in the emails about alarmist scientific practices and resistance to replication came as much as a surprise to those of us who have been following climate issues for a while.  So at the time, I thought it was no big deal.

In retrospect, what Climategate did was to give the media a story that it was socially OK to run with.  The social pressures against running an article about problems with alarmist science were enormous, but a scandal allowed them to make an end run around these social norms.  Scandals and meat and potatoes for the news media, and they could run with the scandal story without feeling like they were getting a huge social black mark from their peers.  And once the scandal story ran, it was the shock that allowed many silent doubters to see that in fact they were not alone and marginalized (as they have been told time and time again in the media) but actually a sizeable population.

To this end, the Hal Lewis letter may be even more important.

Of course, none of this solves the problem of determining the Earth’s true temperature sensitivity to CO2 concentration, but it has opened the door for a freer debate.

UA Gets 62 Times More Money From Alarmists Than ASU Got From Skeptics

From the Arizona Republic:

University of Arizona will host one of eight regional climate-science centers to help the federal government study the potential effects of climate change on natural resources and the environment.

The Southwest Climate Center will bring together scientists from six universities to study a range of issues and offer guidance to federal resource managers through the Interior Department, which will oversee the regional center.

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment, will be the center’s principal investigator….

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday announced the selection of UA to host the center, which will receive an initial five-year, $3.1 million grant.

The University of Arizona climate department has distinguished itself in the past by running this fine temperature monitoring station, located between buildings in the middle of an asphalt parking lot:

More important to the selection than the UA’s staff actual ability to, you know, monitor the climate is likely Jonathan Overpeck’s impeccable credentials in the alarmist community.  Overpeck was a coordinating lead author of the IPCC AR4 paleoclimate chapter, and thus had a leading role in promoting the hockey stick and attempting to make the Medieval Warm Period go away.

The powers that be that give out large grants certainly weren’t going to give the center to Arizona State, which had the temerity to actually have skeptic Robert Balling on staff (with Sherwood Idso as an adjunct professor) .  If ASU wants any real climate cash, they likely will need to find a way to get rid of Balling under some pretext.

We can see that employing skeptics is very bad for business.  After all, Exxon gave the ASU climate department $49,500, compared to  62 times this amount to UA from alarmists in Washington.  Of course, we all know that the Exxon money was far more corrupting.  ASU likely perverted science entirely for 49K, but UA would never do so for 3.1 million.

Call Out to Young Skeptics in the DC Area

If you are young (I suppose 20′s or younger) and have been actively involved in some way as a climate skeptic in the Washington DC area, reporter Andrew Restuccia of the Washington Independent would like to talk to you.   He is writing an article on young climate skeptics, I think.  Drop him a note, he seems to be developing a hypothesis that skeptics are all crusty old dudes and showing him some fresh faces would help:  arestuccia –at– washingtonindependent.com

A Great Example of How We Should Be Playing

I get irritated by the team-sport aspects of the climate debate, where we race to defend and attack certain work because it gives an answer we like or don’t like, rather than based on its methodology.  I confess to getting sucked into this from time to time, though I have also tried to call BS on skeptical work I thought was misguided (e.g. the Virginia AG witch hunt against Michael Mann) and I respect folks like Steve McIntyre who are controversial without falling too often into the team-sports trap.

For this reason I want to cite an article by Anthony Watt in which he criticizes, rightly I think, a skeptic for pushing a fraud/cover-up story that simply does not exist.  Ironically, the article occurs just days after Joe Romm, whose site would never tolerate the dissenting opinions in its comments section that Watt’s allows, generally equates Watt’s past work with the 10:10 video blowing up children.  (more comments on the Romm post here).

Joe Romm Inadvertently Shows How the 10:10 Film Got Made

It was good to see Joe Romm denounce the 10:10 film for the creepy propaganda piece that it is.  But in his explanation, he inadvertently explains exactly the mindset that creates such disasters.  He writes in part (emphasis added)

None of this excuses that disgusting video.  But the difference is that those who are trying to preserve a livable climate and hence the health and well-being of our children and billions of people this century quickly denounce the few offensive over-reaches of those who claim to share our goals — but those trying to destroy a livable climate, well, for them lies and hate speech are the modus operandi, so such behavior is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Note the statement — “for those trying to destroy a livable climate.”   Does he really think anyone, including skeptics like myself or Anthony Watt (who he specifically calls out) is trying to destroy a livable climate?  By using the word “trying,” he is assigning a motivation.   Skeptics, to him, are not working from different assumptions or readings of the science.  They say what they say because they are motivated to destroy the climate.

I suppose I could play the same game, and say that through CO2 controls Romm is trying to impoverish billions of poor people in lesser developed countries by halting development, but I don’t think that is really his motive, and it would be grossly unfair for me to write.  I think poverty is an outcome of what he advocates, just as he thinks an unlivable climate is an outcome of what I advocate, but I can distinguish between motives and assumptions, but he apparently cannot.

This attitude is EXACTLY what causes unfortunate actions like the making of the 10:10 video — it is only a small step from believing, as Romm says he does, that skeptics are “trying to destroy a liveable climate” to making a movie that jokes about killing them all (or, to be frank, to feeling justified in acts of eco-terrorism).  Is anyone else getting tired of this working definition that “hate speech” is any speech by people who disagree with me, because I have the best interest of humanity in mind so clearly those who oppose me hate the human race?

I encourage you to watch my climate video and decide if folks like me are trying to thoughtfully decipher nature or are engaging in hate speech.

I guess it is unsurprising that Joe Romm  goes to the kindergarten argument of “he started it,” arguing that the video is just the flip side of the stuff skeptics are doing all the time.  I am not sure exactly what comparable films skeptics have produced that are similar, and the only example he can cite is Anthony Watt’s blog post comments on the shooting of an eco-terrorist.  I did not even go back and look at Watt’s comments, but I generally think that lots of people are too gleeful when suspected criminals, who are innocent before the law, are gunned down by police.

Never-the-less, its seems a stretch to equate  the offhand comments in real time of an independent blogger with a film involving probably a hundred people (including those who commissioned it in the 10:10 organization), commissioned in an official and thoughtful act (after all this had to be months in the works), and funded in part by the British government.  I say stupid things in real time that I later wish I had moderated or not said at all.  That kind of communications mistake is very very different order of magnitude from a two month project involving scores of people and presumably multiple reviews by a prominent organization.  (Update:  Iowahawk makes this latter point about the number of people who were involved in this movie and reviewed it without a peep of protest here).

Al Gore’s Gory Movie

I hope this fall to get back to active posting on this site, but in the interim, I could not miss a chance to comment on this:
I suppose one cold say that climate alarmism jumped the shark years ago. But they have certainly moved to a new level, one for which there is not even a term, in this video. This video has everything – the government school teacher politically indoctrinating the kids, followed by bloody gory death dealt out to the kids who refuse to toe the government line. I am not kidding.

When I first saw it, I was sure it was a skeptic satire, ala Jonathon Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal,’ and I am still afraid that this may be some elaborate put-on because the video and its message — that skeptics need to be killed — is so obscene. But apparently, according to this article at the Guardian, it is totally for real and includes contributions from some fairly prominent artists, as well as funding from the UK government and the 10:10 program (a plea to reduce carbon emissions by 10% per year, eerily with a name probably purposely similar to 9-11).

Our friends at the 10:10 climate change campaign have given us the scoop on this highly explosive short film, written by Britain’s top comedy screenwriter Richard Curtis, ahead of its general release….

Had a look? Well, I’m certain you’ll agree that detonating school kids, footballers and movie stars into gory pulp for ignoring their carbon footprints is attention-grabbing. It’s also got a decent sprinkling of stardust – Peter Crouch, Gillian Anderson, Radiohead and others. But it’s pretty edgy, given 10:10′s aim of asking people, businesses and organisations to take positive action against global warming by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in a year, and thereby pressuring governments to act.

“Doing nothing about climate change is still a fairly common affliction, even in this day and age. What to do with those people, who are together threatening everybody’s existence on this planet? Clearly we don’t really think they should be blown up, that’s just a joke for the mini-movie, but maybe a little amputating would be a good place to start?” jokes 10:10 founder and Age of Stupid film maker Franny Armstrong.

But why take such a risk of upsetting or alienating people, I ask her: “Because we have got about four years to stabilise global emissions and we are not anywhere near doing that. All our lives are at threat and if that’s not worth jumping up and down about, I don’t know what is.”

The latter claim is hilarious. Over the next four years, CO2 levels will likely increase, if they stay on trend, from .0392% of the atmosphere to .0400% of the atmosphere. I would love to see these so-called science-based folks demonstrate how the next .0008% shift in atmospheric concentration triggers the point-of-no return tipping point. In actual fact, the have just latched onto the round number of 400ppm and declared, absolutely without evidence, that this number (which the Earth has crossed many times in the past) will somehow lead to a runaway chain reaction.

Anyway, I have teased it long enough, here is the video. Beware — there is gore (no pun intended) here worthy of a zombie movie.

Wow, its sure good that the world has decided that skeptics are the mindless, thuggish, anti-science side of this debate, because if that had not already been made clear, we might think that key climate alarmism groups had lost their freaking minds. It will be interesting to see if this gets any play in the US media — my guess is it will not. Magazines are happy to spend twenty pages dissecting the motives of the Koch family in funding skeptic and libertarian causes, but environmentalists get a free pass, even with stuff like this.

Lubos Motl is all over this, and has mirror sites for the video if (or more likely when) the video gets taken down. This is one of those propaganda offers that are the product of an echo chamber, with a group of like-minded people all patting themselves on the back only to be surprised at the inevitable public backlash.