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Entries by Bishop Hill (6690)


Is there such a thing as a global temperature?

This is the question asked in a paper by Essex, McKitrick and Andresen in a fascinating paper which can be found here. (Mathematics alert!). This is my understanding of it - I haven't done any maths since university days, so if I'm wrong I'm sure someone will put me right.

Some quantities, like weight, can be added and therefore averaged. If you take an 2oz mass and a 1 oz mass you can say with certainty that their total mass is 3oz. Because the sum of the two masses means something, you can calculate an avarage of 1.5oz and this figure has a useful meaning also. These kinds of measures are called extensive variables. Pressure, on the other hand, can't be treated in this way. If you add a system at 2 atmospheres to one at 1 atmosphere you don't get a system at 3 atmospheres. Because the sum of the two pressures has no meaning, the average likewise is meaningless. These are called intensive variables.

Temperature, as you might suspect, is an intensive measure. This means that when you add two temperatures together, the answer cannot be a temperature. It's meaningless. As the authors point out, dividing this meaningless sum by the number of components cannot give you an answer which has a meaning.

If the average of temperatures is not a temperature, then perhaps it's an index - a number which tracks whatever it is that drives the climate? If this is the case, then it is presumably necessary to describe how the average of temperatures - a statistic - is driven by the underlying climate driver, or at least to show some correlation between the two. They also need to demonstrate that the statistical measure they have chosen is better than any other measure they could have chosen. These alternative measures might well demonstrate a completely different trend to the average.

A third alternative is that the average is neither a temperature or an index, but a proxy for energy. But unfortunately there appear to be problems with this argument too. For a start, to do so is to use an intensive measure as a proxy for an extensive one. Secondly, the relationship between energy and climate is not understood. How then is it possible to know that the average of temperatures is a valid proxy?

It's not instantly obvious to the lay reader, but there are lots of different kinds of means. We're used to dealing with arithmetical means ("averages") but you can also have geometric means, harmonic means and any number of other means. For some systems, physics suggests which is the correct one to use. But, alas, this is not the case for global temperature.

As if to rub this point in, the paper demonstrates that there are in fact an infinite number of different means for global temperature. Which, they ask, is the correct one? Why has the scientific community alighted on the mean it has? They go on to show that, for the same set of data, different means can show a rising trend or a falling one. In other words, if a different averaging method to the one used in climate science had been chosen, we might now be having a crisis about global cooling... again.

It's a fascinating piece of work, some of which is beyond my understanding. If you are mathematically inclined, do take a look and tell me what you think.



Reading the news backwards

It's said by many expert investors that the best way to read a set of annual accounts is backwards. This is because the bits that management don't want you to notice are tucked away right at the end. They hope that by the time you've read the three pages on pension schemes, you'll be fast asleep and will completely miss the contingent liability that's about to swallow the company.

It might well be advisable to read press reports on global warming in the same way. Here's a classic of the kind from the Associated Press on the subject of land loss on the east coast of England:

Climate change spurs coastal defense retreat yells the headline in the Courier News, reporting from Happisburgh in Norfolk. We're all doomed!! seems to be the subplot. There are lots of stories of houses falling into the sea, land no longer being protected because sea levels are going to rise, concerned villagers feeling cheated. It's all because of global warming you see! Cue interviews with European environment official, quote from Stern review and so on. Cause and effect duly insinuated into readers' heads (but no outright declaration of course)...

...and then right at the end the get out:

Happisburgh, on the East Anglia coast, always has been vulnerable, and accounts of houses, lighthouses or farmland collapsing into the sea date back to the early 19th century.

I call this dishonest, but then I'm just a heretic.


Trot TV

Al Gore has launched a new internet TV channel to rival 18 Doughty Street, or as its opponents like to call it, Tory TV. Its called, and promises wall to wall hagiography of departed communists and hourly reminiscing for the days of the three day week.

Actually, I made that last bit up.

Personally I look on this as another nail in the coffin of the BBC so I'm quite happy to see the newcomer. 

More details here



Light bulbs

There is a marvellous debunking of the EU's proposed ban on incandescent light bulbs over at EU Referendum.

  • Something like 50% of light fittings in the UK will have to be thrown on a scrap heap and replaced because they can't be used with the "long-life" CFL lightbulbs that are to replace the incandescents.
  • CFLs can't be used with security lights or dimmer switches. These will have to be scrapped too.
  • They use much more power to make, in a process which uses toxic materials including mercury vapour.
  • If they are switched on and off as required, they don't last as long as claimed.
  • If you don't switch them on and off as required but leave them on, the proclaimed energy saving is largely lost.

The similarity between this and the recycling scam is remarkable. A vast and expensive gesture turns out to be a waste. A pattern looks to be establishing itself: environmentalism is bad for the environment.


Can we trust anything the BBC says?

Certainly not on environmental matters, anyway. I've just heard some idiot reporter on the 10 o'clock news declaring that rising sea levels around Norfolk are causing the land to fall into the sea. This completely flies in the face of the well-understood fact that the east of England is sinking.

Incidentally, I posted the following onto the editor's blog on the BBC website:

It is worth remembering Jeremy Paxman's now legendary quote on the BBC's attitude to the climate change debate.

"People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that [global warming] is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago"

The BBC is an environmental campaigning organisation. Full stop.

It didn't make it past the moderators, despite the fact that there were only 12 comments (now 18).  This is what a public service broadcaster does, apparently.


What's going on here then?

One of the most important scientific documents in the global warming debate is Jones et al 1990 on the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. This was long claimed by sceptics to be a major factor in the apparent rise in global temperatures - essentially they were saying that as urbanisation took place, many formerly rural weather stations ended up surrounded by buildings. These gave off heat and raised the local temperature. In other words it looked like global warming, but wasn't.

Jones' letter to Nature in 1990 was widely claimed to have killed this argument off by presenting three temperature time series from rural weather stations.  By comparing these to another wider set of data, it was possible to show that the wider series had no significant UHI effect.

The story has suddenly come to the fore again because the UHI effect has attracted the interest of Steve McIntyre, a  prominent sceptic and something of a thorn in the side of the mainstream. He has been asking the author, Phil Jones for his raw data - specifically he wants to identify which weather stations were used his work - presumably he means to test if they were genuinely rural or not.

And thus far, Jones has refused to release the information, despite a formal request under the Environmental Information Regulations.

Now to anyone who knows anything about science, this is pretty exciting stuff. It's pretty much a given that you release your data on request so that others can test it. Nature, which published the orginal letter, makes prompt availability of data a condition of publication. So the refusal is likely to be viewed in a pretty dim light by the scientific community, or at least I hope it is.

There are other lines of enquiry for McIntyre to pursue in order to get the data, but in the meantime let's just notice the startling fact of a "real" scientist refusing to release his data to someone who is alleged to be a fake and the equivalent of a creationist.  


Bowland Dairy Reminder

DK has a reminder up on his site about the Bowland Dairy Case. The case is so horrific, it's worth reminding ourselves of it. If there are any Liberal Democrats passing this way, I would value your comments.



One size fits all

The latest wizard wheeze from the Government is today's announcement: "Seven year olds to take languages".

"I want languages to be at the heart of learning", Mr Johnson said. 

"The earlier you start learning a language the better. Making language study compulsory from 7 to 14 will give pupils seven years to build up their knowledge, confidence and experience."

Now while I'm sure lots of people think this is a good thing, it's surely worth contrasting this lurch towards compulsion with the government's stated wish to personalise the school system to the needs of each child. I don't suppose Mr Johnson has even considered the possibility that some children might not be cut out for learning a foreign language. Their time might be better spent learning, say, literacy or numeracy? Or speaking?  Not according to Mr Johnson.

He was on the radio this morning, telling us that language learning would be for at least one hour a week (!), and rhapsodising at length about all the exciting languages that would be seen in schools in the future. Apparently schoolchildren will become proficient in Mandarin Chinese on the back of their hour of teacher time. Colour me unconvinced. 

The problem with this announcement is that I'm sure it will have plenty of parents squealing with excitement (if they have not been jaded by the last ten years of exciting new initiatives). But if it ever comes to pass it will fail the children - even the bright ones. When will they learn that, no matter how hard you try, one size never fits all.



Frank O'Dwyer tells me that the claim made in the Great Global Warming Swindle about volcanoes releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than humans is wrong. I've not been able to make a lot of progress in getting to the bottom of either Frank's claim, or the GGWS one, but I did come across something quite interesting.

74,000 years ago, the Toba volcano erupted in a VEI 7 explosion that pumped more than 10,000 times as much CO2 into the air as Mt. St. Helens did. At the maximum, Mt. St. Helens was giving off 22,000,000 kg of C02 daily, so Toba was putting out at least 22 billion kg per day. The ash cloud was so thick that it caused cooling that nearly wiped out the human race.

There are indications in the ice core records that show the cooling from Toba, but where is the global warming that should have resulted from all the CO2 put into the atmosphere? According to what I've read, the CO2 should have remained in the air long after the ash settled and that should have caused at least a warming spike, but there's no sign of extraordinary warming in the climate records. Shouldn't there always be a cooling/warming cycle after a volcano erupts? Cooling from the ash cloud, warming from the CO2 that lingers?



Quote of the day

"There is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility."

Statistician Edward Wegman on climate scientists in a report to the US House of Representatives.

H/T Climate Audit 


US Gun Laws

A federal appeals court has come down on the side of an individual right to bear arms and ruled that Washington DC's gun control law is unconstitutional.

Most commentators seem to think this is a big deal. DC is has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the US together with very high crime levels. No doubt the crime figures for the capital will be watched extremely closely in coming months. 


The Cato Institute are saying that it is likely that a stay will be put in place, so it may still be years before there is any impact on the man in the street. 


A lie flies half way round the world....

....before the truth has got its underpants on. Or something like that.

The Great Global Warming Swindle appears to be issue du jour on many blogs today, and there have been a lot of interesting contributions on both sides. Unoftunately a fairly blatant attempt to discredit some of the contributors has been wending its way round the LibDem blogs, and I have done what I can to nip it in the bud, but it may be too late now.

In a comment on Liberal Polemic, Thomas Papworth stated that some of the contributors to the programme were "not what they seemed". This appeared to be based on this comment at a blog called Ballots Balls & Bikes made by another LibDem blogger called Joe Otten.

Apparently they had fake academics from non-existent departments in that programme.

I left a comment at Joe's blog, asking where this had come from. The source was this thread at Bad Science. Comment 43 stated:

What I found most infuriating however, was the use of so-called experts with non-existing university affiliations. For example, Philip Stott is not a professor at the “Department of Biogeography ” at the “University of London”. No such department exists. He used to be a professor at the Geography Department at SOAS (an institution better know for its cultural studies than climate change research).

Equally, Tim Bell can’t be affiliated with the “Department of Climatology” at the University of Winnipeg, because this department does not exist, nor does he work at the University of Winnipeg. Apparently, he left in 1996 to become a consultant.

As far as Philip Stott goes, I knew this to be absolute nonsense. Professor Stott is well known to anyone who follows science in the UK, particularly bloggers, and he is a regular commenter on BBC programmes about science. To suggest that he is a "fake" in this way strikes me as potentially libellous. I would have thought BB&B would want to consider removing the comment. Philip Stott's Wikipedia page is here.Can anyone really suggest that labelling him as Professor in the Department of Biogeography is a misrepresentation?

Tim Ball (not Bell), I hadn't come across before, but he also has a Wikipedia page which is here. There seems to be some doubt as to whether he was the first Canadian PhD in climatology but it is undisputed that he was a professor at the University of Winnipeg and did research into the historic climate. He is clearly qualified to speak with some authoritaty on the subject of climate change. Again, calling him a fake appears somewhat risky, particularly as he appears to know his neighbourhood libel lawyer's telephone number.

This all looks to me like an attempt to play the man rather than the ball. Given that one of the central claims of the programme was that climate heretics were persecuted, this rather proves the point, doesn't it?



Quote of the day

In the light of the Patrick Mercer affair, this is worth revisiting. 

Our merely social intolerance [of dissentient opinion], kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain or even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light. And thus is kept up a state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because, without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed, while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of reason by dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought. A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein very much as they do already. But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the genuine principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by narrowing their thoughts and interests to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then; while that which would strengthen and enlarge men's minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.

John Stuart Mill On Liberty 


Equation blogging

I've never blogged about Maths before - my reader numbers are quite small enough already. But I came across this today, and it is pretty amazing. If you take the following equation



(where mod and x are particular mathematical functions) and you plot a graph of it you get this:



Which you have to admit is pretty amazing. The equation, which is called Tupper's Self-Referential Equation is from here


Patrick Mercer

I find the whole farrago over Patrick Mercer completely unedifying. We can't go on having people like Mercer and Bob Piper driven out of their jobs because they touch on race in some unapproved way. It's stifling any sensible debate, and the only winners will be the BNP.