Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Explaining Away Climategate - 1

was triggered by the release of thousands of emails and computer programs from the UK Climactic Research Unit (CRU) late in 2009. See Jon Stewart's hilarious and surprisingly fact-filled take and this attempt at Explaining Away Climategate.

This is the first of a series of new Topic postings that detail the viewpoints of the major groups involved in the controversy:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Originality or lack thereof

[from Joel] David Hume was of the opinion that nothing is totally original. All our creative ideas are either rework of the ideas of others or the result of new information from our senses. This is another way of saying that one does not have a divine Muse that sends ideas from out of the blue. Here's an interesting example.

I'm preparing a talk for our philosophy club that extracts notions from pop music (mostly oldies) that contain the kernal of an idea expounded upon by classical philosophers and/or are worth some small-group discussion at our meeting. Since most pop music is about moon-June-spoon romantic love, it's taken me some time (a few weeks) to gather together enough material for a session lasting an hour and one half. I was going to post the list of tunes on this blog today for your input and suddenly realized that Ira had done something of this sort with Gilbert and Sullivan about a year ago. What I thought was a novel idea on my part turns out to be just an extension of Ira's idea. So, although I will post the tunes I'm going to use as the basis of a philosophical discussion, my main point turns out to be that David Hume was right about originality.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sunspots Coming 'Round the Mountain When They Come?

The best experts at NASA have been predicting the imminent ramp-up of Sunspot cycle #24 since 2006. Well, here it is almost 2010, over three years later, and there has been a bit of an upsurge in Sunspot activity. At long last, it appears a Sunspot ramp-up may be coming 'round the mountain* pretty soon - but they won't be drivin' six white horses when they come!

The base figure above is from NASA/NOAA and shows their latest prediction (May 2009) which is the lowest and latest of the four red hoops. You can see that the actual Sunspot observations (black jig-jags with blue smoothing) do not quite match up with NASA's latest prediction. They also fall far short of the previous predictions which I have annotated into the figure as the three higher red hoops. [Click on image for larger version.]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just some thoughts about life.

[from John] Ira’s latest posting regarding statistics brings to mind my current gripe – frustration? – with the information age. Can anyone be reasonably certain that the information they possess, the information they rely on when they go to the polls is valid and current? I don’t think so. I would like to use an analogy; my grandfather lived in a small town in Minnesota that had a single weekly newspaper. When voting for those seeking national office he only had the information that paper provided. He flew by the seat of his pants – his intuition. My father, living in the same town, at a later time, had a daily paper, a daily (weekly?) Minneapolis paper and primitive radio for information so he still flew by the seat of his pants because his sources were limited. Today I fly by the seat of my pants because I am inundated with information I cannot trust.
I have come to the conclusion that the best way to handle information in the information age is to form an original hypothesis upon which to measure new information discarding some yet be willing to modify the hypothesis if new information seems valid. Keep an open mind but don’t be fooled by charlatans.
The following are my current positions on some items of national issues.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Health Care reform has been a hot topic where statistics have been used to: Abuse anecdotal math to falsify the truth and truthify falsehood.

(This is the sixth of the series on misuse of statistics. For the earlier postings, click: 1-Going to St. Ives, 2-Playing Percentages, 3-Correlation and Causation, 4-Fun with the Normal Curve, 5-Global Warming.)

In a December 2009 posting, I pointed out that the map of per capita Medicare spending by county in the US looked a lot like the political division between the "Blue Counties" (Democrats, L-Minds) and the "Red Counties" (Republicans, C-Minds).

Since counties are so numerous and therefore confusing, I used Congressional Budget Office 2004 statistics of per capita Medicare spending on a statewide basis to show that the top five Highest Spending States tended to be Blue States and the top five Lowest Spending States tended to be Red States.

(My stated purpose -agenda if you like- was to indicate that Liberals consume an outsized share of the common pot of health care resources, as compared to Conservatives who take a smaller piece of the pie per capita.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Blind Side - Surprise Hit Movie

My favorite line in this movie is when Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) asks his wife Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock):

"Who would've thought we'd have a black son before we met a Democrat?"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Do Liberals Consume More Health Care than Conservatives?

The stereotypical Conservative (C-Mind) is well-off financially, attends religious services regularly, and tends to vote Republican, while the stereotype Liberal (L-Mind) is less well-off, less likely to attend religious services, and tends to vote Democratic. Of course there are many well-known exceptions, but I think reasonable people would accept these generalizations on average. One would think that C-Minds, having more disposable income, would tend to spend more on medical care than their poorer L-Mind colleagues. If one thinks that, one would be surprised by the following maps. [Click maps for larger versions.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Explaining Away Climategate

The video below is is a well-thought-out response to Climategate that explains the scientific meaning of "trick" and that the climate scientists were actually talking about tree ring data when they wrote "hide the decline". Please watch the video and then read my response to it.


OK, many of the points are well-taken. Rush and some of the other non-expert loudmouth blowhards are way off in their commentary and totally wrong in the details. There is no actionable evidence of "fraud", "scam", or "conspiracy". It is irresponsible to use such strong words.


The linked video says the emails and computer programs are "stolen" or "hacked". But there is no evidence of that. Indeed, it is most likely they were released by an inside whistleblower who was appalled by what he saw going on and felt it his or her public duty to do someting about it.

They go after what they call "McExperts" like Rush but they ignore the real experts who have been at this for years and who have exposed important questions about the data and how it is processed.

The video paints all skeptics and "lukewarmers" with the same extremist "deniers" brush. No one who knows the facts denies the Earth has warmed by around 0.5ºC to 0.6ºC over the past century. Nor do reasonable skeptics deny that human release of sequestered carbon (coal, oil, natural gas) is partly responsible.


The issue is not whether it has warmed. The issue is the cause of the warming and the level of human responsibility in it.

The "alarmists" and "warmers" say the major cause is rising greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and that humans are responsible for the great majority of the warming. They say we are near a "tipping point" and if we do not take immediate and drastic action to stop human-caused CO2 the Earth will overheat beyond our ability to correct it.

The "skeptics" and "lukewarmers" say the major cause is natural cycles of the Sun and decadal ocean oscillations and that humans are responsible for only a small percentage of the warming. They say we are far from any "tipping point" and they favor reasoned action to reduce human caused greenhouse gases.


If you read the main skeptic websites, such as Watts Up With That? and Climate Audit and others, you will find reasoned science-based critique of the way temperature data is obtained and how it is processed. Even before Climategate, they showed convincing evidence that a large percentage (I say around 30%) of the apparent warming is actually due to measurement bias.

These sites publish photos of active weather stations that have been encroached by asphalt driveways and air conditioner exhausts and other artificial heat sources over the past few decades. They surveyed nearly all official US stations and found that most of them do not meet the guidelines for high quality set by NASA, being at least 100 feet (30 meters) from artificial heat sources. Indeed, many of these stations were properly located years ago, but are now in the midst of newly constructed artificial heat sources. That is convincing evidence at least some of the temperature data is biased.

WHAT IS THE REAL MEANING OF "Mike's Nature trick" and Hide the decline"

The video repeats two of the most widely circulated email excerpts, "Mike's Nature trick" and "hide the decline" and attempts to explain them away. The video repeats these two charges and then accuses the skeptics of not having anything else. Well, there is plenty more, see this and this.

Let us consider the two items the video centered on. Yes, "trick" is sometimes used in scientific literature to describe perfectly honest analysis techniques. Yes, the "hide the decline" statement was about tree ring data that is used as a proxy for surface temperatures in the past.

Why tree rings? Reliable instrumental temperature readings, taken with callibrated thermometers in widely distributed locations on the Earth, have been around only for the past century and a half. For that reason, scientists must use what they call "proxy" data, such as tree rings, which happen to grow more when it is warmer, to determine the temperatures hundreds or thousands of years ago. Well, there is a problem with some of the tree ring data. From about 1940 on, the tree rings show a decline in temperature at the same time instrumental readings have been showing an increase. OY! Either the instruments are biased or -horrors- tree rings are not a very reliable proxy, or both.

So, they used "Mike's Nature trick" (named after Michael Mann a Prof. at Penn State who used the "trick" for a paper published in the prestigious science journal Nature) which is not to plot the tree ring data after 1940. You see, if they plotted all the tree ring data as well as the instrumental data, everybody would see the tree ring data decline as the instrumental data increased. If the tree ring data is shown to be wrong from 1940 to the present, that would raise questions about the actual temperatures indicated by the tree rings hundreds of years ago.

Why the concern about tree ring reliability? Well, historical records indicate what is called the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), during which there were vinyards in northern England, Greenland was an agricultural haven, northern Newfoundland was colonized as "vinland", and the north Atlantic was up to 1.0ºC warmer than today!

Uh, oh!? If the MWP is real, then temperatures 1000 years ago were higher than temperatures now, which would make the alarmists wrong when they say the Earth has never been as warm as it is now. It turns out the tree ring data they had does not show the MWP, so it is important to preserve the reliabilty of that tree ring data. So, "hide the decline" and all will be OK.

Do you believe human reports or tree rings? But all is not OK. I believe the historical record more then the tree rings. Especially if the tree rings are not tracking instrumental temperatures now. Why are tree rings not reliable? Because tree growth is dependent upon much more than surface temperature. It depends upon rainfall, for example.

The tree ring example is sufficient, in my opinion, to throw doubt upon the claim the Earth has never been this warm. It is doubtful it is this warm mostly due to human activities. It was warmer in medieval times, prior to widescale industrialization. That is why the climate scientists used the "trick" to "hide the decline". Sometimes a "trick" really is a is a trick to hide an inconvenient truth. (As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!")

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, December 6, 2009

National Science Board Prediction: Global COOLING

The US National Science Board (part of the National Science Foundation) issued a report titled Science and the Challenges Ahead that makes six interesting science-based observations and predictions. (Three relevant paragraphs from pages 24-25 of the linked document are reproduced here. Click on image to make it larger.)

Direct quotes are indicated by numbered arrows:

1- "Human activity may be involved on an even broader scale in changing the global climate."

2- "During the last 20-30 years, world temperature has fallen ..."

3- "... there is increasing concern that man himself may be implicated, not only in the recent cooling trend but also in the warming temperatures ...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mating Dance for the Birds

Every year we get to see a family of Sand Hill Cranes behind our home. A male and female and their offspring walk and squawk around the golf course pond.

This week we had a real treat when a pair did their mating dance for us immediately behind our house. Fortunately, my wife and I were photographing them as they got into the dancing mood.

These are good sized birds, three to four feet tall with wingspans of five to seven feet! They seem unconcerned as they walk around, often coming quite close. If you walk towards them, they will back away or fly off.

Several minutes after we went out to see them and take some photos, they began weaving their bills towards each other and jumping and charging in a very impressive mating dance!

(Or perhaps it was merely a domestic dispute? :^)

Quite impressive!

[Click on photos to make them larger.]

Ira Glickstein