Thursday, 26 September 2013

Beat surrender

The Jam's farwell hit in 1982 has an apposite lyric:
That bulls**t is bulls**t, it just goes by different names
A guest post by full time denier Paul Driessen at WUWT tells me that Paul Weller would have been more poetic if he had used the Lakota language:
tatonka chesli
Driessen, himself, could have chosen Klingon for all the good his stream of consciousness rant does him.  Facts are lacking.  But that's not the point here.  His op-ed piece is about misleading the blind rather than enlightening them.

To enlighten my readers, let me quote Mr Driessen:
We “skeptics” and “deniers” have never questioned the reality of climate change. We know global warming, global cooling and climate change are “real,” and have been throughout Earth’s history. What we deny are assertions that human CO2 emissions have replaced the complex solar, planetary and cosmic forces that caused previous changes, and that what we are experiencing now is unprecedented and likely to be catastrophic. What we insist on is solid evidence that alarmist claims have merit.
We believe in the scientific method. Hypotheses, assertions, models and scary scenarios must be supported by actual evidence, data and observations – before we acquiesce to demands that we hogtie our energy system, economy, jobs and living standards. Up to now they have presented no such evidence.
If only those two paragraphs represented a version of the truth that exists on this planet.  I don't think any climate scientists have ever suggested that complex solar, planetary and cosmic forces that caused previous changes are not still playing a part.  They just note that putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is unlikely to have no effect at all, especially as it has a very obvious effect when experiments are performed with it in the lab. This has been known for the best part of 150 years.  If Driessen wants solid evidence, it is there from 1860s onwards.  Or was there a conspiracy all the way back then? 

And as for the scientific method.  That's a bit rich coming from a contribution to a website as determinedly antiscientific as WattsUpWithThat.  The rich crop of failed hypotheses that get posted there show how little the scientific method holds them up and just how sure of their own fantasies these posters seem to be.  It is not, nor has it ever been, sufficient for someone to posit a hypothesis that is removed from physical reality the like of which Willis Eschenbach has been posting for years.  If the Earth has a homeostatic mechanism as he would have us believe, he needs to give evidence for that.  If he has none, then his claim should be labelled as just a claim. 

When some bad science is uncovered by the readers at WUWT, site master Anthony Watts is at a loss of what to do.  He cannot bring himself to denounce the science.  Yet when some good science that contradicts his personal point of view comes into his eyeline, he is hypocritical in his treatment of it.  Science is not perfect, but it has a way of correcting itself and it is by scrutiny and replication.

Driessen is nothing if not a persistent misinformer:
31,500 American scientists have signed the Oregon Petition dismissing fears of “catastrophic” global warming and climate disruption; over 1,000 international scientists dissent from manmade global warming claims. Claims of a “97% consensus” with the IPCCare pure baloney.
 Wow, the Oregon Petition.  Isn't that the one with characters from MASH and Ginger Spice in it?  Yes, it is.  And while we're about it, science doesn't proceed by petition.  So even if 31,500 American scientists, fictional characters and has been singers signed it, that doesn't actually make a difference to the veracity of the scientific claims.  It doesn't take much to turn up the fact that this petition is a pile of  tatonka chesli.
An American scientist, allegedly

And there's more:
The new NIPCC report  Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science – makes a compelling case that the IPCC hypotheses, models and scares have no basis in reality. The 1,018-page report convincingly and systematically debunks IPCC claims that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are causing “dangerous” global warming and climate change – and that its computer models can be relied on as a credible basis for alarming climate forecasts and scenarios.
The NIPCC Summary for Policymakers is illuminating and easy to understand; its 14 pages should be required reading for legislators, regulators, journalists and anyone interested in climate change science.
For those not alert to this, NIPCC stands for Non-Governmental International something or other.  What it really means is Heartland Sort Of International Put Up Job On Climate Change and they have put out a thing called Climate Change Reconsidered II.  Compelling is hardly how it is being described.  Sunk without trace is more like it.  Is anyone actually reading it?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because it misrepresents science, leaves out inconvenient facts and is more like a Janet and John version of denial
Printed on absorbant paper, I hope

I often wonder if climate science deniers, science deniers of any hue, actually believe what they write.  I don't know.  It just feels like Driessen just doesn't have the heart to go, actually, boys, I've been wrong all these years.  He sounds like a prize fighter going into the ring for one last pay day, punch drunk, glass jawed, hoping he won't be humiliated, that he leaves the ring on his feet and not a stretcher.  He must know that very few believe what he says.  That the echo chamber of WUWT will sound with tepid praise and tired old cliches.  After all, he must get tired of being given the latest bits of research that point in the same direction, the other way to the one he is facing. 

So back to Paul Weller. 

 
 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Watts chemistry fail - lands in Wonderland

Anthony Watts has had to reach for the Tums today following a bad attack of acid heartburn (archived). He now appears to be on a Lewis Carroll inspired project to redefine commonly accepted words.   As Humpty Dumpty put it:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
And today's word is

acidification

Princeton's Word Net defines acidification thus:
  1. acidification(noun)
    the process of becoming acid or being converted into an acid
For the hard of comprehension, that Anthony Watts and his commentary team, the first part is the important one.  The process of becoming acid.

You see, one of Anthony's biggest problems is that the oceans are not actually acidic.  They are actually alkaline and one suggestion is that the term should be becoming less alkaline.  But there is already a good and well worn word for that. It is acidification.  Scientists all over the world understand.  Perhaps retired TV weathermen don't.

I'm not sure if Anthony understands what is going on.  pH levels in the ocean, according to Wikipedia, have decreased by a pH of 0.11 since pre-industrial times. That might not seem a lot, but in terms of hydrogen ion concentrations, which is really what pH is a measure of, there has been a scary increase of 28.8%.  And if Watts isn't concerned by that, then perhaps he might remember that the ocean is a very big volume of water.  My calculator goes into meltdown when it gets into the number of zeroes we'd have to put on the end of 6 if we wanted to write Avagadro's Constant and convert that to the actual number of particles involved.  Let's not bother.  It's very big.

By 2100, it is projected that the pH will be down to 7.824, a whopping 126.5% hydrogen ion concentration increase.  It's hard to see that sort of change not affecting ecosystems. 

Yes, Anthony, a pH of 7.8 isn't actually acid, but it is becoming more acidic compared to the current pH.  Just because you don't like a word, doesn't make that word disappear in a puff of unsmoke and the world become just a little more like you would like it to be. The world doesn't work that way.

Where Anthony goes, the ducks walk into the echo chamber:
alexwadesays:
Shifting the goalposts again. “Well, gosh, we were wrong about CO2 causing global warming. But CO2 does cause ocean acidification. So we still need to tax carbon and de-industrialize the world.” This is part of step-down from AGW while at the same time maintaining the same goals.
Notice the same imprecise scare language: “silent crisis”, “profound impact”, “healing our oceans”.
All language has imprecision.  Mathematics, on the other hand, is a different matter. 
theOtherJohninCalifsays:
I find their logic fun. To use it in a slightly different example, when a cup of water changes in temperature from 90 degrees to 85 degrees, it is freezing. It is not frozen (as the deniers would point out), but it is freezing. 
No, the appropriate term would be cooling because freezing is a more precise process.  Get with the language program, John.

Greg just decides to deny the evidence:
greg2213says:
“Earth System Models project…” Doesn’t that say it all? The tiny decrease in alkalinity is …modeled. Are there
Even if the Ph decrease was real isn’t there a big difference, since it’s a log scale, between 0.065 and 0.1?
“While ocean acidification is well documented in a few temperate ocean waters,…” Is it? Where? And is the measurement a real signal or buried in noise and they hope it’s real? 
Measuring pH of any body of water isn't too difficult.  Use a properly calibrated pH meter and away you go.  I've done it with river water samples during my time in academia and I reckon hundreds of geography students have done it for decades.  Automated pH meters that maintain their accuracy over months if not years are currently difficult to achieve.  That's what the X Prize competition that Anthony moans about is really for. 

Marco, sadly, remembers his not so good chemistry education:
Marcossays:
i’ve gotten into arguments on other science sites about the ‘acidification’ terminology. i was taught that a base can be more or less alkaline and an acid more or less acidic. for some reason, the science community has decided that everything will be described in terms of acidity…even bases. imo, its because it sounds more dramatic than saying the oceans are slightly less alkaline 
 Tim, on the other hand, spots a consporacy:
timspence10says:
It’s another hoax, quite frankly they’re just playing games, this isn’t science.
The Reverend (Methodist) Richard S Courtney BA (Open), DipPhil (Cambridge), Diploma (Bath) feels he has to contribute his four penn'orth:
richardscourtneysays:
Friends:
The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE says
Breakthrough sensors are urgently needed for scientists, managers and industry to turn the tide on ocean acidification and begin healing our oceans.
OK. So which is it
(a) Do we know “our oceans” need “healing”?
or
(b) Do we lack instruments to discern if the oceans need to be “healed”?
It cannot be both.
Richard
 This one's for you, Richard: My a dhispres agas fowt sotelneth hag agas heb yeth treylyes, ty vab hernenn dhivamm !  (Answers on a postcard to the usual address.  The first correct answer to be drawn out of Willis Eschenbach's woolly hat will win a straight to Betamax copy of Monckton - The Movie, which should be available in time for Christmas, the perfect present for those people in the office you can't stand.)

Just in case we didn't know:
Latitudesays:
the pH has not changed….
Biological processes that make the ocean work….create millions of magnitudes more acid
Or we could just get a buy one get two free denials squeezed into one comment:
higley7says:
As seawater is a complex buffer system, it’s pH is quite difficult to alter, particularly by a weak acid such as the carbonic acid produced when CO2 dissolves in water.
The Earth has had much higher CO2 during most of its history of life on Earth and life thrived during this entire time.
This is more BS and propaganda. Ocean pH has done nothing unusual and remains inside its normal range. 
Just to answer: first sentence - perhaps but it is happening.
Second sentence - and?  Perhaps trilobites didn't care but plenty of humans do.
Third sentence: conspiracy ideation, and unevidenced claim. 
As usual.
Trilobites not giving a stuff about ocean acidification
Since Anthony has decided on an Alice In Wonderland world, perhaps a few more quotes might not go amiss.  After all, Lewis Carroll was a mathematician in real life and was a whole lot cleverer than Watts:
Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.
And this one is apt for Anthony Watts:
Always speak the truth, think before you speak, and write it down afterwards.
Except, of course, that he doesn't.


Not real, just a funny not drawn by Tosh (from http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2013/01/19/saturday-morning-breakfast-cereal-editon/)




 

Friday, 20 September 2013

On and On and On - science by petition

Give a cat a ball of string and you keep Tiddles amused for minutes.  Give a denier a statistic they don't like, and you can keep them amused for years.  They still bang on about Michael Mann's graph from 1998 so there is little to no chance that they won't bang on about Cook & al 2013, the paper that proves the consensus amongst climate scientists is as strong as everyone else said it was.

So it was predictable that shirt salesman, Christopher Monckton, should drag it back off the shelf again and give his tedious and debunked arguments against it another airing.  One sure sign that the result must have been in the right ballpark is that the deniers have taken so much against it. 

Search "consensus" at WUWT and you get a lot of hits.  And almost all of them sound like a hysterical young man running around in a blind panic.  We learn on 27 May 2013 that the consensus paper is falling apart.  A few days later that Richard Tol (an economist, so the less said about models the better) has holed the paper below the waterline.  On 5 June, Joseph D'Aleo, himself a fully qualified meteorologist, claimed that all the "warmists" had left was the consensus idea.  And on it goes. 

At least Monckton has listened to those that pointed out that an earlier post on this subject made him look like Nigel Molesworth, illiterate, full of childish billious anger and ruled not by his head but by a toddler's temper tantrum.  And he has turned it into a letter:
asking the editor of Environmental Research Letters, which had published that gravely misleading paper, to withdraw it and to announce that he has done so.
I got my last prediction about this sort of thing wrong but I doubt very much that the editor of Environment Research Letters is going to be anything more than polite but dismissive.  After all,  Professor Kammen is a real, as opposed to pretend, scientist, who probably can detect the odour of farmyard manure when it lands on his desk.  The fact that name number 1 on top of the list of this crowdsourcing experiment will be Lord Monckton of Brenchley is hardly going to make him more likely to pay it any mind.  And that Monckton, who pretends not to believe in consensus, thinks that having a lengthy list of like minded deniers is going to ensure his arguments have more clout, is not going to make it any likelier to achieve its objective.  How amusing it is that Monckton quaintly believes that science proceeds by petition.

Of course, if the list of signatories doesn't turn Professor Kammen off, other things might.  What Monckton writes sounds like a whinge that Cook & al didn't do what Monckton wanted them to do.  They made decisions based on agreed criteria and, lo, came up with a number.  I bet Cook & al actually hoped the number was 97% because that was in line with earlier measures of the consensus.  But when it came out in agreement, they didn't second guess.  They submitted.

Deniers don't like being in the monority.  It makes them feel unimportant and one of the reason people believe in conspiracies is the feeling that they are privvy to something no one else knows.  Rubbish, of course, but belonging to a little club of like minded people gives an identity and a security blanket.  It doesn't make them right. 

Monckton must know he is clutching at a straw.  The river of truth is built on an immensity of data. That the world has warmed during the century is clear to everyone except the deniers. Even their denials have lacked conviction, no matter what they might say. The game is pretty much up because, Australia excepted, reality is not on the blink. Economic reality might have made carbon taxes and the like unpopular for the moment - they look like a luxury but from the other end of the time telescope our grand children and their children will not be thanking us too much for sitting on our hands while a bunch of people who ought to know better (yes, hands up Judith Curry, theist Roy Spencer and Dick Lindzen) noisily got it wrong.

Deniers want certainty. Science doesn't give it. When a pretty much unassailable fact comes along, deniers find they cannot accept it.  Watching deniers confronted by the truth, be it 911 truthers, creationists and climate science pseudoskeptics, is in many ways painful. The cognitive dissonance they experience looks like real physical pain. Those that just cannot accept it tie themselves into philosophical and scientific knots to get out of the trap.  They even invent new physics to try to avoid the issue. But mostly they just lie.  And, as Richard Feynman once said, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Feyman is a favourite of the deniers because of his "if it disagrees with the theory" quote.  They don't use this one so much:
There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it; other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
I don't see this in the denier postings.  They seem very sure of themselves, like Monckton with a humility problem.  I looked up Michael Mann's paper where he introduced the hockey stick graph, the one that gets him all the hassle, and we find plenty to let us know that this work is subject to the limitations of the data and the techniques. It is probably correct, but at that moment in time certainty was not guaranteed.  And the paper says so.

Monckton is dead certain he is right and sends a bullying letter to a journal editor backed by a motley bunch of the illiterati, to assert his ego's certainty.  Science does not proceed by consensus. It doesn't proceed by petition either. 

 

 
 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Desparate times call for desparate denial

In the annals of It Takes One To Know One, Lord Monckton, who still doesn't know he has no seat in the House Of Lords, reckons he can spot dodgy statistics in the forthcoming IPCC report.  Well, if anyone can spot dodgy stats, it should be him because he has a history of lies, damned lies and statistics (as he apparently reckons that 19th century British Prime Ministers were in the habit of saying).
http://juniusonukip.blogspot.co.uk/2010_11_01_archive.html

But there are worrying signs in denierland that in the garderobe of Lord Monckton all is not well.  In fact, some are wondering if the man has not overdone it.

The evidence is plain.  For someone who used to go out of his way to be civil and polite, Monckton seems to have succumbed to a form of cliched Aspergers.  He is now standing on the WattsUpWithThat street corner and shouting abuse at all and sundry.

A few days back, he was calling John Cook of SkepticalScience, a properly referenced and evidenced climate science site notable for setting the truth before the public, a stream of invective that reminded one of either Nigel Molesworth of St Custards Skool, or the French taunter from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. 

Monckton described Cook as a paid schoolboy intern, a kid, zit face, tiddler, little one, teenie, goo-goo, writing on SkS, a "lavishly-subsidized internet sandpit, misleadingly called “Skeptical” “Science”.  It goes on in similarly puerile style for some time. Even the normally illiterate at WUWT found it distasteful.

Before that, he had tried to give a science history lesson that owed much to his newfound inability to string a sentence together as it did his understanding of the history of science.  Needless to say, that is pretty minimal.

Now he is back with another pile of insults called "Dodgy statistics and IPCC assessment reports".  Oh, dear.
clip_image006


For example, Monckton prints this graph then moans about the fact that it has a perfectly fine scale on the y-axis that enables one to read the graph with ease.  That's what graphs are for. To enable one to understand the data. We are, after all, visual animals.  Graphs for dogs would be rather different.


There follows another of Monckton's snide comments (in bold for those that have trouble with reading this sort of thing):
Not all climate extremists know that. In a debate with me on Roy Green’s radio show in Canada a few years ago, one of the pointy-heads at TheSmugBlog asked the audience, with that earnest desperation in his voice that is mandatory, “But don’t you see how serious it is that global temperatures are rising at an angle of 45 degrees?”
I had to explain to the poor sap, as gently as I could, that degrees of arc and degrees of temperature change are clean different things.
Well, durr.  I don't think the "pointy head" was confusing the two.  But Monckton clearly was.  Or at least, he thought the SmugBlogger was.  But then it is hard to be quite as smug as Smaug Monckton.
And there follows an act of conjuring with phoney statistics that would make Paul Daniels proud, but for the fact that Daniels is a real conjuror who puts on an entertaining show that makes you wonder how he did it, rather than wonder why he doesn't go and have a lie down in a dark room because he's overdone it.

The commenters believe in magic:
JimS says:
Well, since the IPCC got rid of the Medieval Warming Period, which was approximately 500 years in length, it can surely get rid of that annoying 20th-21st century “pause” of roughly 17 years in length.
 Sorry, Jim.  If it didn't exist, they couldn't get rid of it.

rabbit says:
With each year for which there is no meaningful increase in temperature, the odds that the IPCC projections are incorrect grow exponentially.
No wonder the alarmists sound a little desperate lately.
Not half as desperate as the deniers though, eh, rabbit?

Sometimes there is wisdom (and from an Engineer to boot):
An Engineer says:
I don’t see anything odd with the first panel: both axes are linear and the upper and lower bounds appear to be chosen to allow the data to fill as much space as possible.
I don’t see anything odd with the second panel, the block widths are equal and the axes limits and scaling are the same as on the first panel.
But back to normal:
Mumble McGuirk says:
If UKIP ever forms a government, what say we put His Nibs in for an OM?
The Order Of Merit is the personal gift of the monarch. Our current Queen has far too much intelligence to let an idiot like Monckton loose amongst the merry band of current OMs, such as Aaron Klug, Lord May, Sir David Attenborough and Martin Rees (although Fred Sanger is a member).  And the Queen's first born is unlikely to be sympathetic to the potty peer.

But then one commenter links to this and my heart really sinks.  What, I ask, does the Flying Spaghetti Monster have to say?
Update:

In a comment to another of Willard's reading fails, Monckton write this:
The head posting says: “But what has the team really convinced that humans are the true source behind global warming, is that they were unable to produce the type of warming we’ve seen with just natural events—it’s only when human emissions are added to models that such a trend can be realistically simulated. That, they say, proves that human practices over the past several decades are responsible for global warming.”
This is an egregious instance of the argumentum ad ignorantiam, the fallacy of argument from ignorance. “We can’t think of any other reason why the world is warming, so it must be Man.” That is really all this pathetic paper says.
Send all the authors back to elementary school to learn the elements of Classical logic. A Classicist, taking one look at their feeble argument, would know a priori that it was an invalid argument. The conclusion, therefore, may or may not be true, and the paper adds no light to enable us to decide one way or the other. This is intellectual feeble-nindedness of the worst kind.
Ignoring the fact that I don't think the paper Monckton is complaining about says what he thinks it says, Monckton ought to know better in the bits I've picked out in bold.  Firstly, classical logic does not take a capital letter.  Secondly, a Classicist would not take any looks at an argument if they knew a priori that it was wrong.  They would not need to.  Monckton either doesn't know the meaning, unlikely, or gets it confused with a posteriori, which is what he actually seems to imply.  Either way, it shows a sadly lacking critical function. And why would it need a classicist to look at the argument.  Surely a classicist is one who is unlikely to be able to follow a scientific argument.  Oh, I forgot.  Monckton cannot.
 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Find the lady - hiding the incline

You know the game of find the lady.  Three cards, one a queen, and a sharp practitioner moving them around so quickly it is hard to keep your eye on the one you are after.  It's a simple trick and conjurors usually go for something a little more complex soon afterwards.  Conmen, on the other hand, keep doing it because gullible members of the public keep handing them money. 

David Rose is a bit of a poor conjuror.  His latest attempt in the Mail On Sunday resembles Tommy Cooper. A few tricks work, most of them don't.  The trick, to hide the incline, is to tell the public what they should be thinking because many of them won't try to think for themselves or won't have the time to check. Frankly, they won't know where to look to check. Why should they?  Most of the readership of the Mail is not climate scientists, or even scientists.

Here's how he does it.

Apart from the usual obfuscation, quotes from deniers and made up bits, Rose has a handy cut out and keep section with what the IPCC says (not that we can check that yet), and what he says that means.  Here's one section:
What they say:‘There is medium confidence that this difference between models and observations is to a substantial degree caused by unpredictable climate variability, with possible contributions from inadequacies in the solar, volcanic, and aerosol forcings used by the models and, in some models, from too strong a response to increasing greenhouse-gas forcing.’

What this means:The IPCC knows the pause is real, but has no idea what is causing it. It could be natural climate variability, the sun, volcanoes – and crucially, that the computers have been allowed to give too much weight to the effect carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gases) have on temperature change.

Notice anything?  For a start, the quote begins with a reference to something we don't get to see.  It's up the conjuror's sleeve and we're not meant to wonder where it is or what it is.  But it could be crucial.  We shall just have to wait and see.  Since we don't know exactly what the quote is referring to, our eyes are led to the  second section: what it means.  Rose tells us.  He's confident that the IPCC knows the pause is real.  I suspect that the actual nuanced version we shall get in a couple of weeks will tell a different story, but what do I know?  I'm not a denier so I am not in possession of this document.

Anyway, Rose tells us what the problem is.  Luckily, it is dumbed down differentiated for the hard of thinking crowd:
It could be natural climate variability, the sun, volcanoes – and crucially, that the computers have been allowed to give too much weight to the effect carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gases) have on temperature change.
That's because the IPCC apparently knows the pause is real, in spite of the evidence clearly to the contrary that is hardly likely to have escaped 190-odd governments, the thousands of scientists and who knows who else that was involved in putting this whole escapade together.  Luckily, plucky, heroic David Rose knows better than all those.  The IPCC quote is at least much more cautious.  Rose is emphatic that it [could] be the computers.  Not the models, not the quality of the data, not anything else.  It's the computers.  The average Mail reader understands computers and the fact that they crash and don't work sometimes. They probably don't get models.

I'm guessing that the time and effort (frankly much of it a waste of ink and pixels) being expended by the denial crowd suggests that the IPCC report is really going to be something they don't like. You know the playground bully who gets his retaliation in first because he is likely to get hurt?  So do I.  Doesn't the denier behaviour feel exactly like that?

For more on how conjurors use human psychology, read Sleights Of Mind by Macknik and Martinez-Conde.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A frosted window into academia

Update: I missed this at the time.  I know it's a rhetorical question but I will give it an answer.
I wonder how many more letters like this we will see after AR5 is released. – Anthony
Well, firstly, lots, because the sort of grumble this email uncovers is going to be fairly common.  But I suspect Anthony is wondering if there will be a bunch of resignations because of AR5.  There might be one or two but I suspect they will be the usual suspects, if you know what I mean. Most scientists won't be writing this sort of complaint because of AR5.

Our ever giving friends at WUWT have linked to a site I'd never heard of before, Pascal Junod, which has put up a resignation letter from a Swiss PhD student.  Or a PhD student at a Swiss institution.  Or perhaps not.  Pascal Junod accepts it as genuine, more or less, but admits that the email address on the original might be spoofed.

The complaints in the letter are about as illuminating and novel as a Toc H lamp (now that dates me):

1  Academia requires money to work
2  A lot of academics are managing other staff rather than doing research
3  Graduate students often do the research for their supervisors and not what the student really wants to study
4  Original ideas can be risky
5  Following trends in research can be good for careers
6  Citation is a measure of a paper's success
7  Academics sometimes do pointless research
Was it ever thus?

1  Unless you were lucky enough to be rich, like Charles Darwin, or in a cloistered community, like Mendel or Copernicus, scientists have always needed to find some source of funding.  Galileo, Kepler, Brahe, all had patrons who pushed cash their way.  Something has to pay the bills.  It is not a hobby, it is a job and academics should not be criticised for trying to find ways to make what looks like a hobby to some keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads.
Tycho Brahe, that false nose didn't pay for itself

2  Humans tend to live and congregate in hierarchical organisations.  These require someone to oversee those lower down the pyramid.  It appears to be a fact of human nature, though some will argue that.  Some people prefer management to academic research and should not be criticised for that.  Some find that, to afford those things they always desired - a house, for instance - that taking a management position gives them the extra salary.  Nothing new here.

3  This is a time immemorial complaint too.  Without checking, I can comfortably predict that those sculptors working in first century Rome had apprentices who were learning their jobs by doing a lot of work for their masters.  The confusion over who painted what by the Grand Masters is another example of masters and students doing much the same work, at the same time.  Besides, when you get your PhD you are not necessarily going to be spending all day on your favourite problem - you might have to do something else that is funded.  See 1 above.

4  Of course original ideas can be risky.  One of the problems for idealistic graduate students is that they are on the way to accumulating the skills required to sift the wheat from the chaff in such a way that a risky idea is properly evidence and arguments for it are marshalled carefully.   The fact that there are dozens of risky, seemingly idiotic ideas around suggests that scientists are not afraid of risky ideas after all.  For reasons that are not always scientific, I am not convinced by these ideas that have been proposed by genuine and credentialled scientists: multiple universes, faster than light travel, morphic resonance, string theory, branes, Boltzman brains, panspermia. 

5 To mix risky ideas and following trends, didn't a lot of young scientists join the rush to study string theory.  Peter Woit and others have since criticised string theory and demonstrated, to my satisfaction at least, that it is almost certainly not correct in scientific terms, but it is not a scientific dead end.  No avenue of study is, because we can always learn from them.  But scientists will often head for where the exciting discoveries are being made.  Why not?  Humans seem to seek thrills, be they roller coasters, bungee jumping or watching sports on TV.  If you don't think science can bring thrills, then read Richard Feynman's memoirs.


6 Unfortunately, humans also like to measure things. Without it science would be stamp collecting. With it science becomes much more powerful. Managers, bean counters and those around the world who like to know what your reputation is like will want to know what impact your research has had. So you will find that people who want that information will find a way to find it, and counting citations is one way. It is crude, because you could publish to huge fanfare a rubbish piece of science and it becomes readily cited as it first gets debunked and then gets used as a warning of how not to do science. 

7  If the anonymous PhD student has not heard of them, I point him/her (from the language I would suspect it is a him but there is no evidence other than that the tone suggests masculinity) in the direction of the Annals Of Improbable Research and the accompanying IgNobel Prizes, awarded annually for research that probably didn't need to be done but makes people laugh and then think.  A friend of mine once published on the origin of the name for the wart biter cricket, something I could have explained to him beforehand if only he had asked.  Pretty pointless but in the end, every little bit of research is important and who can say when its importance might be noticed.  I bet Mendel's overlords were a bit concerned that his pea experiments were of no conceivable use. They were making better peas.

Those that struggled on their reading comprehension give the usual comments (from WUWT)
Eric Booth says:
Academia – The state where science becomes religion.
Yes, Eric, we've done the science is religion bit and found it isn't true.
pat says:
We see this every day, in every disciple, usually in front of a government panel pontificating absolute nonsense as gospel, with a certitude bordering on fanaticism.
If anyone can translate this in English, I would be most grateful.
noaaprogrammer says:
The grad student wrote: “While I could give a multitude of reasons for leaving my studies – some more concrete, others more abstract …”
What he goes on to state is true, but I would like to know all of the factors as he honestly admits that there are more reasons why he is quitting. If possible, I would urge him to put up with the system until completion, and then work to reform it within his own sphere of influence.
Hang on a minute.  Someone has noticed something.  All the gripes the student gives are pretty generic.  The real reason for resignation isn't given.  The list is all contributory factors and not the prime cause.  I am prepared to bet that there is something more personal as a reason for giving up so close to the finish line.  Perhaps, like Dr Brian May, Queen guitarist, he had a better offer.  Perhaps, like a good many, he could foresee only failure.  I don't know, but I am willing to bet that the frustrations given are something of an excuse.  After all, it looks as if they wanted to research something else, were given a project to do that they didn't want to do, perhaps had an unsympathetic supervisor who has a bit of an ego that needs massaging frequently.  Perhaps our complainant wasn't willing to comply just for the sake of getting the extra letters.  If that's the case, say so.  If not, well.  I am speculating but I am doing what sceptics do. Look for alternative explanations and then accept the one that most closely fits the evidence.

Academia is imperfect.  My short time spent in it was amusing but perhaps not particularly illuminating.  Never mind.  My Italian professor was more interested in researching the undergraduate females than he was in the sociology of health that was his stated field of research.  But there you go. No one ever said it would be simple.  To our ex-student, welcome to the real world. 
 
 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Cry baby cry, make your mother sigh

There, there. Never mind, Anthony.  That horrible journalist didn't meant o upset you.  It's just that he doesn't think you are as important as you do.  As legends in their own lunchtime go, Anthony, you are certainly one packet of cheesy Wotsits short of a pack up.  You got interviewed by email by a journalist who then took one word from your Deniers' Playbook chapter 1 screed and printed it and you think you've been hard done by.  Bless.

Perhaps it was because you said this:
All this while global CO2 emissions have been growing steadily. The lack of temperature match to models, “the pause”, combined with these new ENSO findings tell us that global warming has gone from a planetary crisis to a minor problem in a Banana Republic where only a few vocal science rebels are arguing for immediate intervention.
I can't make up my mind if that is racist or just patronising.  It certainly is unpleasant and was hardly likely to endear yourself to any journalist.  They have editors looking over their work.  They have style books to adhere to and those will guide the journalist away from phrases like Banana Republic that some might find offensive.  But when, and it will be when, the good old US of A finds bits of its land being lost to the sea, will Watts still think it is only a problem in a Banana Republic, or is the USA an example of such?

Now, I think I'm pretty average when it comes to intelligence but the more I read of Anthony Watts's piffling output, the lower I rate his IQ.  The key to his complaint is that he can't understand plain English.  Here goes:

Jeff Goodell, the journalist, sent Watts an email, quoted here in its entirety:
I’m a writer for Rolling Stone, working on piece about upcoming IPCC report. I’m checking in with a few people to get their views on how they think it will be received.  Thoughts?
Thanks
Jeff
I've bolded the important bit.  How the IPCC's forthcoming report will be received.  The only relevant bit of Watts's response is the first line (I won't bother with the self serving remainder):
My view is that AR5 is going to stillborn, mainly because it is already outdated by new science that won’t be included.
So Watts was asked how he thought the report will be recieved and he answers that it's going to be stillborn and wonders why he only got one word into the finished article.  Because one was enough and to quote the illiterate first sentence would have been a luxury the magazine probably couldn't be bothered to afford.

Then Watts complains:
(added) What is most galling, is that Goodell asked me for my opinion prior the release of the IPCC AR5 report, then chastises me in his article for giving it. Whatta guy. (/end add) 
No, he didn't.  He just says:
The final report has not even been released yet, and already prominent bloggers in the denial-sphere, like Anthony Watts, are calling it "stillborn."
And since his request was for a prediction of how the report will be received, he couldn't do it afterwards, could he, Anthony?  Are you truly as thick as you seem?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But your whinge is really pathetic.  Goodell was upfront with you and you don't like it when he doesn't put your junk in his article.  It's his article, not yours.  This makes you a concern troll for Rolling Stone. We should remember, since Willard reminds us, that they put a terrorist on the front cover (something that made me uneasy).  Perish the thought that they should have put a terrorist on a billboard as part of an ad campaign.  Not that you are actually part of Heartland.  But you do blow their trumpet.
 
 
It's so predictable.  Monckton gets shirty when he's challenged.  So does Watts.  Perhaps they should look in the mirror and ask themselves, do they truly believe what they say or are they just saying it because that's what they do.  Habit forming, this denial stuff.

The thing is, Anthony, other people can think for themselves. They don't see another piece of excrement by Lord Monckton and nod politely before posting another "Nice article" comment that polishes the coprolite of Monckton (or whoever's) ego.  But doesn't do anything else.  And Goodell doesn't get fooled like WUWT acolytes. He can see through the cacophony of lies the deniers like to give and uses evidenced material.  The commenters who complain he didn't do his research might just want to read the finished article.

Bruised and battered, Anthony will go back into his lair and await the real release of the IPCC AR5 report.  Take a good supply of hankies with you, Anthony.  You ain't gonna like what they will say.  They won't be listening to the empty air that you broadcast. They'll have listened to the real scientists, not the fake ones.  Time you grew up and acted like a man (or should I say Mann).