Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Paul is alive - skepticism for little minds

In 1966 Paul McCartney fell off a motorbike, broke his neck and, despite dying, ended up playing in a basement with the band yet to be known as The Band in Woodstock which is in Oxfordshire.

The bereaved Beatles decided that, rather than give it all up out of respect, that somehow they would bring in an exact replica to replace McCartney but would also put in odd clues on their recordings. In 1969, the story broke and thousands of Beatle fans played the records forwards, backwards and sideways, approach the sleeves from all angles and argue over the voice. Eventually, Paul/his replacement had to deny it all.  In some quaint areas of Beatles scholarship, the conspiracy lives on.

Why bring this up? Because conspiracy theories have a life of their own and no matter how one smacks them down, like a sponge separated in its constituent cells, it can regenerate in a different shape. Conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, just keep getting weirder and weirder as they cling to the wreckage of their cherished belief. Some change, see reason or whatever, but those are few because a stigma seems to attach to people who look at evidence and see how wrong they've been all this time. They lose a strange kind of face. They become non-entities.

I never went through the Paul is dead thing. For a start I was too young. I had a real dead Beatle in my teenage years and kept politely apart from the conspiracy theory that grew up around John Lennon's stupid murder. People can't see something with no apparent logic behind it without trying to impose some sort of human agent reason for it. Why would a conspiracy be needed?

When I began teaching the favourite science question of the children was "did NASA fake the moon landings?" These usually got a curt no from me before moving on. But some children were more obstinate, demanded more of my time by asking the same questions, the usual ones. When I offered to go through the evidence with them, they generally declined the offer. I won't claim an original observation here but this is something I find all the time. Someone says that they are skeptical of X when what they really mean is that they have decided X cannot be true and therefore no evidence you can provide will change my mind, mostly because I am not going to look at that evidence anyway.

Science deniers of all persuasions do this. The science bit doesn't matter because the science is going to ignored anyway, or treated with a strange invalidation process that requires a minor point of possible invalidation and then magnify that, proclaim that it is part of a debate. Except that the science does matter. It bolsters the denier case because science is so powerful.

But that's only the case if the science is used in the correct way. But the science denier uses bits of science in an incoherent way to support their case, cherry pick bits of science, portray their case in the best light and the real science in the worst light. And the conspiracists believe that the failure of their idea is further proof of the conspiracy. But I'm sure you all knew that.

Paul is alive. The evidence is pretty clear. The evidence to prove otherwise is not sufficiently elastic to actually prove otherwise.  The consensus, then, is that Paul is not dead, and it is a consensus because the evidence has persuaded enough people to make it so. The evidence.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Spain's sun tax?

WUWT has a shock horror probe piece on a Spanish scheme to tax electricity derived from solar panels on people's homes, the sort that Willard has on his Californian roof.  The link given is to a google translate mangled article in a Costa Rican newspaper that shares its name with a more famous Spanish daily.

Thirty seconds of Google time turned up a more readable English language version from El Pais in Spain itself.  As a public service, I don't mind doing this but in their eagerness to condemn this scheme (Spain needs cash after all) no one at Watts thought to do this. Just another example of brainless behaviour over there. Perhaps Tosh can come up with another unfunny cartoon.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

How not to achieve actual skepticism

There is a frankly rather embarrassing post over at WUWT called My Personal Path To Catastrophic AGW Skepticism by someone called Jonathan Abbott. The other day, he posted a twee comment about correcting his ten year old daughter when she said that the Earth was getting hotter.  The evidence he gave was, amongst others, this graph:



Anyone else see that the general trend is up from left to right?  So do I.  In fact, almost every graph on the page he showed his daughter shows the same trend, lower on the left, higher on the right.  Oh, well.  An ability to read graphs is not essential in a "skeptic" but it is desirable.

Anyway, back to the road to Damascus.  Abbott tells us that he learned that scientists were predicting a new ice age.  As a nerdy teenager at the same time, I must admit that I didn't pick up on that.  I read broadsheet newpapers, New Scientist and Scientific American, talking to biology and geology lecturers, chatting with the chief scientist and much more.  It wasn't a common thing but I suppose during the winter of 1981-2, when record lows were set in the UK, it might have been mentioned.

Some of what Abbott says suggests he didn't get the message:
I grew up into a graduate engineer with an interest in most branches of science but especially physics. I read the usual books by Sagan, Feynman and later Dawkins (whose The Ancestor’s Tale I simply can’t recommend highly enough). I also dipped into philosophy via Bertrand Russell. I like to think this reading helped build upon the basic capabilities for critical thinking my education had provided.
Perhaps he didn't read The Demon Haunted World by Sagan, or Dawkins's Unweaving The Rainbow because if he did, he might not be quite so gullible.  Maybe I'm wrong again, but if Abbott did, he surely didn't understand what Sagan and Dawkins say in those books.  They tell you how to be a real skeptic - questioning, not taking for granted, and chucking out spurious thinking.  In other words, Sagan would be calling out the climate change deniers now, were he still alive, because he would recognise the baloney they use to make their "arguments".  And dipping into philosophy via Bertrand Russell...  Well, it's a start but it hardly goes very far.  No Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Ruse, Dennett, all of whom should be on the reading list of anyone wanting to understand how scientific decisions are made.

It gets worse:
I suppose it was in the early 90s that I first noticed predictions of global warming and the associated dire warnings of calamities to come. Some of these emanated from the Met Office and so I knew should be treated with a pinch of salt but other sources included NASA, which I then personally still very much respected; despite the space shuttle evidently being the wrong concept poorly executed, their basic scientific expertise seemed unquestionable. In general I was looking forward to the warmer climate predicted for the UK, and assumed that the overall effects for the globe wouldn’t necessarily all be bad. 
I was aware of the "dire warnings" in the late 80s.  There were quite common posters and articles in the papers and programmes on the TV.  It was rather difficult for someone of Abbott's likely nature to miss but apparently he did, or he misplaces the date.  Probably the latter.  Abbott compares the modelling of the climate to modelling in economics, then says:
Why the unequivocal certainty now that we would only see warming, and to dangerous levels? It all started to sound implausible. 
Ah, the argument from personal incredulity.  I wonder if he spotted that one in his reading of Dawkins.  Anyway, I was concerned about the certainty until I looked into it and found that the certainty was in the mainstream media, not in the scientific publications.  If I could do that, by going to the library and reading Nature, then so could Abbott, but his reading of the skeptical books didn't lead him down that road.  Instead, it led him to the world of fake skepticism.

And that fake skepticism was compounded by the political aspect of the whole shenanigans.  Now, I don't know what Abbott was doing in the early 80s but I guess he wasn't alert to the political world. I was at that time living in south east London, where there had been race riots, where 13 black people were murdered at a party when someone fire bombed the house where the party was, where there were signs up saying that London was a nuclear free zone...  You couldn't move for politics.  It was a very political time.  And around the US airbase of Molesworth, a women's camp had grown up to protest the nuclear weapons being installed by President Reagan.  I accepted some of the arguments, rejected others.  But I never for once saw CND members downing their badges and placards to take up the environmental cause because it was always part of the whole trend of the times.  Abbott must have been asleep. 
I suddenly realised that after the end of the Cold War, rather than slinking off in embarrassed fashion to do something useful, they had latched onto a new cause. The suggested remedies I heard them espouse were always socialist in approach, requiring the installation of supra-national bodies, always taking a top-down approach and furiously spending other peoples’ money. They were clearly eager participants in an endless bureaucratic jamboree.
 Perhaps Abbott missed a lot of the make it small, make it regional and make it less polluting as a result aruments that various environmental groups were espousing in the 1970s and early 1980s.  It was only when pollution problems began to cross boundaries that international efforts became necessary.  But, of course, this isn't politics really that is causing Abbott so many jitters: it is because the answers are "always socialist in approach".  Nope, not always.  Need to listen harder, Jonathan.

Now Abbott gets ridiculous:
I had always been somewhat sympathetic towards Friends of the Earth but much less so towards Greenpeace, by that time obviously a front for luddite socialism and basically shamanistic in outlook.
Perhaps he should look up shamanism before he bandies the word about. Greenpeace have always been more of a public awareness campaign, which is one of the reasons I have been less keen on them than I might have been, but the point is that without awareness campaigns, people do not become aware.  And there has been much to be aware about - acid rain, CFCs, oil pollution, the dessication of the Aral Sea, the problem of what to do with radioactive waste.  Climate change.

Onwards our story goes:
 So I was quite passionate about the environment, but my focus was on keeping it clean and safe for all life to live in. I wanted people to stop overfishing and manage fish stocks sensibly, I wanted agricultural land to produce the best long-term yields possible, to provide enough food without encroaching on wilderness and wild spaces. I wanted people everywhere to have clean air to breathe and water to drink. I had hoped that the CAGW crusade would somehow also lead to more urgent progress in fighting pollution, and the other environmental issues I cared about. If anything it did the reverse. Why the absolute fixation on reducing CO2 emissions, why was it taken for granted that this was the only way to proceed? Where was the public debate about the balance between prevention and mitigation? The CAGW protagonists always came up with solutions that were anti-industrial, anti-development and always, always required more public money. Where was the encouragement for inventors and entrepreneurs to discover and develop new technologies? And most of all, why oh why not spend some of the huge sums of money thrown at CO2 instead on getting effective pollution controls enacted in developing countries?
Actually, it isn't clear that Abbott was passionate about the environment.  He claims to be concerned about plastic floating in the sea, being sympathetic to Friends Of The Earth and not much else.  Oh, there are the fish stocks and wild spaces mentioned above, but it isn't much.  I pick out a sentence in bold above because it is easily knocked back.  There has been a long term aim of developing a practical electric car. Here is something suggested by environmentalists and worked on by the car manufacturers.  And they have succeeded to the extent that the ever realiable Willard Anthony Watts has one, although he is concerned that it doesn't start so well on those cold Californian winter mornings.  Yes, there are incentives to take up electric and hybrid cars but governments didn't have to introduce them.  And I can't see how electric cars is anti-industrial or anti-development.

Then, Damascus:
Then in 2007 I saw a trailer on television for the forthcoming documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. I watched it excitedly, for here finally were people publicly addressing the science and the data, but drawing alternative conclusions to the mainstream. There was none of the usual hand-waving and appeals to trust the experts, who magically seemed to be the only doubt-free scientists in recorded history. The backlash against the program told its own story too, being mainly outraged appeals to authority and conscience.
 I watched The Great Global Warming Swindle too.  I took away from it an entirely different message.  The swindle was not that the globe was warming.  The swindle was that the evidence could be presented in such a misleading way.  If I could sit there and spot it, then why couldn't Abbott?  I suspect because he had not prepared his mind in the right way.  He wanted to believe the film, I wanted to see if what it was telling me was true.  And I couldn't, because so much of what I already knew did not chime with what the film portrayed. 

Luckily this farrago is coming to an end.  But not without some brown-nosing:
Now at this point, I am sure some (perhaps many?) readers are thinking, ‘Great, an inside view of how someone becomes a believer in a conspiracy theory, perhaps I’ll base a research paper on this idiot’. My response is that like most people I have at times stumbled upon the real conspiracy theory nuts lurking on the internet. But on WUWT and other CAGW-sceptic sites criticism of the position of the website founder isn’t just tolerated but often encouraged. ‘Prove us wrong! Please! It would be fascinating!’ There are many articles and views published on WUWT that I treat with suspicion, or even downright disagree with, but it is all stimulating and usually well argued. Plus, I am an experienced professional engineer and know what real science looks like, and when people are misusing it as a smokescreen. Neil Armstrong was a great man, and most certainly did land on the moon. Right or wrong, WUWT is a site that considers real scientific issues.
I've picked out the bit in bold because it is so untrue that I am unsure whether to laugh or cry.  I think I'll cry.  I've seen what happens when people try to point out errors, correct the science and do all those other bits that real, genuine and proper skeptics do.  I put it in bold because I have concluded that Abbott is hard of thinking.  I've underlined another bit because I don't believe what he says there either - he knows what real science looks like yet praises WUWT as a site that considers real scientific issues.  Can the man not read?

In wade the commenters:
Eric Elsam says:
“The idea is to try to give all 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.
Richard P. Feynman ”
Yes, Eric.  Feynman was a greater scientist than, for example, Dr Roy Spencer, and won a genuine Nobel Prize, not a phoney one claimed by Christopher Monckton.  He also means something important here: don't cherry pick the starting point of your graphs, do look at all the science and see how your ideas tie in with it because if they are claiming something that goes against all the known ideas, you had better have a good defence prepared and shouting that it is a conspiracy isn't one of them.
philjourdan says:
I hope your good news pans out. I am so tired of the argumentum ad auctoritatem. Which is all they have left.
That's argument from authority to most of us.  Sadly for Phil, that's not what the "warmists" have left: there is all the empirical evidence too.
John de Melle says:
I’m another proffessional engineer. Your road of discovery matches mine, exactly.
Thank you for sharing it.
What is it with engineers?  I think it's because the laws of physics they use are all rather simple and the maths behind climate change is all rather messy.  That's because nature is messy and we are dealing with something complicated.  But the basic physics is even simpler than F=ma.
Bloke down the pub says:
My academic standard only reaches Geology A’level. From what I had learnt though, I was pretty sure that the global temperature had previously been much higher than present. That seemed to torpedo the warmist’s claim that feedbacks were catastrophically positive. My first contact with sceptics came from Chris Bookers column in the Sunday Telegraph who guided me to WUWT and the rest as they say is history.
Great, A level geology and he's an expert.  I did a geology subsid at university, under DEG Briggs, don't you know (google him), and one thing I learned was the nothing is that simple in Earth history and that extinctions happen pretty much all the time.  But sometimes there are mass extinctions.  Anyway, I hate this canard because it misses an important point.  Amongst all those fossils, not once has anyone found a triceratops beach house that was inundated by sea level rise in the Cretaceous, or even an Australopithecus second home by the sea found buried by the new marine sediments caused when the ice caps melted.  But there are inundated settlements from more recent times, and humans just love to build on the coast.  Sea level rise is a concern precisely because we live on mainly low lying ground, much of it not more than a few metres about sea level.  Many major and populous cities are ports and most of those are on a sea coast, New York, London, Sydney, Naples.  Have I made my point?  I'll ram it home - in the past dinosaurs didn't care about the level of the sea.  Today humans do, especially those that live close to the sea, because their house might be one of those washed away when the sea level does rise.
Having endured the endless terror of the Cold War (ended), of various Malthusian predictions of the end of oil (not ended), the end of food (not ended), and the end of warmth (not ended), other endless terrors of pig flu (came to naught), bird flu (came to naught), ebola (came to naught), terrorism (basically a crime in search of a war) – well, by the time the global warming scam came along I couldn’t easily be convinced that the end of the world was that simple.
 Malthusian predictions of the end of oil?  Malthus is always associated with population, never with oil.  Terrors of pig flu?  I'm sure Scuzza can ask the 10,000 Americans who died of swine flu in 2009.  Oh, sorry, no he can't.  As for bird flu - it would appear that the Spanish flu of 1918 was actually a form of bird flu and that strain was rather dangerous, even for Scuzzas.  Enough of this rubbish.

Jonathan Abbott is entitled to be skeptical about anything he wants.  But that does not make him right, or a hero or an expert on the philosophy of science. Nor am I.  I don't claim to be.  Luckily I have hauled myself up onto the shoulders of giants and let them point out what it is right to be looking for and what it is a waste of time to be looking at.  I will keep referring back to Carl Sagan's baloney detection kit.  It is essential reading for anyone who claims to be a skeptic, be they me or Abbott or Watts or anyone else who wishes to put on that uniform.
So I add a video for those that clearly can't read too well.  Perhaps Michael Shermer will make the difference.  He's someone who has travelled a different direction to Abbott and someone I place more trust in than, say, Monckton or Watts or Spencer, because of his honesty, at least as I see it.  But I have doubts about what Abbott says because it just seems disconnected, lacking confidence, trying too hard to establish credentials while giving the denialist cliches.  I have no doubt that he is sincere.  Just that his sincerity lacks sincerity.

Apology to PZ and a request to nutters

Some time ago I wrote a post about the Shakespeare authorship non-question. Yesterday PZ Myers at Pharyngula posted about someone who had a go at him for my post.  I apologise to PZ who didn't deserve or want the idiocy directed at him and make a request.

If you disagree with what I say on this humble slice of the blogosphere, add your voice in the comments. I am happy to read what you say and give myself thr right to disagree with any comments. I don't have a comments policy so anything goes but I would prefer that any comments are thoughtful  and supported by evidence but if you wish to be rude and insulting try to do it with wit. Don't find someone else to complain to.  Moan at me.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Giving the dog a bone - Pavlovian responses and dodgy headlines

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) discovered conditioned reflexes.  Had he lived a century later he would have not had to bother with dogs and dinners and bells.  All he would have needed was Willard Anthony Watts and the WattsUpWithThat blog.

You see, Willard occasionally puts a bell into a headline, even if the bell doesn't belong there, and the dogs of commenters begin to salivate and slobber their comments all over the thread running beneath the article.  It isn't enlightening in any way, other than that it shows a denier behaviour that no doubt he would deny.

Today he puts the headline
Forget summer in the UK and wonky Met Office predictions, atmospheric rivers and floods loom
above a piece about a paper called Future changes in atmospheric rivers and their implications for winter flooding in Britain.

Can you see what he's done?  Yes, boys and girls, he put in the phrase Met Office and used the word summer.  Can you see what the paper is about?  Yep, winter.  I am no climate scientist (which puts me on exactly the same footing as Lord Monckton, Wallace Eschenbach and Willard himself) but I did pretty well at infants' school and could read by the time I was six.  Why have the word "summer" in the headline when the paper (I've linked to it above) is about "winter".  But I suppose living in California, it is hard to tell the difference between summer and winter - one clue though is that your electric car doesn't start so well in winter.
Is this Willard once he realises his simple error?
And the paper isn't from the Met Office.  Here are the affiliations of the authors, and their names:
David A Lavers1,2,6, Richard P Allan1,2,3, Gabriele Villarini4, Benjamin Lloyd-Hughes2, David J Brayshaw1,2,3 and Andrew J Wade2,5
1 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, UK
2 Walker Institute, University of Reading, Reading, UK
3 National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, Reading, UK
4 IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
5 Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading, UK
6 Present address: IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA.
Don't see Met Office there.  Looked deeper.  Richard Allan has collaborated with the staff at the Met Office (which presumably would give James Delingpole reason to give him the same fate as WW2 collaborators). Ben Lloyd-Hughes also comes under that cover, having done some work with the Met Office, as has Brayshaw.  But then that's not surprising.  The Met Office is going to use expertise to try to do the best job they can.  It would be stupid of them to ignore climate scientists entirely.

But Watts's headline specifically mentions summer and the Met Office when neither of them are relevant.  His readers, such as their reading ages go, don't make the subtle distinction between nothing to do with summer or Met Office and let's shred the Met Office and, unexpectedly perhaps, go for the latter.

Would it be uncharitable to suggest that is precisely what Willard wanted?  If he did, he gets what he wanted.  You can detect the snarling a mile off:
omnologos says:
All this research is pointless. UK weather can be forecasted deterministically: it’s the opposite of whatever the Met Office predicts.
tom konerman says:
The UK put a boat out to sea in 1912 and proclaimed it to be unsinkable.
Er, the RMS Titanic was built and run by the White Star Line, a private enterprise, not a government one.  So the UK didn't put a boat out to sea in 1912.  But don't let facts spoil a good fight.
I wish the Met Office would stop predicting barbeque summers and the like, and give up and go home so that competent meteorologists can do the job.
Like this one?
graphicconception says:
The Met Office has had its Tiljanders upside down for some time now.
The council inspector who checks to see if you have a hose pipe in use is finding it difficult to walk from house to house with his flippers on.
Can't find a hosepipe ban in the UK but I do know the Met Office got the severe storms forecast right.  I was one of those awoken the other night by the thunder.

Steve Oregon says:
I couldn’t even read all of this.
My Bullshat detector was going wild.
On it’s face this is so unbelievable it almost hurts. The authors appear to have supplanted the jet stream with an entirely invented phenomenon.
The invented phenomenon illustrated by a 2009 weather map posted by Willard himself.  I notice Steve didn't just not read all of it, he didn't look at the pretty pictures either.  So in case he's looking:
The paper itself isn't difficult to read, explains patiently that this is about projected weather patterns in the latter half of this century and specifically about the winter six months.  And it was peer reviewed. 

Garbage in, garbage out, the IT folks tell me.  So if you set up a rubbish headline, you can expect to get rubbish comments.  And so it proves.  WattsUpWithThat, the gift that keeps giving examples of bad science.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Argue the science, not the man

So said Anthony Watts the other day.  The discussion was about the theologian scientist Roy Spencer who is a mate, so you cannot expect the same courtesy to apply to Dana Nuccitelli of SkepticalScience.com who is one of Willard's sworn enemies.  If this is starting to sound like a Marvel comic, read on.  Just think of Dana as one of The Avengers, along with his pal John Cook, and a cast of other superheroes.  Loki Watts has joined forces with the frost giants (you need to have seen the earlier film Thaw to understand what happens next).

Funny cartoon by Tosh, supply your own caption
So who is Iron Dana, genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist?  No, just a person who works for a company that occasionally gets some money from the oil industry and sometimes from a whole heap of other things.

But the hypocrisy!  I don't care what Dana does for a living.  I don't care who pays his salary.  What matters is that he is trying to find out the truth, unlike Roy Spencer.  It is all right by me if a scientist believes in God and tries to work out how God makes the Universe works.  It is not all right by me if the scientist starts telling me that God has already told them how it works. 
Some of this might not be true

So having established one rules for his mates and another rule for his enemies, Loki Watts lets the troglodytes glimpse some daylight.

Greg says:
The two mugshots they’ve chosen for Guardianenvironment make them look like a stand-up comedy doulbe act. Probably not far from the truth.
Nice keyboard skills there Greg.  And such a deep and meaningful comment about the science.

Nick in Vancouver says:
Hmmm – Benzene – CO2?, Benzene – CO2? does any body know an environmental scientist who can tell me which one is poisionous, i think we’re gonna regulate CO2, but what do I know I’m not an expert.
Here's some info from Buzzle.com:

Mild poisoning symptoms are:
Muscle twitching
Reduced neural activity
Flushed skin
High blood pressure
As the severity of hypercapnia increases, the following symptoms may be experienced:
Elevated rate of cardiac output
Irregular heartbeat
Chest pain
Stomach pain
Memory problems
Changes in vision
Eventually death
Hmm.  Carbon dioxide is poisonous, it's just a matter of how much.  Nice to know those good old skeptics don't check their information first.  Haven't they seen Apollo 13.

Mike Wilson says:
Dana is obviously schizophrenic. His Dr. Jekyll personality (Dana has no phd even though he thinks he is qualified to slander those that do), works in oil and gas. His self inflicted guilt concerning his sins working in O&G, brings out the delusional Mr. Hyde who works for SkS.
Dana, see your Doctor. He can prescribe Lithium for what ails you!
REPLY: I think that is way off base. I don’t see that at all, and you are wrong to suggest it. I nearly snipped this. I simply see Dana and others in his peer group as having a simple case of “noble cause corruption”. They feel they are doing a noble service to mankind, and that end justifies any means. That’s not a mental illness, but a self rationalized attitude. – Anthony

Well, at least Anthony comments on this though why he didn't just snip it, I don't know.  Keen to do that on the Spencer thread but not here.

Russ R. says:
For an individual who knows so little about so much (as he has repeatedly demonstrated by his blogging and tweeting), Mr. Nuccitelli has no hesitation in broadcasting his ignorance while being extraordinarily disrespectful to people who have far greater expertise than him (e.g. Richard Tol, Roy Spencer, etc.)
There’s a word for individuals who carry with them a highly inflated but wholly undeserved sense of self worth.
File under H for hypocrite.

JD Ohio says:
So Dana makes his living getting paid by deniers.
He used the D word.  How come he gets away with it?

beng says:
Another mug that screams for a Hawaiian-punch.
Hey, how about a Hawaiian-punch?
Read the science again, just in case you didn't understand it.  Poommph indeed.
Jimbo says:
It’s just like Pachauri who some years back established a residual oil extraction technology company called Glorioil (name now changed) to help big oil companies extract those last remaining remnants of oil. As for Dana he is a hypocrite. I hope someone on WUWT with a Guardian commenting account point this fact out to him on his next watermelon posting.
Thanks, Jimbo.  Why don't you get off your hypocritical buttocks and register for your own, just like I did (I have one at the Daily Telegraph too). 
Jimbo says:
Joseph Bastardi says:
July 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm
who cares who pays him? I really don’t. If he is truthful and accurate, that is all we should care about, trusting the art, not the artist. So the pursuit of the truth as far as what is going on is what we should be after……….
It’s really not about who pays him but the HYPOCRISY. Dana regularly lets out ad homs about fossil fuel shills. Why should we tolerate this? This is not about polite discussion anymore, it is guerrilla warfare. I say that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire (and evidence).
Busy man, Jimbo.  You almost missed the most important word but just got it in at the end.  Evidence.  This discussion is based on an innuendo by Andrew Neill and running with it in the absence of real evidence of what Dana actually does at work.  Wouldn't it be better to argue that he is being hypocritical when you know what he actually does?  I'd have thought so.  If he were to spend all day coming up with cunning schemes to, for instance, deny that fossil fuels cause climate change, then goes home at night and blogs the opposite, that would be hypocrisy.  But if, for example, his job is to provide environmental clean up schemes dealing with the crap that fossil fuels dump on the planet, then going home and saying that fossil fuels are bad, now that isn't hypocrisy. 

Let's remember that Neill has his own advisors, as illustrated by this battered photograph.  For those deniers who haven't seen it before, where have you been?
Baseball cap tip to Lord Gnome, 3rd viscount of Pressdram

Edited to remove company name lest I join the ranks of the hypocrites.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Life's not fair

This won't mean much to me but I learnt something today. Because we have much better cancer treatments, patients who presented with cancer a few years ago, say 30, didn't survive long enough to develop a second kind of cancer. Now they do.

I learnt this because I went with my father to see his oncologist. My dad was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1991, prostate cancer in 1997 and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006. Today be bad to take a diagnosis of an aggressive secondary tumour in the liver with others in various bones, the primary being in a lung.

He's been through a lot already, was widowed in 2008 just short of 58 years of marriage and has run out of chances, I'm afraid. He's realistic enough to know that an Arsenal season ticket isn't a sound investment. He probably won't get to see his only great granddaughter go to school. He's not going to chase expensive and pointless quack treatments. He is accepting his limited future with tears and dignity.

I always knew life wasn't fair. Sometimes it just sucks too much.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Roy Spencer's beliefs - what are they?

Dr Roy Spencer is a darling of the denier crowd at WUWT because he is a real qualified scientist in the field of climate.
Roy, not Frank
Frank, not Roy

He is also theologically minded. He signed up to the Cornwall Alliance's Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming which tells us that global warming is natural because God did it.  Perhaps Spencer didn't read it first but on the Cornwall Alliance website page of signatories, Spencer is top of the list of scientists.

Spencer is also an avowed supporter of Intelligent Design. If the ID debate has slowed down in recent years it must be because one of the top ID scientists, Michael Behe, was thoroughly taken apart at the Dover trial a few years back. ID is creationism in a shabby coat.

One comment at WUWT said Spencer had claimed he is agnostic. If he has, and I couldn't find it, then that change is both recent and goes against the flow of what he has said and done over the years. Importantly, Spencer is ignorant of evolution, uses typical creationist arguments and does it all with a straight face.  Yet he claims much in a 2005 essay.

Leaving aside the fact that intelligent design was invented about the time that Spencer claims he was studying it, the rest of what he says betrays a pile of ignorance as tall as the Empire State Building.  For someone who supposedly studied evolution v creationism for two years, his essay is content free.  For example, Stephen Jay Gould did not argue from absence of evidence. He had plenty of evidence to support his punctuated equilibrium theory.  It is not a theory I subscribe to.  I didn't think the evidence was sufficiently compelling but there is more to it than just a set of missing fossils.

The fact that Spencer talks in exactly the same hackneyed and debunked creationist sentences suggests he has plugged in a creationist robot and got that to type his essay.  Those scientists who do study evolution claim that even if there were no fossils ever, the evidence for evolution would be overwhelming. I tend to agree.  But I don't expect Spencer to read Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show On Earth, or The Ancestor's Tale, or Climbing Mount Improbable or...  For a good reading list on evolution perhaps some of these authors might be useful: Jerry Coyne, Steve Jones, Sean Carroll, Stephen Jay Gould and others.

Spencer ought to know that Intelligent Design is not the only other show in town besides evolution.
If the public school system insists on teaching evolution as a theory of origins, in the view of many a religious activity, why is it discriminating against the only other theory of origins, intelligent design?
Wishful thinking of the teach the controversy kind.  Which controversy should be taught?  Which creation myth is the one a science teacher should be teaching?  If Spencer is to be believed it is the Abrahamic God.

"Argue the science, not the man" says Anthony Watts without a flicker of irony. But when the man bases his science on a two to three thousand year old set of stories, whether true or not, there is a real difficulty making the distinction. Spencer has made a decision not clearly based on science to deny evolution and to deny climate science. He has said so publicly. It is hard to unpick the faith from the evidence based decisions. When he speaks of the critical thinking skills of scientists being lost after they graduate, he wasn't thinking of himself but he is a clear example of one who has done just that. If he truly read anything on evolution written by one who studies it, then he has ignored it. Totally.

If there is one thing Spencer might have learned from the creationists it is how to set up a false debate. Question everything, look for little holes ("no intermediate forms" as a false argument which, when countered with an example, gives two missing links - think about it), cherry pick, take quotes out of context, even change them. Spencer, remember, did not get around to correcting his error on the satellite data very promptly. A rather unscientific oversight.

Mind you, concern trolls at WUWT give Spencer advice on handling the politicians:
JFD says:
Who prepped Roy for the debate? Anyone who has ever testified on the witness stand would know that the question on creation would be forthcoming. His response should have been, “Senator, this is a scientific hearing. Do you have a scientific question for me. I will be glad to discuss theology with you over dinner. We could also discuss at that time why you were eyeing that woman in the red dress”. Then grinned.
Sadly for JFD, the proponents of ID do not claim it is theological but scientific, so the question would have caught out Spencer - if he answered as the comment would have had him answer, he would have opened himself up to the accusation that his science really is based on the Bible.  If he had answered that it was science after all, the rejoinder is that the Dover case concluded otherwise.  Spencer must know he is caught on this one.  Apparently he is an intelligent man.  Can't say, I've never met him.

I am not trying to attack the man. I am attacking the man's thought processes. If he chooses to base his science on the Bible then I am entitled to take that to task. Willard at WUWT clearly got fed up of that and felt the need to snip and defend, using Newton's rather heretical ideas on Christianity and his rather more scientific ones on gravity as an example. Fair enough, but Newton wasn't saying that he felt the Bible proved his science correct but that his science proved the Bible correct - his science supported his Christianity not the other way round.  And the philosophy of science is entirely different today.

Spencer has spent a good deal of his life in trying to find flaws in the science because he believes that God is in control and humans cannot do the damage that is claimed.  If he doesn't, then he lied when he put his name to the Cornwall Alliance Declaration because that's what it says.  As for being a liability, clearly Spencer's dodgy scientific conclusions on climate science must be coloured by his personal faith, because he has told us so.  That signature on that Declaration is a smoking gun.

Perhaps the thing that climate science deniers should most worry about is Spencer's treatment of the mistake he made on satellite data that he apparently sat on for years.  Not the best example one could give when deniers try to wave around a few quotes from 5000 emails and prove a conspiracy.  When scientists really get it wrong, they end up being sad characatures of true scientists, becoming more and more isolated from the mainstream and from reality.  I would suggest Spencer is on that road. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Plant evolution - some thoughts

The climate change deniers have a meme - carbon dioxide is plant food. Leaving aside what the word food means in the world of autotrophic nutrition, something occurred to me.

It is this: although plants as a kingdom and plant phyla and classes evolved at times when carbon dioxide levels were higher, the same is not necessarily true of individual plant species. Many plant species will have evolved less than 1 million years ago, plenty of them within the last 10,000 years. Those will have evolved in low carbon dioxide levels. The key is not the time of evolution but whether these plants are adapted to the current climate or not.

Most plants will be in some shape or form adaptable. They have to be. It is the only way to survive. But adaptability has limitations and since the climate is expected to change at rates never or only rarely seen in the history of life, there can be no guarantee that plants will be able to adapt. This is especially so for those plants that are wholly reliant on humans. Domesticated plants such as maize any not have the powers to adapt to a different climate.

Deniers miss another point about plant evolution - co-evolution. Many plants are co-evolved with insect pollinators, fungal mycorrhizae (filaments of fungi in the soil that link roots of plants, growing into the plant tissues and helping them to grow) or nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Even if the plants can adapt, their symbiotic fellow travellers may be unable to do so, or change at the required rate. Survival for many plants may be a matter of pure chance.

Simply put, the denier argument about carbon dioxide benefitting plants is true on a superficial lever, but climate change could produce unexpected results in plant adaptations, including some extinctions,  as symbionts adapt at different rates. We shall see, of course.  

Monday, 15 July 2013

Slanted minds, where do I get one?

I have decided to have fewer opinions. I used to have lots of opinions in the eighties. For example, Morrisey of The Smiths whined too much, Salman Rushdie's novels were incomprehensible, the Space Shuttle was a cost effective way of launching satellites, that sort of thing. Then I found that having an opinion based on what I read in, say, the Daily Mail, was not a solidly defendable one.

Then I saw a UFO. I had an opinion on UFOs, naturally. My opinion was that they were definitely real metal craft from distant planets. The books I read told me so. Why wouldn't I believe von Danikan? Because he wasn't telling the truth, that's why. Because he misrepresented solid research, cherry picked his information and presented ifs and buts as certainties. But I saw a UFO and it changed my perspective.

The reason was remarkably simple. I stood and watched this bright white dot move across the sky for several minutes before it disappeared from view. What could it have possibly been? A tin vessel from Alpha Centauri? Something a bit more significant, ready to come down and play its ice cream jingle for me in my third kind encounter? No, what changed my mind was thinking about what I had seen, really seen.

I had seen a light, no shape or detail. It did not blink or flicker and it disappeared suddenly. Perhaps it was an aircraft, but those had navigation lights. It was too slow for a meteor. Perhaps it was a satellite. Yes, that was it, and some research in the local library told me it was true.

Now this shouldn't really be a big deal but it was the first time I had found something out like that for myself, using my grey matter and research rather than accept the simple and entertaining, but wrong, answer. It wasn't what I hoped for that mattered, it was what reality provides.

I was reminded of that by a comment by Victor Vermena over at WUWT which was snipped by the moderator because, presumably, it didn't meet the biased and slanted views of the deniers over there. Snipping the comment, which I read before it was snipped and didn't seem slanted to me, won't change reality. This is boy standing on burning deck attitude, the band plays on but the ship still sinks. Reality won't help so let's try and avoid it.

A real skeptic will have a look, at least, to see if there is something in the comment, and the blog it linked to, and make up their mind. A fake skeptic knows in advance. A fake skeptic is sure what is true and what isn't before they read up on the subject. A fake skeptic looks for evidence to support, a real skeptic looks for evidence for and against.

My wife gets irritated when I put so many conditional statements around virtually anything I say that I am sure the only reason she doesn't divorce me is that she couldn't face the defence I would put up. But I do it because I know that there are uncertainties and errors and all sorts of reasons not to be entirely sure of something that to say so becomes unreal. I can't help being skeptical. I want to check everything and the more outlandish the claim, the more I want to check it. And if someone says something that contradicts so much well established science, I have to check it. And usually the claim turns into vapours.

But being a skeptic is tiring. There's all the googling of facts, papers, blogs by experts, to be done. I'd rather just know in advance, have more opinions. So if someone knows where I too can get a slanted mind like the deniers, then please let me know in the comments.