Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Let's hope it's a good one

So we've reached 2014. I hope it is better in some ways than 2013.  Perhaps

And in other news, my wife is about to undergo tests for ovarian cancer.  Plus ca change.

When all is said and done - 2013 in the rear view mirror

I can confidently state that there is more stupidity in this world than I had previously thought might exist.  Lots of it.  How naïve have I been?

I've dug deeply into two controversies that had previously been on my radar but not that important to me.  The first is global climate change.  Along with many people, I've viewed the debate for many years with little active interest.  I've read some articles, both for and against, over the years, but I hadn't been aware of precisely how polarised (sic) the argument had become.  And the reason it has become polarised is simple to me - some people don't want to understand the science.

My ignorance was no excuse for not following the science.  Same as it is for the deniers.  Luckily, my years of examining the evolution denial non-debate meant that I had at least some of the tools necessary to dissect the denier arguments from whichever area of science they came.  The same tricks are used again and again and again.

Evidence is cherry picked.  Quotations are used out of context or misinterpreted.  The position of scientists is caricatured or purely misstated.  Conspiracies are propounded.  It's smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, and it doesn't stand up because, as I think I have said often enough, the scientists who really know what they are talking about, because they have been immersed in it for years, know that science has to fit into the bigger picture of everything else we know.

And that it an important point.  Evolution deniers often tell us that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, without understanding the key point is the one about a closed system in which the total energy remains the same.  It isn't difficult to understand but apparently it is easy to misuse.  The laws of thermodynamics are fundamental to understanding science.  It is clear that climate change deniers often ignore the laws of thermodynamics.  What does happen to the extra energy the Sun gives us everyday?  Since we know that carbon dioxide and other gases have an effect on the incoming and outgoing energy, it would be odd to expect that these gases would either have no effect or one effect in the atmosphere contrary to the effect that can be demonstrated in the laboratory.

I came to the global climate change debate because I felt I didn't know enough to correct the claims I was seeing more and more frequently.  I still don't, and will freely admit it, but then I don't really have to because there are those much more able to correct the wonky science used by the deniers.  For that I direct you to HotWhopper and AndThenTheresPhysics amongst others.  Try my blog roll or those you find on that pair of sites.

So I have contented myself with answering some of the more philosophical points.  There are some real issues I have with the way deniers misrepresent science and one of them, you might have noticed, is the fake science = religion claim that is used further down the false argument line to say that science therefore is faith and I don't need to believe it because of that.  Nope.  Science stands or falls purely on the quality and validity of the evidence.  I see people over at WUWT who support the consensus science view being asked for their evidence.  I think the best line to give it merely to state the same evidence as that given by the deniers to support their view, except that I see the wider picture of how this fits into what we truly know. 

The other area I have dived into this year has been more personal.  Alternative medicine.  I subscribe to Minchin's Law.
Minchin’s Law posits that there is no alternative medicine that provably works, because  any alternative medicine which provably works, is by definition no longer alternative.
I have begun over the last week, and can't quite seem to bring myself to finish, a post about something called access bars.  The premise behind this quackery seems simple - to put distance between a fool and his/her money.  For a sum of money you can have someone gently touch areas of your head that correspond to some form of spurious energy bands that seem to levitate around your skull in some way.  I know you won't believe me so here is a link.  And here is a lovely graphic:
This looks a lot like modern phrenology to me but it gets more and more exciting.  A cursory examination of the labels will give you the life affirming idea that this is made up (a biological reason to have a money band is beyond me) and indeed it is.  But it gets better, because you can pay someone to massage these points in your absence (read through this page but do go all the way to the bottom to see I am not lying).  I mean, what could be better.  You give your money away, you don't have to go to see the woo merchant and both of you feel a lot better.  Them because they haven't actually had to do anything and you because...  Well, actually you will only think you feel a lot better if you believe in it in the first place. 

I've been doing an experiment.  I have been mentally massaging the important access bar points of a number of celebrities over the last week or so.  I have kept the information from them so far because it is a blind test.  In a few weeks, I think I will contact them to ask if they are feeling better for my service and would they like to pay for it.  I wonder what the responses will be?

My deep despair at alternative medicine is rooted in the way that many alternative practitioners are keen to have your money.  They may keenly believe in what they do, but they sure do make you pay for it.  The link I gave above has a price list.  £40 for a full access bars session.  £100 for three distance sessions.  How would I know that the practitioner has done anything?  Is there a Skype link or webcam I could see?  Perhaps the ASA should hear of this.

Alternative medicine preys on hope.  The hope that there is another way.  The hope that there is something now that conventional medicine has run out of ideas.  I've been there.  I've seen that hopelessness but there are ways to deal with it. 

It is chilling to be given bad news.  Back in June everything seemed to be going swimmingly for my dad.  Yes, he had the axe hanging over his head, so to speak, as at any time we could expect his Non-Hodgkin's or his brain tumours to kick off and cause havoc.  What we were not expecting was a new diagnosis of yet another form of cancer.  That was bad enough, but the prognosis froze my bone marrow.  The oncologist said he did not expect to see my dad in a year's time.  He was right but it wasn't something you want to hear.

There was effectively no treatment available that would make my dad better.  To his credit, he didn't decide to throw away good money seeking an illusion.  He could have, for example, afforded some of Burzynski's discredited antineoplastons.  Or visited another quack or two.  Instead, he accepted his fate with a dignity that others could match.  It's not what he would have wanted but it was the hand that fate dealt him. 

I've written before about my dad.  I was privileged because he gave me an outlook on life that was trusting but not gullible.  He encouraged me to question, to seek answers, to find out what I could.  I know many of us can be thoroughly boring about how good our dad's are or were.  At his funeral, everyone said what a kind and lovely man my dad was. 

Thank you, dad.  I miss you.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Lord Monckton's on morality - glass houses alert (now with free update)

Update  Please see the update at the end

The good Lord, Monckton of Brenchley, has seen fit to deliver upon us this Christmas his sermon.  Well, the Pope does it.  The Archbishop of Canterbury does it.  So why not the admirably upright citizen (though he would prefer subject) of these shores, the 3rd Viscount Monckton.

After all, he knows what he is talking about, being a Catholic and all that.  And since we know precisely how upright and outstanding has been Catholic morality over the years, decades and, indeed, centuries, why should we deny the validity of the scholar's argument. 

Simply put, we shouldn't, because his argument is carried aloft on debatable shoulders at best, wrong ones at worst.  Lest you wonder what I am talking about, read it here yourself (archived of course).  You might want a dictionary with you because Monckton's writing style is akin to that of Lawrence Durrell - thick, treacly, purple prose is his favoured method.  This often means his real argument is buried within the impenetrable language.  Obfuscation indeed.

To begin at the beginning:
To those of us who have dared to question on scientific and economic grounds the official story on global warming, it is a continuing surprise that there is so little concern about whether or not that story is objectively true among the many who have swallowed it hook, Party Line and sinker.
Translation: climate science deniers don't question whether the official story on climate change is true or not.  Not what I see happening, but there you go.  There's plenty of posts over at Watts Up With That proclaiming its the Sun, insects, natural variation, oscillations of various natural processes and so on.  I won't bother linking to them as anyone can go and find out for yourself.  What Monckton is doing here is setting up a straw filled argument about objective truth.  As we shall see, it lacks conviction.
For the true-believers, the Party Line is socially convenient, politically expedient, and financially profitable. Above all, it is the Party Line. For those who think as herds or hives, it is safe. It is a grimy security blanket. It is the dismal safety in numbers that is the hallmark of the unreasoning mob.  
This is a rather grubby second paragraph and I suspect Monckton knew exactly what he was saying.  It pains those that accept anthropogenic global warming as driven by politics or profit and sets up another line, the consensus.  Sadly, of course, it isn't true.  Humans are instinctively conservative, preferring no change over change.  But humans are social animals and will fit into a group.  But they have to feel they belong in advance.
But is it true? The herd and the hive do not care. Or, rather, they do care. They care very much if anyone dares to ask the question “But is it true?” They are offended, shocked, outraged. They vent their venom and their spleen and their fury on those of us who ask, however politely, “But is it true?” 
There are plenty of websites (Skeptical Science for example) where the truth of the matter is patiently explained.  Monckton has again set up a straw filled argument.  Scientists have done the "is it true?" bit time and time again.  There is no real need to ask the question, but that is what deniers do, often just to create some heat but rarely to create light.
They have gotten religion, but they call it science. They have gotten religion, but they do not know they have gotten religion. They have gotten religion, but they have not gotten the point of religion, which, like the point of science, is objective truth.
 Yippee!  Two wrong things in one paragraph.  Firstly, science is not religion and AGW is science.  Secondly, it is highly arguable that the point of religion is objective truth.  Indeed, faith is about subjective truth since it cannot be verified outside of the person's own understanding.  And since Monckton is Catholic, I remember a number of instances of people trying to verify transubstantiation, the idea that the wafer of bread and the red wine of the Eucharist really do turn into the body and blood of Christ and the shock, horror of the Church when they have been found out.  Doesn't sound like interest in objective truth to me.  And that's before we get on to the Index, censorship and Inquisitions.
The question arises: can science function properly or at all in the absence of true religion and of its insistence upon morality? For science, in searching for the truth, is pursuing what is – or very much ought to be – a profoundly moral quest.
Really?  What rubbish.  Science doesn't have to be a "profoundly moral quest".  What was the morality behind the search for the Higgs Boson, for instance?  Or understanding the inner workings of black holes, dark matter, quantum physics, the heliocentric world view?  None of those things rely on morality.  We can, if we wish, bring in the various unethical experiments on humans performed by the Nazis, the Japanese during WW2 or American in the first half of the 20th century. Monckton is applying wishful thinking to his argument which is resembling a sieve.
Yet what if a handful of bad scientists wilfully tamper with data, fabricate results, and demand assent to assertions for which there is no real scientific justification? And what if the vast majority of their colleagues cravenly look the other way and do nothing about their bent colleagues? What you get is the global warming scare.
This paragraph is bordering on libellous.  It is, of course, Monckton's opinion.  You can search RetractionWatch to see which climate change papers have been withdrawn.  The research Monckton is concerned about is not amongst them.  The fact that Monckton states this so baldly and without evidence to support it merely shows the man up for what he is.  Liar or mistaken?  I know which side of that fence I land on.  What you get when a handful of bad scientists tamper with data, etc, is those scientists being found out by all the other scientists who hold them to account.  A few will not be able to prevent their fraud being found out unless their results are part of the noise of science, the little findings that don't really matter.  In the area of climate change, which has a social and economic price to pay, the scrutiny of the science is so much greater.  Monckton again knows this and has allowed personal prejudice to enter his argument.  Hang on, that's all his argument is anyway.
As every theologian knows, the simplest and usually the clearest of all tests for the presence of a moral sense is whether or not the truth is being told. The true-believers in the New Superstition are not telling the truth. On any objective test, they are lying, and are profiteering by lying, and are doing so at your expense and mine, and are bidding fair to bring down the Age of Enlightenment and Reason, flinging us back into the dumb, inspissate cheerlessness of a new Dark Age.
 Inpissate means to thicken.  It's a verb.  Monckton implies that we are heading for another era of ignorance.  Well, we will if we follow his lead but luckily most of the world ignores the stupidity of Monckton and his pals and lets the scientists find out the reality, however ugly that might be.  Just because Monckton would like a different reality, it doesn't mean he will get it.
“The Science Is Settled! There’s A Consensus! A 97.1% Consensus! Doubters Are As Bad As Holocaust Deniers! Global Temperature Is Rising Dangerously! It Is Warmer Now Than For 1400 Years! Well, 400 Years, Anyway! Tree-Rings Reliably Tell Us So! The Rate Of Global Warming Is Getting Ever Faster! Global Warming Caused Superstorm Sandy! And Typhoon Haiyan! And 1000 Other Disasters! Arctic Sea Ice Will All Be Gone By 2013! OK, By 2015! Or Maybe 2030! Santa Claus Will Have Nowhere To Live! Cuddly Polar Bears Are Facing Extinction! Starving Polar Bears Will Start Eating Penguins! Himalayan Glaciers Will All Melt By 2035! Er, Make That 2350! Millions Of Species Will Become Extinct! Well, Dozens, Anyway! Sea Level Is Rising Dangerously! It Will Rise 3 Feet! No, 20 Feet! No, 246 Feet! There Will Be 50 Million Climate Refugees From Rising Seas By 2010! OK, Make That 2020! The Oceans Will Acidify! Corals Will Die! Global Warming Kills! There Is A One In Ten Chance Global Warming Will End The World By 2100! We Know What We’re Talking About! We Know Best! We Are The Experts! You Can Trust Us! Our Computer Models Are Correct! The Science Is Settled! There’s A Consensus!”
 Ah, a sort of reverse Gish Gallop.  It's in quotation marks but I assume Monckton made it up.(Update As every schoolboys knows, polar bears don't eat penguins as they can't get the wrapper off.) 
Every one of those exclamatory, declamatory statements about the climate is in substance untrue. Most were first uttered by scientists working for once-respected universities and government bodies. For instance, the notion that there is a 1 in 10 chance the world will end by 2100 is the fundamentally fatuous assumption in Lord Stern’s 2006 report on climate economics, written by a team at the U.K. Treasury for the then Socialist Government, which got the answer it wanted but did not get the truth, for it did not want the truth.
That's what the last paragraph was for.   The Stern Review didn't give a 1% chance the world will end and the Blair government was not socialist.  One presumes Monckton thinks the current government is socialist.  Well, he is a member of UKIP.
Previously, you could count on getting nothing but the truth from the men in white coats with leaky Biros in the front pocket. Now, particularly if the subject is global warming, you can count on getting little but profitable nonsense from your friendly local university science lab. They make the profits: you get the nonsense.
Really, you could count on the truth and nothing but the truth.  I am less stupid and more versed in the history of science, it would seem, than the peer.  Has he not heard of Blondlot and his N Rays, the endless pointless trips down the PSI route by scientists who should know better?  And then there is Michael Behe, a proper scientist, and Monckton's crony Roy Spencer, fellow denier.  And notice the "profitable nonsense" becomes "profits", a change of sense.
The central reason why what Professor Niklas Mörner has called “the greatest lie ever told” is damaging to civilization arises not from the staggering cost, soon to be $1 billion a day worldwide. Not from the direct threat to the West posed by the avowedly anti-democratic, anti-libertarian policies of the UN, the IPCC, and the costly alphabet-soup of unelected busybody agencies of predatory government that live off the taxpayer’s involuntary generosity. Not from the dire environmental damage caused by windmills and other equally medieval measures intended to make non-existent global warming go away. 
An argument from authority.  My suspicion is that the greatest lie ever told goes back significantly further than Morner would suggest.  A case can be made for fictions in the Old Testament, for instance, or the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion as a much more damaging lie.  But in the end it is Morner's opinion and not shared by a great many people around the world.  Monckton does not like the idea that people live off taxpayer's money, by the looks of things.  Let's hope he is more generous to the underpaid nurses who will give him care in his final days, or to the people who collect the rubbish from his bins.
The fundamental principle upon which Aristotle built the art and science of Logic is that every individual truth is consistent with every other individual truth. The truth is a seamless robe. Religion – or at any rate the Catholic presentation to which I inadequately subscribe (practising but not perfect) – is also built upon that fundamental principle of the oneness of all truth.
Science, too – or at any rate the classical scientific method adumbrated by Thales of Miletus and Al-Haytham and brought to fruition by Newton, Huxley, Einstein, and Popper – was also rooted in the understanding that there is only one truth, only one physical law, and that, therefore, every truth unearthed by the diligence of the curious and hard-working empiricist or theoretician must, if it be truly true, be consistent at every point and in every particular with every truth that had ever been discovered before, and with every truth yet to be discovered. 
Another short cut to ignorance from Monckton here.  Al-Haytham is a favourite of Monckton, from those inpissated Dark Ages.  But Monckton ought to know about Newton's quest for a spiritual truth divorced from his science and Einstein's fruitless quest for the one truth, a unified theory.  But the Huxley bit is interesting.  Which one?  Thomas Henry, Darwin's bulldog, or Julian, the eugenicist?  Julian would be more like Monckton in that his science became poisoned by a fashionable but dead end idea.
It is in the understanding of that central principle of the remarkable oneness and self-consistency of all truth that men of true religion and of true science ought to have become united. For there is an awesome beauty in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As Keats put it, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all.”
 Stephen Jay Gould struggled with the idea of how to accommodate religion and science and finally decided that there was no overlap, that they inhabited different ways of knowing.  The reason why many, perhaps most, "men" [sic] of science do not feel the need for religion is quite simple: the more we understand about the universe, the less is the need to invoke supernatural explanations.  Religion is not and never has been about seeking a truth that is compatible with the truths uncovered by science. In ever area where science has rubbed away the edges of what religion tells us, religion has had to give way.  The seven days of creation are no longer literal days, not in the eyes and minds of sophisticated theologians, the ones that Monckton co-opts in his defence.
The beauty of the truth is sullied, the seamless robe rent in sunder, if not merely a few individual scientists but the entire classe politique not merely of a single nation but of the planet advantages itself, enriches the already rich and impoverishes the already poor by lying and lying and lying again in the name of Saving The Planet by offering costly and environmentally destructive non-solutions to what is proving to be a non-problem.
The very fabric of the Universe is distorted by so monstrous and so sullenly persistent a lie. Those scientists who have been caught out trampling the truth, and those universities in which it has become near-universally agreed that the best thing to keep the cash flowing is to say nothing about the Great Lie, are by their actions or inactions repudiating the very justification and raison-d’être of science: to seek the truth, to find it, to expound it, to expand it, and so to bring us all closer to answering the greatest of all questions: how came we and all around us to be here?
Now Monckton is a man who likes to think he is educated in areas where he clearly is not.  The very fabric of the Universe is not distorted by anything we do.  By using the proper noun, he means the actual physical universe that we can detect.  Monckton has stuffed this argument so full of straw that it is poking out of the seams.  If I were him, I'd put a fake face on it, mount it on a pole and place it in a field so it can scare the birds off the freshly sewn seeds.  Instead, he is trying to frighten the illiterates at WUWT.
We who are not only men of science but also men of religion believe that the Answer to that question lay 2000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. The very human face of the very Divine was “perfectly God and perfectly Man”, as the Council of Chalcedon beautifully put it.
We cannot prove that a Nazarene made the Universe, or that any Divine agency takes the slightest interest in whether we tell the truth. But, for as long as there is no evidence to the contrary, we are free to believe it. And it is in our freedom to believe that which has not been proven false that the value of true religion to true science may yet come to be discerned. For our religion teaches us that truthfulness is right and wilful falsehood wrong. We cannot prove that that is so, but we believe it nonetheless. 
Monckton as man of science?  That's a good joke.  Believe what you want about Jesus but where does that put Jews or Hindus or Buddhists or other followers of other faiths?  Can't they do what Monckton says he does?  It's a bit exclusive, isn't it?  But it doesn't follow that being religious necessarily means that science will benefit.  In fact, in some cases it is a hindrance.
Science, though, is not a matter of belief (unless you belong to Greenpeace or some other Marxist front organization masquerading as an environmental group). It is a matter of disciplined observation, careful theoretical deduction, and cautious expression of results. The true scientist does not say, “I believe”: but he ought, if there is any curiosity and awe in his soul, to say “I wonder …”. Those two words are the foundation of all genuine scientific enquiry.
More prejudice from Monckton.  Like I said earlier, he probably thinks the current UK government is Marxist.  Though he probably doesn't actually know what Marxism is.  Since he describes one form of the scientific method, perhaps he ought to see if that is what climate scientists do (spoiler alert: they do).
Yet the global warming scare has shown how very dangerous is science without morality. The scientist, who takes no one’s word for anything (nullius in verba), does not accept a priori that there is any objectively valuable moral code. He does not necessarily consider himself under any moral obligation either to seek the truth or, once he has found it, to speak it.
Science, therefore, in too carelessly or callously rejecting any value in religion and in the great code of morality in which men of religion believe and which at least they try however stumblingly to follow, contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. 
It is a bit rich to state that the "global warming scare" is related to "science without morality".  It is very much the other way around - scientists could have just kept quiet about it, published in journals and released their results without much fanfare and no one would have been too bothered.  But James Hansen couldn't accept that - he knew from his careful and cautious science that a looming disaster threatened the world.  He wasn't stupid, so he went public.  After which, of course, the rest is history.  Once again we have that nagging scientists should not be advocates, unless (like some we could name) they are contrarian and therefore totally trustworthy.   Not. 
Yea, truth faileth (Isaiah, 59:15). The Great Lie persists precisely because too many of the scientists who utter it no longer live in accordance with the moral yardstick that Christianity once provided, or any moral yardstick, so that they do not consider they have any moral obligation to tell the truth.
That being so, we should no longer consider ourselves as laboring under any obligation, moral or other, to pay any particular heed to scientists seeking to meddle in politics unless and until they have shown themselves once more willing to be what al-Haytham said they should be: seekers after truth.
The full verse is "Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment."  It's ironic that Monckton idolises al-Haytham who never was Christian and never lived by Christian morality, yet seems to believe that scientists should.  Weird.  And the idea that scientists live by no moral yardstick is complete rubbish.  But having set up a scarecrow, he is following it down the rabbit-hole of idiocy.  The idea that we need pay no attention to climate scientists works also for the idea that we pay no attention to the climate science deniers.  Especially since Monckton's seeking after the truth is not the same as mine.

Monckton probably took less time to type this than I did to rebut it.  It certainly took less thought.  Throughout it is thoughtless, ignorant and disconnected from reality.  Typical of Monckton.  Typically Monckton, of course, to ignore truth entirely, and although he mentions that he is not a perfect Catholic, he knows that modern Catholic thought has shown up the pliability of religious minds over the century.  Gone are the ideas of Hell and purgatory, along with the realisation that the Bible is riddled with inconsistencies.  What we know about the birth of Jesus comes from the contradictory stories in the New Testament.  It doesn't take much to get confused as to where Jesus was born and that's just the start.

Anyway, the choir likes it, even if they didn't read it.
Bob Weber says:
Outdid yourself with a moving tribute – very honorable sir.
Tribute to what?  It's not a tribute, it's an evidence free diatribe.
Brent Walker says:
A wonderful Christmas present Lord Monckton. I wish this could be printed in every newspaper in every country. 
 Well, Brent, if you want to stump up the cash it can be.  Newspapers are glad to print anything as long as someone is willing to pay for it - they are called adverts.  As for the editorial pages.  Less lucky there, I'm afraid.  First of all, I suspect an editor or two would get cold feel about some of the less honest parts of the piece.  That and the fact it isn't that well written and certainly isn't of the standard most newspaper editors would want.  But the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph would lap it up, amongst others.
Roger Dewhurst says:
Sadly Lord Monckton morality is not the property of religious belief. Others, without religious belief, can come to a morality essentially that of the major religions simply on rational grounds. Quite simply an educated rational person can accept that the ten commandments, or most of them anyway, should form the basis of the way we behave to others.
 A dose of reality, at last.
James Abbott says:
Another convoluted tirade weaving fantastic imagery from the noble Lord – sent down from his high tower in the land of Nid.
But its Christmas – best time of the year for some nuts.
I know a James Abbott.  I wonder if they are one and the same.  Certainly my James Abbott would agree with this James Abbott.

Enough.  The comments go on and on and I have better things to do than read them all.  Importantly, for one who associates himself with seeking the truth, Monckton has form.  You can read about it here http://www.desmogblog.com/christopher-monckton-lies-damn-lies-or-staggering-incompetence and http://www.desmogblog.com/christopher-moncktons-lies-exposed-again-guardian and http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/monckton-lies-again-and-again-and-again-and-again-the-continuing-saga-of-a-practicer-of-fiction/ and http://fathertheo.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/seven-lies-from-lord-monckton/ and http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/monckton-will-lie-about-anything/

You get the point.

Addendum I've covered the AGW as religion thing before, here. I am not a fan of any argument that says an evidence based activity is equivalent to a faith based activity. It is a familiar argument because it makes science easier to argue against. You don't need to understand the science, only criticise the premises, assumptions and biases of the scientists. Lo, you have an argument. The fact that it all rests on a false premise is ignored by the likes of Monckton, conveniently.

Update 29 December 2013
I have taken another archive shot of this thread so you can see the comments that followed Monckton's piece.  Importantly, Monckton himself gets involved, which isn't unusual, and wilfully misstates those he calls "trolls", in other words the people who question him.  Most importantly, he seems to backtrack on what he has said in his main piece (my comments are in brackets and in red):
  1. Many thanks to the numerous commenters who have been kind enough to join in our seasonal philosophical discussion. Some responses, if I may.
    I’m delighted that Paul767 has referred to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a magnificent author who ought to be compulsory reading for every Socialist.  (Really, Ayn Rand?  http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/critics/personal.html  Perhaps then we could suggest some compulsory reading for Monckton - Sagan, Randi, Dawkins...)
    I’m also delighted that RoHa meet Anthony Flew. I, too met him and admired him, for he was a genuine seeker after truth, and an always refreshing philosopher. His movement towards the notion that God exists was an illustration of his intellectual honesty (though scientifically one might disagree with him as to whether the Big Bang had a cause at all: that is something we shall never know). (I'm not sure if Flew would have retained his theism, and of course his theism was very different from Monckton's.  Flew renounced atheism because he felt intelligent design ideas were strong enough to require a god figure to explain them.)
    Roha, supported by Mr. Dewhurst, rightly points out that religion is not essential to morality. Be that as it may, morality is essential to science, for otherwise scientists might all behave like the tiny handful who have fabricated the climate scare. (But have you considered, Christopher, that the scare is, 1, not fabricated or, 2, that it was fabricated not by scientists but by journalists looking for a story - think those Ice Age coming stories deniers like to bring up as being the 70s consensus?)
    Roha, supported by Martin A, takes me to task for using the past participle “gotten”. That, like “driven” and “sunken”, is one of our vigorous Germanic strong-verb usages and it is a shame it has become lost in the Old Country.  (Or you could use "gat".)
    “Andud” seems wilfully to misunderstand the head posting by suggesting that I had suggested Jesus the Nazarene had created the universe 2000 years ago. No, I did not put a date on that, though He took human form (as a Nazarene) 2000 years ago. The best science at present seems to suggest that the universe winked into being 13.82 billion years ago. This is deduced from the anisotropy of the cosmic background radiation, though I cannot give a clear account of how it was done or whether the answer is right.
    Then, sadly, we have the trolls.
    The furtively pseudonymous “climateace” lists the nonsense on my Wikipedia bio, complaining that I have said I can cure various diseases. No, I have said I am researching a possible cure for various infectious diseases. I only said that much so that potential patients could come forward. Several of them are now better, so researches continue. Does “climateace” really wish that these cures had not taken place? (Which diseases have you cured?  Are you competent to be doing this research?  Under what licence are you practicing?  How do you know that your patients are better?  This video has evidence that Monckton has made claims for the efficacy of his remedy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hl2lShU6zD0 (and enjoy again the sight of Delingpole squirming).  Not also that Monckton's own comment firstly say he is researching a possible cure and ends by saying that cures have taken place.  So which is it?
    “Climateace” also parrots Wikipedia’s assertion that I said I had a Nobel Peace Prize (much as Michael Mann said he had one, until the UN told him not to). No, I have not said that. I have told the story of how Professor David Douglass of Rochester University, New York, presented me some years back with a Nobel Prize pin made from gold recovered from a physics experiment 30 years previously, after I had given a lecture on climate sensitivity to his faculty. He said I ought to be recognized because I had had a serious error in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC corrected. This, therefore, was what is known as A Joke – a concept with which most trolls are unfamiliar.
    Mosher, in characteristically unconstructive form, incorrectly accuses me of having misquoted Keats, and adds that “the truth of science is contingent”. Contingent upon what, he does not say. (But Monckton knows perfectly well that contingent here means that evidence is the final arbiter)
    Abbott talks of my “extreme prejudice”: but, by now, it should be clear that I take a scientific and not an aprioristic position. I may be right or wrong, but, unlike the trolls, I do not simply follow the Party Line because I am told there is a “consensus” about it. (It is very difficult to read what Monckton writes in his piece without seeing the language of extreme prejudice.  He does not give evidence for his assertion that data was tampered with and the expected response of the climate gate emails will get the rebuttal of all those investigations that turned up no evidence of conspiracy.)
    Talking of which, “Warren” says 99.8% of scientific papers “support” anthropogenic global warming. Well, I support it myself. If there were more of it, the world would be a more prosperous place. It is cold that is the killer, as we discovered in a recent winter here in the UK, when there were 31,000 excess deaths in a single month because it was so cold. No headlines, of course: deaths from cold don’t fit the Party Line. (Of course there are headlines about deaths from cold, and plenty of advice given to try to prevent them, as well as cold weather payments and the like.  Monckton forgets those.)
    “Warren” is exactly the sort of true-believer at whom the head posting was directed. He has not the slightest regard for what is objectively true., Instead, he cites “Naomi Orestes” as having said there was a “consensus”. One supposes he means “Naomi Oreskes”. However, the most comprehensive survey of scientific papers on climate ever conducted was by Cook et al. (2013), who claimed that 97.1% of 11,944 papers published since 1991 supported the “consensus” that most of the warming since 1950 was manmade. The paper in fact demonstrated that only 0.3% of those 11,944 papers supported the “consensus” thus defined, as Legates et al. (2013) pointed out. (As evidence of Monckton's prejudice, he puts some names in quotation marks.  Why Naomi Oreskes and not Al Gore in the next paragraph?  Childish.)
    “Warren” says he will only take me seriously when I publish a peer-reviewed paper (though, curiously, he and others who say that do not seem to wish to hold Al Gore, for instance, to the same standard). However, if he will read Legates et al. he will find that I was one of the co-authors. It will be interesting to know whether he continues to adhere to his belief system when he realizes that he is not in the company of 99.8% of scientists publishing in the field, but only 0.3%. (Not sure anyone takes the Legates & al paper seriously except the deniers.)
    Likewise “Warren’s” assertion that the IPCC’s “90% confidence” in its findings is impressive displays a fundamental ignorance of statistics on his part. There is no dataset on the basis of which any such confidence interval could have been determined. In short, it is fictitious, as was the previous report’s “65% confidence” and the latest report’s “95% confidence”. (As for the level of confidence, how does Monckton know it is "fictitious"?  He doesn't.  He wants it to be.  Strangely, he says above he is a supporter of AGW: "Talking of which, “Warren” says 99.8% of scientific papers “support” anthropogenic global warming. Well, I support it myself."  You could have fooled me, for one, and, assuming for once he is telling the truth, it would be nice to know what level of confidence Monckton puts on his own support?)
    I have had several peer-reviewed papers published. If “Warren” got his science from the reviewed literature rather than from Greenpeace, he might have come across some of them. He might, for instance, like to read my paper Is CO2 mitigation cost-effective?, published in August this year in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, the Annual Proceedings of the World Federation of Scientists’ Erice Seminars on Planetary Emergencies, where I examine whether he would be justified in taking out precautionary insurance against future global warming. The answer, based on the IPCC’s and Stern’s own mainstream analyses, is that it is 1-2 orders of magnitude costlier to act today than to adapt the day after tomorrow. One cannot, as “Warren” and Stern claim, make global warming go away at an annual cost of 1% of GDP. Most mitigation measures cost 20-80% of GDP, while doing nothing, according to Stern, costs about 1% of GDP (or 3% at most, if the warming this century does not exceed 3 K). Since there has been no warming yet this century, and we are one-seventh of the way through it, we could see as little as 1 K warming by 2100, in which event all efforts at mitigation are infinitely more expensive than the do-nothing option. (If you have nothing better to do, here is Monckton's CO2 mitigation paper.  It was published by the denialist SPPI and I can't say how it was peer reviewed.  My suspicion is that it was probably pal reviewed.)
    He may also like to read my earlier paper for the Annual Proceedings, published in 2011, in which I demonstrated that most of the global warming from 1983-2001 was caused by a naturally-occurring reduction in cloud cover (Pinker et al., 2005). So “Warren’s” statement that most of the warming in the 20th century was manmade may not be true, as several papers in the learned literature (including mine) attest. And there is certainly no scientific basis for his assertion that physics dictates that most of the warming must have been caused by us. That is another instance of the logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, arguing from ignorance. We don’t know why the warming occurred, but if Pinker is right (and Dr. Joseph Boston kindly reanalysed her data for me to make sure she was) then most of the warming was probably of natural origin. (Annual Proceedings of what?  Bit vague.)
    Next, “Warren” makes the strange assertion that I had said tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers were wrong. I had made no such assertion. Far fewer papers than he may realize suggest that global warming may prove catastrophic. Of the 64 papers marked by Cook et al. as supporting the IPCC’s version of “consensus” to the effect that most of the warming since 1950 was manmade, only one said warming might prove catastrophic.
    Finally, “Warren” asserts that I believe in the existence of a global “conspiracy” among scientists. No: I had explicitly stated that there is indeed a small group – we all know who most of them are – who for political and financial motives have been making up bad science and getting it published in acquiescent journals. The real problem is that, once the political class had taken up the issue, the remainder of the scientific community stood by and allowed the lies to continue to be told – again for political and financial reasons. That is not a conspiracy: it is the herd instinct of the hive mind that so much of academe has become – a hive mind of which “Warren” seems to be a part. (Hmm, even a small conspiracy can be global, Lord Monckton?  Of course what you are saying is that you have it in for some climate scientists but you won't name names because even using the best lawyers, you are likely to be found guilty of libel as it would be very difficult to prove that what you are saying is either true, in the public interest or just your opinion.)
    Let us hope “Warren” has learned from his experience here that mere assertions of religious belief in the New Superstition are not enough. He must back his claims with proper, peer-reviewed evidence. That excludes tendentious lecture series, and it excludes the documents of the IPCC, which are not peer-reviewed in the accepted sense. The morality taught by my own religion requires that science be a genuine search for truth, which is why those who have tried to assert that science is “amoral” are not quite right. The search for scientific truth is a moral process, in that it requires scrupulous intellectual honesty of the scientist. Scientists like the small and malevolent band who have made up scientific results and claimed certainty where none can exist are not intellectually honest; their work is immoral; and their conclusions, because their work is immoral, are valueless. (The New Superstition is, of course, a figment of Monckton's fertile imagination.  One thing is true - intellectual honesty is a requirement of good science.  It is not something that can be ascribed to Monckton.)
There is more.
The trolls are hard at it, but their increasing desperation is evident in the increasing stupidity of their argument. Margaret Hardman says she believes in “multiple lines of evidence” for catastrophism, but fails to mange to mention even one. She then wilfully misstates my argument in the head posting. I had not said catastrophism was a religion but a quasi-religious superstition. I had not said that because it was a superstition scientists should be more moral: I said that science in the absence of a commonly-accepted moral yardstick that religion can provide is prone to the corruption that has been evident in the global warming scare. (As Margaret Hardman herself points out in her own comment in response, Monckton has put words into her mouth.  She did not say she believes in multiple lines of evidence for catastrophism.  Apparently, however, there is a tactical withdrawal from Monckton.  He now says he is not equating catastrophism with religion (although he clearly made that comparison) but with a quasi-religious superstition.  What rubbish!  Monckton knows he has been exposed and cannot actually continue the analogy.  Religion is not science and science is not a religion.  Monckton knows that, or at least he should.  What Monckton really means by morals for scientists is a set of rules.  We don't talk about the morals of football or golf, we talk about the rules.  Yes, scientists should, and I hope all of them are, aiming to find the truth.  That is not something I think you can accuse Monckton of doing.  Anyway, his story has changed.)
PJ Clarke refers to a doctored graph in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in a desperate attempt to maintain that, as he fatuously puts it, “the models are doing fine” when, self-evidently, they are not. The original graph that I and other expert reviewers were allowed to see showed clearly that global warming was trailing along at the very bottom of the models’ various predictions, and altogether outside some of them. That graph was replaced by the doctored graph, and we were not given any opportunity to review the doctored graph before it was published. This is just one instance of the reasons why there is no basis for any claim that the IPCC is “peer-reviewed” in any accepted sense of that term.  (But don't you go around claiming to have been an expert reviewer of earlier IPCC reports?  Isn't that what peer review actually is? 
PJ Clarke then takes issue with my paper concluding on the basis of an analysis by Dr. Rachel Pinker that most of the radiative forcing from 1983-2001 was attributable to a naturally-occurring diminution in global cloud cover. He says that Dr. Pinker herself had challenged my finding. Actually, she had only challenged a fictitious account of it given to her by a paid publicist. When the BBC subsequently sent her my paper, she was not able to fault its conclusion. He also says several other “scientists” had challenged my paper: but they had not dared to do so in any peer-reviewed journal,, where their nonsense would have been subjected to scrutiny.  (Struggled to find anything that supports Monckton's version of events.)
For good measure, PJ Clarke falsely says the absurd paid propagandists Cook et al. had published a peer-reviewed reply to the criticism by Legates et al. (2013) of their trumped-up conclusion that there was a 97% consensus that most of the global warming of recent decades was manmade. Legates et al had demonstrated by reference to Cook’s own datafile that the consensus was actually 0.3%, not 97%. The document by Bedford & Cook linked to by PJ Clarke was not the answer to our paper proving the consensus to be 0.3%: it was an answer to an earlier paper by Legates, Soon & Briggs (and not by Monckton of Brenchley as well). (Playground name calling of Cook & al which suggests their work has tattled the cages of the deniers.  More childishness from Monckton.)
The trolls have had a more than usually decisive spanking in this thread. If they want anyone to take them seriously, they must step up to the plate and raise their game. They should try doing some real research, publishing some real papers and telling the truth, rather than clinging to whatever handy fabrication has been passed down to them in the form of the Party Line. (Not really, Christopher.  At least they didn't resort to name calling and spurious calls for evidence that cannot possibly exist, wave away evidence when produced because it is "fictitious", "doctored", the result of some non-existent conspiracy.  Monckton knows as well as anyone else that he has had his assertions thoroughly dissected in the past and has been shown to have used scientific papers inappropriately, through ignorance it would appear.)
I think that's enough.  It would have been nice to see an apology for the false analogy from Monckton but I don't think the word sorry is in his vocabulary.  That he is wrong is easily demonstrable.  I can do it myself.  That Abbott's comment about prejudice got the response it did suggests it pricked his thick hide.  The stuff about his "miracle" cure is easily contradicted - Monckton even did it himself in the space of a few sentences.  I think I know enough about colds and flu to know that claiming a cure is like proving you caused the Sun to rise in the morning.

My estimation of this man is still declining.  I hope he has a trick to hide it.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

WDDTY - acunpuncture for tonsilectomy patients

Our good friends at the journal of record, What Doctors Don't Tell You, on their web page, report on a "study" that suggests acupuncture is useful for relieving pain in post tonsillectomy children.  Here is the paper that WDDTY bases its story on.  In the event, the analysis is based on 31 children and reports a significant decrease in pain.

But hold on a minute.

If you ask me, this study is a classic example of how not to do it. 

Firstly, there is no control group.  Not even a thought of one.  So we have no idea of whether the pain reduction is normal or not.  Just Ochi's word.  Sham acupuncture has been developed to act as a control and when it is used, the effects of acupuncture dribble away to placebo levels.  To be fair, Ochi does recognise this:
The study sample was a sample of convenience. The current design employed neither random assignment nor control conditions against which to compare the acupuncture procedure. The experimenter and participants were not blind and both were motivated to see pain reduced.

Secondly, the group was to some extent self selecting.  These were the children whose parents brought them back specifically because the pain was still a problem.  They came back within the author's ten day limit but it is unlikely that many returned on day ten, as shown by the discussion on how long the effects last.  To be fair, the quotation above does cover this criticism to a certain extent.

Thirdly, the group is highly heterogenous. The patients ages ranged from 2 to 17, mean of  9.23.  As anyone might be able to tell you, a nine year old is more open to suggestion than a17 year old.  Some of the pain scores were reported by the parents and not the children, but we don't know how many and for what ages (although clearly the 2 year olds would have had their pain reported).  Not all of the original 56 patients had the same treatment.  This study is starting to get very messy.

Fourthly, there is no record of controlling for the parents.  Note that 9 parents refused acupuncture which suggests at least that those that chose to accept acupuncture were amenable to it.  By how much might that have skewed the results?  I know that if I were trying to persuade my granddaughter to have pins stuck in her, I would have to tell her it would help reduce her pain.  Would that affect the result? You bet.  She will do lots of things to please me.  When she complains of a pain, I give it a rub or a kiss better and she tells me the pain has gone down.  I have no idea of whether it has or it hasn't because pain is subjective.  Using the pain score chart is useful but still subjective.  Needless to say, I'm not convinced.

Fifthly, the acupuncture given varied from patient to patient.  We're getting a lot of factors here and it could be that the length of treatment, the number of needles and so on influences the patient's response, and I am not necessarily talking the reduction of pain.  The parents will already know that Ochi gives acupuncture because it is there on his website:
As one of the only pediatric ENT specialists in the country with a double Board Certification in Otolaryngology (ENT) as well as Medical Acupuncture, Dr. Ochi offers a unique advantage of being able to provide a holistic & integrative approach to caring for & treating your child’s ear, nose or throat condition.
So even before the child gets to the examination room, the parents have an expectation that the acupuncture will achieve something.  But he usually promises conventional pain medication too, as this review suggests, but...
My child had tonsils removed from him. He promised there would be pain meds given as well as acupuncture. Then after the surgery he sprang it on us that she wouldn't be given pain meds. He is evil. 

My child went into shock and had to be taken back to the hospital, developed a deadly  infection near brain stem, all because he was stupid enough not to give her antibiotics during surgery! My child was nearly an adult with no sleep apnea. 

I think his license should be taken away! Elementary Dr. 101 stuff he missed..... like pain meds and antibiotics. 

..... You will also notice, no one else in the office with you! As well as pictures of little boys bathing in his office. Creep!     (from http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/james-w-ochi-md-encinitas)

Sixthly, the length of time that the treatment lasted was also measured in a somewhat ad hoc way. 29.41% of the patients reported less than 3 hours benefit. That's a big number, roughly the same as those that reported more than 60 hours benefit. This latter group skews the duration results significantly because the mean duration of the effects is reported as 61.24 hours. The standard deviation is greater than the mean which suggests we can have no confidence in those results.

Having given the paper a critique, I should add the Ochi knows the paper isn't that good.  But he pushes the acupuncture line.  Here is his conclusion:
The data tentatively suggest that acupuncture decreases perceived pain in children and adolescents after tonsillectomy. Though randomized, controlled research needs to be done to confirm the trends observed in the current study, the combination  of these preliminary results with the low cost and safety of acupuncture make it a promising way to relieve tonsillectomy pain in children and adolescents.
 But he would, wouldn't he?  He is trained in acupuncture, believes in acupuncture and may believe that this actually is evidence for acupuncture.  I have my misgivings.  This, for example, gives me food for thought, and not in the way that acupuncturists would like. And this.

Now back to What Doctors Don't Tell You.  Here is the news piece from their website:
Could acupuncture be routinely prescribed by US doctors for pain relief? It could happen, according to a new study that found it works in children who have had their tonsils taken out (1). Doctors’ choices were narrowed earlier this year when America’s drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), banned the use of codeine in children who had had a tonsillectomy after the drug was found to cause complications. But Dr James Ochi, a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon in San Diego, has produced a study on the successful use of acupuncture on a group of 31 children, aged from two to 17 years, after tonsillectomy. Their pain levels fell dramatically after just 15 minutes of acupuncture, and the pain relief lasted for nearly three days afterwards (2). It was no great news to Dr Ochi who says he has being using acupuncture for years, and even before the codeine ban. An earlier study at Harvard came to similar conclusions: acupuncture reduces pain in children following ear surgery, the researchers found. (Source: International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 2013; 77: 2058)

(1)  Here is what Ochi actually says about the patients:
56 juvenile patients underwent tonsillectomy during the 3-month study period. In addition: all 56 patients also had adenoidectomy; 13 had bilateral myringotomy and tube insertion; two had nasal cautery; and one had cerumen removal.
 We don't know which ones were used in the study but, and this is borne out by reviews of Ochi's practice on the internet, he does seem keen on surgery.  Very keen apparently.  But nevermind.  Sixteen of the patients had other bits of surgery too.  That's 28.6%.  Quite a big chunk.  How did these other procedures affect the outcomes?

(2)  Here is what Ochi says:
Finally, the 17 estimates of acupuncture benefit duration were examined. All patient estimates were converted to hours and ‘‘capped’’ by the tonsillectomy recovery window. Put another way, if a patient on day nine claimed that acupuncture lasted for 62 h
(three days), this estimate was restricted to 48 h (the full day nine  and the full day 10). Estimates were capped in this manner to minimize the extent to which patients conflated acupuncture pain relief with the pain relief accompanying the natural healing
process, which should produce a minimum pain around or shortly after day 10 for most patients. The mean estimated duration of acupuncture benefit was 61.24 h (SD = 64.58 h, range = 1–168 h). Five of 17 patients (29.41%) reported less than three hours of
benefit, five (29.41%) reported more than 60 h, and the remaining seven patients (41.18%) reported intermediate durations.
 As I said above, I don't think we can give too much confidence to this bit.  More than 70% of the patients reported well under 3 days worth of pain relief.  So claiming that the pain relief lasted almost three days is stretching it a bit. 

I don't like Ochi's study because I think it wouldn't merit much at high school but the most important bit is that he does accept there are big limitations.  WDDTY, on the other hand, don't worry about the niceties of doubt and uncertainty in science.  They try to sew uncertainty and doubt about science.

One of the reasons Ochi gives for using acupuncture is cost.  Apparently it costs 11 cents for his needles.  According to the Walgreens website, paracetamol (acetaminophen) costs 2.7 cents per tablet, does not require an expensive consult or trained person to administer and, well, can be taken when required, within the obvious limitations imposed by sensible use of the painkiller.  The needles might be 11 cents.  The physician costs extra.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Revolution in the head - how to change science

Not really. The scientific method is quite simple. Think of an explanation for why something happens, come up with a testable prediction and check that against the real world outside your own head.  Simple.

Science deniers of all hues love Richard Feynman. They particularly love his quote about your results disagreeing with the theory then the theory is wrong. I don't think Feynman was that naïf. He was a bit of a showman and he knew the power of a good quote, and this is one such. Here is another:
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've used that one before. It isn't one I see the contrarians give. That's because it is inconvenient for them. Science works in a messy way. There rarely is a smoking gun experiment that sets up a new paradigm.

Paradigm - that word. The classic Kuhnian paradigm shift is the Copernican one, the shift to a heliocentric model. But Copernicus himself came up with a phenomenally complex model that needed Kepler to sort out properly. The shift to the idea of plate tectonics also took time. Evidence is always the arbiter.

Our friendly science deniers love the idea of the paradigm. Apparently, the current paradigm is wrong and needs to be overthrown. They can try. Actually, they do, just usually via a route replete with ignorance or misinterpretation. I'm being kind. To overthrow the current paradigm what is needed is evidence. Not just a few anecdotes and even more misinterpreted real science but solid, reliable, replicable evidence.

Parapsychological research has been a source of contention for decades. Careful experiments have found nothing. Above chance. Carefully designed experiments have found that homeopathy and acupuncture are no better than placebo. Since placebo works roughly 30% of the time, plenty of it worked for me anecdotes can be strung together. For some that is a convincing case. For real scientists it isn't because scientists know how many fundamental principles and laws homeopathy would have to overturn for it to be true. Same for acupuncture.

I heard the blessed Lynne McTaggart say that we are creature of frequency, or something similar, on a glossy (yet still unquaintly amateurish) post on YouTube on David Icke's channel. If you have been off planet, or are a reptile in human form, David Icke is the former goalkeeper and BBC sports reporter who emerged as an alternative reality proponent in the early 90s. There are more than enough gullible people whose money has kept him afloat. Perhaps I should take the same road and fleece these people of their cash. Except I have a conscience (not that Icke hasn't, he seems sincere, sincerely misguided in my opinion). Whatever, I haven't a clue what creature of frequency means. I don't think McTaggart knows either, but on the show everyone nods sagely as if they did.

Let's assume for the moment that McTaggart is correct. What should she do to convince people like me who are, on the whole, unconvinced by outlandish claims? Well, she needs to show that it is true. She needs to measure the frequency, explain what sort of wave she is talking about, demonstrate the properties of these vibrations. In other words, give us more than an assertion. She needs evidence.

She could take the example of the discovery of x rays as an example. Roentgen had to convince people as this was totally new but he had no difficulty because he could easily demonstrate the physical reality of these waves. They were reproducible, detectable and, it was quickly spotted, very useful. All the nonsense about frequency and organisms, let alone the idea of the universe being one vast organism which comes in the same video, will remain nonsense until its proponents manage to come up with the required evidence.

Those searching for the new paradigm ignore important things, like the laws of thermodynamics. It's unlikely those laws will be overturned. Yet for some of these alternative science things to work, that is precisely what must happen. You can't just suck all that quantum energy out of the zero point field. It's not how things work. Chad Orzel has a chapter in his lovely book How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog explaining gently how idiotic some people have got with quantum physics. If Feynman didn't understand it then Chopra, McTaggart, Wlliam Tiller, Rupert Sheldrake and me aren't going to get it. But I'm not the one making outlandish claims, inventing science that doesn't exist, particles that have no evidence and so on. So I don't have to defend my claims.

I have become increasingly convinced that science denial is really wishful thinking. Wouldn't it be nice if this were different? Well, yes, some of the time but there are plenty of wished for outcomes that are not pleasant for everyone. I might wish for health, wealth and happiness for all, someone else might wish a horrible disease upon me. Not a good outcome for me. I would love there to be a pleasant, reliable and cheap cure for cancer. I know that cure isn't vitamin C. I know because the science tells me so, not because I wish it to be true or that Linus Pauling said it was so. Science doesn't work by wish fulfilment or by intention. Cannon balls fell at the same rate before Galileo demonstrated what was before our very eyes and have continued to do so afterwards.

The wishful thinking comes from the fact that scientific facts don't bend because of opinion. They don't alter except in the face of evidence. Climate science deniers often shout about taxes that they don't like (who does?), conspiracies or politics. Well,conspiracies do exist, but one as wide as to encompass all climate scientists, including the handful of contrarian ones, would quickly fray. And as for politics,if we accidentally make a better world ...

I find it strange that the main outlet for climate science denial is the World Wide Web yet so many such deniers decry global efforts to hold back the effects of our undoubted uncontrolled experiment in terraforming. The world is not the global village of the sixties, it is the global metropolis. We don't get our information via paper, radio and tv any longer. It comes through shining screens that we can interrogate. In my pocket I have a Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy better than the one envisaged in 1977 by Douglas Adams. And it usually tells me to panic.

Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Galileo, Darwin, all changed science and they changed it by ensuring they had the evidence, whether it was observational, experimental or in the form of mathematical models. They put their ideas up for criticism. They expected it. Darwin answered his critics in later editions of the Origin Of Species. Scientists know that is what will have to happen. They know other findings could change their theories immensely, even falsifying them. And they work to convince their fellow scientists, the ones most likely to find fault in their science.

The fake scientists, in the other hand, don't seem keen on criticism, polishing their ideas or presenting them to real scientists to be critiqued. Funny that. Shouting and screaming about changing the paradigm doesntmactuallymdo the trick. It is evidence that will do the trick.

Open letter to Bob Tisdale

I note your angry rant on Watts Up With That.  I see it as another in a series of posturing but pointless open letters that find a circular filing cabinet at their destination and one of those thank you slips that tells you, in words of one syllable, to go forth. What did happen to that petition Monckton got up at WuWT?

Anyway, why should the producers of a TV show listen to you? Why should ey listen to me? They are a business and their main thought is profit. A few people with an axe (I'm British) to grind aren't going to change their minds.

One of your main objections is to "climate expert" Daniel Abbasi.  Perhaps he is, perhaps he isn't, but I'm not taking your word for it.

You see, my definition of climate expert relies on the idea that someone really has come up the hard way to reach the summit of climate science.  Not just someone who has spent an armchair thinking about it.

Thing is, Bob, I don't seem to be able to find out what you actually did for a living, what your qualifications really are and other than having a research interest, what reason I should choose to take what you say seriously.  I know that Lord Monckton and Willis Eschenbach have no qualifications in climate science.  I know that Anthony Watts is a weatherman for a little radio station in California and weather gear salesman (no conflict of interest there). And over at WUWT we have a range of engineers, park rangers, failed bankers and the like posting their incoherent (as a collection) of ideas on climate. Your thoughts turn up there too. So you must be happy in that company.

I know that many climate change pseudo-skeptics have no proper credentials in the area of climate science.  Nor do I. But I'm not pretending to save the world from the global climate conspiracy (sic) or anything of the kind. I'm just pointing out hypocrisy.

I hate hypocrisy and I hate fake bluster. The TV company wants to make a TV show you don't like e look of, well, so what. It's a free market, isn't it. They can make what they want.

Or is your complain like mine against What Doctors Don't Tell You? That perhaps the TV company should be better with the science. I bet they are, because you are not careful with the science and you have a proven track record of being very poor with criticism. In my moan about WDDTY the science is on my side as it is with climate change. You might not like the science but in the end it will be the evidence that gives us the answer. Since the last decade was the hottest on record, it gets harder and harder for you to deny what stares us in the face, those of us prepared to look.

Never mind. You will have a seond chance to koan when the series is broadcast. Or you could watch Ancient Aliens or whatever it's called. Complain about that please, if you are so concerned about science. Thought not.



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Scientists are humans too

There is a theme running through a lot of the contrarian strands: scientists should do science. Since I have spent a good deal of this year, and many of the previous ones as well, defending science from those ignorant of it, I must stand up and say something here. 

The argument goes something like this. Scientists make comments about policy or society that are outside of their job description. Therefore scientists should only do science and not make any pronouncements on things as vile and sullied as policy and how their discoveries might be of benefit to humankind in general.

In other words, leave policy to the policy makers.

I'm not convinced, for several reasons.

 1. Scientists are part of the wider society themselves. In some ways they have a bigger appreciation of the impacts of their discoveries than the policy makers. There is reason to believe the IPCC have not been as "scaremongering" over the impacts of climate change as they might have been.

 2. Scientists are human. They want what is best for themselves, their families and humanity in general. They are not stupid, which might be why few of them end up in politics. Why should scientists be excluded from trying the make things better for their families?

 3. Much of science is done with a positive outcome for society in mind. It is in lots of grant application forms in one way or another. Both industry and government want some return on their investment. It's only to be expected, so it is only to be expected that one scientist or another in the team will have to justify the money spent. Tax payers seem to bulk at huge, blue sky projects. They want to see their tax money spent wisely.

 4. It would be totally wrong of scientists to remain silent about some discoveries. Richard Doll could have kept his mouth shut about the link between smoking and lung cancer but he didn't and rightly so. Let's assume a scientist makes a discovery about, for example, a commonly taken over the counter medicine, that is is causing birth defects or something similar. Would it be right for them not to mention anything? To publish their results and not mention the implications? Of course not. The backlash were they to remain silent would be worse than going public.

The reasons for asking scientists to keep out of the policy field seem obvious to me. It is about keeping them in their place. Science deniers don't like the power that scientists have, the power to uncover something new that adds to our understanding of the universe. They also have a power most of us don't have. They can truly make a difference, not for a day or two but potentially for all time. Alexander Fleming did precisely that, Edward Jenner too. A few words on a blog or in a newspaper column, they might bring a smile or a frown but they don't do much to change the world.

This year I've spent much of my precious spare time in the company of scientific illiterates. I've hung out at websites that make my blood boil because of their ignorance and their willingness to misrepresent the science, yet pretend they are still doing science. If people deny science, why do they wear its clothes?

Because science does have power. It has the power to find what it right from what is wrong. Science deniers would like to make up their own universe. Having heard and read the words of such luminaries as Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, William Tiller and Lynne McTaggart, I did not realise how far removed from reality some alternative thinking actually is, yet it desperately clings to science as a crutch. But only if those scientists are kept in their kennels and not allowed to bark. And especially if those scientists bark that the deniers have got it wrong. Careful because they might proclaim free speech but they don't mean it. Expect to be censored or even deleted.

The longer I have spent reading the words of science deniers (I began years ago with UFO, PSI and other crank claims), the more I have come to realise that the denier wants another truth. They go looking for another truth. And they don't accept alternative explanations or contradictory evidence. But as that builds up, it becomes harder and harder to deny (although clearly not impossible) so other arguments must emerge to keep the denial flame flickering. One of those is the argument that scientists should do science and nothing but. So I guess economists should stick to economics and not venture into the policy field then. And historians should just write history books and not tell us the lessons they learn from studying all those documents.

What rubbish! Scientists, as much as anyone else, should be encouraged to see where their research has a wider benefit to society. Why on Earth not? It would ground some scientists if they had to think about what their research actually means, not just to themselves but to the wider world.

But we should remember that a lot of what looked like pure research many years ago is now part of applied research. Someone is always on the look out for something they MIT be able to apply and make a profit from. Just look at the exploitation of electromagnetic waves, radioactivity from the last century, to quantum computing now. It doesn't take many brains to see that both pure and applied research is important. I doubt we will ever see an application of black holes or the Higgs boson, but you can never quite rule it out. Remember that the greenhouse properties of carbon dioxide were discovered as part of pure research - that bit of science is long since settled. The implications of that discovery might be argued about, but it is hard to see how they are arguable. Some would like the scientists who study it to keep quiet about what it all might mean.

I finish on an optimistic note. Here is a list of all the UK MPs who have worked as scientists:
Julian Hupper (Cambridge).

Perhaps I am wrong to be optimistic.