Sunday, 15 June 2014

Tim Ball says something astonishing

You know what I'm going to say.  Tim Ball hasn't got a clue.  How do I know?

In an article at WUWT (archived), he says this:
Climate is an average of the weather over time or in a region and until the 1960s averages were effectively the only statistic developed. 
In reply, perhaps just quoting from Wikipedia is simplest:
By the 18th century, the term "statistics" designated the systematic collection of demographic and economic data by states. In the early 19th century, the meaning of "statistics" broadened to include the discipline concerned with the collection, summary, and analysis of data. Today statistics is widely employed in government, business, and all the sciences. Electronic computers have expedited statistical computation, and have allowed statisticians to develop "computer-intensive" methods.

The term "mathematical statistics" designates the mathematical theories of probability and statistical inference, which are used in statistical practice. The relation between statistics and probability theory developed rather late, however. In the 19th century, statistics increasingly used probability theory, whose initial results were found in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in the analysis of games of chance (gambling). By 1800, astronomy used probability models and statistical theories, particularly the method of least squares. Early probability theory and statistics was systematized in the 19th century and statistical reasoning and probability models were used by social scientists to advance the new sciences of experimental psychology and sociology, and by physical scientists in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. The development of statistical reasoning was closely associated with the development of inductive logic and the scientific method.

Statistics can be regarded as not a field of mathematics but an autonomous mathematical science, like computer science and operations research. Unlike mathematics, statistics had its origins in public administration. It is used in demography and economics. With its emphasis on learning from data and making best predictions, statistics has a considerable overlap with decision science and microeconomics. With its concerns with data, statistics has overlap with information science and computer science
 Tim, you might not have noticed this but those three paragraphs are just about the foundations of modern science.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, think thermodynamics. The quantum thing rose out of that.

In fact, Tim could usefully consult this page from Wikipedia, a lovely timeline which tells us much about when some statistical things were invented or first used, like Bayes Theorem (1761), using a line of best fit (1801), correlation (1888), student t distribution (1908).  Not a bad cherry pick from what is quite a long list.  The Royal Statistical Society was founded in 1838 and had Florence Nightingale as its first female member. 

Ball is, at least, honest:
 I am not a statistician. I took university level statistics because I knew, as a climatologist, I needed to know enough to ask statisticians the right questions and understand the answers.
Luckily, I took both A level and university level statistics so I guess I am better qualified than Ball is.  And, just like him, I am not a climatologist.  I studied biology.  Much more importantly, I don't have an ideological line on the climate so I don't know the answers in advance.  And I can understand, I think, the answers.  I am also sceptical - I check things.  I check them especially if I don't think they are true to start with, if they clash with other things I understand. 

Ball could have done that but in a moment of ignorance, he chose not to let light into his personal darkness.  It would have taken a few clicks of the mouse but that was too much.

There is a problem with being wrong and that is the frequency of being wrong.  People always make mistakes.  It is how often and how stupid those mistakes are that matters. 

I don't think many people who know of Ball think him particularly credible but an ideological rant like his piece at WUWT is not going to raise his credibility rating.  After all, he moans about the  missing standard deviation in the title but just once in the article itself:
Reduction or elimination of the standard deviation leads to loss of information and further distortion of the natural variability of weather and climate, both of which continue to occur within historic and natural norms.
The fact that science has trended away from standard deviation to the idea of 95% confidence levels has escaped Ball.  Presumably he knows what the 95% is: it is two standard deviations.  So science is much more interested in whether the discovery is less likely than Ball is.

Ball's article isn't really about statistics, its about bad scientists doing bad things like not mentioning variability, and those same bad scientists not caring about the variability of the climate.  I don't think climate scientists will lose sleep over Ball's latest dismal effort.  Instead, they will get on with doing the calculations.

But first, let's dip into the eleven comments this piece had gathered by the time I saw it.

Profitup10 says:
A very good piece that most climate change supporters will not understand nor believe. 
Mostly, I think because it is neither a very good piece nor one that climate change supporters [sic] will find hard to comprehend (other than that it is a disjointed and incoherent piece, but that's what you get from Ball).

Profitup10 is straightforward conspiracy nut.  Bit like the bouncing Ball.

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