Number of the Month

March  2006

The hysteria grows

Consensus grows on climate change yells the BBC.

It is all, of course, part of the traditional softening up before yet another scarefest at the IPCC. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of the genre, which begs some interesting questions.

Where is the evidence (no, let us not be too demanding, where is one word) in the article that justifies the title? Why are we now being told that the consensus is growing, when we were told before that it was dominant? Who are all these infidels who are now rushing to join the ranks of the faithful?

As for the report itself, that has justly been summarised as Irresponsible reporting of Climate Science.

Footnote on fakery (by Our Man in Puerto Rico)

The BBC stokes the fire even more with that photo. This is the caption:

"Triftgletscher in Switzerland until recently filled the entire basin seen here. Thinning of the tongue during the 1990s accelerated and as of 2001 a lake started to form in front of it. Rapid break-up of the snout is now underway. Image: Glaciers Online/Jürg Alean"

1. Why are both photos not dated? No way to find out what "recently" means. It you take a good look at them it's hard to find any difference in the photos in the ice volume on the slopes above the lake. If the glacier is receding there should be less ice on the slope, too. No mention is made about the season. Were both photos taken during the same season?

2. There seem to be some rocks in the foreground, some covered by ice. The more recent photo shows no rocks there. What happened to them? Ok, so the water level has increased and they are covered... Except that the water level does not seem to have increased that much. There's no way to get an idea of the scale. No recognizable objects in the photos.

 The photo was obtained from this site. Note that among the different photos, there are some of glaciers that are advancing. One of the pictures has the following caption:

"An oblique aerial view of the contact zone between the White Glacier (left) which is slowly receding, and Thompson Glacier (right), which is advancing (Axel Heiberg Island, Canadian Arctic Archipelago). Note the difference in the nature of the glacier frontal zones."

Of 18 photos shown, six do not clearly say if the glaciers are advancing or receding; three are advancing, six are receding and three mention receding and advancing on the same photo.

03/03/06

In vino veritas

One of the phenomena that accompany the warm-up before an IPCC launch is that sceptics come under attack in various forums. Number Watch, for example, comes in for a bit of stick in this discussion. Although adequate references were given, it is blithely stated that the ten facts about global warming are either untrue or made up. It would take a whole book to refute this claim, so let us have a look at the first “fact”. Oddly enough, the critics did not question the failure to specify a temperature scale. This “fact” was a deliberate understatement. Not only is there a great deal of scientific evidence for the Mediaeval Warm Period, there are thousands of historical documents that attest to a kind climate. Take just one book that happens to be on the shelves of your bending author. It is The History of the Wine Trade in England by A L Simon, 1906. A large scholarly work, it has copious footnotes in Latin and mediaeval French and English. It might sound dull, but it tells you more about many of the monarchs and their agents than most popular history books. Here is wisdom, corruption, evil, incompetence, benevolence and all the other attributes of all-powerful leaders that so affected ordinary life and welfare.

The relative suppression of viticulture in England during those bland climatic conditions was largely a political act. The monarchs of the period had territory on the French mainland that included the main European wine producing areas. At the time of Henry II, it stretched  to the Pyrenees and almost  to the Mediterranean. Not only did the Norman and Plantagenet kings raise taxes in those regions, but they made a great deal out of duties on the transportation of wine, and even traded it on their own behalf. The abbeys, however, were more or less independent, so were able to take advantage of the clement conditions. Of course, the kings also reserved for themselves the same right. Here is part of Simon’s account: 

Towards the middle of the twelfth century, we are told by William of Malmesbury, vineyards were no longer confined to a few places, but extended over large tracts of country, producing a great quantity of excellent wine: “You may behold,” he observes, when describing the fertility of the vale at Gloucester, “the paths and public roads fenced with apple trees, which are not planted by the hand of man but grow spontaneously. ...

“ This district, too, exhibits a greater number of vineyards than any other county in England, yielding abundant crops and of superior quality; nor are the wines made here by any means harsh or ungrateful to the palate, for, in point of sweetness, they may almost bear comparison with the growths of France.” 

In the reign of Stephen, there is a mention, in 1140, of two vineyards at Mealdon, and, in the same year, the Sheriffs of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire were allowed, in their accounts,“for the livery of the King's vine-dresser at Rockingham, and for necessaries for the vineyards.”  There is also an Act of this monarch, which is undated, but which from internal evidence may be safely attributed to A.D. 1143, ordering that restoration should be made to Holy Trinity Priory, London, of its land in Smithfield, which Geoffrey, Earl of Essex, had seized and converted into a vineyard.

 

In the fourth year of the reign of Henry II, payments appear to have been made and charged to the Royal Exchequer for the keeper of the vineyard, who received on one occasion sixty shillings and tenpence, as well as for the expenses of the said royal vineyard. Later on, during the same reign, in 1159, 1162, 1165, 1168, 1174 and 1175, there are frequent mentions of the royal vineyards at Windsor, Purley, Stoke, Cistelet, and in Herefordshire and Huntingdonshire; in 1165, there is an entry of a vineyard at Tenham, the produce of which seems to have been devoted to the sick at the infirmary. 

 

During the first year of the reign of King Richard, there are three mentions of vineyards, and others occur during the reigns of Henry III., at Lincoln, Bath and Hereford, of Edward II at York, and as late as that of Richard II., in 1385 and 1392, at Windsor II and Kennington.  At the beginning of Edward I's reign, in 1276, Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, either planted or renewed the vine-yard which his pupil and successor, Swinfield, had at Ledbury. In 1289, the Bishop made seven casks (dolia) of white wine and nearly one of verjuice at Ledbury.  This wine was chiefly transferred to Bosbury, another estate of the Bishop, and it was mostly drunk during the ensuing summer.

Ledbury must have been particularly well suited for the culture of the grape vine, since as late as the end of the seventeenth century, George Skipp, a descendant of Bishop Skipp, made both red and white wine from his plantation at Upper Hall, in the parish of Ledbury.

According to Somner, Canterbury Church and St. Augustine's Abbey were possessed of numerous vineyards, amongst which those at Colton, St. Martin's, Chertham, Brook and Hollingburn are specially named.

At HaIling, near Rochester, the Bishop of that See is stated by Lambarde to have had a vineyard and to have made wine, of which a present was sent to Edward II; according to the same authority, there used to, be, after the Conquest, a great many vines at Santlac, near Battle, in Sussex, probably belonging to the abbey of that name.

Clearly, with the possible short-lived exception of Ledbury, cultivation of the vine in England did not survive the first minimum of the Little Ice Age, which occurred in 1650. It was not to be restored until the twentieth century, but is now growing apace

How characteristic it is of the mean spirited perversity of modern man that he manages to turn such a benign gift as a kind climate into a disaster! 

The act of hubris by the IPCC of suddenly denying these well-attested climate variations (and even its own earlier account of them) should have resulted in its instant dissolution; especially as it was based on such obvious mathematical incompetence. That it did not is a tribute to the power and influence of its allies in the media and politics.

05/03/06

Logic

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
-- Vice President Dan Quayle (allegedly)

Almost exactly five years ago Number Watch was obliged to call a Moratorium on Mention of the IPCC, not least because it was turning this site into a single issue one. Somehow, the determination lapsed and it has crept in again to take over proceedings. Apologies for the lack of moral fibre.

It has also been an avowed policy not to get involved in those arguments of ever decreasing circles that occur in various forums. So here, without comment, is a nice quotation in the discussion forum mentioned above about computer models from one who obviously moves on a higher mathematical plane than your bending author:

Climate models are heavily linearised and thus far from chaotic, it is the input a priori climate sensitivity that is the problem.

And, incidentally, there is no claim in the above that the mediaeval cultivation of wines supports the one degree assertion. That was left to the scientific evidence.

It is a strange political world, when every small point you make on a greenly politically sensitive issue is examined in minute detail, including (more often than not) things you did not say; yet point to something really significant (such as the Vioxx fiasco) and it does not elicit a single comment. 

07/03/06

Wet dreams

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Over forty years ago, your bending author was intensively reading about the structure of liquids, while preparing a PhD thesis, so finds the proliferation of nonsensical claims about water particularly offensive.

Via Free Hydrogen comes this link to a complete list of water pseudoscience claims. If only other areas of pseudoscience were so well covered!

08/03/06

By a strange coincidence…

There has been some discussion in our forum about the December 2003 paper on satellite global temperature measurements. It is an interesting paper with some useful results. It also has some gratuitous remarks that have nothing to do with the measurements, but give them their due, they are equally distributed between points favouring warmers and sceptics.

The main result is that over 25 years of data the slope of the best fit straight line is +0.0076°C per year. On this basis damning criticisms were made in various forums of articles referring to the earlier negative slope (such as our piece on global average temperature, which, oddly enough, was originally written to counter an argument used by some anti-warmers).

Now 25 years is a short time in climate terms, only two complete cycles of the eleven year sunspot oscillation. Note, by the way, that that important work by NASA has been suppressed by withdrawal of funding. Compare and contrast with claimed censorship by a notorious scaremonger, who achieved fame and publicity by his complaint (search junkscience.com).

By a strange coincidence, the cycle length chosen to illustrate the FAQ on trend fitting was also eleven years. The MathCad program for this was written more than a year before the said paper was published. Here we saw that the slope oscillates between positive and negative values and that the amplitude of oscillation was still significant after 25 years. Even in the random number case, the effect is clearly visible after that time interval.

That treatment included this remark “Note that these slopes are per year. Some researchers multiply this by ten to get a per decade figure, so the variations are multiplied pro rata.” Little did we then suspect that eventually a multiplier of a hundred would be invoked to get a slope per century, even though the measurements only covered 25 years. The slope in that sinusoidal simulation was about one degree per century for an initial variation of one degree peak amplitude. Making the time unit longer than the period of measurement is rather unusual (unless it is the fundamental SI unit of one second) and even perverse.

In reality, such a sinusoidal component, if it exists, would be immersed in noise. Because of the uncertainty principle and the consequent window problem, extracting it for an occurrence of only two cycles of unknown phase would be impossible.

We can only conclude that a slope of only 0.0076 degrees per year has absolutely nothing to do with global warming.

08/03/06

Spring

March 12th and this is the view from the back door in mild South West England. Apparently meteorologists want to change the official start of Spring to the 1st of March. It seems that they can only deal with whole months. Even astrologers can do better than that.

Starting the season on the equinox is a reminder that our ancestors inherently understood the concept of phase delay in a system under sinusoidal excitation.

The new breed of self-styled climate scientists does not even seem to recognise that our heat comes from the sun, let alone that it is a variable source.

One of the first rules of systems engineering is that, if you want to investigate reasons for variations of output, you look first at variations in the prime input forcing function.

Anyway, it's only weather.

12/03/06

Cheating

James Smith, in our forum, unearths a nice summary from the BMJ of all places.

Ten ways to cheat on statistical tests when writing up results 

bulletThrow all your data into a computer and report as significant any relation where P<0.05 
bulletIf baseline differences between the groups favour the intervention group, remember not to adjust for them 
bulletDo not test your data to see if they are normally distributed. If you do, you might get stuck with non-itemmetric tests, which aren't as much fun 
bulletIgnore all withdrawals (drop outs) and non-responders, so the analysis only concerns subjects who fully complied with treatment 
bulletAlways assume that you can plot one set of data against another and calculate an "r value" (Pearson correlation coefficient), and assume that a "significant" r value proves causation 
bulletIf outliers (points which lie a long way from the others on your graph) are messing up your calculations, just rub them out. But if outliers are helping your case, even if they seem to be spurious results, leave them in 
bulletIf the confidence intervals of your result overlap zero difference between the groups, leave them out of your report. Better still, mention them briefly in the text but don't draw them in on the graph—and ignore them when drawing your conclusions 
bulletIf the difference between two groups becomes significant four and a half months into a six month trial, stop the trial and start writing up. Alternatively, if at six months the results are "nearly significant," extend the trial for another three weeks 
bulletIf your results prove uninteresting, ask the computer to go back and see if any particular subgroups behaved differently. You might find that your intervention worked after all in Chinese women aged 52-61 
bulletIf analysing your data the way you plan to does not give the result you wanted, run the figures through a selection of other tests 

The Beeb is best

There has never been a propaganda machine to equal the BBC. Lord Reith’s staid auntie, who once entertained and educated us oldies so well, has been transformed into a seductive doxy who will make you believe anything. On March 14th it repeated two programmes that are fine examples of two extremes of the persuader's art, the scalpel and the bludgeon.

The first of them was so astonishing that it caused your bending author to call out to the spouse “The BBC are actually telling both sides of the global warming story!” It gave a convincing account of early warm periods (Bronze Age and Mediaeval) and of the Little Ice Age. One painting of the Thames ice was extraordinarily striking, which must be why it resides in the vaults of the London Museum.

Anyway, that’s how it went for three quarters of an hour. Then suddenly it turned into the old “Sinner repenteth” racket. The endearingly sceptical presenter, Paul Rose, was suddenly presented with the image of the Holy Hockey Stick and underwent an immediate Damascene conversion. The IPCC was mentioned, but not the fact that it has claimed that all of the above never happened.

The other programme was a late night repeat of Climate Conspiracy or Global Catastrophe? This one used all the power of the editing suite to present a totally biased case. Singer looked irrelevant and Bellamy foolish, while Monbiot was suave and omniscient. The presenter, Dr Ian Stewart, acted out the part of the even-handed presenter, but it was all just the usual hatchet job on those who dare to be infidels.

The participation mystique

One of the features of the BBC coverage was an invitation to join in with what they like to call an experiment, whereas, in fact, it is only a computer model. Computationally, the project makes no sense at all. They already have a super computer at their disposal, so all the computational overheads of downloading the model into thousands of PCs owned by ordinary punters add little or nothing to the available capability. Why do they do it?

Well, it is related to the principle of sacrifice. It has been known to creators of successful religions from time immemorial that you have to get the punters involved in ritual.  Once they have made an investment they are reluctant to resile, as that would be admitting a mistake, just like the purchasers of duff fuel saving devices. The BBC’s own Springwatch scam works on the same principle, but exploits the extreme value fallacy (the record varies as the logarithm of the number of observers).

The modern shaman makes full use of this variation of the participation mystique. That term was originally coined by anthropologists and Jungian psychologists to indicate the endowment of inanimate objects with spiritual significance, common in primitive societies and existing today in such religions as Shintoism. It has been adopted by the Green religion in the creed of oneness with nature. The trick is to get the punter involved and committed.  Then, with any luck, he is yours for life. People just do not like to face up to the fact that they have wasted time, effort and money, so they rationalise any doubts.

15/03/06

Thought for the day

16/03/06

Revisionism

From Paul Mitchel

Our rush out and buy section

It is amazing what you can buy for only seven hundred dollars. No doubt, however, you will want to get these first. Or this.

Wikiphobia revisited

There was never anything by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.
The Book of Common Prayer

The Wikepedia must have seemed a good idea at the time and, indeed, it is full of useful coverage of a wide range of subject matter. Its great weakness, however, is that it is prey to a small coterie of people who have a not very well hidden agenda of their own. They feel that it is their solemn duty in life to mount attacks on anyone they deem to have failed to give due respect to the shibboleths of political correctness.

It is sad that an entry dealing with the fundamentally technical topic of Relative Risk rapidly degenerates into such an assault. Old hands at these games will recognise that the bandwagons have been drawn into a circle just to protect one paltry number (1.19).

Note the claim of ownership of the “Standard approach”. As Warburton said “Orthodoxy is my doxy – heterodoxy is another man’s doxy.” It is rather doubtful whether the small minority of rigorous epidemiologists, such as Prof. Feinstein of Yale, who wrote of “methodological shoddiness”, would recognise it as such.

The gratuitous ad hominem of “tobacco lobbyist Steve Milloy”, for example, tells you more about the writer than it does his target. A qualified biostatistician, Milloy has eloquently criticised hundreds of examples of junk science, but he only gets into hot water when he shows disrespect to the dogmas of the new establishment. Even if he were a mass-murdering rapist, that would not affect the cogency of his argument on this matter. Although our politics differ, it is an honour to share a pillory with such a man. It is quite clear that the writer is utterly obsessive about the passive smoking campaign, particularly in the attached discussion, and this colours his whole approach to what should be a disinterested argument.

Note the resonant phrase “unduly favorable to opponents of regulation.” How indicative of a member of a group who get their thrills out of pushing other people around! Certainly, nothing to do with the definition of a statistical term!

It is, of course, one of the essential myths propagated by the zealots that the RR>2.0 criterion is an invention of the tobacco industry, despite the existence of comments from many other authorities. Sir Austin Bradford Hill, for example, who discovered the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, specifically excluded a claim about heart disease, even though it produced more excess deaths, because the RR was 1.42 (as compared with 24 for lung cancer).

The crucial principle is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Journals of epidemiology are rife with equal and opposite claims about all sorts of conditions. As Feinstein observed, just one such incident in any other branch of science would produce endless seminars and conferences until the contradiction was resolved.

The book The epidemiologists starts out with just few examples of the hundreds of contradictions in published claims and goes on to ask “How can this happen? The answer is mainly (but not entirely) a combination of four factors.

  1. The one in twenty lottery (whether expressed as P or CI)
  2. Acceptance of low relative risks
  3. Absence of randomisation
  4. Small studies

Scientists who are familiar with the Uncertainty Principle are accustomed to the dilemma that a small effect might exist but might also be undetectable within the data available.

The campaigners like to pretend that the pathetic relative risk is the only bone of contention for sceptics. To maintain this fiction they rely on the fact that they have virtually exclusive access to the media. Here is the account of the whole farrago from The epidemiologists:

The greatest scientific fraud ever

In 1988 the EPA had begun to formulate legislation banning smoking in public places. This was being done out of pure politically correct zeal, but the realisation dawned that some “scientific evidence” was going to be needed to justify it. The organisation therefore began to produce the evidence of a link between passive smoking and lung cancer, in what they called a metastudy (as observed in Chapter 7, grouping together a number of disparate findings to produce one result, i.e. forging a strong chain out of a number of weak links). Unfortunately, this did not work, as the required association was not at all evident. They then omitted a major contribution that had produced a negative result; still no joy. Getting desperate, they then took the outrageous decision to change the standards of significance by abandoning the already dubious epidemiological standard of P<0.05 in favour of an unheard of P<0.1, i.e. a one in ten chance of the result being a pure statistical accident. The truly amazing thing is that, even after all these shenanigans, they only managed to produce a relative risk of a pathetic 1.19, but they published it anyway in 1992.

It is sad (but in these times not surprising) that innocent students, looking for an explanation of a technical term in statistics, get little more than a political diatribe. The zealots give the game away, because they cannot wait to get their single issue into the argument, but it takes experience to recognise the fact.

20/03/06

Footnote: Some of the remarks noted have already been removed (21/03/06)

You can’t keep a good scaremonger down

15,000 'at risk' after U-turn on salt in food yells the Times headline. If they were not such a damned nuisance, there would be something admirably Quixotic about the small clique of salt fanatics and their ability to maintain faith regardless of the continued piling up of contrary evidence. Despite their own evidence being singularly pathetic, they manage to bamboozle Ministers of the Nanny Government into intrusive interference into the basic enjoyments of ordinary people (not that they have any reluctance to do so). Numby Laureate, Professor Graham MacGregor  has responded by upping the body count. What more could you expect from a member of such a distinguished order?

22/03/06

He knows, you know!

Yet another contradiction of a specious dietary tenet fuelled by junk epidemiology! This time it is the oily fish scam that bites the dust. Worth noting, however, is the side comment by Nigel (thousands to die) Hawkes. In a few pointed paragraphs he neatly sums up the fatuity of popular epidemiology and its attendant scare industry. 

Number Watch has had a bit of fun with our Nige over the years (or more often with his sub-editors) but every now and then he has moments of redemptive clarity. Just to show that you bending author is not unappreciative, here is a short six-year-old paragraph from Sorry, wrong number!

Just occasionally a journalist betrays some sign of conscience (see, for example, Do we care about the truth? By Nigel Hawkes, The Times, February 19, 1999) but it is indeed a rarity. Hawkes’ article should be framed and hung above the desk of every science journalist.

His dilemma is, of course, that these moments of truth are all very well, but what is he going to write about for the other 52 weeks of the year? One piece will not pay the mortgage and feed the kids.

Tim talk

Tim Worstall is celebrating the accolade of having his own personal monitoring site. The author is rather reluctant to reveal his identity, but his second sentence tells us a lot:

The reason for forming this blog his hopefully not to continually point out errors in the pieces, but encourage a better standard of right-wing blogging.

Yes, it is authentic left-wing frontier gibberish. Apart from an almost total absence of meaning, in one sentence he has managed to get in a possessive adjective posing as a verb (presumably a typo. We all do it, but in our second sentence?), a hanging adverb and a double split infinitive. Apologies to anyone who has come through the Anglo Saxon education system in the last twenty years and does not understand these terms.

24/03/06

Crime and punishment

The crime? Living too long. The punishment? Imprisonment.

The last Daily Telegraph of the month was one of those editions that seem to sum up the state of society. Compare this headline on an opinion article:

Britain's old people would be better cared for in Africa
By Tom Utley

With this main headline on the front page:

Taxpayers forced to fill hole in MPs' pensions
By George Jones and Edmund Conway

Could there be a worst example of PUTLIAR and DAISNAID than the politicians who stood by while the Chancer of the Exchequer stole other people’s pensions and then feather their own nests at the expense of those very victims. Politicians have always been corrupt and venal, but at least they had the good taste to do it in secret.

To find out how it all came about, you only have to move to another page to find:

Blair's legacy: the rhetoric and the facts
By George Jones

Further down, when you get to the bit about the elderly, you find a quotation from the Great Leader himself, in the days of his prime as Salesman of the Century:

"It is pretty simple the type of country that I want. It is a country where our children are pretty happy to grow up in, feeling good not just about themselves but about the community around them. I don't want them brought up in a country where the only way pensioners can get long- term care is by selling their home. Where people who fought to keep this country free are now faced every winter with the struggle for survival, scrimping and saving, cold, alone, waiting for death to take them."

The cult of youth results in parties electing leaders who have never run anything, so their faults do not get exposed until they are doing the top job of all. When a leader has been around too long, a nation begins to take on his characteristics. Blair’s glaring faults include insouciance, procrastination and prevarication. If he finds a problem difficult, he ignores it and goes on to the next business. Thus we are left with conspicuous examples such as the West Lothian Question, the Energy Policy (lack of), the collapsible health service and so many others, but particularly the dramatic decline of the condition of the elderly. The poorest are forced into the humiliation of Gordon Brown’s Means Test, but it is those who tried to plan a reasonably comfortable end of life who have been really shabbily treated, and as always it comes down to numbers. There are two measures of cost of living. The official one is kept low by, for example, the import of electronic boxes etc. from  China , sold at a price lower than they could be manufactured for, even with zero wage costs. The real one, which affects the elderly and others on a fixed income, contains items like local council taxes, that through Government action are increasing at more than twice the official rate of inflation. Even those who contributed all their lives for the security of an inflation-proofed pension find themselves falling into debt in a desperate effort to end their lives in the home that they have worked for.

The contrast between this and the despicable self-serving manoeuvres of the political elite provide the inevitable number of the month:

Number of the month – 49,500,000

The parliamentary pension fund - one of the most generous in  Europe - is facing the same difficulties as most other public and private schemes.

Its deficit has almost doubled to £49.5 million because of increased life expectancy and reduced investment returns, partly caused by Gordon Brown's £5 billion a year "stealth" tax on dividends.

While people in occupational schemes and millions of local government workers are being told they will have to work longer, taxpayers will foot the bill for the MPs' shortfall.

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