Number of the Month

July  2008

At least they got the title right

This appeared in a little box at the bottom of page 3 of the Times 2 section, printed edition:

Bad statistics Global Warming

Contrary to popular belief; statistics don’t lie. What they do is tell the scrupulous truth. But we rarely want that: Imagine asking a teenager if he has tidied his room. His room is a disgrace, but he answers yes – because he has tidied it, last year. He isn't lying, but neither is he responding to the real question, He is acting like a statistic.
    When Nigel Lawson says, promoting his book An Appeal To Reason.
A Cool Look At Global Warming, that there has been no warming since 1998, he is not lying. But neither is he answering the real question. Taking the average of the preceding five years – which removes yearly variation, resulting in a crude trend – 1998 is 0.25 degrees hotter than expected. That is huge: since 1850, only 1878 was a bigger anomaly. With individual years just noise on a trend line, a more accurate soundbite might be to ask how many years in the past decade were among the ten hottest on record. The answer is eight.

Don’t tell the punters that 1998 was an El Niño year and outrageously discrepant, or that records began during the Little Ice Age, or that the surface record is hopelessly contaminated by poorly sited instrumentation and subsequent tampering, so that the Telegraph, for example, reported that:

It was a telling moment when, in August, Gore's closest scientific ally, James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was forced to revise his influential record of US surface temperatures showing that the past decade has seen the hottest years on record. His graph now concedes that the hottest year of the 20th century was not 1998 but 1934, and that four of the 10 warmest years in the past 100 were in the 1930s.

Or, indeed,  of the thousands of other statistics dug up by the likes of Watts and McIntyre.


Sins of omission

The joint birthday of Number Watch and its bending author: also, regrettably, the occasion for further apologies for inaction. A new set of symptoms (of a cardiac nature) have brought new drugs and new side effects. As a result there has been a lack of postings and replies to correspondents as well as some breaking of promises. Please do not take it personally – everyone is treated equally badly.


Word Watch

With your bending author not firing on all cylinders, here are some stirring words of current interest from the great and the good.

If only The Bard could have written like this, there would be no problem.

From today’s Telegraph letters

Sir – Every time a change is suggested to the way that Shakespeare is assessed (“Secondary Schools to drop Shakespeare exams”, report, July 11), cries of “dumbing down” are not far behind.

For Shakespeare to remain relevant and for new generations to connect with his plays, language and stories, we must be prepared to re-evaluate the ways in which young people meet Shakespeare in their classrooms, and have their knowledge assessed.

Nothing in the field of learning can remain static; indeed, Shakespeare was an innovator in his time. Our research has shown that many teachers view the current assessment arrangements as barriers to active learning.

The Government’s desire to explore additional assessment methods that have opportunities for active learning are, therefore, a positive move forward.

It is still early days: new assessment tasks have yet to be trialled in schools and it is only at the end of this process that anyone will be able to take a informed view on what might be the long-term benefits of such an approach.

Fiona Banks, Head of Learning, Globe Education London SE1

Lives in a world of his own


July 16, 2008

Weather Eye: unexpected consequences of global warming

Climate change is having some unexpected consequences all over the world. In the Arctic, Inuit communities are seeing their first wasps, and radio broadcasts have been needed to caution about the hazards of trying to touch the wasps, which are flying farther north as the Arctic warms.

European brewers are facing a crisis as their traditional hops are wilting from drought and heat, and a programme has begun to make them more drought-tolerant.

The famous geysers of Yellowstone Park , Wyoming , are slowing down; Old Faithful ’s regular eruptions have shifted by an extra 16 minutes in eight years. The reason is that the geysers’ water supplies are dwindling as the climate turns drier.

Perhaps the most unexpected impact of global warming is a rise in the number of kidney stones. These painful stones result from salts crystallising in the kidneys, often caused by dehydration. The hotter the climate, the more cases of kidney stones occur and the southern US regions get around 50 per cent more cases than northern states. The number of cases has been rising since temperatures began to warm noticeably from the late 1970s. As the climate warms, the zone of high risk for kidney stones is expected to push northwards, and by 2050 an estimated 1.6 million new cases are predicted.

Don’t forget the rest, Paul.



The shaming of American Physics

The intention at this point was to have a small celebration of the apparent return of The American Physical Society from the maw of the believers to the tradition of rational debate. It was occasioned by this announcement of a discussion, free of The Censorship, about the alarmist claims of the IPCC. Instead by insertion of an announcement in red lettering under the heading of an invited paper we have the following:

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions.

The first sentence is nothing more or less than a deliberate lie. The second is, to say the least, contentious; while the third is an outrageous example of ultra vires interference by a committee in the proper conduct of scientific debate.

In over forty years of experience of editorial boards, refereeing and adjudicating for learned societies around the world, I never witnessed such gross discourtesy to an invited contributor. That such a statement can be offered without an iota of reasoning or evidence is a sorry indication of what the politicisation of science has brought about. It is the substitution of the Papal Bull for reasoned consideration.

We must be grateful that we have the internet and specifically CCNet to ensure that such travesties do not go unmarked.

John Brignell

Link to this piece


And you can raise the sea level by spitting in the ocean

A correspondent reports:

I noticed that the American Physical Society changed the statement that preceded the paper by Christopher Monckton to:

“The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review, since that is not normal procedure for American Physical Society newsletters. The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007: "Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate."


“The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions. “

Link to this piece


On refereeing

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire (attributed)

That’s what we used to call it – refereeing. The term “peer review” seemed to spring up and take over at about the same time as the rise of political correctness. It was a burden that most senior academics and some industrial engineers and scientists were expected to bear as part of their duty to their profession, and an onerous one it was too. It took up many hours of one’s week, with no recognition and certainly no payment. Many of us would now have a more comfortable retirement if we had devoted the time to fee earning.

The duties of the referee were mainly concerned with preserving the integrity of the institution and its publications, to identify provable errors and infelicities of expression. It did not involve rewriting an author’s paper, changing its slant or imposing an opinion.

The European tradition of refereeing was that it was to be done with a light touch, but that curious intensity that invades some American academic institutions often resulted in little short of a demolition job. There was something of a schism, one side thinking the other was idle, while in the other direction there were mutterings of “over the top”. For what was understood was that the process was corruptible. Many referees in their early careers had experienced coteries that attempted to take over particular small areas of disciplines to enforce their own views and theories. It was, however, only in the new era of Green politics that the threat of a universal censorship emerged.

It was always a difficult course to negotiate. There will inevitably be submissions that are just silly or even insane, such as the old perennial that pi is exactly three. It is not uncommon for people to acquire a bit of jargon and go on to delude themselves that they are making a fundamental contribution to knowledge. Such delusions became institutionalised with the rise of fashionable nonsense under the name of post-modernism. This was just one of the enormous tectonic shifts that were taking place in society, the rise of the new left. At the same time political control was being established over science and research. In Britain it took the form of outright nationalisation of the universities, begun under Thatcher and completed under Blair. In America it was the founding of new public institutions, richly endowed with taxpayers’ money, such as Nixon’s EPA. They had the resources and therefore the patronage. A new self-sustaining political class had formed, insulated from the laws of science and economics, yet demanding sovereignty over both.  Science was no longer a democracy of scholars seeking after truth; it was now an instrument of   political power and control.

The creation of the UN IPCC was a cataclysmic event in the history of science. Here was a purely political body posing as a scientific institution. Through the power of patronage it rapidly attracted acolytes. Peer review soon rapidly evolved from the old style refereeing to a much more sinister imposition of The Censorship. As Wegman demonstrated, new circles of like-minded propagandists formed, acting as judge and jury for each other. Above all, they acted in concert to keep out alien and hostile opinion.

“Peer review” developed into a mantra that was picked up by political activists who clearly had no idea of the procedures of science or its learned societies. It became an imprimatur of political acceptability, whose absence was equivalent to placement on the proscribed list.

As global warming alarmism stumbles inevitably towards the later stages of Langmuir’s Laws, its defenders have become increasingly shrill. The pressure on science, both from external politicians and internal quislings, has become intense.

The question of whether science can ever recover its innocence is moot. After life as a harlot on the mean streets of political imperative, a return to the sanctity of the cloister looks out of the question. If so, humanity has forever lost a bright jewel in its culture.

 Link to this piece



The dog that barked

 "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident."
Silver Blaze, Conan Doyle

Curiouser and curiouser!

The more you think about the declaration by the Council of the American Physical Society, the stranger it becomes. What could be the possible circumstances in which it could formally adopt a statement such as:

"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate." ?

Of course, even learned societies vary in their procedures. It might be a regular feature of their meetings that they pass a list of formal motions about various laws of physics:

This house greets with approbation the general theory of relativity. 
Council endorses the kinetic theory of gases.
Apples fall downwards.

But it does all seem rather unlikely.

The alternative explanation is that there is something different about this particular theory. Holmes’s dog would have barked if there had been an alien presence. Could it be that there is something alien in the global warming theory that distinguishes it from the rest of physics, a difference so marked that it causes a distinguished body to behave in a way contrary to the norm?

One explanation is that it is simply untrue, but that will not suffice, for it is clearly a truism. There are many truisms that exist but are not worth repeating, particularly in a gathering of leading scholars:

A baby waving its arms about will affect the orbit of the earth.

Physics is all about relative importance. Of course, it is the nature of committees that they produce statements that no individual member would make. That is the product of compromise, and it is not unknown for committees to settle on joint statements that are to all intents and purposes meaningless.

No, the fundamental question is – why did this body feel the need to pronounce on this issue at this time? Is there any answer other than political pressure? Well, it might simply be infective hysteria. There was no need to open this particular can of worms, so why do so?

As they say in Yorkshire – there’s nowt so queer as folk!

Link to this piece

Bending elsewhere

The return of killer chlorine at The Register.


Correspondence received

My, my, Mr. Brignal, but aren't we ever the dandy mouthpiece for BIG CHEM? When I was a child bottles of Chlorox bleach bore skull and crossbones poison warning labels. The fact that those labels have since disappeared in no way implies that the chemical chlorine has thenceforth become innocuous. Chlorine kills. Out of curiosity, sir, I must wonder just how much the corporatocracy is paying you for providing the "spoonful of sugar that helps the poison go down?" There are other means for disinfecting water that don't pose the ominous health hazards of chlorine. But those methods would require some actual work and a monetary investment in WE THE PEOPLE, rather than more of the same for we the crooked politicians. Obviously that's asking too much. I see through you, Brignal, like you were a pane of glass.

Mike Andrews [[email protected]]




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