Archive for January 2018

Thoughts on Challenging the Climate Orthodoxy

I have over several months been answering questions about my climate positions -- I think for a woman's school project but I honestly can't remember any more.  Anyway, I answered a question for her today and though I did not spend a ton of time on it, I thought I would share.

She asked:

Why do you find it unproductive to argue for something based on how many experts are agreeing to it? Wouldn't it be hubris to dismiss the fact that a number of experts are contradicting you on a subject that is pretty complex and is something that isn't nesessarily understood intuitively? .You state “I find judging science by counting scientists to be unproductive.”.  

Why do you believe it is unproductive to take such a point into serious consideration?

The way I see it. there is this kind of logic:

A math student works on a very complicated math problem from his homework and has all his justifications for his answer. However, it turns out that his math professor has a different answer-- which is saying something important. It would be a slippery slope for the student to posit that his answer is right and the professor's answer is wrong just because the justification he came up with on his own always leads him back to the same answer. (That is, unless he found out an explanation for why his professor got that answer, like say-- maybe the professor never worked out the problem by himself and looked at an answer key which was wrong.)

My off the cuff responses to the student:

  • This is not a simple math problem.  It is a super complex multi-variable chaotic system in which we are trying to attribute changes in one output variable (temperature) to a single input variable out of thousands or millions (CO2).  I think the majority of the hubris (given the state of our knowledge) is on the certainty side, not the doubting side.  I would observe, by the way, that many of the exact same people who use this "you must respect the experts" argument against climate skeptics themselves challenge many expert assertions, e.g. that minimum wages reduce employment or that GMO's are safe, that are supported by at least as many experts in those other fields.  You would be unusual if you personally do not disagree with some proposition that most of the "experts" support.
  • The way folks often describe science when trying to criticize climate skeptics sounds to me a lot more like religion than science.  Saying that there are fundamental assertions that one cannot challenge is a feature of religion, not true science.  Science is about having a theory, making predictions from that theory, and if those predictions consistently turn out to be true, then gaining confidence in the theory.  Many of global warming predictions have been wrong -- they have overestimated temperature increases to date, hurricanes and tornadoes are not getting more frequent, droughts are not getting more frequent, etc (do not confuse the frequency of these events in the news with their actual underlying frequency -- go live with the data at the NOAA to see that all these severe weather trends are dead flat).  But no one goes back and relooks at the model or theories and those that do point out these shortcomings, eg. skeptics, are threatened with censure.  Does not sound like science to me.
  • I am not without relevant expertise.  Though I don't have as deep of climate knowledge as some, I know a lot about modeling chaotic multivariable systems (in finance and economics) and know exactly what the shortcomings of models are and can recognize the patterns of many mistakes in climate that I have seen in other fields of modeling.  Further, the key difference skeptics have with alarmists is the expectation of strong positive feedbacks in the climate accelerating temperatures greatly.  My major and research work in college were in dynamic systems and feedbacks.  Climate scientists are positing that there is more positive feedback in the climate system than exists in any other stable natural system we know about.  That is worth some skepticism if one understands feedbacks.
  • The experts in climate would be a lot more credible if they were more transparent and open to discourse.  Instead, they frequently refuse to release their data (even on government-funded projects) for replication and carefully engineer peer review panels so no one who actually disagrees with them are on it.  It has been years since any climate "expert" has agreed to participate in a public debate.
  • The most important answer is that what the "experts" are saying and what the media and the general public are saying the experts are saying is completely different.  There is a bait and switch going on, where the majority (though maybe not the most vocal) of the experts are very careful and conservative (little c) in their claims, but they are portrayed as being all-in en masse on the most outrageous and spectacular of the claims by activists.  I would refer you to this article, but I will reprint below the key part to your question:

So let's come back to our original question -- what is it exactly that skeptics "deny."  As we have seen, most don't deny the greenhouse gas theory, or that the Earth has warmed some amount over the last several year.  They don't even deny that some of that warming has likely been via man-made CO2.  What they deny is the catastrophe -- they argue that the theory of strong climate positive feedback is flawed, and is greatly exaggerating the amount of warming we will see from man-made CO2.  And, they are simultaneously denying that most or all of past warming is man-made, and arguing instead that the amount that is natural and cyclic is being under-estimated.

So how about the "97% of scientists" who purportedly support global warming?  What proposition do they support?  Let's forget for a minute a variety of concerns about cherry-picking respondents in studies like this  (I am always reminded by such studies of the quote attributed, perhaps apocryphally,  to Pauline Kael that she couldn't understand how Nixon had won because no one she knew voted for him).  Let's look at the actual propositions the 97% agreed to in one such study conducted at the University of Illinois.  Here they are:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
The 97% answered "risen" and "yes" to these two questions.  But depending on how one defines "significant" (is 20% a significant factor?) I could get 97% of a group of science-based skeptics to agree to the same answers.
So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate -- the two sides are debating different propositions!  In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side [see chart in the original], propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree.   When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gas theory is correct.    At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another;  at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

I could have also said that there were several times in class when I challenged the teacher on a math problem answer and I was right and they were wrong.  My wife-to-be was actually in one of these classes and can testify to the fact.

By the way, I find the last point I made about bait and switch to be surprisingly similar to problems I have arguing net neutrality.  The problem is that the FCC's actions under Obama were NOT net neutrality, they were applying early 1900's telephone regulation which pretty much killed innovation in that industry to the Internet.  Unfortunately, everyone calls those regulations "net neutrality" so if you oppose these dumb counter-productive regulations one is somehow against net neutrality when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

Transparent and Visible Cross-Subsidy: Unethical; Invisible Legally-Mandated Cross-Subsidy at the Behest of a Special Interest: A-OK

From Engadget, apparently the EU has banned retailers for adding a surcharge on credit card purchases.  Since it is an absolute fact that credit card sales cost retailers at least 3% more (due to merchant processing fees) than cash sales, I likely would have written about this story something like "EU knuckles under special interest lobbying from credit card processors and forces non-customers (ie those paying in cash) to subsidize credit card purchases."  Of course, given the consistent and predictable economic ignorance of Engadget, that is not how the story actually was written:

Thanks to new EU regulations, you won't have to put up with irritating card surcharges for much longer. Unfortunately, minimum card spends you come across in small shops and such will stick around, but from January 13th, the Payment Services Directive comes into play. This stops retailers from charging you more for, say, using a credit card than a debit card, or generally just passing the transaction fee onto the customer. It won't, however, make your Just Eat delivery any cheaper. That's because yesterday, ahead of the new EU rules being implemented, Just Eat did away with its 50p fee for paying by card, and instead created a new 50p "service charge" that applies to all orders.

What's particularly cheeky is pay-by-cash customers now also have to fish between the sofa cushions for an extra coin -- a move Just Eat calls "fairness for all" (lol) -- meaning it's making even more moolah while sticking a middle finger up to the spirit of the EU directive. Just Eat told the BBC it had previously thought about tweaking charges, while also totally confessing that "the change to legislation did play a part in prompting the review." A spokesperson also said, predictably, that it'll enable the company to keep providing its stellar services: "The 50p charge simply means that along with our restaurant partners, we can continue to deliver the best possible takeaway experience."

The law essentially forces cash customers to subsidize credit card customers.  I know what retail profits look like (think small single digits) and the lost surcharge is not coming out of profits, it is going to be covered by establishments in generally higher prices paid by everyone, including cash customers.  In my mind, this retailer is a hero, by actually making this legally-mandated cross subsidy transparent.

Dolphin Intelligence -- Simply Amazing

This has been shared around a lot but I was very impressed with dolphins following strategies of deferred gratification that some humans I know would be challenged by.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

My First and Last Marathon: After-Action Report

I achieved my goal and completed my first (and last) marathon on Sunday, roughly in the time I expected.  I wasn't going to actually discuss the time (to people who ask my time I usually answer "daytime"), but upon reflection I think it would be good to do so to encourage others who might be slow but considering running a marathon.

I ran the race from first to last almost dead-on 13 minutes a mile.  That is pretty damn slow, even for an amateur, but for me given I was suffering from osteo-arthritis in both knees and pretty bad plantar fasciitis in my right foot, it was about what I expected.  I was more proud that I kept on pace for the whole 26.2 miles -- my second 13 miles was 1 minute faster than my first 13, and my last mile was faster than the first.  This was a big change from half-marathons I have run in the past when I pretty much died in the last 20% of the race.

The real difference was Galloway's run-walk-run method.  I used 3-minute cycles where I would run at about 10-1/2 to 11 minute mile pace for 2 minutes and then walk for 1 minute.  I stuck with the program for the whole race, and as a result I was passing a lot of people in the last few miles who passed me in the first few.  At one low point around mile ten a 13-year-old girl in a wonder woman outfit zoomed past me, but I ran her down around mile 24 and beat her to the finish line.  A very satisfying triumph.

In terms of managing my body problems, there were surprising positives and negatives.  The cortisone shots I had two weeks before the race on my knees worked fabulously and my knees were never an issue.  My plantar fasciitis was mostly kept in check by the arch support I was wearing, though it hurt like bloody hell the next morning when I woke up.  I never did find the perfect solution to my underlapping toe and I had to stop twice to take my shoe off and re-tape my toes.  I did not have the hunger pangs I experienced on earlier long runs -- the carbo loading for several days in advance really helped and I ate two of these on the way and they were a surprisingly good food for the purpose.  The real problem I had in the last 4-5 miles was that my back started to really hurt.  Oh, and I also had to resist temptation as I ran past several frozen margarita stands in the last 2 miles (though at the finish I saw a fair number of folks had stopped and bought a cocktail for the last mile).

That last point brings me to some encouragement for those thinking about doing this but who are intimidated by being too slow.  It took me over 5-1/2 hours to finish and I finished in the top half of all finishers and the top half of all men.  I was something like finisher 9,500 out of 20,000.  People were still crossing the finish line 2 hours after I finished.  Oddly, the only subgroup I did not finish in the top half of  were men 55-60, as there seems to be an odd dynamic in these distance races such that there are not very many older folks, but the ones that are there are very serious and on something like their 50th marathon.

Some of this prevalence of slow runners is due to the fact it is a Disney marathon and you get a certain crowd for RunDisney events, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same kind of numbers did not obtain in races like the PF Changs.  In fact, I can't recommend the Disney races enough.  They are well-organized, low-key, and full of interesting distractions along the way such as characters and bands and of course running through theme parks.  And the medals are way better at Disney than other amateur races, and you get the fun of many runners in costume.  In this race there is even a tradition of having a roller coaster in operation (Expedition Everest) at the halfway point for runners who can jump on the coaster for a ride and then jump back off to finish the race.

Postscript:  The one problem with the Disney races is that they start at 5:30 AM, though my corral seldom gets to the start line until about 6:00.  In this race, the temperature at the start was about 40F, which is super cold for this Arizona boy, and was about 65F at the finish, which means I donated about 4 pieces of clothing along the way as I had to strip as I ran.

Marathon Update -- 2 Steps Forward, One Step Back

So, five days to my first and last marathon.  Some progress (and setbacks):

  • Got the cortisone shots in my arthritic knees.  They feel about as good as I could hope
  • Had my plantar fasciitis come back in my right foot.  I ran 16 miles on it at its worst so I can do it but it was not fun.  Tried the night boot again and it really helps but I just can't sleep in that thing (imagine sleeping in a ski boot).  But it turns out this sock does almost as good of a job at stretching the foot out in my sleep and I can sleep with it.  The combination of that sock at night with this arch support in the day has almost licked it.
  • Once I started going past 16 miles my small toes on my right foot really started hurting.   I had not had this pain in these toes since I used to snow ski.  I thought it was just the shoe being too narrow and pinching the toes.  But I finally discovered that the fourth toe was crossing under the third toe.  As you can imagine, that hurts.  All these years and I had never figured out what was causing this pain -- just thought ski boots were all uncomfortable.  Apparently this is fairly common since I see a zillion toe spacer products on Amazon.  But all I needed was a bit of athletic tape -- taping toe 3 to toe 1 and 2 and toe 4 to toe 5 totally solves it.  Amazing to solve a problem so simply after so many years.
  • Have a sore back after packing up Christmas decorations yesterday, but am hopeful that will be gone by Sunday.
  • Training almost irrelevant at this point.  I know I can do the miles, even if not that fast.  As you can see from the above, more an issue of trying to hold my body together.