Posts tagged ‘Science’

DOL's New Overtime Proposal A Great Example of Arbitrary Rule-Making Under the Guise of Science

I have only skimmed the new DOL overtime rules, but this bit really hit a nerve:

The Department has long recognized the salary level test as “the best single test” of exempt status. If left at the same amount over time, however, the effectiveness of the salary level test as a means of determining exempt status diminishes as the wages of employees entitled to overtime increase and the real value of the salary threshold falls. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the salary level test, the Department proposes to set the standard salary level equal to the 40th percentile of earnings for full-time salaried workers ($921 per week, or $47,892 annually for a full-year worker, in 2013).

This is exactly the kind of thing that will look scientific to you average journalism major.  See, $921 is not arbitrary, it is set at the 40th percentile of salary earnings.

WTF?  Where did the 40th percentile come from?  Out of someone's butt, that is where.  The Administration started with a number they wanted, between $47K and $50K and then obviously went looking for some round-number metric that landed in this zone to justify their number as somehow analytically based.

Think about it.  The 40% number is meaningless.  In fact it is worse than meaningless, it is astoundingly arrogant.  Basically they are saying arbitrarily that 40% of people earning a salary should not be earning a salary.  What do these people do?  What are their alternatives?  What are the other circumstances of the job that might affect them?  What is the value of their benefits?  None of this stuff is considered.  Some arrogant jerk just drew a line and said, below this line all those folks are paid wrong.

When "Pro-Science" Environmentalists Fall For Idiotic Technologies: Solar Roads Edition

I am mostly inured to being told I am "anti-science" for thinking manmade global warming will be less than catastrophic.  In debate situations (which are increasingly rare, since most colleges where I do most of my speaking no longer want a second side in climate discussions) I usually can demonstrate I know a hell of a lot more about the science than my opponent in the first 3 minutes or so.

But the whole "pro-science" pose of environmentalists is especially funny when they get really excited about some very stupid technology.  Environmentalists' support for corn ethanol is a good case in point.  Most of them have retreated on this, and the media has pretty much allowed them to pretend they were never really vociferous supporters of this technology that most now consider (and I considered from the beginning) to be environmentally damaging.

Here is the new, latest, greatest example.  From Think Progress, where else, but the story has been reprinted all over the hip environmental Left:

The World’s First Solar Road Is Producing More Energy Than Expected

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In its first six months of existence, the world’s first solar road is performing even better than developers thought.

The road, which opened in the Netherlands in November of last year, has produced more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy — enough to power a single small household for one year, according to Al-Jazeera America.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square meter per year,” Sten de Wit, a spokesman for the project — dubbed SolaRoad — told Al Jazeera America. “We predicted [this] as an upper limit in the laboratory stage. We can therefore conclude that it was a successful first half year.”

De Wit said in a statement that he didn’t “expect a yield as high as this so quickly.”

The 230-foot stretch of road, which is embedded with solar cells that are protected by two layers of safety glass, is built for bike traffic, a use that reflects the road’s environmentally-friendly message and the cycling-heavy culture of the Netherlands.

In the US, we pay about 12 cents a KwH for electricity  (the Dutch probably pay more).  But at this rate, in 6 months, the solar sidewalk has generated... $360 of electricity.  Double that for a year, and we get $720 of electricity a year.

How much did the sidewalk cost?  The article doesn't say.  You will find this typical of wind and solar articles.  If they quantify the installation cost, they will not quantify the value of power produced.  If they quantify the power produced, they will never quantify the installation cost. This article says the installation cost was $3.5 million, though I suppose one should subtract from that the cost to build a similar length concrete bike path, but that can't be more than $100,000 for 230 feet.  They say they are getting 70kwh per year per square meter, which is $8.40 worth of electricity per square meter per year.  Since regular solar panels - without all the special glass overlays and installation in the ground and inverters and wiring - cost about $150-$200 per square meter, you can see this is a horrible investment.

Part of the reason this is a bad investment is that solar panels are simply not efficient enough and cheap enough to be cost effective -- I think they will be someday, but not now.   But this project has special problems:

  • The panels are actually in the ground with people driving over them.  Honestly, could one actually choose a worse spot for a solar panel?  This installation location, vs. say a roof, adds incredible cost to toughen the panels for wear.  Also, it increases their maintenance costs and likely reduces their life.
  • Even worse, the panels have to sit flat on the ground, which is not the most efficient place for them.  Panels are most efficient if tilted at an angle and (in the case of Holland) facing south.  Further, they are more efficient up in the air where they do not get shaded by trees or buildings.

This is just stupid, stupid, stupid.  Perhaps if solar becomes more efficient and we have run out of space on every roof in the world, one might possibly maybe (but probably not) consider this.  But despite the inherent inanity of this idea, look at all the articles on Solaroad -- Think Progress, the Huffington Post, Engadget, Tree Hugger, Extreme Tech, NPR, Sustainable Business -- they all have multiple, gushing, unrelentingly positive articles about this.  Look at all the positively fawning comments on Think Progress.  I can't find a single article on the web that is even slightly skeptical.

 Update:  A reader sends me this epic video takedown of this stupid idea.  He did this in advance of the article today.  He finds it to be complete BS, despite the fact that he overestimates electrical production by a factor of 2.

Consensus Science

The invaluable Carpe Diem blog has a compendium of 18 forecasts of doom that were made on or around the first Earth Day in 1970 -- all of which turned out wrong.   Here is an example:

8. Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

Participants in the global warming debate today will surely recognize the formulation of these statements as representing a consensus scientific opinion.

For those of you too young to actively follow the news in the 1970s, Mark Perry is not cherry-picking cranks.  These fearful quotations are representative of what was ubiquitous in the media of that time.

My school (Kinkaid in Houston) took speech and debate very seriously and had a robust debate program even in middle school.  In 1975-1976 the national debate topic was this:

Resolved:  That the development and allocation of scarce world resources should be controlled by an international organization

The short answer to this proposition should realistically have been:  "you have got to be f*cking kidding me."  But such were the times that this was considered a serious proposal worth debating for the entire year.  In fact, in doing research, it was dead-easy to build up suitcases of quotations of doom to support the affirmative;  it was far, far harder finding anyone who would argue that a) the world was not going to run out of everything in a few decades and b) that markets were an appropriate vehicle for managing resources.   I could fill up an hour reading different sources predicting that oil would have run out by 1990 or 2000 at the latest.

Naomi Oreskes and Post-Modern Science

Post-modernism is many things and its exact meaning is subject to argument, but I think most would agree that it explicitly rejects things like formalism and realism in favor of socially constructed narratives.  In that sense, what I mean by "post-modern science" is not necessarily a rejection of scientific evidence, but a prioritization where support for the favored narrative is more important than the details of scientific evidence.  We have seen this for quite a while in climate science, where alarmists, when they talk among themselves, discuss how it is more important for them to support the narrative (catastrophic global warming and, tied with this, an increasing strain of anti-capitalism ala Naomi Klein) than to be true to the facts all the time.  As a result, many climate scientists would argue (and have) that accurately expressing the uncertainties in their analysis or documenting counter-veiling evidence is wrong, because it dilutes the narrative.

I think this is the context in which Naomi Oreskes' recent NY Times article should be read.  It is telling she uses the issue of secondhand tobacco smoke as an example, because that is one of the best examples I can think of when we let the narrative and our preferred social policy (e.g. banning smoking) to trump the actual scientific evidence.  The work used to justify second hand smoke bans is some of the worst science I can think of, and this is what she is holding up as the example she wants to emulate in climate.  I have had arguments on second hand smoke where I point out the weakness and in some cases the absurdity of the evidence.  When cornered, defenders of bans will say, "well, its something we should do anyway."  That is post-modern science -- narrative over rigid adherence to facts.

I have written before on post-modern science here and here.

If you want post-modern science in a nutshell, think of the term "fake but accurate".  It is one of the most post-modern phrases I can imagine.  It means that certain data, or an analysis, or experiment was somehow wrong or corrupted or failed typical standards of scientific rigor, but was none-the-less "accurate".  How can that be?  Because accuracy is not defined as logical conformance to observations.  It has been redefined as "consistent with the narrative."  She actually argues that our standard of evidence should be reduced for things we already "know".  But know do we "know" it if we have not checked the evidence?  Because for Oreskes, and probably for an unfortunately large portion of modern academia, we "know" things because they are part of the narrative constructed by these self-same academic elites.

My Contributions to Social Science

It occurred to me that I have reached important insights into human behavior that it would be negligent of me to withhold from the world, so here they are:

The Cheerleader Effect:  The cheerleader effect describes a human perception issue where pictures of any woman in a group are often considered more attractive than a picture of that woman alone (this may apply to men as well, but I have always heard it referred to women).  Apparently women exploit this effect by posting pictures on dating sites that show them in groups of their friends rather than alone.  Anyway, I have developed two corollaries:

  • Polo Shirt Effect:  Polo shirts in a store appear more desirable when grouped with other similar shirts in an array of colors than when presented alone.  This effect is strong enough to trump the paradox of choice, where offering consumers more choices can tend to flummox them and cause them to buy less.  I believe arrays of multi-hued polo shirts presented together increase purchases of these shirts.
  • Christmas Tree Effect:  We almost never buy ornaments for our tree.  95% are individually ugly, but meaningful, constructions by our kids over the years.  The rest are what remain after breakage of some commercial ornaments we bought 20 years ago on deep discount in the after-Christmas sales.  But a tree constructed of these ornaments is beautiful.  So ornaments look far better when massed on a tree than they look individually.

Towards A Theory of Pedestrian Behavior:  One of the things I enjoy is urban running -- ie running through the streets of cities.  When we travel, this is one of my favorite ways to see cities, and it also helps me run further because I do not get bored.  But trying to run through sometimes crowded pedestrian areas can be frustrating, since one is trying to move faster than the crowd and the crowd typically does not expect a runner coming up behind them on the sidewalk.  As a result of many such runs, I have developed two laws of pedestrian behavior:

  1. Groups of pedestrians will expand to fill the width of the space allotted.  If the width changes, groups of pedestrians will respond very quickly and expand their group spacing to fill that width.  While this behavior is almost certainly natural, it is almost impossible to distinguish a group walking naturally from one purposefully trying to block passage by a faster pedestrian.  Corollary:  Groups too small to fill the width of a passage or sidewalk will weave.
  2. Groups of pedestrians, everything else being equal, will choose to pause and congregate at the bottleneck in any sidewalk, thus constricting an already narrow passage.  DisneyWorld is a great location for spotting this behavior.  Corollary:  A disproportionate number of people will choose to stop right at the exit door from an jetway when exiting an aircraft.

 

State Science Institute Issues Report on Rearden Metal, err, Fracking

The similarity between the the text of the recent NY report on fracking and the fictional state attack on Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged is just amazing.

Here is the cowardly State Science Institute report on Rearden Metal from Atlas Shrugged, where a state agency attempts to use vague concerns of unproven potential issues to ban the product for what are essentially political reasons (well-connected incumbents in the industry don't want this sort of competition).  From page 173 of the Kindle version:

[Eddie] pointed to the newspaper he had left on her desk. “They [the State Science Institute, in their report on Rearden Metal] haven’t said that Rearden Metal is bad. They haven’t said that it’s unsafe. What they’ve done is . . .” His hands spread and dropped in a gesture of futility. [Dagny] saw at a glance what they had done.

She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear, though the length of this period cannot be predicted. . . . The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted. . . . Although the tensile strength of the metal is obviously demonstrable, certain questions in regard to its behavior under unusual stress are not to be ruled out. . . . Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”

“We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying slowly. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward.

From the recent study used by the State of New York to ban fracking (a process that has been used in the oil field for 60 years or so)

Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation....

...the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State....

The actual degree and extent of these environmental impacts, as well as the extent to which they might contribute to adverse public health impacts are largely unknown. Nevertheless, the existing studies raise substantial questions about whether the public health risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed.

Why is it the Left readily applies the (silly) precautionary principle to every new beneficial technology or business model but never applies it to sweeping authoritarian legislation (e.g. Obamacare)?

The Science of Complex Systems -- Economics and Climate

I saw two statements written about economics over the weekend that could easily have been written about climate as well.  These are both complex systems where researchers try to link one output variable (e.g. global average surface temperatures or economic growth) to one input variable (e.g. CO2 or government spending).

Via Cafe Hayek, here is Bob Gelfond discussing Keynesian multiples

When it comes to the “evidence” demonstrating the magic of the Keynesian Multiplier, what we see, in fact, is merely careful curation of statistical flukes on a grand scale over decades. Economist Ryan Murphy, who runs a project called govtmultiplier.com that attempts to catalog scholarly measurements of the Keynesian Multiplier, has categorized and analyzed 128 papers on the subject. Only four papers even attempt to include this kind of statistical test, and none of these validate the original results, meaning simply that none of them prove the Keynesian Multiplier actually leads to more dollar-for-dollar economic growth. And this is after these models are ginned up to make their theory look as good as possible. If attempts to employ macroeconomics purport to be science, they must boldly make predictions about the future, not rummage around for convenient data from the past. But no peddler of the Keynesian Multiplier has been able to make demonstrable predictions borne out by the test of time.

Morgan Housel on economic data, but applies to climate without changing a word.

Ideally we’d have 500 years of unimpeachably perfect data. In reality we have about 50 years of so-so data. If we had the former, we’d learn that so much of what we’ve learned from the latter is wrong and incomplete.

Update:  Here is a third bit from Arnold Kling in the same vein:

Sometimes, I think that there are macroeconomists (Krugman is not the only one) for whom there is no path of economic variables that could ever contradict their point of view. They remind me of the climate scientists who tell us that Buffalo’s Snowvember came from global warming.

Macroeconomics is infinitely confirmable because of its high causal density and lack of controlled experiments. The macroeconomist has enough interpretative degrees of freedom to twist any pattern of economic activity to fit his or her priors.

 

And I'm Anti-Science?

Would all those folks who so revel in calling folks like me "anti-science" (Dr. Michael Mann being foremost among them) please stop using cooling tower steam plumes as an illustration of CO2 production?  Not only is steam not pollution (though it sortof kindof can be made to look like it if you photoshop it right), but the cooling towers so often featured in these shots are not even emitting combustion products at all.

Great Moments in "Science"

You know that relative of yours, who last Thanksgiving called you anti-science because you had not fully bought into global warming alarm?

Well, it appears that the reason we keep getting called "anti-science" is because climate scientists have a really funny idea of what exactly "science" is.

Apparently, a number of folks have been trying for years to get articles published in peer reviewed journals comparing the IPCC temperature models to actual measurements, and in the process highlighting the divergence of the two.  And they keep getting rejected.

Now, the publisher of Environmental Research Letters has explained why.  Apparently, in climate science it is "an error" to attempt to compare computer temperature forecasts with the temperatures that actually occurred.  In fact, he says that trying to do so "is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side".  Apparently, the purpose of scientific inquiry is to win media wars, and not necessarily to discover truth.

Here is something everyone in climate should remember:  The output of models merely represents a hypothesis.  When we have complicated hypotheses in complicated systems, and where such hypotheses may encompass many interrelated assumptions, computer models are an important tool for playing out, computationally, what results those hypotheses might translate to in the physical world.  It is no different than if Newton had had a computer and took his equation Gmm/R^2 and used the computer to project future orbits for the Earth and other planets (which he and others did, but by hand).   But these projections would have no value until they were checked against actual observations.  That is how we knew we liked Newton's models better than Ptolemy's -- because they checked out better against actual measurements.

But climate scientists are trying to create some kind of weird world where model results have some sort of independent reality, where in fact the model results should be trusted over measurements when the two diverge.  If this is science -- which it is not -- but if it were, then I would be anti-science.

Settled Science

I mostly ignore, and tend to be skeptical of, most pronouncements on foods that supposedly kill us and foods that are supposedly superfoods.  I have a solid love of meat and have never let the fear of saturated fat stop me from enjoying a good steak from time to time.

I had heard that a lot of the "settled science" on saturated fat was iffy but I had no idea it was this bad.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world...

As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was in an excellent position to promote his idea. The "Seven Countries" study that he conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and Europe ostensibly demonstrated that heart disease wasn't the inevitable result of aging but could be linked to poor nutrition.

Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected. These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma.

In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard. Although the committee had originally been skeptical of his hypothesis, it issued, in that year, the country's first-ever guidelines targeting saturated fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed in 1980.

Don't these guys know this is settled science?  These saturated fat skeptics must be in the pay of big cattle.

The cherry-picking and small sample sizes are unfortunately a staple of science, but I particularly laughed at the practice of assessing meat consumption during Lent.

Skeptics -- Don't Be That Guy Who Gets Us All Tarred as Anti-Science

Alarmists have adopted the seemingly farcical but oddly effective technique of finding the most absurd skeptic argument they can, then beating the carp out of this straw man, and then claiming that this proves that all skeptics are anti-science.

Don't believe me?  Kevin Drum did it yesterday, bravely taking on a claim -- that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have not increased in the last century -- that I have never seen a skeptic make and I am pretty active in the community.  Having beaten up on this odd, outlier position, he then claims this tars everyone who does not agree with him

Nonetheless, there you have it. In the tea party precincts of the conservative movement, even the simplest version of reality doesn't matter. If cheese denial is how you demonstrate you're part of the tribe, then anyone who denies cheese is a hero. The fact that you happen to be happily munching away on a slice of pizza at the time doesn't faze you at all.

Awesome.  So by this logic, everything Kevin Drum says about the environment is wrong because some moron environmental activists signed a petition against dihydrogen monoxide in a Penn and Teller Bullshit! episode

So, as a public service, I wanted to link to Roy Spencer's list of 10 skeptic arguments that don't hold water.  There are quality scientific arguments against catastrophic man-made warming theory.  You don't need to rely on ones that are wrong.

I agree with all of these.  I will say that I used to believe a version of #5, but I have been convinced as to why it is wrong.  However, it is still true that CO2 has a diminishing return effect on warming such that each additional molecule has less effect on warming than the last.  That is why climate sensitivity is most often shown as degrees of warming per doubling of concentration of CO2, meaning 400-800 ppm has the same effect as 800-1600ppm.

Postscript:  Drum choose to lampoon a position that is such an outlier it did not even make Spencer's list.  Spencer assumes even the craziest skeptics accept that CO2 is increasing, such that the bad science he is refuting in #7 relates to the causes of that increase.

Just When You Thought You Would Never See Any Of That Stuff From Science Fiction Novels...

Via the New Scientist

NEITHER dead or alive, knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time....

The technique involves replacing all of a patient's blood with a cold saline solution, which rapidly cools the body and stops almost all cellular activity. "If a patient comes to us two hours after dying you can't bring them back to life. But if they're dying and you suspend them, you have a chance to bring them back after their structural problems have been fixed," says surgeon Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who helped develop the technique.

The benefits of cooling, or induced hypothermia, have been known for decades. At normal body temperature – around 37 °C – cells need a regular oxygen supply to produce energy. When the heart stops beating, blood no longer carries oxygen to cells. Without oxygen the brain can only survive for about 5 minutes before the damage is irreversible.

However, at lower temperatures, cells need less oxygen because all chemical reactions slow down. This explains why people who fall into icy lakes can sometimes be revived more than half an hour after they have stopped breathing.

via Alex Tabarrok

I Wish The NY Times Would Hire This Kid As A Science Writer. He Would Do Better Job Getting His Facts Straight

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Postscript:  And I am making this kid my new head of HR

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Global Warming: The Unfalsifiable Hypothesis

This is hilarious.  Apparently the polar vortex proves whatever hypothesis you are trying to prove, either cooling or warming:

Steven Goddard of the Real Science blog has the goods on Time magazine.  From the 1974 Time article “Another Ice Age?”:

Scientists have found other indications of global cooling. For one thing there has been anoticeable expansion of the great belt of dry, high-altitude polar winds —the so-calledcircumpolar vortex—that sweep from west to east around the top and bottom of the world.

And guess what Time is saying this week?  Yup:

But not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely. Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles. Usually the fast winds in the vortex—which can top 100 mph (161 k/h)—keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it. In this case, nearly the entire polar vortex has tumbled southward, leading to record-breaking cold.

Explaining the Flaw in Kevin Drum's (and Apparently Science Magazine's) Climate Chart

I won't repeat the analysis, you need to see it here.  Here is the chart in question:

la-sci-climate-warming

My argument is that the smoothing and relatively low sampling intervals in the early data very likely mask variations similar to what we are seeing in the last 100 years -- ie they greatly exaggerate the smoothness of history and create a false impression that recent temperature changes are unprecedented (also the grey range bands are self-evidently garbage, but that is another story).

Drum's response was that "it was published in Science."  Apparently, this sort of appeal to authority is what passes for data analysis in the climate world.

Well, maybe I did not explain the issue well.  So I found a political analysis that may help Kevin Drum see the problem.  This is from an actual blog post by Dave Manuel (this seems to be such a common data analysis fallacy that I found an example on the first page of my first Google search).  It is an analysis of average GDP growth by President.  I don't know this Dave Manuel guy and can't comment on the data quality, but let's assume the data is correct for a moment.  Quoting from his post:

Here are the individual performances of each president since 1948:

1948-1952 (Harry S. Truman, Democrat), +4.82%

1953-1960 (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican), +3%

1961-1964 (John F. Kennedy / Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +4.65%

1965-1968 (Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +5.05%

1969-1972 (Richard Nixon, Republican), +3%

1973-1976 (Richard Nixon / Gerald Ford, Republican), +2.6%

1977-1980 (Jimmy Carter, Democrat), +3.25%

1981-1988 (Ronald Reagan, Republican), 3.4%

1989-1992 (George H. W. Bush, Republican), 2.17%

1993-2000 (Bill Clinton, Democrat), 3.88%

2001-2008 (George W. Bush, Republican), +2.09%

2009 (Barack Obama, Democrat), -2.6%

Let's put this data in a chart:

click to enlarge

 

Look, a hockey stick , right?   Obama is the worst, right?

In fact there is a big problem with this analysis, even if the data is correct.  And I bet Kevin Drum can get it right away, even though it is the exact same problem as on his climate chart.

The problem is that a single year of Obama's is compared to four or eight years for other presidents.  These earlier presidents may well have had individual down economic years - in fact, Reagan's first year was almost certainly a down year for GDP.  But that kind of volatility is masked because the data points for the other presidents represent much more time, effectively smoothing variability.

Now, this chart has a difference in sampling frequency of 4-8x between the previous presidents and Obama.  This made a huge difference here, but it is a trivial difference compared to the 1 million times greater sampling frequency of modern temperature data vs. historical data obtained by looking at proxies (such as ice cores and tree rings).  And, unlike this chart, the method of sampling is very different across time with temperature - thermometers today are far more reliable and linear measurement devices than trees or ice.  In our GDP example, this problem roughly equates to trying to compare the GDP under Obama (with all the economic data we collate today) to, say, the economic growth rate under Henry the VIII.  Or perhaps under Ramses II.   If I showed that GDP growth in a single month under Obama was less than the average over 66 years under Ramses II, and tried to draw some conclusion from that, I think someone might challenge my analysis.  Unless of course it appears in Science, then it must be beyond question.

If You Don't Like People Saying That Climate Science is Absurd, Stop Publishing Absurd Un-Scientific Charts

Kevin Drum can't believe the folks at the National Review are still calling global warming science a "myth".  As is usual for global warming supporters, he wraps himself in the mantle of science while implying that those who don't toe the line on the declared consensus are somehow anti-science.

Readers will know that as a lukewarmer, I have as little patience with outright CO2 warming deniers as I do with those declaring a catastrophe  (for my views read this and this).  But if you are going to simply be thunderstruck that some people don't trust climate scientists, then don't post a chart that is a great example of why people think that a lot of global warming science is garbage.  Here is Drum's chart:

la-sci-climate-warming

 

The problem is that his chart is a splice of multiple data series with very different time resolutions.  The series up to about 1850 has data points taken at best every 50 years and likely at 100-200 year or more intervals.  It is smoothed so that temperature shifts less than 200 years or so in length won't show up and are smoothed out.

In contrast, the data series after 1850 has data sampled every day or even hour.  It has a sampling interval 6 orders of magnitude (over a million times) more frequent.  It by definition is smoothed on a time scale substantially shorter than the rest of the data.

In addition, these two data sets use entirely different measurement techniques.  The modern data comes from thermometers and satellites, measurement approaches that we understand fairly well.  The earlier data comes from some sort of proxy analysis (ice cores, tree rings, sediments, etc.)  While we know these proxies generally change with temperature, there are still a lot of questions as to their accuracy and, perhaps more importantly for us here, whether they vary linearly or have any sort of attenuation of the peaks.  For example, recent warming has not shown up as strongly in tree ring proxies, raising the question of whether they may also be missing rapid temperature changes or peaks in earlier data for which we don't have thermometers to back-check them (this is an oft-discussed problem called proxy divergence).

The problem is not the accuracy of the data for the last 100 years, though we could quibble this it is perhaps exaggerated by a few tenths of a degree.  The problem is with the historic data and using it as a valid comparison to recent data.  Even a 100 year increase of about a degree would, in the data series before 1850, be at most a single data point.  If the sampling is on 200 year intervals, there is a 50-50 chance a 100 year spike would be missed entirely in the historic data.  And even if it were in the data as a single data point, it would be smoothed out at this data scale.

Do you really think that there was never a 100-year period in those last 10,000 years where the temperatures varied by more than 0.1F, as implied by this chart?  This chart has a data set that is smoothed to signals no finer than about 200 years and compares it to recent data with no such filter.  It is like comparing the annualized GDP increase for the last quarter to the average annual GDP increase for the entire 19th century.   It is easy to demonstrate how silly this is.  If you cut the chart off at say 1950, before much anthropogenic effect will have occurred, it would still look like this, with an anomalous spike at the right (just a bit shorter).  If you believe this analysis, you have to believe that there is an unprecedented spike at the end even without anthropogenic effects.

There are several other issues with this chart that makes it laughably bad for someone to use in the context of arguing that he is the true defender of scientific integrity

  • The grey range band is if anything an even bigger scientific absurdity than the main data line.  Are they really trying to argue that there were no years, or decades, or even whole centuries that never deviated from a 0.7F baseline anomaly by more than 0.3F for the entire 4000 year period from 7500 years ago to 3500 years ago?  I will bet just about anything that the error bars on this analysis should be more than 0.3F, much less the range of variability around the mean.  Any natural scientist worth his or her salt would laugh this out of the room.  It is absurd.  But here it is presented as climate science in the exact same article that the author expresses dismay that anyone would distrust climate science.
  • A more minor point, but one that disguises the sampling frequency problem a bit, is that the last dark brown shaded area on the right that is labelled "the last 100 years" is actually at least 300 years wide.  Based on the scale, a hundred years should be about one dot on the x axis.  This means that 100 years is less than the width of the red line, and the last 60 years or the real anthropogenic period is less than half the width of the red line.  We are talking about a temperature change whose duration is half the width of the red line, which hopefully gives you some idea why I say the data sampling and smoothing processes would disguise any past periods similar to the most recent one.

Update:  Kevin Drum posted a defense of this chart on Twitter.  Here it is:  "It was published in Science."   Well folks, there is climate debate in a nutshell.   An 1000-word dissection of what appears to be wrong with a particular analysis retorted by a five-word appeal to authority.

Update #2:  I have explained the issue with a parallel flawed analysis from politics where Drum is more likely to see the flaws.

Courts Have Become the Temple of Junk Science

If the Left is really as passionate as they say they are about taking on people and institutions who are anti-science, then they should be dedicating themselves to rethinking the current tort system.  Toyota may be facing $5 billion in settlements due to a defect that government reports and independent studies say is not there.

And recall NHTSA's performance during the furor almost four years ago over alleged runaway Toyotas. Its then-overseer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, happily participated in congressional hearings designed to flog for the benefit of trial lawyers the idea of a hidden bug in Toyota's electronic throttle control.

When the agency much more quietly came out with a report a year later debunking the idea of an electronic defect, notice how little good it did Toyota. The car maker still found it necessary to cough up $1.2 billion to satisfy owners who claimed their cars lost value in the media frenzy over a non-defect. Toyota has also seen the tide turning against it lately as it resists a deluge of accident claims.

At first, opposing lawyers were hesitant to emphasize an invisible defect that government research suggested didn't exist. That was a tactical error on their part. In an Oklahoma trial last month involving an 82-year-old woman driver, jurors awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and were ready to assign punitive damages in a complaint focused on a hypothetical bug when Toyota abruptly settled on undisclosed terms.

In another closely-watched trial set to begin in California in March, an 83-year-old female driver (who has since died from unrelated causes) testified in a deposition that she stepped on the brake instead of the gas. The judge has already ruled that if the jury decides to believe her testimony, it is entitled to infer the existence of a defect that nobody can find.

These cases, out of some 300 pending, were chosen for a reason. Study after study, including one last year by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, finds that elderly female drivers are inordinately prone to "pedal misapplication." If Toyota can't prevail in these cases, the company might be wise to run up the white flag and seek a global settlement that some estimate at upwards of $5 billion—quite a sum for a non-defect.

Can We PLEASE Just Ignore This Kind of Garbage Social Science?

Apparently a very likely left-of-center faculty have run a study that found Conservatives get more worked-up about Internet insults than do Liberals.   Seriously, who the hell takes this kind of crap seriously, much less devote a whole column to it?  This is in the same genre as:  one party is smarter, or gives more to charity, or whatever BS.  There is about a 100% chance these studies are all garbage, and what would average tendencies have to do with any individual person or his arguments anyway?

PS- libertarians kick ass on all these things

Summer of the (Flaming) Shark

Give me a quick answer - are forest fires above average this year?  Is this an unusually bad fire season?

You could be forgiven for saying "yes".  In fact, it is an unusually quiet fire season.  Via Real Science

ScreenHunter_241 Jul. 26 22.14

source:  National Interagency Fire Center

It is such a disconnect with news reporting that you may have to click the source link yourself just to make sure I am not having you on, but 2013 is an unusually quiet fire season (2012 was worse but still under the 10 year average).  This tendency to judge trends by frequency of the media coverage rather than frequency of the underlying phenomenon is one I have written about before.

let’s take a step back to 2001 and the “Summer of the Shark.”  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

shark

Climate and Post-Modern Science

I have written before of my believe that climate has become the first post-modern science.  This time, I will yield the floor to Garth Paltridge to make the same point:

But the real worry with climate research is that it is on the very edge of what is called postmodern science. This is a counterpart of the relativist world of postmodern art and design. It is a much more dangerous beast, whose results are valid only in the context of society’s beliefs and where the very existence of scientific truth can be denied. Postmodern science envisages a sort of political nirvana in which scientific theory and results can be consciously and legitimately manipulated to suit either the dictates of political correctness or the policies of the government of the day.

There is little doubt that some players in the climate game – not a lot, but enough to have severely damaged the reputation of climate scientists in general – have stepped across the boundary into postmodern science. The Climategate scandal of 2009, wherein thousands of emails were leaked from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England, showed that certain senior members of the research community were, and presumably still are, quite capable of deliberately selecting data in order to overstate the evidence for dangerous climate change. The emails showed as well that these senior members were quite happy to discuss ways and means of controlling the research journals so as to deny publication of any material that goes against the orthodox dogma. The ways and means included the sacking of recalcitrant editors.

Whatever the reason, it is indeed vastly more difficult to publish results in climate research journals if they run against the tide of politically correct opinion. Which is why most of the sceptic literature on the subject has been forced onto the web, and particularly onto web-logs devoted to the sceptic view of things. Which, in turn, is why the more fanatical of the believers in anthropogenic global warming insist that only peer-reviewed literature should be accepted as an indication of the real state of affairs. They argue that the sceptic web-logs should never be taken seriously by “real” scientists, and certainly should never be quoted. Which is a great pity. Some of the sceptics are extremely productive as far as critical analysis of climate science is concerned. Names like Judith Curry (chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta), Steve McIntyre (a Canadian geologist-statistician) and blogger Willis Eschenbach come to mind. These three in particular provide a balance and maturity in public discussion that puts many players in the global warming movement to shame, and as a consequence their outreach to the scientifically inclined general public is highly effective. Their output, together with that of other sceptics on the web, is fast becoming a practical and stringent substitute for peer review.

Update:  The IPCC does not seem to be on a path to building the credibility of climate science.  In their last report, the IPCC was rightly criticized for using "grey" literature as a source for their findings, against their own rules.  Grey literature encompasses about anything that is not published peer-reviewed literature, including, from the last report, sources that were essentially press releases from advocacy groups like the IPCC.  They even use a travel brochure as a source.

This time, to avoid this criticism, the IPCC is ... changing their rules to allow such grey literature citations.    I am pretty sure that this was NOT passed in order to get more material from Steve McIntyre's blog.  In related news, the IPCC also changed the makeup of its scientific panel, putting geographical and gender diversity over scientific qualifications as a criteria.  The quota for African climate scientists will, for example, be higher than that of North America.  See the whole story here.

Though this was all presented with pious words, my guess is that it was felt by the political leaders of the IPCC in the UN that the last report was not socialist or totalitarian enough and that more of such content was necessary.  We'll see.

A Response to Popular Ad Hominem, err Science, Magazine on Global Warming Skeptics

My new column is up this week, and is a response to the July 2012 issue of Popular Science which includes a long, unbalanced attack on skeptics, without once addressing their scientific arguments.

I thought I knew what “science” was about:  the crafting of hypotheses that could be tested and refined through observation via studies that were challenged and replicated by the broader community until the hypothesis is generally accepted or rejected by the broader community.

But apparently “popular science” works differently, if the July 2012 article by Tom Clynes in the periodical of that name is any guide [I will link the article when it is online].  In an article called “the Battle,” Clynes serves up an amazing skewering of skeptics that the most extreme environmental group might have blushed at publishing.  After reading this article, it seems that “popular science” consists mainly of initiating a sufficient number of ad hominem attacks against those with whom one disagrees such that one is no longer required to even answer their scientific criticisms.

The article is a sort of hall-of-fame of every ad hominem attack made on skeptics – tobacco lawyers, Holocaust Deniers, the Flat Earth Society, oil company funding, and the Koch Brothers all make an appearance.

Thousands of words about critical issues like Heartland Institute's funding, but less than two dozen dedicated to dismissing skeptic's scientific concerns.  And that is before we get to outright journalistic fraud, as the author attempts, for example, to lay blame for Obama Administration financial audits of climate scientists on, you guessed it, skeptics. Read it all

Wow, I Wonder Why Job Creation Isn't Occurring in California?

I wonder if its because companies have to beg for government permission, and then pay a hefty bribe, to get permission to hire more employees:

The city council in Menlo Park, Calif., is set to approve a deal that will let Facebook employ thousands more people at its headquarters there.

Mayor Kirsten Keith says officials are expected to green light the environmental impact report and the development agreement at a meeting Tuesday night. City staff has recommended the city approve the deal.

That means Facebook employees, currently numbering about 2,200 in Menlo Park, will soon be able to stretch out. If the deal is approved, Facebook will be able to employ about 6,600 workers in Menlo Park, up from its current limit of 3,600. That was the constraint on Sun Microsystems, which previously occupied the campus.

Facebook will pay Menlo Park an average of $850,000 a year over 10 years to compensate for the additional load on the city. It will also make a one-time payment of more than $1 million for capital improvements and set up community services such as high school internship and job training programs. Facebook is also creating a $500,000 local community fund that will dole out grants and charitable contributions to communities surrounding Facebook's campus.

Facebook is making the payments because Menlo Park can’t collect sales taxes from Facebook.

The last is a dodge - this is a protection racket, pure and simple.  Presumably Facebook pays property taxes on its corporate offices, as do its employees who live nearby.  Also, these new employees will all spend money in the local economy that will generate sales taxes.  Facebook presumably pays for water, sewer, trash and other utilities, and their employees are paying gas taxes as they drive that pay for the roads.  Facebook pays California income taxes, as do their employees.  What are these mystery costs that are not getting covered?  The community services bit is a hint that this is a stick-up, with Menlo Park demanding its cut of the recent IPO.

The truth is that cities and counties in California see business expansion plans the same way that Tony Soprano looks at the Museum of Science and Trucking -- as a way to maximize their skim.  I operate a campground in Ventura County that DOES pay sales taxes the County so far will not let me increase my live-in staff without making a big payment.  Even the remodeling of our store required 7 separate checks written to Ventura County agencies.

Update:  Minutes after I posted this, I see this at Reason about Ventura County's efforts to use zoning laws to shut down businesses.  Another Ventura story -- we tried to put a small trailer, really just a booth, in a large asphalt parking lot so my employee there could get out of the sun.  Putting a portable shed on a parking lot apparently required permits - lots of them.  At one point we were asked to get a soil sample, meaning they were asking us to cut through the paving and sample the dirt underneath.  Eventually we just gave up.

Great Idea

Great idea, and consistent with my growing skepticism of all published research given a general bias towards positive results.

If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals:Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

Because, if you did, someone is going to check your work. A group of researchers have already begun what they’ve dubbedthe Reproducibility Project, which aims to replicate every study from those three journals for that one year. The project is part of Open Science Framework, a group interested in scientific values, and its stated mission is to “estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the scientific literature.” This is a more polite way of saying “We want to see how much of what gets published turns out to be bunk.”

I wrote about problems in research publishing here.

Difference Between Trusting Science and Scientists

I don't often defend Conservatives but I will say that there is nothing much more useless to the public discourse that bullsh*t sociology studies trying to show that Conservatives are dumber or whatever (and remember, those same studies show libertarians the smartest, so ha ha).

In this general category of schadenfreude masquerading as academics is the recent "finding" that conservatives are increasingly anti-science or have lost trust in science.  But here is the actual interview question:

166. I am going to name some institutions in this country. Some people have complete confidence in the people running these institutions. Suppose these people are at one end of the scale at point number 1. Other people have no confidence at all in teh people running these institutions. Suppose these people are at the other end, at point 7. Where would you place yourself on this scale for: k. Scientific community?

A loss of trust in the scientific community is way, way different than a loss of trust in science.   Confusing these two is roughly like equating a loss in trust of Con Edison to not believing in electricity.  Here is an example from Kevin Drum describing this study's results

In other words, this decline in trust in science has been led by the most educated, most engaged segment of conservatism. Conservative elites have led the anti-science charge and the rank-and-file has followed.

There are a lot of very good reasons to have lost some trust in our scientific institutions, in part due to non-science that gets labeled as real science today.  I don't think that makes me anti-science.  This sloppy mis-labeling of conclusions in ways that don't match the data, which Drum is ironically engaging in, is one reason may very scientific-minded people like myself are turned off  by much of the public discourse on science.  The irony here is that while deriding skepticism in the scientific community, Drum provides a perfect case example of why this skepticism has grown.

Post-Modern Science

Would Copernicus and Galileo have been right to lie about the nature of the solar system if that lie prevented the undermining of the Catholic Church, which most everyone at the time felt to have substantial positive benefits?

I think the answer for most of us is "no."  Science is about finding the truth, and the effects of those truths on social and political institutions are what they are.

But we have now entered the era of post-modern science, where writers on scientific ethics now conclude that its OK for scientists to lie as long as they are on the right team

James Garvey, a philosopher and the author of The Ethics of Climate Change has written a defence of Peter Gleick at the Guardian:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

Post-modernism has been quite fashionable in the social sciences for decades, but this entry into the hard sciences is new and disturbing. For reference, here is the Wikipedia entry on post-modernism

In its most basic form, postmodernism is an intentional departure from the previously dominant modernist approaches such as scientific positivismrealismconstructivismformalismmetaphysics and so forth. In a sense, the "postmodernist" approach continues the critique of the Enlightenment legacy, fundamentally seeking to challenge the traditional practices and intellectual pillars of western civilization just as the Enlightenment challenged tradition, theology and the authority of religion before it.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective.

"Fake but accurate" is a good example of post-modernist thinking.