Monday, November 30, 2009
I couldn't agree more with Tom's post below about Andrew Revkin's damage control. Revkin is not acting like a (old style objective) journalist, but as a defense lawyer for the Global Warming lobby. It is too tiresome to detail the ways in which this is true.
But here is one thing that is interesting. Take a look at those graphs at Revkin's post: the temperatures are declining significantly in the 2000s. I don't remember seeing those in the past. I guess that's what happens when you have been caught with your pants down trying to hide the decline; you can't hide it anymore.
My friend Jonathan Adler points to Revkin's post for support, noting that "there are four 20th century near-surface global average temperature data sets that track each other fairly closely." But for the reasons that Tom (and I previously) points out -- one needs to know whether the same methods have been used for them -- this does not help that much.
Jonathan also mentions that most of the skeptics accept that human activity is contributing to a modest warming. I tend to find such claims unexceptionable, but not all that relevant. If the temperature record were revised, these claims might go away. But even if modest warming claims turn out to be true, that would be a far cry from the bill of goods that the Global Warming alarmists are trying to sell us. Climategate is not about whether some modest warming or no warming is attributable to human causes. It is about whether there is a legitimate scientific basis for the more alarmist consensus.
Update: Also, take a look at Roger Pielke's criticisms about CRU's claims of independence.
Even more worrisome than the fate of the world from global warming is the fate of the global warming worldview. It seems to be sitting there like a polar bear on a shrinking ice berg. Here's Mr. Revkin doing his best. The argument is -- so what if the CRU db is rubbish. There's lot's of other data to support AGW. Well, maybe there is. But when I look at the graph, my first thought is, those results look like they came from the same data, or very similar. Did they? I don't know. But go down to comment 9 and some commentor says they did, or are all similarly compromised anyway, and cites to this (peer reviewed!!) paper. I'm just a poor country law professor and you can't expect me to wade through all this stuff.
But, obviously I hope, if one side says, oh, so one important db we were relying on is hopelessly fudged and untraceable to the original observations (!) because we, uh, threw all that away (!!), but we have lots of other data, then you have have to look at that other data very carefully indeed. The NASA data, or so I have read, is compromised. What other data is there? Has any of it been made available to any other reputable scientist who wants to try to replicate results?
As to the New Zealand data -- all of the warming is due to the adjustments made to the data? Can that really be true? Were the adjustments themselves made in some sort of systematic, e.g. double blind might be a good idea, way? The CRU data (it should not even be called data, since the numbers were made up) consisted of unreconstructable stuff! Adjustments with no record of what they were with the original data thrown away! If you were trying to collect $2 million in an auto accident case and told the court this was the sort of data you had, you would be thrown out in a jiffy. But many trillions, what, it's somehow too big to fail?
If this were just science, you would say, whatever, I guess we don't really know what's been happening to the climate. If this were the testing the safety of a drug, or an airplane, or a weapon system, or anything consequential, reviewers would say, regarding the CRU and New Zealand "data" (assuming reports are true) are you kidding? We are supposed reconstruct the global economy on the basis of this? And then, when anybody questions it, it's like, we have to do this for our children and grandchildren! GMFB. This is a lot more about Kleiner Perkins preferred than it is about anybody's grandchildren.
I'm not prepared to believe any of the data that allegedly proves AGW is any good until it is made fully transparent, right down to the original observations, written in mitten-encased hands at Ice Station Zebra or whereever, and up to the spreadsheets, with all the code there for everyone to see, and all the adjustments documented and theoretically justified. That the AGW bandwagon has gotten as far as it has without this happening suggests something very troubling is going on.
As I have said, the big question is how much of this scandal about the behavior of some scientists affects the underlying science of global warming. On that score, let me say a couple of things.
First, over the weekend, the University of East Anglia (UEA) announced:
Scientists at the University of East Anglia have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based. . . . The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.
Readers may remember that UEA previously refused to disclose this data on the ground that they had agreements with the weather stations that precluded this. So lets be clear. They have lied in response to legal inquiries to cover their behavior and to mislead the public.
This is not a little thing. Given the behavior of these scientists, that means that at least one data base of historic temperatures cannot be trusted. That means, that unless there other genuinely independent data bases, we have to start over. Very little can be said about global warming without temperature recordings.
Second, our friends at UEA have defended their science on the ground that other databases reveal the same information. This needs to be investigated in at least two ways. We need to determine whether those databases actually reveal the same information and whether the various shenanigans that afflicted the UEA database were applied to these other databases. We may not be able to trust the information from these sources either, if the suspicions about the New Zealand temperature collections are any indication of the truth.
Third, several people (like Jonathan Adler and Megan McCardle) who might be open to skeptical views nonetheless claim to accept AGW despite these revelations. And maybe they are right. But I would like to know why they continue to accept the arguments. Is it that there are independent databases of historical temperature readings that support AGW? Or are there other strong independent reasons to support it. Statements that there is a consensus don't do it for me.
Update: I see that I am not alone in raising these questions. Here are two critical comments to Jonathan Adler's post:
What weight of scientific evidence? Pretty much the vast majority of primary data came from these guys or from Hansen at NASA, who was also found to have been cooking some of his books. That incident was quickly swept under the rug and ignored at the time, but still. What this means is that every single goddamned experiment that used either data or conclusions published by either group, must be redone from scratch because it’s now tainted. There IS no existing evidence anymore. If I were a climate scientist not involved in this little car wreck the amount of incandescent rage I would be feeling would be astronomical.
And from Eric Rasmusen:
For global warming, we rely on world temperature data. There are two sources, as far as I know, for an “average world temperature” (as opposed to thousands of weather stations). One is East Anglia. The other is NASA. Both are now seen to be secretive and tainted.
That’s the biggest bombshell here. It’s not that the Mann hockey stick was bogus— that’s been known for years. It’s that we can’t trust the temperature data. Somebody with a good reputation has to start from scratch to reconstruct it. That would only take one year and ten million dollars and an honest boss, but it has to be done.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2009) — In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions -- the major cause of global warming -- cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.
Via Congressman Glenn (L-TN27[fake]) http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Paris is a city where you always discover new things - or old things that are new to you (i.e. to me). I was wandering around the university area, near the rue du Pot de Fer where George Orwell lived: he was just Eric Blair in those days, but this is where Down and Out in Paris and London was born. Around a corner is the rue des Irlandais, where I discovered what is now the Centre Culturel Irlandais, but was built in the 18th century as an Irish seminary. You can walk in: it's a big classical building, and it represents a lot of history. First, of course, the anti-Catholic penal laws in Britain, which applied in 18th century Ireland as well. Roman Catholic seminaries were forbidden in Ireland (as in England of course), although Ireland was at least 80% Catholic. So an Irish aspirant to the priesthood had to study on the Continent. There were Irish seminaries scattered about France and Flanders (and in Rome as well), but this Parisian seminary was large and important. It was endowed in part by the French kings, who were both intensely Catholic and highly rivalrous (to put it mildly) with England.
The Paris seminary was important to Irish Catholicism in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century the building was also a home for the Polish Catholic Church in Paris. There is a plaque saying that Polish Catholics came here "who had been prisoners in Dachau and refused to return and to live under Communist totalitarianism which now ruled their country". Karol Wojtyla spent time here, both as a seminary student and later as a Bishop and Archbishop.
And finally there is a plaque that the building was used - with the consent of the Irish Church - by the US Army in 1945 and 1946 to house Displaced Persons who claimed US citizenship. "Displaced Persons" meant (mostly if not exclusively) Jewish survivors of the Nazi camps. A few had claims to US citizenship, having been born in the US or with a parent who was.
What a lot of grim history converging on one graceful Paris building! The place is a secular Irish Cultural Centre now. Which says something about today's newly secular, post-Catholic Ireland.
This is actually a very troubling story. I certainly agree that offensive images of our first lady are offensive. I have not looked at any of them and I don't intend to, but I'm willing to stipulate that they would offend any person of good will. What is troubling about this is that Google has evidently taken steps to eliminate or marginalize the images from the Web. This illustrates the great power that a monopoly search provider has. It's a dangerous thing and I'm not sure the average person understands it.
Google and the other search engines that search the web operate by applying complex mathematical algorithms to the Web. Google's famous PageRank algorithm crunches a lot of numbers regarding how many links run into and out of websites and how important those links are. So a link coming from a site that is more linked to has more weight than a link from some minor website would have. In addition, Google applies hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other measures that are closely guarded secrets to their ranking methodology. A whole industry of Search Engine Optimization has grown up trying to outgame Google to get it to rank one's website higher than one's rivals.
Whether and how prominently web pages show up in a Google search is a matter of great economic and cultural importance. You can think of Google as a kind of weak AI that determines to what our collective attention is directed when any given topic comes up. Search technology and the resources on the Web itself are going to get more and more sophisticated and permeate more aspects of our lives as time goes on. Being at the forefront of the kind of attention Google controls will only become more important.
If Google uses a neutral algorithm, one can see a kind of fairness in that. The Web is a spontaneous order and if it spontaneously decides that this news story is the most important or best at explaining some topic, we tend to think, that's the wisdom of crowds, or actually better, since the algorithm is more sophisticated than simple majority voting. But what happens when the designer of the weak AI is willing and able to tweak the brain of the web so that its attention is not directed towards things it decides are unworthy, or dangerous, or just offensive? And is directed toward those things somebody decides we should be paying attention to? This rigging of the marketplace of ideas is troubling partly because it's impossible to foresee all of its implications and also because it seems a bad idea to lodge so much power in the hands of people with the unique brand of political correctness, geeky self-satisfaction and grandiose ambition that so characterizes the sages of Mountain View. To paraphrase William F. Buckley, I don't want to be governed by them, even if only mentally and partially, anymore than I would want to be governed by the faculty of Harvard University. Or anybody else for that matter. I am naive enough to aspire to self-government, at least as to the several cubic centimeters inside my skull.
By demoting offensive images of the First Lady, Google is doing the same thing to us that they did to the subjects of the Chinese Communist Party by excluding any unfortunate reminders of Tienanmen Square in searches of that phrase in Google China. Up popped super-happy photos of the Square as a tourist attraction rather than of the day it was soaked with the blood of young freedom fighters. The Google line then was, they were just following the laws of the country they were in. But no law says Google cannot rank highly offensive pictures of the First Lady. Or rather, there is such a law, and Google just made it. Or maybe it just seems that way, the pictures having been lost somewhere after the long tail of results disappears into the murk. The only way we would know which would be if Google deigns to tell us.
It's easy to say so what, and in this case we are not losing anything valuable. But Google could just as easily be manipulating results on searches about health care, global warming and a hundred other topics. No doubt they would say they are not. And maybe they aren't. We just have to take their word for it, I guess. Even if such spinning is not a big deal now, you have to try to imagine a world in which information technology is as far beyond what we have now as what we have now is beyond the card catalog based libraries of my college days. In a sense, Google is part of our extended brains. I use it constantly to refresh my memory, look for half intuited connections, see if I am on the right track. As the technology gets more sophisticated, and it is already very sophisticated indeed, all this will be spinnable. In fact, it already is.
Consider an example lawyers may relate to. Google Scholar just came out with a feature that allows one to search and rank cases and law review articles. If you haven't tried it, you should. It is crazy good, and Google is obviously using a highly enhanced version of PageRank to do its ranking. I know it's highly enhanced because simple PageRank applied to a database of legal cases does a lousy job. You will see that the ranking is far, far better than what you will get from Lexis or Westlaw. Cases and articles (you can do both at once) come up in something much closer to a "natural" order of importance. That's good, in the sense that it makes research easier. Searching in Lexis or Westlaw, results just come up in reverse chronological order, with higher jurisdictions on top, but other than that, painfully arbitrary, which makes research time consuming, not to mention infuriating, to those used to Google. But now consider the power that Google would have in a world where everybody did their legal research on Google. Their ranking would become influential in determining which legal precedents were more important as a matter of law. Just by putting some cases more directly in your face than others, the search algorithm is deciding, to overstate it somewhat, what direction the law should go. As long as the algorithm doing the choosing is secret, and the adjustments that are made to it are secret, nobody even knows what this direction is. As a matter of coding, it would be child's play to tell the algorithm to weight privacy rights more or less, for example. This is a version of the tyranny of law clerks, where clerks influence their judges, or associates their partners. By managing information, you manage decisions. You exercise power. It is no exaggeration to say this is in tension with the rule of law. When West drops cases into its key number system, it may be exercising discretion, but at least it is transparent, and no one would confuse the ranking of their search results as an order of importance or anything more sophisticated than jurisdiction and chronology.
The only solution that suggests itself to me is open source search, where the code that is deciding what gets pulled up is transparent to those able to understand it, who can then sound the alarm if something fishy is going on, not to mention improve the technology. I would be the first to admit, however, that this approach has many problems as well. In the meanwhile, I will just observe that having one opaque monopoly be our principal brain augmentation is a dangerous place to be.