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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Question Time and questioning the Times – how the climate of opinion has changed

Last night I channel hopped into Question Time, the BBC’s late night political panel show, and caught the beginning of the question they had about climate, etc.. And I can report that, although maybe only temporarily, there has been, I think, a definite change of atmosphere in the argument about climate change.

Melanie Phillips and Marcus Brigstocke said, respectively, yes and no, to the question about whether global warming was a scam. Neither Brigstocke nor Phillips said anything I haven’t heard either say several times before. Brigstocke made much of the fact that the articles he agrees with about melting icecaps were all “peer reviewed”, which Melanie Phillips wasn’t able to come back on, as she was surely itching to do. But Brigstocke wasn’t the sneering, jeering, arrogant shit I’m used to. Melanie Phillips was heard reasonably politely, and the general tone of the event was thoughtful and hesitant rather than dogmatic and intolerant of dissent. David Davis made a point of criticising the use of the word “denier” to describe people who might disagree with you. Science, he said, can’t work like that. Science is never settled, he said. Nobody objected to those claims in any way.

But it wasn’t so much what they all said. It was more how they said it, and the general atmosphere of how it was received. The audience was the usual pro-warming crowd, but its partisanship was not the monstrous thing I usually see on Question Time, and it included at least two brave souls who thought quite differently, because they said so out loud. First, there was the questioner, who dared to use that word: scam. And at the end there was a bloke who claimed, mentioning those familiar (to us lot) historical stories about the medieval warm period, that “only one point of view is allowed”. But as he himself proved, both by how he spoke and by how he was allowed by all others present to speak, i.e. without jeeringly self-righteous interruptions, that he was a bit out of date.

Put it this way. A mere wordsmith like me struggles to get across what the change was. But a theatre or movie director would have known at once that something quite big had happened, and would have been able to itemise quite a few more specifics to back up that observation than I can, to do with body language, tone of voice, crowd noises, and so on and so forth. I hesitate to say that “things will never be the same again”. But I do think this might now be true.

Listening to Brigstocke talking about the problems he said the Inuits have been having, and about retreating icecaps and water that is less saline than usual because of so much ice melting into it, made it clear to me that the question now is: How much evidence is there, still, for the global warming thesis, that has not been taken out, not contaminated (so to speak) by those wretched CRU conspirators. (Later: in connection with that, see this. Even later: I’m not completely sure, but I rather think this may be one of the very best pieces yet on all of this. And whatever you do, don’t miss the final paragraphs about all those bewildered environmental correspondents. Real Samizdata quote of the year stuff.) → Continue reading: Question Time and questioning the Times – how the climate of opinion has changed

A fictional account of how science works

Following on from Michael Jennings’ item about how science research is actually conducted, I was reminded of a post I did several years ago about a fine Gregory Benford book that drew very much on the issue of political game-playing and science research. Timescape is a fine novel, and will resonate with those bemused by the antics of AGW alarmists and their media cheerleaders.

Samizdata quote of the day

From the file pl_decline.pro: check what the code is doing! It’s reducing the temperatures in the 1930s, and introducing a parabolic trend into the data to make the temperatures in the 1990s look more dramatic.

– Recycled to a separate posting today by ClimateGate blogstar Bishop Hill from among the comments on his earlier and ever expanding posting entitled The code. The Bishop adds: “Could someone else do a double check on this file? Could be dynamite if correct.”

“Where Keynes went wrong : and why world governments keep creating inflation, bubbles and busts” by Hunter Lewis

The name of Hunter Lewis’ book says it all: Where Keynes went wrong – and why world governments keep creating inflation, bubbles and busts.

What Mr Lewis has done is to update Henry Hazlitt’s “The Failure of the New Economics” – the classic line by line refutation of Lord Keynes that the older ones among us read as undergraduates (before such works were purged from university libraries). Of course Hunter Lewis uses work on Keynes that was not available to Hazlitt in the 1950’s and he explains the terrible effects that the influence of Keynesian ideas on the policies of modern governments (especially in the United States), but basically Hunter Lewis is a Hazlitt for our time.

To say this is not to diminish the achievement of Mr Lewis – which is a considerable one. Many people when the first come upon Keynesian doctrines at school and then at university spot some of the absurdities (such as the idea that the government spending more money makes a nation more wealthy), and when not satisfied by textbooks and by the explanations of teachers and lecturers, we go on to seek out J.M. Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936) but then we are confronted with a tested mess. Not just a very badly written book (so different from the witty paragraphs that are quoted in the textbooks), but such a complex mass of absurdities and contradictions that one despairs (or let me be honest “one despairs” means “I despaired”) of writing a full refutation of the work that was actually readable.

For example, the use of mathematics. It was obvious even to someone as ignorant of mathematics as me that Keynes used mathematics improperly – he used mathematical means that assumed, in their very structure, the very things the mathematics were supposed to “prove”. Yet Keynes also downplayed the importance of mathematics in the “General Theory…” and in other works – so what was the point of trying to explain his misuse of mathematics? Hunter Lewis deals with this problem (as he deals with all the other problems that trying to seriously examine Keynes presents), by using enough words to fully explain what Keynes is doing – whilst not falling into the trap of making the language so complex that his book becomes unreadable. The great strength of Keynes’ “General Theory…” is that it is almost unreadable – the nature of the writing is not an accident (Keynes could write perfectly clearly if he wanted to), it is deliberate – in order to obscure the line of “argument” and intimidate the reader into thinking “I can not follow this – Keynes must be a genius”. Paul Samuelson (the main American spreader of the ideas to undergraduates in the post World War II world) admits all of the above, but then (without irony) takes it as proof of the ‘genius’ of Keynes – as Hunter Lewis explains in chapter 20 of his work, especially on pages 267 to 268. → Continue reading: “Where Keynes went wrong : and why world governments keep creating inflation, bubbles and busts” by Hunter Lewis

A few thoughts on Climategate.

A few weeks ago, we were having one of many conversations on this blog about the subject of climate change. In the comments, I said the following

The climate is clearly changing. There is nothing unusual about this. The climate is always changing. I’m happy to concede that the trend in recent decades has been to hotter temperatures. Again, nothing unprecedented about that. The world has hot periods and cold periods. The trend seems to have slowed or reversed over the last few years. This is not a short enough period of time to prove anything, but it does make you wonder how strong the trend is. Some of the data analysis that purports to show the trend has been presented in ways that deliberately or otherwise state the data in such ways that appear to indicate the trend is stronger than it is, and/or choose starting points and data series lengths that appear to show the trend as more abnormal than it is, in my opinion.

Again, with the impact of human activity, I am happy to concede an impact exists. There is a lot of human activity – it must have some impact on the climate. Whether it is a significant impact is another question.

Having those two thoughts, you look for a correlation, and find one between CO2 in the atmosphere and average temperature. One can be found, although it is not clear whether it is a causal relationship (CO2 levels vary historically before significant human activity existed, and a lot of the time CO2 increases seem to trail temperature changes rather than the other way round).

So how much are higher temperatures caused by higher CO2 levels, and how much of the increased CO2 level caused by human activity? The answer to the last question is clearly “quite a lot”, but that is not an answer to the question “How much?” Is it “70%? 90%? 100%? 120%? To be able to come up with a meaningful model, we have to have a good numerical answer, and we don’t remotely.

As to what impact increased CO2 levels have on average temperatures, there is much greater uncertainty. Basically you have to enter a fudge factor into your model, see how well it models the past, and hope you can then model the future successfully. A few people have created models that can just about model the past, but that doesn’t mean you have the mechanism right – it just means you have found a mathematical function that fits the points on your curve.

As it is, we have a few extremely crude mathematical / computer models that suppose mechanisms that go from human activity to CO2 release to global warming. They don’t agree with one another, and they are incredibly crude. (The Earth’s atmosphere is an extremely complex system. These models only have a tiny fraction of its complexity). They have a poor record of predicting the future.

The science of global warming ultimately boils down to saying that “The level of warming is unprecedented”. “Human releases of CO2 into the atmosphere are unprecedented”. “Therefore, the second causes the first”. This isn’t an inherently ridiculous thing to say. If climate change really is unprecedented then we would look for other unprecedented things as likely causes and human activity would be the likely one. We could then look for mechanisms and solutions, but we would largely be doing so with our eyes closed.

I will listen to somebody who more or less says this and that the risks of global warming are so great that we must do something about them, but somebody who simply states that the science is settled and beyond discussion is frankly not even worth arguing with.

In response, I received a mocking reply from a true believer, saying more or less that if I knew so much about it, why didn’t I publish papers in a refereed journal myself, and he was sure that a Nobel Prize would be beckoning. There was no attempt to address anything I said – merely an observation that what I was saying did not have the approval of the clique controlling the argument.

In a way this was odd, because I was not actually claiming to know anything about the workings of the climate: only about the likely limitations of the methodology of climate scientists.

As it happens, once, in another life, I was a research scientist. → Continue reading: A few thoughts on Climategate.

Nonsense on bankers

Alice Thompson is a bit of an economic dunce, isn’t she?

“Their private polling shows that the public loathe bankers more than politicians, so the Conservatives are desperate to disassociate themselves from the City. Voters are furious that the gap between the yachts and have-nots has grown rather than diminished in the past few months. While City high-flyers are once again buying £10,000 stocking fillers, eBay crashed last weekend under the weight of people trying to sell goods to get extra cash for Christmas. The more distance the Tories can put between themselves and the City the better. Even Boris Johnson, always a reliable guide to the prevailing political wind, has dumped his “monstrous” pinstriped friends. Instead, the Tories are courting the CBI and business, emphasising tax cuts for companies and promising to be “unashamedly pro-enterprise”. The message is clear: real businesses matter; the City doesn’t.”

Let’s unpack this. I read the entire, dreadful piece and it occured to me that Ms Thompson is wedded to the notion that if an activity – such as hedge fund arbitrage – cannot be immediately explained in terms of some physical good or easily understood service – like laundry – then it must be suspect in some way. She does not necessarily endorse all of the anti-market sentiment expressed by others she quotes in her article, but the overall tone is unmistakable. It is also a reminder that there is much hostility to banking, finance and the market on parts of what I might call the Right as among the Left, crude though such terms are in terms of political mapping.

Of course, it is true that the size of the financial services industry has been arguably swelled beyond what is healthy by decades of ultra-low interest rates, which have caused an increasingly manic hunt for yield, leading to the whole alphabet soup of acronym products associated with the credit crunch. But that is not the point that Ms Thompson is making. She seems to be saying that banking per se, when set against other kinds of economic activity, is wrong or morally dubious, and that we’d be better off without it. But whether “we” (who?) would be “better off” with a different mix of economic activities is something of a subjective judgement, not something that can be modelled according to some sort of utilitarian calculus. For instance, should banking make up 5%, 10%, or 20% of an economy’s gross domestic product? How much is too big or too small? Surely, in a proper market without artificial barriers to entry and without the distortions of central bank rates, regulations and the like, the size of banking as a sector will vary depending on the shifting sands of consumer preferences. That is all.

I am not suggesting that Ms Thompson take in all these points in a brief column for a newspaper, even if she had a clue about economics. But frankly, when I read yet another version of the centuries-old slur against speculators and “middlemen”, even if dressed up in the slightly “gosh how awful” tones of a rightwing female columnist, I think it is necessary to kick the offending author in a sensitive part of the anatomy. If Britain loses its edge in financial services due to a rash of bad legislation, heavy taxes and the rest, this nation is in trouble. The exodus is already well under way.

I think this guy needs to find another line of work

This story, in The Times (of London), caught my eye:

Gerard Earley was so impressed by Ian Hart’s performance in the West End that he got to his feet to applaud. Ian Hart was so unimpressed by Mr Earley that he ran from the stage to scream threats at him. Ignoring the appeals of John Simm, his co-star, the actor lunged at Mr Earley, whom he accused of talking during his performance. When Mr Earley protested that he had not been talking Hart launched into a furious rant and had to be restrained by ushers. Hart, who says that he does not enjoy the relationship between performer and audience, could now face police action.

Chatty theatre-goers are very irritating. I am sure that readers can understand how annoying it is to sit in front of a noisy person while watching a film, or listening to a concert of a certain type, etc. Usually, the theatre/venue relies on the audience being sufficiently well-mannered to behave, but in this increasingly infantilised culture, I notice that there tend to be more and more signs and instructions, such as telling people to switch off their mobile phones, etc.

Of course, when such venues are privately owned, the owners can set whatever restrictions they want and hope that customers accept them – if they do not, they will go elsewhere. So if a steward working in a cinema, say, observes a couple chatting away, using their phone, eating loudly or being generally boorish, they should be able to chuck them out without a refund.

But while the circumstances of this case I mentioned are in dispute, it does appear that this actor is particularly sensitive to perceived noise or interruptions. He sounds as if he is not cut out for live performances. Better take up something less stressful, old chap.

Samizdata quote of the day

valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,-0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ; fudge factor

– These are adjustments being made to five year average temperatures over the last century. I do not need to say where this comes from, do I? Blimey.

Samizdata quote of the day

“But another real benefit is that once you have registered no-one can steal your identity”

– Home Office minister Meg Hillier, explaining the benefits of getting an ID card. Good to know that the science is settled, there.

Seriously, though. What are these people smoking?

Global warming: now the True Believers start to get anxious

Good grief, it seems as if one of the main doomongers in the MSM, George Monbiot – known in these irreverent blogging shores as George Moonbat – is feeling a bit angry and let down by the revelations of those emails connected to the University of East Anglia’s climate research unit. To give GM credit, he’s been more blunt about his anger than many of them might be, so fair play to him. But as Bishop Hill comments, Monbiot’s comments point to his gullibility.

As as been noted before, we free market types would be far kinder towards the Greenies if so much of their agenda was not intertwined with a desire both to load up more regulations and taxes on us. The antics of scientists allegedly trying to bury inconvenient evidence are not harmless: these people have consequences.

There is, in my view, a continued genuine core of necessary work that needs to be done in trying to map Man’s impact on the climate and figuring out what is the best way to cope with it. It is a mistake for free marketeers to take the lazy assumption that AGW is not something one needs to be concerned about. But there is no doubt – maybe it is just the recession – that some of the fizz, some of the moral superiority, of the AGW alarmist crowd has gone. AGW alarmists might be less quick to dub anyone who doubts their views as “deniers”. As far as the interests of genuine scientific understanding are concerned, that is a definite improvement on where things were a a few years ago.

More about the CRU leak – how big arguments are won and lost and how the mainstream media are already responding

I want to say more about this massive story. And yes, the general opinion now seems to be that this was not a hack, but rather an inside leak.

First point, this is indeed massive. As Devil’s Kitchen in particular has been repeating, both in comments here and at his own blog, this is not just a few maverick scientists gone bad, off the edge of the central enterprise. The idea that a few little scientific baddies can be sacked, thereby allowing the main, big, uncorrupted fleet of Global Warmist truth seekers to sail on with their dignity unsullied, is delusional. These guys, the so-called “Hockey Team”, are at the very centre of the whole AGW-based global taxation, global command-and-control system that we are about to be severely threatened with at the forthcoming Copenhagen Conference. That process has slowed at bit recently, but it is still very much still in motion. This drama is now being described by blogger after blogger, and by blog commenter after blog commenter, as “the biggest scientific fraud in history”.

Indeed. Said DK, commenting here on that earlier piece of mine:

The point is that this relatively small group of “scientists” control the entirety of the alarmist agenda.

That is why this is significant.

These people control the scientific arm of the IPCC, all of the major journals, etc. and the emails show that they have actively conspired to prevent any view other than theirs from being put across.

Exactly. A major exercise in World Government, no less, is being made to look like the dodgy little racket that it has long been believed to be by the few critics who have been scrutinising it carefully, and suspected of being by many more, me included. The great horde of politicians and bureaucrats and lobbyists and ecofascists (basically an entire generation of politicians and political activists) are being made to look like credulous idiots.

With every hour that passes without a coherent argument emerging from the Hockey Team to the effect that these emails – any of these emails – are fake, then their genuineness looks that much more real. And now, the process has already begun of analysing other material that has been leaked too, which looks now like being even more significant. As I said in my earlier piece here, all the anti-AGW bloggers I read during the first hours when the story broke began their reactions by saying “This stuff could be fake and it could certainly include fake stuff.” Indeed. But as the hours and days of stunned silence or stuttering evasion go by, from the skewered scientists and their bewildered allies in the media, the chances of any of these emails or any of this other stuff being bogus is becoming vanishingly small, to the point where if it is eventually claimed that some of it is faked, the response will probably be either: you forgot about that; or: you’re lying. Again.

Many scientists, commenting in recent days on blog postings, have been declaring themselves baffled. Why all the fuss? Is it some kind of big scandal that scientists are – shock – human? They sometimes use less than noble methods in their fights with one another, making their own opinions seems more solidly justified than they really are, their own data seem more precisely in accordance with their theories than they perhaps should, or would in a morally perfect world. And especially in what they thought were private emails to one another. So? That’s science. It’s a tough old world, and sometimes, yes, they do fight a bit dirty. As do we all. So, why this huge blogo-fuss about pretty nearly damn all?

Why the fuss is because of the vast, globe-spanning policy conclusions that have been plucked from these in themselves rather minor deceptions. The fraud revealed isn’t just in the fiddling of some numbers. There is also the faking of that precious scientific consensus that has so dominated public and official thinking about climate and climate policy during the last decade. The world is being sold a gigantic economic and political upheaval, backed by the claim that all this scientific rough-and-tumble, this slightly dodgy infighting, was in fact a blandly uniform scientific consensus. And the “scientists” (who more and more now look like politicos who have barged their way into science) are the engineers of this political fraud, not just the contrivers of the scientific opinions around which they have assembled their bogus consensus. → Continue reading: More about the CRU leak – how big arguments are won and lost and how the mainstream media are already responding

Is any comment necessary?

Bremen, Germany. November 2009