Another Climate Change Catastrophe from the Mail

It seems that no Sunday is now complete without another pile of nonsense about climate change from David Rose in the Mail on Sunday (see my previous post here for example) and this week was no exception.

Rose has found a graph which he claims contains

…irrefutable evidence that official predictions of global climate warming have been catastrophically flawed.
The graph on this page blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Typically for Rose the whole piece is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions – for example he completely misrepresents the views of climate scientist James Annan and repeats the easily debunked myth that scientists in the 1970s were just as concerned about global cooling as global warming. But the main problem with Rose’s argument is more fundamental. The graph that he shows in order to support his argument simply doesn’t show what he claims it does. His “smoking gun” is not only not smoking, it is not even warm. Here is the graph in question


The graph itself is genuine – it has been taken from the blog of climate scientist Ed Hawkins and shows projections of surface temperatures from climate models going back to the early 1950s and forwards to the mid 21st century with different certainty levels, and actual observations to date. Rose is wrong about the certainty levels they actually represent 50% and 90% but I’m betting that this is an innocent mistake because (as we will see) he just doesn’t understand statistical terminology very well.

Continue reading

Animal rights and wrongs

“AlanA” at Harry’s Place takes great exception to posters from animal rights campaigners Animal Aid which encourage people not to donate to charities which fund animal experiments. In particular he objects to a lady called Joan Court who appears in this poster, calling her ”a stupid woman who apparently believes that a human life – her life, indeed – is equal in value to a that of her carnivorous cat.” This post is based on two comments which I made there in response.

In my younger days I was a member of Animal Aid and took a keen interest in Animal Rights issues generally, and I did occasionally come across people like Joan Court who opposed vivisection despite having serious conditions themselves. Labelling such people as “stupid” for making a particular moral judgement which they are entirely entitled to make is pretty pathetic IMHO.

At the time I was completely opposed to vivisection but I reluctantly came believe that the benefits from using animals in experiments outweighed the moral objections, so I accept that there is a justification for a limited amount of such experiments (subject to tight controls) where it can be demonstrated that there are likely to be real benefits and there is no feasible alternate method. That doesn’t mean that the moral objections themselves are invalid and it’s an area where I still feel some discomfort, so I don’t agree with those who seem to dismiss such concerns entirely. Continue reading

The Guardian’s Fred Pearce seems to be confused

The Guardian is not the first place one expects to see stories jumping on the “climategate” bandwagon, but they made a big splash this week with this story by Fred Pearce.

Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.
A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced.

The “evidence” which supposedly incriminates Jones seems to me to be rather flimsy, but my point is not to argue the rights and wrongs of the accusation. What I find a bit odd is that Fred Pearce seems to have rather changed his view of the hacked emails – after all he had previously published a piece with the headline “How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies” with the sub-heading “Claims based on email soundbites are demonstrably false – there is manifestly no evidence of clandestine data manipulation” in which he wrote

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on brief soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

Of course people do sometimes change their positions on particular issues, there’s nothing wrong with that. So how long did it take Pearce to undergo this rather drastic conversion? Well the piece alleging malpractice based on evidence in the hacked emails was posted on the Guardian website at 21:00 on 1st February, whereas the piece claiming that the “climategate” scandal was bogus was posted at , er, 18:04 on the same day, less than three hours earlier.

Is it just me or does Fred Pearce seem to be somewhat confused?

Daily Mail spreading climate change misinformation again

Note: This piece has been updated on 15th December

The Daily Mail seems to have found yet more evidence to persuade its readers that they should be skeptical of man-made global warming. This piece by David Rose has two startling revelations – that both proxy data and an important diagram in an IPCC report were manipulated to make past temperatures appear cooler than they actually were, and that weather station data was also manipulated to show warming in recent times which may not have actually occurred. I don’t have time now to address the latter claim, but you can see a good summary here. However, I would like to address the question of the temperature data in some detail. Continue reading

AGW deniers in “statistically illiterate” shock

One of the most popular myths promoted by those skeptical about man-made global warming is that warming has stopped and, in fact, the trend has even reversed in recent years. This illusion largely stems from the fact that 1998 was an exceptionally hot year and 2008 relatively cool due to the respective el Niño and la Niña events of those years.
Despite the fact that the current decade is actually the hottest on record, that eight of the last ten years are among the twelve hottest ever and that ten years is in any case too short a period to represent a meaningful trend, this myth has been remarkably successful – it is not just the usual suspects who are promoting it, even the BBC seem to have been taken in.

Climate scientists and other interested parties have already attempted to correct this misapprehension based on science, unfortunately without much success, but now Associated Press has made an excellent contribution to the debate which demonstrates that the claims made by the deniers are nonsensical from a statistical point of view.

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA’s year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.

Saying there’s a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers.

Identifying a downward trend is a case of “people coming at the data with preconceived notions,” said Peterson, author of the book “Why Did They Do That? An Introduction to Forensic Decision Analysis.”

They also nailed the way the deniers have cherry picked the data to suit their agenda.

Grego produced three charts to show how choosing a starting date can alter perceptions. Using the skeptics’ satellite data beginning in 1998, there is a “mild downward trend,” he said. But doing that is “deceptive.”

The trend disappears if the analysis starts in 1997. And it trends upward if you begin in 1999, he said.

I doubt it will silence the deniers but we now know that on this particular question their arguments are both scientifically and statistically illiterate.

Hat tip: Climate Progress

Mel says “Yes 2 ID”

Those of us who are familiar with the views of Melanie Phillips are aware that she is nothing if not a champion of unpopular causes, and can only admire her persistence in continuing to fight her corner even when all of the available evidence is stacked against her. For example she still steadfastly refuses to believe that there is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and will pounce on the most tendentious and discredited “evidence” to try to ridicule the notion of man made global warming (see the comments to the piece for why this is rubbish). Furthermore, I have previously documented her strongly held belief that Barack Obama was not just the second best candidate in the US presidential election but a serious threat to Western civilisation as we know it (and especially to Israel).

Well now Mel has turned her attention to the theory of Intelligent Design and is most upset at the Today programme for “misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism”. Now those of us who believe that ID is in fact Creationism dressed in fancy trousers in order to give it a veneer of respectability may scoff, but Mel is most insistent

the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science.

Yes, Intelligent Design is in fact a bona fide scientific theory. And how does Mel justify this claim?

Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.

So in part it is a scientific theory because many of its advocates are scientists. Well maybe they are, although Mel offers no evidence for this, but then many scientists are Christians but this does not in itself make Christianity a scientific theory. What is relevant is not just whether an advocate of a particular belief is a scientist but also whether they are qualified in the particular field under discussion and whether they are able to back up their views with actual evidence. AGW skeptics such as Mel always point to petitions signed by lots of “scientists” who support their view but very few of them have any kind of qualification in climate science.

Yes, there are certainly questions still to be answered around the beginning of the universe and the origin of matter, the big bang, the existence of dark matter etc. but there is no serious body of scientific opinion proposing ID as an answer. There is much excitement about what secrets the Large Hadron Collider might yield (once it is fixed) but there is no suggestion that it will reveal the hand of a hidden designer (Mel does know that the “god particle” is named ironically, right?).

As for evolution, the main target of ID-ers. well it is one of the most successful scientific theories devised by mankind. Not only can we see the evidence in the world around us but with the discovery of DNA and the nature of heredity we understand how it works at the molecular level. There is simply no need for an Intelligent Designer and not the slightest bit of evidence for one.

In fact Intelligent Design does not, even by Mel’s own reasoning, ”come out of science”, it is a rejection of science. If you hold that “the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter” then you are explicitly rejecting the possibility that science will itself provide an explanation of those complexities we do not yet fully understand. There are questions to which science cannot currently provide an answer but that doesn’t mean we have to consider any other superficially attractive proposition when there is no actual evidence to support it. The US National Academy of Sciences puts it well

Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge

So if ID is not science is it really of a different nature to Creationism as Mel claims? Not really - many religious believers do not take the creation myth as a literal description of how God created the earth, but they still believe there is a creator and this belief relies on faith, not evidence. As does the existence of Mel’s Intelligent Designer – he may not be the same as the Christian/Jewish god (although given that Mel is a devout Jew it would be rather odd if this was the case) but his existence still requires a leap of faith. And it is this reliance on faith which separates both ID and Creationism from science.  That is not to paint all people with religious beliefs as “anti-science” - most of them understand perfectly well the distinction between religion and science. What advocates of ID do is try to blur those boundaries – in fact they go further than trying to explain what science cannot, they (like the Creationists) try to provide alternative explanations for that which science itself can explain perfectly well.

That is why Intelligent Design is irrational, anti-science and anti-intellectual. And the irony is that this is from someone who sees themselves in the forefront of the battle to defend Western civilised values and rationalism from the forces of barbarism (i.e. Islam). One of the commenters puts it succinctly -

In the World War over religion, between the allies of Modernity and the axis of Mediaevelism Melanie Phillips is actually on the same side as the Iranian Mullahs, the Saudi princes and the Taleban

We’re all doomed!

Exciting times as scientists at CERN prepare to switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on Wednesday. Over the course of the next months and years some of the really big questions in science could be answered; will they prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the “god particle”? Will they discover the nature of dark matter? This is genuinely exciting stuff and the LHC is a tribute not only to the advances in human knowledge which enabled us to build the thing and the international co-operation which allowed it to happen but the notion that the pursuit of human knowledge is in itself a noble thing worthy of the billions of pounds which has been spent on building the LHC.
Not everyone sees it such a positive light though, and a small number of scientists have warned that the LHC could create a mini-black hole which could envelop the earth, and they have even resorted to using the ECHR to try and block the project. However, these are fairly marginal figures and the large majority of scientists are certain that although they cannot totally rule out any risk it is infintessimally small.
This has not however prevented a number of doom-laden articles appearing, where else, in the Daily Mail. Here Mike Hanlon dons his sandwich board and paints a dire picture of the potential dangers -

“earthquakes would start unexpectedly, alerting geologists that something terrible, unimaginable, was amiss.
After a few days, these seismic disturbances would reach catastrophic proportions.”
Cities would be levelled, the oceans would rise and wash in a series of mega-tsunamis that would attack the world’s coasts, killing millions.”

Imagine the effect that will have on house prices! And it wouldn’t even be Gordon Brown’s fault.