Monday, November 30, 2009

MSM can cover CRU if they try

The Toronto Star, in a story which generally treats Al Gore as a saint:

This week, climate-change deniers have been making a great ruckus after hackers broke into a computer system at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. and downloaded a welter of emails exchanged over the past decade or so by scientists studying climate change.

At the very least, the correspondence raises troubling questions about the motivation, the ethics and the science of at least some of the researchers involved.

But climate-change skeptics have seized on the documents as more than just an embarrassment for their adversaries. They are hyping the correspondence as nothing less than a smoking gun – proof positive that global warming is a hoax and that the jig is now up.

Al Gore's word, they say, is finally mud.


But if in fact, as reported, the "science" of "at least some of the researchers" at CRU is now subject to "troubling questions," "at the very least," then the skeptics have been right all along. So: they're not deniers of something that's beyond question for sane people; they're skeptics.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Al Gore is probably not a pathological liar, but he is also probably not a martyr for the truth. Somewhere in between.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More on CRU

My son is still not convinced there is much wrong with the official global warming line, and the science behind it. One question: why would a number of reputable scientists, even if a fairly small number, fudge data or draw conclusions that go far beyond their data? My best answer is that all boomers, at least those who have been to university, are attracted to kindergarten Marxism and environmentalism. But we need to do better than that.

One thing we've discussed: Eddington claimed to confirm one of Einstein's theories, I can never remember which is which (general) by his observations of a total eclipse. It has been established in recent times that he was actually unable to measure what he claimed to have measured.

Here's the CRU quote:

In other words, Eddington believed in Einstein’s theory and wanted to prove that it was true, and therefore he subconsciously minimised his errors in order to get the right result. Regardless of whether or not this was the case, Eddington’s result was hailed as a wondrous piece of science, experimental validation of the greatest intellectual achievement of the of the youthful twentieth century, a sign of optimism in a world that had been torn apart by war. J.P. McEvoy, author of the “Eclipse”, encapsulated the significance of the announcement: “A new theory of the universe, the brain-child of a German Jew working in Berlin, had been confirmed by an English Quaker on a small African island.”


See also here.

Of course, Eddington turned out to be right--or the theory by a much smarter person he was defending was right--but he still seems to show how enthusiasm can get the better of a scientist.

Revkin does OK on CRU

The New York Times: Not bad at all.

Friday, November 27, 2009

CRU: Lessons learned so far

It seems that a wide range of people, including some who believe strongly in the global warming theory, are now going to join in expecting that full data is made available to the public, contrary to what has been the usual practice of alarmists. This is a good thing, and Steve McIntyre deserves a lot of credit for his lonely campaign on this front.

Another believer who wants openness here. This is pretty amazing stuff.

What if all the data is a mess, or doesn't tell any convincing story about climate, or actually contradicts warming (just as severe hurricanes have stopped in the U.S., Arctic ice is rebuilding, etc.) Will people who want to believe in global warming, partly because of what I call kindergarten Marxism, be willing to give it up?

Of course, there still may be good arguments for cutting back on our use of so-called fossil fuels--especially coal. It would be progress if we (China, India) could shift from coal to oil, and then from oil to gas. Are we going to run out? Who knows? Should we shift as quickly as possible to nuclear? (It's that belief that got Thatcher behind Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), and led her to establish the CRU, among other things).

Funniest joke from the CRU issue so far

Paraphrasing: By now Gore is probably sorry he invented the Internet.

Such memories that joke brings back. It's probably not true that Gore is a pathological liar. And yet: there was a list of pufferies and whoppers.

And he didn't seem to learn.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My E-Mail to Yglesias

(Thinking of this post on a possible climate change futures market, among other posts)

I'm still surprised you don't apply your usual skepticism to claims about global warming.

From the CRU material: Kevin Trenberth says "we" don't know whether the cooling effect of man-made SO2 completely counteracts the warming effect of man-made CO2; and "we" don't understand the whole system of energy close to the earth's surface well enough to know whether geo-engineering would work or not. I take it this means: maybe once the temperature starts going up, the only way it can go is up more steeply, positive feedback, tipping point, etc., but then again maybe not. There is not enough understanding of all the major determinants of climate to be sure.

Even the temperature readings since 1850 don't co-relate well with the dramatic increase in man-made CO2, and these readings are more questionable than we are usually told. Before 1850 it is a matter of proxies; it seems there is very little actual data to go on, and the way it is processed is at least somewhat questionable. A skilled programmer, not hostile to the CRU at all, spent three years trying to get data that had already been used for "publications in refereed journals" into recognizable shape, but failed. He says he was completely unable to replicate the results that had already been published.

You still imply that anyone who questions all this is either stupid, or has been paid off by Big Oil, Big Coal, Koch, or whatever.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CRU files

Many chickens coming home to roost. There will be lots of discussion of these files for the next while. I`ve been especially impressed by two things: 1) the hypothesis that all these e-mails and other documents were gathered into one file by staff at CRU, for their own purposes, over a period of time. Why would a hostile hacker, or someone with a guilty conscience, go to all the trouble of finding and sorting files? On the other hand, why would CRU staff do so?

It looks like it is precisely the most incriminating files that have been gathered together--the ones that make top global warming scientists look like political hacks, deliberately distorting and mis-representing evidence, smearing and undermining anyone who questions them, etc. I think there's a good chance they gathered this stuff to prepare for a Freedom of Information request under the new law in the UK. If the request came, they may have been prepared to destroy all this stuff. Unfortunately for them, they must have put this huge file on a shared drive so various staff could comment or add. One can imagination them reminding each other: make sure everything is in here. If so, there may not have been any difficult security to hack.

2. Secondly, this list of highlights is a bit different from most you are seeing:

McIntyre's revelations caused a firestorm of controversy, in response to which the alarmist community circled its wagons to fend off the threat from an outsider. This process can be clearly seen in the East Anglia emails.

The alarmists' effort to respond to McIntyre was complicated by the fact that Briffa had been ill and undergone surgery, and was then recuperating. So several of them wrote to Briffa's co-author, Tim Osborn, for advice on how to respond to McIntyre's critique. Osborn replied on September 29, 2009:


Hi Mike and Gavin, thanks for your emails re McIntyre, Yamal and Keith. I'll pass on your best wishes for his recovery when I next speak to Keith. He's been off almost 4 months now and won't be back for at least another month ....

Regarding Yamal, I'm afraid I know very little about the whole thing -- other than that I am 100% confident that "The tree ring data was hand-picked to get the desired result" is complete crap. Having one's integrity questioned like this must make your blood boil....

Apart from Keith, I think Tom Melvin here is the only person who could shed light on the McIntyre criticisms of Yamal. But he can be a rather loose cannon and shouldn't be directly contacted about this....


So: these scientists don't really have any idea whether McIntyre's critique of Briffa's work is correct or not. Even Briffa's co-author professes ignorance. There is one person they could approach who could "shed light on the McIntyre criticisms of Yamal." But they don't do it. Why? Because "he can be rather a loose cannon and shouldn't be directly contacted...." In other words, his loyalty to the cause of climate alarmism may not be absolute. This is much like the case noted here where Michael Mann, one of the recipients of the above email, warns against sharing information with someone named Andy because he is "not as predictable as we'd like."

Despite having no idea what the facts are, the alarmists don't hesitate to formulate a position. Thus, on the next day, September 30, Osborn writes:


Keith's temporarily come in to get a handle on all this, but it will take time. Likely outcome is (1) brief holding note that no cherry-picking was done and demonstrating data selection is defendable by our time tomorrow; (2) longer piece with more evaluation etc. in around a week. No point is posting something that turns out to be wrong.

That's good enough for Osborn's fellow alarmists. Michael Mann replies:


great--thanks Tim, sounds like we have a plan. in our post, which we'll target for tomorrow as well, we'll simply link to whatever CRU puts up and re-iterate the sentiment of the temporary short response (i.e. that there was no cherry-picking, a careful and defensible selection procedure was used) and we'll mostly focus on the broader issues, i.e. that any impact of this one series in the vast array of paleoclimate reconstructions (and the importance of the paleoclimate reconstructions themselves) has been over-stated, why these sorts of attacks are not legitimate science, etc.


Note that the alarmists are willing to denounce McIntyre's work as "not legitimate science" even though, at this point, they still have no idea whether his analysis was right or wrong. That is not, however, what they tell the outside world. On September 29, Andrew Revkin, environmental reporter for the New York Times, wrote to Mann asking about McIntyre's critique:

needless to say, seems the 2008 pnas paper showing that without tree rings still solid picture of unusual recent warmth, but McIntyre is getting wide play for his statements about Yamal data-set selectivity.


Has he communicated directly to you on this and/or is there any indication he's seeking journal publication for his deconstruct?

Mann, ignorant of the facts, responds by slandering McIntyre:

Hi Andy, I'm fairly certain Keith is out of contact right now recovering from an operation, and is not in a position to respond to these attacks. However, the preliminary information I have from others familiar with these data is that the attacks are bogus.


It is unclear that this particular series was used in any of our reconstructions (some of the underlying chronologies may be the same, but I'm fairly certain the versions of these data we have used are based on a different composite and standardization method), let alone any of the dozen other reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature shown in the most recent IPCC report, which come to the conclusion that recent warming is anomalous in a long-term context.


So, even if there were a problem w/ these data, it wouldn't matter as far as the key conclusions regarding past warmth are concerned. But I don't think there is any problem with these data, rather it appears that McIntyre has greatly distorted the actual information content of these data.

Given what is said in the other emails, that last attack on McIntyre appears to be simply fabricated out of whole cloth. Mann concludes by buttering up Revkin:

Fortunately, the prestige press doesn't fall for this sort of stuff, right?

mike

Of course not! Revkin replies, "Thanks heaps."


At the same time they were issuing these assurances to outsiders, however, the alarmists' internal communications were much more equivocal. On September 30, the day after he corresponded with Revkin, Mann asked Tim Osborn to confirm that a key 2006 paper co-authored by Osborn and Briffa was untainted by what is implicitly acknowledged to be Briffa's bad Yamal data:

And Osborn and Briffa '06 is also immune to this issue, as it eliminated any combination of up to 3 of the proxies and showed the result was essentially the same (fair to say this Tim?).

Osborn's reply is hedged at best, and includes a rather insouciant admission that he is "amazed" that the journal Science agreed to publish his paper in the first place:


Mike,

yes, you're right: figs S4-S6 in our supplementary information do indeed show results leaving out individual, groups of two, and groups of three proxies, respectively. It's attached.

I wouldn't say we were immune to the issue -- results are similar for these leave 1, 2 or 3 out cases, but they certainly are not as strong as the case with all 14 proxies.


Certainly in figure S6, there are some cases with 3 omitted (i.e. some sets of 11) where modern results are comparable with intermittent periods between 800 and 1100. Plus there is the additional uncertainty, discussed on the final page of the supplementary information, associated with linking the proxy records to real temperatures (remember we have no formal calibration, we're just counting proxies -- I'm still amazed that Science agreed to publish something where the main analysis only involves counting from 1 to 14!

:-)).


But this is fine, since the IPCC AR4 and other assessments are not saying the evidence is 100% conclusive (or even 90% conclusive) but just "likely" that modern is warmer than M[edieval] W[arm] P[eriod]. ...

So, this Yamal thing doesn't damage Osborn & Briffa (2006), but important to note that O&B (2006) and others support the "likely" statement rather than being conclusive.

Cheers
Tim


Another member of the climate alarmist cabal, Tom Wigley, gave this darker assessment of Briffa's errors with regard to the tree ring data on October 5. Note in particular his concern about the alarmists' practice of withholding data from public review:

Phil,

It is distressing to read that American Stinker item. But Keith does seem to have got himself into a mess. As I pointed out in emails, Yamal is insignificant. And you say that (contrary to what M&M say) Yamal is *not* used in MBH, etc. ...

But, more generally, (even if it *is* irrelevant) how does Keith explain the McIntyre plot that compares Yamal-12 with Yamal-all? And how does he explain the apparent "selection" of the less well-replicated chronology rather that the later (better replicated) chronology?


Of course, I don't know how often Yamal-12 has really been used in recent, post-1995, work. I suspect from what you say it is much less often that M&M say -- but where did they get their information? I presume they went thru papers to see if Yamal was cited, a pretty foolproof method if you ask me. Perhaps these things can be explained clearly and concisely -- but I am not sure Keith is able to do this as he is too close to the issue and probably quite pissed of[f].

And the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both you and Keith (and Mann). Yes, there are reasons -- but many *good* scientists appear to be unsympathetic to these. The trouble here is that with-holding data looks like hiding something, and hiding means (in some eyes) that it is bogus science that is being hidden.


I think Keith needs to be very, very careful in how he handles this. I'd be willing to check over anything he puts together.

Tom.

This strikes me as a damning commentary on the entire alarmist enterprise. Meanwhile, not only are Briffa's data flawed and seemingly cherry-picked, the assumptions on which the tree-ring studies are based may be bogus in the first place. The email collection includes these two messages from a plant scientist, both within the last 60 days:

Dear Professor Briffa, my apologies for contacting you directly, particularly since I hear that you are unwell. However the recent release of tree ring data by CRU has prompted much discussion and indeed disquiet about the methodology and conclusions of a number of key papers by you and co-workers.

As an environmental plant physiologist, I have followed the long debate starting with Mann et al (1998) and through to Kaufman et al (2009). As time has progressed I have found myself more concerned with the whole scientific basis of dendroclimatology. In particular;

1) The appropriateness of the statistical analyses employed
2) The reliance on the same small datasets in these multiple studies
3) The concept of "teleconnection" by which certain trees respond to the "Global Temperature Field", rather than local climate
4) The assumption that tree ring width and density are related to temperature in a linear manner.


Whilst I would not describe myself as an expert statistician, I do use inferential statistics routinely for both research and teaching and find difficulty in understanding the statistical rationale in these papers. As a plant physiologist I can say without hesitation that points 3 and 4 do not agree with the accepted science.

There is a saying that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". Given the scientific, political and economic importance of these papers, further detailed explanation is urgently required.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Don Keiller.


Tree ring studies are vitally important to the conclusions reached by the U.N.'s IPCC report, which is the main foundation for the claim that anthropogenic global warming has been "proved." That being the case, one would think that Briffa, one of the two or three primary authors of the tree ring studies, would have a ready response to these very basic questions. But no: he did not reply to Dr. Keiller's email. That prompted this second inquiry from Dr. Keiller:

Dear Professor Briffa, I am pleased to hear that you appear to have recovered from your recent illness sufficiently to post a response to the controversy surrounding the use of the Yamal chronology; ([5]http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/yamal2009/cautious/cautious.htm) and the chronology itself; ([6]http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/yamal2009/)


Unfortunately I find your explanations lacking in scientific rigour and I am more inclined to believe the analysis of McIntyre ([7]http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7588) Can I have a straightforward answer to the following questions

1) Are the reconstructions sensitive to the removal of either the Yamal data and Strip pine bristlecones, either when present singly or in combination?

2) Why these series, when incorporated with white noise as a background, can still produce a Hockey-Stick shaped graph if they have, as you suggest, a low individual weighting?

And once you have done this, please do me the courtesy of answering my initial email.
Dr. D.R. Keiller


Again, one might assume that if the science surrounding global warming is settled, the alarmists would have good answers to such basic questions, and certainly would be willing to engage in debate in a spirit of open-minded inquiry. Such, however, is not the case. Phil Jones of East Anglia advised Briffa against trying to respond to the plant scientist on October 20:

Keith,

There is a lot more there on CA now. [I'm pretty sure CA is Climate Audit, a web site where McIntyre posts.] I would be very wary about responding to this person now having seen what McIntyre has put up.

You and Tim talked about Yamal. Why have the bristlecones come in now. [1]http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7588#comments


This is what happens - they just keep moving the goalposts. Maybe get Tim to redo OB2006 without a few more series.

Cheers
Phil

As far as I can tell from the email archive, Briffa never did respond to the plant scientist. Jones's email warning Briffa to be "very wary about responding to this person now having seen what McIntyre has put up" was written just three weeks ago. It, along with the rest of the email archive, makes an utter mockery of the alarmists' claim that the science of global warming is settled in their favor.


On the contrary, the conclusion an observer is likely to draw from the CRU archive is that the climate alarmists are making up the science as they go along and are fitting facts to reach a predetermined conclusion rather than objectively seeking after truth. What they are doing is politics, not science. When I was in law school, this story was told about accountants: A CEO is going to hire a new accountant and summons a series of candidates. He asks each applicant, "What is two plus two?" The first two candidates answer, "Four." They don't get the job. The third responds, "What do you want it to be?" He gets hired. The climate alarmists' attitude toward data appears to me much the same as that fictional accountant's attitude toward arithmetic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Re-considering flu vaccine

This blogger (responding to the Atlantic article) seems pretty reasonable. Yes, there is some doubt in any given flu season as to exactly how much flu is out there, and what exactly the vaccine does, especially when it comes to preventing deaths. But, and it's a big but: the vaccine prevents a lot of its recipients from either getting or spreading the flu. There are costs to people getting sick--they are less able to care for themselves and their families (that's why my wife and I started getting vaccinated years ago), and their employers probably suffer from their absence. Emergency personnel may lose the critical mass of people they need 24/7.

A normal flu apparently spreads more slowly, but kills more those infected, than this year's swine flu. Contrary to the way I've been thinking, this may mean there is more reason to get the vaccine this year. The closer we come to everyone getting vaccinated, the fewer people will get sick with flu.

Of course this blogger can't resist suggesting that one of these years, a flu will once again, as in 1919, kill 5% of the human race. I doubt it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Smart Approach to Climate Change

If I was being considered for some responsible position where my views were to count for something, I would probably blurt out: believing that man-made CO2 is the main determinant of global temperature, or all of global climate, is not simply believing that the tail wags the dog; it is believing that a flea on the tail wags the dog. Then I would be widely laughed at, and disqualified.

Harper and Obama are more sensible. Do nothing to speak of to implement Kyoto, much less launch into a new round of madness with Copenhagen, but mouth a few pieties about intending to combat climate change when the time is right--that is, when the major contributors of CO2 come to the table. It does no good to the environment, and can do harm to our own economy, to act on our own.

Meanwhile, lots of media stories for a study claiming to show that there have been more record highs than record lows since 1950, indicating a clear warming trend. The authors apparently say: there should be a trend toward fewer and fewer records, high or low, since there should be a kind of normalcy in temperature. Really? Constancy is the norm in nature? Somehow the boomers all think that there was a kind of peace or changelessness when they were children, and that is the way it should be. The study puts its entire reliance on U.S. surface monitoring stations, and claims that some adjustment has been made to allow for problems with siting. This of course is Anthony Watts' specialty, so he will have something to say along with Roger Pielke. (The naive, surface-based record for the whole twentieth century shows a couple of decades of cooling alternating with a couple of decades of warming. No one has a model that can explain these changes--they certainly don't co-relate with a steady increase in man-made CO2).

The reports on this study make no mention of man-made causes of temperature change other than CO2, and certainly makes no mention of causes other than man-made for any large scale climate change. Is this realistic? Two other studies, both of which received far less media attention, accept that there has been a certain amount of temperature increase, but say that much of the increase is attributable to changes of land use--basically urbanization. One says half of the increase is owing to this one factor. So: this is human intervention, but not CO2 production per se. Simply living at higher density, with more asphalt,lights and other electrical and industrial equipment, a higher concentration of motor vehicles generating heat, etc.

So: assume temperature increase. Half from urbanization and other changes of land use. The other half--probably not entirely man-made. Maybe very little of it man-made?

Meanwhile, the ocean, along with "terrestrial ecosystems," turn out to be absorbing all the extra carbon we have thrown at them so far. It is hard to say what the upper limit of the earth's capacity for absorption is, or where the so-called "tipping point" is--if indeed there is one in the simple way that is often presented. If the carbon is 100% absorbed by the ocean and earth, I gather it may have nothing to do with any temperature changes or climate changes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Major Nidal Hasan

The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 of his fellow service-people.

What makes this not just "another serial killing" in the U.S.? First or second, it is unusual for any officer to turn on his fellow-officers, and it is unusual for military people to be assaulted while on base. (Michael Peck says an attack on a base is inevitable but, er, he doesn't seem to be able to think of one that has actually happened). What is getting the most attention: Major Hasan is an observant Moslem, of Arab (Palestinian) ancestry, who had expressed concern about Moslems being asked to take part in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So was he part of a group, and was the attack planned as one of a series of attacks? This in a way has been the U.S. nightmare since at least 9/11. So far it seems the answer is no, although Hasan probably had some contacts with imams and such who are too radical for the good of society. Jonah Goldberg says the lone nut possibility is actually more frightening--presumably because law enforcement has very little way of identifying a plan in progress. He refers to the so-called Washington Sniper, who was just executed.

It is surely wise to be aware of the relevance of Islam to this case, and to see if there are radicals who are actually persuading Moslems in the U.S. to commit crimes. Contrary to Goldberg, groups are more frightening because they can use the tools of conformity and enthusiasm to recruit fanatics. Without claiming moral equivalence, their cause is aided by attacks by outsiders. There were probably no Palestinians who were actually prepared to commit suicide while launching attacks until the intifadas got underway. Suicide attacks in Lebanon and Iraq have followed, and been responses to, specific events which have made groups identify themselves as oppressed, with very few weapons at their disposal.

Having said all that, the U.S. has a lot of serial killers--whose victims are often their own families. The Washington Sniper (John Allen Muhammed) had in mind--well, God knows what. The big question, very hard to answer, is why the U.S. is prone to this type of crime. Despite all the talk of individuality and choices, and partly because of it, people get lost in the crowd? TV and movies (with Hitchcock's Psycho a major event) make it clear that a serial killer can really gain a high profile, his views and utterances pored over by experts, and perhaps his intelligence praised?

Another look at some evidence

A nice summary from Finnish TV of the problems with the theory that anthropogenic CO2 (which everyone agrees has increased) is causing a problem for global climate.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Frightening the Boomers

I suppose history will eventually show that people with very little evidence behind them were able to convince a lot of other people of global warming, an endless parade of frightening pandemics, dangerous food in supermarkets, etc. But then: they only had to persuade the gullible old boomers. How hard is that? As long as you start by confirming that they're the smartest people who've ever lived, you're in. In their pants, in their pocketbooks.

Surely a major factor in all this is that the boomers are getting old, and they are more and more afraid to die, as old people pretty much always are. So of course fear of capitalism and technology--kindergarten Marxism--have never really gone away. Now fear of death gives all these fears a rocket booster. The boomers were never known to have great resources of character, judgment or resiliency, so old age is likely to be pretty terrifying for them. Perhaps the prospect of it, for many of them, will actually be worse than the reality. Some of them, at least, will remain relatively pain free, and then die in their sleep. (Although that last expression often conceals the fact that no one actually sees a person die--the death may have been quite a bit more horrible than the expression "dying in your sleep" implies).

See earlier posts here and here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Prevention stats

An interesting, sometimes amusing piece, on whether preventative health care, i.e. testing people who are not showing symptoms, does more good than harm, and whether (a separate question of course) it saves money.

It is an article of faith among a lot of people, including people advocating for "Obamacare," that the answer to both questions is yes. Maybe not.

Race Photos




Both are here. It seems to be standard now to charge even for a decent electronic image.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Saviour to the Rescue of Climate Change Models

The Toronto Star highlights a Bower award winner in Physics.

The sub-hed reads: "His insights into nature's diverse systems help prove the validity of climate change models." Wow, all those models used by the IPCC, increasingly under attack both for lacking robust data in the first place, and for failing to predict anything meaningful, are vindicated in one fell swoop by one big picture theorist.

Let's read on:

"THE WAY IN WHICH we try to prove to ourselves that the models have predictive capability ... is to apply the same models to epochs in the past," Peltier says.

"We take the same models which are being used to make future climate predictions and we ask `do they predict what we know to have been characteristic of the climate at this earlier time?'"

Make no mistake, Peltier says. For the sophisticated climate change skeptic, the models now used to predict future temperatures, glacial melting and rising ocean levels are global warming's Achilles' heel.

Based on scientific suppositions about past climates and the complex sun and earth conditions that caused them, they are too prone to error, too dependent on seas of suppositions to reliably forecast our future.


But this makes it sound like ... all those other models are wrong. All of them. Only Peltier has saved the day.

Amazingly, he has studied the geology of one precise period, in great detail, applied a mathematical model, and successively extrapolated his findings to other periods, presumably including our own. The article is frustratingly vague on some points:

Numbers and mathematical theorems are the tools of the theoretical physics that Peltier employs to communicate his disparate disciplines.

With them, Einstein could describe the potential power that lies within an atomic nucleus. Or with them, Peltier could pixelate a snapshot of a glacier's edge, 21,000 years ago, at the end of the last great ice age.

What was the solid earth doing at that time? How were the oceans behaving? What were the glaciers like just then, at the very end of their onslaught?

Providing precise answers to these questions has been the crowning achievement of Peltier's career so far, he says.

And it's those answers that are now used to prove that the monumentally complex computer models being used to predict future climate change are accurate.


Back to the beginning again. All of the models are accurate, even though on their own they have so far failed to predict anything?

To build his picture of the ice age world, where glaciers stood four kilometres high over much of what's now Canada and Europe, Peltier employed his own mathematical theorems and supercomputers to crunch millions of pieces of data.

That data included everything from ice core samples to satellite imagery of the ground rebounding still from its long-gone glacial loads.

And the picture Peltier painted with it was so precise and elegant that it become the proving ground for today's predictive climate change models.

"If the model doesn't pass the past climate test, then you should be very, very concerned about the future predictions you're making," he says.

Many of them have passed, and those successes, Peltier says, stand as the key rebuke to climate change skeptics. "The work that I do is exactly to counter these arguments that the models can't be trusted."


Many of them. Many of them have passed. Some, I guess, have not. Some may even be, dare I say it, elegant nonsense. But there are no details as to what has passed and what has not, what specific periods have been successfully predicted, or anything. What periods has Peltier himself studied, to show that his model from one specific time and place can be applied to other times and places, and fit actual data?

Pseudo-Science

I suppose there's no harm in anyone getting the swine flu vaccine. This year, there are indications that most of the flu will be swine flu, so it makes more sense to get the swine flu vaccine than the other one. My wife and I have had the flu shot several years in a row, beginning when our medically fragile daughter was living with us. This will be the first year in some time when I don't get any flu shot.

I think it's silly to wait in line for hours for the swine flu shot. Maybe I'd think differently if I had young children, but there is a cost to spending so much time on that one task; crowds are exactly where bugs of all kinds are spread; and the risk of serious cases of swine flu is extremely small. People in Ontario have been frightened by the death of a previously healthy teenage boy, but such things happen every flu season.

Then comes the Atlantic Online:

There is little evidence that either flu vaccine or anti-virals like Tamiflu actually reduce mortality from flu.

There is a co-relation: Those who are vaccinated, overall, have significantly lower death rates, from all causes, than those who are not vaccinated, with little control as to whether they are otherwise the same kind of population. There is good evidence that the population that goes to the trouble of getting vaccinated is healthier in the first place, and young healthy people get more benefit from vaccine--their immune system gets more of a boost--than the older, sicker people who are more likely to die from flu. The vaccine may be effective for those who don't need it, and ineffective for those who do need it.

One expert recommends controlled trials--two populations, otherwise identical in critical respects including age and health, one given vaccine, the other a placebo. But of course if you believe the vaccine saves lives, the trials would seem unethical.

My biggest concern is that, once again, pseudo-science is triumphing over science. Australia normally has about 3,000 flu deaths every winter. The winter that just ended for them, they had about 1,000--mostly swine flu. This was a good year, not a bad year. Is it more likely to kill healthy young people in comparison to regular flu, which disproportionately kills frail elderly people? Maybe there is a bit of a shift, but it is still true that the general healthy population is at extremely low risk. Yet there is a kind of mass hysteria.

How many of the people lining up for flu shots are the same people who oppose the use of the MMR shot in chilren--a proven life-saver? Incredibly, there is an outbreak of mumps in Brooklyn, affecting kids as old as 15--going back to roughly when the anti-MMR campaign picked up steam.

In recent weeks, in addition to the young man dying of flu, a young Canadian woman was killed by coyotes in a national park. There is no evidence of anyone saying "stay away from that park," or from parks in general, or cull a lot of coyotes, or anything like that. Risk is a part of life.

I go back again to Gulliver's Travels. In the third voyage, scientific agriculture is being applied on earth, and turning good land into deserts. Swift may have some hope that at least the people closest to this phenomenon won't be completely fooled as to the promise of science. Up on the flying island, things in a way are worse. The people there don't have to work with their hands, and they have no idea how food or anything else is produced. They are sophisticated in their scientific thinking, yet they are increasingly obsessed with only two topics: their innermost selves, and whether the sun is going to explode or something like that. Today there is obviously an analogy to Buddhism/yoga/self-realization, on the one hand, and fears of global warming, supermarket food, beneficial vaccines and epidemics, on the other. Moderns turned away from ancient wisdom in order to benefit from modern science. Are we going to turn away from modern science in a kind of mass hysteria?

I made my son laugh by saying I also wonder about Prime Minister Harper's role in all this. Has he ordered officials to utter all their warnings about pandemic, so that he can be the hero who somehow delivers a bunch of vaccine? If so, it's not working--they are already a bit short of vaccine. But he may have learned from Bush the advantages of being the King of Fear. The treatment of swine flu by public officials has been a disgrace. It makes the whole public sector look bad--like no one knows how to run a Sunday School picnic. And that may suit Harper as well.