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Monday, July 05, 2004

Not taken by storm

Quite painfully, I finished reading the book Taken by Storm: The Trouble Science , Policy and Politics of Global Warming by Dr.Christopher Essex (professor of applied mathematics) and Dr.Ross McKitrick (professor of economics). I wish I could debate the theory advanced by the book in terms of its cogent, self-contained hypotheses. However, the tome contains so many comical passages, non-sequitors, and random blubbering explanations it basically collapses into a junk science parody. The reason I started to read this, as a matter of fact, was that I wanted to see how a couple of supposed credentialled researchers would lay out a counter-theory to prevailing wisdom. I really do understand how global warming can get complicated as a theory and in practice (I am currently working on an unrelated computational fluid dynamics visualization at work), so I thought having two (2) professors fact-checking each other could provide a reasoned premise and follow-up discussion.

In other words, I wanted to see how the smartest people from the other (i.e. non-consensus) side think. Unfortunately, no dice; I will have to keep searching for serious refutations.

The preface starts out badly:
We have no idea when Earth Day is, nor do we care, as long as the malls stay open.

I can only balance this with a current favorite quote:
G.Montbiot: Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.

Technically, the duo's arguments arise out of their potentially healthy skepticism in computational methods applied to complex problems. A quote that lays out their initial premise:
In a normal computer calculation in other fields, one aspires to make the computational grid smaller than all important structures and process -- that is essential to doing a numerical computer calculation from a theory.

They also criticize the idea of parameterization in global warming models, as if it were not allowed in some grand idealized theory:

There is no precise physical theory behind these emperical (sic) rules, just some meteorological wisdom and observation.

At this point, a good physicist trying to debunk such shortcomings would lay out thermodynamics or statistical mechanical arguments to solving problems. And perhaps use observations and trends to find support. Instead, they follow a pattern of pompous pronouncements with Initial Caps references, whereby as Roy Edroso explains, "the concept is so scientific it rates Initial Caps". Framing also plays a big role; they repeatedly use Disney references in condescending terms:
The thunderstorm outside is a bit like one of Mickey's missing fingers.

But all their subliminal rhetorical devices do not work when faced with such howlers as this:
Whether looking at air or water quality, most things were in better shape in 1990 than in 1970 in an absolute sense. There was no crisis, according to real, directly measured environmental quality numbers.
What was a world leader to do, faced with a public looking for bold leadership to fix an environmental "crisis", just when the environment appeared to be getting better on its own? Only in politics can this be a dilemma.

As if they did not recall that Earth Day was in 1970, in the decade that the EPA started enforcing quality regulations. Oh, I forgot, they cared more about the malls staying open.

The following is a categorized sampling of quotes from the book:

Embarrassment:
When was the last time you saw a thermometer, other than a medical one, that could measure more closely than 1oC?.

Fahrenheit, anyone?

Tin-hat territory:
Some, however, cannot avoid being drawn into the debate. Most interest has been focused on the big oil and gas firms like Shell, Suncor and British Petroleum.
...
One firm that has conspicuously decided to not pay protection money is Exxon.

Not to mention that those other companies have a more European sensibility, in tune to their citizens concerns.

Non-sequitor:
For some of these, we can show that there is a rule, even though we cannot figure out how to get one to write down.


Comical:
Everyone agrees that some kind of averaging may help, but this idea is in itself not very helpful, even though unchaperoned averaging has been going on in the back allies (sic) for decades.


A Matlab reference:
We have filled the table in using an important mathematics program called Matlab to help the flow of discussion, but we recommend that you actually try it yourself.

I love how the word "important" is inserted in the strategic Matlab-marketing location (which is howlingly familiar to those doing software and computational engineering research).

Tautology:
This is called truncation, and it produces truncation errors. In many cases, if you know what you're doing, it doesn't present great difficulties. But it can be a problem when small things can have big effects.


Straw-man argument:
You can't calculate turbulent fluid motions in a 1-D model. The fluid would go up, but it could not go down again without passing through itself.

After all, straw-men are one-dimensional people.

Incoherence:
A statistic is lower on the pecking order than a physical variable because it doesn't fit into any physical theories or necessarily have any significance at all. When a statistic is formalized, it is elevated to the status of an "index".


Odd:
Data quality rules say T-Rex must be terminated!


T-Rex is the Duo's pet name for average global temperature. They clearly show a deep misunderstanding of what temperature really means.

Embarrassment part 2:
A laser pointer is a good example. Its temperature is in the tens of millions of degrees.
...
No. Temperature is not energy.

see Tim Lambert's Deltoid blog for more discussion on the incomprehensibility of the duo's misunderstanding of the nature of temperature.

The very fact that Figure 4.1 reports a result per unit time (months in this case) rules out the possibility that it measures anything in equilibrium, and hence that it is a graph of something that has a single temperature.

Scientists, please stop work immediately! It is pointless to proceed, as we are not in equilibrium. All of our theories are doomed ... doomed, I say.
We are not making any judgement (sic) about whether the line or the hockey stick is a more reliable picture of the history of T-Rex. Let specialists in the field debate that if they like.

Good plan, hint, hint. They also resurrect the straw-man by using as an overlay, Figure 5.7, of, get this, real domestic product on top of inferred global temperature (the hockey stick graph). Any idiot will see that this of course does not prove anything.

Really?
But you can see why non-experts get the wrong ideas by using the wrong words and metaphors.


After a while, I started to purely lose interest due to the incompetence of it all. Witness:
How could that be? Easy. We can have the local weather move toward different temperatures with changes that cancel each other out in the sum of the temperatures that people make before they divide by the number of temperatures measured.
... Huh?

Apparently a 200 page book is not enough to get all their thoughts out:
As a simple example, we can revisit the question of whether carbon dioxide must actually cause warming at the surface, the way the ambient heat prejudice demands. (You can find more about it in a paper by Chris.6)

Dr. Chris's paper must reveal the arguments that they cannot articulate in pages and pages of prose.

In conclusion, they write:
In every other area of society, when a task requires adjudication -- that is, a judgement (sic) as to the meaning of the available data by someone in a position of authority -- no one would think of using a fact-finding model. Instead we turn to one in which contrasting opinions are deliberately sought out and given a full and fair hearing.


So, there we have it layed out -- their actual agenda. In essence, they do not believe that science should be based on the best theory that matches actual observations. Instead they want the other side to be heard, no matter what the quality of exposition. Based on their own arguments, they probably want astrophysics as a field of research to be eliminated:
Climate observations are not controlled experiments -- and treating them as if they are has caused plenty of confusion.


My conclusion: If this were a PhD thesis (and not a lark as it appears to be written), the book would get rejected outright; if for nothing else than that no graph shown has any units described on the vertical axis. After all, those are the arcane rules of academia.

11 Comments:

Professor Blogger nort said...

Thanks for that review Webster. Having perused the chapter headings of his book from McKitrick's own web pages I'd formed a jaundiced view (coincidentally enough, one that involved Mickey Mouse and Disney fantasies as they seemed to leap from his words) of his seemingly inadequate efforts. You've just saved me the trouble of wasting any time reading through it, I think.
Cheers, Nort

12:03 AM  
Professor Anonymous Dan Epp said...

I would love to witness a debate between you and the authors.Your refutations do not seem to have much technical or scientific substance. We all need a cause, but it seems to me that you are a little too shrill in your comments. What is your agenda. Ido not pretend to be well versed in math and the sciences, but these guys seem to make sense.
Dan Epp
danepp@brktel.on.ca

7:56 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

DanEpp: If I had a debate with the authors, I would likely get arrested for child molestation.

BTW, saying the word "shrill" gives away your association with the neo-con christo-fascist death cult wing of the nutjob right.

8:37 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree,

I love NHL Hockey. and recently I have bought stock in it. Not like real stock on Wall street, but a stock market that is strictly for sports.

You have seen it? Its pretty cool. You buy issues for your favorite teams and you make real money. Not like a fake stock simulator. I cash out Dividends each time the team wins. Also I can sell my team stock when the price goes up.

check it out if something like this interests you.
heres a link http://allsportsmarket.com
you can log in and check it out for free..

They just released IPO'S for NHL Hockey this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

Keep up the good work on your blog!
-Erik

1:44 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see you attacking the substance of their arguments. You cut short pointless fragments from here and there and try to "prove" your own pre-conceptions by ridiculing them.

This is pathetic.

You are nuts.

Wisen up.

Debate the issues.

You think you are so witty and smart, but you only make yourself look pathetic. A shrill.

7:24 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

"A shrill."

Or do you mean "A shill"?

Gawd, what a moron.

10:32 PM  
Professor Anonymous Andrew Bell said...

I am sorry to here that a closed minded individual like you would try and critize such a lovely book that supports common sense and rejects inadiquite facts and emotions. I loved this book, and you could too. Do us all a favor and be open minded.

1:53 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Andrew,
God loves you. Deal with it.

9:10 PM  
Professor Anonymous Andrew Bell said...

I'm a Christian myself, and if you are too you would agree that God would never let us die out or let us suffer.

Nothing to argue? anything? didnt think so.

10:32 AM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

you just got own3d WHT, you should just leave

5:42 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

run along little kiddie

9:05 PM  

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