Thursday, August 31, 2006


Ioke seems to be on its way to Tokyo. The only reason the "strike probability" is as low as 7% at present is that this forecast only looks 5 days ahead - that number is sure to increase. The wind speeds given in the table are the sustained (not gust) speeds so although it is forecast to weaken significantly, it doesn't look like it is fizzling out.

JLPT take 2

Passing though Shinjuku again last weekend on the way to and from Fuji, I thought I could do with some more JLPT test practice, so I bought this book, and have sat the first set of papers this week.

Rather to my surprise, I'm up about 14% in each of the 3 papers, and therefore at 57% overall, compared to the 43% I got in the test I did exactly 4 weeks ago. Sure, it's still a fail, but quite a narrow one, and the rate of improvement is far in excess of the ~1% per week that I had reckoned on. It's possible that this test is a bit easier than the one I previously did, but surely not by that much. There is also still plenty of stuff in the syllabus that I haven't even covered yet, which leaves a lot of room for improvement (even in my strongest areas), and there are still 3 months to go. So I am upgrading my confidence about passing from "as likely as not", to "likely". And I've sent off the application...

Sunday, August 27, 2006


We've been avoiding it for 5 years, but finally got around to climbing Fuji-san this weekend, mostly because someone else organised the trip for us.

Take 1:

Take 2:

It was certainly much better than we had feared it might be, but still wouldn't be too close to the top of our list of favourite walks. It's not that it wasn't fun, but just that there are better alternatives. It's a shame that this trip seems to be the only one that most people ever take in the high mountains here. We have loads more pictures of the trip which will be turned into a web page some time.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

To my secret admirer

I seem to have picked up a mildly obnoxious anonymous commenter, visible in the comments of these posts here and here, for example (not all anon comments are this same person). He doesn't actually engage in debating anything of substance, but merely tries to denigrate with snide remarks. I've not bothered deleting his comments as I think their ineffectiveness is clear enough, but I do have a few points to make to him.

1. Before posting too much more in a similar vein, you might care to consider how your behaviour reflects on the AOPP department at Oxford University where you are based, and how your colleagues might think of it if they knew who you were (I don't think it is too much of a stretch to believe that they would at least be rather embarassed by your general cluelessness on scientific matters and inability to put together a coherent case, even if they happen to approve of your loyalty).

2. As you might have realised, you are not as anonymous as you think you are. That's a useful lesson to learn before you say anything that you might come to have serious cause to regret. I long ago came to the conclusion that I would rather put my name openly to my opinions, which both eliminates the risk of an embarassing "outing" and also forces me to take the trouble to only say stuff that I'm prepared to state in public. I can't guarantee that I always get it right, but I always try, and I'm generally prepared to listen to reasonable criticism. If you are too ashamed of your own opinions to own up to them, perhaps it's time to reconsider what you are writing.

3. I can understand that some people in AOPP are unhappy that I disagree with some of their heros. All I can say to that is too bad, I think some of what has appeared in the literature under their names is very clearly wrong. I would certainly agree - strongly - that scientists should be allowed to propose interesting ideas, and say things that ultimately turn out to be wrong - journals are not some repository of truth, but a means of communication (maybe you should read Doswell and Errico again). I don't think scientists deserve overly harsh criticism or villification for making mistakes, and that applies to me as much as others. But part of the deal is that they've - we've - got to be prepared to accept the mistakes when they are pointed out. Bear in mind that it is Frame et al who are doing their best to prevent us from publishing our comments, not the other way around.

4. Despite the above strong disagreements on scientific matters, none of our exchanges have any level of rancour remotely comparable to your comments. You don't have to get personal and bitchy just because you disagree with someone. This sort of thing is, fortunately, very much the exception rather than the rule. Maybe when you grow up a little, you will realise that scientific research leads to a lot of disagreements, some minor and some fundamental. It's not all people patting each other on the back and deciding what the "consensus" should be. The most rigorous testing is though focussed criticism rather than a vague admiration.

Here ends the lesson.

Japan's population again

The new Japanese birth rate figures are out, and they show an increase for the first 6 months of the year - and indeed a small population increase too. Maybe Koizumi's pep talk had the desired effect - although even he would be surprised by such rapid results. It is a very small rise, and they are careful not to claim that things have turned the corner.

Here is the news story, and here are the official figures (in Japanese). With reference to this post, and the continuing comments here and on down, it is worth noting that the top right graph on the Japanese page gives the monthly death rate through the year (the blue dashed line is the whole of last year, red is the 1st 6months of this one). As I'd speculated, despite the evil summer here in Japan, the death rate is still markedly higher during DJF compared to JJA - that is December, January and February versus June, July and August for the acronym nazis :-) [Note further that even this far south, we're still in the Northern hemisphere and so JJA is summer. People have sometimes got that wrong :-)]

Rather to my surprise, two Japanese friends independently remarked upon how much they'd been enjoying the fine weather recently. I do think that's a bit excessive. But they clearly don't find it at all scary.

It's not like people just get used to it through being hot year-round either - the winter here is similar in temperature to the UK, much snowier in places. So the annual temperature swing is vast. Round these parts at least it is dry, bright and sunny much of the winter time though, which makes up for the summer suffering...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Nature's Peer Review Trial: Land-ice melting causes strong multi-century slowdown of Atlantic circulation even under 2xCO2 stabilisation

Another climate-related manuscript on the Nature peer review trial: Land-ice melting causes strong multi-century slowdown of Atlantic circulation even under 2xCO2 stabilisation. It looks basically fine in scientific terms and therefore I'm pretty sure that it will get published. They show that for their GCM, a 2xCO2 stabilisation scenario with a rapid Greenland melt included causes the MOC to decline and stay weak for 500 years.

The only thing that surprises me a bit is that it got through the Nature "is it exciting" editorial filter in the first place. The results don't seem particularly unexpected, and indeed aren't very different from their recent GRL paper, although they have extended the analysis somewhat. The model they use has a particularly weak MOC for the present day compared both to observations and other model results, and they simulate a rather extreme rate of Greenland melting over the next 500 years (both qualitative assessments are the authors' own, so I'm not being narky here). It certainly doesn't surprise me that the resulting freshwater input slows down the MOC considerably (and when I presented these premises to jules in a "blind test" without telling her the answer, she got it spot-on too). There is no rapid "day after tomorrow" shutdown, and the end result is merely less warming (not just regionally, but a little less globally too) than without the melt. The most "exciting" outcome in terms of human impact is probably the rapid sea level rise of up to 11mm per year, but that is simply the consequence of their high melt rate.

We have already seen how uncertain the long-term MOC is, and how strongly it can depend both on its initial ("present day") level and the magnitude of the freshwater forcing. (Of course that paper is just one investigation using a simpler model. Although I'm flattered to see that it has been top of the download charts ever since publication I would hardly claim it is a seminal contribution to the field, eg see here for much more.). And it makes little difference whether the fresh water hosing is due to increased precipitation in the region, or ice melting. So I look forward to seeing what the headline-writers make of this new contribution...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Steve McIntyre's bet offer

Via Backseat driving, I see that Steve McIntyre wants to bet over tree rings. His contention seems to be that they are a very limited or perhaps even useless indicator of temperature:

Do any of the warmers want to bet that European tree rings in the very warm year of 2003 did not show very wide rings such as predicted by the MBH assumption of a linear relationship between temperature and ring width?

Or that Sheep Mountain bristle ring widths in the period 1990-2005 were as wide or wider than projected by a linear model - we can define the model, but essentially it’s the linear assumption of MBH.

I’ll bet either.

Regular readers will be unsurprised that I consider this bet idea to be in principle a good one, although no doubt there's a debate to be had over the precise details. I don't know anything much myself about the reliability of tree rings as an indicator of temperature myself, and (especially given the confusion over the NAS definition of "plausible" etc) I would be very interested to find out the real opinions of the experts in the tree ring circus, as demonstrated by their willingness to put their money where their mouths are. Furthermore, the ultimate test of scientific theories is their ability to make predictions: validation of a real prediction of tree-ring growth would go a long way towards demonstrating that these analyses are credible. In contrast to my bet on future temperatures, the data are sitting there just waiting to be measured and so there is no problem with a long time scale between bet and payoff. If the stakes are high enough, it could even perhaps pay for the fieldwork, and climate science would benefit from some free data courtesy of the oil barons who fund M&M or the environmental pressure groups who pay MBH etc, depending who loses :-) (Please, that's just a feeble joke. Don't get your knickers in too much of a twist. I realise that there are others apart from MBH who ought to be prepared to front up to this challenge, but they must be first in line.)

I'd be happy to play any part I can in negotiating reasonable terms for a bet based on what the various protagonists have stated in the literature and elsewhere. Eg, I presume Steve M would expect (next to) no correlation between temperature and ring width, hence no trend over the last 20 years (or whatever). Whereas those who do the reconstructions presumably expect to find a linear trend of a certain size, as determined by their previous calibrations. So there should be plenty of room to split the difference and define a bet that is highly attractive to both sides. Bring it on!

More from GRL...

Eventually, after 9 1/2 weeks, we got the reviews back from GRL for our revised "Comment on Frame..." (see here and here for previous).

To our surprise, the Editor did not return our manuscript to the original referees to check that we'd dealt with their criticisms, but instead seems to have found 2 new ones. As happened last time, one reviewer clearly recommends publication of this "useful" discussion which will be "good to bring out into the published literature". However, the other one recommends rejection, on the grounds that he cannot see anything confusing or wrong in the original Frame et al paper (F05)! He views the entire debate entirely as our misunderstanding of their work, explicitly describing them as having presented merely a "subjective opinion", but a quick glance at the paper itself shows that the term "subjective" is only used once, in the abstract, as a derogatory term regarding the work of others - and they regard this subjectivity as a problem which they explicitly claimed to have resolved. [I'd be interested to hear whether others honestly think that we have misrepresented or misinterpreted F05's work. In particular, does anyone disagree with our reading that F05 are claiming that the use of a uniform prior is the correct choice when generating estimates of climate sensitivity (inter alia)? If any other readers besides ourselves draw that conclusion, then Houston, we have a problem, and at the very least clarification is urgently required.]

So now GRL have a total of 4 independent reviews of essentially the same manuscript. One thinks the original F05 has such fundamental flaws that the best course of action is not to draw attention to it (as we mentioned in our reply to him, but he will not have seen, this seems a vain hope given the paper's citation by others including the AR4 draft, and the authors' own repetition of the same comments in a forthcoming book chapter). Another referee cannot see any problem with the original paper, but it seems hard to reconcile their view with what F05 actually wrote. And 2 more reviewers clearly recommend publication of what they see as a useful discussion of an important issue.

Given the diversity and strength of opinions presented, and the significance of the issue, I find it very hard to understand how GRL can consider it in the interests of their readership or indeed climate science that this discussion should not appear at all. I would have thought that this is precisely the sort of situation that a comment-and-reply system exists for. I have written to the Editor saying as much.

Based on the new reviewer's comment about the "subjective opinion" of F05, there may be a bit of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink let's all walk away whistling and pretend it never happened going on behind the scenes. But if there is, it's not a discussion that I've been party to, and Allen and Frame (as it now seems to be) appear unrepentant in their own review of our Comment. I don't particularly blame them for playing the game in the way they have, but if they had the courage of their convictions and were prepared to stand behind (or even merely clarify what they meant by) the original paper, you might think they would welcome the chance to publish their own rebuttal alongside our comment, rather than ask the Editor to suppress the whole matter.

Recommended further reading: Chuck Doswell on peer review (especially the discussion of Comments and Replies, towards the bottom of the page, and Ronald Errico's "On the Lack of Accountability in Meteorological Research". I'll finish with Errico's 4th recommendation:
Encourage publication of scientific criticisms. It takes courage and hard work to write a good scientific criticism, and this is in part what science is about. Such works should not be termed “negative,” but instead should be rewarded if they are sound.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Deferring my success?

You have to laugh at stuff like this: Pupils 'cannot be called clever'. It's not as if the pupils won't just pick on the ones who are labelled "successful" instead. But I'm rather warming to the idea of "deferred success" that is also mentioned...

As I mentioned, I'm going to take the JLPT 2 kyuu test this year. A couple of weeks ago I finally got around to visiting the Kinokuniya book shop in Shinjuku, which has a really good foreign language section (much better than the Yurindo in Yokohama's Landmark Plaza, which is more local to me), including lots of books on learning Japanese. One thing I bought was a book with two practice JLPT tests. The aim is to do one, work out your weak points, work on those, and then do the next test to see how much you've improved.

I did the first test at the start of the month...and got 43%. Ouch. The pass mark is 60%, and note that the entire test is made up of 4-way multi-choice questions, so there is a skill-free baseline of 25% to start with. It was a bit of a shock as I've already been looking through past test material with my teacher and was generally getting over 50%...or so I thought. But here, I was uniformly awful on everything except the kanji (which I actually got a decent score of about 70% on, but it's a small component of the overall score). I mostly learnt that the listening comprehension is a lot harder when the reading is properly performed on a CD compared to when a teacher reads it slowly, emphasising the critical parts! Also, the whole test (especially the reading comprehension) is very tightly timed, and I say that as one who usually doesn't struggle for time in exams. I also found out that the difficult questions are worth more points than the easy ones - that shouldn't have been a surprise but the exam paper itself doesn't indicate this, and neither had my teacher!

It looks a bit tight, but I don't think the situation is hopeless by any means. The improvement I need to achieve a pass works out at exactly 1% gain per week - that's less than one of the 5-point questions, or 2-3 of the easier ones. Assuming the material is do-able in one year (from JLPT 3), then that's about the rate of gain I should be making, and I certainly feel like I'm still making steady progress. So I rate my chances of a pass at about 50-50. In fact I could say it's "likely" in IPCC-speak (70% probability) that I'll be in the 55-65% range, and "very likely" (95%) in 50-70%. Eg, I'm pretty sure that, especially given the benefit of some further exam practice, 50% will be comfortably achievable (unlesss I have a complete meltdown on the day) and I'm equally confident that I've got far too much vocabulary still to learn to get past 70% (I'm also far too far off the pace for reading speed).

While I was at Kinokuniya, I got two more new books which seem pretty good. Both are from UNICOM, in the same series as the grammar book I mentioned previously. One is listening comprehension practice, the other is for reading. I'll churn through them and see where I've got to performance-wise in another couple of months.

But maybe, at the end of it all, I'll defer my success to next year :-)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Climate of the Past "Discussion"

With reference to the paper I mentioned last month, I just noticed that the last (presumably) Referee #1 added their comments some time ago...and within 20 minutes, Ref #2 had added a somewhat abusive rejoinder! That's his 4th contribution so far, and he's looking increasingly obsessed IMO. OK, perhaps "abusive" is a bit strong - it is only a rather feeble ad-hom, the sort of thing I wouldn't be surprised to see on usenet or a blog, but hardly what I'd expect in a referee's comment. Maybe I've just had a sheltered life. But anyway, it seems to me that the effort he's making to block the paper is rather more embarassing than the paper's publication itself could ever be.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006


So, we got back home, a whole hour late. This story suggests the train problems were close to Tokyo but we went straight across with no problems. Obviously, we "dodged the bullet" (as they say in bizarrely ill-informed places like Washington) as far as the typhoon went. In fact by staying just outside its range we had spectacularly good weather while everyone at home got soaked :-)

I'll put up a page of pictures somewhere here shortly. For now, you can have this to whet your appetites:

This is the evening view from the Kiretto-goya, looking over to Tsurugi-dake which we climbed a couple of years ago.


OK, more pics are up here now.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I'm sitting on a Shinkansen about to leave Nagano, bound for Tokyo, gobsmacked at how efficiently a well-run train system can work.

Obviously, we survived our holiday - about which more later - and indeed had a great time with fabulous weather, only slightly spoilt by thunderstorms and heavy rain on the final descent to the bus stop. We got a convenient connection on an express train home...or so we thought. But the heavy rain has apparently caused a blockage on the line somewhere.

If this was the UK, we'd now be sitting outside some one-horse station in the middle of nowhere (with apologies to people from Peterborough, or perhaps that should be apologies to people from one-horse stations in the middle of nowhere), more in hope than in expectation of someone arranging some alternative transport for the assembled hordes. Oh, and the station staff would all have conveniently vanished, totally overwhelmed by the situation.

But this is Japan. So they stopped the train at a fairly major terminus (Matsumoto), and told us to get the next cross-country express train across to Nagano from where there are regular Shinkansen trains to Tokyo. Staff were on hand to confirm what we had picked up from the loudspeaker announcements.

One thing we weren't sure about is whether we would have to buy a Shinkansen ticket. They are quite a bit more expensive than a standard express, and run on separate lines with their own ticket barriers. As the horde of displaced passengers rushed towards the ticket barriers at Nagano, with a single ticket window beside them...the staff simply opened the ticket barriers for us, and we found a train sitting waiting on the platform. So here we are. We'll be late home, but at least we'll get home (and never had any doubt about that)! The news had also travelled on to Tokyo, where they let the ticketless passengers out smoothly too.

Of course there are always going to be occasional disruptions, such as the fire at Kings' Cross, or the flooding (or whatever) here. What matters is how people respond to it...

Monday, August 07, 2006

3 typhoons!

Summer officially arrived last week, the weather seemed set fair, so we are off on holiday up some mountains (Shiroumadake etc) this week. I had a final check of the forecast this morning...and found that no fewer than 3 typhoons have sprung up overnight in the Pacific south of Japan! Only one of them is scheduled for a direct hit, but one is usually enough. We don't want to delay the trip to next week because that will be the peak Obon holiday period.

So if I don't come back, you'll know what happened. More likely, we will be back with our tails between our legs rather earlier than planned...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"This alarmist article involved no interview, and it contains many statements that I do not support."

Well, the Amazon thing that I mentioned a few days ago took a funny turn. No sooner had I briefly ridiculed the Indy article that talked of "incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable" than Gavin wrote an article on RC describing that piece as "good" coverage of the story. In his reply to my comment, he explains that he only really meant not quite as bad as the other article he also mentioned :-) TBH, they both seem pretty much the same to me, and although I accept that a bit of carrot is sometimes better than a lot of stick, IMO he's trying rather too hard to find something to praise here.

Anyway, one of the lead authors eventually weighed in, and his comment (from which this post's title is taken) is posted on RC site and also here. But of course the original nonsense has gone round the world several times before the truth has got its boots on.

Incidentally, I find via Stoat that some of the usual suspects from the sceptic side have cited our GRL climate sensitivity paper in some silly document. I'm not going to wade through the whole 25 pages of turgid tripe but it does appear at a glance that they have quoted us fairly and accurately (and indeed since publication, even more evidence in favour of a ~3Cish value has been presented and if anything my own views have strengthened somewhat). It's a strange state of affairs when such a paper can be considered attractive to that sort of crowd though. I suppose it is progress of a sort, since at least their seal of approval presumably implies that they accept that sensitivity is very likely greater than 1.7C (or whatever it is that we ended up with as a lower limit).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Free porn

Forget those furtive google searches, just read the coverage of climate issues in the media :-) (update: the Guardian has a link to the full report mentioned in that article). And conveniently, Coby Beck pointed to this just today, which I think fits the description nicely:
The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.

Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable.
Yeah right. (See comments for more on this.)

On a related note, I'd been meaning to write something about all the hot air concerning the re-appearance of summer (surprise!) in the Northern hemisphere. The UK media has been getting very excited over it, with headlines such as "Boiled alive". Apparently, during the "biggest natural disaster in Europe on record", the minimum overnight temperature (which seems to be considered the critical statistic) in Paris reached 25.5C for two whole nights in a row.

Time for a little reality check: there are regions of Tokyo where the average nightly minimum temperature exceeds that level for 6 weeks solid. Periods of several days in a row with 30C minimum are far from extraordinary across many areas of the country. This comes coupled with extremely high humidity, and I have to say it is a rather unpleasant experience (especially to someone brought up in Scotland where "summer" means that you can sometimes turn off the heating and take off the woolly clothes). Summer has finally arrived here this week, a bit later than usual (after an exceptional rainy season), and I'm off to the mountains next week to escape it for a while. However, the govt still doesn't refer to each August as the "greatest natural disaster...since last year", and I'm not aware of people dying like flies at this time (on the contrary, Okinawa is probably the hottest region, and life spans are extraordinarily high there).

Air-conditioning is officially set to 28C, which I find a bit of a struggle. It's OK until I start to think hard about something :-) Many businessmen here have learnt to not wear jackets and ties in the summer (I'm in shorts and a t-shirt for about 5 months of the year). Perhaps UK office architects could rediscover the concept of a window that opens, too.

I guess this is sounding a bit septic and I could add some standard blurb: yes, the world is getting warmer at a historically rapid rate, yes it will continue to do so indefinitely and yes it's our fault. I still don't see slightly warmer UK temperatures as much of a threat to life as we know it. It's about as scary as Montreal's risible slush hockey demo.