Friday, May 25, 2007

No Comment(s)

The IPCC promises that

All written expert, and government review comments will be made available to reviewers on request during the review process and will be retained in an open archive in a location determined by the IPCC Secretariat on completion of the Report for a period of at least five years.

And sure enough, when I asked (many months ago) for the comments on the first drafts of the chapters I was interested in, they arrived not too long after. Rather oddly, they were sent via snail mail as a heap of dead tree which as well as being costly and environmentally-unfriendly, also made searching through them rather awkward. Of course, the comments had all been submitted electronically (this was the IPCC's requirement, in fact), and presumably collated and forwarded to the relevant IPCC authors themselves in that format, so it is hard to see any useful purpose for this printing out of the electronic document. A recent US climate science report made the comments freely available to all as a pdf (I can't remember exactly what it was, and I didn't wade through much of it). In the 21st century it seems reasonable to hope that other major scientific institutions would adopt similarly efficient procedures. But I suppose there was no real harm done except perhaps to my impression of the IPCC. And to a few trees.

Fast forward on to the present, and I wanted to look at the comments on the 2nd draft. As I mentioned here, there were some significant changes from 2nd draft to final version, and I wanted to see (inter alia) who other than myself had objected to the previous version. I also think that the authors provide answers to the comments (although I asked about this and received no reply), and I wanted to see how they answered (and in some cases, justified ignoring) mine.

The reply to my email from Melinda Tignor at the IPCC secretariat was:
These expert and government review comments and responses are archived at and available from the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives at Harvard University.
and there followed a address (including email, I should be thankful for small mercies) for the Curator, George Clark

So I emailed him to ask for the comments.

This is his reply in full:

Dear Mr. Annan,

Thanks for contacting Harvard's Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives. I am the Archives' curator. I've shifted your email message over to my question tracking queue so that I may keep better track of your request. We are undergoing a move in stages over the summer, so please bear with us as we work out new procedures for materials access. Currently, these materials are available in person by appointment within the hours of 10am - 4:45pm weekdays at Littauer Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

At some point, service will switch to the nearby Phillips Reading Room at Widener Library, but in either case, please let me know your desired time to visit (no later than one week prior) so that I can make sure the materials will be ready for you.

I will be away from the office June 21-July 5, so the materials will not be available during that date range.

Please note that I have the material only in print form. If it is impossible for you to visit the archives, I can provide a photocopy of up to 100 pages for research purposes only (not republication) for a fee of $34 plus 40 cents per page. Copyright of the material resides with its authors.

It may be possible for you to hire a research assistant locally to look over the materials if that would be helpful in selecting materials of most interest. I can recommend someone if you like.

Please let me know of any questions you may have.
So I can either make an appointment and turn up in person - on the other side of the world, remember - or can try to pay someone to search through the paper archive to find the particular pages I might be interested in (up to a maximum of 100) and pay again for them to copy them and post them over.

You really couldn't make it up.

Full dislosure - I've seen this, which is what prompted me to get round to it right now.

One comment in particular is worth stealing from, for those who dare not follow the link:

From the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
PROSSER: But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months!

ARTHUR: Yes, well, as soon as I heard, I went straight round to see them. You hadn’t gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody.

PROSSER: The plans were on display—

ARTHUR: On display? I had to go down to the cellar to find them!

PROSSER: That’s the display department!

ARTHUR: With a flashlight.

PROSSER: The lights had probably gone out.

ARTHUR: So had the stairs.

PROSSER: But you found the notice, didn’t you?

ARTHUR: Yes, I did. It was "on display" in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying, "Beware of the Leopard."
I should perhaps point out, before others start to argue that at least the IPCC aren't quite that bad, that H2G2 was intended as a comedy. The IPCC isn't.

I hope that other responsible climate scientists will also object to this obstructive bureaucratic pettifogging, which in my opinion shows the IPCC in a very poor light.


So McDonald's is trying to get the OED to change its definition of a McJob.

Apparently, the existing OED definition is
"an unstimulating low-paid job with few prospects".
Mirriam-Webster had
"low-paying and dead-end work"
I'm not a huge fan of their food, but agree with McDonald's - it's an unreasonable slur to link their name with overworked underpaid slave labour with no prospects.

After all, we already have a perfectly good word for this: a post-doc.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

High-Tech Japanese Super Door�

Via Japan Probe, I found this video of a high-tech door which only opens to the width and height of those passing through it.

As the proud owner of multiple scars and bruises on my scalp, I'd settle for a normal door that opens to the height of those passing through it :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Weekend in Tokyo

Well, Tokyo is stretching things a bit - we actually started our walk in neighbouring Yamanashi-ken, and slept with our heads in Saitama-ken. But most of the weekend was spent inside the city boundaries.

We've been up Kumotoriyama before - at 2017m high, Tokyo's highest point - but last time it was cloudy and even raining for most of the second day which made the long ridge walk down to Okutama a bit tedious. This time we had a glorious Sunday with fabulous views across the countryside.

Of course Fuji-san was the most striking landmark, but at this time of year there are also some flowers to enjoy (wild azaleas here).

The trees were also looking bright with their new foliage just emerging.

There were a lot of walkers about, and at one open space they all pulled out plastic bags and fell upon the wild flora with glee. They were picking young shoots of bracken leaves, which are commonly eaten as "sansai" (mountain vegetables), eg sansai soba. It's a national park area and there are notices telling people not to pick the plants but I suppose one can't complain about such a weed being harvested (it's far from endangered). Anyway, it will have its revenge in giving them all stomach cancer. Come to think of it, the yamagoya was selling books on edible mushrooms too.

Due to the stupidly early breakfast (raw egg at 5am anyone?) we got down to Okutama in plenty of time for a soak in the local onsen before getting the train home.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

RIP Prometheus

No doubt Eli and the mice will be celebrating at the news. It had appeared for some time that RPJr's his blog was on the wane, attracting little more than a handful of denialist ditto-heads, and now he's decided to knock it on the head. Personally, I found much of Roger's blogging to be interesting and thought-provoking, although I'm a bit baffled by some of the clangers he dropped (eg his bizarre cheerleading of air capture of CO2, and his lame attempt to discredit Hansen's 1988 forecast). Many of his comments on the politicisation of climate science in general, and the hurricane wars in particular, were well worth reading. He bowed out in some style with a spectacular brain-fart that (along with a poorly-judged article on the hockey stick written by von Storch and Zorita) effectively ensured the Nature "climate feedback" blog was still-born (hopefully it will recover once they get their act together).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guilt Trip

Some attendees at the recent EGU meeting spent an evening getting worked up over the environmental cost of the event. Here's a report of the debate. I don't pretend to have any really good answers - large meetings are probably relatively efficient, in the sense that an attendee gets to meet a whole lot of people in a single trip (potential interactions increase as n2), although it does end up being a bit superficial at times. Jules and I also try to combine some sort of holiday with any trip we take to Europe - this time, her Dad also attended the meeting, and last time I went (2 years ago), my parents joined us in Vienna. So at least we rarely fly outside of work, despite being temporarily the far side of the world from all of our relatives.

I won't deny that travel is a bit of a perk of the job (although too much is a pain). If we didn't get to leave our cubicles every so often, probably even fewer people would be prepared to do the job. (Not sure if that would be a good or a bad thing.) As I said previously, if the price of travel was higher, we would probably adjust our methods somewhat, but we have to use our limited budgets efficiently. It's worse than that, actually - Japanese rules mandate that the salary bill of research institutes are capped, so currently any spare funding has to be spent on things like foreign travel and umbrella dryers, rather than paying a real human to do some real work. I'm not joking about umbrella dryers, either.

I'm off to Belgium in a couple of weeks. Oops.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Wherever possible"

First the executive summary, since time is short:

If you are a UK voter and have any interest in the future of cycling in the UK, go here, print out and sign the petition and send it off urgently to arrive by Thursday. Despite what the page says, you don't have to be a Cambridge resident (and I'm sure that Stoat will have already done it).

Now the longer version:

Many UK-based cyclists are extremely unhappy about the proposed revision to the Highway Code - for non-UK residents, this is an official booklet which, while not legally binding, is generally considered an authoritative guide to proper behaviour on the roads. In particular, failure to follow the Code can be used as evidence in court to establish liability.

The really problematic bit in the new proposal is the advice with respect to cycle facilities (or farcilities as they are popularly known). Every experienced and competent cyclist will realise that these are generally shoddily designed and built, inadequately maintained, inconvenient and often downright dangerous. A selection of the Best of British can be found here and also here. The proposed highway code says that cyclists should use these farcilities "wherever possible". That is, any failure to use them can be used as evidence against cyclists in establishing liability if they are involved in a crash. Previously, the advice was to use the facilities where practicable - a clearly weaker level of instruction that would be much easier to defend agains in the general case where the cycle lane was inconvenient, circuitous, slow and dangerous. But if the proposal goes through, the only defence would be that it is actually impossible to use the facility. That might be possible in some of the most extreme cases, but isn't generally the case.

This proposal would effectively strip every cyclist of legal protection on many of Britain's roads.

There is more information here, and an on-line petition here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Patrick Moore blames women for 'banal' TV

As reported on the news (and he was on the radio saying much the same things). Personally, I'm sure that men are fully capable of making banal TV without a woman's touch. And if it wasn't banal, no-one would watch it anyway.

Jules had the pleasure of meeting Sir Patrick, when she was doing her PhD at the IOA. Moore was there one day to interview some scientist or other, along with camera crew. She wasn't involved, but happened to be in the kitchen area with a (female) friend making themselves a cup of tea just as he was leaving. He passed them with a cheery "Thanks for the lunch, girls". For what else could a 20-something female in an astronomy institute be, other than a waitress/cook/etc?

I shouldn't be too hard on someone who was born in the 1920s. But unless we want to return to them, there seems little reason to give much weight to his pronouncements on social change!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Global Warming index to be launched?

Via Stoat, I find this interesting article:

The first Global Warming index is to be launched this week by UBS, allowing businesses most affected by the uncertainty of climate change – from ice-cream salesmen to makers of winter coats – to hedge their profits against it in a simple and transparent fashion.

Retail and institutional investors will also be able to buy exposure to, or short sell, the index in much the same way they would with the FTSE or Dow Jones stock indices. If temperatures rise, so will the value of the index.
So far so good. However, it seems that the index is some composite of existing localised degree-day indices that they already trade in - these are relevant indicators of temperature (probably more useful to farmers and energy traders than mean temperature) but not directly a measure of mean temperature (or max, or min). The index will also be entirely based on US data, initially at least. So it will take a little work to relate this to the descriptions of temperature change that most climate research is couched in (arguably we should be talking about degree-days if that is what the users want...). Despite these limitations, I'd be very interested to see more details of exactly how the index is defined, over what time scale the options are tradable and what prices they fetch.

There's also some unfortunate fluff in the article, such as:
“Global warming has created much more volatility in temperatures and weather conditions, which has led to increased liquidity in the weather derivatives market,” Mr Murisic said.
I don't know if there is any scientific basis for the first half of that sentence, and I bet increased liquidity has much more to do with economics etc (general growth, awareness of the products, changes in business practice) than climate change.

The article finishes with:
UBS hopes the index will turn the complex business of investing in the world’s weather into a popular asset class, one that is entirely uncorrelated with returns in other assets such as stocks or bonds.
but of course we all know that global warming is going to cause a catastrophic global recession so the correlation may not be as weak as they hope :-) (why am I not surprised that the Indescribablyoverhyped was the top google hit on my search terms?)

The punter's verdict: worth a look.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's not a mouse...'s a cat with big ears!

So says the spokesman for the Disneyland rip-off in China.

And I'm Donald Duck. Oops, better make that Donald Swan with short neck.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

More on Schneider v Hegerl et al

I recently had some brief correspondence with Tapio Schneider, who had found my blog comments on the comment and reply in Nature. So prompted, I went and had a more careful look at what he wrote.

It seems very clear that his main criticism is correct - at least, based on what Hegerl et al said they had done in their paper and the supplementary information they supplied at the time. In brief (although the various manuscripts themselves are brief enough to read in full for those who have access) Hegerl et al used a regression to estimate past temperatures anomalies as a function of proxy data, and estimated the uncertainty in reconstructed temperature as being entirely due to the uncertainty in the regression coefficient. The problem with this manifests itself most clearly when the tree ring anomaly is zero, as in this event the uncertainty in the reconstructed temperature is also zero! Steve McIntyre's plot of the data that Hegerl et al supplied as supplementary information illustrates the effect neatly (and the problem is quickly diagnosed in the comments following).

Shortly before the publication of the comment and reply (but well after they were accepted for publication), the supplementary info was changed. There is now a file giving the reconstruction back to 1500 with new confidence intervals, which no longer vanish or swap over. This new data doesn't match the description of their method, or the results they plotted in their Fig 1 (which is almost surely a smoothed version of the original supplementary data).

Here are their Fig 1 and a quick plot of the new supplementary data. I've added lines at 0, 0.2 and 0.4 to aid visual comparison. Their fig is smoothed and the data are vertically offset by some unknown amount, so I just did my best with the supplementary to make a decent match. Spot the difference especially around 1570 and 1750-1800, where their old confidence interval seems to vanish and is certainly nowhere near filling the 0-0.4 range. The width of new confidence interval has a lower bound of about 0.45.

I won't speculate on what Hegerl et al actually did in their calculations but Schneider's criticism seems entirely reasonable to me, based on the information that was available.

I stand by my comment that their choice of a uniform prior is a bigger problem though :-)

Why David Evans is wrong (along with all the other sceptics)

David Evans has a post up on Backseat driving, explaining why he has taken Brian on with a series of bets about global warming.

Usually, I don't bother addressing the sceptic stuff that can be found on a thousand blogs: people who want the facts can come looking for them, and I've got limited patience for wrestling with pigs (you both get mucky, but the pig enjoys it). However, David is a bit of a special case as he's actually been prepared to put a significant amount of his money where his mouth is. It turns out that his post is a fairly standard laundry list of excuses as to why he thinks climate science is a bit ropey. I could have some sympathy with some of his points, but there is one gaping hole in his analysis.

He starts off by acknowledging:
1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Proved in a laboratory a century ago.
and then continues with a string of tenuous arguments as to how it is possible that other factors could be behind most of the recent warming of the Earth.

At no point does he actually produce any evidence for his implied belief that CO2 has a negligible effect.

This, to me, is the crux of the matter. With no feedbacks at all, the sensitivity to doubled CO2 is about 1C, based on the well-understood radiative physics. It is also obvious that a warmer atmosphere has the potential to hold more water vapour (itself a GHG of course), and although the magnitude of this effect isn't known with certainty, the most plausible first-order estimate (supported by models and data) would be that relative humidity will stay roughly constant. This gives another 1C, making 2C in total. [The numbers here are intended as ballpark estimates, please let's have no quibbles about the precision.] Clouds may have a significant effect to enhance or offset warming. We know the climate has varied plenty in the past (indeed this is generally one of the septics' favourite talking points), so it seems implausible that they are a very strong stabilising force. Almost all models, using a wide range of physical parameterisations, suggest a significant positive amplification, giving the typical range of 2-4.5C for sensitivity. All analyses of observational evidence also point towards a value of close to 3C (exactly how close is still subject to some debate).

So we are left with the question: why on Earth would anyone believe that CO2 has almost no effect?

The claim that a world without anthropogenic forcing could possibly have warmed this much, whether true or not, is almost entirely irrelevant to the question of what we expect the anthropogenic effect to be. It's true that in the event of stronger natural variability, that might suggest a slightly larger possibility that a future downturn in the natural component could exceed the anthropogenically-forced response in the short term. But as I mentioned above, more variability also implies smaller stabilising feedbacks, so we'd also expect to see a larger sensitivity to CO2 in this case. Are we really supposed to believe that the planet is highly sensitive to some speculative and unquantified mechanism such as cosmic rays, and simultaneously insensitive to an effect that's been reasonably well understood for over 100 years? Why?

Detection and attribution has a lot to answer for in respect of this confusion. D&A essentially addresses the question "could an unforced planet have warmed as much as the observations"? However, this (frequentist) question has only tangential relevance to a (Bayesian) estimate of future warming. IMO, the arguments over whether or not we have "detected" AGW, and at what level of confidence, entirely misses the point. Imagine that someone points a gun in roughly your direction, and pulls the trigger. According to D&A, nothing interesting is going on until the bullet hits you, but at that point it's too late. An intelligent Bayesian would believe that there was a significant probability of serious harm before the bullet arrived - hopefully even before the trigger was pulled. Now, I'm not saying that climate change is going to suddenly kill us all, but just giving an analogy to explain the manner in which D&A fundamentally answers the wrong question. (As a secondary point, I believe it is the attempt to pretend that D&A methods can answer the interesting and useful questions that has lead to the uniform prior nonsense, but that isn't really my point here.)

So, until David and the rest can come up with some plausible arguments as to why CO2 actually has no effect, backed up by a sensible climate model which supports this claim, I'll continue to believe that it does in fact have a significant effect which will (with high probability) lead to continued warming. That is, as he more or less admitted at the start, solid science that is more than 100 years old.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Time for a quick round-up of "what we know that just ain't so".

I noticed a letter in Physics Today pointing out an error in the Bryden et al paper that I spotted back in 2005:
According to Bryden and coauthors, the 1957 transport in a layer shallower than 1000 m was 22.9 ± 6 Sverdrups (1 Sv = 106 m3/s) compared with the transport of 14.8 ± 6 Sv in 2004. The ± 6 Sv represents an uncorrelated error of each measurement. Bryden subtracts the two quantities and presents the results as 8.1 ± 6 Sv (instead of 8.1 ± 12 Sv or ± 8.5 Sv, depending on the character of errors), which is an incorrect result. It is a mystery how such an error was missed by Levi and by the editors and reviewers of the original paper.
IMO one could reasonably add the authors to that list. In fairness to Bryden, the letter-writer also mentioned that the submitted manuscript had a question mark at the end of its title, (ie Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 25° N ?) which the Nature editors insisted on removing. When White House staff spuriously add uncertainty there's no shortage of criticism, but apparently no-one raises an eyebrow when Nature editors do the reverse. [There are also more fundamental problems with the result, in that the variability is so high that snapshots tell us little about any trend.]

Another story that you might remember from a year or so ago is that shocking news that plants were pumping out loads of methane. Well, apparently they don't really. As Carl Zimmer notes, this contradiction isn't quite attracting the same coverage as the original claim (to put it mildly). Of course the original authors may now produce some more evidence to support their claim, but I'm not holding my breath.

Saving the best to last, an analysis of the ARGO data published in GRL last year suggested that the oceans had cooled sharply over the last couple of years - to an extent that appeared to cast some doubt on the validity of climate models. Roger Pielke Snr has been pushing this particular peanut tirelessly since before the paper was even published, so the correction to the data has left him with plenty of egg on his face. In the latest episode, he's got a transcript of an interview with Marcel Crok on his web site, which he's had to correct:
Over the last 50 years there is a warming trend in the oceans. However between 2003 and 2005 some 20 percent of the accumulated heat was lost. The key paper which published these results was Lyman et al. 2006. This means there was radiative cooling of the earth climate system in those years. [As readers of Climate Science know, this conclusion has been corrected; there is not evidence of any loss of heat over this time period; see].
I hope that Marcel Crok has managed to correct his article too :-)

The moral of this story? Don't uncritically believe any single paper that gives a surprising result, because there's a fair chance it will turn out to be flawed, and perhaps completely wrong. Be especially sceptical of papers that you particularly wish to be true, because you are probably kidding yourself as to their credibility.

It is interesting to speculate on what a betting market would have made of these papers. I strongly suspect that claims written based on the main results of each of these papers would have rapidly settled at prices indicating a rather low probability that they were valid (I certainly got the impression that there was significant scepticism of these results in the scientific community, which even extended to the authors of the papers in some cases). Wouldn't it have been useful to have that information in the public domain?