Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some of my best friends are ginger rodents

Ginger Rodent

Coincidentally (or not) our first pair of rats were called Harriet and Edwina. Edwina became reasonably friendly but Harriet was always a rather a shrill and vicious piece of work. Widget, on the other hand, is very friendly and well-trained.

(S)He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense

So I realise that I'm sort of contradicting myself in going on about this, but I think it's important to be clear about it, especially as it's more-or-less on my home turf and I certainly don't want Michael Tobis to think he's out on a limb (or perhaps more likely, for his readers and especially critics to think he's out on a limb). So let's make this plain:

The "Italian Flag" analysis, at least as implemented by Judith Curry, is incoherent nonsense. She displays no clarity of thought on what the categories actually mean, or whether there is any workable calculus underpinning the whole thing. Going back to the original documents that she cites, it looks like it might have be supposed to have something in common with Dempster-Schafer theory, but I'm not sure about that and it's certainly not compatible with her usage. While it might be possible to reverse-engineer some semblance of sense into some of her statements regarding it, they are mutually incoherent.

And to those who are trying to change the subject and claim that these numerical details don't matter, you are dead wrong. If her accusations of IPCC errors regarding uncertainty are to have any credibility whatsoever, it can only be through her own analysis demonstrating such errors. So far, as Stoat also points out, she has run away from basically every challenge, merely saying things like the following, on a lengthy collide-a-scape comment thread:
"The fact that the climate blogging community doesn’t get what I’m talking about makes me pretty worried about the intellectual foundations underpinning the whole argument."
Well yes, Judith, when you find that everyone else is out of step, it is probably appropriate to worry about the intellectual foundations underpinning your whole argument. But somehow I don't think you meant that.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/30/2010 06:07:00 AM

, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

We never did buy an iPad. I'd called it "an iPod for the over forties", and soon enough I realised we aren't yet sufficiently over forty, as we can still read tiny iPod fonts. At the same time I started to refer to the MacBookAir as, "the thinking man's iPad". See appropriate photo of men thinking.

It is such a good feeling when other people take your ideas and run with them... the new MBA has an 11 inch version! If only we still had that extra budget to use up; I'm sure they would have been allowed in the rules...which must mean they are boring and useless?

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/30/2010 06:07:00 AM

Big wind

And no, that's not a reference to the spicy noodles.

I thought we might have missed typhoon season by being away over the late summer, but I shouldn't have worried, there is one coming along right now. They are generally more "big rain" than big wind really, at least in our sheltered neighbourhood, and this one is no exception, with 8-10 inches of rain falling in a day. Closest approach is due in a few hours. Must go up on the roof and fix that leaking guttering :-)

That's us somewhere under there...


(RSS users might like to note that my previous post has now been properly published, though it didn't come through on the feed. I would delete and repost but it already has a couple of comments...)

I was about to offer a lukewarm welcome for what appeared to be a minor and belated outbreak of sanity with regards to airport security, but no sooner had the "threat" of passengers not being made to perform a tedious and worthless security pantomime (doesn't merit being called theatre) every time they got on a plane, than a "bomb plot" has been conveniently uncovered. Not that I'm going all conspiracy theory on it, I'm sure the yanks hadn't even noticed the recent grumbling from the airlines over here. I doubt it will even do the Democrats any good in the elections, as most voters will probably just think "muslim terrorist president" even more strongly.

So this time it was a printer cartridge. Presumably the proportionate response will be that every page of printed matter carried onto a plane will have to be opened and photographed from now on. Anyone who carries a syringe for medical reasons will tell you that it's rarely even spotted, but the point is not to actually achieve anything, rather it's to be seen doing something. Like the 101,248 stop-and-searches under terrorism legislation that resulted in ZERO terrorism-related arrests. Bah humbug.

Incidentally, on the subject of airports, I saw someone describe Theifrow as "second tier" recently. I didn't notice any such improvement when we passed though it recently. "Shabby dive" would be nearer the mark.

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Curried leftovers

Bit of a backlog of blogging to do, but now I'm back in Japan with hardly anyone to talk to, I've got no excuse...

First up, I noticed Judith Curry continuing down her bizarre rabbit-hole. Luckily mt got there first, and I don't have much to add except my broad support for what he has said. Note that in the very first premise of her argument, she only assigns 70% probability to the fact that surface temperatures actually show a warming at all! This is the warming that the IPCC famously called "unequivocal" in their 2007 report. As far as I can tell, at this point she is simply so far out of touch with mainstream climate science that her analyses aren't worth the time it takes to read them. End of story.

If you want more detail, then yes, I agree with mt that her approach to probability is pretty dodgy too. I consider myself reasonably ecumenical in my approach towards the more esoteric probabilistic ideas such as Dempster-Schafer theory and imprecise probability, and have no real objection to them - I mostly take the view that we should merely try to do standard Bayesian probability a bit better before deciding it is inadequate for the task at hand. However, I don't think the "Italian flag" analysis - at least JC's interpretation of it - is a useful or even coherent contribution. The rot sets in right at the outset, where she apparently conflates the concept of evidence for and against the proposition "most of the observed warming was very likely due to the GHG increase" with an estimate of the proportion of warming that was due to anthropogenic vs natural factors. This seems like a rather elementary point to get confused over. Far from being the claimed synthesis of much detailed thoughts regarding the failings of the IPCC, most of what she has written reads to me like a stream-of-consciousness blog post that hasn't been properly thought through at all. But hey, "very not the IPCC" is all it takes for a stream of admirers and press attention, irrespective of whether there is any there, there.

It's not as if I'm the IPCC's greatest fan, either. But I try to base my criticisms on actual failings, rather than just bandying about terms like "corruption" and hoping that something might stick. Since I've been officially threatened with increased ostracism if I dare to say anything nasty about them in public I won't bother re-hashing any of that again. At least not right now :-)

[jules' pics] 10/29/2010 04:25:00 AM

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral


Ely Cathedral - the best thing in the Fens. As you can see, there's not that much competition for things that rise above the horizon. Must remember to call one of our next daughters Etheldreda.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/29/2010 04:25:00 AM

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/25/2010 09:01:00 PM

A cute pub, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

A cute pub near Cambridge that we passed many times on our morning cycle rides. Not missing the British Beer yet. We drank so much. So much that even William Stoat was impressed. However, I think he didn't spot the "trick" which enables this 5.5 foot weakling to down 4 pints a night.

On the wagon now. Last drink was the Premium Economy perk, Baileys, somewhere over Russia.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/25/2010 09:01:00 PM

Monday, October 25, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/24/2010 08:46:00 PM

Magenta berries!, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

In order to get round the problem of the poor production of red and purple by digital cameras, Nikon have taken the bold step of genetically engineering previously red and purple vegetation to alter the colour more towards magenta. These berries are a particularly fine example.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/24/2010 08:46:00 PM

Friday, October 22, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/21/2010 09:29:00 PM

seaside, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

This is my favourite photo of Ayr beach from our trip in late August, but somehow the dogs and recession got blogged first.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/21/2010 09:29:00 PM

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Those cuts, in full, in brief

So there is "merely" a 10% cut in the science budget, and everyone is heaving great sighs of relief. Which was presumably the point about the 25% kites being flown...I'm not sure whether the Tories should be pleased with how that worked for them, or worried that people actually thought they were sufficiently psychotic to follow through with it. One trick that NERC worked out was (rumour has it) to put one of the BAS Antarctic bases top of the list to be cut. Of course these bases have no real scientific value anyway, they are just there as political flag-holders for when all those lovely mineral resources get exploited a few decades hence. But the Govt could hardly prevent NERC managing its "science" in this way without rather giving the game away. I think we can expect to see this stratagem reappearing whenever things get a bit too tight.

But maybe I just made that all up.

Anyway, back to the 10%, and the rest of the cuts. Having seen the state of (some of) the northern part of the country recently, compared to the south, I can't help but think the last couple of years have seen a humongous transfer of wealth to the bankers from just about everyone else. Eg Sevenoaks (and indeed Cambridge) is seeing a huge building boom while towns further north seem to have whole streets up for sale. I'm surprised there isn't rioting in the streets, but maybe those oop north can't afford the bus fare to find out how different it is dahn sarf.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/20/2010 12:21:00 AM

An Apple, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Turns out we had to come back to Japan for the Apples; not Newtonian, but Jobsian. Her name is "mini".

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/20/2010 12:21:00 AM

Monday, October 18, 2010

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes

I'm pleased and relieved that following an exchange of a few emails, our paper is now out of the bin, at least for the time being. It turned out that a major part of the criticism was based on a misunderstanding (and to be fair, even though I think most of the intended audience will have understood correctly, we could have explained it more fully for a general readership, and will certainly do so in the revised version). Phew!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

End of an era

Well, we're back in Japan, enjoying the end of the summer and the first iced coffee I've had in a while. Summer in Japan is generally a pretty quiet time - people disappear on holiday (yes even in Japan) and internal seminars and meetings etc tend to wind down. So I don't think we missed much by not being here - except for weather that by all accounts was brutally hot.

In contrast, during our 2 months in the UK, we: Gave 6 talks at different institutions - all based on the same work, but tailored for the respective audiences. Attended 3 workshops. Had a total of ~9 visits with friends and family, and checked over our dilapidated house. Went to a Test match at Lords, a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, and Newbury show (sorry, "Royal Berkshire Show"). Spent a day each punting and rowing, and cycled about 350 miles, which was just as well since we ate and drank a lot more than was good for us (a fair proportion of it on one night at Corpus High Table)! And generally talked more, to more different people, than I have ever done before. It was a pretty interesting time.

Now we are back home newly enthused about our work (bizarre paper rejection notwithstanding), which we were encouraged to find is actually pretty relevant to what a lot of other people are doing. It's always hard to be sure, being stuck over here for 51 weeks in a typical year. So it's fair to conclude we thoroughly enjoyed our trip and are very grateful to the Institute for making it possible, and the organisers for inviting us.

Funny thing is, I had been expecting to be spending peaceful afternoons sitting under an apple tree waiting for inspiration to strike...

Friday, October 15, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/14/2010 08:16:00 PM

Underground, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Back in Japan. While recovering from jetlag, perhaps there is a chance to blog some pictures from our trip that flounder unblogged on flickr. Fitting with the theme of recent travel, here is the inside of a train on the London Underground, possibly the Circle LIne.

The most exciting thing about our return - our home computer (late 2006 Macbook) wont boot. Not from its own disk, an external clone or a system DVD, with or without battery installed. So that must mean a hardware-ish fault? It did work in target disk mode, and the disk is fine (of course it is backed up anyway). This is wonderful, as now I can go to lovely Yodobashi camera and enjoy purchasing the new mac mini. It will look so cute in our living room. Shall I get the 2 disk server version?That might be quite exciting. Squeak.

...I hope someone isn't about to tell me how to fix the Macbook...

Only issue is the HD one. We have a VGA projector that we use to screen movies. Will probably have to invest in HDFury/. Anyone tried it?

The second most exciting thing: James' computerised automatic plant watering system appears to have worked and none of the plants are dead, despite a scorching hot summer.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/14/2010 08:16:00 PM

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/12/2010 12:34:00 PM

Jenner, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Jenner's paper didn't get accepted first time around, but according to Wikipedia, he was undeterred, did more work, and got it accepted a year later. And so now we are all not dead from smallpox. hurrah.

But that story is just by the way. The reason I took the photo was because the phoning woman's posture reflects that of the statue.

[Londinium, UK]

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/12/2010 12:34:00 PM

Carbon Trust: Don't Ride a Bicycle

Unbelievable but true

Monday, October 11, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/11/2010 03:21:00 PM

James and Dirac, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

A special bonus post for those worrying about Isaac's architecture. The institute is arranged internally in order to very obviously force reticent mathematicians to interact at every possible opportunity, even when they are just popping to the loo.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/11/2010 03:21:00 PM

Another comment-that-isn't-a-comment

I don't like this trend. Well, I don't know if it is a trend, or just something that I've only recently started noticing, but I don't like it anyway. Here is another comment-that-isn't-a-comment, where Murphy et al lay into the Spencer and Braswell paper. I'd rather have seen Spencer and Braswell's defence alongside in traditional comment-and-reply form. The con is that they would get another chance to promote what appears to be a pretty bogus analysis (shades of Schwartz) but the pro is that anyone with a bit of nous will be able to work out from the reply that they really don't have a case. As it is, we are left hanging (though in this case, perhaps not so much).

I don't know who is primarily to blame for this state of affairs - editors for their well-documented hostility towards comments, reviewers for voting to reject too often or authors not wanting to give their opponents a fair say. (The only one of these I have any evidence for is the first, the others are pure speculation, though I have had the impression that some regard squabbling comments as rather unseemly, at least among "consensus" scientists.) But I don't like it much in any case. A decent debate can often be much more illuminating than people taking pot-shots at each other from a distance. And the exchanges are also usually fun to read :-)

[jules' pics] 10/11/2010 03:52:00 AM

Last day at Isaac today. It has been quite an experience...

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/11/2010 03:52:00 AM

Sunday, October 10, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/10/2010 05:12:00 AM

Caucasian Wingnut, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

I really thought we'd blogged the best tree name in the world before, but it seems not. We have seen one or two of them in Japan, but there are rather a large number of Caucasian Wingnuts in Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/10/2010 05:12:00 AM

How to publish a scientific comment in 1 2 3 easy steps...the climate science edition

Usually it goes like this, but not always. Here is the alternative version:

1. Receive invitation from Editor to write a commentary on a paper they have recently accepted for publication.
2. Write commentary.
3. Oh, there isn't a number 3.

Jules says I have been cryptic enough about our Climatic Change paper. One or two commenters came very close, but the answer is not merely that it's waiting for some accompanying commentary, but that this commentary is being provided by none other than...Dave Frame. Those who have followed the saga of this manuscript through various previous incarnations - primarily as an intended (critical) comment on Dave Frame's earlier paper - may raise an eyebrow at this state of affairs. After Dave had (successfully) argued that our argument should not be presented as a direct criticism of his work, but as a stand-alone paper, there is substantial irony that he has been handed the opportunity to comment as he sees fit, without us having any right of reply at all. Of course I don't hold him responsible for this situation at all - an editor (one S Schneider) made the decision, as is his right.

I first heard about this from Dave himself, shortly after the paper had been accepted. Then our paper was formally published on-line and I think both he and I assumed this idea had fallen by the wayside. But apparently not, and the journal is still waiting for the commentary before a simultaneous publication in the dead tree format.

Such commentaries are not common in the scientific literature, but a few journals seem to use them. Science and Nature papers are sometimes accompanied by a review pointing out the wider implications, and Dave wrote one himself for the controversial Roe and Baker paper. Here's another in Climatic Change. Of course in these cases the commentary is basically complimentary. I think most people would think it rather strange and more than a little unfair if someone was invited to bypass the traditional comment-and-reply process by providing an unanswered critical comment in this way.

Of course a lot of time has passed since the original debate. If Dave can make it clear that uniform priors are dead, at least as far as decision-theoretic and policy relevant research goes (even if he disagrees on some other details of our work), then we would find ourselves in violent agreement. This would represent a significant improvement compared to the alternative of a solo publication from a couple of relative outsiders, which might otherwise be ignored by the IPCC clique or brushed aside as a minority viewpoint that need not unduly influence what the real experts do. Since Dave is (rightly or wrongly) strongly linked to the other side of the argument, the possibility of us coming to some agreement could I think represent a valuable clarification of the situation. But I have no idea what he is planning to say...

The scientists are revolting!

Well I don't have any particular stake in the future of UK science, either as tax-payer or receiver of funds (ok we are getting some support during our stay in the UK, which I am grateful for) so I'm not going to pass judgement on this protest other than to point out that actions have consequences and our extended stay in Japan is due in no small part to the continual funding struggles that our lab(s) encountered while we were working in the UK. But although the country is probably better off without us, lots of good people may be leaving too!

It is interesting to note that according to the BBC, "Demonstrators were asked to wear science items such as a laboratory coat or telescope". Passing over the issue of how one wears a telescope, I wonder how sensible it is to persist in such self-stereotyping? I can't recall the last time I saw someone wearing a lab coat at work. Even scientists are people too.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Road trip (part 2)

Just back from a quick trip to give two seminars in a day, first at ECMWF on the outskirts of Reading courtesy of Tim Palmer (who has also been at the Newton Institute some of the time), where a handful of us had a short time to chat about the value of short-term forecasts for assessing (IPCC-type long term) climate model performance. It's certainly an intriguing proposition and I have followed the limited work in this area (eg) with some interest. One difficulty in making progress is that the NWP people generally don't have the remit to look at long-term changes, and the climate change people don't have the remit (or indeed technical capability) to look at short term predictions.

We followed this with a quick dash to Oxford and the AOPP department at the invitation of Myles Allen. We didn't have much time to talk outside our seminar but we seem to be doing some related work where there is the possibility of mutually complementary work and perhaps ultimately collaboration. After the talk jules and I spent a bit of time talking to other people there and had a great meal in the Chiang Mai Kitchen which seems to be still going strong - it opened just before I left more years ago than I care to remember. I think this trip might be the first time I've been back to the city since I graduated so it was great to have the excuse to visit again and see a few familiar sights, if only briefly.

We certainly had fun giving the seminars themselves. At the 2nd talk, I seemed to end up abusing the concept of a truth-centred ensemble a bit more emphatically than usual, perhaps due to having on the previous day both noticed another exceedingly ropey paper appear on this topic, and also receiving this decision, from the very same journal. So I was pleased to find several members of the audience eagerly agreeing that they had never thought the truth-centred thing made much sense. Of course the people I should be talking to are the ones who are still using it as a basis for their analyses...

Oh yes, I also confirmed what I suspected here. Not that I'm losing any sleep over that, but I do think it's a strange editorial decision. And the editor concerned is unfortunately no longer with us, so I couldn't even grumble at him if I wanted to. I'm sure it will come out in the end, and I'll probably have more to say at that time.

It's so unfair!

Probably some of you have seen this video regarding the dreaded "third reviewer". Some of you engaged in "normal science" may even have had experiences where the third reviewer throws a spanner in the works, ruining what would otherwise have been a straightforward path to publication. Well, I smile ruefully at your your tales of woe, pat you patronisingly on the head and introduce the post-normal....

4th reviewer!

The 4th reviewer is the grumpy curmudgeon who the editor calls on, when the first three reviews have all proved disappointingly positive. Having got the grump to give his negative comments (in which they freely admit that they don't actually understand the work very well, but nevertheless judge it to be simultaneously trivial and wrong), the editor gleefully brandishes this review like a rapier, consequently rejecting the manuscript as worthless and conveniently ignoring the fact that the first three (yes, 3, labelled as A, B and C) reviewers all clearly recommended the paper for acceptance (albeit subject to some revision, but that's entirely standard - I don't think I have ever had "accept unchanged" on initial submission).

Any similarity between the above description and the fate of this manuscript at JClim is entirely frustrating. I have politely asked the editor if he might reconsider and give a little more weight to the first three positive reviews, but prior to a decision on that can do little but shout IT'S SO UNFAIR!

I am however substantially encouraged by the fact that the three positive reviewers appear to be climate scientists working in this area (I obviously recommended several at submission, and before you accuse me of picking my friends, bear in mind that I don't actually have any) whereas I have some reason to hope that curmudgeonly Reviewer D may be a bit out of their field. So I am reasonably optimistic that the ideas in the manuscript may find a receptive audience at some point.

Can anyone else report having had a paper rejected with either a higher proportion, or number, of openly positive reviews? (Excluding the tabloids where entirely valid and interesting science may be judged by the editor to be simply not sexy enough, that is.) Both a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative reviews, and a total of 3 positive ones, are surely records for me.

[jules' pics] 10/08/2010 06:51:00 AM

Queen's, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

We're not in Cambridge anymore, Toto...

...yes, we went off to see the wonderful wizard of Ox.

[Photo is of my other old college, Queen's in Oxocubeland.]

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/08/2010 06:51:00 AM

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

[jules' pics] 10/06/2010 03:48:00 AM

pitcher plant, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

Saturday was meant to be sunny so we went to the botanical garden in Cambridge. By mid-afternoon it was cold and starting to rain so we hid in the relative warmth of the greenhouses. I was surprised how cool and dry the tropical plant house was compared to summer days in Japan. The carnivorous plants were, however, spectacular.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/06/2010 03:48:00 AM

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

[jules' pics] The Tour Part #8: Exeter

Exeter Uni

Last stop, Exeter. No cameras allowed in the Hadley Centre, which is a shame as it has by far the best architecture of any of the institutions we visited on our tour. Exeter University, on the other hand, is one of those places that the views are better from than of. This pic is of the Exeter University workshop participants trying to drink their way through an unreasonably large bar tab from Willis reinsurers. It seems this was not the fault of Willis, but rather the organisers failing to realise that workshop delegates have no desire to drink like students. While we had some interesting interactions with other attendees, the workshop itself was unfocused, and I felt rather sorry for those who travelled all the way from foreign specially to attend.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/05/2010 04:23:00 AM

Publication limbo

A little puzzle for my reader to ponder over...

Why do you think it might it be that our Climatic Change paper, accepted for publication in August 2009, and published online in October of that year, has not yet appeared in print? It's the oldest paper on the list of "online first" manuscripts (equal in date with one other) and I have noticed that many other manuscripts have jumped in front of it. Eg I just checked the first 5 papers in the latest issue and all of them were published online after ours, all but one were accepted after (albeit not always by much). I suppose it doesn't matter that much, as in principle the paper is accessible and citable in current form, but it does seem a little odd and certainly won't have helped its dissemination.

Can anyone guess the reason for the apparent delay? (I have a pretty good idea myself, but have asked the journal directly...)

Monday, October 04, 2010

[jules' pics] The Tour Part #7: Cows and Cappuccino


a red tractor

Aberdeen Angus


Scurry Driving

A sheep

By Saturday we were among the unspeakable, but in pursuit of the edible. Cheese mostly. For a simple country girl like me, who is easily entertained for an afternoon by a couple of animals and a cake stand, the Newbury Show was a bit overwhelming.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/04/2010 08:55:00 AM

Sunday, October 03, 2010

[jules' pics] The Tour Part #6: teaching the basics

A British Education

You often hear University Lecturers complaining that they have to teach the basics. It would appear that things have got particularly out of hand at Bristol University, which was the next port of call on our tour.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/03/2010 01:48:00 AM

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Epic fail

This must be all over the blogs - I haven't dared look. I suppose the politically correct thing might be to ignore it - and I'm certainly not going to embed it, it's too crass for that.

I actually thought at first it had to be some sort of spoof or black ops by a denialist organisation. But it seems entirely legitimate. Just totally, horribly, astoundingly ill-judged.

[jules' pics] Tantric Poster Session

There is no doubt that the social scientists have worked out how to make workshops varied and interesting. We geoscientists are so far behind we're on another planet. In our world, having wine available at the EGU poster session is about as exciting as things could possibly get. How wrong we are...

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/01/2010 11:30:00 PM

Friday, October 01, 2010

Culture CRASSH

A slightly odd workshop took place this week. It was organised by The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities which a first glance doesn't sound very relevant to our work, but in fact the main theme was the use of modelling to predict and inform policy choices, with some specific reference to (though not sole focus on) climate change. There were several eminent names associated with it too, so it seemed like a good idea to attend.

The event kicked off with Mike Hulme, who used to be a normal climate scientist but these days could perhaps be better described as a post-normal climate scientist, mostly interested in the socio-political sphere in which climate science operates. He asked "How do Climate Models Gain and Exercise Authority?", and listed what he thought of as 4 key properties - code precision, output accuracy, methodological quality and social acceptance.

Unfortunately he didn't really seem to me to make much progress towards investigating these questions. In fact he hardly scratched the surface of how even the first three questions might be investigated, let alone the last one. His talk featured a now-famous (well Hans von Storch has also presented it) plot from a certain Hargreaves 2010 publication, and also a quote from Reto Knutti warning of the risks of models being tuned to agree with each other too much. I think this latter worry, while certainly a possible risk to be considered, is often overstated, and much of the analytical support for it seems to be based on the failed concept of a truth-centred ensemble. Back on topic, I think Mike's description of the models as having authority seemed rather exaggerated, since their authority is surely primarily derived from (and entirely dependent on) that of the scientists who develop, use, and choose to trust the models to some extent. Steve Rayner had something to say on this later (see below). Mike also seemed to me to be rather unfairly dismissive of the Climate Code Foundation, basically describing it as a couple of non-scientists with a youtube video and an unrealistic ambition. I tackled him about this the next day, and believe he was at least partially convinced by the end of our conversation. I see the push for more openness as being primarily for the benefit of science, with the PR aspects being rather secondary, but whatever the motivation the current climate is such that this sort of initiative seems to be very much pushing at an open door (eg the recent workshop). Not that it will necessarily all be plain sailing, but it's a movement whose time is surely coming.

Anyway, the rest of the workshop was a mix of interesting presentations about various aspects of the modelling and policy interaction, interspersed with surprisingly vacuous talks where people basically presented an idea or topic, but seemed to have no analysis or data of any sort to either support or challenge it with. Things like: how models are like/unlike magic (seriously!), or...well actually despite writing this only a few hours later I can't even remember what most of these talks were about. It seems there is quite a cultural difference between the level of support that would usually be considered necessary for a scientific presentation - we can't just talk vaguely about an idea (jules says "the sort of stupid idea you might have in the bath, or drunk"), devoid of any grounding in reality. However there were also plenty of highlights, such as Gerd Gigerenzer berating the medical industry for presenting statistics in ways that are guaranteed to mislead doctors let alone patients (relevance to climate science is left as an exercise for the reader), and Dan Kahan entertainingly demonstrating how people generally filter information through cultural biases, before they start to start to take account of it. Steve Rayner described models as both enabling devices that give people something to mobilise around and also oracles for scientists to hide behind and defer to when presenting advice. This latter point seems to relate to Mike Hulme's talk too.

"Tony" Krebs did a very good Blair impression. I can see why he went so far. Hey guys, you just need to be open and honest, and it will all be just fine. Johan Rockstrom gave an apocalyptic presentation of the precipice we were standing next to (liberally sprinked with hockeystick graphs and real pictures of cliffs). Apparently we have to act in the next 5 years or else! There was also an entertaining debate on whether higher resolution climate modelling is a good investment - the contrary claim being that we need to run ensembles to evaluate uncertainty (Steve Rayner also argued that as far as policy goes, we didn't need any more modelling post-1992, which is probably not far off the mark).

It was striking to us how interesting and switched-on the commenters were. Usually questions after scientific presentations are things like "what was the x-axis on your graph" but these were much more perceptive and interesting. The meeting was also really well-organised, with a good mix of excellent keynote speakers, shorter presentations and debates. Not to mention the poster session...

[jules' pics] The Tour Part #5: Lancastrian Wildlife


On the Monday it was Lancaster University and the "LEC" (Lancaster Environment Centre). About 30 people came to our seminar, all bright-eyed and enthusiastic. They asked tricky questions, but were also really friendly, and I don't think anyone fell asleep. I want to work there when I grow up.

Posted By jules to jules' pics at 10/01/2010 02:28:00 AM