Number of the Month

August  2006

Transgressing the boundaries

In Germany, they first came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.  They came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic.  Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up.
Pastor Martin Niemoller

The first day of August, when the dog days begin to give way to the full force of the silly season. The latter is usually marked by the appearance of one particularly banal story across the British media. This time it was the one about the python that swallowed an electric blanket, which merited a whole page in the tabloid Times. What would the old editors of The Thunderer have made of it?

At a less august level, Number Watch has come under criticism from a correspondent who professes to like and admire the site. The basis of the comment is that the Number of the Month for July was not within the brief of the site and therefore diminished it. This is not a trivial point, and your bending author last month indulged in much internal debate before putting gnarled finger to keyboard on the matter.

Half a century ago, we London schoolboys would go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. We would listen to humorists, fascists, racists, communists and a host of other ists. It is still there, but many of those old-time speakers would now be arrested under various new laws repressing our freedom of speech. We did not realise it at the time, but it was potent symbol of living in a free society. Police recently demanded that a woman take down a thirty-two year old sign at her gate proclaiming that “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah’s Witnesses.” A market trader was threatened by police with prosecution for selling tee shirts with the legend “Bollocks to Blair.” Appoint chief constables for political correctness rather than thief-taking and that is what you get.

Holocaust Denial is a crime in some countries of Europe, for understandable reasons, but though it is a highly offensive and grotesquely absurd belief to adopt, the right to express it was a part of the declaration of our rights to be free-speaking Britons. Now, under EU legislation, we can be arrested in our own country for an offence that is not a crime here. The one-way extradition treaty extends that hazard to all the states of the USA.

One of the more illogical legal principles is “Ignorance of the Law is no defence.” Even the most adept lawyer is ignorant of most of the law. Now we are presumed to be knowledgeable of the whole of European and American law, as well as our own.

What if some legislature, somewhere, decides that it is a crime to practise Global Warming Denial? There are no doubt people in the world, some of them in positions of power, who would be only too happy to make it so, just as some are apropos the teaching of Darwinism. Would the likes of your bending author be whipped off to foreign climes to be incarcerated in a wretched prison for his few remaining years? For such a relative pauper there would be no hope of raising bail.

Pure fantasy, you might well say. At the moment sceptics are only subject to vilification, but history shows that the journey from vilification to persecution is but a short one. At least it was once constrained by national boundaries (or conquest).

You might also ask “What has all this to do with those three charged with serious fraud?” Charged they might be, but they are innocent; for under our ancient and threatened rights they remain in this state until proven guilty. If they are proven guilty, they deserve the full punishment that the law of their own nation allows. If they are found innocent, they and their families will nonetheless be left ruined and homeless. It is just as important to speak up for alleged wealthy fraudsters as it is for people just like us. This is a high profile case about people that many of us do not find worthy of sympathy, but there are and will be others that do not make the news. OK, so it isn’t about numbers (well, it is really, but we will let that pass); it is about abuses by the establishment, of the sort that have given rise to many of the excesses that have informed these pages.

Lawyers are allowed to go about their leisurely and pecuniary affairs at the expense of ordinary people, some of them inevitably innocent. They can drag cases out for years, leaving their victims in a Kafkaesque limbo that destroys lives. There should be overriding legislation that crimes not brought to court within one year of charging are out of time. Like many desirable reforms it will not happen, because lawyers have a controlling presence in all the important legislatures.

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.

Footnote: On seeing several criminals being led to the scaffold in the 16th century, English Protestant martyr John Bradford remarked, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

01/08/06

Well, that was a short journey!

See Skeptics on Trial

Ukifornia, here I come

To England send him, or confine him where
Your wisdom best shall think.

It shall be so.
Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.

Exeunt.


Hamlet

So the two actor-politicians have come together. There was an inevitability about it.

In Sorry, wrong number! and subsequently, your bending author mocked the Dark State of Insanity for its deliberate descent into chaos – educational self-destruct, predictable power cuts, chemophobia, regulation driving its industry away, government by eco-theocratic dogma etc. Now that Blair has thoroughly Californicated his own country, Britain too has all of those things.

So, it is entirely appropriate that they should reach agreement on the ultimate development of religious fantasy, the selling of indulgences.

03/08/06

Key of the Castle

It was only to be expected, given the modest success of Number Watch, that someone would eventually go into competition, but it was a bit of a surprise when the alternative Number of the Month appeared from the other side of the County. The Englishman’s number is 19.7, the average temperature for July 2006, and he charts the same month over the last four hundred years. This useful set of data provides the key to the global warming scam.

If you start with a population of stationary random numbers, say normally distributed, there are certain facts that you can state about the properties of a set of samples drawn from it. These are facts are incontestable, mathematically proven, and have been known for years.

  1. The sample mean converges towards the population mean as the size of the sample increases.
  2. The error in the sample mean decreases as the square root of the sample size.
  3. The most likely (modal) maximum value increases logarithmically with the sample size and converges (slowly) to infinity.

This all goes to show the attraction of records to the climate scaremongers. By exploiting the Extreme Value Fallacy they can keep churning out bigger and bigger numbers. As Mr Blair used to say “Things can only get better.”

As for the spinning by Nature and the BBC, identified by the Englishman, what else to you expect from such a proven set of arrant rogues and religious zealots?

And on and on and on and…

This and this

Yes folks! it's Epidemiology.

04/08/06

Where are they now? – Nature Notes

Occasionally members of that band of eccentrics known as Number Watch veterans ask after some of the stalwarts of web pages past. Nature Notes began anonymously in April 2002, but then develop into a column by named authors. First and foremost is Old Ned, who burst onto the scene in July 2002, a new star in the firmament. Some believe he changed the face of nature writing. By the time we managed to attract him back in May 2003 he was already becoming a media idol. As he said at the time “I’m big. It’s the web site that got small.” To be perfectly frank, the idea of using Miss Smallpiece as a stand in for November 2002 was not a great success. We managed to meet Old Ned’s fee to present two of the Numbie ceremonies in 2003 and 2004 , but he has now outgrown us. He is now well known for his homely tips in BBC gardening shows and is largely responsible for the tired old arrangements of flowering plants having been replaced with the exciting new bright blue decking. He has since developed political ambitions and applied to join David Cameron’s A-List. His humble origins were impeccable, but being a white male heterosexual (between ourselves, rather notoriously so) ruled him out. He now spends most of his time on his yacht.  Unfortunately Miss Smallpiece apparently developed mental health problems and is now believed to reside in a Government care home. We tried to contact her through her medical advisor, Dr Thanatos, but we understand that he returned to Greece at short notice with a legal inquiry pending. Her vicar was not at all forthcoming.

Perhaps, if we can find writers of the right calibre, Nature Notes will be re-established in all its former glory.

05/08/06

Props

The last thing that Number Watch wants to be involved in is Middle Eastern Politics, but one of our themes is media manipulation, and this is it.

Footnote: further discussion with links here. To get the whole story you need to follow all the links to the bitter end.

Targets

If anyone thought the Law of targets was frivolous, here is an example. Even Lewis Carroll could not have thought up a system in which you save money by paying an expensive consultant to play Soduku. Meanwhile, in the absence of targets you get this.

Just a thought

Much of the trouble of the modern world happens because nobody sits down to think.

06/08/06

‘Tis the season to be junky

Whole front page of The Times, Heaven help us:

Allergies “linked” to Parkinson’s disease is the latest offering from epidemiologists. The Trojan Number is 196 and one paragraph absolutely yells “Data Dredge”:

However, no such link was found with other inflammatory conditions such as lupus (connective tissue inflammation), rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anaemia (drop in red blood cells) or vitiligo (loss of pigment-producing cells) and Parkinson’s.

Symbolic

Could anything be more emblematic of the dominance of the PC jackboot than the extinguishment of Winston Churchill’s cigar.

As Tony Hancock said in Twelve angry men “And what about Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?”

One consolation is that The Times still has the Thunderer column, in which licensed jesters are allowed to be politically incorrect and speak for our lost values. Devolvograd is a nice graphic neologism that deserves to be preserved.

Footnote: Our Man in Puerto Rico has spotted an even greater example of lese majesty. Nice example of contemporary headline grammar too.

Half full or half empty?

This piece of "research", boasting a Trojan Number of nine, produced rather contrasting headlines:

Why up to half of all probiotics 'don't work' The Daily Mail

Over-sixties advised to boost daily diet with 'good' bacteria The Times

Return of the enginasters

Junk Science has spotted a new outbreak of fantasy engineering (well, it is that time of year). The original enginasters had their heads in the clouds, but this lot are all at sea. May we suggest that, for a pilot project, they attempt to serve 1.6 million cups of tea within hours of warning to a non-predetermined destination? When they have solved that little logistic conundrum, they can proceed to greater things (and, of course, millions of dollars of funding).

Meanwhile, there is no need for Our Man in Puerto Rico to waste an envelope.

08/08/06

A sense of proportion

"I can't believe that!" said Alice .

"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  

It really is getting more and more difficult to sort out the spoofs from the genuine stupidity, as in the case of the 1.6 million pumps above. In many cases reviewed for the warmlist it was not at all easy to separate out the jokers from the dim-witted.

Take the story about global warming causing mountains to become taller. It is all based on a computer model that makes gross assumptions. It could, of course, still be an elaborate spoof, like the one about more asteroid strikes because global warming is increasing the diameter of the atmosphere. As far as plausibility is concerned there is not much to choose between them. The cogent point about the mountains, however, is that they are reported to be growing at about the rate of 0.035 inches a year. That is a grain of sand (The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind). Only computer models can do this; measurement is hopelessly inadequate. Some of us silly old-fashioned engineers would say that a change in height of the order of one part in five million is neither here nor there, i.e. lost in the noise, but we have not got religion.

It is not, of course, a new phenomenon for absurd proposals to be put forward. During the global cooling scare, for example, there were many suggestions, such as deflecting the Gulf Stream or creating artificial seas.

There seem to be two new waves of bogus pitches. One group are trying to raise money from the financial markets for dubious technological ventures, such as the airborne generators. The markets should be able to look after themselves, but after the way they were caught by the blatantly obvious dotcom scam who knows? You might think it is just another false boom, but this time it is stoked with money wrested from suffering taxpayers on grounds of religious dogma.

The second group seem to be university professors in science and engineering, looking for funding and fame. This is more worrying. Not only is it yet another sign of declining standards in higher education, but these are the people who are influencing the next generation. As we remarked last month, it was once the function of small group tutorials and laboratory classes to iron out such excesses of exuberance by young students, but when the looking-glass fantasies are harboured by the teachers, what of the future?

The world is on the edge of Armageddon with the conflict in the Middle East . There is a serious risk of economic and financial meltdown. Meanwhile the leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is going to save the world with bicycles and shower rooms, while the leader of the Liberal Democrats is going to change his light bulbs, but not until they start failing. If a satirist had invented such characters only ten years ago he would have been dismissed as being totally over the top.

Please let it be that it is your bending author who is mad. That would be much more reassuring for the future of Western civilisation.

09/08/06

Decline and fall

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Ernest Rutherford

The unfolding tragedy of Western Civilisation is revealed not just by the content of the following piece in The Daily Telegraph of 11th August, but also by the fact that it is deemed to merit only a minor position in a side column:

Physics teachers face extinction

Physics in schools and universities is in the grip of a downward spiral with little prospect of recovery, academics say today.

Exam entries for A-level physics have halved since 1982, with the largest decline between 1990, when six per cent of sixth formers entered, and 2004 when it dropped to 3.8 per cent.

Prof Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson, of Buckingham University, who wrote the report, say the problem will worsen as fewer physics graduates train to teach in schools.

All the nonsense referred to in the above commentaries can be traced back to the modern failure to teach physics. Many of the absurdities dealt with here arise from the concepts of precision and accuracy of measurement. The importance of measurement is no longer understood.  Large groups of “scientists” panic about such things as a 2mm change in sea level, mainly because their message is one of religion rather than science.

Your bending author has often quoted one Mr Baxenden, a humble and eccentric but brilliant teacher of physics of long ago. He wrote on one laboratory report “You failed to notice that I gave you a meter with a slightly bent pointer. Your estimate of accuracy is wrong, but as a precision it is correct.” None of us ever failed to distinguish between the two again.

It was a problem of measurement that started Einstein on the trail that led to the theory of relativity. The ritual suicide of Western culture through voluntary dismantling of its educational system is manifest in our lost sense of proportion.

Footnote: The Times did rather better, managing to illustrate the absurdities that arise when politicians and bureaucrats take control of things they do not understand and the inevitable workings of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

11/08/06

...which leads us to...

Funny how the obvious keeps happening

How long have old-fashioned scientists and engineers been warning of the inevitable consequences of the rush to wind? Six years in the case of your bending author, but many others went before. Now Christopher Booker has unearthed a report that shows that it is all happening as predicted. What more can you say?

By the way, did you notice Booker’s first piece? It just goes to illustrate what happens when juggernaut bureaucracies start moving. They regulate things that do not need regulating. They think up arbitrary numbers in ignorance of the effect they have on vulnerable people. It is an illustration of the fundamental fallacy of socialism, that everything can be planned from above.

And there’s more from Scotland – here and here.

 

13/08/06

Number Watch lost for words

Global warming causes psychobabble.

Footnote: Thanks for the many comments on this entry, but it is still your bending author’s view that the report stands best in its own pristine ghastliness. And, yes, the name of Hitler’s “little Doctor”, Joseph Goebbels, did come to mind. And, yes, it does make one fear for the future.

Footnote 2: Yes, I know, I know! It is a manual on how a government can lie to its people. It is a prescription for marketing falsehood in the same way as selling soap powder. But this is Blair’s Britain now, and Cameron’s Britain will be no different. Above all, it is the Britain of Orwell’s nightmare. But if people cannot (or will not) see it for what it is, no amount of line-by-line analysis is going to change their minds. Furthermore, for those with the wit to see, these people have tacitly admitted that they (and their clients) are lying. 

14/08/06

That report

But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

OK, confession time! “Psychobabble” was a frivolous description of something much more deeply disturbing. Several dedicated number watchers have sent in textual analyses showing what the report is really saying – “We are lying, we will continue to lie, we are looking for better ways of lying.”

More sinister is the implicit message to sceptics:

We are showing our hand, putting our cards on the table, and we do not care if you see them; you have already lost the game. Our allies have seized control of the commanding heights of the culture – the main political parties, the media, the scientific journals and societies, the celebrity cult. You can bleat as much as you like, but you will not be heard. We have access to unlimited amounts of taxpayer money: you have nothing. We are now concentrating on the 44% of the population at the bottom of the heap, whom we can most easily manipulate to behave in the manner we dictate. They will not read our report and would not understand it if they did.

It might be Berlin in 1934 or Oceania in 1984. Orwell would have appreciated that two of his most sinister creations, Big Brother and Room 101, provide the titles of two of the more debased programmes on prole TV, which was one of his many predictions that came to pass. The proles passively watch the programmes provided for them and go on to buy the products and propaganda that are provided for them.

Very old number watchers might remember the weasel juror in Toad of Toad Hall. His outburst provides an analogy to the slogans of the global warmers – the science is settled; there is a consensus. Apart from the facts that no science is ever settled and consensus has never been part of science, that they are volunteered indicates that they are deliberate lies; but here, for the first time, the strategy is openly advocated (emphasis added):

Treating climate change as beyond argument

Much of the noise in the climate change discourse comes from argument and counter-argument, and it is our recommendation that, at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective. This must be done by stepping away from the ‘advocates debate’ described earlier, rather than by stating and re-stating these things as fact.

The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken. The certainty of the Government’s new climate-change slogan – ‘Together this generation will tackle climate change’ (Defra 2006) – gives an example of this approach. It constructs, rather than claims, its own factuality.

This is the crudest form of Nazi-style manipulation, the sort of thing we went to war to combat. It has that strut and swagger of people confident in power rather than rectitude – “We know we have not won the debate, but we will pretend we have and no one will hear the counter-argument.”

What more can you say that has not been said by George Orwell?:

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. 

In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. 

One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship. 

Political chaos is connected with the decay of language... one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. 

Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. 

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. 

There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them. 

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. 

What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy? 

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. 

Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.      

Footnote (by Dave Gardner via the Forum)

IPPR are a "progressive think-tank", they're classified as an independent charity. They're not an "Absolute Power"-type PR agency. I tried to find out who's funding this "Warm Words" document and I think I've worked out who it is:

On WWF-UK Research Centre's webpage:
http://www.wwf.org.uk/researcher/issues/climatechange/0000000016.asp#ippr

"Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) - the low carbon economy

WWF is a funding partner of this project (other funders are BG Group, EST, Innogy, Shell and BMW). The aim is to look at policy barriers to the development of a low carbon economy and identify ways in which government can stimulate innovation to ensure the UK takes the lead on solutions to climate change.

The main elements of the project are:

# micropower: policy changes required to accelerate developments in small-scale energy systems and promote low carbon energy options in the process;

# hydrogen: looking at the potential for hydrogen fuel to reduce carbon emissions and the policy measures required to deliver the necessary infrastructure;

# low-carbon design: designing new infrastructure such as buildings, transport and communications with long-term carbon targets in mind;

# public perception: encouraging individual attitudes and behaviour that help reduce carbon emissions."

The last item of the four elements above looks like it corresponds to the "warm Words" report. The funders seem to be WWF (World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation), BG group (British Gas), EST (Energy Saving Trust), Innogy (these are part of RWE group and they supply gas and electricity through Npower), Shell (representing "Big Oil", even though the Greenies keep telling us that Big Oil are bitter opponents of climate change) and BMW (German auto firm).

WWF and EST are Greenie organisations with EST being a quango funded by the British taxpayer. Some people might be surprised that BG, Innogy and Shell would fund climate research but it does make a lot of sense- the biggest financial winners from global warming so far by a long way have been any company connected with natural gas, through the displacement of coal-fired power stations by gas-fired power stations. BMW are presumably interested in the Green agenda if it gives them an advantage over rival car firms.

 

Who do think they are kidding?

The Office of National Statistics has announced a fall of inflation. How could they have the ludicrous temerity? The secret is the use of a consumer price index promoted by the EU. Who else could produce such an index and leave out the cost of keeping a roof over your head? How could an operator like Gordon Brown resist exploiting it?

For some reason the Chancer has a primordial hatred of middle income pensioners. Not only does he steal from their pension funds on a grand scale, destroying many of the schemes completely, he piles on the charges incessantly. Property taxes, so-called environmental taxes, energy costs etc. all mean that even theoretically inflation proofed pensions are declining in purchasing value by several percentage points per year. Compounded over nearly a decade that is a big loss. Even “experts” are beginning to notice.

Many elderly people, once in good financial standing, are dying penniless. Their natural final ambition is to die in their own home and in consequence they fall into the hands of circling sharks, who offer such nostrums as “equity release”.

Back in October 2002 (Broken dreams), Number Watch quoted an election address by the Labour Leader Neil Kinnock:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, and I warn you not to grow old. (Speech 1983).

Yes, it is personal.

16/08/06

The nature of statistics

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones. 
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Funny thing, statistics! At one extreme you have physical statistics. We know, for example, the precise (Fermi) distribution of energy of electrons in a metal. A small filament contains an unimaginable number of them, so we can calculate the steady current in the thermionic diode, which gave birth to electronics with all its vast benefits (and otherwise).

At the other extreme you have a cost of living index, which you know from painful personal knowledge is an inaccurate fabrication, based on arbitrary coefficients applied to inaccurate and perversely selected data, yet is used as a vital instrument of Government policy.

In between, there is a whole gamut of applications, many of which have a profound effect on suffering humanity. Precise mathematical calculations are made on highly dubious data. Highly dubious calculations are made on possibly reasonable data. Self-styled “scientists” plug unreliable numbers into statistical computer packages they do not understand. Drug trials are abandoned for the flimsiest of reasons, and new drugs are either banned or forced on the public, in what amounts to an arbitrary lottery. Innocent substances (salt, cholesterol etc.) are demonised, while others (selenium, cranberry juice etc.) are unaccountably lauded. Draconian legislation, such as the public smoking ban, is enforced on the basis of bogus health scares supported by deliberate statistical subreption and fraud.

Now we are told that 44% of the population are proles, mindless dupes who are (and should be) easily gulled into believing new establishment dogma. The branch of mathematics that produced the transistor is also the one that facilitates the inexorable slide into the Orwellian nightmare. Like a knife, statistics is just a tool that can be used for good or ill, but man is a perverse and political animal.

What has changed is that the brief flurry of scientific reason, which occurred mainly in the last two centuries, has died and given way to a return to blind belief. The long trail of British sceptical philosophy (from the Bacons, through the likes of Locke, Hume and Thomas Huxley, triumphantly to Popper) has ground to a halt. The irony is that the science that these solitary geniuses of the past created also produced mass communications. The groundlings now gape at manifestations of the celebrity culture, unwittingly manipulated to do the bidding of their self-appointed masters. In the age of universal franchise that 44% is much more than enough to install a democratically elected government.

It appears that man's destiny has been to evolve into – a statistic.

There was never anything by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.
The Book of Common Prayer

17/08/06

Back to the future

Communication received from Roger Coppock:

You've made one mistake on your list at
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm
It ends with the phrase:


 > and all on 0.006 deg C per year!

Nope!  You aren't even close.
It's 0.023K per year, and that is increasing.
Please see:
http://members.cox.net/rcoppock/Slope1952-2005.jpg

First, it behoves us offer congratulations. It does not fall to many of us to create a new scientific unit, but the measure of thermal acceleration in K century -2 appears to be quite unique. Let us hope that the International Organisation of Standards will do the right thing and name the new unit the coppock.

For conversion into SI units 1 coppock  is  about 10-19 Ks-2 .

While inversely 1 Ks-2 is about 10 exacoppock.

Only nasty old cynics will take the view that the unit has been created just to make the numbers look bigger. Admittedly, it is unusual to have the unit of the independent variable larger than the range of a plot, the exception being the standard SI unit of seconds, but innovators must be allowed a certain creative flexibility.

Anyone who has supervised research students will be familiar with DDD (Data Deficiency Disorder). Early in a project, experimental data will be few, and increasing their number is usually a time consuming process; so it is tempting in the meantime to subject the small amount of data available to a variety of processes in order to achieve that desired breakthrough. Thus these small groups of innocent numbers find themselves smoothed, trend-fitted, polynomial-fitted, chi-squared, Fourier transformed etc. Only recently has DDD become a world wide epidemic.

Unfortunately, the law of experiments and its corollaries are rarely defeated. The second corollary applies to global warming studies because, as they endlessly remind us, we only have one planet. So we have thousands of experts, all working on the same limited data sets, producing different results, which all, however, seem to edge upwards with time. That great representative of post-modern science, the IPCC, came to the conclusion that the world is warming at a rate of 0.006 deg C per year and that has been largely accepted by THE CONSENSUS, a mysterious and powerful body of great influence. It has even been said to have been accepted as a basis of argument by the sceptics, a lesser and possibly mythical body of little influence but considerable nuisance value.

So that is why the achievement we are celebrating is so significant. All those international experts beavered away trying to up the ante, when along comes a newcomer almost to quadruple the score in one fell swoop.

There are, however, a couple of points that might cause concern. The running slope is clearly intended to stand proxy for differentiation. The plot suggests that the original data form a parabola. By implication we are invited to extrapolate this parabola into the future, with horrendous results. This we cannot check, but we can check on whether it can be extrapolated into the past. Integrating the line of slope and setting the origin at 1950 we get, for degrees of "anomaly" against years:

So if it really was half a degree warmer in 1900 than now the extrapolation is valid.

The other point that might cause disquiet is the absence of noise in the original plot. Differentiation is a noisy process, so one might expect the scatter of points to increase.

It is an oddity that differentiation is relative easy compared with integration in classical function analysis, but it is the other way round in numerical analysis. Richard Hamming’s classical 1962 text  Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers is famous for its epigraph – THE PURPOSE OF COMPUTING IS INSIGHT, NOT NUMBERS. It also has a section entitled Avoiding the estimation of derivatives.

Unlike the running mean, the running slope of trend does not easily lend itself to analysis as a linear filter. In this circumstance it is advisable to use a simple test function of known slope as an input. The triangular wave is convenient as it has slopes of both signs and the sharp corners provide high frequency content. Here is the result of such a test comparing the input signal (black) with the true slope (blue) and the estimate of the slope by the running trend (red, scaled to separate the curves). The total number of samples is 90 and the trends are estimated over running sets of 20 samples.

It is clear that the proposed method smoothes out high frequencies and is a rather poor approximation to true differentiation.

So perhaps it is not such a breakthrough after all.

Footnote: This item has provoked an outbreak of Chartmanship at That Castle on the other side of The County, including an interesting variation on a phenomenon noted in our original essay on Chartmanship.

21/08/06

We are all chartpersons now

My dear, you are simply nobody today unless you have fitted a model to the temperature record! Anyway, as the Englishman has been good enough to provide convenient tabulated data it would be rude not to. So here is the Number Watch model, which is based on four straight lines. Temperatures in °C.  Carbon dioxide (scaled) in green.

But you have to hand it to The Englishman. He has at last provided definite proof of Global Warming.

24/08/06

Eurorot

From the Newsletter of Neil Parish MEP:

Brussels, 24th August 2006 -- Pre(com)posterous changes to rules governing green waste will mean tonnes of compost will now have to go to landfill, rather than being spread on gardens and farms - leaving local authorities with the prospect of a multi-million pound fine from the EU for failing to meet recycling targets, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, Neil Parish MEP, has warned.

 

Until recently, once green waste had been shredded, composted and screened it was classified as 'product' and could be bagged and sold in bulk. However, recent changes now say the material is still waste and cannot be moved without significant additional paperwork. A gardener would now require three separate permits to store, transport and use the compost on his roses!

 

With costs set to spiral for compost processors, it is almost certain a vast amount of composted waste will go to landfill instead. As Green waste represents around 50 percent of the annual recycling tonnage, many Councils' recycling figures will effectively be cut in half at a time when the European Commission is already threatening the UK government with fines of up to £180 million for its failure to significantly reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

 

Neil Parish said:

 

"Compost is a harmless soil improver used on gardens, allotments and farms across the  UK . Government regulation will make it prohibitive for companies to produce compost and so tonnes of green waste will end up going to landfill.

 

"The government is already facing fines for failing to significantly reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill. I wonder what these people are thinking sometimes when they come up with these rules. We should be encouraging the recycling of household waste, rather than piling bureaucracy on companies that are selling a harmless product and keeping our landfill waste down. Clearly it shows that Defra is not up to mulch."

25/08/06

Letting the cat out of the bag

Strange things happen in the media as the silly season reaches its annual dying fall. Whether editors are absent on vacation or are overcome by the frivolity of the time of year is not clear, but they tend to forget the strict code of self censorship that is so rigorously imposed for the rest of the year. Tim Hames in The Times is allowed to forget himself so far as to admit the existence of a sceptical view of global warming, thereby undoing years of phenological propaganda in the Paul Simons Weather Eye column and casting doubt on the solidity of the CONSENSUS.

The Telegraph has, of course, always been rather more lax about the accepted censorship rules, but the multiple feline escape in an article by Jeremy Clarke is rather remarkable. You might almost think that he had been reading Number Watch and the like.

Where will it all end? Once newspapers start inadvertently printing the truth, could the whole structure of our society and its new green establishment come tumbling down? No, just wishful thinking. The establishment media do not have a monopoly on the silly season.

 

HIWTYL

A New Yorker was enjoying a leisurely breakfast, when he accidentally dropped his slice of toast. To his astonishment, it landed butter side up. This caused him great consternation, because he knew that it was a breach of an immutable law of nature. In an agitated frame of mind he went to the rabbi to ask his advice.

“A very serious problem.” said the rabbi “I will have to consult the authorities.”

After several sleepless nights he went back to the rabbi and asked whether he had come to a conclusion.

“Yes, you must have put the butter on the wrong side.”

Which brings us to a confirmation of the accuracy of our definition of Climate Change, noted by several readers and Greenie Watch.

Free energy at last!

That’s it! Our joy in this season of the year is complete. We have the regulation free energy claim, which takes up a whole page in the Daily Mail and reaches much of the rest of the media. It is a classic of the genre:  

A few years ago, Steorn was working on a novel CCTV system to spy on cashpoint machines. Instead of powering the cameras with batteries or from the mains, the cameras were to be powered by tiny wind-generators.

It was when Steorn was fiddling with these 'microturbines' that, Mr McCarthy claims, the engineers made a startling discovery: the magnets used in the turbines were behaving in a strange way and seemed to be generating more power than was put into them.

In essence, Steorn claims that by setting up a series of magnetic fields in a certain way, and moving a magnetic object through the field, you get an energy 'kick', apparently from nowhere.

Wind-powered CCTV – how trendy can you get? The magnets behaved in a strange way – they (or gyroscopes etc.) usually do. Nice phraseology too - "in a certain way", "a magnetic object" and "apparently from nowhere". No doubt scientists from the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop have already entered the fierce competition to serve on the jury.

Where this one differs is in the approach. They have spent a lot of money on a magazine advert and a PR company. So, where is the payoff? When do we get the share offer? Visit the website. It tells you nothing, but in an impressive way.

Make sure you appreciate the second law of thermodynamics – while it lasts.

29/08/06

Amazing Amazon

Our Man in Puerto Rico reports that he is relying on his copy of Sorry, wrong number! to provide him with a decent pension when he retires. This is on the basis of the rising prices quoted at Amazon.com. The current going rate is $169. It is described as a “hard to get” title; yet, not only is it available from this web site at the cover price, it is also available from Amazon.co.uk, which brings us to another story.

When Sorry was first put on the market, many of the sales were through bookshops, large and small. Now an order from a bookshop is a rarity and Amazon UK have established a virtual monopoly. This creates a problem; because they deal with small publishers through a scheme they call Amazon Advantage. Among the features of this scheme is that it demands a discount of 50% rather than the normal trade 30%. The effect of this is that, after freight and other costs, we are supplying them with the books roughly at cost. Furthermore, we fund their stock, as they don’t pay up until it is sold. This is good news for OMIPR as it means his investment is secure. Since the book sales are generating no surplus, there will be no funds available for a reprint, which would have been due some time next year.

It’s a strange system when Amazon.com are offering a book for about fifteen times the price that Amazon.co.uk are paying the publisher. In the case of The Epidemiologists, according to com it is unavailable, whereas co.uk are selling about ten a month. Not only are the Amazons reluctant to talk to their customers and suppliers, they don’t talk to each other.

The dotcom bubblers used to scorn Amazon on the grounds that its business model was all wrong. Well, they would; wouldn’t they?

Progress, of sorts

Thinking about Amazon gave rise to a bout of introspection in your bending author. At the outset Number Watch started to give an annual report, and was rather pleased after a year of operation to record over six thousand visits a month. On the thirteenth of last month Number Watch and its author shared yet another birthday. The total number of visits during that month was 53,816, while the number of individual page views was 114,527. There is now a difference in accounting, which is why the annual report was abandoned. Six years ago one could identify individual readers and even track how they navigated through the pages: now everyone sits behind a firewall and/or shares a cache machine, so one visit might represent several readers or, indeed, none at all. Only a minority go via the index page, so the counter is virtually meaningless. Nevertheless, it can be deduced that substantial progress has been made. Each day more than a hundred visits are referred from other sites (a hundred being the limit that the online statistics will list). There is also a large electronic post bag. By the way, apologies to the many who have not received replies! All the messages are read, but sometimes the amount of mail becomes overwhelming, particularly as your bending author has to restrict screen time for health reasons. It is invidious to name names, but Our Man in Puerto Rico and Dennis Ambler have been particularly assiduous in keeping your bending author up-to-date and relatively error free, though many others have contributed ideas and news links. There are much more of these than can be possibly covered by a lone author with physical limitations; so the policy has been to select those that illustrate particular themes. For comprehensive coverage there is always, fortunately, www.junkscience.com, where, by the way, a link is always worth over a thousand extra hits.

A gratifying feature has been the use that academic institutions have made of the site as a resource. At any moment of the day there will usually be several universities and colleges from around the world on line and links appear in a number of  sets of course notes.

Considering the content of Number Watch, there have been remarkably few hostile posts or postings. An exception, of course is the Australian Adhominator, but being attacked by him has turned out to be really a sort of accolade. Here is a portion of an e-mail received only today from someone who has just ordered both the Number Watch books

I hope you don't mind but on a couple of posts on Climateaudit, I quoted that the reason I started to research into the science behind AGW was due to a thread on his blog in which he called you a crank. Having already read most of what you have posted on your web site, I knew that this was not true so proceeded to dig further on the topic of AGW which lead me to amongst other sites the CA blog. I recommend your web site to all my friends now, some of whom are following the same track as I did, so in a sense we all have him to thank. No doubt this is the opposite effect he desires from his blog.

No doubt the AA would be disconcerted if he knew the frequency with which such sentiments are expressed or, indeed, the rank and qualifications of some of the correspondents.

From a personal point of view the whole exercise has been somewhat less of an unqualified success. In those words that echo down the centuries “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. The idea was to take retirement two years early to take up scurrilous writing. The writing and the job were incompatible, as the University was perforce seeking to earn much of its living from the very areas of bureaucratic sponsorship that invited criticism; but to be honest the newly nationalised university system was personally inimical, to say the least. Careful consideration of budgets promised a life of bearable genteel poverty, but not downright penury. There were a number of flaws in this calculation, most of which were down to our beloved Chancellor of the Exchequer. The idea of retiring to a small rural town where life would be cheaper turned out to be a mirage, largely because it meant joining the section of society who were the main target of stealth taxes and the cost of living index scam.

Anyway, the reason for all this personal stuff, which no true blooded Englishman would willingly reveal, is that Number Watch, which started out as a harmless little hobby for an inconsequential eccentric, is now outside the available budget. Hardware, software and bending author are all becoming obsolescent and unreliable. There are expenses such as internet and auditing fees to be paid (even loss-making businesses have to be reported to the taxman).

If every visitor paid a penny, the enterprise would be more than adequately funded, but they don’t so it isn’t. One possible course of action is to take advertising. This is somewhat unpalatable, given what we see on related sites and blogs. Writings of a sceptical nature are accompanied by adverts that are diametrically opposed in sentiment. For example, California Greenies can afford to saturate the entire worldwide blogosphere with entreaties to support their anti-industry propositions in a plebiscite that is not open to most of the readership. Anyway, who do they think they are kidding with their slogans “Make industry pay”? Industries never pay; their customers do.

There is a small core of supporters of Number Watch who have made the occasional contribution to the begging bowl, a couple of them quite generously, but those welcome interventions are becoming less frequent. Perhaps there are now too many begging bowls on this particular street. If everyone who expressed approval, or even delight, in the content of Number Watch, popped a couple of dollars in the begging bowl, the situation would be greatly improved.

Here endeth the whinge.

Number of the month – 21

21 is the number of years between the publication of two pieces by your bending author with the same title on the same subject. The title was Decline and fall and the subject was physics. The second piece is a short one that appeared above, while the first was a longer diatribe published in the Journal of Scientific Instruments (J.Phys.E: Sci.Instrum, Vol. 18, 1985). The latter was based on an exercise in bibliometry, plotting the number of papers submitted to that particular journal from the UK and Eire against time over a decade, compared with those from the rest of Europe. Roughly speaking the first had halved over the period and the second doubled; both enormous changes over such a short time. It was not a simple matter of politics, since government had changed complexion from very left to very right half way through the period. What had changed was that politicians had jointly developed a utilitarian approach towards education and research. In the seventies government had not yet obtained full control over the universities, but it did have control over things like research student grants, so the Labour government of the time simply cut them savagely, the excuse being that they wanted to force more graduates into industry. Only Margaret Thatcher had the determination to impose central control over the universities, which until then had been protected by a system that specifically shielded them from bureaucratic control and she began a process of which the dénouement was described in Sorry, wrong number! thus:

There is a bureaucratic technique that is important to understand, what might be termed The Ratchet. Successful bureaucrats are very patient. They achieve their ends by very small steps, but the major principle is that they never take a step backwards. The shining example of this is the nationalisation of the British university system, which was done over a couple of decades by small changes incorporated in successive education acts. By the time the coup de grâce was delivered in David Blunkett’s bill of 1997 it was all over bar the shouting. Even then the death of autonomy was slipped in behind the row about student fees. 

 It is one of the great triumphs of Thatcherism that university education is now talked about only in utilitarian and monetary terms. Even the sainted Tim Worstall seems to have no conception of science education being of any more value to the culture than a provision of production units. That a certain critical mass of the population should have awareness of how the universe works, and be in a position to pass that knowledge on to a new generation, is now a concept so alien as to be regarded as gobbledegook. 21 years ago a university did not merit the title unless it had departments of mathematics and physics. In the subsequent short interlude such departments have become a comparative rarity and then only attenuated stumps of what they once were. Trying to explain the vital importance of physics and mathematics to someone who has never studied them is like trying to explain how Fauré was inspired by Verlaine to someone who is tone deaf and has no French. Almost all Anglo Saxon politicians fall into all four categories.

21 years ago the subject of Media Studies did not exist. This year, for the first time, there have been more graduates in this subject than in Physics. It is strange how your ironic statements come back to haunt you. A couple of years ago a piece in Number Watch about media studies was entitled Nothing less than world domination. Now we have it – and much good may it do us.

If we had more physics knowledge in the population, of course, politicians would not be able to get away with this sort of claptrap, which is why there will not be any.

 31/08/06

Index