Number of the Month

September 2010

Bjorn again believer

It is eight years since, in a review of The Skeptical Environmentalist, that Number Watch warned that its author was not only far from being a sceptic, but for one who lectures in statistics has a remarkably loose conception of statistical significance. Though bombarded (literally) as an apostate, he has always been an adherent of the true religion. Furthermore, at a conference, your bending author publicly accused him of sailing under false colours, to which he made no reply. Thus it is no surprise that he has now reversed his position on the only vestige of scepticism to which he could legitimately lay claim; namely that spending billions of dollars on combating climate change is a game not worth the candle. What does it matter what you say, as long as you sell books?


The Censorship is alive and well

Celebrations among those of a sceptical persuasion about the apparent breakup of the media warmist consensus might be a little premature. Although more books and articles deviating form the orthodoxy are now appearing, there are still serious cases of concerted suppression of startling news, none more dramatic than the scandal of the NOAA satellite errors. This story, in media jargon nothing less than a sensational scoop, has appeared all over the internet but has been steadfastly ignored by the establishment media. Inevitably, in this age of clichés, it is dubbed Satellite Gate. Not only are there serious errors in the NOAA satellite data, but some of them are so grotesque that it beggars belief that they could pass through any system, automated or not. As an example, one temperature reading was so high that it would require Lake Michigan to disappear in an invisible cloud of superheated steam. As usual there was the attempt at a whitewash, which collapsed in one day. Even if the story were a complete fabrication, that fact would merit a comment in an unbiased press.

This is not just one of those errors that could happen to anybody. It is a case of unforgivable gross incompetence. Many millions of dollars were spent in designing, manufacturing and launching satellites, also in building highly computerised ground stations.  The worldwide costs arising from the use of those faulty data could run into many billions.

To put all this into the context of known technology, your bending author and many younger colleagues were among those who laid down the principles of computer aided measurement over the last quarter of the twentieth century, starting with a book on Laboratory online computing in 1975. Here is an excerpt from a later book. Intelligent Sensor Systems (IOP, 1994, paperback 1996):

… …

Even without such elaborations it is possible to obtain some information to indicate whether the sensor is behaving correctly by, in effect, asking certain questions:

Is the output a reasonable value? That is to say, is it in range? Is it consistent with the prevailing conditions and plant history?

Is the rate of change of output reasonable? For example, a temperature sensor embedded in a thermal mass will have a constrained rate of response, and any more rapid changes would indicate some form of intermittency.

Is the output actually changing? In an active plant one would expect small changes to be occurring continuously. If they are not it is at least worth flagging a query to central control.

Is the output consistent with that of adjacent sensors? This question could be posed centrally, but it is also possible for the intelligent sensor to pick up the responses of its neighbours, thereby carrying out one of our prime requirements to relieve the central control of unnecessary calculation.

… …

Ironically, during the editing we once considered removing this passage as being too obvious. Is it not extraordinary that all these years later a group of people disposing of huge quantities of taxpayers’ funds should totally neglect such elementary precautions?  

How could such apparent gross incompetence come about? It is not just the absence of error checking or even the grotesque nature of the errors themselves, but also the cack-handed attempt at a cover up. Or is it just this (from our essay on lying):

Powerful patronage makes people over-confident. They come to believe that they are untouchable. Like the royal favourites of mediaeval times, they soar in the air on a zephyr of preferment, only to get too close to the sun and plunge to earth.

Whatever it is, if the public don’t know about it, no harm done.


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A Right Royal Ninny

This must be one of the most extraordinary statements made by anyone on the subject of the climate change controversy:

''And I would say to all these sceptics - alright it may be very convenient to believe that somehow all these greenhouse gases we're pouring into the atmosphere just disappear through holes conveniently into space, it doesn't work like that.''

One of the little bonuses that come to you for being a sceptic in Britain is that you get to be slandered by the heir to the throne. You have “no love of nature and her works” and you are some kind of weirdo who believes in physical mechanisms unknown to science, such as “Holes into space”. Who are these sceptics who believe such things?

 Name one!

Oddly enough, however, the carbon dioxide does disappear through holes. They are called stomata and are tiny pores that exist in abundance throughout the surfaces of green plants. The carbon dioxide and water vapour enter these holes and through the agencies of chlorophyll and sunlight begin the processes that make possible the miracle of life on earth, including human life.

In the weird world of Prinny, however, carbon dioxide, the source of life,  is a fearful miasma that wreaks death and destruction on the whole living world. His pronouncements are so extreme that he makes even Al Gore look like the paragon of moderation and he claims a superior knowledge of science that is totally belied by his words.

It makes life difficult to those of us who are royalists at heart and lifelong admirers of Her Gracious Majesty. Even making allowances for the fact that he has been born into a position of wealth and authority, both unearned, and he is surrounded by a large gang of manipulative sycophants, his interventions on a whole range of subjects for which he is totally unqualified are an unsought irritant. His words and ideas, however mangled, are broadcast around the world, not for their worth but because of his position.


Footnote: in response to queries, the origins of the cognomen Prinny are here.

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Yet more apologies for absence

Regular number watchers will be accustomed to the occasional absences of its bending author due to the consequences of ownership of a dodgy immune system. The latest is a subcutaneous staph infection, which makes a change from the usual one in the lungs. The increment to the already lavish cocktail of prescription drugs puzzles the will and does not aid the writing activity. A further addition to the discouragement is that one of the manifestations of the consequent reactive arthritis is osteophytes in the neck, which contribute to growing discomfort in prolonged sessions at the computer screen. Grovelling apologies are particularly due to those who deserve replies to e-mails, especially complainants about poor response to book orders. Please keep complaining as a goad and record of lack of service.

Unfortunately this one has run into the annual period of purdah for the compilation of accounts, which are annoyingly complicated for such a small activity, especially in trying to reconcile the bank and PayPal styles of accounting. Even though we make a loss it still has to be reported to the tax authorities. With luck normal service should be resumed in about ten days.


Number of the month – 32

Stephen McIntyre has been placed at position number thirty two in the New Statesman list of People who Matter. Even more encouraging is the concerted reader response to the grudging nature of the tribute paid to him. Those who value the integrity of science owe a considerable vote of thanks to the two McCritics who endured the ordure that is inevitably cast at those of us who fail to conform to the New Orthodoxy. They re-established the principle that all science is subject to audit; even "The Science".


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