Monday, February 22, 2010

Peer review isn't flawless 

Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.

The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.

At the time, Mark Siddall, from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, said the study "strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results". The IPCC said that sea level would probably rise by 18cm-59cm by 2100, though stressed this was based on incomplete information about ice sheet melting and that the true rise could be higher.
Nature Geoscience says it committed to publishing significant, high-quality research in the Earth Sciences through a fair, rapid and rigorous peer review process that is overseen by a team of full-time professional editors.
One slipped past the goalie here. It would be easy to laugh and say this is proof global warming is a crock and the peer review process is flawed. But of course it is. What's important about this piece is to say that in this particular case the system actually worked. A piece of bad science got through the peer review process -- which is bound to happen -- and that when technical mistakes were found, they retracted the article. Does peer review fail more with articles that support AGW than oppose it? I don't know. That is a question worth researching, if anyone has the time.

(h/t: Eric Fruits)

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The importance of knowing your statistic's quality 

Because I seem to have exasperated poor Benjamin, let me give an example of what I mean by watching your measurements. The use of principal components analysis (PCA) allows for the construction of a synthetic temperature measurement to replace whatever poor or non-existent data you have. My caution -- not a refutation, though Benjamin would have you believe I am skeptical of the whole global warming hypothesis (which means nothing -- I'm skeptical of the law of demand -- what you want to know is the diffusion of my prior beliefs in a Bayesian sense) -- my caution is from experience that PCA can give you very different synthetic measures depending on choice of proxy. That is my considered opinion from having written papers on the subject as a social scientist.

Now perhaps that isn't a problem in the natural sciences. I don't know; I'd be surprised if that was true, but I would respect a scientist's opinion on it. But one thing we probably COULD agree on is that if you had actual temperature data, you would rather use that than a synthetic measure.

Comes then to the discussion one Lubos Motl, a Czech physicist who has collected 351 years of annual average temperatures from a single site in central England. He uses a moving average of different lengths (beginning with a 30-year window, but varied between a decade and a century) and looks at the results. What does he find?
In the late 17th and early 18th century, there was clearly a much longer period when the 30-year trends were higher than the recent ones. There is nothing exceptional about the recent era. Because I don't want to waste time with the creation of confusing descriptions of the x-axis, let me list the ten 30-year intervals with the fastest warming trends:

1691 - 1720, 5.039 �C/century
1978 - 2007, 5.038 �C/century
1977 - 2006, 4.95 �C/century
1690 - 1719, 4.754 �C/century
1979 - 2008, 4.705 �C/century
1688 - 1717, 4.7 �C/century
1692 - 1721, 4.642 �C/century
1694 - 1723, 4.524 �C/century
1689 - 1718, 4.446 �C/century
1687 - 1716, 4.333 �C/century

You see, the early 18th century actually wins: even when you calculate the trends over the "sufficient" 30 years, the trend was faster than it is in the most recent 30 years.
Motl's graphs do better that that chart, but you get the point. 300 years ago, a period without the industrial age and CO2 in abundance, and it's just as warm. Bad for those who blame CO2 for the warming.

Suppose you wanted to be skeptical of this measurement? What could you say? You could argue the thermometer was bad -- after all, the earliest part of this period was a period of rapid development of thermometer technology. Maybe the calibration just isn't good enough.

Or you could argue central England is itself anomalous. Maybe -- Motl calls it a "decent proxy" for world temperature, but maybe it isn't. You would want to read more about that before you accepted it.

So here's the problem in a nutshell: I have a measure that I know, think it measured temperature well, measured it directly. I understand the underlying statistical technique well, and because the data is right there, I can replicate it. My confidence is improved by this, different from PCA. But because there's a chance they might have changed the thermometer, or that you can't generalize Northern Hemispheric temperatures from a single point in central England, I could not use it definitively. It's a skepticism not unlike my skepticism of people's claims about job loss based on the household survey. It could be that PCA's issues are not as severe as these. And it may be that there are other studies that give different experiences than the PCA studies and studies that support PCA. At the end of the day your beliefs are updated by the studies; you learn. And what you think is true evolves, with questioning and skepticism all along the way.

Or at least, that's what Scholars do.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are the Predictions of Climate Models Credible? 

The lively debate in the comments on my post yesterday about the summer snowstorm in Wyoming included this assertion:
I'm sure there have been numerous studies on the soundness of climate models. I'm not familiar with all of them. What one finds though is that models are consistently improving and there is high confidence in the ranges given for future scenarios. There is broader range and greater realism. Studies show models have been able to reproduce past and current climate (see here). Chapter 8 of the IPCC's physical basis in the Fourth Assessment Report deals with climate models and their evaluation.
Well, here's the abstract of a peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Climatology that disagrees with the commenter:
We examine tropospheric temperature trends of 67 runs from 22 �Climate of the 20th Century� model simulations and try to reconcile them with the best available updated observations (in the tropics during the satellite era). Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean. In layers near 5 km, the modelled trend is 100 to 300% higher than observed, and, above 8 km, modelled and observed trends have opposite signs. These conclusions contrast strongly with those of recent publications based on essentially the same data.
The paper ends with this conclusion:
The last 25 years constitute a period of more complete and accurate observations and more realistic modelling efforts. Yet the models are seen to disagree with the observations. We suggest, therefore, that projections of future climate based on these models be viewed with much caution.
Reminder: You can hear Dr. Fred Singer, one of the authors of the paper above, at this afternoon's event sponsored by the Minnesota Free Market Institute.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Global Warming - Get the REAL Facts 

The Minnesota Free Market Institute is presenting a terrific event on the global warming and climate change topics. Hear Dr. Fred Singer, one of the world's most respected and widely published experts on climate and co-author of Unstoppable Global Warming, Every 1500 Years. Other confirmed speakers include John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, and Ken Green, resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Where - Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center
When - August 19, 307 PM
Cost - $30/person, $15 for students, including reception

Register by visiting the MN Free Market Institute here or by calling 651-294-3593.


Friday, June 26, 2009

How big a tax? 

Last night Janet posted at True North about the cost of cap-and-trade legislation and her call to Colin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat from a declining region of farms, lakes and empty nests. Heritage has posted a calculation of the costs of the Waxman-Markey bill by congressional district. Districts have roughly the same number of people of voting age, but can differ greatly in the type of economies they have and the incomes earned by the people of the district. To correct for that, I adjusted each cost applying to the district for year 2012 as Heritage estimates by my estimate of how much each district creates in personal income. The variation goes from under $18 billion in CD-7 (Peterson) to over $31 billion in CD-3 (Paulsen). Here's what I get:

Congressperson Lost personal income % 2012 Lost jobs 2012
Walz 2.35% 3871
Kline 1.09% 3835
Paulsen 1.41% 4496
McCollum 2.31% 3984
Ellison 1.60% 3819
Bachmann 1.24% 4127
Peterson 2.41% 4174
Oberstar 1.46% 3340

This is a tax therefore that varies but bears down hard on Collin Peterson's district. It will cost CD-3 more jobs, but the impact there is less as a share of income.

Let there be no doubt that this is a huge tax increase: taking 2% more of one's income when the government takes about 12.6% of your income in the federal individual income tax for the average taxpayer. In a poor district with a large farm sector, it's worse. I know that Peterson says he got "concessions". It's dubious whether the concessions mean much even to Peterson's constituents. For them, it's unlikely to be less than an across-the-board 20% tax increase. If Peterson does vote for this stinker, someone should take that fact to the debate as his opponent next year.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Commanding building codes 

The Washington Post makes a good point here about the forthcoming cap-and-trade bill debate:
The bill would give the federal government power over local building codes. It requires that by 2012 codes must require that new buildings be 30 percent more efficient than they would have been under current regulations. By 2016, that figure rises to 50 percent, with increases scheduled for years after that. With those targets in mind, the bill expects organizations that develop model codes for states and localities to fill in the details, creating a national code. If they don't, the bill commands the Energy Department to draft a national code itself.

...Is the best way to achieve that, though, to federalize what has long been a matter of local concern? And if the point of cap-and-trade is to change market incentives, why does Congress, and not the market, need to dictate these changes?
To the extent our textbooks ever support tradeable pollution permits, it is that the market does better for deciding the efficient way to reduce pollution than does command-and-control. But efficiency is only interesting to the regulator if the regulator stands to gain from it, or can be made interested in it by good contracts, electoral check, etc. Absent that, government will always prefer to use command and control so that they have their electoral fate in their own hands.

I say this to those who are persuaded by manmade global warming hypotheses -- your case is improved to the extent you get command-and-control measures like this with building codes out of the bill.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gore should run in Europe 

The European Union's greenhouse-gas emissions from key industries rose 1.1% last year, despite its antipollution policies, demonstrating the difficulty in meeting international commitments to fight climate change.

Carbon-dioxide emissions reached 1.914 billion metric tons last year in the sectors covered by Europe's Emission Trading Scheme, according to an analysis of data by Oslo-based Point Carbon, a carbon market-research and consulting firm. The data released Wednesday aren't complete, because some companies' results are still trickling in, but it represents about 93% of the total, according to the EU Web site.

For the past three years, Europe has been trying to reduce emissions by imposing a market-based cap-and-trade system. Industries such as power generators, steel, cement and aluminum are supposed to cap the amount of carbon dioxide they spew. If they can't make their targets, they must buy permits to emit carbon on the open market.

By forcing companies to buy and sell the right to pollute, Europe's system is supposed to give them a financial incentive to clean up their acts. It is also supposed to provide European countries with a way to meet their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations accord that set emissions-cutting targets for the 175 nations that ratified it for the period between this year and 2012.

Some 11,500 factories, oil refineries, steel mills and other installations are covered by the EU scheme, accounting for about half of Europe's total emissions. There is still no limit on the other half, produced by everything from cars and planes to buildings and retail outlets.

But the caps that the EU set for different industries turned out to be too high. As a result, instead of shrinking, as was originally envisioned, emissions in these industries have crept up by about 1% each year since the program began.

Source. Like you couldn't have seen this one coming. The fight over how much now to reduce caps will be political, not scientific.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Global Warming - Some Stats 

The American Thinker magazine has published some interesting statistics on global warming and the Kyoto protocol. Turns out 75% of the nations that signed Kyoto grew their emissions faster than the US.
The article also lists a number of countries whose emissions increased substantially. You may argue the point that the US produces the most emissions. When you look at the absolute numbers, that is true. But there are a few other facts that should be considered when thinking along this line.
* The US is the world's largest producer of goods, thus it will produce more emissions.
* If the US continues to produce more goods with far lower emission increases, then it would stand to reason that others might want to consider how we achieve this positive impact.
This entire scenario keeps coming back to what do Americans or anyone else on the planet want to give up to supposedly decrease CO 2 emissions? For many, air-conditioning is a need, not a want - the US South would not have taken off economically without air-conditioning. Will Americans easily give up the mobility cars provide? What about the ability to produce unprecedented amounts of safe food and clean water for everyone? Returning to practices of the 1900's and earlier can be done but people had shorter life spans, pain killers of today's caliber were unknown, and emergency medical care as it exists today was nonexistent, etc.

There always is another point of view. To restrict the world's poor from attaining a longer life span and the opportunity to improve their standard of living with even the basics of clean water and enough food because some group uses faulty science to support their cause is grossly unjust.

(H/t to Powerline)


Global Warming - Book Report 

All the "people who care" about global warming along with their private jets and talk about saving the planet are in Bali, Indonesia discussing the situation.

Meanwhile, there are scientists who are not buying into the guilt-driven rhetoric that is fodder for the media. If you are wondering where you can find good, readable information about what is happening to our planet, a good place to start is with this book: "Unstoppable Global Warming, Every 1500 Years" by S. Fred SInger and Dennis T. Avery. Just reading the first 22 pages will give you more supported data in an understandable format than you will get from all the hype that is in the media. I'll be blogging on this book for a while.

Summary: The earth has been through these warm and cold cycles for at least 400,000 years as indicated by the ice core sample from the Antartic Vostok Glacier. This core sample supported the findings from 1984 when the first ice core was extracted from Greenland.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Science is not decided by a show of hands 

I read this this morning, but I've been trying to get some writing and coding done today so I saved it for now. I have never met Prof. Pekarek, but it would be my pleasure.

For the past 12 years, Pekarek has read everything he can find about climate change.

His conclusion � that the Earth has been getting warmer, but humans aren't causing it � puts him at odds with mainstream public opinion and much of the scientific community.

None of that seems to faze Pekarek, who keeps a sign in his office that reads, "Geologists own climate history."

Just because there appears to be a consensus among scientists that humans are causing climate change by producing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide doesn't make it true, Pekarek said. Four hundred years ago, there was a consensus that the Earth was flat, he said.

"Climate is a very complex system, and anyone who claims we know all there is to know about it, let's say, is charitably misinformed or chooses to be," Pekarek said. "We fool ourselves if we think we have a sufficiently well-understood model of the climate that we can really predict. We can't."

What's nice about his alternative explanation is it's falsifiable:

Pekarek's theory is that the warming effect is caused by solar activity such as sun spots, which affect cloud cover. Pekarek believes solar activity is decreasing and the Earth will enter a cooling period within the next few years � even if humans keep pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

"That's the grand experiment," he said. "Give me five or 10 years and I'll have the answer."

Steve Conover reminds us that Galileo withstood great pressure from politicians and priests (the learned men of the times) before being proven right.
Scientific truths are not determined by a show of hands. If that were not the case, we'd never have heard of Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein�or much of the contemporary evidence on the other side of the AGW debate, now begging for a hearing.
Hooray for Prof. Pekarek, a real SCSU scholar.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MSM, Global Warming, Facts vs Memes 

To listen to the mainstream media (MSM), one would believe that the ice in the Arctic Sea is melting, polar bears are disappearing and they definitely cannot swim. Therefore, if all this ice is melting, one should be able to take one's yacht and sail across the sea from Asia to Europe.

Brittish Andrian Flanagan wanted to prove the truth of this mantra so he decided to sail his yacht through the Arctic Sea. Unfortunately for him, he ran into an age-old problem: ice. It is still so thick, his yacht cannot make it through the sea. Now he has requested of the Russians to use one of their nuclear powered ice breakers to take his yacht out of the water and transport it over the most ice-bound portion of the Arctic Sea. During his current break from sailing, Mr. Flanagan discovered that the polar bears are doing very well, thank you. And, these polar bears can swim.

The groupthink mentality of the MSM is preventing people from even considering there might be other views related to the CO2 argument. We need to start reading more than one point of view on these issues. This is not to deny that the planet may be getting warmer (then again, we're not sure b/c much of the data used to calculate the rise in the earth's temperature was pulled from NASA records and a Canadian found a major flaw in their calculations - more on this later) but we certainly owe it to ourselves and the rest of the planet to consider options and other information. The argument that CO2 is the culprit and there is no more debate is arrogant and detrimental to plants, animals and other living things.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Coal, China, India and Global Warming/CO2 

Sunday, August 26, Parade Magazine, had a brief article on long burning (read years)coal-mine fires in India and China. These fires are difficult if not impossible to extinguish. "In China alone, up to 200,000,000 TONS (400,000,000,000 pounds) of coal go up in flames every year - this may equate to America's TOTAL carbon dioxide gasoline emissions. ...India's mine fires waste up to 10,000,000 more tons. Counties and land in both countries have become uninhabitable. And the problem is expected to get worse."

This aspect of the global warming/CO2 problem has not gotten much attention, yet. Some experts now are asking if controlling these Asian mine fires might be a key to reducing global warming....and controlling these mine fires would be more efficient that offsets. (Economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth).

Both India and China are exempt from having to apply Kyoto Protocol CO 2 emission standards but they are interested in getting help extinguishing these fires. What can be done?

Western technology to the rescue. CAFSCO has developed a nitrogen-laced foam fire retardant that was used to extinguish a coal-mine fire in West VA. IF this retardant can be applied to the Chinese and Indian fires, this could have a positive effect on global warming not to mention air quality, protecting humans and land, etc. Of course we would continue planting trees but eliminating a large CO 2 source would give the planet more time for other activities that take longer to show results.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Discount rates 

A question that arises whenever you teach cost-benefit analysis is "what is the right discount rate to use?" for treating the flows of future costs and future benefits. Over at their blog, Richard Posner and Gary Becker debate the point considering global warming and the new report from the IPCC. (John Hinderaker and Brian Ward discussed global warming on NARN Volume I on Saturday. It's worth a listen.)

The debate about discount rates has been around for some time. Becker explains:
Suppose the utility damages from global warming to generations 50 years from now are equivalent to about $2 trillion of their welfare. At a 3 percent discount rate, this major damage would be valued today at about $500 billion, while any spending today that reduces the harm to future generations would be valued dollar for dollar. Then with a 3 percent discount rate it would not pay to eliminate these very harmful effects on future generations if the cost were $800 billion (or more generally at least $500 billion) to largely eliminate the future harm from greenhouse gas emissions through steep taxes on emission, carbon sequestration, and other methods. To be sure, benefits would exceed the present value of costs of greenhouse warming if damages were discounted only at 0 percent, 1 percent, or as high as almost 2 percent discount rate. When analyzing effects much further into the future, such as 150 years into the future, the discount rate used is even more crucial.
A social discount rate permits one to account for the effect of current actions on future generations; these are usually not figured into private market analyses of benefits and costs, and thus we would have private market rates greater than the social rate you would use. But some analyses, including those of the IPCC, are using very low discount rates.

Discount rates reflect two parts of human behavior: impatience and diminishing marginal utility. We need to be induced to delay consumption, so we receive an interest payment to forgo consumption today. When Wimpy tries to borrow money for a cheeseburger today in return for a cheeseburger Tuesday, Popeye declines because he has no inducement to forgo the possibility of today's cheeseburger. Likewise, Wimpy isn't as willing to pay a premium for second cheeseburger today as he is for the first cheeseburger, because some of his hunger has been satisfied by the first.

In the case of global warming, one issue Becker and Posner discuss is whether we are more willing to pay for reducing greenhouse gases later, when we are wealthier than we are now.

The argument against this is that we cannot bargain on behalf of our children; when we discount, we are speaking on behalf of their utility without their permission. There is therefore a missing market for the utility of future generations, and the enlightened, noble elites say they will speak on the behalf of the generations yet to come. In particular, the part of the market's discount rate that reflects impatience should be removed, the argument goes, because we cannot assume that our impatience will be theirs.

But why should we trust the elites to make these arguments? If you are going to use an argument like that in the previous paragraph, you should also then account in any cost-benefit analysis the cost of government in raising a dollar of public spending. There are costs of collection and of compliance. There are costs of resource misallocation as the government monkeys around with free-market prices (what we call "deadweight losses.") Will these be included in the IPCC report? Not hardly.

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