ATTP on Lomborg’s Australian Funding

Blogger …and then there’s physics (ATTP) joins in the hullabaloo about Bjorn Lomberg’s Lomborg’s Consensus Centre is getting A$4m of funding to set up a branch at the University of Western Australia. He says

However, ignoring that Lomborg appears to have a rather tenuous grasp on the basics of climate science, my main issue with what he says is its simplicity. Take all the problems in the world, determine some kind of priority ordering, and then start at the top and work your way down – climate change, obviously, being well down the list. It’s as if Lomborg doesn’t realise that the world is a complex place and that many of the problems we face are related. We can’t necessarily solve something if we don’t also try to address many of the other issues at the same time. It’s this kind of simplistic linear thinking – and that some seem to take it seriously – that irritates me most.

The comment about climatology is just a lead in. ATTP is expressing a normative view about the interrelationship of problems, along with beliefs about the solution. What he is rejecting as simplistic is the method of identifying the interrelated issues separately, understanding the relative size of the problems along with the effectiveness and availability of possible solutions and then prioritizing them.

This errant notion is exacerbated when ATTP implies that Lomborg has received the funding. Lomborg heads up the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and it is they who have received the funding to set up a branch in Australia. This description is from their website

We work with some of the world’s top economists (including 7 Nobel Laureates) to research and publish the smartest solutions to global challenges. Through social, economic and environmental benefit-cost research, we show policymakers and philanthropists how to do the most good for each dollar spent.

It is about bringing together some of the best minds available to understand the problems of the world. It is then to persuade those who are able to do something about the issues. It is not Lomborg’s personal views that are present here, but people with different views and from different specialisms coming together to argue and debate. Anyone who has properly studied economics will soon learn that there are a whole range of different views, many of them plausible. Some glimpse that economic systems are highly interrelated in ways that cannot be remotely specified, leading to the conclusion that any attempt to create a computer model of an economic system will be a highly distorted simplification. At a more basic level they will have learnt that in the real world there are 200 separate countries, all with different priorities. In many there is a whole range of different voiced opinions about what the priorities should be at national, regional and local levels. To address all these interrelated issues together would require the modeller of be omniscient and omnipresent. To actually enact the modeller’s preferred policies over seven billion people would require a level of omnipotence that Stalin could only dream of.

This lack of understanding of economics and policy making is symptomatic of those who believe in climate science. They fail to realize that models are only an attempted abstraction of the real world. Academic economists have long recognized the abstract nature of the subject along with the presence of strong beliefs about the subject. As a result, in the last century many drew upon the rapidly developing philosophy of science to distinguish whether theories were imparting knowledge about the world or confirming beliefs. The most influential by some distance was Milton Friedman. In his seminal essay The Methodology of Positive Economics he suggested the way round this problem was to develop bold yet simple predictions from the theory that, despite being unlikely, are nevertheless come true. I would suggest that you do not need to be too dogmatic in the application. The bold predictions do not need to be right 100% of the time, but an entire research programme should be establishing a good track record over a sustained period. In climatology the bold predictions, that would show a large and increasing problem, have been almost uniformly wrong. For instance:-

  • The rate of melting of the polar ice caps has not accelerated.
  • The rate of sea level rise has not accelerated in the era of satellite measurements.
  • Arctic sea ice did not disappear in the summer of 2013.
  • Hurricanes did not get worse following Katrina. Instead there followed the quietest period on record.
  • Snow has not become a thing of the past in England, nor in Germany.

Other examples have been compiled by Pierre Gosselin at Notrickszone, as part of his list of climate scandals.

Maybe it is different in climatology. The standard response is that the reliability of the models is based on the strength of the consensus in support. This view is not proclaimed by ATTP. Instead from the name it would appear he believes the reliability can be obtained from the basic physics. I have not done any physics since high school and have forgotten most of what I learnt. So in discerning what is reality in that area I have to rely on the opinions of physicists themselves. One of the greatest physicists since Einstein was Richard Feynman. He said fifty years ago in a lecture on the Scientific Method

You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you see that the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.

Climate models, like economic models, will always be vague. This is not due to being poorly expressed (though they often are) but due to the nature of the subject. Short of rejecting climate models as utter nonsense, I would suggest the major way of evaluating whether they say something distinctive about the real world is on the predictive ability. But a consequence of theories always being vague in both economics and climate is you will not be able to use the models as a forecasting tool. As Freeman Dyson (who narrowly missed sharing a Nobel Prize with Feynman) recently said of climate models:-

These climate models are excellent tools for understanding climate, but that they are very bad tools for predicting climate. The reason is simple – that they are models which have very few of the factors that may be important, so you can vary one thing at a time ……. to see what happens – particularly carbon dioxide. But there are a whole lot of things that they leave out. ….. The real world is far more complicated than the models.

This implies that when ATTP is criticizing somebody else’s work with a simple model, or a third person’s work, he is likely criticizing them for looking at a highly complex issue in another way. Whether his way is better, worse or just different we have no way of knowing. All we can infer from his total rejection of ideas of experts in a field to which he lacks even a basic understanding, is that he has no basis of knowing either.

To be fair, I have not looked at the earlier part of ATTP’s article. For instance he says:-

If you want to read a defense of Lomborg, you could read Roger Pielke Jr’s. Roger’s article makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion that we shouldn’t demonise academics, but fails to acknowledge that Lomborg is not an academic by any standard definition…….

The place to look for a “standard definition” of a word is a dictionary. The noun definitions are


8. a student or teacher at a college or university.

9. a person who is academic in background, attitudes, methods, etc.:

He was by temperament an academic, concerned with books and the arts.

10. (initial capital letter) a person who supports or advocates the Platonic school of philosophy.

This is Bjorn Lomborg’s biography from the Copenhagen Consensus website:-

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Adjunct Professor at University of Western Australia and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.

Lomborg meets both definitions 8 & 9, which seem to be pretty standard. Like with John Cook and William Connolley defining the word sceptic, it would appear that ATTP rejects the authority of those who write the dictionary. Or more accurately does not even to bother to look. Like with rejecting the authority of those who understand economics it suggests ATTP uses the authority of his own dogmatic beliefs as the standard by which to evaluate others.

Kevin Marshall

Royal Baby Names to Save the United Kingdom

In a complete break from my normal posts on climate, after discussions with my daughter, I am going to speculate on Royal baby names.

In less than two weeks’ time there will be a General Election. Given that the betting is that a Labour/ Scots Nat Coalition is likely there is a strong possibility that the incoming Government could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Nationalists have very similar left-of-centre policies , there is which will in turn lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom. The Royal Family, particularly The Queen, firmly believes in the United Kingdom, has long been proud of its Scottish routes (the Queen is half Scots), but at the same time does not directly intercede in politics, except in the most tangential ways. Naming of a Royal Baby who is fourth in line to the throne is one of the few methods open to the Royal Family of sending a political message. The naming cannot offend the Scots, but at the same time will satisfy the far more numerous English. It must also be a name seen to be reasonably modern, but also in keeping with royal traditions.

If the Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to a baby boy there will be a number of names that could be chosen. Prince George Alexander Louis set a precedent. George is the names of six British Monarchs, but identified as very English. It was in the reign of George II (1727-1760) for instance that the Young Pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie was finally defeated at Culloden in 1745. The second name, whilst being highly international was also the name of three medieval Scottish Kings, and the Gaelic form is Alistair. Louis is from Prince William’s great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was very close to the Prince of Wales. There was both traditional English and Scottish elements in the name, without seeming too old fashioned. Alexander has already been used, so is counted out. Some names of Scottish Kings cannot be considered. “Kenneth” and “Duncan” are very old fashioned. Macbeth was trashed as a plausible name by William Shakespeare. Lulach, Amlaíb, Cuilén, Dub and Indulf as too lost in time to inflict on any child, and would need explaining. This leaves James, David and Robert. In Scotland James is currently fourth most popular, behind Jack, Lewis and Riley. At Befair it is the most popular Boys’ name. So this might be a strong contender. However, the Royal Family will want to make an imprint less than two weeks before a General Election that could destroy the United Kingdom that the Queen pledged to defend. James is both Scottish and English. We have the King James Bible of 1611 that helped unite the factions in the Church of England for a while. But King James VI of Scotland (and James I of England) was an anomaly. He was a strong Scottish Presbyterian, who in commissioning this great work sought to bring together both the Puritan and Catholic elements of the Anglican Church. His grandson, James II almost caused a second Civil War through his Catholic tendencies, resulting in the current inability of the heir to the throne to marry a Roman Catholic. The betting markets, along with my daughter, may favour such a name, but the Queen may advise against.

So what is an appropriate boys’ name for a possible (but unlikely) future monarch, whose only role may be to save the Union by being born?

There are two courses that the Royal Family may take. I believe that they will take the safe course, and call the boy David. It has both strong Scottish routes, and David is the patron saint of Wales. But the option to save the United Kingdom is Robert. On 13th June 1214, Robert the Bruce defeated the English forces of Edward I (“Hammer of the Scots”) at Bannockburn near Stirling. Less than 150 years earlier William of Normandy had defeated the Anglo Saxon (English) at the Battle of Hastings. Although “Edward” was Anglo Saxon in origin the “English Kings” still spoke French at Court. Most fighting on the side of Edward could as little understand their Sovereigns’ words as the Gaelic-speaking Scots. If Robert is chosen, a second name cannot be Edward. But the older Anglo Saxon form of Edward (and still used today) is Edmund. How better for the Royal Family to remember the subjected of 800 years ago, whilst uniting both the downtrodden of both Scotland and England, whilst reconciling ancient enmities, whilst remembering the ancient Kings of both countries. A third name could be David, or one than avers to the Irish, such as Kevin J

Girls names are more difficult. The most famous Scottish girls name is Margaret, and until the 1960s was easily the most popular name. I have an Auntie Margaret and have fond memories of my Great Aunt Margaret, and had (by all accounts) a formidable Great Grandmother Margaret Ross, who died at the age of 93 when I was 3 years old. Many will remember the Queen’s Sister, Princess Margaret. But the name is now not in the top 100 of girl names in Scotland, and (due to the Royal connection) will not be viewed as particularly Scottish. In left-of-centre Scottish minds, it is also the Christian name of one of twentieth century’s greatest Prime Ministers.

There are not many Queens of Scotland. The most famous is Mary Queen of Scots, who, being a French-speaking Catholic, was hardly a figurehead for an increasingly Presbyterian Scotland of the time, nor for the a British Monarchy who has defended the middle-of-the-road Anglican Communion for well over 300 hundred years. Scottish Queens consorts were undistinguished and with names such as Maud, Joan, Sybilla, Ethelreda and Grouoch are hardly able to capture the imagination of the Scottish public. Margaret is again the most popular name, followed by Elizabeth. Looking at current most popular Scottish Girls names in 2012, they are Sophie followed by Emily, Olivia, Ava and Lucy. Hardly Royal, and not much different from England. A statement cannot be easily be made. The last truly Scottish Royal was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, so Elizabeth might be a family option. The policy might be to play safe, or in a thorough break with tradition, let the parents decide.

Kevin Marshall

Declaration of Interest

I was born and bred in England, but my Mother is, and three of my grandparents were, Scottish. I named my son Edmund Alexander. The latter name was after a Great Grandfather and an Uncle who was always known as Alistair. I consider myself British, and am proud of both my Derbyshire and North Scottish ancestry.


Labour Manifesto is misleading the British Public

Today Ed Miliband formally launched the Labour Election Manifesto 2015. See the summary at the BBC.

David Cameron has called it a con trick. (Hattip Conservative Home)

This con trick claim can be substantiated by reading the Manifesto. Here are a few snippets.


The Economy

On the Economy, Labour realize they have an uphill struggle. A couple of examples

We will cut the deficit every year with a surplus on the current budget..”

The current budget deficit is the difference between tax revenue and current spending. To get the total deficit you need to add in (what used to be called) capital expenditure.

Remember Gordon Brown’s Golden Rule of only borrowing to invest?

Ed Miliband will return Britain to the days of 2001-2008, when Labour built a structural deficit of £50-£70bn. It is this reason that there is still a huge deficit, not the credit crunch. Labour still do not understand the public sector capital investment does not provide financial returns. New roads, schools and hospitals are not constructed to generate revenue like in a business but to provide social returns. Properly spent, overall welfare is increased, despite capital spending creating additional financial burdens in terms of staffing and maintenance.

There is not a single policy in this manifesto that is funded by additional borrowing.

This is grossly misleading. Labour are committed to at least maintaining current spending levels. When there is a deficit that means new additional borrowing is required, adding to the total debt. What Labour mean is that additional spending will be funded by additional taxes.


Discouraging entrepreneurship, jobs and growth

There is a subsection headed “We will back our entrepreneurs and businesses

The measures are tiny. Instead here are a scattering of policy initiatives which will likely damage British businesses and help undermine economic growth.

  1. We will reverse the Government’s top-rate tax cut.

    British Entrepreneurs will be discouraged from investing in Britain. They will go elsewhere.


  2. We will abolish the non-dom rules…”

    Ed Balls in January said

    “I think if you abolish the whole (nom-dom) status then probably it ends up costing Britain money”

    There on a lot of people who rely on the non-doms for jobs. Many invest money in Britain.


  3. We will close tax loopholes that cost the public billions of pounds a year,”

    The tax system will become even more complex, especially for small businesses. This could reduce revenues.


  4. We will end unfair tax breaks used by hedge funds and others

    A major part of Britain’s exports come from the financial services sector. Labour’s antipathy to this sector threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs and may demote the City of London to a second tier financial sector.


  5. “We will increase the National Minimum Wage

    We will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts

    We will promote the Living Wage”

    The cost of employing people will rise. Businesses who do not toe the official line on the living wage might be unable to sell to the State Sector. Start-up businesses will be reduced and small businesses will not expand as inflexible employment laws will increase the risks of taking people on. The unemployed will become locked out of jobs. Youth unemployment will rise.


  6. We will freeze gas and electricity prices until 2017

    Prices have been rising because of the Climate Change Act 2008 that Ed Miliband was responsible for steering through Parliament. There is huge investment needed in new sources of electricity. That ain’t going to happen if profit rates fall. This is a policy to ensure the lights go out in a couple of winters time.


  7. We will introduce a fairer deal for renters

    This will be at the expense of landlords, many of whom rent as a business.


  8. We will expand free childcare from 15 to 25 hours per week for parents of three- and four-year-olds, paid for with an increase in the bank levy.”

    See point 4 on the City of London

I am really concerned that a Labour Government will jeopardize the prosperity of this country, and my children’s future. Rather than learning from past Labour continue to deceive themselves through spin. Rather than and admitting that they got things wrong Labour blame others.

Kevin Marshall

Freeman Dyson on Climate Models

One of the leading physicists on the planet, Freeman Dyson, has given a video interview to the Vancouver Sun. Whilst the paper emphasizes Dyson’s statements about the impact of more CO2 greening the Earth, there is something more fundamental that can be gleaned.

Referring to a friend who constructed the first climate models, Dyson says at about 10.45

These climate models are excellent tools for understanding climate, but that they are very bad tools for predicting climate. The reason is simple – that they are models which have very few of the factors that may be important, so you can vary one thing at a time ……. to see what happens – particularly carbon dioxide. But there are a whole lot of things that they leave out. ….. The real world is far more complicated than the models.

I believe that Climate Science has lost sight of what this understanding of what their climate models actually are literally attempts to understand the real world, but are not the real world at all. It reminds me of something another physicist spoke about fifty years ago. Richard Feynman, a contemporary that Dyson got to know well in the late 1940s and early 1950s said of theories:-

You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you see that the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.

Complex mathematical models suffer from this vagueness in abundance. When I see supporters of climate arguing the critics of the models are wrong by stating some simple model, and using selective data they are doing what lesser scientists and pseudo-scientists have been doing for decades. How do you confront this problem? Climate is hugely complex, so simple models will always fail on the predictive front. However, unlike Dyson I do not think that all is lost. The climate models have had a very bad track record due to climatologists not being able to relate their models to the real world. There are a number of ways they could do this. A good starting point is to learn from others. Climatologists could draw upon the insights from varied sources. With respect to the complexity of the subject matter, the lack of detailed, accurate data and the problems of prediction, climate science has much in common with economics. There are insights that can be drawn on prediction. One of the first empirical methodologists was the preeminent (or notorious) economist of the late twentieth century – Milton Friedman. Even without his monetarism and free-market economics, he would be known for his 1953 Essay “The Methodology of Positive Economics”. Whilst not agreeing with the entirety of the views expressed (there is no satisfactory methodology of economics) Friedman does lay emphasis on making simple, precise and bold predictions. It is the exact opposite of the Cook et al. survey which claims a 97% consensus on climate, implying that it relates to a massive and strong relationship between greenhouse gases and catastrophic global warming when in fact it relates to circumstantial evidence for a minimal belief in (or assumption of) the most trivial form of human-caused global warming. In relation to climate science, Friedman would say that it does not matter about consistency with the basic physics, nor how elegantly the physics is stated. It could be you believe that the cause of warming comes from the hot air produced by the political classes. What matters that you make bold predictions based on the models that despite being simple and improbable to the non-expert, nevertheless turn out to be true. However, where bold predictions have been made that appear to be improbable (such as worsening hurricanes after Katrina or the effective disappearance of Arctic Sea ice in late 2013) they have turned out to be false.

Climatologists could also draw upon another insight, held by Friedman, but first clearly stated by John Neville Keynes (father of John Maynard Keynes). That is on the need to clearly distinguish between the positive (what is) and the normative (what ought to be). But that distinction was alienate the funders and political hangers-on. It would also mean a clear split of the science and policy.

Hattips to Hilary Ostrov, Bishop Hill, and Watts up with that.


Kevin Marshall

Massive Exaggeration on Southern Alaskan Glacial ice melt

Paul Homewood has a lovely example of gross exaggeration on climate change. He has found the following quote from a University of Oregon study

Incessant mountain rain, snow and melting glaciers in a comparatively small region of land that hugs the southern Alaska coast and empties fresh water into the Gulf of Alaska would create the sixth largest coastal river in the world if it emerged as a single stream, a recent study shows.

Since it’s broken into literally thousands of small drainages pouring off mountains that rise quickly from sea level over a short distance, the totality of this runoff has received less attention, scientists say. But research that’s more precise than ever before is making clear the magnitude and importance of the runoff, which can affect everything from marine life to global sea level.

The collective fresh water discharge of this region is more than four times greater than the mighty Yukon River of Alaska and Canada, and half again as much as the Mississippi River, which drains all or part of 31 states and a land mass more than six times as large.

“Freshwater runoff of this magnitude can influence marine biology, near shore oceanographic studies of temperature and salinity, ocean currents, sea level and other issues,” said David Hill, lead author of the research and an associate professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

“This is an area of considerable interest, with its many retreating glaciers,” Hill added, “and with this data as a baseline we’ll now be able to better monitor how it changes in the future.” (Bold mine)

This implies that melting glaciers are a significant portion of the run-off. I thought I would check this out. From the yukoninfo website I find

The watershed’s total drainage area is 840 000 sq. km (323 800 sq. km in Canada) and it discharges 195 cubic kilometres of water per year.

Therefore the runoff is about 780 cubic kilometres per year.

From Wikipedia I find that the Mississippi River has an average annual discharge of 16,792 m3/s. This implies the average discharge into the Gulf of Alaska is about 25,000 m3/s. This equates to 90,000,000 m3 per hour or 2,160,000,000 m3 per day. That is 2.16 cubic kilometres per day, or 788 cubic kilometres per year. If this gross runoff was net, it would account for two thirds of the 3.2mm sea level rise recorded by the satellites. How much of this might be from glacial ice melt? This is quite difficult to estimate. From the UNIPCC AR5 WGI SPM of Sept-13 we have the following statement.

Since the early 1970s, glacier mass loss and ocean thermal expansion from warming together explain about 75% of the observed global mean sea level rise (high confidence). Over the period 1993 to 2010, global mean sea level rise is, with high confidence, consistent with the sum of the observed contributions from ocean thermal expansion due to warming (1.1 [0.8 to 1.4] mm yr–1), from changes in glaciers (0.76 [0.39 to 1.13] mm yr–1), Greenland ice sheet (0.33 [0.25 to 0.41] mm yr–1), Antarctic ice sheet (0.27 [0.16 to 0.38] mm yr–1), and land water storage (0.38 [0.26 to 0.49] mm yr–1). The sum of these contributions is 2.8 [2.3 to 3.4] mm yr–1. {13.3}

How much of this 0.76 mm yr–1 (around 275 cubic kilometres) is accounted for by Southern Alaska?

The author of the Oregon study goes onto say.

This is one of the first studies to accurately document the amount of water being contributed by melting glaciers, which add about 57 cubic kilometers of water a year to the estimated 792 cubic kilometers produced by annual precipitation in this region.

That is 20% (range 14-40%) of the global glacial ice melt outside of Greenland and Iceland is accounted for by Southern Alaska. Northern and Central Alaska, along with Northern Canada are probably far more significant. The Himalayan glaciers are huge, especially compared to the Alps or the Andes which are also meant to be melting. There might be glaciers in Northern Russia as well. Maybe 1%-10% of the global total comes from Southern Alaska, or 3 to 30 cubic kilometres per annum, not 14-40%. The Oregon Article points to two photographs on Flikr (1 & 2) which together seem less than a single cubic kilometre of loss per year. From Homewood’s descriptions of the area, most of the glacial retreat in the area may have been in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Maybe someone can provide a reconciliation that will make the figures stack up. Maybe the 57 cubic kilometres is a short-term tend – a sibgle year even?

Kevin Marshall