Interpreters of Interpreters to the nth degree

James Delingpole has attracted some ire for saying he is an “interpreter of interpreters”. I commented on Bishop Hill’s Blog

Wasn’t the original hockey stick paper an “interpreter of interpretations”? That is it gathered together a selection of data studies of past climate proxies and tried to give an interpretation – with some elements of bias. The IPCC, liking this paper’s conclusion then interpreted this as being definitive, despite its conclusions being contrary to many other studies. Learned societies, not least the Royal Society then interpret this as being the final argument, being the opinion of 2500 leading scientists. With learned pronouncements from the leading scientific organizations, the BBC, Guardian etc interprets that the science is settled, so the subject is closed. James Delingpole, in putting himself as a second tier interpreter, might be over-reaching himself in the ranking. However, he actually considers the arguments, unlike those who rely on multi-layered interpretations.

But more important than lowly a person is in the interpretation chain, is the reliability of that opinion compared with the ultimate reality that we are interpreting. Scientific enquiry must positively endeavour to free itself from biases. That was part of Popper’s injunction to make hypotheses capable of falsification. But with climate science

In the Hockey Stick Studies you will find (See “The Hockey Stick Illusion”)

  • Positive efforts to choose the limited number of data interpretations that suite the conclusion desired (with some having their own strong biases)
  • Giving these favourable studies an undue statistical bias against those that come to no, or contrary, conclusions.
  • Choosing the statistical tests that give favourable results.
  • A clique of people providing similar results through using similar methods around a core group of papers.
  • Peer review being used as a means of peer pressure in promoting favourable comments and papers, whilst obstructing contrary views.

The IPCC has been set up to act as a biased interpreter. It is there to argue the case for action on global warming climate change, not to arrive at a balanced opinion on the science.

The bias is upon interpretation in one direction is at every level of science and opinion.

  • Funding of research is based on conformity.
  • Pressure groups exist to “out” the non-conformists, like the McCarthyists of two generations ago.
  • There is also pressure on scientific organizations to declare unequivocal support.
  • There is severe censure and libelous statements made against any who dissent.


So, however much Delingpole may provide interpretations of interpretations without reading all the original literature, his opinions might be more valuable than those prestigious scientists who conform.


Bishop Hill and Comment Moderation

BishopHill has been having problems with comment moderation.

The comments are getting completely out of hand. Once again, please do not call people names. Stay on topic. I’m simply snipping whole comments now, because I do not have time to edit our people’s poor behaviour.


Perhaps if people would have more courtesy towards their opponents they would start to understand the opposing arguments. Then they may contrast it with their own and moderate their views.

Dogmatically assuming that your side is right and by implication that the opposition are either betrays our own fallibility. It is only by demonstrating an overwhelming and coherent case that one can legitimately use this in current debates without appearing out of touch with reality.

We must remember that the burden of presenting the case is on the side those who say we must act to prevent catastrophic global warming
climate change climate disruption. That just not just mean showing the case for the science is, on balance, correct. Simplified it means

First to demonstrate that CO2 and other greenhouse gases can cause a bit of warming, and how much
Show that this small temperature rise will lead to an increase in water vapour at high level to cause massive positive feedbacks (despite negative feedbacks being the norm in science)
Show that this warming will be of massive net harm to humanity and the planet (and that neither human society, nor the other creatures, nor plants will be able to adapt – despite much evidence to the contrary).
Show that mitigation policies – carbon taxes, cap n’ trade, subsidies to “clean” energy – will reduce greenhouse gases in THEORY, so long as all countries participate.
Show that when most of the emerging nations, particularly China and India, do nothing to curb emissions, that curbing emissions in theory will still work for the OECD countries.
Show that the governments pursuing the policies are capable of delivering the theoretical results. That is only taking on policies that meet the cost criteria laid down by the IPCC or Stern. Then project managing in fine detail and quickly ending failing projects.

As well as making the case for each of Forecast, Consequences, Policy theory and policy Implementation (FCPI), it must be combined together to show that, on balance, there is an expectation that the policy outcome will be better than if nothing was done. I believe that it is only on the basis of extreme and untenable assumptions in ALL of these four areas that the current policies can be justified.

My concern is that the “consensus” quickly grasps onto obscure bits of detail, or fine points of theory, or relies on prestige and opinion when challanged. Alternatively they question the motives of the critics.

Kent Wind Farm – A dead loss to society

The Kent wind farm subsidy is mostly a waste of money, even measured by UNIPCC’s case for taking drastic action on CO2.

First, two statements and a bit of data.

“… the Kent windfarm. £780m invested to chase £50 ROCs. Offshore is double bubble, so £100/MWh generated.” (Sep 25, 2010 at 1:41 AM | Atomic Hairdryer at BishopHill )

“An effective carbon-price signal could realise significant mitigation potential in all sectors. Modelling studies show global carbon prices rising to 20-80 US$/tCO2-eq by 2030 are consistent with stabilisation at around 550 ppm CO2-eq by 2100. For the same stabilisation level, induced technological change may lower these price ranges to 5-65 US$/tCO2-eq in 2030.” (P.18 UNIPCC Summary for Policymakers)

An alternative for a wind farm is a small power station consisting of diesel engines. The most modern diesel engines can produce less than 500kg of CO2 per MWh. (See note)

So the subsidy should be no more than the trading credit CO2 of 12.5-50 £/tCO2.

Based on these figures, it is possible to state that of the £100/MWh subsidy, at a very minimum £75 is a dead loss to society. At most it could at much as £95. This is before you undertake a present value calculation on the trading credits value in 2030, or start questioning the underlying economic assumptions. Further this is whilst accepting UNIPCC consensus position in its entirety.

For an alternative take, see Christopher Booker in the Telegraph

Note on CO2 output for a diesel power plant

A large container ship engine has around 470kg to 560kg of CO2 output per MW (emission comparison table on page 13), with around 58% engine efficiencies. (See a MAN Diesel & Turbo paper “How to influence CO2” – 5MB pdf). Power-plants can higher up to 90% more efficiencies by heat recovery processes, potentially cutting the CO2 out per MW to 350kg. However, this would need to be verified by actual measurements.

Note on carbon credits v Subsidies

A carbon credit aims at adding to the cost of producing CO2 directly, with the objective of encouraging the most cost-effective means of saving CO2. That is if cost saving is less than the cost of the credit, you purchase the credit. If it is greater, then you make the investment. For power plants it might be very effective for bringing forward investments in newer power plants. It would not be so effective in choosing between new power plants with massive differences in cost per unit of output.

Royal Society lacks rigor in 20% cuts hypothesis

The New Scientist reports that the Royal Society believes that a “20 per cent cuts to British science means ‘game over’”. (Hattip BishopHill)

In the article, some of the scientists point to the need for innovation to promote the high-tech industries on which our recovery depends. I quite agree. However, I would profoundly disagree that government-funded research science is the best way to achieve this. Firstly, because government-funded research is notoriously bad at producing the job-creating outputs. In fact, the public sector tends to specialise in pure research, with only distant business opportunities. Second, is that government-funded research tends to be long-term. Most politicians would agree that currently we need the new jobs in the next few months, not a decade or more down the line.

As an aside, the idea that a 20% cut “would cause irreversible destruction” is a hypothesis that should be expounded in a more rigorous & scientific manner, with empirical evidence to back this up. I believe that it is analogous to the notion of tipping-points in climate science, so the Royal Society would do well to exchange notes with the folks at the Climate Research Unit at UEA. In trying to model their separate issues they will find that positing of such turning points relies on disregarding the real-world background “noise”. Such “noise” renders the turning points both unpredictable and highly unlikely.

My counter-argument is that, historically, Britain has been very good at the creative elements of pure science and invention. We are not so good at turning that into the reliable world-beating products that create the jobs. We are the country of Newton, Marconi, Whittle and Turing. We are not the country of Apple, Toyota, Nokia, Siemens or BMW.

Considering Uncertainty in Climate Science

Sir John Bedddington, provides the introduction to a summary of “The Science of Climate change” on  UK Business Department website. He states

            “The fact that uncertainty exists in climate science, as it does in other fields, does not negate the value of the evidence – and it is important to recognise that uncertainty may go in both (or a number of) directions.”

This may be true in a new field, but there is evidence that where the consensus is concerned, when assumptions have to be made, or choices made between different scientific conclusions, there has been a very strong bias towards the more alarmist conclusions. For instance,

  1. The emphasis on positive feedbacks;
  2. The over-statement of climate sensitivities;
  3. The promotion of the hockey stick as secondary verification of recent warming being largely due to anthropogenic factors.
  4. Further there has been a public relations failure to challenge unsound science, or wild predictions, or false confirmations.
  5. Neither have there been any consensus scientists standing up to emphasise that the model scenarios of future temperature changes are not forecasts

The consequence of recognising uncertainty means that an audit is required of the total picture. Each part of the science needs to be graded according to the certainties. Most certain is that a massive increase in greenhouse gases will, ceteris paribus, cause a rise in temperature. At the other extreme are predictions that within a generation the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer, or the Himalayan glaciers will have vanished, or the Maldives will disappear beneath the waves. The rhetoric needs to be replaced by establishing the case on a scientific basis. It is not sufficient to say that there is uncertainty and move on as is nothing had happened. The presence of uncertainty severely weakens the claim that the science is established and settled. We should now see the consequences for policy.

Hattip to BishopHill

A (weak) case against the Sceptics weakens the AGW Case

Deutsche Bank tries to answer the sceptics by attempting to demonstrate the the AGW is not completely refuted.

The sceptics arguments do indeed fail to amount to a complete refutation of the AGW case. Most of the “sceptic” arguments are against the idea that there has been no anthropogenic warming at all and that there is no evidence at all for the case. This would be hard to establish, and most “sceptic” scientists would never make this case. But almost equally hard to establish is the case that there will be extreme warming in the future, with likely catestrophic and irreversible consequences. At the very least there must be a clear demonstration that the likely economic impact (valuing the flaura and fauna as well), will be greater than the economic impact on human society of reducing CO2 emissions. Being able to demonstrate that the extreme opposite is implausible (in the vaguest terms) does not establish a position without unambiguous evidence and relying on unstated assumptions. There are some analogies that might highlight my perspective.
1. In medicine to have a reasonable expectation that the “treatment” will leave the patient better off than the cure. Simply showing that a few patients survived the treatment and recovered from the illness does not mean that the treatment worked. Nor does showing that some patients suffered adverse (non-fatal, but painful) side effects from a generally successful treatment to a condition that is 100% fatal without this treatment mean, that the treatment should not be used.

2. In considering a loan to finance a new business venture, the lending bank would want to see more in the plan tham that revenues will be generated. It would want to see a reasonable expectation that even with some set-backs, it could both deliver an income to the borrowers and sufficient surplus to repay the loan.
3. In a criminal case, if all the prosecution had to do was
   (a) present a case, that could not be challanged by the defence no matter how weak.
   (b) demonstrate that the defence had not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, whilst being able to dismiss any evidence they presented on the flimsiest of evidence, including that defence counsel are paid to be biased.

4. A child caught smoking behind the bike-sheds is told that they have shortened their life by up to a decade. This will happen on average if they smoke heavily throughout their adult lives, but will not happen, on average, if it is ten cigarettes a week for five teenage years. They may have minor health issues, such as less ability to fight off the common cold.

What they have missing here is the huge middle ground – not of some truth on either side – but the middle ground where there is a an insufficient case established and / or, an insuffiently coherant plan, and demonstrated capability to carry out the plan, to gain a signficantly positive outcome. That is to give a reasonable expectation that the solution will leave the planet and the human race the better off for having acted.

Put another way, without a clear-cut case that an imminent, catestrophic disaster can be averted with a clear-cut plan, that has little adverse consequences, then there is ground to be made in actively trying to clarifying the extent of our collective scientific knowledge and the improving on the solutions.

Hatip BishopHill