Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

7 Finger Prints of Man Made climate Change.

It's a bit of a cross post because this information was taken from John Cook's The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism now available in several languages.

1) Fossil fuel signature in air and coral.

2) Less heat escaping out into space.

3) The Ocean warming pattern.

4) Nights warming faster than days.

5) More heat is returning to earth.

6) Winter warming faster.

7) Cooling upper atmosphere.

Thinking about No. 4 and perhaps 5, nights warming faster than days is an indication of GHG increased warming. Many climate skeptics argue that the Sun is the cause of our increased planetary warming but surely a signature of solar warming would be the opposite and days would warm faster than nights?

Anyway, all these 'finger prints' seem well supported by empirical evidence and research and most were predicted to happen as a result of AGW BEFORE they were detected. It is also worth noting that none rely on computer modelling which seems to be a catch all reason for many to reject the science.

Can the rest of us have our planet back?

Marcus Brigstocke on BBC Radio 4s The Now Show, on the evils of religion.  

But it REALLY needs to be on BBC Radio 4s religious spot, Thought for Today!

 Very funny – I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Friday, 28 January 2011

What is one Degree?

The popular science documentary program Horizon on the BBC recently asked this. 

The episode was presented by comedian Ben Miller and to immediately digress from the actual point of the post, Ben Miller starred in a comedy sketch that appeared on many climate skeptic blogs on the apparent assumption that it was an anti-man made global warming sketch and somehow supported the denier position. I can only assume that such people not only lack critical reasoning but satire is also outside their area of understanding. 

Miller may be a comedian but was a physicist studying at Oxford and fully accepts AGW. The sketch was more about the ‘nanny state’ in the UK so perhaps Americans can be forgiven somewhat for not always understanding this and British humour, but there is no excuse for the many references to it from the UK. One can only assume that such people will clutch anything they think lends any support to their beliefs when the science, so clearly, does not.

The premise of the Horizon documentary was that Miller got into a conversation with a skeptic and was put in a position where he had to explain why a one degree rise in temperature was significant when temperature changes many times this occur every day. He found he was unable to give a satisfactory answer.

This resulted in him going on a quest to find out exactly what temperature was, how to accurately measure it and find an answer to the skeptics question. His quest involved going back to his research lab at Oxford, building a thermometer and fitting a Met Office temperature gauge at his own home.

Near the end of the program a scientist shows him how significant a single degree in warming is be by using a simple bell cure / normal distribution graph. I thought that it was such a simple way to explain things that I would repeat it here and expand on it.

Figure 1. Normal distribution graph

Figure 1 shows a standard normal distribution graph similar to the one drawn in the program. This type of graph is found all through the natural world when things are compared. It can represent height, with the number of people of average height in the middle and the shorter and taller people to each side; it can represent the number blooms of a type of flower at any given time, the time that insects hatch, IQ etc. And of course it can represent climate related data like temperature and rain fall.

Figure 2. Perception of 'Normal'

Figure 2 is coloured to show what we might perceive as 'normal' in this distribution. The values at the bottom are not as important as the shape and area which represents totals in each group. For example if the graph was of annual temperatures experienced, the green area would be considered within the normal range of temperatures with cold winters to the left (-1) and warm summers to the right (1). The green area represents 68% of the total - 34% to each side of the centre line.

The yellow areas would still be considered normal but would represent the less common cold snowy winters to the left or the heat wave summers to the right. The ‘not since I was a lad’ stuff and probably the winters we have seen in the northern hemisphere of late. Just to reiterate the yellow areas would not represent abnormality, just less common events considered within natural variability. If the graph represented  not temperature but a countries rain fall then these areas would be the intermittent droughts and floods also all within natural variability, with the more extreme the closer to each end. The yellow areas represent 28% of the total – each patch being 14%. The total represented by both green and yellow covers 95% of all data, so will represent 95% of all normally recorded temperatures or rain fall depending on the data used to construct the graph.

Only the red areas, the final 5%, represent extreme events. These would be cold or heat, droughts or floods not seen in living memory. These and anything even further to the left or right are the true extreme records in the data with just 2.5% represented on each side. They can be thought of as events that occur only once or twice within a whole data set.

Figure 3. A climate shift will move the average of the recorded data

 What happens if the climate shifts as it is predicted to? If figure 3 represents temperature then an increase of temperature of one degree would move the normal distribution from the blue curve along the line toward the position of the red curve. Note that this is for visual demonstration purposes and it is very unlikely that a single degree would move the distribution so far. However we can imagine that with the increase in global temperatures already recorded from the pre-industrial we are already two thirds on our way to that one degree. It can be immediately seen from the graph that there is a new average. That extremes not previously recorded have been added to the data set.

Figure 4. New average compared to old

If we use the same colouring criteria for ‘normal’ on this shifted graph we get figure 4. It should be noted that most of the new graph is still mainly green or yellow – which would be considered within the normal range. Most people living in that shifted world will see little difference most of the time. But it is clear from the red that one type of extreme is much more common. Things that are once in a century event have become more like once a generation. But it is also important to note that there is still red on the opposite side of the graph. So even though one extreme event is much more common, droughts or temperature extremes, the opposite is still a possibility. This is why cold weather does not disprove global warming because the number of cold related events does not cancel out the more numerous warm related events.

The overall point of this visual representation is not the values used but to show just how important one degree is – it may go unnoticed most of the time by most people but it has a very disproportionate effect when compared to the ‘normal’ that the environment is used to experiencing. The increase in extreme events is costly not just in monetary terms but also personal loss and environmental damage. Data is now starting to support that such a shift is occurring

Record Temperature Highs Outpacing Record Temperature Lows

So what is one degree? Something that we better prepare for.

The Christian Taliban!

I have already posted about the ‘well respected’ Christian Jerry Falwell but while it may take some doing to usurp his position, other outspoken and very un-Christian Christians in American have gained media respectability.

I’m not talking about the obvious nutters like the Koran book burner Pastor Terry Jones or The Westboro Baptist Church’s Fred Phelps but people that are regularly chosen for media comment or even have their owns media spots and shows.

I can only describe such people as the Christian Taliban and one such darling of the airwaves is Ann Coulter.

 She once stated "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

With attitudes like that in the popular media what chance will Christianity have of ever giving the peace they would claim their faith would bring?

Without each of us taking the personal responsibility to make peace then surely it can not happen but unfortunately many, including the religious do not want peace.

Lets be honest, if the second coming of Christ even happened and a bearded man of Middle Eastern appearance in a long night shirt was introduced to these guys, do you think it would cross their mind for a second to consider what he had to say about anything?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

An alliance of Christians ...

... breaks rules on social responsibility, decency, matters of opinion and truthfulness.

I think all advertising should be banned unless they can prove what they say is true.  This of course means religious advertising too. If they mention salvation, everlasting life, happiness etc. then plainly it would be against normal advertising standards.

This particular ad that fell foul of the ASA is purely propaganda aimed against a minority. How Christian is that?

My only reassurance is that many Christians would not agree with these tactics either (I hope) but as the comments in a previous post shows, some have little sympathy when minority groups are discriminated against if those groups do not share their views.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

MySpace: Still no place for Atheists.

Way back at the beginning of 2008 MySpace apparently discriminated against the Atheist and Agnostic Group by deleting it. There is no evidence that the group broke any of the terms.

"Early this month, MySpace again deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group (35,000 members). This deletion, due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive, marks the second time MySpace has cancelled the group since November 2007.

What’s unique in this case is that the Atheist and Agnostic Group was the largest collection of organized atheists in the world. The group had its own Wikipedia entry, and in April won the Excellence in Humanist Communication Award (2007) from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Secular Student Alliance."

This followed previous problems from when the group was first founded.
"I started the group in June 2004. In the summer of 2005, it was deleted most definitely because of complaints from “religious intolerants”. A myspace user group called the “christian crusaders” was responsible for getting many groups deleted back then (including a large pro-abortion group)."

The group responsible for getting the ban imposed appears to be a Christian pressure group called “christian crusaders”.

“Their strategy was to scour myspace looking for profiles and groups they found offensive, and then mass complain to myspace customer service. CS at myspace is very much hit or miss. The crusaders simply kept sending emails til someone at myspace took action (a key I think to what happened recently).”

Then the MySpace Atheist and Agnostic Group got sort of restored but with many of the groups members still banned.
 But that was not the end of this story. From the latest Wikipedia entry;

"For a number of months at the end of 2010, all Myspace groups sections displayed the message "Myspace groups is getting an upgrade. It will be back better than ever". As of the beginning of January 2011, Myspace permanently retired Groups for good."

Yet MySpace appears to favour Christian groups; "“When the largest Christian group was hacked, MySpace’s Founder, Tom Anderson, personally restored the group, and promised to protect it from future deletions.”"

Clearly some Christians support this kind of conduct but I wonder how many would agree it is totally wrong to discriminate against a particular group even if they views are not compatible with your own?

A Scientific State Of The Union

After decades of research, a consensus has been reached that our impact on the planetary environment cannot longer be treated as trivial. Climate change, the most extensive form of our impact upon the planet is, in some form, already upon us. Make no mistake; it is impossible at this moment for scientists to say exactly how extreme that change will be. But to use uncertainty to deny that change is coming, to deny that change is already on going, speaks to a kind of willful ignorance that is simply not part of the American personality.

From a purely research perspective, Climate Change as a reality was settled some time ago. It is now time to stop debating old science and start debating new policy. We do not have to do anything in response to what we know is happening or we can do a great deal. That is our choice. It is our response now that will determine our future and the future of Americans for many generations to come. But to deny we face a choice is to deny our responsibility to those future generations. From the elimination of slavery to facing down the fascist threat 60 years ago, we have never been a nation to turn our back from challenges. Our resilience and ingenuity have always been our, and the world's, salvation and it can be again.

We must also be willing to stare down the other great truth facing our collective moment. For decades we have known that the fossil fuels upon which every aspect of our culture depends were being depleted. From fertilizers to pesticides to medicines to building supplies to the fuels that make it all move; we have been addicted to a substance whose supply we know is limited. For decades we have failed to act on that knowledge. Very soon now we will begin feeling the effects of our inability to act. Very soon now, unless we marshal an effort worthy of the challenge, we will understand the inescapable links between civilization and the energy source on which it depends. There will be no replacing oil. Instead, we must very quickly build a culture structured from the ground up on something different, something we must imagine and forge in just a few decades. There will be no magic bullets in this task. If we cannot marshal a collective effort then we very well may face a collective collapse. That is how real and how close the danger we face has become.

Plagiarised from here

Lets hope that is exactly the message and tone that eventually, but quickly, gets through to the people and their politicians.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

How Moses got the 10 Commandments

God went to the Arabs and said,
"I have Commandments for you that will make your lives better."

The Arabs asked, "What are Commandments?"
And the Lord said, "They are rules for living."

"Can you give us an example?"

"Thou shall not kill."

"Not kill? We're not interested."

So He went to the Blacks and said, "I have Commandments."

The Blacks wanted an example, and the Lord said,
"Honor thy Father and Mother."

"Father? We don't know who our fathers are. We're not interested."

Then He went to the Mexicans and said,
"I have Commandments."

The Mexicans also wanted an example, and the Lord said "Thou shall not steal."

"Not steal? We're not interested."

Then He went to the French and said,
"I have Commandments."

The French too wanted an example and the Lord said, "Thou shall not commit adultery."

"Not commit adultery? We're not interested."

Finally, He went to the Jews and said,
"I have Commandments."

"Commandments?" They said, "How much are they?"

"They're free."

"We'll take 10."

There that should offend just about everybody.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Enough is Enough!

Not really new News but the Australian Academy of Science strike out "Enough is enough

"The academy cannot issue a statement without consulting its 400 fellows, who happen to be Australia's most respected scientists. So when it comes out swinging, it's hard for the sceptics to just dismiss them.

What they're saying is "Enough is enough": they're defending the science, citing the deep certainty and the less deep uncertainty. In doing so, they're also delivering a body blow to self-appointed 'experts' who trivialise, misunderstand or just plain twist the data."

Friday, 21 January 2011

Un-Education Maintenance Allowance

When my son was at college he used to moan that many of the other students got EMA and he didn't qualify, but these students were from the poorest areas and many would simply have not been able to go to further education.

To say students should all get part time jobs, (my son fortunately did), is to assume that suitable jobs are available for everyone who needs them. Also £10 - £30 is hardly enough for kids to live it up and most will still work if they can get it.

The money that was allocated to the EMA was fairly insignificant in the big scheme of government spending but made a big difference to those that got it. David Cameron said the money would be better targeted helping the poor but failed to say how it was to be spent, if at at all. If they wanted to help poorer people all they had to do was to lower the income limit for the households.

With the news that more young people are now unemployed this is going to aggravate the situation. Do we really want more young people with less education unemployed on our streets?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Atheists in denial.

It is very disheartening when you see atheists being as dogmatic as any god botherer. A recent example of this is on the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with a report on a scientific paper on sea level rise.

Many of the comments under this are from people –  I presume they are almost exclusively non-believers – who reject science and the idea of man made warming even though it is supported by many lines of independent evidence. This seems to happen on any global warming related item.

To be honest I don’t think such people are true atheists at all because it seems that they have just substituted one dogmatic belief in gods for another belief that there are no gods, rather than having no belief in gods. This may appear to be a subtle difference but a very important one.

I like to think that my own non-belief is a result of critical thinking and only accepting credible evidence to inform my decision. Likewise I don’t believe in evolution because unlike creationists I don’t have to believe something. I just have to accept the science to accept evolution. Man made global warming is no different, I accept the supporting science from many scientific disciplines, the knowledge that the basic physics would be fundamentally wrong if an increase in green house emissions did not cause warming and the opinion of every national academy and institute of science. What’s to believe?

On a site that is supposed to be dedicated to reason and science it is sad to see so many who reject both.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

An Islamic Car - I kid you not.

A few years ago the Malaysian carmaker Proton announced plans to develop an "Islamic car", designed for Muslim motorists. I’m not sure if it has exploded onto the market yet or how popular it is selling if it is, but I’m sure it will go like a bomb.

According to the report the car could boast special features like a compass pointing to Mecca, (I bet Paddy Power isn’t too pleased), and a dedicated space to keep a copy of the Koran and a headscarf.

To continue this inappropriate stereotyping, it could also have a prayer mat, stop automatically at prayer time and refuse petrol or oil during Ramadan and would be fuelled by a mistaken belief that the other cars want to conquer it.

The ladies version could have two slits instead of a windscreen but only if it is used in a country that allows women to drive at all.

What's next - a mass produced Pope Mobile for Roman Catholics?

What type of 'Faith' vehicle would you like to see and what features should it have?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Natural selection

 Most people, except probably the mis-educated or ignorant, accept that the process of natural selection, the main driver of evolution, exists. But how did it begin?

It isn’t very satisfying to just say, "So natural selection just happened”.

I believe the idea of natural selection has become a bit of a tautology; whatever is better at surviving and reproducing, survives and reproduces more than whatever isn't as good at surviving and reproducing. 

Once you have replicators and some source of variation, natural selection has to happen. The very scientifically interesting question is how the first replicators arose.

It is scientifically interesting because there are no definitive answers. There are plenty of hypotheses, but evidence about what actually happened is (understandably) difficult to come by (it is highly unlikely that they would have left physical traces).

So any anti-evolutionist will now jump in and ask; How did life come into existence if not by chance?

The concept of chance needs careful handling, as it's not straightforward. If you toss a coin over and over again indefinitely, you will eventually get a run of ten heads. Does that happen by chance, given that it's inevitable?

Some scenarios have a vast number of possible outcomes. Each one of them is highly unlikely, but one of them is going to happen. Whichever one it is, will it be reasonable to say after the event that the winning outcome is too unlikely to have happened by chance? To put it another way, the chances of winning the lottery are remote, but people win it all the time.

The concept of life also needs careful handling. It's not necessarily the case that there has to be a clear division between life and non-life. Purely chemical replicators exist. There could have been many intermediate stages that can't be classified by the usual definitions. Evolution by natural selection doesn't require life as we know it; it only needs replication and selection of some kind to be going on. 

Life as we know it could have evolved in a system which in some way met the requirements for evolution without containing anything that we'd recognise as a living organism.

Atheist Testimony

Giving a religious testimony of faith is quite a common practice in church meetings and gatherings especially in some Christian circles. At the risk of putting myself in the firing line I thought I would give mine as a non-believer as sincerely as possible.

It may help other atheists/non-believers, who perhaps never have had faith, to understand what it’s like and also show those of faith, even though it is impossible for them to realise it now, that life can be just as fulfilling without believing in gods.

I was brought up in the Church of Ireland, being from Ireland. Religion was of quite a fundamental variety at that time and place. I became saved in my teens through attending a Christian group in my school. As a Christian I felt the power of the Holy Spirit often when worshipping and being around other Christians, or alone when praying or in contemplation. Occasionally I would get flashes of inspiration or feel humbled and filled with awe at something. The feelings of love and sense of purpose during these times were intense and I ‘knew’ my faith was taking me on the right path through life.

As an atheist I can still get these feelings but no longer attribute them to the supernatural. I can still get flashes of inspired thinking, still feel a great love for my friends and family and the feeling is exactly the same as before. There are times I can just get in the ‘zone’ psychologically and feel wonder about life and the immenseness of the cosmos. These feelings do not occur as often as they once did but then I am not actively seeking them with my ‘fix’ of worship and meetings. That is why reason now tells me that almost anyone in the right environment can have spiritual experiences, no matter what religion or none.

Am I making spiritual progress? Believe I am on the right path?

Yes very much, but I am no longer really happy with the term ‘spiritual’. I can think of no better save perhaps enlightenment? So I see a spirituality that is not related to religion or the supernatural – an inner sense of peace or contentment if that makes any sense.

It was during prayer that I felt closest to God and moved by the Holy Spirit the most. This truly defined my relationship with them. I prayed often and with others. Looking back, most prayer was about giving thanks. Of the prayers I believe were actually answers I see there were really only two types of prayer.

The first was when I asked for something that required gods’ intervention. I will not  talk about specific cases but these could be for something like a safe journey, a friend’s health or peace. Not all these prayers were answered off course and being strong in the faith I could easily find reasons why this was so. But some were answered and this gave me strong evidence in the power of prayer and the Lord. How great is it to have God help you out!

Again looking back I can see that some of my prayers were always going to be answered – it was just a matter of probabilities even when it may have seemed against the odds at the time. Some times things turned out different than I had prayed for but not in a bad way, so it was easy to see that God had answered these prayers also but in his own way. But strong in the faith as I was, probabilities and coincidence would never have occurred to me.

The second type of prayer was used when I was troubled or needed advice or guidance. These prayers it seems were always answered, certainly at the time I was the most strong in my faith. Some times during the prayer or the next morning I would just know the best course of action to take and that I had been shown this by the Holy Spirit. To have your life guided by god and having his help to make decisions was wonderful. This was absolute proof that my relationship with god was real and true.

Again in retrospect, answers to prayers of this kind may had been the most convincing but are now the most easily dismissed. Now if I have decisions to make and things to just work out I find some quiet time for contemplation and mull over the issue, or sometimes sleep on it. This is exactly what I did during prayer but I am not using an invisible friend any more. And I still get answers to all these problems but the answers I get are even better than those I got through prayer! How so?
Have there never been times when you knew god had provided you with a solution and you followed it? You may not even have noticed circumstances changing and when it reached its conclusion you still knew that was the way it was meant to be.
Unless it was a total disaster you would have no reason to question and even if it was, then there will always be a reason why god wanted things that way. So no matter how things turned out, I always ‘knew’ it was for the best.
Now I can reconsider and adapt to new knowledge about the problem in a way that would have been inconceivable before. Now I know that the decision I reached may be the best one, given what I knew, but it is not divine so may not necessarily be the best in the end. To think god gave me the answer left no room for change.

Most Christians will always see non-belief as a loss of something or at least a replacement. In one way it must be, most believers see everything that they have gained since becoming a Christian and assume that people with non-belief do not have any of this, and to not believe means the loss of it. It just isn't so.
It is more a change in attitude. I felt like I was at the start of a new journey of discovery and genuine enlightenment / rationality. Atheism is a gain not a loss. I know that it just means having no belief in gods, but I obviously did have beliefs so they were replaced with a philosophy which encompassed similar values, gave me similar and even more rewards but did not have a supernatural element to it. This philosophy is not atheism but just what personally came about by it.

So I am not making a case for atheism. I have no interest in making people lose their faith, I like to challenge belief and have my own world views challenged in return and have to rationalise them to myself by answering questions from others. It is amazing when someone asks why I think something is the way it is and I find that I have never thought about it before or had to put it into terms that others can understand.

This thread does not even touch on how I moved from Christian to atheist, but I can assure you that it just didn't happen one day. But that is another story, a long one and probably not a very interesting one at that.

Reading back through this my description all sounds a bit inadequate but it is the best I can manage. Needless to say, I have found life makes complete sense to me now and I no longer need a god to help me through my life and feel better about myself and a stronger person for it.

The greatest lesson life has taught you?

Always think critically.
What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Just a thought

I am always amazed when people go to astrologers and fortune tellers and the reader can always give a person a summary of their personality and traits, but gullibility is never one of them.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Gold Standard in Science.

Research that has been peer reviewed is the gold standard in science. Peer review means that the research has been checked by experts in a similar area of expertise before publication. This does not mean that the experts agree with the conclusions of the research, only that it has been check for obvious errors in the methods employed and that the conclusions of the  research are supported by the data. The more scrutiny research receives before publication the more prestigious the publishing journal.


What should a true sceptic do if some research is published peer reviewed that appears to contradict much of the previous research in that area?

Firstly it is important not to assume that the paperis more important and more credible than all the research that has gone before. This can be difficult to do if what the research concludes is what you’d want to hear. Examples abound with climate or evolution science deniers when some research seems to cast doubt on some of the research that supports some aspect of the theories. They will herald such research as strong enough to disprove thousands of other pieces of research and even the basics of science it's self.

A true septic
will not dismiss such peer reviewed science but knows that scientific progress moves slowly and  also knows that now it is published it will be scrutinised by other scientists and if its’ conclusions can be
reproduced other supporting paperswill be published and gradually the science will reflect this new understanding.

However once in a while a paper is published that seems to make radical claims, and directly oppose our accepted understanding of the science. Such a paper was the subject of a post on the Watts Up with That blog, (WUWT, abbreviated in scientific circles as WTFUWT).

This paper by Paulo Cesar Soares and published in the International Journal of Geosciences was called ‘Warming Power of CO2 and H2O: Correlations with Temperature Changes’. It seemed to support the idea that there was an absence in correlation between rising temperatures and CO2. Interesting stuff and as a sceptic I would normally follow my own advice and wait to see if such a paper resulted in more supporting science and a change in understanding.

But, something was wrong here and it wasn’t just the fawning of Anthony Watts and his minions. This seems to support what Joe D’Aleo, (not a climate scientists but a retired weatherman who has published nothing through peer review on the subject) has said; ‘the US annual temperatures over the last century have correlated far better with cycles in the sun and oceans than carbon dioxide. The correlation with carbon dioxide seems to have vanished or even reversed in the last decade.

So this paper was definitely worth a look at even for me who is someone who makes no claim to understand the intricate science. I tend to read the Abstract, so I know what the paper is about, then the Conclusion. This initially avoids the hard stuff in the middle. But from the start something set alarm bells ringing. Most research is a combination of several scientists work. It is usually known by the lead author but in this case Paulo Cesar Soares seems to be the sole researcher. The first bombshell was in the Conclusion;

The main conclusion one arrives at the analysis is that CO2 has not a causal relation with global warming and it is not powerful enough to cause the historical changes in temperature that were observed.

Co2 doesn’t cause global warming! All the physics, research and science has been wrong for over a centaury! This does not sound like the reserved understated claims by most scientists about their research. The first real question to ask is; What is up with that? 

Reading the body of this paper, something struck me – the construction of some sentences and the English in general was odd. For example in the introduction a sentence reads;

“The old belief on Chamberlain hypothesis that CO2 could have been the main factor for energy conservation and a driving factor for glacial and interglacial times on Earth history was demonstrated to be a mistake, in agreement with himself later conclusion.”

Shouldn’t that last sentence read ‘in agreement with his latest conclusion’? Of course anyone can make a typo or mistake in translation but it made me wonder who Paulo Cesar Soares was and why peer review didn’t  notice such errors.

Paulo Cesar Soares can’t be a common name and his academic record as a scientist should be easy to track even if this is his first paper on climate. But googling the name to find out anything proved surprisingly difficult. Plenty of references about this paper came up, usually from climate change denier sites claiming this disproved any link between CO2 and global warming but finding anything more about the credentials of the author was more challenging. According to his paper he is at the Federal University of Parana in Brazil. But searching with the university name only brought up one paper in which a  Paulo Cesar Soares Junior is acknowledged, but it is a paper on Dentistry! 

Surely it can’t be the same guy? Perhaps it is this guy’s dad? If anyone can track down the author and his qualifications and other research please let me know.

So how does a relatively unknown, and possibly dental expert, get a peer reviewed article published on climate in the International Journal of Geosciences? This sounds like a very grand and respectable and well established journal, but while trying to track down Soares I found out that his paper is published in only the third issue of this eletronic journal. 

It’s first issue was only in May 2010 and it seems to publish every three months or so and is one of a number of electronic journals by Scientific Research Publishing (Scrip) which has an interesting entry in Wikipedia;
“The company created a controversy when it was found that its journals duplicated papers which had already been published elsewhere, without notification of or permission from the original author. In addition, some of these journals had listed academics on their editorial boards without their permission or even knowledge,
sometimes in fields very different from their own.”

I stated at the start that peer review was the gold standard in science but this is hardly the gold standard in peer review.


My friend Hengist Mcstone has located another Paulo Cesar Soares that could be a possible candidate for author and may even be related to the dentist - I can't imagine it is a very common name even in Brazil.

If it is then what we have is a retired Brazilian geologist who randomly writes a paper he solely authored, (most likely originally written in his own language - Portuguese or possibly Spanish - and translated with the quality that only google can match), getting it published in an unaccredited journal of dubious quality. This paper not only seems well outside his field of expertise but claims to overturn physics that underpins science and is subsequently praised and heralded unsceptically by climate science 'skeptics'.


The Sceptical Science Blog  has also now looked at the science in the Soares paper in detail and it is no surprise that the actual science done and the conclusions reached are poor.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Science and religion can’t mix

From Wikipedia; 
In science, a theory is logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment.

 I’m not saying scientists can’t be religious. I’m saying the scientific method; the most reliable way we have to make sense of the world is inherently irreligious. I find it exasperating when the faithful use their religious experience and testimony as ‘evidence’ that I should take with a level of credibility.

Religions by making pronouncements that are, even if only in principle testable, are entering the area where they have to be prepared for them to be tested logically. Does prayer work? Can all, some or part of the scriptures be true? Can miracles and cures be verified? etc. In answering these questions religion has come up lacking.

Science is full of theories that can never be proven – science does not do proof. A scientific theory explains what the evidence, experiments, observations etc show. If all this couldn't be explained by the theory or if something else came along to better explain it, the theory would be discarded or modified. Rresults are published, peer reviewed and criticism is encouraged.

If the religious are going to treat prayer or any other belief where a god directly affects the material world as evidence, then they should be prepared for sceptical people to see if such claims can withstand scrutiny. Prayer has been tested, including double blind tests but no statically significant results were found for it having any benefit. Actually one test showed those who knew prayers were being said for them faired slightly worse when recovering in hospital. Prayer cannot be repeated to obtain similar results. Prayer simply does not work. It has no more chance of being answered than what could be expected from chance alone.

Of course I have been told by people that prayer does work in their own life. At one time I would have claimed the same. But such claims cannot be verified by the scientific or any other credible method.

Monkeys show morals.

Altruism, the idea that animals, including apes such as ourselves, can act in unselfish ways, even to their own apparent detriment is often misunderstood by those who accept the Theory of Evolution and religious believers alike.

The problem stems from an inability to see the evolutionary value of altruism and a belief that doing good must be divinely driven.

Altruism is required for co-operative and social animals and may be the basis for the overall guiding moral that predates religious belief and is even apparent across species - Treat others as you would have them treat you. It has been observed in many species to date with chimps displaying a high level of it. There is the hope/ expectation that the gift/kindness will be reciprocated in some way.

One of the best documentaries, now quite old, was presented by Richard Dawkins and called 'Good Guys finish last'.  It may be available on Google video/ You tube. In the example I remember well,  the evidence shows altruism works both ways. In an example of grooming apes, if an animal only takes and does not reciprocate it is shunned after a time and needs to try extra hard if it is going to be accepted again.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Not Like This!

A piece in the UK Guardian from climate activist Bradley Day shows how NOT to get people on side when it comes to taking action against climate change.

After being found guilty along with 20 others of conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station but escaping jail sentences he claims that "If a jury that received extensive education on climate change could not vindicate the Ratcliffe activists, then who will?"

On paper I imagine I would be his ideal juror. I doubt that I would learn too much that I am not already aware of form the 'extensive education' that the jury received. I am interested in climate science and accept what the main authorities, like the Royal Society, say on the matter, and I believe it is past time that we should be taking effective action to prevent and mitigate the effects that the science predict. But I to would have been amongst the unanimous guilty verdict if I had been called as a juror.

I am not against protests. I think there should be more and more widespread protests against inaction and more campaigning against inaction and the adoption of energy generation that has less or zero green house gas emission. I might even be part of any such actions.

But I can not condone the stated objective of their actions - to shut down a power station. We all need power for our modern lifestyles. We may agree that we need to change the source of that power with immediacy but whole communities rely on that power NOW. It supplies their homes, amenities, schools, care homes, hospitals etc. While some of these have emergency procedures in place for power cuts most do not.  Bradley Day has sadly misjudged the majority of people if he thinks this is a way to win hearts, minds and support. By all means campaign, educate and yes, even protest, but not like this.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Monford's Minnions and the 'White Wash'

The example that follows all transpired when a link I clicked on brought me to Andrew Monford’s blog, Bishop Hill. I just happened to notice a post about the enquiries that followed the email release from CRU at the University of East Anglia.

I made a comment  to state that the scientists involved been exonerated is every official enquiry but that the credibility of the inquiries will always be questioned by those who didn't get the result they wanted. I got a reply that made quite a specific claim;

"What aspect of "proven whitewash" is it that you don't understand?"

That there was actually any proof of a 'white wash' was news to me so I replied; "The 'proven' bit."

Well actually querying the existence of evidence on this blog was like kicking a hornets nest. Apparently it not the done thing to be sceptical amongst ‘skeptics' and if I didn’t know about this 'proof' I must be too stupid to see what is there in front of my eyes - well that is how it felt. Apparently it was all in 'Monford’s report on the reports; "The Climategate Inquiries".

I was even called a 'pointless troll', and 'dead from the neck upwards' and told to 'beggars off' from one of the more mature of the Monford's Minions  - yes it is you - Perry the Goldfish.

But then the man himself, the governor, Mr Monford aka the Bishop graced me with a response. He asked if I could clarify if I had read the report he wrote on the Climategate inquiries. To be honest I came across it when it fist came out but didn't give it much consideration. So I said I would be willing to look at it again but stated clearly;

"I have a serious problem with it. Posters on here have been suggesting that the other inquiries were flawed because they used people with ‘vested interests masquerading as independent review board’s, but someone who does a report for a group that denies climate change is a problem and has already written much and a book saying much the same and calling some of the science an illusion hardly fits the criteria of independence that they call for and I would expect as a sceptic."

This is true, Monford was asked by the anti-science Global Warming Foundation to do another report on the email release because it didn't like what all the others concluded. Monford had already written a book calling the research into past climate by scientist Michael Mann as flawed and the Hockey stick shaped graph from his research an illusion, pretty brave for a non climatologist - so the sceptic in me knew that he was not someone to do a balanced review of the existing investigations.

When there are three or more reports on a topic which all broadly reach the same conclusions your sceptical alarms bell should ring when another report, actually a report on the previous reports in my example, comes to a different conclusion. The majority isn't always right but clearly something will be wrong in any case like this.

But Monford replied back with a direct link to his report so I felt obliged to give it a good look but restated my concerns  about it’s lack of impartiality. So off I went to read ‘The Climategate Inquiries’ line by line and came back with my analysis. You many have to read it yourself to understand the points I make;

A rational, critical review of The Climategate Inquiries, from a sceptic.

It is clear from this report that it has no interest in finding the truth. It is solely interested in finding something wrong. But there is so little evidence of misdemeanours so the ‘serious’ findings are almost entirely disingenuous and insinuation.
From the Foreword it claims that the ‘consequences for the credibility of climate change science would be immense’. How? Climate science does not hinge on the work done at CRU and even reading the ‘serious allegations’ in the Foreword, none of them actually questions the science already published. Although it might be considered worded to give that impression.
After trying to whip up hysteria it states; “One would therefore have expected the relevant “authorities”, Government/Parliament, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Royal Society, to have moved fast and decisively to get to the bottom of the matter.”
I agree with this entirely. If things were as the Foreword alludes to then these people should have moved fast and decisively, the problem is that the most qualified people to judge didn’t agree. I’m not suggesting that the mis-management of FOIs was not serious and clearly happened but again the admin failings of a university department and some of it’s staffs belligerent attitude to the importance of meeting such requests is not evidence of anything other than poor systems and attitudes. But at least Turnbull gives us a basic list of baddies that must somehow be involved in the white wash conspiracy if only rational people wouldn't keep asking for actual evidence of it.
It then gives six bullet pointed ‘serious flaws’ reported by Andrew Monford, but even if all are completely true I can’t see any of these ‘serious flaws’ calling the science into question.

As to the actual findings;
In turns it claims that Phil Willis, Lord Oxbridge, members of Sir Muir Russell’s team and Panel members were unsuitable but with no evidence, just innuendo.
Like it or not, there is almost no person who would be qualified as a chairman who doesn’t accept the scientific opinion of the worlds national academies on climate change and see others rejection of it as denial. It is not evidence that Willis was unfit for purpose.
It was apparent from the start that Oxburgh thought some would claim he had conflicts of interest but these were in no way hidden and it is disingenuous to assume that Oxburgh would not do his job with integrity. I suspect if his findings gave what skeptics wanted all the green groups would be suggesting exactly the same unsuitability because he was a chairman of Shell.
It was also disingenuous to assume that Kerry Emanuel prejudged the inquiry findings. Emanuel was one of the most qualified to investigate the conduct of these scientists. Just because he accepts the science, and has published some of it himself, it does not mean he wouldn’t find fault with other scientists.
In truth it is almost inconceivable that the most qualified people for the task would not have some connections to the university and the science. This is not evidence that they lacked integrity or that they were compromised. Since the inquiries were not tasked with looking into if the published science was correct, there was no need to have a skeptic on the panels even if a suitability qualified one could be found.
We know that with the general election looming, the scope of the Select Committee’s work was extremely limited but this is not indicative that they did not have enough time to satisfy themselves that there was little to be concerned about at CRU other than reported.
The ‘Climategate Inquiries’ also makes claims about the Committee misunderstanding Peiser’s evidence and that it failed to investigate Keenan’s fraud allegation made against Jones. Keenan is not even a scientist. I’m sure the committee with its limited time treated unqualified submissions with as much rigour as they could afford. This might seem a hard thing to say but this now happened over a year ago and with hindsight, if there really was any compelling evidence of fraud shouldn’t someone have supported Keenan’s and Peiser’s cases and championed their cause by now?
Worryingly it also states that the Committee appears to have exonerated Jones of the charge of fabrication without any evidence to justify such a conclusion.
Guilty before innocence? Nuff said.
More than once it suggests that scientists have left out or cherry picked data which is unfounded. This is almost all about the ‘hide the decline’, chronologies and what is termed of ad-hoc bodging of data.
Even Lawson accepted the ‘hide the decline’ explanation during questioning – why is this not mentioned in this report? ‘Important information’ is also a value judgement and it is unlikely that policymakers would need to know or even understand more than they were given.
Unfortunately we are talking about concerned unqualified critics – an economist apparently. The decision what to include is a scientific one, not one that gives an answer more like what you want it to be. I believe that Briffa has justified his selection in his work. Why would you think a review panel like this should undermine peer review? Why would the Select Committee need to know how scientists decided to tackle a problem? The Panel explicitly stated that was not part of the remit.
BTW I cannot find the quoted “fudge factors” and “artificial adjustments” any where in the Climategate document data base so if they do exist I haven’t managed to check the context, or if it was anything other than just scientists doing what scientists do.
There is clear innuendo about threats to journals with no attempt made to obtain evidence from the journal editors. But the journals were capable of submitting evidence – it isn’t as if they wouldn’t have known about it. Why wouldn’t they if they thought there was any case to answer?
More un-evidenced insinuation occurs when talking about papers selected, hinting that Jones cherry picked them and this was wrong. The Royal Society made it clear that it OKed the papers as a representative sample. Why should Oxburgh doubt the RS’s integrity? Why shouldn’t the RS agree with CRU about the papers initially chosen? The suggestion that Jones hand picked the papers with the clear implication that there was something to hide in others is unsupported by any evidence.
Even now anyone could select any paper and review it. In fact there is a chance to gather some real evidence here if it truly exists. Find a paper that wasn’t reviewed and where its conclusions didn’t ‘represented an honest and scientifically justified interpretation of the data’ which was all they were looking at. The Panel was not concerned with the question of whether the conclusions of the published research were correct. That is the job of peer review, and papers whether criticised or not have been through peer review. Being critical of papers is part of the scientific process not the inquiry one.
There is a finding that; “The Panel’s conclusions that criticisms of CRU were ‘selective’ and ‘uncharitable’ appear to be baseless since there is no record of these criticisms having been examined”.
That is not how it reads to me. A larger selection of the report puts it into context;
“We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the endroclimatological work, but it seems that some of these criticisms show a rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by CRU. They seem also to reflect a lack of awareness of the ongoing and dynamic nature of chronologies, and of the difficult circumstances under which university research is sometimes conducted.”
So SOME of the criticism show a rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by CRU. Why do they have to exhaustively review the external criticism to make that conclusion? It also mentions the ‘lack of awareness’, ie ignorance of the science by those requesting the information. An important point I think, that not included.
A big deal is made of the claim that the Committee chairman refused to reveal how decisions had been reached. I’m not sure what bearing this has. I doubt it is common practice for committees to publish such information to the degree suggested. Certainly no jury would be expecting to reveal such things so I don’t see why an inquiry should be different and it could certainly be counter productive.
Much of the rest of the ‘serious findings’ just amount to criticism about the inquiry process. What is the issue with this? The reports were commission by the University, Select Committee etc., for their own benefit and to their own criteria. You can be critical of the approach used but it is not evidence of anything other than they selected a process that others might not.

Nothing suggests a ‘White wash’. Even if the findings were all true and un biased – which as I have already mentioned I have serious doubts about – they only suggest a lack of rigour and professionalism or a different choice of method. However I suspect that when looking for the very worst in something, every inquiry ever done could be said to have similar short comings.
So am I missing something? There is no proof of white wash, conspiracy or whatever. Not investigating something or not doing it properly or using the methods others prefer is not proof that it was done with any intention to hide, cover up or white wash. If we accept as Monford and Turnbull seem to, that all inquiries were so flawed as to constitute deliberate white washes, then we must assume a conspiracy and if we also add the other inquires done in the US because of these release emails we have a conspiracy of monumental proportions.
So now we have a working theory of an international conspiracy to white wash dodgy scientists clean, we now need the evidence to support it. As far as I can see ‘The Climategate Inquiries’ does not contain that. Nor does it even suggest why such a conspiracy might be perpetrated by Governments, politicians, scientists, industrialists, universities and scientific societies on the unsuspecting population of the world.
To be taken seriously claims need evidence and in this case as Carl Sagan would have said; Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I though there might be much more flack about my review of his review but strangely only one poster (to date) came back with comments about things I specifically said. His comments might be enough to encourage a future post. There were others of course but they declined to take me up any anything specific. Even the Man, the Bishop, only came back with a rather sad; "You are very funny."

My reply to him was;
"Well it wasn’t my intention to be humours, just to show that contrary to all the pseudo-skeptics that seem to congregate here there is no evidence of a conspiracy/white wash.

Is it your usual modus-operandi to respond to critical considered posts with one liners? At least you haven’t denied my conclusions. Your report was purely to find fault because the others didn’t. But having so little to go on and no ‘smoking gun’ your ‘serious findings’ are almost exclusively insinuation.
When the pretend sceptics on here decry the alleged bias and motives of the other panels, they seem OK and accepting of a review done by man whose bias was never in question. If any of these reports were going to have serious flaws it was always going to be yours because your belief in the scientist’s wrong doing was never in doubt. 

Any true sceptics should have alarm bells ringing like Quasimodo just from the thought of it."

It seems that Monford wasn’t in the mood to come out to play because his response to that: “No I don't usually respond with one liners, but I found your post so absurd that I didn't want to waste any time on it."

I declined to further reply so I'm not sure exactly what he found absurd. Was it the idea that someone should think he might not be the most unbiased person for such a report and actually brought the subject up? Was it pointing out that his report on reports contained no more evidence of malpractice that all the other investigations, just heavy insinuation? Was it the idea that for his insinuations to be true there would have to be an International Conspiracy afoot? Who knows, I doubt even Mr Monford has any idea, but such comments by him are unlikely to be challenged by his un-sceptical skeptic minions.