THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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An inconvenient challenge

I am an arts and (though I shudder to associate Law with such "disciplines" as Sociology) social sciences man. My interests are literature, theatre and history. I love technology, but all I know about serious science is Professor Karl Popper's* explanation of the scientific method as the postulation of hypotheses followed by the performance of rigorous experiments to falsify them, resulting in provisional "truths".

One of the first bloggers I followed was A.W. Montford, known to me until recently only as Bishop Hill. Of late he has found a new audience on the topic of climate change. I have just finished his book The Hockey Stick Illusion. I feared it would be hard going but I was wrong. Despite some necessary (and thank goodness elegant) explanations of abstruse complexities, it is a page-turner. I commend it to you.

In reading it, I have acquired a new hero - a rare event at my time of life. Steve McIntyre has something in common with one of my other heroes, John Harrison. Both were derided by the closed ranks of the scientific establishment, largely on the basis of a snobbish reaction against an unqualified** "outsider." Harrison's inventions made the modern world possible. McIntyre's work (done for intellectual curiosity and at his own expense) may yet save it.

A prize-winning mathematician as a young man in Canada, McIntyre's family circumstances dictated a remunerative practical life as a mining engineer, rather than in academia. In retirement, he became interested in climate science, his gut instincts telling him that there was something wrong with a leaflet sent to every home in Canada in 2002 to promote the Kyoto Protocol. His reading led him to the work of Professor Michael E. Mann. Mann's paper, published in Nature on 23rd April 1998, strongly influenced the IPCC's and the world's politicians' view that anthropogenic global warming (AGW, or colloquially "climate change") was a potentially apocalyptic threat. A graph from that paper, showing the Earth's temperature as steady for centuries, with a sudden up-tick post-industrialisation, became the most influential image in selling AGW theory to the world. It (in its various forms over the years) is known as "the Hockey Stick" and its scientific supporters, clustered around Mann, are known as "the Hockey Team."

Many of you will have seen the graph behind Al Gore as he presented An Inconvenient Truth. You will certainly have seen it somewhere. It's burned onto our collective consciousness and it's in our childrens' school books. It's also based on flawed science and is pretty much discredited. Yet it continues to influence policy across the world, to the possible detriment of human civilisation.

Professor Mann is a poor scientist and a weak man, but not a bad person. He's sincere, as are the vast majority of proponents of the AGW hypothesis. He foresees catastrophic peril to humanity and is frustrated by those who doubt it and therefore impede (as he sees it) the necessary solutions. I am sure he was sincere in writing the original paper and in all his subsequent (sometimes dishonest) defences of it. I even believe, sadly, that he has been sincere in trashing his "opponents" and seeking to prevent their work from being published in the journals.

I imagine he feels such means are justified by a noble end. Sadly, that is how almost all corruption begins. One way to know you are going wrong in life is to catch yourself spinning data to serve your heartfelt objectives. His enemies point out that the paper and particularly the Hockey Stick propelled him from being a 33 year old unknown who had just completed his doctorate, to being one of the most influential scientists on Earth. He has certainly benefitted from it, but few men are evil enough to condemn billions to poverty for personal gain or glory. There are some such, no doubt, but I don't believe he is among them. It seems sadly clear however that for whatever (probably noble) reason, he has betrayed his calling as a man of science.

AGW proponents denounce sceptics as conspiracy theorists; ridiculing the straw man idea that so many distinguished scientists could be induced to conspire for political ends. I have never believed in such a conspiracy. I simply believe in the human weaknesses I see every day, not least in myself. Chief among these is pride. Exalt a man for a piece of work that proves flawed and his ego-involvement will lead him astray if he is anything less than a saint. He will defend it and call in every favour from his friends to do likewise. John Harrison's enemies were sincere too. Yes, their motives were mixed. They wanted the huge prize he had so clearly earned. They wanted to maintain their respected status against the rising fame of an interloper. But they were no cartoon villains and neither are the Hockey Team. Sadly, you don't need to be Dr. Evil to hold back the advance of civilisation. You just need to be misguided and proud.

That Mann is a scientific Salieri does not make McIntyre Mozart. He has exposed Mann's methodological errors, but he has never purported to attempt an alternative analysis. He has no more disproved AGW theory than Mann has "proved" it. The Bish's excellent book merely shows that the members of the Hockey Team are (as are we all) weak humans trapped in a mesh of pride. We should not allow our distaste for their perversion of science to divert us from seeking truth. That truth will take dangerously longer to establish provisionally because of their (and their supporting politicians') unscientific interference with honest attempts to test it.

* A nice moment of my life was Professor Popper's [grand-daughter][see correction in comments] (a friend of Ms Paine the Elder) spotting his books in my home and exclaiming that she had never seen copies before. But that's a story for another post.

** McIntyre, as a cursory glance at his Wikipedia biography will confirm, is far from the uneducated autodidact that Harrison was (and neither would he claim Harrison's status as a world-changing genius) but my point still stands.

10 ways the world could end

Last night I was telling a friend over dinner about the wonderful website TEDTalks. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a conference. TEDTalks shares the best ideas from TED with the world, for free. The site speaks of;

"trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses, all giving the talk of their lives in 18 minutes."

It is often fascinating stuff. You can view TEDTalks at the site, on YouTube or by free subscription on iTunes).

Here is a marvellous, humorous, terrifying example to set your imaginations racing.

"From programming bits, to programming atoms..."

I have said it before and will say it again, TED is one of the best sites on the internet. I turn to it for relief from the pessimism of the political world. While politicians continue to find ways to mess up even the simplest things, some scientists not embroiled in political agendas are excitedly making the world a better place.

This talk by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT is one I will have to watch several times. He spews ideas out at high speed and in technical language, but his notion that "computer science" is one of the worst things to have happened either to computers or to science is an interesting one. It's fascinating to see how the "Fab Labs" he set up around the world liberated the creativity of people who have no interest in making pixels dance on a screen but were excited by making things in the real world. Man is a tool using thing maker. It makes perfect sense that the computer should become the modern equivalent of the flint axe. It's certainly an exciting notion that, while mechanisation brought us industrial mass production, computerisation can turn us back into craftsmen making unique things for our own family's specific needs (but of industrial quality). Given such abilities, what would you make?

Anyway, do please watch the film. It's intriguing to say the least. I promise you will enjoy it more than the post about the government's pandering to mass hysteria over paedophilia, which I feel duty bound to write next, despite all the opprobrium it will attract.

How do ants know what to do?

Link: TED | Talks | Deborah Gordon: How do ants know what to do? (video).

Ted_logoOne of the best things on the internet is's collection of short films of talks to TED Conferences. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Speakers are expected to give "the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes)".

I am amazed how people can dedicate their lives to tiny areas of study and in awe of how humanity (somehow) knits all that knowledge together in order to progress. This talk is a perfect example. This lady, a professor at Stanford, has spent 20 years digging in the Arizona desert to study ant colonies. Ants do not live as directed, managed communities. Their "queen" mates once, orgiastically, and spends 15-20 years laying eggs fertilised by that one collection of sperm. In a sense the colony is "hers" (she gives birth to every member; it begins with her and ends when she dies) but it seems she plays no part in directing it.

Ants have no leaders. Ants have no managers. The Bible was right (Proverbs 6:6 - 6:8)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise. Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler provideth her meat in the Summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Yet ants somehow allocate tasks between them logically, and switch tasks according to the colony's need. Professor Gordon's question is "how?" and she applies what she learns to the study of human organisations. She has discovered that (as the TED site summarises it) the "...long evolution of the ant colony has resulted in a system driven by accident, adaptation and the chaos and "noise" of unconscious communication..."

Interestingly, while the Bible is right about the anarchism of the ant, it is wrong about its industry. Half of the ants are idle or (as Professor Gordon puts it, "in reserve") [No doubt New Labour will soon redesignate the unemployed and faux-sick "economically inactive" as "reserve workers".] Even more interestingly, colonies become collectively more sophisticated in their responses to events as they grow. Yet ants (other than queens) only live for one year. This is nothing to do, as she says, with "older, wiser ants."

This may have nothing to do with any of the topics usually covered here. Or maybe it does. In any event, it made me think. And there are enough good talks to be found at the site to forgive TED for having been where the liberty-destroying slideshow that grew into "An Inconvenient Truth" apparently first saw the light of day.

There are lies, damned lies, statistics and then there's ...

Link: BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Running the rule over Stern's numbers.

When even the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation's servile Government toadies journalists start to question New Labour's Holy Writ, we must surely wonder what is going on. Consider this report from BBC Online's Science pages;

Richard Tol is a professor at both Hamburg and Carnegie Mellon Universities, and is one of the world's leading environmental economists.

The Stern Review cites his work 63 times; but that does not mean he agrees with it.

"If a student of mine were to hand in this report as a Masters thesis, perhaps if I were in a good mood I would give him a 'D' for diligence; but more likely I would give him an 'F' for fail.

"There is a whole range of very basic economics mistakes that somebody who claims to be a Professor of Economics simply should not make," he told The Investigation on BBC Radio 4.

Call me a cynic. Call me a conspiracy theorist. Call me what you like but I will still pose the following questions.

Let's suppose you are a government so cash-strapped that you are closing hospitals, firing nurses and asking judges not to send criminals to jail for lack of space. Let's suppose you have already taxed your people so hard that (despite economic growth) their disposable incomes are down in real terms and they are sinking deeper into personal debt. Let's say you have already increased your official National Debt to above £500 billion for the first time. Let's say that you know (although you don't publish it) that the real debt is nearer £2 trillion including off-balance sheet PFI debt, or perhaps as much as £9 trillion including unfunded public sector pensions. Might you perhaps be tempted to encourage a tame academic on your payroll to massage his numbers? Might you want him, perhaps, consistently to pick (according to Professor Tol);

the most pessimistic for every choice that one can make
Might you be happy when your highly-paid and knighted employee (perhaps even in line for a peerage when the present unpleasantness dies down)
double counts, particularly the risks and ... underestimates what development and adaptation will do to impacts
Might you possibly be happy to use his "F" grade analysis to justify draconian "green taxes," Orwellian schemes for monitoring the vehicle movements of every citizen or vicious attacks on the lifestyles of your class enemies?

Heavens no. That would be ridiculous. Why, based on your record of 10 years of honest, "whiter than white" government, would any reasonable citizen possibly possibly ask such questions?

EnviroSpin Watch

Link: EnviroSpin Watch.

Only recently I was denounced as a "climate change denier" (an irritating phrase, with its obvious attempt at subconscious association with "holocaust denier"). The Green doing the denouncing scoffed that it's now equivalent to being a flat-earther. That's annoying. I wasn't denying the climate was changing. It is. It always is. I was just suggesting that the causal link to human activity was unproven.

The "Proceedings of the Royal Society A, October 3rd, 2006. Full title: ‘Experimental evidence for the role of ions in particle nucleation under atmospheric conditions’. Authors: Henrik Svensmark, Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, Nigel Marsh, Martin Enghoff & Ulrik Uggerhøj" seem to suggest that I may be right and the self-righteous prat in question wrong.

Continue reading "EnviroSpin Watch" »