Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mr. Miller

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Jim Miller's blog (all eight or twelve of Flares long term readers are surely aware of it). The amount of time I can devote to the net, and reading blogs, has fallen of a cliff over the past few months for several reasons, but I've never failed to check in at Jim's blog (or Flares for that matter).

Well... the man's been on a roll lately. If you go here you'll find yourself at the top of consecutive posts which do a great job (follow the links) of discussing bigotry and discrimination. Despite what many victims of modern public education believe they are not the same thing. Excellent examination of anti-semitism in Britain as well as the value of discriminating.

Jim also takes a look at some of the global-warming scepticism of Martin Durkin, the man who made The Great Warming Swindle. He points us to Durkin's website where he discovered a paper, An Economist’s Perspective on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, by Ross McKitrick. McKitrick is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, at the University of Guelph in Ontario. I know nothing of McKitrick or U. of Guelph other than that the latter has a reasonably good reputation (well, I shouldn't say I know nothing of Guelph - I do have a business aquantance - a lawyer - who graduated from there as, IIRC, a computer scientist, so I know an alumni; he's proud of the place). McKitrick I'd never heard of until finding his name on Jim Miller's blog.

I strongly encourage our more science and math literate contributors here at Flares to read the whole paper. But, as Jim Miller did, I'd like to point to a bit of it that strikes me as particularly interesting:

[P]roblematic is the collapse that occurred around 1990 in the number of climate monitoring stations around the world. Figure 2 (Peterson and Vose 1997) shows the numbers for the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN), graphed in terms of the number of stations with at least 10 years of reliable data (a) and the corresponding geographical coverage (b). In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the budget cuts in many OECD economies led to a sudden sharp drop in the number of active weather stations...

Figure 3 shows the total number of stations in the GHCN and the raw (arithmetic) average of temperatures for those stations. Notice that at the same time as the number of stations takes a dive (around 1990) the average temperature (red bars) jumps. This is due, at least in part, to the disproportionate loss of stations in remote and rural locations, as opposed to places like airports and urban areas where it gets warmer over time because of the build-up of the urban environment.

This poses a problem for users of the data. Someone has to come up with an algorithm for deciding how much of the change in average temperature post-1990 is due to an actual change in the climate and how much is due to the change in the sample. When we hear over and over about records being set after 1990 in observed “global temperatures” this might mean the climate has changed, or it means an inadequate adjustment is being used, and there is no formal way to decide between these.

Nevertheless, confident assertions are routinely made about ‘changes in the global temperature’ on the order of tenths of a degree C per decade. The confidence masks pervasive uncertainty in the underlying concepts and data quality.

Hmmm... curioser and curioser... Read Jim's post (or An Economist’s Perspective on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol) for a gotcha moment re: the UN's IPCC report. Last, but not least, Jim points, in this post, to the work being done by Don't miss it.

There's other good stuff there - Jim is, IMHO, a phenom.

Before closing I'd like to wander from Mr. Miller to another of my favorite sites, Arts & Letters Daily, where I found Reading the World Bank; Why it is vitally needed despite its flaws:

By its own account, the [World] Bank's billions all flow to the same cause—working for a world where hundreds of millions of people might aspire to "a future without poverty, disease, and illiteracy." The Bank sees itself as an instrument of hope in a world beset by tragedy, inequality, and disaster. "Every week," states its 2005 Annual Report, "10,000 women in the developing world die giving birth, and 200,000 children under age five die of disease. More than 8,000 people die every day from AIDS-related conditions, and 2 million people will die of AIDS this year in Africa alone. As many as 115 million children in developing countries are not in school."

To arrest and reverse these gross injustices, the Bank commits itself to the Millennium Development Goals of "eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education," promoting gender equality and empowering women. It seeks to reduce infant mortality for children under five by two-thirds by 2015. In addition to drastically reducing maternal death rates, the Bank supports the combating of diseases, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, and increasing sharply the access of millions to safe drinking water. Not least, it affirms the Millennium goal of a reformed global trading system, especially in its impact on the world's poorest countries.

A scan of the Bank's reports and its programs reveals an extraordinarily eclectic range of activity in every corner of the globe: getting girls into school in Egypt and poor children to school in the Kyrgyz Republic; combating tb in Africa and malaria in Eritrea; managing forests in Southeast Asia and fisheries along rural coastlines; rushing emergency teams to Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004 and rebuilding strife-torn Central Africa; killing agricultural pests in Central Africa and developing the garment industry in Cambodia; pushing for court reform in the Philippines and building the power grid in the Dominican Republic; creating housing reform in Mexico and road-building in Poland.

Not least, the Bank now combats the money laundering that could fuel terrorism. It demands transparency in governments and offers transparency for itself. Millions of dollars are committed to reducing government corruption and to building civil society groups. The World Bank Institute trains aid workers. The Bank teams up not only with governments but with the World Wildlife Fund and the Scout Movement for children, with Conservation International and the UN's Programme on HIV/AIDS.

How can this panoply of good works be read as anything else than a commitment to justice or a panacea to disease, disaster and despair?
I'm not convinced but I suppose it is good to see somebody defending the World Bank.


chuck said...

Ross McKitrick is one of the most prominent anthropogenic warming skeptics in North America. He was the one who discovered Mann's code and 'censored' data on an internet site and one of the first to question Mann's hockey stick graph. Seneca has referred to some of his work before. He is deeply involved in the ongoing debate.

I find the unreliability of the temperature data quite fascinating, it does make it difficult to draw conclusions. There are other methods of getting temperature profiles by using satellites that look down through the edges of CO2 absorbtion bands and fitting the varying results to atmospheric models -- the edges of the bands are subtly dependent on the temperature and pressure profile of the atmosphere -- but I don't know how well calibrated the results are or how deeply they extend into the atmosphere. I have been peripherally involved with two of those instruments and met the guys from the U of Wisconsin who specialize in backing out the temperatures, but I could never could get a clear idea of what the actual errors of measurement were.

It is amazing how difficult the simplest measurements can be once they are removed from the controlled enviroment of the laboratory. The laboratory has got to be one of the all time great inventions.

Barry Dauphin said...

McKitrick was co-author with Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit of several papers disputing the Hockey Team (as they are known for the promulgation of the (in)famous Hockey Stick graph purporting to show the sky is falling now). Their partnership is interesting. McIntyre is a statistician (but when on TV the producers ominously label him as Coal Mining Industry Consultant, as that's where he does most of his work) and McKitrick is an economist. Climate science is sorely in need of good statisticians and good economists, as the climate reseachers are good at neither, but all of the "solutions" to "climate change" involve understanding statistics and economics. The Hockey Team looks increasingly like snake oil salesmen. When criticized on methodological grounds, they tend to make ad hominem attacks--not exactly a sign of strength.

Rick Ballard said...


They also turn to appeals to authority as part of the ad hom. The Coal Mining Industry Consultant bit is a real hoot - McIntyre's work is circumscribed by regulation and law, if he fiddles data for a prospectus he's subject to a hell of a lot more than ridicule. What court will ever hear testimony as to why a climate guys data was cooked?

Seneca gave a pointer to this guy whom I find to be the most intelligible of the "climate" scientists. Pielke seems to be deeply commited to a search for answers rather than the defense of any particular position.

I've been getting a small kick out of Watt's documentation of "small" siting problems regarding NOAA data collection points. Some of the site pictures are fairly amusing.

Thanks for the post, Knuck.