Thursday, June 05, 2014

Model Making, Mathturbation, and Bullshit Tests

Reading Attp's take on all the goings on, Eli was struck by a thought that he has had before, that Richard Tol is very much the kind of person who sets more store by formalism than realism.  Now this does indeed seem to be a disease of denialists such as Steve McIntyre and Lucia, but it is something that any student with a decent adviser rapidly loses.

You learn to test your results against the most extreme case where the realistic answer is obvious.  If your result fails the test, why then, oh yeah, there is something wrong, either with your model or your assumptions, so you change an assumption and try it again.  If that does not help you start looking at the model, or for a wire that was not plugged in correctly.

Now not to pick on Prof. Tol, oh well, why not, but his work is full of failed bullshit tests.  For example, using ones that have been discussed on various blogs recently, the recent attempted takedown of Cook, et al.  Clearly, as Anon has shown, and as SkS has shown in a different but related way, there were obvious tests which would have shown that Tol was going off the rails.

And then the bunnies have Tol (2009), when Richard was told by Julie Nelson, that a positive value for Chris FieldHope's PAGES result at 3 C made no sense given it's use by Stern and others.  Moreover, and Eli thinks that Eli is the only one who noticed this, Tol created the global value for PAGES and got a positive number, EVEN when all the regional values were negative.

And, of course, Tol's reaction to Bob Ward picking up on this. . . 

Then, of course, there is the famous Ackerman Tol set to, where Ackerman and Muntz not only found an obvious divide by zero issue, but serious issues with Tol and Anthoff's calculations of agricultural benefits.  The response on the divide by zero was typical Tol, we know about this, you would too if you understood FUND and we monitor for it.  Given that no one else knew and this was not commented on elsewhere, a very weak response but made in full fury.

Another one was Tol's working paper on the advantages of accepting welfare and not working in Ireland.  Obvious nonsense, and clearly so from the paper, but no, Richard has full faith and credit.

Be skeptical is good advice.  Be nice, so when you make a mistake, and all bunnies do, others will be nice to you.  Wait. . .


Catmando said...

Wise bunnies are usually right. Prof Tol said this at Real Sceptic:

"Science is not a set of results. It is a set of methods. If the methods are wrong, the results are irrelevant."

As a window into his mind, it is revealing. He's wrong too. Science is both a set of results and a set of methods. Without results, is there any point to the method?

Susan Anderson said...

I can't help thinking about Freeman Dyson and others who put maths above reality and are often quite brilliant in the former and sometimes quite opaque about the latter. Not that they can't be brilliant about maths, but in the end it is air we breathe.

(Now this is not a comment on the skill or otherwise of one Tol, only about the putting of maths over all.)

I got some of the usual guff about this, btw, which was rather odd in the circs, claiming we don't know each other.

"A more important question, though, is whether Dyson is the important world figure that Schewe makes him out to be. In his career, we can see traces of the mathematical physicist’s reluctance to tackle the ambiguous or deeply puzzling question, or to go out mathematically even a little bit on a limb – something that contrasts sharply with his joyful interest in bizarre futurology. Perhaps this is the source of Dyson’s dreadful misjudgment on the climate question: he sees that the possible errors are large, but does not factor in that they are likely to be large in the wrong direction, and does not credit obvious qualitative arguments from simple laws of physics."

Steve Bloom said...

As the Big Bunny has probably already seen, liver was on the menu earlier today in Princeton.

Anonymous said...

re: Tol

Don't forget the crazy health benefits assumed by Tol, all based on a complete misunderstanding of some rather old, and small, studies on temp-death rate relationships.

Anonymous Etc.

Anonymous said...

Dyson is a tidy kinda guy (maybe coming from his English roots)

If it's not tidy, he doesn't like it.

QED is tidy.

You can tie it up in a nice pretty bow with mathematics.

Climate science is not tidy.

So, Dyson doesn't like it.

Just my theory. :)

Susan Anderson said...

Dear anonymous es ess esss. Nice summary imvho (v=very)

Please provide some simple distinguishing mark next time, anything but "1".

Thanks for the Krugman-Pielke link, that should be interesting.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Steve Bloom,

Krgthulu had a delicious liver snack over there today!

Anonymous said...

"Don't forget the crazy health benefits assumed by Tol, all based on a complete misunderstanding of some rather old, and small, studies on temp-death rate relationships."

You mean that strong anti-correlation of temperature and deaths from all causes?

Yeah, just because it's 'science' they think they can bring that in.


Kevin O'Neill said...

Eunice - You where do you pick this stuff up? Outdated data is replaced by new data. For instance, in Great Britain the most recent research says that by 2050 global warming is expected to lead to a reduction in cold-related deaths of 1,011 from 41,408 to 40,397 (compared with the 2000s).

BUT that heat-related deaths would increase by a much larger figure of 5,066 from 1,974 to 7,040 over that period.

So, it's not bringing in science that's the problem - it's bringing in outdated science.

BTW - did you ever figure out your mistake with deceleration and positive growth rates?

And Then There's Physics said...

I think you meant Chris Hope's PAGES result, not Chris Field.

Anonymous said...

RE: RT's projected health benefits, which he cites as among the main drivers of his positive benefits from modest warming, rather than his acknowledged errors. Somewhere on the interweb, there is footage of the Editor of the Lancet citing this as an example of work that was published in a non-health journal, and was so obviously flawed that it would never have passed peer review by someone who knew the first thing about health. If this is RT's fallback position to defend his results, it is a very weak one.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 2:27am

This is RT's handwave to the 'wider literature'.

I'd love to see a reference like that in an article; Wider Literature (1950-1985). Various Titles. Various Publishers. pp 1-x

Anonymous Etc.

Anonymous said...

RE: anonymous 5:55AM. I like this idea of referencing the wider literature. It is the only way I may reach a respectable citation index.

J Bowers said...

Guardian: The claim of a 97% consensus on global warming does not stand up -- by Richard Tol

Comments are open. Have fun.

Kevin O'Neill said...

The silence on the Tol paper and SKS' rebuttal from certain quarters seems awkward.

Has anyone seen Carrick or Lucia or any of the acknowledged trying to 'splain away the obvious errors?

Anonymous said...


Eunice recalls telling you more people die in the cold months and fewer people die in the hot months.

BTW, have you stopped being in denial that the rates of GHG forcing and rates of temperature increase have decelerated?

That would be a big step for you.

If not, you may be beyond hope.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Anonymous says (assumed Eunice):"BTW, have you stopped being in denial that the rates of GHG forcing and rates of temperature increase have decelerated?"

LOL :) You figured it out !!!!

Unable to admit your error though :(

It's always disappointing when someone blathers on for days about something, then realizes they're wrong, but simply won't admit it. I see that you have changed your story though, so you at least aren't spreading disinformation any longer.

Anonymous said...

Kevin I'm glad you agree.

Warming is slowing down.

It's slowing down because forcing slowed down.

Forcing slowed down largely because the rate of methane and CFC emissions slowed down.

But forcing will continue to slow down because population increase is slowing down
and will become population decrease sooner than the low end IPCC projections.


Kevin O'Neill said...

Eunice - You really shouldn't make things up. I know it's hard to break those old denier habits, but I have never so much as hinted agreement.

Forcing is accelerating - not slowing down. Apparently I was overly optimistic that you understood the difference between forcing and *growth rate* of forcing. I see now that you still cannot see the difference.

I will state one more time - a positive growth rate equals acceleration. The forcing growth rate is positive. GHG forcing is accelerating. It is not slowing down, it is increasing.

At this point, given you've been shown numerous times that you are wrong, I can only conclude that you do not have the intelligence to handle the concept.

Happy Heyoka said...

Kevin O'Neill wrote:
I will state one more time - a positive growth rate equals acceleration. The forcing growth rate is positive. GHG forcing is accelerating. It is not slowing down, it is increasing.

I haven't been following the discussion with Eunice, but this is one of my hobby horses...

With no claims to mathematical genius myself, I did however do the "math-science" track at high school and then some engineering math at uni.

I suspect it is pretty common for intelligent and otherwise numerate people to completely miss exposure to rate-of-change in math, deconstructing units and concepts like inertia.

The whole "yes, there's a change in the rate of change but..." conversation is a pretty frequent one...

Kevin O'Neill said...

HH - I'm too old to recall exactly when I might have learned sufficient math to understand the concept, but I'd guess 9th grade algebra!?

Of course it's also a matter of just looking at the actual numbers; they aren't that hard to find and anyone truly interested would have used the Google by now. Eunice obviously prefers to believe that GHG forcing is decelerating - for whatever reason.

Me, I would have just started with Wikipedia and looked at the totals for radiative forcing of GHGs.

Anonymous said...


I have better things to do than try to teach you the English language, much less analyze scientific data.

If you ever want to learn, the data is there waiting for you.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I usually point them to the wiki physics article on 'jerk'.

Back to the subject at hand, which I believe is 'useless problem solving using bad methods'. Working in my garden today I noticed a distinct lack of pollinators which appears to be causing some problems for me. Would not 'Pollinator Depletion' be useful to add to the list of 'urgent problems that need to be immediately solved at the scientific and policy level'? Or would that be subsumed under 'insect related crop losses'?

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Oops, sorry, wrong thread.

Carry on!