Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Kzinti Lesson

Explication:  It has been pointed out to Eli that the Kzinti lesson is a bit obscure and maybe even not the right description of Richard's tactics.  In one of the books about Known Space, a human is forced to challenge some kzin, which he does with a fairly elegant short speech (imagine an academic doing a polite, but very firm refutation of someone else's paper).

The kzin tells the human that his challenge was needlessly verbose: a kzin would just "scream and leap".  Of course, kzin have learned that sometimes they need to apologize, sometimes.
Richard Tol is an interesting character, interesting, not admirable.  As he himself is proud of mentioning he ranks high in the h-number sweepstakes amongst economists as the most cited for this or that like 9th in the 2007 Top-40 of Dutch Economists (a productivity ranking); 18th in 2006; 2nd in 2005; 18th in 2004, 25th in 2001; not ranked in 2002 and 2003, go read his CV.  OTOH, until last year, he never had a permanent position.  Lots of jobs, visiting professor here, adjunct professor there and his interactions with others have always been. . . . . difficult.

Richard's way of dealing with anyone who questions Richard is full throated Kzinti roar and attack. For the most part this succeeds because few want the joy of dealing with an axe murderer, and Richard does an excellent impression.  This discourages criticism.

However, over a long enough time, the act wears thin, and the Kzinti run up against people who ain't gonna take it.  In Richard's case, Frank Ackerman, who with Charles Muntz published a paper about a divide by zero flaw in the FUND model.  Ackerman relates how this inspired Tol
to launch a relentless, multi-year campaign to have the article retracted, and to discredit me – including hostile letters about me to my former and current employers.

On the one hand, I am delighted to report that this campaign was essentially a total failure. The article was not retracted, and achieved much higher visibility due to Tol’s critiques. I very much appreciate the support of numerous economists, and of my former and current employers, who have all made public statements opposing the vendetta against me and my article.

On the other hand, the ensuing debate – focused on a specific flaw in FUND 3.5, which has been fixed in later versions – has distracted attention from the underlying issues which my coauthor and I sought to raise in our article. Compared to many other researchers, Tol’s work in general argues for an overly optimistic view of climate change, and a correspondingly less urgent approach to climate policy.
Eli made the same point in the middle of the set to about Tol's dissing the IPCC as did many others.  Ackerman is back with an analysis of Tol's contribution to the IPCC WG II report and an associated review article.
Tol’s 2013 review article, despite its appearance of objectivity, is founded on faulty selection of data and analyses, and contains interpretive flaws that make its facile conclusions unsupportable. First, it highlights 16 studies, some of them very old, from a handful of authors, as if they represented all we know about climate damages.

Second, it identifies a larger number of studies of the social cost of carbon, more than half from the same handful of authors, and then focuses almost entirely on the subset of results with a high discount rate. Where it reports on my own work, the survey clearly misrepresents the original published source.

Third, it purports to prove that low-carbon stabilization targets are expensive by ignoring models and analyses that reach these targets, but making ad hoc adjustments to other analyses that fail to describe a path to a stable climate.

The field of economic analysis of climate change is a work in progress, with many interesting, sometimes contradictory, developments and approaches appearing in recent years. Most of the field, and most of what economists are writing about climate change, cannot be seen through the narrow, distorting lens of Tol’s review article.
This does not even get into the gremlins fiasco that consumed Retraction Watch and others with Eli taking a bite or two about how Richard managed to mangle a whole bunch of signs.  As Andrew Gelman (the others) put it, even if you correct the signs, the model makes no sense.

Frank Ackerman points out that selective citing drives Richard Tol's conclusions.
Even a stable, gremlin-free version of this curve is problematical, however. It treats a narrow and dated collection of studies as the best available estimates of the economic severity of climate change. .  .

Despite the appearance of 16 different studies, Tol’s data represent the views of a small circle of economists, some of them counted repeatedly as their estimates evolved over the years.  As Tol notes later in his article, “the researchers who published impact estimates are from a small and close-knit community who may be subject to group-thinking, peer pressure and self-censoring.”
Somebunny in the editorial offices and the WG II working group should have smelled a problem, but as Eli said, Richard is very aggressive.  Ackerman, could have recycled his summary of Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It to describe Richard's body of work
He offers a definitive-sounding explanation of the climate problem for a nontechnical audience, identifies and summarizes recent research, and tells his readers who to trust and who to doubt. This claim of authority fails both because the book is riddled with small inaccuracies, and because it displays a pervasive bias in its coverage and evaluations of climate issues.
Eli might speculate that the 97% wars on top of the IPCC WG II fiasco and the gremlin attack may have caused Richard to lose control of the dialog.  One may hope.


Anonymous said...

Courtesy of CA, we can see that Tol has been at it again in relation to the Cook paper.

Emails demanding others acquiesce to Tol's impose deadlines, then letters to superiors, supervisors and affiliates complaining that his demands have not been met.

There is something not quite right there. Some missing social skills perhaps?

Anonymous Etc

cRR Kampen said...

Paid climate revisionist, that is a paid lobbyist - can't accuse such of 'missing social skills'. The success of climate revisionism proves it.

Sou said...

I couldn't figure out how the WG2 editors didn't twig that the eco references were so sparse and so ancient. You've suggested a very plausible explanation, Eli.

(That is, they did, but didn't want a fight on their hands. Which is a pity.)

And Then There's Physics said...

Fascinating, I hadn't appreciated that Richard had not held a permanent position until last year. Could have been choice, of course, but interesting nonetheless. His citation record has also accelerated remarkably (according to Google Scholar at least) in the last few years. I also note that his CV claims that he received the Nobel Peace Prize, but - I suspect - he would argue that that was him being ironic/sarcastic.

James White said...

To his partial credit, he made a comment on JC's latest '97%' thread that should've ended it, but no.... it went on, ad nauseum, for 600+ comments.

BTW... what the heck are the Kzinti doing within the Start Trek universe?

Anonymous said...

James White - this is off topic, but one of the episodes in the Animated Star Trek series was adapted from a Niven short story (can't recall the title) where a Slaver weapon is found in a stasis box. The Kzinti are the villains, and Spock takes the place of the Nessus.


Anonymous said...

Release the Tol 300!

Richard S J Tol said...

I was tenured in 1997.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

When are you retiring?

Soon I hope. I'd tell you what I really think of your science but I don't want to get sued for libel.

afeman said...

The business with gremlins echos the Reinhart and Rogoff fiasco -- single economic papers with both outsized influence on policy and elementary failures that go uncorrected for years. Compare to the work behind WG I - thousands of physical science papers over decades with conclusions that go begging for traction on policy. It beggars verbal expression.

And Then There's Physics said...

Richard T.,
But if you're now at a UK University, I doubt that is still true :-)

J Bowers said...

@ afeman

Nothing like a cheque in the post motivates cognitive dissonance. And motivated reasoning. And confirmation bias. And stupid.

Gator said...

@Richard Tol.

You say you were tenured in 1997. According to your CV that was the year you earned your Ph.D. In 1998 you list your employment as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon.

"An adjunct professor is a part-time professor who is hired on a contractual basis rather than being given tenure and a permanent position."

So in what sense were you tenured in 1997?

Richard S J Tol said...

You're right.

I was tenured in Amsterdam, and transferred tenure to Hamburg, Dublin, and Sussex.

EliRabett said...

Richard, during your graduate studies you had a position you list as Researcher from 1992-2007 and from 1991-1992 as Assistant at the Vrije Universitiet. As Eli recalls, such appointments over time can result in tenure in the Netherlands, in the sense that you could remain forever. However, no one would consider that to be a tenured professorial position.

Similarly, with the Michael Otto position, it certainly did not look like an H4/C4 position but a Stiftungsprofessur position with a limited time period.

And Then There's Physics said...

Richard T.,
Has Sussex really given you tenure? I didn't think it existed in the UK anymore. It certainly doesn't at my university (and, as I understand it, there isn't even formally academic freedom).

Richard S J Tol said...

You're right.

Can you remind me of my kids' names again? I was convinced it's M and C, but I'm sure you know better.

Gator said...

@Richard Tol
So what does "tenure" mean to you in the EU? It seems to mean something very different in the USA.

And Then There's Physics said...

Richard, who's Joshua?

Gator said...

Ahh, I get it.
"I was tenured in 1997."

Richard just forgot the [linguistic equivalent of a] minus sign.

I'm sure he'll be along in a year or so to correct the statement. Don't worry, it doesn't change his meaning!

shub said...

The rabbit knows all the jokes about people's kids' names. Heh.

Frank Ackerman said...

The level of personal mockery of Richard Tol in some of these comments is not at all helpful to the debate about the issues. The point is, there are major concerns about the fate of the earth and how we interpret the available evidence and economic analyses; disagreements about these issues are of huge importance for public policy and for the environment.

Calling people names and making fun of them is not a reasonable response to people you disagree with about serious issues, even if they did it first (that's a very childhood-playground defense).

I believe that Richard Tol is deeply wrong about some very important issues, and that he quite inaccurately claims to speak for the economics profession as a whole. My vote is for a return to those issues.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

The point is, there are major concerns about the fate of the earth and how we interpret the available evidence and economic analyses; disagreements about these issues are of huge importance for public policy and for the environment.

Really? I'm not seeing any credible debate or any debate at all the the published listvand the mechanisms behind these problems are pretty definitive. Since you appear to be out of the loop let me bring you into the secret fold.

Antibiotic Resistanc4

Epidemic Diseases

Political Corruption

Human Overpopulation

Irrational Religious Beliefs

Tribalism, Gangsterism, Fascism

Global Financial Instabilities – Debt

Conventional and Nuclear Weapons – War

Industrial Contamination of the Holocene Biosphere – Air, Land and Water

Carbon Dioxide and Emissions Induced Global Warming and Climate Change

Agricultural Droughts and Blight, Insect, Weather and Flood Related Agricultural Losses

Glaciers, Arctic Sea Ice, Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet Losses and Sea Level Rise

Ocean, Sea, River and Lake Pollution and Ocean Chemistry Changes

Deforestation, Soil Loss and Adverse Land Use Changes

Groundwater Contamination and Aquifer Loss

Biodiversity and Species Loss – Extinction

Terrestrial Hazards – Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Volcanoes,
Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Extraterrestrial Hazards – Orbital Debris, Asteroid Impacts, Solar Flares and Cosmic Radiation

There are a couple of things to add to this list like ground level ozone, stratospheric ozone depletion and pollinator collapse that could be folded into some the preexisting list elements. The solar flare problems is recently getting a little press. If you have anything to add to the list I do want to hear it.

Maybe you need to learn the secret scientific illuminati handshake. Richard can fill you in on such academic subtleties.

Aaron said...

To a certain extent, this is a case of the kettle calling the pot, “black”.

Yes, the various economic analysis (including the original Stern Report) have understated the economic costs of sea level rise and other economic impacts from AGW.

On the other hand, the ice guys have so dramatically understated the rate of sea level rise that I am not really worried about the problems in estimation of the economic costs of sea level rise.

I would say the errors in economic analysis are off by a factor of 2 or 3 and the errors on sea level rise are of by a factor of 5 to 10 for a total error factor of 10 to 30 (Only for costs related to SLR. Estimates for other AGW costs have error factors of similar magnitude which are closely interrelated and not likely to be distinguished when the data is collected.)

Nobody's dynamic ice models account for the kind of calving that we see in minute 64 of Chasing Ice, but we now know that almost all of the big ice is above deep fjords which allow such progressive calving. Our ice models do not include moulins that transport heat into the ice mass. And, the models do not allow for the large aquifer ( ) sitting on top of the GIS. We have constrained our published estimates of SLR by the rates seen in geologic events. However, current climate forcing is greater than during those events, so that SLR as a result of AGW (with feedbacks) will be faster.

In a time frame, of a few years, liquid water on top of kilometers of ice is not stable, and it makes nonsense of all of our ice models. In the face of such silliness, I do not worry too much about the problems in Tol's papers.

When that aquifer flows down to the sea, it will all flow down to the sea. The liquid water will raise sea level on the order of 0.25 mm. However, the flowing water will also carry and erode large amounts of firn and ice which will also raise the sea level. And, it will produce a train of tsunamis.

The train of tsunamis hitting the sea walls and dikes of Europe will calibrate our estimates of the rate of sea level rise, and the economic impacts that can be expected. In a decade, we will know who was correct.

climatehawk1 said...

That IS a great moment in the Ringworld series, but it's not the Kzinti Lesson. Just to be fair, I'm not going to Google it first, just say that it is something about the fact that a powerful spaceship drive makes an equally powerful weapon. This was learned by the Kzinti, to their detriment, during the Man-Kzin Wars.

shub said...

"concerns about the fate of the earth"

I'm *so* glad at least *some* people are keeping the *real issues* on their minds.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

If anybody is interested, this is how the real pros do statistics.

guthrie said...

The spaceship drive as weapon thing is, as far as I recall, the first Man/ Kzin encounter, since at that time man doesn't have FTL drives.

As for FRrank's concern trolling, who cares, this is a blog with a high level of snark and mockery, thus if anything it is Frank who is out of place.
Or, maybe he can delineate how discussion here will affect the fate of the world?

EliRabett said...

Frank Ackerman raises an important point that deserves respect.

Ackerman is correct that the policy issue should be detached from the personal and is the more important. In several comments about the original Ackerman/Muntz paper, Eli pointed out that the important part was the demonstration that FUND's calculation of the agricultural effects of climate change were questionable and drove the positive benefit for small rises in the global temperature.

This has never really been confronted AFAEK, and a large part of that is because of the way Richard Tol reacts to any criticism of his claims.

The fact is that being nasty has worked for Richard. Take as examples his eventually forcing his criticisms of Ackerman/Muntz and Cook13 into print. Look at the pile of problems he has made for U Queensland. Look at the shit storm he stirred up to descend on Michael Tobis. Why should he stop?

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

So what is the appropriate policy position when faced with being overrun and conquered by barbarians?

John Mashey said...

Indeed the issues should be separable and Frank's is far and away the longer-lasting.

People might start with Frank's Can We Afford The Future (2009). AS I said in my reivew:
"This is a clear, readable first book for the non-economist, to start understanding the economics around climate change, and the various differing arguments by economists. ..."

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I'll leave you academic wunderkinds to debate the nuances of economic greed and corruption. Hint - get small and learn how to fly, soon.

Anonymous said...

For the most part this succeeds because few want the joy of dealing with an axe murderer, and Richard does an excellent impression. This discourages criticism."

Richard Tol may be wrong about everything he has ever done and said, but an "axe murderer"?

And no. "axe murderer is not just a figure of speech.

Eli seems to have completely lost his marbles. perhaps someone can help him find them.

Anonymous said...

Eli says things with humour and lapine persona that other people can't or won't say. I think that is important. It is an interesting indictment on our society that there is no more direct way of saying those things.

And Then There's Physics said...

I have to agree with Frank that there are many important things that we should be discussing and considering. However, if I've learned anything in the last year or so, it's that trying to discuss such things with Richard Tol is largely pointless. Taking a discussion with Richard seriously will only end up with you wanting to tear your hair out and then throw your laptop against the wall. That doesn't mean that such discussions aren't possible, just that they aren't possible with Richard.

Russell Seitz said...

As if ebola in Africa is not enough, Australia has suffered an outbreak of coal fired Comic Sans

EliRabett said...

Eli did not call Richard an axe murderer, just that he does a good impression of one. The act has become a modus vivendi with him as it did with Lubos.

turboblocke said...

Slightly off topic: I used to work in a multicultural environment in the Netherlands. Mangled English was the common language which explains the slightly odd wording of what follows.
A "joke" question asked of newcomers was,"How can you tell a Dutchman?" The correct response was,"You can't: it's impossible to tell a Dutchman!" Like most clichés and national stereotypes it does have a slight basis in reality. A certain Jan V. has left an indelible impression as the epitomy of that characteristic.

Anonymous said...

When one is pounding facts, it's because one has facts to pound.

When one is pounding the table, it's because one lacks facts.

When one is pounding insults, it is because one lacks a table.

At least get a table.


WhiteBeard said...

"How can you tell a Dutchman?" The correct response was,"You can't: it's impossible to tell a Dutchman!

The way I heard this meme was, “You can always tell a Dutchman, just that you can’t him much.”

WhiteBeard said...

Curses. foiled again.

... just that you can’t tell him much.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

When one is pounding facts, it's because one has facts to pound.

Here are a couple of numeric facts for you to pound.


I laugh at Lucifer's 'facts', in Lucifer's face.

Anonymous said...

Try your population clock for this date: August 1, 2100 14:09:47

Just about the same as today.


Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

That wouldn't be considered a fact now would it, Lucifer. But you knew that. You just need to make a fool out of yourself among superiors. So whatever you do, keep commenting.

Anonymous said...

'Calling people names and making fun of them is not a reasonable response to people you disagree with about serious issues, even if they did it first (that's a very childhood-playground defense)."


That's what this place is ALL about, from the host (comparing Tol to an axe murderer) on down.

Some people play golf. Eli seems to have dedicated his retirement to Tol bashing.

If you expect rational conversation, you have simply come to the wrong place.

Marco said...

Anonymous, I am curious to hear your opinion about Tol's photoshopped picture of Bob Ward, the one he placed on his Twitter:

Since you are so concerned about rational conversation and how supposedly nasty Tol is treated here, I am certain you will be equally dismissive of Tol's own behavior.

turboblocke said...

Russell ref. The comic sans outbreak:
Odd that a self proclaimed consultant geologist is running an office services business too.

Anonymous said...


I didn't say I was "concerned about" rational conversation. (would I even be here if I were?)

I just said Frank would not find it here.

Susan Anderson said...

I like the look of that book, thanks John Mashey!

Can We Afford the Future?: The Economics of a Warming World (The New Economics)
by Frank Ackerman

I extracted his bumper stickers for discussion about economic benefits of dealing with climate change sooner rather than later on NYTimes, abusing my privileges there, as always.

"Your grandchildren's lives are important
"We need to buy insurance for the planet
"Climate damages are too valuable to have prices
"Some costs are better than others"

It is unfortunate that lies masquerading as truth can be defended by those deploying all kinds of weapons, including out and out nastiness. My kind of "can't we all get along together" talk can be rather useless, but I wish it weren't.

Joshua said...

Anders -

Richard uses "Joshua" to refer to Eli (which is coincidentally also my first name) - in an attempt to get under Eli's skin. "Skeptics" (like Willis and Anthony) who use their full names in the blogosphere, in their unwavering focus on the science, like to focus energy on the argument that if someone is anonymous in the blogophere it tells you something significant about the arguments they make. And they also like to use anonymity as a reason to call people cowards. You know, because they're so focused on the science.

Richard is trying to get under Eli's skin as a way to make it clear that he is deeply *concerned* about promoting purity in science.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for that deeply profound psychological analysis probing the innermost reaches of the Tol mind.

You don't mind if I call you Sigmund, do you?

Joshua said...

Anonymous at 7:57 AM -

Directed at me?

If ss...

I think there's valid evidence for my speculation - of the sort easily found. I certainly could be wrong, of course.

If you care to refute my speculation, have at it.

You can all me whatever you want.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

If you expect rational conversation, you have simply come to the wrong place.

I don't see you rationally discussing anything on the list of really bad things I have provided.

Add fresh water toxic algal blooms to that list, lol. Be rational! And get those glass covered reservoirs together.

And Then There's Physics said...

Thanks. I did realise after posting that.

Indeed, certain people (Watts, Nova, ...) seems to object to people not posting under their real names. Strangely, they don't seem to object to Stephen Goddard not actually being Stephen Goddard, so maybe the issue isn't that you should post under your own real name, just that you post under a real name.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Elifritz comment

"I don't see you rationally discussing anything on the list of really bad things I have provided" makes no logical sense in response to "If you expect rational conversation, you have simply come to the wrong place."

But then that's why I come here.

It's like stepping through the looking glass, complete with talking rabbits.

It surely ain't for the rational conversation.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Since you cannot admit admit to the existance of a really long list of really bad things, you can possibly discuss them rationally. But you can deflect all discussion of such really bad things by rambling on about how such rational discussions might proceed, if they were to take place, while simultaneously admitting you wouldn't participate in them even if they did take place. How so 'willard' of you. Meanwhile the list of really bad things gets longer, and worse by the day. lol. That's the anonymous reality for you. You had better hope some non-anonymous people pull your pathetic ass out of the fire.

john Mruzik said...

I may be a simple country doctor but Richard does seem to be painting a target on his chest.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Elifritz said "Since you cannot admit admit to the existance of a really long list of really bad things, you can possibly discuss them rationally."

That makes no sense.

I know who the White Rabbit is.

Would you perchance be the Mad Hatter?

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

It's called an editing mistake. I didn't feel like correcting it for an anonymous idiot. I thought about if for a second or two, but then thought, nah, let's just see what the idiot make of it. Try parsing it by inverting the can to can't.

Long list of really bad things, getting worse. Can you parse that? Can you discuss them? It's just beginning and the barbarians are now at the door. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Whatever you say, Hatter

Russell Seitz said...

Some feedback may be forthcoing from the Kzinti's creator, Known Space coauthor Jerry Pournelle.

Joshua said...

==> " so maybe the issue isn't that you should post under your own real name, just that you post under a real name."

Well, that wouldn't explain why Anthony and Willis don't argue that "Just the facts" is a coward. Because it could just be me, but my guess is that no one in the world is named "Just the facts":

==> "Introducing the WUWT CO2 Reference Page
Posted on August 2, 2014 by justthefactswuwt"

bill said...


And Then There's Physics said...

Well, yes, consistency isn't one of their strong points.

J Bowers said...

Anon: "I didn't say I was "concerned about" rational conversation. (would I even be here if I were?)"

Marco didn't ask if you were concerned, he asked for your opinion. Your red herring says you have none about Tol's behaviour (which could be construed as implicit approval), but plenty of opinion about Eli's and others.

Susan Anderson said...

The arrogance would be bearable if it didn't come with pernicious nonsense for which there is a huge market.

Nice way to succeed if one doesn't care about the future. This kind of nonsense has moved from annoying and dangerous to positively evil.

Way to go, Dr. Tol, trashing the only planet we have for personal gain, it looks like. In a normal scientific discipline the level of error would be career ending, but apparently when it has to do with all our futures the lies have it.

Anonymous said...

Tol now has a response to Ackerman's piece - seems a bit thin and doesn't address any of the issues, does it?

Same with response to RTCC who posted the full transcript of his interview with Tol (and Ackerman). One seems to be more focussed on launching grenades at a number of people; the other with addressing the issues

Anonymous said...

J Bowers

Marco didn't ask if I was concerned, he just stated quite categorically that I was

'Since you are so concerned about rational conversation"

to which I replied
"I didn't say I was "concerned about" rational conversation."

So, would you mind if I call you the Humpty Dumpty from here on in?

J Bowers said...

As Marco's words were...

"Anonymous, I am curious to hear your opinion about Tol's photoshopped picture of Bob Ward, the one he placed on his Twitter:"

...which is his asking for your opinion, then no, you may not call me Humpty Dumpty from hereon in.

Anonymous said...

..said Humpty Dumpty

Anonymous said...

Per Dr. Tol's first comment ("I was tenured in 1997"), it appears he was using the term tenure in an esoteric (to non-Dutch academics), which has little link to the tenure process of English-speaking universities. If Dr. Tol would like to explain what he means by tenure in this context, that might be helpful. If not, then readers may want to consider the term as somewhat analogous to describing a very dark grey as "red". See here for more info:
Such word games are very informative at times.

Anonymous said...

Drat. I wanted to hear more about tenure and its meanings in different contexts.

Also, the secret behind moving tenure hither and thither like money between bank accounts sounds very alluring. How exactly does that work? Do p&t committees meet and agree before an offer is made, or after it is accepted? Sounds dicey on the face of it, and as well potentially aggravating considering the number of tactical employment maneuvers typical of the academic scene.

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