Friday, April 28, 2017

The Data Lies. The Crisis in Observational Science and the Virtue of Strong Theory

The problem with data fetishists is their choking down a daily flagon of numerical drivel without analyzing the brew.  One of the things that a good scientist knows is how to interrogate the numbers, not waterboard them.  Truth is that useful models improve flaky data and the statistical treatment thereof.

An introduction  for Eli was a talk that Drew Shindell gave, twenty maybe more years ago with a title that ran, "Which should your trust, the data or the models?" about global temperature data in the late 19th century.  The useful conclusion was trust neither, but use them together to produce understanding and improve both.  Yes theory can improve measurements and data.

A nice example is how NIST's acoustic thermometer can be used to define the thermodynamic temperature scale.  Starting with the theoretical result for the speed of sound in an ideal gas as a function of temperature (theory), a carefully built device to measure the same can be used to build a model of the response of platinum resistance thermometers as a function of temperature and then by applying the model PRTs can be used to more accurately calibrate other thermometers.

How about statistics, well most of what passes for statistical analysis these day is unconstrained, so it can wander off into never never land where never is stuff like thermodynamics and conservation laws.  Bart had a nice example of this when discussing the usual nonsense about how observed temperature anomaly data could be explained as a random walk

As you can see, the theory is valid: My weight has indeed remained between the blue lines. And for the next few years, my weight will be between 55 and 105 kg, irrespective of what I eat and how much I sport! After all, that would be deterministic, wouldn’t it? (i.e. my eating and other habits determining my weight)

Wow, if that’s the case, then I’ll stop my carrot juice diet right now and run to the corner store for a box of mars bars!! And I’ll cancel further consultations with my dietician. Energy balance… such nonsense. Never thought I’d be so happy with a root!
The other side of this is the replication crisis hitting the social sciences, most prominently psychology, well, also other stuff.  To disagree with the first link, unlike physical sciences psychology has no well established theoretical consensus against which nutso outcomes can be evaluated. Science is about coherence (a no on that as Alice’s Queen would say) consilience (baskets full of papers having nothing to do with each other but taken together mutually supporting) and consensus (everybunny with a clue agrees on climate change or at least 97%).

So the question really is what should a lagomorphs's prior be for statistical validity.  Clearly, if all you have is the data, the standard of proof for any assertion about the data has to be very high.  Wrong answers at low levels of proof are a reason that out on the edge physicists demand 5 sigma data before accepting that a new particle has been found, that's saying that there is 1 chance in 3.5 million that the discovery was in error if that standard is met. 

On the other hand, in the well established interior of a field, where there is a lot of supporting, consilient work, a whole bunch of basic theory and multiple data sets, 5 chances in 100 can do the job or even 10 in a hundred.  Of course 30 in 100 is pushing it.

Andrew Gelman has a useful set of criteria for priors (same holds for frequentist approaches).  Among his recommendations are for weakly informative priors that
should contain enough information to regularize: the idea is that the prior rules out unreasonable parameter values but is not so strong as to rule out values that might make sense
and those priors should be
Weakly informative rather than fully informative: the idea is that the loss in precision by making the prior a bit too weak (compared to the true population distribution of parameters or the current expert state of knowledge) is less serious than the gain in robustness by including parts of parameter space that might be relevant. It's been hard for us to formalize this idea.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

March for Science - San Francisco

Together with in-laws and friends, including (unlike me) an actual scientist, we went on the march in San Francisco yesterday.

The most hand-written/individualized signs I've seen on any march. Quite a young crowd too, and I'd guess two-thirds female. We'll see if there's a long-term effect - I'm sure it depends on what people continue to do after the march.

UPDATE:  here's something to do about it - get organized, and train to run for office:
Overview: Join us for a day of building political power for the climate movement by training bold, progressive climate activists to elected office at all levels. Potential candidates need to be identified, recruited, trained, and supported in order to achieve elected office—and once there, held accountable by the climate movement.

This training is for you if:
  • You consider running for office yourself in the next 1-3 years
  • You want to help a friend run for office
  • You want to learn how a local electoral strategy could help your campaign

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Squeegee Kid Returns or Steve Koonin on Team B

Eli had a rockem sockem post cued up on the replication crisis (nononono, Eli and Ms. Rabett are much too old for that stuff) but the Squeegee Kid, Steve Koonin reappeared in the Wall Street Journal editorial swamp and duty calls.  When last see, Koonin was huffing off in anger because APS (American Physical Society) leadership had frustrated his designs on their public statement on Climate Change.

Those looking for a primer about Koonin's understanding of climate science could read the short version from Ben Santer who had the pleasure of dealing with him in the red team/blue team exercise that Koonin put together for the APS panel

Another source of real frustration is that Dr. Koonin had a real opportunity to listen. To consult experts in many different aspects of climate science. To do a deep dive into the science. To seek understanding of complex scientific issues. He did not make use of this opportunity. His op-Ed is not a deep dive - it is a superficial toe-dip into a shallow puddle, rehashing the same tired memes (the "warming hiatus" points toward fundamental model errors, climate scientists suppress uncertainties, there's a lack of transparency in the IPCC process, climate always varies naturally, etc.)
or somewhat less pithy though pointed ones from Andy Lacis and Ray Pierrehumbert.

Suffice it to say there is little new in Koonin's latest jeremiad which is merely a continuation of the House Science Committee farce w/o Mike Mann.  As the Weasel has pointed out we have had over 30 years of real red team evaluations of climate science
Well to start with it isn’t necessarily totally stupid, unless it is being run by a group of ideologues with a fore-ordained conclusion for which they’re desperately searching for evidence. How likely is that? Secondly, this is language from a different area (the military; business) being imported into science. If it was being done by the pols, you could simply put it down to ignorance. That it is being done by scientists in an effort to sell their ideas to pols I think you put down to something rather different. But the military and business are areas with rigid hierarchies and enforced obedience and suppression of dissent. C+C are trying to tell the pols that science is like that; and it isn’t. Science already provides all the internal red teams that it needs.

Could the idea actually be of any use? In the present context, I think that’s doubtful. Suppose they did it anyway, what happens? Probably, C+C and their ilk get thrown some taxpayers money to attack their should-be-colleagues, which would be galling but minor in the great scheme of things. They would fail to do anything of scientific use, and that failure might ultimately be revealing, and therefore good. But in the meantime they get a platform to spout nonsense. Ah well, these are difficult times, you cannot expect to choose amongst different good outcomes.
Among the many red team exercises in the US there have been multiple NAS reports on climate change and particular issues involved with climate change.  A major outcome of one was to put the wood to Spencer and Christie's UAH satellite record which was claiming global cooling because of errors.  Then, of course, the Jason (Koonin is one of them) model from the early 1980s as well.  IPCC reports are also massive red team exercises with open commenting.

But as the Weasel points out what the worthies want is not a red team exercise, but Team B.  Team B was a politically motivated operation run by Richard Pipes and populated by ideologues whose reason for existing was to exaggerate the threat from the Soviet Union.  There was a long campaign to impugn the CIA analysis, resulting in the formation of Team B under Pipes leadership.  Their report was a major impetus to the dangerous arms race of the 1980s including the fictional Star Wars programs pushed by the late, and not lamented George Marshall Institute.  As one critic of Team B, Anne Hessing Cahn, wrote of their report "I would say that all of it was fantasy. ... if you go through most of Team B's specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong."

Joshua Rovner, in his book, Facixing the Facts, National Security and the Politics of Intelligence"points out where the Pipes Team B exercise went
The fundamental criticism of Team B was that the intelligence [read climate science-ER] community relied almost exclusively on "hard data" about capabilities. . . 
an eerie prequel to where Koonin, Curry and Christie want to go. Following Rovner, Eli can also tell you what Team B's report will be based on
Team B also defeated the purpose of the exercise by relying on open source publication rather than classified intelligence.  Although the panelists were cleared to evaluate the same data that went into the NIE [National Intelligence Assessment -ER] the Team B report contained very few references to intelligence.
Perhaps they will also cite Rabett Run, but more likely all the nonsense in WUWT and Curry's blog.  If anybunny wants to save money, of course, we also have any number of publications from the Heartland Institute that can be had for a penny or two. 

Okay, now that the bunnies have done their assigned reading Eli can flip the blog and let them loose in the comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On the Uses of Twitter

One of the good things about 140 characters is that it concentrates the mind and lets you compose your elevator speech.  One of the bad things is that while concentrating the mind and composing the elevator speech you forget to write it down.

So Eli, aka @EthonRaptor (Ms. Rabett came up with the moniker) has been exchanging  with various characters on the Tweeter about renewable energy, nuclear energy and carbon taxes (go read the timeline if you really care) and this has indeed conciliated a few thoughts.
To start from somewhere, in a discussion about Energy Star and the Trumpkins wiping out the program (they have zeroed out the web site although parts seem to still exist at DOE )  definitely down last night, but Eli, fool that he is did not Webcite it) and appliance energy efficiency regulations, Eli remarked that people buy on purchase price and ignore operating, maintenance and disposal costs.  One of the things that the Energy Star program does (did :) was to put some of the operating cost in front of the buyer along with the purchase price.  Moreover testing regulations insured that the numbers were not totally alt facts, although as with everything formative improvement was always needed  (see VW)

ADDED: Energy Star is zeroed out in the Trump budget.  If Energy Star is going on hiatus, then this is a place for the manufacturers to establish an Underwriters Lab for efficiency.  All electrical devices in the US are certified by Underwriters Labs not to be fire hazards.  The insurance companies established and fund UL because at the turn of the century too many electrical appliances were starting fires or sauteing people, and some sort of testing and certification was needed to limit loses.  An Energy Star operation could charge manufacturers for testing and use of the brand. What it could do immediately is to re-publish the Energy Star website  before Scott Pruitt sends it down the rat hole.  Anybunny have a spare server?   The info is a US Government publication and there is no copyright.  There is money to be made here folks and this would be a great opening for a Kickstarter operation.  It would be a natural for Consumer Reports.

Eli's original though still holds, things are bought on purchase price.  Very few think about lifetime, operating and disposal costs without prodding from regulations and SJWs.

Which brings the Bunny to Part Two.  What is the probability of a nuclear revival in the US.


The reason is very much the same as what happens when a bunny purchases a carrot storage device aka refrigerator (Eli does leave a bit of room for Ms. Rabett's yogurt,  after  all, she is his muse).

Nuclear power plants have a)very high capital costs and b) very high decommisioning costs although operating costs are very low.  From the standpoint of a utility, a nuclear plant requires a large investment before it begins to generate revenue, and a pretty well undefined commitment for decommisioning.  Since b) has to be carried on the spreadsheet as a liability, and the actual cost is pretty well undefined the CFO of a utility would have to be insane to agree to building a nuclear plant.

To be clear, this is not the case where the plant is built by a government  or a government entity like China, or EDF or TVA because their time horizon extends well beyond the next quarter.

It also explains why natural gas is being substituted for coal.  Not only is natural gas cheaper, the capital costs of natural gas power plants are lower, they are more modular and they can be slotted into existing spaces, built faster, etc.  and oh yes, much less polluting even if you consider greenhouse gases and nothing else.  The nothing else is the ground level pollution of the air and water that makes Chinese and Indian cities so deadly today, and Western cities so deadly yesterday.  It costs capital to clean coal emissions up and safely dispose of the ash and that erodes any desire of utilities to continue investing in coal.

Let us not talk about the energy and $ cost of carbon capture.  Even there natural gas has a big advantage.  Carbon capture technology from the smokestack will require serious cleaning of the emissions.  Capture from the ambient air, is IEHO, the affliction of science.  Of course if the utilities can dump the emissions and the ash wherever, that encourages investment in coal.  Coal is the ultimate tragedy of the commons.  To deal with it requires moving those costs onto the utilities and mines balance sheets. Utilities need to be exposed to the cost of their emissions to move them away from fossil fuels.

Renewables are a different balance.  Operating costs are small but capital costs are high although decreasing.  The modularity of renewables is a great advantage over nuclear which comes in single ginourmous lumps with long construction times.  A single wind turbine, by nature requires only a small investment.  As with gas turbines, the wind/solar components can be mass produced in factories and shipped to the assembly site. Wind farms/solar can be installed in smaller chunks each of which comes on line as finished and can start to immediately generate revenue to support further installations.

So the action on the power generation front is going to be renewables vs. natural gas. 

So what is needed

1.  Regulations to limit the worst emissions, quantify costs and show them explicitly to the public.  Limitations are necessary for those emissions whose cost is so high that their effects are immediate and dangerous, such as lead and NOx. 

2.  A  tax on greenhouse gas emissions which would either displace other taxes or be rebated.  See Eli Rabett's simple plan to save the world the brilliance of which is that it really would not require Trump to sign on, if the rest of the developed world did.

Having solved all problems, Eli hops on.

Moresuch on Gorsuch

Read Mashey. Definitely plagiarism, and Gorsuch didn't read "his" primary sources (e.g. a court case that was sealed years prior to Gorsuch, after the author who Gorsuch copied had read the filings). The claims by his academic defenders, who should've been supervising him better, that you're supposed to cite primary sources and not secondary ones are laughable in these circumstances. Like Wegman, I'm not sure how they're supposed to supervise students given what they say is acceptable.

Academia does give you the ability to cite primary sources you haven't read, btw:  you cite the secondary source you have read as then citing the primary source that you wish you had read. This way you get to make your point while acknowledging that your support for it is flimsy - an honest way to go about the work.

If more of this stuff turns up in Gorsuch's background then he'll be a crippled member of the Supreme Court.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

First Quarter of 2017 Is Warmer Than the 2016 Annual Average

January through March anomaly is 1.04C above the already-warmed 1950-1980 baseline. The record-warm 2016 was .98C above. I hadn't thought there'd be any chance that a (so far) non-El Nino year would beat the 2016 record, but now I'm not so sure.

Who knows what regression to the mean means anymore for climate, but given even odds I'd still guess 2016 will come out on top. And OTOH given even odds I'd say 2017 will beat 2015's former warmest record of .86C. I'd take some level of odds against me that 2017 will be at least the third-warmest year on record, easily beating 2014's former warmest record of .74C. The rest of 2017 would have to average below .64C to end up less than 2014, a temperature that was typical 10 years ago but not anymore.

UPDATE May 22:  see the comments, April data is coming in.  April for GISS is the coolest month yet, and it's still slightly warmer than 2015. Temps will now have to drop significantly lower than 2015 for the rest of the year if that year will end up warmer than this. So it's nearly a lock that 2017 is one of the two warmest years on record, it's just unclear if it's #1 or #2.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reverse Auction Referees Reports: Longer Than a Tweet, Shorter Than a Post

Eli notes periodical (every 6.77 months) discussions about why the hell has my paper not been reviewed in six months and the double reverse, who the hell has time symphony.  The bunny has a simple suggestion, editors should send their begs with an accompanying set of set of rules, For example

1. Do the review in ten days and win $30
2,   Do the review in twenty days and win $15
3.    Take longer and we have a list of where to send your next paper.
Now somebunnies will argue that the publishers are going broke as it is, but think, they could surely offer discounts on the next set of publication charges, Even better they could offer transferable certificates that could be traded for such things as pizzas and maybe even lab supplies.  A chocolate bar or even a carrot in the mail would go far with Eli.

Of course, some have seen the light.  Unfortunately none that Eli reviews for

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Other Ethics Problem for Gorsuch That's Not Being Discussed

So Gorsuch has something of a plagiarism problem. This is 100% plagiarism without question. Less certain is if it's intentional plagiarism or incompetent writing, and more broadly whether what we're seeing is the whole extent of the problem and just the start. Another ethical layer is whether the plagiarism is originally Gorsuch's plagiarism or from an unacknowledged researcher whose work Gorsuch put out at as his own.

Years ago I was in a somewhat similar situation as Gorsuch (minus the hypothetical unacknowledged researcher). I was writing a chapter of a book on legal issues and like him I relied heavily on a law review article. In my case and unlike Gorsuch, I took a paragraph or two from the article, condensed them down to a sentence in my own words, and then cited the article. I repeated this multiple times. This is how I avoided "patchwriting," switching a few words here and there as Gorsuch did. There's a cost to this approach - the chapter wasn't as fully fleshed out as I wanted, and the heavy reliance on that one source could not have been more plain - but at least it was honest. It also cost me a lot of time to do this, so I'm not impressed with his alternative.

There is another ethics problem to what Gorsuch did that hasn't been touched AFAICT. He switched a few words from other people's works while keeping everything else the same, including their citations, and that's the problem - it is highly likely that he never verified the accuracy of those citations. When someone is cutting and pasting texts after massaging a few words, it seems there's very little chance the plagiarist spent the much greater amount of time to look up the citations. Gorsuch has no idea if his citations say what he says they say, and that's unethical.

One problem however is going from highly likely to proven - how do we show that he never checked them? Someone with the time can go and look them up, I suppose, and then it could come down to the accuracy of the author whose work was stolen.

Again this could be sloppy, incompetent plagiarism instead of an intentional practice, and it could have been him sponging off of a researcher. What really matters is if it happened a significant number of times in his work.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Communicating Science Uncertainty

Eli has been listening to young folks talk about science teaching and science listening.  Although this will be a very short post, IEHO it is worthy of more than a few comments.

Allow Eli to start with a college student's observation that scientists have trouble communicating to the public because they are used to the give and take of talking with other scientists where everybunny is free to quibble, make errors and disagree but to be taken seriously one must remain within the well proven boundaries of common knowledge.  Understanding grows through the interchange but if you fail the bullshit tests and remain obdurate, others simply roll their eyes and walk.

According to the student, and Eli agrees, this is confusing to the broad public for reasons that are partially explained below.

The second point, made by a younger student, is that running the K-12 standardized testing gauntlet does not prepare kids for any kind of intellectual give and take, nor do textbooks encourage same.  Multiple choice questions have ABCD (maybe E) answers and the students never learn how to engage in the give and take of scientific discourse.  Textbooks do not usually help much if at all.  To be honest, most university, let alone K-12 science teachers themselves are uncomfortable about teaching through argumentation although there is movement, at least at the college level towards experiential learning through guided discourse.  Note that guided, it is not free form, there are constraints and the lessons have to be carefully planned to work otherwise the students wander off into denial land and worse.

Now, as much fun as it is to engage with the Willards o the Wisp the constraints of reality are what bounds scientific discourse.  Eli's recent ruminations on the greenhouse effect and gravity as well as the comments are good examples of the characteristic give and take, how strong constraints from distance can set the limits for basic processes that apparently have little to do with the bounding forces, and eye rolls when the denial starts.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Trump's War on Coal Country and Humanity

From The Roanoke Times editorial, "Trump breaks a promise to coal country":

Whenever Donald Trump campaigned in Southwest Virginia last year, he invariably talked up his support for coal. He also talked up a specific way he’d do it – by investing in the “clean coal” technology that can scrub some of the carbon out of coal emissions...

The technology – officially called “carbon capture” – does work. What doesn’t work – not yet anyway – is a business model that makes carbon capture profitable. That hasn’t stopped the research, though. Some of that research is taking place through the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech, which since 2009 has used an $11.5 million federal grant to test carbon capture at mines in Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.

Carbon capture research may have the goal of creating environmentally-friendly coal but environmentalists haven’t exactly been keen on it. They see “clean coal” as prolonging an industry they’re reflexively against. Still, if even Barack Obama – famous for waging a “war on coal” – could see fit to include more than $3 billion for clean coal research in his stimulus package, surely Trump would do even better, right?


Trump’s proposed budget cuts funding for energy research by almost 18 percent — $2 billion. Because the proposed budget came with few details attached, it’s unclear just how much, if any, money would remain for the Office of Fossil Energy to spend on clean coal research. It’s notable that some conservative groups – specifically the influential Heritage Foundation, whose ideas formed the basis for Trump’s budget – had proposed eliminating the office entirely....

Something is not right with this picture: Obama did more for clean coal research than Trump is, yet it was Trump who ran on a platform of “we’re going to go clean coal.” ....the budget that Trump has proposed undercuts the region’s ability to develop a new economy at almost every turn:

n Trump wants to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency that awards grants for economic development projects....

n Trump wants to eliminate the Economic Development Administration, an agency that awards grants for economic development projects in economically-distressed areas across the country....Want to know something else curious? Obama directed the EDA to pay special attention to coal communities; now Trump wants to get rid of the program entirely.

n Trump wants to eliminate the Abandoned Mine Land program, which has provided $90 million for the nation’s three biggest coal states – West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania – to turn old mine sites into potential economic development sites....

Appalachia gave Trump its love – and its votes. In return, Trump backhands some of his strongest supporters....The Trump vision for coal counties seems to be limited simply to hoping traditional coal mining will come back and nothing more....

Is that really what people in the coalfields voted for?

Trump may help some CEOs out, but it's not just the future of the rest of the world that Trump is screwing over, it's coal country's possible future. I've noted the repeated failure of carbon capture and sequestration, and its failure is no victory for environmentalists - the pathways limiting climate change to 2C or less rely often (always?) on negative carbon emissions, and CCS is key to that.

Trump says the words "clean coal" and then eviscerates environmental regulation of coal mining and funding for CCS. As the editorial shows, he's trying to cut funding that would give any alternative future to coal country, and of course he won't do the coal miner pension protection that Hillary proposed.

All this on top of the lies about climate change and the attempted rollback of major American programs like the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emission regulations. The world is kicked in the teeth, and coal country is no better off than the rest of us.