Does anyone care about Theon?

Nowadays I seem to rely on wikipedia for my news stories. Not necessarily for the truth, but that something has occurred. So this little thread at global warming piqued my interest (note, BTW, how the poor dear septics don’t even bother trying to edit the page any more, having been crushed so often by the Mailed Fist): I’m a sceptic now, says ex-NASA climate boss says The Register. Working in an office full of software engineers (not to mention the odd visiting hardware bod) I see lots of people reading El Reg (very briefly of course, in their very short lunch breaks, did I say lunch break, I meant… actually we have a very nice free canteen), but hadn’t realised it had become a septic rag.

My usual suspects (see blogroll) don’t seem to have looked this one up [update: that was true when I wrote this, but no longer. Deltoid snipes, and provides helpful links to Gavin’s take and BCL], so I was forced to. The US senate wacko index gives him a high rating, and bolsters him with a handy link to his google scholar count, which I suppose is what passes for a citation index nowadays in this debased world. I’m not sure why they link to his scholar count, because its deeply unimpressive, event by comparison with my own hardly stellar career. Theon’s count shows he hasn’t published for ages, and hardly anyone bothers to cite what he did write (he seems to have been involved in TRMM, which is worthy enough). Clearly, his reputation doesn’t rest on science, but on being some kind of administrator.

What sort of administrator? An “ex-NASA climate boss” according to the Reg. Or “formerly in charge of key NASA climate programs” – these are clearly his credentials, and why we should believe whatever it is he is saying. [per update above, it looks rather strongly as though these claims of prominence have been exaggerated].

In his correspondence with Morano, Theon starts off by establishing his technical competence:

-----Original Message-----
From: Jtheon [mailto:jtheon@XXXXXXX]
Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2009 10:05 PM
To: Morano, Marc (EPW)

Subject: Climate models are useless

Marc, First, I sent several e-mails to you with an error in the address and they have been 
returned to me. So I'm resending them in one combined e-mail.  

But we can trust what he says on global warming because

As Chief of several NASA Hq. Programs (1982-94), an SES position, I was responsible for all weather and climate research in the entire agency, including the research work by James Hansen, Roy Spencer, Joanne Simpson, and several hundred other scientists at NASA field centers, in academia, and in the private sector who worked on climate research. This required a thorough understanding of the state of the science. I have kept up with climate science since retiring by reading books and journal articles.

I don’t think that’s credible. Anyone with a thorough understanding of the science would be able to make a better stab at finding holes in it; Theon just blunders around repeating garbled versions of the std.septic stuff.

Errm, there isn’t much else; read it yourself if you care.

I tried to find something he had written during his tenure as Head Honcho in the 80’s that says something about climate, but failed. Can anyone do any better? [BCL wins the prize: Undoubtedly, humankind is affecting the environment. Inadvertent climate system changes brought about by mass loadings of carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, etc.” Notice how earlier Theon claims to have been thoroughly on top of the science in those days?]

Incidentally, did you know that drroyspencer is a wacko? And did you realise he’s a Dr? With A Ph. D.? You should trust him, because of that. These things are important.

[Theon declared non-nontable: [[Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/John Theon]]. Some interesting stuff in the debate about how important he was. Answer, not very -W]

Pilloried again

You know the old T-shirt slogan: “Help the police. Beat yourself up”.

Anyway, Nurture have the traditional Inuit-imperilled-by-climate-change stuff, only its a bit more interesting because they link to a paper that actually tries to quantify the effects. Or it would be interesting, if not hidden behind a money wall.

But I have my traditional response: when you’re obliged to say things like But financial constraints are hindering the community. Insurance for expensive equipment, such as the snowmobiles the hunters need to use on the increasingly circuitous routes to the hunting grounds, is difficult to obtain. Governmental compensation schemes are reported to be inadequate. And record oil prices in 2008 drained family resources then you should recognise the obvious: the indirect impacts of modern society on the Inuit via climate change are trivial compared to the massive direct impacts from guns, snowmobiles, drink, finance, oil and simple contact with outside societies.

If, for whatever reason, you’re interested in preserving the traditional Inuit community, then you don’t worry about the price of imported oil; you worry about using imported oil at all. You don’t worry about insurance on snowmobiles; you worry about not using dogs (or whatever it was that traditional Inuits used; I may be mixing up my legends).

The Inauguration, impartially consider’d

Courtesy of A+S’s Inaug party (great idea – thanks again), we watched the Inaug live on BBC, though I had to leave before the post-match analysis. I enjoyed it – it was a good show. His speech was well delivered, rousing even, if not great. It was interesting, very listenable, and said some good things. I guess you can get the text of the address from any number of places; wikisource has it, conveniently only two clicks away from El Shrubbo’s. And there is the problem: GWB says many nice things too. Who said While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth; and sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation; and this is my solemn pledge, “I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.” The answer, of course, is Bush. He was lying; only time will tell about Obama.

Highlights of the show:

* When Obama said As for our common defense, we accept as false the choice between our safety and our ideals the screen cut to a stony-faced Bush for a second or two. Everyone laughed (at him). That can only be a promise to give up torture and the other evils of the Bush presidency; lets hope Obama lives up to it.
* At In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing we all laughed and said “that’s us!” (that was OK though; our real foreign policy mistake was failing to support the South in the civil war).
* Joseph Lowery and his may the yellow be mellow. Though apparently its not new, it sounded great.

Reading the entrails, from my own narrow perspective:

* each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet – recognises global warming, I suppose, but in a way that will offend no-one.
* We will restore science to its rightful place – a dig a Bush’s politisation of science, perhaps, and a promise to do better.
* We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories – alternative energy; good. Biofuel boondoggles; bad.

There was lots of stuff about Hard Choices. That was good; now is a time to promise such stuff, and it makes it harder for people to complain later if you do make such choices. But there was no clarity about what the Hard bits might turn out to be; so we’ll have to wait to see. Reaching out to the Muslim world was good too. He even made a token nod towards the atheists: We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. Though somehow or other, in a land that pretends to believe in seperation of church and state, it was all very christian.

The poem… tricky stuff, poems. I wasn’t impressed, nor were the folks around me. Apparently its not common to have a poem; this is only the fourth time; and it doesn’t come close to the Gift Outright [Update: its here. On second thoughts, I think much the same. Don’t get professors to write poetry]. Although, if that link is to be believed, Frost had a lucky escape from “Dedication”. So I leave you with:

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

[This has had lots of comments, thank you. But they are starting to repeat. I’m going to be more aggressive in deleting attempts to get the last word -W]

Neuromancer, Beedle and The Uses of Enchantment

I’ve been re-reading Neuromancer whilst putting my daughter to bed. Fear not, she gets stuff like The Tales of Beedle the Bard instead. Of the two, N is far and away the better book (wiki tells me that the novel appeared on Time magazine’s list of 100 best English-language novels written since 1923; the authors utter ignorance of computing technology doesn’t detract from it as a novel, though oddly wiki doesn’t find room to mention how inaccurate his vision of cyberspace has proved). It’s the ultimate look-n-feel book; you just let yourself get carried away with the flow, and ignore the general nonsense. I loved reading it again; the vision of the AI’s aching for completion is an enduring image. An afterword mentions that one of the three inspirations for the book was Alfred Bester’s Tiger, Tiger which is certainly superior to N in terms of literary quality, wit, verve and invention. Read that first.

Beedle demonstrates that JKR can’t write fairy stories; every one of them jars. The Uses of Enchantment helps explain why (apart from the fact that JKR just isn’t a good writer, even if she did have the great luck to stumble upon a good story and tell it mostly well). TUOE is a great book, though there seems to be some doubt about who wrote it, even if you don’t buy all the Freudian analysis. Is especially good for leftie middle-class parents worried about burning the witch. It turns out to be correct; she had to die.

Back to the river

i-a4d43b9e49611c411f84537470f56e05-DSCN3102-chesterton-blades.JPG First outing this year, on a day that fitted the description of english weather “all four seasons in a day”. Happily that included summer, since I was down to shorts and a tee-shirt in the sunshine portion. We couldn’t scrounge up eight people so went out in the IV of doom, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, just a bit hard to sit. And… it was fun. And we sat it, sometimes. And we even went back to do an extra reach because it was fun. Even when I got a blister in my palm from being on the wrong side.

Hegel does maths

While browing the Dictionary of Philosophy, on my way towards Hobbes, I stopped at Hegel, and noticed a comment about his “orbits of the planets”, something to the effect that the view that he proved, from first principles, that there are seven planets, is an error of translation. Odd, I thought: Hegel I know little about, other than a vague disrespect and a lack of interest in finding out more. But I didn’t know he was up to astronomy or maths; and… he isn’t. You can read it here if you like.

It looks to me like nonsense, along the lines of the modern French philosophers stuff that Sokal shredded. Lots of it is words that could mean anything; the first obvious error is in his analysis of book 1, section II, prop 1 of the Principia, which Hegel thinks shows that both the arcs and the areas are proportional to time. This is wrong, clearly: in an elliptical orbit, the body moves slower at apogee, and traces out less arc in unit time than when at perigee. Or if you prefer the geometrical view, in an elliptical orbit the arcs *must* be smaller when the radii are larger, because the areas remain the same. There follows some confusion about the physical meaning of the parallelogram of forces… he seems to think that the mathematical resolution represents some physical reality. Hegel appears to be following the failed Greek idea of deducing the world from pure though, disdaining tedious experiment: Perhaps philosophy itself can deduce a priori what the experimental method, which assumes the name of philosophy, tries to discover with false and fruitless success from experiments, seeking therein with a sort of blind enthusiasm after the shadows of true philosophical concepts in sense perceptions. This doesn’t seem likely, when Hegel manages to decide that the tangent to the ellipse represents centrifugal force (I may have got that wrong because the entire thing is so badly garbled its hard to understand. I *think* it may partly be the standard “does centrifugal force exist”, garbled, but its hard to be sure). On the plus side, he notices that in the famous application of the law of centripetal force to the motion of the moon and to the planets with their satellites, there is no reference to any relation between the masses. Clearly this gravitation law is a law merely of the phenomenon of motion and not a force law at all but alas he misses his chance when he decides It would be tedious to discuss the distinction. Fairly soon after he discovers that law can be inverted which says that the gravitation force stands in inverse ratio to the square of the distances, so we can say instead that it stands in direct ratio to the square of distances. How he got there I don’t know, but we may as well skip lightly onwards from this point.

Ah. Suddenly I’m at the end. The seven-planets stuff is just the standard attempts at numerology to find a pattern in the planets orbits which isn’t there (he should have stuck to his first sentence: relations of planetary displacements, which appear to be a matter of experience alone); he certainly doesn’t say there are only seven, assuming the translation is honest. What a let down.

A brief googling doesn’t point me at any interesting commentaries on this text. Is it now regarded as uninteresting juvenilia, to be quietly ignored? In conclusion I suppose I should note that being wrong about area A doesn’t mean you’re wrong about area B: Hobbes, who I was heading for, made any number of embarassing maths errors, which don’t touch Leviathan.

[Update: Gauss wasn’t impressed – see comments -W]

[2020 update: this got referred to at Slate Star Codex (What The Hell, Hegel? under the “inexcusable scientific errors” text) alas, that’s a pointer to the ScienceBlogs version, so doesn’t get the correction.]


Arctic Sea Ice Retreat: When Will the Arctic Ocean be Ice-Free During Summer?

Asks climatematters@columbia. But they ask it in a way that suggests they think the trend is going to be steep. So I offered them the standard bet. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in whether 2009 is likely to be a record can get some action over at ipredict (thanks Gareth). I’ve bought some; current price is about 0.23. I’m not really sure what a fair price would be; I have some buy orders in. Its quite educational.

The world is no warmer than it was 30 years ago?

Every now and again, its nice to be reminded that no matter how irritating the overenthusiasm of the greenies can be on occaision, the real wackos are on the septic side. If you can’t cope with the long words at [[Global Warming]] then you can always look at the pretty pictures. Or maybe you like numbers?. More probably, you like sticking your head in the sand.

I’m sorry, but this kind of nonsense is just tedious. The world is getting warmer. You can argue about just how fast, and there is certainly a lot of room to discuss how much of a problem this is and how best to deal with it, but try to avoid arguing with basic reality. If you’re really naughty, you may end up on CNN.

[Update: lots of exciting fighting in the comments, but things are getting lost there. In particular, M offers us a bet, but its terms are obscure as is who its directed at. So I’m pulling it up here, and am interested in taking it up, if it can be clarified. As I understand it, M is offering If you think the naughties were normal, you should be quite willing to bet that the temperature over the next 5 years will average significantly above the average for 2002-2007. $1000 says it won’t. But he hasn’t defined “significant”. I take it that is *isn’t* prepare to bet $1000 that the 2008-12 average won’t simply be higher than 2002-2007 (why is he using 6 year periods but talking about 5 year averages?). Assuming he isn’t, I’m interested in the bet, provided we can agree a meaningful definition of “sig”, and… we know who he is. You can’t expect known people who can’t run away to put up against an anon, who can cut-n-run.

More update: we negotiated over the terms of the bet, and came close, but only at the expense of taking the bet down to $100, which is trivia. At that level, we’re only doing it for reputation, which is meaningless for an anon. So no bet -W]