Testing, testing

Having a comment policy is a good idea. But then it can be fun to test the limits of other people’s (cite, in case the limits turn out to be as hard as announced).

Errm, pinch-and-a-punch, first of the month, no returns 🙂

You can use this thread to discuss comment policy if you like.

CAFE Standards are Extremely Inefficient

Or so says Marginal Revolution (via Timmy). I repeat it here to wind up all the people who continually tell me how wonderful fuel efficiency standards are. Prediction: no-one will change their minds.

a gas tax provides immediate, direct incentives for drivers to reduce gasoline use, while the efficiency standards must squeeze the reduction out of new vehicles only. The new standards also encourage more driving, not less.

Context: people keep telling me, whenever the subject comes up “but look how fuel efficiency has increased over the last 2-3 decades, it must be due to fuel efficiency standards” (see comments here for the latest repeats). I invariably reply: “but fuel prices have also increased a lot, how do you disentangle the effects?” And they repeat “Oh, yeah, maybe, but fuel efficiency standards are a really good idea because… obviously” (I may have slightly simplified the discussion, you understand).

This new study also provides something new to the discussion, which I’m sure a moments thought would have provided earlier (so clearly, no-one has been thinking :-): that new efficiency standards only help on new vehicles, which is a small proportion of the fleet, initially; whereas fuel taxes work for everyone.


* Case Overview, CAFE Standards (107th Congress).
* Attack of the Martian Tree Spiders!
* Scientific Meta-Literacy – via P3

Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?

A fascinating paper, Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances? by Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson and Ragnar Torvik (h/t FE). There is a pile of maths in there, but you don’t really need it and I only skimmed it. From the conclusions:

In many weakly-institutionalized democracies, particularly in Latin America, voters have recently dismantled constitutional checks and balances that are commonly thought to limit presidential rents and abuses of power. In this paper, we develop an equilibrium model of checks and balances in which voters may vote for the removal of such constraints on presidential power. Our main argument is simple: checks and balances are indeed effective (at least partially) in reducing presidential discretion and prevent policies that are not in line with the interests of the majority of the citizens. This naturally reduces presidential rents, which is however a double-edged sword. By reducing presidential rents, checks and balances make it cheaper to bribe or influence politicians through non-electoral means such as lobbying and bribes. In weakly-institutionalized polities where such non-electoral influences, particularly by the better organized elite, are a major concern, voters may prefer a political system without checks and balances as a way of insulating politicians from these influences. In consequence, voters may dismantle checks and balances, implicitly accepting a certain amount of politician rent or politicians’ pet policies that they do not like, in order to ensure redistribution when they believe that the rich elite can influence politics through non-electoral means.

They provide examples from Venezuela and Ecuador to illustrate their ideas. The basic idea, restated, is that the poor get to elect the pols, but the rich get to bribe them, so the poor may prefer pols too rich to bribe.

Note that their model is a steady-state one; it includes nothing about effects such as the country falling apart as megalomaniac Prez’s ruin the economy. Nonetheless, that process is slow enough, and deltas from the current state are what count, so voters might, in a prisoners-dilemma sort of way, choose to ignore that problem.

This has eerie echoes of Hobbes (which the paper fails to cite, tsk tsk, young folk nowadays):

The difference between these three kinds of Commonwealth consisteth not in the difference of power, but in the difference of convenience or aptitude to produce the peace and security of the people; for which end they were instituted. And to compare monarchy with the other two, we may observe: first, that whosoever beareth the person of the people, or is one of that assembly that bears it, beareth also his own natural person. And though he be careful in his politic person to procure the common interest, yet he is more, or no less, careful to procure the private good of himself, his family, kindred and friends; and for the most part, if the public interest chance to cross the private, he prefers the private: for the passions of men are commonly more potent than their reason. From whence it follows that where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced. Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissension, to maintain a war against their enemies; whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.

In fact Hobbes has a somewhat different intent there, so I’m being unfair to the authors. He’s explaining why Monarchy (effectively, Presidential rule is Monarchy) is better than other forms of government. Elsewhere, he does say that if the pols are corrupt, you’re better off with only one of them. I don’t think he ever mentions the too-rich-to-bribe argument, though.

Thinking beyond pipelines?

There is a nice article by DM at Planet3.0 on the Keystone XL pipeline. I almost didn’t bother read it, ‘cos I’m a bit bored by all that, but I’m glad I did because he gets it quite right in an illuminating way:

The anti-keystone movement, or more generally the entire anti-tar-sands movement, is trying to reduce our GHG emissions by attacking the supply side of the equation. Essentially the strategy boils down to getting governments and corporations to turn their backs and walk away from huge sums of money…

So what is the alternative?

What if instead fighting a never-ending battle against a specific project (like the Keystone XL pipeline) we could focus on reducing demand for fossil fuels. What if instead of asking governments and corporations to walk away from profits we made it so there simply was no demand (or at least reduced demand) for their products and thus no profits to be made in digging up and selling the bitumen buried under the forest in Northern Alberta….

There are many ways to go about achieving this goal, perhaps the two most obvious being some form carbon pricing (a carbon tax or cap-and-trade) and efficiency regulations.

I’m all in favour of Carbon Taxes as you know, against cap-n-trade, and not keen on efficiency regulations.


In other news: Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/International Climate Science Coalition closed as redirect to Tom Harris, which is moderately funny.

Eli is talking about some bloke called Gallileo (probably a relative of Galileo Galilei) and his troubles with the Church. He misses the point, which is an interesting angle I think you’ll find, that the Church at the time was quite receptive to GG’s ideas; but GG tried to push them too fast. Vague, possibly not entirely historically accurate summary: the Church was uneasily aware of, say, Copernicus’ work (the Church had some of the best astronomers around, and certainly weren’t ignorant). They were aware they might have to reassess their geocentrism. What they couldn’t do was flip-flop. Because they claim to possess Eternal Truth. So it was OK to have gone from “the Earth is flat / square” (not feeling bound by biblical verses about the four corners of the Earth. “Oh yes, those were just metaphorical you know”.) And heliocentrism could have come in too (the few verses that implied geocentrism were weak, and could have been waved away, as they ultimately were). But they couldn’t afford to switch to heliocentrism before they were sure of it, because switching back again if wrong would have been intolerable.


* Keystone XL decision will define Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change – John Abraham in the Graun.

The strange case of the denialists inability to read

Or, perhaps, not so strange, you might well say. I’m talking about Has Global Warming Stalled? I’m not sure what is supposed to be new about it – it looks like the same tired old stuff. The “gotcha” bit is supposed to be

The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more

and we then are shown a picture with some flat lines on it. The picture doesn’t show the 95% confidence intervals for the trends – I suspect that was beyond the poster’s ski1z. But anyway, that’s not the point: the point is the words that have been omitted, which I’ll bold below:

ENSO-adjusted warming in the three surface temperature datasets over the last 2–25 yr continually lies within the 90% range of all similar-length ENSO-adjusted temperature changes in these simulations (Fig. 2.8b). Near-zero and even negative trends are common for intervals of a decade or less in the simulations, due to the model’s internal climate variability. The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more

This isn’t even a new mistake. Its the same as in the American Drinker Climate Forecaster of The Year 2010. So rather than thinking, I may as well copy what I said there:

So this is the familiar situation: the denialists are cherry-picking their starting year of 1998. If you don’t do that, or if you take out ENSO (as the 2008 report explicitly did; or as Foster and Rahmstorf did), then you see the warming you expect.

Not everyone at WUWT falls for the nonsense. “Phil” points out the ENSO adjustment bit (as well as some other errors, never mind them for now). It goes quiet in the comments after that. It would be nice to think that’s because they’re all embarrassed at their carelessness, but more likely its because they’ve moved on to the next piece of tripe.


* Updated comparison of simulations and observations by Climate Lab Book.

The sleepwalkers

He moves in darkness as it seems to me / Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

128613805 The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe is a 1959 book by Arthur Koestler, and one of the main accounts of the history of cosmology and astronomy in the Western World, beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and ending with Isaac Newton. At least, that’s what wiki sez, so it must be so. Its a good book; I recommend it. It isn’t flawless – one of its entertaining ideas, that no-one really read Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium – has been, shall we say, heavily challenged by Owen Gingerich (that book is quite good too, but a bit laboured). But at the worst that bit can be counted as a “fruitful mistake”.

Its really an account of the history of the Copernicus / Brahe / Kepler / Newton shift from geocentric to heliocentric astronomy, and from an essentially geometric view to a physics-based one (see-also my Feynman on Brahe for a detail, from which I find I’ve linked Science controversies past and present, also worth a read).

The entire process is endlessly fascinating, but the point that I keep coming back to wonder at is the epicycles. This starts with the Greeks, who decided something like: the heavens are perfect, circles are perfect, therefore planets move in circles. I may have simplified just a little, but not much. The Greeks weren’t heavily into observations, so my suspicion is that the people who thought this up didn’t really believe it, or much care: it explained what they needed, and that would do. People who actually needed to predict the movements of the planets then found it was inaccurate; and for such practical people adding enough epicycles left you with the ability to predict far enough in advance. And somehow the idea that perfect motion was circular was reconciled with the the full knowledge that the motion modelled was composition-of-circles, which isn’t circular, and isn’t perfect. Weird.

And somehow this because the accepted model of reality. Since at that point they had no physics the fact that it was physically ridiculous wasn’t a cogent objection. But somehow what should have been an objection, wasn’t: that you couldn’t make one epicycle model fit all the observations. So you had different, incompatible, models for different situations (I struggle to remember the details, do feel free to help me out, but I think it was position / speed / distance. You can tell, I think, that I have little patience with the details: like the antient Greeks, I’m not a detail man).

Holocene_Temperature_Variations And now (like some long-winded C of E vicar) I finally come round to my point. Which is trying to talk about past temperature variation with the self-described “lukewarmers” (I know, I know: what’s the point you cry? Well, you have to try. Or at least someone has to). The bizarrely-enobled M Ridley asserts (in a piece once published by the GWPF but now taken down for unclear reasons, but copied by TF; webcite) that:

We now know there is nothing unprecedented about the level and rate of change of temperature today compared with Medieval, Roman, Holocene Optimum and other post-glacial periods…

You might wonder “how do we know this”? If you’re MR, or part of the septicosphere, the answer is easy: you know it in the same way that antient Greeks knew the planets moved in circles: its obvious; all your friends know it; and anyone you ask knows it; its part of your mythology. What more is needed? MR’s answer is Ljungqvist, which we’ll come back to in a bit, but the problem with that is that it only goes back 2kyr, so doesn’t cover the HO. TF isn’t fazed by that, however, because he refers me to the wiki page I’ve inlined. So I said:

First of all, its a pile of wiggly lines. None of them are in any sense a global or hemispheric series. You’re obviously not choosing to take the max of the envelope, because that would be cheating. So perhaps you’re taking the thick black line. Which is colder than 2004, which is colder than now.

This just bounces off TF. Eventually, after several iterations, it turns out that he really is choosing to take the max of the envelope as his temperature series. Put that way, its obviously wrong, so he says the same thing in different words in order to disguise this from himself:

Every place that produced data produces warmer temperatures than the present during the Holocene.

So that’s it: we know that the planet as a whole was warmer, because individual locations, and different times, were warmer. That the average was cooler doesn’t register: its not the answer they want to hear. Its the epicycles again: you can fit some of your observations with one set, and then you switch to another set at need. The idea isn’t even self-consistent, because you could find obs of individual locations of now that show positive – or negative, if you pleased – swings; but that too wouldn’t mean much.


But what of Ljungqvist, I hear you cry? Indeed. MR is good enough to reproduce a figure from L, or rather as he coyly says “Adapted from Ljungqvist”. Here is the adapted version:


Nice, eh? All conveniently labelled to lead the eye. And look, its colder now that it used to be. Cased closed? But wait, here’s the original:


airbrush Notice anything… different? I don’t mean the lack of glorious technicolour that MR added. No, I mean there seems to be something… missing… in MR’s version. What can it be? I’m sure if I look hard I’ll be able to see it. Oh yes! Its that dotted line at the end – the one that ends up higher than the rest of the graph. What can it possibly be? Oh yes, its CRUTEM3+HadSST2 90–30°N record, decadal mean values AD 1850–1999. How very careless of MR to have somehow omitted that line in the process of copying out the figure.

So now we know how MR proposes to support his assertions: provide evidence that doesn’t cover the period in question, and erase information that contradicts his assertions – even when that comes from the very refs he is quoting.

Although, in fact, all of this isn’t terribly relevant to anything that matters. I’m only going into it because I happened to fall into a pit of argument, how very unlike me.

And finally

Notice that very little gets said about the rate-of-change in all the above. That the current rate of change is not unprecedented is one of MR’s points, but one he doesn’t even attempt to support. Since it looks increasingly likely that the Eemian (last interglacial, keep up at the back there) was warmer than now, I at least would be inclined to go for rate of change as being more important that absolute temperature as a problem. That fits in with the problems-likely-to-come-from-ecology viewpoint, too. I’m sure I’ve said that before, or perhaps just agreed with it. I comment on it in a comment, if that helps.

[Update: TF has partly acknowledged his error; no signs of MR waking up. I say partly because “challenged that statement and I found that I could not back it up” isn’t really a fair description of the discussion. A closer description would be that I pointed out, in a variety of different ways, the same problem: that he had no evidence for what he was asserting. This bounced off time after time: TF wasn’t thinking. Finally, Jim Bouldin shows up and tells TF I’m right – and TF instantly caves in to authority. This is no way to convince anyone that you’re open to reasoned argument.

He also fails the “hide the incline” tribality test, too.

And then updated to add the Frost quote, because it is almost appropriate and unbearably beautiful -W]

[Update: RH points out that MR is just unthinkingly copying his airbrushing from the Idsos: http://www.co2science.org/education/reports/prudentpath/prudentpath.pdf. So on the plus side, he didn’t wield the airbrush. On the minus side, it means he was dumb enough to trust the Idsos -W]

Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/International Climate Science Coalition

Are the [[International Climate Science Coalition]] notable? (webcite in case they aren’t and you care 7 days from now). By which I mean, in the sense of Wikipedia:Notability. Sources about them are thin on the ground, and those so far proposed only mention them in passing. Blogs don’t count, of course, and nor does their own PR.

We’ll find out in a bit, because its up for deletion (note: I didn’t propose it, though I did PROD it).

I put this up just for fun. I don’t encourage you to go there and “vote” (either keep or delete). You can if you like, but you’d have to have something to say – Remember that while AfD may look like a voting process, it does not operate like one. Justification and evidence for a response carries far more weight than the response itself.

[Update: really dull so far (or possibly evidence of total NN): no-one has even bother to say “keep”.]
[Update: based on the current state of the AFD, I think it will go.]

The Result

The result was redirect to Tom Harris (mechanical engineer). That was on the basis that the ICSU isn’t notable or well enough covered for its own article, and that pretty well all the coverage of it that had been found was actually about its director. And that ICSU itself is a valid search term.


– Hello, Mr. Amman. We have here for you one persecution pizza with pepperoni!
– You must be mistaken. I am currently toeing the party line, and thus not persecuted.
– Would you like to be persecuted by us? We have Team Member discount. 10 for the price of 1.
– No, thanks.
– Are you sure?
– Yes.
– So, what do we do with this persecution pizza?
– Take it to Michael Mann.
– Where does he live?
– In Hollywood.
– Where exactly?
– Ask Roger Pielke.
– Which one?
– Whatever. Can I go back to the game now? Lewandowski just scored.

(thanks to Neven).


* Sunny Afternoon

Here comes a border collie

BorderCollie Whew, that’s a relief. The Arbiter has finally spoken, and I can stop trying to think for myself. Not that I was trying very hard. No one really likes thinking for themselves anyway – if you can its hard work, and if you can’t its not pretty.

Yeah, I should probably have had a tl;dr version, which is that sensitivity is still about 3C.

Well, that’s the only bit people care about really. Mialambre continues:

The discerning reader will already have noted that my previous posts on the matter actually point to a value more likely on the low side of this rather than higher, and were I pressed for a more precise value, 2.5 might have been a better choice even then. But I’d rather be a little conservative than risk being too Pollyanna-ish about it.

Of course that’s not the bit the septics picked out (incidentally, notice that Young James has become a Hockey Team scientist; I’m not quite sure what he’s done to be awarded that distinction; probably its a sort of attempt at a Lomborgian “I was once an env” or summat); they chose:

makes a high climate sensitivity increasingly untenable. A value (slightly) under 2 is certainly looking a whole lot more plausible than anything above 4.5.

(that from an email to Andy Revkin [ref]). That’s a somewhat regrettable quote, because its easy to misinterpret it. The wackos alreay have, but I’ve already seen sane (but, it would seem, careless) people interpret it as “likely < 2”, which isn’t what it says. Since he’s already said in the blog post “sensitivities above 4.5°C are extremely unlikely (less than 5%)”, all that says is that “< 2 is more plausible that extremely unlikely” which isn’t very parseable.

The point of James’s post isn’t to argue for a particular value, but to attack the “long tail” of high sensitivities stuff, and the IPCC reporting. Its a very readable post, so I see no point in re-writing it here.

This is all wrapped up around pre-release of the IPCC AR5 report, and the wildly exciting Lewis estimate of sensitivity. Like most people who’ve looked at this JA has doubts about Nic Lewis’ analysis, as I think some of his choices are dubious and will have acted to underestimate the true sensitivity somewhat. I still think that if Lewis thinks his estimate has any value, he should write it up nicely and try to get it published. But he won’t.

Meanwhile… remember how AW was going to sue the pants off Greg Laden, or something? What happened to that? Did it just fade away like a pile of ill-thought out ranting under the light of reason?