Tol throws toys out of pram

It looks like Tol has joined the <cough> illustrious <cough> ranks of those who publish their review comments:

the commentary could be made substantially more balanced and contemplative – for example, as proof of “truth” the author cites himself and a series of mostly social media sources, with little reference to the academic literature and with little evidence of neutrality in his selection of “evidence”. There is a more unfortunate and confrontational aspect to the tone of this submission when the author makes his final unsubstantiated reflections… [not] original, nor to be of sufficient breadth or disinterested reflection to contribute to the literature, or to knowledge.

No, I haven’t read it. Of course not, why would I?

[Update: at one point I added some witty cartoons to this post. Whilst the cartoons were indeed very witty – and if you insist, for transparency, are available at this archived version – I don’t think they’re appropriate for this post -W]


* Eli
* Taking Credit for GMO Failures – KK
* h/t: Troy

Bank [of England] prods insurers about climate plans?

ft Says the FT (Oct 27, 2014 : The Bank of England has written to insurance companies to assess the risk climate change poses to their solvency and earnings. FT environment correspondent Pilita Clark and City editor Jonathan Guthrie discuss the move and regulators’ concern about global warming). Alas its a video, but worth listening to. Apparently there’s a letter from the BoE to various insurance companies, but its moderately stealthed – not on the BoE website says the video, and my attempts to search for it.

Summary: they’ve written to 30 insurers, asking them how prepared they are for Climate Change. Is it just a friendly little letter seeking to “deepen a shared understanding”? Some Qs are pro-forma, some (about 15) rather more detailed: have you considered the threshold of potentially serious extreme weather events that would start to impact the viability and solvency of your business? And then at the end “what do you consider the role of regulation”? Does this mean, do they want insurers to have to put up more capital? Not something they are looking at “at the moment” they say. Then a brief segment in which the interviewer probes the connection between GW and extreme weather. And what part of catastrophes need to be covered by The State preventing them in the first place, and what by insurers paying for cleanup?

I’m no great fan of regulation. Ensuring that your insurers remain solvent is plausibly part of the regulators job, though.


* BoE demands climate answers from insurers
* Bank of England asks if insurance business climate-proof – the Tree

Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science?

Its at The Conversation and a retweet near you, no doubt. By Lawrence Torcello, who – doubtless to my loss rather than his discredit – I’ve never heard of, and Michael E Mann, who needs no introduction. LT is a philosopher, and I guess that’s the peg to hang this one off, since we start with stuff like:

It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically.

stop1 This sounds to me like the rather familiar idea: we’ll use GW as leverage to get the other things we want: a more sustainable lifestyle, or in this case ethical maturity. I’m fairly sure I didn’t ever commit myself to this in public, though I think I thought such quietly; but I no longer think its a good idea to make this linkage. Because it doesn’t work. The other way round I could believe: more mature politics and ethics could well solve many of our problems, including GW. The authors notice that we’re not getting very far:

As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism.

Yup, that’s so. How are we going to get there, then?

Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse.

By frightening people with scare-stories, it seems. Will our society collapse, specifically because of GW rather than ebola, IS, whatever? Not obviously. I wouldn’t rule it out, and were I being honest I wouldn’t claim any great expertise at being able to assess collapse probability, but I still think it moderately dubious that we’ll collapse due to GW. I’d give a higher probability to it all falling over because some bozo in the Kremlin pushes brinkmanship too far.

The philosophy

Hume, Kant and then Rawls (who I don’t like) and even Singer leads us, apparently, to

Any politically just and morally accountable framing of climate policy must involve consistently weighing the actions of affluent industrialized nations against their impacts on the least advantaged.

at which point I find Viz’s Modern Parents called irresistibly to mind. You won’t like this (and neither do I really, because firstly its somewhat unfair and secondly because I can’t find the one where they play “ethical monopoly”) but


Anyway, the point is that people have tried in the past using the “we should be ethical” argument and it doesn’t work. In practice. All this stuff is preaching to the choir: doubtless very satisfying and perhaps the choir need to be cheered up every now and again, but its not doing much for taking the fight to the enemy (nor is this post, of course, because the enemy take care not to read here; and anyway, we’re all agreed that thinking of this in terms of Good Guys and Bad Guys really isn’t very helpful, aren’t we). In the unlikely event of anyone reading The Conversation who doesn’t already accept the arguments, I doubt they’d find this at all persuasive.

So far, the wealthiest nations of the world have exploited the benefits of fossil fuel extraction while securing a future of increased suffering for the planet’s least fortunate… Entire island cultures may be scattered and their traditional ways of life destroyed.

card Industrial / capitalist / Western civilisation has already destroyed the traditional ways of life of just about every culture its touched, including its own. For example, just recently, it destroyed the traditional habit of living in utter poverty for large numbers of Chinese peasants (but don’t worry, Russkies, soon you’ll be free of Western imperialism: Putin is bringing traditional serfdom back to you). If you’re a tourist interested in looking at poor people or a gap-toothed village elder, then that’s probably a bad thing. If you’re an ex-Chinese-peasant, its probably a good thing. Unless you were one of the ones moved to make way for the new stuff; and possibly not even then. Anyway, the point is the “traditional ways of life” card isn’t a trump either.

Does our behaviour lead to increased suffering for the planet’s least fortunate, either in the present, the near future or on the 100 year timescale? And “increased” with respect to what? Their previous state, or what they might have had had conditions been optimal? The answer to the second option is obvious so I’ll assume the former. In which case: no, fossil fuel use certainly hasn’t made life worse for the majority or people, or the majority of the poor, or the former poor, in the present. Will it in the future? Possibly, but quite possibly not. Writing an article that just assumes such things are true and makes no attempt to demonstrate it is, again, just preaching to the choir.

Well, I could go on, but doubtless you’ve got my drift by now, and either agree or… haven’t bothered read this far. Actually, I’ll finish with

We have long understood how to curb global warming through carbon pricing agreements.

because its illustrative of all the rest. Yes, we do know that carbon taxes are best. And yet, we don’t have them. So, it would be a good idea to address the question of why we don’t have them. But the article doesn’t do that. Because… well, because any such discussion will quickly get bogged down in the tedium and minutiae of politics and, horrors, economics. And the linked article in the quote is about how its would be great to have a nice simple carbon tax without any loopholes… oh, except for a couple of loopholes for our friends. Sigh.

The (climate) Science

Following my usual policy, I didn’t bother comment on any bits that I either agreed with, or didn’t think particularly implausible. ATTP looks at the 2-oC-by-2040 stuff and finds it plausible, if you’re interested.

Update: etc.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “why does he only go after the soft targets?” So, OK, how about What can we do about climate change? by Greg Laden. Once again, I don’t get far before I’m stopped by:

We could spend years working out what the best three or four things we can do might be, and try to implement them. But there will be political opposition from the right, because the right is inexplicably opposed to any action that smells like environmentalism or something that Al Gore might suggest.

Well, maybe. But its also facile and easy, because it suggests that you’d be doing better if only the other side wasn’t Evil. But actually vast swathes of the Dork Side aren’t Evil. Some of them are scientificially misinformed, but many of them just don’t like “our” economic policies. And when “our” policies include things as stupid as the ETS you should at least try to understand their viewpoint.


* Update on BC’s Effective and Popular Carbon Tax (h/t r in the comments).
* Timmy offers a solution to the planning problems solar panels sometimes have.
* The Amazing Ignorance of #EndFossilFuelSubsidies – Timmy
* Contrary To Reports, Rich Countries Do Not Subsidise Fossil Fuels By $88 Billion A Year – Timmy

“Chopper” responds

Yay, more fallout. Need I say more? Oh go on then:

This is a complete fabrication…. I dispute the description “abuse”, and suggest “use” as replacement… Prof Wadhams is apparently not content with people commenting on, or indeed even reporting, his work… This is ridiculous… This is an attempt to spuriously link the complaint to the Royal Society… If anything, my action demonstrates that bullying behaviour by senior academics can at some level be successful…

That last one, correctly, says that this isn’t just a matter of fun for the peanut gallery; its more serious than that. Note that PW has form on this issue: see footnote 25: I was subject of a complaint a just over a decade ago when Prof Wadhams accused me of “fraud, theft and plagiarism”. Can there be a more serious accusation for a young post-doctoral scientist? The complaint was found by my management at the time to be without merit.

But enough of the serious stuff. My favourite bit comes from PW himself:

You have seen the full tweet deck. It speaks for itself. Some examples…

Aie! If it f*ck*ng well speaks for itself then it does, indeed, speak for itself, and you don’t need to provide any examples, bozo. If you need to provide examples and expound upon them, then it doesn’t speak for itself.

And (not even slightly faked, but it is cropped):



* Wadhams and the mighty [sh|tw]it storm


Wadhams and the mighty [sh|tw]it storm

DSC_0905 Ah, there’s nothing like pouring oil on troubled waters with a carefully chosen post title, or defusing a potentially unpleasant confrontation with a cheery image.

The backstory: for quite some time now people have been making implausible predictions about the Killer Arctic Death Spiral of Death. This became prominent after 2007, which was the first notably low year, and lead to my first sea ice bet. The next few years weren’t very exciting and the frenzy died down a bit, but 2012 (which, of course, I lost) re-ignited the feeding frenzy. There’s still $10k on offer if you’re a death-spiraller, and you can see that for the $10k I already have open.

Coupled to that are the AMEG bozos featuring, or let us hope loosely associated with – in a somewhat unclear role – Peter Wadhams. Back in 2012 PW predicted Arctic sea ice collapse within 4 years and I wasn’t very impressed. He even made Nature with Arctic methane ‘time bomb’ could have huge economic costs, which I didn’t like either. David Archer at RC was similarly but more knowledgeably unimpressed.

This September, the RS hosted Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts featuring luminaries like Stroeve, Schmidt and Wadhams; and a host of others who I’ve just insulted by not calling luminaries. Schmidt gave a talk that, amongst other things, didn’t believe the “Shakhova” stuff about Killer Methane Burps from Hell (errm, those are my words, not GS’s :-). That leads into thread one of this somewhat tangled web.

Thread one: Shakhova

incense Someone called “Nick Breeze” [who he? – Ed.] writes breathlessly (breeze – breathless – geddit?) Russian Scientists Excluded From Presenting Important Research As NASA Goddard Director Tries To Discredit Observational Scientific Research. This bears no real relation to reality but it does, excitingly, quote in full a Letter From Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov to Sir Paul Nurse by Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov but also signed as “On behalf of >30 scientists”, who are apparently far too shy to tell us who they are. That letter, too, bears little relation to reality. I’m kinda hoping that Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov have been dumb enough to believe things that people tell them without actually checking, but having nailed their colours to the mast like this its hard to see how they can back down. So they’re probably doomed to believe this nonsense forever.

[Update: this post was mainly about PW, so I missed:

“Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.”

from S (thanks m). If you’re not familiar with science, or the way meetings work, you may not realise how utterly risible this demand is. Its hard to know what S+S are thinking, in saying this: are they really the pompous asses that demand makes them out to be?]

Thread 2: Twitstorm

ellen1 A combo of the death cycle and the methane, coupled with a not-understanding-social-media, leads to… Well, I’ll point you to Reply to letter & email from Prof Peter Wadhams, dated 28 September 2014, and subsequent email from Prof Wadhams, dated 30 September 2014, concerning the use of Twitter during a recent Royal Society Arctic Sea Ice meeting and also the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION Complaint to Royal Society about social media use at the discussion meeting: Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts which you should go off and read. Back? Jolly good.

Now you’re back, I’m not really sure there’s anything to say. Apart from the problems of Wadhams being pissed off with people pointing out that his exponential extrapolations have no physical basis, and him apparently agreeing with them, there’s not much real substance, just confusion. I particularly liked this example:

Some anticipation for Peter Wadhams. Audience members already crying

by Our Gavin. I do admit that when I first read that I was rather taken aback: without context its reads as harsh and not funny. That’s my job; Gavin can do better. But the commentary makes this clear: This is a joke. There was an infant in the room who began to start to cry just as Wadhams started speaking. The mother… tweeted on the #RSArctic14 tag at 11:24 AM – 22 Sep 2014 after she had settled her child. And so it goes with all the things that Wadhams is complaining about: they’re either misunderstandings on his part, or perfectly genuine comments whose substance he disagrees with. But none of this justifies his complaint.



* VV
* Doug McNeall
* Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science (woo!) and at RC Gavin’s response (h/t: H)
* Wadhams shuffles off his “ice free” predictions to 2020 and claims to be using just data, with no models. Which is bullshit.

Wilder Pfaff and Zuckerhutl

Next: Mullerhutte to Nurnberger

Having got to the Mullerhutte I finally had a chance to climb the Zuckerhutl, which at 3505 m is the high point of the Stubai and something I’ve wanted to climb for ages. My diary reminds me it was a cold night: the hut is quite high at 3145 m, and I was alone in my dortoir, and used two blankets. There were a few other people in the hut: two Germans, who I’d half-met on the Signalgipfel, and another group of four; not sure where they went. Naturally, being a reserved Englishman, I merely nodded politely at them.

Happily, as you saw from the last pix on that post, the weather was glorious going into sunset, which implied that the rather dubious weather we’d been having was finally due to turn. Mmm, yes:


That’s me on top of the Wilder Pfaff (its taken by one of Anna or Tobias, who I met “properly” on the summit). Since we were in 100% cloud, with additional light rain to dissuade me getting the camera out, I didn’t bother take any pix of the route up. So here (from “tomorrow”, taken from about the Mullerhutte) is the Wilder Pfaff (3458 m, R, the apparent high point on the skyline, and apparently-lower-but-actually-higher just peeking out from the L is the Zuckerhutl). Its not as pretty a pic as the one I used in my last post but its more informative as to the route:


I found this view quite intimidating, which is part of the interest: trying to guess the route from looking at it – not that I could do that this morning, since viz was 25 m at best; on the glacier, I could see nothing except the tracks, which I naturally followed, taking care to follow the right branches and not head off to the Becherhaus. After a while rocks appeared out of the cloud, and the odd cairn and paint blob, but the marking is thin. It starts to be a bit scary, with a sheer drop off to the R. To the L is snow / rock, initially easy but steepening higher. The ridge is generally narrow, with the odd awkward step or pull, and (only one?) cabled section. Easier with better viz, I’d imagine.


This is the view from the East, taken from about the start of the Lubeckerweg ridge, on the 8th of September. Look closely and you can see the summit cross. Here is a zoomed-out view from the same viewpoint. And here’s another, from the summit of the Wilder Freiger, on the same day.

As I said, the weather was grey so whilst I’d got up at 6:30 I didn’t trouble myself to leave until 8; A+T had left somewhat earlier. I’d climbed fairly quickly so met them just as they were getting to the summit; photos and sign the summit book all round. Oh, and here’s the GPS track (something weird happens in the middle, the GPS gets the descent from the WP but totally fails to register the height gain up the Z. Odd).

What to do now? Sit down for a little rest of course, and ponder the (unknown) route to the Zuckerhutl. Decide to go for it; the route down to the Pfaffensattel is easy, and I’ll take it from there. Or we will, since we’ll go together.

Take care not to follow the branch of tracks that leads to the Hildesheimer hutte (I’ve not been there); faintly to the left is the edge / cornice which we don’t approach too closely, and then there’s a short climb up snow with the Zuckerhutl presumed to loom above. In better wx I’d consider the north face but as it is I’m happy to follow tracks. A party of three comes steaming back down the track – two young clients and a guide – and the guide shouts something in German that I’m informed is “you should be roped up if you’re on a glacier”. Meh. We start up the rock. Soon we come to a point where it gets interesting, sufficiently so that A+T aren’t happy to proceed unroped – there’s enough snow that the holds are covered, but not enough for the crampons to grip reliably, and sometimes you get that nice effect when the first time you try it, its all fine because there’s enough snow, but the second time you’ve knocked the snow off and your crampons screeek across rock. I’m moderately happy to bumble on up and treat it as nice mixed ground, so after improvising a harness out of a sling (they have all the proper kit, I of course have none) I take the rope up. It turns out the difficult section is quite short and we de-rope after 25 m and thenceforth continue scrambling; other groups however stay roped. The top comes earlier than expected, but not earlier than I should have expected, since the saddle is at 3344 m. The wx is still rubbish:


I’m the one on the left. The guy on the right is composing a Norse epic in the summit book. Its moderately windy on the top which is annoying mostly because its blowing water droplets onto my glasses and I can’t keep them clear; that doesn’t improve the viz. Its also getting to that point that whilst I’m not cold now I can feel I will be in a bit, so we don’t stay long. The descent is a bit yukky but OK; we don’t rope up because we find the right route :-). The route wasn’t obviously marked – but might have been under the snow – but there were occaisional “running belay” gear, which I’ve not seen elsewhere – kinda G-shaped metal hoops that you could fairly safely put the rope into and trust it not to come out, but you could do this quickly. We have to wait for 5+ mins for one of the roped parties to clear, which finally does make me cold. Then we get to tramp back up the WP and descend its ridge, which is also yukky-but-OK.

And so back to the hut. I do consider rushing back down to the Nurnberger and its hot showers, but sanity prevails and I don’t. Later on the weather clears a little, but too late. A+T join me for the evening meal, which is again good. Here’s the hut interior main room from breakfast the next morning.


Total time for the lot: 5:45.




Science blogging: an exploratory study of motives, styles, and audience reactions

Via sekrit, in the Journal of Science Communication, comes a deeply flawed article, Science blogging: an exploratory study of motives, styles, and audience reactions by Merja Mahrt and Cornelius Puschmann. The flaw, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, is that it doesn’t mention “stoat”. I’m not sure that all the rest of it is too interesting either.

This paper presents results from three studies on science blogging, the use of blogs for science communication. A survey addresses the views and motives of science bloggers, a first content analysis examines material published in science blogging platforms, while a second content analysis looks at reader responses to controversial issues covered in science blogs. Bloggers determine to a considerable degree which communicative function their blog can realize and how accessible it will be to non-experts Frequently readers are interested in adding their views to a post, a form of involvement which is in turn welcomed by the majority of bloggers.

I was pointed at it, because it provides some insight into what I was told was the “Connolley Question” but which one might call the Appell Question: what determines the numbers of comments on a blog or a blog posting? Its been clear to me for some time that the more tightly scientifically focussed my postings, the fewer comments I get. And indeed, that’s not too hard to understand: if you discuss a problem in depth and provide the answer, there isn’t a lot to speculate on in the comments. More open-ended posts get more comments. And you get most comments for threads that spiral out of control. A similar effect is visible across blogs. Or perhaps more fairly: many blogs seem to attract a regular readership, and these readers get used to talking to each other in the comments; and they seem to like having the same conversations again and again; you know what I’m talking about I’m sure.

So, from the study (very lightly paraphrased, because cut-n-paste from pdf is irritatingly broken):

Linguistic complexity is related to the amount of feedback a blog post receives from readers; the more demanding it is to understand a post, the less comments can be observed. By contrast, the number of comments is only moderately associated with the number of page impressions. On average, each of the 289 science-related blog post received 9.6 comments by readers, but these were found to be very unevenly distributed. Thirty-seven percent of the posts received no comments at all within a month after publication, another 33% received between one and five comments. At the other end of the spectrum, two posts received over 100 comments (more than 400 and 800, respectively). Both stem from the blog ‘Respectful Insolence’ (hosted on and deal with controversies about the benefits and risks of vaccinations.Three more posts from this blog, two of which also discuss vaccination, received over 50 comments. This level of reader response was only achieved by three other posts, two from (one about media coverage of climate change and one originally about the role of the null hypothesis in research – Three more posts from this blog, two of which also discuss vaccination, received over 50 comments. This level of reader response was only achieved by three other posts, two from (one about media coverage of climate change and one originally about the role of the null hypothesis in research.

37% of blog posts getting no comments at all is eerily similar to a statistic I have in mind, that 50% of papers are never cited.

Irrelevant picture: the vertical-axis wind turbine of the Mullerhutte:


Victor and Kennel: re-arrange the deckchairs

DSC_4150 David G. Victor & Charles F. Kennel have an opinion piece in Nature arguing that it would be a really good idea to re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. Or possibly ask the orchestra to play a somewhat different tune. I paraphrase somewhat, you understand.
Naturally, you should read their actual article first, and then secondly you should read the excellent RC response by Stefan. However, I disagree with both of them.

To be somewhat less sarcastic, V & K urge that Average global temperature is not a good indicator of planetary health. Track a range of vital signs instead, or Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature – you’ll notice that I’ve skipped the silly bit which I’ve no intention of discussing, Stefan rips that to shreds quite adequately. But on the main point, I can see no virtue at all in changing from a single, easily-understood, well-monitored (mostly) large-scale index (global temperature) which has a range of fairly well-understood clearly-linked follow-on effects to a range of poorly-monitored less-clear indices that legions of pols and political scientists can have lots of fun, lunches, dinners, drinks and conferences in interesting parts of the world arguing about. Did you know that Victor is a political scientist, BTW?

But I also disagree with Stefan, for all the familiar reasons. We could start with Cancun, which he seems to like but I thought was a total failure. And indeed that post, if you wade through the gore, does end up with my counter proposal. Which is, in essence, Carbon Tax Now. This (in exchange, its true, for some other disadvantages) gets rid of the rather poorly motivated 2 oC limit.

[Update: Ocean heat storage: a particularly lousy policy target by SR at RC. Note in particular one clear scientific error of V’s that R picks out, which V appears too embarrassed to admit and resorts to obfustication -W]

Other views

* Climate Controversy: Does the 2 Degree Goal Need to Go? By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor
* Defining dangerous anthropogenic interference by Michael E. Mann, PNAS 2009
* Could the 2C climate target be completely wrong? – Graun
* ‘Ditch the 2° C Warming Goal’ Commentary by a pair of UC San Diego researchers suggests society is striving for a misleading and unattainable climate goal – Scripps PR
* Don’t ditch the 2°C target – Sou
* Eli is busy


* On climate, a call for more social science – John Fleck.