Nov 26

Facts to fit the theory

On 12 Oct 2009, climatologist and “hockey-team” member Kevin Trenberth wrote:

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong.

Eyebrows have quite rightly been raised over this quote. It is indeed a travesty that AGW theory cannot account for the lack of warming, and bears out what I and other AGW critics have been saying for years about the fallaciousness and lack of predictive power of AGW models.

But the second sentence is actually far more damning. “The data is surely wrong.” This is how and where most scientific fraud begins.

Scientific fraudsters are not, in general, people pushing theories they know to be false. Outright charlatanism is not actually common, because it’s relatively easy to detect. Humans are evolved for a social competitive environernt
and are rather good at spotting lies, except when they’re fooling themselves because they want to believe.

In general, scientific fraudsters are people who are overinvested in a theory that they believe. Because they know it must be true, they interpret predictive failures as “The data is surely wrong”. It is only a short step from “The data is surely wrong” to fixing the pesky data until it looks right — see my previous post for an immediate example.

It’s only slightly longer step after that to destroying the inconvenient data that fails to fit your theory — something one of the hockey-teamers actually called for and there is strong reason to suspect they actually did.

Sometimes, actually, the data is wrong. Occasionally, experimental error will appear to falsify a theory that is actually correct. But research groups are entitled to the benefit of that doubt only when they meet the most rigorous standards of full disclosure about the “wrong” data. Not when their reaction is to conceal and destroy it.

Nov 25

Will the AGW fraud discredit science?

In response to the mounting evidence of fraud, data falsification, and criminal conspiracy by the “hockey team” clique of climatologists pushing anthropogenic-global-warming (AGW) theory, there has been serious and concerned speculation that the collapse of this scam may damage the credibility of science in general.

This is a reasonable thing to be concerned about, given that the species of toxic slime mold known as “creationists” have been oozing all over the blogosphere with suggestions that evolutionary biology is just as bogus. I think there are three important lessons to be drawn here: one is some reassurance from the history of major scientific frauds, another is a heuristic about when we should be suspicious of “science”, and a third is the importance of transparency.

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Nov 24

Hiding the Decline: Part 1 – The Adventure Begins

From the CRU code file osborn-tree6/ , used to prepare a graph purported to be of Northern Hemisphere temperatures and reconstructions.

; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!
valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,- 0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,$
2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ; fudge factor
if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,’Oooops!’

This, people, is blatant data-cooking, with no pretense otherwise. It flattens a period of warm temperatures in the 1940s 1930s — see those negative coefficients? Then, later on, it applies a positive multiplier so you get a nice dramatic hockey stick at the end of the century.

All you apologists weakly protesting that this is research business as usual and there are plausible explanations for everything in the emails? Sackcloth and ashes time for you. This isn’t just a smoking gun, it’s a siege cannon with the barrel still hot.

UPDATE2: Now the data is 0.75 scaled. I think I interpreted the yrloc entry incorrectly last time, introducing an off-by-one. The 1400 point (same as the 1904) is omitted as it confuses gnuplot. These are details; the basic hockey-stick shape is unaltered.

UPDATE3: Graphic is tenmporily unavailable due to a server glitch. I’m contacting the site admins about this.

Nov 23

Open-Sourcing the Global Warming Debate

The email and documents recently netjacked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia raise serious questions about the quality of the research being used to underpin major public-policy decisions.

In the open-source software community, we understand about human error and sloppiness and the tendency to get too caught up in a pet theory. We know that the most effective way way to combat these tendencies is transparency of process — letting the code speak for itself, and opening the sources to skeptical peer review by anyone.

There is only one way to cut through all of the conflicting claims and agendas about the CRU’s research: open-source it all. Publish the primary data sets, publish the programs used to interpret them and create graphs like the well-known global-temperature “hockey stick”, publish everything. Let the code and the data speak for itself; let the facts trump speculation and interpretation.

We know, from experience with software, that secrecy is the enemy of quality — that software bugs, like cockroaches, shun light and flourish in darkness. So, too. with mistakes in the interpretation of scientific data; neither deliberate fraud nor inadvertent error can long survive the skeptical scrutiny of millions. The same remedy we have found in the open-source community applies – unsurprisingly, since we learned it from science in the first place. Abolish the secrecy, let in the sunlight.

AGW true believers and “denialists” should be able to agree on this: the data get the last word, because without them theory is groundless. The only way for the CRU researchers to clear themselves of the imputation of serious error or fraud is full disclosure of the measurement techniques, the raw primary data sets, the code used to reduce them, and of their decisions during the process of interpretation. They should have nothing to hide; let them so demonstrate by hiding nothing.

The open-source community has many project-hosting sites that are well adapted for this sort of disclosure. If they require assistance in choosing one and learning how to create and manage an open-source project, I and many others in the open-source community will be happy to provide it.

For the future, we need to restore the basic standards of science. No secrecy: no secrecy of data, no secrecy of experimental methods, no secrecy of data-reduction or modeling code. Such transparency and accountability are especially vital when the public-policy stakes are large. This is among the excellent reasons that both the US and UK have Freedom of Information Acts, and the logic of those acts has perhaps never applied more pressingly than it does here.

Nov 21

Hiding the Decline: Prologue

According to the summaries I’ve seen, the 61 megabytes of email and documents net-jacked from the Climate Research Unit a few days ago do not — quite — reify conservatives’ darkest fantasies about “the team” (as the network of professional anthropogenic-global-warming alarmists communicating through CRU likes to style itself). To do that, they’d have to contain marching orders from the Socialist International.

However, the excerpts I’ve seen are already quite damning enough; among other things, they are evidence of criminal conspiracy to violate the Freedom Of Information act. And I no longer have to speculate about the rest; I’ve downloaded the documents from Pirate Bay and will study them myself.

For those of you who have been stigmatizing AGW skeptics as “deniers” and dismissing their charges that the whole enterprise is fraudulent? Hope you like the taste of crow, because I do believe there’s a buttload of it coming at you. Piping hot.

Am I going to blog about it? Heh…try to stop me…

UPDATE: I’ve read about 10% of the material and started a file of notes on it, but been delayed by preparing for a major release on one of my projects. In the meantime, read this excellent summary with links to the original emails.

Jul 01

The Hand-Reared Cat

In a recent comment, I wrote:

Oddly enough, our cat often does come when called, and is rather good at figuring out what humans want and doing it. A few days ago a photographer came out here to take snaps of me for an AP story on NedaNet and was quite startled when I asked the cat to turn around so her head would face the camera, and she did it.

Our cat’s behavior is not doglike servility, though. She pays careful attention to human hands because she associates them with being petted, and she’s a total friction slut. As a result, you can often fetch her, or get her to move, with hand gestures. I made one that directed her attention towards the photographer.

By an odd coincidence, my wife Cathy insisted less than an hour later that I should watch a video of the Moscow Cats Theater (I’d post a link, but I haven’t found that exact one from here). And we both noticed something; as the cats are walking tightropes and so forth, the human trainers are using encouraging, guiding gestures that seem…familiar to us. And, in fact, the cats often seem visually fixated on the trainers’ hands.

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Mar 14

Sugar and the Bathroom Demon

I am now going to blog about my cat.

No, I have not succumbed to the form of endemic Internet illness in which someone believes the cuteness of his or her feline surpasses all bounds and must therefore be shared with the entire universe. But my cat’s behavior raises some interesting questions about animal (and human!) ethology, which seem worth a little thinking time. There are three things that puzzle me in particular: the nature of the bathroom demon, some aspects of her nurturing behavior, and the mystery of the purr.

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Dec 23

Alzheimer’s and Herpes

There’s been a major breakthrough in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Every face-to-face friend I’ve told about this has found it fascinating, and one of my regulars has rightly suggested I should blog it. It seems many cases of Alzheimer’s may be due to brain infection by the herpes simplex Type I virus — the one that gives you cold sores. Researchers at the University of Manchester have found herpes-simplex DNA in the abnormal beta-amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The implications are huge.

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Dec 17

Old physicists fade away

A commenter writes, replying to my previous post on Eric and the Quantum Experts:

>Eric, you may still have a chance to revolutionize physics, since decoherence by itself may not completely solve the problem.

Alas, I am probably too old now. There is a way outside chance I could do it, yes, but,…hmm…how to explain this…

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Sep 22

Why Alternative Energy Isn’t

As oil prices recede from all-time dollar highs and some of the hot air gets let out of energy policy debates, it’s a good time to remember that here’s a key concept missing from almost every popular discussion of the subject: energy density. Specialist economists get it, but almost nobody else does. It is important to understanding why most forms of “alternative energy” are mirages, and what a sane energy policy would actually look like.

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Jul 05

Dangerous Sons

Some time back I blogged on Hotness in Hollywood. In it I gave Angeline Jolie props for making a game effort at acting in a a movie with a script so execrable that her best effort was doomed, the original Tomb Raider movie. I also praised Liv Tyler playing Arwen, who became my personal all-time favorite example of screen sexiness in the Lord Of The Rings movies. And yes, I know this means I’m a geek; that’s not news to anybody.

My wife Cathy and I saw Wanted last night. Avoid it if you can’t stand the sight of people being shot through the head; otherwise it’s a fun popcorn movie with lots of implausible but extremely well-choreographed ultraviolence. (Well, OK, I started to giggle during the last knife fight a few minutes before the ending, because with the Marine knife-fighting technique my swordmaster taught my wife and I last year either of us could have filleted those two pirouetting idiots in short order.)

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Dec 01

Mathematics versus reality

In the comments to my posting on the incoherence of Narnia, it has become apparent that some of the respondents are deeply confused about the relationship between mathematical and empirical truth. Symptoms of this confusion have included a superficially plausible but mistaken application of the Law of the Excluded Middle and an an attempt to invoke Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to suggest constraints on our ability to obtain empirical truth.

It’s time to bust some myths…

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Aug 28

People Getting Brighter, Culture Getting Dimmer

In response to my previous post noting that the Flynn effect turns out to be a mirage, at least two respondents have suggested that average IQ has actually been falling, and have pointed to the alleged dumbing-down of politics and popular culture in the last fifty years.

I think both those respondents and the psychometricians are correct. That is, it seems to me that during my lifetime I’ve seen evidence that average IQ has risen a little, but that other traits involved in the “smart or stupid” judgment have eroded.

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Aug 26

Out like Flynn

Renowned pychometrician Charles Murray has given us, in The
Inequality Taboo
, a concise summary of the most current science on
group differences in IQ and other measures of capability. Most of it
is not surprising to anybody who has been following the actual science
rather than press accounts severely distorted by the demands of
political correctness.

There is some new information here, however, and perhaps the most
interesting bit is that turns out to be much less to the Flynn effect
than meets the eye. The Flynn effect is the long-term rise in average
IQ scores recorded since IQ began to be measured in the early 20th
century. Advocates of the view that IQ is unimportant or meaningless
have seized on the Flynn effect to argue that IQ is either (a) a
statistical artifact, or (b) almost entirely environmentally driven
(and thus can presumptively be increased by correct social

Murray’s news is that the Flynn effect is not being driven by a
rise in average g, the measure of general mental ability that accounts
for over 50% of variance in almost all kinds of mental aptitude tests.
Since Spearman discovered the ‘g’ statistic, almost all psychometricians
have accepted that IQ is interesting precisely because it is a good
approxmation of g. Thus, the Flynn effect is basically a mirage —
it’s taking place in the noise, not the signal.

I’m not entirely sure what this means yet, and I don’t believe
Murray or other psychometricians have gotten to the bottom of it
either. But at minimum, it’s very suggestive that IQ differences are
either genetic or driven by environmental factors over which we have
little control. Spearman’s g, in particular, is notoriously
intractable. It is highly heritable according to separated-twin
studies. And while there is good evidence that it can be lowered from
its ‘natural’ genetic level by unfavorable environment (such as poor
childhood nutrition), it apparently can’t be raised by a favorable

Indeed, Murray reports in a footnote evidence from a study in
Denmark that the Flynn effect has leveled off since the early 1990s.
Thus, it may be that we have already maxed out the effects of wealth
and better nutrition on the both the g and non-g components of IQ that
we can manipulate.

Jan 06

What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?

I wrote this for John Brockman’s 2005 Edge Question. Can’t see
any good reason not to blog it as well.

I believe that nature is understandable, that scientific inquiry is
the sharpest tool and the noblest endeavor of the human mind, and that
any “final answers” we ever get will come from it rather than from
mysticism, religion, or any other competing account of the universe.
I believe these things without being able to prove them despite — or
perhaps because of — the fact that I am a mystic myself.

Science may be the noblest endeavor of the human mind, but I believe
(though I cannot prove) that the most crippling and dangerous kind of
ignorance in the modern West is ignorance of economics, the way
markets work, and the ways non-market allocation mechanisms are doomed
to fail. Such economic ignorance is toxic, because it leads to insane
politics and the empowerment of those whose rhetoric is altruist but
whose true agenda is coercive control.

I believe that the most important moment in the history of philosophy
was when Charles Sanders Peirce defined “truth” as “predictive power”
and made it possible to talk about confirmation of hypotheses in a
non-circular way.

I believe the most important moment in the foreseeable future of
philosophy will come when we realize that mad old Nazi bastard
Heidegger had it right when he said that we are thrown into the world
and must cope, and that theory-building consists of rearranging our
toolkit for coping. I believe the biggest blind spot in analytical
philosophy is its refusal to grapple with Heidegger’s one big insight,
but that evolutionary biology coupled with Peirce offers us a way to
stop being blind. I beleve that when the insights of what is now
called “evolutionary psychology” are truly absorbed by philosophers,
many of the supposedly intractable problems of philosophy will vanish.

I believe, but don’t know how to prove, a much stronger version of the
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis than is currently fashionable. That is, I
believe the way humans think is shaped in important ways by the
linguistic categories they have available; thinking outside those
categories is possible but more difficult, has higher friction costs.
Accordingly, I believe that some derivation of Alfred Korzybski’s
discipline of General Semantics will eventually emerge as an essential
tool of the first mature human civilizations.

I believe, but don’t know how to prove, that Julian Jaynes was on to
something very important when he wrote about the origin of
consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

I judge that that “dark matter” is no better than phlogiston as an
explanatory device, and therefore believe without being able to prove
it that there is something very deeply wrong with the standard model
of cosmology.

I believe, but cannot prove, that the “knowledge interpretation” of
quantum mechanics is pernicious nonsense, and that physical theorists
will essentially develop some testable form of nonlocal realism.

I believe, but cannot prove, that global “AIDS” is a whole cluster of
unrelated diseases all of which have been swept under a single rug for
essentially political reasons, and that the identification of HIV as
the sole pathogen is likely to go down as one of the most colossal
blunders in the history of medicine.

Much of the West’s intelligentsia is persistently in love with
anything anti-Western (and especially anti-American), an infatuation
that has given a great deal of aid and comfort to tyrants and terrorists
in the post-9/11 world. Besides these obvious political consequences,
the phenomenon Julian Benda famously called le trahison des
has laid waste to large swathes of the soft sciences
through ideologies like deconstructionism, cultural relativism, and

I believe, but cannot prove, that le trahison des clercs is
not a natural development of Western thought but a creation of
deliberate propaganda, directly traceable to the successes of Nazi and
Stalinist attempts to manipulate the climate of opinion in the early
and mid-20th century. Consequently I believe that one of the most
difficult and necessary tasks before us in the next half century will
be to banish the influence of totalitarian nihilism from science in
particular and our culture in general.

I know how to prove, or at least convincingly demonstrate, that
open-source software development produces better results than
secrecy and proprietary control. I believe that the same advantage
applies to any other form of engineering or applied science in which
the limiting factor of production is skilled human attention, but I
don’t know how to prove that general principle.