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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Never Mix Argyle and Paisley

Does anyone remember Michael Nifong? If not, I apolgize for dragging his sorry butt back up! He was the District Attorney for Durham County, NC, who in 2006 contrived a case against three Duke University students in order to bolster his own political career. In it, he alleged that the students (all white and from affluent families) raped a (black, poor) exotic dancer (stripper) at a college party. When I first heard about this, my BS detector started deflecting slightly off the lower stop, but for totally subjective reasons – I knew plenty of white, affluent frat boys from my college experience (which, admittedly, was more than five years ago), and that kind of insanely antisocial behavior, or anything else that would affect one’s chances of landing a good position in the financial sector or a prestigious law school, was exceedingly unlikely on their part.

The entire nation watched intently as the case dragged on for over a year, and Mr. Nifong successfully exploited the case to get himself re-elected as prosecutor, meanwhile trashing the reputations, and financially draining the families, of the accused young men. The case was never particularly strong; there were no witnesses other than the accused and accuser, and the scant evidence provided as much argument against the accuser as for her (I won’t go into detail other than to say that if I did, this would no longer be a family-friendly blog). Nonetheless, politics and sensationalism were winning over justice and reason, and things didn’t look too good for the beleaguered students until…

…until it was revealed that Mr. Nifong committed some serious malfeasance by withholding exculpatory evidence, at which point the case failed, and ultimately Mr. Nifong was removed from office, disbarred, penalized, briefly jailed, and was himself driven to bankruptcy. His name lives on in ignominy as a passive verb, i.e., to be “Nifonged” is to be falsely accused in order to benefit the direct or indirect accuser.

Glad we got that over with!

Or did we?

I personally believe… that the entirety of western civilization is being Nifonged right before our very eyes. We are being accused of destroying the Earth by our lifestyles and very existence, and in particular, by our use of various forms of energy. And as penalty or remedy, depending on your perspective, a complete reversal of our economic system is indicated, with a small number of people (including a former VP with a rather large carbon footprint) slated to rake in billion$.

Disclaimer: I think we all agree that conservation and good stewardship of the environment are worthy pursuits, and reduction of pollution and decreasing dependence on foreign oil are laudable causes deserving our attention and effort.

I spent the early part of my professional career deeply buried in data, attempting, through various statistical and computational means, to extract information and knowledge from it. My application was confined to automotive diagnostics and quality control, but the basic scientific method applies to any empirical (data-driven) field of endeavor, including global warming:

1) form a hypothesis

2) test the hypothesis

3) arrive at a conclusion which either proves or disproves the hypothesis

4) write a bunch of papers, get them published, discuss them at conferences in interesting cities, and burn through the rest of your grant money on expense account meals and drinks

The last part of step 4 is optional, BTW, but is never omitted in practice.

Step 2, test the hypothesis, involves several activities, including research of existing knowledge on the subject, physical derivations, experimental design and execution, data collection, modeling (developing mathematical representations of the system being studied), and statistics. Step 2 is by far the most thinking- and labor-intensive, and generally consumes nearly all of the researchers’ attention. In this step, the researcher must employ strict discipline and near pathological open-mindedness in order to form and execute valid tests.

Steps 1 and 3, form a hypothesis and arrive at a conclusion, are generally pretty straightforward, so much so that it may escape notice when they are skipped or executed out of order, as is the case with “climate science.” First, it would appear that no hypothesis has been produced. Second, the conclusion that human activity is causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, and will foretell the end of civilization as we know it, was arrived at well in advance of any study--apparently by the same guy that invented the internet. Tests were then devised and data collected to support this foregone conclusion.

Now if you get all of your news from conventional outlets, you may have missed the latest “climate change” news: a large cache of e-mail and document files from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) was hacked and disseminated, revealing a disturbing pattern of falsifying data and models, stacking the deck on “peer reviews,” and repressing any competing viewpoints in an effort to produce an apparent scientific basis for man-made global warming.

“Never heard of them,” you might say. That would have been true for me too, until a few weeks ago. I’ve since learned that the findings of the “scientists” at the CRU are the ones used almost exclusively by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which informs the Kyoto Protocol and God-only-knows-what they’re going to come up with at the Copenhagen climate summit later this month.

Mind you, inept application of the scientific method does not necessarily invalidate or nullify the conclusion; it just means that we can’t yet prove it via the underlying hypotheses (if there even were any). If scientists at the CRU had stopped there, they would simply be guilty of plying their trade really, really badly. In the community of “climate scientists,” this would put them at about average.

However, the release of these documents, supposedly by a clever hacker, reveals a level of misconduct far beyond sleeping through high school science class. These documents reveal a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence that man-made global warming is not even happening, and to improve upon / cherry pick existing data to support the conclusion that it is.

You may be wondering, how could they get away with this? Isn’t there a peer-review process? Don’t scientists get to criticize each other publicly, and debate the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions before they make their way into public policy? In most fields, yes. This occurs mainly in step 4 (dissemination), during which steps 3 (conclusions), and 2 (methods) are challenged and defended (or not) in the public forum. But not in the field of “climate science.” It would appear from the released documents that not only was evidence tampered with, but the peer-review process was also tainted via selective reviews and deliberate attempts to silence any competing work. Further, any “unfriendly” attempts to obtain data and models via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were thwarted.

Let’s wind things back to the basics for a moment, with a few fundamental questions for consideration before embarking on the scientific method:

1) is global warming happening?

2) is it the result of human activity?

3) can we do anything about it?

4) should we do anything about it?

5) if so, what?

Questions 3 through 5 depend on the answers to 1 and 2, so let's look at 1 and 2 first.

The answer to question 1, is global warming happening, is assumed by the prevalent media/political/academic establishment to be yes, but in fact many indicators express cooling over the last 10 years. Furthermore the data that purportedly demonstrates a long-term warming trend is pretty spotty at best.

The answer to question 2, is it man-made, also normally assumed also to be yes, is equally inconclusive, as we’ll discuss later in this missive.

The arrogant answer to 3 is yes, with the assumption that if we can turn Earth's thermostat up, we can turn it down as well.

The answer to 4 is yes, "obviously," we have to "save the Earth!" And the real red meat for politicians and other opportunists lies in the answer to 5 - what to do about it. The answer to that is pretty much anything they want to do, which miraculously always takes the form of consolidating power and wealth to themselves and their political allies, and the eradication of freedoms enjoyed by most of the western world, go figure.

Let's take a look again at question 1. If the CRU claims that global warming is indeed happening, it should be easy enough to look at the raw data and verify it for ourselves, right? To be sure, computing the Earth’s average temperature is not like falling out of bed. For one thing, it has a very low signal-to-noise ratio—it’s hard to measure climate with all that weather going on. Also, monitoring locations tend to change over time – for example, weather stations at airports which used to be out in the country are now surrounded by urban sprawl, with its attendant effect on temperatures. And of course, the calibration of any measurements taken before the early 20th century is suspect. Overcoming these obstacles requires grueling analysis of copious amounts of data, but hey, we can handle it. Just give us the raw data; after all we paid for it, right…?

Well, funny story, IT'S GONE! The CRU disposed of the raw data! (Or at least they claim to have done, who believes anything they say at this point?). But they’re happy to share their improved, processed data, step right up, folks... Now dig, I completed my Master's Thesis in electrical engineering in 1991 on the topic of artificial intelligence applied to engine diagnostics, and guess what, I STILL HAVE THE RAW DATA! I don't ever intend to look at it again, but I do still have it around somewhere.

One function of my current job is teaching classes in business process improvement, which includes some applied statistics. In this class we emphasize that correlation does not imply causation, i.e., if two variables behave similarly, or appear to have some relationship, you can't assume that one is causing the other. When someone observes that crime and ice cream sales in New York tend to be proportional to each other, you wouldn’t conclude that one is causing the other. They may both be responding to an unnamed third variable, e.g., the weather, or the correlation may be entirely coincidental. This little bit of malpractice, that is, using correlation to impute causation, happens all the time, BTW, but lying with statistics doesn’t make it any less lying.

Now let's look more closely at question 2. If you see global temperatures rising or falling in a fashion similar to human activity, in the form of industrialization or fossil fuel use, you might be inclined to assume that the latter is causing the former, but without additional evidence or analysis, this would be irresponsible at best. But don't worry, "climate scientists" are doing nothing of the sort. They are not misreading the relationship between temperature and human activity because THERE IS NO RELATIONSHIP! That’s right, changes in global temperatures are not related, proportionally or otherwise, to industrialization or any other human activity. The only quantity with any discernible correlation to global temperature is solar activity, who'd 'a thunk it? So what "climate scientists" are doing is reading causation into uncorrelated variables, which can only be characterized as blind religious faith.

Okay, fine, a bunch of rogue scientists are pushing an agenda. Who cares? You, that’s who. These shysters have for years been the principal informers of the UN’s IPCC. They’re the ones quoted and cited by our own political leaders and politicians in pursuit of treaties and legislation. One such is the ill-advised “Cap and Trade” bill which would impose paralyzing taxes on all economic activity, meanwhile concentrating even more wealth into the hands of “carbon brokers” such as Mr. Inconvenient himself. Wake up, people, we are being Nifonged!

Tiger, what were you thinking?

The time period between the exposure of Mr. Nifong’s malfeasance and the actual dismissal of the case against the Duke students was particularly interesting and informative. First, there were denials, then explanations, then rationalizations, then the realization that we had all been lied to, and some had even contributed to the ruse. Nifong's supporters, including most of the media and many public figures, gradually went silent and skulked away, and if they apologized, you couldn't hear it over the chirping of the crickets. These included 88 Duke University professors, who had signed a letter condemning the students (I would never, ever let my children attend Duke with this despicable lack of support for its students).

That's the period we're in right now with "climategate," as it’s now called. We've already heard denials, deflections, and obfuscations, and now we're starting to hear explanations: "the e-mails actually represent good scientific criticism" is one gem I’ve read from the remaining global warming faithful. And rationalizations are even coming in from as high as the White House: press secretary Robert Gibbs informs us that the White House believes “climate change is happening.” He further avers, "I don't think that's anything that is, quite frankly, among most people, in dispute anymore," and with a cocksure arrogance borne of utter ignorance of the evidence, “There’s no real scientific basis for disputing it.” (So that’s how science works now?)

As I alluded above, it’s not exactly certain that the leak of documents was the result of a hacker; in fact, there’s widespread speculation that it was an inside job, i.e., someone affiliated with the CRU grew a conscience, or perhaps had a bone to pick with Dr. Phil Jones, the leading scientist at the CRU and author of some of the more revealing e-mails. At any rate, the timing of the leak is so propitious as to appear deliberate: about a month prior to the Copenhagen summit where massive taxes and wealth transfer are to be discussed, and in advance of our own legislature’s debate of “Cap and Trade” laws.

So, what now? Well, I hate to be a pessimist, and I hope I’m wrong, but unfortunately I don’t think much is going to change. Honest scientists and other keen observers of reality have long known that man-made global warming is a fabrication, and so have the “scientists” and opportunists perpetuating the ruse. Meanwhile, most Americans are not equipped to weigh the facts objectively, and therefore must choose their position based on faith and/or political affinity. Now that the fraud has been exposed, how is any of that going to change? Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of good reasons to take care of our environment; global warming just isn’t one of them. Personally, I feel a slight sense of gratification at having my suspicions confirmed, but while I sit in my northern VA home office watching the thick, white flakes of global warming fall from the sky, what I’m really thinking is:



  • At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Many thanks.


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