04 Dec 2009

Cringeworthy: Barbara Boxer Tries to Bully Black Chamber of Commerce

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At lunch today one of my IER coworkers alluded to the fiasco when the head of the Black Chamber of Commerce (Harry Alford) stood up to Barbara Boxer. I didn’t know what he was talking about and he gleefully promised to send me the YouTube. The BCC had sponsored a study showing that the Waxman-Markey climate bill would be bad for small businesses, and so naturally Boxer wanted to discredit his testimony.

Man it is brutal. I had to stop it at 2:53. If you listen carefully, Boxer is wrong on everything from the moment this video begins, starting with her saying (paraphrase), “…he went a minute 30 over so I’m going to add that to my time,” and someone corrects her and says it was a minute 13.

03 Dec 2009

Cute Tiger Cub

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This has nothing to do with economics or libertarianism. I just wanted something else at the top of my blog.

01 Dec 2009

Tyler Cowen Predicts Lew Rockwell Secession From the "Serious" "Reasonable" Libertarians

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The video below is Tom Palmer’s book presentation, with comments from Tyler Cowen (starting around 26:00). I haven’t actually watched the video yet, but Robert Wenzel assures us it will be fun. The only thing more important than Climategate is a libertarian economist bashing Lew Rockwell!!

01 Dec 2009

Tom Palmer, Tyler Cowen, Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Eazy-E

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No, I’m not angling for Google hits. This EPJ post really does involve all of the above. What’s the connection with Eazy-E? Simple. When I read Wenzel’s post I thought of a song that I discarded when I realized I didn’t want my young son ever stumbling on my CDs from college.

01 Dec 2009

Yet More Climategate

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I am starting to run out of steam on this issue, but really, I am only posting stuff that increases my shock at just how much these guys were doing to hide their data and techniques. If you have 15 minutes and the interest, I strongly recommend this now-famous blog post by the amateur guy who probably made the first Freedom of Information request to CRU. He shows that Jones et al. were planning their strategy (to avoid divulging) before they got a single FOI request. He then goes through the emails chronologically, outlining the progression of their various attempts to do damage control.

What’s really neat is that the guy intersperses the internal CRU emails with the official rejection letters he was getting regarding his requests for their station data. So you can see that they were truly just inventing BS excuses to refuse his request. At one point, one of the rejection letters contradicts the claim of the first rejection letter. They actually say at one point that they don’t have a list of all the temperature stations they currently use to construct their official temperature series. (!!)

01 Dec 2009

Climategate Repercussions: Head of CRU, Phil Jones, Steps Down Pending Investigation

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Story here. (HT2 WUWT)

LONDON — Britain’s University of East Anglia says the director of its prestigious Climatic Research Unit is stepping down pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change.

The university says Phil Jones will relinquish his position until the completion of an independent review into allegations that he worked to alter the way in which global temperature data was presented.

The allegations were made after more than a decade of correspondence between leading British and U.S. scientists were posted to the Web following the security breach last month.

The e-mails were seized upon by some skeptics of man-made climate change as proof that scientists are manipulating the data about its extent.

01 Dec 2009

Potpourri

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* Gold broke $1,200.

* Larry Kudlow’s open letter to Tiger Woods. (Yes, he goes there.)

* Wesbury and Stein on anti-Obama-stimulus hypocrites.

* A fantastic Richard Lindzen op ed. Sometimes I think the climate change skeptics I respect the most don’t make their strongest points in a pop forum. But this one is out of the park. My favorite part, which needs some explanation:

The IPCC’s Scientific Assessments generally consist of about 1,000 pages of text. The Summary for Policymakers is 20 pages….However, it has been my experience that even the summary is hardly ever looked at. Rather, the whole report tends to be characterized by a single iconic claim.

The main statement publicized after the last IPCC Scientific Assessment two years ago was that it was likely that most of the warming since 1957 (a point of anomalous cold) was due to man. This claim was based on the weak argument that the current models used by the IPCC couldn’t reproduce the warming from about 1978 to 1998 without some forcing, and that the only forcing that they could think of was man. Even this argument assumes that these models adequately deal with natural internal variability—that is, such naturally occurring cycles as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, etc.

Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.

To understand Lindzen’s powerful argument, you need to know exactly what it means when leading climate scientists say that there is strong evidence of “anthropogenic [manmade] global warming.” Let me reproduce my earlier summary of their evidence:

Richard Lindzen…thinks that the cutting-edge models do not correctly model certain processes in the atmosphere at the “micro” level. Orthodox climatologists concede the point, but then challenge Lindzen to tweak their models in order to come up with a better simulated fit with historical observations (on temperatures, rainfall, etc.). Thus far Lindzen has been unable to do this, because the fastest computers would not be able to run a simulation of the entire world, at a scale small enough to capture the effects Lindzen points to, and obey all the laws of physics.[1] What has happened (it seems to me) is that even the latest generation of climate models necessarily make some heroic simplifying assumptions, in order to render the model tractable. Lindzen isn’t accusing the modelers of being lazy. Even so, he maintains that their models are still crude and give very misleading results. The connection between the work of Paul Samuelson and, say, Israel Kirzner should be obvious.

What is particularly worrisome to me is that the case for anthropogenic global warming runs basically like this (and see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report [IPCC AR4] section here [pdf] in their own words, especially Frequently Asked Question 9.2 on page 702): When the modelers simulate the 20th century, they achieve a closer fit to the historical trends if they assume large, positive feedback effects from human greenhouse gas emissions. If the modelers adjust the dials (so to speak) and turn down the possible influence of human emissions, then, so long as we insist the models obey the laws of physics, the fit between the simulated temperatures and observed temperatures gets worse.

OK now with that background, you can understand the power of Lindzen’s WSJ argument. Global temperatures have undeniably risen quickly in the 20th century. Skeptics say that we can’t be sure human activities are driving this trend, because there is so much about natural variability that the computer models don’t take into account. But the IPCC standard bearers come back and say these models are good enough for the purpose, and from what we know of internal, natural variability, we can’t get the models to reproduce the warming of the 20th century. Only if we assume that human impacts on greenhouse gases (through emissions and cutting down forests etc.) have a large effect, can the latest computer models do a good job simulating the observed climate changes.

OK, so now Lindzen is bringing up a different point: It is well known that since 1998, global temperatures either have slightly fallen or have been flat (depending on whom you quote), even though greenhouse gas emissions grew faster than the models predicted they would. The models that the IPCC uses predicted that global temperatures would have risen from 1998 onward, of course subject to natural variability.

So what Lindzen is here claiming, is that the IPCC apologists are undercutting themselves. In order to explain away the lack of (modeled) warming in the last decade, they need to rely on a large variance in natural climate factors. But then this weakens their claim that natural variability alone is insufficient to explain the warming of the 20th century.

Before Climategate, I would have been much less likely to pay credence to Lindzen on this particular claim. I would have believed a Gavin Schmidt if he said, “We are correctly accounting for both ends of the issue, and we’re in the sweet spot middle. Our models have just enough natural variability to explain the recent flat temperatures, but not enough natural variability to explain the overall warming trend in the 20th century.”

Yet after seeing Michael Mann wonder aloud if he and his colleagues have actually checked that this explanation about post-1998 temperatures is consistent with their models, I am much more inclined to believe Lindzen’s take.

01 Dec 2009

Tyler Cowen Never Fails to Disappoint: His Evolving Views on Climategate

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For those of you who don’t know, Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University. When I realized he had a popular blog, I was very excited because GMU students (whom I liked) had told me, “Tyler is the smartest libertarian alive” and things of that nature. So I was preparing to be dazzled.

Well, just like Star Wars Episode I, Tyler did not live up to my impossible expectations. So I really think that explains why I get so frustrated with him.

Anyway, one of the cute things about Tyler is that his opinions are as unstable as global mean temperatures. Take Climategate for instance. When the scandal first broke Tyler said:

I’ve had many readers emailing me, asking what I think of the “trove” of emails unearthed from climate change researchers. I’ll admit I haven’t read through the rather embarrassing revelations, I’ve only read a few media summaries and excerpts. I see a few lessons:

1. Do not criticize other people in emails or assume that your emails will remain confidential, especially if you are working on a politically controversial topic. Ask a lawyer about this, if need be. “Duh,” they will say to you.

2. The Jacksonian mode of discourse, or mode of conduct for that matter, can do harm to your cause, especially if you are otherwise trying to claim the scientific high ground.

The substantive issues remains as they were. In Bayesian terms, if it turns out that many leading scientists do not practice numbers one and two, I am surprised that you are surprised. It’s very often that the scientific consensus “sounds that way.”

In other words, I don’t think there’s much here, although the episode should remind us of some common yet easily forgotten lessons.

I should add that this episode will seem very important to you, if you conceive of the matter in terms of the moral qualities of “us vs. them.”

OK so the Bayesian response is that this shouldn’t affect your opinion of the underlying science of climate change.

Oops that’s not quite right. After further review, today Tyler now says:

Good vs. evil thinking causes us to lower our value of a person’s opinion, or dismiss it altogether, if we find out that person has behaved badly. We no longer wish to affiliate with those people and furthermore we feel epistemically justified in dismissing them.

Sometimes this tendency will lead us to intellectual mistakes.

Take Climategate. One response is: 1. “These people behaved dishonorably. I will lower my trust in their opinions.”

Another response, not entirely out of the ballpark, is: 2. “These people behaved dishonorably. They must have thought this issue was really important, worth risking their scientific reputations for. I will revise upward my estimate of the seriousness of the problem.”

I am not saying that #2 is correct, I am only saying that #2 deserves more than p = 0. Yet I have not seen anyone raise the possibility of #2. It very much goes against the grain of good vs. evil thinking: Who thinks in terms of: “They are evil, therefore they are more likely to be right.”

(Which views or goals of yours would you behave dishonorably for? Are they all your least correct views or least important goals? With what probability? Might it include the survival of your children?)

I do understand that this line of reasoning can be abused: “The Nazis went to a lot of trouble, etc.” The Bayesian point stands.

So now–if you were a sloppy reader–you would come away thinking the Bayesian response is to increase your estimate of the probability of the severity of manmade climate change.

Now clearly something must have happened to make Tyler change his initial reaction–this shouldn’t affect your opinion of the science at all–to his new reaction: This could very well mean you were previously underplaying the significance of the threat.

I wonder which of the CRU emails made him change his mind? (A Bayesian can only change his mind when new evidence comes in, to make him update his priors.) Remember, the sophisticated Tyler thought people were naive for not realizing how saucy academics could be in the first reaction.

So what method of dishonorable behavior shocked even Tyler–which he read about after his first post–that made him realize this was unusual indeed, and that maybe the problem was more severe than the average person would have initially thought?

I cannot rule out with 95% confidence the null hypothesis that Tyler wakes up every morning and says, “How can I annoy Bob Murphy today?”

UPDATE: Okay I put my finger on something else that really bothers me about Tyler’s latest. It’s not as if these scientists (especially the RealClimate guys) in the spotlight have been meek about telling the public how serious the problem is. So for Tyler’s story to work, the Bayesian would have to reason like this:

“Wow! Before when these scientists were telling me it was urgent that we stabilize CO2 concentrations at x ppm or else our grandchildren were going to drown, I thought they were lying. But now that I see they are willing to delete emails, bully journal editors, and tinker with graphs to remove doubts in the mind of the reader, I no longer think they were lying about how serious the problem is.”

Last point: What is also annoying is that I think Tyler plays favorites. He is a really sharp guy and he uses his creativity to invent (what are in my opinion) absurd rationalizations for things that often increase State power. That per se doesn’t make him wrong, it just annoys me because I think he’s inconsistent and flippant on things that have serious consequences. For example, suppose after the waterboarding stuff broke someone on Fox News had argued, “You see, the critics think this has all been about Bush funneling money to Halliburton, but it really is about protecting Americans. Do you really think they would waterboard someone 100+ times, if they didn’t really think they were saving lives?” Now would Tyler have blogged about what a great epistemologist this hypothetical commentator was? I seriously doubt it.