Sunday, April 30, 2006


Every week it seems that there's a different flower in full bloom round here. Currently it's the turn of the azaleas. This is the path down the main street in Kamakura (Wakamiya-oji), which was recently a tunnel of cherry blossom.

Hockey Stick Wars, round XXVII

Yawn. I'm not even going to provide a link. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Science on Hegerl et al (and Annan & Hargreaves)

Science has a review of Hegerl et al, which includes a brief nod to our work too, and a handful of other researchers endorsing the method and at least her results, if not explicitly ours :-)

While it all looks pretty encouraging, it is still some way from a clear confirmation of Gavin Schmidt's view that "Basically no one really believes that those really high sensitivities [measured in the past five years] are possible," and that even Hegerl et al's high estimate is unrealistic. Certainly I think Gavin is right - but as I said recently, I realise that our view is still somewhat of an outlier among people working in this sub-field. For example, not that long ago, Michael Schlesinger was actually claiming that climate sensitivity was "likely" (70%) greater than 4.5C, and he sounds unconvinced by Hegerl et al so far ("I'm not comfortable with the results."). It is possible that he had only had time to glance quickly over the paper before being asked for a quote - my experience is that it can take a few days for the full force of our arguments to sink in. Anyway, it remains to be seen whether, and how quickly, he modifies his views. I do sense some turning of the tide.

Septic nonsense on the BBC again...sigh

I realise that I haven't done my fair share of antiseptic duties recently - leaving it to the likes of Stoat and RC instead. It's not because I agree with the nonsense the septics spout, but rather that there is rarely anything of scientific interest to discuss, and moreover I think fisking risks giving them a wholly undeserved level of attention.

But I was saddened to hear, only the day after the well-researched and intelligent look at the presentation of climate research, BBC Radio4 (in the form of the Toady programme) revert to the standard false "balance" talking-heads format of a card-carrying septic with no climate science credentials and nothing of scientific interest to say, set against an eminent respected scientist of international repute. Same old same old. This time it was such gems as "you can't prove it isn't natural" (yes we can, beyond any reasonable level of doubt) and "it hasn't warmed since 1998" (right...cherry-pick the most recent huge outlier as a starting point...I could just as validly claim that in the last couple of months, Japan has seen a WARMING TREND OF SEVERAL HUNDRED DEGREES PER DECADE!!! IT'S CALLED SPRING, FOLKS!).

To be honest I was a bit disappointed in how Phil Jones came across - and I suspect he will be too, on re-listening to the debate. But the septics are (by their nature) self-selected for their glib tongues and media-friendly manner (cos that's all they have to go on), whereas scientists generally get to the top of the slippery pole through the quality of their (primarily written) research. Sure, we give presentations too, and I'm sure people like PJ will have given their fair share of media interviews, but science doesn't progress through soundbites and talking points. BBC, please give it a rest.

OK, that final plea clearly went beyond wishful thinking and into the realms of the ridiculous. Ho hum.

Friday, April 21, 2006

BBC R4: Overselling climate change?

There was a really good programme on BBC Radio 4 last night on climate change, and specifically the question of whether it is (sometimes/often) oversold, by media and the scientists alike. Readers of this blog won't be too surprised at which side I come down on. I think the producers did a really good job of presenting the issues accurately and intelligently. Since I was briefly featured on the programme (and also on the clip used as a trailer/tempter on the high-profile Today news programme in the morning), it would perhaps be unseemly to sing its praises too highly, but Roger Pielke has a good commentary on it. Rather than parrot his talking points, I'll just suggest you go and read his post.

I don't think the main targets came out of it very well, but I honestly don't think they can have any reasonable grounds for complaint over how the program addressed the issues - indeed, they seemed wholly unapologetic over the roles they played. Anyway, there's no need to take my word for it, listen again for yourself. And tell me what you think :-)


There's a RealClimate post on this, focussing exclusively on the coverage. While this might have been the highest-profile example (and RC comes down pretty hard on the press release), I think the programme clearly demonstrated that it was far from an isolated event. I suspect there will be lively discussion over there :-)

One more interesting point that no-one else seems to have picked up on - the claim that there were many more scientists who also voiced reservations privately, but who would not go on the record to say so. What are we, (wo)men or mice?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More bizarre news from Japan

Stories of old Japanese soldiers who never came home after WWII, and who are still hiding out in the jungle somewhere (perhaps even imagining the war to be ongoing), crop up in folklore and also every so often appear in the Japanese press. Usually, they fade away, apparently an unsubstantiated rumour (there have been famous cases like Hiroo Onoda in 1972).

But then a story like this appears in today's paper - ok, he wasn't actually hiding and didn't think the war was still continuing, but it's still quite a surprise. He was even declared officially dead a few years ago in Japan, but has been living all this time - complete with family (at least, a son) in Sakhalin. Wow.

Hegerl et al on climate sensitivity

A new paper is out in Nature this week: "Climate sensitivity constrained by temperature reconstructions over the past seven centuries" Hegerl et al, Nature 440. What the authors have done is to, erm, use temperature reconstructions over the past seven centuries to constrain climate sensitivity. Just as it says in the title. In particular, they combine the analysis of the recent instrumental record (published by Frame et al in GRL) with some proxy records for global temperature over the previous few centuries. Both of these lines of evidence are rather weak, but jointly, they give a significantly better result than either one can by itself. Their result is a 5-95% CI of 1.4-6.2C.

So what is so newsworthy and significant about this? Well, I have to admit, I'm really not sure. Clearly, it vindicates the rather obvious point we made in our recent GRL paper, that using more information will generate lower uncertainty. And they have certainly done a more careful and precise calculation than our rather back-of-the-envelope approach. But it is not clear why they stopped after considering the past 7 centuries of globally-averaged temperature, and their bounds are not particularly exciting ones (plenty of people have previously published similar results elsewhere, eg Knutti et al and Piani et al recently). As we've discussed, there are numerous other data sets that all provide additional information (and what's more, which all point towards a sensitivity of close to 3C as having the highest likelihood), and any analysis that only uses a small subset of the data will necessarily give an result with unrealistically high uncertainty. Therefore, it's important to realise that this paper does not provide any support for the belief that S>6.2C, even at the 5% level. But still, if it's a sign that Nature is willing to row back from some of the more alarmist nonsense they have published recently, then that is certainly a step in the right direction.

Now for the long-overdue extended rant about Nature. We originally submitted our GRL manuscript to Nature, where an editor sat on it for a couple of week, before rejecting it with the boilerplate excuse:
we are unable to conclude that the paper provides the sort of advance in significantly constraining climate sensitivity relative to prior estimates that would be likely to excite the immediate interest of researchers in a broad range of other disciplines
Of course, I know they are snowed under with manuscripts and have to reject a large proportion without review. But we were very disappointed that they couldn't even be bothered to give a plausible excuse for their decision. If our estimate is not "likely to excite the immmediate interest of researchers" then it is very hard to see how Hegerl et al's rather weaker and less general result could have passed this test. And of course the editor's rejection gives us absolutely no clue as to what might be required to pass their test in the future, since what she wrote doesn't have a scrap of credibility about it. Note that the Hegerl et al manuscript was already under review at that time.

Of course, Hegerl et al might also have grounds to feel disgruntled that we leapfrogged and gazumped their result, which was submitted prior to our work (not that I knew about it at the time). That's the way the cookie crumbles - and they certainly got the better half of the deal. Note that the time they spent in review was nothing to do with me, cos no-one ever sends me papers on this topic to referee. And nothing I've said here about Nature should be taken as being in any way critical of the authors themselves - in fact, Gabi Hegerl was very friendly and encouraging when she heard of our work. But it's hard to avoid the cynical conclusion that the editor's judgement was not made so much on what was said, but who said it...


Oh, now I see that the "Editor's summary" claims that this is the "best guide yet", and that this work shows that there is "a small probability that climate sensitivity will exceed 6.2 °C". Well, that's pretty good work to fit two simple mistakes into one short paragraph. I guess they've got to put a brave face on it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

SCIENCE on blogs

There's an article in Science's Policy Forum on blogging: Environmental Science Adrift in the Blogosphere -- Ashlin and Ladle 312 (5771): 201 - Science. I only bring it up because it refers flatteringly to my blog ("excellent, informative sites can readily be found (table S2), but more are needed"), among a number of the usual suspects such as RC, scienceblogs, Prometheus and others :-)

On the basis of a rather limited survey (estimates of species extinction rates), the article suggests that the quality of information available is generally rather poor - 40% of the estimates are way too high, some are way too low - and it encourages more effort from scientists and others to improve matters:
Environmental scientists should actively engage in blogging to increase the presence of informed opinions in the blogosphere. Research supervisors should encourage students to blog while providing training in science communication and dissemination. Senior scientists should set up their own high-profile weblogs to help allay fears that blogging is somewhat disreputable. Blogging should be part of a portfolio of public engagement activities, even to the extent of including blogging as part of a researcher's job specification. Examples of excellent, informative sites can readily be found (table S2), but more are needed.
I'd certainly support that, and would like to especially draw attention to the blog of Bryan Lawrence, head of the British Atmospheric Data Centre (who I have belatedly added to my blogroll). I suspect that RC and efforts such as my own are basically tolerated by management (and only that insofar as they do not detract from the research effort) rather than really encouraged. However, I have found it very useful both to read the thoughts of others, and to take the trouble to clarify my own sufficiently to write them down. Moreover, it explicitly contributes to the "PUS" (public understanding of science) role that should already form part of every scientist's job description (and every research organisation's mission statement). So I'm very encouraged to see someone of such seniority not only advocating, but actually doing, blogging. This recent post of his on the subject of science communication, and the associated talk, are well worth a look (there's a bit towards the end on blogs and peer-review etc).

The real EGU

No doubt you've read Stoat's daily accounts from the EGU (eg). Here is jules's trip report:

Arrived early in Vienna, with a view to getting a head-start on the cakes. Visited Demel, which is a famous cake shop. The problem with famous things in Vienna is that they are usually rubbish. Had some famous cake and some mediocre tea, but at least I seemed to be in a no-smoking part of the cafe - and the building was very nice. Coming from Japan, being in a elegant old European building is a real pleasure.

Stayed at the Capricorno hotel which is extremely convenient for town and conference, and had the added bonus for me, a lonely lonesome traveller, of a lively ant colony in my bedroom.

Touristing until 3pm. The Albertina art museum had a Mozart special showing, which was a bit disappointing. I'd rather have seen something I didn't know about already. Visited the Kaisergruft which contains the huge and fantastically Roccoco-ly decorated coffins of lots of Habsburgs. Then went to the Haus der Musik, which is the museum for the Vienna Phil., but upstairs has all sorts of interactive sound things, including a womb room where you get to experience being an embryo again. After all this fun I headed up to the EGU to register and spent a happy hour logged on to the wifi which I was assured wouldn't be operational until the following day.

EGU days end late and it was about 7pm when I met up with a group of what was basically Paul Valdes' expanding empire plus hangers on. Someone (no doubt a future world leader) convinced us to go "authentic" and led us half the way to the Czech Republic in order to sup wine with fizzy water, dumplings and lumps of meat. The vegetarians complained that they only had fried vegetables and dumplings. I tried to point out that the meat eaters were actually worse off because they had to have either fried or boiled meat and dumplings. By the time the alkies were ordering second flagons of wine I was also starting to flag, and ran away soon afterwards since I wanted to be fresh as a daisy for the all important Climate-stuff session the next day.

I once posted on William Connolley's blog because he offered a free bier at the EGU to anyone who did so. This foolish man was at the important Climate-stuff session so I nabbed him in the coffee break, and was rewarded with not only bier but the honour of dinner in a nice restaurant accompanied by a man wearing very long bushy hair, shorts and sandals. The waiters were not impressed with my choice of companion, until after it was too late, when they saw the "Dr" on his credit card.

At 5pm, aware of having to spend several hours dressing before my exciting date with William I went down to the poster hall to remove my even more exciting poster about important Climate-stuff. To my horror there was a little man standing in front of it, apparently engrossed. Feeling I had already done my bit with the very busy 2 hour poster session earlier in the day, I sneaked quietly away to peruse some posters until it was safe to return. But, a few minutes later, there was the little man at my shoulder asking me if I could answer some poster-related questions. So, back to the poster I went. A few seconds later Dave Frame, who turned out to be the little man's buddy, appeared from behind a pillar! Had he been lying in wait? I thought they were all supposed to be too busy drinking beer to be interesting in our little poster, yet here they were at well past 5pm still staring at it. Perhaps they'd already been enjoying the beers from the bar in the poster hall. That would explain their rather lethargic manner, which at the time I put down to them having stood in front of my poster for the intervening 4 hours since the poster session.

At lunchtime my friend Yoko took me to a GOOD cafe in Vienna. I'm not going to tell you its name or where it is - because it was actually good! Turns out Yoko (who is one of my best buddies in Japan) is a top international traveller and had the inside information on many things, like how to get good opera tickets for not much money!

This was the day that Tim Lenton won a prize for, after all this time, still being surprisingly young for someone so brilliant. He gave a talk which was actually educational and interesting, rather than the usual soporific medal talk, "my 50 years doing such extraordinary dull science that I really can't believe I've won a prize". Its such a shame when a top boffin turns up to give a really dull speech. After the talk we (me and my boss Ayako) managed to get Tim to buy us a bier down by the posters. This was because I was wearing a very brightly coloured frock, so he couldn't pretend he hadn't seen us. Got to meet Tim's extremely nice girlfriend who is from NZ and is called Tee.

The session that I convened with Nanne and Masa occurred today. Nanne and I played "nice and nasty chairpersons" which is the same as "good cop bad cop". I went first so the participants were very well behaved by the time Nanne took over, and we managed to get out of the room before the next session arrived. In the evening I went out with the other conveners and also a few Japanese people, to a Serbian restaurant, which was actually quite good.

By this time it is getting hard to concentrate. Friday night was the free food and drink for all conveners. There must be about 500 EGU conveners, but there were probably only a couple of hundred at the party. The food was quite good, the only problem with that being that after another long EGU day, the party was so late (7.30pm) that I had to eat beforehand.

I went to see some wonky architecture before flying to Heathrow, staying at the Sheraton Skyline, which was an OK hotel except for the lack of oxygen in the rooms plus an unopenable window, which I had a very strong urge to kick a hole in.

If you ever fly to Tokyo, make sure you fly with Virgin Atlantic. It has a multitude of movies and TV programs to watch, on a self-controlled system. This is really worthwhile for a 12 hour flight.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Test video

Just trying to see if I can get this to work - a short video uploaded to For some reason, it only seems to play the last second (it was a 20s file originally). It probably also needs broadband to work ok. I'll try my luck with a few more videos to see if I can upload them properly.

Subjectivity, objectivity and belief in probabilistic estimation

As I've discussed before (eg here and here) there is a certain amount of confusion over what subjective and objective really mean, in the context of Bayesian estimation (such as estimating climate sensitivity S).

There is a good discussion of these issues in Jonty Rougier's forthcoming paper, which I could do worse than to simply quote from at length (it's in Section 2 of his paper):
The first thing to understand about probability in this context is that there is no such thing as ‘the’ probability. To ask for ‘the’ probability is to commit a category error. A probability is a numerical summary of a person’s state of knowledge about a proposition: it is inherently subjective (i.e., it relates to the mind of a subject). Therefore probability takes the possessive article, not the definite one: better to say your probability.

Some readers will be concerned about this characterisation of probability. There appears to be a syllogism that runs “Science is objective, your type of probability is subjective, objective and subjective are antonyms, therefore your type of probability has no place in science.” It comes up in discussions with scientists often enough to warrant a brief comment. The error is to confuse two meanings of ‘subjective’. ‘Objective’ in this context may be taken to mean disinterested, or uninfluenced by personal prejudice: obviously a hallmark of good science. There is a meaning of ‘subjective’ which is antonymous to this: emanating from a person’s emotions or prejudices. But in dictionaries this is the second meaning. The first meaning of ‘subjective’ is relating to the mind of the subject, and this is the appropriate sense when probability is used to describe uncertainty: uncertainty is a property of the mind.

A scientist’s prediction will be perforce subjective, but he should aim to be objective as well, by making a disinterested appraisal of the probabilities he attaches to events—this is not paradoxical. Objectivity is not always easy to achieve. For example, if a climate scientist thought too little attention was being given to a certain type of future climate catastrophe, he might be tempted to overstate his probability of the event, in order to attract attention. For the policymaker, though, it is not just what a scientist thinks that is important, but also the extent to which that scientist can justify his assessment. Even though probabilities are subjective statements, not all such statements are demonstrably valid, and of those that are, not all are authoritative. Valid statements are those that are consistent with the probability calculus, the axioms of which were clarified by Kolmogorov in the 1930s.
However, scientists routinely talk about the probability, eg "the probability of S>6". I'm sure I've done it myself. It is a much more natural way for a scientist to write than to talk about "my probability", and I suspect that many of them would be squeamish to talk openly about their own beliefs, partly for the reasons Jonty elaborates above. OTOH, Bayesian probability only exists as a belief. One obvious way of squaring this circle is to interpret the scientist's statement as meaning "for anyone who accepts the stated (and unstated) premises underlying this calculation, their personal probability would be ...". Or, in more formal terms, A implies B. Indeed most papers can be reduced to this form, where A is a set of assumptions, observations and approximations, and B are the conclusions.

While this might clarify what scientists mean by "the probability", it merely shifts the real question one stage further back: does the author of the paper actually accept these premises (A) and therefore the conclusions (B) themselves? I think it is reasonable to expect and assume that they do, unless there are clear statements to the contrary in the paper. For example, we tried to make it clear that we do not believe P(S>4.5)=5%, for example, but instead consider this probability to be an overestimate (given a high/low bet at 19:1 odds, I'd choose the low side). OTOH, the authors of various other probabilistic estimates have sometimes hidden behind circumlocutions that make it hard to know to what extent they really believe their premises (and therefore conclusions). (I don't really want to pick on anyone in particular here, I think we've all done it to a certain extent.) I'd like to see greater clarity on this point in the future. By all means write a paper showing that A implies B, but if you don't actually believe either A or B, you ought to say so!

The main purpose of this comment is to lay the groundwork for a subsequent one I'm planning...

Sunday, April 16, 2006


OK, so I admit it - I'm a narcissist. I've got a statcounter on my blog, which tells me how few visitors I get. That number is too small to be worth boasting about - I like to think of my readership as exclusive but influential :-) - but more interestingly, it also tells me where they have come from. Not surprisingly, most hits are from blogs that have a link to me, such as RC, Stoat, John Fleck. Probably some of these are readers following a regular trail through blogworld (I used to, before switching to an RSS aggregator) and others are random one-offs. Other than the climate-related stuff, a handful of hits come via the Japan bloggers webring.

Every so often, there's a flurry of hits from some much better-read source which mentions me or my "work" (does a bet count as work?), such as (in no particular order) Reason, Nature, RC, The Grauniad (try the Corbyn link). I got a startling number of hits from an on-line Polish newspaper article which mentioned the bet, which I can't find any more. But I was amazed to see that the biggest number of hits I've ever had in a day came from the recent TCS article - well over twice as many as came from the RC article that covered the same research. It's scary to think that large numbers of people might actually consider TCS to be a credible source on climate science (or indeed anything else aside from rightwingnuttery).

Outside the deliberate links, I occasionally get hits via some amusing search strings. Just about anything with a septic's name in hits one of my failed bet attempts one way or another (Piers Corbyn, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Myron Ebell, Richard Lindzen, World Climate Report) which I hope enhances their reputations. The position in these google searches goes up and down a lot, and currently several of them are not on the first page, but they are high enough to get hits some of the time. I note that the bet makes a popular talking point on various forums and blogs too. Items that I've mentioned from the Japanese press, such as marry a blue-eyed foreigner and population crash also get some hits. But, saving the best till last, my favourite is the number of people who are trying to find out how to do it doggie style, who must find this page rather....anticlimactic. Best of all, some of them have had to wade through about 8 pages of links before they get to my page (it's currently riding ridiculously high in the rankings)!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Geek chic

We got two great accessories from Andy following his visit here a couple of months ago.

First, an iDuck:

Yes, a USB memory stick in the shape of a duck. The perfect way to carry round those presentations when you go to meetings (and with a handy LED and luminous glow, it's easy to spot in a dark room). Sushi shapes are also available, we hear. (The connector cable is needed because the Zaurus only has a mini-USB port.)

And last but definitely not least, a real USB-powered lava lamp - it doesn't actually have the hot blobby wax of a real lava lamp, but sparkling bits which swirl around in the convection current:

The guinea pigs are entranced, anyway (or else they are fascinated by the presentation up on the Zaurus screen, I'm not sure).

Thanks, Andy! You can come and visit again!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Page down

Heh. Just as everyone on TCS is desperate for a look at my paper, it seems like my home page has gone down (a technical thing to do with moving desks, I'm sure it will be back shortly but perhaps with a marginally different URL).

OK, I'll be honest - not a single person has emailed asking for a copy of the paper so far :-)


Seems to be back up now - and the URL is the same, for now at least.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I see TCS has taken a shine to our recent paper. I'm not sure that I should be too pleased about that, given their record :-) I'm a bit surprised too, since although we rule out high sensitivity (with high confidence) we also rule out low sensitivity. This latter result was hardly mentioned in the paper, as it is not scientifically interesting (it was already widely agreed within a few tenths of a degree), but it does contradict what some at the sceptical end of the debate have said in the past.

To be honest, it would not be surprising if some at both extremes of the debate - the septics and the alarmists - try hard to pick holes in our work, as if it stands up to scrutiny, it would go some way towards pulling the rug from under their feet. Endorsement by TCS may encourage the latter faction, but I hope they will be willing able to judge the arguments on their merit rather than on their results. It remains to be seen how numerous and powerful they are anyway. I sometimes think I hear sounds of wagons being circled, but there are also grounds to hope that common sense will this space.

The TCS article's tagline on their homepage is "Good news on climate change you won't see from the IPCC." However, on reading the article, this comment seems to refer specifically to something else relating to scenarios, rather than our work. With the second draft of the IPCC AR4 having just been made available to's more than my job's worth to say what mention (or otherwise) it makes of our work :-)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Yamato Damacy

This is a funny video blog which I've recently discovered: Yamato Damacy. It seems to mostly consist of a couple of (foreign) guys who live in Japan, going out and accosting strangers to "interview" or proposition in an exploration of quintessentially Japanese tradition. They produce a new "vodcast" (ugly word) every week.

In case you are puzzled as to the purpose of the linked episode (my favourite), it was filmed on a Japanese festival in which people traditionally throw dried beans in order to ward off evil spirits.

"No comparable academy for girls is currently on the drawing board"

There are good arguments both for and against single-sex schooling, and I've not got strong views either way. So at first sight, the opening of a new boys' school in Japan is not really that big a deal. But this is no ordinary school. Modelled on Eton (although they don't say in what ways), this exclusive, intensive, expensive boarding school is designed to turn out the nation's leaders. Significantly, it's sponsored by 80 of Japan's leading companies, who see this as a way of hot-housing their future executives. But:
"No comparable academy for girls is currently on the drawing board."
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Japan is routinely found to be way down the rankings for gender equality (even compared to their neighbours in Asia, let alone the rest of the world). I guess that the executives at Toyota and their pals in the other co-sponsoring companies are embarassed that their nation is currently ranked above Bangladesh (albeit marginally), with such giants in the arena of human rights as Zimbabwe and Pakistan further behind. Not for long!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yet more on Japan's population crash

The latest policy to boost the birthrate is to hand out a book - no, not that sort of book (I hear the sigh of a disappointed link-clicker), but a notebook for new parents in which to document the growth of your child. Apparently mothers have been given such a notebook for some time, but it's now being renamed from "Mother and child" to "Parent and child" and given to fathers too.

It's all well and good getting fathers more involved in family life (I've seen a threat to force them to take 6 weeks of paternity leave, too) but targetting existing fathers seems to be rather missing the point as far as population growth goes. I wonder if Japan's traditional fertility festivals might be a more productive focus? (If my reader is disappointed after clicking that link, I don't want to hear about it!)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

EGU posters

I've put my EGU posters up here and here. The first is was initially intended as a summary of our recent GRL paper, but has been beefed up by bits from our recently-submitted comment and part of this blog post. Jules attended the oral session on probabilistic prediction and then defended this poster yesterday in my absence. She said it seemed to go ok and no-one blew any big holes in it, which is always a relief when doing something that could be considered controversial, no matter how confident we are about it! The second is some preliminary analysis of our ensemble of LGM simulations, which jules wrote almost entirely by herself (and mostly while I was away in Florida) so I have hardly looked at it except to say "how pretty". She also has a talk on this on Thursday.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We want summer time!

I do, anyway.

Apparently Japan's environment ministry aims to save energy by turning out the lights at 8pm, forcing late-stayers to either pack up and go home, or move into a special "overtime room". While I'm all for encouraging people to go home a bit earlier (working hours are commonly about 10am-7pm or even later here) there is an alternative that would have a much greater effect on energy consumption: CHANGE THE CLOCKS!

Currently, sunrise is 5:24am and sunset 6:05pm in Tokyo (I just looked it up). That means solar noon is 11:45am. Even in midsummer, the evening is short, with sunset just creeping past 7pm, and anyone who doesn't go home fairly early will be in darkness towards the end of the day (and it's not just at work - whether travelling or at at home, it gets dark early). Changing the clocks by AT LEAST an hour - and maybe one hour year-round and 2 in summer - would give everyone a load more free light in the evenings. Sure, the mornings would be darker, but there aren't many people getting up at that time anyway. In fact people often use shutters to keep out the light so they can get some sleep :-)

I once saw some stats that changing to Summer Time (Daylight Saving Time) would be expected to cut about 1-2% off electricity consumption nationally. Japan used to change the clocks, for a short period after the 2nd World War. According to this article, the main reason they abandoned it was the humiliation of defeat which accompanied its imposition. It's surely time to get over that. The only other advanced nations not to use any DST are South Korea, and Iceland (and for the latter, there is little point, since it's basically light all summer and dark all winter). Seoul is already in a less unsuitable time zone, with solar noon currently around 12:35pm - so compared to Tokyo, it's summer time year-round there.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mine's bigger than yours...

...but maybe not for much longer. Apparently HECToR is being funded to the tune of 50 million quid, so the UK will have a computer to rival the Earth Simulator in a year or so. The initial system will be about 50-100TFlops peak performance, but I think it was going to be upgradeable thereafter. The ES is about 40TFlops sustained, so maybe we'll stay ahead for a little while longer. More importantly, the ES is primarily devoted to Earth System Science, whereas HECToR will be shared across all of the UK's scientific research needs.

Japan and the USA have a big advantage in this race through having computer industries to support - certainly in the case of Japan, the funding of ES and Simulator 2 are in no small part aimed at developing new computing technology, with the science as a bonus (it can't be a coincidence that all the US machines use US hardware too). But in the UK, it all has to be argued for on the basis of allocating limited scientific funding ("do we want HECToR or CEH?") and then gets tendered out to whichever foreign manufacturer offers best value. 50 million quid is not to be sniffed at, but it's being spread rather thin!

QUEST - Gap/Opportunity Analysis Consultation

A bit parochial this one, but through some random googling I happened to come across this document from QUEST, asking for comments on their planned round of research investment in Earth System Science. It appears to have been recently released, and comments are requested in the next couple of weeks (see also the pdf which has more details).

I'll certainly have something to say to them on the "optimal climate prediction" section once I've picked my jaw off the floor!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

It's official - "liberal" is a dirty word

Interesting to see this only the day after listening to Condi Rice blethering about the importance of "liberal democracy" during her trip to the UK.

So the Japanese have finally realised that their ruling ("Liberal Democratic") party is not very liberal - and not before time! But rather than change their policies, they are changing their name. Apparently "liberal" doesn't convey the right sort of nationalist war-mongering image that they try to present nowadays. I could also have told them that they aren't really very democratic either, having had a one-party-rule system since the Second World War. But they are keeping that bit, becoming the "Party of Freedom Democracy." Since they are only changing the English translation of their name it's a shame they couldn't get someone to check that it actually was coherent English (it is basically a word-for-word translation of the existing Japanese)!

The media: misleading or misled?

Stoat has a go at the media for "garbling" some papers on sea level rise. The research points to temperatures possibly being high enough by 2100 to commit us to a melting of much of the ice sheets, with an eventual sea level rise of several metres. However, some of the media presented this as if to say that we could expect 6m of sea level rise by that date, which is certainly not what the papers said. Having read the press release, I'm not so quick to point the finger at the journalists. Right in that first paragraph, they mention the 2100 date, and the 6m of sea level rise, and nowhere in the article do they ever give any other estimate of what the sea level is likely to be in 2100. Sure, they do say "eventually rose", but if someone had set out to deliberately mislead journalists, they could hardly have done a better job without actually lying.

To me, this has a strong echo of the coverage of the EA report on millennial climate change. At least in that case, the scientists concerned have spoken of their "consternation" at the tone of the press release - and they have the excuse that the report was commissioned by an external (to the scientists) agency which then did the PR on their own terms.

As a further comment on this new work, I've not read the papers, but it's a racing certainty that they use one of the most pessimistic scenarios for emissions (probably A2, which combines extremely high population growth with strong growth in emissions per capita). I know they only say "could" at the start of the press release, but I'd much prefer it if scientists actually said what they thought was likely to happen, rather than (or at a minimum, in parallel with) presenting the most extreme viewpoint that they think they can get away with.