Saturday, June 30, 2007

An inspector calls

Last week we had a visit from our external evaluation committee. In principle this basically happens every 5 years, although in fact it is a little over 6 years since they last came (just before we arrived). It was interesting to re-read their previous report, to see what had changed in the meantime. That previous visit was their first time - the institute was only set up 5 years before then - so it probably seemed reasonable at that time to give people the benefit of the doubt in view of the difficulties in setting up a major new lab from scratch. But although a few things are better, many are unchanged and some are if anything worse. A significant amount of science has been done in the meantime, but there are some fairly obvious problems with the way things are organised.

In the three days they were here, they had a barrage of presentations from group leaders and programme directors. It was interesting to see all the absentee management suddenly turn up and rush around pretending that they are here all (or even a significant proportion of) the time. The committee didn't actually meet with anyone who really works here as a scientist (at least not in our division, to be fair there are some group leaders in other divisions who don't have full-time jobs elsewhere). We did have the pleasure of a barbecue with them one night, but after the visitors had just had a day packed full of meetings (and with bosses eavesdropping in the background) it wasn't really a conducive atmosphere for full and frank discussions. Not that I have anything to say to them that I would not (have not) said to the lab director, but people suffering under the delusion that they have a viable long-term future here might perhaps have felt a little inhibited. Still, it was useful to take a step back, examine the good things about working here (after 6 years I'm in no hurry to leave, there is lots to like about the freedom and facilities) but realise that problems that have remained for 11 years can no longer be considered teething troubles but are actually "features" of the organisation.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Too Many Couples?

I found this odd article via some blog or other. The anonymous author seems to have a bee in his bonnet about couples getting jobs in academia, and invents a number of of bizarre and implausible excuses to back up his prejudice.

I'll start off by agreeing with one point he makes - it is rather silly for a candidate to keep quiet on the subject up to the point at which a job offer is made, only then to spring the surprise "I need a job for my spouse too". That just wastes everyone's time in the case when a suitable second position is impossible. It may be illegal for interviewers to ask (in some countries: probably not Japan) but that doesn't mean the candidate can't mention it themselves. We have certainly always been upfront about our position: it may have put some people off, but (as I've mentioned before) I think others have seen the obvious benefits of capturing a couple who are likely to settle relatively easily and who are not liable to suddenly get up and leave due to external circumstances To be fair, the author does mention this one point in favour of couples - at least in the particular case where a department has had an excessively high turnover of staff.

On the other hand, given the prejudice the writer shows, maybe candidates feel justified in waiting until they have shown themselves to be the best, before giving the panel a reason to reject them out of hand.

Apparently the biggest reason for not hiring a couple is that he cannot tell whether they will vote together on departmental decisions. If they agree, then their 2 votes carry more weight than one person. Well, they are two people, so that's obvious enough. One could equally argue that if they disagree, then the committee does not benefit from their judgement and they might as well not be there. The author doesn't explain how this is any different from any other random pair of faculty members. I guess in his world view all faculty members are paragons of objective judgement, unless they fall under the spell of a wicked spouse, at which point they lose their critical faculties and do what they are told. Maybe the stupid spouse is told what to do by the clever one - an advantage that other stupid faculty members don't have. Maybe, just maybe, some rational discussion actually results in them agreeing, because the accumulated evidence of their joint experiences supports a particular decision. Rational discussion? Who'd've thunk it?

Better still, another reason for not employing a couple is that they cannot be trusted to keep secrets from each other. I suppose if your authority depends on mushroom management techniques (and although Jamstec has raised this approach to levels I had never imagined possible, it is hardly unheard of in the west), then the concept of staff actually sharing information might well represent a threat.

He emphasises how anyone stupid enough to marry someone in the same field has only brought their troubles on themselves, so they should just put up with whatever they are offered. Well, it's a free market and good candidates can be just as picky as good employers. He might as well have simply advised people to not marry academics at all - which I wouldn't have found grounds to disagree with, what with the low salary and job insecurity etc (#include std.whinge). But that's a general point that goes beyond couples in academia.

He claims that small departments may not be able to function properly with even a single couple, and even a large one won't cope with 3. The number of scientist couples of my acquaintance is very low (I know of a handful by reputation), so I ask if anyone can back up that serious allegation with any specific cases. As far as I can tell, the couples usually make a strong contribution, although whether their relationship actually has a substantial role to play in that is not clear. I would however guess it is usually more of a help than a hindrance, eg in terms of helping effective collaboration and flexibility in coping with workplace pressures.

Maybe I'm reading a bit too much between the lines, but I get the impression of an old middle-class white man who rather likes the old middle-class white man's club that is academia, and who rather wishes that inconvenient things like wives and diversity and lives outside of work didn't interfere with his collegial life. Tough luck, buddy. It's not 1950 any more.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bet or bluff?

Apparently Limbaugh has been mouthing off about betting against climate change. He starts off with some silly straw men about NY being under water in 20 years, but goes on to claim that he would bet against all of the scientists's predictions. He also claims that no scientists are prepared to bet on their claims. Damned facts and their liberal agenda!

(Hat tip to Robin Hanson, who also thinks Limbaugh's full of shit.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Meat Hope

A Meat Hope 100% beef pie is when you've got two pieces of pastry, and you hope there's some beef in the middle.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Feeling lucky, space tourist?

Spotted in the local news:
Travel agency JTB Corp will launch Japan's first space travel insurance next April. A joint venture between JTB and American International Group Inc has cooperated with Lloyds Japan Co to develop the insurance, the premium for which could be around 7% of an insured amount against 0.03% for conventional overseas travel insurance products, JTB said.
A premium of 7% of the insured amount suggests they think there is a similar chance of not coming back in one piece (maybe 1 in 20, allowing for a fat profit for the agency). I can see the sales pitch:
I know what you're thinking. "Have they flown 18 missions or 19?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a spaceship, the most powerful and unreliable vehicle in the world, and would blow your head clean off (not to mention the rest of you), you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, tourist?
Maybe not.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More on the "$20,000" bet

Following on from this post, I emailed J Scott Armstrong, he pointed me to this web site/blog and the bet is outlined in more detail in this post.

At a glance, he is using the most obvious and trivial trick, that he appeared to have ruled out with his talk of forecasting climate change on this page. In fact, the terms of his challenge refer to forecasting annual mean temperatures at a handful of points, using raw model output. The trivial trick here is that of course the models do not directly represent local temperature (typical resolution is ~300km horizontally) and they also have significant regional biases, so meaningfully relating their output to local temperature requires at a minimum some sort of bias correction and/or downscaling. Such bias adjustment is an entirely routine procedure in many branches of forecasting, it is inconceivable that Armstrong does not realise this.

The other big problem is the time scale: the bet is for 1-10 year forecasts. While there are probably some people who can produce usable forecasts over at least the seasonal to annual time scale (and maybe further in some cases), on the whole these aren't the same people as those doing 100 year projections. The GCMs used in the IPCC report don't have any proper initialisation scheme that would enable them to make meaningful annual forecasts, and no-one has ever claimed that they do. From their point of view, whether one year is warmer than the last is basically a matter of chance, and a "persistence" forecast is a pretty reasonable reasonable choice.

A much fairer test of the models would be to look at something like a 20 year trend for global mean temperature (and possibly at a more regional scale: I haven't looked in detail at this). Armstrong claims to be amenable to altering his terms: I've emailed him with these points and will report on his response. Based on what I have read, I'm not optimistic. It reads like a cheap publicity stunt rather than serious challenge.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The "$20,000" Climate forecast bet

This looks interesting:
Scott Armstrong will announce a $20,000 challenge (each side to post $10,000 to go to a charitable cause nominated by the winner) that he will be able to more accurately forecast climate change than can any fully disclosed climate model.
I found this site via this post on Andrew Gelman's (and colleagues) interesting stats blog (the article he is talking about in that post is worth a read - in fact it bears directly on the frequentist v Bayesian debate). Actually Gelman recently commented on the climate sensitivity issue, albeit in a noncommital way. I look forward to seing if he will deal with it in more detail. But that's an aside.

On further digging, it seems like Armstrong is a common-or-garden variety delusionist, with his "audit of the IPCC forecasts of global average temperature" being little more than a laundry list of wrongheadedness, nonsequiturs and nitpicking, much of which isn't even remotely relevant ("For example, policy responses to Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring, failed to anticipate that millions of people would die from malaria because efforts to reduce the use of DDT"). In fact he takes a particularly clueless tack with his summary:
They found the IPCC forecasts have no validity and conclude that the there is no more reason to expect global warming over the next 90 years than there is to expect global cooling
since there is no longer anyone remotely credible in the field of climate science who denies that CO2 will have a significant warming effect (even Lindzen has crept up past 1C for a doubling, which any reasonable analysis would convert to at least a probable warming).

There are several obvious possibilities here: either his "$20,000 bet" (only $10,000 from each side, it's no bigger than my existing bet) is just a publicity stunt to get people to visit his website - remember the stupid bet on oil futures, which bought widespread press coverage for someone with a book to sell - or else he is intending to do something supposedly clever and abstruse with time series analysis and end up with a warming of 0.2C/decade for the foreseeable future, just like all the models do. Of course by intelligently analysing a range of model outputs it should be possible to generate a forecast which will probably outperform a model - simply taking their average (strictly, median) guarantees to beat half the models, and can reasonably expect to beat a clear majority.

In principle I'm all in favour of expanding interest in climate forecasting. In fact, in the next few months or years we expect to generate some explicit forecasts of our own (it's what the new apprentice is for). Maybe I'll take on Armstrong if the terms of his bet are reasonable. I'll try to remember to chase it up next week when he officially announces his challenge.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Diplomatic incident

A few weeks ago, Prince Andrew came to call. I'm not sure what the real purpose of his trip was - he currently holds the position of Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, which presumably involves flying around the world and selling Britishness and British products (hence "Airmiles Andy"). I suppose if we are going to have a Royal Family, it seems like this is the (only?) sort of thing they are well suited to doing.

The trip coincided with my Belgium expedition, (oi, who muttered "hypocrite" at the back?) so I didn't get to meet him, but jules and the UJCC people were asked to be prepared. Usually what seems to happen for VIP visits is that all sorts of arrangements are made, and then at the last minute the VIP changes their plans and the whole thing falls though (Blair was supposed to visit a few years ago: this was in the middle of some scandal back home and he just holed up in a hotel in Hakone instead). But this time, it actually went according to plan.

By all accounts, Prince Andrew (above left) marched round with his arms firmly folded and a stern expression, criticising all and sundry. So jules being jules, she decided to...challenge...him a little.

You can see Adam beside her looking horrified, Malcolm cringing, Pier-Luigi sniggering, John wishing he wasn't there, and Marie-Estelle wondering what this crazy woman is going on about.

By the end of her diatribe, everyone is laughing....except for Prince Andrew himself (on his left are the Ambassador and Science Councillor respectively). But she's not been whisked away to the Tower of London yet. And at least he unfolded his arms!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Apprentice

As it happens, I saw one episode of the recent series while in Belgium, and it seemed to consist of nasty poseurs taking taxis around London, desperately selling gimmicky overpriced tat to unwilling shop managers. If that is business, they can keep it. But this post isn't about the TV program, or even about her. There is of course a climate science connection due to her recently terminated employment at the Met Office. Actually, as jules pointed out, if canoodling with a married colleague in a field is beyond the pale there, then we'll have to cross them off our list of possible future career moves :-) Come to that, if canoodling with a colleague who is married to someone else is beyond the pale at scientific institutes in general, then there are a whole lot of scientists who should be worried right now - such behaviour is probably more the rule than the exception, judging from the tip of the iceberg that I know about.... Interestingly, the only other other probationary sacking that I recall from my time in the UK was also a youngish (for her position) uppity female. While I will not criticise that decision in any way (nor the Apprentice case about which I probably know even less than those who have read the papers carefully), I can't help but think that youngish uppity females are, by their mere existence and irrespective of their behaviour, more likely to upset the clubby middle-aged grey men who run British science, than some upstanding young chap who may have gone a bit off the rails, but, you know, he's one of us really, and we should probably give him a second chance...

Oops. I said I wasn't going to write about that apprentice. The "apprentice" I'm more interested in is right now the one I'm trying to employ. (Of course using the term "apprentice" probably sounds a bit conceited of me - I'm really expecting that the new person will make a substantial contribution in their own right. But it segues nicely...). Since the process is still ongoing I'm certainly not going to say anything specific about the candidates, but we had several strong applications and in fact I'm confident that any of the shortlisted ones could do the job well. I advertised on the met-jobs mailing list which is a fabulous service - obviously it's widely circulated, and it's also free. I also found out that Nature had a special offer to waive its usual $300 fee, so I tried them too. Recently I got an email from them asking me if I wanted to pay for an extension to their advert - they told me that the page had had 102 reads and no applications. Thanks but no thanks! Perhaps they are more appropriate for bio/chemistry stuff. Through the met-jobs list we got about 20 applications from around 10 countries, at least half of which were pretty decent, and invited the top 4 for interviews here. Without having any official set procedure to follow, I asked each of them to give a seminar on their work, then after lunch (with some of the group members) we had a rather informal interview. I can't speak for the visitors, but from our point of view the process seemed to go pretty smoothly and we certainly enjoyed it. Conveniently, the most senior people here were all busy and could not attend, which stopped it turning into a horribly formal and stilted set-piece. Our own interviews here were a pretty nasty experience, which consisted of a short presentation to a stony-faced and silent panel, followed by some questions on the science and then abruptly "you can go now". No opportunity for discussion, or for us to ask any questions, because we are just lowly worms who should be grateful to accept any crumbs that they deign to drop for us. At least that's how it felt. It wouldn't have been out of place on a John Cleese "How not to manage" training video.

IPCC enters the 21st century

According to the latest missive from Michael Manning, the IPCC TSUs have agreed that in future comments and responses will be available in pdf format (see here and here for previous). I'm not 100% sure from his wording if this strictly applies only to future reports (ie starting with the next assessment), or includes the AR4. But in any case, he's specifically stated that I'll get pdfs (for the chapters I asked about) personally in a few days at latest. Which, needless to say, I am very pleased to hear.

Update Tuesday 19th

On Monday, the comments dead tree form. Assuming a minor cock-up rather than obstruction, I sat on my hands, and overnight the pdfs appeared in my inbox (in fact I also got the comments on the same chapters of the 1st draft which I don't remember specifically asking for). I'd like to publicly thank the IPCC Secretariat for responding in a sensible way and in a reasonable time frame.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A taxing proposal

This proposal has attracted some interest, primarily it seems from the delusionist wing of the blogosphere (eg). The basic ideas is that a carbon tax be instituted in such a way that it ramps up with observed temperature change. Of course a tax that ramps up over time is essentially the policy proposed by many economic analyses of the problem. There are those who would argue for cap-and-trade, and no doubt a capping system could be implemented on similar principles (eg where emissions permits are scaled depending on temperature change). But anyway, I see no problem with the principle.

McKitrick's "clever" point is to make the tax increase conditional on (proportional to) temperature increases: therefore delusionalists should have no reason to object, since they claim to believe that temperatures will not increase. The flip-side of this is that accelerated warming would cause a greater tax hike, so alarmists should also be reassured that if they are right, the tax would have a real bite. Further, markets could bet on who was right - neither, obviously enough, but I wouldn't object to the chance to make some money off that fact.

Of course the details of the proposal are completely impractical, and indeed I'm sure it wasn't even proposed as anything more than a thought experiment. The suggested 3-year average would be rather volatile, which is a problem irrespective of the average rate. Something like a 10-year average would surely be more sensible as a starting point. It's not clear whether the suggested rate (20 times the temperature anomaly) is a reasonable one: it should in the first instance be set so as to give a sensible tax trajectory over the next 20 years under the expected warming of about 0.2C/decade (surface air temperature). Most importantly, using such dodgy and disputed measurements as these two competing analyses of satellite observations of the tropical troposphere is little short of idiotic: one analysis is 50% greater than the other, and given that NASA no longer has any interest in Earth observation, who can say if there will even be continuity of these rather limited observations?

Perhaps the least attractive aspect of the proposal is the way in which it bends over backwards to atttract the delusionists, giving the another fig-leaf to hide behind. They lost the argument years ago, and I don't see why anyone with a strong track record of incompetence, sophistry and dishonesty should be offered a free pass to the policymaking table. On the other hand, political expediency often enough trumps basic decency, and perhaps it could be argued that the end justifies the means.

An obvious alternative policy that avoids these problems would be to institute a ramped carbon tax, with a promise to re-evaluate in say 10 or 20 years (since we cannot usurp the rights of a future electorate to change tax policies, this right will necessarily exist anyway). Of course a rump of irrelevant delusionists won't like this counter-proposal, but why should the rest of the world care what they think anyway?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lost in translation

Attending Japanese project meetings is often a bit frustrating, to put it mildly. Part of this is due to them being in Japanese, so although I can get the gist of it these days (especially with the help of the presentation) I can't understand the nuance or contribute significantly to the discussion (I could - and occasionally did - say something in English, but it's hard to be sure that it hadn't already been covered adequately). When the project is closely related to my own interests, it's particularly frustrating, but I have to just shrug and let them get on with it. The quid pro quo is that they generally let me get on with what I want to do too.

This new project that I'm involved in seems to have as its overall aim "Motivating the public to take action on climate change based on correct scientific information". I'd have been much happier if this had been written as "Supporting the decision-making process through the best available science". The official version sounds rather too much like "Instilling patriotism though a correct view of history" which is what the J-govt is trying to do through its censorship of history textbooks and the like in schools these days. Combine that with re-writing their "outdated" constitution that currently forbids military aggression, and it adds up to scary stuff for Japan's neighbours, but that's another story. I'm assured that in this case "correct scientific information" (direct translation of 正しい科学的情報) really does just mean "best available". Time will tell...

It's mildly amusing to play spot-the-loanword in Japanese discussions. Of course all languages have borrowed words from others, usually to describe new concepts that are not already adequately covered (such as the French, who as Bush once famously didn't say, were missing the word for "entrepreneur"). Of course a lot of Japanese originally came from Chinese, but more recently there have been Western imports such as "erebeetaa" (elevator) and "bataa" (butter) that presumably came together with these products. Jules and I noticed two loan words in particular that came up regularly in the discussion of the project plans: management and communication. I hope they catch on :-)

Friday, June 08, 2007

New visa plans for Japan?

There are some bizarre proposals doing the rounds for changing the visa system in Japan. The JT writes about them here. The background is that Japan is short of workers, due to the extraordinarily low birthrate over recent decades. There has also been some scandal concerning the "foreign trainee" system, under which foreign labour is brought here ostensibly under the guise of international development, but in reality as little more than slaves on a fraction of the standard minimum wage. So there is some political impetus for change.

From my point of view as a scientist, both of the proposals outlined in the JT are idiotic. In fact, the first (where foreigners will need to take Japanese language exams before even getting a visa) is so absurd that it can only be explained as a thinly-veiled attempt to return to the good old days of "sakoku", when Japan isolated itself from outside influences for 200 years. I think one could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of foreign scientists who would choose to spend several years learning Japanese (while in their home country) just on the off-chance that they might subsequently get an insecure job here.

The best that one could say about the second option (widely-available visas, but with a fixed 3 year limit) is that for many people it is actually not much worse than the present situation. The vast majority of scientific visitors here are basically young post-docs coming for a change of scene, and for them there would be no real change. Indeed a fixed limit might benefit some of them as it would stop them drifting into dead-end jobs with no career prospects. However it would also completely eliminate any prospect of successful senior scientists coming here. Further, it would eliminate all real immigration, since to takes 10 years to get permanent residency rights. Way to solve the population problem guys!

These problems are blindingly obvious and I have to hope that someone within the Japanese Govt will be able to work this much out. So I don't expect any of these proposals to actually come into effect in their current form - perhaps they could augment the existing setup, but surely not replace it.

Comments coming

According to Martin Manning, the comments are on their way (well, they will be sent shortly). This is apparently a special short-term offer to "expert reviewers" only. The long-term "open archive" will be at Harvard as previously described.

No doubt they will arrive in sequestration-ready dead tree form, which is hardly convenient or sensible, but there's no point banging that drum any more given that I'm getting the information that I asked for. The IPCC secretariat are obviously desperate to avoid widespread dissemination of the comments, they have even explicitly asserted that these copies are "not for redistribution to others".

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Japanese system stifles foreign scientific talent | The Japan Times Online

There's a wonderfully cynical and negative article here about the situation for foreign scientists in Japan. I don't by any means think the author is wrong, but he may be generalising a little too broadly based on his own (and presumably his acquaintances') experiences. Typical comment:
However, despite the government's statements to the contrary, many government initiatives actively prevent the integration of foreign scientists into the Japanese research and university environments.
And he goes on to grumble about the revolving door syndrome and exclusion of non-Japanese researchers from the decision-making process or indeed any reasonable career structure.

There's no specific government initiative preventing my integration, at least none that I know about. I'm employed on the same basis as my Japanese colleagues - however, this was achieved by dramatically downgrading their status, career prospects and job security, rather than raising the foreigners to the standards that most Japanese scientists can (at least could, until recently) expect. I've not even got any complaints about the salary, although I am suspicious of the extent to which pay scales are kept secret from us.

What exclusion there is, is generally based around the language barrier (at least, that's what they say). In the view of the management, the benefits of speaking in Japanese when planning and running their projects outweighs the "loss" of my (and almost all other foreigners') input. More on that in a subsequent post, perhaps...obviously it is a decision they are entitled to make. Of course you could also turn it round and say that in my view the benefits of being able to speak (and read and write!) Japanese do not justify the massive investment of time and effort that would be required to achieve sufficient fluency. I might get there slowly...but it's hard to remain motivated. It's not like I need it to do my research or to communicate with people who actually want to communicate with me.

To be honest, I don't know how much the language barrier is a real reason versus being used as a convenient excuse. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that even after this hoop is jumped, there is still no promotion pathway for foreigners. And frankly, given what I've seen of Japanese management, I wouldn't much want to be part of it. For now I can get on with my research relatively unimpeded, and it's not like the rest of the world doesn't have its own problems.


I know I grumble a lot about things here in Japan...but there are some things that really deserve grumbling about. When I was in the UK, I grumbled there too! But I didn't have a blog back then. Anyway, there are still plenty of times when I'm reminded what a great place it is to live here.

One Thursday a few weeks ago, we found a card in the mailbox telling us of an undelivered parcel. This is a fairly common occurrence, happening whenever deliveries require a signature or a fee (such as duty on imported goods), or are just too big to physically fit in the mailbox. It's possible to arrange a new delivery time, but we usually find it easier to just pop into the central post office when we are next passing, so jules did that on the way back from work on the next Friday. They have a service counter open 8am-8pm which itself is pretty handy, and a big improvement on the typical British situation. But that's not the real point of my story.

She proffered the card, and the man at the desk hunted around briefly before telling her that the parcel had already been delivered - and he brandished the signed receipt to prove it. "There, look, Iwase-san who lives there signed for it", he said.

"There's no Iwase-san known to me", she protested (or rather, the equivalent in pidgin Japanese). After much further scurrying around he said something more, which she understood as meaning that perhaps the parcel was out on a delivery round right now - they sometimes try twice anyway - and at that point she gave up and went home, planning to have another go the next day if necessary.

No sooner had we got inside the door but the doorbell rang. Outside was a little man peeking over a big cardboard box, profusely apologising for the trouble he had caused and bowing repeatedly. In the time it had taken us to get the bus home, the postman had gone out to retrieve the parcel from where he had erroneously delivered it that morning, and waited around the corner for us to return home - all in the pouring rain at 8:30pm!

It warms the cockles of my heart, it really does. I can't imagine anything like that ever happening in the UK. 9 times out of 10 it would be "(shrug) there's the signature - not my problem mate", and on the lucky 10th time you might get an apology. But in Japan this extraordinary level of service is really not at all unusual. One could cynically argue that it's the result of massively inefficient over-staffing and a culture of subservient brainwashed automatons, but it does make life run smoothly.

I'm still puzzled as to who Yanase-san is or why he/she accepted the clearly-labelled parcel in the first place. Delivering a parcel to neighbours is quite common in the UK, but it's never happened to us here before, and there was even duty to pay on this one...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

From the department of "you couldn't make it up"

This barking mad press release recently appeared in my in-box.

Scientists Rally Around NASA Chief After Global Warming Comments

Mostly it's just the same old motley crew:
Professor Robert Carter, observed...Dr. Tim Ball, a Canadian climatologist, responded...Said Ross McKitrick...Dr. Pat Michaels...
But like all the best jokes, they save the punchline to the end:
Finally, Harvard University physicist Lubos Motl praised Griffin's climate comments, calling them "sensible."
If "jumping the shark" refers to the point at which a TV series loses all credibility, perhaps "quoting a Motl" could be analogous in the context of coverage of climate science issues.

Actually, a quick investigation into the "organisation" behind this press release is mildly amusing. The website of the "Science and Public Policy Institute" seems abandoned, but Google links it to the slightly kooky Jill Ungar ("Research interests: Marine mammal care and rehab, especially involving more holistic medical care and less western medicine. Probiotic, herbal, energy work"). However, the first contact name on the press release (Robert Ferguson) runs the similarly-named Center for Science and Public Policy, as you can see from the front page seems to enjoy puffing up the septics and gets puffed in return by the Heartland Institute. 'Nuff said.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Belgian beer tour

Just had a brief trip to Louvain-La-Neuve in Belgium, combining this workshop (on millennial-scale paleoclimate data assimilation, organised by Hugues Goosse and Martin Widmann) with a visit to Michel Crucifix who is also at the same institute. The trip ended up being a bit briefer than originally planned, partly because I only discovered relatively late that Monday was a holiday, so I spent that day walking off my jetlag on the streets of Brussels looking at the outsides of shut buildings:

There was a lot of interesting discussion, but also quite a lot of talking at cross purposes - the area is young enough that there isn't much established practice yet. I'm sure that everyone left better informed than they came, which is one of the main points of such meetings, and there was also substantial agreement about the way forward (or rather, a range of constructive ways forward). I missed the end of the final discussion session due to some incompetence over my travel arrangements (largely my own, compounded by that of the staff at the train station). So I wait with interest to see the official statement of conclusions.

Belgium has a spectacular range of beers, and I managed to try: Chimay Bleu, Duvel, Kwak, Westmalle Triple, Orval, Belle-Vue Gueuze, Leffe 9, Chimay Rouge, La Cuvee des Trolls, Blanche-Neuve, Rochefort 10, Leffe Brune, Bush Blonde and Hooegarden Blanche.

I'm not admitting how many I had of each, but I plan on detoxing with green tea and steamed rice for the next several days :-) I failed to find any lambic, but gueuze is apparently a more drinkable version and that was quite...interesting...enough. I've tasted enough bad home-brew that I can't really see why anyone would deliberately make it: on the other hand, I do eat rotten soya beans and mouldy cheese quite happily, so I can't be too sarcastic. In fact since I was flying from Paris, I swapped some spare Euros for mouldy cheese at the airport on the way home, only realising after walking past the sniffer dogs at Japanese customs that this might not have been the most sensible course of action!