Showing posts with label bizarre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bizarre. Show all posts

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mascot madness

Here in Japan, there isn't much that can't be enhanced by the addition of a cartoon character, preferably fluffy.

We found this "Hello Kitty Doomsday Clock" poster at the recent Asahi Blue Planet winners' lecture. It was being given out freely, and anyone who wants can apply for one here (but probably only for local residents).


It's worth clicking to look at the full size to read the text. Fortunately, it seems like the environment isn't very dangerous these days. This poster now has pride of place in our office.

But perhaps one step better, is the Fukushima Radiation Bird.


Kibitan (as he is known) is warning children not to play near: drains, gutters, puddles, trees, or grass, because of the naughty radiation that will poison you if you get too much of it in your body. So that leaves....um...well, not very much of Fukushima for all the little children to play in. Not that there is any need to evacuate, or anything like that. Just don't touch the trees, grass, puddles, gutters, or drains, and don't forget to wash and gargle every time you come in from outdoors, and you'll be just fine. Probably. Now isn't that reassuring?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Gone bananas

Well this is published on 2nd April, but I wonder if it's a late April Fool?

New safety standards for radioactive cesium in food products go into effect.

The new standard is going to be set at 100Bq/kg for most food such as fruit and veg. "The average radioactivity of bananas is 130 Bq/kg, or about 19.2 Bq per 150 gram banana". So no more sourdough banana bread for us.

(More realistically, I expect they simply won't test foods that they don't want to ban. No change there then.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Parmesan cheese

There's a lovely fusion of mad scientists and bonkers bureaucrats in the Torygraph today:
EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration: A meeting of 21 scientists in Parma, Italy, concluded that reduced water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control.
I wonder if it's actually true?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Pocky Day

For those of you who don't know what Pocky is, I bring you:



and also:



and just in case you still haven't worked it out:



(Well if climate scientists can go on about the need for a "Manhattan Project" for climate science, I can't really blame the Japanese for doing their own thing on Armistice day.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I've been audited!

All these pesky so-called "climate auditors" have got nothing on JAMSTEC, who really know how to do these sorts of things properly.

There have been allegations of some shady practice in the awarding of contracts, and fishy accounting - not within JAMSTEC itself, I hasten to add, but we are all part of the same compost heap that is the Japanese governmental and quasi-governmental bureaucracy, so tend to get trawled in the same nets. Therefore, JAMSTEC is undertaking an audit to check whether the problem extends to its staff.

This audit consists of a non-anonymised questionnaire that goes something like this:

===
Q1: Have you engaged in shady accounting, and do you have any illegal slush fund? Yes/No (tick as applicable)

Q2: If the answer to Q1 is "yes", where is this money kept?

I certify that the answers to Q1 and Q2 are correct. Name _____
===

There follows some blurb to the effect that if the questionnaire is not returned by the deadline, someone will come and talk to me to help me understand how important it is.

Jules is lucky enough to get to go to monthly management meetings. At the last one, there was substantial discussion about the questionnaire, and it was decided that we should all tick the "No" box.

We are lucky indeed to have such inspirational leadership.

(I took a punt and had already sent it back - fortunately, I managed to guess the correct answer.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No we can't!

We are off to Tohoku again shortly for more volunteering with Peaceboat. Partly because we enjoyed it last time and partly with the thought that if our jobs do end next year (which to be honest is starting to look less likely now), then I can't imagine wishing I had spent a few more weeks in the office over the summer! We were planning to travel up by train+bike and follow the volunteering with a bit of a holiday in the area, inspired in part by articles such as this, and partly by another volunteer on our previous week who did exactly the same. The volunteer campsite is far enough out of town that having a bike to get around would be really handy, especially for the two weeks we were planning to stay, for which laundry and shopping trips would be essential. I even booked a room at the hotel mentioned in that article for our trip up (having looked around and finding that many others in the area are actually shut).

We mentioned this plan to one of the organisers at the weekend at the pre-departure meeting, and were amazed to be met with a flat refusal. No, it is absolutely impossible to turn up on a bicycle. Either get the bus from Tokyo with us, she said, or don't come at all. She also told us that the previous person who did this (ie the person on our week) had caused a lot of disruption, because she had appeared *the night before* every one else on the overnight buses. The resulting attack of severe panic resulted in three heart attacks, a case of heatstroke and four pregnancies. OK, I made up the pregnancies. Well, two of them. Just imagine, she said, the confusion if everyone did that. Oh, the humanity. Um...someone help me out here, I'm having a failure of imagination. It's a campsite. That's what people usually do. We hardly need to march in in formation. We even offered to turn up on Saturday morning at the same time as the bus (which would be easy, there is an open campsite at the other end of the same field, where we could stay on the Friday night). She remained, however, completely intransigent. It was their way or no way. Incidentally, there was no residual evidence of this confusion when we all previously turned up on the bus on the Saturday morning. I suspect that the story has grown in the retelling, which also happened to us in a different context a couple of months ago. [Got a email from the admin at work, in a panic because our landlady was complaining about the damage we were causing with the plants growing up the walls of our house. The reality was that there are no plants growing up the walls of our house, and our landlady was not at all upset but did want to trim the hedge a few feet away!] With a language where so much is left unsaid, it is easy to imagine problems into existence. I've long since learnt that there is, however, no reasoning with people when they get in this sort of mood.

We did briefly ponder cancelling the volunteering completely - partly in protest at the overall stupidity, and partly because spending a significant amount of money on a holiday is probably more beneficial than doing a bit more beach cleaning at this stage in the proceedings. However, we have compromised on a single week of volunteering, followed by a week back at home and then back up for the holiday much as originally planned. It will actually be better to not have to haul around our volunteering kit (including heavy boots) on the bike. And the forecast for Thursday/Friday (when we would have been cycling up) looks grim right now with a typhoon on course for a fly-past. It means a week less of volunteering but hey, there are rules to be obeyed here, we can't let practical and useful results get in the way of that.

It's especially disappointing to see this sort of attitude in the younger generation, who one might naively have hoped to be a bit more flexible in their outlook. But I think at this stage in their lives they have only learnt the importance of obeying rules and hammering down sticking out nails, and not yet come to understand the "case-by-case basis" approach by which the more effective administrators (and yes, there are a few of them) learn to deal with reality.

I suppose I should be relieved, that such intransigent rule-mongering and panic at the thought of anything remotely out of the ordinary can still take me by surprise after 10 years here. The time to be worried would be if it felt normal! It certainly reinforces the extent to which it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, but it never occurred to us that either would actually be required in this case. If we hadn't taken the trouble to make completely certain where we were staying, we would just have turned up (having made sure that our team leader knew what we were doing, of course) and everything would have been absolutely fine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Roger Rabbit

He just can't stop himself, burrowing away (don't much like the idea of a Curry hole, euuuurgh.)

It's quite amusing to watch the contortions he'll go to in order to avoid admitting a mistake. Recall that this started with his novel idea that one could determine the "correctness" of a probabilistic prediction of an event, by whether the event in question actually happens. Eg the prediction "likely to rain tomorrow" is correct if and only if the rain actually falls tomorrow.

While this might sound intuitively appealing, it quickly falls apart under any careful examination (as Doswell and Brooks warn). That is, it leads to conclusions that are obviously nonsensical and/or inconsistent. For example, if we say that a roll of a fair die is likely to come up 1-5, then this statement is correct in the sense of, well, being correct, but Roger's analysis would determine it to have been false if the roll actually turned out to be 6.

Oh, but at this point, rather than admitting that his usage of "correct" made no sense, Roger decided that for some reason his method only applies in truly epistemic cases where probability is a state of belief rather than a long-run property. It's funny that while (dishonestly) accusing me of making the IPCC out to be infallible, he then tries his best to ensure that his personal "correctness" theory is unfalsifiable. But I'm sure he is blind to that irony. Of course, no explanation is forthcoming as to why his theory, if it is useful and valid, should fall flat so quickly when confronted with a simple example. I tried again with a handmade imperfect die which is initially not known to be fair, but for which I still make the same prediction and again throw a 6. In Roger-world the probabilistic prediction is incorrect. However, in this case the long-run frequency of a 6 can subsequently found by experiment, and let's assume it turns out to be 20±0.1%. Was the original probabilistic statement still Roger-incorrect? Answer came there none...

Best of all, entirely unprompted, he came up with an example based on an asteroid falling on Boulder. While he had several times insisted that a prediction at the 90% level should be considered "incorrect" if the event did not occur, he then stated that if I predict that it is 10% probable that an asteroid hits Boulder tomorrow (ie 90% probable that it does not), then my prediction is correct if the asteroid DOES hit! This, he explains, is due to the "baseline expectation" which apparently allows Roger to invert his original definition of "correctness" whenever he feels like it. It's a bit odd that he came up with this new twist completely unprompted, as it blows apart all his previous analysis, but it's not as if his theory made any sense anyway.

Naturally, the actual paper that he co-authored contains no mention of this "baseline expectation".

With his latest post on aleatory and epistemic uncertainty, one might hope that he could have at last been starting to realise that the concept of "correctness" of a probabilistic prediction cannot in general be determined from the occurrence - or otherwise - of the predicted event (the occurrence of an event assigned a probability of zero is of course an exception). But based on the comments, it seems that this insight still eludes him.

It does seem that one infallible guide to "Pielkeian correctness" has emerged, though. If Roger says it, then it is correct, no matter how many impossible or ridiculous contortions and evasions are required to avoid admitting error.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Probabilistic Forecasting - A Primer

Roger continues to flounder away, trying to salvage something from his latest statistical train-wreck. It's all remarkably trivial for someone who claims to "fully understand verification of probabilistic forecasts". Commenter Steve Scolnik skewers him neatly with a quotation from Doswell and Brooks:

"An important property of probability forecasts is that single forecasts using probability have no clear sense of "right" and "wrong." That is, if it rains on a 10 percent PoP forecast, is that forecast right or wrong? Intuitively, one suspects that having it rain on a 90 percent PoP is in some sense "more right" than having it rain on a 10 percent forecast. However, this aspect of probability forecasting is only one aspect of the assessment of the performance of the forecasts. In fact, the use of probabilities precludes such a simple assessment of performance as the notion of "right vs. wrong" implies. This is a price we pay for the added flexibility and information content of using probability forecasts. Thus, the fact that on any given forecast day, two forecasters arrive at different subjective probabilities from the same data doesn't mean that one is right and the other wrong! It simply means that one is more certain of the event than the other. All this does is quantify the differences between the forecasters."
Of course, there isn't a cigarette-paper of difference between what I was saying, and what Doswell and Brookes are saying, because this is all well-established basic stuff.

Nevertheless, RP chooses to make up nonsense and misrepresent what I said, without even having the decency to link to my post. I nowhere say, or imply that the IPCC statements "could not be judged to be wrong because of their probabilistic nature", indeed as he well knows I have explicitly contradicted this nonsense claim of his multiple times in the past. A single probabilistic statement at the "likely" level cannot generally meaningfully be validated because no outcome is sufficiently improbable to falsify it (under the standard significance testing paradigm). Once you have a large enough ensemble of statements, such as those the IPCC make, their judgement as a whole can easily be validated because it is highly improbable that either a small or large number of the particular events should occur, if the probability was accurate.

(Even this approach suffers from the usual problems of frequentist statistics, in that it does not actually address the issue of "how likely is it that the probabilistic system is well calibrated, given these results" but rather answers "how likely are these results, if the probabilistic system is well calibrated". However, if the probability level is small enough, we can safely reject the system anyway. This digression is probably best ignored by all readers, I just put it in to head off another avenue for nit-picking.)

Even his own analogy, he fails to be consistent with himself. Having stated unequivocally that a large proportion of the findings of the IPCC are "incorrect" he admits wrt some hypothetical bet on a football game:

"It is important to understand that the judgment [A] may have been perfectly sound and defensible at the time that it was made ... Perhaps then the outcome was just bad luck, meaning that the 10% is realized 10% of the time. Actually, we can never know the answer to whether the expectation was actually sound or not"

So he's prepared to consider probabilistic judgements "perfectly sound" when it suits him, but "incorrect" whenever the IPCC make them. Uh-huh.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How many of Roger's findings about probability manage to be wrong? Answer: he's more inventive than you might expect.

Roger Pielke has a new post up asserting that 28% of the IPCC's findings are incorrect. Although it's obviously a rather implausible figure, I was expecting this claim to be backed up with some sort of evidence of errors, or at least sloppiness, or something, so I had a look at his paper that he cites to justify the claim.

It turns out that 100%-28% = 72% is merely the average (lower bound) probability level associated with the statements they made. Such as "It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent." Here "very likely" means greater than 90%. So, given 10 such statements, the IPCC is saying that they would expect the "very likely" outcome to occur about 9 times, and not occur about once. And similarly for "likely" (66%). Averaging over all the probabilistic statements, it should be expected that in about 28% of cases, the (probabilistically) preferred outcome will not actually happen.

And in Roger-world, this means that 28% of the statements are "incorrect". Note, however, that he does not make this silly claim in the paper itself, but only in his blog post.

To see why this interpretation is nonsensical, consider a single roll of a fair die. I state (accurately) that it is "likely" to lie in the range 1-5. If I roll a 6, then in Roger-world, my statement was incorrect. However, it was not incorrect, and Roger is simply wrong to claim so.

As you can see from the comments, I challenged Roger on this, and his response (entirely in character) is to duck and weave. In his comment #5, for example, he shamelessly misrepresents what I said, and brings up the red herring of a definitive prediction (when in fact I had clearly made a probabilistic one, and the distinction is of course absolutely fundamental to the point). The obvious elephant in the room that Roger cannot bring himself to acknowledge is that the statement is correct irrespective of the outcome of the roll. "Correctness" of a single statement simply isn't something that can be directly validated (or invalidated) by the outcome, and the accurate calibration of a probabilistic prediction system actually relies on having the appropriate number of "failures" for each level of probability.

I realise of course that having done some rather boring textual analysis that in his own words amounts to "Nothing too interesting, really", Roger is just rabble-rousing on his blog. I'm confident that any competent scientist will see straight though it, but that's hardly his target audience.

As for what the 72%/28% average actually does mean, it doesn't actually tell us anything except that the IPCC makes a lot of statements about things that it is only (by its own admission) moderately confident about. It might in principle be interesting to see how the confidence level changes over time, but only if the set of statements were to be held fixed from one assessment to the next. People have looked at climate sensitivity estimates (hardly changed) and detection and attribution (increased markedly in confidence) but not a lot else AIUI. I suppose we can anticipate Roger claiming that the next report is either more correct, or less, depending on what mix of statements they happen to include :-)

Incidentally, and although it's a minor point it is perhaps telling in terms of his overall level of competence, Roger is also wrong where he claims that if the statements are not independent, then the proportion of "incorrect" will be higher than 28%. Actually, if the statements are not independent (while still being correctly calibrated), then the proportion that do not come to pass would still be 28% in expectation, just with higher variance, meaning that either a larger or smaller proportion would not be surprising. Unlike the simple misinterpretation in his blog post title, this elementary error is actually made in the paper itself.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Future University"

This conference announcement deserves wide circulation, I think:

Summary

The current year’s theme will culminate in a major Mellon-funded conference at the end of June 2011: ‘The Future University’ - not ‘the Future of the University’ (over which the new ‘austerity’ looms alarmingly), but its evolving character and changing concerns, especially in the digital age. The conference will address post-disciplinary developments along with policy implications, as well as the catalyst provided by the creative and performing arts on one hand, and the social sciences on the other, when it comes to rethinking the very basis of ‘the Future University’ as a place where education and research (including practice-based research) remain vitally inter-connected within the broad field we know as the Humanities.

Panels will consider musical performance and creative practice, the reorientation of old disciplines in new regions, the relation between universities as they are or might be, and between digitality and democracy, higher education policy and the humanities, the role of ‘the human’ in global literature, and a range of literacies that include both digital literacy and the literate eye in looking at and writing about art. Keynotes will address ‘Digital Technologies and the Conditional University’ (Bernard Stiegler, Pompidou Centre) and ‘The Impact of International History’ (Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy).

The programme will also feature a musical performance event called ‘Improvisation in the Round’, a panel discussion on ‘The Fate of the Humanities’, and a closing panel at the Fitzwilliam Museum on the role of the University Art Museum.


Unfortunately I can't attend, so may never learn about the role of "the human" in global literature.

(Hat tip jules, who is on the mailing list. CRASSH organised an interesting workshop - and poster session - when we were in Cambridge last year.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Things that make you go...hmmm...

In the current situation, one thing I didn't expect to see is a puff piece for...radiation therapy quackery!
Tamagawa Onsen’s special hokutolite bedrock, with naturally occurring radium, is thought to be particularly effective against cancer.
There are quite a lot of "Radium Onsens" in Japan, in fact we have been to one in particular a few times (Masutomi-no-yu near Kinpu-san). I had assumed that the radiation level was not high these days but according to this link the water there may be about 11,000Bq/l (and a person here says some other onsen are 10x higher) - compare the recent fuss when Tokyo water briefly reached 200 Bq/l. Ok, the bathers aren't generally drinking the onsen water and don't spend very long there, but there are full-time staff and the whole neighbourhood must be (relatively) hot. The radon concentration in the air seems really high too - way in excess of the USA EPA's "action level" of 4pCi/l = 148Bq/m3.

I feel a cunning plan coming on for a profitable redevelopment of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those big pools of warm relaxing health-giving cancer-curing radioactive water...

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

It's summer time....Japanese style

In a brilliant display of the sort of lateral thinking that the Japanese are so famous for, the Govt has decided to abandon its idea of adopting a summer time clock change...but is instead just asking businesses to start their day one hour earlier. And, one presumes, they will end one hour earlier too.

Obviously, the trains will also have to start their daily schedule one hour earlier so people can get to work on time. And it would be awkward if the schools didn't also change too so families can keep their same morning schedules.

But it will save people the trouble and confusion of changing their clocks!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Laugh? I nearly choked on my kani-jaga-mayo pizza

For those who aren't up on the lingo, kani = crab, jaga = potato and mayo, yes, mayo is mayonnaise. And rest assured that the title is not some gruesome post-Christmas culinary fantasy brought on by overindulgence, but one of the top billing choices of pizza on the flyer of the local "Pizza-La" delivery chain. Alternatives include crab, macaroni, corn and white sauce, or teriyaki chicken, seaweed, corn and mayonnaise, or...well I think you get the message. It makes me feel slightly queasy just typing it.

So I couldn't help but laugh at the latest installment of the "sushi police" as reported in the Torygraph

Now, Mr Kanda along with a string of leading Japanese sushi experts have declared war on so-called "pseudo sushi" in Europe – food which claims to be sushi in countless high street cafes, supermarkets and restaurants but in fact bears little resemblance to what is found in Japan.

Early next year, the sushi tsars will open Europe's first sushi academy in London devoted to professionally training chefs in a bid to correct increasingly erroneous misconceptions of what sushi should consist of.

"The Italians would never allow their pizzas not to be perfectly crusty outside Italy," said Mr Kanda. "The French are also protective of their cuisine. We want to do the same with Japanese food. There is no quality control at the moment."


I can only charitably assume that he has never lowered himself to the level of eating pizza - or indeed any sort of foreign food - in Japan. (not that "crustiness" is specifically the issue here, other than that of the men who think they should attempt to control what gets eaten around the world...)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More from the department of Something Must be Done

Not to be outdone by the UK's ban on toner cartridges, Japan Post has upped the ante with a ban on sending all parcels weighing over a pound. Unfortunately, this only applies to parcels being sent airmail to the USA, so we can't use it as an excuse for not being able to send any Christmas presents back to the UK. A few thousand USA expats must be heaving a sigh of relief though :-)

The Japanese seem to blame the USA for imposing onerous restrictions (press release), but I don't think any other country has simply given up sending parcels as a response.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

War on toner cartridges

Once again proving that life is far stranger than fiction...

Unbelievable as it may sound, following the recent bomb attempt, there really is a ban on carrying toner cartridges in hand baggage.

It's like a crazy mix of Simon Says meets 1984 meets Viz:

Bin Laden says...
And now...
I mean really, WTF? Is the British public so gobsmackingly stupid, the press so craven and cowardly, and the politicians so...despicably political, that this is going to go through on the nod? Just so we can all agree that Something has been Done?

I do pity the poor person who until this day has religiously carried a spare printer toner cartridge in his carry-on baggage for every trip, just in case he ran out while on holiday. Whoever he is, he'll be gutted that the terrorists didn't use...I dunno, a camera? An airconditioner? A box? Anything other than a toner cartridge!

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Curried leftovers

Bit of a backlog of blogging to do, but now I'm back in Japan with hardly anyone to talk to, I've got no excuse...

First up, I noticed Judith Curry continuing down her bizarre rabbit-hole. Luckily mt got there first, and I don't have much to add except my broad support for what he has said. Note that in the very first premise of her argument, she only assigns 70% probability to the fact that surface temperatures actually show a warming at all! This is the warming that the IPCC famously called "unequivocal" in their 2007 report. As far as I can tell, at this point she is simply so far out of touch with mainstream climate science that her analyses aren't worth the time it takes to read them. End of story.

If you want more detail, then yes, I agree with mt that her approach to probability is pretty dodgy too. I consider myself reasonably ecumenical in my approach towards the more esoteric probabilistic ideas such as Dempster-Schafer theory and imprecise probability, and have no real objection to them - I mostly take the view that we should merely try to do standard Bayesian probability a bit better before deciding it is inadequate for the task at hand. However, I don't think the "Italian flag" analysis - at least JC's interpretation of it - is a useful or even coherent contribution. The rot sets in right at the outset, where she apparently conflates the concept of evidence for and against the proposition "most of the observed warming was very likely due to the GHG increase" with an estimate of the proportion of warming that was due to anthropogenic vs natural factors. This seems like a rather elementary point to get confused over. Far from being the claimed synthesis of much detailed thoughts regarding the failings of the IPCC, most of what she has written reads to me like a stream-of-consciousness blog post that hasn't been properly thought through at all. But hey, "very not the IPCC" is all it takes for a stream of admirers and press attention, irrespective of whether there is any there, there.

It's not as if I'm the IPCC's greatest fan, either. But I try to base my criticisms on actual failings, rather than just bandying about terms like "corruption" and hoping that something might stick. Since I've been officially threatened with increased ostracism if I dare to say anything nasty about them in public I won't bother re-hashing any of that again. At least not right now :-)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to publish a scientific comment in 1 2 3 easy steps...the climate science edition

Usually it goes like this, but not always. Here is the alternative version:

1. Receive invitation from Editor to write a commentary on a paper they have recently accepted for publication.
2. Write commentary.
3. Oh, there isn't a number 3.

Jules says I have been cryptic enough about our Climatic Change paper. One or two commenters came very close, but the answer is not merely that it's waiting for some accompanying commentary, but that this commentary is being provided by none other than...Dave Frame. Those who have followed the saga of this manuscript through various previous incarnations - primarily as an intended (critical) comment on Dave Frame's earlier paper - may raise an eyebrow at this state of affairs. After Dave had (successfully) argued that our argument should not be presented as a direct criticism of his work, but as a stand-alone paper, there is substantial irony that he has been handed the opportunity to comment as he sees fit, without us having any right of reply at all. Of course I don't hold him responsible for this situation at all - an editor (one S Schneider) made the decision, as is his right.

I first heard about this from Dave himself, shortly after the paper had been accepted. Then our paper was formally published on-line and I think both he and I assumed this idea had fallen by the wayside. But apparently not, and the journal is still waiting for the commentary before a simultaneous publication in the dead tree format.

Such commentaries are not common in the scientific literature, but a few journals seem to use them. Science and Nature papers are sometimes accompanied by a review pointing out the wider implications, and Dave wrote one himself for the controversial Roe and Baker paper. Here's another in Climatic Change. Of course in these cases the commentary is basically complimentary. I think most people would think it rather strange and more than a little unfair if someone was invited to bypass the traditional comment-and-reply process by providing an unanswered critical comment in this way.

Of course a lot of time has passed since the original debate. If Dave can make it clear that uniform priors are dead, at least as far as decision-theoretic and policy relevant research goes (even if he disagrees on some other details of our work), then we would find ourselves in violent agreement. This would represent a significant improvement compared to the alternative of a solo publication from a couple of relative outsiders, which might otherwise be ignored by the IPCC clique or brushed aside as a minority viewpoint that need not unduly influence what the real experts do. Since Dave is (rightly or wrongly) strongly linked to the other side of the argument, the possibility of us coming to some agreement could I think represent a valuable clarification of the situation. But I have no idea what he is planning to say...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Epic fail

This must be all over the blogs - I haven't dared look. I suppose the politically correct thing might be to ignore it - and I'm certainly not going to embed it, it's too crass for that.

I actually thought at first it had to be some sort of spoof or black ops by a denialist organisation. But it seems entirely legitimate. Just totally, horribly, astoundingly ill-judged.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Boring and useless

A little light relief before I wade in (though the comments and blog posts have been light relief enough already).

Just before leaving, I was told I had an additional ¥750,000 in my budget. Which had to be spent (at least allocated) by yesterday. Don't get too excited, it's only about $9000 and is to be spread amongst various colleagues, but it's still better than a slap in the face with some raw sushi, as they say in Japan. Anyway, my existing iMac is about 3 years old, so clearly I'm first in line for a replacement. But even with extra software, that hardly gets through half of it (I don't need a really powerful machine, it's not for computing). I thought that some could usefully be put towards paper charges, given that we have several unbudgeted manuscripts working their way through the system (they can't all be rejected, surely). On top of that, I had my eyes on a bunch of interesting books that I could learn from osmotically if not actually read.

Oops, we can't pay for paper charges with this money, because...we couldn't pay for paper charges last year. Oh, well, we thought, let's really scrape the bottom of the barrel and waste the money on some iPads instead. A cubicle-neighbour bought one himself recently (out of his own pocket) and apparently they are great pdf readers for cramped trains and the like.

Nope, JAMSTEC won't let us buy iPads becaue they are not allowed. Oh, and even books are banned too. Why? I've learnt there is rarely any point even asking, so I didn't bother.

So, I have about $4000 burning a hole in my pocket. We can't spend it on anything useful like books or paper charges, or anything fun like iPads. I guess that leaves boring and useless stuff. I have one last suggestion of an electric umbrella-dryer (don't laugh, we have seen only in the foyer of another lab, and can guess why it was bought...). Failing that, I could do what another now ex-colleague did a few years ago and buy another desktop computer and simply leave it in its box. In fact that is the machine I am currently using, as I snaffled it when they left last year (still unused).

Has anyone else got any other ideas?

Having only been in Japan during austere years of stagnation and budget cuts, I can hardly imagine what the bubble years must have been like...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

"IPCC Experts" New Clothes

You may recall not so long I ago I blogged about our paper in which we argued that the (standard outside climate science) paradigm of a statistically indistinguishable ensemble - where reality is just another sample from the distribution - is a much more natural and plausible interpretation of the AR4 multi-model ensemble, than the alternative "truth-centred" paradigm - where the models are assumed to be scattered around with reality lying exactly at the centre of their sampling distribution. The latter has no theoretical basis or practical support as far as I can tell, it appears to have been plucked out of thin air by a process of wishful thinking, and is strongly refuted by an analysis of the ensemble. But this post isn't really about that.

Immediately after that paper was published, the IPCC held a closed meeting which we were of course not permitted to attend. The purpose of the meeting was to generate a "best practice guidance paper" for the use of the multi-model ensemble. Jules predicted that our work would get misinterpreted somehow, but I thought our paper was fairly straightforward and hard to misunderstand. Well, I hadn't reckoned on the unique skills of the "IPCC Experts". Eventually this meeting report and summary appeared on their web site.

Regarding the interpretation of the multi-model ensemble, they say:
Alternatively, a method may assume:

b. that each of the members is considered to be ‘exchangeable’ with the other members and with the real system (e.g., Murphy et al., 2007; Perkins et al., 2007; Jackson et al., 2008; Annan and Hargreaves, 2010). In this case, observations are viewed as a single random draw from an imagined distribution of the space of all possible but equally credible climate models and all possible outcomes of Earth’s chaotic processes.

What? What is "the space of all possible but equally credible climate models" and what does this have to do with anything? Of the papers they cite, only ours actually mentions exchangeability and statistical indistinguishability, and what we wrote is that this means that "the truth is drawn from the same distribution as the ensemble members, and thus no statistical test can reliably distinguish one from the other". We also cited Toth et al 2003 (good book by famous NWP people) who wrote equivalently "the ensemble members and the verifying observation are mutually independent realizations of the same probability distribution".

Note that there is no reference to the "space of all possible models". All that matters is that the sampling distributions of models and truth are the same.

This may appear at first to be a rather pedantic and minor complaint. However, it doesn't take long to realise that the "space of all possible models" is a "colourless green idea", that is, a syntactically valid but completely meaningless phrase. This isn't just my assertion, it is agreed by all the previous authors who have used this terminology! (If you wish to disagree, feel free to explain in the comments what a "possible model" is, and how it can be distinguished from an impossible one. Good luck with that.)

In fact as far as we can tell this phrase has only ever been used to denigrate the use of the multi-model ensemble. The argument goes, that in order to understand how to use this ensemble, we have to first understand the "space of all possible models" from which they are sampled. This phrase is meaningless, therefore the use of the ensemble is theoretically ill-founded. Supporting quotes are appended below - quotes which many attendees of the meeting were well aware of, because they wrote them. Well, we don't mind people writing gibberish in their own papers, but we object strongly to them linking such nonsense to our work. Our analysis does not depend in any way on this meaningless concept, and to claim that it does (with the corollary that our analysis is philosophically ill-founded) is a flat-out lie.

In fact the multi-model ensemble can be very naturally interpreted as sampling our collective uncertainties about how best to represent the climate system. The question of reliability of the ensemble then simply amounts to asking whether these uncertainties are well-calibrated or not - which as we have shown, is an eminently testable hypothesis (at least in respect of current and historical data) and does not require anyone to "imagine" such bizarre and spurious constructions as the "space of all possible models".

We complained to the authors of this piece of nonsense, and they replied with the remarkable claim that despite being listed as the authors, they were not in fact responsible for the accuracy of anything they wrote, as they were merely reporting the "the definition as determined and agreed by the attendees", and would not countenance any correction of this mistake. Yes, they really used those words I have placed in quotes. Apparently it didn't occur to any of these "experts" present that this concept of statistical indistinguishability was an established term of art that already had a perfectly adequate definition, and that this existing definition is the only one that has ever been presented in the context of climate science. Their decision to reinvent the definition of statistical indistinguishability apparently has the full support of the IPCC hierarchy. I'm utterly gobsmacked that they place their duty to defend this "consensus" of a private clique above their duty to ensure that this "consensus" is honest, accurate, and useful to potential readers, let alone providing a fair representation of the work of those who are prohibited from participation in this process. It's as if the WG2 authors had simply proclaimed that 2035 was the date the experts had agreed that all Himalayan glaciers would vanish, and that was the end of the matter.

We have various manuscripts at different stages of writing and review, and can probably correct this mistake somehow (assuming that reviewers allow us to dissent from the newly-established "consensus"), but it's unlikely that what we write will ever have the circulation and influence that the IPCC bully pulpit affords. And of course, it is pretty hard to proof our work against spurious criticism when these "experts" are prepared to simply pluck arbitrary nonsense out of thin air. It's a shame that no-one there actually stood up and said "But these words have no meaning, how can they be used in a definition?"



Some references to the "space of all possible models", which make the nonsensical nature of this phrase clear, and how it has been used to argue against the use of the multi-model ensemble:

Allen et al 2002:

"the distribution of all possible models is undefined"

Collins 2007:

"Is the collection of the world’s climate models an adequate sample of the space of all possible models (and, indeed, is it even possible to define such a space)?"

Murphy et al 2007:

"Specifically, it is not clear how to define a space of possible model configurations of which the MME members are a sample. This creates the need to make substantial assumptions in order to obtain probabilistic predictions from their results"

Stainforth et al 2007:

"The lack of any ability to produce useful model weights, and to even define the space of possible models, rules out the possibility of producing meaningful PDFs for future climate based simply on combining the results from multi-model or perturbed physics ensembles; or emulators thereof."