Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Keep science off web, says Royal Society

Interesting snippet in the Grauniad, which I didn't notice making much impact elsewhere: Keep science off web, says Royal Society. I think this is a terrible idea. Through the internet, information can be shared rapidly and freely. Obviously the peer-review process is valuable, but note that the reviewers themselves don't get paid under the current system anyway! Many journals already charge authors (institutions) for the priviledge of publishing in them. IMO that is a better method of supporting them, than giving them full copyright control and preventing authors from disseminating their work freely. In fact, most journals do allow authors to post their papers on the web anyway - all of my recent papers are available from my web site.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

UJCC workshop

The 1st UJCC (UK-Japan Climate Collaboration) workshop took place here on 24-25 November. This is part of the Hadley Centre/CGAM collaboration with the Earth Simulator Center, and there were several attendees from the UK who I'd not bumped into before. The undercurrent was a bit different from most workshops, because as well as discussing current issues in research, this meeting was aimed at developing themes and plans for future collaboration, and so I suspect that some people were covertly if not overtly staking out claims for their particular interests.

The introductory talks were all very interesting, which was a pleasant surprise. Not too much of a focus on abstruse details, but a broad exploration of interesting issues well exemplified by Julia Slingo's discussion of the competing demands of complexity vs resolution vs uncertainty. Kimoto-sensei presented some evidence that although increasing resolution doesn't change the broad picture, it strongly affects the ability of the model to represent changes in extremes - in the particular case of rainfall in Japan, this will likely lead to more days with either no rain or extremely heavy rainfall, and fewer with modest rainfall. Observations over the 20th century seem to support these modelled trends.

Then we went on to more detailed modelling, with different people illustrating the effects of focussing on complexity and resolution (not much on uncertainty). The details were certainly interesting but it's not quite my field of research - I'm primarily interested in prediction skill and uncertainty, and the question of deciding what the priorities are (from a modelling POV) for future work is mostly someone else's problem. I was not alone in making the point that exploring feedbacks and processes is not the same thing as improving predictive skill, and it's important to be clear what the specific goals are when new stuff is added to models. There seems to be widespread agreement that increased resolution should certainly help us, since the basic fluid flow equations are well understood (and NWP results are also available as support), but, even though it's been shown that feedbacks due to the ecosystem etc certainly can be important, it's less clear that we understand them well enough that including these sub-models will actually improve the model output.

Jules and I gave our talks on Friday morning - she presented work from our SOLA paper, and I talked about something we did more recently. The latter stirred up a bit of debate, as we had hoped. The last session was about the computer science relating to making large models run efficiently on huge computers - which I'm relieved be able to say is not of much direct importance to me (though I'm glad other people exist to worry about this stuff). We then closed with an interesting discussion about the sort of scientific problems we were hoping to solve, and what sort of models would be necessary to achieve this. There was quite a lot of grumbling at how IPCC deadlines and priorities were forcing people to rush into big modelling efforts and "global warming prediction" at the expense of the underpinning science. It's hard to see a good answer to this - it is only due to the political demands that the science is so heavily funded in the first place, so IMO we can hardly complain if the funding is tied to political demands. OTOH there has to be some room for process-oriented and fundamental reseach without it necessarily having to be justified and presented in terms of the next generation of IPCC results. Does the grumbling indicate a really fundamental problem with the sustainability of climate science and the IPCC process, or is it just the standard cynicism and jockeying for position that can usually be expected from British scientists? Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Acronym fun

One thing that the British seem strangely good at (or at least very keen on) is manufacturing acronyms for the names of science projects. I'm involved in the GENIE project, which is now reborn as GENIEfy, Jules was also in PROMISE several years ago. Japanese names seem more prosaic: K1, K2, K3...I'll not list them all :-)

Here are a few more UK climate-related acronyms, culled by my mother from a recent English Nature magazine:

ACCELERATES: Assessing Climate Change Effects on Land use and Ecosystems; from Regional Analysis to the European Scale.

AUDACIOUS: Adaptable Urban Drainage - Addressing Changes in Intensity, Occurence and Uncertainty of Stormwater

BESEECH: Building Economic and Social information for Examining the Effects of Climate Change

CRANIUM: Climate change Risk Assessment; New Impact and Uncertainty Methods.

POPPYCOCK: Promoting Oceanic Policy Preparation for Youth Council On Climate Kinetics

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Piers Corbyn's latest "forecast"

I seem to have got on numerologist Piers Corbyn's spam mail list, which I should emphasise I have absolutely no objection to. It's amusing to see some of his "press releases" and I can always block his mail as and when i get bored :-)

Recently, he sent round a new press release proudly boasting about his success in predicting "Storm 27" in the Caribbean/Gulf area in the time window 13th-16th November. And indeed, on the surface, it looked like there could have been some substance to his claim.

The only problem is that his actual prediction was for "a major Tropical Storm or hurricane", and in fact what he optimistically called "Storm 27" was not a storm at all, let alone a major one or a hurricane, but in fact only a very weak tropical depression which died a few days later. Look here for its history, including wind speed ("DEP" in the type column is a bit of a giveaway).

Here's a picture of its track, with colour-coded wind speed:

For the picky, his original forecast actually said "around the 13-16", and you can be sure that he would have allowed himself a day or two either side if that had been necessary to score a "hit". But since he's already claimed "storm 27" as his validation, I don't think even he could have the chutzpah to claim Tropical Storm Gamma (born on the 18th) instead. I'll email him with the link to this post and maybe he will grace me with a comment.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Not had time or energy to write much stuff over the last couple of weeks. Our friends Jacqui and Joel visited Japan recently, so we helped to entertain them a bit (Joel had a conference, but only for 2 days). Over the weekend, we climbed Kinpu-san, a pleasant walk in wonderful conditions including the interesting experience of an overnight stay in a mountain hut. Even at this modest height (Kinpu-san is only 2595m tall), the snow and ice was starting to build up so we were grateful that we had not bitten off anything more challenging. Here they are on the summit, early on Sunday morning:

It's always fun to show round visitors - it gives us a bona-fide excuse to take a few days off and re-visit some of the best sights around here.

Apart from acting the tourist guides, we've also been feverishly scribbling a new paper that we think is fairly important, and which is certainly urgent. I'll wait to see how well-received it is before saying any more about it...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The paradox of the unexpected fire drill

A message came round in mid-October, saying that we were going to have a surprise fire alarm practice some time in November. All we were told is that it would happen at 3pm one day, but we would not know which day it was going to be until the alarm went off.

So I got to thinking about what day was most likely. It was immediately obvious that it can't be scheduled for the 30th, because if it has not happened before we come into work on that day, we would know it has to happen that afternoon, and therefore it would not be a surprise. But on the morning of the 29th, there would only be two possible days left, and having already ruled out the 30th as impossible, it would have to be the 29th. So there is no surprise there either. Having ruled out the 30th and 29th, it is easy to show that the 28th is similarly impossible. And so on, right back to the 1st. I conclude that we can't have the surprise fire drill at all!

I know you will all be fascinated to hear how things turn out.

Update 16 Nov

Well, it happened today. Was it a surprise? No not really, as someone had already told me it was planned for this day. In fact I made up the story about it being a surprise. But it was only after glancing at the Wikipedia page on the paradox of the unexpected hanging that I found out that this is also known as the paradox of the unexpected fire drill. If you still don't know what I'm talking about then read the page and all will become clear.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

More mad Japanese gadgetry

On the BBC news website via Chris Randles, we find this microwaveable bra and knicker set:

Chris invites me to deride their uselessness vis-a-vis global warming. Sorry, but if our "OLs" (office ladies) wish to walk around in skimpy clothes all winter, I'm not going to object too strongly. And you thought I was here for the higher salary and status, great working conditions, strong infrastructure, academic freedom, lovely climate and fabulous countryside?

More underwear fun can be found here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bill Gray won't bet on cooling

As you may recall, a couple of months ago Bill Gray appeared in front of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to testify on his area of expertise, hurricane prediction. Unfortunately he didn't restrict himself to things he knew about. Much of his testimony focussed on the obviously bogus line of argument:
How can we trust climate forecasts 50 and 100 years into the future (that can’t be verified in our lifetime) when they are not able to make shorter seasonal or yearly forecasts that could be verified?
This is standard septic drivel that is easily disposed of (and if you want more technical details, my own work demonstrates some ideas about how to do it in practice). Note: this does not in itself prove that the models are right, it merely illustrates why Gray's line of reasoning is garbage. But anyway, this isn't really my main point. You won't find it in his written statement, but in the video of the proceedings, he clearly says:
I predict, now I think I know as much as anybody, I'll take on any scientist in this field to talk about this, I predict in the next 5 or 8 years or so the globe is going to begin to cool as it did in the middle 40's.
I emailed him some time asking if he will back up this statement with a bet. William Connolley and Brian Schmidt at least have done the same. None of us (to my knowledge) has had the courtesy of a reply. Given his statement above, I do not believe it is too much to expect that he should at least quantify his prediction in terms of his confidence (what odds he would place on his prediction being provved correct). To not do so seems to be clearly misleading the Senate Committee hearing.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that something which is so obviously a circus has a few clowns present...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Culture Day

Following on from the silly gadget of yesterday, today was the national holiday of "Culture Day". Living in Kamakura, most of the culture is of the ancient Buddhist variety (Kamakura was Japan's capital in the Kamakura Era [1185-1333], and a huge number of temples were built around that time). So we wandered over the hill to Kenchoji, which has its annual "airing of the treasures" on this day. We've seen it before so just had a quick look at this friendly dragon painted on the ceiling of one of the halls (whose eyes seem to follow you round the room) and then headed into town.

November - February is oyster season in Japan, so we had some, fried, for lunch. They don't seem to be eaten raw here much, which is odd considering what else does! There's my plate of deep-fried oysters and assorted side-dishes, all to be washed down with a cold beer. Oishiiii!

Walking home takes us through the grounds of Hachimanguu, Kamakura's main shrine. The "7-5-3" festival is going on around now. At this time of year, boys (5 yo) and girls (7,3 yo) get dressed up in kimonos, taken to shrines by their proud parents, and wished luck by the priest for the coming year. All for a suitable fee, of course. The more you pay, the better your luck.


I've just heard that one of our senior members of staff was yesterday presented with "The Orders of the Sacred Treasure" for services to the nation and public (Dr Ninomiya is a former Director-General of the Japan Meterological Agency). This award is one of the 5 Orders of Culture handed out annually on this day. I will resist the temptation to add any comments about him being brought out for public viewing once a year :-)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Only in Japan...

...originator of almost all of the world's silliest gadgets, would you find:

a taxi with a wind-powered mobile phone charger mounted on its roof. Ok, maybe I'm being a bit unfair to Japan. I should also mention that many of the world's coolest gadgets are invented here too (this one is relatively mundane, although still very cool). But putting a wind turbine on a car roof certainly crosses the line between normal and wacky.

It is justified here as a purely promotional exercise to encourage the use of greener energy, which I suppose is fair enough. Some other web coverage seemed to believe that it was a genuine (though small) contribution to reducing carbon emissions, which is a bit worrying. Putting a fan on the roof, thereby increasing drag, just so a small proporrtion of the extra fuel burnt could be converted into electricity, is a bizarre approach to energy efficiency!