Thursday, January 22, 2009

Those badly-behaved foreign tourists again

There's been a minor kerfuffle in Japan (eg here and here) recently concerning the bad behaviour of foreign tourists at the Tsukiji fish market. Because of the trouble they have supposedly caused, the market was closed to the public for a month or two recently. This news was accompanied by TV crews doing their best to find people who were prepared to play up to the cameras, unconcerned by the negative effects this might have on the attitudes of Japanese to us foreigner horde in their midst. (The market has just reopened to visitors, apparently without problems.)

But the hairy barbarians aren't just fooling around at the fish market. I went to say hello to the Daibutsu recently (a magnificent 750 year old 35ft high cast bronze statue that has outlasted the building within which it was originally housed), and what should I see but a handful of Brits climbing all over him, complete with handlebar moustaches and umbrellas!

Sorry for the picture quality, which is rather poor, but the lighting was rather bad and my camera was set to B&W by mistake. However I guarantee it is a genuine picture, not a photoshop job (much better pictures of the Daibutsu can be found here, but there are no people climbing on him there). I was so gobsmacked that I didn't tell them off but simply sat down and recited a poem:

The Buddha at Kamakura

"And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura"

O ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
Be gentle when the 'heathen' pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!

To him the Way, the Law, apart,
Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
Ananda's Lord, the Bodhisat,
The Buddha of Kamakura.

For though he neither burns nor sees,
Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
Ye have not sinned with such as these,
His children at Kamakura.

Yet spare us still the Western joke
When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
The little sins of little folk
That worship at Kamakura --

The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
That flit beneath the Master's eyes.
He is beyond the Mysteries
But loves them at Kamakura.

And whoso will, from Pride released,
Contemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East
About him at Kamakura.

Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
While yet in lives the Master stirred,
The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
A-flower 'neath her golden htee
The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
From Burmah to Kamakura,

And down the loaded air there comes
The thunder of Thibetan drums,
And droned -- "Om mane padme hums" --
A world's-width from Kamakura.

Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
Buddh-Gaya's ruins pit the hill,
And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
To Buddha and Kamakura.

A tourist-show, a legend told,
A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
The meaning of Kamakura?

But when the morning prayer is prayed,
Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
Is God in human image made
No nearer than Kamakura?
Is nothing sacred?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Your opinions, please

But only if they are the right sort of opinions, perhaps.

Long-term readers will remember the saga of our opinion poll which EOS declined to publish, on the basis that EOS should not accept summaries of opinion polls. and that they wanted to focus on science instead (even in the "Forum" section).

What should appear in this week's EOS but...the summary of an opinion poll! Entitled "Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" it reports the results of a web-based poll of (mainly) US-based scientists, and reports that - surprise surprise - about 90% of them agree that "human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures".

Of course my opinion is likely to be biased, but surely our poll concerning how accurate and representative the IPCC AR4 was in summarising the state of the science, is much more interesting and (potentially) valuable than yet another flogging of the dead horse concerning the mere existence of anthropogenic global warming.

(And please, I don't really want to re-open the debate about the limitations of what we - or really, what Fergus, cos it was almost entirely his effort - did. The point is that we were explicitly rejected for being a poll at all.)

More commentary from Fergus and Roger.

Corbynwatch 2008: The Verdict

I seem to have missed out several months of Corbynwatch. In fact my last post appears to have been early Sept, concerning his August forecast. To be honest I was getting a bit bored by then, and was also suspicious of his methodology of only sending out his forecasts a few days into the month, and sometimes not at all.

But he did send out the October forecast, and turned out to get it right overall (amusingly, he predicted a cold first half and milder second half, whereas reality produced the exact opposite - nevertheless, on the monthly figures his overall estimate of -0.2 to -1.2C captured reality's -0.6C, and the very average rainfall was also in the middle of his range). So that got his score up to a reasonable 10 out of 16. November, on the other hand, was a complete bust. His forecast was for very cold (at least -1C compared to the long-term mean) and wet (130-200% of normal) month, but it turned out slightly mild (+0.1C) and slightly dry (90%).

I never saw a December forecast, so his final score for the year score sticks on 10 out of 18. (with only 9 forecasts available). If his accuracy really was the claimed 80%, such a poor result would have a less than 2% probability of occurring.

While he didn't issue a public prediction about the December mean temperature, he did say:
Piers and colleagues have placed bets of about £1,000 with William Hill and Coral for snow at various locations on Christmas Day and stand to win many thousands if they are correct.
Piers whose record of weather bets is second to none* said: "We have just made a breakthrough in our 'Solar Weather technique of long range forecasting - called SWT25 - and are 75% sure there will be snow in many but not all locations offered by boookies this Xmas, and we have a fair idea of where the best bets are likely to be".
This £1,000 was of course lost.

He has also predicted that 2009 will be outside the top 5 years, in contradiction of the UKMO prediction. I don't have any plans to follow his forecasts in detail though - especially as there is no sign of the January prediction.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hansen agrees with me

I'm delighted to report that James Hansen has come out in support of my prediction, made on the "More or Less" program last year, that we are likely to see a new record in the next few years. Specifically, Hansen has made the slightly stronger statement that "it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years" (ie in 2009 or 2010, my bet also includes 2011).

In a demonstration of his collegiality, Roger Pielke writes that it is "boneheaded" of Hansen to have said what he did, but IMO it is entirely appropriate for scientists to state their opinions (within their area of expertise), with their uncertainties and assumptions so clearly and concisely presented. I don't believe there is any plausible room for people misunderstanding what Hansen has said, although that probably won't stop some from misrepresenting it. Obviously the annual temperature depends a lot on short-term variability (in particular, ENSO) but that doesn't change the fact that the underlying trend is up and new maxima can be expected reasonably frequently, even if we cannot predict exactly when. It is a great example of the sorts of things that climate scientists can and cannot predict.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Nutty professors cure global warming with flower power

Latest scoop on the geoengineering bandwagon:

Climate change could be slowed by planting crop varieties that reflect more sunlight, claim food scientists

Or so says the Guardian, but on checking, I see it is none other than my pal Andy and his colleagues at Bristol. Their point is the fairly straightforward one that since different crops have different albedo (even within a species), choosing varieties with high albedos could alter the regional and even global temperature. Not by a lot, but every little helps.

Despite the jokey title, I think this is a fabulous piece of work that will define the research agenda in climate science and agriculture for decades to come. And I'm not just sucking up to them in the hope that they might give me a job some time, oh no...

And props to Oliver Morton at Nature, for managing to spell Andy's name right, unlike the Grauniad and BBC. Oliver loses credit for finding people prepared to say narky things about Andy's brilliant idea though (OK that's enough toadying for today - Ed).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Comments welcome?

Following the rip-roaring blockbuster success of the comment on Schwartz, Jules wanted a taste of the action so we did a more detailed analysis and critique of Chylek and Lohmann's attempt at estimating dust forcing and climate sensitivity using paleoclimate data. Of course we sent the comment to GRL first, and after one round of review (including reply from C&L) the editor decided he couldn't be bothered dealing with it any more. Seriously, his email simply said that it wasn't worth his time and that of the reviewers to deal with a revision. Regular readers will recall that I've had trouble in the past with GRL editors finding feeble excuses to avoid dealing with comments on wrong papers, but even so this seemed rather extraordinary. It may not be immediately obvious to non-scientists, but re-reviewing is generally a much less onerous task than the first round, as it only requires the reviewers and editors to check that any significant criticisms have been dealt with and spurious comments have been rebutted. Needless to say there were basically none of the former and the latter would have been easily dealt with. Contrary to their official written policy, the way that AGU journals deal with comments seems to be to use one reviewer suggested by each of the comment and reply authors. Thus however compelling the case may be, there is generally one reviewer predisposed to be sympathetic to the original paper and the editor can often find sufficient doubt to block publication of the comment if he is so minded. In our case, one reviewer was strongly supportive, and the other tried his best to defend the original paper but that's hardly a viable position to take and in doing so he clearly evaded the main issue. Maybe we would have fared better had we enlisted a couple of eminent co-authors...

Anyway, after some brief thought we soon realised that Climate of the Past would be an ideal venue for the paper. So we sent the manuscript, very lightly edited for the different format and in light of the few substantive comments that had been received, and included the original reviews (after checking the GRL editor agreed) along with our responses to inform the CP Editors as to the history of the piece. The paper took some time to be posted up but now can be seen along with the first reviewer comment which seems if anything even more sharply critical of the original paper than we were.

Quite by chance, a couple of weeks ago Jules spotted this comment and the response which had just appeared in GRL. Obviously this had been going through the review system at the same time as our manuscript was at GRL (their first submission predates ours by about a month), but we didn't know anything of it. It is interesting to see that they have a set of entirely unrelated criticisms, illustrating that while the truth is generally constrained to a single path, there are any number of ways of being wrong. We'll surely refer to it briefly in our revision for CP.

In the meantime we still have another reviewer (maybe two) to wait for, and in stark contrst to GRL's attitude, any other relevant comments are welcome either here or there (best at CPD if you have something that impinges on the content). I'm a big fan of the EGU system where reviews are available to view and the decision making process is out in the open, and think it is especially well suited to comments where reviews may have a tendency to be polarised.