Monday, December 10, 2018

The failure of brexit

This post is long overdue, I thought I should at least write it down before the vote on Tuesday. And now this post has been overtaken by events during its gestation, and it looks like we won't even have that vote. No matter. This isn't really going to be about the failure of the brexit process, that would be too easy. OK, just a few words about that first. It failed because the 52% who voted to leave were all promised such ridiculous and contradictory things, ranging from the Bangladeshi Caterers Associating being conned into believing they might find it easier to recruit curry house chefs by none other than Priti Patel (see how well that turned out), to Scottish fishermen believing we'd get all "our" fish back (hint: a large proportion of them have to be sold into the EU anyway as they are not eaten in the UK), the lies about more money for the NHS, the forthcoming trade deal being the "easiest in human history", to the general fabulists promising three-quarters of the Single Market (but none of those pesky foreigners) and unlimited free trade with no Customs Union, and by the way let's pretend the Irish problem doesn't exist. It was obvious from the outset that there never was an actual real brexit that would be supported by a majority, either in the country or in parliament. Moreover, there was no way we were going to build the necessary infrastructure in the time available for things that would be required by a "real" brexit like customs checkpoints, let alone replicating all the other functions that the EU currently performs for us (EURATOM being one notable example), this would be a humungous planning exercise and expense that would probably take a decade to achieve even if the govt pulled its finger out and went full steam ahead on it.

Therefore, by the time I'd had my breakfast on the morning of the 24th June 2016 I had worked out that brexit probably wasn't going to happen, and I was feeling a bit stupid that I hadn't actually realised this before the vote. I think the first time I actually wrote this on the blog was June 2017 but I'd already bored Stoat in the pub on the topic rather earlier (must have been August 2016?), and a few others besides. I shouldn't big myself up too much: I have never been 100% certain that brexit was not going to happen, and indeed there are still some mechanisms by which it could happen, but I was always quite confident that it was unlikely. Once the fantasies unraveled, the reality was never going to be attractive, and as long as there's still a way out at that point, we will probably take it.

What I'm really interested in, for the purposes of this blog post, is how and why the rest of the country hasn't allowed itself to work this out: why have we failed to analyse and understand the brexit process adequately?

Since that fateful day in 2016, there has been a rapidly growing cottage industry of experts pontificating on "which brexit" and "consequences of brexit" and "types of brexit" and "routes to brexit". Journalists have breathlessly interviewed any number of talking heads who have come out with their vacuous slogans of "brexit means brexit" and "red, white and blue brexit" and "jobs-first brexit"'s all just hot air. It really does seem like they have all been so firmly embedded in their own little self-referential bubble of groupthink that none of them ever stopped to this really going to happen? There has been an utter failure of the journalistic principle of holding power to account, and also an utter failure of academic research to explore possibilities, to test the boundaries of our knowledge. Instead there has been little more than non-stop regurgitation of the drivel that "brexit means brexit" and that the govt is going to "deliver a successful brexit". I wonder if, to a journalist or political scientist, the new landscape of a post-brexit world is so enticing and exciting that they have wished themselves there already?

The BBC had an official policy of "don't talk about no brexit", right up to and beyond the million-person march in London at the end of October. Humphries enjoyed sneering about the "ludicrous Peoples' Vote" when forced to mention it, though of course he sneers about most things these days. Note that the last time so many people marched together London, it was in opposition to the Iraq war. There could be a lesson there, if anyone was prepared to think about it...

Theresa May of all people took everyone by surprise when she was the first person in any position of authority to utter the words "no brexit at all" earlier this year. At which point at least half the country issued a huge sigh of relief, even though it was only intended as a scare tactic to bring the brexiters into line. Amusingly, even many of them agreed that her threatened no brexit at all was actually better than the dog's dinner she was in the process of negotiating.

And how about the academics and think-tanks? Of course some of these are nakedly political and cannot be taken seriously, but some are suppose to be independent and authoritative. Such as "The UK in a Changing Europe". (Disclaimer: I was at university with Anand Menon, who was a clever and interesting person back then too, so I'm sure he won't mind a bit of gentle criticism.) 

Watch this short video, which was published to widespread acclaim just 6 weeks ago at the end of September. In it, Anand promises that he will tell you "everything you need to know" about brexit. He even emphasises the "everything". And then proceeds to talk about different types of brexit and how they might arise. What is telling here is that he didn't discuss the possibility of Article 50 being revoked and the UK staying in the EU - this outcome simply was not in the scope of possible outcomes for him as recently as September! An impressive failure of foresight. (Even those who don't yet think it is the front-runner must surely agree it is now reasonably plausible.) If academics are not able to think the unthinkable and explore the range of possible outcomes, then I have to wonder what they are actually for. It is the political equivalent of a world in which climate scientists had determinedly ignored the possibility that CO2 might be an influence on climate, and had instead devoted themselves to arguing fruitlessly over whether the observed warming was due to the sun, or aerosols instead.

So here's my real point, and the reason for my rant. Journalists and academics, by studiously avoiding speaking truth to power and colluding with this false brexit certainty, have done a great disservice to the British public. Their unwillingness to challenge politicians on both sides has permitted an entirely fake debate about a blue Tory unicorn brexit on one side, and a red Labour unicorn brexit on the other. As a result, the miserable deal that May has produced - pretty much the only one possible, if you insist that keeping out foreigners is the top priority - seems shockingly poor to everyone. We were promised sunlit uplands, and jokers like Johnson and Rees-Mogg are still promising sunlit uplands to all and sundry with no fear of an intelligent challenge from a journalist. (Note how affronted Peter Lilley was recently when the BBC actually did produce a "fact-checker" to opine on his interview.) Meanwhile Labour promises to do the same only better, just because.  The entire Govt policy over the last two years has been nothing more than "let's get through the week and see what turns up". And when the plan falls down and we end up staying, roughly half the country will be shocked and feel betrayed, because they were told their vote would be acted on, and have been told for the past two years that their votes were being acted on, and everyone pretended that things were going full steam ahead when in fact there never was a plan, or a plausible way forward.

Well, the public were told lots of things, many of them were lies, and this was enabled by the journalists and academics not doing their jobs. Whether it is collusion, group-think, cowardice or stupidity, it has greatly damaged the country, and we will all have to suffer the consequences. I like to think that lessons may be learnt, but in all probability they will all pat each other on the back and utter meaningless aphorisms: "prediction is difficult: especially about the future". Maybe so, but I predicted it, and I was not alone in doing so.

Better post this before it's overtaken by events again :-)

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Social Nonscience again

So, prompted by Doug McNeall's tweet, I went and read that much tweeted (and praised) paper by Iyengar and Massey: "Scientific communication in a post-truth society". My expectations weren't high and it was just as bad as I'd feared.

It starts off with a encouraging abstract:
"Here we argue that in the current political and media environment faulty communication is no longer the core of the problem. Distrust in the scientific enterprise and misperceptions of scientific knowledge increasingly stem less from problems of communication and more from the widespread dissemination of misleading and biased information. [...] We suggest that, in addition to attending to the clarity of their communications, scientists must also develop online strategies to counteract campaigns of misinformation and disinformation that will inevitably follow the release of findings threatening to partisans on either end of the political spectrum."
Great. They realise that the problem is not because scientists communicate badly. It's long been obvious to many of us that there are lots of excellent public communicators in science, certainly within climate change. Some are excellent at both research and communication, some make more of a career out of the communication than the science, and that's fine too. Blaming scientists has long been a lazy excuse by those who should know better.

And even better, these social scientists have a recommendation! They actually have a proposal for how to break the policy logjam. Us scientists should "develop online strategies to counteract campaigns of misinformation". Yes! Let's do that! Though my spidey senses are tingling a bit, is this really the scientists' job? We do research and communicate it, I'm not really sure our expertise is in developing communication strategies in an adversarial environment. Sounds to me like that might be a whole new area of research in itself. Well never mind, let's see what they are actually recommending.

[...reads on through several pages of history and analysis relating to scientific communication in a post-truth society, which is interesting but hardly news...]

On to the section entitled "Communicating Science Today". At last, they are going to explain and expand on their recommendation. Aren't they?

Here is the last paragraph in full
"At this point, probably the best that can be done is for scientists and their scientific associations to anticipate campaigns of misinformation and disinformation and to proactively develop online strategies and internet platforms to counteract them when they occur. For example, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine could form a consortium of professional scientific organizations to fund the creation of a media and internet operation that monitors networks, channels, and web platforms known to spread false and misleading scientific information so as to be able to respond quickly with a countervailing campaign of rebuttal based on accurate information through Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. Of course, this is much easier said than done, and — given what research tells us about how the tribalization of US society has closed American minds — it might not be very effective."
Oh congratulations. The authors have invented groups like Sceptical Science and RealClimate. Sadly, they don't seem to realise that the scientists are more than a decade ahead of them. Granted, they do seem to be talking about something a bit more grandiose than those sites but it would be nice if they'd had some awareness of what was already going on, and perhaps offered some sort of useful critique.  They seem to be moving from a position of blaming scientists for not communicating adequately, to blaming them for not inventing some sort of magical unicorn for which they have no roadmap and which, they admit, probably wouldn't work even if it could be created. This is progress?

Thursday, November 08, 2018 Comments on Cox et al

And to think a few weeks ago I was thinking that not much had been happening in climate science…now here’s another interesting issue. I previously blogged quite a lot about the Cox et al paper (see here, here, here). It generated a lot of interest  in the scientific community and I’m not terribly surprised that it provoked some comments which have just been published and which can be found here (along with the reply) thanks to sci-hub.

My previous conclusion was that I was sceptical about the result, but that the authors didn’t seem to have done anything badly wrong (contrary to the usual situation when people generate surprising results concerning climate sensitivity). Rather, it seemed to me like a case of a somewhat lucky result when a succession of reasonable choices in the analysis had turned up an interesting result. It must be noted that this sort of fishing expedition does invalidate any tests of statistical significance and thus also invalidates the confidence intervals on the Cox et al result, but I didn’t really want to pick on that  because everyone does it and I thought that hardly anyone would understand my point anyway 🙂

The comments generally focus on the use of detrended intervals from the 20th century simulations. This was indeed the first thing that came to my mind as a likely Achilles’ heel of the Cox et al analysis. I don’t think I showed it previously, but the first thing I did when investigating their result was to have a play with the ensemble of simulations that had been performed with the MPI model. The Cox et al analysis depends on an estimate of the lag-1 autocorrelation of the annual temperatures of the climate models. Ideally, if you want to calculate the true lag-1 autocorrelation of model output, you should use a long control run (ie an artificial simulation in which there is no external forcing). Of course there is no direct observational constraint on this, but nevertheless this is one of the model parameters involved in the Cox et al constraint, for which they claim a physical basis.

As well as having a long control simulation of the MPI model, there is also a 100-member of 20th century simulations using it. The size of this ensemble means that as well as allowing an evaluation of the Cox et al detrending approach to estimate the autocorrelation,  we can also test another approach which is to remove the ensemble average (which represents the forced response) rather than detrending a single simulation.

This figure shows the results I obtained. And rather to my surprise….there is basically no difference. At least, not one worth worrying about. For each of the three approaches, I’ve plotted a small sample from the range of empirical results (the thin pale lines) with the thicker darker colours showing the ensemble mean (which should be a close approximation to the true answer in each case). For the control run I used short chunks comparable in length to the section of 20th century simulation that Cox et al used. The only number that actually matters from this graph is the lag-1 value which is around 0.5, the larger lags are just shown for fun. The weak positive values from 5-10 years probably represent the influence of the model’s El Nino. It’s clear that the methodological differences here are small both in absolute terms and also relative to the sample variation across ensemble members. That is to say, sections of control runs, or 20th century simulations which are either detrended or which have the full forced response removed, all have a lag-1 autocorrelation of about 0.5 albeit with significant variation from sample to sample.
Screenshot 2018-11-03 16.25.43
Of course this is only one model out of many, and may not be repeated across the CMIP ensemble, but this analysis suggested to me that this detrending approach wasn’t a particularly important issue and so I did not pursue it further. It is interesting to see how heavily the comments focus on it. It seems that the authors of these got different results when they looked at the CMIP ensemble.

One thing I’d like to mention again, which the comments do not, is that the interannual variability of the CMIP models is actually more strongly related to sensitivity, than either the autocorrelation or Cox’s Psi function (which involves both these parameters) are. Here is a the plot I showed earlier. Which is of course a little bit dependent on the outlying data points (as was commented on my original post). This is sensitivity vs SD (calculated from the control runs) of the CMIP models of course.
Screenshot 2018-01-25 17.12.24
I don’t know why this is so, I don’t know whether it’s important, and I’m surprised that no-one else bothered to mention it as interannual variability is probably rather less sensitive than autocorrelation is to the detrending choices. Maybe I should have written a comment myself 🙂

In their reply to the comments. Cox et al now argue that their use of a simple detrending means that their analysis includes a useful influence of some of the 20th century forced response, which "sharpens" the relationship with sensitivity (which is weaker when the CMIP control runs are used). This seems a bit weak to me and as well as basically contradicting their original hypothesis, also breaks one of the fundamental principles of emergent constraints, that they should have a clear physical foundation. At the end of the discussion I’m more convinced that the windowing and detrending is a case of "researcher degrees of freedom" ie post-hoc choices that render the statistical analysis formally invalid. It’s an interesting hypothesis rather than a result.

The real test will be applying the Cox et al analysis to the CMIP6 models, although even in this case intergenerational similarity makes this a weaker challenge  than would be ideal. I wonder if we have any bets as to what the results will be?

Saturday, November 03, 2018 That new ocean heat content estimate

From Resplandy et al (conveniently already up on sci-hub):
Our result — which relies on high-precision O2 measurements dating back to 1991 — suggests that ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates, with implications for policy- relevant measurements of the Earth response to climate change, such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases
But how big are these implications? As it happens I was just playing around with 20th century energy balance estimates of the climate sensitivity, so I could easily plug in the new number. My calc is based on a number of rough estimates so is not intended to be definitive but should show the general effect fairly realistically.

I was previously using the Johnson et al 2016 estimate of ocean heat uptake which is 0.68W/m^2 (on a global mean basis). Resplandy et al raise this value to 0.83. Their paper presents their value as a rather more substantial increase by comparing to an older value that the IPCC apparently gave.

Plugging the numbers in to a standard energy balance approximation we get the following estimates for the equilibrium sensitivity:

This simple calculation has a (now) well-known flaw that tends to bias the results low, though how low is up for debate (it’s the so-called "pattern effect" or you might know it as the difference between effective and equilibrium sensitivity). I used my preferred Cauchy prior from this old paper. It has a location parameter of 2.5 and a scale factor of 3 (meaning it should have a median of 2.5 and interquartile range of -0.5 – 5.5, though it’s truncated here at 0 and 10 for convenience). 

The old calculation based on Johnson et al’s ocean heat uptake has a median of  2.35C with a 5-95% range of 1.41 – 4.61C. The new estimate raises this to a median of 2.57C with a range of 1.53 – 5.17C. So, about 0.1C on the bottom end and 0.5C on the top end, which may not be the impression the manuscript gives. The medians and ranges are shown with the tick marks. The calculation goes up to 10C but I truncated the plot at 6C (and thus cut off the prior’s 95% limit) for clarity.

Another caveat in my calculation is that the new paper’s main result is based on a longer time interval going back to 1991, if the ocean heat uptake has been accelerating then that would imply a larger increment to the Johnson et al figure (which relates to a more recent period) and thus a larger effect. But even so it’s an incremental change, and not earth-shattering. As one might expect for such a well-studied phenomenon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 Cloudy with a chance of meatballs (on the pizza)

The CFMIP workshop provided the excuse we were looking for in order to visit Boulder again. Last year this meeting had been held in Tokyo which, on top of being a long way away, also directly clashed with the PMIP workshop that jules was duty-bound to attend. The main focus of the CFMIP workshop is the simulation of clouds in GCMs and how they might be affected by climate change. This is our largest single source of uncertainty in the climate system. We are not really CFMIP people and didn’t plan to present anything, in fact what drew us there more than the workshop content itself was that our two ongoing research collaborations involve a whole bunch of the attendees so it was a good chance for us all to meet face to face for a change rather than via Skype and email. These meetings were fitted in to the odd hour or two here or there in some of the breaks rather than filling a full week as we did in Edinburgh earlier this summer. (Did I not blog that? How remiss of me.) Additionally, jules also tapped up a local for a role as exec editor of GMD, continuing our (their!) policy of rotation and inclusion of new people and ideas. All of that plus the famed Boulder weather and food was sufficient to entice us over for a bit of a holiday that included the workshop.

I had feared that the workshop was going to be strongly focussed on the details of simulating clouds in climate models but the first day, as well as providing an overview of CFMIP, also discussed the notion of feedbacks and climate sensitivity more generally. This is highly relevant to our current research so we paid careful attention. Interestingly, participants seemed resigned to a large proportion of their simulations and analyses not being completed in time for the next IPCC report. In principle the IPCC merely summarises the science and does not commission still less undertake it, but in reality there has usually been a close link between the IPCC and CMIP timetables. With people trying to maximise development time for their climate models, there is limited computing time to do all of the various MIP experiments, especially if some mistake is found and a bunch of simulations have to be repeated. Of course it’s inevitable that the IPCC report is a little out of date because of the lengthy process underpinning it, but it would be unfortunate if lots of new and exciting results were being published around the time that the IPCC produces a report based on much older knowledge. On the other hand most of the climate science the IPCC reports on is mature enough that there probably won’t be many big surprises anyway.

The subsequent days did indeed focus more on details of the behaviour of clouds, and as a result we skipped a fair bit, although this paper (which has just come out) may have wider interest. There was an amusing moment when someone argued that if we wanted to give the best possible predictions for future climate change, we should use the highest possible resolution for an atmospheric model and provide it with prescribed sea surface temperatures in place of a realistic ocean model. It’s a lucky coincidence that he was an atmospheric modeller – just imagine if he’d worked on the ocean for a couple of decades before realising it was completely pointless! 🙂

I also had to arrange a few phone calls from journalists who had got wind of this story: the results of which can be seen here and here (and no, I didn’t tell the 2nd one I had never lost but never mind about that small detail). The timetabling of those also interrupted some of the talks. So while the CFMIP meeting was a bit marginal for us, the side meetings made the week extremely productive.

One of the big attraction of a meeting at NCAR for me is the breakfast that is earned through cycling up the substantial hill.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Credit where it's due

The GMD t-shirts continue to be good value. Jules and I usually try to wear ours at any scientific meetings to spread the word and it often sparks off some interaction. Recently someone prominent came up to me at the workshop dinner and congratulated me on my achievements in respect of GMD. He was particularly impressed with the CMIP6 special issue which is turning out to be very useful. I pointed out that jules (who was sitting beside me but in civvies) actually bore far more responsibility for this, not only in being Chief Exec Editor of the journal but also more specifically both in developing the whole concept of MIP papers within GMD and also in negotiating the details of how the CMIP6 special issue would work - which involved some lengthy negotiations with CMIP peoples.

At the end of the dinner as he was leaving, he thanked me again for all that I'd done. It's a tough job taking credit for other peoples' work but someone's got to do it!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Monday, October 15, 2018

The bet - final outcome

You may be wondering what had happened with this. As you will recall, some time ago I arranged a bet with two Russian solar scientists who had predicted that the world was going to cool down. The terms of the bet were very simple, we would compare the global mean average surface temperature between 1998-2003 and 2012-17 (according to NCDC), and if the latter period was warmer, I would win $10,000 from them, and if it was cooler, they would win the same amount. See here and here for some of the news coverage at the time.

The results were in a while ago, and of course I won easily, as the blue lines in the graph below show. It was never in much doubt, even though their choice of starting period included what was then the extraordinarily hot El Nino year of 1998. In fact the temperature in that year just barely exceeded 2012 (by less than 0.01C) and all subsequent years have been warmer as you can see from the black dashed line before. It seems unlikely any of us alive today (or indeed over the next few centuries at least) will ever see such a low temperature again.

So this should be the point at which I ask my blog readers for ideas as to what to spend the $10,000 on. I was hoping to do something that would be climatically and environmentally beneficial, perhaps something that might garner a bit of publicity and make a larger contribution. But they are refusing to pay. More precisely, Bashkirtsev is refusing to pay, and Mashnich is refusing to even reply to email. With impressive chutzpah, Bashkirtsev proposed we should arrange a follow-up bet which he would promise to honour. Of course I'd be happy to consider such a thing, once the first bet is settled. But it looks unlikely that this is going to happen.

It was obvious of course that this settlement risk was the biggest uncertainty right from the start. I had hoped they would value their professional reputations as worth rather more to themselves than the sums of money involved. On the other hand a certain amount of intellectual dishonesty seems necessary in order to maintain the denialist mindset. Of course it could be argued that it's unfair to tar all denialists with the same brush, maybe I was just unlucky to come across the only two charlatans and the rest of the bunch are fine upstanding citizens who just happen to suffer from genuine misunderstandings. Who wants to bet on that?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

[jules' pics] Clueing

The location can hardly be in doubt. But why? Here's a clue!

(And no, the clue is not only what massive hypocrites we climate change scientists are flying hither and thither for no reason at all )

Friday, October 12, 2018

"...because the stakes are so low"

In an earlier blog I alluded to the fact that someone had written a paper on ensemble means. I didn't think it was particularly interesting or useful since we had written a more correct and complete analysis some years previously (as blogged variously here here here). The particular point that the author Bo Christensen got most obviously wrong was his claim that the CMIP ensemble behaved like it was sampled from a high-dimensional space. In fact, as we showed via a variety of analyses, it behaves much more like it was sampled from an intermediate-dimensional space. Specifically, we found an effective dimensionality of about 3-11 depending on the details of the analysis. On top of getting that wrong, it didn't seem like his analysis actually added anything of significance to our results. Furthermore, Bo's analysis relies on the ensemble being perfect in the sense that the verifying observational data set (ie reality) is drawn from the same distribution as the ensemble members. We already demonstrated that the good performance of the ensemble mean does not depend on this very strong (and generally false) condition.

Amusingly, when I commented critically on his analysis after his EGU talk, he assumed I was Jonty Rougier, who seems to have been a dissatisfied reviewer of the paper (Jonty had also extended and improved on our work in some ways back in 2016).

So far, so boring, although it's a bit frustrating to see our own work so comprehensively misunderstood and denigrated. Bo did cite our paper, and Jonty's too, so was not unaware of them, but claimed (without much justification) that their explanations were not compelling.

What prompted me to bother writing it all down now is that a comment/reply pair has just appeared in Journal of Climate (full versions on sci-hub for anyone who cares). The comment is from Jonty Rougier of course. It's good to see that academic politics continues in our absence...

Thursday, October 11, 2018

That IPCC thing

Hello faithful blog readers. After a long absence I'm going to try to post some things again. Got a small backlog of ideas to write about and a little bit of free time to work at them.

I'll start with the tedious 1.5C nonsense since I can sense that you are all (both?) desperate for my opinions. The simple and efficient way for the IPCC to have responded to the stupid proposal from politicians that, having made no progress towards limiting global warming to 2C, they would instead really really try really really hard to limit it to 1.5C honest guv we really really mean it this time, would have been to say "No you won't, you are just pretending. Now go away and do something constructive rather than delaying and passing the buck". That would have saved a lot of money and CO2 emissions. But instead, we get lots of meetings, papers, scientists pontificating on the radio and ridiculous misrepresentations(*) like the Grauniad saying we have 12 years to save the planet. Back in 2008 we had less than a decade, so that's a step in the right direction.

What. A. Waste. Of. Time. And. Effort.

Perhaps Douglas Adams put it best when he said
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."

(*) misrepresentation of the reality. I really don't much care whether it's the IPCC's fault for inviting this sort of interpretation, or the Grauniad for being clueless, or someone in the middle causing confusion. It's a gift to denialists either way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

[jules' pics] Muffin

Cottonwoods instead of ash trees

Muffins instead of cream cakes (but still cappuccinos)

Universal toileting singly occupied, thus much less frightening than a Dutch version I experienced recently (where I had the bizarre experience of a man I know proffering me a paper towel that he had extracted from the machine, apparently as an act of chivalry. Ewwww!)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Quakerism - refreshes the parts other religions cannot reach

Wikipedia says that academics can't agree on what a religion actually is. I'm pretty sure that Parkrun passes most of the criteria and I've long thought that the Settle Harriers and the Settle Wheelers should be welcomed into 'churches together in Settle and district'.

However, this week it's Quaker Week!!! It is quite hard to define Quakerism, but one thing rare among religions is that this one lowers rather than raises the pulse.

jules' pulse last Sunday - spot the period of calm 1030-1130am, Settle Quaker Meeting for Worship.

I would think that Zen Buddhism has a similar physiological effect but, unlike Zen, Quakerism doesn't demand mind control. If you like you can think about your shopping. No one will check later. (Suspiciously, in Settle, Meeting for Booths seems to closely follow Meeting for Worship - see active pulse period 12:00-12:30). You can believe whatever you like (including the creed of any other religion) but you cannot require that anyone else in the room believes the same. If you prefer, you can examine the innards of your soul, secure in the knowledge that if you can't cope with the consequences there are Friends in the room who will come to your aid if need be.

Usually people are expected to remain seated and only stand and speak if they have to. Thus the 'ministry' is typically short, truthful, relevant, incomplete and delivered from different viewpoints by different people. I am sure that like all things it wouldn't work for everyone, but I am often amazed how in just one hour I emerge transformed in some way, with some new way of approaching some problem or new understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

Monday, June 18, 2018

To Boulderly Go (and come back again)

As I think was probably guessed, we were in Boulder recently. It was just a holiday this time, we didn't get closer to NCAR than the cafes in the mall at the bottom of the hill. There may be photos to follow.

As well as discovering that a local parkrun had recently been set up literally minutes from our apartment (what are the odds of that, with only a dozen events across the entire USA?) our trip coincided with the Bolder Boulder 10k race again. I have by now improved to the extent of qualifying for the first “A” wave for runners with a sub-38 min time (and also for sub-2:55 marathoners, which for me was rather easier to achieve). Though these results were not achieved on an uphill course at altitude so I didn't expect to go that fast in the BB!

I had vague ambitions to break 40 mins but without much proper training and on such a difficult course that was always going to be a tough challenge for me. I was just about in touch with that pace most of the way round but there's a bit of a climb to the finish which killed any plans for a fast finish so I didn't quite manage it. Just past the finish line there were people handing out vouchers for t-shirts for anyone who broke the 40 min threshold. If I'd known about them I might have tried a bit harder! On looking up last time I see they were advertising the sub-40 t-shirts back then too so I think they are probably a regular feature. Still, a 3 min PB is not to be sniffed at I suppose. Jules also took about 3 mins off her previous result.

A nice solid heel strike there...I must have been going downhill :-)

Maybe next time I'll manage to whittle off another 30 secs for the t-shirt. If there is another time. The whole trip was lots of fun so I'm sure we'll be back.

After the race (and a short breather) we cycled up into the mountains for lunch with our friends Rob and Elizabeth. They had thoughtfully moved a bit closer to town so it was only an hour up hill. And rather less back home.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

More word salad

Having accused someone else of writing a word salad it's only fair that I should tar jules with the same brush too :-) Life as an unemployed self-employed scientist isn't all holidays and bison burgers, she occasionally does some work too though coincidentally (or not) her latest paper is the result of another trip to the USA a couple of years ago. Unfortunately someone didn't get the open access memo hence my link is to the sci-hub copy. Writs to /dev/null please.

It's a review and thus should be accessible to a wide audience, but monsoon dynamics is a fair way outside my comfort zone so I don't really have much to say about it. The abstract appears to have a rather low Flesch Reading Ease score of 6.8: for comparison my first paragraph above rates 51 (the scores are out of 100, with higher numbers more readable) so I think I've got a good excuse. I think the main conclusion is that more research is needed, and that if someone could come up with a better all-encompassing theory that explained it all, that would be really great. From the paleo perspective (which is where jules comes in) there is the well-known Problem of the Green Sahara, being that there was significant (vegetation-supporting) precipitation in this region during the mid-Holocene, which models cannot adequately explain or represent.

Here's a diagram about monsoon dynamics:

Well, that's about it from me. Still on holiday but we've got some work lined up and will be be returning to it in the near future.

Monday, April 16, 2018 EGU2018 Day 5

One final push…we were back on paleoclimate again first thing, more data than models though a bit of a mix of both. Just as the session ended and I started to think about going in search of lunch, lunch arrived in the form of sandwiches for the Atmospheric Sciences Division meeting. I usually attend the Climate Division meeting so thought it might be interesting to see if AS would have a different style. It didn’t really (even the sandwich was the same), and the most interesting points of discussion were rather similar – mostly, how to cope with the meeting outgrowing the available space. There’s no great solution and I am coming round to the idea that a slight discouragement towards throwing in too many abstracts might be the least-worst approach. There are of course ways round the one-abstract-per-first-author for anyone sufficiently motivated (like jules and I might be) but people who chuck in virtual duplicates to several sessions might be dissuaded which would be a good thing in terms of conference quality as well as freeing up space. I’m not sure it will make much difference overall though as surely there can’t be all that many of these cases. Some audience members also made the case for more remote participation and I don’t think the EGU can continue to resist this indefinitely. Attending in person brings greater benefits, but also costs, and allowing people to participate without the massive investment of time and money involved in travel could surely only be a good thing.

The afternoon sessions contained some advanced and high resolution modelling – a mix of future plans and existing results. Bjorn Stevens gave a well-received talk extolling the benefits of 1km resolution modelling. Mind you a bunch of high-resolution modellers is perhaps not the toughest crowd for that topic! There were some very truthy images of modelled clouds looking like reality. A particular goal of the highest resolution modelling is to resolve tropical storms and some of our past Japanese colleagues had some impressive results here too.

Previously the Friday afternoon slot has usually been a bit of a graveyard with lots of conference-goers leaving early for flights home, but now the schedule is so full there was even a busy poster session in the evening, including more of both the paleo and advanced numerical modelling. We hung around for the start of the convenors’ party but left quite early.


And now for the final score: jules says she had 9 free meals during the week, which were much higher quality than previously (so that’s where the EGU budget disappears to). As for myself, I attended 7 of the 3 meals to which I was actually invited. It seemed a particularly good week this time, perhaps partly due to our long absence. We last came 2 years ago when we were so ill and tired we only attended a fraction of the week, so this time there was rather a lot of new stuff. Jules was also involved in three sessions and we had a total of 4 presentations between us, which kept us busy across a wide range of topics. There was also an element of escapism for us in getting away from home for a bit, which we can now return to feeling (I hope) somewhat rejuvenated.

As for Day 6, we started off with a lovely sunny jog along the Donau Insel, and I’m pleased to report that my legs are now just about working properly after the marathon.


Some gentle sightseeing in town (see Belvedere above) was rounded off by a fabulous concert from the Vienna Philharmonic. I always check their schedule when we are at the EGU – more often than not they are either absent or sold out but this time we got prime seats for a concert including Elgar’s Cello Concerto by Sol Gabetta. We were so worn out by this stage that we forgot to check the venue and went to the wrong place, but fortunately the right place is only a short walk away. jules and I were amused to see a prominent EGU committee member taking photos in the concert hall just after the announcer had clearly forbidden such behaviour 🙂 It looked rather like this:


Saturday, April 14, 2018 EGU 2018 Day 4

Four days in and the fog is descending…not the weather which remains resolutely warm and sunny, but my mental state after on overload of science, food, drink, and long days. Nothing compelling at 8:30 so we had a morning jog and breakfast at the excellent cafe just outside our apartment. Possibly the best almond croissant ever, feeling a bit stupid for not discovering this place before as we’ve stayed in the same airbnb three times now. We’ve got some catching up to do!


There was a mathematical session at 10:30 covering a huge range of ideas. I was particularly looking forward to a talk that promised to explore the mathematics of emergent constraints. However it turned out to be a little more specialised than I had hoped, focussing in detail on the relationship of variability to long-term changes motivated by the recent Cox et al paper. Still lots of room for more to be done here.

Lunch was the GMD editorial board meeting. I’m happy to see GMD charging on successfully and jules will be stepping down from her Chief Exec position in due course. It’s no longer growing rapidly but seems to have stabilised at a reasonable level. I don’t think there is anything of great public interest to report. There will be a mobile version of the journal website launched soon.

Straight after lunch was jules’ climate sensitivity session. I’ve struggled to organise similar sessions in the past so it was great to see that this was packed with great talks and well attended too. Andrew Dessler gave a particularly good presentation on some of his work on interannual variability and also included the below graphic which is perhaps my biggest contribution to science this year. Perhaps I should have made a slightly less fuzzy green camera, it’s a bit low-resolution but never mind.
There is still a general prohibition on photography “unless the presenter authorizes it. Presenters are encouraged to inform the audience if they welcome photos.” Baby steps when compared to the blanket prohibition that has been in place in earlier years. People take photos all the time of course, it’s easier than writing a note these days if you want to take down a name/reference/idea/… Maria Rugenstein also gave a nice summary of er Longrun MIP analysis which I’ve seen some of before but which seems more complete now.

After tea I listened to Tim Palmer’s medal lecture. Tim sometimes gives interesting-but-controversial talks about wild idea relating to stochastic parameterisations, stochastic computing or his aims for a global climate centre, but this was more of a standard didactic history lesson on the growth of probabilistic prediction in numerical weather prediction. As such I knew most (but not all) of it and it was probably of wide interest but not hugely stimulating to me personally. The main message is that we should make probabilistic weather forecasts, and we already do, so that’s alright then.

jules and I had three posters to defend between us, slightly inconveniently arranged on three different (but at least neighbouring) rows. We had however discovered the best strategy for dealing with the 5:30 beer queue (thanks to a fortuitous coincidence on Monday) so at least were well fuelled for the occasion. Lots of interesting conversations ensued, at least that’s how I remember it. As well as taking about our own work there was time to visit the others in the sessions."Oh look here’s James to tell you why your poster is wrong" said one person as I wandered along which raises the question of how many others were thinking it 🙂

After posters we had the Copernicus 30y Birthday Party to attend. Copernicus is the admin/meetings/publications wing of the EGU (which was the EGS back then, if it wasn’t something else previous to that). To be honest I’m not sure exactly how it all fits together but it seems to work very well so I’m not too bothered. It was up on the top floor of one of the local office blocks close to the conference centre. There was plenty of food and drink to go round.

(Not sure why these last two pics are so fuzzy - something to do with how they originally appeared on the blueskies blog.)

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Another year, another PB.

This year the marathon was scheduled for the Sunday immediately before the EGU. However we weren't committed to that so I entered anyway when they sent me an early bird discount offer. The Vienna marathon was also a week too late for a combined work/run trip.

Later on we started to think about the EGU trip, and realised that it was actually possible to run the marathon, go straight to the airport, and hop on a plane to Vienna. The marathon is on the south side of Manchester and really very close to the airport. Parking the van in the city centre can be difficult due to height barriers so rather than a hotel we found an airbnb in a residential area a couple of miles south of the race start which proved to be very convenient. There was even a fabulous pizza just down the road. Probably the best we've had this side of the Japan Sea, in fact. A proper soft chewy crust with a few crispy bits and plenty of topping.

Under usual circumstances, one between two would have been reasonable, but these were not usual circumstances! We staggered back and collapsed into bed.

Sunday morning dawned cold, cloudy and still. It would be hard to imagine a better day for a marathon. I forced down a bit more breakfast before packing up and heading off to the start. Didn't see anyone I recognised, but I hadn't really expected to. There was a club-mate somewhere a bit further back in the field but as I had last time I hopped the barrier close to the front and tried to position myself among other people aiming for a similar time. After a good winter of training I'd been starting to dream of the magic 2:45 (the threshold at which I could enter the Championship race at London and line up alongside people such as Bekele and Mo Farah etc) but didn't think it was that likely. 2:50, on the other hand, I was confident of beating, having come reasonably close to it last year. During training I had beaten my half marathon PB by about 100 seconds, which logically should be worth comfortably than 3 mins over a marathon. However, while the running had been going well, there had been a lot of other stuff happening that had meant I hadn't been sleeping well for a while. You never quite know what's going to happen on the day either.

So I set off around 2:47 pace, feeling ridiculously comfortable as you do when your legs are fresh after a gentle couple of weeks tapering. Settled into a comfortable pace, trying to stay in groups of similar speed. Seemed to be going well, I had dreams of a fast second half but made sure not to try too hard too early. I't do 20 miles or so, then sprint past everyone with a fast last 10k.

Around half-way there's a section where the course doubles back on itself and we saw the leaders coming back. Two Kenyans glided effortlessly past.

and then after what seemed like an age but was probably less than 30 seconds, a bunch of brits appeared. One of the Kenyans appears to have dropped out later but the other won by a few minutes. Only 2:21, the best runners aim for London of course.

Somewhere around this point I caught up with one of the elite female runners, and we ran together for a few miles. I later discovered that she had a best time of 2:37 and ran in both the Commonwealth Games and European Champs back in 2010. Not bad company to be keeping. Up to mile 20 and even a little beyond I was doing fine, but gradually things started to hurt - especially my left hip and leg which have been the weak spot before, so either I'm slightly weak on that side or slightly lopsided in running. The planned fast last 10k became a fast 4 miles then a fast 5k and although I did try pushing on the pace just a little bit at that point ("it's just a parkrun!"), I soon reverted to damage limitation and decided to just keep on plodding on in the hope that I wouldn't fall apart too badly. This worked pretty much ok, I did lose a minute over this section to Holly who kept on at a steady speed but that's not too bad in the great scheme of things. The two halves were 1:23:28 and 1:25:16 which is only a positive split of 1:48, a touch higher than ideal but hardly shameful. Despite this slowdown I did move up over 40 places in the second half.

Food and water worked fine again with my own bag of jelly babies and kendal mint cake washed down by the supplied bottles. I really wasn't hungry or under fuelled at all after the pizza though. Perhaps with hindsight I could have splashed on a bit more water towards the end of the race when I wasn't interested in drinking. Fixing the left leg problem might have the biggest impact. It isn't causing a problem now three days later so there isn't a real injury problem, it's just not quite as good as the other one. Oh, and a pair of magic nike sub-2 shoes though even finding a pair would be a bit of a miracle. A 3 min PB is a pretty big improvement at this stage in my running career and at this age, but one disappointment with my result is that I didn't get quite as much as half-way to 2:45. That still seems like it may be a step too far for me. We'll see...

Anyway, here is my official result and here it is on Strava: EGU 2018 Day 3

jules was talking in the first session this morning (paleo data assimilation) so had to rush in a bit early. She was talking about our plans for reconstructing the last deglaciation (21ka to present). It seems to have gone ok, I was sitting in on the proper data assimilation session so didn’t get to hear it 🙂 In a bizarre blast from the past, someone was talking about orthogonality of bred vectors and even mentioned that I’d done some work on that many years ago! I suppose that sort of makes up for when other people ostentatiously omit our work from their list of references despite it being one of the most obvious and seminal sources for the topic under discussion. Not that I’m bitter or anything. I expect it’s accidental some of the time.

Another free lunch thanks to an important discussion on policy matters at GMD. Not that I was part of the policy-making process, but I sneaked in along with the proper executive editors and ate all the food while they were talking 🙂 I then went for a very gentle and slow run for reasons that will be made obvious in a future blog. Well, I mean the reasons for it being gentle and slow (other than being straight after lunch). The reason for doing the run at all is just that I wanted a bit of fresh air and there was nothing compelling in the program. We’ve always found it is impossible to do 5 full days anyway at such a big conference as this, no human brain can reasonably be expected to cope with that much science. I returned for some more paleoclimate stuff including a medal lecture from yet another old white man. I especially liked the way he managed to open by telling us all about the other medal he’d just been awarded by That Other Organisation. It was a good talk though and it’s not really fair to blame recipients for the limitations of the process. His talk concerned Dansgaard-Oeschger events, the massive rapid changes in climatic conditions that happened irregularly through colder periods in Earth’s recent paleoclimatic past. It’s still unclear exactly how and why they happen.

Evening posters were (as usual) related to the daytime talks, so more data assimilation of modern and paleo flavours, which kept us busy until it was time for dinner.


Over the years we’ve discovered some nice restaurants outside the most touristy bits which are reasonably quiet. Yesterday was the schnitzel, tonight was the turn of the Chinese. This pic is just the walk home though.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 EGU 2018 Day 2

jules had a a 7:30 breakfast meeting today which didn’t seem very civilised to me. But it looks like it was worth getting up for.


A perk of being Executive Editor, but very little recompense really for the hours of work she puts into running GMD. I am pleased to confirm that the croissant that she smuggled out for me was excellent.
The day proper started with general paleo data/modelling stuff in a session that jules was co-convening. This was a little thin this year, especially on the modelling front, probably due to the forthcoming CMIP/PMIP experiments which will be underway around the world but which are not yet ready to report on. I probably should have paid more attention but was distracted by croissant crumbs.

Today’s free lunch was at the CL (climate) Division meeting. All seems to be sailing on fairly smoothly though the EGU is heading towards full capacity of the meeting venue and it’s not clear how best to address this. One new policy initiative that jules and I are not particularly keen on is the imposition of a limit to one submission per person as first author (a second submission would be allowed if you are actually invited to talk, but that’s fairly rare). We have 4 between us this year and rarely if ever have come with a bare one each – though to be fair last time we came 2 years ago jules had a invited talk and we only submitted one more one more each on top of that, so it’s not always going to be a huge problem. Also, the limit could be easily evaded by author padding which seems like an open invitation to ethically dubious behaviour. Another issue that generated some discussion is the prevalence of stale pale males in the higher echelons of the division hierarchy. Hard to blame the maleness of the president in particular on any institutional bias though, since they are elected by the members and there have certainly been female candidates for this position. The medal winners on the other hand…enough said.

Amazingly, the weather/climate sessions contained yet more discussion of the good performance of the ensemble mean. Apparently its good performance (relative to ensemble members) is due to nonlinear filtering? Not really, it’s just Euclidean geometry and simple algebra. Ho hum. See these three posts and the associated paper for more details. Not much point writing it down if people aren’t going to read it though! There was also "decadal" forecasting of the next 2-5 years but to be fair someone had actually done a full 10. It doesn’t work, but at least they tried.

A PICO session on the use of econometric methods in climate science is the sort of thing I really appreciate being able to see at the EGU. Nothing stood out as particularly important but it covered a wide range of methods and applications. I must admit I was a little bit suspicious of someone fitting an inherently unstable time series model to 20 years of ice sheet volume data and concluding as a result that the ice sheets are terribly unstable though 🙂 His argument was that the unstable model fitted the data better than any simpler version. My counter-argument was that we’ve actually had 10,000 years of stable ice sheets prior to the reduction in recent decades! I think the underlying problem is that the recent accelerated loss is externally forced which his model doesn’t explicitly account for. This is a typical failure of econometric methods in my view, that they do not always take account of background knowledge that is implicit in the fundamental physics of the systems they are attempting to model. All good fun stuff again though. Last thing today was paleo posters (from the morning session) which we are not contributing to this time round. Lots of people to meet and chat to, after not attending last year.