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Mini Y2K on the way

August 12th, 2005

The SMH reports a Mini Y2K on the way. I wrote quite a few articles in 1999 poking fun at the whole Y2K scare, and finally managed to get a proper publication out of an ex post analysis (it’s coming out in the Australian Journal of Public Administration but you can read the PDF article here.

It’s worth comparing this issue to global warming. The current government was happy to spend $12 billion preparing for Y2K, yet there was essentially no proper research done on the issue. Anecdotally, it was claimed that tests had shown all sorts of vulnerabilities, but there’s no reason to believe these anecdotes: the fact that countries where almost nothing was done were unaffected is clear evidence that the risks were overstated (to put it mildly). There was every logical reason to be a sceptic about Y2K, but the sceptics were ignored (I try to explain this in my article).

By contrast, thousands of scientists have studied various aspects of global warming, and, with a handful[1] of exceptions, have concluded that there is a real problem here. Yet the government pays serious attention to unqualified sceptics, and uses their bogus claims to justify a do-nothing policy.

fn1. As Tim Lambert points out, the number of remotely credible scientific sceptics has just been reduced by one (from four to three by my count). Roy Spencer who’s done important satellite research and is a clear global warming sceptic (unlike his co-author Christy), has just come out as a creationist.

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  1. August 12th, 2005 at 16:50 | #1

    I love the way Roy Spencer says that given there is no evidence for evolution, then belief in it is a faith, therefore the teaching of evolution is teaching religion. So therefore it is only fair to teach ID too. Masterful sophistry.

  2. wilful
    August 12th, 2005 at 16:59 | #2

    So who are the remaining three credible sceptics?

    Also, can someone provide a (non-violent!) method of countering Andrew Bolt? In terms of the public debate and the manipulation of public opinion, he’s the most strident and effective advocate against climate change in Melbourne. Not that the people in power appear to be listening to him, thankfully.

    Bolt’s latest nonsense.

  3. Katz
    August 12th, 2005 at 21:26 | #3

    Bolt is the loudest croaker among the pond life that panders to proletarian populism.

    In short, he has no real enduring influence. He may delay political action on important issues but he can’t prevent changes in the climate of opinion when the evidence stacks up against his prejudices.

    Witness the article you cite Wilful. Even a Howard minister feels confident enough to edge towards the truth about global warming despite Bolt’s McCarthyite tactics of vilification.

    Don’t forget that recently Bush Junior himself took a few shambling stumbles toward acknowledgement of “climate change”.

    Bolt has lost this one. He’ll have to find something else to deny.

  4. Derick Cullen
    August 13th, 2005 at 16:43 | #4

    Bolt can and will return to his persistent campaign of denial against the stolen generations, and more generally those least able to defend themselves against attack from the privilege of the Murdoch press, the Australian indigenous people.

  5. jquiggin
    August 13th, 2005 at 17:32 | #5

    The remaining credible sceptics by my count are Lindzen (climatologists at MIT) and Shaviv and Veizer (the cosmic ray guys).

    This is setting the bar pretty low. Lindzen has taken consulting money from the fossil fuel industries, and the cosmic ray stuff seems completely implausible to me, but these three are serious scientists and aren’t obviously driven by a political or religious agenda.

  6. August 15th, 2005 at 08:44 | #6

    Anonymous Lefty has another blog called Boltwatch (no link, sorry, the PC I’m on has a savage NetNanny on it and it thinks it’s pornography. Not 100% off the mark, really.) Go to anonymouslefty.blogspot.com and the link is on there. I haven’t been there in a while so I don’t know if he’s had time to update it, he’s a busy man!

  7. August 15th, 2005 at 12:11 | #7


    Your paper quotes a figure of $12 billion for Y2K rectification, but I get the distinct impression that that figure throws in every cost but doesn’t count the benefits.

    On the cost side, it’s not clear how much less the “fix on fail” approach would have cost. How much of the domestic Y2K spend was in “mission-critical” big business IT systems that you couldn’t have applied that methodology to?

    On the silver-lining side of the fence, many businesses took the opportunity to upgrade their systems rather than simply repair them. Presumably most of these upgrades made their systems more productive, rather than less, leading to gains further down the track. Further, much of this spending was simply brought forward rather than coming from nowhere.

    I’d also argue that the organisation-wide audits of IT infrastructure have been a good thing; the audits and introduction of new procedures has probably somewhat improved the reliability and robustness of the nation’s IT; for instance, by the realization that critical bits of software or hardware were no longer supported by their suppliers. That has probably reduced the level of crashes and data loss you mention since.

    The final payoff is a bit strange. It’s been argued that the Y2K bug was crucial in encouraging the development of the Indian software industry, which has made developing software a lot cheaper. It’s a rather untestable hypothesis, frankly, but I note it has been claimed more than once.

    All in all, I’ve no doubt there was a net cost to Australia from the Y2K exercise, but I doubt it was nearly as big as you claim.

  8. Blogless Clive
    August 15th, 2005 at 13:39 | #8

    Page 6.
    Using 2 digits to represent year is not an indicator of failure to cater
    for leap years. Obviously in such a system, if YY is divisibe by 4
    then it’s a leap year. No black magic functions involved at all.

    Just saying.

  9. August 15th, 2005 at 14:15 | #9

    Blogless clive:

    It’s not quite that simple. Years divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are divisible by 400. So 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was.

    So, by happy coincidence, 2000 was a leap year, so any program making the calculations in the oversimplified manner you describe would have gotten it right.

    Prof. Quiggin is quite right in his paper that date calculations can be an absolute nightmare. Aside from the magic hour that happens twice when daylight savings ends, you’ve got potentially nasty issues when transactions occur across time zones and you’re trying to reconcile dates provided in local time (or some unspecified random timezone).

  10. Blogless Clive
    August 15th, 2005 at 14:48 | #10

    JQ made the assumption that a program that used 2 digits for
    year would have maniifested problems in leap years due to the
    overwhelming laziness of the programmer.
    I was simply illustrating that 2 digit years did not mean problems
    with leap years. It was a bogus claim, one that, by being presented,
    clearly shows a lack of understanding of the technical issues that
    underly his paper.

    Date calcs can be nasty, more so when time is added into teh equation.
    But that wasn’t really his point.

  11. jquiggin
    August 15th, 2005 at 15:57 | #11

    Robert, I agree with the points you make, especially regarding the benefits of organisation-wide audit and the upgrade effect. I’ve made this point in other contexts, but maybe not very clearly in this paper.

  12. August 15th, 2005 at 19:39 | #12

    What you lot really need is Zeller’s Congruence (backed by a file with details of just when systems changed in various parts of the world, so that you can give them back their eleven days as necessary).

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